Monday, July 28, 2008

Monday Night Beer: Did the Ballpark Battle Effectively End Fahey's Political Career?

Tomorrow morning, Omaha Mayor Mike Fahey will finally announce whether he's running for re-election as mayor or not. Right now, most people expect Fahey to bow out. One only has to look at all the turmoil over the last 14 months as the downtown stadium debate to see why Fahey wouldn't run, or might even lose, should he choose to run.

Which would be a shame in my book.

The Wall Street Journal today profiled Omaha and the success story being written down at City Hall:

Omaha ended the last century as one of the most disadvantaged cities in the U.S. Its downtown was crumbling, as businesses closed and residents fled to the suburbs. And there wasn't much else in the area to latch onto: To the east, the city is pinned against a shallow, commerce-free river, and in the other directions it faces a prairie with a dwindling population.

Yet today Omaha is thriving, thanks to an ambitious renewal strategy -- and an especially generous populace.

This city of 433,715 has grown outward by gobbling surrounding suburbs and inward by clearing out big, rusting chunks of its downtown and pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into arts and entertainment. Lots of cities have tried similar strategies, but Omaha had a singular advantage: strong civic leadership.

In a few years, the furor over Elkhorn and the stadium will die down, and everybody will realize how much better the city is with the new downtown stadium and expanded zoo. It may take a few years; heck, I still hear a few people refer to the Qwest Center as a "white elephant" for some reason. But eventually, Fahey and yes, Hal Daub too, will get the credit for revitalizing Omaha.

It doesn't mean it was done perfectly by all means, but in the end, Omaha is going to end up better off with these new additions to our community.

The Journal goes on to talk about Omaha's controversial annexation system:

Other U.S. cities grow by acquisition, notably Albuquerque, N.M., and Oklahoma City, and Omaha's leaders are unapologetic about the tactic. The alternative, they say, is to face the fate of St. Louis or Kansas City -- places that have steadily lost population since the 1950s, in some cases to less than half their historic peaks. Omaha, with 433,715 residents, would have fewer than 250,000 if it were confined to its 1960 limits.

The strategy brings a number of advantages, Omaha officials say. Not only can the absorbed towns lower costs by sharing public services with the city, there's no need for them to compete for commercial development.
Note the comment about "competing" with the suburbs. That lack of competition between government entities is a good thing for taxpayers, because that means the metro area is not bidding against itself for development opportunities.

Which, unfortunately, seems to be the case as Sarpy County considers bidding to bring the Omaha Royals to Chalco. Nobody has stated the economic advantage to the metro area for a second baseball stadium; it likely dilutes the pot for all government entities. Nevertheless, it appears that some people down in Sarpy County are hell-bent on moving the Royals, no matter the cost. We'll see how the economics of this plays out, but from my perspective, moving the Royals to Chalco is a lose-lose proposition for this community.

Speaking of the Royals, Alan Stein mentioned a few other alternatives they are exploring: namely dropping their AAA affiliation with the woeful Kansas City Royals and going to Single-A or independent league (thus joining Sioux City, Lincoln, and Kansas City). That may sound like heresey, but the Royals claim that minor league baseball isn't about the game. It's about the wacky promotions and stunts. They claim that fans don't even care about the final score.

Maybe, maybe not. Of course, if they decide to cut their ties with Kansas City, perhaps they could engineer a swap with Des Moines and get the AAA affiliation with the Chicago Cubs. That might revitalize the Omaha franchise, and might be a possibility if the Ricketts family succeeds with their bid for the Cubs. That's pure speculation (and wishful thinking) on my part, by the way.

Last Friday, only about 132 Husker fans took part in Football 202, a more in-depth look inside the football program in Lincoln. I really wanted to go, but decided I couldn't spare the vacation time. Hopefully, they'll offer this again in a year or two. Johnny Boehler and Tom Shatel certainly had a good time.

Personally, I'm not surprised Roy Helu is now the co-#1 I-back at Nebraska. From what I've seen so far, Helu is a more complete back than Marlon Lucky. Don't get me wrong; Lucky is a great outside runner and receiver, but he's struggled with running between the tackles. I'm hoping this is a sign that we'll see Helu see more time at I-back and allow Lucky's speed to be exploited elsewhere on the field. I really want to see both of these guys on the field this fall at the same time.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Setting the stage for the 2008 Huskers by revisiting 2007

Before even trying to prognosticate the 2008 Husker football season, there's a fundamental question that needs to be answered first: “What the hell caused Nebraska to go 5-7 in 2007?”

And the corollary: “What is being done to change that in 2008?”

Right now, the answer to the first question is pure speculation. I think that we'll have a better idea as this season evolves what it was, but until the season kicks off, it's simply speculation.

To be sure, there were some talent and experience issues in 2007, starting at quarterback. Sam Keller may have started eight games at Arizona State, but that was in a completely different type of offense. The battle with Joe Ganz, who had only seen sporadic mop-up duty in his first three years in Lincoln was very much real. Bill Callahan's variant of the West Coast Offense depends primarily on an experienced quarterback to lead the team, such as Rich Gannon (2002 Super Bowl season) or Zac Taylor (2006 Big XII North Champions). Don't discount the departure of I-back Brandon Jackson, who was able to run both inside and outside, catch passes, and pick up the blitz. While Marlon Lucky, Roy Helu, and Quentin Castille each had their abilities, none of these backs provided the full package like Jackson did in 2006 or Cory Ross did in 2005.

On defense, no returning starters on the defensive line created issues right up front at the line of scrimmage. It all starts up front on defense, and that inexperience was exploited early and often last season. In the secondary, inexperience with the arrival of junior college transfers Armando Murillo and Larry Asante combined with Zackary Bowman's slow recovery from both ACL and patella tendon injuries raised issues there. The linebacker corps had experience, and were supposed to be the strength of the team, but they were literally caught in the middle trying to fill the gap between the problems up front and back.

In my opinion, those problems were minor in comparison to the much larger problem with Nebraska fooball: the direction of the football program, if you will. Ever since Bill Callahan was fired, the picture of a football program in disarray began to emerge. (I personally call it a clusterfool.) Just this week, Matt Slauson talked about how the team would try to prepare 250 plays for each game, even though they'd actually use a fraction of them. Of course, they never really mastered any of them. We've heard the reports of how the strength and conditioning program emphasized physical bulk at the expense of speed and agility, allowing players to be dominated by smaller, quicker opponents.

Last year's team ended pre-season practices by chanting “National Championship!” Of course, that talk pretty much ended after the USC game as the season began to spin out of control. Much was said about the coaching staff, though Bill Callahan tried to twist it around and divert the blame towards the players. Not surprisingly, as the season went on, the team performed worse and worse. A 4-1 Septebmer led to a winless October, and a November where the Huskers gave up 172 points in three games.

All this took a toll on the mental psyche of the team. Several players suggested that they would not have returned if Bill Callahan had remained with the team. Tom Osborne touched on this last week when he told the Associated Press that his goals for this season have less to do with wins and losses, but rather with "a team that is well-organized, plays with a lot of heart, gives great effort and is well-prepared."

When you review the 2007 games, there's no question that USC and Missouri were clearly better teams and deserved to win those games. But what about the other games? Kansas had a great season, to be sure. But do many people really believe that the Jayhawks were a more talented team than Nebraska? What about Texas A&M? Or Colorado? Or Oklahoma State? Only with Texas could you make an argument (and a very solid argument at that) that the Huskers were out-talented.

Maybe it's just me, but I think Nebraska had better players than those teams. Don't get me wrong, they outpeformed Nebraska in every way and deserved those victories. I just don't believe those opponents were more talented than Nebraska.

Call me a homer, call me delusional, call me insane, (please don't call me Shirley) but I think Bill Callahan turned an 8-4 (or possibly even 9-3) team into a 5-7 team. Some of the results from last season (losing 45-14 to Oklahoma State at home, eighth worst defense in college football) just boggle the mind.

During the day (and occasionally at night), I frequently have to troubleshoot problems with computer systems. Frequently, I've found that when systems fail, frequently it's the result of the failure of some key component of the system. If that key component fails, everything dependent on that component will not perform...and in some cases, it makes the whole system malfunction. When you finally trace the problem back to it's root cause and correct it, the system starts performing as you originally expected.

I believe that last November, Tom Osborne traced the problem with Nebraska football back to it's root cause. Did he correct the problem? We'll find out this fall, but if it turns out that he did, Nebraska football could rebound very quickly.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Property Taxes Would Pay for Chalco Ballpark for Royals

The Omaha World-Herald reported today that Sarpy County administrator Mark Wayne is confirming my prediction from earlier this month: Plan on property taxes being used to fund a new Chalco ballpark for the Omaha Royals. And they already recognize that it's going to be a "real tough issue" to make this fly.

While Royals president Alan Stein denies using Sarpy County as leverage in negotiations with MECA, Sarpy County is at least stepping up to fill the vacuum MECA is apparantly leaving. Here's hoping that the Royals and MECA can sit down and come to an agreement; it's something that taxpayers in both Douglas and Sarpy County would benefit from.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Big XII Media Days: A&M Looking to Billy C For Inspiration

Good news for Baylor and the rest of the Big XII South: Seems that new Texas A&M head coach Mike Sherman is looking to emulate Bill Callahan as he takes over the Aggies. Not only has he hired several members from the ousted Callahan regime (Randy Jordan, Buddy Wyatt, Dave Kennedy, Tim Cassidy, and Zac Taylor), he's even looking to use Callahan as a model as he builds the Aggie football program:
"It's not like I've asked Tim, 'Go ask Bill this or that,'" Sherman said. "But Tim will say, 'This is what Bill would do in this situation.' Bill was a heck of an NFL coach, and he has a lot of knowledge and has gone through this.

"Tim has gone through this with helping Bill adapt to the college game. He knows how this works."

"(Callahan and I)We're very similar."
Hey, if the Aggies want a clusterfool football program, be my guest. By the way, we're not laughing at you, we're laughing with you.

Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy has a wild idea. Rather than expand the league conference schedule from 8 to 9 games, he wants to play everybody in the conference. That would leave 1 non-conference game a season. Likely? No way for a couple of reasons. First of all, this would mean each conference school would alternate between six and seven home football games a season at most. Most schools are depending on seven or eight home games to fund their athletic departments. And with only one non-conference game to work with, that non-conference game would be a home game every year, which means that it will be a money game with a lower tier (Sun Belt, WAC, MAC, or 1-AA) team. So we'll have absolutely NO way to compare the relative strength between the Big XII and the other conferences. In fact, the inbreeding of these teams would result in the Big XII becoming more like the Big MAC (formerly Big 10/11), being exposed during bowl season.

Ron Prince refuses to admit that signing nineteen junior college players is hitting the panic button:
"At first blush, it's like, 'Oh, my goodness,'" he said. "But I think we have a unique way of putting teams together at Kansas State. And the way we do it here might not be the way you do it at other schools. But this gives us a chance to bring really confirmed and excellent football players who have proven it."

Maybe targeting junior college players worked at times for Bill Snyder, but even he didn't take nineteen at a time. For what it's worth, the Kansas City Star's Jason Whitlock is a believer. But all of the turnover in players and coaches has to be setting off warning alerts down in Manhattan. Especially when you realize that Kansas State doesn't play Mack Brown and the Longhorns this year or next:

Monday, July 21, 2008

Looking Ahead to 2008 Nebraska Football in "A Sea of Red"

With the start of Big XII Media Days in Kansas City today, it's time to start looking ahead to the 2008 Husker football season. Usually when you start looking ahead, the first place to start is to review the previous season and consider returning players as well as the impact of departing players.

Usually, that is. This season is the exception to that rule, because last season was, frankly speaking, exceptionally horrible.

[Warning: Blatant plug alert]
Last fall, I was asked by CornBlight over at CornNation to participate in a project to assemble a season preview publication. Well, "A Sea of Red" is finally available. You can order it online from the publisher or HuskerPedia, or if you are around the area, you'll hopefully find it at your nearest magazine rack. (Saw it yesterday at the grocery store.)
[End blatant plug]

My big assignment: A Review of the 2007 Season. Ugggghhhhh. And so I spent several weekends over the winter reliving the horror that was 2007 Nebraska football. In fact, I wonder if I spent more time reviewing the 2007 Husker season than Bo Pelini did. (Since Pelini himself said he wasn't going to spend much time looking at last season.)

And for good reason. Looking back over 2007, you saw a team regress from a squad that went 3-1in September against teams that would go to bowl games, to then lose every game in October, finishing up by giving up 172 points in three games in November. They went seven quarters without scoring an offensive touchdown against Missouri and Oklahoma State, went 60 minutes without scoring a touchdown against A&M and Texas, then scored 124 points against Kansas State and Colorado.

You want to try and make sense out of that? Frankly, there's no point in it. Last season was the culmination of a royal clusterfool. Period.

But even taking that into consideration, what does Nebraska have coming back?

Well, let's start at quarterback. Joe Ganz got some valuable experience in November, and it was a classic glass half-full/half-empty situation. In 3 games started (and three mop-up appearances), Ganz threw for 16 touchdowns and 1435 yards. That's the good. Seven interceptions were the bad. Some of those interceptions could be attributed to being thrown to the wolves (against Kansas), a couple against Colorado might have been attributed to getting dinged up at the end of the first half against Kansas. In a quarterback-rich league like the Big XII, he's not starting the season as one of the marquee players. He's in the bottom half of the league, frankly. But he should be servicable.

At I-back, Marlon Lucky brings some impressive receiving statistics along with fantastic open field running ability. What he lacks is that tough inside running game. From my perspective, the success Nebraska has this season will rate in large measure on the ability of offensive coordinator Shawn Watson to get Lucky the ball "in space." That means you'll hopefully seem him this season as a "slash" player: frequently at I-back, but occasionally in the slot as well. And with his 2-for-4 career passing mark, maybe even a little quarterback as well.

Lining Lucky up at receiver will also help solidify Nebraska's receiver corps, who will be looking to replace Maurice Purify and Terrence Nunn. Nate Swift and Todd Peterson return to anchor this group, though fans will be looking for some of the highly touted young receivers to finally make an impact. Will it be Menelik Holt, Niles Paul, Chris Brooks, Will Henry, or Curenski Gilleylen? That's an open question.

Tight end is a lingering question that has absolutely no answers this summer. Right now, they're just names: Mike McNeill, Hunter Teafatiller (if he gets his legal issues worked out), or Dreu Young. Somebody will need to emerge from this pack in September.

The effects of the coaching change will appear to be most visible immediately up front on both sides of the line. The previous regime believed in physical size and bulk on both sides of the ball; we know how well that worked. New Husker strength coach James Dobson has concentrated on explosiveness, speed, and flexibility instead of pure size. Will it be more effective? That's one of the big questions going into the 2008 season. Players on the offensive line seem to think it will help. Personally, I expect Matt Slauson to return to prior form. I also wonder if Lydon Murtha will finally break through this season with different, more consistent coaching.

The defensive line became a running joke last season. Literally. But Phil Steele thinks that Zach Potter (3rd team DE), Barry Turner (4th team DE), and Ndamakong Suh (4th team DT) are among the more talented defenders in the league. Again, I've got to believe that downsizing these guys can only help. Especially Barry Turner, who I feared was oversized last summer.

Linebacker is the gaping hole in this team, as only Phillip Dillard returns. Will Cody Glenn be able to become an impact player at linebacker in his senior season? Some might doubt it, but if Pelini's belief in effort being more important than scheme is correct, then Glenn could become a star. Pelini will only give Glenn as much as he can handle.

In the secondary, Armando Murillo and Larry Asante return. One player to keep an eye on is Ricky Thenarse, who's been a huge hitter on special teams but wasn't able to see much playing time under the previous regime. Can secondary coach Marvin Sanders work his magic again?

Husker fans will be wondering how much of an impact Pelini can have on the 8th worst defense in 1-A college football. I'm expecting a huge impact, but that doesn't mean that suddenly Nebraska will have a top ten or top twenty defense. A huge impact could merely be the difference between non-existent and mediocre.

As I reviewed last season, one thing struck me over and over and over again. Simply put..."these players can't POSSIBLY be that bad." Maybe it's delusion, maybe it's hopefulness. But I think the previous coaching staff took a team that might have, could have, and probably should have won eight or nine games and ran it into the ground.

Don't get me wrong. This isn't a "National Championship" squad...and likely not a conference championship team. But I think there is a football team hiding underneath the surface that, by the end of the season, will make Bill Callahan's failure to succed with these players even more jarring.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Let's Start a Husker Fight!

If you ever want to start a fight between Husker fans, there's one name that's almost guaranteed to bring up a disagreement:

Frank Solich.

Depending on your perspective, he was either the most horrific head coach ever to coach at a BCS conference football program, or the victim of an egotisical megalomaniac. If you get enough people in a room, chances are you'll find at least one person with one of those divergent positions. Sure, names like "Steve Pederson" may have larger negative connotations, but vastly fewer defenders.

I'll be honest here... I fall firmly in the "victim of a megalomaniac" camp. So I was pleased to see that Solich got a five year extension at Ohio. He's got a winning record after three seasons, being bowl eligible in two of his three seasons at a school that previously hadn't been to a bowl game since 1968.

But when the news came out, I didn't plan to comment on it. We need to move on from the whole Solich debate. So I was rather disappointed to see that the Journal-Star is rehashing the whole debate in their new book "The Path to Pelini."

Maybe there's something new in the book... but the blog entry to promote it doesn't say much. We all know that Houston Nutt turned down a job offer from Nebraska. The Chuck Amato story isn't new either. But Steve Sipple says
"It's always interesting looking back to Steve Pederson's coaching search in late 2003 and early 2004."
Maybe if there were something new here. Maybe if you have to bring it up again because you need to tell the story about how Nebraska got into the mess they found themselves in last season.

But to say it's "always interesting"? Maybe if you like to raise people's blood pressure. Maybe if you like to start arguments that can't be won. Believe me, I've tried. It doesn't go anywhere.

Maybe in a few years, Husker fans will be able to look back at the last four years as the "dark ages" of Nebraska football. Names like Steve Pederson, Bill Callahan, and Kevin Cosgrove hopefully will be reduced to punchlines, much like Oklahoma fans view Howard Schnellenberger and John Blake.

But until then, rehashing it just to rehash it doesn't serve any purpose.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Tuesday Night Beer: Darth Husker's Legal Problems Commence

In what could be the first of several lawsuits, the publisher of the Daily Oklahoman and one of their sportswriters have sued Darth Husker for libel as well as infringments on the Oklahoman's trademarks and copyrights. Now comes out another little humorous tidbit:

Darth "Husker" actually works for the University of Texas.

No wonder he wore burnt orange for his photographs for the Journal-Star. Perhaps we'd better start referring to him as Darth Longhorn.

Speaking of colors, researchers last week revealed a report that showed that referees subconsciously are biased in favor of athletes wearing red. Previous research in 2005 showed that athletes wearing red performed better. Of course, Husker fans know all about the impact of wearing the "all white" uniforms on Husker football.

The Pelini brothers joined Bob Stoops at a fundraiser for their old high school in Youngstown, Ohio last week. Even Kirk Herbstreit showed up.

Blair native Mike Ekeler might have worn K-State purple...but he's brought his passion and energy to Lincoln wearing Husker red. We've already heard the story about getting a temporary tattoo to help convince Will Compton he was wanted in Lincoln. In a few weeks, his biggest project begins: trying to reclaim the Blackshirts from the shambles of 2007.

The Bullocks brothers certainly think Bo Pelini and his staff will get Nebraska football back on track. Of course...they thought Pelini never should have left Lincoln in the first place. When you consider that the combination of the Bullocks with Fabian Washington (1st round draft pick by the Raiders) would become Phil Elmassian's "worst secondary" (prior to 2007?)...

And yes...I'll start looking more towards 2008 soon very soon. Already we're seeing predictions from Vegas for 7 wins in 2008. And Nebraska opens at 75:1 odds to win the national championship. (And before AJ rips me for it, Missouri opens at 10:1...)

The whole Brett Favre saga is turning into a huge soap opera. There's a lot being said by both sides, and it's an ugly family feud. Both sides have a point, but I tend to side with Favre. When Favre retired, the undercurrent was that the Packers were pushing Favre to retire. I kind of expected Favre would come back, so I'm not surprised by this. It's an ugly mess. I understand the Packers desire to move forward with Aaron Rodgers, but the fact is that Brett Favre is the face of the Packers. It's bad for the game to see him go out wearing another uniform, and the man deserved more respect than he got from the Packers. That being said, the Packers need some sort of commitment from Favre as well one way or another. Respect is a two way street, and I think Packers management were guilty of starting the whole mess last winter.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Sooners Want to Clean Up NU/OU Rivalry; Darth Husker Strikes Back

What an interesting contrast in stories out today. First (courtesy the Lincoln Journal-Star), Dave Sittler of the Tulsa World reports that Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione wants to restore goodwill between the Nebraska and Oklahoma athletic programs after the ugliness of 2004 (Ruf-Neks, Darren DeLone, F'n Hillbillies) and 2005 (Throat Slash). Says Sittler:
While the OU-Nebraska series is as intense and competitive as any in college football, it has never been marked by the hate and hostility associated with many rivalries.
Castiglione's plan was aided when Nebraska fired Callahan last season. It also helped that the Cornhuskers replaced Callahan with Bo Pelini, who was on OU's staff for one season.
ources said that when Castiglione approached Nebraska AD Tom Osborne at the Big 12 spring meetings in May to gauge his opinion of celebrating the 1971 Game of the Century, the legendary former Husker coach "loved the idea."
Oh, how Jack Mildren would have loved it, too.
So, hopefully, both schools will also celebrate Mildren's memory on Nov. 1 by embracing Castiglione's plan with the spirit Mildren displayed in the Game of the Century and the dignity he brought to it the rest of his life.
Sadly, the air of goodwill coming from Soonerland was repudiated by a urine bomb foisted by a Husker fan. Husker "fan" James Conradt (and I use the term loosely) decided to take farking to a whole new level, and made up a story about Sooner quarterbacks Sam Bradford and Landry Jones being arrested for dealing cocaine.

Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha! What a riot!

Wait, it gets even funnier. He copied a web page from the Daily Oklahoman, and replaced the story with his own creation, and then posted it on his own web site (albeit using his web site's internet numeric address instead of and then linked to it on a Sooner fan message board.

Sooner fans panic. How fun! Radio stations in Texas report the news as well. So cool! The Daily Oklahoman spends about 5 seconds identifying the perpretrator by simply checking out the home page for the server that hosted the farked story. Bahahahaha!

Wait! The hilarity doesn't end there! Now the Daily Oklahoman is considering legal action for reproducing their web site illegally, as is Jones' father. Isn't this the funniest thing you've ever heard?

Of course not. It's one of the most moronic things I've heard a Husker fan do, short of making death threats to Kevin Cosgrove. No, it's not satire. It's called libel.

It's not the first time Darth made the newspaper. In January 2005, Conradt was featured in the Lincoln Journal-Star talking about internet message boards:
"It's kind of a hierarchy, you know. The more people give their insider info that turns out to be true, the more they build their credibility. I'm not one of those people," said James Conradt, aka DarthHusker. "It's funny. New people come along all the time and are naive and believe too much of what they read. A lot of people just post stuff to stir the pot."
Well, he certainly stirred the pot this time. And it blew up in his face. And even more sadly, some people are actually trying to defend the guy. Problem is that this wasn't satire... In fact, since Conradt now resides in Texas, this Texas Supreme Court ruling might come into play:
For any publication to have a defamatory meaning, it must be capable of being understood by a reasonable reader as stating actual facts. As the court held, a reasonable reader "does not represent the lowest common denominator," but is a person of "reasonable intelligence and learning."
How deep of trouble is Conradt? Well it depends on how far the Daily Oklahoman and the Bradford and Jones families want to push this. Sad to say that this week will be remembered not for Oklahoma holding out the olive branch to Husker Nation, but rather for the actions of a moron cloaked in Husker red.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Wednesday Night Beer: Swim Trials to Pressure Osborne to Bring Back Swimming

One local sporting event I wished I hadn't missed was last week's Olympic swimming trials. The scheduling just didn't work out for us, but I did catch some of it on television, and I've got to admit it was much more compelling than I thought it would be. It sure sounds like it was a win-win for both USA Swimming and Omaha, since they seem to be anxious to do it all over again in 2012.

The swimming trials is sure to bring a renewed interest in competitive swimming in this area based on past Olympics. It should be even higher since many people experienced the excitement first-hand rather than on television. Not to mention the story of Grand Island's Scott Usher who unsuccessfully bid for a second trip to the Olympics last week. Usher originally accepted a scholarship offer to swim for Nebraska...then days later, Bill Byrne dismantled the men's swimming program after NCAA violations were discovered. So Usher enrolled at Wyoming instead. One wonders whether the renewed interest in swimming will renew pressure to bring back men's swimming in Lincoln, especially with the connections of Husker women's swimming coach Pablo Morales. Earlier this spring, Tom Osborne disavowed any plans to add sports, including men's swimming. But could this change his mind? First, Nebraska would need to find the funds not only for men's swimming, but also for another women's sport for Title IX purposes.

OMG! Cody Green committed! Seriously, it's good news to get a commitment from a "five star" recruit. But remember... perspective. At least this should silence the "Pelini can't recruit" blather for a few minutes.

KMTV-Channel 3 had some video last night that shows some initial designs for the new Chalco Ballpark for the Royals. I had two reactions: (1) repeatedly the question came up "whether Sarpy County could afford it" and (2) this site is nearly a mile and a half away from the nearest Interstate access point. Contrast that with the new downtown stadium... you have three Interstate access points available, and the furthest is just one mile away. (Yes, Kevin... I know the new stadium will be right next to the Interstate...but there's no interchange close by.) Then this morning, GrowOmaha's Trenton Magid told KFAB radio this morning that he thinks the Royals will either play downtown or in Wichita, Kansas. He also agrees that Sarpy County won't be able to pay for a new stadium.

The problem with this whole stupid "Royals to Chalco" situation is that it takes pressure off of both the Royals and MECA to make a deal downtown work, since there's this silly Chalco idea as the backup plan. Nevermind it's not very practical. But it gives both sides a reason to hold their ground, refuse to compromise, and hope that Sarpy County &/or LaVista somehow saves minor league baseball for the Omaha area.

I think ESPN's SportsCenter began it's long decline about the time that Keith Olberman joined Dan Patrick and somehow the sports highlight show began it's slow decline into entertainment. Although I initially thought the problem was Olberman, but over time, I've realized that I just can't stand Dan Patrick. I thought he was weak when he was on CNN, and somehow ESPN picked him to be their lead SportsCenter guy. Even his radio show was rather uncompelling. Now comes word that NBC is reuniting Olberman and Patrick on their Sunday Night football pregame show. Uggh. Give me Chris Berman and Tom Jackson on NFL PrimeTime anyday.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Sunday Night Dessert: Royals Hung Up On Parking & Sal The Movie

Today's Omaha World-Herald reports on the history of the Omaha Royals agreement with Rosenblatt, and the expected battle ground between MECA and the Royals for the new stadium: parking.
"Parking is an issue for us," [Royals President Alan] Stein said, "and we are ready to dig in our heels."
Of course, the Royals are trying to create a new standard for parking, since other teams in the Pacific Coast League are charging $5 and $6 for parking. Nevertheless, it creates an interesting three way dynamic on the stadium front. The Mayor's office, who wants to see the stadium used as much as possible to drive growth in North Downtown. MECA, who just wants a status quo with the NCAA and the College World Series. And the Royals, who (rightfully so) are trying to get the best deal they can get.

Folks in Sarpy County might want to talk to Council Bluffs Mayor Tom Hanafan who sounds a cautionary tone about trying to build another stadium in the Omaha area, now that Omaha is investing $140 million into the new downtown stadium:
"Why would anybody build a stadium to compete with that?" Hanafan said. "It's doesn't make sense to me. I don't know why we would build a stadium to compete with that."
As I channel surfed yesterday to find the Cubs/Cardinals game, I came across Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh playing beach volleyball on NBC and momentarily paused my surfing. Soon, I noticed Colorado Buffalo logos in the background, and I quickly recognized the empty stands of Folsom Field. Yep... they were staging beach volleyball on CU's football field this weekend. And judging from the emptiness of the stands on Saturday, it looks like this might be a one time shot.

The Buffy logos on the side of the volleyball court were to promote an upcoming motion picture: "Sal The Movie". The Sal Aunese story has long been a source of friction between Nebraska and Colorado fans. Some Husker fans were rubbed the wrong way when the Buffaloes rallied around Aunese an undefeated season. Probably the most tasteless example of Husker fans actions was when someone spray painted "Sal Is Dead. Go Big Red." on the interstate just inside the Nebraska-Colorado border. Somehow, I fear that when this movie comes out, some idiot is going to do something stupid and resurrect this whole situation.

Jason Peter's new book "Hero of the Underground" comes out on Tuesday, telling the story of Peter's addiction to painkillers that expanded to heroin and cocaine that nearly killed him. The Omaha World-Herald has published a couple of excerpts (Part One and Part Two), as well as an interview with Tom Shatel. Peter's story should be an eyeopener; hopefully, I'll get to read it sometime soon. In no way should we glorify Peter's past drug abuse, but we can all certainly appreciate the effort Peter has made in turning his life back around.

The Journal-Star sounds a note of concern over Osborne's plans to build a Husker Hall-of-Fame, noting that Kentucky's Hall closed recently when it failed financially. While something should be done to honor and preserve the great history of athletics in Nebraska, any plans must be viable to be maintained in perpetuity. Husker fans will probably come to visit... once. But it needs to be something that can be maintained long after the initial rush of visitors come and go.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Jumping on the Chalco Bandwagon for the Royals

Back when I was in high school, my physics teacher used to use wacky and absurd examples to liven up otherwise droll physics classes. Much like Dr. Tim Gay's "Football Physics" features that used to run on the HuskerVision screens at Memorial Stadium years ago, they kept me awake as physics class used to be in that dreaded "pre-lunch" spot on my schedule. Many of the examples used the "Chalco Olympics" as the background since the Olympics provided plenty of interesting sports for basis, and the absurdity of a major sporting events in Chalco, Nebraska added extra humor. Chalco, you see, was essentially a spot on a railroad line along 144th Street in Sarpy County with a grain elevator. Over the years, the grain elevator became surrounded by homes and other industrial development, especially just south around the Sapp Brothers truck stop.

A few years ago, development in this area took a step forward when PayPal and Cabelas located about two miles east of Chalco. (Legally, it's called "LaVista", though it's still twice as far from LaVista as it is from Chalco.) The area is seeing a boom as car dealerships, hotels, and restaurants join in the growth. Now comes word that Sarpy County is considering building a ball park in Chalco for the AAA Omaha Royals. Radio is abuzz over it, as is the World-Herald's Tom Shatel.

Yet it still sounds almost as absurd as the Chalco Olympics to me.

Could it happen? Of course! Will it happen? Maybe. Should it happen? Unless there's something that I'm missing (which is very possible), absolutely not.

Why Chalco? Well, there are a few good reasons. The new downtown stadium is nearly twice as big as is desirable for triple-A minor league baseball. MECA seems to be ambivolent at best towards the Royals playing at the new stadium. And the Pacific Coast League really hates trying to schedule the Royals around the College World Series.

But then the reasons get downright silly. Parking costs for one thing. We've been told that MECA's $6 parking charges are too high for minor league baseball. Ok. Let's do a quick survey. Oklahoma City ($5), Indianapolis ($5), Des Moines ($6). So much for that argument.

Interstate access? That's a funny one as well. There's one access point to the Interstate at the Cabela's exit. One. Can you say GRIDLOCK? ("I knew you could.") Go downtown to the Qwest Center, and you've got your choice of three within about a mile. (Oh, I guess you could drive 3 miles south and west to Sapp Brothers, or wind through Millard for about five miles to get on at L Street...)

Control over stadium advertising revenues is another. Here's the issue with that... the NCAA doesn't allow advertising during the College World Series, so guess what. There won't be any advertising revenue for the NCAA to demand.

Office space is currently an issue at Rosenblatt, and it's a true issue. The Royals must shut down and pack everything away when the NCAA comes to town. But couldn't there be a way to build space to accomodate BOTH organizations in the new downtown ballpark?

Then there are the reasons why it's simply a horrible idea. The new development is on the fringes of Omaha. It's not centrally located at all; it's surrounded by farm fields on the south. From my home in northwest Omaha, Google Maps says it's still over 15 minutes to drive there. Sure, it's more convenient to drive there from Millard and LaVista, but what about the rest of the metro area? Just ask the Omaha Lancers how that move to the fringes of Council Bluffs, free parking, and interstate access worked for them attendance wise.

Suburban ballparks have had some success, but by large, most new stadiums are built downtown at both the major league and minor league levels. There's a reason for this.

Bottom line... how is a new stadium going to be funded? A lot of people criticized the amount of money that the new downtown stadium is going to take. The Royals spent several years trying to make a downtown stadium financially viable...and failed. Are the costs in the 'burbs cheaper? Probably a bit. But is that enough to make this viable? I don't see it. Omaha is using hotel and car rental taxes to pay for the stadium, along with stadium revenues. Those are sources that are going to be tough to do in Chalco. Free parking means no parking revenue. No airport in Sarpy County means very low car rental taxes. And while Sarpy has some hotel rooms, Omaha has far more to work with.

So where does the money come from? That's the question. My guess is that in the end, it's property taxes. I don't live in Sarpy County, so it doesn't bother me if they hike their taxes. But in this state, I'm not sure I think that proposing a tax increase to fund a new ballpark is going to be very popular.

Maybe there's a funding source I hadn't considered or underestimated. Maybe this ballpark won't cost the taxpayers that much. But color me skeptical. I understand that there is a desire by some to "stick it to Omaha and Fahey" by yanking the Royals away, and that sentiment does exist in this community.

In the end, Spite is a poor way to run any organization, whether it's business or government. And right now, that seems to be the main reason to move the Royals to Chalco.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

College Football 201: Putting Recruiting into Perspective

Sammy Vegas over at DoubleExtraPoint joined the Recruitnik nation last week in fidgeting towards the panic button over the status of Husker football recruiting. Only one thing is keeping him from declaring DefCon 5: It's the start of July.

And it's an important factor to keep in perspective. A lot can change. Harrison Beck looked like a "Day One" starter in the West Coast Offense in July 2004. He's now a backup at NC State. Josh Freeman looked like he'd be a dual-threat freak for the Huskers in July 2005. He's now a somewhat inconsistent starter for Kansas State. Blaine Gabbert promised he wouldn't do a Josh Freeman in July 2007. He'll be enrolling at Missouri next month.

For much of this decade, recruitniks have tried to drill into us the importance of recruiting. And they're partially right. It is important to recruit great players. Very important.

The problem comes in when recruitniks turn that into an obsession with recruiting rankings. Sometimes they get it spot-on right. Sometimes they don't. And further more, recruiting is only part of the puzzle. There are other factors, such as coaching and development, that come into play. It isn't an either-or's an "and" situation. You need great players, but more importantly, you need to develop them and coach them up.

Look at that 2005 recruiting class at Nebraska. Four star recruits such as Harrison Beck, Frantz Hardy, Leon Jackson, Chris Brooks, Justin Tomerlin, and Rodney Picou never made an impact at Nebraska. (Brooks still has a couple of seasons of eligibility yet, though.) Zackary Bowman would have made a bigger impact if he'd have stayed healthy. Marlon Lucky's been a fairly good running back, but hasn't matched his five-star hype to date. Ndamakong Suh, Zach Potter, Phillip Dillard, Ola Dagunduro, and Steve Octavien have also made decent contributions as well. It's a hit and miss thing.

They point out some of the highly regarded players during the "golden era" of the middle 90's. Guys like Will Shields, Ed Stewart, Calvin Jones, Derek Brown, Lawrence Phillips, Grant Wistrom, Ahman Green, Ralph Brown, and Mike Brown. Very true. Great players in high school, and great players for the Big Red. Some of them went on to be great players in the NFL as well.

But then there are the other guys who weren't so highly regarded. Mike Rucker and Mike Minter, who had long careers in the NFL with the Carolina Panthers. Russ Hochstein, who has a few Super Bowl rings. Chad Kelsay also played in the NFL. Aaron Taylor won an Outland Trophy.

Then there are a bunch of names the Recruitniks wish they had never heard of: Sacho Becvarovski, Justin Ferrell, George Guidry, Robert Pollard, Derek Allen, Jeff Perino, Chris Rainey, Trey Crayton, Constantine Dumitrescu, Brian Knuckles, Dorrick Roy, Jim Stiebel. Certainly most Husker fans never heard of them; they were highly regarded only until they signed with the Huskers.

Sometimes it's injuries (see Zackary Bowman) that come into play. Some guys can't handle school. And some guys were just overrated.

Conversely, some guys were underrated. And some guys blossomed when they got into a program where they were well coached and developed. It's not an either or thing. A two or three star guy may become an NFL player with the right coaching. And if there is one thing we learned last fall, a four or five star recruit can look like an eight-man benchwarmer if he's poorly coached.

Is Bo Pelini doing a good job of recruiting? Hard to say. Signing day is still seven months away. A lot can change. Tom Cudd, over at the BigRedNetwork, puts things in a little bit better perspective. I do believe that Pelini and his staff are going to be the exact opposite of his predecessors when it comes to coaching and development. Are they going to be the exact opposite in terms of recruiting? Maybe, but we really won't know whether that's better or worse for three or four more years.

In the meantime, let's wait and see how Pelini does. Especially this season with Joe Ganz, a 2-star quarterback at the helm.