Monday, March 31, 2008

Osborne Starts Upgrading Football Schedules

True to his word, Tom Osborne is already at work upgrading future football schedules. Unfortunately, we still have three more seasons of Steve Pederson's feeble attempts to suffer through before Osborne's efforts start to materialize. Today, he announced a three game series with Southern Mississippi for 2012, 2013, and 2015. The Lincoln games will be on September 1, 2012 and September 5, 2015, and a game in Hattiesburg, Mississippi will be on September 7, 2013.

Scheduling that far in advance is a pot-shot, but this is a huge improvement over the 2009 and 2010 schedules that Pederson stuck Nebraska fans with. In 2012 and 2013, Nebraska already has a home-and-home with UCLA, so that makes for two non-conference games against bowl-worthy opponents. (2012 will be in the Rose Bowel while 2013 will find the Bruins coming to Lincoln.)

Nothing is assured when you are scheduling that far in advance. Southern Miss forced out longtime head coach Jeff Bower last season and replaced him with Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Larry Fedora. Looking five years down the line, hard to say whether Southern Miss will continue to be a perennial bowl opponent, but taking advantage of the Golden Eagles motto of "Anyone, Anytime, Anywhere" is a good move for Nebraska and college football. The current ESPN/Conference USA TV deal expires in 2011, but you can bet that Nebraska's 2013 game at Southern Miss is going to be coveted by ESPN.

Now this is more like it!

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Sunday Night Dessert: Labelling the Husker Offense

Not sure why some people need to put a label on everything, but Shawn Watson is already a little testy with reporters trying to get a label on what his offense is going to be. "It's the Nebraska Offense," he finally said. Watson has a background in the West Coast, but except for wide receivers coach Ted Gilmore, none of the other offensive coaches have a West Coast background. So it's going to be a little bit of a mix. Of course, keep in mind that the term "West Coast Offense" is more of a philosophy than an actual offense. Bill Callahan's version didn't resemble Bill Walsh's version very much, not to mention that Callahan's version didn't resemble Shawn Watson's version that he ran at Colorado. Heck, Watson's version varied from year to year, depending on the quarterback, tight ends, and running backs he had at his disposal.

What does that mean? One thing is that unlike the Callahan mutation, this offense will take advantage of the personnel available to it. My expectation is that it will not only take advantage of Joe Ganz's mobility but also Marlon Lucky's outside running abilities. With I-backs like Quentin Castille, Roy Helu, and Cody Glenn available, look for Lucky to spend a little less time at I-back and more time spread around the field to take advantage of his speed and pass catching ability.

Speaking of Cody Glenn, he added some criticism of Randy Jordan this week. Ahhh, a little more venting from the Bill Callahan clusterfool. Go ahead and get it out of your system now. Better now than this fall. I've always wondered why Cody Glenn sometimes disappeared, and always wondered whether the coaches were mad at him. Turns out that might have been the case after all. In any event, the talk that he's back to pre-injury form is good news, as when he was healthy, he was Nebraska's best I-back.

The negotiations between MECA and City Hall got a little weirder with the revelation that MECA is offering to manage the new stadium for $75,000 a year and manage the construction for $500,000. Those numbers seem rather low and would appear to be good numbers for the city. That prospect seems totally alien in light of MECA's continued opposition to building the ballpark on a Qwest Center parking lot. It does give you hope that maybe this whole disagreement is simply negotiating through the media through public posturing, and that these two sides are much closer to an agreement than it looks.

Due to a niece's birthday party, I ended up missing the best game of the regional finals in the NCAA basketball tournament. Yeah, I predicted Davidson to make the Sweet Sixteen, but didn't think they stood a chance against Kansas. Whoops! Ah, well, I'm leading the DoubleExtraPoint challenge; my only Final Four mistake was picking Duke. (Yikes!) For the record, my prediction to win it all is Kansas. Davidson wasn't a complete surprise to me; they played Duke, North Carolina, and UCLA really close.

The court setup for the Kansas/Davidson game is an interesting change for NCAA championships. In the past when they've tried to play basketball in a dome, they've set the court up in one of the football endzones and set up temporary seating on the field to divide the dome in half, usually resulting in a capacity of around 40,000. At Ford Field, they placed midcourt at the fifty-yard line of the Detroit Lions home field, and set up bleachers with a low rise on the field to allow the entire stadium to be utilized for basketball. The verdict is that while this allow more fans to attend, the sightlines aren't exactly fan friendly. This experiment will continue, as this layout will be used at Ford Field for the 2009 Final Four as well as the 2010 Frozen Four.

Speaking of the Frozen Four, the CCHA will have one team in this year's national championship game as Michigan will play Notre Dame in one of the semi-final games. The CCHA almost got three teams in the Frozen Four, as Boston College upset #2 Miami in overtime in one of today's regional finals. If you want to look at UNO's 2007-08 hockey season with a "glass half full" perspective, the performance of the CCHA in the Big Skate shows that UNO played a pretty tough conference schedule.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Here We Go Again With MECA

Just when it was looking like MECA and the City of Omaha had finally come to an agreement to allow a new baseball stadium to be built next to the Qwest Center, it all fell apart this week. Apparently it has little to do with parking and traffic flow issues; those issues appear to be settled.

No, the issue seems to be MECA's desire to guarantee future control over the Qwest Center property. Most specifically, MECA is now demanding that the city waive the power of eminent domain over the Qwest Center property. Apparently Mayor Mike Fahey agreed to that, but two legal opinions rejected it, saying that plan would violate state law.

So the city revised the proposal...and MECA naturally rejects it, insisting that the original deal be honored.
"If the mayor doesn't waive eminent domain," MECA chairman David Sokol said after a MECA board meeting Tuesday, "it's not going to happen on lots C and E."
Which raises the question... Is MECA negotiating in good faith? When MECA continues to insist on a deal that violates state law, that raises serious doubts about that good faith. Waiving eminent domain would seem to raise a dangerous precedent, as any other organization negotiating with the city might demand similar treatment. With a 95 year deal with MECA, that would ensure that MECA would control this property until the turn of the century. Does anybody realistically think that the Qwest Center will still be a viable facility in 2090? Likely not..but the MECA lease will still be in force and the city would have no way to work around it. Who knows what the requirements of the city will be in fifty years. Perhaps the city wants to put some sort of mass transit in place in a few years, and require small amounts of property to build the infrastructure. Without eminent domain, the City might not have any way to accomplish this.

That's not to say that MECA doesn't have valid concerns about the stadium. But I'd argue that with the City on the hook for the bonds for the Qwest Center, the City of Omaha is ultimately on the hook for anything that negatively impacts the Qwest Center. If there isn't enough parking around the Qwest Center, the facility loses money that would have gone to help pay off the bonds.

Rather than insist on illegal options, MECA needs to lay their cards on the table as to what their concerns REALLY are. Not enough parking spaces? OK, then come up with an agreement that no matter what happens, there will be a guaranteed minimum number of parking spaces. Concern about traffic flow? Set minimum expectations for traffic flow to ensure that whatever changes occur down the line, a process is in place to adapt to those changes.

At a certain point in the future, something is going to need to be done to the Qwest Center parking lots, stadium or no stadium. MECA has talked about expanding the convention center into Lot D. (Nevermind that MECA has struggled with operating the convention center; this is just for purposes of working this position out...) If Lot D disappears, that means less parking. And if the convention center grows, it likely will mean that MORE parking will be needed. So where will those additional parking spots come from? That's a dilemma. You are going to need to build parking garages on some of those lots. So what's the difference between rejecting a parking garage for a new stadium versus building a parking garage to support an expanded convention center?

Co-locating the Qwest Center and the new stadium simply makes sense. Other metropolitan areas put arenas and stadiums close by. Denver's Pepsi Center, Coors Field, and Invesco Field are all located within a few blocks of each other. Philadelphia located Citizens Bell Park, Lincoln Financial Field, and the Wachovia Center all within a few blocks of each other. Cleveland's Quicken Arena and Jacobs Field are across the street from each other. There's absolutely no reason why this can't work logistically. Both facilities can share the parking infrastructure, as there are likely only a few opportunities for conflict each year. Certainly not during the College World Series, since no conventions or arena events take place anyway due to the lack of hotel rooms. Certainly not during the winter when nobody wants to sit in an outdoor stadium.

This smells more like a political vendetta than anything else.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Spring & Hope Springs Eternal

Usually "Hope Springs Eternal" comes up with the start of baseball season, but with the start of spring football practice tomorrow, it certainly applies to Husker football. Finally, it's time to put the debacle that was the 2007 season behind us.

Or is it?

As players get ready to start spring practice, several players are now contrasting Bo Pelini's approach to his predecessor. Bill Callahan prided himself on his organization and planning. Before he had even hiring his entire staff, Callahan had already laid out his plans for spring practice. He force fed his NFL system and crammed it into the time alloted by the NCAA for preparation. Some fans thought it was brilliant how advanced the new Husker system was.

One minor problem. Players had one shot to master these concepts. There simply wasn't time to work on teaching when it came to practice time.
But Callahan's routine, conceived in the NFL and tailored to prepare starters for Sunday games, had a drawback at the college level, some believe. It's a problem every kid who's ever taken a science or math class can understand: Comprehension of one day's material determines comprehension of the next day's. Fall behind, even a day or two, and the test questions get mighty hard.

Nebraska football players often fell behind.

"Coaches weren't really in teaching mode," safety Larry Asante said.

So whoever understood the information, Asante said, "that's the guy who played."

"There were guys out there lost."
We've seen the Callahan era playbook and wondered just how players were ever able to master it. The sad fact is... they didn't. The guys that did play were the ones who were able to muddle through. That helps explain why Sam Keller struggled. That explains why players like Niles Paul and Ricky Thenarse didn't see much playing time.

Let's contrast that with a different approach. One from a coach named Bo Pelini dating back five years:
The Huskers were coming off a disastrous 2002 in which they crumbled under Blackshirt expectations, resulting in coordinator Craig Bohl's dismissal.

During the first scrimmage of spring practice, Pelini ordered his defense into one very basic scheme for the entirety of practice. Won't the offense catch on and expose us, Husker defenders asked. Doesn't matter, Pelini said. Success starts with effort, not scheme.

"We went out and just dominated the scrimmage," Ricketts said. "Right then and there, everybody bought into the system."
Let's revisit that quote.
Success starts with effort, not scheme.
It's hard to argue with the results from five years ago, though the circumstances and players are quite a bit different. I've argued that last season's defense got significantly worse as the season wore on; it wasn't so much a talent issue but a lack of faith in what they were doing. I think that's something that Bo Pelini immediately addresses. Expecting a top-15 defense to emerge in Lincoln is unrealistic...but expecting significant improvement shouldn't be.

Another area of improvement is in the cohesiveness of the coaching staff. I've long felt that Callahan's staff was as dysfunctional as Al Bundy and his family...something I really don't think this staff is going to have near the problem with. Now, we're hearing more about that from players such as Matt Slauson, who told the Lincoln Journal-Star that players didn't know who was starting until ten minutes before the game and that he wasn't sure who was making the decisions.
"There was definitely a frustration for the team, one, but for me especially. Because I kind of feel like I got jacked around a little bit, switching positions all the times, switching playing time all the time, playing a few plays here, a few plays there. I was really frustrated the whole time ... I had no idea what was going on the whole year. I think (it) just messed with my head a little bit. I don't know if there were head games they were doing or what, but I just didn't feel comfortable where I was."
Certainly former offensive line coach Dennis Wagner agreed with that, telling fans at last year's final Big Red Breakfast that he didn't see eye to eye with Callahan:
"He is the head coach. If he says this is what you do, this is what you do. If you don't, then you have problems within your group. It isn't always that you want to do it that way, but it's the way you're supposed to do it. That's just part of doing the things you're asked to do by the person who hired you."
I'm not sure what we'll learn about the future of the Husker program, but I'm getting a strong indication that many of the problems we saw last year were the result of a complete clusterf*** of a coaching staff. If that is truly the case, then the future of Husker football might look a heck of a lot better than it looked at the end of last season. If the players believe in this new staff, you never know what might happen.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

March Madness and It's Effect on the Future of the College World Series

Today's NCAA tournament games in Omaha could almost be considered a "dry run" of a College World Series moved downtown. In one aspect, moving the event downtown looks even more like a no-brainer .... but another aspect starts clouding the picture.

One of the frequent criticisms of moving the College World Series downtown is the issue of traffic and parking, which always seemed ironic to me due to the better traffic flow and increased parking around the Qwest Center. But the criticism continued... "Parking is horrible around the Qwest Center." "Traffic will be horrible with afternoon games on workdays."

So that made today's NCAA tournament games such a good opportunity to evaluate the situation. Before the games, traffic was slow but flowed smoothly. The Qwest Center lots filled up shortly after tipoff of the Kansas-Portland State game, and side streets seemed to take up the slack. Downtown streets other than Cuming did not become jammed. And while 18,000 fans for basketball isn't a capacity crowd for a CWS game, it's probably a sizeable crowd for an afternoon College World Series game.

What about after the game? Well, I decided to thrust myself into the postgame traffic. Truth be told, there was hardly any traffic after the game. Fans left their cars in the lots and decided to go explore downtown. Many headed straight for the Old Market. Others headed west up Dodge and Douglas. It was easy to spot them, with Kansas fans in their blue, K-State purple, and the red of UNLV and Wisconsin on parade. I ended up waiting for a couple of extra lights, but for the most part, it was an uneventful drive. Now, is this representative of CWS traffic? Not a lot of people leave after CWS games, though more fans do arrive as the afternoon progresses. But from what I saw, downtown workday traffic wasn't significantly impacted today by 18,000 basketball fans. 24,000 baseball fans will likely have more of an impact, but it doesn't look like it's going to be a major problem.

Score that one huge victory for the downtown stadium side.

However, another side of the action outside the Qwest Center illustrates a huge and growing problem the downtown stadium faces:
Paul Bell of Nebraska City, Neb., said he already had purchased two tickets for the first session for $100 apiece — about twice the face value. But he also wanted to snag tickets to the two evening games of the second session.

"I'm just looking for them before I go inside," Bell said.

Bell, a Kansas fan, said it seemed as though
Creighton fans were the ones who were scalping tickets. He speculated that some of the fans bought extra tickets just so they could sell them at a hefty profit.

Bell said he saw a fellow KU fan announce that he wanted the best seats, then watched as that fan paid $500 apiece for four tickets in the front row of the Qwest Center. The seller, Bell said, was someone in Creighton gear.
I've heavily criticized Creighton's unethical (though perfectly legal) ticket plan for the NCAA tournament. But what wasn't so clear to me is it's impact on people's opinion of the new stadium until this week. Creighton's athletic department was a member of the stadium oversight committee. Creighton is expected to play some of their games in the new ballpark. Much like the Qwest Center. A co-worker earlier this week told me that he questioned whether getting the NCAA basketball tournament was worth it for Omaha since only Creighton benefited from it. A commenter on this blog said that he was tired of the city building facilities, only to have Creighton claim squatters rights on them. On another forum, one poster suggests that certain organizations like Creighton and MECA will simply use the new stadium for their own benefit.

While a few Creighton fans are enjoying the tournament action today, many others saw today as a profit opportunity that was given them by the Creighton athletic department. The unethical actions of Creighton and their fans in the NCAA ticket distribution raise questions as to whether Creighton can be trusted to be involved in the new stadium. That damaged reputation spreads to anything associated with Creighton... namely the new downtown stadium.

One of the big problems in this stadium debate is a lack of trust in our city leaders. It doesn't help things when the Creighton athletic department, one of the key partners in this stadium discussion, can't be trusted. In fact, it only makes the problem worse.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Huskers Blast Charlotte in NIT; Traffic Watch at the NCAA's

Impressive 67-48 win for the Huskers over Charlotte tonight in the first round of the NIT. The game looked a little sloppy the first five minutes, but really was only competitive for the next twelve minutes or so. Late in the first half, Nebraska took command of the game, going up 12 at halftime and burying Charlotte in the second half. Even more impressive was the size of the crowd in Lincoln...drawing nearly 10,000 to the Devaney.

The crowd comparisons between the two NIT games in this state raises some eyebrows... and validates some of the statements about the BratJay fan. The fact is that this week, the BrieJay and BratJay fan are focused more on tomorrow's NCAA tournament games than the program they purport to support. Not that there aren't good reasons to be excited about tomorrow's matchups: Kent State vs. UNLV (featuring former Dana Altman mentor Lon Kruger), Wisconsin vs. local CWS favorite Cal State Fullerton, and of course, the O.J. Mayor/Michael Beasley show when USC takes on Kansas State. But when half their fan base stays home, it simply validates Doc Sadler's statement that much of the crowd at Creighton games are more interested in the event than the BlueJays.

Speaking of tomorrow's Creighton NCAA regional, paid for by the taxpayers of Omaha, I'll also be focusing on the action outside the Qwest Center. With all of the concerns over parking and traffic if a new baseball stadium is built downtown, I'm curious to see what impact a basketball tournament game during the workday will have on downtown traffic. A couple of years ago, downtown traffic was snafued when Zig Ziglar sold over 20,000 tickets to a weekday morning event, though that was different because many of the attendees drove individually, resulting in the clusterf* that Rosenblatt advocates claim will happen with a downtown CWS game. Tomorrow's basketball tournament should better approximate the traffic patterns the CWS will, as the afternoon session will end (around 4 pm) and the evening session will begin (just after 6 pm) at times comparable to the CWS. And I'll be right in the middle of the between game traffic as I get off work. The numbers will be slightly smaller than they would be for a CWS game (17K vs. 24K), but I expect more turnover between games, what with demand so high for the USC/KSU game in the nightcap.

Will it take me 15-20 minutes to maneuver through the NoDo area and head out? Or will it take me an hour and a half. I'm expecting something much closer to the 15-20 minute number. But even if the number is closer to the hour, I doubt it will change my opinion of the downtown stadium. The benefits to Omaha are far more important than a few days of traffic congestion.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Huskers to the NIT; Mavs Get Swept by Weasels

Game two of the UNO/Michigan series was a little more competitive, though in the end, the only difference was in the margin of defeat with a 2-1 loss ending the Mavs season. Disappointing season, though it was mitigated by the season-ending injury to Bryan Marshall (leading the nation in assists when he went out) and eligibility questions that sidelined Juha Uotila much of the season. In the end, those are just excuses, and the pressure is on Mike Kemp to take the program to the next level with a top four finish. Fifth place finishes like the previous two seasons are no longer acceptable, since fourth gets you home ice in the 2nd round and a first round bye.

Husker basketball season continues, as they received an invitation to the NIT and will play Charlotte (coached by Bobby Lutz, remember him?) Wednesday night at 8 pm in Lincoln. The NIT recognized the Huskers improved play as of late, making them a #3 seed when some idiots had them on the bubble.

The NCAA selection comittee certainly smiled on Creighton fans today. No, the Jays didn't make the tournament. They aren't that generous; in fact, the NIT committee determined the Jays and Huskers were pretty even by giving both #3 seeds in the NIT. But they certainly increased the profits the BrieJay fan will get for scalping the tickets they stole. Not only did the Jayhawks get their reservations confirmed, getting a matchup against Portland State, but several other intriguing matchups. UNLV and Kent State will face off for the right to play Kansas, while in the evening session, fabulous freshmen O.J. Mayo and Michael Beasley will square off as USC takes on Kansas State, while Wisconsin fans will head west for a matchup against Cal State Fullerton. (Did the NCAA selection committee have baseball on their mind when they decided to send Fullerton to Omaha?)

Friday, March 14, 2008

Mavs P3wnd By Weasels; Huskers by Zebras

UNO's second round playoff series opened quite badly as Michigan blasted UNO 10-1 tonight. Sad thing is that the game might not have been that close; the top-ranked Weasels looked well-rested and dominated right from the start... and UNO looked like they had just finished that three overtime battle earlier in the afternoon. UNO needs to find a way to somehow win the next two, but there is at least a precedent for this. 10 years ago, UNO lost to then-#1 Maine on the road 11-0, then came back the next night to win 4-3.

I should have paid more attention to the Husker basketball game against Kansas; they broke out to a nine point lead late in the first half, but Kansas came back strong in the second half. CornNation notes the discrepency in foul shots might have played a bit of a factor in this one. Looks like Kansas is well on their way to playing in Omaha's Creighton's NCAA regional next Thursday. BrieJay fan has hit a home run, since the value of those tickets will go up once the Beakers start planning their drive up I-29.

In the meantime, if you are a local basketball masochist, check out NIT Bracketology. Seriously. Someone is actually tracking the teams for the NIT. Right now, Creighton is a 3 seed and Nebraska is a 7 seed. I think it's great for Nebraska that they can keep the season going, but it's still the NIT. The value isn't the tournament, it's the additional competition and practice time.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Is Bo Pelini Laying Down the Law?

After last weekend's version of Huskers Behaving Badly, Bo Pelini pretty much had to come out and lay down the law. Or did he? One player has been released from the program, Andy Christensen has been suspended indefinitely, and several other unnamed players have been suspended as well. In other words... about what I expected.

The biggest surprise to me was Pelini naming several Lincoln establishments off-limits to players; not sure I'd heard that policy before, but a good idea if the scuttlebutt about what happens at some of those bars is true. The big statement was Pelini's policy: "Do the Right Thing." It probably suffices to take the place of several dozen ticky-tack rules and really puts the responsibility on the players to not screw up. Will Pelini be a tougher disciplinarian than Callahan or any of his other predecessors as head coach? Probably. But that's not assured, and this weekend's events would have caused just about any new head coach to react strongly.

Steve Sipple of the Lincoln Journal-Star suggests that the time might be right to restore the Unity Council. Pelini is not a believer in player council's, but might be amenable to reestablishing it in Lincoln, provided he sees the right type of leadership emerge amongst the players. There's no doubt in my mind that player leadership played a large factor in the 60-3 run in the mid-90's, but over the last ten years, you've seen a drop-off in leadership amongst the players. We certainly didn't see any during the Callahan era, and if you read "Diary of a Husker", you'll see that David Kolowski didn't see much during the Solich era. If you don't have strong leaders emerge within the program, the Unity Council isn't going to solve anything.

Until then, players are on notice that Pelini is not happy about players getting in trouble. They might want to read CornNation's Guide for Avoiding Stupidity as well. And this gets Nebraska on the Fulmer Cup scoreboard over at EDSBS.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Monday Night Sprite: Huskers Behaving Badly

After three separate incidents with Husker football players, a beer is the last thing I need.

Friday night, junior linebacker Nick Covey was ticketed was ticketed for being a minor in possession of alcohol. Covey turns 21 in May.

Saturday night, former Huskers Maurice Purify and Carl Nicks, along with sophomore offensive lineman Mike Smith and sophomore defensive lineman Ben Martin, were ticketed for a "disorderly house" after a loud party. Lincoln police ended up arresting Nicks, adding a charge of failure to disperse after refusing to leave. Purify's arrest is especially troubling, as this is Purify's fourth incident involving alcohol in the past year (argument with bouncer at bar, disorderly conduct after getting into a fight with that same bouncer at another bar, driving under the influence). This most recent incident will only magnify the NFL's concerns about Purify off-the-field.

The most troubling incident involved offensive lineman Andy Christensen, who was arrested on suspicion of sexual assault and resisting arrest over an incident at a Lincoln bar around midnight Saturday night. Bond today was set at a half million dollars, emphasizing the seriousness of the charges that face Christensen. It took several officers to arrest him as he resisted as he dented a Chevy Tahoe police vehicle and had to be restrained once he got to jail. Christensen might have been up for an additional year of eligibility after suffering a season ending injury against USC, but now his football career is the least of his worries.

The guys over at "Big Red Network" have dubbed it "Bad News Season", but really, once the season ends, most any news during the offseason is usually bad news. (Especially if you exclude the silly season known as "recruiting signing day" since it's not really news!)

Ah, but it's not all bad news around these parts. Nebraska basketball continued it's impressive play as of late by blasting Colorado on Aleks Maric senior day. Today, the Associated Press named Maric first-team All-Big XII, and Colorado head coach Jeff Bzdelik predicted that Maric will be in the NBA next season. Insane, you say? Well, Bzdelik spent 16 years coaching in the NBA including 2 1/2 seasons as head coach of the Denver Nuggets.

Nebraska's play against Texas, A&M, and Kansas State in recent weeks is putting Husker hoops into position to extend their season into March. Yeah, probably NIT. But that's progress for the program.

The rise of Husker hoops is causing a dilemma for Tom Osborne's priorities as athletic director. Plans for upgrading the academic facilities were already on the drawing board when he came to office, with the Huskers investigating the potential of a new Haymarket arena for Husker basketball. But can Nebrasketball afford to wait for Lincoln to finalize their plans, what with the current arms race for basketball facilities? Doc Sadler is diplomatic about it, but is pushing behind the scenes to get some sort of commitment to get the basketball facilities upgraded.

Finally a correction...seems that Yale beat Rensselaer in triple overtime on Friday night, so last night's UNO-Alaska epic battle is only the ninth longest college hockey game. Tell that to the bleary eyed Mav fans and players who had something other than daylight savings time to curse this morning.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Sergott Be Damed: Mavs Advance to take on #1

I had to miss tonight's game three due to a family conflict... though as it turns out, I probably could have caught most of it despite arriving back in town in the third period. With the game nearing the end of the second overtime, I briefly thought about driving downtown, but decided that with my luck, I'd make it downtown just in time to get caught up in the postgame traffic.

Probably was right because early in the third period, J.P. Platisha scored his first goal of the season to give the Mavs a 2-1 victory over Alaska in triple overtime. It's the longest game in UNO history (beating a double overtime victory against Ohio State in 2001), and apparently the eighth longest game in college hockey history.

The series was marked by inconsistent and questionable refereeing by Keith Sergott, who very well might take over the label of "most hated referee" label from Brian Aaron, who has held the title with UNO fans for many, many years. Thursday night's game one featured a series of questionable calls in the second period, but Saturday night's game two was filled with so many more that radio announcer Greg Harrington wondered whether the coaches would ask the CCHA to fly in a different referee for the deciding third game.

To be sure, UNO was their own worst enemy Saturday night, with a major penalty call to Eddie DelGrosso in the opening three minutes leading to his ejection and a long penalty kill. All night, UNO ended up needing to play catchup and with inconstent calls from Sergott, tentative play killed the Mavs in the second period. UNO turned it up in the third period and pulled to within one goal late in the game, but couldn't get the game tying goal.

So now it's on to face the #1 Michigoon Weasels. What a weekend for UNO goaltender Jared Kaufmann; he only gave up 1 even strength goal during nearly 12 periods of hockey. Other goalies may have more "potential", but this is the only goalie to lead UNO into the NCAA tournament. He's earned his playing time to be sure.

Bizarro Omaha's Dream of Rosenblatt Unaltered Forever Lives On

As the new downtown ballpark for the College World Series becomes more and more likely, the reaction from Bizarro Omaha becomes more and more irrational. You can refute the fear, uncertainty, and doubt with facts and figures, but as long as Bizarro Omaha prefers to hang onto conspiracy theories and emotional attachments to the 1948 stadium, it's like arguing with a five year old.

Harsh sentiment? Perhaps. But as the debate evolves, it becomes clear that what the "Save Rosenblatt" faction is pushing for is what they want in their part of town as opposed as to what the NCAA is asking for or what is best for the city of Omaha long term. And is this "Bizarro Omaha" any sort of majority? Well, they certainly are vocal, but other than my dentist, I really haven't found anybody in the "Save Rosenblatt" camp.

Here's some of my favorite new "Save Rosenblatt" stories:
What I object to is the way Fahey has gone about obtaining "his dream". He has not been open and honest with the people of Omaha and I have a real problem with that.
That's a quite a charge. I see the point about not being "open", but I'd like to see another project of this magnitude involving any government entity where it was done completely in the open. It's certainly not the case in Lincoln, where they are debating building a new arena near the Haymarket. If anything, I think Fahey has been just the opposite by being more open than he needed to be. Remember the original proposal for a $50 million stadium that held 9,000 for Royals games and expanded to 25,000 for the CWS? That idea was ridiculed, and as the process moved forward, more proposals were floated in the media and criticized.

If someone wanted to criticize the process as disjointed and rushed, I could agree with that charge. But when a process that began as a simple extension of the current contract became much, much bigger, that's to be expected. Should Omaha simply ask for an extension? No, simply because the process, no matter how clumsy, has come up with a proposal that doesn't seem to have any issues that would prevent it from being signed. Taking more time runs the risk of fouling the situation up further. Unless someone points up an issue that hasn't been adequately addressed, there's no point against moving forward with it. The NCAA likes it, and Omaha's movers and shakers like it.

As for the "hasn't been honest" charge, I'd simply like someone to simply explain what Fahey hasn't been honest about? The NCAA has asked the City and the local organizers of the CWS for certain things, and Omaha responded to those requests.
My property taxes are too high.
I'm not going to argue that property taxes aren't too high; I'm just going to argue whether that's relevant or not. The city is not going to use property tax revenue for the project, and the only potential impact on property taxes is city keno revenue that currently goes to the county. It's estimated that's $6.67 a year for a $100,000 home. When I look at my property tax statements, that amount looks more like a rounding error.

And if you hold strongly to that property tax issue, the bottom line is that if you say "No" to the NCAA, the College World Series will start being targeted by other cities. We'd probably have the CWS for another five years...maybe. But after that, the future starts looking rather murky. Is that a fear tactic? To some extent, yes. But it's also the truth. Even Hal Daub, who's been rather vocal in his opposition to the Mayor's plan, says that when he was Mayor, New Orleans and Indianapolis tried to get the CWS out of Omaha. If Omaha loses the CWS, Creighton professor Ernie Goss, a renowned expert on economic development, estimates that city coffers would lose nearly $2 million in tax money each year. All told, state and local government entities would lose $4.6 million each year. Wouldn't THAT impact your property taxes?
"Where would I park downtown?"
Where do you part at Rosenblatt? The last time I went to Rosenblatt for a CWS game, I parked 10 blocks away. Last time I went to a Nebraska/Creighton game, I parked nearly 12 blocks away. The Qwest Center has two to three times as many parking spaces as Rosenblatt, and the plan is to replace every space used for the stadium with two new spaces. The Qwest Center has three different interstate access points (Cuming, 14th Street, and 17th Street) versus one at Rosenblatt (13th Street). Why is this an issue?
"You'll have to close the Qwest Center during the College World Series"'s already closed for the most part. Since hotels are booked solid, no conventions occur anyway and concerts are difficult to schedule as well. Not to mention that many of the part time workers that the Qwest Center uses will be working at the stadium as well.

Which brings up the flip side that nobody talks about: the Henry Doorly Zoo. Apparantly it's ok for the zoo to essentially shut down during the CWS except for a few visitors in the morning before the CWS fans take over all of the parking.
I smell conspiracy here.
Circle those black helicopters here. The innuendo is out there that the people pushing this plan own all of the property downtown. Which might be something if the city didn't already own parking lots C and E where the stadium is going to be located.

That being said, I think the Zoo is a bigger player here than most folks realize. It's no secret that Rosenblatt has a negative impact on the Zoo. Fireworks bother the animals. The zoo is running out of expansion space for new exhibits as well. (Don't forget the parking situation as well.) This is why the numbers for a new stadium are the same or better than the numbers for remodeling Rosenblatt. Moving the stadium downtown is a win-win for both south Omaha and downtown. The zoo becomes even bigger and better for south Omaha, and the downtown stadium becomes a magnet for downtown development.

Unless, of course, you park cars in your yard for $20 a game during the College World Series. Maybe that's the real conspiracy.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Students in an Uproar Over Seating Move

Tom Osborne found himself in the middle of his first controversy over the athletic department's plan to move some student football tickets from the lower part of south stadium to the upper part. The move has been long threatened for years, originally by Bill Byrne, in response to complaints that the students were standing on the seats. Finally, it happened.

The plan became more controversial by an inflammatory paragraph in the Daily Nebraskan:
And about 2,000 students in several sections of the front portion of south stadium will be displaced to cheaper seating in the top portion of Memorial Stadium's southeast corner. Season ticket holders who previously sat there will fill the vacated front seats.
Whoa! First, just what is "cheaper seating" at Memorial Stadium? The price of every seat at Memorial Stadium is the same: $52 if it's part of a season ticket package. It doesn't matter if it's on the 50 yard line or in row 98 of the south end zone. Does it refer to required donations to get tickets in those sections? If so, what is the difference in the required donation? That's my question. I don't know the answer, but I'm somewhat skeptical.

Later this afternoon, Osborne came out and said that the athletic department is not charging the fans moving down anything extra.

Putting the financial arguments aside, is this a good move? Probably not, but probably necessary to some extent. The students have been warned about this for years, so in the end, they're ultimately responsible for what happened when they continued to ignore requests to stand in the footwells instead of on top of the seats.

There are some reasonable complaints about the change. College athletics should be about the students, and they shouldn't be relegated to the worst parts of the arena. Students in the end are responsible for much of the atmosphere that makes college athletics so great to attend.

But by that same token, Nebraska's student section pales in comparison to many others. Kansas State's certainly puts the Nebraska students to shame. Will move them up to the top of the end zone hurt the atmosphere? Perhaps...but frankly, much of the time, the students as a group aren't making much of an impact anyway. At UNO, they've had a similar controversy, but I've sided with keeping the students right behind the visiting goalie in hopes that eventually they'll become a force. Which they've done that occasionally, but then there have been games like last Friday's USNDT exhibition, where they yakked like soccer mom's in the club lounge. (Keep that up, and you'll find yourself relegated to the upper sections of the Qwest Center again.)

Personally, I think there was another solution that could have been pursued and avoided the controversy. Rather than move the students, move the visitors. In previous years (i.e. pre-daughter), I made a habit of traveling to away games to follow the Huskers, and I assure you, the visiting team always got some of the worst seats in the stadium. Move the visitor sections from the southwest corner of the stadium to the southeast corner behind the students, and move the full-price season ticketholders from the southeast corner to the southwest corner. The views should be comparable (if not for a mirror image) for the full-price fans, and the students keep their seats. Visiting fans get the shaft, but that's nothing new. I remember in 1999, Missouri converted my "reserved ticket" from the stadium to a "reserved section with unassigned seating" on bleachers set up next to the concession stands two months after they charged my credit card. So I ended up paying full price for horrible general admission seating. I still got to watch the Huskers blow out the Tigers, so it was still worth it to me.

Maybe it's not to late to make a change and make this a win-win situation for all. Let the Colorado fans have the blocked views this Thanksgiving.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Sunday Night Dessert: Osborne Looks to Better Schedules

A few items of interest on a cold, snowy Sunday night. (How long until spring practice starts?)

Tom Osborne talked to the Lincoln Journal-Star about his plans for the next couple of years as athletic director. Some of the topics include a potential Haymarket arena and practice facility for basketball, expansion of the academic support center, remodeling of the skyboxes, and HuskerVision migrating to HDTV. Nothing we haven't heard before, really. The most interesting revelation is Osborne's philosophy with respect to scheduling, as Osborne says he'd like to avoid scheduling 1-AA opponents. In fact, it sounds like he'd like to toughen up schedules, saying "I’d like to play at least a couple of games from major conferences." I've criticized the Husker scheduling for the next three years, so I'm hoping that we'll see some more competitive schedules starting in 2011.

Today's Omaha World-Herald has more on Sarah Pavan's comments on the Husker volleyball program. Pavan isn't talking to the media anymore (for obvious reasons), but the World-Herald makes it sound like the schism isn't as severe as the Lincoln Journal-Star made it sound.

And just after CornNation started getting all warm and fuzzy about Doc Sadler, the Nebraska basketball team laid a clunker in Stillwater yesterday. Three steps forward, one step back. I still think postseason play would be a heck of a way to finish up this season.

Sam Keller told the Omaha World-Herald that while he expected the NFL to ask about his departure from Arizona State and his injury last season, he was surprised by the questions about the cup incident last spring. Keller knows that he's a late round pick at best, but you've got to wonder if he further hurt his chances by bringing up his love of horse racing in his draft profile.

UNO starts the CCHA playoffs this Thursday night against Alaska. The Mavs went 3-0-1 against the Nanooks during the regular season, so you have to like UNO's chances in the first round. But in those games, UNO had a healthy Bryan Marshall, who's missed the last three weeks with a knee injury. Will he be ready to play?

The World-Herald also salutes some of UNO's most die-hard fans, the "Red Army". I'm not a member, though we do sit a section away for about half the games and join with them in many of their cheers. A good group of fans.

Finally, I know I talked about not bashing Bill Callahan too much, but I couldn't resist this one. A family member showed me an obituary from last week's paper. Ester Eberle passed away a couple of weeks ago in Palm Springs, and her family mentioned her love of the Huskers in the obituary...not to mention a slam at Callahan:
She was especially excited about the Nebraska Cornhuskers football team and was delighted to see that the current coach would be replaced for the upcoming season.
Ouch! I'd say she got in the last word.