Friday, July 29, 2011

"Heroes Game" Label Goes Over With a Thud

After several days buildup, Nebraska and Iowa unveiled the name of the newest "trophy game" this morning in Chicago.  The ridicule of the "Heroes Game" designation was immediate and nearly universal. It's almost the same response the Big Ten's "Legends" and "Leaders" concept received. It's a concept that emerged from a corporate boardroom without ever being reviewed with fans. It's a concept that falls flat, and gives credence to critics who discuss the arrogance of the Big Ten.

It's hard to argue with that. It's a lousy name, and totally unnecessary. The "Iowa vs. Nebraska game (presented by Fareway)" doesn't need a trophy before the series really kicks off. It's reminiscent of how the Big XII tried to force a rivalry between Nebraska and Colorado on Thanksgiving weekend. It never went anywhere because (a) Colorado was seemingly bad more often they were good and (b) some Colorado fans acted like complete imbeciles whenever they saw somebody from Nebraska. Tom Osborne and Nebraska know this all too well, which makes it disappointing that they pursued this trophy designation in the first place.

I know the backstory about honoring fans who contribute to their communities, and it's definitely a positive addition to the game. But it's out of place being part of the name of the game, and it has no business being the identifying mark of the game. People will never learn about the reason for the name, and ridicule both programs for considering themselves "heroic".  And a trophy?  Please. Just because 13 other games in the Big Ten have trophies doesn't mean that Nebraska-Iowa have to have a trophy in year one. Someone in the Big Ten conference offices should have reminded both schools about the last artificial trophy.  Michigan State and Penn State play for the oft-ridiculed "Land Grant Trophy", which is ugly and meaningless. I dare say that the Nebraska/Iowa trophy is likely to result in the same result.

A trophy should have meaning, and should naturally result from the rivalry. Doing this now is fake and forced. It's a complete waste of time and effort.  It actually takes away from the series.  It's good that Nebraska and Iowa are going to play an annual series now.

It just royally sucks that somebody is going to insist that it be called the "Heroes Game".  (Which I won't, from here going forward.  It will be the "Iowa vs. Nebraska game, presented by Fareway".  Fareway is an Iowa based grocery chain (like Hy-Vee) that, unlike Hy-Vee, has great prices, great customer service, and a tremendous meat department.  Try their Bratburgers at your next tailgate; it's a bratwurst without a casing that you eat like a hamburger.  Awesome for a tailgate.)

Heroes Game?  Ugh.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Wednesday Night Beer: The Big XII Moves On With Their Infighting

When I read the comments from Gary Pinkel, Bob Stoops, and Tommy Tuberville at this week's Big XII Media Days in Dallas, I have to wonder if Berry Tramel wishes he had never written last month that "as soon as Nebraska went out the door, everyone started getting along swimmingly." I have no doubt that it's inevitable that Texas A&M (and probably Oklahoma) departs for the SEC in the next few years. That being said, I think there is a core group of teams that will remain in the Big XII, as Texas isn't going anywhere now that the Pac-12 has started their own network and won't be interested in allowing Texas to keep the Longhorn Network. Neither will the Big Ten or SEC for that matter.  That means that schools like Baylor, Kansas State, and Iowa State will have a conference home going forward.

I thought Dan Beebe couldn't get any more ridiculous...then he walked to the podium in Dallas as the theme song to "The Natural" plays. Nick Bahe and Matt Schick of KOZN-1620 AM radio suggested some other songs might have been more appropriate, such as Beck's "Loser:
Personally, I think Celine Dion's "My Heart Will Go On" probably fits the Big XII situation better...

Now the attention switches to the Big Ten media days in Chicago. Even though I'm barely only halfway through my opponent previews, I did submit an early ballot to the Big Ten Bloggers and CornNation as to a preseason prediction:
  1. Wisconsin
  2. Nebraska
  3. Michigan State
  4. Ohio State
  5. Northwestern
  6. Penn State
  7. Illinois
  8. Iowegia
  9. Michigan
  10. Purdue
  11. Minnesota
  12. Indiana
Friday morning in Chicago, Tom Osborne and Iowa athletic director Gary Barta will unveil the "trophy" for the new Iowa/Nebraska series. They'll probably call it a "rivalry", but frankly, I'm still trying to spit up the last black-and-gold forced rivalry.  Rivalries simply cannot be created or designated; they evolve over time, on the field. Could Iowa/Nebraska become a rivalry?  Very likely down the line...but it's not a rivalry, and frankly, doesn't really need a trophy either.

Well, maybe they could mock something up from this...

Speaking of Eric Crouch, the future of his comeback with the UFL's Omaha Nighthawks continues to be a bit of a question mark. Reports out of Hartford indicate that the Colonials could be eliminated to streamline the league down to a four-team venture. That might help cut the losses this season, but one would have to wonder what the impact of only playing three games in Omaha this season. I still think the Nighthawks are a viable franchise in Omaha, if they can find a way to keep the league going.  In the end, it'll come down to whether the NFL invests in the league as a development arm.  Without that, I don't know how the UFL survives.

Which would be too bad, because I think the Nighthawks are the best professional sports enterprise for Omaha since the days of the Kansas City/Omaha Kings of the NBA.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

As the Stadiums Turn

Last Thursday's Omaha World-Herald reported that attendance for the Omaha Golden Royal Spike Chasing Whatchamacallits is up 2.4% this season over last season's Royals attendance at Rosenblatt. Does that prove the Trailer Park out in BFE Sarpy County wasn't the boondoggle I predicted it would be?  Hardly. A new stadium usually results in an attendance boost of 25%, and the Trailer Park isn't even generating a tenth of the typical bump.

That being said, some of my predictions have proven to be wrong. I thought we'd hear more complaints about the stadium's location, but those have been almost non-existent. The only complaints I've heard have been that there aren't enough parking spaces out at BFE. And my concerns that the stadium was being built on the cheap apparently hasn't resulted in any complaints; the Trailer Park generates compliments from just about everybody who's attended a game.  But even though the stadium has been a success for baseball, does that mean it's a success for the taxpayers who funded the stadium? Again, hardly. Has Sarpy County ever announced how they would pay for the stadium? Other than the $3,000 a year for the county's share of naming rights from Werner and a tax on concessions at the ballpark, it's still pretty murky. Hotel tax revenue is being diverted from other uses to apply towards the ballpark, and the rest is not clear. It really comes down to if the Pennant Place development surrounding the stadium gets built.  The longer that area sits idle, the more that taxpayers have to pick up.

That's not a concern with TD Ameritrade Park downtown, where the stadium funding has been well documented and hasn't really been an issue since the plan was finalized. But now that the College World Series is over, what else can happen at the ball park.  The Nighthawks season is delayed, raising questions as to whether they'll even play this season. I think they'll play this season...and probably sell out games once again. But after that?  Unless the NFL comes to some sort of an agreement with the UFL, if only to broadcast games (like the NFL Network carries Arena and Canadian League games), I just don't know how the UFL plays in 2012.

Next year, it's likely that an independent league team will play downtown. Frankly, that's something I'd like to see.  Is the baseball going to be inferior to AAA baseball?  Absolutely.  But that's not the point of minor league baseball.  If it wasn't, the Whatchamacallits wouldn't run every crazy promotion or gimmick that they can think of.  That sets a high bar for anybody who wants to try to operate an independent league team in a 25,000 seat stadium.

Last week, TD Ameritrade Park hosted the Red Sky Music Festival, which was a mixed bag overall. The rumored acts (U2, Jimmy Buffett, Jay-Z) never materialized, though the country acts that closed out the stadium series drew pretty good crowds. But by setting the stage behind second base, the capacity of the ballpark was about the same as the capacity of the Qwest Center for concerts. In which case, what was the point of holding the concerts outside?  Especially considering the weather concerns and the wear and tear on the field, I just don't see the point in holding those concerts outdoors, other than proving that you could. I always felt that concerts were held outdoors at stadiums to increase attendance...but that wasn't the case last week.

Last week's parking lot concerts drew somewhat sparse crowds to the late afternoon acts, though I have to expect that the promoters expected many more people to show up.  The early afternoon acts drew ... almost nobody.  That shouldn't have been a surprise to anybody:  local acts that very few people have heard of, playing in a parking lot with heat indexes in triple-figures while most people are at work...well, that's a recipe for poor attendance.  I'm also not sure the schedule had any sort of continuity, other than it seemed that Friday's acts were more country than the other days.  Frankly, I think the best thing that Red Sky might have tried would have been to bunch up all of those name acts (Charlie Daniels, Bruce Hornsby, STS-9, George Clinton, Buddy Guy, etc.) on Saturday and at least tried to put on one day of a festival.

In the end, it doesn't matter with respect to the success of the stadium. TD Ameritrade Park was built for the College World Series, and with the national attention and the business that the CWS generates, it was still the right decision. Would it be nice if the stadium were used more? Absolutely. But the lack of other uses for the stadium doesn't make the downtown stadium a mistake.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

What Will Be Left of the Big XII In A Few Years?

Remember that whole revisionist thinking about the Big XII last month, where all of the Big XII's problems were all Nebraska's fault?  Everything was hunkey-dorey... kind of a PBS-utopian world where a purple dinosaur sings about everybody being a happy family.  A fantasy world that doesn't really exist, of course.  And now, not even three weeks into this new world, it's all unraveling faster than you can say "Dan Beebe is DeLoss Dodds' puppet."

ESPN's plans for the new Longhorn Network have raised the ire of the other schools in the Big XII, and Texas A&M is now seriously reconsidering joining the Southeastern Conference, and thus reopening the whole spectre of conference realignment. 'Ol buddy AJ the Huskerh8er doesn't want to hear anything of it.  If A&M is so fired up, they should just leave. It's not like Oklahoma was planning to leave, right?
That’s why, when Texas A&M calls a meeting to “talk about the Longhorn network”…you’ll have to pardon me if I react with a yawn and a groan.   And why is Texas A&M so whiney anyway?   They play in a really big stadium and have goofy looking male cheerleaders who look like a cross between an army private and a guy who works at Goodrich…where’s the rest of the appeal?  When did they become Florida State?  Are they THAT important to the mix to keep everything going?   Now if we were talking Oklahoma….then I definitely could see the panic…(and lots of it).  But A&M?   Perspective people.  Perspective.  You want to go so bad?  There’s the door.
That's what I like about AJ. He's always ready to fire off a scud missile into any debate.  Like one of Saddam Hussein's missiles, it usually was poorly aimed and lands off target...but it does make a lot of noise and gets some attention. Within minutes of AJ's latest rant, along came the word that Oklahoma was also talking to the SEC, pretty much imploding AJ's latest diatribe.

Now tonight, the word is that the Big XII has stepped in and put a hold on the plans for Texas and ESPN to televise high school games on the Longhorn Network. That diffuses the urgency of the situation for now, but really, the damage is done.  Texas has shown that they'll do what they want to do because they can do it. Everybody (except, of course, those in denial) knows it's not a question of if, but when, another school leaves the Big XII to get out of the shadow of the Borg.

Here's my take.  Oklahoma and Texas A&M will eventually head out to the SEC, which will trigger another round of expansion by the Big Ten and Pac-12.  There's even talk that Texas will eventually go independent, but I don't really believe it.  I can see why the SEC wants A&M: it opens up Texas television markets and opens up Texas recruits to the SEC.  I can see why the SEC wants Oklahoma; like Nebraska, it's a national brand that makes the SEC more compelling.  And as the Big XII and Pac-12's recent television deals have shown, the SEC's television deals might be worth much more if they are renegotiated after expansion.

But Texas as an independent?  I don't see that.  Sure, Texas could build a Notre Dame type of football schedule, but the Longhorns need a conference for all of their other sports.  And frankly, the Big XII (or what will remain of it) is just what Texas needs in those other sports. And if Oklahoma and Texas A&M leave, it does free Texas in football to play two more non-conference games each season, much like a independent.  The new "Big Eight" may still have a BCS automatic bid and with no other powers to oppose Texas' plans, they really have no need to go independent.  They'll be able to call their shots because schools like Iowa State, Kansas State, and Baylor have no ground to stand on in discussions with Texas.

At this point, I don't see Texas jumping to any of the other conferences either. Not with the Longhorn Network deal in place; it means too much to Texas, and no other conference will let Texas have that type of advantage. So Texas is where they are at.  That means that schools like Missouri and Kansas won't be orphaned; they'll have a spot to sit at---next to Texas. But they will always be subservient to Austin.  They may hold out hope that one of the other conferences will offer a lifeline out, but unless the other conferences go to 16 teams, they'll likely be on the sidelines.

And you know what, they don't have any problem with it whatsoever.  It's still better than being in the Mountain West.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Are the UFL and the Omaha Nighthawks Done?

The National Football Post and Hartford Courant are reporting that the Hartford Colonials are experiencing financial difficulties, which is the reason why the UFL pushed back the start of training camp.  The National Football Post says that players are being sent home and that training camp would not be starting. Equipment is being held by a storage company due to unpaid bills, according to the Hartford Courier.

The Courier also is reporting tonight that the UFL is expected to make an announcement about it's future tomorrow. Does this mean the end of the league?  Hard to say. It might be possible to keep the league functioning with four teams by adjusting the schedule; only four teams play each week anyway.  But the league seemed to be pinning their hopes on the NFL not playing this fall, and that's something that's becoming increasingly unlikely.  Now, it would seem the only hope left is some sort of agreement with the NFL to act as a player development channel as well as a broadcast outlet for games.

This isn't a good thing IMHO. I thought the UFL was a better brand of football than some people give it credit for, and long term, I think it could be successful in Omaha. But the league needs to find other cities that would embrace it like Omaha has.  This is really bad news for the Omaha Nighthawks, who are scheduled to start single-game ticket sales this Friday.  They could still try to sell tickets, but might not have a league to play in, when it's time for the games to be played.

Update:  UFL Access is reporting that the season will be delayed 30 days, and the UFL will still play this season.  If that's so, that's still not so bad for the UFL.  It pushes the season back to September, and while it will conflict with the NFL and college seasons, that's something that the Nighthawks successfully dealt with last season.

Bottom line is that it doesn't matter so much how popular the Nighthawks are or how well the Omaha franchise is run... a football team cannot play by itself.  It needs to be part of a stable league, and right now, the UFL is struggling to find stability.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Sunday Night Beer: Kick... Kick... Kick...

Today's Women's World Cup final reminded me a lot of last year's hockey competition at the Vancouver Olympics... a not-so-popular sport getting huge attention because of nationalistic pride. But unlike hockey, I frankly never got all that interested in today's game. It's not an issue of the players talent, skill, or athleticism. It's not because they were women either. It was because, well, it was soccer.

I'm a hockey guy, so naturally, I like hockey when it's played at the elite level. Soccer, not so much. I watched today, kind of, because I was supposed to, not because I was particularly enjoying the game. I still don't particularly understand the timing rules that soccer still uses.  In this day of of scoreboards that track time to the tenth of a second, the idea of a rough approximation of "extra time" seems archaic. In the final seconds of extra time, the US lined up for a free kick, and frankly, you couldn't tell whether there were 10 seconds left or 10 minutes left based on the sense of urgency on the field.

The Omaha Nighthawks announced a 66 player roster for the start of training camp, featuring six former Huskers. Eric Crouch, of course, is a leading candidate to be the quarterback. Jay Moore returns for a second season at defensive end. Some recent Huskers also have signed:  wide receiver Maurice Purify, I-back Marlon Lucky, offensive lineman D.J. Jones, and cornerback Anthony West.

Purify I kind of expect to stick; he's not a deep threat but a consistent receiver. Jones could be interesting, as offensive line was one of the biggest weaknesses I saw in last season's Nighthawks squad.  As for Eric Crouch, he's an intriguing addition to the roster. Is it a ploy to draw fans to Ameritrade Park?  I could see that if I didn't expect the Nighthawks to draw large crowds without him.

Not sure if Omaha will be enough to keep the UFL alive after this season though. With the NFL apparently within days of solving their labor issues, it's looking bleak to get that media deal to make the league viable long term. I still believe that the UFL has a shot if they can get a relationship established with the NFL. But will the NFL be interested when the UFL is scheduling games simultaneously with the NFL?  In Omaha, that's not a problem. But in Sacramento? But for television?  Hard to believe that.

I kind of expect the UFL to soon move their September 18th games away from Sunday once the NFL season resumes.  The Omaha/Sacramento game should move to Friday evening, while the Virginia/Las Vegas game probably will end up on Saturday.

Friday, July 15, 2011

UNO Rethinking Vision for Facilities

Courtesy MECA
Trev Alberts admitted this week that the push for a new hockey arena for UNO took a step back with all of the turmoil this spring. Between the outrage over the end of the football and wrestling programs, the move to division 1 for all other sports, and the formation of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference, it's no surprise to me that UNO is taking a step back.

Something else happened to UNO's vision for a hockey arena.  Over 26,000 fans showed up for a weekend series against Wisconsin. Over 11,000 showed up for a game two weeks later against Denver. Nearly 8,000 showed up for a playoff game. And when the season was over, the average attendance of 7,994 people per game turned out to be larger than the speculated capacity of the new arena.

Here's my thought at this time. UNO likely needs a new arena...but for basketball and volleyball.  Men's basketball is already moving to the Civic. That's a temporary move pending a more permanent solution. But frankly, I think UNO hockey is poised to make all of the talk of a new campus arena irrelevant.

Bottom line:  I think UNO hockey is very likely to remain at the newly renamed CenturyLink Center Omaha (formerly known as the Qwest Center).  I think UNO hockey attendance is poised to continue growing, and nothing short of 10,000 seats a night is going to work for UNO. The cost of building that size of facility is likely prohibitive when the CenturyLink Center is already there. It no longer can be said that the "Qwest Center is too big for UNO."  The Qwest Center has a new name, and UNO hockey has finally grown into the downtown arena.

UNO will probably build a much-needed practice ice facility. Maybe it will be attached to an area for basketball. That arena is unlikely to be practical for UNO hockey.  Basketball probably can make a 4k arena work well.  Hockey needs nearly three times that capacity. And why build a new facility when an NHL-caliber arena already exists.

With Dean Blais in charge of the UNO hockey program, the sky is the limit. There's no sense for UNO to place an unnecessary cap on the program by building a smaller facility.  UNO should mothball their plans for a hockey arena for the time being, and work to make UNO hockey better downtown.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Thursday Night Beer: UNO Goes National

The only real news that emerged from yesterday's announcement of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference was the name. We knew the members, and frankly, they didn't say much else other than make it official. It's still a work in progress as this conference will likely grow to eight. The athletic directors started to call it the "National", and while some fans scoff at the name, I really can't come up with a better alternative.  N-C-H-C?  Nucky-Hockey? I'll stick with the National.

Will the National grow beyond six teams? My guess is yes, and likely it'll be Notre Dame. That's probably the key to getting a deal with Versus.

One little gem that came out of yesterday's announcement was in Denver Post columnist Mike Chambers interview with Dean Blais, where Blais said that he thought he'd retire after his UNO contract expires in four years.

It's the middle of July, and that means that we're about halfway through the summer sports doldrums. Oh sure, it's not like there aren't things to do: vacations, swimming, golf, etc  But for the most part, there simply isn't much going on in sports locally.  The next real sports event locally is the start of the Nighthawks season in one month. Will the Nighthawks have the same buzz as last season?  My guess is that it will be close.  Just look at their Facebook page: on June 5th, they topped the 20k count in fans.  Now they are nearly to 21k. Last season went pretty well at Rosenblatt, and it should be even better at more fan-friendly TD Ameritrade Park. I wouldn't be surprised if they don't sell out games this season.

In the meantime, we're left with leftovers as far as sports goes. Like the idea that former Colorado quarterback Cody Hawkins completed 21 of 35 passes for 267 yards as the US national team defeated Mexico 17-7 on Tuesday to make the gold medal game of the IFAF world championships.  Whatever that means.  I mean, when Cody Hawkins is the national team quarterback... well, that pretty much says it all.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

UNO Hockey Conference Change Confirmed... But Why?

On Saturday, the athletic directors of UNO, North Dakota, Minnesota-Duluth, Miami, Denver, and Colorado College issued a brief statement that confirmed that those schools are forming a new conference in 2013-14. To a large extent, I'm still not sure exactly why a new conference is necessary, as at first glance, it would appear that simply inviting Miami and Notre Dame to join the WCHA would provide much of the benefits of this new conference and at less cost.

Or so it would seem to this blogger, who freely admits that, after UNO's one season in the WCHA, he doesn't have enough history or perspective to judge the WCHA. That's where Brad Schlossman of the Grand Forks Herald comes in to provide some clarity.

The biggest reason is television, and it's a reason I've previously dismissed. But Schlossman has learned that there is interest from Versus, the cable network that currently carries the NHL on weeknights and is being merged with NBC Sports.  My expectation is that the interest from Versus is based on Notre Dame being a member, thanks to NBC's long standing relationship with Notre Dame for football.  If an arrangement with Versus is possible, it's a huge gain for the schools in this "super conference" as Versus is available in 76 million homes nationwide.  (For comparison, the NFL Network is in 57 million homes and last year, the Big Ten Network was in only 45 million homes.)

The other issues appear to be secondary in nature, though it appears that there is a core disagreement between schools like North Dakota that want hockey to be bigger and bigger and other schools (St. Cloud State, perhaps?) that think it's as big as it gets.  With the exit of Minnesota and Wisconsin, the voting blocks on conference issues have tilted towards the smaller schools, and that's led these other schools to consider breaking away. There's also a serious lack of confidence in WCHA commissioner Bruce McLeod from many of these schools.  (I get the impression that McLeod and Dan Beebe probably find a lot of things in common here...)

We still don't have all the answers yet; those won't come until the formal announcement on Wednesday. But I do think that with schools like North Dakota, Denver, and Miami on board (and Notre Dame lurking nearby), it's better to be on the inside of that group than outside. And for that, you have to thank Trev Alberts, who made UNO hockey nationally relevant with his move to hire Dean Blais two years ago.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Thursday Night Beer: UNO Changing Conferences Again... and More on MooTV

By all accounts, a new hockey conference will be announced next Wednesday, combining the best non-Big Ten hockey programs from the WCHA and CCHA into what's being called the "super conference".  From the WCHA, it'll be North Dakota, Denver, Colorado College, Minnesota-Duluth, and UNO joining CCHA power Miami (Ohio). Notre Dame and Western Michigan from the CCHA are still considering joining the mix as well. How strong will this conference be?

All eight teams were in the NCAA tournament last season.  For a football comparison, think about what would happen if Florida, LSU, Alabama, Auburn, Tennessee, Texas, Oklahoma, and Nebraska were to join up to form a new conference. Imagine the interest from television networks to carry these games!  But that's the problem here; college hockey isn't going to be able to generate much interest from television networks. Frankly, I'm not sure what the reason here is, other than to be able to tell potential recruits that you are playing in the toughest college hockey league in the country, and that NHL teams will see the value in letting their draft picks develop in that environment for free. But that's going to be of small solace to fans of teams who struggle to top the .500 mark and be in contention for an at-large spot in the NCAA tournament thanks to a brutal schedule.

And I agree with those who say that this is bad for college hockey, especially the smaller schools. Jon Brooks of MavPuck calls them the "Island of Misfit Schools": schools that are left behind without the "names".  Schools like Northern Michigan and St. Cloud State, for example. They'll probably come together and scrape together a mid-major conference of the leftovers, and compete for a single automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. Some could simply fold, without the revenue and prestige that playing schools like Michigan and Wisconsin bring to their athletic departments.

That being said, in this environment, you are better off being included in this mix than being on the outside... and for that, UNO fans should be absolutely ecstatic that Trev Alberts is the athletic director. Without Alberts, UNO hockey was likely on the outside of this discussion. Football and wrestling boosters might think their programs would still exist if Alberts hadn't come to Omaha, but that's a questionable argument at best when you look at the numbers.

It's easy to chuckle (ok, admit it, it's downright hilarious) at how the lovey-dovey relationship between the remaining Big XII schools couldn't last even one week thanks to ESPN siphoning a Big XII conference football game from ABC to the Longhorn Network (or MooTV, as I prefer to call it). From ESPN's perspective, it's an easy call. ESPN and ABC are committed to paying for carrying these games, and putting a second game on MooTV puts additional pressure on every cable operator in and around Texas to pony up the 40 cents a month per subscriber. That's more than ABC will make selling ads on a Big XII game, especially considering that ABC can still schedule a B1G game (wouldn't that be funny if Big XII country got a Nebraska game instead!) or Pac-12 game in that timeslot.

But that means one less game with visibility nationally for the Big XII. Remember last year when Utah and TCU faced off on CBS Sports Channel, and most of the country couldn't watch the game? Same thing here, especially if MooTV selects Oklahoma State at Texas. Heck, right now, even the folks in Texas might have some difficulty watching the game.  BurntOrangeNation provides the complete list of providers who have agreed to carry MooTV.  (I'll summarize it here:  )  Oh sure, DirecTV will probably sign up, and a few cable companies will give in.  But let's not forget how long it took BTN and the NFL Network just to get to around 50% of the nation.

That's one of the reasons why I wasn't excited by the idea that Nebraska could start their own network. Sure, Nebraska might have some success selling their rights to a single game to a Versus, for example. But finding enough cable outlets who would sacrifice the bandwidth for a 24 hour Nebraska network?  Good luck with that. I'm just pleased that my cable provider has signed on with BTN, and hasn't raised my rates accordingly.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Big Ten Hockey May Force Another Conference Realignment for UNO Hockey

The Grand Forks Herald reported today that North Dakota is thinking about withdrawing from the WCHA and creating a new "power conference", which would pick and choose the best teams remaining in the WCHA and the CCHA. (H/T:  NDGoon) After the Big Ten announced that hockey would become a Big Ten sponsored sport, the WCHA lost Minnesota and Wisconsin while the CCHA lost Michigan, Michigan State, and Ohio State.

The WCHA should still be viable with the ten remaining members, but the CCHA is likely on life support. That may be driving this latest realignment, as Notre Dame and Miami likely are looking for a more solid conference for hockey. But frankly, I have to wonder what will happen to the teams left behind by this second round of realignment.

That doesn't appear to be the concern for Nebraska-Omaha.  UNO was the first team that the Herald reported would be involved in this new conference. Others likely would be Colorado College and possibly Western Michigan.  (UNO athletic director Trev Alberts did not respond to a request for comment by the Grand Forks Herald.)

I'm still trying to understand the point of creating a new power conference outside of the WCHA. Frankly, it would seem to have all of the negatives that I thought a Big Ten hockey conference would have with few, if none of the benefits. Lump together all of the best hockey programs in the midwest and west, and have them beat each other up. A team that would otherwise be on the bubble for the NCAA tournament might instead find themselves on the outside thanks to a killer schedule. The driving force for B1G hockey is for programming on the Big Ten Network, as conference games will be pushed into January and will be played on weeknights.  (At least, I assume they'll be played in the evenings and not in the afternoons...)

That works for the Big Ten...but I don't see where schools like North Dakota and Miami can find a television platform like BTN.  Even Notre Dame probably doesn't have the pull to make it happen. Heck, most of these schools have local television arrangements, but I don't think there's any way this conference pulls a media deal. So I'm left to wonder why this conference would be created.

But maybe I'm asking the wrong question. Like when Nebraska was considering the realignment question last spring, it's not a question whether UNO belongs in the WCHA today, but rather UNO wants to be part of what the WCHA would be in a few years after North Dakota and other name schools have left. And in that situation, it's almost a no-brainer to suggest following North Dakota if they choose to bolt.

An interesting idea that's been put forth is that the new conference will focus on division 1 schools where hockey is the flagship sport.  (Well, that's not Notre Dame, but let's set that aside for a moment.) Six months ago, that would be a huge issue for UNO, though now that UNO has jumped to division 1 and the Summit League, that shouldn't matter. But that raises an interesting aspect if you look back to UNO's decision to go division 1 and drop football and wrestling: did UNO need to get the entire athletic department into division 1 as soon as possible?

A conspiracy theory, perhaps? Could be, though it's certainly much more viable than the whole "Tom Osborne felt threatened by UNO football (and their 1500 fans at most games)" theory that some people still hold onto.

Friday, July 01, 2011

It's A B1G New World

Today is your day.
You’re off to Great Places!
You’re off and away!
You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself any direction you choose.
You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the guy who’ll decide where to go.
 "Oh the Places You'll Go!" was the final book that Dr. Seuss published, and while it was published as a children's story, it's also become a very popular graduation gift as people begin a new stage of their life. Today, the Nebraska Cornhuskers begin a new era, leaving their longtime home for a new home in the Big Ten. In many respects, it's applicable here. Husker fans are leaving behind familiar opponents like Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, and Missouri. The longest consecutive streak of football games being played annually will end this fall when Nebraska and Kansas don't face each other.

In return, we open up a new world with new, slightly more distant opponents. Iowa replaces Iowa State. Minnesota and Wisconsin replace Kansas and Kansas State.  Northwestern replaces Missouri. It's going to be exciting initially as we experience new schools and new traditions. Some people argue that we'll miss our former rivals, and there is some truth to that. But ever since the Big XII came into existence, Nebraska really hasn't had a true rival.  ABC tried to force feed Colorado as our "rival", but the Buffaloes have ran hot and cold ever since Bill McCartney retired. Sometimes very good, like in 2001.  Sometimes woefully bad, like under Dan Hawkins. But frequently, simply overrated.  Kansas State was pretty good for eight years, but then Bill Snyder retired. Now he's back, but the Wildcats are still trying to find their way back.  About the time Kansas State fell off, Missouri came on strong...and even took control of the series for a couple of years.

But what Nebraska lacked was that true rival that stoked the passions of fans each and every season. We only saw our former rival on a part-time basis.  And during too much of the Big XII era, one of the two teams was suffering due to incompetence. Names like Schnellenberger, Blake, and Callahan combined with the two years on/two years off schedule to forever alter the matchup and the relationship between the two programs. Where once names like Switzer, Sims, and Holieway raised the hackles, now lay a feeling of respect. When the two teams met last December in Dallas for one last conference championship battle, it wasn't a meeting of rivals, but seemingly of friends.

A lot has been said that Nebraska never felt comfortable in the Big XII. There's a certain amount of truth in that statement. Nebraska lost an awful lot of votes 11-1 when the conference was created. The Nebraska-Oklahoma rivalry was sacrificed, as it just didn't fit as well as the other rivalries in the conference.  So when Texas and Missouri started publicly working on dissolving the Big XII, Nebraska sought out a more stable arrangement rather than take a chance on being left behind. Then something funny happened.  Nobody else wanted to give into the demands of Texas.  And it turns out that instead of Nebraska being left behind, of being on the short end of 11-1 votes, Nebraska was actually valued and desired.

And that's where we find ourselves today.  In a B1G New World. Nebraska is moving on, leaving behind a conference that seemingly wanted to leave us behind back in 1995, and being instead in a conference where it appears that we're actually welcomed. Of course, they're being friendly with us now. We're helping them get more:  more money from TV, more respect nationally, and some more interesting opponents. It won't stay that way long once we actually meet on the playing field.

Calls won't go our ways, games won't turn out the way we want them to. That's ok.  This time, we decided where we'll go.
Oh, the places you’ll go! There is fun to be done! There are points to be scored. There are games to be won. And the magical things you can do with that ball will make you the winning-est winner of all. Fame! You’ll be famous as famous can be, with the whole wide world watching you win on TV.

Except when they don’t. Because, sometimes, they won’t.
Today, a NU era begins in the Big Ten Conference for the Huskers.  Go B1G Red!