Cincinnati Sports Fans Not Miserable Enough

Forbes Magazine recently released two lists that should interest local sports fans. Estimating the financial values of college basketball programs, Forbes ranked Xavier as the 17th most valuable and Arizona as the sixth most valuable.The magazine also of

Apr 29, 2009 at 2:06 pm

Because Forbes Magazine would never get away with doing a swimsuit issue, the editors have decided the occasional sports article passes for light enough fare, even if their sports article would pass for heavy lifting in the newspaper sports section.

More often than not, in fact, the Forbes sports article makes enough news to merit citation in the newspaper sports page, for the magazine likes to bend that elbow by estimating the values of sports franchises. To give a recent example, Forbes estimated the financial values of college basketball programs about a month ago, ranking Xavier as the 17th most valuable and Arizona as the sixth most valuable. More about that later.

But Forbes not long ago went off its financial analysis and offered its list of the nation’s most miserable sports cities. Unlike the annual Forbes list of cities that are generally the most miserable, the sports list doesn’t even pretend to go into dollars and cents. Instead, it goes into near-misses.

Whenever big media delves into assessing the most miserable sports towns, it’s always assumed that misery consists in going to the championship round and falling short. Thus Cincinnati never makes those lists, presumably because the local pro teams aren’t even good enough to make their fans miserable. But we know misery like fans in no other city.

Between them, the Reds and Bengals claim one winning season and one playoff game (a loss, at that) since 2000. Between them, the Reds and Bengals haven’t won a world championship since the Reds won the World Series in 1990. Between them, the Reds and Bengals have six winning seasons in their combined 38 seasons since 1990.

Forbes said Seattle is the most miserable sports town; the Seahawks went to the Super Bowl three years ago. Atlanta is No. 2; since 1990, the Braves won a World Series and went to the Series five times, while the NFL Falcons went to a Super Bowl. Buffalo came in third, though the Sabres go to the Stanley Cup Finals now and then.

Phoenix almost won the Super Bowl this year; thus, according to Forbes, Phoenix is the fourth most miserable sports town in America. You get the idea.

Forbes simply doesn’t understand sports misery. But Cincinnati fans do.

Here’s a hint about sports misery: The NFL draft occurred last weekend, the Bengals picked well by just about every account and one supposes those names will surface on the police blotter before they appear in the playoffs.

With three of the top 70 picks, the Bengals went about improving the guts of their football team, adding a run-strong offensive tackle, a disruptive middle linebacker and a pass rushing defensive end. The Bengals need all of that and more.

They drafted 11 players. Most importantly, they addressed the offensive line, needing tackles to stand in for the departed Stacy Andrews and the often-injured Levi Jones. So they started the draft with 332-pound Andre Smith from Alabama, the sixth selection overall.

At middle linebacker, perhaps second-round pick Rey Maualuga can be the force the Bengals have missed since Odell Thurman had to leave. The third-round pick, Georgia Tech defensive end Michael Johnson, might at least knock down passes at 6-foot-7 if he doesn’t reach the quarterback.

But it’s still the Bengals, and if these new players bring freshness and new energy the danger always exists that the Bengals will change them before they change the Bengals. We might say we can hope, except the Bengals have exposed hope as a fraud.

Instead, we’ll say we’ll see. We’ll see. Last year, we saw 4-11-1, largely because the Bengals didn’t bother to protect their quarterback in whom they’ve made a substantial investment.

If Carson Palmer survives the 2009 season and the Bengals can move forward, they might rebuild into a Super Bowl team by about 2012. Perhaps they’ll lose that Super Bowl, which might compel Forbes to finally credit Cincinnati sports fans for being miserable.

The other Forbes list, which showed Xavier as one of the most valuable college basketball programs, points up another frustration for a good many Cincinnati sports fans, if indirectly. For all Xavier’s success as a basketball program, the little school on Victory Parkway remains a stepping stone instead of a destination.

Look at Xavier from afar. XU goes to the Sweet 16 as often as not these days, is so well respected that it copped a No. 4 seed in the latest NCAA Tournament even after coughing up five losses in the Atlantic-10 and ranked 17th on the latest Forbes list at $13.1 million in value and $7.9 million in operating revenue.

Xavier wins games, makes money, graduates players, all that. It is, in substantial respects, a model program.

When Arizona offered Sean Miller $2 million to leave Xavier last month — more than double his $800,000 base at Xavier — he needed a night to sleep on it. First Miller turned down Arizona. Then he woke up and realized he was turning down a $1.2 million raise. So he’s at Arizona today.

Arizona is a step up from Xavier. By the Forbes numbers, Arizona is the sixth most valuable college basketball program at $21 million in value and $12 million of operating revenue. But the difference goes much broader and deeper.

Arizona is a state university, which probably dwarfs Xavier in terms of deep-pocketed boosters who will pony up to win. Arizona belongs to one of the major conferences, which is good for higher visibility. Arizona is a better job.

There might never be a better job than Kentucky, but there will usually be a better job than Arizona and there’s always going to be a better job than Xavier, no matter how frequently Xavier goes to the Sweet 16 and makes money.

Today isn’t like two generations ago, when independents Marquette and Notre Dame could compete for the national title. Xavier is something like Memphis, a program where a star coach can forge a national presence. But a star coach isn’t likely to fully embrace the Xavier way.

As is the Xavier way, the Musketeers went to the next man in line, Miller assistant Chris Mack, who now is their head coach. Athletic Director Mike Bobinski told the media that he interviewed other candidates, but one wouldn’t know it from the lack of scuttlebutt in the media. And if there wasn’t scuttlebutt in the media, then there’s a pretty good chance the job didn’t attract candidates of high profile.

Questions abound. Like, how can that be?

How can Xavier offer a program with a stroll to the NCAA Tournament, a track record of going deep into the tournament, more money than most other programs and still not draw well-established coaches to discuss the opportunity in Cincinnati? Is it going to take that kind of coach to push Xavier into the Final Four or national championship level? Is that a compromise Xavier should be willing to make? And is Cincinnati a big enough town for two balding, red-headed basketball coaches?

CONTACT BILL PETERSON: [email protected]