Friday, December 31, 2010

Please Don't Bring the Lingerie Football League to Nashville

Mitchell Mortaza, commissioner of the Lingerie Football League and former Lindsey Lohan boyfriend, told 104.5's Three-Hour Lunch that there's an 80–85 percent chance an LFL franchise will be playing in Nashville by 2012. He says that Music City is a "perfect market" and that Bridgestone Arena is a "perfect venue." (Read about it in the Tennessean or at the Scene's Pith in the Wind blog.)

This is my plea to the Nashville Sports Council: Please don't bring a Lingerie Football League franchise to Middle Tennessee.

The Lingerie Football League sends a message to young female athletes that their athletic talents are secondary to their abilities to entice men and conform to narrow and warped standards of beauty. It also reinforces our culture's unfortunate tendency to treat women of a certain age and body type as little more than sexual objects. To that end, he league fines its players $500 for wearing additional undergarments that may prevent accidental nudity. The LFL also has drawn criticism for refusing to pay players' football-related medical expenses.

Mortaza responds to charges that the LFL is nothing more than sexploitation by boasting that 100 percent of the league's players are former college athletes. Great. So young women who spent years conditioning and training as volleyball players or swimmers or sprinters, and who were talented enough to play a varsity sport in college, get paid to learn a new sport and play it in their underwear. Mortaza needs to be haunted by the ghost of Babe Didrikson Zaharias.

I first heard of the LFL when CNN did a story on the upstart league. The story followed a piece about two girls in South Carolina who had been successful placekickers for their high school football team. The juxtaposition of the two stories really upset me, and I wrote about it:

Placing the stories back-to-back seemed to say, "Hey girls, in high school you can work hard to make it and earn the respect of your teammates in a sport where girls traditionally have not been welcome; then, a few years later, you can continue your football career by stripping down to your underwear so that depraved men can gawk at you."

(The post from which I took this quote is the only one that appears when you search for "lingerie" on this blog. I also included the quote in my book Kneeling in the End Zone, which has climbed back into the top one million on Amazon.)

Nashville doesn't need the Lingerie Football League. Nobody does.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Grandma Reading to the Kids

Friday, December 17, 2010

Kneeling in the End Zone Guide to College Bowl Games

Jesus fumbles?Here's your annual report of religiously affiliated schools whose football teams will be playing in bowl games. This year eight sectarian universities, representing six religious traditions/denominations, will be participating in the postseason, twice as many as last year. Here's what the faithful can look forward to in the coming weeks:

Latter Day Saints
Brigham Young (6-6) vs. UTEP (6-6) in the New Mexico Bowl, Saturday December 18. The spiritual descendants of Joseph Smith open this year's bowl season in a Saturday afternoon clash of former Western Athletic Conference rivals. (Appropriately BYU and UTEP are playing in a stadium operated by another former WAC school.) The Cougars and Miners met 25 times in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, with BYU winning all but one of these contests. While this year's Cougars squad isn't nearly as good as the great teams that have made BYU one of college football's most storied church-affiliated programs, the Cougars finished the season strong and face a UTEP team that went 3-5 in Conference USA.

Presbyterian Church (USA)
Tulsa (9-3) vs. Hawaii (10-3) in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl, Friday December 24. The Golden Hurricane spent last Christmas at home. This year they are back among the elect, but they face a talented Hawaii team on the Rainbow Warriors' home turf. I expect that many Oklahoma Presbyterians will be checking football scores on their phones during this year's Christmas Eve services, eager to learn whether the Golden Hurricane are predestined for a bowl victory and a ten-win season.

Baylor (7-5) vs. Illinois (6-6) in the Texas Bowl, Wednesday December 29. Usually Baptist football fans must put their faith in Wake Forest to deliver in bowl season. But with the Demon Deacons backsliding, Baptists should be thankful that the Baylor Bears have immersed themselves in the postseason. The Bears, who have performed poorly down the stretch, are blessed to play in a bowl game close to home against an opponent that has underperformed all season.

United Methodist
For the first time since 1989, two United Methodist schools are going bowling. Both are playing games on New Year's Eve, Eve. (If Duke can scrape together a few more wins next season, the United Methodists might achieve entire [football] sanctification.)

Southern Methodist (7-6) vs. Army (6-6) in the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl, Thursday December 30. Last year, the Mustangs showed college football fans what The United Methodist Church thinks of the death penalty, playing in and winning their first bowl game since the NCAA shut down SMU's football program in the late 1980s. This year SMU enters bowl season as the winners of Conference USA's West Division, seeking a second consecutive postseason win. If United Methodists weren't morally opposed to gambling, they'd have to like the Mustangs' odds against an Army team that went .500 against a weak schedule.

Syracuse (7-5) vs. Kansas State (7-5) in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl, Thursday December 30. After several years in the Big East's basement, the Syracuse Orange have to feel "strangely warmed" by a trip to the postseason. While the Orange owe their bowl appearance in large part to a non-conference schedule that included two FCS opponents and 1-11 Akron, second-year coach Doug Marrone has Syracuse football going on to perfection (with God's help, of course).

Roman Catholic
Notre Dame (7-5) vs. Miami, FL (7-5) in the Hyundai Sun Bowl, Friday December 31

Boston College (7-5) vs. Nevada (12-1) in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, Sunday January 9

Ben 16 and company have to be pleased that both Roman Catholic FBS football programs are playing in bowl games this year. On the other hand, Notre Dame fell short of preseason expectations and Boston College had its worst regular season since 2003. So penance may in order.

Notre Dame faces Miami in a lackluster reprise of the best college football rivalry of the late 1980s. (Now that Miami runs one of the cleanest programs in the country, the "Catholics vs. Criminals" moniker no longer applies. Then again, Miami just fired the coach responsible for the cleaning up.) BC has the misfortune of traveling across country to play a 12-1 Nevada squad that would be playing in a national championship playoff, if there were such a thing.

Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
#3 Texas Christian vs. #5 Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl, Saturday January 1. Once again the Horned Frogs are the class of church-affiliated college football programs. While TCU will win the inaugural Kneeling in the End Zone National Championship regardless of what happens in Pasadena, this year's Rose Bowl boasts the most interesting and exciting New Year's Day matchup.

Brought to you by Kneeling in the End Zone: Spiritual Lessons From the World of Sports, by me. (Buy a copy if you haven't already.)

Monday, December 13, 2010

Tonight's Final Jeopardy Was Incorrect

Final Jeopardy tonight:

In only 2 cases can you add two letters to one country and get another country; Austria/Australia and this pair.

Actually, there are three. Alex named "What are Niger and Nigeria?" as the correct "question." But there is another. Can you think of it?

Friday, December 10, 2010

Even in a Seemingly Non-Controversial Year, the BCS Has Plenty of Problems

Many times since Auburn won the SEC Championship Game and Oregon won the Civil War Game (both last Saturday), college football experts and observers have remarked that this year's selection by the BCS of the nation's top two teams is uncontroversial. ESPN's BCS analyst Brad Edwards said that Auburn and Oregon were the most obvious number one and two since USC and Texas in 2005. That's probably true, but lack of controversy surrounding which teams should fill the top two slots has little to do with the BCS itself and doesn't mean that the BCS is a good system or even one that isn't a complete mess. Let's consider a few things:

  • The TCU Issue: Even if every person in the United States with at least a passing interest in college football were in agreement that TCU were, at best, the nation's third best team (behind Auburn and Oregon), the fact remains that no one has beaten the Horned Frogs on the football field. Until someone does, we cannot know for sure whether TCU is or isn't the best team in college football. As far as I'm concerned, any system in which an undefeated team has no opportunity to play for a championship is illegitimate.

    Secondly, are we really sure that Oregon is more deserving than TCU to play in the title game? While Oregon's signature win over Stanford is impressive and unmatched by anything TCU has done, the Ducks have only beaten three FBS teams with winning records, compared to the five that the Horned Frogs have beaten. The two non-Stanford winning teams on Oregon's schedule are both 7-5. You can certainly make a convincing argument that Oregon is better, but the difference between the two teams is hardly obvious.

  • The automatic bid nonsense: Many have complained about an unranked Connecticut team with four losses (including drubbings at the hands of Temple and 6-6 Louisville) getting an opportunity to play in a BCS bowl game, simply because UConn won the lackluster Big East Conference, whose champion gets an automatic bid to a major bowl. And the Huskies are by no means the first mediocre champion of a "major" conference to steal a BCS bid from a more deserving team. The ACC has twice sent a four-loss Florida State team to a BCS game; and in 2004-05 a three-loss Pitt team (representing the Big East) lost by four touchdowns to Utah from the Mountain West (a conference without an automatic bid).

    Meanwhile, the best teams from the non-AQ conferences must go undefeated to have a shot at playing in one of the major bowl games. The WAC has three teams ranked in the final BCS standings (#10 Boise State, #15 Nevada, and #24 Hawaii); the ACC has two (#13 Virginia Tech and #23 Florida State); the Big East has only one (#22 West Virginia). Yet the ACC and Big East have guaranteed slots in BCS bowls; the WAC does not. Why should a single loss on the road to a highly ranked Nevada squad keep Boise State out of the Fiesta Bowl or Orange Bowl? By any measure Boise is more deserving than Connecticut or Virginia Tech.

    None of the six power conferences that control the BCS will agree to the elimination of automatic bids. These bids bring a lot of money to the ACC and Big East (money that perpetuates the inequality in the system). But eliminating the automatic bids would make for much better bowl match-ups. SI's Stewart Mandel has more on this subject.

  • Carelessness in computation: You may have read this story about how a data error in one of the computer polls used in the BCS formula put LSU ahead of Boise in the final BCS standings. Had the data been entered correctly, Boise would have been ranked higher that LSU. An outside observer noticed that a game between Appalachian State and Western Illinois had not been entered in Wes Colley's computer rankings, the only computer ranking used by the BCS that makes its data and formula public. The oversight caused a ripple effect that rippled all the way up to the top ten. The BCS corrected the mistake, and the error had no bearing on bowl matchups. But this glitch points to a larger problem. I'll let SI's Andy Staples explain:

    we don't know if Colley's mistake was the only one. Of the six computer rankings the BCS uses, Colley's is the only one available to the public -- or to the conferences that run the BCS. The other five could be riddled with mistakes, and the entity tasked with creating the No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup would never know it.

    Moreover, the BCS bowl matchups were set nearly one week between the Army-Navy game. This year that game will have little effect on how the computers rank the nation's top teams, but if any of the contenders had played either Army or Navy or if the number two and three teams were so close that a game involving opponents of opponents of opponents could affect the final rankings, this would be a big problem. And what if Navy had been vying for one of the top two slots (very unlikely but not impossible)? How does the BCS get away with slotting teams into the National Championship Game before the regular season has ended?

Friday, December 03, 2010

Christmas Tree

It's real this year:

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Even Writers and Scholars Whom I Admire Must Be Held Accountable for Back to the Future-Related Errors

I've been reading Almost Christian by Kenda Creasy Dean at work. It's an excellent book that expands on the findings of the recent National Survey of Youth and Religion and the that work Christian Smith and Melissa Denton did in Soul Searching. I recommend Almost Christian, along with Dean's previous books, to anyone who is invested in youth ministry or Christian education. Kenda is an expert in adolescent spirituality. She knows the subject as well as anyone, and I have no qualms with any of the conclusions she draws regarding the spiritual growth of young people.

But in the opening paragraphs of Chapter 4 in Almost Christian, Dean strays from her area of expertise and wanders into mine. She brings up Back to the Future. On pages 61-62 she writes:

You remember the flux capacitor, Doc Brown's trippy invention that makes time travel possible in the Back to the Future trilogy. The flux capacitor was the mythical contraption that powered the DeLorean time machine, sending Marty McFly back in time to save his parents and therefore ensure his own birth. Once Marty and Doc are safely ensconced back in 1955, however, a problem arises: where to find the 1.21 'jigowatts' of electricity needed to propel Marty home again to 1985? Only lightning packs that kind of wallop—which is when Doc remembers (great Scott!) that a bolt of lightning stopped time on the town clock and precisely 10:04 on a Saturday night in 1955 . . . .

As much as I appreciate Kenda's work, I can't let this slide. There are a couple errors here that I'd like to address:

  • Most significantly, Doc does not remember that "a bolt of lightning stopped time on the town clock at precisely 10:04." Marty does. Marty is the one who has traveled from the future. The Doc whom Marty encounters in 1955 has no idea that lightning will strike the clock tower in the near future because, for him, that moment in time has not yet happened. Marty has the information about the lightning strike because, back in 1985, a community volunteer had asked him to donate money for the restoration of the clock tower. Marty gave her some change, and she handed him a flier telling the story of the tower being struck by lightning at 10:04 on November 12, 1955.

  • Saying that Marty traveled "back in time to save his parents and therefore ensure his own birth" implies that helping his parents fall in love was the purpose of his journey. It wasn't. Marty's jump to 1955 was accidental. His objective was to escape from the "Libyan Nationalists" whom Doc had swindled. He made his escape in the only vehicle he could get to: a DeLorean that also happened to be a time machine. While Doc had briefed Marty on how the machine worked, Marty was fuzzy on the details, was surprised when he traveled through time, and had no hand in choosing his destination. (Doc had punched in a date from 1955 that was significant to him.) Upon his arrival in 1955, Marty inadvertently altered the course of events that would result in his parents' marriage and his birth. Doc explained the severity of the situation, and Marty got to work "[saving] his parents" and "[ensuring] his own birth."

(I won't quibble with "jigowatts," which refers to "gigawatts." "Gigawatts" [one billion watts] is normally pronounced with a hard G, but a soft G is also acceptable. The scientist with whom director Robert Zemeckis consulted pronounced the word with a soft G and Zemeckis wrote it in the script as "jigowatts." Dean, in this instance, gets credit for fidelity to the script.)

Dean's point is that getting Marty back to 1985 requires a specific combination of resources and circumstances. Christian discipleship, by contrast, is messier. It is the work of the Holy Spirit. There is no particular resource or program that will, without fail, mold a young person into a mature disciple. None of Dean's Back to the Future-related errors detract from her larger point.

Again, I'm a huge fan of Kenda Creasy Dean's Work. But Back to the Future is something I take very seriously.