Tuesday, Minnesota United FC plays its first game this year in the US Open Cup, a season-long knockout tournament that includes teams at virtually all levels of American soccer. United plays the Des Moines Menace, a team from what is basically a summer league for college players; if they win, they play Sporting Kansas City, which is currently one of the best teams in Major League Soccer. In the space of one week, to use a baseball comparison, they could go from playing a Northwoods League team to a Major League team. How can you not like that type of competition?
This thing needs to be expanded to other sports, pronto... but it's not going to work very well in a lot of them. You can throw out football; the season is too short. NBA, NHL, and MLB teams have relationships with minor-league teams, thus negating the possibility of ever including teams outside the big leagues in such a tournament. College baseball barely has time for its current season. College hockey doesn't have enough teams.
College basketball, though -- everybody loves the college basketball tournament. Why not start another one? There are more than 600 teams in NCAA Divisions I and II alone, plenty for a ridiculous number of rounds. The teams would be drawn randomly, which could lead to more Cinderella stories than the seeded tournament does. It'd be all the excitement of the Big Dance, but it would take place all season. Frankly, about the only problem I can see here is that it'd be too exciting, and fans would stop watching any part of the regular season, except for the cup competition.
If anybody complains about too many games, we can just eliminate a couple of the meaningless nonconference games. CBS and Turner paid nearly a billion dollars per year just for the NCAA tournament; you can't tell me they won't be on board. If the schools can make more money from the TV deal, they'll be okay with this idea.
Let's make this happen, college basketball. You can quit expanding the NCAA tournament now. Just add another tournament. Everybody wins.
On with the links:
* Parker Hageman of Twins Daily sat down with Twins hitting coach Tom Brunansky. His lede involved "Homer At The Bat," one of the great SImpsons episodes, but the article's worth even more if you get past the opening.
* Theory: the New Yorker's great Roger Angell was the first baseball blogger. Evidence: in this wide-ranging interview from 1992, published at Deadspin, he says, "What I did was write about baseball from the fans' point of view.... Although it was not a conscious plan, I wrote about myself, because I was a fan. It set a pattern for me. I am a fan, I refer to myself as a fan, and I report about my feelings as a fan, and nobody else, to my knowledge, does that." Twenty years later, everyone does that, but Roger Angell still might be the best.
* We take it for granted now that athletes have it easy when they travel. It wasn't always so, though - read this Grantland oral history on the absolute nightmare that was NBA travel in the 1960s and 1970s.
* Speaking of old NBA-related oddities: The three-pointer is now one of the most important parts of a team's offense (well, unless that team is the Timberwolves.) TVFury points out that it wasn't always so.
*And finally: you had one job, St. Louis outfield fence.
(NOTE: This post was updated to correct the number of teams in NCAA basketball. There are more than 600 in Divisions I and II put together, not in Division 1 alone.)