Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Tuesday Lunch Notes: Martinez Didn't Improve in 2011?

When I read the Bleacher Report entry on the "Taylor Martinez Experience", I was reminded of Mark Twain's famous quote: "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics."  Adam Kramer of Kegs'n'Eggs fame reminds us that Martinez's completion percentage actually went down in 2011.  Statistically, he's correct. But Kramer comes off as a writer who watched some highlight videos and looked at those statistics to draw his conclusions.  Watching Martinez last season, I think Martinez definitely improved.  His running numbers were down, yes.  Mostly because he was asked to avoid contact.  If you look at his  passing statistics from the Ohio State going forward, you definitely saw improvement.  Completion rates of 73%, 59%, 54%, 76%, 50%, 39%, 55%, and 63%.  Better for the most part.  Oh, and only two interceptions.

Is Martinez's throwing motion ugly?  Yep... Some call them "armpunts", which probably isn't a bad depiction. But for as ugly as Martinez's throwing motion is, the uglier part was when the ball arrived at it's destination.  And usually that wasn't Martinez's fault.  Usually the ball was there; it was the receivers who had the dropsies.  Save for one Kenny Bell, who looks to have a very promising football career ahead of him.  And I still hold out hope that Steve Calhoun is still working on fundamentals with Martinez.  We didn't have a spring game to evaluate Martinez, but reports were out that he had improved.

Bottom line is that until September, writers can only go off of what they've previously seen.  And if all you've seen are blooper reels, ugly still photos, and replays of the Wisconsin game, that's going to frame your opinion on Taylor Martinez.  But I would suggest only writing those opinions in pencil.

Mike'l Severe of KOZN-1620 AM radio tweeted on Friday that the Nighthawks may be back after all:
So we are close to finding out all the details about a 4th UFL season. Are you looking forward to the Omaha Nighthawks returning this fall?
We'll see about that.  Severe has been involved with the Nighthawks all along, so he certainly knows more what's going on behind the scenes than I do.  But I still think it's going to be tough to resurrect the Nighthawks at this point.  Not impossible.  But difficult to do and not a lot of time to do it in.

We're still waiting on UNO to name a new assistant hockey coach to replace Mike Hastings, who left in mid-April to become the head coach at Mankato State.  (OK, ok...Minnesota State.)  Dean Blais said shortly afterwards he wasn't in a hurry, and six weeks later, we're still waiting.  The rumor mill had fixated on St. Cloud State assistant coach Steve Johnson (formerly of USHL teams in Fargo and Lincoln), but that was two weeks ago.  For what it's worth, Fred Harbinson's Penticton Vees team claimed Canada's national championship a couple of weeks ago.  I originally attributed the long search to waiting for Harbinson's season to end, but even that has now passed.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

No News Has to be Bad News for the Omaha Nighthawks

In early April, UFL founder Bill Hambrecht told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that the UFL planned to return as a five team league, and that we'd hear an official announcement around May 1st.

Well, it's almost Memorial Day, and still nothing.  No word on a television contract.  No word on a season.  No word on who the coach and the general manager would be.  Frankly, it's now approaching the point where you have to say that even if the UFL gets their act together, there's simply not enough time to put a franchise back together again to play this fall.  I don't know what a "drop-dead" date would be, but if we're not past that point, we're getting awfully close.

The idea behind the league was noble, and I think it could have least in Omaha.  But they've bumbled and stumbled around the last year and a half, and most fans have already written them off. Even if they somehow make an announcement that they'll try to restart the Nighthawks this fall, can anybody take them seriously at this point?

And that's a shame, because I think minor league football could work in Omaha.  But can anybody looking to start a minor league football league find enough markets to make it viable?  I doubt it.  The USFL is considering starting a spring league again.  We'll see if that will work nationally; it won't in Omaha.  TD Ameritrade Park won't be available for spring football (not with Omaha's commitment to the College World Series), and now UNO is selling off the bleachers at Al Caniglia Field. So now the biggest stadium available for football in Omaha is a high school field. Yeah, that'll work.  Not.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Big Ten Chooses TD Ameritrade Park for 2014 Baseball Tournament

It wasn't a surprise to me that the Big Ten selected downtown Omaha over the cornfields of BFE Sarpy County for the 2014 baseball tournament. When the idea of the Big Ten baseball tournament coming to Omaha was floated during the winter, I thought TD Ameritrade Park made much more sense than the Sarpy County's Trailer Park.  That viewpoint wasn't shared by many, though I don't understand why.  Does the Big Ten need 24,000 seats?  No, but if Nebraska is in the tournament, the Big Ten needs more than the 6400 seats available out in BFE.  Heck, even the smallest crowds for Nebraska/Creighton games in Omaha lately would not only fill every seat in the small minor-league ballpark, but wouldn't even fit in the standing room areas on the berms either.  Bottom line:  it's too small.

But critics point out that the Big Ten tournament hasn't drawn flies in Columbus.  True, but Columbus isn't Omaha. Just because Columbus hasn't supported the Big Ten tournament doesn't mean that Omaha won't.  And if Nebraska plays, which simple odds would indicate is more likely than not, fans will show up.  Will they sell it out downtown?  Probably not...but it should have some nice sized crowds.  Will only 1000 people show up for a Northwestern versus Indiana game in the afternoon?  Possibly.  Will that be a bad crowd in a 24,000 seat stadium?  Yes, but 1,000 in a 6,400 seat ballpark is also a weak crowd.  If you are sizing the Big Ten tournament for that, play the games at Boys Town.

If you want to know what the Big Ten was thinking about their tournament, look no further than the 2013 venue: Target Field in Minneapolis. They wanted a big ballpark with amenities for fans. Martie Cordaro, president of the former Omaha Royals, missed that point, insisting that "we were of the opinion that a right-sized venue would help grow the tournament."  He comes off like a car salesman who continues to try to sell you the car he wants you to buy long after you've told him you want something completely different.

The Big Ten wanted amenities for fans:  hotels, bars, and restaurants nearby.  They wanted to make the Big Ten tournament something big.  That doesn't mesh with what BFE has to offer.  They got that in Minneapolis, and they got it in downtown Omaha.  Some defenders of the Sarpy County boondoggle point out that Pennant Place will eventually bring those amenities.  Well, it depends on how you define "eventually."  When it was announced, some real estate experts estimated that would take another five years to become reality.

Of course, before it'll become reality, someone else will have to move it forward.  Seems the original developer of "Pennant Place" put it all up for sale earlier this year. Not small lots, either, for stores, but large lots of 60 and 145 acres. Will something happen out there?  Probably.  But it's going to take time...and it's certainly not going to be done for 2014.  Somebody has to buy it and develop it.

Meanwhile, things are booming downtown.  The new Zesto's is almost ready to open, and over 1000 hotel rooms are ready and waiting.  So it became an easy choice for the Big Ten:  the big stadium with the amenities or the too-small stadium with nothing around it (and not enough parking to boot).

And thus, the 2014 tournament comes downtown.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

UNO Hockey Season Ticket Renewal - With Reservations

With the deadline for season ticketholders to renew fast approaching this week, I finally had to make my decision about UNO hockey. In March, UNO moved my seats and increased the price of the tickets over 10%. Combining that with the need to add another ticket for my son, it caused us to pause, as the price for a family of four is approaching $900 for upper bowl tickets.

Our original decision was to switch to a mini-plan, as we simply can't make all the games.  But then we inquired about the price, and last year, a 10 game mini-plan cost more than our "Red Army" seats.  UNO hasn't announced their plans for the upcoming season, but based on last year's prices, a mini-plan wasn't going to save us anything.  It seems that UNO only offers mini-plans for the lower bowl, so it's probably the same money or cheaper to sit in the upper deck for the entire season versus the lower bowl for half of the games.

So then we discussed dropping our tickets completely, and just going three or four times a season next year, buying tickets on a single-game basis. We gave that a hard thought, but decided we weren't ready to stop following UNO hockey.  So we grudgingly renewed our tickets for next season, though we did move the seats over from the "auto-generated" seats we were assigned.

Some will argue that UNO's past history of "discounting" seats have convinced me that UNO hockey tickets are not the value that they are. I argue that a family of four can do a lot of things for almost $50 a night, and asking families to commit to that for an entire season is starting to leap the market.  UNO's cheapest ticket price plans are higher on a per-game basis to many other alternatives, including Creighton basketball. We like hockey, and want to continue to attend games...but UNO, frankly, is making it pricey for families.

So, we're back for the next season.  But it's a tentative renewal.

I know some people think UNO should build their own facility.  That will come with significant costs, and the most likely way that UNO can pay for it is to get fans to pay more.  That's why the Omaha Royals left town for BFE; they raised ticket prices (unless you want standing room tickets) to make more money even though attendance stayed flat.  And that runs the risk of pricing many fans out of hockey.

I've long felt that UNO hockey could grow the fan base.  That's why I think UNO hired Dean Blais to be the hockey coach.  But hiking the prices before UNO hits that level of success that I think Blais and UNO are headed towards is going to make it difficult to grow that base.

Friday, May 11, 2012

The New USFL Thinks About Omaha

A reincarnation of the USFL is currently underway, and Omaha is apparently one of the targets. That sounds all well and good until you hear about the details. CEO Jaime Cuadra announced yesterday that the spring league is looking for eight cities for a 14 game league season starting in 2013.  Cities beside Omaha include Portland, Ore.; Salt Lake City; San Antonio or Austin, Texas; Columbus or Akron, Ohio; Oklahoma City; Raleigh/Durham, N.C.; Birmingham, Ala.; and Memphis, Tenn.
“These are cities with underutilized facilities at that time of year,” Cuadra said.
And frankly, that's about as far as it will go in Omaha. The concept may be fine, just not in Omaha. And frankly, when they say that Omaha has "underutilized facilities at that time of year", the USFL hasn't done any research on Omaha. There simply isn't an "underutilized facility" available for football in the spring time.

The obvious target would be TD Ameritrade Park...but it's not available for spring football. Omaha built that stadium for the College World Series, and there is no way the NCAA would allow football to be played in the spring.  The field must be in pristine shape for baseball, and with Creighton also playing baseball there from March through May, it's not available for football.

Where else could a USFL team play?  Al Caniglia Field is available for now, but it's a campus venue.  No alcohol sales would be permitted, and crowds would be limited to 10,000 or so.  I don't see that as viable.  After that, it's high school fields....with even smaller capacities and the same no-alcohol restrictions.

Lincoln actually makes more sense with Memorial Stadium; yeah, it's much bigger than the USFL needs, but it's the only facility that isn't too small.

Bottom line is that if the USFL wants to play spring football, Omaha won't be a market.

Speaking of minor league football, we were supposed to hear about the Nighthawks and the UFL last week. Don't count out the UFL just yet, but the silence seems to be portending the inevitable.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Political Talk: Nebraska Needed Osborne as a Governor More than as AD

Six years ago, Dave Heineman defeated Tom Osborne in the Nebraska's Republican primary for governor. That election effectively brought Osborne's political career to an end.  Osborne finished out his term in Congress, and returned to Nebraska.  He was teaching a few classes at Nebraska when the bottom finally fell out on Steve Pederson. Osborne took over as the interim athletic director, and continues in that role today.  It's been a fairly successful run for Osborne in his third career.  He replaced the Bill Callahan clusterfool and hired Bo Pelini.  I don't know of any Husker fan  who would rather have Callahan instead of Pelini - even those fans who find Pelini's nine or ten win seasons to be mediocre.  He's implemented a major expansion plan of facilities to bring Memorial Stadium to a capacity over 90,000. And most importantly, he successfully extracted Nebraska out of the quagmire that is the Big XII and into the Big Ten.

After the primary election, I heard several people mention that they had voted for Heineman so that Osborne would be available to take over as athletic director. And while I agree that Osborne has done a good job as athletic director, I still would have rather had him as Governor.

Dave Heineman enjoys high popularity and approval ratings in the Big Red state. If you've ever listened to Heineman talk (especially on those fawning interviews that Jim Rose gives on KFAB radio), he has an "aw shucks" persona. He's probably a great guy to sit to at a Husker football or volleyball game.  But a governor?

Voters don't seem to want to hold Heineman accountable for his blunders.  Most famously is how his administration screwed up Nebraska's child welfare system, but that's just one example.  It started with his chief deputy and successor as state treasurer, Lorelee Byrd, who had to resign after pleading guilty to official misconduct in 2003.  The latest is David Phipps, the Heineman appointed Douglas County election commissioner who seems intent on making a mockery of the upcoming election.  His plan to close election sites raised controversy when he sent out voter information cards with incorrect information.  He claimed the plan was to save money, but others think it was a veiled attempt to make it more difficult for some people to vote.  (Coincidentally, Heineman also pushed for a voter ID bill at the same time which would have increased the costs of elections.)  Phipps solution for making it more difficult to vote?  Vote by mail!  Phipps encouraged people to request ballots by mail, instructing voters to put 90 cents postage on the envelope to return the ballot.

Turns out that the postal service charges $1.10 in postage to mail the primary election ballot.  Yet another blunder by Governor Dave's guy, but don't worry, his job is safe.

This year, the state legislature pretty much overrode Heineman at will.  His opposition to prenatal care cast doubts on Heineman's claims of being "pro-life", and despite his claims of not getting involved in "local issues", his veto of a bill that allowed local voters the opportunity to vote on sales tax was overrode.  Basically, Heineman is politically impotent at this point.

In disclosure, I'm a registered Democrat who seriously considered switching parties in 2006 to vote for Osborne in the primary. (Cue the clueless calls of "communist!")  I didn't do that because I wasn't sure it was the right thing to do, even though the Democrats haven't been able to find a viable candidate to run for governor since Y2k. But after watching Heineman stumble and bumble, I'm not sure I made the right choice.

If Osborne had been elected governor, who would have taken over as Nebraska athletic director?  Good question, and there's no way to know the answer. But in the grand scheme of things, I feel that Nebraska would be better off with Osborne as governor instead of athletic director.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

The Ridiculously Premature Spring BlogPoll Ballot

I'm not a big fan of preseason polls, so my first reaction when I was asked to submit a post-spring BlogPoll ballot was to ignore it.  But in this slow time of year, I decided that maybe I'd go ahead and throw my ballot out there.  I admit that it's a pretty uneducated ballot, but I went ahead with it anyway.

I wonder if I'm dropping Oklahoma State too much based on the loss of Justin Blackmon and Brandon Weeden...but I just don't know what they've got to replace them.  A lot of people love Michigan State, but I still have too many questions about the Spartans on offense.  You don't replace your quarterback, all of your receivers, and your starting running back from the previous season and  get matter how stout you are on defense.  And with five all-conference selections, they should be good on defense...though they did 69 points in their final two games.

Nebraska? I think they should be better than last year, but I felt the same thing last year.  So I can't rank them higher, and frankly, I'll probably get a homer citation anyway for it.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

UNO Hockey Announcer Terry Leahy Out at KKAR/1620

Word out of Omaha's NRG Media is that Terry Leahy was let go from his job at KKAR-1290 AM and KOZN-1620 AM ("The Zone") this week. Leahy has been the color commentator for UNO hockey since day 1, following the broadcasts from KFAB-1110 AM the first five years to KKAR.  After the broadcasts left KKAR, Leahy continued to work on both 1290 and 1620 while announcing the games on UNO's campus station KVNO-90.7 FM for two years, then 96.1 The Brew-FM last season.

Now he's out of his full time job, meaning that it's the first time in thirty years that Leahy hasn't been on the air in Omaha.  His career started with WOW 590-AM, and then spent over 15 years at KFAB-1110 AM covering both the news as well as Nebraska football, then UNO hockey.  He followed UNO hockey to KKAR, where he had worked for over 10 years. He's an Omaha institution in radio, and seems to be well respected.

Here's a quick hope that Leahy finds a home, perhaps back at KFAB.  Sad timing on this; KFAB just hired a new news anchor a few weeks ago, and would have been a good fit to return back, especially considering that Clear Channel owns both KFAB and 96.1 The Brew.  Hopefully when he finds that next job it'll also allow him to continue with the UNO hockey broadcasts.  Leahy has become the defacto voice of UNO hockey, and it would be most disappointing if he wasn't able to continue with the broadcasts.

If you don't understand why, here's a classic clip of a great moment in UNO hockey history... "Six Seconds with Alex Nikiforuk"

NCHC Tournament to the Target Center - Why The Hate?

Reports are that the "National Collegiate Hockey Conference" will play their postseason tournament at the Target Center when play starts in 2013-14.  The NCHC will bring together UNO with North Dakota, Denver, Colorado College, Minnesota-Duluth, St. Cloud State, Western Michigan, and Miami into a single conference, comprised of the biggest non-Big Ten hockey schools away from the east coast.

Looking at the geography (Michigan, Ohio, Minnesota, North Dakota, Nebraska, and Colorado), Minneapolis seems to make the most sense as a tournament site.  It's a fairly easy drive from Omaha, Grand Forks, Duluth, and St. Cloud.  And it's probably in the center between the four schools in Colorado, Michigan, and Ohio. But many hockey fans are complaining...and I'm not sure why, exactly.

The Target Center is an NBA arena; it's ice capable, but the Minnesota Wild plays in St. Paul at the Xcel Center.  That would be the perfect spot, but it appears that the Big Ten is lining up the Xcel Center as a host it's not available.  I understand there have been ice issues in the past at the Target Center, and as an NBA facility, the sightlines might be suboptimal.

But if it's not at the Target Center, where SHOULD the NCHC play?  Do they pick a home rink for somebody?  Grand Forks would make the most sense, but I don't think anybody wants to play at the home of the Sioux. (I'm going to call them the Sioux until a new nickname emerges..)  Where else would they play?  Milwaukee?  Chicago?  You are moving farther away from more fans than you are approaching.

Des Moines?  Kansas City?  Would ANYBODY there care about college hockey?

Minneapolis makes the most sense; the market understands hockey.  It's centrally located for the NCHC.  The Target Center might not be the finest facility, but a Google search on the Target Center doesn't turn up much that's wrong with it.  Granted, I don't follow the NBA, but it seems to work for the Timberwolves.

So why not the Target Center?  And if not, where should it be?  Mariucci on the UMTC campus???

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Sunday Night Dessert: UNO Assistant Coaching Search Approaches 3 Weeks

Dean Blais said that he "wasn't going to rush anything" with the search to replace Mike Hastings, and he's held true to that statement.  Three weeks after Mike Hastings left UNO for Minnesota State-Mankato, the open spot still remains.  Whether anybody really knows who Blais is looking at is up for debate, but two names in the rumor mill make the most sense at this point from my perspective.

The first is Fred Harbinson, head coach of the Penticton Vees of the British Columbia Hockey League. Where the heck is Penticton?  About two-thirds of the way between Calgary and Vancouver.  Why Harbinson?  Well, his squad won 42 straight games in the regular season to set a BCHL record.  They breezed through the playoffs and now are playing for the RBC Cup - essentially the Canadian junior national championship. Prior to Penticton, Harbinson spent five seasons at St. Cloud State.  He's got a strong record of identifying and recruiting players...and the fact that the search is continuing while the Vees season continues leads me to think he's somebody that Blais is at least waiting to talk to.

The other name that's popped up in the last week is Cary Eades, who was dismissed as North Dakota's associate head coach last week.  Blais and Eades were assistants at North Dakota from 1984 to 1989, so they've coached together. Eades dismissal shocked Sioux fans, as fans expected him to leave to be a head coach...not fired. Would he be interested in the UNO job?  Depends on what kind of relationship he had with Blais, but he's obviously looking for a new job now.

If UNO is waiting to talk to Harbinson, this search will last for at least another week.

In other takes:

* Martie Cordaro, general manager of the former Omaha Royals, might be the only person in the area complaining about the weather.  The winter was exceptionally mild, and it's continued into March and April.  I've had tropical plants on the deck since mid-March, and only had to bring them in once due to the cold.  Yeah, it hasn't been warm EVERY day, and the weather hasn't been fantastic every day (ask Husker fans who missed out on the Spring Game)...but it's Nebraska.  You have to expect some cool weather this time of year, and for the most part, those days have been in short-supply.

* The idea that Ron Brown should be fired for expressing his religious views is just as offensive as Brown suggesting that homosexuals can be fired from their job.  In their outrage over Brown's intolerance, they've proven themselves just as intolerant.

* Nebraska baseball lost two out of three games to Indiana this weekend. Remember when people thought that Nebraska was just going to walk in and dominate the Big Ten in baseball?  Looks pretty stupid now.

* A lot of people still want the Big Ten to play football games at night in November.  Makes sense for television, but it seems like nearly everybody making that call are people that, well, watch the games on TV.   In their temperature-controlled house.  For free.  Frankly, their opinions are worth exactly what they pay to watch the games.