Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Husker Information Minister takes on the Surgeon General

Husker Information Minister Jim Rose has apparantly been expanding his reportoire of subjects he'll pontificate (or should I say bloviate?) about. Omaha recently enacted a partial smoking ban, much to the dismay of Rose, who has spent much of his airtime recently protesting the proposal. He says he hates cigarette smoke, but his protest is because it's "bad for business" and "the studies regarding the risks of second-hand smoke are questionable."

Oh really?

Study after study shows that the fears of lost business from a smoking ban are just that: irrational fears. One local business in Rose's hometown of Lincoln has learned that just the opposite occurs; business actually can INCREASE after a smoking ban is enacted. That's not a isolated example either...

And as for Rose's assertation that the studies of the effects of second-hand smoking are flawed, I'll let Surgeon General Richard Carmona address that:
"The debate is over. The science is clear. Secondhand smoke is not a mere annoyance but a serious health hazard."
Baghdad Bob would be proud.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Tom Shatel: Cutbacks a Slap to UNO Boosters

Tom Shatel has a nice column today on the cutbacks at UNO and the decision to not look at division 1 for all of the other sports.
Did UNO exhaust all donor avenues? Not according to Sokol, who said University of Nebraska Regent Howard Hawks and Lee Sapp - of "Sapp" Fieldhouse fame - were very upset when they heard the news this week. And didn't hear it from UNO.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Dark Days for the Crimson & Black

After last season's run to the NCAA tournament with a roster loaded with underclassmen, the UNO hockey program and the rest of the athletic department should be looking forward to 2006-07. Instead a double shot of bad news emerged this week from the UNO athletic department. Tuesday, UNO laid off two administrators, two basketball coaches, and a staff member due to a $440,000 budget shortfall. Wednesday, UNO Chancellor Nancy Belck refused to consider upgrading the rest of the Maverick athletic program to Division 1.

When the budget cut story emerged, fingers immediately pointed towards UNO's Qwest Center lease in a knee-jerk reaction. In moving to the Qwest Center, UNO's rental expenses doubled which certainly added to the Mavs budget woes. However, even if UNO was paying the same rent they paid at the Civic, UNO would have still run a significant deficit. That hasn't stopped many people from insisting that moving to the Qwest Center was a huge mistake. Unfortunately, this argument has been repeated over and over again. The "mistake" side makes a valid observation that when you have 6,000 fans in attendance, the environment at the Civic is better than at the Qwest Center. However, assuming that UNO is limited to only drawing 6,000 fans to hockey is not exploiting the potential of UNO hockey.

When the Qwest Center was being designed, UNO was in the midst of a sellout streak with over 8,000 tickets sold every night, and 6 or 7 thousand fans in attendance each night. Meanwhile, Creighton basketball was averaging a paid attendance of 5,183 a night (1999). Both schools made the jump to the Qwest Center. If the Qwest Center was the problem, Creighton must have even bigger problems, correct? Poor environment and an oversupply of tickets must be an even bigger problem for the Jays? Uh no... Creighton last year averaged 13,900 fans a game to the Qwest Center.

Why the disparity? Simply put, Creighton did nearly everything right in moving to the Qwest Center...and UNO did a whole lot of things wrong. First of all, Creighton's basketball program was on the verge of exploding under Dana Altman who has done wonders for their program. They hired the marketing whiz (Mike West) who turned Omaha's Nationwide Golf Tour stop into one of the city's biggest event. Conversely, UNO suffered a couple of down year (finishing in last place in their first year at the Qwest Center) and turned over marketing to those geniuses of promoting sports in Omaha: the Royals. Then, just as UNO's program starts making strides on the ice, the Omaha Ak-Sar-Ben Knights come to town and glut the hockey market, leading to another attendance slide.

In any event, UNO's hockey future looks pretty good for 2006-07. Hobey Baker candidate Scott Parse is still on track to return as will the vast majority of contributors from last year's NCAA qualifiers, the initial fascination with the OAKs is fading, and UNO is putting more effort into marketing the team.

The second shot to Mav fans was the announcement that UNO would not consider upgrading the rest of the athletic department to division1 (1-AA in football). In interviews today, athletic director Dave Herbster stated that decision to not investigate division 1 was made for him, though he gave the impression that most of the department favored the upgrade. I'm sure the recent budget concerns may have played a issue, especially since upgrading the department would have required upgrades to many facilities. A new arena to replace the aging Sapp Fieldhouse would have been a requirement...and built properly, could be a home to UNO volleyball, basketball, and hockey, providing a state-of-the-art environment like the Qwest Center without the scheduling hassles that cause chaos in the schedule.

Where would the money for upgrading the Mavs to Division 1 come from? One revenue source immediately comes to mind: the Huskers have scheduled many 1-AA teams in recent years in football. A UNO-UNL football game could send $500,000 that would otherwise go out-of-state up I-80, with the only travel costs being a few busses. (Contrast that with UNO's road trips to Washington!) Basketball games against Creighton and the Huskers would also provide a cash infusion to the UNO athletic department. Let's face it, if we're going to play games simply to fire up the band and jumbotron without any concern for having an interesting matchup, we might as well keep the money in-state and keep the benefits in the University system.

So why not even investigate this option? It sounds like it was decided on high not to try and elevate UNO to a similar level as UNL. One can certainly see the perspective of Harvey Perlman and Steve Pederson: a Division 1 UNO is competition for fan interest and donations. And on the football field, it's a no-win situation. Beating Nicholls State 73-6 is just a mismatch played for money, but beating UNO 73-6 is like abusing your little brother. Conversley, only leading Maine 15-7 late in the 4th quarter can be dismissed as a bad game, but if UNO were to pull within 1 score against a Husker program many of them dreamed of playing on while growing up, all bets are off as to what could happen next when emotion and momentum get kicked up a notch. And nobody said that this idea even made it as far as Perlman and Pederson; UNO or University administration may have scuttled the idea without their knowledge.

So now, UNO looks to continue with an uncertain future in division 2. And fans are left to wonder "what if"...

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Husker Hoops at the Qwest Center?

Today's Lincoln Journal-Star reports that the Huskers are considering playing Miami in a "neutral site" basketball game in the 2008-09 season. Specifically, at the Qwest Center Omaha...which just happens to be the home court of Creighton.

Which has some (by no means all) BlueJay fans fit to be tied. KXSP-AM's Matt Perrault threw a temper tantrum on-air worthy of my 3 year old niece this afternoon when this story broke (and thus destroyed any claim that he could make that he wasn't a Bluejay homer in the process.) Perrault and the immature faction of the Creighton fanbase that are protesting this idea seem to be claiming that Creighton has some sort of ownership of the Qwest Center.

Problem with that logic is that Creighton is simply a tenant of the Qwest Center...not the owner. They aren't even managing the arena, like the University of Nebraska-Lincoln manages and maintains the Bob Devaney Sports Center. So unless Creighton has an exclusive deal for basketball with MECA (who manages the Qwest Center for the City of Omaha), MECA is certainly within their rights to rent the arena for a Husker game if they so choose.

UNO Maverick fans probably aren't going to provide a lot of sympathy. This single game is unlikely to keep Creighton from playing a game at the Qwest Center, which is more than can be said about MECA's treatment of the Mavs when scheduling hockey games. In fact, for the second year in a row, UNO is being bumped to the Civic Auditorium for their regular season finale against a big-name opponent (last season Michigoon, this season Ohio State). Two years ago, UNO moved a series to the Auditorium to free up the Qwest Center so that Creighton could host a game in the "BracketBuster." And it's not like MECA is making a cut-rate deal to bring in a competiting team on a regular basis either.

Back before the first shovel of dirt was turned at 10th & Capitol, Nebraska's then athletic director talked about being interested in hosting games at the Qwest Center. And it's not like there isn't a precedent for this type of game; the Saavis Center is not only the home for the Saint Louis University Billikens, but also the "Braggin' Rights" game between Missouri and Illinois and the Missouri Valley Conference tournament. Nebraska played volleyball matches at the Qwest Center last year as well.

With the current state of the Husker hoops, I have to wonder why some Creighton fans are getting worked up over this. It is two years down the line, and at this point, I would be surprised if Barry Collier was still the head coach for this game. Perhaps it's some deep uncertainty about how long Dana Altman will stay at Creighton and how long the Huskers will be down. Contrary to what KXSP's Perrault thinks, Nebraska certainly could outbid Creighton for Altman's services, though it's extremely doubtful that Altman would be interested anyway; he's turned down bigger and better job offers. But the influx of coaching talent to the Big XII lately (Self, McDermott, Anderson, Huggins, Capel, Drew, and Gillespie) is going to force Steve Pederson's hand soon.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Boyd Epley leaves the Huskers

The Lincoln Journal-Star is reporting that Boyd Epley is leaving the Huskers to become the director of coaching performance at the National Strength & Conditioning Association. Epley was considered by some as the "father of modern strength conditioning" and his creation of the Husker Power program gets a lot of credit for the Huskers performance over the past 35 years. Epley recently led the North Stadium Expansion Project, which seemed to me to be an odd fit for a legend in athletic training. Now, with that task done, he's returning to his roots.

Epley's reassignment away from strength & conditioning came amongst rumors of friction between him and then-head coach Frank Solich. While denied at the time, it's interested to note that both gentlemen were removed from their jobs in Steve Pederson's first year at the helm of Husker athletics. Coincedence? Personally, I'm doubtful. A couple of years ago, Pederson commented about disunity and blame-passing in the Athletic Department. Who were two of Steve Pederson's biggest staff changes? Frank Solich and Boyd Epley; both long time contributors to the success of Husker football. Hmmm.

I hate to bring up the whole Solich firing again, because it's past history whether it was right or wrong. But Epley leaving the Huskers to return to strength coaching reinforces my hypothesis about the coaching change. It wasn't so much recruiting or 7-7 or 9-3 or 38-9 or 16-12 or 42nd or whatever statistics people like to throw out.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Exit UCLA Rumors, Enter Penn State

A few weeks ago, the Lincoln Journal-Star reported that Nebraska was in discussions with UCLA for future games. Well, now that UCLA and Kansas State have agreed to a series, it looks like those plans might be off. But now, Penn State associate AD Fran Gartner tells the Lincoln Journal-Star that they are in discussions with Nebraska for another series after 2011. This looks like a pretty good series, except that it's very unlikely that JoePa will be the head coach of the Lions by then. The history of coaches following legends (see Oklahoma following Barry Switzer, Alabama following Bear Bryant, etc.) isn't great, so it will be interesting to see what kind of program Penn State is in at that time.

Speaking of JoePa (thanks AJ for the photo), I've seen a lot of Husker fans praising Steve Pederson for refusing to move the Nebraska-Louisiana Tech game to Sunday evening of Labor Day weekend for TV. Frankly, that was an easy call. Looking at the Big XII schedule for Labor Day weekend, the "best" games even remotely interesting for TV are Nebraska-La. Tech, Oklahoma-UAB, and Texas Tech-SMU. Maybe Texas-North Texas, just because of the Bovine's trophy. Not a whole lot to choose from. So Pederson could pretty easily guess that one of the Big XII's TV partners would grab this game; it was more of a question of when rather than if. And sure enough, FSN selected the game for an afternoon broadcast after TBS grabbed Oklahoma-UAB for that evening.

Update: June 19, 2006
Nebraska and UCLA have announced a 2 game series. Nebraska will play at UCLA in 2012 and UCLA will come to Lincoln in 2013.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Another fantastic Stanley Cup Game

Sports fans who didn't watch tonight's game 5 of the Stanley Cup Finals missed another treat. Edmonton's Fernando Pisani scored on a shorthanded breakaway in overtime to send the series back to Edmonton for game 6 Saturday night.

A shorthanded breakaway in overtime?

Unfreaking believable.

Of the 5 games played thus far, only one was a blowout (game 2-Carolina 5, Edmonton 0). The other 4 games all were one goal games, and in three of them, the winning goal was scored late (:30 left, 3 minutes left, and tonight in overtime). Game 6 on Saturday night looks like another dandy, and it will be one final opportunity to catch the Edmonton fans singing both national anthems. Edmonton will be rocking.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Some Random Weekend Thoughts

A few thoughts while eyeballing some Super Regional action on ESPN2...

Useless Trivia Observation: The 4 Friday-Sunday series all ended last night as two game sweeps. At least 3 of the 4 Saturday-Monday series will play game 3 tomorrow (Oregon State/Stanford is just getting underway as I post this...)

The Husker Information Minister has jumped on the bandwagon for one of the dumber ideas I've heard as of late: inviting President Bush to the Nebraska-Texas football game in October. Why dumb? Take your pick between security and politics. Security because game day already puts enough stress on campus and Lincoln police without adding the President into the mix. And politics because the game is three weeks before election day. This game likely will be big enough as it is. But hey, I've come to expect stupid things to come from Jim Rose's mouth.

Interesting article in the Journal-Star today about the Huskers testing the CorTemp "ingestible body temperature pill". An athlete swallows one of these pills, and then the training staff can monitor the vital statistics of players as they train during the heat of July and August. Likely, this is a reaction to last summer's death of Mizzou freshman Aaron O'Neal who died last July during summer conditioning. At $30 a pop, it's a small price to pay compared to the price of a human life. However, at the same time, it does make you wonder if they could be recycled, although finding volunteers to recover it, not to mention reuse, make that an unpleasant proposition.

The World-Herald ran an extensive story on Tommie Frazier's situation at Doane College. At the start of pre-season camp last August, Doane had more than 100 football players. For the final game of the season, less than 60 suited up. Now, the roster is down to 40 players; only 3 of which are offensive linemen. As Husker fans learned in 2004, change can be difficult. Some folks will bring up the old strawman of "some people resist change", but people need to remember that the only thing change ensures is that things won't be the same. Change can be for the better...or the worse. In the case of Frazier and Doane, it sure looks like this change hasn't been for the better to this point.

Thanks to the NHL's poor TV deal with OLN, very few people have been watching a really good Stanley Cup Playoff season. The problem with OLN hasn't been their coverage; it's actually been pretty good. The problem is that many cable companies (including Omaha's crappy Cox Cable) stick OLN on the digital tier which means that many fans can't see it. Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals was decided in the last 30 seconds after Edmonton goalie Dwayne Roloson injured his knee late in the 3rd period. (Jim Rose: Please note that there is no such thing as the "3rd Quarter" in hockey.) Last night, the Oilers Ryan Smyth knocked in the game winner with just over 2 minutes left in the 3rd. Serious sports fans should forget about the WWE-quality squeakball exhibition and tune in to the Finals. Casual sports fans should make an effort to at least check out tomorrow night's game 4 on NBC, if only to watch the fans in Edmonton sing both "The Star Spangled Banner" and "O Canada". Definitely will give you the chills...

Speaking of Canada, the Toronto Star is reporting that Eric Crouch has made the Toronto Argonauts final roster. The Argos like Crouch's arm and legs, and has a chance to prove himself in Toronto. 42 year old Damon Allen (Marcus' brother) can't last forever.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Solich & GHB

In the week since the Sporting News article on Frank Solich testing positive for GHB exposure, reactions have been as expected. People who support Solich were pleased that the former coach might be exonerated, while those folks who hate Solich were either (a) silent, (b) expressed disinterest (even though they were sure interested when the Solich DWI story broke!), or (c) disbelief. The disbelief reaction was interesting and humorous to read; some folks indicated that they even knew what Solich's Breathalizer reading was! (Which would be news to the Athens Police Department, since Solich refused a breath test!)

Earlier this week, the Athens News did a little more research and contacted two other authorities on GHB detection in hair who said that the levels documented in the toxicology report appear to be excessive. This raises the question that the results could be wrong, though it could also be the result of a mathematical transposition error. (This possibility hasn't stopped some of the Solich haters from suddenly regaining interest in this story now that the test results can be questioned.)

So what's the truth? Well, who knows at this point. When the Dalton e-mail first was circulated at the end of March, the authenticy and accuracy of the story weren't known. Now that the e-mail has been validated, it looks plausible. I lean more towards believing the story as reviving this whole story could prove more harmful to Solich's reputation if it can't be substantiated. It will be interesting to see how this case develops.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Did the Huskers Get Their Groove Back? Nope.

Tuesday I predicted that the Huskers "could make a run through the College World Series...or the season could be over by Saturday afternoon." And unfortunately, it was the latter. Much like UNO's hockey season, the Huskers limped down the stretch and had an forgettable experience in the NCAA tournament.

I had the misfortune of listening to Jim Rose's commentary after the game while running some errands, where he basically echoed many of the statements that he summarily dismissed 3 weeks earlier when he said "Nebraskans don't understand baseball." He even stated that after Nebraska's dramatic 11th inning win over Texas Tech at the end of April that you had to know the season "would go downhill from there". Earlier in the game, Rose did his best Harry Caray impersonation in butchering San Francisco 1st baseman Chris Bacigalupi's name. Switching over to NET, Larry Punteney didn't have any problems with pronounciation. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Jim Rose is a great historian of Nebraska athletics, but he's simply a horrible play-by-play announcer.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Sporting News: Solich to Fight DUI Conviction

The Sporting News is reporting that former Husker and current Ohio University coach Frank Solich has filed a motion to withdraw his guilty plea for driving under the influence. This follows a widely circulated e-mail from Solich's son-in-law Jon Dalton that indicated that testing had confirmed that Solich was under the influence of GHB the night he was arrested. When the e-mail first came out two months ago, the source of the e-mail was unverified, nor were there details that substantiated the allegation. In April, news reports in Athens verified that the e-mail did indeed come from the Solich family.

So is Solich innocent? Well, this new evidence does seem to cast reasonable doubt as to his guilt. Hair evidence isolated Solich's exposure to November 26, 2006, the date of his arrest. At Solich's arrest, there was no Breathalyzer test so there is no evidence regarding Solich's blood alcohol level. The police officers observed that Solich was incapacitated behind the wheel, which could be the result of either alcohol or GHB.

Many folks question the legitimacy of this evidence after so long, which is natural. However, unlike on CSI, obtaining this scientific evidence takes time to develop. Some feel that Solich's quick plea is an admission of guilt, though one also needs to remember that Solich's job was on the line. Ohio University is fighting a reputation as a "party school" and University leaders seriously considered firing Solich immediately. The "no contest" plea was likely part of the deal to allow Solich to keep his job.

Solich is taking a risk in reopening this case; he opens himself up to more ridicule and embarassment if his motion is denied, or if he is subsequently found guilty. Furthermore, if he were to be found guilty in a trial, the punishment might end up being more severe for fighting the charge. It will be interesting to see how this develops.