Tuesday, March 31, 2009

UNO Maverick Athletics in Desperate Need of Vision

UNO athletic director David Miller's resignation yesterday certainly didn't come as a surprise to anybody associated with Maverick athletics. Miller had the unenviable task of cleaning up after the Belck/Buck fiasco, but the Miller record can best be summarized as "inertia". There were some initial plans to get the Maverick athletic programs back on track, but it seems that's all there were: plans that never went anywhere. At the end of 2007, Tom Shatel and I asked a simple question: What does UNO want for their athletic department?

We still don't have an answer. And UNO once again doesn't have an athletic director.

For whatever reason, it's obvious now that Miller wasn't the right fit for UNO. So he's off to Upper Iowa now, and back to the drawing board with yet another search for an athletic department.

Chancellor John Christensen wants to -- and needs to -- fast track this search; he told KOZN radio this afternoon that he'd like to have a successor named by the end of the semester. That's important.

But more important is to find the right person. Christensen needs to find someone to help lay out a long term vision for UNO athletics, not just manage through the current budget crisis. Is UNO happy with simply competing in the CCHA? How will UNO react to the continuing changes in division 2? Is the MIAA an interim step for UNO? How do UNO fans view their former conference rivals who've upgraded their programs to division 1?

After Danny Nee scuttled Nebraska basketball, UNO hockey was arguably the number 2 sport in this state. Since then, Creighton basketball, Nebraska baseball and volleyball have passed up the Mav hockey program. Doc Sadler has Husker hoops on the rebound as well. So how does UNO get back into the mix? Or do they even try?

It's an important decision that UNO needs to make. They can try to muddle through the current budget issues and the current economy, and hope that things get better. Better yet, they can try to find some sort of vision of the future of the program, something sorely lacking since the days of Del Weber and Don Leahy.

Because of the issues involved here, I think it's clear that the next athletic director needs to be someone already involved locally. Is that Mike Kemp? Is that Pat Behrns? They've got the local connections, and an established, long-term record with UNO. But they're coaches, not business people. Can they lead an entire department? How would they deal with the other sports on campus?

Or is it someone like Mike West, a marketing guy with a proven record of turning sports into must-be-seen-at events.

In the summer of 2006, the Karnes Commission tried to do "that vision thing" for UNO athletics...but other than joining the MIAA, those recommendations haven't gone anywhere. Frankly, it doesn't do any good to have any recommendations for long term vision if all you are focused on is muddling through day-to-day. In the meantime, UNO athletics is becoming an afterthought in the Omaha community in many respects.

When the Qwest Center was being planned, the arena was always thought of as a hockey arena first. UNO seemed to be a natural for the arena, with years of sellout crowds begging for a bigger facility. Creighton basketball seemed to be the reach, with their best crowds at the time resembling some of UNO's worst. Ten years later, it's Creighton that's packing the Qwest, and the Mavs are questioning their place in the Omaha market.

UNO needs someone to start answering that question.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Mystery Solved: Roy Helu's Lack of Carries in 2008

Last season, I swear I must have sounded like a broken record asking, begging, and pleading for Roy Helu to get more carries at I-back. The World-Herald finally found an answer. Helu said that in the first part of the season, Helu was hampered by a shoulder injury that kept him from practicing at full strength. Once that healed, Helu was able to work out more, putting on 10 pounds, and giving the coaches confidence to get him on the field more. And boy, did he produce, especially in November.

I figured there had to be a reason why Helu wasn't seeing the field more last season, and I'm glad that it wasn't anything he wasn't doing right. It's unfortunate that the injury status wasn't disclosed until now, but it seems anymore that injury updates are becoming more and more unreliable throughout college football. (And will Bill Snyder back at Kansas State, that's not getting better either!)

This also tends to ease my concerns about Helu putting on 15 more pounds in winter conditioning. Last fall, Helu played at 198 pounds at the start of the season, then bumped up to 208 later in the season. But Helu at 222? Is that too much? Initial reports are positive; he set a personal record for his sprint time. Bo Pelini, for what it's worth, thinks he's faster and more powerful than last season.

Sounds good to me.

It also sounds like Quentin Castille has also been improving his game, dropping some weight as well. That development has freed up the coaching staff to move Marcus Mendoza to wide receiver, perhaps to fill that slot receiver role that I thought Marlon Lucky could excel at. Mendoza took a few snaps last fall there, and it looks like this might be a permanent change. This could be part of the answer to replacing guys like Nate Swift and Todd Peterson this season.

Sarpy Family Feud Explained...and MECA Pipes In As Well

Today's World-Herald features a couple of interesting articles with background information on the ongoing feud between Sarpy County and the cities of Sarpy County, as well as MECA's reaction to criticism of their dealings with the Royals.

The conflict between the County Board and Bellevue, LaVista, Papillion, Gretna, and Springfield boils down to one issue: who controls the growth and development within Sarpy County. The cities want growth to progress from the cities, and be managed by them. The county wants that control instead. In that respect, the issue of whether the state legislature funds a baseball stadium in Sarpy County really is secondary to the larger issue. Before this issue came up, I figured the biggest opposition to the funding bills would come from Omaha. Now this curveball essentially scuttles any hopes of getting these bills passed until the cities and the county can come to some sort of resolution on this matter. Which means, plan B, for all practical purposes, is now the path to a stadium. That will entail inheritance taxes, hotel taxes, and keno revenue. Problem with that is all those funds are currently used elsewhere in the budget. So does Sarpy County raise other taxes, or cut operations to fund the ballpark? That remains to be seen.

MECA came out and stated in a letter to the World-Herald that they offered the Royals a deal where the Royals would receive all net revenues from their games:
"Shortly after taking control of the Omaha baseball stadium, MECA offered the Royals an opportunity to play at a break-even cost to MECA and the city.

The Royals were not asked to pay any construction costs of the new downtown stadium, only the per-game operating costs of the facility. The Royals would have kept ticket revenue, advertising revenue and profits from concessions."
One item not mentioned here is parking. Originally, it was assumed that the Royals resisted the idea of paid parking, but now that parking revenues are part of the deal in Sarpy County, it turns out the issue revolved more around who receives those revenues.

But why bring this up? Here's my theory. The Royals/Sarpy County deal is not really a done deal yet, as there are still too many questions about how Sarpy County will pay for it. Sarpy County still has two months to change their mind and back out of the deal, and MECA is playing their cards now in public. Look for this issue to also start to come into the Omaha Mayoral election, once it becomes clear that the Sarpy County deal isn't as solid as some people want you to believe.

With apologies to Monty Python: downtown is saying "I'm not dead yet!"

Saturday, March 28, 2009

This Year, March Madness is On Ice

Despite the relative lack of upsets, the TV ratings for the NCAA basketball tournament are up once again. Nevertheless, some people are complaining about the lack of drama. No little guys knocking off the big guys.

They're watching the wrong sport.

March Madness is very much alive and well ... in the NCAA hockey tournament. It's been an absolutely ridiculous first couple of days. It all started when Air Force took on the third-ranked Weasels of Michigan. The Weasels outshot the Falcons 43-13...but the Air Force, coached by former Lancer head coach Frank Serratore, pulled off the shutout, as the Weasels fell 2-0.

Then, Denver became the second #1 seed to exit the tournament as Miami jumped all over the Pioneers, with the Redhawks winning 4-2. Vermont then took out host #5 Yale for three upsets in three games. But then it really got bizarre.

Princeton thought they were cruising out of the first round, leading Minnesota-Duluth 4-2 with a minute to go. Yeah, right.
The Bulldogs scored with 40 seconds left to pull within one, then tied the game up with 0:00.8 left to send the game to overtime. Naturally, Duluth scored in overtime to win 5-2. Four games, three upsets and one incredible finish.

Today, hockey fans missed about half of the North Dakota/New Hampshire game because of a seven-overtime lacrosse game on ESPN2, but they didn't miss yet another wacky ending. New Hampshire scored a game-tying goal with 0:00.1 (yes, 1 tenth of a second left) to send the game to overtime, where, yes, New Hampshire won in overtime. Five games, four upsets and two incredible finishes.

The string of upsets ended when #1 Boston University filleted Ohio State 8-3, reminding many UNO fans of the Terriers first round blowout in 2006. But back to the madness. Cornell defeated Northeastern 3-2, with the game winning goal scored with eighteen seconds left. Bemidji State embarassed CCHA champion Notre Dame, beating the #2 team in the country 5-1 this evening for yet another upset. Air Force and Vermont had to go to double overtime before Vermont punched their ticket to the Frozen Four. Miami redeemed a little respect for the CCHA by defeating Minnesota Duluth 2-1 to also claim a Frozen Four berth.

10 games, 7 upsets with 3 incredible finishes in the Big Skate. March Madness is alive and well on ice.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Doc Sadler Speaks the Painful Truth

It was just a minor side quote in today's World-Herald, but Doc Sadler's quip in a season wrapup press conference sure got the BrieJay fan base all riled up.
"A loss to Creighton hurts us. A win over Creighton, the only thing it does is make our fans happy. It doesn't help you come Selection Sunday. That's just the way it is."
Nevermind the fact that Sadler was mostly right. The NCAA selection committee said it last week: it's the quality of the teams that you beat. And specifically, it's victories against the elite teams. RPI is just a starting point; and the teams that supposedly aced Creighton out of the tournament all had many, many more wins against the elite teams in college basketball.

Now, should Doc have said that? The way the World-Herald's Lee Barfknecht reported it, we're not sure what the context of the question and answer is. Part of the reason the Creighton fanbase is so upset is that Nebraska's victory over the Bluejays was the Huskers best non-conference victory. Which is true, but irrelevent.

It ignores the fact that Nebraska's losses to schools like UMBC, Iowa State, and Baylor were the real reason why Nebraska was out of the tournament. Now, if Nebraska had pulled out victories against Kansas (6 point loss at home) and Oklahoma (led most of the way in Norman), as well as Texas A&M and Oklahoma State... that would have added 4 quality wins to the NU resume, and probably have gotten the Huskers dancing this season. The Creighton victory probably was borderline and could have helped, but the sad fact is that Nebraska's tournament resume was going to be created in the conference schedule.

That's because Nebraska has much the same problem that Creighton has; it's not a marquee program, and doesn't draw enough attention from TV to warrant a non-conference matchup with a power team. Nebraska could probably go on the road to play those games, but they shouldn't expect a return trip from most of those teams. And with finances the way they are, Nebraska isn't going to turn down a home game.

Unfortunate? Absolutely. Sad? Absolutely. But it's reality. What's the solution? For starters, college basketball needs to start penalizing schools for playing the Jacksonville State's of college basketball and rewarding schools for going on the road and for playing games against schools such as Creighton.

This year, Nebraska shocked everybody by being as strong as they turned out to be. Down the line, Nebraska will need to upgrade their basketball schedule if they want to be an NCAA tournament team, if only to prepare the team for conference play. But Doc also saw the message the NCAA sent: it's the games against Kansas, Missouri, Texas, and Oklahoma State that matter, not the games against Creighton. Doc Sadler didn't set the rules, yet he's portrayed as the villain for admitting the truth of the matter.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Husker Spring Practice Preview

Last night, I left work and found myself in the middle of a tornado warning and hailstorm. Tornadoes? Hail? Must be spring. And that means one thing in Nebraska: football.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Everyplace else, it's baseball. But around here...it's football season. Spring practice starts tomorrow, and following a 9-4 season that had the team making leaps and bounds to improve from the Steve Pederson error, everybody has hopes for 2009. CornNation has some much more detailed previews, but here are a few notes about each position as we move forward.

Quarterback: Originally, I thought this was going to be a battle between Patrick Witt and Zac Lee, but Witt already bailed out. Cody Green was the intriguing factor, but his injury status makes it unlikely we'll see a lot out of Green. Right now, it looks like it's 90% likely that Lee will be your starter going into the fall. LaTravis Washington's move to quarterback helps depth there, but it probably makes it unlikely that we'll see much of him on the field as a Husker. Maybe he'll surprise us.

Running Back: Roy Helu and Quentin Castille should be the 2nd best combination in the Big XII, behind the Sooners DeMarco Murray and Chris Brown. Castille lost some weight; Helu picked some up. That bears watching to see if Helu lost speed and Castille lost power.

Wide Reciever: This is the primary area of focus for me this spring. Nate Swift is a huge loss, and we'll need to see somebody fill the void. I think Menolik Holt will be fine, but I really want to see others step up. Fortunately, tight end Mike McNeill blossomed at the end of last season. That'll fill up some of the void.

Offensive Line: We should see improvement here as well. Lydon Murtha won't be around to frustrate us anymore. Matt Slauson will be missed, however. Andy Christensen is back, and we'll see how things develop with the younger players. Javorio Burkes will miss spring practice due to another medical issue.

Defensive Line: Here's all you need to know: Ndamakong Suh is back. Barry Turner and Pierre Allen at defensive end too. Who will replace Ty Steinkuhler up front? You know that offensive lines are going to concentrate on Suh, so the opportunities for a nose tackle to emerge are huge.

Linebacker: The following Bo Pelini quote caught my eye, regarding Phillip Dillard: "He is healthy and I expect him to come out there and compete for a job." A lot of fans might be assuming Dillard will be the starter at linebacker in the fall; I think the improved depth at linebacker may surprise folks. Will Compton, Alonzo Whaley, and Sean Fisher all redshirted last season, but probably could have contributed...and with all the injuries, started last season. This is another position I'll be focusing on.

Secondary: Anthony Blue is back....and Marvin Sanders loved the guys who were redshirting last season. Yes, John Levorson left the program, but there's plenty of depth here. The secondary was an enigma last season, but it really sounds like Sanders had an even bigger reclamation project from 2007 than we even thought. It really sounds like Sanders had to go remedial on these guys, and as the season progressed, we saw fewer and fewer mistakes from the secondary. Another position I want to keep an eye on for emerging stars.

Here's the thing to remember about the defense last year: they went from the worst defense to second best in the Big XII last season. That's an incredible turnaround, and when you remember the returning experience, a great sign of optimism for 2009. Sure, we'll need to figure out the quarterback situation, but if the defense can hold their own, Nebraska could be a solid team in the Big XII North. Remember, Missouri and Kansas State will also be starting new quarterbacks, while Colorado and Iowa State probably are hoping they will as well. Questions at quarterback will affect everybody in the North except for Kansas this season.

Kentucky Strikes a Blow at Creighton Fans' Delusions of Grandeur

I've long had mixed feelings about Creighton basketball. I like Dana Altman; he's a great coach who produces great results for the Bluejays. His teams are consistent winners in their conference, and he's always a class act.

Some of their fans are another matter entirely. The bandwagon for Creighton hoops has gotten extremely large, and they've picked up a lot of fans that think Creighton basketball is something that it isn't. Fed in large matter by a lowly rated sports talk show host, the "BrieJay" fan considers their team to be a major power, held back only by the "BCS" conference schools that conspire to keep schools like Creighton down. ("BrieJay" fan refers to the trash-talking bandwagon fan who has no idea who Rick Johnson was, and doesn't apply to long standing CU fans who have supported their program for years.)

Last week's indignation over missing the NCAA tournament gave way to euphoria at the idea of Kentucky playing in Omaha last night. So despite tornadoes and hail storms rampaging through the Omaha area at tipoff, Creighton's fans filled the Qwest Center for their eagerly awaited opportunity for revenge against a "BCS" conference foe. Namely, the winningest team in college basketball history.

But failure to convert free throws down the stretch let the Wildcats retake the lead late, and when a Bluejay three point shot clanked off the rim at the buzzer, the Bluejays season ended in the NIT. Exciting game, to be sure. (I admit; I missed most of the game after getting caught in the tail part of the storm. So I'm taking the words of others as to the quality of the game.)

But it was the reaction afterwards that struck me. Kentucky finished their season tied with Vanderbilt for 4th in their division. Fans are so unhappy with coach Billy Gillespie that they're ready to send him packing after just two years. They weren't even close to getting an NCAA tournament berth; getting seeded 3rd in the NIT.

Listening to the Brie on the Hilltop, the Wildcats are once again the superpower they were in the past, stocked with NBA first round draft picks. It took Creighton's best game of the season to compete with Kentucky, and even that wasn't enough against the juggernaut that is Kentucky basketball.

Nevermind that Creighton was the higher seed...at home...of course...

In doing so, the BrieJay fan finally admitted the fraud that is BrieJay fan. They weren't deserving of an NCAA tournament bid. They admit that their program, while the finest in the Missouri Valley conference, isn't able to compete with average teams in the big conferences without an exceptional effort.

Claiming that losing by two points to Kentucky in 2008 is some sort of "badge of honor" is downright silly. Nebraska played the defending national champions to within 6 back in January, and they're in the Sweet 16. Nobody is claiming that the Huskers belonged in the NCAA tournament. The idiocy of "autowin" and the "best program in the state" was finally exposed last night.

Creighton and Dana Altman have a great record of success in the Missouri Valley conference. Bluejay fans should be proud of what Creighton has done over the last ten years. But last night, the BrieJay fan finally admitted the truth about what that means in the larger picture. Whether they'll remember that truth when it comes time to embellish the merits of their program next season remains to be seen.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Sunday Night Dessert: What a Difference A Week Makes for Brie

One wek certainly made a difference in the opinions of the Briejay fan. Last week, it was a feeling of complete indignation as the team they've loved for the last half-dozen or so years got passed over for the NCAA tournament. This week, that's the furthest thing from their mind.

OMG! F-in Kentucky is coming! Ashley Judd! Rick Pitino!

Umm no. We'll see if Mrs. Franchitti comes to town, but I think Pitino is going to concentrate on his current job. But whatever trips your trigger.

Amazing how the indignation from last week disappeared. The Brie stopped whining about Arizona (in the Sweet 16) and Michigan (kept it close against Oklahoma in the 2nd round), and have turned their attention to the Wildcats. Wisely so, since the arguments against the NCAA tournament committee just got weaker and weaker...especially with the egg that Creighton nearly laid against the Perverts in the 1st round.

Speaking of the NCAA tournament, not a lot of upsets, but it's been awfully close. My bracket looked a lot better before LSU knocked off Butler. I also took a flyer on Western Kentucky, which almost paid off. But alas...close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. One thing is for sure: CBS does a great job with the telecasts, especially with switching you between games. How about Friday night, when CBS bounced you back and forth between Ohio State/Siena and Wisconsin/Florida State.

I think every Husker basketball fan had the same disgusted feeling over the lunch hour on Thursday. Every Roburt Sallie three-point shot was a shot in the gut, as Sallie went for 35 points for Memphis to help the #2 seeded Tigers hold of Cal State-Northridge. I'm sure someone in the academic support office in Lincoln was feeling awfully uncomfortable on Thursday.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Sarpy County Power Play: The Boondoggle Is Just the Beginning

Some people thought that Tuesday's Sarpy County board vote to approve a preliminary agreement with the Omaha Royals was the end of the debate as to where the Royals would play. It's actually just the beginning. The real battle is going to be waged in the State Legislature, and it all began today.

We all knew that the battle was going to revolve around how Sarpy County was going to fund the ballpark. I always assumed that the chief opposition would come from Omaha and the rest of the state, refusing to pay for the Boondoggle. Turns out that the mayors of Sarpy County have cut to the head of the line to protest the county's plans to pay for the stadium. Mind you, they aren't opposed to the ballpark, per se. It's how the county will pay for the ballpark, and specfically how that affects the rest of Sarpy County. The proposed entertainment district essentially becomes a black hole that presents an impediment to growth of cities, and potentially siphons the tax base away from cities. It's clear that the cities of Sarpy County and the county board are in fundamental disagreement as to how Sarpy County should grow. Sarpy County has filed lawsuits against Gretna and Papillion over annexations, and that seems to be at the heart of the battle between the competing Sarpy County interests. So now, the mayors of Bellevue, La Vista, Papillion, Gretna, and Springfield have united to oppose the Sarpy County move. Again, not because of the ballpark itself, but rather because of the means that Sarpy County wants to use to pay for the ballpark. It's a power play being waged internally between the various entities of the county.

This seems to stack the deck pretty hard against the Sarpy County board. I figured that Omaha's state senators would oppose the plans, and sure enough, they do. But now the internal battles within Sarpy grow even larger. Sarpy County's recent record of development bungles, such as failure to enforce design standards around one of the proposed ballpark locations or failure to comply with federal regulations for a road project, have resulted in a high degree of skepticism of Sarpy's ability to manage growth.

There's still 45 days left in this session, and 70 days before Sarpy County is locked into this deal, so a lot can change between now and then. But right now, a new front in the battle over the ballpark has been opened. Meanwhile, Omaha sits back and watches the infighting in Sarpy County.

Tom Shatel seems to feel that the Sarpy ballpark is a done deal, even though he doubts that Sarpy County will succeed in the Legislature. That's putting a great deal of faith in the willingness of Sarpy's taxpayers to pick up the tab for this.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Briejay Whine & Cheese Bracket Party

Last weekend, Creighton played themselves out of the NCAA tournament by getting blown out 73-49 by Illinois State, one night after salvaging a win against Wichita State the night before. Unfazed by the egg their team laid in St. Louis, the Briejay fan continued to pump their way to claim their rightful spot in the NCAA tournament.

And when they didn't make it, the reaction was fast and furious. Sue the NCAA! Billy Packer's on the seeding committee! The fix is in!

I think the message from the NCAA was very clear. Who did you beat? You can throw out RPI numbers and records and Ouija boards to your hearts content, but in the end, it comes down to who you beat.

The Briejay fan expressed outrage that Arizona and Michigan are dancing instead of them. Here's the evidence:

Wildcats: Arizona 69, Gonzaga 64; Arizona 84, Kansas 67; Arizona 106, Washington 97; Arizona 84, UCLA 72
Weasels: Michigan 55, UCLA 52; Michigan 81, Duke 73; Michigan 74, Illinois 64; Michigan/Minnesota 74-62 and 67-64; Michigan 87, Purdue 78
Bluejays: Creighton 77, Dayton 59

Creighton knew that they probably needed to win in St. Louis to make the dance before they even left Omaha, and they didn't. Now, the Briejay fan has a point that the "power schools" won't play Creighton. They have a partial point, in that these schools won't travel to Omaha. Creighton has maintained a position that they'll play these schools as part of a home and home series. But here's the deal: as a mid-major program, Creighton doesn't have the bargaining power to make those deals. As much as they don't want to admit it, they are counting on their mid-major conference to build their resume. A few years ago, that worked for Creighton. It doesn't work now.

To be fair, Nebraska doesn't have that bargaining power, but at least the Big XII gives the Huskers a better opportunity to build that resume. In fact, Nebraska offers a better resume to the NCAA committee than Creighton with victories over Missouri and Texas.

Now, should the NCAA start finding a way to get matchups between schools such as Creighton and some other "Power Conference" teams? Absolutely! Just like in football, the growth of the "money game" played only for home ticket sales hurts the game. But until that happens, it's tough for Creighton fans to argue that they somehow were robbed. Being robbed implies that you had actually possessed something, and Creighton really was fortunate to even be under consideration. (That's better than Nebraska did...)

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Mavs Shut Out by Irish to End Season

UNO hockey ended it's season quietly this weekend, getting shut out by #2 Notre Dame this weekend in a two game sweep. Irish goaltender Jordan Pearce also shut out the Mavs on Saturday night in February, so that's 180+ minutes of shutout hockey against the Mavs. The Friday night game was over quickly, as UNO mistakes were repeatedly capitalized on by the Irish in building a 4-0 lead in the first period. Saturday night, a UNO miscommunication lead to Notre Dame's early goal, and that's all they needed in a 1-0 victory. UNO had several opportunities to score late, but couldn't get the puck past Pearce, even hitting the post once.

So that ends the UNO season...a season that looked very promising two months ago. Now, the drama begins: was that Mike Kemp's last game as UNO's head coach? We all know the Chancellor's directive from last fall: place in the top four, or else. Well, the Mavs skidded out of fourth place all the way to eighth.

The interesting variable in this is that athletic director David Miller is actively pursuing a similar position at Upper Iowa, and made several comments that indicate dissatisfaction at UNO to the World-Herald last week:
"It's a smaller school in a smaller community. And it's fully committed to Division II athletics.
"UNO has a number of challenges related to competing in Division I. That includes the requirements placed on us to generate finances externally."
Maybe Miller feels over his head at UNO. Maybe he doesn't feel the mess he inherited from the Belck/Buck era can be solved, especially in this economy. Or maybe he's now realizing that he wasn't the right fit for UNO. Which is it? I have no idea, but Miller's comments do indicate he's on his way out of town.

So does a potential lame-duck AD make the final call on Kemp? Does the Chancellor make the call? And if the decision is to make a change, who hires the replacement?

Let me say this: I like Mike Kemp. I think he deserves thanks from every UNO fan for getting UNO hockey where it is today. I don't think he's done a bad job at all. But by the same token, it's hard to dismiss the lethargy that seems to surround the program as of late. There didn't seem to be much interest in the Notre Dame series; it was almost a resignation that UNO would lose and the season would be over.

To be sure, change doesn't mean things will improve. (We know from the Steve Pederson error is that change can make things much worse.) But it's difficult to argue against people calling for a change anymore. UNO can, and should, strive for better performance on the ice.

But the Miller situation throws a curve ball into the situation, and perhaps an opening that addresses the desires of both camps: those who want a change, and those grateful to Kemp for all he's done for hockey in this community. Kemp was a serious candidate to be athletic director two years ago, but bowed out when he realized he probably would need to choose between being athletic director or head coach. I'd be very afraid of allowing a disinterested athletic director to make a decision as to who should be head coach, and I'm not sure the Chancellor is the appropriate man to evaluate candidates for head hockey coach. Could UNO elevate Kemp into the athletic director's office, and allow him to appoint his successor?

Is that a win/win solution that allows UNO fans to move forward? That's a question, I don't know the answer to.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Perrault Out at KXSP-590 AM

Jim Minge of the Omaha City Weekly reported earlier today that Matt Perrault will be leaving KXSP-590 AM at the end of the month. Apparently, Perrault confirmed it on a Creighton message board as well this evening.

I can't say that I'm terribly surprised; KXSP's ratings have been near the bottom of Omaha radio station ratings, except during Creighton basketball season. (Even got called out by Matt himself a couple of years ago.) A few months after that exchange, I finally completely stopped listening to Perrault after the great Creighton/NCAA ticket heist. I've always anticipated this change, and figured it would come right after the end of Creighton basketball season when their ratings slide into oblivion. You could see the warning signs of trouble when they added Travis Justice into the mix to shake things up.

No word as to what will replace Perrault's show on KXSP next month; I kind of question whether it will even remain all-sports. Jim Rome and Dan Patrick, even though I don't particularly care for them, seem to have some following, so they may remain, but I wouldn't be surprised to see a more generic talk format evolve on KXSP.

It's never a joyous event when someone loses a job, and it's never a joyous event when a local show leaves the airwaves. Although I thought his show was poorly done, it's a local show providing local coverage of mostly local sports. That's a loss for the region. Here's hoping that KXSP regroups and finds a new host (no, not Justice) to continue local sports coverage. Competition on the radio is a good thing, and just because KXSP failed with an inferior product doesn't mean that there isn't room in this market for another local sports talk program. Maybe you try it in the morning, rather than go head-to-head with KOZN-1620 AM.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Greatest Hockey Announcer Ever

Here's a compilation of Florida Panthers radio voice Randy Moller's goal calls. (HT: Kevin Kugler of 1620 the Zone) After each goal, he throws out a pop culture reference; usually a great movie line. Enjoy!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Royals Agree To Ballpark in Sarpy County; Boondoggle Moves Forward

A lot has been made and said over the last few days over the agreement to build a new ballpark for the Omaha Royals in Sarpy County. Depending on who you talk to, it's either the "first step", "99.9% done", or a certainty. Which is it? Hard to say, as the details are not terribly clear. (Here's the agreement, in PDF form, if you want to read a lot of legalese...)

What do we know? There is a proposed preliminary agreement, and the Royals have signed off on it. The Sarpy County Board is interested in it, but won't vote on the preliminary agreement until next week. We also know the parameters of how much Sarpy County and the Royals think this will cost, and what the Royals intend to contribute to this agreement.

What don't we know? Where the ball park would be located, and how Sarpy County will pay for it.

The Royals have agreed to pay $350,000 during the development phase, $2 million during the construction phase, and $450,000 a year (with inflation adjustments periodically) for 25 years. The stadium is expected to cost $20.3 million, though site preparation and acquisition costs could stretch the bill upwards of $26 million. The stadium will be financed through bonds. The stadium is expected to seat around 6,000 fans.

Some people have reported that this means the Royals will pay for half of the stadium, but that appears to make the assumption that Sarpy County will pay 0% interest on the bonds. (Disclaimer: I'm not an attorney, nor an accountant. So my interpretation could also be completely wrong.) By my math, that should cover about $8.4 million of the cost, if financed at 5.5% over 25 years. ($2.3 million up front, then about $6.1 million amortized over 25 years.)

That means that Sarpy County still needs to cover $12 million to as much as $17 million as their end of the deal. They pledge not to raise property taxes for it, but it's becoming clear where Sarpy County plans to get the funds for their share of the ballpark: the taxpayers of the state of Nebraska.

Bellevue State Senator Abbie Cornett has introduced three bills in the state legislature to help pay for the ballpark. LB 615 creates a county sales tax for "entertainment districts" and allows the use of both the state and county sales tax to be used to help fund projects in and around the entertainment district. LB 616 allows counties to divert state cigarette tax receipts to projects, such as the ballpark, and LB 617 allows for taxing districts be developed for property and sales tax purposes for building projects. Those are the keys to whether this happens, or not.

Here's the gist of those proposals: they would allow Sarpy County to claim much of the state and local taxes generated at and around the ballpark, and use that money for the ballpark. Of course, in the case where those taxes were already being used by the state, that means a shortfall in revenues. Much of these proposals were proposed twice before, and were voted down for that very reason. And in this economy and in this budget situation, I still question how these proposals stand a chance. If they fail, then Sarpy has to find $1.5 million or so a year to pay for this ballpark.

At this time, there does not appear to be a plan B in the works, or at least proposed at this time. In terms of the preliminary agreement, there doesn't need to be one. Sarpy can walk away from the deal at any time up to June 1st. What this essentially means is that Sarpy County can approve this agreement next week, and change it's mind if the Legislature doesn't pass these bills. The county board has no risk to vote "yes" next week, as they aren't committed to the deal until June. The Royals, however, are committed, and thus, won't be able to consider counteroffers from MECA or other cities.

There were a couple of interesting items in the proposal. First of all, Sarpy County and the Royals intend to pursue the NAIA College World Series for the new ballpark. Which seems kind of silly, since that would require the Royals to vacate the new stadium for a week and a half, and they already complain about having to leave during the NCAA CWS. Granted, the NAIA series is shorter, but it would seem that the Pacific Coast League wouldn't particuarly enjoy having to schedule all those road trips around both college series. On the other hand, bringing new tourism to the area is always a good thing. That's one benefit for the entire metro area.

The bigger one is that old canard: parking. The agreement calls for paved parking around the stadium, one spot for every four seats, with the following stipulation:
"all of which shall be revenue producing parking spaces for the ORoyals."
--- Section 9.3
That's right. The Royals apparently plan to charge for parking around the new ballpark. How much will they charge? Well, let's look at what other PCL teams charge: Iowa $6, Indianapolis $5, Colorado Springs $6. So guess what? All those complaints about MECA's $6 parking? Well, guess what. It would happen in Chalco anyway.

So what happens next? The way the Sarpy/Royals agreement is structured, the county board vote is a mere formality. It'll get approved...but doesn't mean a darned thing. The real action is in the Legislature where the three Cornett bills begin deliberations. If those pass, the Chalco ballpark is 99.9% home, as much as I hate to say. If those fail (which I've maintained was the key sticking point all along), then this becomes a much more interesting issue. Sarpy County leaders will plead that this is the ONLY way the Royals stay in Nebraska, but the truth is, there is still another option. (I mean, there is still the question of whether 6,000 seats is enough, and whether $20 million is enough, but that's an issue for another day...)

It's getting dimmer. But it's still there, waiting for the leaders across the area and the state to do the right thing.

Monday, March 09, 2009

A Perfect Sports Weekend in Omaha

Despite losing an hour of sleep this weekend, I thought it was a pretty good sports weekend around here even before I realized just how good it was around here. Yeah, it was cloudy, cold, and wet outside, but all the sports news came out shining.

Husker athletics had a great weekend, with baseball sweeping a four game series with Cal State Northridge. Basketball had another decent showing on the road at Baylor, with the outsized Huskers putting on another great effort to finish 8-8 in the conference. Each game, it seems to be somebody else stepping up and make the plays. On Saturday, it was Toney McCray blocking shots, getting rebounds, then finishing up with a highlight reel slam dunk. Sadly, the game really didn't count for much; the standings for Oklahoma City were already set, so Nebraska and Baylor meet again on Wednesday morning to open the Big XII tournament.

UNO hockey swept Ferris State this weekend, shutting out the Bulldogs 3-0 on Friday night, and winning 5-2 on Saturday night. Jerad Kaufmann had a great weekend in net, and UNO had the breakthrough weekend fans have been waiting two months for. Up next for UNO is #2 Notre Dame in South Bend. The Irish swept UNO in Omaha last month, though both games were tight all the way. The bye week before the first round of the playoffs did UNO wonders, and for the first time in years, UNO heads to the 2nd round without any major injuries and relatively rested.

More good news came in on the ballpark front, where talks between Sarpy County and the Omaha Royals bogged down last weekend, meaning that the March 15th deadline will pass without an agreement. It's still likely that a tentative agreement is going to occur in Sarpy County, though it does open up the possibility of MECA reopening talks. We can only hope that common sense will prevail.

Like I said...nothing but good news over the weekend on the local sports scene. I can't think of a single bad thing that occured myself.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Thursday Night Beer: OWH Reruns for Hockey Coverage

Another side effect of the struggles of the newspaper industry was seen today in the Omaha World-Herald. After laying off another 38 employees and cutting pay 5% across the board, the Omaha daily newspaper essentially reran old news instead of compiling a preview of the UNO's first round CCHA playoff series. Surprised (and disappointed) in Chad Purcell; usually he's better than that. We all know about the Chancellors directive last fall, and Tom Shatel was told nothing would change until after the season. So why rerun old news?

Of UNO's many losses down the stretch, one of the worst was the first game at Ferris State in late January. UNO got off to a quick lead, but gave up a short-handed goal late in the 2nd to go down 3-1. The third period was simply a disaster that evening as the Bulldogs scored four times to blow the game wide open. The next night UNO came out firing, but still could only manage a 1-1 tie, losing the shootout 2-1. So now Ferris State comes to Omaha for a best-of-three series. The Bulldogs are on a slide of their own, losing their last five games, and going 1-6-1 in February. So it's a battle of teams trying to reverse their fortunes. UNO had a bye last week, which might serve them well being rested up, not having played since tying Minnesota State a week and a half ago.

Great game for Husker basketball last night against Iowa State. True to form, nobody outworks this scrappy bunch. They'll cause somebody some fits down in Oklahoma City next week at the Big XII tournament. But hopes that this team would get some much needed height next season dimmed with the news that 6'11" Christopher Niemann tore his ACL in a practice earlier in the day. Yes, he probably could play next season, but it seems it still requires 18 months to fully recover from an ACL tear.

I'm still troubled by the whole Barry Turner arrest situation from last weekend. Today, the Lancaster County attorney declined to pursue charges, thus ending Turner's legal problems. Now, was this a case of much to-do-about-nothing? The snowstorm story seems plausible, and a pillow fight doesn't sound terribly serious. The bite, on the other hand, is another matter entirely, but I'm not sure what I'd do after getting whacked in the head with a candlestick. Frankly, it might come down to the simple fact that spending a couple of nights in jail was punishment enough from a legal perspective. In the end, we may never know what, if anything, Bo Pelini and the athletic department do about this situation. Hopefully it's something (if only counseling for both parties), since while the situation might not have warranted legal action, it does raise warning signals about the relationship.

Major Culbert's departure from the Husker football team is sad in one respect. When you consider how Culbert got yanked around from running back to linebacker back to running back then safety under the previous regime, he deserves some credit. All that moving around hampered his development, and probably his confidence and attitude as a result. Last season, one had to wonder why he wasn't playing more, but I think it finally became apparent that it just wasn't going to work out for Culbert on the football field. Hopefully he'll stay in school and get his degree.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Sarpy Boondoggle Announcement Misses Key Details

Details keep trickling out about the Sarpy County ballpark and the proposed agreement with the Omaha Royals, but the key details continue to be omitted. Today's news is that the Royals and Sarpy County have agreed to a 25 year deal, but the key information still isn't known.
  • How much is it going to cost?
  • How is Sarpy County going to pay for this?
  • Where is it going to be built?
So let's get this straight. We don't know where. We don't know how much, or how it's going to be paid for. Yet they can say there is a 25 year deal?

It's not difficult to understand why the exact location hasn't been announced. Negotiations are still underway, and it's probably safe to bet that the Royals and Sarpy County have a pretty good idea where it's going to go. Until those negotiations are finalized, no announcement is going to be made. WOWT reports that the most likely locations are by Cabela's (previously destined for office space, though the economic downturn may have put those plans on hold) and along highway 370 south of Papillion.

The Chalco location by Cabela's already has it's own issues, even if it's available again. The Papillion location would be a dismal failure for the entire metro area, as very few people from Douglas County will want to take the time to drive down 72nd or 84th Street to get to the ball park.

But why not start disclosing the price and how this ballpark is going to be paid for? Talk that the ballpark is somehow a "done deal" without those details is, well, simply crazy. When those seemingly minor details get announced, is it going to be dependent on asking the state legislature to pay for it? How much will property taxes go up?

The great thing about these continuing little announcements is that they seem to build up momentum in favor of the project, without providing anything of substance to criticize. So until details actually start to emerge, this remains a boondoggle.

If Sarpy does manage to pull this off, it'll be a very disappointing day for the city of Omaha. MECA's failure to land a deal with the Royals last summer reflects badly on that organization and the people associated with it. It means the downtown stadium won't be properly utilized, and the chances of upgrading Omaha's AAA affiliation diminish, if not completely disappear.