Sunday, April 29, 2012

Alfonzo Dennard's Legal Problems Cost Him Dearly in the NFL Draft

I wasn't pollyanna enough to think that the NFL would look past Alfonzo Dennard's arrest last weekend and still take him in the second round. He's got major legal questions, and looking at some jail time.  At a bare minimum, his availability to play football is in question.

Even bigger are the resulting questions about Dennard's character.  Some will look at his slugfest with South Carolina's Alshon Jeffrey in the Capital One Bowl and put two and two together and see a problem with Dennard's temper.  I'd look at it the same way.

But for whatever reason, I was shocked to check in on the NFL draft Saturday afternoon to see Dennard still undrafted late in the fifth round.  I don't blame the NFL teams for that; I underestimated how the NFL would view the situation.  And as the sixth round came and went, I found it even more surprising.

And let's make it clear:  Dennard did this all to himself.  It's not the NFL's fault at all; they are running a business and teams that waste draft picks on players who can't contribute (or are a liability on and off the field) don't go very far.

Dennard went midway through the seventh round to the New England Patriots; no doubt, Nebraska's connections to Bill Belichick probably opened a door for Dennard.  The real question in my mind is how Dennard responds to the message the NFL sent him this weekend.  Does he realize how badly he screwed up the week before?  Or does he take the "privileged athlete" approach, and view this as a minor setback and proof that he can still do what he wants and still make the NFL?

Gil Brandt said after Dennard's arrest that this would cost him $300, guess is this is going to cost him a whole lot more.  I figured he'd be a fourth or fifth round pick, not a seventh round pick.  If he keeps his head straight and stays out of trouble, he's a huge bargain pick for the Patriots.

I also hope that everybody on the Nebraska football team was tracking the draft and the lack of interest in Dennard.  That's a message that each player needs to keep in mind during their hours away from the program. Warren Buffett has said that it takes twenty years to build a reputation, but only five minutes to destroy it.

Alfonzo Dennard is the latest example of that.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Intolerance on Both Sides of the Ron Brown Debate

As Lincoln debates a ban on discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or identity, the focus returns to Nebraska assistant coach Ron Brown. Brown was outspoken in his opposition to a similar ordinance when it was enacted in Omaha last month, so there's no surprise the issue has rekindled in the city where Brown lives and coaches. As the debate has evolved, it grew from intolerance from Ron Brown to intolerance from the other side against Brown's religion.

Last month, a member of the Lincoln School Board called for Ron Brown to be fired for airing his viewpoints publicly. And by doing so, school board member Barbara Baier was guilty of the same intolerant viewpoint that Brown expressed.  Brown was intolerant of Baier's sexuality; Baier was intolerant of Brown's religion.

They are both wrong.  Not in their core beliefs; that's a personal matter for them to deal with.  What's wrong is trying to force their viewpoint onto others.  Brown has a moral objection to homosexuality; he views it as wrong, and he shares that viewpoint with others. There is nothing wrong with openly saying that you view homosexuality as being morally wrong.  Where Brown went wrong was in taking the viewpoint that gay people can be discriminated against for being gay. Brown's position equates to punishing people for their moral views. To quote Jesus Christ, from the Gospel of John, chapter 8, verse 7:
"Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” 
 Baier is just as guilty of intolerance by demanding that Brown be fired for having these views. It's one thing to disagree, but another thing to demand that Brown be fired for expressing his religion.  Just because someone has views contrary to yours is no reason to call for him to be silenced.  Some people view eating meat as immoral; that's their position, and they are welcome to make that choice as long as that choice isn't forced on me.  Some people violate their marriage vows by carrying on affairs; again, that's their choice and as long as they do not ask me to condone their actions, that's their business.  Should someone lose a job or not be able to rent or buy a house because they have different moral values?  Absolutely not.  In the end, it comes down to your morality, and while people have the right to share their moral values, people do not have the right to force their moral values onto others.  That goes both ways:  Brown can criticize homosexuality, and Baier can criticize Brown for his views.  But both went over the line:  Brown for saying that homosexuals can be discriminated against, and Baier for saying Brown should be fired for saying homosexuality is wrong.

The ACLU has a long running history of trying to silence Ron Brown for his religious views; in their world, trampling on Brown's rights is somehow excused by claims that Brown is "forcing" his beliefs on others. It's a bizarre viewpoint in my opinion, as the point of education is to expose people to new ideas.  If groups like the ACLU were truly interested in protecting civil rights, they would be lobbying schools to bring in non-Christians to balance Brown's message.

In the end, someone should not lose their job because they are a homosexual...or whether they view homosexuality is wrong.  Tolerance is something that's in far too short of supply in society today.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Channel 3's Travis Morgan Returns to Sioux City

I thought something was up when Travis Justice reappeared on KMTV-Channel 3's "Sports Soundoff" call-in show last Sunday night. I wasn't a big fan of Justice, but he was far better than his successor, Travis Morgan. Morgan came to Omaha from Sioux City, and if you've ever had the misfortune of watching a Sioux City newscast, you know what I mean.  It's a small market without much to cover sports-wise, so they fill the time with what they've got...and in the summer time, that's high school baseball and softball...covered much like the Omaha stations cover college sports.  And that's something that Morgan never seemed to adjust to in Omaha.

Tonight, the news guy had slid over to cover sports, which made me wonder just what was up, so I quickly hit the Google, and learned that Morgan has returned to Sioux City.  Unclear whether his contract was up at channel 3, or maybe there were family issues leading him to move closer to home, but typically, news people don't move from a market like Omaha to Sioux City.  It's like someone becoming an NFL free agent and signing with the Omaha Nighthawks.

It'll be interesting to see who channel 3 will hire next.  It's easy to think that they couldn't do worse than Morgan...but I had hoped that the station would upgrade their talent level after Travis Justice.  (Hopefully they are done hiring guys named Travis.  Justice has already indicated via Facebook that last week was a one-week gig.)  At the very least, they should try to find someone who can make their half hour "Sports Soundoff" worth watching.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Thursday Night Beer: Biggs Signing is Big

Getting former Omaha central basketball star Deverell Biggs to sign a letter of intent is a big sign forward for Nebraska basketball. I'm not ready to give Tim Miles all the credit for getting Biggs to sign; after all, Doc Sadler had offered the junior college all-American a scholarship as well. But Miles got the signature, and frankly, that's the first sign of reversing the talent gap that's been plaguing Nebraska basketball in recent years. You can't build a Big XII or Big Ten contender with a roster made up of nothing but Nebraska natives, but when a Nebraska native like Biggs comes around, you've got to close the deal and get them to Lincoln.  I think Biggs wanted to play for Dear 'Ol Nebraska U all along, so I kind of think he would have signed with Sadler...

Will Biggs redshirt this season?  He still has a redshirt season available to him, and frankly, I don't see any reason not to use it.  If you thought Nebraska basketball was bad last year, they might just be worse this year without Bo Spencer or Brian Jorge Diaz.  So why not take your medicine, especially if it means that Nebraska will be more attractive to Biggs' former Central teammate Akoy Agau.  Let's face it; Husker basketball is going to be like the Kansas City Royals or Chicago Cubs this season; you can't expect miracles.  Unless you like being ridiculed for insane ideas.

Dean Blais told the Omaha World-Herald that he plans to take his time replacing Mike Hastings...but is focusing on coaches with college or NHL experience.  Still makes me think that Fred Harbinson is one of the lead candidates, but with college hockey season over, the only reason to wait is either for a guy like Harbinson to finish his season.  Unless he's got a bead on an NHL guy...

Well, the Lingerie Football League is apparently coming to Ralston. For some reason, I don't think you'll get an honest opinion on this from any guy who has a wife or steady girlfriend...and wants to keep said wife or steady girlfriend.  So I'll plead the fifth amendment on this one as well...

I have to admit I love the expanded NHL coverage this season on the NBC Sports Network and CNBC.  Some great action, especially in overtime. Tell me how Chicago keeps finding ways to tie the game up in the closing seconds?  One thing I don't like is the chipiness out there.  Sure, it's lead to good ratings (up 50% on NBC), but let's be honest... at times, it's starting to look like an NBA game out there on the ice.  (Did you really expect me to say "WWE"???)

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Mike Hastings Heads to Mankato and the Purple Cows

Yesterday, Minnesota State hired former Omaha Lancer head coach and current UNO assistant coach Mike Hastings as the head coach of the Purple Cows.  I'm sure that most Lancer fans are excited for Hastings, while some UNO hockey fans are concerned.  Myself, I have mixed opinions on the move.  You hate to see coaches leave, but I've also never held Hastings in as high esteem as some fans in Omaha do.  Nothing wrong per se' with Hastings; it's more that Hastings resume outside of junior hockey is lighter than many of Hastings proponents want to admit.

It goes back three years when UNO was looking for a head coach to replace Mike Kemp.  At that time, many people were ready to hand the job to Hastings - even though Hastings only had one season of college coaching experience.  It's not that Hastings was unqualified as much as there were so many other more qualified coaches out there at the time.  And UNO went out and hired a qualified coach:  Dean Blais.  At that time, Blais turned around and hired Hastings as his top assistant and head-coach-in-waiting.  I didn't have a problem with hiring Hastings as an assistant; I did have a problem with immediately designating Hastings as the successor.

Now, after three years, Hastings is gone, much like Will Muschamp didn't want to hang to hang around waiting for Mack Brown to retire at Texas.  What does this mean?  Well, I'll put the most positive spin on this: obviously, the retirement of Blais isn't imminent.  When Blais was hired, Blais gave the impression that he would coach at UNO for 4-5 years.  Well, this is year four...and Blais hasn't given any indication that he's planning to step aside.  And this might be the biggest proof that Blais plans to stick around a while longer...and that's a very good thing.  Blais has a young roster stocked with his type of players; we'll find out whether Blais still has that magic touch.

Hastings move to Mankato doesn't preclude him from still being Blais' eventual successor.  Coaches leave one job for another all the time.  And with a few years of head coaching experience on his resume, Hastings could be even more attractive when it does come time to succeed Blais.  That is, if he's a success up there.  If Hastings isn't a success in Mankato, UNO will definitely be looking elsewhere when it comes time to name a new head hockey coach.

So who will UNO hire next?  One name on the rumor mill is Penticton Vees head coach Fred Harbinson.  The Vees went 54-6 this season in the Canadian Junior "A" British Columbia Hockey League.  Prior to Penticton, Harbinson spent five years as an assistant with St. Cloud State. In his time in Penticton, over fifty of his players have received division 1 scholarships.  He's a believer in the speed game, which would be a good match with Blais.  His record of identifying and developing talent speaks for itself.  Is he interested in UNO?  No way to know if this is just idle, wishful talk from UNO fans or what, but if you were just throwing out names, I doubt Penticton, BC would just randomly come up.  If Harbinson is, in fact, a bona fide candidate, nothing is likely to happen until the end of the month.  Penticton is playing for the Doyle Cup, and the Vees season won't end until April 25th at the earliest.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Spring Game That Wasn't

Today's Nebraska spring game was cancelled, and frankly, I have no problem with it whatsoever. It was absolutely the correct decision to make. There was no way that a scrimmage could have been played at Memorial Stadium today.  Sam McKewon of the Omaha World-Herald reported that there was about 100 minutes between visible lightning strikes around Memorial Stadium, starting shortly after the cancellation was official.  Considering the time it would take to get the players warmed up and waiting an appropriate time following the last lightning strike, how much football could have been played?  Maybe one quarter?  Maybe?

We left Lincoln around 1:30 and it absolutely poured almost the entire way home.  Judging from the storm movements on the radar, I assume that the deluge didn't let up at the stadium...even though the lightning may have. If it were a real game, one could make the argument that the game could have been played in a monsoon.  Certainly didn't stop the 2009 Monsoon at Missouri game down in Columbia.  But if you remember that game, the weather was the second biggest factor in that game - other than Ndamukong Suh.  But for a scrimmage, the risk to players playing in a monsoon was too high.  And with the lightning, impossible.

We had our tickets in hand, but we never made it closer to the stadium than the Hy-Vee on North 27th street.  We got a late start going to Lincoln due to another function, we thought we were on target to make it on time for a great family outing to watch some football...but as we approached Lincoln, the rain began to fall and the traffic came to a standstill.  An accident, almost certainly the result of the rain, snarled traffic on the Interstate between Greenwood and Waverly, and we were stuck in traffic for nearly 45 minutes.  At first, I thought we were going to miss most of the first quarter...but after turning the radio over to the pregame show, I realized that conditions were even worse in Lincoln.  No need to hurry.

So we stopped at Hy-Vee to get the kids a break, which is where we learned that the game was not going to be played today. I didn't have a problem with it.  Even if it wasn't dangerous, it would have been miserable to sit through.  I was still holding out hope the game could be rescheduled to tomorrow; the weather is supposed to be fine, if not a little windy.  But the players had issues with playing tomorrow and that made a postponement unpractical from their perspective.  Next weekend?  The problem with that is that the NCAA only allows teams 15 spring practices, and the Huskers have already used all of them.  So if they tried to play next weekend, they'd play it without any practice for a week.  Not a good idea either.

Could they have moved the game to the Hawks Practice Facility, set up the BTN cameras, and play the game indoors on TV?  That really was the only way it could have happened, but what was the point of that?  The spring game is for the fans.  It's for fans to get together, and families to share the day.

Should fans get a refund?  In an ideal world, yes...but the logistics of refunding the tickets make that impossible.  Even though the game wasn't played, almost all of the expenses of the game were incurred.  The stadium was staffed, and concessions were prepared.  The fans that did make it to the stadium and waited it out got all the free food they could carry apparently.  (If it wasn't for the threat of even more severe weather, it was tempting to head down to pick up some freebies.  We had a cooler to help us get it home... :-)

So instead, I can exchange it for a baseball game.  It's something to consider for next weekend, if the weather is better.  It's better than nothing, and frankly, it'll be more fun than sitting outside in the rain with two young children.

But what about football fans, who wanted to judge the progress of the team for themselves?  I wanted to see Mohammed Seisay and Taariq Allen, for example.  Is this Tyler Wullenwaber really as fast as they say. Is Sean Fisher back to 100%?  Here's one thought.  The coaching staff films practices and scrimmages; put together a highlight package from the practices.  Use it for the Bo Pelini show and Big Red Wrapup.  Put it on BTN and as well.  Let us see what some of these players have done so far.  It's not the same as a spring game, but it's better than nothing.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Omaha Attorney Looking to Rehash UNO Decision to Drop Football

A local attorney is calling a press conference tomorrow to call for the Nebraska-Omaha athletic department to further explain the rationale behind dropping the Mavericks football program. Why?  That's a good question.  Mike Degan is representing a former football player, and is pursuing more transparency in the reasons why football was dropped.  But for what reason?  Can the football program be salvaged?  Hardly; the players and coaches have been dispersed, and the equipment has been sold off. I suppose it could be restarted, but it would be starting from scratch.  Is it to embarrass UNO? More likely...but I'm skeptical that anything would emerge.  Too many football boosters cling to the belief that this was a decision solely made by Trev Alberts, when in fact, the decision was being driven by a group that included several Omaha area business titans.

ESPN tried this last year, and went nowhere.  I don't see where this could go anywhere either.  UNO football allegedly lost more than $1 million.  Is that number cooked?  Degan's push could give us more details...but I don't see how it will materially change that number.  UNO averaged 3,800 fans for a football game in the final 2010 season.  If you assume that each ticket averaged $10 in revenue, which could be generous when you consider students get in free, that's probably only $270,000 or so in revenue.  That wouldn't even cover the salaries of the coaching staff, let alone the 36 scholarships.

It's sad what happened to the Mavericks football and wrestling programs. But reopening these old wounds at this time is just ripping off the scab.  It's not going to change anything, and there's no evidence that the decision wasn't justified.

Some will argue that college athletics shouldn't be about money. But look's all about money.  Look at the size of contracts for television and coaches. When athletic departments are self-sufficient such as at Nebraska-Lincoln, you can accept that level of spending. When those departments are receiving tax subsidies, especially in an era when the pressure is on government to slash spending, spending on athletics is something that people are going to question.  It's nothing new at UNO; two Nebraska regents tried to eliminate UNO football in 2006.

When you consider the long history of financial issues with UNO athletics, nobody should have been surprised by the decision to drop UNO football. Nothing significant changed in the ensuing years to resolve that deficit, which pretty much means that it's extremely unlikely that we'll learn anything new in the end.

If It's a Question of Tiger vs. Phil, It's Easy to Favor Phil

In recent years, I've grown more and more negative to Tiger Woods.  I appreciated his rise to glory, and certainly appreciate (and envy) what he had accomplished on the golf course. And when I say "envy", I think I speak for anybody who's ever played the game.  We'd all love to hit the ball so far and so accurate as Tiger Woods did in his prime.  What I dislike about Woods is how golf became secondary to his celebrity status. Many people openly talk about how "if Tiger's not winning, I'm not watching." They are more interested i the celebrity, not the golfer.  Perhaps they are only interested in watching in case Woods sets a record; I suppose the non-sports fan could see it that way.  But if you like golf, the personalities shouldn't matter much if there is good golf to be seen.  If anything, any sporting event is MORE interesting when two or more players are battling it out, as opposed to having an insurmountable lead.

Tiger Woods' injuries and problems in his personal life have undoubtedly called into question his ability to shatter Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 major championships. Can he still do it? Absolutely yes.  But not until he comes to terms with his own failings.  He may never again enjoy the physical superiority of his earlier years.  The wear and tear on his legs may be irreversible.  What can be reversed is his mental outlook and the sense of entitlement that his years of success brought him.  From my perspective, Woods is another child prodigy who knows nothing in life other than success in athletic competition. His father put a golf club in his hands before he could barely walk; it's all he knows, and it's brought him this far in life. It has given him fame and riches, and he hasn't handled it well, destroying his marriage along the way.  And now that the game that he once dominated is now giving him fits at times.  Yes, he won two weeks ago.  He's still a great golfer.  But he's not invincible like he wishes or though he was.

Take his temper tantrums at the Masters this weekend.  If it was one blowup, you could understand it.  But he did it multiple times during the weekend...over and over and over again.  He's done it before..and he'll do it again.

For all his failings, I still like Phil Mickelson far better than Tiger Woods.  Head to head in their prime, Woods would regularly eat Mickelson alive on the course.  But now, both have their physical issues...but Mickelson is dealing with it better.  He still channels his inner "Tin Cup" (Phil being Phil), like the third hole triple bogey (now chronicled with the "Yakety Phil").  But even with two triples on the weekend, he still found himself in contention.  And he even took the time to slip into the background to watch Arnold Palmer, Nicklaus, and Gary Player open the tournament on Thursday.

Think Tiger Woods would ever do something like that?  Me neither...

Saturday, April 07, 2012

UFL Founder: The Nighthawks Will Return to Omaha This Fall

UFL founder Bill Hambrecht told The Las Vegas Review-Journal that the UFL plans to return this fall as a five team league.  Last year's four franchises in Las Vegas, Virginia, Sacramento, and Omaha will be joined by a fifth team...reportedly in San Antonio.  This year's big development is that the UFL is reportedly near a deal with CBS Sports Network to televise games.  Games would be played mid-week beginning in mid-September.

Television money will help the league, both from a visibility perspective and the economics...but is it enough to turn things around? And frankly, did the UFL's problems last season sabotage the Nighthawks franchise? The cancellation of the end of the season rubbed a lot of fans the wrong way, especially their best paying customers.  Some had trouble getting refunds for the tickets, while others were bothered by the clearance pricing on tickets for the final games of the season.

Having the Nighthawks back in town is a good thing, from my perspective.  Pro football is a great thing to have in Omaha, and Omaha loves a good event. But the bloom was definitely off the rose last season in Omaha.  Crowds were way down, and the buzz wasn't there. People got burned, and they'll be wary about how far they'll buy in this fall.

The rumor mill says that the UFL is strongly considering a spring season in 2013.  That might make sense for the UFL, but won't work in Omaha. With Omaha's commitment to baseball and the NCAA for the College World Series, I see no way that the Nighthawks will be allowed to play at TD Ameritrade Park until July.  After the CWS, it's fine...but the field must be in immaculate shape for baseball. If the Nighthawks can't play at the new ballpark, where else could they play?  UNO's Al Caniglia Field probably is available...but crowds would be limited to about 12,000 (including standing room) and beer could not be sold on campus.  After that, it's high school stadiums which are even smaller.

Why worry about 2013?  Having a plan for future years will convince fans that the league has a future and won't fold up shop prematurely again.  From my perspective, the cancellation of the end of last season really damaged the reputation of the league, and merely dismissing former commissioner Michael Huyghue doesn't make it "all better".  The TV deal is a start, but it's just that ... a start.  Midweek games are probably necessary for national television, but a killer for attendance.

With five teams, the league will have to have a staggered schedule .  Play one game nationally on Tuesday or Wednesday nights, and play the other on weekends.  In Omaha, that means avoiding Husker Saturdays.  Play on Sunday afternoon if the game isn't going to be on television anyway.  There are a few fans who'll stay home to watch the NFL on TV, but I have to believe more people will come out on a sunny Sunday afternoon for tailgating and live football than sit inside to watch TV.  Much better than fans racing downtown after work during the week.

Restoring the Omaha franchise will take some work. Former general manager Rick Mueller is now working with the Philadelphia Eagles, and former head coach Joe Moglia is now coaching 1-AA Coastal Carolina.  The whole Moglia experiment was a dismal failure last season, frankly.  Which of these coaches is not like the others?  Schottenheimer, Fassel, Green, Moglia.  It showed in the final results.  The comeback attempt by Eric Crouch also annoyed a lot of people.  Did it lead the Nighthawks to try to run an unorthodox offense? Was it a desperate grab to build attention?  You could make that argument.  More likely, it's just that some people in this area hate Crouch.  Some still cling to the mistaken belief that Bobby Newcombe was a better quarterback, while others point to Crouch's failed NFL career.  He only played one game for the Nighthawks before injuring his knee, but he looked better than Jeremiah Masoli that night.

The UFL is supposed to meet on April 16th to set up the season and make a formal announcement on May 1st. They'll need to have a lot of answers to redeem themselves from the failure of 2011. Obviously, they think they have a chance to save the league...but can they save their most successful franchise off the field?

That's the question that we don't have the answer for.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Sunday Night Dessert: Too Nice Outside to Think of Sports Far Away

I have to admit that I had a lot of disinterest in the sports world this weekend.  My NCAA bracket was pretty much busted, and while I watched the end of Ohio State's late choke job against Kansas, it wasn't all that captivating. Let's face it, the weather was just too spectacular to sit in front of the television. If we're going to have weather that's 30 degrees above normal, it's far better for it to happen from December to March rather than, oh, say August.

Bo Pelini thinks the team is motivated a little more this spring.  Sounds good, but color me a little cynical here. I hope it's honest talk and that this team is motivated to break the pattern of not showing up once or twice each season.  I'm not so cyncial as to think that Nebraska won't break the pattern; it's just that saying you are going to do things different means far less than actually doing it in the season.  I would have hoped that slipping on the banana peel in 2009 and 2010 would have meant not doing it in 2010 or 2011...and it didn't.  All sorts of reasons why, and that's not important. It's simply time to start making it happen.

On thing that floored me this week was when I read that Illinois hired Ohio's John Groce for under $1.4 million.  Why did that floor me?  Nebraska is paying Tim Miles $1.4 million. I understand why Groce said "no" to Nebraska; bigger, better jobs are going to be out there if he waits.  But it sure seems like Groce settled.  When I heard that Illinois was pursuing Groce, I figured his salary would be double what Miles got from Nebraska.  Do I think Nebraska offered Groce more than Illinois did?  I'd sure like to think so, because despite Miles having a longer head coaching background, Groce has the record of success as both an assistant coach in the Big Ten as well as the head coaching background.  I'm not saying that Miles was a bad choice for Nebraska; I just hope that Miles was hired after it was clear that Groce wasn't coming to Lincoln.

This next weekend is the Frozen Four for college hockey...but ESPN is treating the sport like an afterthought.  The regionals were relegated to ESPNU and internet streams (on selected carriers)...and even one of the semifinals on Thursday has been bounced to ESPNU.

And if you want to be jealous of any sportscasters, be jealous of KOZN's Kevin Kugler this week.  Kugler calls the national championship basketball Monday night, then heads to Augusta to call the Masters next weekend.  Yeah, that sounds like a couple of pretty good assignments...and he (probably) gets paid to do it.  (In the media game anymore, you can't always assume that...)