Thursday, August 07, 2014

Haters Keeping Bo Pelini On Their Hot Seat

Earlier this week, Martin Rickman of Sports Illustrated came out with a list of ten coaches on the hot seat in 2014.  And well below Michigan's Brady Hoke, Florida's Will Muschamp, and even Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer, Rickman added a few names that didn't make his list, but thought he needed to briefly mention.

And halfway down the list, there's Bo:

Bo Pelini, Nebraska: A revamped offseason image took some of the heat off Pelini, but early struggles could wipe the shine away again.
Probably fair to list him there, despite the fact that Nebraska athletic director Shawn Eichorst has repeatedly defended Pelini strongly. Most importantly, the last one was pretty much unsolicited.  A question about what Bo Pelini was doing different this spring (with all of the cat jokes) solicited the following response:
"He's a good ball coach, a good person, he's serious about his craft and he's very disciplined in his approach. We're lucky to have him at Nebraska."
Eichorst didn't have to go there...but he did. That's why Bo Pelini isn't really on a hot seat anymore. But that hasn't stopped the speculation from the Pelini haters, who seem to turn nearly every third thread into yet another debate on why Bo Pelini is on the hot seat. Never mind that Eichorst has pretty much stomped that talk after last season's Iowa game:
"volume of unfounded speculation and conjecture about our head football coach..."
It's like the instructions on your bottle of shampoo:  Lather, rinse, repeat.  Over and over and over again.

It's fruitless to debate this subject anymore.  Most fans have made up their minds on this. You either buy Pelini's record as a consistent nine or ten game winner...or you don't.  And even if you disagree with Shawn Eichorst, it really doesn't matter.  Eichorst has made his decision, and Pelini is staying.


Now, can Pelini work himself back onto the hot seat?  Absolutely. Heck, even Joe Paterno managed to get himself fired at Penn State. But nothing is on the horizon. Pelini is 1-0 since Eichorst first came out in support of Pelini, and won't lose again for at least three weeks. So why are we still discussing it?

One of the favored reasons for Pelini haters is that recruiting has slipped under his watch. That may - or may not - be true. I'm firmly convinced that  recruiting has an extremely long latency to evaluate...and that process takes years from the initial targeting of a recruit to finally determining how good the player actually is. So how is Pelini doing on the talent acquisition and development front?  Nick Handley from KXSP-AM 590 radio in Omaha found this on today.

Bucky Brooks ranked Nebraska #14 on his list of teams with NFL prospects, naming Randy Gregory, Ameer Abdullah, Kenny Bell, Corey Cooper, David Santos, and Byerson Cockrell as players to keep an eye on. Who's ranked lower than Nebraska in terms of talent?  #15 Clemson, #16 South Carolina, #17 Texas A&M, #18 Auburn, #19 Oklahoma, and #22 Texas.

Yes, it's one man's opinion...and somewhat premature to say. But it is an indication to feel optimistic about the future, and more importantly, it's a more thoughtful evaluation of Pelini than we get from the critics, who are convinced that if they call him "Pellllini" just one more time, people like me will suddenly see the light.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Summertime...And The Blogging Is Sparse

It's been a really busy summer, and I'm waaaaay behind. How far behind? I'm only up to game five on my CornNation Husker opponent previews, with just six weeks until the season opener.

Speaking of which, anybody else disappointed with the kickoff times for the first couple of Husker games? 2:30 for Florida Atlantic is OK, but there is no reason to schedule the McNeese State game for 11 am. The official excuse seems to be to "protect" the Big Ten's primetime games those weeks, which is just plain silly.

Here's a thought for Labor Day weekend. If you want to "protect" Wisconsin's game against LSU, play it on Sunday. The NFL isn't playing that weekend. There's no need to squeeze the games on Saturday that weekend.

It's been a month since the World-Herald reported that the FXFL would play downtown at TD Ameritrade Park. But nothing since. I'd love to see pro football in Omaha, but it's just about too late to make a serious plan together for 2014. And with the bad taste from the UFL still lingering in Omaha, it's ill advised fora new league to start by making the same mistakes the UFL did to seal their failure.

Speaking of minor leagues, I see that attendance continues to drop out at Sarpy County's Boondoggle, aka the Trailer Park. And with Alamo Drafthouse relocating a few miles to the north, the promised development that supposedly justified this mistake remains a pipe dream as we near the end of the fourth season.

Monday, June 23, 2014

A Different Perspective on Attendance in Sarpy County for Minor League Baseball

I've developed a reputation as the local curmudgeon when it comes to Sarpy County's ballpark.  I've felt it was unnecessary expense for the local area to build two ballparks when one would suffice.  On Friday, people thought it would be fun to razz me over Tom Shatel's column in the Omaha World-Herald, where he points out the booming crowds showing up at the Trailer Park for minor league baseball while the College World Series was underway in Omaha.
A baseball carnival not named the College World Series was open for business Wednesday outside Papillion. More than 7,000 baseball fans came out to watch a game, drink a beer, hear the crack of a wooden bat and maybe see a home run or two.

Well, they got me. Clearly I was wrong.  With only 6,434 seats out in the Trailer Park, a crowd like that would have the grandstand jammed with a huge crowd out on the berms.

Wait, did they say Wednesday?  Funny thing, my daughter was there with her summer program that day...along with several hundred other kids from the Millard and Elkhorn schools' summer programs.  And they were nice enough to share some pictures with the parents on Facebook.

Hmmm... maybe everybody's out in left field during the third inning?

Maybe on the berms?

Maybe it's just an illusion...or everybody just happened to be in the bathroom at that moment?

Shatel obviously used the official attendance for the game, which was 7,524. I have no reason to doubt that paid attendance number.  Why?

Because they were giving tickets away.

It's great that the Sarpy County Storm Chasers gave away so many tickets to kids. But let's not pretend that there it was standing room only in the 6,434 seat ballpark, because it's clear that most of the seats were unoccupied all afternoon Wednesday.

Unfortunately, that misperception carried through to Ballpark Digest, who duly reported on it.  Maybe at some point down the line, I'll be proven wrong about the Boondoggle in Sarpy County...but the longer this goes on (and the attempts to prove otherwise continue to be feeble), the chances of that become less and less.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Patriotism Drives Television Ratings of National Team

Soccer fans around the US erupted a second time today when the ratings for yesterday's game between the United States and Ghana were announced.
Big numbers, to be sure. But then people try to draw comparisons to other sports... mistakenly so.
Problem is you are comparing apples and oranges. A national all-star team playing with the flag on their uniform in international competition, versus two teams out of over two dozen similar teams in the country. It's simply not the same thing.
The best comparison is to the Olympics. When it's the Olympics, people watch curling, skiing, gymnastics, swimming, and track much more heavily than they do during the rest of the year. Or the preceding three years.  Nobody says that when NBC pulls in huge ratings for the Olympics that suddenly interest in curling or gymnastics is booming.  It's simply people watching the best in their country competing with the best the rest of the world has to offer.

I'll give you another example: hockey. I'm a hockey guy.  Love the game.  But I also know that it ranks fourth in the United States in terms of fan interest.  Well behind football, and trails basketball and baseball.  Still ahead of auto racing and, yes, soccer too.

But at the 2010 Olympics, the Gold Medal hockey game between the US and Canada pulled in ridiculous ratings.  How ridiculous?

The last event of the Vancouver games turned into one of the biggest (non-N.F.L.) sports events in recent television history. The Canada-U.S.A. gold medal hockey game was seen by a huge audience of 27.6 million viewers, making it the most-watched hockey game on American television since two games in the 1980 games from Lake Placid, headed by the famous U.S. upset over the Soviet Union.

The 27.6 million viewers put the game ahead of such recent high-profile sports contests as the Masters golf tournament (14.3 million), the Daytona 500 (16 million viewers), the top game from last year’s N.B.A. Finals (16 million), the N.C.A.A. basketball final (17.6 million), Game 4 (the most watched) of the 2009 World Series (22.8 million) and the 2010 Rose Bowl (24 million).

If I tried to tell you that hockey was now bigger than college football, you'd laugh at me.  Of course, I couldn't say that with a straight face. I'm a hockey guy, but I know that hockey doesn't rate that highly.

Except when the team is wearing the red, white, and blue. Doing battle against another country, especially one that probably cares much, much more about the sport than we do. And probably with better talent than we have.

That gets our interest. That gets the casual sports fan or even some of the non-sports fan to watch. Even outside of prime time.  It's not the sport.  It's our patriotism.

If you want to use television ratings to compare interest level, use the ratings of the MLS to judge the interest level in soccer, not the World Cup.  Like last year, when ratings for the NHL were triple those of the MLS.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

MECA Confirms Discussions with FXFL Over Pro Football for TD Ameritrade Park

Rich Kaipust of the Omaha World-Herald has the story about MECA's discussions with the FXFL to bring professional football back to downtown Omaha's TD Ameritrade Park.  Previously, it sounded like discussions were to bring the team to Sarpy County, but according to Martie Cordaro, president of the Storm Chasers, they've only had "conversations" with the FXFL.

The FXFL is looking to start a six team professional football league in October, after the NFL makes their final roster cuts. The plan is to play on Wednesday nights, and the goal is to develop players for the NFL. Players who didn't make an NFL roster could turn to the FXFL to stay and shape and improve, with the hope of getting a second look from the NFL at midseason or perhaps for the next season.

Based on the success of the Omaha Nighthawks, Omaha is a market that the FXFL feels they can succeed in, and for good reason. It's not so much that the Nighthawks failed, but the UFL itself. The FXFL won't try to pay the salaries that the UFL tried, and may actually have some traction with getting a relationship started with the NFL.  If that's the case, the FXFL could work.  And if it's going to work, it definitely can work in Omaha.

MECA CEO Roger Dixon seems to think so as well, telling the World-Herald:
“We’ve just got to make sure whoever’s going to do it can pull it together, and I have no reason to think this group can’t do that.”
The Nighthawks proved that professional football could work in Omaha at a minor league level, and that Omaha would support a team at levels much greater than what the FXFL feels is necessary.  TD Ameritrade Park hosted two seasons of football previously, so there's no question whether a football field could be installed there.  (That's something that isn't known about the "Trailer Park" in Sarpy County.)

One mistake that the Nighthawks made in the final two seasons was waiting too long to get started. If the FXFL is truly serious about making this happen in 2014, they probably only have about a month to get everything in place and set for playing in 2014.

Monday, June 09, 2014

Like Most Americans, I'm Not Watching the World Cup...Or the NBA Finals

Later this week, the world's second greatest sporting event kicks off in Brazil with soccer's World Cup. Soccer fans everywhere will be enthralled.
The rest of us? Not so much. A few people will watch it like it is the Olympics, rooting for our national team.
But others, like myself, won't be paying a lot of attention. And that's something that soccer fan just can't comprehend.
Soccer may be the world's most popular sport.  Not necessarily in the U.S.  Sure, kids love to play it. They don't typically love to watch it.  Of course, I'm dealing with generalities.  There are passionate soccer fans in this country.  It is growing, even in Nebraska.

But it's not something I find particularly interesting.  Simply too much like the Simpsons' parody..

 I admit it, I'm a hockey fan. And many of the reasons why I like hockey could also apply to soccer.  If you quintupled the field area, removed the pads, and allowed contact.  But I digress.  Bottom line is that I'm not a fan of soccer, and I don't have much desire to watch it.

And in that light, I'm much like most Americans.  ESPN's Darren Rovell found an infographic that shows how much lower the United States' interest level in the World Cup is, compared to elsewhere.
Just like there is no law that says non-hockey fans need to watch the Stanley Cup final, there is no law that says non-soccer fans need to watch the World Cup.  So I'll be amongst the majority of people who won't be paying much, if any, attention to the World Cup.

It is, however, more likely that I'll catch more World Cup soccer inadvertently than the NBA Finals, which I've been purposely avoiding. I swore off the NBA about 20 years ago, and haven't looked back since.  In the post-Michael Jordan era, the professional game became unwatchable (and almost downright similar to professional wrassling), and I haven't come back.

And here's another little fact.  Even though professional basketball is one of America's most popular spectator sports, it still doesn't matter to the majority of Americans.  Heck, the NBA finals don't matter to most people in San Antonio or Miami, according to the TV ratings.
There's only one sporting event that gets the attention of the majority of Americans: the Super Bowl. Simply put, most people aren't sports fans.  Far more people are interested in Justin Bieber, the Bachelorette, or apparently what's happening with the Kardashians than sports, as near as I can tell.

If you want to follow soccer and the World Cup, that's your choice.  But unless a blizzard breaks out in Brazil, I'm probably not going to pay much attention.
If you don't like that, that's your problem, not mine.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Another Classic from Nebraska's Worst Sports Columnist

I try to avoid reading him as much as possible, but sometimes it's simply too difficult to avoid Dirk Chatelain, especially when the World-Herald sticks him on the front page of the sports section.  Like they did last week:
All it took was one sentence to make me roll my eyes:
"Sorry, Jim Delany ain't scheduling any press conferences here."

I could have sworn he just did one. In fact, I've got the proof.
There he was, meeting the media in Omaha. Barely a week prior to this column, I might add. Many of his co-workers were there.  In fact, I was there.

Was Dirk taking literary license there?  Probably.  Some might call Delany's session with reports a "question and answer" session instead of a formal press conference.  That might be technically accurate, but let's face it. There was Delany, fielding questions from the press. In Nebraska.

I've criticized Chatelain's attempts at analysis time after time. Maybe when he writes feature stories he can get away with twisting the facts a bit.  But not when the facts are pretty well known.

So it's easy for me to say "consider the source" to dismiss his conclusions. Sadly, some people still don't recognize that.

Friday, May 30, 2014

A Blogger In the Press Box: Watching Sports In a Different Way

I've been blogging for nine years; writing about sports from a fan perspective.  Sometimes watching the game on television, sometimes from the stands as a paying customer.  This past weekend, I watched the Big Ten Baseball Tournament from a new perspective.

As credentialed media, in the press box.

Yep, the Big Ten gave me credentials to cover the baseball tournament. It's not like I don't have a legitimate claim to a pass. My work has been published in preview magazines; I'm even a member of the Football Writers Association of America.  But I've always done my writing from my fan perspective: buying tickets, sitting in the stands.  Or watching on TV.  This was different.

It has some major advantages:  reserved parking, catered food, and a dry, climate-controlled seat. (That came in rather handy during Sunday's game.  It also confirmed just how lame the tired "Ameritragedy" gag really is.  Storm delays are just so... inconvenient.)

But it's also different. I almost broke the golden rule of "no cheering in the press box" in the top of the first of the Sunday game. The press box windows at TD Ameritrade Park don't open, so the crowd noise is muted. And the assembled media definitely don't cheer.  It wasn't exactly quiet, though.  The World-Herald's contingent of reporters kept up a steady conversation all day long.  It was almost like being at a sports bar, except for no alcohol, and the conversation generally had absolutely nothing to do with the game in front of them.  Go figure.

I found the way to keep myself from cheering was to focus on Tweeting and providing game updates at CornNation. It's a good think that it wasn't a football game, as I'd have a much more difficult time keeping my enthusiasm in check.

Afterwards, the pass got me into the post-game press conference. I didn't have the nerve to ask any questions; I figure that Darin Erstad was too intense to take a stupid question from me. And I didn't want to take away any opportunities from the professionals in the room.  After the Saturday game, there was an unexpected bonus: a question and answer session with Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany.

Yeah, this got very much real.  I almost got up the nerve to ask Delany whether he had ever consider pursuing a baseball challenge series with the SEC, much like basketball's challenges with the Big East and ACC.  I didn't get a chance before Delany ended the conference, though.

Would I do this again? I think it would depend on large part whether the opportunity ever presents itself again. I don't expect to ever get credentials for a Husker football game, though it would be an interesting opportunity. I suspect that I'd be more interested in having access to the postgame press conference than watching the game from the press box. I'm far too animated watching Nebraska football, and I make no attempt to hide my rooting interest in wanting to see Nebraska win.

That probably disqualifies me from ever getting that pass for football. In my defense, I don't believe that disqualifies me from being able to ask critical questions. It doesn't do any good for me to sugar coat what I write: if anything, it probably makes me more critical.  (Just read some of what I wrote back in 2007, if you don't believe that.)

If anything, that might disqualify me more than my cheering.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

FXFL Plans to Bring Developmental Football League to Omaha

This fall, sports attorney Brian Woods plans to launch a new professional developmental football league in six markets:  New York, Orlando, Boston, Portland, Omaha, and either San Antonio or Memphis. The new FXFL, standing for Fall eXperimental Football League, will play a six week schedule on Wednesday nights, starting in October. The goal isn't to compete with the NFL (or college football), but rather to complement the NFL.  In fact, their goal is to turn the league into a developmental program for the NFL.  Woods told ESPN Cleveland that the goal is to run the league as a source for development and training mid-season replacements for NFL squads.

"Forty percent of the (college) juniors that declared for the NFL draft this year were undrafted. Because of the new rookie contract structure and the college landscape changing, now more than ever there’s a need for a developmental league."

The FXFL is well aware of the failures of past attempts to create a league like that. But if the FXFL is planning on Omaha, then they clearly are looking at the one place where a lower-level professional football team actually seemed to work. The Omaha Nighthawks drew huge crowds in 2010 at Rosenblatt Stadium, and did OK in 2011 as the league floundered. But in 2012 with almost no organization, the Nighthawks succumbed as the UFL crashed.
I still believe that if you can make a developmental football league work, Omaha is about as proven of a market as you can. The FXFL is planning on utilizing 40 man rosters, with a reduced emphasis on special teams to help keep roster sizes manageable. Players will earn about $1000 a game. A television contract is being negotiated as well.  The plan is to make teams sustainable with average crowds of 6000 fans, and ticket prices averaging $30. Players will be allowed to leave for the NFL, with the goal being to establish a relationship with the NFL.

Sounds an awful lot like what the UFL was generating, before people realized that the league wasn't going to make it.

So where would a FXFL team play?  Alcohol sales (and the revenue from it) might suggest that the most likely candidate would be TD Ameritrade Park.  But don't rule out Werner Park in Sarpy County, though. While it's unclear whether it could accommodate a full-size football field, it would be big enough for the crowds that the FXFL wants to generate.  The league will own "two or three" franchises, and will franchise the others at a cost of $500,000 per team, typically to owners of minor league baseball franchises, who already have the infrastructure in place for selling tickets and operating events.  And the fact that the @GOFXFL Twitter account follows the Sarpy County baseball team sure indicates that they are likely working together.

Reports from Cleveland and New York indicate that announcements could come early in June.  My main question is whether a new football team in Omaha would try to reclaim the Nighthawks name.  It probably could be acquired very cheaply, with ready made logos and likely some equipment as well.  It is a cool name, but did the UFL's demise tarnish the brand?

Thursday, May 22, 2014

10,424 Reasons Why Sarpy County's Werner Park Isn't B1G Enough

Back when TD Ameritrade Park was bidding for the Big Ten baseball tournament, there was a perception by some that Sarpy County's Werner Park would have been a better venue.  I've long disagreed on multiple counts:  nearby amenities such as restaurants, bars, and hotels, but also more importantly, the tournament would draw better in Omaha than anywhere else.

Sure, almost nobody showed up last year in Minneapolis.  Not many people showed up in Columbus, Ohio either. But those are different markets.  Omaha likes college baseball.  More importantly, Omaha loves the Huskers.  Even old-pal AJ the Huskerh8er recognizes it, in this backhanded compliment:

This week, Tom Shatel of the Omaha World-Herald was the latest to suggest that Werner Park would be better in terms of venue earlier this week.  6400 seats, with the capability to seat up to 9,000 on the berms, would be enough in Minneapolis.  Or Columbus.

He will be the last to ever suggest that.  Day One of the Big Ten baseball tournament at TD Ameritrade Park drew 10,424 fans.  Yeah, the vast majority of those were Husker fans who only stayed for the afternoon matinee.  Doesn't change the fact that yesterday's crowd was bigger than what Werner Park is capable of accommodating.

Now the question is what the crowds will be like today, after yesterday's thrilling 7-6 victory over Ohio State.  First pitch is at 5 pm, and some people may be able to sneak out of work an hour or two early to get to the game.  Is 12,000 possible today?  I think so.

And if Nebraska wins today, they'll play one - or two - games on Saturday.  How many will show up that day?  CornNation's David McGee told me earlier this week he thought it would be over 15,000.  Maybe even 20,000.  On Monday, I thought that might be overly optimistic.

Now, I'm thinking David had a better read on this than I did.

Two years ago, Martie Cordaro tried to sell his ballpark as being "right-sized."  Well, day one made it clear that wasn't true.

Werner Park simply isn't B1G enough.

Monday, May 19, 2014

How Many Husker Fans Will Attend the Big Ten Baseball Tournament?

The Big Ten baseball tournament begins Wednesday in Omaha, starting at 9 am.  The Huskers play Ohio State at 1 pm that day.  Somewhat surprised by the spaced out scheduling, with games starting so early and going so late.  The last game of the day probably won't finish until about midnight.

It'll be interesting to see how many Husker fans will be in attendance.  A few weeks ago, they announced that over 4,000 all-session passes had been sold, and earlier tonight, a quick scan of Ticketmaster indicated that most of the seats between the dugouts have been sold.  I didn't count the numbers, but I suspect that's ticket sales of around six or seven thousand.

I suspect a large number will walk up on Wednesday, and if the Huskers make it to Saturday, I'd be disappointed if attendance doesn't top 10,000.  If over 11,000 fans bought tickets for a midweek game between Nebraska and Creighton, I would think at least that many would want to be at the ballpark on a weekend with a championship on the line.

And if that happens, it'll finally end one media talking point that periodically bubbles up. The cozy relationship between many sportswriters and the former Omaha Royals has resulted in periodic suggestions that Sarpy County's new ballpark would be perfect for the B1G tournament.

They have a point if you think that the same number of fans will attend in Omaha as they did last year in Minneapolis.  Of course, all you have to do is compare Nebraska baseball attendance to the rest of the Big Ten to realize that isn't going to happen.  I fully expect Omaha to set Big Ten baseball tournament attendance records this week.

File Photo - April 2013
There are other reasons why TD Ameritrade Park is better for the Big Ten Baseball tournament.  Let's start with the schedule, which features 15 hours of baseball on Wednesday and Thursday...and maybe Saturday.  Maybe some people will sit through every game, but they'll be relatively few in number.   Most people will come and go, and all of the nearby hotels, restaurants, and bars provide plenty of opportunities for fans to do something other than watch baseball.  (Heck, those fans who DO sit through 15 hours of baseball probably will appreciate having one of the 1,000 hotel rooms within a five minute walk of the ballpark.)

In Sarpy County, it's a ten minute drive to just about anything else. Last fall, Drafthouse Cinema was rumored to be building out at Pennant Place, but there hasn't been another update on that since then.  In fact, a Facebook page for the project that launched last fall has since been been deleted.  Based on the lack of updates, I suspect that not much has changed out in BFE Sarpy County in the last year.

So no, the Trailer Park in BFE wouldn't be a good location at all for the Big Ten baseball tournament.  Does the Trailer Park even have locker facilities to allow teams to get ready for a game while another is underway?

Right now, it's all speculation on my part.  I could easily be wrong.  It'll be up to Husker fans to pack TD Ameritrade Park this weekend to give us a definitive statement on which ballpark makes the most sense.

And if Nebraska fans want more Big Ten tournaments to come to Omaha (like basketball), they'll want to support baseball this week.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Michael Sam's Kiss Shows Us Our Sports World Is Changing

As the 2014 NFL Draft came to an end, two storylines seemed to be emerging; one comical, one serious and a little bit serious.  The comical one was whether any Texas Longhorns would be drafted.  Some thought this was a result of Texas' recruiting failures over the years.
If it truly was the result of recruiting failures, it was also a failure of recruiting services. From 2009 to 2012, Rivals consistently ranked Texas incoming classes as top five.  Now that Nebraska's three years removed from the Big XII, I haven't followed Texas that closely. I suspect that the problems in Texas had much more to do with development than with talent acquisition.  Fortunately, that's something that incoming head coach Charlie Strong knows how to do; his Louisville team had three first round draft pick...from recruiting classes that scored in the forties, according to Rivals.  That'll take the sting out of the #texasShutout in the NFL Draft moving forward.

The other storyline was Missouri defensive end Michael Sam. The SEC defensive player of the year and all-American was thought to be a second-day draft pick going in, but didn't go until late in the seventh and final round. Some attributed it to Sam's poor showing at the NFL Combine. There is some merit there, though Sam did post significantly better numbers at the Missouri Pro Day.

The elephant in the room, of course, was Sam's revelation in February that he was gay. NFL types all wanted to say that it wasn't a factor, but deep down, everybody knows that had to play a factor. Especially as NFL teams dug deep to take flyers on 1-AA and non-BCS conference players while ignoring the SEC player of the year.

Eventually, the St. Louis Rams decided to take a chance. It was a safer pick for the Rams, with Columbia being just a two hour drive away. Missouri Tiger fans are going to be more supportive of their guy, and that'll limit the fallout from people who somehow think that sexual preference has any impact on a player's ability to sack the quarterback.

Sam agreed to allow ESPN into his draft part and show his reaction to being drafted. We can only assume that Sam was extremely nervous and uptight as the possibility that he might be shunned in the draft became more and more likely.  So when Sam did get the call from the Rams, the emotion was unmistakable, and became one of the most memorable sports moments we've seen.

When the clip began, we saw Sam standing with a friend, which didn't seem any different than any other draft party we've seen over the years.  Watching the two interact, though, made it clear this was different. But yet, really the same. There was a hug.  There were tears of joy.  There was a tender, celebratory, emotional kiss.  We've seen it before...except this time, it wasn't a male and female, it was two males.

Some people might have found it offensive. That's their opinion...and that's all it is. It's Sam's life, and his business how he wants to live his life. If you have a problem with it, that's your problem, not his.
Bomani Jones kind of captured my thoughts on the matter as it happened.
I haven't seen men kiss like this before in real life either.  I suspect this was the first time something like this every happened on ESPN...and it won't be the last time.  If you don't like it, that's your problem because unless you are on the other end of the kiss, it's really none of our business.

Look to your own moral belief structure to guide you as to what is right and wrong for you. Whether that's religion, atheism, or agnosticism, roll with whatever beliefs you choose. This is America, where we're allowed to believe what we want to believe. (Except apparently in Alabama for some twisted reason.)

If you don't like someone like Michael Sam playing football, that's your problem. And you'd better get used to it, because more players will be open about their personal life moving forward.  In the 1930's and 1940's, Jesse Owens and Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in sports. In 2014, Sam broke the LGBT barrier.  And over time, it's going to mean less and less.

Monday, May 05, 2014

Ralston Arena Loses $4 Million in Year One

Interesting little tidbit from the 2012-2013 annual report for the city of Ralston:  in the first year of operation, the new Ralston Arena operated at a $4 million deficit.  The arena charged $3,370,607 for services in the first year, and received another $239,241 in "operating grants and contributions."

Expenses in year one totaled $7,633,914.  That's a revenue shortfall of $4,024,066 in year one.

One caveat on the results on the Ralston Arena.  Sales tax revenue from the new Menards store that opened last fall is intended to help pay for the new arena, but since the store didn't operate in year one, those revenues weren't available for 2012-13.  That changes in the current year, so the numbers should improve in year two.

That likely won't solve all of the financial concerns, though. Ralston will get 70% of the sales tax revenue generated by Menards, and if the new store generates $40 million in sales, as is the average for Menards, that's only about $2 million a year.  Unless operations improve significantly in Ralston, it looks like this new arena will be yet another money loser, much like the Mid-America Center in Council Bluffs.

And that, in turn, raises questions about the financial viability of UNO's new Aksarben arena currently under construction. How will UNO's arena be able to break even (or even turn a profit) when other arenas don't?

I'm not privy to the numbers that justify the UNO arena, but I've long been a skeptic. And my skepticism continues to grow.  I don't believe that the new UNO arena can be justified from a financial perspective.  Does UNO have some magic ability to succeed where others fail?  I doubt that.

Maybe from an athletic perspective, the new UNO arena makes sense. Maybe having a near-campus facility that's connected with a practice facility is just what UNO's hockey program needs to break through on the ice. The shuffling around town for practice and odd scheduling requirements imposed by sharing the CenturyLink Center with Creighton and other events may make a compelling case to build the arena.

Even though it's likely going to cost more to build and operate than supporters want to acknowledge. And if you are building it without the expectation that the new arena is going to improve UNO's fiances, the inevitable losses won't be as big of an issue.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Dean Blais Extension a Good Thing For UNO

Last week, UNO extended the contract of hockey coach Dean Blais for an additional three years, through the end of the 2017-18 season. To my surprise, a few UNO fans actually grumbled about the extension.

Not sure I completely understand it.  Sure, UNO hasn't made the semifinals of the conference tournament in Blais' five seasons in Omaha. Didn't in Mike Kemp's last four seasons either, though. If Dean Blais isn't the answer in Omaha, who would be?

And that's the reason I think UNO should stick with Blais. If Blais isn't good enough, then what's the alternative? Guess on a hot assistant out there? Might work.  Probably won't, though.

I don't believe that coaching is the problem.  I think there have been some personnel issues the last couple of years that got this program out of whack. Dismiss a captain just as the fall semester starts? That's a problem. And Blais has had to do that two out of the last three seasons.

One thing that has changed in college sports over the last few years is the increasing lead time in recruiting. Players are now scouted and recruited as they enter high school, rather than during their senior year. Compounding that lead time is that many hockey players play junior hockey between high school and enrolling in college. So if you want top-tier talent, coaches have to invest years of effort to get those players.

And I think that's something Blais has been doing all along, but is just now beginning to produce. Minneapolis television station WCCO noted how Blais snagged four of Minnesota's top ten high school prospects this season. Assuming that Blais started recruiting those players three or four years ago, he's just now beginning to reap the benefits of his efforts.

So from my perspective, I see no reason not to extend Blais' contract. He doesn't sound ready to quit just yet; in fact, he told the World-Herald that he might want to coach another seven years or so .

If that's the case, why the heck would you not keep a coach like Dean Blais around?

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Meow! Nebraska's Spring Game Turns Into a Big Football Party

I admit that I've got a soft spot in my heart for the old-style spring games when the top units face off against each other. My favorite had to be the 1995 game when Tommie Frazier and Brook Berringer tried to top each other. But television coverage has changed college football not just in the spring but year round.  Coaches now are too timid to show much of anything in a spring game. They've gradually been dialed down over the years. Bill Callahan even turned it into a farce, matching up the starters against the scout team to mask the clusterfool.

A lot of people stopped going to spring games for that reason. I know I skipped a few during the Callahan years for that very reason. Cleaning the garage? A better use of my time.  But even if there wasn't much to learn from a football perspective, there's always been one very good reason to go to the spring game.


Growing up, I remember my parents taking the family to the spring game. And now with children of my own, the spring game is a family staple of ours. It's a fun way to introduce kids to Husker football. Tickets are relatively inexpensive. The kids get to run around on the field at halftime, and the game is low pressure. There are no tense moments when you don't want to answer your children's questions because you are afraid to miss a play.

But the 2014 edition of the Nebraska spring game gave the non-parents a reason to come to Lincoln.  Fun.  And it started with Bo Pelini leading the tunnel walk with a cat.
@FauxPelini had no choice but to waive the white flag of surrender at that point.

Pelini detractors may not like the four losses a season. They may not like the emotion that sometimes runs overboard. But it's time to permanently retire the misperception that Bo Pelini is an angry, humorless sociopath. Pelini has kept that side of his personality under wraps for far too long. We've only seen little snippets of it here and there, but over the last year, we're finally getting to see it publicly.

And Saturday, we saw the fun side of Pelini. He challenged Kenny Bell to a passing contest to see who could hit the goal posts from 40 yards away.  Bell hit the posts on two out of three throws, while Pelini channeled his inner Mickey Joseph, coming up short on all three tosses.  Former players were invited to punt, pass, and kick.  Except graduating tackle Jeremiah Sirles turned it into an opportunity to propose to his girlfriend.
There was no way to top last year's Jack Hoffman touchdown run. So Pelini didn't.  He just made today a lot of fun for everybody.  It was a football party.

Oh, there was a little football in there. It's too easy to overreact to a spring game. (Remember Brion Carnes in 2011?) So let's temper everything we saw. Tommy Armstrong didn't have a great game, but he won't be in any danger of losing his spot as the starter based on today.  What we did see was Ryker Fyfe step up and lead the #1 offense on an impressive touchdown drive against the Blackshirts with a poised performance. Johnny Stanton looked OK as well in his first public performance in a Nebraska uniform.

We all know what Ameer Abdullah can do, so he spent almost the entire day on the sideline. Imani Cross looked really sharp, rushing six times for 100 yards. He showed great vision reversing his field on a simple counter play for a 39 yard touchdown. Adam Taylor looked OK, but I was impressed with Terrell Newby's improvement. He looks like he's bulked up a bit, but more importantly, he's really worked on ball security. 16 carries and nary even a bobble.  Brandon Reilly had the play of the day with a nifty catch that only got better when he was finally brought down after a 51 yard gain.

On defense, I liked what I saw from Byerson Cockrell in the secondary with four tackles and a pass breakup. It wasn't a great performance from the defense, but it wasn't bad either. Nathan Gerry did get off to a fast start. I suspect that Pelini had hoped to see a little more from the linebackers.

But considering the past history of spring game results, it doesn't really matter. The biggest takeaway from the 2014 Spring Game was that players and fans had a blast.
And that's not a bad thing at all.