Thursday, June 30, 2011

Odds 'n' ends

- If you think Mark Martin is looking weathered, you're right--the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver celebrated his 800th Cup Series start at the Martinsville, VA race this past April.

- The 2011 class of the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame includes the posthumous honor to former University of Kansas athletics director Bob Frederick.

- Missouri is in the running for a stud wide receiver out of Springfield, MO. Dorial Green-Beckham, at Hillcrest High School, is being courted by Alabama, Auburn, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma, USC and MU. The 6'6", 220 pounder is a "track star playing in a basketball player's body," according to The Sporting News.

- In case you missed it, Kansas' Thomas Robinson is wowing scouts at this summer's Amare Stoudemire Big Man Camp.

- Now that we've had some chance to digest Rory McIlroy's extraordinary U.S. Open performance, consider the following--a poll was taken of 100 teaching pros by Golf Magazine and 82% considered Tiger Woods' 2000 win at Pebble Beach more impressive than McIlroy's win at Congressional Country Club.

- Which NBA Draft pick is likely to be most scrutinized when the season starts in the fall? It has to be Jimmer Fredette. Fredette was picked 10th by the Milwaukee Bucks and then traded to the Sacramento Kings on draft night. His stock exploded in the pre-draft camps such that he went higher than most expected. It's obvious that Fredette has an individual offensive game which was the best in college the past two years--whether that translates to the NBA remains to be seen. He wasn't required to play defense at BYU but will have to display those skills in "the league."

- Speaking of the NBA, the collective bargaining agreement expires tonight at 10:59 p.m. CDT. The owners and players union are meeting today to try to come to agreement before the deadline. The two sides are far apart on all major issues--salary cap, revenue sharing, etc.

- Uh, what the heck has happened to U.S. tennis? It's Wimbledon season and, once again, there are no Americans still in contention--Rafael Nadal dispensed with Mardy Fish yesterday.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Wrapping up a Father's Day weekend of sports

- The golf gods have to be breathing a collective sigh of relief. A successor to the throne of Tiger was crowned yesterday in Bethesda, MD with young Rory McIlroy running away with this year's U.S. Open. Not only did McIlroy display a blend of incredible shot-making with a "cocksure" swagger, he did it with humility and likeability. The kid's got star power--the hope now is that he'll play in more tournaments in the U.S.

- Steve Fisher isn't happy at San Diego State. You see, Kansas basketball got a commitment from Kevin Young, a kid who played at Loyola Marymount and then decided to transfer to SDSU. Except, in the meantime (and not mentioned in reports about Fisher's unhappiness), SDSU assistant coach Justin Hutson left to join Dave Rice's staff at UNLV. As a result, Fisher lost Bryce Jones, a transfer from USC, who ended up going to Vegas with Hutson. And, Hutson's departure obviously had something to do with Young de-committing and going to Kansas. Jayhawk coach Bill Self has publicly said that KU did not get involved with Young until after he had de-committed.

- In other college hoops news, a few Arkansas players want to transfer now that Mike Anderson has assumed the head coaching role. Rotnei Clarke, one of the best players on the Razorback squad, wants out but has not been granted his release. Two others--Jeff Peterson and Glenn Bryant--wanted their releases and were given approval by Anderson. So, why not Clarke? Perhaps it's because he's one of the best shooters in college basketball and Anderson hopes that he'll change his mind. Yet, Clarke asked for his release two months ago and hasn't wavered in his request. It's silly for an incoming coach to try to keep a player who he did not recruit and who now wants to leave--why should a coach have flexibility to break a contract but a player be forced to stay?

- It's June 20 and, surprise, the Kansas City Royals are now officially in last place. For the second straight day, the Royals were victimized by shoddy relief pitching.

- How cool was the camera shot of McIlroy hugging his father after the U.S. Open? There's something special about having this particular major tournament culminate on Father's Day.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

What I think: Shame on you, NBC!

Today is Father's Day and, as is custom, it's also the final round of the U.S. Open Golf Championship, televised on NBC.

I eagerly awaited the opening of the telecast, knowing that NBC would likely tie in Father's Day along with a patriotic theme, given the venue of Congressional Country Club in suburban Washington, D.C.

NBC obliged with the patriotic theme, juxtaposing an elementary class of children reciting the Pledge of Allegiance with shots from the previous three rounds of the tournament. However, in showing two different renditions of the pledge, the words "under God" were omitted--glaringly so.

For those who need a reminder, the Pledge of Allegiance goes like this: "I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

Now, the words "under God," in full disclosure, have been challenged in various ways for the past three to four decades. Most recently, on March 11, 2010, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld the words in the case of Newdow v. Rio Linda Union School District. In the decision, the appellate court ruled that the words were of a "ceremonial and patriotic nature" and did not constitute an establishment of religion. And, in November of that same year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston, in a unanimous decision, affirmed a ruling by a New Hampshire lower federal court which found that the pledge's reference to God didn't violate students' rights.

Obviously, NBC didn't adequately check out the background of these two words in the pledge and how they have been protected for over 50 years. Instead, they took it upon themselves to edit out the words and changed our country's pledge in a way that is, simply, unacceptable.

(EDITOR'S NOTE: NBC apologized, at 3:35 p.m. CDT--on air--for the editing of the Pledge of Allegiance.)

Friday, June 17, 2011

Winners and losers

Loser: The citizens of Kansas City, who lost a cheerleader, civic leader, and guy who helped make our ol' town a better place to live--Kevin Gray, head of the Greater Kansas City Sports Commission & Foundation.

Winner: The citizens of Kansas City, who witnessed another top-flight sports venue open in our fair city. LiveStrong Park opened last week and hosted the U.S. national team this week. The addition of LiveStrong gives Kansas City five premier sports venues--a made-for-soccer stadium,a fan-friendly racetrack (Kansas Speedway), a downtown arena complete with College Basketball Experience, and the first dual-purpose stadium complex which is home to our professional franchises, the Kansas City Chiefs and the Kansas City Royals.

Loser: Vancouver fans--or, at least that small portion of fans who used the Canucks' game seven loss in the Stanley Cup as an excuse to riot in one of the prettiest cities in North America.

Winner: Dallas fans. Approximately 250,000 fans turned out to say "thank you" to the NBA champion Dallas Mavericks.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Kevin Gray

My friend, Kevin Gray, passed away yesterday. He was 51. A husband and father, he leaves behind his wife Katie and four daughters after a quick, yet courageous, battle with cancer.

I first met Kevin in the mid-1990's--he was early in his career leading the Greater Kansas City Sports Commission & Foundation and I was fresh off my initial work in sports marketing with World Cup USA 1994. Our friendship grew out of that initial business relationship and my involvement on the Sports Commission's Board of Directors.

Kevin was the most passionate cheerleader for Kansas City that I've encountered in my civic involvement. Sometimes Pollyanna, always energetic, Kevin never wavered in his belief that Kansas City was, indeed, a major league town and a great venue for sports of all types and sizes.

The various projects and involvements of Kevin make up a lengthy list. My favorite memory is his leadership of and unwavering belief in the effort to make Sprint Center a reality in downtown Kansas City. From our first back-room, surreptitious meeting on the then dream-of-a-project through the sometimes strident campaign rhetoric to the night of the successful vote and, ultimately, opening night of the arena, Kevin's energy was a key difference-maker.

Kansas City will miss Kevin Gray. I will miss him as well and hope to always remember his love for sports--both major and minor--in this town as well as his dedication to his family, his friends, and his faith.

Rest in peace, Kevin.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

When a golf course was a training ground

When you tune in tomorrow and begin a full weekend of television viewing of the U.S. Open Championship, keep in mind that Congressional Country Club--the site of this year's Open--once served as a training ground during World War II.

In 1943, soldiers who arrived at this secret destination--part of a new covert operation called the Office of Strategic Services (OSS)--discovered a city of tents spread out on the vast acreage. Yet, overlooking this tent city was an impressive, Mediterranean-style clubhouse--Congressional Country Club--a visible sign of what the acreage used to be.

The club, 12 miles outside of Washington, D.C., leased its 400+ acres to the U.S. government during the war for the purpose of a training ground for the OSS, which was America's first intelligence agency. What was once the practice range became a rifle range. Bunkers were used for grenade practice. The dense wooded areas around the course were used for commando exercises.

On the fairways, men crawled on their bellies while live machine gun fire arced over their heads. And the greens, once targets for golf balls, became targets for mortars.

It's a wonder the course recovered and is in use today given how it was under siege in these practice activities from 1943 through the end of WWII. After the war, the government restored the club to its original beauty and it became a gathering place for the elite of Washington. Over time, Presidents, cabinet members, and other government influencers teed it up at Congressional.

Congressional has hosted two previous U.S. Opens along with a PGA Championship. And, while it's 7,500 plus yards will offer a stern test of this weekend's golfers, the challenge will pale compared to what OSS recruits endured during those training months of 1943. Said one OSS veteran, who's still alive today, "There was nothing ordinary about our training because there was nothing ordinary about what they were asking us to do in battle. We might have to operate completely by ourselves behind enemy lines. We had to be ready for anything."

(Source: The New York Times)

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Saturday morning coffee

- Welcome to Kansas City, Mike Moustakas! The Royals "kiddie corps" brought up another member to the big leagues and "Moose" delivered with a broken-bat single in the sixth inning.

- has been offering a chance for Kansas fans to vote on their "All Decade" mens basketball team. The final five are Mario Chalmers, Brandon Rush, Kirk Hinrich, Nick Collison and Drew Gooden. Not a bad starting lineup, huh?

- Down Tennessee way, another type of lineup is appearing before the NCAA. Former football coach Lane Kiffin, former basketball coach Bruce Pearl and former athletics director Mike Hamilton all are in Indianapolis for an appearance in the principal's office, i.e., the NCAA. Hmm, "former" seems to be the common bond here, doesn't it?

- Also in the world of college athletics gone wrong, West Virginia football coach Bill Stewart has resigned. An intoxicated Stewart was rumored to have been escorted out of a casino last month, as reported by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

- Remember the name Lukas Verzbicas. The high-school track athlete from Orland Park, IL has the nation's best high school time in the Mile; 3,000 meter run; 3,200 meter run; and Two Mile run. Verzbicas' times this year in the 3,200 and Two Mile are U.S. high school records.

- The game of soccer, or "futbol," is often referred to as "the beautiful game." Governance of the sport, though, is far from beautiful. The latest revelation is a Caribbean soccer official who admitted to getting $40,000 in cash at a meeting that is being investigated as part of the FIFA bribery scandal. (Source: New York Times)

- The U.S. Open golf tournament tees off Thursday at Congressional Golf Club in Bethesda, MD. Which American golfer stands the best chance to win the nation's open tournament? Steve Stricker, winner of The Memorial last weekend, would be a savvy choice. Or, how about Matt Kuchar or Bubba Watson? Actually, the player to watch may be none other than Lucas Glover, the guy who surprised everyone and won the 2009 Open over Phil Mickelson.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Same as it ever was...

Dick Ebersol may be gone from NBC but his Olympic-sized shadow remains. It was announced today that NBC has retained the rights to the Olympics, out-bidding Disney/ABC/ESPN and News Corp's FOX. The Comcast-NBC Universal group won the rights to the next four Olympic Games with a package reported at $4.38 billion.

The bid includes the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia; the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; and the 2018 Winter Games and 2020 Summer Games. This is a gamble for NBC given that host cities are not yet named for the 2018 and 2020 Games, meaning that the network doesn't know where it will have to go to air the games, nor does it know the time zone challenges which may exist.

Congratulations have to go to new NBC sports president Mark Lazarus as well as to Comcast president Brian Roberts. Many thought that Disney/ABC/ESPN would be an attractive network for the International Olympic Committee but the long-standing relationship with NBC--"the Olympic Network"--was not broken.

The best college basketball coaching jobs

What's the best college hoops job in America? The answer, as opined by Mike DeCourcy in The Sporting News, may not surprise you but the order of the top ten list likely will.

DeCourcy thinks that North Carolina is the plum job in the U.S. As he writes, "How many kids in America wouldn't take Carolina's call?" The job has the allure of Michael Jordan, the great unis, and the long-standing consistency of winning--both league championships as well as five national championships.

The remaining rankings, two through ten, are worthy of debate. While I don't necessarily disagree with the schools listed, I do take exception with the order.

Here are DeCourcy's rankings:

1. North Carolina

2. UCLA ("location and tradition")

3. Texas ("so much talent and money...minimal pressure to win it all")

4. Kentucky ("Kentucky makes certain there is life beyond basketball for those who prove themselves to be committed to the Wildcats")

5. Ohio State ("six in-state recruits" on 2011 number one seeded team)

6. Indiana ("the best are starting to join the Hoosiers again")

7. Kansas ("if getting talent weren't such a chore, KU would fight UNC for the top spot")

8. Duke ("...the most powerful program--what will it be when Coach K retires?")

9. Maryland ("D.C./Maryland/Northern Virginia might be the country's richest talent mine.")

10. Arizona ("...a factor with nearly every player west of the Rockies."

My biggest beef here is with UCLA and Texas. Sure, Texas has bucks and the pressure is slight--does that make it a better job than Kansas or Kentucky? And, Ohio State and Indiana in front of Kansas? C'mon! Yes, there may be more talent closer by but that hasn't stopped the Jayhawks from getting top 50 kids, on an annual basis, to come play on James Naismith Court.

Here's my list:

1. Kentucky (How do you argue with the rabid fan base and most winning school in college hoops history?)

2. Kansas (The most tradition-rich school in the country. I mean, the court is named after the game's founder and the Rules of Basketball will soon be permanently enshrined in Lawrence.)

3. North Carolina (They seem to get whatever McDonald's All-American they want. Yet, the fan base is known for their "whine-and-cheese" attitude and the Smith Center isn't ear-splitting loud.)

4. Duke (It is, indeed, the country's most powerful program and they rarely lose recruits, unless it's to in-state rival North Carolina. But, like DeCourcy wrote, what will happen when K retires?)

5. UCLA (It's hard to argue with the Wooden legacy yet there is a troubling lack of consistency here over the past 30 years.)

6. Indiana (The right coach will make this basketball-crazy state rapidly in love with the Hoosiers again. I'm still not convinced that Tom Crean is the right guy.)

7. Arizona (This program always seems to attract the very best L.A. talent.)

8. Texas (Okay--yes, the facilities are first rate and they have more money than places to spend it. However, UT is and always will be a football school.)

9. Ohio State (There's bountiful talent in Ohio and Thad Matta has proven that you can consistently win in Columbus. And, Buckeye fans need something to divert their attention from the current football debacle.)

10. Florida (In a slight nod over Maryland, I go with Florida for many of the same reasons as Texas. Maryland would be #11 on my list.)

There you have it--fire away, campers. Like I said, plenty to debate with this list.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Yellow flags and booted ground balls

- The "fan of the game" at Kauffman Stadium was an Overland Park, KS man who has been a Kansas City Royals season ticketholder since 1986. Yep--1986...the year after the Royals only World Series title and the year which began the current streak of no playoff wins. That man either needs to be commended for his loyalty, or questioned for his sanity given the bad baseball he's witnessed in 24.5 years.

- It's one thing to be labeled as NASCAR's "bad boy." It's another to be stupid and disrespectful. Kyle Busch has fallen into the latter category with his latest stunt--an after-race dust-up on the cool down lap with fellow truck driver Joey Coulter. Coulter and Busch bumped for position on the final lap of yesterday's NASCAR truck series race, so Busch scraped and damaged Coulter's vehicle after the race. Richard Childress, owner of Coulter's truck and head of Richard Childress Racing, walked down to Busch's garage to talk to Busch about the incident. Words were exchanged with Busch reportedly saying "don't worry about it, old man," and the result was, apparently, a Busch black eye. Witnesses said that Childress had Busch in a headlock--a move which many other drivers and NASCAR insiders would have liked to have seen for themselves.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Saturday morning coffee

Throwin' it around the horn on a lazy Saturday morning:

- How good is Dirk Nowitzki? I, for one, am glad to see this NBA All-Star truly getting his due given the Mavs run through the playoffs, into the NBA Finals, and a 1-1 series versus the Heat. Game three is tomorrow on ABC, 7:00 p.m. CDT.

- Carl Edwards came out publicly and said that a win at Kansas Speedway would mean more to him than winning Daytona, the Brickyard, or any other of the major races on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Here's hoping that Edwards, Clint Bowyer (Emporia) and Jamie McMurray (Joplin) can make tomorrow a special one for local race fans--it's race number one of the NASCAR season at the local race track. Race two will take place at Kansas Speedway on October 9.

- The football revenue sharing model announced by the Big 12 makes abundant sense. It equally shares 76 percent from the league's deal with FOX Sports Net with the remaining monies split based upon the television attractiveness of non-conference games. The upside is not only more money evenly split but an incentive for schools to schedule tougher non-conference games.

- Speaking of television, this week will be an interesting one--networks/holding companies vying for Olympic TV rights will submit bids for the 2014 and 2016 Games. NBC Universal is the long-time TV rightsholder but ESPN and FOX plan to aggressively compete for the right to broadcast the Olympics. ESPN will bring the clout of the Disney/ESPN/ABC family and its sports leadership position versus News Corp/FOX's audience delivery of young adults. NBC Universal, the incumbent, is known as "the Olympic Network," and will up the ante with Comcast's video on-demand and online assets. It'll be interesting to watch what happens.

- It's summer and that means college football preseason annuals! I, being the sucker that I am for this tradition of preseason speculation, bought Athlon's Big 12 magazine, The Sporting News College Football preview, and Phil Steele's College Football 2011 Preview. Steele's book clocks in at 328 pages and is far and away the most detailed of the offerings. Athlon's book provides not only conference information but other tidbits, such as recruiting news. And, TSN's book offers up the sports brand equity, albeit aging, of The Sporting News. This is the first year of seeing these annuals without Nebraska and Colorado in the Big 12, thus there is no north/south breakdown as there has been since 1996. All three are unanimous in their belief that Kansas will finish 10th in the new 10-team Big 12, that Michael Egnew of Missouri will be the school's next All-American tight end, and that the Brown brothers (Bryce and Arthur) will likely be impact players at Kansas State.