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2009
3
Jun

Baseball and the Fredo Problem 06/03/09

Last Saturday night began my annual month or so of actually paying attention to college baseball. Not by coincidence, this period of time just happens to coincide with the NCAA playoffs and College World Series.

Well, it beats the NBA playoffs, although there was amusement to be found from watching King James storm off the court in a huff after this latest of numerous postseason failures visited upon Cleveland, almost as funny as Lebron’s explanation for his refusing to congratulate the Magic on their hard-earned win: “I wasn’t being a poor sport, I was only being a poor sport.” Things should go much better for Lebron in New York. lebron_jamesThe boys in the Disney sports offices were no doubt thrilled as they watched the ratings and financial windfall of an NBA finals of the Kobes vs. the Lebrons stomp off along with the Golden Boy. First the ACC championship game, now this.

My short-term interest in college baseball began around midnight Saturday as I decided that it was still too early to bed down for the night. Searching for something worth watching, I happened upon Texas playing Fredo. I picked it up a little past mid-way, about the 15th inning or so. While sitting up past 2 in the morning observing some rather remarkable displays of pitching [12+ inning of no-hit ball is something at which to marvel at any level of baseball], I couldn’t help but wonder which team held a strong rooting interest for those charged with developing college baseball into a viable economic enterprise. It wasn’t hard to determine, since Fredo was playing.

Yep, Fredo. When the NCAA field of 64 teams was announced, none named Virginia Tech, BTW [maybe one day], you can bet that the one most anybody involved, from ESPN to Omaha, wanted to see do nothing other than quickly lose twice¬† and head home, was Fredo. And yet there he was, battling it out and against Texas, to boot. The Longhorns are the gold standard of college baseball, the game’s biggest winners and in possession of a fan following that guarantees the fortnight in Omaha will be a financial bonanza terrifiedfor that city’s hotels and steak houses. Those charged with peddling hotel rooms and commercials to sponsors must have been watching in abject horror as the Horns and Eagles continued to battle tooth and nail. There must have been displays of wild jubilation when Texas finally prevailed in the 25th inning. Backs were slapped and hats tossed into the air less than 12 hours later when an exhausted Fredo was bounced from the tournament by Army [Army?]. Whew, that was a close one!

And so ended the latest manifestation of the Fredo Problem. The guys whose athletics mission statement includes losing the Big East as many bowls possible and single-handedly wrecking the ACC’s football championship game as a source of conference revenue were trying their hand at destroying the financial underpinnings of yet another sport. It almost worked, too, save for some excellent relief pitching and clutch hitting on the part of Texas. The Eagles can only cry “Wait until next year [they learned that one from the Canes],” when they will have another go at reducing meals and lodging tax receipts for Omaha.

The Fredo Problem is one seen quite often in conference offices all up and down the Eastern Seaboard, particularly at bowl negotiation time when the first word out of the mouths of bowl sponsors is, “What are the chances we will get stuck with Fredo?” It is a recurring malady in Nashville. The Music City Bowl, after having Fredo foisted off on them by the Big East back when it still was the Big East, immediately severed their tie-in with that league. They finally settled on the ACC as a replacement, only to find Fredo popping back up again. They just can’t shake him. The Tire/Muffler bowl has been a financial boon to Charlotte every year but one; you guessed it, the year Fredo played in it. Ken Haines no doubt had some strong words for Little Johnny after that debacle. The ACC football championship game? accchampionshipgameAll it took was participation by Fredo for it to go from the second-largest financial basis for expansion to a conference money-loser. Fredo has amassed an impressive record, all the while not delivering the Boston Market that is agog for pro sports.

The ACC’s august commish and league AD’s have recently taken steps to address the Fredo Problem. Those public utterances by Little Johnny of the league’s ‘geographic core’ that now seems to stretch from DC to South Florida certainly provided a clue as to the prevailing thinking, and even the latter is on increasingly-shaky financial ground. Is anybody left to even answer the phone in the Canes’ athletic offices?

It can be expected that at some point in the near future Little Johnny will have dinner with Fredo’s AD Gene ‘Where’s my statue?’ DeFilippo. The conversation will be one-sided, with Little Johnny doing most of the talking. He will likely exclaim, “Ah, the Big East. They were the good old days, eh? Ever miss them? And, BTW, the rest of us have voted that to save expenses and bowl bids, from now on you will have to play all ACC games on the road. Enjoy, and the bill for dinner fredofinalis coming out of your revenue share. Gotta go, let’s get together for fishing sometime soon.”

I will resume the watching the NCAA baseball tournament this weekend. It is exciting baseball, even if Tech ain’t in it and the Hoos are. The action will reach its crescendo in Omaha during the College World Series. It will very likely be a financial success, as Omaha dodged a bullet last weekend. Fredo won’t be in it.

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