Monday, May 31, 2010

Monday Night Beer: Wouldn't You Like to be a Fly On the Wall at the Big XII Meetings?

I have to admit it might be kind of fun to sit in on part of the Big XII meetings in Kansas City this week. But at the same time, if anybody gets mad at Nebraska and/or Missouri, the question would be "why?" The short answer is, of course, jealousy. Any Big XII North school would seriously consider jumping to the Big Ten if the interest were there. Nebraska and Missouri merely make more sense for the Big Ten than Iowa State, Kansas, or Kansas State. Even some of the southern teams would consider it, though the travel costs would make it prohibitive for them...but if the SEC were to come a-calling, they'd be jumping too.

The Daily Oklahoman's Barry Tramel pretty much nailed this yesterday.  The Big XII is hog-tied by geography and by population. If the Big XII doesn't fit into the future of conference expansion, it's time to negotiate an orderly breakup for the conference.

While some athletic directors and school presidents will probably sing and dance and hide behind weasel-words, I don't see Tom Osborne being anything but forthright with his colleagues if he's asked about Nebraska's motives.  In fact, I'd suggest that Osborne quote his old colleague Senator John McCain: "Elections have consequences." When Big XII North schools continually vote with Texas and against Nebraska on conference matters (such as holding the Big XII championship football game in Dallas on a permanent basis), a message is being sent to Lincoln, and being set strongly.  The rest of the Big XII shouldn't be surprised if Nebraska considers a better offer. If the rest of the Big XII is really concerned about keeping Nebraska in the Big XII...make the Big XII a better conference for Nebraska.

I'm sure Gary Pinkel (and perhaps Bill Snyder as well) will cut out this quote from Osborne and keep it for the bulletin board:
“If it's the will of the group to play in Arlington the next three years, we'll go down there and play as hard as we can. It isn't like we're going to pout."
While Nebraska is likely to be the consensus favorite to win the North this season, it's by no means assured. In any event, I'm not used to see quotes like that from Osborne. Usually T.O. slips in something about "if we get the opportunity" or some other quote that makes it clear that he's not dismissing the rest of the conference.

Another entertaining Stanley Cup Final game tonight in game 2. I never used to be a big Mike Emrick fan, but he has a way with his call to make a big game seem even bigger...whether it's the gold medal game in the Olympics or the Cup.

I had to be out driving Saturday night, so I didn't get to watch the end of game 1.  I did manage to pick up the Blackhawks radio broadcast on WGN-720 AM out of Chicago once the sun went down. Interesting that it turns out that WGN-TV also carries a handful of Blackhawks games...but they're blacked out on the national WGN satellite feed.  That's something the Blackhawks and the NHL should try to change. Any additional exposure for the game would be good for the game.

Well, the cost of the Sarpy County Boondoggle are up $5 million over budget so far. No surprise here.  Sarpy County was told two years ago it would cost $40 million, and even with the recession, I still think that the current $31 million budget is still going to come up short.  My guess is that even with cutting corners and lower costs due to the the current economic downturn, it'll eventually come in around $35 million. The one surprise is reading the quote from Sarpy County Board Chairwoman Joni Jones:
“I am very hopeful that it (economic development along 370) will, but if it does not, then we've made a grave mistake.”
 The stadium is just now beginning actual construction, and already the seeds of regret?  Wow.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Sunday Night Dessert: The Offseason Begins

Nebraska baseball ended a disappointing season with a surprising sweep of Texas Tech - the only conference series they won this season. Good way to finish out the season, but what good does it do? Nothing for 2010; that season is dead and buried. But it gives the Huskers a little bit of a bright spot going into this offseason. Many Husker fans were disappointed that Tom Osborne made the decision to retain Mike Anderson, but when you look past the bottom line of wins and losses, you can see a little bit of a reason to be optimistic that this program could still turn it around. Namely, a lineup full of freshmen and sophomores. They lose Adam Bailey, D.J. Belfont, and Tyler Faust as seniors, and probably top starter Michael Mariot as a draftable junior.

Sports is typically looked at as a "bottom-line" business: did you win or not? So I understand why some fans want to see Anderson let go. But I'm a guy who looks at the extenuating circumstances. Firing a guy doesn't necessarily mean things will get better. A lot of Nebraska fans wanted Frank Solich fired in 2002 and 2003, but his replacement certainly failed to even match Solich's level of success. From my perspective, I'm usually guilty of accepting excuses over bottom-line results if it looks like things could improve. It's only when it doesn't look like things are going to improve (see Bill Callahan in 2007, for example) that I think a coaching change is required.

That doesn't mean Mike Anderson gets a free pass on an ongoing basis. In the next year or two, Nebraska's got to start making some baseball noise in June

With that, the summer offseason begins. While some people can't wait for football season to  get here, I'm not one of them. Football season will be here soon enough, and there is still so much to enjoy in the coming weeks. The College World Series and the Stanley Cup next month. All of the summer family activities too. Football season will be here soon enough; for now, I'll enjoy the trip.

It never fails that during the summer, something comes up to keep things interesting. In 2006, we had the never ending adventures of mismanagement in UNO's athletic department.  2007 and 2008, we had the stadium battles.  2009, it was the renaissance of UNO's athletic department with Trev Alberts and Dean Blais.

So in 2010, what will the story line be? My bet is that despite the denials from the Big Ten conference, conference expansion is going to be the talk of the summer....or at least for the next 5 weeks. (Penalties apply if things drag on past July 1st....  And I do believe there is too much smoke for there not to be any substance lurking underneath. I don't believe Missouri (and Nebraska, for that matter) would be taking the stands that they are without having received solid feelers, if not informal invitations.  (Or at least assurances that an invitation is forthcoming.) It's all a matter of waiting to see how it all develops, but my instinct is that one day, Tom Osborne will show up at a press conference in Chicago to announce that Nebraska is joining the Big Ten, and up until that press conference, people will still be denying it's happening.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Monday Night Beer: UFL & Nighthawks Gaining Traction in Omaha

There certainly is a valid concern about the long-term viability of the United Football League, but if it fails, it won't be because Omaha didn't give them a chance.  Already the Omaha Nighthawks Facebook page has over 3600 fans, and they haven't even played a single game yet.  Ticket sales apparently haven't begun yet, but I wouldn't be surprised if they go briskly. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if the first game didn't come close to selling out. The UFL certainly is drawing a buzz that I haven't felt since UNO sold out hockey season tickets in eight days back in 1996.

Omaha will certainly give this team a chance, and the initial schedule gives the Nighthawks two chances right off the bat to establish themselves in the community.  The season opener on Friday, September 24th, is early enough in the fall that it should be a comfortable night for football, even if the high schools are playing that night.  The next weekend, the UFL takes advantage of a Nebraska bye week to play a Saturday night game on October 2nd.  Only conflict is an exhibition hockey game for UNO.  The next two games will be tougher sells:  Thursday, October 28th is a weeknight with colder weather, and the season finale on Friday, November 19th has two likely conflicts (State football championship game, and UNO hockey meets up with longtime NCC foe North Dakota, where Dean Blais won two national championships)  plus the potential of even worse weather.  Make those first two games work, and you never know how those last two games will turn out.

Hopefully, the Nighthawks won't depend too much on the Omaha Royals to get Rosenblatt Stadium ready for football. I admit I haven't been out to Royals games in recent years, and my experience earlier this month certainly doesn't encourage me to return.  Between a ticket snafu (sending me tickets for the wrong date at the last minute), then not being prepared to handle 7,000 fans on a weeknight, they certainly didn't give a good impression. It shouldn't take 20 minutes to get through the gate for a minor league baseball game when you've got tickets in hand, and when you give kids vouchers for hot dogs with their tickets, you shouldn't be unprepared when those kids show up wanting their hot dogs. The Royals certainly do a much better job with in-game promotions and trying to make the experience fun, but wacky promotions don't excuse poor execution of the basics.  Sad thing is this wasn't a large crowd by any means (and certainly the type of crowd they hope to attract in BFE). I wasn't expecting a perfect outing by any means, but I'm trying to figure out what went right for the Royals that night.

The one highlight of the game was getting to see former Husker Alex Gordon trying to make a transition to left field. It's obvious that Gordon needs some serious at bats to work out the rust from injuries the last two years. That night, he was called out twice looking, but currently, he's batting .364 with five home runs for Omaha in 12 games.  Hopefully, he'll stay in Omaha for a couple more weeks at least and only go up to Kansas City if they are ready to play him regularly.

As I mentioned, UNO's 2010-11 hockey schedule is out, and the first season in the WCHA sets up rather nicely from a fan perspective. Only one series in December at home during the busy holidays, then home games against recent Frozen Four teams Bemidji State, Wisconsin, and Denver after the holidays.  (Not to mention RIT in the Saturday night Stampede game to open the season!)  Back to back road trips to Minnesota then Michigan in October will certainly be a tough way to open the season.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Proof Positive That Sioux City Sux

25 years later, Sioux City discovers the remnants of Jefferson Airplane.

(H/T) Unsportsmanlike Conduct; KOZN Radio

But what do you expect from the city that proudly SUX? (Yes I know this isn't very sports related...)

Monday, May 10, 2010

What Does An "Initial Offer" (or a Denial by Nebraska) Really Mean?

Kevin Kietzman of WHB Radio (AM 810) in Kansas City reported today that the Big Ten had made an "initial offer" to Nebraska and Missouri to join the conference along side Notre Dame and Rutgers. University of Nebraska-Lincoln spokesperson Meg Lauerman responded that “The University of Nebraska has not been offered any opportunity to move from the Big 12."

So which is it?  Let's take a step back and realize this is a complex, legal issue and assume that both reports are substantially correct.  Why is that?  Let's read on in Kietzman's report:
While nothing can be approved until the Big Ten presidents and chancellors meet the first week of June in Chicago, the league has informed the two Big 12 schools, Notre Dame and Rutgers that it would like to have them join. 
Hmmm... so it's not an official invitation (since the Big Ten presidents and chancellors still have to vote on it), the Big Ten is laying the groundwork for such an agreement.  And since it's not an official invitation, there is no opportunity to move (yet) ...and thus the denial from the Chancellor's Office is technically accurate.

Think back to those awkward junior high days when boys and girls would go through the song and dance of "does he/she like me" long before ever agreeing to go to the school dance together.  All the time and effort went into the preparations, and the actual invitation usually ended up bieng a mere formality. All because nobody wanted to get shot down.

Same thing here. Remember how Steve Pederson never offered Houston Nutt the head coaching job? Or how Pederson never had an agreement with the University of Houston to open the 2005 season at Reliant Stadium? It all comes down to what the definition of what an offer is. Why play these games? Simple; nobody wants to be turned down. So we play this game of "If we ask, will you say yes?"  None of this is legally binding, but the negotiating process is well underway.

In the end, we'll probably never hear that the Big Ten has formally invited Nebraska, Missouri, Notre Dame, and Rutgers.  Instead, one day Harvey Perlman, Tom Osborne, Missouri athletic director Mike Alden, and others will magically
appear at a press conference in Chicago to announce the new "Big 14/16" or whatever this thing is going to be called.

So what about this Big XII/Pac Ten alliance idea? Interesting idea...but it sounds almost as forced as the Big 8/Southwest Conference merger. It sounds interesting until the Pac Ten goes ahead and grabs Colorado while the SEC goes after Texas A&M and Oklahoma.  Then the Big Twelve adds TCU (OK, that's not so bad), BYU, Utah (I'm still listening), Colorado State (uh oh), Houston (ummmm), and New Mexico (thud).

Whether we like it or not, the Big XII is going the way of the Big Eight, Southwest Conference, the AFL, ABA, WHL, and any other league that fell by the wayside. Tom Osborne and Harvey Perlman recognize this, and won't allow Nebraska to be left by the wayside. Fasten your seatbelts; the journey is now underway.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

How Can the Big XII Survive?

Tonight on NET's Big Red Wrapup, co-host Adrian Fiala expressed opposition to Nebraska joining the Big Ten. He liked the Big Eight, and wished it didn't go away. He'd like to see Nebraska continue to play in the Big XII. Certainly the Big XII makes sense for Nebraska; we have traditional opponents that the Huskers have played for years:  Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, and Missouri.  We still play Oklahoma, just not as often as we'd like.  It's comfortable.

Problem is...this isn't about liking the conference you are in, but rather liking the conference you will be in after college football gets realigned. And frankly, I just don't see how the Big XII survives in anything even closely resembling it's current form.  Assume for a minute that the Big Ten decides to go to 16 teams, and Nebraska turns down an invitation.  Does the Big Ten scuttle all their plans, or do they go to a Plan B?  My guess is that they've already got plan B...and C...and D.

So what's likely to happen.  Missouri is already halfway across the Mississippi, waving adios to the Big XII.  Last December, Missouri governor Jay Nixon already expressed his preference for the Tigers to head east.  So that's one team down.  It's also been rumored that the Pac-10 is still interested in Colorado...that could be two teams down.

Would the Big Ten go after Kansas as a Nebraska alternative? Doesn't have the marquee value of Nebraska in football, but brings one heck of a pedigree in basketball.  Then, let's remember that the SEC has said they won't sit idly by and watch the Big Ten get bigger than them.  So they'll be looking to add teams.  Florida State and Miami, perhaps?  I'll give you that. But who else?  Virginia Tech?  Maybe.  What about Texas and Texas A&M to restore the old rivalry with Arkansas?  Maybe Oklahoma as well.

In this world, Nebraska might be back in the Big Eight...but now Baylor and Texas Tech have replaced Missouri and Oklahoma.  Then consider the possibility that the Pac-Ten decides to go to 16 teams as well....and pulls in Kansas, Oklahoma State, and Texas Tech.

Conference realignment looks to me like a huge game of musical chairs. You refuse to play at your own risk.  If everybody else plays and you don' lose.

The Big XII really doesn't have any cards to play in the game of conference expansion once teams start defecting.  For every team you lose, the Big XII is going to have to step down to find a replacement.  Colorado State?  Wyoming?  BYU?  Boise State?  I suppose the Big XII could try to make a run at a Minnesota, Wisconsin, or Arkansas in retaliation...but that's unlikely considering that the Big Ten and SEC have better television deals than the Big XII.  What could the Big XII offer that they don't have in their current conference home?

Behind the scenes, there are a lot of conversations going on right now in college athletics.  When the Big Ten decides to act, this will all happen very quickly. Notre Dame will have the first chance to make a call, and if they say no, the dominoes will fall...and fall quickly. In fact, it seriously could happen the same way UNO joined the WCHA.  The discussions happened behind the scenes, and the deal was sealed and approved in one fell swoop. Schools like Nebraska, Missouri, and Rutgers don't want to be seen as disloyal, and conferences don't like to be rejected publicly. The Big Ten won't ask anybody (other than Notre Dame) who will say no...and nobody will say yes if there is any chance the Big Ten could say no.

When people say they'd like to stay in the Big XII, that's a noble, but potentially naive viewpoint. You could elect to stay in the Big XII, but the Big XII likely is not going to exist in anything resembling it's current form.  Once these dominoes start to fall, the Big XII is likely to be flattened.

And no matter what you think about the Big XII or Big Ten today...the Big Ten is a better home for Nebraska than the alternative, which could be something like the WAC, Mountain West, or Conference USA.