Thursday, March 31, 2011

Thursday Night Beer: Martinez Speaks, Fiesta Fiasco, and Durango's Facelift

A few random thoughts from this week:

Taylor Martinez finally broke his public silence this week. Whether or not you believe why he spoke, or why he didn't speak last season is irrelevant. It is a sign of maturity, of a quarterback growing into his role. I have no reason to doubt that Martinez can be a leader. Read that Fox Sports profile of Martinez from last October again. This is a kid that helped his father rebuild his life, both professionally and personally. So when Tim Beck talked about wanting a leader to be his quarterback, I didn't see that as statement that Martinez was out, but rather a challenge to Martinez to be that leader.

The rumor mill underneath seems to indicate that Martinez is growing into that role and taking command of the team. That's a good thing. I don't know for sure what happened in November with Martinez, but my guess is that the injuries sapped his confidence, and the quarterback we saw in the Big XII Championship game and Holiday Bowl was a ghost of what we saw earlier in the season. I think he's got the stuff to be a pretty darn good quarterback when healthy and confident. I personally think that if Beck can simplify the offense so he makes the reads like Zac Lee did last season combined with his incredible burst, look out.

Oh, and if you want something to back it up, check out this Cal Bears' blog that tabs Martinez as the fifth best quarterback in college football next season.  Better than Terrelle Pryor of Ohio State, if you notice.

If you've read "Death to the BCS", you really have to wonder how the bowl system can possibly survive after the Fiesta Bowl was exposed like it was this week. I think the key players in college football have to ask themselves: is this really what's best for college football?  Granted, the NCAA probably has their own skeletons in their own closet (namely, how does Indianapolis get guaranteed mens and women's Final Fours every five years?), but in the end, the money goes back to the schools. Where do the profits from bowl games go?

Courtesty UNO Athletics
Tonight, UNO revealed new logos for their athletic programs. Call  me unimpressed.  It's my understanding that the "O" that was used in recent years had copyright issues with the University of Miami, so it's been retired. Fine, I guess.  The new O seems weak to me, though it seems to work when accompanied by something else. Sadly, UNO is dumping the old Durango for a new steer head, which as far as I'm concerned, is minor league thinking. CNBC's Darren Rovell has suggested that minor league teams change their names every few seasons. Change the name and logo, and some people will buy new stuff rather than wear the old stuff that hasn't worn out. (For example, look at what happened to Omaha's former AAA baseball team name when they moved out of town and assumed the identity of Sarpy County.)

Problem with that thinking is that college sports are all about tradition. And frankly, UNO has enough changes going through the program right now that they don't need any more disruption. The football and wrestling programs were discontinued.  Programs moving to D-1 and a new conference. A lot of turmoil in recent weeks. So why not hold onto something from the past to help link the old with the new.  Wrap the new "O" with the older Durango to act as a transition.

Some of this change was necessary.  UNO had to go D-1.  UNO apparently had to replace the Hurricane O.  Fine.  But at some point, change just to change doesn't make sense. And this meaner steer simply doesn't look as good as the old Durango.

Look at how Nebraska's logos have evolved over the years.  The script Huskers from the 80's got merged with the "Iron" N in the early 90's, and remained for about 10 to 15 years.  Then the script Huskers disappeared and the block N got stronger.  It was a gradual evolution, and you never knew that things were changing. It was evolutionary change and didn't make anything you owned obsolete.

But you know what... in the grand scheme of things, it doesn't matter all that much. I'll still wear my jerseys with the older Durango on it and cheer on UNO hockey, whether I like the new logo or not. Eventually, they'll look dated, but for now, it still works.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

I Believe in Trev Alberts

Friday, March 25, 2011, likely will go down as one of the more difficult days in Trev Alberts life. Between having to face the heat from UNO wrestling and football interests and then the unfortunate ending of UNO's hockey game in the NCAA tournament, it was a day full of sadness and anger. But looking back at it all today, I can only come to one conclusion:

I believe in Trev Alberts.

I'm not saying that Trev has handled everything perfectly. But from my perspective, Trev Alberts is taking way too much criticism and frankly, isn't getting nearly enough credit for what he has done. No doubt in my mind that fans of the wrestling and football programs at UNO should be disappointed. Anger can be a natural result of that, especially when people don't find an appropriate path to channel that emotion that results from the disappointment. For those backers, I hope that their anger was cathartic, because I've listend to the criticism, and don't find much substance to back much of it up.

Did Alberts kill these programs on an order from Tom Osborne? Frankly, that hypothesis is so ridiculous, it shouldn't need a response.  Sure, some players reject walking on at UNL in favor of accepting a scholarship offer at UNO, but killing the UNO program isn't going to change that all that much. If someone wants to walk-on for the Huskers, nothing stops them. Those players that were good enough to earn D-2 scholarships will still be good enough to earn D-2 scholarships.  They'll just head to UNK or Northwest Missouri State instead.

The consensus of what I've read and listened to in recent weeks confirms my original thoughts. Trev Alberts didn't start this process; Alberts was brought in down the line to look at UNO's athletic programs, and Alberts was only part of the group. The marching orders that Trev had were to make the athletic department sustainable without future increases in university support. That was the death sentence for UNO football right there because all the evidence pointed to football being an increasing drain on athletic department resources, and thus the entire UNO campus.

Should football boosters have had a chance to rectify the situation? An argument could have been made there, but the warning signs were out there for years.  Remember the Nancy Belck/Jim Buck saga five years ago? Quibble with the numbers all you want, but football was a huge drain on the athletic department, and division 1-AA would have only increased that.  Money games included.

Wrestlers have every right to be disappointed, but the fact is that wrestling isn't part of the Summit League. The need to mesh UNO's athletic department with the offerings of the Summit League put wrestling at serious risk, and frankly financially unmanageable.  One unanswered question is to determine the issue of Title IX and gender equity.  Could UNO add men's golf and soccer, yet still keep wrestling? What's the penalty for non-compliance?  Frankly, the decision to add men's golf and soccer was pretty much a given; I don't see how UNO could join a new league and only compete in one or two sports.

A few individuals have tried to point towards the hockey program as the problem, though I frankly don't understand why. At it's financial worst, hockey was a slight drain on the program. I think that's all changed with Dean Blais.  Attendance is up, and success on the ice is up.  That's something that I think builds on itself over time.  I expect hockey to be a net positive in revenue, and potentially a cash cow in future years.  These changes may turn off a few donors, especially the ones who primarily supported football and wrestling. That's to be expected. I don't blame them for being disappointed, and it's their right to choose how to donate. That being said, I think a bigger pool of donors was not only in support of this change, but was also part of the group that really led this effort.

One theme that I've heard is that athletics shouldn't be about making money. I'll agree with that to a point. Only a few BCS schools make money on football, and that's also very much true. Athletics are something that can unite a campus and make it better.  That's an intangible that's difficult to measure.  UNO isn't expecting to make money on sports, however, as an entire athletic department.  UNO wants hockey and eventually men's basketball to be revenue positive, but UNO isn't planning on the athletic department generating money for the school. That's something very few schools can accomplish:  UNL is one of the exceptions that does it.

While the idea that these decisions shouldn't be driven by finances is noble, it's not reality. Not in this day and age where government budgets are being scrutinized on a constant basis. The University of Nebraska system avoided a cut this year in funding from the state, but that doesn't even begin to address rising costs elsewhere in the system. Chancellor John Christensen isn't willing to keep adding funding to athletics in light of the needs elsewhere in the campus.

The football players who pointed out that UNO receives less support from state government on a per-student basis than Nebraska-Kearney deserve credit for identifying this issue. That's a campus-wide problem that should be addressed...but that doesn't mean that the football program should be retained either. A fairer distribution of funds between campuses might mean more funds could be available to athletics, but the vast majority of it should go towards academic programs.

Two years ago, many people had questions about Trev Alberts when he was hired. Two months later, he erased a lot of those by hiring two-time national champion coach Dean Blais to lead UNO hockey. Yesterday, UNO lost to Michigan in overtime, and Blais expressed the disappointment like this:
“But just the circumstance in overtime — the potential national championship, gone.”
Yes, I'm a hockey fan, but I'm also an alumnus of the University of Nebraska at Omaha. I believe in what Trev Alberts is doing. He's led the charge to take hockey to the next level; a level where talk about playing for a national championship can't be dismissed as crazy talk. I believe that he's leading the charge to take what he can to that next level. Sadly, that doesn't include football and wrestling. But if the choice is between sparing football and wrestling for a few more years versus elevating the rest of the sports like he did UNO hockey, the choice is clear in my mind.

I believe in Trev Alberts.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Officials Award Michigan Victory in Overtime Over Mavs

In quite possibly one of the more bizarre uses of instant replay I've seen, Michigan defeated UNO 3-2 in the first round of the NCAA hockey tournament in overtime. One of the cardinal rules of instant replay over the years, no matter what the sport, is that the replay call be indisputable. Instant replay is designed to correct instances where an official has clearly made an error, whether it's baseball, football, or hockey.  That wasn't the case tonight. Tonight's game-ending decision wasn't indisputable by any means.

In overtime, Michigan's Kevin Lynch shot the puck at John Faulkner, who deflected the puck at Alex Hudson, who in turn deflected it back at Faulkner. The puck disappeared under Faulkner's leg, and reemerged a few seconds later. Replay after replay showed the puck going under Faulkner and disappearing until ESPN used a low camera from the other end of the ice that showed the puck under the leg.

Was the puck over the goal line?  Probably.  But "probably" isn't reason to overturn the officials call. The official never called the goal, and play continued to the other end of the ice. Probably has never been an acceptable level of evidence to overturn a call.

Certainly not a game in overtime.

Certainly not in a playoff game, especially one in the national tournament that means the end of the season for the loser.

But that's just what referees Harry Dumas (no I didn't make that up; that's his name) and Chip McDonald did tonight in St. Louis.  They spent nearly ten minutes looking at replay after replay and awared Michigan the victory.

Unfrickin believable.

Tragic way to end a pretty darn good hockey game.  I missed the first half of the game due to work, but there was good action at both ends.  UNO nearly won it earlier in overtime when Michigan's Jon Merrill deflected away a shot by Brock Montpetit at an open net about a minute and a half earlier. UNO certainly played like they belonged in the Big Skate, but in the end, the officials decided to call the game in favor of Michigan.

It would be easy to dismiss this as sour grapes from the fan on the losing end. Except everywhere you look (except the great state of Michigan, of course), hockey people everywhere realize that UNO got hozed.

It is what it is. A bitter defeat for a UNO squad that took their game to another level this season. And what a season it was.  Being ranked in the top five in the nation in November.  Sweeping Minnesota on the road, and splitting with North Dakota in some of the more epic games we'll remember.  Drawing over 15,000 fans to a game against Wisconsin. Lots of things that once the bitter pill of tonight's decision fades, we'll remember and look forward to next season. A squad with an impressive level of young talent.

The future is very bright for UNO hockey right now, no matter how the season ended.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Sunday Night Beer: UNO vs Michigan in the NCAA Tournament

This morning, the speculated UNO/Michigan matchup in St. Louis was confirmed by the NCAA on the selection show. UNO is a #3 seed and gets a rematch with Michigan. In their series in October, UNO won Friday night 4-2 and Michigan won 6-1 on Saturday night. From here on, it's a single elimination series, and as you saw in the basketball tournament this weekend, anything can happen. If UNO wins on Friday, they'll likely face off against defending national champion Boston College on Saturday night. (Unless Colorado College pulls off the sweep and ensures at least one WCHA team makes the Frozen Four!)

Right now, the only way you can watch the game is to either have access on your computer or buy a $39 ticket and drive to St. Louis. ESPNU will televise the game via tape delay, but will make the game available to local television stations to carry (in HD, no less!) So it comes down to our local television stations to do the right thing and carry this game.  Here's the contact information: KXVO-Channel 15 (also KPTM-42), KETV-Channel 7, and WOWT-Channel 6. (I'm skipping KMTV-Channel 3 because they're carrying the NCAA basketball tournament at 6 pm; it's unrealistic to expect them to preempt that...)

Does UNO have a chance? In a one game series, of course. UNO has shown the ability to play up to any team. They split the season series with WCHA Champion North Dakota (a #1 seed in the tournament), as well as with Denver, who's in the same region as the Sioux.  Those two teams put on quite a show last night in St. Paul, going to double overtime before Hobey Baker candidate Matt Frattin ended the game.

Friday should be a busy day for UNO athletic director Trev Alberts, who'll start the day in Lincoln at the Board of Regents meeting where UNO's plan to move to Division I, join the Summit League, and drop football and wrestling is likely to be approved. It should be an emotional meeting, as backers of those two programs will put together their best arguments to save those problems. Problem is that while there are solid emotional reasons to retain those programs, when UNO's athletic department is trying to wean itself off of increasing subsidies, the argument doesn't hold much water. Except for programs like the Huskers in Lincoln, athletic departments almost always require some sort of subsidy.  That's expected.  What's causing the changes is that the University leadership needs to cap or reduce that subsidy, especially in light of recent trends to reduce or trim government funding of the University.  Can these decisions be reversed?  Perhaps, but it's going to take more than an emotional plea to the Board of Regents. It's going to need a solid plan to fund these sports going forward, and that's something that hasn't even been proposed in all of the protests in the last week.  Hopefully all will be done in order for Trev to fly to St. Louis and see the game, as frankly, I believe Trev gets the credit in my book for hiring Dean Blais to coach the Mavs on the ice. Without Blais, I seriously doubt UNO is in the tournament this season.

Speaking of the basketball tournament, I don't know about your brackets, but I know I missed a bunch of games. But that's the great thing about the tournament. You don't have to get all the games right; you just have to get more right (or should I say, get fewer wrong) than the next guy.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

"Meet Me In Saint Louie"??? Mavs Appear Headed to NCAA Tournament

With Michigan's victory over Notre Dame this afternoon, UNO seems to have clinched a berth in the NCAA tournament.  And right now, USCHO's Jason Moy has UNO the #3 seed in the West Regional facing that old arch nemisis, the Michigan Wolverines next Friday night in St. Louis.  Game times would be either 4:30 pm or 8 pm.

Nothing is, of course, official until tomorrow morning's bracket announcement at 10:30 am on ESPN2. But if so, this might bring out the Mother of All Weasel Stomping Day's next week.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Making Sense of the Innuendo and Misinforation about UNO and Wrestling

Every time I turn around, I get a slightly different variant of what happened with UNO and the termination of football and wrestling. It makes the bad part of the story confusing and misleading, and covers up the good side of the story.

Nobody is happy that two programs had to be cut at UNO. I don't believe for one second that anybody wants these programs to end. That being said, the budget pressures on UNO are real and are driving these decisions in the end.

I honestly believe that Trev Alberts, John Christensen, and the Omaha business leaders who drove this decision did so out of what was best for the University as a whole. I don't believe there were "outside pressures" from Lincoln to keep UNO down. The only "outside pressure" I think exists is that certain regents resent having to spend University funds on athletics instead of on academic programs. That's not new; that came up during the Nancy Belck uproar.

I find the idea of the State Senator Tyson Larson introducing a resolution to condemn UNO's decision to discontinue wrestling to be humorous at best. If Larson really feels that UNO should keep wrestling, his resolution should be part of the state budget and contain real funding to ensure the program's survival, if he's really serious about this being a state issue.

Did UNO need to kill wrestling? No.  But keeping wrestling presents a bunch of problems for UNO athletics. I've gotten conflicting reports as to whether UNO needed to add golf and men's soccer. It seems that while UNO didn't HAVE to add golf and men's soccer, the Summit League really wanted UNO to do so. Without those two sports, UNO only would compete in three conference men's sports, and that's an uncomfortable arrangement. The best analogy I can come up with is to think of your family life, when your wife wants/needs one thing and your parents or your job requires something else...putting you in an uncomfortable position where you have to make a call and somebody ends up very unhappy. Who are you going to satisfy, and what are the ramifications?

Likewise, UNO administration and the wrestling program have an uncomfortable arrangement as well.  UNO wrestling has done wonders for the school, but Mike Denney has long been against the move to division 1. Seemingly almost to the point of disruptive, if you believe some of the stories.  Trev Alberts even disclosed one in an interview on KFAB last night. UNO has been dominant in D-2 wrestling, but the switch will be disruptive at best to his team. They won't be able to compete for national titles during the transition, for example.

The ideal solution would be to keep wrestling and add the other programs, but that presents Title IX nine issues that require additional women's sports ... and additional funding. And that's something that UNO can't do, because if they could do that, they would have done it by now.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

UNO Should Reconsider Decision on Wrestling

After a day of listening and reading various opinions about UNO's new direction for their athletic program, I'm growing increasingly uncomfortable with one part of the decision. It's not the decision to go division 1, and it's not the decision to drop football. I think those decisions have been vetted and thoroughly reviewed and make good sense from an objective perspective. In the case of football, it's a painful decision, but it just doesn't seem possible to make football feasible going forward.

The decision to drop the wrestling program doesn't seem to be based on the same criteria. Trev Alberts even admitted as such, admitting that it wasn't based on financial reasons, but on "alignment." The problem with that explanation is that the whole impetus for looking at the viability for reexamining UNO's athletic department was financial.  What does "alignment" mean anyway?

As best as I can determine, "alignment" means that UNO wants their athletic department to closely match the offerings of other Summit League programs.  Fair enough. But "alignment" isn't a sufficient reason by itself to eliminate a program; there has to be something more, especially when you are dealing with a program that has won three straight national championships. It's been suggested that UNO shouldn't move to Division 1 because it would harm the wrestling program; that's a bogus reason to hold the rest of the athletic department back. Likewise, eliminating the wrestling program because the Summit League doesn't sponsor wrestling is no reason to eliminate it. South Dakota State and North Dakota State have found ways to be Summit League members and still have a wrestling program.  UNO certainly should examine that option first.  UNO isn't dropping hockey because the Summit League doesn't sponsor it for obvious reasons: hockey looks to be the bellweather program for the entire athletic program.  Well, wrestling is the athletic program that brings the greatest level of accomplishment to UNO; it deserves special consideration.

Maybe, in the end, it is still a financial issue at it's core.  I'm not sure I totally buy that, because by all reports, wrestling coach Mike Denney works hard at fundraising to ensure the wrestling program remains viable.   If that's actually the case, then it's unfortunate that the program has to be terminated, but terminated it should be.

If not and it can be shown that UNO's wrestling program is financially viable in division 1, then the UNO wrestling program should get a stay of execution.

UPDATE: March 14, 2011
UNO athletic director Trev Alberts was on KOZN-AM (1620) and KFAB (1110) this morning, and clarified the problems with wrestling. In the end, it too is a financial situation. Adding golf and men's soccer is a requirement for joining the Horizon. Keeping wrestling puts UNO in a gender equity problem that requires additional women's sports. Plus, while Mike Denney has done a wonderful job making wrestling work in division 2, it'll take additional resources (between $250k and $750k) to make wrestling viable in D-1. In the end, for as wonderful as the wrestling program has been, it just isn't viable going forward.

It's a shame that it had to come to this, but I do understand why.

UNO Dropping Football/Wrestling; Going Division 1 in all other sports broke the initial word on this, and the Omaha World-Herald now has the story.  Athletic Director Trev Alberts and Chancellor John Christensen will hold a press conference Sunday afternoon to announce that UNO is planning to join the Summit League and become a full-fledged division 1 institution.

A Division 1 institution that doesn't play football or have a wrestling team.

Why? It's money. Except for the elite teams in college football, athletics is generally a money loser - including football except for BCS level programs. The roster sizes for football make it nearly impossible to make money when you have to pay for dozens of scholarships.  Even if you play a "money game" or two against a BCS opponent, it doesn't pay for itself.

Basketball might, especially if UNO basketball could win the conference tournament and get a berth in March Madness.  The rest of the programs follow along, but wrestling gets dropped because the Summit League doesn't sponsor wrestling.  So wrestling is out, even though they just won their third straight Division 2 National Championship on Sunday.

Talk about bad timing; the wrestling program gets a death sentence just hours after reaching an incredible milestone.

I'm still digesting this one myself.  On one hand, it's obvious that in this budgetary environment, government is having to become leaner and meaner, and that means that any government funding for education is going to come under increasing scrutiny. It's been clear for some time that the division 2 model is broken as schools either downsize their programs or upsize them to division 1.  UNO is taking the non-standard move to drop football, but deep down, I think it makes financial sense, even though football is such an important part of college athletics. The Legislature and Governor Dave Heineman just passed a new state budget that passed a lot of the state's budget concerns down to cities by eliminating property tax relief. This year, it's being kept flat. Who knows what happens next?  And with expenses continuing to increase, it's likely the University needs to cut something...and as much as I love college athletics, it's not the core mission of the University. So this is a plan that tries to retain as much of the mission of athletics while dealing with the budgetary reality of today.  Painful, yes...but what's the alternative?

Would a "money game" played against Nebraska make a difference? I kind of doubt it.  Say Nebraska pays UNO $500,000 to play in Lincoln.  That might cut the financial loss on football to something manageable, but would it be something that Nebraska would do? I think Nebraska has been looking to eliminate the 1-AA opponents as much as possible in the future, and even so, do they really want to play an extremely motivated group of local players who would like nothing better than knock off big brother?  (Anybody remember last season's South Dakota State game?)

One ironic aspect of this development is that some people thought that when Alberts was hired, he might try to kill hockey in favor of football because of his background. Now it turns out football is on it's way out.

Looking back five years at the days of Nancy Belck, division 1 was considered at that time, but rejected as unfeasible. I do have to wonder how football boosters like David Sokol (a former UNO player) will react to this move.

Say what you will about Trev Alberts. Alberts makes bold moves, such as his hiring of Dean Blais. This one is an even bigger decision, as it's a radical recreation of the UNO athletic department. But unlike the hiring of Blais, this one likely will be controversial.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Bemidji Traps UNO Right Out of the WCHA Playoffs

In what has to be the most frustrating series in the history of UNO hockey, the Bemidji State Beavers swept the Mavs at home this weekend despite UNO outshooting Bemidji 91-37 on the weekend. The difference is that when the Beavers did manage to get a shot off, they made it count.  UNO's shots frequently ended up in Bemidji goalie Dan Bakala's chest, and he wasn't giving up many rebound opportunities this weekend. Even on those few occasions when UNO had someone in front for the rebound.

UNO's style just seems unable to counter the Bemidji trapping style. Both nights, UNO controlled the puck 80% of the time, and if you didn't know the history of the previous four games this season between these teams, you had to figure that UNO would eventually erupt and blow the Beavers out.

But UNO hasn't found the way to do that, going 0-5-1 on the season against Bemidji. Terry Leahy on the radio broadcast called it a rope-a-dope style. Chad Purcell of the Omaha World-Herald called goalie Dan Bakala UNO's kryptonite. Whatever it is, Bemidji gets in UNO's mind and causes it to short circuit.

Friday night's game was lost in the final two minutes when UNO turned the puck over in their zone and Jamie McQueen fired a shot that deflected off a UNO skate into the net. Go figure.  Actually, turnovers were UNO's downfall all weekend. UNO seemed to dominate 80% of the play this weekend, but every so often, the Beavers would steal the puck and the race was on.  Breakaway after breakaway going the other way led to most of Bemidji's goals.  If it were football, each game would have been like outgaining your opponent 550 yards to 125, only to lose the game because you threw 4 interceptions - three of which were returned for touchdowns. Senior Matt Read of the Beavers scored breakaway goals in the third period both nights to boost the lead to two goals. Tonight's came with 11 minutes to play, and it completely deflated the Mavs, who struggled to maintain control of the puck from that point forward.

Leaving the Qwest Center, it seemed the general perception was that UNO's season was over. Maybe - maybe not.  Tonight's loss didn't hurt the Mavs that much in the Pairwise; they're still tied for 12th place at this point, which has them in the field...albeit it on the bubble with no way to improve their resume. It's a strange resemblance to five years ago, when UNO got bounced in the conference playoffs, but still managed to make the Big Skate after a week off.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Cam Newton, Terrelle Pryor, or Logan Ehlers: Guess Who Gets The Biggest Punishment?

In the warped world that is the NCAA, it seems to be Nebraska pitcher Logan Ehlers who is the biggest offender of the three, if you compare punishments. Cam Newton, as we all know, was exonerated by the NCAA because apparently his father asked schools for cash without Cam's knowledge. Or so he claimed. Terrelle Pryor and several teammates sold memorabilia to the owner of a tattoo parlor, and was suspended five games NEXT SEASON, deferring the suspension so Pryor and company could play in the Sugar Bowl.  Ehlers was suspended 35 games by the NCAA because his adviser contacted the Toronto Blue Jays while Ehlers debated whether to turn pro or enroll at Nebraska.  Pryor's suspension is 42% of his season; Ehler's suspension is 60%.

So let's compare these situations again.  Newton's father asked for $180,000 under the table.  Pryor pocketed $2500 for selling his ring.  Ehlers pocketed nothing; in fact, he turned down money to choose to play college baseball.  But Ehlers is the one with the biggest punishment?

The NCAA's position is that they don't want agents involved with players while they are amateur athletes. Understandable. And when an adviser starts getting involved in the process, they start becoming agent-like. Fair enough. But in this situation, there's no evidence that the adviser influenced the negotiations, and in the end, Ehlers didn't sign. Seems like a technicality compared to the other situations, so why does Ehlers get the biggest punishment?

Good question. It seems that now, the NCAA is afraid to take on the biggest cash cow of college athletics: football.  In the case of Newton and Pryor, both players were on the track for big paydays in BCS bowls last fall. In both cases, the NCAA found a way to keep those players in the big money games. Ehlers plays college baseball - a non-revenue sport.  Suspending Newton and Pryor affects the value of it's biggest sport; it costs the game in the end. Ehlers suspension doesn't have anywhere near the cost. So it's easy to take the "high moral ground" and throw the book at Ehlers.

Want more proof of the NCAA's silliness? Yesterday, the NCAA suspended Baylor basketball player Perry Jones hours before the Big XII tournament because his mother accepted a $1000 loan from an AAU coach years ago. The money was paid back long before Jones signed with Baylor, but hey, Jones is ineligible.  Baylor loses to Oklahoma in the first round of the Big XII tournament, thus ending any bubble hopes, and relegating the Bears likely to the NIT.  Of course, Baylor's not likely to be a draw in the Big Dance, so there's no cost to taking the high moral ground.

Speaking of Pryor and Ohio State, this whole Jim Tressel situation just keeps looking worse and worse for Tressel and Ohio State. Tressel's excuse that he didn't know who to contact is absolutely ridiculous; he's the head football coach in one of the largest athletic departments in college sports. Each school has several staff members who's sole job is to handle any NCAA compliance issues. He knows this; this was no mistake.

Even more damning is that this situation wasn't uncovered in December when the Pryor situation was being investigated originally. A simple discovery process looking for the name of the tattoo parlor operator, or even the word "tattoo" for that matter, would have uncovered all of the e-mails that Yahoo! Sports exposed this week. So not only did Tressel screw up last spring and summer and fail to deal with the situation, then cover it up last December, but others in the athletic department enabled that coverup.

Can you say "Lack of Institutional Control"?  Yes you can.  It's not like Tressel and Ohio State have a pristine record to fall back on; a 2009 report found the Buckeyes to be one of the biggest violators of NCAA rules dating back to 2000.  Tressel was hired by Ohio State in 2001.

I don't know how long it's going to take for the NCAA and the Big Ten to intervene in this manner. It's obvious that Ohio State was afraid to, especially when Ohio State president E. Gordon Gee joked that he was worried that Tressel "would dismiss me."  Gee hoped that we thought that was a joke, but deep down, there's probably an element of truth there.  Is Jim Delaney too scared?  I don't think so, and frankly, I don't think Delaney wants this scandal to taint the new B1G this fall.  Certainly the SEC acted quickly to suspend Tennessee's Bruce Pearl last fall... and this is bigger, much bigger, than what Pearl did.

Bottom line:  I get the feeling that the only way the sweater vest is in Lincoln next October is if he buys a ticket, because I don't think Jim Tressel will be coaching Ohio State at that time.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Monday Night Beer: Thanksgiving Friday Is A "Tradition" I Could Live Without

Earlier this afternoon, my Twitter feed blew up with the news that the "tradition continues" with the Nebraska/Iowa matchup being moved up to the day after Thanksgiving. Frankly, I'm not sure what "tradition" they are referring to, except for the "tradition" that ABC tried to create with the formation of the Big XII conference. Nebraska and Iowa isn't a tradition, and frankly, Nebraska playing on the day after Thanksgiving in the Big XII was about as authentic as the original Astroturf.

The tradition wasn't playing on Thanksgiving Friday...the tradition was Nebraska playing Oklahoma, and frankly, it wasn't until the 1980's that these games started to be occasionally played Thanksgiving weekend, let alone on a Friday. That "Game of the Century" was actually played on Thanksgiving Day 1971. The first Nebraska/Oklahoma game I got to attend was that Billy Sims-a-fumbling, Tom Ruud-destroying-Kelly Phelps classic played on Veterans Day 1978. Sure, Nebraska occasionally played the Sooners on the Friday after Thanksgiving, but it was hardly a tradition. The matchup was the tradition.

ABC tried to make it a tradition by forcing the Colorado "rivalry" down our throats by moving it to the Friday after Thanksgiving. Why?  Because it filled a hole in the television schedule, not because it was a tradition. They tried to bundle it together in a doubleheader with Texas and Texas A&M, who resented having to move their game from their traditional Thanksgiving night slot.

Bottom line is that unless Oklahoma gets an invitation to join the Big Ten, that tradition isn't coming back. Moving to the Big Ten means accepting a whole bunch of new traditions, and frankly, I don't want to hear Iowa fan complaining about Nebraska "forcing" this tradition on Iowa. I've only heard one good reason to play the Nebraska/Iowa game on Friday, and that's because Saturday that weekend also features Michigan/Ohio State and Penn State/Wisconsin.  I don't buy the other arguments for moving the game; between people who have to work that day and the number of people who get sidetracked by demands to go shopping, Saturday is a much better day to play the game.

Speaking of which, please, I'm putting my foot down:  Nebraska vs. Iowa is NOT Farmageddon. Iowa State and Kansas State already have dibs on that name. If you really think this matchup needs a name, at least come up with something original.

KOZN's Kevin Kugler and Mike'l Severe had a field day with Missouri asking for bids for Big XII North Championship rings. Not "co-champions", but "champions".  Kind of funny considering that back in 2006, Missouri fan mocked the idea of having a division trophy. Now, they get rings for getting close to a division championship. The whole idea of "division champion" got seriously warped when Nebraska, Missouri, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Texas A&M all were awarded "division champion" trophies. When five of twelve teams get the trophy, it's pretty much meaningless.

(Oh, and before someone brings it up, the uproar after last November's Colorado game wasn't over the trophy, but rather the unsubstantiated claims of "threats" by Dan Beebe...)

Wisconsin hockey blogger Chuck Schwartz announced his WCHA coach of the year, and sure enough, he didn't name Mike Eaves after all, but rather Denver's George Gwozdecky. So much for that "lock", eh? While I think UNO's Dean Blais deserved it over Gwozdecky, I can't really argue against the pick either. The tipping point was likely not wanting to recognize the UNO blogger that called him out a month earlier.

Speaking of UNO hockey, I get a very real sense that this weekend's series could very much be a sudden-death scenario for UNO's season.  Beat Bemidji State at home this weekend, and they advance not only to the WCHA Final Five in Minneapolis but the NCAA Tournament the week after.  Lose, and UNO fans have to sweat out a week on the bubble.

I noticed that the WCHA put an ad in today's World-Herald to encourage UNO fans to buy tickets to the WCHA championships next weekend. That's all well and good, but if you are going to buy an ad for the Omaha newspaper, how about putting a UNO sweater in the mix. I see Minnesota, Minnesota-Duluth, Wisconsin, Denver, North Dakota, and I believe St. Cloud State jerseys...but no UNO bull-head?  C'mon guys. Maybe that's how you advertise in the Star-Tribune, but that's not going to be terribly effective in the Omaha market.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Mavs Split with Duluth; Finish Third in WCHA

After dropping a 4-1 game Friday night to Minnesota Duluth, the Mavs came back strong tonight to win 5-2. The split means that the Mavs finished third in the WCHA regular season, and came tantalizingly close to finishing second as Denver hung on to beat St. Cloud State 3-2 tonight. That second place finish would have been huge for UNO, as it would have meant playing Minnesota State-Mankato in the first round instead of Bemidji State.  UNO swept Mankato back in November, while losing three of four games against the pesky Beavers earlier this season. The Mavs speed based attack has made UNO surprisingly effective against the upper echelon of college hockey, as indicated by the success the Mavs had against Minnesota, North Dakota, and Michigan... but it has an Achilles heel when faced with a trapping attack that frustrates and negates that speed.

The second place finish also would have allowed UNO to bypass the WCHA Quarterfinals, should they win the first round series in Omaha next weekend.  That could have been huge for UNO, but it's passed by now. The focus now has to be on getting two victories against Bemidji State next weekend.  UNO jumped up to a tie for 6th place in the Pairwise ratings, but that's in large measure to Bemidji falling out of consideration this weekend. If Bemidji State wins next weekend's series, not only does that end the quest for a WCHA title, but it could end the Mavs season as well. With victories next week, Bemidji could reemerge as a team under consideration, and UNO's ranking would take a severe drop while everybody else in consideration for the NCAA tournament would tend to go up.

It's playoff hockey time in Omaha. Win and advance is all there is at this point.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Thursday Night Beer: Husker Hoops Still on the Bubble

Thanks to a home victory over Missouri this week, Nebraska basketball is on the verge of being "bubblicious", at least according to ESPN's Joe Lunardi, who has them currently in their "last four out".  So what's it going to take?  Probably three more wins at bare minimum.  Must win at Colorado, then pick up at least one and probably two more in Kansas City at the Big XII tournament.  That's a tall order, since the Huskers haven't played very well outside of Lincoln. Certainly can't afford another hairball like the one the Huskers coughed up in Ames last Saturday afternoon.

Our other NCAA tournament-bound team, the UNO hockey team, really could use a good performance this weekend against #11 Minnesota-Duluth on the road. It's all about the seeding, and second place is still possible as the Mavs sit one point behind second place Denver. Second place is important because the top two seeds don't have to play the Thursday night games at the WCHA Final Five.  Speaking of which, the WCHA uses a "Gopher Rule" when scheduling games:  if Minnesota is scheduled to play that night, they always play in the second game that night so that Gopher fans can make it after work. Not that anybody should be surprised by this. (H/T:  Goon from NoDak)

Turns out Wisconsin blogger Chuck Schwartz seethed a wee-bit at being called out for his ridiculous declaration that Badger head coach Mike Eaves had sewn up a coach of the year award. Especially from a football blogger who crashed the inner sanctum of hockey.  But with the Badgers in a free-fall that began with being swept in Omaha, he finally acknowledged that Eaves won't win the award... though he still should. Oh, he let me know why loud and clear: Wisconsin lost so much from last season's team, it was remarkable that they were ever in contention. True to a point, but programs like Wisconsin usually have a solid stream of talent waiting in the wings - which they do. So while Schwartz and some of his Badger pals were running around patting themselves on the back, most people outside Badgerland took this season for what it is: reloading.  And his whole excuse that "nobody saw the Badgers collapse" pretty much validates my main point: you can't declare the race over at the halfway point of the season.

I see Creighton is starting to promote season tickets for their first season of baseball at TD Ameritrade Park.  First game will be on April 19th...and the opponent is going to be Nebraska. MECA had better be prepared for a huge crowd for opening night downtown; no soft opening for this place.