Thursday, June 29, 2017

Professional Curling is a Mess

Yesterday, The Curling News broke the story that the World Curling Tour and the Curling Champions Tour (basically the North American and European pro curling tours... more or less) were merging. I think this is positive news for professional curling, but it touched on something that has bothered me for quite awhile. Which is that the professional curling season makes absolutely no sense.
Curling is stuck in a weird spot that is halfway between being an amateur sport and a professional sport. For years, the biggest events of the curling season were national, continental and world championships... and they still are. In Canada, the highest watched curling events are the Brier and the Tournament of Hearts. But competing for your country, province, region, club, etc. are hallmarks of amateur sport. There's nothing wrong with that, but by its nature, it prevents a true best on best competition. For example, if two teams from Alberta were the best two teams in the world, they would never be able to play against each other for a national championship (notwithstanding the introduction of the wild card teams next year), let alone a world championship. This is where the professional side of things should step up. And while we do get bonspiels with the top teams in the world now, they fail to match the magnitude of things like the Brier and come across as a disconnected bunch of unrelated events. We have the Grand Slams, which is a great series of events from the perspective that it provides enough prize money that athletes can at least make a decent amount of earnings on tour, but while they're technically part of the World Curling Tour, it never really feels like it. Rogers (Sportsnet) runs the show and for the most part they treat them like separate events with little relation. And while there technically is a Grand Slam Cup and Cup Winners Cup, there's little emphasis on the former and nothing special about the latter. Also, it only considers Rogers' Grand Slams and not the dozens of other events on tour throughout the season.

I'm going to compare the curling season to three other sports: tennis, golf and Formula 1. All three, like curling, are a series of events that add up to a complete season.

Tennis, I think, has one of the best point systems in sports (the ATP World Tour anyway). There are 4 levels of events: the Grand Slams (2000 points for the winner), Masters (1000 pts), the 500 and 250 events. There's nothing complicated about how many points are at stake, there's no factoring for the strength of field (like curling's Order of Merit does now), and it's easy to follow. The point are highly important because it factors into world rankings and seeding for the single knockout tournament (and curling could do with more knockout style bonspiels, at least double or triple knockouts anyway).

Golf is a little more like how curling is now with more emphasis on events and less on season long standings, but there still is emphasis on the money list and earning point to get to the season ending Tour Championship. There's a clear emphasis on the 4 majors, and even casual fans know what the focus is on.

Now Formula 1 is the opposite swing of the pendulum from golf in this comparison. While there is a goal each weekend to win the race, much more emphasis is placed on the season-long drivers' championship. Again, there are consistent points and clear goals. The best part is that there is an easy to follow season-long story arc.

I think the best model that curling should emulate is the tennis model. Have a select few events be "majors" (Grand Slams and elevate some European and Asian events... which would require Rogers to play ball, which is easier said than done), have a second tier (events that right now fill the weeks between Slams that might pay out $40-$60k), a third and fourth tier. There can be more than one event scheduled each week, as there is now (and as happens in tennis), so all the current events can stay. I, of course, realize that much of the tour scheduling and field of teams depends on the prize money right now, and I don't know how that all fits into this plan (because some tier 3 events would be more attractive to players than other tier 3 events, for example). But putting a pin in that issue, the whole season can lead towards a tour championship event in May, after the World Championships and perhaps after a last chance major event.

The point is that right now, there's no real stakes to the current professional curling season, other than winning one of a number of nearly identical events. There's nothing that makes the "Masters" any different than the "Canadian Open" and the "Tour Challenge", etc.

Perhaps with the merger of Tours, something like this is already being worked out. I'm not sure... I have no inside information. One can only hope. But as it stands right now, there needs to be some sort of season long narrative that relates one event to the next. Otherwise, it'll turn into casual fans simply saying, "Oh look, curling is on TV again. Nothing special about this."

I will say one thing about the merger that I do know. They got the new name and logo right. The World Curling Tour is the better name, but the Curling Champions Tour had the much better logo.

Saturday, April 09, 2016

It Hate To Say It: Americans in the Right (World Curling Championships)

In the 3-4 playoff game between USA and Japan this morning at the World Curling Championship, controversy again reared its ugly head. Because after all the stuff involving brushes and sweeping techniques we've had this year, I guess we haven't had enough.

Watch the video below from the 1:40 mark. In the eighth end, Japan tries a double takeout. One of the USA rocks (yellow) jams on a Japan rock (red) and looks like it may be slowly going out.  But the red rock hits the side boards and bounces back, changing the velocity of the yellow rock, where it hung in the house... barely. Japan argued that the rock was going out, and USA argued that the rock actually picked up speed after being hit, so while the direction was worse, it may have stopped sooner.



In the end, because it was the responsibility of Japan to stop the rock that bounced from interfering with the rocks in play, it was entirely up to USA to decide where the rocks should go. However, the spirit of the game dictates that if it was going out, the American should remove their rock from the house.  They didn't, arguing that it would have stopped in time if it wasn't hit.  Japan was upset, the crowd booed them, and Twitter blew up.

When I saw it initially, I too thought the Americans should have placed it out of the house. But after watching the replay again and again, there's a solid argument to be made that while the angle is worse, there's less momentum and the rock might have stopped.

In the end, it's impossible to tell what would have happened, so I think the non offending team is well within their rights (both by the rules and by the spirit of the rules) to leave the rock in. So, while it's very unfortunate that this situation even came up, I don't have a problem with the call that was made.

Of course, the USA went on to lose the semi-final later in the day against Denmark, so they'll have to play Japan again tomorrow for the bronze medal.  So, after all that controversy, we get a rematch.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Top 5 of 2015

Today I look back at the year that was for Matt's Blog is Stupid(ly Awesome) and list my Top 5 posts of 2015.  And unlike most top whatever lists, I start right at the top.

#1 - Oliebollen... The Traditional Way

I started the year with the latest installment of my award winning digital series "Cooking With Food", with special guest cook, Mom.

#2 - Cooking With Food Episode 10

I return to solo cooking with an epic webisode that whipped up a Rice Krispie Sphere.

#3 - Adventures in Winter Driving

A retelling of my harrowing tale of being stranded in Strathroy when a winter storm hit.  It's not a story I want to relive, but it certainly was one of the longest posts I've ever written.

#4 - Implication of an Extended Election

I get a bit political in this one, but I make what I think to be an interesting observation of the size of the budgets of each political parties in the context of Blue Jays playoff games.

#5 - Top 5 of 2015

This one made the list because I only made 4 posts this year up until this one.  So, yeah, I guess it was a slow year.  Or personal blogging is so far past being considered passé and I refuse to admit it.

Friday, October 16, 2015

The Implications of an Extended Election

The federal election is in three days. The election was called over 2 months ago by the Conservatives and is the longest in modern Canadian history (what constitutes "modern", I'm not sure), and the signs of the long campaign are showing. One of the reasons the Conservatives called it so early (whether or not they'd admit it) is that they have a whole lot more money than their opponents. An extended campaign will drain the Liberal and NDP well before the vote, unless they run budget campaigns. I'm not sure how the fundraising has gone since the election was called, but I've noticed the effects... and they're right in front of everyone's face. Well, everyone who's watching the Blue Jays' playoff games.

Take Game 5 of the ALDS on Wednesday night. Every inning, like clockwork, there was a commercial for the Conservatives and a commercial for the Liberals. The NDP was nowhere to be found. The obvious conclusion is that the NDP are out of money. Did that cause their drop in the polls? Did their drop in the polls affect their fundraising? Are those two things unrelated? I don't know, but I found it to be an interesting observation.

I will now return to muting all commercial breaks. Unless they actually made this commercial...


Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Monday, February 16, 2015

Adventures in Winter Driving

It started when my snow shovel broke. I should have taken the hint the universe was trying to give me.

The plan was to head to Sarnia for the long weekend. As per usual on a long weekend, I planned to leave on the Saturday late morning / early afternoon, instead of rushing out the door after work on Friday. It seemed to be a good idea, as it snowed on Friday night, and no one wants to drive through the snow. By morning, the forecast said the snow would have stopped, and it did. Before I left, I was just clearing out what had fallen on Friday night. The plastic bit that holds the handle to the blade snapped and therefore I was finished shoveling.

Side note... have you noticed that all snow shovels are pretty much all plastic now? I suppose they're also less expensive and made in China too.

So I leave at about 12:30 and decide to take Highway 401, instead of my usual Highway 7, just in case the weather is a little iffy. The main highways are usually in better condition than the back highways. And they weren't in that bad of shape. Mostly bare with some blowing snow, but nothing going a reasonable speed can't handle.  I get to Woodstock about 1:00, and decide I want something to eat, so I pull off the highway and drive into the nearest McDonalds. However, for some reason, the McDs is packed, the drive thru line is huge and there are no parking spots available. So, I figured that I'll just get back on the highway and stop at the 401 rest station and grab some Wendy's there. So, I get back on the highway, and after a few minute, come up on some stopped vehicles. My thought is that given that it's winter, someone wasn't driving carefully enough and there was a small accident that people were slowly going around. After a few minutes, the traffic had barely moved, so I'm now thinking that it might be a bit worse. Hunting around on the AM dial was no help, neither the London or Kitchener news station said anything (despite AM570 claiming to run traffic reports every 10 minutes 24/7). So, I check twitter from my BlackBerry (which I don't feel bad about, because I was essentially parked).  Turns out a few kilometres ahead, a 30 car pile up happened and they had closed the highway behind me. So, I spent the next four hours inching my way up to the next exit where 4 lanes of traffic were exiting a single lane onto the sidestreet.

Oh yeah.  Before I go any further... a special place in hell is reserved for people who drive on the shoulder to get around a traffic jam. The only ones using it should be emergency vehicles or people who are in an actual emergency. I'm pretty sure nearly all of the people driving on the shoulder just thought they were special.

So, it's about 5pm now, and daylight is waning. It's at this point that I started thinking it might have been a good idea just to turn around and head back to Kitchener, but at that point, Highway 402 was still open and I figured if I went slow enough, I can make it through. So, I head to London and stop to get a quick bite and I'm on my way again. I took Fanshawe Park Road, which turns into Egremont Drive with the intention of rejoining the 402 near Strathroy.

Darkness falls.

It was getting harder to see, and I'm very much regretting not only not turning back to Kitchener, but also not just stopping for the night in London. The blowing snow with headlights reduced visibility to about a metre in some points. Anyway, I turn onto Hickory Drive to head to the 402, but soon am stopped in another line of cars. After a few minutes of not moving and not knowing why, I turn around to head to the next road which goes to the 402, Centre Road, which is just a few kilometres west. From there it just got worse. There was a small car in front of me that kept slowing down to a stop because they couldn't see in front of them. Eventually this car stopped and pulled over, obviously saying "I'm not leading this pack anymore". So I go ahead and am alternating watching in front of me and watching the snowbanks to my left, to make sure I'm staying on the road.

Eventually I get to Centre Road and Highway 402, only to find the Highway ramps closed off. At this point, I finally say "forget this" and head straight into Strathroy, figuring it's a large town, it should have some hotels. Well, the only hotels it has (without heading back into the country) are the Strathroy Motor Inn, right next to the 402 and the Clock Tower Inn, which was downtown.  The Strathroy Motor Inn, despite the big neon VACANCY sign out front, had no rooms available and a lobby full of exasperated people. Not to mention that the parking lot was barely full, so I'm figuring that they just close most of their rooms for the winter. Also, the parking lot was a mess, and thanks to a stuck minivan in the driveway, I nearly couldn't get back out.  The Clock Tower Inn looks like it's a more fancy place, but they also didn't have any rooms. Again, I'm not sure if they just close some for the winter... plus there was obvious renovation going on, so no luck there.

Eventually, I resigned myself to the fact that I might be spending the night in my car in -25 degree weather. I go fill up with gas and head to a Tim Hortons.  Luckily I had my laptop with me so I could keep myself a bit distracted even though I was dreading the long night ahead before I would risk heading out again in the daylight. And I wasn't the only one who figured that Tim's would be the best place to spend the night, as the place was filling quickly.

Fortunately, my sister put out a request to her friends on Facebook asking if anyone knew anyone in Strathroy where I could spend the night. And through the power of communications, she got a lead from her friend's husband's co-worker's parents.  Long story short, I was able to spend the night with a lovely couple in their spare bedroom, where they gave up their Saturday night to chat with me, give me a bed and feed me two meals.  So, worst night ever avoided.

The next day, the 402 westbound was still closed, but eastbound had opened up, so I just went straight back to Kitchener, arriving home 23 hours after I left.

Let me sum everything up in a few points:

  • If you're starting to think that the roads ahead are going to be worse than the ones behind and maybe you should be turning around... you should have turned around already.
  • I will never take pleasure in driving by a long traffic jam on the other side of the highway again.
  • Even in todays highly connected society, it was really tough to get information about what was going on with the roads. I got most of my information from Twitter. The MTO's road conditions report is essentially useless.
  • Tim Hortons sure could use some point outlets that customers could use. About half of the crowd there was trying to get their phones charged.
  • There are good people in this world who will open up their homes to complete strangers.
You can always depend on the kindness of strangers,
to buck up your spirits and shield you from dangers.
Now here's tip from Blanche you won't regret:
A stranger's just a friend you haven't met!

Friday, January 02, 2015

Oliebollen... The Traditional Way

When you have a guest star who is so willing, it's hard to not make a video.


"Willing", "insistent"... whichever.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Writing for The Curling News

It's not often I get excited for the mail to be delivered. But this week, I got the November issue of The Curling News.

"Big deal", you might say. "Sure, it's the world's leading curling news source and a world-class publication, but you've been a subscriber for years. Why would this issue be so different?"

Because, dear reader, this is my debut as an actual published writer. It's right there, on Page 8 (which, I might add, is the traditional page of honour in newspapers).


In it, I started writing about the new events in the Grand Slam and Skins Game this year, but it quickly turned into me complaining about cable TV.  So, I tweaked my approach and decided to complain more about cable TV and try to push the idea of web streaming.  I didn't make this point in the article, but there's a younger generation growing up that have never and will never have a cable or satellite subscription.  Curling already has an age image issue, and being on the leading edge of "television" production will do much to help.  Anyway, all in all I don't think I embarrassed myself.

To read the article, you gotta read The Curling News. Subscribe now and I'm pretty sure you'll get the November issue in the mail.  But as a subscriber, you'll also get access to the digital edition, so you definitely won't be missing out.  You can even subscribe from anywhere in the world!

I'm supposed to write two more columns this year, so if I didn't completely mess it up, look for more to come!

Friday, June 20, 2014

I'm Ready To Administer Justice in Australia

The saga of my sprained ankle hasn't improved much.  I've been going to physiotherapy for the past 2 weeks, but my progress has been slow.  So with the recommendation of my therapist, I now have fancy new footwear.

If I don't look down, I can imagine myself looking like this when walking around:

So much rest is prescribed for my recovery.  Which I promptly threw out the window tonight by deciding it would be ok to try a nice and easy bike ride.  The first push of the pedal showed me the error of my ways and probably set back the healing process by at least a week... or at least that's what the "pop" I felt tells me.

This will not be the Summer of Matt.


Friday, May 23, 2014

Back To The Couch

Here's a riddle: What goes "pop" and shouldn't feel like that?

Answer: My Achilles tendon!

Last night, not even halfway into my first Ultimate Frisbee game of the year (and of ever, for that matter), while starting to run, I hear a loud (to me) pop and a feeling like something hitting me in the back of my foot/leg. I look back, but nothing's there. What is there is a growing pain and an inability to walk. I had to be helped off the field, got it wrapped up and iced and lay there trying not to be too uncomfortable. I went into the walk-in clinic (or should I say hobble-in clinic) today and luckily it doesn't look like my tendon is actually separated. Just a nasty sprain. Anti-inflammatories and ice packs for all!

I had even gotten back into doing 5k a few times a week, but that's on hold for now.

Moral of the story: Stuff can happen when you get off the couch.