Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Junior High and Congress Now Part of College Football

As much as I love college football, it's problems are setting the stage for an implosion of the sport. (OK, maybe "implosion" is a little strong. But it's sitting on the precipice of a cliff, and if something doesn't change quickly, off the edge it goes...) Two events in the news today signify the breaking point:

Dateline Knoxville, Tennessee. The Tennessee Volunteers just secured a commitment from Evan Berry. No big deal, you say? What if I told you that he's not even in high school yet. That's right. Tennessee just got a verbal from a 13 year old kid that just finished the eighth grade.

Stop and digest that for a second. He's not scheduled to graduate high school until 2013, and can't officially be offered a scholarship for another three years.

The madness is mitigated slightly by the fact that Berry is the son of former Vol James Berry and the brother of all-American safety Eric Berry, who'll be a junior this fall. Madness, mockery, whatever you want to call it, but when colleges are recruiting at the junior high level, you've got proof that something has gone off the deep end. As the Sporting Blog points out, the chances that this commitment will hold are pretty low. He very well might end up at Tennessee in the end due to the family history, but the idea of a 13 year old making a college decision pretty much makes a mockery of the current mess that is college recruiting.

Dateline Washington: Next Monday, Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) is making the case for anti-trust action against the BCS due to the inequities of the current situation. College football is sitting on a powder keg here; if the BCS presidents continue to stonewall against the inevitable college football playoff, they run the risk of getting the federal government mandating a playoff. It's not going to happen soon, but count on it... The BCS deal with ESPN is likely to be the last one unless the college presidents make some serious changes to the current system. Otherwise, change will be forced on them.

Think that's unrealistic? Think this will damage the game? Think again, and think back to the last time the issue of anti-trust interjected on college football. In 1984, the Supreme Court found that the NCAA's control over the television rights for college football was a violation. Back then, only two or three games were shown on television each week, usually regionally.

Now, ABC, ESPN, ESPN2, and FSN usually carry three games each Saturday, with additional games on CBS, Versus, and CBS College Sports. Not to mention regional syndication of games. Did that hurt college football? Hardly. For those of us old enough to remember those days in the 70's and 80's, Nebraska usually only got one or two games televised each season. Now, with pay-per-view, nearly every game in recent years has been televised.

Let's be honest. The BCS is better than it's predecessors, but one way or another, we're going to have a college football playoff. It's better for everybody if colleges find a way to make it happen themselves rather than wait for the government to mandate it.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Mavs Make the Jump to the WCHA

The only surprise about UNO leaving the CCHA for the WCHA is that the entire deal was completed today. Before today, it seemed that it was going to be a process that would take a few weeks, but once the parameters of an agreement between UNO and the WCHA were complete, there probably was little reason to drag the process out. In fact, perhaps Trev Alberts pushed to get the whole deal completed immediately so that there were no opportunities for "surprises" down the line.

The winners in this deal are obvious: college hockey gains by keeping Bemidji State's program alive. The WCHA gets bigger, and probably will earn more revenue with more rounds of playoff hockey. UNO reduces their travel costs and gets to share in the larger pool of revenue that the WCHA affords.

The loser? The CCHA loses UNO and the playoff revenue that is generated in Omaha. The CCHA will likely get the consolation prize of Alabama-Huntsville, but the unhappiness of the CCHA is clear from their terse news release.

That's not intended to criticize the CCHA in this situation. The CCHA jumped in and gave UNO a home when the WCHA previously rejected them. UNO fans should be very appreciative of the CCHA and their years of membership. But in this situation, the right thing for everyone is for UNO to make the move. It accomodates Bemidji and Alabama-Huntsville, keeping those programs viable, and discourages the NCAA from downsizing the NCAA tournament.

So a whirlwind couple of months for UNO hockey seems to be winding down. Trev Alberts is hired. Mike Kemp becomes his assistant athletic director. Two-time national champion coach Dean Blais takes over for Kemp. UNO bolts the CCHA for the WCHA. And now there's discussions that in his spare time (!), Alberts also renegotiated the Mavs lease with the Qwest Center.

Whew. What a ride.

(A special shout-out to Goon's World, who has been on top of this situation from the WCHA side of things.)

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

WCHA Making Concessions; Hastings Joins the Mavs

Earlier this evening, the WCHA held an informal "straw poll" to determine whether the current WCHA schools will approve a handshake agreement for UNO to join the WCHA. The terms appear to be that the WCHA would either waive or significantly reduce the leagues entrance fee for UNO and that UNO would immediately be eligible to share in league revenues. Some would point to that as a great deal for UNO, but they neglect one little fact. UNO already is a member of the CCHA, and this switch benefits the WCHA, Bemidji State, Alabama-Huntsville, and college hockey in general more than the Mavericks. The WCHA benefits by going to 12 teams, Bemidji benefits by getting a home in the WCHA, and Alabama-Huntsville benefits by gaining UNO's spot in the CCHA. Certainly UNO benefits by the increased revenue sharing in the WCHA ($100,000 per school last season), but UNO doesn't face the urgency the other parties have.

If the straw vote goes as expected, the WCHA will put the terms in writing and UNO will formally apply to join the WCHA. Everything would be approved over the next few weeks, and by all accounts, this upcoming season will be UNO's swan song in the CCHA.

Omaha hockey fans are all aflutter with the announcement that Mike Hastings is joining UNO after all. Dean Blais named Hastings "associate head coach" today, creating quite a buzz of excitement around town.

Except here.

Yes, I know Hastings record as the winningest coach in the USHL. But I can't get one thought out of my mind. If Mike Hastings had spent 14 seasons as the head coach of the Des Moines Buccaneers followed by one season in Minnesota as the #2 assistant with the Gophers, would Hastings have been considered to be "associate head coach" of the Mavs?

My instinct, for whatever it's worth says no. Certainly he's qualified to be an assistant coach of the Mavs... maybe even be the top assistant to Dean Blais. But I get a little skittish with the talk that he's the "heir apparent" to a man who hasn't even coached one single game for UNO.

Some would wonder why Hastings would leave Minnesota, and I have a simple answer for that. Right now, I'd suggest that UNO's hockey program might just be a little more stable than Minnesota's at this time. That's a statement that can easily be misinterpreted, so I'll clarify. The Gophers have a tradition and a talent level that UNO can only dream of at this point. That's NOT what I was saying. But Don Lucia is starting to feel the hot seat in Minneapolis, while Dean Blais is starting a four year contract with the Mavs. Advantage: UNO. With the Gophers, Hastings was the #2 assistant behind John Hill, who took over for Lucia when he took a medical leave of absence earlier this season. So being named the top assistant is a promotion for Hastings.

To be sure, if Blais works his magic again and pushes UNO up to the elite level of college hockey, his assistants will most definitely be leading candidates to take over when Blais decides to retire. But to consider it a "done deal" is unfair to everyone at this point and time. Hastings might look like the slam dunk candidate when that time comes, but for now, it's just unnecessary speculation. Especially after the absurd rumors from this past winter that Hastings would take over as UNO head coach.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Sunday Night Beer: Leadership from Sokol, Osborne, and Pelini

What a quiet offseason it's been for Nebraska football since the end of spring practice. Looking back over the last few weeks, it's been pretty much Mavericks and Omaha stadium entries because there really hasn't been much of substance regarding the Huskers to blog about. Yeah, Tyler Gabbert "committed", but anymore all that really means is that "he's decided he's attending the University of Nebraska unless he changes his mind". In other words: much to do about nothing. Unfair to Gabbert? Maybe, but I'd think fans around here would have learned their lessons after watching big brother Blaine and Josh Freeman change their minds...as well as watching Harrison Beck and Patrick Witt transfer. Bottom line is that I don't start setting expectations for any player until they enroll on campus and put on a jersey.

David Sokol joined Tom Osborne and Bo Pelini for "Leadership 101" last week. Leadership is kind of an enigmatic experience for me; one I'm still struggling to get my hands around just what it is. But at it's core, it's more communication than anything else, which seems counterintuitive to me at first. I've previously felt it was ideas and brilliance at it's core, but how do you explain leaders like Ronald Reagan going from "Bedtime for Bonzo" to the White House?

Sokol's name keeps showing up in sports circles in recent years. He's donated to Creighton to fund an arena on campus. He was a critic of UNO's administration in the Nancy Belck/Jim Buck fiasco. And don't forget MECA's involvement with the downtown stadium and negotiations with the Omaha Royals. But his first public involvement in sports was with Frank Solich back in 2003, and he talked a little about what happened:
“When Frank reached out to me, he was having to change some assistant coaches. He asked me, ‘How do I do what I have to do?’

“He had been thrust into the head coaching job without being able to make his own mark on it. Tom wanted him to keep those assistants. Frank did not confide early enough to Tom that recruiting was sliding because some of those coaches had basically retired with Tom. He needed to make some changes but didn’t know how.

“The thing I hated about the whole (Steve) Pederson thing was that Frank was making a lot of progress and had hired a good staff, including Bo, and we never got to see what they could have done.’’

A lot of recruitniks have taken their shots at Frank Solich and his alleged struggles in recruiting. I hate to bring the subject up again, but Sokol brings us a reminder that college football is a team game. If parts of the team aren't living up to their end of the bargain, it's hard to have success. By all accounts, Solich struggled with that leadership issue until it finally boiled over in 2002. But did Solich turn things around in 2003? We'll never know...and it's an issue that frankly, will never go away.

Pelini's comments on leadership seem to be somewhat hypocritical when you look at Pelini's sideline antics last season, until you realize that while you see what he's doing, you don't know what he's actually saying. So I've read Pelini's quotes from last week over and over again, and I'm getting a feel for what he's actually doing on the sideline:
“You have to know when to put the hammer down and when to put your arm around someone. Sometimes you’ll see a kid make a mistake in a game that results in a touchdown the other way. As he runs back to the sideline, the coach runs out to meet him and chews him out.

“Is that what’s best for the kid — or the coach? The coach is basically saying ‘It’s not my fault.’ What you have to do is pull the kid over and say, ‘You’re better than that. You’ll get them next time.’ You have to coach them up. Fix it. You don’t ever point the finger. You point the thumb — back at yourself if you’re a leader.’’

“You can’t be the same for everyone. You have to adapt according to how people are. Some people react to criticism, and some don’t. Know your employees. It’s your job to get them from Point A to Point B. But I always try to end whatever I say with a positive thought. If you can’t let it go, they won’t let it go.’’

No doubt that Pelini uses strong language and strong emotion on the sideline. But is he attacking the person, or the mistake? Note that he points out that everyone reacts to criticism differently, and perhaps the people that get the biggest chewings-out are the ones that react well when getting a barrage from Bo. Also note that last paragram: end it with a positive thought and let it go. It seems that the director probably turns away from Pelini before we get a chance to see it, but I wonder if we had the audio track from Bo Pelini's headset, we might not get a different perspective of Bo Pelini on the sideline.

Speaking of fiery leaders, the World-Herald's Chad Purcell was back on the hockey beat today, if only for a day (hopefully it's longer), to highlight UNO coach Dean Blais. What's become clear to me is that Blais not only has an eye for talent, but also a love of teaching and a love of the game. Just about everything I read about Blais confirms my belief that this is the man that UNO needed to hire to take UNO hockey to the next level. It's going to be quite a treat to see how UNO responds to this change.

Will UNO be in the WCHA or CCHA after this upcoming season. Reports from the WCHA world seemed to indicate that it's a "done deal"...but then Trev Alberts put the brakes on that on Friday, saying that it's anything but. What does this mean? Well, UNO is in the drivers seat on this deal. UNO doesn't need to make the switch, but college hockey and the WCHA needs UNO to switch. There are other options, but none are as attractive. If UNO makes the switch, UNO's concerns have to be addressed, and Trev Alberts seems to be driving a hard bargain.

Bottom line: I think UNO will end up in the WCHA, but the arrangement will be to UNO's favor in the end.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Tuesday Night Beer: Lancers Want No Part of BFE

The situation in BFE Sarpy County just keeps getting more difficult to figure out. It's been long reported that the plans for the highway 370 site included an ice rink, but Saturday, the World-Herald reported that the owner of the Des Moines USHL team is planning to build a 4500 seat arena for skating and hockey there.

Which was rather concerning to the Omaha Lancers since they have no plans to play outside of Omaha. The Lancers learned the hard way the risks of moving away from the population base, and moved back.
“There is a strong sense of excitement in Omaha that we are coming back home. I have no clue what their plans are (in Sarpy County). I want people to know that the Lancers are going to be in Omaha.”
So now not only do we have the boondoggle of the Sarpy County stadium...but also a 4500 seat arena with no tenant. Not to suggest that there isn't a need for ice in Sarpy County, there is. There just isn't a need for a 4500 seat arena, what with UNO planning an arena and Creighton opening their own this fall.

Speaking of UNO's arena, Dean Blais talked this weekend about growing UNO's attendance average five digits...perhaps as high as 14,000 fans. Sounds unrealistic? Ten years ago, if you would have told me that Creighton would be averaging 16,000 fans for basketball, I would have been rolling on the floor laughing at the suggestion. But winning and making a few NCAA tournament appearances turned a program that struggled to sell out the Civic Auditorium (unless the Huskers were the opponent) into one of the top schools in college basketbal in terms of attendance. And winning and NCAA berths is the expectation Blais is bringing to UNO.

If UNO does manage to get attendance up to that level, it'll finally bury forever the idea of UNO hockey playing at the Civic ever again. On the other hand, the cost of a UNO campus arena just went up since now the minimum size just jumped to five figures.

Blais also sounds the warning alert for the out of control monster called recruiting that is killing college athletics:
"But no, the big changes are the rules and regulations, and the NCAA with (more and more) early commitments. I think it really has to change. I don't think it's good and healthy for schools to be promising scholarships, and a kid doesn't turn out. Usually a verbal commitment is verbal -- in ninth grade, you don't know what that kid is going to be in four years. As coaches, we're created a monster and we have to change it. I don't have all the answers, but I don't think it's good, for the kid or the colleges.
"But the early commitments, I said this five years ago -- it's gotten too young. It's not healthy. If you don't do it, you fall behind. If you do do it, someone's going to get in trouble sooner or later."
Husker offensive coordinator Shawn Watson might be a victim of an out-of-control recruitnik who's impersonating him in e-mails to high school coaches. I'd be curious to find out if this simply a Husker fan who's either (a) too curious or (b) thinking that he's actually helping... or whether he's trying to discredit Watson on the recruiting trail.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Four Years of Blasphemy

Today marks the 4th anniversary of "Blasphemy"...and what a four years it has been. If I can toot my own horn, this is now the longest running local sports blog. Sure some blogs started before me locally, but they've all either stopped or taken long hiatus. In fact, this is post #801 for Blasphemy as the fifth year starts. Let's put that in perspective: it's longer than Bill Callahan and Matt Perrault lasted. And oh, how things have changed over this run. Steve Pederson nearly ran the Husker athletic department into the ground, and was fired. Jim Rose is no longer the voice of the Huskers, and is reduced to promoting the flat-earth society in the mornings on KFAB (denying global warming, the dangers of second-hand smoke, etc.). The Nancy Belck/Jim Buck saga is also becoming a distant memory as well.

A new stadium for the College World Series is being built downtown (and unfortunately, a second stadium in BFE Sarpy County as well). Bo Pelini has Nebraska football on an upswing. Doc Sadler gets 140% out of his basketball teams. Dean Blais is likely to produce similar results for Maverick hockey. The future of local sports is much brighter than it has in several years.

Thanks to all of you for stopping by over the years. I hope you've enjoyed reading the blog a fraction as much as I've enjoyed writing it. And with expectations growing for both the Huskers and Mavs, it should be even more enjoyable as we enter our fifth year.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Not Blasé About UNO Head Coach Dean Blais

When Trev Alberts introduced Dean Blais as UNO's new hockey coach this afternoon, the news echoed through the college hockey world, and the response can be summarized in one word: "Whoa."

Locally, the name Dean Blais doesn't mean much. I'll freely admit, that it didn't mean much to me until a month ago. I don't follow the WCHA or the USHL that closely, though once I connected Blais to North Dakota's national championships, I was intrigued. Then I dug into Blais' record:

At North Dakota:
  • 262-115-33 in ten seasons
  • Five WCHA conference titles in ten seasons
  • Two WCHA championships
  • Seven NCAA tournament berths in ten seasons
  • Two National Championships, and one Frozen Four Runner-Up
How can you not be impressed by that record? Then add in what Blais did at Fargo, taking a first year team into the USHL finals, sweeping the Omaha Lancers out of the playoffs and being named USHL coach of the year.

With all due respect to the other candidates, the Blais resume stands head and shoulders above the rest. Locally, I'm sure that Mike Hastings would make a bigger splash initially with his name recognition from his years with the Omaha Lancers. But let me put this hire into perspective in comparison. This is like Iowa State hiring Barry Switzer. This is like Nebraska basketball hiring Rick Pitino. This is like Nebraska baseball hiring Augie Garrido instead of Dave Van Horn in the late 90's. Trev Alberts went out and signed a coach who will be second amongst active coaches in winning percentage when the Mavs take the ice this October.

Blais will bring a much different style of hockey to UNO this fall: a run-and-gun high-octane speed offense. (Can you imagine Alex Hudson in this type of offense?) Kemp has been more of a defensive oriented coach, so I'm sure the transition may be rough initially. But Blais' Fargo squad became quite the force by the end of the season, and Blais won a national championship in year three with the Sioux. In fact, look at the comments from SiouxSports.com:
"which will come first-blais winning his third NC or his hand picked successor(sp) Hak winning his first?"
"The upgrade in effort on the ice his first year at UND was unmistakable. I'm sure the fans in Omaha are in for a similar treat."
"I will predict that he'll have UNO in the Frozen Four within 3 years though."
Some people use a baseball analogy, calling this a "home run" hire. I'll use a hockey analogy. "Trev Alberts shoots...and scores!" While I credit Mike Kemp for helping point Alberts towards Blais, I'm giving Alberts the credit for pulling it off when frankly, very few gave UNO a chance to pull it off.

In fact, Alberts had to sell Blais on the job. Blais turned down an initial offer, but on Wednesday, he came across the following quote from Bill Bradley:
"Ambition is the key to success. Persistence is the vehicle you'll arrive in."
So on Wednesday, Alberts told Kemp that he was going to make a second run at Blais. He worked out the deal with Blais, then worked out the deal with the "boosters of substance" that helped bring Alberts to UNO in the first place. It's a good investment for UNO; when UNO has a chance to hire someone like a Dean Blais, you do everything in your power to make it happen.

And it has happened. After David Miller resigned in March, I stated that UNO's biggest need was a leader with vision who could make things happen. Within a month, Trev Alberts was hired and despite no experience in administration, he has become exactly that leader -- and then some. UNO ended last hockey season with many question marks; now the Maverick hockey program finds itself on a path towards elite status in college hockey.

(Photo courtesy of mavpuck.com )

Thursday, June 11, 2009

UNO Hockey Coach Announcement Imminent? (Hint: Dean Blais!)

Earlier this week, UNO athletic director Trev Alberts and assistant AD Mike Kemp boarded a plane to interview six candidates to replace Kemp. Former North Dakota head coach Dean Blais told the World-Herald to ask Alberts about the situation.

Now, the Duluth News-Tribune's Kevin Pates reports that former UNO and current Minnesota-Duluth assistant Steve Rohlik got a second interview on Wednesday. Also mentions Princeton coach Guy Gadowsky as another candidate.

The Western College Hockey blog reports that this decision might be done "sooner than expected".

Based on the noise tonight...and the fact that the College World Series starts on Saturday, an announcement could be coming tomorrow.

Update: 6/12/2009 Noon: UNO will introduce Dean Blais as UNO head coach this afternoon at 2 pm.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Tuesday Night Beer: Omaha.com & Huskers.com Get Makeovers

The Nebraska athletic department and Omaha World-Herald unveiled long-overdue redesigns today, though I give both mixed reviews. Visually both are improvements over the previous design, but both designs seem to waste valuable screen real estate. It's a common error I see with web developers who use the "latest and greatest" equipment. The design of both sites looks great on a high-powered computer with a large monitor...but not so much when you bring it up on older home computers with smaller monitors (or laptops). Both sites waste so much real estate at the top of the page to alleviate clutter on huge monitors that suddenly most users will have to scroll to see anything other than the top headline.

Both sites also seem to be pushing multimedia...whether it's called for or not. A Tom Osborne audio interview on Huskers.com is informative, but most people could read the interview in 1/5th of the time that it takes to listen to it. Osborne discusses bowls as well as what will happen after the FSN TV contract expires after the 2012 season....but doesn't really say anything about what might be changing. Kind of frustrating to spend the time listening to the interview and not really find out anything new.

Don't get me wrong. Good multimedia is great...but the multimedia needs to capture some sort of essence of a special event. The "Bo Pelini Locker Room Speech" does that very well, intermixed with 2008 highlights. It captures the raw emotion that Pelini brings...and couldn't be shared any other way authentically. The Osborne interview...well, offers absolutely nothing that couldn't have been done better with a simple transcript.

Supposedly the Omaha.com redesign is going to support reader comments, but so far, it's only on selected stories. Tom Shatel's column, for example, would be an excellent place for comments, but it's not there. So hopefully he'll catch my comments to today's column here:

The problems the Royals face in sharing Rosenblatt with the NCAA are a good reason for building a new stadium...but not necessarily two. Couldn't you build a stadium with space to accomodate sufficient office space for both the Royals and the NCAA? Certainly would cost less than two stadiums.

Shatel also seems to be picking up on the vibe that UNO athletic director Trev Alberts seems to be looking to make a bid for a big name hire, such as Dean Blais. KETV's Matt Schick posted a transcript to parts of last week's interview with Trev Alberts, where Alberts makes some eyebrow raising statements:
We’d like it to be in the middle of the month of June. We will not rush this decision. It’s too important for our future. We will do all of our due diligence. We’re going to aim for the moon, and try to get the best possible candidate that we can to try to convince him to be our head coach. If that happens soon, great. If it’s later, that’s okay too. We need to get the right fit.
Many people have assumed that UNO would target an assistant coach, but Alberts statement about "aim for the moon" indicates that UNO is shooting higher. No offense to local favorite Mike Hastings, but if Alberts can lasso a coach that has won two national championships such as Blais, that's a huge change in fortunes for UNO. After years of watching UNO's administration stumble and bumble and bungle their way, Alberts seems to be bringing a fresh attitude to UNO.

Tomorrow's announcement that TD Ameritrade is purchasing the naming rights for the downtown stadium is a bittersweet announcement for Omaha. Don't get me wrong; it's a good thing for Omaha and the downtown stadium. It also silences some of the naysayers who still continue to insist that the downtown stadium is a mistake. Yes, it appears that the downtown stadium is not going to be utilized as much as it should be. But the value of the College World Series alone makes it a good deal even without the Omaha Royals playing there.

But it's bittersweet because I still wonder what could have happened in a couple of years. The Ricketts family, who founded Ameritrade and still sit on the board, are finalizing the purchase of the Chicago Cubs. When the Chicago Cubs contract with Raccoon Baseball in Des Moines expires after the 2012 season, it wasn't outside the realm of possibilities that the Chicago Cubs might want to explore a minor league affiliation in another market...especially one where the family business owns the naming rights to a stadium. No, the Iowa AAA baseball team isn't going anywhere...but after 2012, there is no assurance that the Iowa AAA baseball team will be affiliated with the Chicago Cubs. Sadly, with the Omaha AAA baseball team committing to play in BFE Sarpy County for the next 25 years, the chances of the "Omaha Cubs" becoming reality disappeared as well. Sigh. O! What could have been.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Is UNO Targeting Dean Blais?

Trev Alberts updated the Omaha World-Herald and KETV-Channel 7 on the search for a new hockey coach:
Alberts said phone conversations have taken place with some applicants as well as others who haven't applied, and said that process is ongoing.

Alberts said there are no immediate plans to conduct a formal on-campus interview, but also said his target date of mid-June to July 1 for making a hire is still reachable.

The "others who haven't applied" comment caught my attention, as it means that UNO is being somewhat aggressive in pursuing coaches, not just sitting back and seeing who applies. Who could that be?

Fiona Quick of the Minnesota Hockey Journal adds to the speculation that it's none other than Dean Blais, who won two national championships for North Dakota before trying his luck in the NHL. She does question whether Blais is interested, as it seems that some Gopher boosters are pushing for Blais to replace current head coach Don Lucia when his contract expires - or maybe sooner. Certainly Blais' resume affords him the opportunity to choose his next job, so it's very possible that Blais isn't interested in UNO.

If he isn't, I don't think money would be the issue. Granted, UNO athletics has an ongoing money issue, but UNO boosters came up with the funds to bump up Alberts salary. I'd be shocked that those same boosters wouldn't consider opening up their checkbooks again if that were the only issue preventing Blais from accepting the UNO job.

From my perspective, it looks like UNO is pursuing Blais. And it's not because of his resemblance to David Letterman:

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Wednesday Night Beer: Clarence Thomas Making Friends

I normally don't pay any attention to incoming recruits, but the story about Jason Ankruh meeting Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas on a flight back from a recruiting trip caught my eye, but not for the usual reasons. It's a great story, but considering how finicky the NCAA can be at times, could the NCAA rule that this is a "extra benefits" violation? After all, how many high school graduations does Thomas, an admitted Husker fan, speak at? Remember, this is the same organization that declared Eric Crouch ineligible over a ham sandwich.

I happened to catch the Journal-Star's tweet about Eric Piatkowski, and asking about the interest level in the NBA Finals. With all due respect to Pike and former Husker Tyronne Lue, the NBA Finals are of no interest to me. The NBA (Not Basketball Anymore) jumped the shark in the early 90's. I was watching the NBA Finals (probably the Bulls) and had to leave the room for a few minutes, and came back a few seconds before NBC cut away to a commercial. NBC cuts to a 15-20 second (maybe longer) montage of still photographs of players set to the John Tesh do-do-do-dodo theme music ... without any clue as to what the score was. They come back from commercial, and since it was the days before Fox made the on-screen scoreboard a standard feature of sports broadcasts, I had to wait even longer before NBC finally flashed the score on the screen. In the meantime, I was subjected to features, interviews, and self-promotion...and the game had become secondary. In other words, it had become entertainment, not sport.

So tomorow night, I'll be watching the Final...the Stanley Cup Final game four between the Red Wings and Penguins. Good series so far, with the Wings leading the series 2-1. I wondered if the freak goal by former Michigan State forward Justin Abdelkader on Sunday night in Detroit might have demoralized the Penguins, but they bounced back on Tuesday night to win at home. I just wish former Maverick Bill Thomas was still up with the Pens; his season apparently ended last month in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Thomas played 11 games with the Pens earlier this season, scoring one goal.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Shocker of the Year: TV doesn't want to show NU's games against Florida Atlantic or Arkansas State

To nobody's surprise, the Big XII's television partners (ABC, ESPN, FSN, and Versus) all declined to televise the first two Nebraska football games against Florida Atlantic and Arkansas State. Jeff Sagarin's end of season 2008 ratings had Florida Atlantic rated #102 and Arkansas State #107. Don't look for the Huskers other non-conference game to be televised either, as Louisiana Lafayette finished last season rated #106.

What does that mean? If you want to watch the games, call your cable or satellite provider because these games are headed to pay-per-view once again. Is it better than listening to the game on the radio? Maybe, unless you don't take into consideration the lasting effects of Husker fans' willingness to pay $29.95 to watch Nebraska football. Last season, the TV networks passed on the Nebraska/Kansas game, choosing instead to show Iowa State/Colorado. That decision was likely influenced by the prospect of making more revenue from selling the game on pay-per-view instead of selling commercials.

The real blame for this goes to Steve Pederson's awful scheduling; there's no excuse for playing three Sun Belt teams in 2009. Two, perhaps. Three, absolutely not. Budgets require playing three non-conference home games each season, so that could justify two Sun Belt games. (I'd hope Nebraska could do better, though.) The other game should be a home-and-home against a BCS or at least an upper-half mid-major foe. Fortunately, once Pederson's scheduling mess is overwith, it looks like the schedules are improving down the line.

Still no word on the television coverage for the Nebraska vs. Virginia Tech game, though. This game will be televised under the ACC television coverage package. Looking at the college football schedule, the Huskers/Hokies game looks like one of the better matchups on September 19th. ABC has already chosen Texas Tech at Texas for their prime-time game, and CBS will almost assuredly take Tennessee at Florida for prime time as well. Other games on the schedule that will fight for TV coverage include Kansas at Duke (yeah right), Kansas State at UCLA (hee hee), Utah at Oregon, and UConn at Baylor. I don't see any games even remotely approaching the Huskers and Hokies, so I look for ABC to grab this game for a 2:30 kickoff or ESPN for a primetime matchup. Since ABC already selected the Tech/Texas game for primetime, I doubt they'd do a split-national broadcast with yet another Big XII team.

(Correction: The Duke game is at Kansas, and will be televised by Versus.)

Speaking of media coverage, UNO has announced that they are moving Maverick sports broadcasts to the campus radio station, KVNO 90.3 FM. I have mixed feelings on this, as I'm worried that UNO will lose exposure on a non-traditional station. Hopefully Kevin Kugler and Mike'l Severe will still cover UNO sports even though they won't be carried on their station. (Trev Alberts probably could solve that problem simply by agreeing to a weekly interview on "Unsportsmanlike Conduct".) The upside of this decision is that KVNO should have better coverage in the metro area, especially at night. KKAR seems to fade out at night as you hit the western city limits, and according to the FCC, the KVNO signal should reach Fremont. It's going to be an odd fit: sports and classical music. But it can't be any more bizarre than the idea of former Z-92 morning zoo host Otis Twelve spinning Mozart in the morning.

Monday, June 01, 2009

It's Official: The Royals Will Play on Highway 370

The Sarpy County Board made it official today, selecting the site at 126th and Highway 370 as the new home for the the Royals Triple-A affiliate. It's a bittersweet moment for the metro area in my opinion. The good news for the Omaha area is that the Royals will be remaining in Omaha area. The bad news is in an ideal world where all entities (local governments, the Royals, and the NCAA) cooperated, one stadium could have been sufficient. In this time when the economy is contracting and government is criticized for spending too much money, the notion of two ballparks in the Omaha area is regrettable.

After reflecting on things over the weekend, I realized that while I think the decision to build a stadium in Sarpy County is the wrong one for the Royals and Sarpy County, if Sarpy County insisted on building a stadium in Sarpy County, the highway 370 location was very likely the best decision for the county. Not necessarily the Royals, mind you. For Sarpy County, it was kind of a no-brainer. The land and infrastructure costs were the lowest at that site, and the promise of potental development was the highest. From the county's perspective, highway 370 is low risk - high reward. Papillion is booming and the promise of shopping and recreation is a benefit to everyone. The opportunity for the developer bringing an ice rink or two to the area is another benefit. Omaha suffers a shortage of ice for skating and hockey because of the expense, so additional rinks represents a good thing for the metro area.

I still believe that the proposed stadium is still a mistake for both the Royals and Sarpy County...but both organizations have now signed off on it, making my objections irrelevant. We still don't know how Sarpy is going to pay for it, which was my #1 objection all along. I also question what a $25 million dollar stadium that holds 6000 fans looks like when the going rate for a 7000 seat stadium is double that. Heck, a single big screen will cost over $1 million. (For comparision, Nebraska is installing two new video screens and ribbon boards at this time for a total cost of $3 million) And yes, it's too far southwest of the metro area.

Twice in the last day or so, I've heard references to my blog in the media without any attribution. Which is fine; I'm open to criticism even if they don't want to acknowledge the source...but they shouldn't be surprised by a response.

Some have mentioned why my motivation is, even questioning why people oppose "progress". My motivation is simple: I want the best thing for the metro area. The city is already committing many millions of dollars for the downtown stadium, and the money being invested in a second stadium is a waste of resources in a time when there are far greater needs in this city than a second stadium. The downtown stadium was a no brainer; Rosenblatt had infrastructure issues that weren't going away, and the NCAA was requesting a new stadium by all accounts. It's unfortunate that the Royals and MECA couldn't come to an agreement downtown, and for that, I blame all parties: MECA, the Royals, Sarpy County, and to a lesser extent, the city of Omaha.

In an interview yesterday, Alan Stein denied that the Royals tried to play one bid off of another one in their dealings with MECA. Whether that's true or not, the Royals were already in discussions with Sarpy County long before they negotiated with MECA, and there is no way that those discussions could not have influenced the Royals positioning. When you know that you are going to have alternatives, you aren't going to be interested in compromising. The Royals knew of interest from Sarpy County, and MECA likely knew as well and weren't going to get into a bidding war.

In my rush to post (with a cranky one-month old on my lap) Friday night, I didn't make my objections to the location very clear. For most of the metro area, the proposed stadium is further away than either Rosenblatt or the new downtown stadium; that's not going to encourage fans to attend Royals games. Except, of course, for folks who are located nearby: Papillion, La Vista (to some extent), Millard, Gretna, and Elkhorn. I used the I-80/680 interchange as the focal point because it illustrates the areas where the 370 location is better than the alternatives. For people southwest of I-80/680, the 370 location is definitely closer. Northwest, it's somewhat of a push since many of these people would use the interstate either way. Northeast of I-80/680 is the audience that loses in this discussion; those people just got a disincentive to attend the Royals games.

The real question is whether there is a latent demand in Papillion, Millard, and Gretna for sporting events that will make up for the inevitable loss of fans from the rest of the metro area. That's the gamble the Royals make. Lot of families there, absolutely. But there are families everywhere in the metro area. Don't forget the Royals play one block west of the premier family destination in this region; the current location doesn't seem to hurt the Henry Doorly Zoo one bit.

Nearly seven years ago, the Omaha Lancers moved to Council Bluffs in an attempt to reenergize a fan base and serve an underserved audience for sports in southwest Iowa. After a failed name change, they are moving back to Omaha this fall, leaving the Mid America Center with a questionable future after watching Lancer crowds dwindle as the move alienated more fans than attracted new fans. The proposed stadium in western Sarpy County is even further away from the city limits than the Mid American Center. The question remains to be answered: did the Royals move towards their fan base ... or away?

It's been interesting to observe the various biases that have emerged over the past year and a half over this issue. The Omaha World-Herald, for it's measure, has been strongly in favor of the downtown stadium. Kevin Kugler and Mike'l Severe of KOZN radio, on the other hand, have been negative towards the downtown stadium and the biggest cheerleaders for the Sarpy County stadium. Obviously, any reader of this blog knows my position, as this is an opinion blog.

In any event, the debate is over. The stadium in Sarpy County is underway, right or wrong. Will I be wrong, as I was over the ability of Sarpy County to pull it off? We probably won't know for sure for another five or ten years.