Thursday, April 28, 2011

Thursday Night Beer: Is Figure Skating a Sport?

The big news of the day locally is that Omaha will be the host of the 2013 US Figure Skating Championships. From an economic perspective, it's a "big, big" deal, attracting national prime-time coverage on NBC as well as bringing people to town to watch and participate. But from a sporting perspective, I guess it depends on whether you consider figure skating a sport.

And frankly, from my perspective, it's not a sport.  It's not that the competitors aren't in great physical condition; that's not the question. It's not that it requires talent; it clearly does. But it's more art than sport. The judging is subjective in nature, and frankly, that takes it out of the realm of sport. Doesn't make it less of a competition, mind you.  Just not a sport.  If figure skating championships were won on the basis of speed of twirls or height of jumps, or something that could be scored, we'd have an argument. When the result comes from opinions on "interpretation" and "choreography"...well, that's not a sport.  That's entertainment.

There is an effect on sports with this event.  UNO hockey will get a two week road-trip in late January 2013, and Creighton basketball probably will be forced to play road games for a week and a half, in all likelihood. I don't think the figure skating folks will want the ice being covered and uncovered for basketball, and the ice will need to be modified for figure skating.  (Raise the temperature and scrape off the markings, for example.) Good deal for Omaha, but not necessarily for the two main tenants.

Watching a little bit of the NFL Draft tonight, I was shocked to see both Blaine Gabberts and Jake Locker go in the top ten. Gabbert a little less than Locker. NFL executives stake their career on making these picks, so they had to see something that wasn't apparent when these quarterbacks played the Huskers. Frankly, it makes me wonder if an NFL team might make overtures to Pelini at some point down the line. Say what you will about the offensive collapses the last two seasons due to quarterback injuries, but the man knows defense. And if a football coach is worth $2.775 million a season, it's Bo Pelini in my book.

Brad Schlossman of the Grand Forks Herald threw his support to a switch in the NCAA hockey tournament, making the first round a best-of-three series on the home ice of the higher seed. (H/T: Goon) Looking at the attendance of the regionals, it's obvious the current format isn't working with neutral ice. Take a page from baseball and play it on home ice where the fans can watch. And a best-of-three series lessens the impact of a bogus call in overtime.  (Yes, Weasel fan: no matter what you say, those replays were inconclusive.)

Good news for Mike Denney and the UNO wrestling program to have a new home in St. Louis at Maryville University. What happened to UNO's wrestling program wasn't fair, but life isn't always fair. I understand the disappointment that UNO's wrestling supporters have felt, and hopefully this move will allow the bitter ones to finally move on. It may be cathartic to draw Hitler mustaches on pictures of Trev Alberts, but in the end, it just shows that your illogical and incoherent arguments against the changes at UNO are the result of anger.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

After One Week, the BFE Trailer Park Still Looks Like Sarpy County's Boondoggle

One week is hardly enough time to render a final verdict on the potential success of the two new baseball stadiums in the region, but the first results are surprisingly strong. I must admit, that some of my expectations were wrong for the first week. I expected to hear complaints about traffic, and frankly, those concerns turned out to be unwarranted at this point.

But that could be in part because the "new ballpark smell" wasn't terribly successful in the first week of the Trailer Park for the Richfield Golden Royal Spike Chasers. Of course, the weather wasn't terribly attractive for baseball in the Omaha last week...temperatures in the 40s and 50s.  The former Omaha Royals averaged about 4000 fans...which was actually pretty good considering the weather. But it raises the prospect that attendance this season at the Trailer Park might actually end up being less than attendance at Rosenblatt. With fewer seats, the days of occasionally drawing 10,000 or more are over, so the GRSC will depend on drawing more people for games on days like last week. And with a stadium that only seats 6500 people, that'll be a tall task. For example, the big Independence Day fireworks show will be at TD Ameritrade Park this year, so that's a 22,000 person crowd that'll need to be made up elsewhere.

The weather apparently wasn't quite as big of a factor for Omaha's new ballpark downtown. Three games, each of which has drawn more fans than the Trailer Park can hold, have drawn over 39,000 fans (nearly tripling the average attendance per game out at BFE).  Last week, when I read that Creighton hoped to average 6000 fans for non-Nebraska games, I thought they were crazy. Now, after averaging over 8500 fans in the first two games not featuring the Big Red, it turns out I underestimated the drawing power of the new ballpark.

Though truth be told, it's not about attendance as much as it is about the money. Higher ticket prices, plus charging for parking and riding the merry-go-round ($5 a person? This parent yells OUCH!) means that the GRSC will probably still earn more revenue at BFE.

It's way too early to draw any conclusions. When summer time comes around, the GRSC may start packing in the crowds every night on the berms, and prove my hypothesis wrong. (Truth be told, I originally thought this would happen in year three out at BFE, once the new ballpark smell wore off.) And uncertainty about the Red Sky Music Festival (when the heck is the lineup going to be announced) and the Omaha Nighthawks (will the UFL survive?) leaves questions about the new downtown ballpark. But after one week, I think the downtown stadium is looking even more of a solid investment, while the Trailer Park is looking even more like an unnecessary boondoggle.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

So Did Taylor Martinez Continue to Regress?

Listening and reading comments from Husker fans in recent days, I detect a sense of fatalism with respect to the opinion of Taylor Martinez's future as a quarterback at Nebraska. Not all fans, mind you...but certainly a sizable group. It's not that they are making things up; Martinez didn't have a great performance in the spring game. But while I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt due to the circumstances, others aren't.

That's not to say that those observations are invalid. Did Martinez throw behind his receivers? Yep. Did Martinez not see a blitz coming?  Absolutely. But let's remember something else: Martinez is not an experienced quarterback in the traditional sense. He made the switch in high school, and what we saw on Saturday was Taylor Martinez being asked to do all the things he isn't so good at. His talent is taking off and running --- and he was asked not to do that. One time he did scramble for a nice gain, but most of the day, he threw the ball or handed off.  And the Martinez critics are right in one respect: if that's what Nebraska wants to do on offense, Taylor Martinez isn't the quarterback we want on the field. Of course, if what we saw on Saturday was Nebraska's offense, that's not something I think is going to be all that successful.

Frankly, I have to wonder if these are the same fans that tried to pump Martinez for Heisman consideration in September and October last season? Do some fans have a manic-depressive streak running through them? ("Martinez is great! Sucks! Great! Sucks! Tastes Great! Less Filling!)

One of the more absurd ideas I've heard promoted is that Pelini has a "blind spot" for Martinez's shortcomings. Really? Have we already forgotten Pelini's outburst in College Station last November? That frankly doesn't make any sense. Pelini wants to win too much for that.

What I do know is that Pelini does things his way, and no matter what we as fans think, he's going to do things his way. And he should; he's had the benefit of watching the other 14 practices this spring, and he knows more about the medical status of Martinez's ankle.

I also know this: Bo Pelini isn't going to tell us what he's going to do unless he wants to and until he's ready to. He didn't tell us about the changes on his coaching staff until he was done with everything. And if he's thinking about making a change at quarterback, he'll handle it his way.

I feel pretty confident that if Brion Carnes outplays Taylor Martinez this summer and fall, Carnes will be the starter when Chattanooga comes to Lincoln on Labor Day weekend. But just because Carnes appeared to outplay Martinez in an exhibition where they weren't running most of the offense doesn't mean that Carnes is the better quarterback at this point.

One thing I know about Pelini is that he wants competition, and nobody has a starting job sewn up at this point. Carnes could be the starter next September. Cody Green could turn things around and become the starter. Heck, Ron Kellogg III could be the starter.  And maybe, just maybe, Bubba Starling will turn down many gubily millions of baseball dollars and win the starting quarterback job in the fall.  Some of those ideas are unlikely, mind you. But nothing is assured either.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Kids Are Alright

When last we checked in with the Nebraska Cornhuskers, they had just imploded against Washington in the Holiday Bowl. Imploded might not be the best term for it; it was a simply pathetic performance.  Couldn't run, couldn't pass, and sometimes couldn't even tackle. Afterwards, fans wanted the scalp of offensive coordinator and became increasingly unsettled as Bo Pelini decided to handle the restructuring of his coaching staff on his own terms. It was a long ugly offseason of discontent and judging by the relatively smaller crowd for this year's Spring Game, Husker fans still haven't gotten over the funk from last season.

Yesterday, as the skies opened up, it seemed to be a parallel to the mood of Husker fans.  The rain came down in buckets in eastern Nebraska, and as you headed west, it turned to snow.  And in the panhandle, it was a blizzard.  Though the rain ended last night, the day began with clouds and cold, which didn't sound promising for a family outing to the spring game. Sure I could handle the cold, but how do I bundle up the kids for this? But a funny thing happened as I drove southwest towards Lincoln. The clouds began to break up and were gone by the time I got to Lincoln. It turned out to be a fabulous day for the spring game. Sunny and almost warm.

There were a lot of things to like about today's game.  Eric Martin looks like he's found a home at defensive end. He didn't see a lot of action today, but when he was in the game, he was oh-so-disruptive. The Pelini brothers have a new wrinkle to exploit this fall; Big Ten offensive coordinators: you've been warned.

It's unfair to compare Brion Carnes to his second cousin, especially in a scrimmage when he's on the field with a mishmash of backups on both sides of the ball. But he looked really, really, REALLY good throwing the ball as well as running the ball. Rex Burkhead looked powerful running the ball, as did Austin Jones as well. I read that as a sign that the offensive line was doing it's job.  Kenny Bell had a couple of nice catches, and showed some nifty moves, especially on a third quarter screen pass from Taylor Martinez to gain 14 yards.

And then there was Jamal Turner. Sometimes spring game stars are just that...backups who only get playing time in the springtime.  (Can you say Robin Miller?) I don't think Jamal Turner is going to be just a spring game star. He was electric every time he touched the ball, and I was wowed even before I realized he had amassed 228 all-purpose yards this afternoon. The comparisons to Bobby Newcombe might be valid: a former quarterback who is absolutely electric in the open field. But only if people don't whine that he should have stayed at quarterback. I saw enough of Newcombe at quarterback to realize that he was far more productive at receiver. I haven't seen Turner throw the ball, but he'd have to be Peyton Manning-like to convince me that he belongs at quarterback.

Not all was great today. Cody Green continues to regress at quarterback. One fumble, and really should have thrown at least two interceptions. If it wasn't for the shoulder injury to Kody Spano, he'd be a candidate to switch positions.  (Pelini indicated today that Spano's shoulder injury is serious, and by mentioning that he'll be part of the program "one way or the other", seems to give credence to the internet speculation that his playing career could be over.) If Bubba Starling attends classes in Lincoln this fall, look for Green elsewhere on the field.

Taylor Martinez seemed to play better than his statistics indicated. He hardly ran the ball much, and he showed a little more poise passing...but he's still very much a work-in-progress as a quarterback. Ron Kellogg III looked "serviceable", whatever that means. Right now, I think I'd be more comfortable with Kellogg taking snaps than Green, to tell you the truth. If Carnes continues to develop, he might just be in a position to challenge Martinez.

Penalty problems haven't been cleared up - in fact, we saw multiple sideline warnings and penalties on the opposite side of the field from where Bo Pelini was standing. And hopefully that's the last time we see Jamal Turner pull a stunt enroute to the end zone. I was watching that play from under the stands, so I didn't get a chance to see if Bo Pelini had a chance to express his displeasure with that unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. I guess the referees from the B1G decided not to implement the new rule that showboating on your way into the end zone negates the touchdown. I'm in favor of the rule, and frankly, I think that's a penalty that only gets called once, because once players realize that showboating takes points off the board, they won't do it again. And the game will be better for it, even though somebody will be the unfortunate first victim.

So what's the takeaway from today? I think the defense will be fine in 2011. If one of the incoming I-backs is the real deal (Aaron Green, Ameer Abdullah, or Braylon Heard), the offense will be fine. I wouldn't read too much into Martinez's performance. He wasn't trying to run the ball, and he wasn't getting as much help from his receivers. I'm more concerned by the penalties than anything else I saw today.

One of the biggest cheers of the day came when HuskerVision pointed out that the "B1G" is just 75 days away. I'm still not sure fans have really come to complete grips about this. Sure, we're happy to yell "Forget You" to Texas and Dan Beebe, but I don't know that we really understand what we're getting ourselves into. I know I'm optimistic that the Huskers can do quite well, but that's just speculation at this point. In the meantime, there's a crash-course to learn about 11 new opponents first.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Thursday Night Beer: Will the Weather Hold for the Spring Game?

Earlier this week, the forecast for Saturday's Nebraska Spring Game was looking rather dicey... upper 40's and windy.  But now, it looks like the monsoon that's hitting Nebraska tonight looks like it'll be out of town Saturday morning.  Forecast is now for low 60's. Probably still windy, but 15 degrees warmer is a good thing.

And since it's Nebraska, that means that the weather is going to change and change again. And the forecast is calling for rain for the opening of Omaha's new baseball stadium on Tuesday night. TD Ameritrade Park is scheduled to debut to a sold-out crowd with Nebraska playing Creighton that night.

Back to the Spring Game, I found some of the lineup decisions to be interesting.  The Whites will have Cody Green and Brion Carnes at quarterback, while the Reds will have Taylor Martinez and Ron Kellogg. Martinez is supposed to be limited, so I wonder if we won't see Carnes or Green switch sides at halftime.

I'm guilty of wanting to see more of Carnes, as he's on my list of players I want to see in action. Other names I'm planning to keep an eye on are wide receivers Jamal Turner and Kenny Bell, and linebacker turned defensive end Eric Martin. And of course, there'll be one or two players that make you go "hmmm!"

I don't expect to see much of a running game on Saturday. Rex Burkhead is the only I-back with productive experience on either squad.  With three freshmen I-backs arriving this summer, this might be the last call for Collins Okafor to make a move. And frankly, if Taylor Martinez's ankle isn't 100%, I really don't want to see much of him running the ball.

I know the UNO football and wrestling supporters are still hurting over the loss of their programs. But hopefully they'll open their eyes to see the reality of the situation. Like today's news out of Lincoln, where UNL shut down the Industrial Engineering program, a victim of budget cuts. Whether you like it or not, colleges only have so much money to fund programs, and right now, colleges are having to make tough decisions. Just like other government programs, just like businesses, and just like nearly everybody else is having to make. So while it may be cathartic to draw Hitler mustaches on pictures of Trev Alberts, it's delusional to continue to hang onto conspiracy theories.

Yep, apparently that's former Omaha sportscaster Travis Justice with the error-ridden blog siding with the conspiracy theorists. Go figure.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Nebraska's Spring Game is a Week Away: Does Anybody Care?

I have to admit that I'm somewhat surprised by the relative lack of interest in this weekend's Husker spring game. I say "relative" because ticket sales actually aren't that bad.  It appears that the two end zones are two-thirds sold out at this point, so I'd guestimate ticket sales at roughly 65,000. A pretty good total, mind you...but considering the interest in recent years, it's a little lower than we've seen.  Heck, three years ago, it was sold out at this point.

My guess is that we're seeing a little bit of the hangover from the depressing end to the 2010 season. In early October, Nebraska fans were thinking that the Huskers could enter the national championship discussion. Even in early November, Husker fans still held out some hope. But after the A&M meltdown, that hope disappeared. A BCS bowl berth looked reasonable until the offense went AWOL at halftime against Oklahoma.

Then there was that Holiday Bowl performance that looked like something out of one of the National Lampoon "Vacation" movies with Clark W. Griswold. The offense reduced to the football equivalent of the WagonQueen Family Truckster, a mere parody of it's earlier season production. So exit Shawn Watson and the remnants of the West Coast Offense.  Exit Ted Gilmore and receivers who, frankly, couldn't catch a cold.  That should rekindle interest, right?

Perhaps. But I get the feeling that people now realize that the spring game isn't so much a preview of the upcoming season, but rather a celebration of Husker football. We're not going to see much of the new playbook, if anything. In fact, what we will see will look somewhat familiar to what we saw last season in terms of X's and O's. I don't think the new playbook is going to be different in the what the players do, but rather the players will have a better idea of why they do it, and hopefully be better schooled in how they do it.

In the end, it's still a scrimmage. Bill Callahan pretty much destroyed my interest in the spring game with his sacrifices of the scout teams. Bo Pelini tries to make things more competitive, but he also doesn't want to show anything either. (Hence, why we won't see the game televised, though I think that's also because they want fans to buy a ticket instead of stay home and watch on television.)

What does interest me about the spring game? Simple: kids. They don't care that it's a scrimmage. They get to tailgate, clap along with the band, run on the field at halftime, and get a taste of football.  All for only $10 (unlike a regular season game), which makes it a great deal for families. So we've got our tickets, and hopefully the weather holds. (Initial weather forecasts don't look so hot; temperatures in the upper 40's.)

If anything, it's just a reminder that we're nearly halfway through the offseason; just four and a half months until the season begins. (OK, since the first game is against Chattanooga, we'll just say it's five months from today until the first "real" game against Fresno State...)

Sunday, April 03, 2011

A "Disaster" at BFE and the Trailer Park

I couldn't help but be amused by a couple of stories about Omaha's former AAA baseball team yesterday. WOWT-Channel 6 had a story about disaster preparation drills being held at the Trailer Park in Sarpy County. Nothing wrong with the officials being prepared for something unfortunate; in fact, it's a good thing and hopefully completely unnecessary in the future. But the story about a disaster at the new ballpark just seemed to be begging for a snarky comment; after all, I'm still on the record that the new AAA ballpark wasn't - and still isn't - a good investment for Sarpy County, not to mention the metro area.

I still haven't heard how Sarpy County plans to pay for the bonds for the new stadium. As best as I can determine, Sarpy County plans to siphon hotel taxes from use elsewhere to the stadium, and that's an amount that's increased in recent years to $940 thousand last year. That likely will pay for half of the stadium bills...except keep in mind that this is money that's been used elsewhere in the budget. So diverting it to the ballpark creates a hole elsewhere; it's a shell game. Even so, I'm not sure that the hotel tax revenue will be enough to pay the mortgage payments. There's talk about the city of Papillion kicking in sales tax revenue eventually...but annexation is likely a long ways off.

The other story that caught my eye was the "Futures" game in Kansas City yesterday. They estimate about 10,000 fans stayed after the Royals/Angels game to watch Kansas City's AA and AAA teams play. The interesting fact is that this will be the largest crowd to watch the AAA team in their home uniforms. The Trailer Park only holds 6500 fans, with a couple of thousand more able to sit on the grass.  While the "new ballpark smell" will draw people to the stadium out of curiosity, I really wonder if that will be enough to offset the loss of big crowds from the Fourth of July fireworks. The "new ballpark" may have "fan friendly amenities" (even an occasional baseball game, as I understand it), but it's still a ballpark in Nebraska that's subject to the variety of weather we get here.  Just look at today: by noon, it was pushing 80 degress.  A front came through this afternoon, and this evening, the wind is howling and it feels about 50 degrees cooler...and when you get evenings like this, it doesn't matter what the ballpark is like.

We'll see down the line how the Trailer Park turns out, but right now, I'm seeing much more activity and anticipation for TD Ameritrade Park in downtown. Tomorrow morning, tickets for the ballpark opening game between Nebraska and Creighton go on sale, and all around downtown, you see signs of what the area will look like come College World Series time in June. New stuff is popping up all the time. Meanwhile out in BFE, nothing. And probably nothing for another five to seven years.  Ouch.  (That has to be considered a disaster if you were someone who pumped the BFE plan.)

But wait... Ameritrade is going to be empty 50 weeks a year, right?  Hardly.  There are some Creighton games, and while they probably won't draw many people except when Nebraska comes to town, it's something. The Nighthawks will play there this fall, unless the league collapses.  (And with the latest coaching hires, a collapse doesn't appear likely.)  And this week, we should hear the lineup for the Red Sky Music Festival in July.

U2, perhaps?  Beats the hell out of Glee and Sarah Palin nights...