Sunday, July 29, 2012

Jayson Megna Leaves UNO for NHL

Sophomore forward Jayson Megna announced on Friday that he's planning to sign with one of three NHL teams and will not play for the UNO Mavericks this upcoming hockey season. That's a blow for UNO as Megna would have been the Mavs second leading returning scorer next season. As a freshman, Megna scored 13 goals and 31 points, earning him a spot on the WCHA all-freshman team.  Among the teams pursuing Megna are Boston, Pittsburgh, and Winnipeg. That's the second high-profile defection from the Mavs this offseason; captain Terry Broadhurst signed with the Chicago Blackhawks in the spring.

Megna told the Omaha World-Herald it'll be tough to leave his brother Jaycob behind in Omaha, but he's been told he has a chance to open the season on an NHL roster. Hard to criticize that decision in that light.

Wisconsin hockey blogger Chuck Schwartz also reports that assistant coach Brian Renfrew is also planning to leave UNO for the NHL.
All these defections point out the double edged sword UNO hockey has been facing under Dean Blais; highly talented people are coming to the program, but they don't always remain. The paranoid in me wonders if something is up behind the scenes in the program.  None of these moves by themselves really look out of line by themselves, but it's more the sum of all of the parts. It's irrational speculation, mind you...but it still makes you wonder.

Dean Blais' comments to the World-Herald are a little more concerning; suggesting that the Mavs could "still be respectable" this season. I think UNO fans are hoping for something more than "respectable", though in Blais' perspective, "respectable" might still be better than anything UNO has seen before.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Sunday Night Dessert: Nighthawks Say They'll Play...But Where? Plus Penn State: Pinkel & Hockey

The Omaha World-Herald confirmed that the Nighthawks plan to play this fall, but the story is light on details.  An unidentified source tells the paper that an announcement will be made in the next few days as to "the schedule, where they'll play, and who'll be on the staff."  Well, that says a lot.  We know Sacramento will be in the league, but that's about it.  With Joe Moglia now at 1-AA Coastal Carolina, we know there will be a new head coach.  But "where they'll play"?  Is that a question?

Apparently it is. We can't assume that they'll play at TD Ameritrade Park apparently. Reasons why not range from it's too big (wasn't a problem in 2010), MECA charges too much (compared to what?), and Ameritrade is set up as a baseball facility.  Fair enough.  But where else would the Nighthawks play?  My best guess is that it would be a high school stadium; probably Millard's Buell Stadium or Omaha Burke.  Burke handles crowds of 10,000+ for the state track meet, so it might be the best alternative.  UNO is currently converting Al Caniglia Field to a soccer layout, so that's no longer an option. I've even heard that the Trailer Park might be an option?  A quick scan with Google maps indicate that a football field might physically fit in at BFE, though it probably would be tight.  (Think what happened when Northwestern and Illinois played at Wrigley Field in 2010.)  A bigger problem at BFE might be the capacity; I'd think the UFL needs more than 6500 seats to be viable.

A friend suggested that perhaps a temporary stadium could be set up, like at tennis and golf matches.  An interesting idea...and the best location might be the Nighthawk's training facility at South Omaha's Kroc Center.  It has a full football field with artificial turf. Add seating, porta-potties, and concession stands, and you've got a stadium.  And with their own facility, the Nighthawks could keep the concession revenue.  Of course, one hangup would be alcohol sales.  I wouldn't expect the Salvation Army to allow beer sales.  Same problem at high school fields as well.

But if the Nighthawks don't play downtown, it just adds to the perception that the UFL is barely scraping by and hasn't really resolved their core issues.

In other quick takes:

The NCAA will announce sanctions against Penn State tomorrow morning.  I'm torn on this.  I don't think this is an NCAA issue; I think it's a criminal issue that needs to be resolved there first. And the administrators at Penn State need to be held accountable in criminal court.  But the outcry is so high for the Big Ten or NCAA to do something, they are acting.  We'll find out just what tomorrow morning.

It'll be interesting how severely Penn State will be penalized.  One question I have is whether Penn State will still be able to start their hockey program.  Would the NCAA prevent them from starting another sport with an athletic department having such problems?  With the "unprecedented" sanctions, can Penn State still afford to start a hockey program?  The implications of that go beyond Penn State.  Without Penn State, the Big Ten only has five hockey programs - not enough for an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.  Would this send the Big Ten teams scurrying back to the WCHA and reopen the entire college hockey realignment debate?

AJ the former Huskerh8er is back with an SEC blog. Today, he took on the Penn State situation and calls for the death penalty for Penn State.  Fine.  But he really gives Gary Pinkel a pass for his oblivious statements defending Joe Paterno last week.  Remember when AJ was in his prime and it was Tom Osborne, Bill Callahan, or Bo Pelini jamming his foot all the way into his colon via his pie-hole?  You think he'd say something like "apologize and move on"?

Yeah...right. Maybe it's just rust, rather than pulling his punches when it's his own coach that opened up the 55 gallon barrel of worms.  Where's the outrage?  Where's the venom?  Where's the hate?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Sacaremento Owner Says The UFL Is Back This Fall; Does that Mean the Omaha Nighthawks as well?

Sacramento Mountain Lions owner Paul Pelosi told Fox40 that the UFL team will play this fall.  They'll move to Raley Field, a 14,000 seat baseball stadium that's the home of the PCL's Sacramento River Cats.  KOZN's Mike'l Severe tweets this morning that a league announcement could come as soon as tomorrow.

Severe implies that Omaha will still be part of the league, and that rumor is also posted on the UFL's Facebook page by a fan.  Mind you, the UFL hasn't updated Facebook in months, and their web site hasn't been updated since last year.

That raises the question:  Can the UFL rebuild teams, find sponsors, and sell tickets to play this season?  My take is that it's too late to make this work this fall; it's going to be a slapped-together effort that doesn't inspire confidence in the long term viability of the league. The league already suffers from the perception that it's a joke, and a last-minute announcement only reinforces that.  Frankly, I think the league could do more damage to itself with this plan, but I could be proven wrong.  (It's happened before.)

But, hey, that's probably what Gary Sharp is going to be the announcer for. Let's hope that it works out better than 2011.  Hope for the best...but fear for the worst.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

1620 Loses Schick, But Gains Sharp and Bishop

Yesterday, KOZN-1620 AM announced that Matt Schick won't be replacing Kevin Kugler after all.  The former channel 7 sportscaster is instead leaving "The Zone" to join ESPNU.  Instead, John Bishop from KLIN-1400 AM is moving to Omaha to become the co-host of "Unsportsmanlike Conduct".  (NRG Media owns both KOZN and KLIN.)  In addition, 1620 also announced that Gary Sharp is returning to Nebraska and will co-host a morning show with "Double Nickel" Jason Peter.

I'm personally excited by the return of Gary Sharp, who left Nebraska in 2004 after being removed from the Pinnacle Sports Network broadcasts during Steve Pederson's Reign of Error.  I thought he was the best host they've had on their "Sports Nightly"/"Sports Day Mid-America" broadcasts, and it's great to have him back in Nebraska.  Even better is that the show will start at 7 am...during the morning drive into work. My kids may not appreciate sports talk in the morning during the drive, but I will.

Bishop should be an adequate replacement for Kugler in the afternoon.  Bishop has improved dramatically since a painful first season as the postgame host on the Pinnacle broadcasts in 1996.  He was very good on Sports Nightly and the "Big Red Reaction" show as well as with baseball broadcasts for both Nebraska and Creighton.

According to the Lincoln Journal-Star, Sharp will also do play-by-play and color commentary on game broadcasts, which makes me wonder what else is up at 1180 and 1620 AM as far as additional broadcasts. While rumors periodically appear about the Nighthawks still returning this season, that's now about as likely as winning the Powerball jackpot.  And if I had my preference, I'd take the Powerball jackpot.  But what could 1620 broadcast?  UNO basketball would seem to be the most likely target as they begin their first season of Summit League play.  Sharp also has a background covering Lincoln Stars hockey, and he would be a huge upgrade over Greg Ahlers on UNO hockey broadcasts.  Problem is that I kind of like the game broadcasts on 96.1 FM, and I don't see UNO replacing their sports information director from their broadcasts.  An even bigger problem with UNO hockey broadcasts moving to 1620 would be Terry Leahy, the long-time color commentator recently laid off by 1620.

I'm curious what Schick's role at ESPNU would be.  My instinct would be as a studio host or sideline reporter, but you never know.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Of Cubs & Politics: Wrigleyville to NoDo?

The Future Home of the Cubs?
That's absurd.
One of the most ridiculous ideas I've heard in a while is the notion of the Chicago Cubs threatening to move to Omaha because Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel won't talk to the Ricketts family about improvements to Wrigley Field. Could TD Ameritrade Park be expanded to handle a major league baseball franchise?  Possibly.  But could the Omaha market support a major league baseball franchise?  Very doubtful.  And would Major League Baseball let a franchise that consistently draws over 3 million fans a season move from the third largest market in the country to Omaha?


The Oakland A's moving to Omaha is a borderline crazy idea. The Chicago Cubs moving to Omaha is batshit crazy.

That's not happening, no matter how ridiculous things get in Chicago.  The situation is absurd on both sides of the aisle.  Mayor Emanuel is incensed at former TD Ameritrade chairman Joe Ricketts over a plan by Ricketts political action committee to fund millions of dollars in ads against President Obama.  The Ricketts family owns the Chicago Cubs, and wants the city of Chicago and state of Illinois to subsidize millions of dollars in upgrades to Wrigley Field, the second oldest ballpark in major league baseball.  Ever since the plans of the Ricketts plan were revealed, Emanuel won't talk to the Ricketts, even though every member of the Ricketts family have since disowned the plan.

Is Emanuel being thin-skinned?  Yep.  It sure gives credence to conservatives who claim that Democrats aren't really interested in talking to conservatives, only brow-beating them.  Fair enough.

But the hypocrisy of the Ricketts family is even worse.  The name of the Ricketts PAC is the "Ending Spending Action Fund" and their stated position is that "government spending is out of control."

The same Ricketts family is simultaneously asking the city of Chicago for $150 million in tax money to refurbish the baseball stadium they bought three years ago.  (They also want $150 million more from the state of Illinois.)  Let me get this straight:  they dislike the President because he apparently spends too much money, yet they want the government to subsidize the remodeling of their privately owned baseball stadium?

Oh the irony.  Oh the hypocrisy.  The Ricketts have plenty of money to play political games, but not for their own baseball stadium.  Or players to prevent the Cubs from losing over a hundred games this season for that matter.  (David Glass must be so proud of them!)

Government subsidies for professional sports has always bothered me; witness my objections to the Sarpy County boondoggle that I call the "Trailer Park."  Everybody who's been out to BFE raves about the new ballpark on the fringe of the Omaha area, but that was not my point. My point was always that it was a bad investment for government, especially since Sarpy County never admitted how they'll pay for the stadium.  Still hasn't.  And won't unless someone forces them to.

So the idea of government paying for most of a Wrigley renovation rubs me wrong at the start.  Add in the hypocrisy of a "cut government spending" guy demanding government funds for their baseball team, and it's an easy proposition to lambast.

Should Emanuel talk to the Ricketts?  Absolutely.  Should the city of Chicago subsidize Wrigley Field?  Well, that's a decision for Chicago to make.  I'm not familiar enough with Chicago and it's needs, but chances are, there are more important things for the city of Chicago to spend money on than Wrigley Field right now.

But the Ricketts family probably should walk their talk.  Put your money into your ballclub, or put the ballclub up for sale if you've changed your mind.  Or if you based your purchase on the wild idea that the government would bail you out after you made the purchase. 

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Farewell to Kevin Kugler

Omaha sports radio suffers a loss today as Kevin Kugler departs his regular show on KOZN-1620 AM. He'll still show up from time to time with interviews (and probably a fill-in appearance here and there), but he won't be on daily. After surviving Steve Pederson's attempt to run him off the air, Kugler's career skyrocketed as he went national. Now he's going to do even more broadcasting nationally, which is great for him.  He'll be missed locally though.

Replacing him on "Unsportsmanlike Conduct" is Matt Schick. Not quite sure how I feel about this replacement.  Schick is an engaging, humoring radio host, though I'm not sure about giving Schick a bigger role. He had an axe to grind against Bo Pelini (presumably for having the audacity to be outraged at Dirk Chatelain over his muddled "Bench Martinez because Brion Carnes isn't ready" article), and let that take over.  He's quick to take offense at Pelini, yet gave Creighton's Greg McDermott a free pass for much worse.

I haven't listened to Schick and his current co-host Nick Bahe much in recent months. Bahe is leaving radio, apparently to work for Creighton.  The morning show on KOZN will now be hosted by former Husker defensive lineman Jason Peter and a new co-host to be named later.  Peter isn't afraid to ruffle feathers, so it could be interesting radio.  I say "could" because I don't know how that translates to radio, as I could never pick up Peter's old Lincoln radio show in Omaha.

Who would be the co-host?  Unknown at this time.  Some scuttlebutt indicates it might be Jack Mitchell from KLIN-1400 AM.  I personally thought it might be David Gustafson (currently working for a Columbus radio station) initially.  Some people have suggested that Gary Sharp would be a nice name to bring back to the local airwaves.  Sharp formerly worked for Pinnacle in the early 2000's as a sideline reporter, talk-show host, and baseball announcer on Husker broadcasts before being dismissed.  He's now working for the Fort Myers Miracle baseball team. 

I also thought of Kent Pavelka as a potential candidate as well.  Not sure how being a Husker basketball broadcaster would work on a station that doesn't have the rights to the games, especially considering that that restriction carries over to interviews with the coaches.  Personally, if I was trying to increase interest in Nebraska basketball, I'd not only encourage KOZN to hire Pavelka, but find a way to get Tim Miles onto the other Omaha radio stations on a regular basis.  That runs counter to the exclusive arrangement that the "Husker Sports Network" has with the University, but that arrangement may be penny-wise but dollar-foolish with respect to basketball.