Monday, July 31, 2006

"Jeff Christian, Please Report to the Husker Basketball Bench"

Husker Hoops Central is reporting that Barry Collier has officially accepted the Butler athletic director's job, ending the Collier era at Nebraska. Something that, in hindsight, should have been done 4 months ago. Why? The Sporting News' Mike DeCourcy made it clear in an interview on KXSP-590 AM this afternoon.

At the end of the season, Steve Pederson decided to keep Barry Collier - a decision that didn't make sense in March and still doesn't make sense in July. Why didn't it make sense? Simple... a coach with only 2 years left on his contract should either be terminated or get a contract extension. Steve Pederson's decision to retain Collier without revising his contract was essentially a death sentence for Collier ... and potentially a death sentence for Husker basketball. With all the rumors that Collier was going to be fired and with only 2 more seasons on his contract, Collier had no credibility with any recruits. Any recruit would recognize that Collier only had a slim chance of being around for a recruit's first season, and no chance after that. So why would any basketball recruit consider Nebraska?

Essentially, Steve Pederson elected to put Nebraska basketball on a hunger strike. Why? I still go back to money. Pederson is still trying to pay for a $50 million project to expand the Husker football facilities, and needs to devote every penny he has to pay for this project.

Collier and his staff saw the handwriting on the wall. Scott Spinelli headed south to Wichita. Tim Waller left for a D-2 head coaching job. Collier pursued the Ball State job and now got the Butler AD job. They knew it was only a matter of time, and got out of Lincoln on their own terms. Good for them, and now good for Nebraska, because now instead of a drug out firing, Nebraska has a chance to hire a coach and let him start recruiting.

Unfortunately, Steve Pederson is the man that will be doing the recruiting. Husker Hoops Central is reporting that Kent State coach Jim Christian is the #1 candidate for the job, and is extremely interested in the job. John Mabry of the Lincoln Journal-Star agrees. Let's hope so. Christian is an up-and-coming coach...20 win seasons in the MAC his first 4 years. And Husker fans tired of trash talking from BlueJay fans should also know that he's 2-0 versus Creighton and Dana Altman, winning 67-58 in Omaha in November 2004 and winning 70-55 at Kent in February 2004 in the BracketBuster. HHC says that this could be done this week.

By the way, it's interesting to hear some people criticize Barry Collier for interviewing for this job, saying that it shows disloyalty to Nebraska. Perhaps. But I don't think it's hurting Nebraska at all; I think it will start the rebuilding process sooner. Good for all. But the criticism also reminds me of the Houston Nutt situation. Remember when that plane was on the tarmac in Arkansas in January 2004??? That there was "no job offer"? Nutt knew that if he got on that plane, he couldn't come back, much like some folks are saying that Barry Collier could never come back to Nebraska now. It may not have been a legally signed contract, or even an enforcable job offer, but for all practical purposes, Nutt knew that the Nebraska job was his for the taking.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Regents, Boosters call for Audit at NU

In tomorrow's World-Herald, David Sokol joins the call for an audit of UNO athletics:

UNO athletic booster David Sokol for years has sponsored a bonus program for Maverick athletics administrators.

In that role, he says, he would sit down each spring with UNO Chancellor Nancy Belck and Vice Chancellor Jim Buck to evaluate the performance of the athletic director and his staff, with one of the most important criteria being on-budget performance.

So Sokol was surprised to learn in recent weeks that the University of Nebraska at Omaha has had athletic budget woes for five years
Meanwhile, Regent Randy Ferlic plans to request audits of all three Nebraska athletic departments (UNO's Mavericks, UNL's Huskers, and UN-Kearney's Lopers) at tomorrow's Board of Regents meeting.

Ferlic's desire to expand the audits to all three sports programs sounds good initially. UNO needs it, but bringing UNK into the mix allows the audit to put things into perspective. And, an audit of the Husker athletic program will finally shed some light on the fundraising for the stadium improvement project. Fundraising stalled after the Solich firing, and Steve Pederson stopped providing updates after questions were raised about the lack of progress.

However, you also have to consider the source. Ferlic has been outspoken about downsizing athletic programs, so Ferlic's motivation isn't to help UNO athletics succeed.

Contrast that with the booster organizations that met tonight in Omaha. KETV channel 7 reported that boosters are committed to helping UNO get through their budget woes, but they need to have a better understanding of UNO's situation. Approached this evening, David Herbster accepted the call for an audit.

One thing is clear. The uproar is because fans and boosters are committed more than ever to supporting Maverick athletics.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

UNO Administration a Circus

The circus at UNO took another turn today, as a World Herald story reported that Chancellor Nancy Belck attempted to fire athletic director David Herbster last week, apparantly as the fall guy for the UNO athletic budget mess. Friday, the University of Nebraska's Board of Regents will start looking for answers from UNO's administrators at their next meeting.

What are the regents saying?

Regent Kent Schroeder of Kearney said that Belck violated an unwriten rule to inform the regents about potential controversies. Even NU President J.B. Milliken said that this situation has been mishandled. KXSP-590's Matt Perrault reported today that Belck's job could be in danger.

This is a firestorm that is simply not going away.

Yesterday, MavRick came out with a list of suggestions for UNO to solve this crisis. The most notable is the call for an audit of UNO athletics. Underneath the circus of boosters searching for answers and administrators dodging the truth lies a very real problem. An audit would go a long way towards clearing the air and provide a starting point for solving these problems.

In the meantime, it's becoming more and more evident that this fiasco is going to result in changes in administration at UNO. Some would argue that you don't fire university leaders over the football program, but this situation has grown beyond athletics.

Barry Collier: The End is Near

The Indinapolis Star is reporting that Barry Collier is one of three finalists to become Butler's next athletic director. Collier will interview with Butler on Friday, and on Saturday, will be inducted into Butler's "Hall of Fame". Will that ceremony include the annoucement of Collier's return to his Alma Mater, where he not only played but led a basketball resurgence in the 1990's? All indications point that way.

So let's recap this story. At the end of the season, the rumor mill had Collier being fired, only to have the Huskers make the semis of the Big XII tournament, saving his job. Steve Pederson's "vote of confidence" apparantly didn't mean much, as top assistant Scott Spinelli took a pay cut to go to Wichita State and Barry Collier pursued the Ball State head coaching job.

Whether this is good news or bad news isn't clear. What is clear is that at least the uncertainty over Collier's future is over. And unfortunately, another Steve Pederson coaching search.

So who will Pederson target at this late date? An interim coach would lead to yet another circus. Rick Majerus just turned down a job offer from the Denver Nuggets, prefering to stay in Milwaukee to care for his ailing mother. Kent State's Jeff Christain was an assistant at Pitt while Pederson was alienating Panther fans. Mike Anderson just took the Mizzou job. Maybe Bobby Lutz of UNC-Charlotte will answer the page?

Well, Larry Brown is looking for a job...

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Mav Hockey: Success on Ice doesn't extend to the Ledger

Today's Omaha World-Herald featured the latest installment in the horror story of UNO athletics. In 2001-02, UNO earned $927,856 in profits from hockey. In 2004-05, UNO's profit had dropped to $1,990, and for the recently completed 2005-06 season, UNO expects to show a loss. Contrast that with the on-ice performance: in 2004-05, UNO returned to "the Joe" for the CCHA playoffs for the first time since the 2000-01 season. In 2005-06, UNO earned their first NCAA tournament appearance in just their 9th year of playing hockey.

Where is the disconnect? What is the problem? Even UNO fans can't agree on it. Many blame the move to the Qwest Center, though the evidence isn't clear there. UNO does pay a higher rent at the Qwest Center, which doesn't help UNO's budget issues at all. But UNO's attendance woes started long before the move to the new arena. The World-Herald's financial numbers showed the revenue slide in UNO hockey beginning the season before the arena move. In that last season at the Civic, actual attendance (fans on site) dropped significantly. UNO's paid attendance stayed the same because UNO "bought up" the remaining unsold tickets, but the revenue numbers plummeted.

Once UNO moved to the Qwest Center, the "sold-out" situation ended with the addition of 6,000 new seats. And while some fans bought new season tickets with the move, some fans dropped their season tickets. Myself included.

I've held hockey season tickets for years, first with the Lancers and then getting UNO tickets just before they capped ticket sales when the program started. At first, I shared the tickets with 3 other people. Over the years, the other folks dropped out of the ticket splitting arrangement until finally I was the sole ticket user. I dropped the Lancer tickets, and then sold the UNO tickets to others. For the first few years, finding a taker for extra UNO tickets was never a problem. Until the last season at the Civic, that is. That season, there wasn't much interest in my extra tickets with UNO struggling on the ice. Several games, I was late to the game hoping I could find a buyer for my extras, and usually unsuccessfully, I might add. So, I dropped my season tickets with the move to the Qwest Center. I did express an interest at that time in purchasing a partial season ticket plan, but nobody from UNO followed up on it.

For the next 2 years, I bought tickets at the window or from scalpers, which certainly wasn't terribly convenient. I still showed up that first season at the Qwest Center, when UNO only one 8 games. But I saw the potential of the program, with young players like Scott Parse and Alex Nikiforuk leading the youth movement. I did come back on board last season when I found out UNO was actually selling a partial season ticket package. How did I find out? Other fans told me; it certainly didn't come from UNO's ticket office. Heck, I asked UNO about it 2 years earlier with no response.

I know other fans who have dropped their season tickets because of issues with the ticket office. Some were billed for priority seating fees without giving them alternatives. Others found their section converted into a "general admission" student section. In every case, UNO did not contact the ticketholder and explain the changes that were going on, and making sure that each ticketholder understood the changes that were being made and what their alternatives were.

When UNO started their hockey program, ticket sales were easy...too easy. The ticket base was sold out within 2 weeks, and they never had to think about how to promote ticket sales. Even as the ticket base dwindled over the last few years, the problem was ignored.

UNO hockey attendance isn't bad. It's 7th in the nation. It simply could be better. It has been better. It can be better. And financially, it needs to be better.

Moving back to the Civic isn't an option; the lease for the Qwest Center runs another 7 years. And moving back doesn't mean attendance would go up either; it would likely fall as the amenities of skyboxes and club seating, not to mention abundant parking, would disappear.

UNO hockey is a great sport, and I'm looking forward to a good season. Maybe even great if Hobey Baker candidate Scott Parse returns for his senior season. But UNO can't simply treat hockey like another sport like women's basketball or soccer. It's the only division 1 sport at the school, and it has the opportunity to fuel the entire program.

If only the administration will unleash the handcuffs that have been in place.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Omaha: College Town? Or Event Town?

This weekend's 4 day racing meet at Horsemen's Park will likely draw 50,000 fans to the simulcast facility this weekend, sparking memories of the old Ak-Sar-Ben. And when I speak of the "old Ak-Sar-Ben", I mean the racing jewel of the 70's and 80's, not the dilapided facility that closed 10 years ago and was finally demolished last year. In Ak-Sar-Ben's glory years, buses came from Minneapolis, Des Moines, Kansas City, and beyond as Omaha held the only horse races for 500 miles in every direction. Gamblers flocked here, making it an event, and the locals joined in the fun. Eventually, tracks opened in those other cities and the busses stopped coming. No longer an event, many of the locals also stopped coming as Ak-Sar-Ben racing became a ghost of it's former self. The track finally closed, and the Nebraska Horsemen opened a simulcast facility to maintain a presence in Omaha. As part of the requirements to simulcast, they had to build a small track and hold one horse race a year. But a funny thing happened... the "mini-meet", originally held merely for legal reasons, became an event. Now, the legally required meet has expanded and is now a full-fledged festival in the city drawing local crowds that resemble the glory days of Ak-Sar-Ben. Yes, the only busses that will arrive at Horsemen's Park this weekend are shuttle busses from distant parking lots, so the crowds still are smaller than Ak-Sar-Ben at it's peak. But the feel and interest bear homage to the spirit of Ak-Sar-Ben.

In two more weeks, the Cox Classic comes to town and thousands of people will flock to the Champions Club. And while many people will come for the golf, many more people will flock to the 19th Hole for one of Omaha's biggest parties. With bands every night, it's become a legend that is almost bigger than the golf itself, rivaling some of the events on the larger PGA tour.

Note I didn't even mention the College World-Series, which is Omaha's biggest sports event. The reputation of Omaha being an event town will reach a pinnacle in 2 years when the Olympic swimming trials will invade the Qwest Center for a month. My guess is the Qwest Center will be filled with folks who probably have only watched a few minutes of swimming on TV in their lifetimes.

There is a lesson here for UNO to learn. When UNO started a hockey program, the games were an event. The first game against Manitoba. The "Tuesday Night" play-in game. Chasing Ryan Miller from goal. In the process, UNO's athletic department became complacent. Like horse racing, increase competition from other sporting events have made UNO hockey less of an event. They counted on the sport to market itself, and when UNO stumbled on the ice 3 years ago, the event was gone.

UNO hockey found their mojo on the ice, getting home ice in the playoffs the last 2 years and earning their first NCAA tournament bid last season. With a roster full of young talent returning, the future on-ice for UNO looks promising. But, for as hard as Coach Mike Kemp and his staff have worked in re-establishing the program on ice, it's time for the athletic department to buckle down and re-establish UNO hockey as an event in town.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

2006 Projection Game-by-Game

With the temperature going to soar over 100 degrees, it's time to fire up the 'ol crystal ball next to the air conditioner... Here are my thoughts for 2006 before anything real starts to happen.

Louisiana Tech (85% chance of a Husker win) Anything can happen in a season opener. Remember 1998 when the Troy Edwards and Tim Rattay shredded the Husker secondary (featuring the Mike and Ralph Brown in their senior season)? But the Bulldogs only return 2 starters on defense and have to break in a new quarterback in Memorial Stadium...

Nicholls State (99% chance of win) This game might be more interesting if it were the season opener; then the attraction would be the debut of the new HuskerVision screen.

Southern Cal (20% chance of win) Yes, Nebraska played well against Colorado and Michigan to end 2005, but those teams weren't anywhere close to the quality of USC. Yes, USC is breaking in a new quarterback. But what happened the last time USC replaced a Heisman winning QB? The new sophomore QB went into Auburn and won his first game on the road, and the next year, Matt Leinert won the Heisman trophy himself. And thousands of Husker fans travelling out west didn't help at Arizona State in 1996 or Cal in 1998.

Troy (80% chance of win) Troy has been a growing program since going 1-A, and pulled off an upset of Mizzou 2 years ago. This game could be a trap between USC and Kansas, if the Huskers find themselves in a funk or a celebratory mood....

Kansas (85% chance of win) Kansas wasn't 25 points better than Nebraska in talent last year...they just played 25 points better. This game is in Lincoln, where the Huskers feed off the crowd.

Iowa State (60% chance of win) The 2004 loss at Ames was one of those inexplicable events of 2004. The Cyclones always play the Huskers well in Ames, as they usually grab a few recruits out of Nebraska. If Nick Leaders holds onto the ball in OT, ISU leaves Lincoln with a W. However, they've lost a lot of players from that defense, giving the Huskers a chance to get a road "W".

Kansas State (55% chance of win) This one is a pure guess. Nebraska hasn't won in the Little Apple since 1996. If not for QB Allan Evridge's bum shoulder last season, KSU very well might have won in Lincoln last fall. But, it's a whole new coaching staff for the PuddyTats making everything uncertain. Assuming that the Wildcats struggle with their transition gives the edge to the Huskers in this game. If they adjust to life under Ron Prince fast, look out...

Texas (35% chance of win) This game is in Lincoln, and Vince Young is in the NFL. But Texas still is loaded. Plus, the Bovines seem to find a way to beat Nebraska (5-1 since the formation of the Big XII).

Oklahoma State (60% chance of a win) I've seen a lot of people worry about this game. It's a road game, and the Cowboys will be looking to rebound after a tough transition game. And like the Troy game, it follows an emotional battle.

Missouri (75% chance of a win) Missouri loses Brad Smith, but returns a lot of players. Fortunately, Chase Daniel is not as much of a running threat, which means that pictures of Mizzou quarterbacks running all alone should be nothing but a bad memory.

Texas A&M (60% chance of win) A&M looked to be rising under Franchione 2 years ago, then injuries saw them struggle to 5-6. Now, Franchione is on the hot seat...and if he doesn't get the Aggies to a bowl game, he could be gone. This might be a "must win" game for Franchione and former Husker AD Bill Byrne, which means the emotion level at Kyle Field could go even higher.

Colorado (90% chance of win) Colorado quit down the stretch, getting outscored 136-19 in their last 14 quarters of 2005. The rebuilding process in Boulder is going to take some time...

What do I see here? Optimist says 10-2 (losses to USC and Tejas). Realist says Big XII North champions at 9-3. I've felt that Nebraska has had the best talent in the Big XII North the last 2 season, and this season there can be no excuse. Pessimist? Let's not go there, but with the kool-aid drinkers thinking we'll win at least one game between USC and Tejas, not winning at least 8 games will bring back the turmoil, barring a Zac Taylor season-ending injury. Considering that we add a non-conference game against USC, an 8-4 regular season is still showing improvement.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

2006 Husker Football Expectations - by Position

Let's look at what Nebraska has back for this season, and who will step up.

QB: Zac Taylor steadily improved throughout the 2005 season. In the first 3 games, only the most illogical kool-aid drinker would have seen much to be optimistic about. Even Taylor knew it: "I expected a little more success, and a lot of that has to do with me," Taylor said to the World-Herald after the Wake Forest game. "I've got to be able to get the ball to guys to make plays. Callahan put him into the shotgun, and the improvement. Taylor is a solid quarterback, and for the first time since 2001, Nebraska has a returning QB and offensive coordinator. That's huge for building consistency.

"Timex" Taylor took a lickin' last season, and kept on tickin'. Which is going to be important in 2006, since depth is an issue. Recruiting sensation Harrison Beck had to be pulled out of his redshirt year after Taylor was knocked out of the KSU game, and struggled. Then, his shoulder began to act up in spring practice, causing him to miss even more valuable development time. In 2006, keeping Zac Taylor healthy will be a huge key to the Huskers success.

IB: Well, 12 games later than they expected, the Recruitniks are finally correct. One of Callahan's prized recruits is going to replace Cory Ross at I-Back. Ross was a warrior for the Huskers the last 2 seasons and will be sorely missed, not only for his running ability, but also for his blocking, his leadership, and his heart. Replacing Ross will likely be either bruising Cody Glenn or flashy Marlon Lucky. Glenn impressed in short yardage situations last year, but occasionally struggled with controlling the football. Lucky has the speed to be a game breaker in the open field, but last season struggled with finding the openings to the open field. JuCo transfer Kenny Wilson appears to be making an impact in summer conditioning, but I haven't heard anything about his blocking ability. Which probably is the point that will decide who ends up being the #1 back...who blocks the best?

WR: Terrence Nunn and Nate Swift will anchor this group. Nunn has nice speed, and Swift shows a knack for getting open and making the catch. Behind them are Franz Hardy, who started hot and then disappeared for most of the season and Tyrell Spain, who sat out last fall due to academic issues. Recruitniks looking for major contributions from Menelik Holt and Maurice Purify should review their expectations from the last couple of years and remember the contributions Chris Brooks, Hardy, Shamus McKoy, etc. made and scale back their expectations.

TE: How recovered will Matt Herian be? Herian was a true difference-maker at tight end before suffering a gruesome broken leg against Mizzou in 2004. He finally was able to practice towards the end of spring practice. If Herian can return to even 90% of his pre-injury level, he can be major contributor to this offense. Converted tight end Justin Tomerlin, who redshirted last season, looks to be making progress as well.

OL: Last season, I was a little too optimistic about the line. The 2004 line wasn't nearly as bad as I feared, and I hoped that they would be even more improved in 2005. But injuries forced some players to play out of position, while other players really struggled. But against Colorado, Matt Slauson and Chris Patrick started to get more time at the tackle positions, and the line finally started to give the protection that Taylor needed and the holes the I-backs need. Observers this spring said the line continues to progress very well... If so, that bodes very well for 2006.

DL: Nebraska loses 2 defensive linemen to the NFL: LeKevin Smith and Titus Adams. But, Ola Dagunduro and Barry Cryer were more like alternates than second stringers. Ndakukong Suh was impressive before getting hurt last season. Craig Roark and Ty Steinkuhler will be need to provide more depth. Jay Moore and Adam Carriker should be outstanding at defensive ends, and young Barry Turner and Zach Potter are talented backups.

LB: Every Husker fan is anxious to see what Steve Octavien can do against 1-A opposition. In one quarter of the Maine game, Octavien spent more time in the Black Bear backfield than any of their running backs. Stewart Bradley and Bo Ruud also return from injuries, and Corey McKeon is a team leader.

DB: Zac Bowman and Courtney Grixby are solid corners. Bowman is a nice talent who will probably be in the NFL next season (recruitniks thought he'd be there by now). I think Andrew Shanle will have a good senior year; he was hampered last season by injuries. At the other safety, Tierre Green returns to his native position and should be solid as well. Titus Brothers has a history of alternating between making great plays and getting burned badly.

Positions of strength: IB (though none are proven to date, there is talent there), DL (loads of returning experience), LB (if everyone's healthy, though we need some young guys to start to emerge).
Positions of concern: QB (big dropoff after Zac Taylor), DB (need to see some young players emerge here)

Coming up... a game by game look at 2006...

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Husker 2005 Season Review

Well, with the college football magazines sprouting up at the grocery stores, it's almost time to start thinking of next season... of course, before we can look forward to 2006, let's review 2005.

Last season got off to a less-than spectacular start with a 25-7 win over 1-AA Maine. While the defense looked a bit stronger, the offense looked inept. When Maine scored on a long touchdown pass to pull within 1 score early in the 4th quarter, a nervous hush fell over Memorial Stadium. Fortunately, Bo Ruud soon scored on an interception return a few minutes later to save the victory. The next week, the offense continued to sputter against Wake Forest, but the defense scored 3 times to make the 31-3 final much more respectable.

The night before the Wake Forest games, much of the Husker nation tuned into ESPN2 to catch Frank Solich's Ohio Bobcats take on the next week's opponent, Pitt. The heavily favored Panthers scored on the opening kickoff of the game, but Solich's Bobcats outplayed them the next 58 minutes and led 10-7 until the exhausted Bobcats called a prevent defense. And as frequently happens, the offense drives the field against the prevent, and Pitt kicks a field goal to send the game into overtime. But in overtime, Ohio's Dion Byrum intercepted Pitt quarterback and scored the winning touchdown sending Solich fans in Nebraska into delirium.

That delirium led to a feeling of deja 'vu next week as Pitt again drove the field against a prevent defense...but this time, Pitt twice missed converting a game winning field goal in a 7-6 Husker win. A game that was so painful to watch, Brent Musburger couldn't wait to start drinking, getting busted outside Memorial Stadium for violating Nebraska's open container law. Nebraska was 3-0, but the defense had scored more touchdowns than the offense and quarterback Zac Taylor was making fans reconsider how bad they thought Jammal Lord and Mickey Joseph were passing.

After a bye week, Callahan made several adjustments against Iowa State, the most noticeable being putting Taylor into the shotgun. The result was a more productive Taylor, throwing for 431 yards, though once again they had trouble scoring offensive touchdowns. The Huskers nearly lost this game in the first overtime as Iowa State's Nick Leaders dropped an interception of Taylor, which would have ended the game. The next week, defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove opened with the prevent defense that was so effective in holding Texas Tech to only 49 points in the 2nd half the year before. After the Red Raiders scored their 70th straight point on the Huskers, Cosgrove finally realized what many fans (myself included) realized a year earlier: you must pressure Tech's quarterback. Nebraska came back and took the lead, but Cosgrove reverted to the ill-conceived prevent defense late, allowing Tech to come back for a 34-31 win.

A decent win on the road at Baylor led to the first trouncing of the year at Mizzou. See AJ's photo at the right? See any Huskers on the field? Thanks to another horrific defensive game plan from Kevin Cosgrove, Brad Smith ran up and down the field uncontested in a 41-24 loss that, unlike the 41-24 loss 2 years earlier, wasn't nearly that close.

Against Oklahoma the next week, the effects of the pounding Zac Taylor was taking game after game began to take it's toll. Taylor was missing wide-open receivers as he was worried more about who was going to hit him next. Meanwhile, Bill Callahan was having his annual embarrassing gaffe with his throat slash.

They always say it's darkest just before the dawn...if that's the case, then the 40-15 loss to Kansas will go down as the low-point in the coaching change. It was a horrible, horrible performance that plunged the Callahan era well below mediocrity. The next week, Nebraska and Kansas State played an ugly game in a gale. Harrison Beck burned his redshirt after Zac Taylor finally took one too many hard hits, and proceeded to throw one pass into the West Stadium stands, another into the hands of a K-State defender who nearly returned it for a lead-changing touchdown late in the 4th quarter, and then finally completing a pass to a Husker receiver to set up the game winning field goal. Callahan had another brain-fart of a play-call in calling a swing pass in the end zone (resulting in the second safety of the game), and recruiting-all-American Zack Bowman bit hard on a fake pass route, chasing a KSU receiver down the field and all the way past the Runza at 10th & Cornhusker.

Another bye-week did the Huskers well, as Nebraska finally put a complete game together for the first time in the Bill Callahan era, beating Colorado 30-3. The offense clicked, the defense clicked. And perhaps most importantly, the team chemistry seemed to click. Chris Patrick and Matt Slauson, inserted into the offensive line, gave the line the ability to protect Zac Taylor, and he delivered completion after completion. With the momentum from the Colorado win, Nebraska moved up in the standings to get an Alamo Bowl matchup with Michigoon. And in a poorly officiated game, the Huskers came out on top and with a solid boost in momentum from the gloom and doom of the games against Kansas and Kansas State.

Now, the optimism of the Colorado and Michigoon victories needs to be tempered by the fact that Kansas State, Colorado, and Michigoon all overhauled their coaching staffs after the season, indicating that those programs were having their own serious problems. And while the Huskers should be pleased with the progress at the end of 2005, they must guard against reading too much into those victories. Optimists will claim that Nebraska was just a couple of bounces away from a Big XII North championship, but they also need to remember that they were a couple of bounces (2 missed field goal attempts by Pitt and a dropped interception by Iowa State) away from their second straight losing season.

So what to expect for the upcoming season? That's a subject for another day.

Monday, July 10, 2006

A "Jihad" Against UNO Football?

Husker Information Minister Jim Rose jumped into the unrest over UNO Maverick athletics this morning on KFAB. While lobbing softballs at Regent Chuck Hassebrook over his proposal to disband UNO's football program, Rose denied that there was any "jihad" (as he put it) against UNO; it was merely a suggestion based on the finances. At first glance, Hassebrook and Rose look like they might have their facts straight for once...but upon further investigation, the evidence just doesn't hold water.

Friday afternoon, UNO Beef Club president Ben Titus reported that UNO's football program suffered a $739,783 loss in 2004-05, a fact jumped on by Hassebrook. The same source, the Department of Education's Office of Post-Secondary Education, reported that UNO's income for that same season was just over $291,037. That number just doesn't seem to be valid. That figure puts them dead-last in terms of income in the North Central Conference, not to mention in the state of Nebraska. Nebraska-Kearney's income that season was $640,715 and Wayne State's football income was $527,483. UNO's attendance was more than double UNK's that season with over 38,000 fans. Per the figures reported to the US government, UNO only earned $7.66 per fan per game. Of course, ticket prices that season were $10 and $15 per game.

That's just ticket revenue. There also is advertising, sponsorships, concessions, and donations that also seem to be accounted for. Even if there were a significant number of free student admissions, these numbers still don't seem correct. Former UNO coach Sandy Buda was interviewed on KXSP-590 AM in Omaha today and reported that when he first started to sell signage at Al Caniglia Field, the funds were not credited to the football program or even the athletic program, but rather to a University general account. In other words, UNO football likely is bringing in much more money than the official records show. UNO's expenses seem in line with their counterparts in the North Central Conference, so the debits look reasonable. And while it's been nearly 10 years since I worked on accounting systems, it sure looks like a lot of the credits resulting from UNO football aren't being credited to football or perhaps even the athletic department.

Bottom line is that right now, nobody seems to know where the money is and where it went. That's a situation that needs to get rectified and soon. Hassebrook's proposal doesn't seem to be going away, and the involvement of Jim Rose in this debate isn't going to help either. (I'll let the conspiracy theorists discuss why he's involved...)

The truly sad part of this debate is that for all of the administrative problems plaging UNO athletics, UNO's athletic program is doing well on the field. UNO finished last season 3rd in the Division II Director's Cup after winning 2 national championships last season. Football is expected to be nationally ranked next season, and Mav hockey features an academic All-American and hopefully a returning Hobey Baker Finalist.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Steve Pederson's 98% Approval Rating?

Last week, the Lincoln Journal-Star's HuskerExtra poll asked the question "Are you happy with the job Steve Pederson is doing as AD?" Hey, it's summer and we're still 2 months away from the start of the season, so there really isn't much Husker-wise to talk about aside from (yawn) recruiting. What were the results? Why 98% "Very Happy" and 1% each "Pretty Happy" and "Not Happy at All". At first glance, you have to be shocked to see a 99% satisfaction rating for a man that was named "Enemy of the State" 2 years ago. Next step is to start questioning the integrity of the poll. Since it's an online web site poll, it's not scientific, but surely it must represent a growing change in heart for Husker fans, yes?

Nope. I happened to see the poll last Sunday afternoon, and the results at that time were 48% "Very Happy", 14% "Pretty Happy", and "38% Not Happy At All". So what caused the change in attitude? Simple...someone (presumably a Pederson fan) hacked the poll and rigged it worse than an election in Chicago. By Monday morning, the results stood at 124% "Very Happy" until a Journal-Star programmer tried to fix their web poll, allowing it to return to a not-believable-but-mathematically-possible 98-1-1.

So what is the mood of Husker Nation? I'd venture that there are 3 camps: Very Happy with Pederson, Relative Ambivilence (he's OK; done some good things and some bad things), and Can't Stand the Guy. What are the ratios? I don't know, but I'd bet that it's around 25% very happy, 25% Can't Stand, with about half the fans in the middle (and likely tired of the whole thing.)

Speaking of recruiting, I typically avoid the hype machine. Remember a year ago when the hype machine had Harrison Beck and Marlon Lucky starting early last season, and Zac Bowman declaring early for the NFL? Horribly, horribly, horribly wrong on all three counts...and amny more. That doesn't mean I don't listen to it, I just take everything with a grain of salt because, as themselves says, "everything is make-believe until they hit the field." With that said, I did come away with some positive vibrations about Patrick Witt, who recently comitted to the Huskers. In a radio interview with KXSP (590 AM in Omaha), he came across as a extremely mature individual. He's an excellent student (4.73 GPA) on pace to graduate in December (and plans to be in Lincoln for spring practice). His brother is a quarterback for Harvard who spent part of his summer on a mission to Bolivia. I don't know about his playing ability, but he sure sounds like a great person.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Regent Hassebrook: Dump UNO Football

In the wake of NU Regent Randy Ferlic's declaration that athletics are too big, another NU regent has jumped into the fray. Regent Chuck Hassebrook of Lyons, already no friend to UNO, resurrected his 10 year old call to drop football at UNO in a letter to the Omaha World-Herald's "Public Pulse". In further comments to the AP's Eric Olson, Hassebrook came out firmly against UNO moving to Division 1, and in fact, indicated that he prioritizes Nebraska-Kearney's football program above UNO's.

Hassebrook's disdain of Nebraska-Omaha was shown last year, when he opposed building additional dorms at UNO, implying that the other campuses should have priority with dorms.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Ferlic's Dream: Downsized Athletics

At yesterday's Douglas County Republican Pancake Feed, University of Nebraska regent Randolph Ferlic was interviewed by KKAR radio's Steve Brown about the controversy over the future of UNO athletics. Ferlic responded by indicated that if he had the power, he'd prefer to downsize college athletics. Not just at UNO, but rather at Nebraska-Lincoln. He wistfully (and erroneously) referred to the size of the Husker athletic budget, implying that there were better uses for the funds.

On one hand, he is partially correct. The $55 million (not $75 million, as Ferlic claimed) Husker athletic department budget (for 2004-05) would certainly be beneficial if reallocated to other parts of the University system. Improved research, improved salaries for faculty, improved facilities: all could benefit.

Problem with that idea is that it's not even a realistic idea. If college sports were to be disbanded or downsized, the income received by the University would immediately be reduced. Would boosters transfer their donations from the athletic department to other parts of the university? Probably not, especially if the donation was made in the hopes of getting football tickets. Would ticket sales continue at their present level? Probably not either. (Who would pay $55 for an intramural football game?) What about TV revenue? Not likely either.

When you consider the funds that get recirculated back to academic programs ($7 million in scholarships that in turn go back to the University), there's a good chance that UNL would be in worse shape financially if sports were downsized. Especially if you factor in the free publicity they get. Remember Tommy Lee?

I would imagine that even Ferlic probably realizes that this isn't realistic. The comments on the radio could easily be dismissed as early morning holiday ramblings.

The real problem with this statement is the underlying thought process of someone who UNO is likely going to need approval from if they choose to go division 1. A regent who is on record as saying that college sports are already too big as they are is going to be a tough sell for upsizing Maverick athletics.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

The Future of UNO Athletics

The fallout over UNO's decision to cut positions and reject division 1 only got worse as time went on. Thursday, many booster clubs issued a vote of "no confidence" in UNO administration and were threatening to withdraw funding new projects (such as new facilities such as baseball fields and ice rinks). Armageddon seemed imminent.

Friday afternoon, the situation seemed to cool with nearly simultaneous announcements by NU Regent Howard Hawks and Chancellor Nancy Belck that the question about moving UNO to division 1 was going to be reopened. Two things drove this decision: the outrage shown by fans and boosters, plus the decision by South Dakota to explore division 1. With the departure of North Dakota, UNO's current conference affiliation, the North Central Conference, is on the verge of losing it's certification as their membership declines to the NCAA minimum of 6 teams.

What does this mean? I'd have to think that the odds are that UNO will start leaning towards division 1. Belck even admits that the North Central Conference is on the verge of extinction, and the division 2 alternatives (Northern Sun and Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association) would likely result in either downsizing or elimination of some programs, such as wrestling, which has won three straight national titles in division 2.

I also think this discussion and debate will move away from public eye and the media spotlight, which is also a good thing. Casual sports fans may confuse the outrage over the decision with disinterest in Mav athletics. If anything is the case, just the opposite is the case. This decision really highlights the interest level in UNO athletics around town.

Boosters will still play a key role in this decision, as they will be expected to help fund new facilities. The Sapp Fieldhouse will likely be insufficient for UNO's basketball and volleyball programs. The baseball team continues to be a vagabond without a true home field. So a new arena would almost seem to be a requirement to be part of a UNO move to division 1.

Would this new arena also be the home for UNO hockey? Even Belck suggests that hockey could also find a new home, probably on the old Chili Greens property. I'm still not convinced that the Qwest Center is a bad fit for UNO hockey, though it is a little oversized for UNO's needs at this time. And even if UNO decides to build a new arena, it will likely take 4-5 years to design, raise funds, and build a new place.

In the meantime, one announcement Belck made Friday that hasn't gotten enough attention was the news that UNO was hiring someone to promote and market Mav hockey. Not that marketing is the whole answer (if that was the case, the Omaha Ak-Sar-Ben Knights would be leading the AHL in attendance instead of leading the league in empty seats), but it will work to remind the average sports fan that UNO plays an exciting brand of hockey against some of the biggest names in college sports (Michigoon, Ohio State, Michigan State, and Notre Dame). UNO may be returning a Hobey Baker candidate in Scott Parse, and is coming off an NCAA tournament appearance. If Creighton can build a buzz around their basketball program despite their smaller student and alumni base (not to mention developing fewer pro players than UNO), UNO can certainly build a buzz around their hockey program.