Sunday, December 30, 2012

Grading the Jayhawks

Kansas has one final non-conference game, against Temple at home, and then begins defense of its Big 12 conference championship, seeking an unprecedented ninth straight league title.  Oklahoma State will provide stout competition but the stage is set for yet another conference championship for the Jayhawks.

Let's take a look at how these Jayhawks have graded out as we prepare for conference play.

Overall:  It's hard to complain about a 11-1 record to date and a likely top five ranking for the coming week.  Highlight:  A road win over Ohio State.  Lowlight:  A Champions Classic loss to Michigan State where KU could not hold a lead down the stretch.  Grade:  A-.

Elijah Johnson:  Johnson started slow and had a pretty horrid first half against Ohio State.  Overall, though, let's give E.J. the benefit of the doubt as he battled some early-season health issues and also had to adjust to being the point guard and the leader of this team.  He's grown comfortable in both roles, and the emergence of Nadir Tharpe as a very capable PG back-up will help Johnson immensely.  Grade:  B.

Travis Releford:  Early on, Jayhawk fans had to wonder what was up with Releford given the number of turnovers and bonehead plays by this fifth-year senior.  He then played two games in the CBE Classic at Sprint Center, was named MVP, and hasn't looked back.  Releford is Kansas' best on-ball defender, a tremendous finisher, and can score, particularly when needed most.  One could make the case that T-Rel is KU's season MVP to date.  Grade:  A.

Jeff Withey:  Is this the same Jeff Withey who struggled in the past against smaller teams and appeared apathetic at times on the court?  Withey has parlayed his tremendous 2012 second-half-of-the-season and NCAA Tournament into vying for national defensive player-of-the-year honors in 2012-2013.  Withey anchors what has become a suffocating Kansas defense through his shot-blocking ability and altering presence in the paint.  Grade:  A-.

Kevin Young:  Let's see a show of hands by KU fans--who thought that Young would start at the beginning of the season but would quickly give way to either Perry Ellis or Jamari Traylor as the four man in the Kansas lineup?  Yep, pretty much all of you, right?  Young is the energy guy for KU and has more impact on a game than any other non-scoring starter in a top ten program in America.  Grade:  A.

Ben McLemore:  Did anyone other than Bill Self see this coming?  McLemore was touted as a good player but no one forecast his current standing as a top five pick on NBA draft boards.  Benny Mac is still very much learning the game and his potential impact on a team led by four seniors but improvement, and learning, happens with each game.  If he continues to progress, McLemore will leave KU at the end of this season and will become the best Kansas pro since Paul Pierce.  Grade:  A.

Bench:  What's to like--the emergence of Tharpe, Ellis' double-double against American last night, the motor of Traylor, and the sweet-shooting potential of Andrew White III.  What's not to like--to date, there has been no real consistency from Kansas' bench, save for Tharpe's performance over the past three games.  The only under-performing area of the team to date is the play of the seventh, eighth and ninth guys off of the bench--the potential is there but the game-to-game consistency is not.  Grade:  B-.

Coaching:  It feels like Bill Self has this team right where he wants them--10 and 1 at the break with two weeks of practice focus and seniors who finally seem to be leading the youngsters out on the court.  This team will not be one of Self's toughest, but it could be one of his smartest.  Self knows that this squad will be disadvantaged by playing in a league that, top to bottom, is weaker than normal.  He'll have to pull different levers to keep the toughness quotient--both physical and mental--dialed up for a hoped-for deep run in March/April.  Grade:  A-.

Schedule:  Temple comes to Allen Fieldhouse on January 6, followed by Iowa State on January 9 in the conference opener.  Key January games--Baylor on January 14; at Texas, January 19; at Kansas State, January 22.

Friday, December 28, 2012

The Miracle on the Brazos II

In 1972, Grant Teaff was hired to turn around the football program at Baylor University, a team that had gone 7-43-1 in the five seasons preceding his arrival.  A short two years later, Teaff led Baylor to an eight-win season, a Southwest Conference championship, and a win over Texas where the Bears rallied from a 24-7 halftime deficit.  It was Baylor's first victory over Texas in 17 years and their first conference championship in 50 years.  The season was referred to as the "Miracle on the Brazos,"named after the Brazos River that borders the Baylor campus.

Perhaps Art Briles five seasons at Baylor don't merit "miracle" status, but let's consider what he's done for a program that had not been to a bowl game since 1994, prior to his arrival.  Briles has gone 33-30 since arriving at Baylor, including a 25-14 record over the past three years.  He has a 14-12 record, over the past three years, in the tough Big 12 and this year defeated then #1 (BCS standings) Kansas State on the road.  And, last night, Briles' team capped an 8-5 season with a 49-26 win over #17 UCLA in the Holiday Bowl.

Not only has Briles brought consistency to Waco (the team has gone to three straight bowl games for the first time in school history), he recruited a player who ignited the program and ultimately won the Heisman Trophy.  Robert Griffin III not only was a scintillating talent on the field, he became the classy face of the program off of the field.  In the process, Briles' leadership, with a healthy dose of RGIII thrown in, was the impetus for the latest proof point of Baylor's newfound football relevance--a new football stadium that is being built on the Brazos River, on the Baylor campus.

Briles', and Baylor's, success is proof that there are downtrodden programs, outside of Manhattan, KS, that can undergo a dramatic turnaround.  The key is finding a coach who is the right fit; finding a talent like Griffin was the lightning in a bottle that now has Baylor firmly positioned as a potential top half program in a conference featuring heavyweights like Kansas State, Oklahoma, Texas, Oklahoma State and TCU.

I'd say all of this does qualify as the 2012 version of "Miracle on the Brazos."  Let's give it up for Coach Briles and the Baylor football program.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Duke-Carolina, rivalries...and the state of college hoops

Do you need proof of the monster that is college football?  Here's one reason ESPN is investing mega-millions into the sport, including an annual rights fee of $470 million for the college football playoff, which starts at the end of the 2014 season--the 2011 regular season matchup between Alabama and LSU pulled a 11.9 rating on CBS.  In comparison, the highest rated regular season college basketball broadcast, between Duke and North Carolina, had a 2.7 rating on ESPN.

The difference in the two help illustrate the striking comparison to "the best regular season in sports," as touted by college football marketers, versus the hoops regular season that detractors opine has lost its meaning given the expanded field of the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament.

I recently attended the IMG Intercollegiate Athletics Forum in New York and the hot topics were conference realignment and the coming college football playoff.  The phrase "college basketball" was not uttered until well into the afternoon of day one of the conference.

Football is driving the conference realignment bus and college basketball rivalries are the collateral damage.  The Duke-Carolina rivalry, considered the pre-eminent matchup in college hoops, had the best regular season television rating of the season, yet it was only a quarter of the rating achieved by Bama-LSU.  The highest-rated broadcast network games were North Carolina-Kentucky, 2.0; Ohio State-Michigan State, 2.0; and Kansas-Missouri, 1.9--all on CBS.

The ratings for the 2011-2012 college basketball season do not represent declines over prior years as both CBS and ESPN have had steady or slightly improved ratings since 2008-2009.  However, the emphasis continues to build on March Madness as TV advertisers invest far more during the tournament than during the regular season.  Nielsen research indicates that advertisers spent more than $1 billion on the 2011 NCAA Tournament compared with just under $300 million during the 2010-2011 regular season.

What's the solution?  I'm not sure there is one given that college basketball gets started in November when college football is in the midst of its important final regular season games.  The attention then shifts to conference championship games and then to bowl games, meaning that TV eyeballs don't really start focusing on college hoops until mid-to-late January.

College basketball still produces the best consecutive three weeks in sports but has to accept that it is the afterthought in the new world order of college athletics and athletics department revenue.  Duke and North Carolina will always be great theater but pales to the appeal of the "one loss and done" format of March Madness.  That, my fellow hoops fanatics, is a shame.

"Must See Rivalries"


Ohio State-Michigan State


"Going, Going, Gone"



Pittsburgh-West Virginia

(Source:  Sports Business Journal, November 2012)

Saturday, December 1, 2012

College football's disappointments and surprises

The regular season and conference championships are over, as of tonight, so let's look back at this entertaining season and this year's disappointments and surprises.

Disappointment:  We have to start with USC, don't we?  The Trojans were picked by some as a preseason number one and Matt Barkley was all but given the Heisman.  Neither will happen given the porous USC defense coupled with a season for Barkley that has to be termed less-than-expected.

Surprise:  Kansas State.  The 'Cats were one surprise loss from being in the national championship game and QB Collin Klein still may win the Heisman.  Kansas State has had its best season ever and will now get to win game 12 in the Fiesta Bowl, the second BCS bowl in the school's history.

Disappointment:  Should we put Missouri in this category?  Probably not given that the injury to QB James Franklin dramatically impacted MU's season.  But, the Tigers did get a wake-up call on what it will take to compete in the SEC.

Surprise:  Texas A&M surprised everyone and, in the process, replaced Ryan Tannehill with "Johnny Football," the most electric player in A&M history since John David Crow.  Manzeil is now the front-runner to win the Heisman.

Disappointment:  The ACC...again.  Florida State was the premier team in this league but, after the 'Noles and Clemson, the gap was wide.

Surprise:  Penn State.  Who would have thought that the Nittany Lions would finish 8-4 and 6-2 in the league after starting with losses to Ohio and Virginia?

Disappointment:  West Virginia started the season 5-0 with an offense that seemingly could score at will, and a QB who seemed destined to win the Heisman.  Five games later the Mountaineers were 5-5 and had to win their last two games, against Iowa State and Kansas, to become bowl eligible.

Surprise:  Let's give it up for Urban Meyer and Ohio State--undefeated and the best team in the Big 10.

Surprise:  And, of course, we have to end with Notre Dame, another undefeated team and in the national championship game against Alabama, the first time the Domers have been in this lofty spot since 1988.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

BCS finalists

The BCS announced today the list of teams still in contention for berths in BCS bowl games and the national championship game on January 7.

The champions from the Atlantic Coast, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, and Southeastern conferences automatically qualify for a BCS bowl game.  Here are the teams in each conference who are still contending for their conference's automatic berth:

ACC:  Florida State, Georgia Tech
Big East:  Louisville, Rutgers
Big Ten:  Michigan, Nebraska, Wisconsin
Big 12:  Kansas State, Oklahoma, Texas
Pac-12:  Oregon, Stanford, UCLA
SEC:  Alabama, Georgia, LSU, Texas A&M

In addition to these teams, the pool of teams under consideration also includes:  Boise State, Clemson, Florida, Kent State, Notre Dame, Oklahoma State, Oregon State and South Carolina.

The final BCS standings will be compiled on Sunday, December 2 with bowl pairings announced at 8:30 p.m. ET that night.  The BCS games will be played as follows, all on ESPN:

January 1 - Rose Bowl presented by Vizio
January 1 - Discover Orange Bowl
January 2 - Allstate Sugar Bowl
January 3 - Tostitos Fiesta Bowl
January 7 - Discover BCS National Championship Game

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The importance of a strong brand

Check out my blog post, on the importance of a strong brand, on the Premier Sports Management website:

Penalty flags, red cards, and helmet stickers

Red card:  Let's start down in Austin where Mack Brown thinks it's "disrespectful" of opposing team fans to use the upside-down "Hook 'Em Horns" hand gesture.  This, by the way, is from the who groused, the week before, about the amount of time he had to spend on interviews and such with the Longhorn Network.

Penalty flag:  Sporting KC, our city's lone hope at professional sports glory in 2012, dug a huge hole with the team's 2-nil loss in Houston on Sunday.  Here's hoping that the Cauldron can urge the SKC lads to a decisive victory in playoff action tomorrow night, given the goal differential needed to advance.

Helmet sticker:  Let's give it up for the NBA, who issued flopping warnings to Minnesota's J.J. Barea and Cleveland's Donald Sloan, the first such warning under a new league policy.  Could that policy possibly be adopted by the NCAA with a focus on the defensive tactics employed at Duke?

Penalty flag:  Life in Pullman, WA hasn't been all that much fun for Washington State first-year head coach Mike Leach.  Leach called out his linemen, after Saturday's game, calling their play "bordering on cowardice."  And now, WSU receiver Marquess Wilson has been suspended for an unspecified violation of team rules.  The Cougars are 2-7 overall and 0-6 in Pac 12 play.

Red card:  Kentucky did the expected and fired head coach Joker Phillips.  The school then announced that Phillips would be in charge for the final two regular-season games.  Talk about "dead man walkin'."

Helmet sticker:  Seriously, how cool is it to see Peyton Manning back after his neck surgeries?  Manning is the AFC quarterback leader with 20 touchdowns and the NFL leader with 2,404 total yards to date.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Is there such a thing as mental toughness?

I was watching one of those endless yelling shows on ESPN today--you know, the ones where ex-athletes/coaches are pontificating on this team or that team, or this play or that player, and the term "mental toughness" was used.

Now, the world of sports is well-known for its catch phrases and lingo, but the term "mental toughness" is used over and over with seldom an explanation as to what exactly "it" is.  I've often discussed the topic with sports buddies and often got caught in the web of passing judgment on teams and/or players who I/we thought were "mentally tough."

But, again, is there even such a thing?  Well, if you trust Google, there is as the searching of this phrase turned up 2.7 million entries.  I'll use one to try to provide some definition around this term given that the yappiest of pundits will continue to discuss the unbeaten teams in college football and who will survive, Mark Sanchez versus Tim Tebow in New York, Oklahoma City's young team in the NBA and their mental fortitude, or whether pre-season number one Indiana has "it" to go with the obvious talent on the floor.

One definition I found of mental toughness is, "having the natural or developed psychological edge that enables you to:
- Generally cope better than your opponents with the many demands (e.g., competition, training, lifestyle) that are placed on you as a performer.
- Specifically, to be more consistent and better than your opponents in remaining determined, focused, confident, resilient, and in control under pressure."

This same definition cited self-belief, motivation, focus and composure as key characteristics for those considered to be mentally tough athletes.  The study (Jones et al, 2002) pointed out that the "key component of mental toughness is learning how to condition your mind to think confidently and be able to overcome frustration/self-critical negativity"--to not allow frustration to undermine your confidence or focus.

If we buy into this seemingly reasonable definition, then what athletes and/or teams do we think fit the categorization?  For me, Joe Montana comes to mind given his penchant for late-game heroics even if he or his team had not performed at a high level, up to that point, as well as his seeming calm in the huddle which helped his team stay calm and in control.  Michael Jordan is another who has to be placed in that mentally tough category given his ultra-competitiveness and the championship rings he brought home to Chicago.  And, a more recent pro athlete who has shown mental toughness is Eli Manning.

I buy into the notion of mental toughness and do believe that such a thing exists.  My hope, as a fan, is that the term is not used indiscriminately and that perhaps a more rationale explanation is given when those opining on the world of sports back up their opinions with a fact or two.  What a novel concept, huh?

Friday, October 19, 2012


- Did anyone else think that tomorrow's game between Kansas State and West Virginia would be "the" game, at mid-season, of the Big 12 conference schedule?  No, I didn't think so.  West Virginia was expected to contend with Oklahoma for the league championship but no one thought KSU would be quite this good.  Once again, many of us underestimated the impact of the ol' ball coach in Manhattan and his ability to get teams to play disciplined, error-free football.

- If you watched "No Place Like Home," the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary on the rules of basketball coming to the University of Kansas, you were introduced to Josh Swade, the sometimes crazed KU hoops fans who made it his personal mission to get James Naismith's rules back home.  As one of my friends said of Swade, "the dude was bat-s@#! crazy."  Sometimes, I guess we all need someone who is "bat s@#! crazy" to take on a task of this magnitude.

- I'm not an anti-New York Yankee fan but I must admit that I find it humorous when the Bronx Bombers fail miserably.  Here's an amazing couple of stats to chew on in the wake of the Yanks loss to Detroit in the American League Championship Series:  Alex Rodriguez, he of the $29 million salary in 2012, had all of one hit in the series against the Tigers; Robinson Cano, was even worse going 0-for-29 in the postseason, which is a major league record for postseason failure.

- Hank Steinbrecher, former head of the U.S. Soccer Federation, posted this on his Facebook wall after the U.S. soccer team's win over Guatemala at LiveStrong Sporting Park in Kansas City earlier this week:  "Last night I watched our National Team play in Kansas City.  It was a terrific victory and puts us through to the hex.  What I was really impressed with is the Fan.  KC fans were exactly what they should be.  I think one of the greatest advancements in American Soccer is not on the field, but rather in the stands...I thank the U.S. Soccer family for making us all proud.  I had tears in my eyes!"

- The Kansas City Royals finished the season with an overall attendance of 1,739,859, or 21,748 per game at home, which is 2.1% improvement year over year.  The team won 72 games in 2012, which is one more than they won in 2011--a whopping 1.4% improvement year-over-year.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Football helmet branding--more of the same?

Here in the heartland, much has been made of Missouri's move to the SEC and the accompanying radical shift in football uniform designs sported by the Tigers.  Perhaps the most controversial, or opined upon, move was the retirement of the block "M" from the helmet in favor of the school's relatively new Tiger logo.  And, on one helmet version, the Tiger logo takes on a much more visible role against a matte black finish.

MU's move is one that sets it apart in the vast sameness of helmet branding in college football.  A quick audit of all major college football teams shows that Missouri is one of but a few who opt for something on the helmet other than the initial, or initials, of the school.

Among their brethren in the SEC, only MU and Arkansas use something other than the school initials or nickname, excepting Alabama's consistent use of the player's number on his helmet.  And, across all of college football, only the following do something different:

Kansas State - Powercat logo
TCU - "TCU" with horned frog
Texas - Longhorn logo
Florida State - Seminole spear
Clemson - Cat paw
Virginia - "V" with crossed swords
Iowa - Hawkeye
Michigan - Iconic stripes
Michigan State - Spartan head
Washington State - "WSU" with cougar
Arizona State - Spear
Colorado - Buffalo with "CU"
USC - Trojan head

Of course, there are the few who go ultra-radical (Maryland or Oregon with its "O" on a helmet color/finish which isn't even in the school's color scheme) or ultra-conservative (Penn State with plain white helmets coupled with thin blue stripe.)  But, out of 58 major schools audited, only the above 13 use a week-to-week approach that does not rely solely on school initials and/or nickname.

For all of the commentary of late about radical uniform designs at schools like Oregon, Missouri, Boise State, Maryland, and others, the general rule of thumb in college football is to stay the same.  I, for one, think that schools need to push it a bit in the uniform department and, in particular, those schools who are not traditional football powers.  Oregon's recent success surely isn't due to just the unis--I mean, there have to be good players filling out those duds--but it has helped establish a brand for the football program which, once again, is in the top five and in national championship contention.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Catching up on the world of sports

- I attended a sports marketing conference in New York this week where Mark Waller, Chief Marketing Officer of the NFL, participated on a panel discussion and intimated that the replacement referee controversy did not adversely impact the NFL brand.  Perhaps Waller was trying to downplay the impact and the real concern that may have occurred at the league's 280 Park Avenue offices in New York.  But, if there indeed was no concern about brand impact by the NFL, then that is a foolhardy stance no matter the strength of this pre-eminent sports property.  Just like antenna-gate soiled the Apple brand, so too has this referee situation impacted the NFL brand given negative fan sentiment and player reactions.  The NFL needs to be careful that arrogance does not get in the way of strategic brand management.

- On the topic of replacement refs, estimates range from $250 million to $1 billion as to how much gambling money was affected by the replacement ref's "call" at the end of the recent Green Bay-Seattle game--a contest which Seattle won on the controversial ruling of a Seahawks touchdown.

- Tony Stewart is announcing today that the primary sponsor of his NASCAR ride next season will be Springfield, MO-based Bass Pro Shops.  Bass Pro will move to Stewart from Jamie McMurray.  Mobil will continue with Stewart as a secondary sponsor.

- I'm not a New York Yankees fan but seeing Derek Jeter in the Major League Baseball Playoffs one more time is simply a good thing.

- The 2013 high school basketball recruiting wars have a look of sameness about them as the Harrison twins, out of Texas, announced yesterday that they plan to take their talents to Lexington, KY.  The loss of the top five duo--the highest ranking twins ever--was a blow to Mark Turgeon and the Maryland Terrapins who had high hopes that the brothers would end up in College Park.

- If you're a fan who wishes you were more empowered to impact your franchise of choice, then perhaps you should move to Seattle.  The Major League Soccer Seattle Sounders are conducting a fan vote to select the team's next General Manager.  And, the vote is legit--the fans will decide.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Leftover thoughts from the Ryder Cup

The Ryder Cup, regardless of outcome, was great theater, particularly on Sunday when the European team came back from a 10-6 deficit to retain the cup with a dominant day in singles matches.  Ordinarily, it is the American team who struggles early in team competition then makes up points in the singles.  That tradition was turned on its side this past weekend.

Here are some random, leftover thoughts from watching the contest at Medinah Country Club in suburban Chicago:

- Ian Poulter is one of those athletes you love to hate--unless he plays for your team.  Poulter led a significant comeback in the Saturday afternoon four-ball matches and was money in the singles match on Sunday.

- How in the world does Jim Furyk not have a better Ryder Cup record?  Furyk's mental approach to the game seems tailored for the Ryder Cup but this captain's pick, once again, did not not deliver at crunch time.

- Keeping with the captain's pick theme, Steve Stricker, who joined Furyk as Davis Love III's picks, failed to score a single point in the Cup.

- The outcome was virtually decided when Phil Mickelson blew a one stroke lead, going into the 17th hole, in his singles match against Paul Lawrie.  Lawrie was outstanding but it was Mickelson who needed to stop the Euro momentum, and failed to do so.

- Speaking of Mickelson, many question DLIII's choice to sit Lefty and Keegan Bradley on Saturday afternoon after the two were scorching hot in their Friday and Saturday morning matches.  Bradley was the star of the U.S. team.

- And finally, is there a better team competition in sports than the Ryder Cup?  It's so cool to see players, known for their on-course stoicism, playing for no money and national pride, plus the respect of their teammates and profession.  The emotion these players express on the course is real and I can think of few more stressful moments in sports than standing over a Ryder Cup putt to decide a match.  Let's give it up to Martin Kaymer who made one of those putts to clinch the title for the Euros.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Dayne has not been great

It wasn't supposed to be like this.

Kansas head football coach Charlie Weis made a splashy entrance as a recruiter when he successfully lured Notre Dame quarterback transfer Dayne Crist to Lawrence.  Any sensical KU fan knew that 2012 would be a rebuilding year for the program, what with the Turner Gill debacle not that far in the rear view mirror, but the promised arrival of Crist was supposed to ease the pain.  Even the most pessimistic of Jayhawk fans believed that the former five-star recruit would be a major upgrade over last year's QB, Jordan Webb, and that he may not have guys who could catch the ball but surely Crist would put his passes on the money.

We are now four games into the Weis-Crist era and fans are openly asking if they can get Webb back.  I don't mean this to be harsh on Crist, as he by all appearances is a wonderful student-athlete and acknowledged leader, but his play on the field has been close to abysmal.

There are many reasons why Kansas lost to Rice but the most visible was the poor decision by Crist, late in the game, to throw the ball off his back foot into double coverage instead of either taking the sack or throwing the ball away.  Either of the latter would have resulted in a Kansas punt, thus stretching the field for the Owls' comeback.  Instead, Rice had the ball and good field position and we all know what happened next.

This past Saturday, Kansas again had a lead going into the late stages of the game, on the road, against Northern Illinois.  All the KU offense needed was to hold the ball, make some first downs, and get close enough for a field goal to make the lead a touchdown possession game with limited time left.  Instead, the offense sputtered and found itself in a fourth-and-17 situation--too far away to kick a field goal and too close to punt.  Amazingly, Kansas receiver Kale Pick somehow got open long--and I don't mean just open, I mean open.  The problem was that Crist missed the wide open receiver with a throw which, when last seen, was headed for Chicago.

Weis now faces the toughest decision of his young tenure at Kansas--does he bench the guy he brought in and publicly built up, or does he stick with Crist and continue to ride him?  What makes the decision relatively easy is that the guy behind Crist, Michael Cummings, is a freshman who has yet to play a down of college football.  The third-string QB, Turner Baty, at least has played beyond high school as he was recruited in from a California junior college.  Neither, though, are likely to be reason enough for  Weis to bench Crist.

How Weis handles Crist's confidence and damaged ego will be an interesting test for the coach who has more than his share of skeptics.  And, Weis' handling of Crist impacts more than the QB--it impacts a team who'll be watching their head coach and his management of the highest profile player on the team.  Weis has got to finesse this or he risks losing a team who may view their head coach as having blinders on when it comes to his favorites.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Comings and goings

From the wacky world of sports:

- The Billy Clyde Gillispie reign at Texas Tech is over.  And, his departure begs the question, "is there a school in the country who has a more odd recent coaching mini-drama than the folks in Lubbock?"  We first were treated with the Bob Knight re-emergence out of exile and his sporting the O'Reilly Auto Parts sweater on the sideline at Tech.  That led to the coach-in-waiting evolution of Pat Knight, and his subsequent dismissal given a dismal record with the Red Raiders.  Gillispie comes in, the next troubled coach to re-emerge in Lubbock and that fitful era ended with the news of yesterday.  Over on the football side, the Pirate--Mike Leach--brought his wild spread offense to Lubbock and experienced solid success until he ran afoul of the family James of ESPN fame.  Tommy Tuberville, another re-emergent coach, assumes the football seat and we're still all waiting to see how that hiring decision plays out.  In sum, and again, is there a school in the U.S. with a more odd coaching lineage of late?

- Athlon's pre-season college basketball edition is out and two familiar teams are predicted to make the Final Four.  Athlon predicts that Kentucky will return to the Final Four as will Kansas--the two national championship finalists in 2012.

- Kansas may not be experiencing early-season success on the gridiron but they are off of the playing field.  Head coach Charlie Weis and staff are shoring up the Jayhawks defense by the commitments picked up this week.  Marcus Jenkins-Moore, an outside linebacker from Pierce Community College in Woodland Hills, CA, picked KU after having had scholarship offers from the likes of Arkansas, Texas Tech and Texas A&M.  Earlier in the week, defensive end Andrew Bolton, of Hinds Community College in Raymond, MS, committed to KU and had interest from several big-name programs.  The moves continue Weis' desire to immediately improve a defense which may be leading the nation in turnovers, but still is giving up way too much yardage per game.

- The Barclays Center, future home of the Brooklyn Nets, is having its ribbon-cutting ceremony today.  The arena will officially open to the public on Saturday night with a Jay-Z concert.  The music artist and mogul not only is a part-owner in the Nets but also helped design the new Nets logo and visual identity system.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Week Two college football roundup

Well, that was more like it!  After a week one of college football action, which went straight to expectations, the second week of the best regular season in sports went, well, not so true to form.

Let's break down some of the highlights, lowlights and standout performances.

- The big headline from the weekend was the outcome of the SEC's scheduling match-ups of former Big 12 schools Missouri and Texas A&M playing at home against Georgia and Florida.  Both MU and A&M failed to hold onto leads against these traditional SEC powers and entered play in their new league with losses.  Picking MU over Georgia was the trendy pick with many pointing to the Tigers' 4-1 record against the SEC since 2000.  What that record failed to point out were that the four wins were against Ole Miss (twice), South Carolina (in a 2005 bowl game), and a 1-1 record against Arkansas--teams named Florida, LSU, Georgia and Auburn weren't on that list of recent opponents.  If you dissect the numbers heading into this weekend, Gary Pinkel has a 6-14 record over the past five years against BCS teams that finished above .500 in their conference that year.  The Tigers also have struggled against SEC-like defenses, i.e., those D's with a combination of power and speed.  Pinkel was 2-11 against Oklahoma and Texas--the only two teams in the Big 12 who typically had the defensive speed and power of teams like Alabama, LSU and the SEC in general.  It all adds up to data which supported Georgia being the favorite against Mizzou and, of course, the outcome.

- I've heard some Kansas fans saying, "well, even though we lost against Rice, we're still better than we were during Turner Gill's two years."  That may be so but there's no way to paint yesterday's game as anything but a huge disappointment.  Rice had one of the longest road losing records in college football and sported a 17-31 record since 2007.  On the plus side, this Kansas defense is more opportunistic and has caused seven turnovers after two games.  Yet, missed open field tackling continues to vex the Jayhawks and played a huge part in the loss when not one, but two, Jayhawks failed to make the tackle on a key 4th and 4 pass play by Rice in the final 1:30 of the game.  As for the offense, let's focus on how Charlie Weis trumpeted the arrival of Dayne Crist and has raised expectations about the unit's play in the spring and during fall practice.  Crist thus far has a 51.6 completion percentage, a 4.9 yards per pass average, and has thrown three picks and only two touchdowns, all against competition which pales in comparison to what begins next week when TCU comes to town.  Crist and his offensive mates could not control the ball late and then gave TCU great field position on an ill-advised throw on KU's last possession.  There is no doubt that this Kansas team is better coached than what happened under Gill.  But, candidly, couldn't we say that about most any head coach in Division I football who might've landed in Lawrence?  The loss to TCU is an enormous blow to this program as now the question is "where else this season can Kansas sneak out a victory?"

- We can officially annoint Kansas State as the third best team in the Big 12, with a bullet.  KSU laid a big hurt on Miami yesterday in Manhattan and, with Oklahoma State's loss, look to only trail Oklahoma and West Virginia in the league, with perhaps a challenge from Texas.  The 'Cats will be 3-0, after beating North Texas next week, headed into that prime-time match-up against Oklahoma in Norman on September 22.  KSU then has an open date before playing Kansas which is bad news for Weis and Company--Wildcat head coach Bill Snyder simply does not lose games played after the annual open date in his team's schedule.

- Disappointments of the weekend:  Oklahoma State, Wisconsin, Colorado, Miami, Arkansas and Nebraska.

- If you're a Nebraska fan, don't you secretly wish that Frank Solich was still in Lincoln and not in Athens, OH?

- Performances of the weekend:  UCLA, Oregon State, Georgia, Sacramento State, Louisiana-Monroe, Denard Robinson of Michigan, Collin Klein of Kansas State.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Week one in college football

There's an old coaches' saying which says that, in college football, the most improvement occurs between game one and game two.  After this weekend, there are a lot of teams out there hoping that's the case.

Let's take a look at what happened in weekend one of the best regular season in sports.

Kansas Jayhawks:  We'll start locally with the Kansas Jayhawks, led by new coach Charlie Weis.  The good news is that Kansas won; the bad news is that it was against South Dakota State.  Yet, the optimists among us will point out that the opening game in the Turner Gill regime didn't start so well and that, for a football program in need of a big injection of confidence, a win is a win.

Our star of the game award goes to Tony Pierson, who showcased his quick start and blazing speed with two rushing touchdowns and 124 yards on 20 carries.  On the defensive side of the ball, Bradley McDougald looked like the four-star recruit he was coming out of high school--two interceptions, a pass break-up, and one tackle for a loss.  The much-hyped Dayne Crist was average, at best, and admittedly played a poor game.  Let's hope that it was Crist's rust and adrenaline which caused him to miss a wide-open Daymond Patterson in the end zone, and make a couple of bad reads which would have resulted in picks against a Big 12 defense.

Roll, Tide, Roll:  The anticipated match-up between Alabama and Michigan in Arlington, TX became just the latest proof that the best in the SEC is much, much better than the best in the Big Ten.  The game also derailed Denard Robinson's Heisman campaign--the Michigan QB was 11 of 26 with two interceptions and gained only 27 yards on the ground.

Best Game:  In a battle of great Journalism Schools, Northwestern came back against Syracuse and won 42-41.  The 'Cuse had 596 total yards and scored 28 straight points to take the lead, but could not hold on late.

Disappointments:  The list is long--Georgia was unimpressive in beating Buffalo; Randy Edsall's Maryland club beat William and Mary by one, 7-6; Iowa once again under-performed in a non-conference game, beating Northern Illinois 18-17; the Mike Leech era at Washington State started with a thud--a 30-6 loser to BYU; Florida had to come back in the second half to beat Bowling Green; and Penn State could not harness the emotion of finally playing football, losing to a good Ohio team, 24-14.

Underrated:  Speaking of Ohio, let's give it up for the job former Nebraska coach Frank Solich is doing in Athens.  The Bobcats are definitely the favorite in the MAC.

Next week:  Were Missouri fans licking their chops as they watched Georgia struggle against Buffalo?  The best game next weekend will be the Tigers' opening SEC conference game and it'll be played in Columbia.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The thirty reasons college football is better than the NFL

The 2012 college football season starts tomorrow night.  And, in anticipation, I'm again reminded of  the many reasons why the college game is better than the NFL.

1.              The Horseshoe
2.              USC dance team
3.              “Rocky Top”
4.              Oregon’s uniforms
5.              The Rose Bowl, the Granddaddy of all bowl games
6.              Homecoming
7.              Lee Corso and mascot heads
8.              The 12th Man at Texas A&M
9.              Death Valley at LSU
10.          Chief Osceola’s spear at Florida State
11.          "Wabash Cannonball"
12.          Overtime
13.          “The Game”
14.          The Swamp
15.          The Heisman Trophy
16.          Spread offense
17.          UGA
18.          "War Damn Eagle!"
19.          Bevo
20.          “Roll Tide!”
21.          Red River Shootout
22.          Dotting the “i”
23.          The Grove at Ole Miss
24.          “Hail to the Victors”
25.          New Year’s Day
26.          Wisconsin’s Fifth Quarter
27.          The Big House
28.          "Waking up the echoes" at Notre Dame
29.          Tailgating that doesn’t take place in parking lots
30.          The best regular season of any sport

Saturday, August 25, 2012

KU, KSU and MU: Buy, Sell or Hold?

The college football season, at long last, is upon us.  Let's take a quick look at Kansas, Kansas State and Missouri, all of whom open their seasons this Saturday at home.


The Jayhawks enter 2012 with one thought--"there's only one way to go from last season and that's up."  KU was undoubtedly the worst defense team in FBS football in 2011, giving up over 516 yards per game.  On offense, the Jayhawks were dead last in the Big 12 with a scoring average of 22.3 points per game.

Whether you like him or not, or question the hire or not, the arrival of Charlie Weis at Kansas, after the firing of Turner Gill, definitely improved the level of coaching in Lawrence.  Skeptics would say, "sure--how could it be worse?"  But, the Weis brand was able to lure in a coaching staff which included Dave Campo, former secondary coach at the Dallas Cowboys and well-traveled NFL coaching veteran, and Tim Grunhard, former Kansas City Chiefs lineman and a guy who immediately started recruiting Kansas City hard.  Weis also brought back Clint Bowen, a defensive coach under Mark Mangino and a guy who is well-connected in the state of Kansas.

So, what will we get from the 2012 Jayhawks?  The quarterbacking will be improved given the arrival of former Notre Damer, Dayne Crist, in Lawrence.  Crist not only ups the talent level at this position but also brings a mature locker room presence and on-field leader.  The offensive output for Kansas should improve immediately, what with Crist and a solid offensive line, complemented by a strong set of running backs.  The receiver positions are well-stocked, particularly with the return of a healthy Daymond Patterson.

Defense is the big question, again.  Fifth-year transfers and juco transfers are expected to help but this unit likely is far from being an average defense in the offensive-minded Big 12.  Senior Toben Opurum is the guy most likely to contend for all-league honors on the defense.

So, do we buy, sell or hold on the Jayhawks?  The schedule is tough but I say "hold" as this team has promise, and with the starters staying healthy and the transfers being as good as advertised, KU could potentially improve to a five-win season.


Kansas State:

Don't look to get any keen insight on this season's Kansas State Wildcats from Bill Snyder.  Snyder, arguably the best college football coach at doing more with less, has mastered the art of not saying too much.  Unfortunately for Snyder, the Wildcats surprised everyone last year so high expectations, and a preseason top 25 ranking, are a consequence of this success.

After a three-year bowl drought, KSU has gone to back-to-back bowls and almost made its way into the Big 12 title game last season.  In five of their games (four of them wins), the deciding points were scored in the final four minutes of regulation or overtime.

Collin Klein returns and is a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate at quarterback.  Klein, the running QB with the linebacker body and mentality, had 27 touchdowns last season, tying for the most ever from that position.  But, Klein isn't the only weapon on offense--John Hubert will likely rush for over 1,000 yards this season and WR/KR Tyler Lockett is on most preseason All-American teams.

Arthur Brown anchors the KSU defense but that is the area of concern with this team.  There are only two returning starters on the defensive line and the secondary loss some key contributors.

Will Kansas State be good?  Absolutely.  Will they equal last year's success?  I don't think so.  The 'Cats aren't going to sneak up on anyone and play many key games on the road--Oklahoma, Iowa State, West Virginia, TCU and Baylor.  The Wildcats will be bowl eligible again but don't be surprised if the record is 6-6--the late season games in Ft. Worth and Waco are the ones which will determine how much success this KSU team will have in 2012.

My counsel is to "sell" on this season's Wildcats.



If Kansas State is an enigma this season, then what's Missouri?  The Tigers enter play in a new conference--the SEC, are unranked in the preseason for the first time in forever, and have a starting quarterback and running back coming back from injuries.  Some predict that MU will finish behind Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee in the SEC East, while others predict a Missouri upset over Georgia on September 9.

We all can debate whether the move to the SEC was the right one for Mizzou but the reality is that all season tickets have been sold and interest has never been higher in the football program.  The Tigers signed Dorial Green-Beckham, the nation's top-ranked wide receiver, during the spring recruitment period, and he should start immediately as a target for QB James Franklin, who's coming back from shoulder surgery.  The running back position is in good shape if Henry Josey is healthy--he teams with Kendial Lawrence in MU's one-back set.

The defense is a question mark in the SEC given that it gave up 382 yards a game in 2011.  While the Big 12 is an offensive-minded league, and thus that number may not be a surprise, I'm not sure it'll cut it in the new conference.  There's only one returning starter on the defensive line but the linebacking crew is solid and E.J. Gaines leads the secondary.

MU's schedule will be one of the toughest in the country--Georgia and Arizona State at  home, then a road game to South Carolina on September 22.  On September 29, MU plays at Central Florida, which is game where the Tigers need to be careful of a letdown, before returning home against Vanderbilt.  Alabama comes to Columbia on October 13; the Tigers play at Florida (November 3), Tennessee (November 10) and Texas A&M (November 24.)

What's the verdict on this year's Tigers?  I say "hold" given the uncertainty about Franklin's health.


Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Olympics withdrawal

The dust from the London Olympics is settling and I realized last night that I had to find new programming--whether DVRed or real-time--to fill the void left by the nightly tune-ins to Bob Costas and his merry band of NBC reporters.  And, I'm already missing the nightly tape-delayed drama.

These Olympics, in our Twitter world, raised controversy given that there was no shortage of outlets for discovering the results even though NBC insisted on keeping those results secret until the night-time coverage.   Yes, a Today Show promo did spoil at least one such event but, for the most part, the network was steadfast in its desire to keep the plot lines thick.  While the Twitter-verse came up with #NBCfail as a result (this generation's "-gate" nomenclature), viewers still tuned in to the Peacock in record numbers.

Let's look at some winners and losers of these Olympics, shall we?

Loser:  Rowdy Gaines' insistent outdoor voice broadcasting of swimming got old quick.  He turned a very capable broadcaster, Dan Hicks, into his wing man with the constant "ohh's" and other exhaled sentiments which were delivered at octaves well above what was comfortable for we viewers.

Winner:  The biggest winner of these Games had to be U.S. swimmer Missy Franklin.  Franklin has the innocent teenage exuberance that is endearing coupled with articulate, well-grounded observations about her successes.  Her interview in the studio with Costas was one of the great moments of NBC's coverage.

Loser:  Let's to back to the Aquatic Center for this one.  Andrea Kremer, why did you insist on asking questions which re-stated just what the swimmers said?  Kremer's post-swim interviews were, in a word, awful.

Winners:  In addition to Franklin, these U.S. athletes excelled in their respective sports and stand to profit greatly from these games:  Michael Phelps; Ryan Lochte; Gabby Douglas; Hope Solo; the breakout star of U.S. Womens Soccer, Alex Morgan; and Kerri Walsh Jennings.

Loser:  The U.S. Mens Gymnastics team was built up with expectations which did not mesh with the teams' performance in London.  There were many heartwarming stories, and winning personalities, on this team so let's not classify this a "loser" but a "disappointment."

Winner:  Best name--Destiny Hooker.  Hooker, the U.S. Womens Volleyball star, not only has a cool name but looks like she stepped out of a fashion magazine.

Loser:  Tim Daggett and Elfi Shlegel redefined the word "melodramatic."  The two Gymnastics announcers, with cohort Al Trautwig, too often proclaimed a winner before events even began, forgetting that favorites don't often win.

Winner:  The gold medal U.S. Womens Soccer team gave us some of the best theater in these Games--the shootout win over Canada in the semi-final match and then the win over Japan in the final, avenging their loss in the World Cup final in 2011.

Loser:  The addition of John McEnroe to NBC's announcer lineup was a head-scratcher.  Mac is a terrific color commentator on tennis but a lifestyle correspondent/interviewer he is not.

Winner:  There were many stars of NBC's coverage but none was bigger than Costas.  Costas is, simply put, a pro and was built to anchor an event like the Olympics.  His wit and interviewing skills are on full display in this type of venue and he's a welcoming presence each night for an event which spans 17 days.  Let's also give a shout-out to Mary Carrillo who complemented Costas with plenty of engaging set pieces about London and the Games.

Loser:  The closing ceremonies.  The opening ceremonies were odd, quirky and thus typically British, but the ending event was a mash-up of weirdness and too much emphasis on the marginal in British music.  And, NBC's decision to air an episode of their new comedy, Animal Practice, before showing the "closing party" with The Who was just plain wrong.

Winner:  London.  NBC made this three-time Olympic host city look incredibly lovely with plenty of beauty shots.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Whither USA Track and Field?

Week one of the Olympics featured U.S. swimmer after U.S. swimmer winning or medaling in a race or relay.  Sure, most of the time it was that guy named Phelps but other names were squeezed into the gold-silver-bronze action--Franklin, Schmitt, Grevers, Ledecky, Soni and Vollmer.  These young faces painted a nice picture for the future of U.S. Swimming.

Contrast that success to what is going on with USA Track and Field.  For the first time in forever, a U.S. male did not make the 400M finals.  The 100, for both men and women, was won by a Jamaican sprinter.  And, the once feared USA Track and Field program is in an overall funk.

The men's 4x100 relay team won gold in 15 of 20 Olympic Games through 2000.  Then, Great Britain won in Athens in 2004 and, in Beijing, the U.S. did not even make it out of the preliminary rounds due to a dropped baton.  That episode spoke volumes about the sliding state of this country's track and field program.

USA Track and Field has been rife with off-track issues--boardroom arguments, leadership challenges and changes, and cries about the lack of diversity.  Since 2008, five executives and acting chiefs have tried to make it all better.  Even the U.S. Olympic Committee got involved, threatening to de-certify USA Track and Field over alleged mismanagement.

There are 141 total track and field medals up for grabs in London.  Estimates as to the U.S. haul have ranged from the optimistic (30) to the pessimistic (22) by industry insiders.  (As a point of reference, the U.S. won 23 in Beijing in 2008.)

Unlike their colleagues in swimming, U.S. track and field athletes often compete in pre-Olympic meets which feature lucrative payouts.  Swimming and gymnastics teams, in contrast, keep their athletes in pre-Olympic camps.

Thus far, the U.S. has nine track and field medals (two gold, three silver and four bronze) and has the opportunity to increase that lead (Russia is next with six) in the days to come.  However, if disappointment continues (i.e., dropped batons and hurdle stumbles), look for major change to be instituted including the possibility of government funding to compensate athletes, thus reducing the financial pressure to compete in the weeks between the Olympic Trials and the Olympic Games.

B/R buddies hit it big

This is a cool story.

Bleacher Report was founded by four high school friends in 2006 who designed the sports site as a way for legions of rabid fans to offer up free content about their favorite teams.  That site grew to a level where it had 10.1 million unique visitors in June, up from 7.9 million a year earlier, which places B/R on the top ten list of sports sites.  (Yahoo! Sports led with 42 million unique visitors in June.)

This week, Time Warner's Turner Broadcasting acquired Bleacher Report for an undisclosed amount.  The prices being reported are in the $200 million range.

What's unique about this, beyond the fact that it's an example of an idea taken by a start-up and turned into millions of dollars, is the continued significant evolution of user-generated content.  Sites like Bleacher Report have been criticized for being nothing more than "content farms" but this acquisition is proof that there is a market for this type of website.  Like the AOL-Huffington Post marriage that came before it, the Turner-B/R union is another example of a media behemoth taking a keen interest in user-generated content.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Week One: Olympic reflections

One week of the Olympics is almost fully in the books and here are my random thoughts on what we've witnessed--or not--in these opening seven days of competition.

- Gabby Douglas made herself a lot of money last night.  I hate to put it in those terms but let's be realistic--the sprite dynamo with the captivating smile is marketing gold, particularly now with a Womens All-Around Gymnastics gold medal to go with her team Gymnastics gold.

- Where is Jimmy Roberts?  I hear that he's appearing on some NBC Olympics programming but it certainly isn't in prime time as he's been replaced by Ryan Seacrest and John McEnroe.  Seacrest is fine and I'm sure was added in hopes of providing some entertainment street cred to the programming.  McEnroe is just a goofy choice--I love Johnny Mac on tennis but don't know that he adds a thing to NBC's prime time coverage.  Roberts was a real journalist who was adept at the profile pieces--something which I think has been sorely lacking in the Olympics coverage I've watched.

- The only thing more painful than the post-swimming race interviews by Andrea Kremer would be if CBS' Leslie Visser was on point with the microphone.  Kremer's questions often repeat what a swimmer just said and the looks on the faces of these athletes says it all.  Kremer has been so bad that she was trending on Twitter two nights ago.  She's no stranger to sideline reporter controversy as she has been publicly outspoken in the past about the "vitriol" (her word) aimed at female colleagues who report from the football and basketball sidelines.  My choice, if we could trade up from Kremer, would be ESPN's Doris Burke or Suzy Kolber.  Neither, of course, have covered swimming in the past but both are good with their coach and player interviews.

- Someone tweeted that Ryan Lochte's dad is the Frank Martin (former Kansas State basketball coach) of Olympic parents.  Lochte's pop was one intense looking dude.

- Can someone help me understand that when there is a tie, in a sport decided by thousandths of points, why both athletes don't get a medal?  Last night, the USA's Aly Raisman and Russia's Allya Mustafina tied in Womens Gymnastics with 59.566 total points but Mustafina won through an odd tie-breaking system.

- Head-scratcher:  Why is synchronized diving an Olympic sport but baseball or softball are not?  I'm just curious...

- Who else is marketing gold on the U.S. team?  You'd be hard-pressed to find a better candidate than Missy Franklin.  The 17-year old swimmer now owns three gold medals and one bronze.  Her bubbly personality and teenage exuberance, combined with yet another winning smile, means that Franklin will join Douglas as two athletes positioned to reap the most notoriety from these Games.

- Most fun event to watch:  Beach volleyball.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Those wacky Brits

The headline in the New York Times said it best--"A Five-Ring Opening Circus, Weirdly and Unabashedly British."  As a friend of mine tweeted during the Olympics Opening Ceremony telecast last night, the British are like your weird uncle--goofy yet fun, quirky yet often traditional.

Last night, the ceremonies included Mary Poppins, sheep, a reading (by Kenneth Branagh, no less) from Shakespeare, the Sex Pistols, and dancing nurses and sick children from their hospital beds.  The music, which was the best part until late in the production, was an awesome soundtrack of the best from the United Kingdom over the past five decades.

As intriguing as it was, the ceremony reinforced that the Olympic Opening Ceremonies have erred more on the side of host city commercial and less on the participating athletes.  The ceremony has become an excessively produced show which is much too long and showing far too little of the Olympic athletes and those who have come before them.  (For example, the best British Olympians of the past were no more than a footnote in last night's celebration.)

Were there great moments?  Of course--the segment with the Queen and James Bond (Daniel Craig) was priceless.  But, conversely, have you ever seen a more sour dignitary than Her Highness who didn't crack a smile or grin all evening.

The highlight was the ending and the lighting of the Olympic cauldron--240 bowls, representing each participating country, which elevated to form one gigantic flame.  We then were treated to Sir Paul McCartney, naturally, and an awesome fireworks display which lit up the stadium and the gorgeous London Bridge.

As Sarah Lyall wrote in that Times article, "With its hilariously quirky Olympic opening ceremony, a wild jumble of the celebratory and the fanciful; the conventional and the eccentric; and the frankly off-the-wall, Britain presented itself to the world...a nation secure in its own post-empire identity, whatever that actually is."

Finally, I have to also comment about the NBC production last night.  While I'm a fan of Bob Costas, and ambivalent about Matt Lauer, last night's voice-over was excessive in what these two hosts had to tell us about each country.  The tone of the commentary felt like I was watching a New Year's Day telecast of the Tournament of Roses Parade.  Dial it back, fellas...

Thursday, July 26, 2012

What's so special about 24 seconds?

Have you ever wondered why the NBA shot clock is 24 seconds--not 25, not 30...but 24 seconds?

The 24-second shot clock was invented by Danny Biasone, the owner of the old Syracuse Nationals, who wanted to force teams to pick up the pace of the game.

Biasone reviewed the box scores of games that he enjoyed--games which did not feature a stall or other delaying tactics.  In those more fast-paced games, teams took about 60 shots, on average.  That equated to 120 total shots a game in the 48 minute contest.

The 48 minutes totaled 2,880 seconds, divided by the 120 shots, and--voila--a result of 24 seconds per shot.  Thus was the 24-second clock created...

(Source:  Mental Floss)

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

My thoughts, in the wake of the Penn State scandal

Did the NCAA do enough in its punishment of Penn State's football program?  Will this penalty be a signal to other universities to better police their athletics departments, and keep the behavior of coaches and administrators consistent with the values of their institutions?

Those questions, and others, will be debated in the weeks to come in the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State, which ultimately included Joe Paterno and numerous others.  However, on the topic of the state of college athletics, and whether lessons will be learned here, chew on these facts as a sobering reminder of today's sports reality:

- The $60 million fine levied by the NCAA on Penn State amounts to one season of football revenue at the school.

- While the rest of the U.S. economy has suffered since 2008, television contracts for college sports conferences have increased by an average of nearly 350%.

- Connecticut, Auburn and Alabama have won national championships in mens basketball and football while on NCAA probation or under investigation.

The point, unfortunately, is that college sports are a big business and misdeeds in college athletics are not a new phenomenon.  Yes, the heinous acts by Sandusky and the cover-up by Paterno and others is the worst scandal in college sports.  But, bad behavior in college athletics is an all-too-familiar story.

Are the NCAA sanctions against Penn State severe enough?  I think they are, and while some may argue that the death penalty was needed, I could argue back that this penalty is harsher than a one-year ban (i.e., the death penalty) for PSU's football program.

The answer to the question about this penalty being a deterrent to others is more vague.  College athletics is growing even bigger with conference realignment and the restructuring of network deals for all of the major conferences.  I'm pessimistic that a sea change will happen as a result of the Penn State scandal; my hope is that the events in Happy Valley will cause a re-awakening of the mission of colleges and universities and the role that the sports programs play in fulfilling those missions.

As a final comment, let's give a positive nod to Mark Emmert and the NCAA.  For once, the president of the NCAA was given the authority to act swiftly and decisively much like his colleagues who run our country's sports national governing bodies or professional leagues like the NFL and NBA.  We can only hope that yesterday's sanctions, and how they were handled and announced, becomes the embodiment of what the new NCAA will be all about.  Let's hope that this president and governing body, who have been irrelevant during conference realignment and a college football playoff re-design, regain their understanding of the role the NCAA can play in collegiate sports.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Stating the obvious...

Some of you may read this and think, "dude--where you've been?"  That's fair as I think it was the visit to Kauffman Stadium on Monday night which cemented my frustration--again--with the state of the Kansas City Royals.

I think this edition of the Royals is particularly painful for all of us given the belief of what might be coupled with the exhibition of what once was.

In the "what might be" category, we have what is obvious to all of us who considered ourselves Royals fans, or ex-communicated Kansas City baseball fans--the potential of the young players on this team.  Alex Gordon had an all-star season in 2011, signed a huge contract in the off-season, and is now settled fairly comfortably into his left field and lead-off hitting role.  Gordon is not a stereotypical lead-off guy but is batting smartly and getting on base regularly.  Alcides Escobar is batting .311 and is displaying All-Star talent at shortstop.  Billy Butler--Kansas City's All-Star representative--has 17 homers and 55 RBIs.  Mike Moustakas is making big plays at third base and displaying power with his 16 home runs.

The point is that the nucleus is there with young talent--Gordon, Escobar, Moustakas, Salvador Perez, and, of course, Eric Hosmer, who hopefully can somehow catch fire in the back half of the season and display his hitting talent of last season.

What's missing is painfully obvious--pitching.  And, that huge chasm of talent not only has bitten K.C. in the standings but soon will be biting the Royals in their attendance behinds.

You see, the All-Star Game illuminated what kind of baseball town this is--that's the "what once was" category.  Royals' fans are pining openly for a team which brings them to the ballpark.  They want to relive the glory days of the mid-1970s into the mid-1980s.  Young talent, dripping with potential, will do that.  However, two games against the worst hitting team in the majors, who scored 18 runs on your pitchers, will throw a big tub of cold water on that optimism.

It was during the All-Star Week celebrations, when the stadium was filled with cheering (and booing) fans, that I realized that an entire generation had been brought up on losing--and bad--baseball.  The last  K.C. All-Star representative to even get a hit in the Midsummer Classic was Bo 1989!

I'm not going to use this post to take David Glass and his minions to task.  I'll leave that to Jack Harry's bulldog "reporting."  I'm simply stating the blindingly obvious and, once again, emphasizing how it's only deepened my frustration and lack of interest at going to Kauffman Stadium to watch a five-run first inning by the opposition's hitters.

Monday, July 9, 2012

There's nothing like a big event...

Cities the size of Kansas City covet being on the national stage which is why the K.C.'s, Baltimore's, Minneapolis', Denver's and Milwaukee's of the U.S. seek out major sporting events.  I've been to major events in New York and Los Angeles, and similar events in Charlotte and Kansas City.  I can assure you that a major event elicits little more than a yawn in the former and special newspaper sections in the latter.

Such an event is occurring as we speak in Kansas City--the Major League Baseball All-Star Game, a k a "the Midsummer Classic."  For those of us who grew up on baseball, this was the mid-season event which showcased our heroes--the stars of this game we all loved to play.  For sports fans, the MLB All-Star Game represents the one all-star affair which means something as home field advantage in the World Series is determined by which league wins this game.

For Kansas Citians, this game puts us on the national stage again.  We've experienced this sort of publicity in the past--the 1988 Final Four, the 1985 World Series, and the 1976 Republican Convention come to mind.  It's been almost 25 years, though, since an event of this magnitude has taken place here in our metropolitan area.  It's a rough reminder of the lack of success among our professional sports teams and indicative of the aggressiveness of other cities at seeking out major events.  It also reaffirms the colossal mistake to not approve the rolling roof design over Arrowhead Stadium and Kauffman Stadium--an architectural feat which would have assuredly brought a Final Four if not a Super Bowl, in deference to Lamar Hunt, as well.

This week has been filled with activity here--MLB's Fan Fest and another free fan experience downtown, various events at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, and last night's Futures Game and Celebrity All-Star Game out at "the K."  Tonight we get the Home Run Derby and tomorrow is the big game.

Over $60 million in economic impact will result from visitors coming to K.C. and spending money on hotels, food and in our retail establishments.  The bigger impact, though, is to Kansas City's pride and our belief in ourselves.

Once again, Kansas City is in the national spotlight.  Our terrific sports complex is on display; the Plaza, Westport and the Crossroads District will be visited and photographed; our barbecue debate will go national; and new architectural icons like the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts and the Nelson-Atkins Museum expansion will be highlighted.

It's an exciting time in the ol' Cowtown and one which only a market of this size can experience when the big event comes to town.  So, puff out your chest, Kansas City--it is indeed "our time."

Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Saturday lunch bunch

Odds 'n' ends on another steamy Saturday across the country:

- Methinks Oklahoma City got quite a steal when Perry Jones III dropped to late in the first round in the NBA Draft.  The Baylor big man would have certainly been a lottery pick in the 2011 draft but saw his draft stock drop dramatically due to a so-so 2011-2012 season coupled with questions about a knee problem once he got poked and prodded by NBA team scouts and coaches.  PJIII will go to the Thunder as a guy who can complement OKC's stud threesome of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden and won't have to be "the guy," a role Jones does not seem to relish.

- After a sizzling start, Sporting KC has thrown a rod.  SKC started 6-1 but now can't seem to put the ball into the back of the net.  Last night, in a loss to Chicago, Kansas City had 27 shots (five on goal) and eight corner kicks but failed to convert on any of the attempts.

- Super Bowl 2013 and regular season ad sales for NFL programming are recording record-high numbers.  CBS has sold 80 percent of the Super Bowl's game inventory with reports that 30-second units are going for an all-time high of $3.8 million.  Among those who plan to advertise are Pepsi, which is returning as title sponsor of the Super Bowl halftime show for the next four years.

- Athlon ranked the top coaches in college football based upon ability to build a program, recruiting, X's and O's, and consistent success.  It's no surprise that the magazine's editors rated Nick Saban, Alabama, as number one.  The rest of the top ten are:  Urban Meyer, Ohio State; Bob Stoops, Oklahoma; Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech; Chris Petersen, Boise State; Chip Kelly, Oregon; Gary Patterson, TCU; Steve Spurrier, South Carolina; Brian Kelly, Notre Dame; and Lane Kiffin, USC.  I think it's too early to throw Brian Kelly and Kiffin into that mix and would suggest that Les Miles of LSU should've been included.

- Kansas basketball has had success recruiting St. Louis but lost a high profile recruiting target two years ago when Bradley Beal announced he was going to Florida.  Beal ended up being the third player chosen in the recent NBA Draft and followed another St. Louisan--David Lee--who also spurned KU and Missouri to play for Billy Donovan.  Lee has gone on to a stellar career in the NBA and I suspect Beal will be a star in "the league" as well.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Fun Big 12 football facts

- Last year, Big 12 conference games averaged 65.7 points per game.  In comparison, SEC games had a 45.3 points per game average.

- In 2011, the Big 12 had a 21-3 FBS non-conference record, the best mark of any conference.  The year prior, the league was just 30-17 in FBS non-conference games, the fourth-best among all conferences.

- Guess who's had the best record in the Big 12 over the past three years?  It's Oklahoma State, at 20-5, which is a full three games better than in-state rival Oklahoma.  In the 21 years prior, 1988-2008, the Cowboys were just 54-98 in Big 12 play.

- The Big 12 lost three first round NFL draft picks from the quarterback position.

- Since 2002, the Big 12 has had at least four teams ranked at the end of the season seven times.  The high marks were in 2007, 2008 and 2010 when five teams were ranked.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Monday morning quarterbacking

It's hard to believe that yesterday was a mid-June sports day given the final round of the U.S. Open golf tournament, game three of the NBA Finals, two matches in the European Championships (soccer), a Royals win over the St. Louis Cardinals, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. breaking a 143 race dry spell with a win in Michigan.

Let's throw it around a bit, shall we?

- There have been U.S. Opens on the west coast before but I can't remember one that ended in prime time on network television.  Yesterday's final round of the U.S. Open concluded around 9:00 p.m. Central.

- It was good to see Junior in the winner's circle yesterday.  The fan favorite has had several failed opportunities to win over the past couple of years, with plenty of questionable luck, but yesterday's win was not in doubt as he led the final 25 laps.  His last win was at this same Michigan track--almost four years ago.

- The Oklahoma City Thunder lost the rebounding battle last night to Miami, 38 boards to 45.  When Miami has won in the Finals, a big reason has been their ability to get second chance points through their offensive rebounding.  LeBron James was particularly effective inside with 14 boards.

- Perhaps the most compelling part of the U.S. Open broadcast was the special documentary, before play was televised, of the 1962 playoff duel between Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer.  It was Nicklaus' first major victory and he unseated the popular Palmer at Arnie's "home course"--Oakmont in Pittsburgh, PA.  The special showcased the class of Nicklaus, who was undeterred at the crowd openly rooting for Palmer, and also featured him talking about the photo that he later saw where he had a cigarette in his mouth.  Nicklaus made the vow then to immediately quit smoking and to give back endorsement money to L&M as he did not want to be a negative influence on children watching the sport.

- The Royals are 5-1 since suffering a sweep to Pittsburgh.

- Joe Posnanski tweeted last night that Tiger Woods is a very good golfer but that he never will be "back."  I agree.  Woods will still thrill us with shots like the one at Memorial but his steely resolve is not what it once was and, let's face it, he's not getting any younger.  One has to question whether the various leg ailments have taken a toll.  Will Woods break Nicklaus' record for majors?  I doubt it given that the window of opportunity is rapidly closing. Woods is 34 and needs four more majors to tie Nicklaus and five to win the most ever.  Nicklaus won five majors between age 35 and age 46 to get to his 18.  It's hard for me to imagine Woods playing golf for 12 more years in his quest for the tie or the record.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Prepping for the U.S. Open

The folks at the U.S.G.A. and NBC have to be smiling this week as they consider a U.S. Open which will feature Tiger Woods, fresh off a spectacular win at The Memorial golf tournament, taking on the Olympic Club in San Francisco.

Let's throw out some thoughts as we get ready for the 112th playing of America's national golf championship.

- The first six holes at Olympic will be the hardest opening holes in all of championship golf.  The first hole is a doozy--a 520 yard par 4, converted from a par 5.  Look for players to arrive at seven tee with a scorecard showing one over or two over par...and feeling okay about it.

- Mark Twain once remarked "the coldest winter I ever experienced was a summer in San Francisco."  Look for the "city by the bay" to offer up some interesting climate conditions next weekend.

- Olympic features a par 5 which simply is not reachable in two shots--the 670 yard sixteenth hole.

- The history of the U.S. Open at this course includes many an upset--Jack Fleck over Ben Hogan in 1955, Billy Casper catching Arnold Palmer and winning a playoff in 1966, Tom Watson losing by one stroke to Scott Simpson in 1987, and Lee Janzen coming from five down at the start of the final round to beat Payne Stewart in 1998.

- Only four players have finished under par in the four previous U.S. Opens played at the Olympic Club, even though the course features no water hazards and no out-of-bounds.

- Everyone's fawning over Wood's amazing pitch shot last week at The Memorial (and it was an amazing shot) but let's not forget the shot he hit in the 2000 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, just a couple of hours down the road from the Olympic Club.  In the second round of that tournament, Woods gouged a seven-iron from 208 yards, in heavy rough, to within 12 feet on the sixth hole, which set up an eagle.  It was a shot which led NBC's Roger Maltbie to say, on air, "Guys, this isn't a fair fight."

- And the winner is:  I think, in keeping true to form at Olympic, that a relative unknown will win this tournament.  Look for Jason Dufner, Louis Oosthuizen or Nick Watney to win it all on Father's Day.

Thursday, June 7, 2012


Hey, where's that guy who wrote "'s hard to predict that we aren't headed to a Heat-Spurs NBA Final."  Oh yeah--that was me!

Crow is eaten on 50% of that statement with the remainder of the fowl to be consumed tonight after the Celtics eliminate Miami in Boston.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Touchdowns, three-pointers and bogeys

Three-pointer:  Congratulations to the Kansas City region given the announcement yesterday that the Big 12 Mens Basketball Tournament will stay at Sprint Center from this season through 2016 with "first right" options in the years beyond.  This is a huge win for K.C.

Bogey:  Master's champion Bubba Watson and his wife, Angie, were tailed and chased by another car after hosting a Christian rock concert in Columbus, OH last night.  The driver of the tailing car eventually gave up and the Watsons were able to safely return to their hotel.  Watson is playing in The Memorial golf tournament this weekend in Dublin, OH.

Touchdown:  Phil Steele publishes the definitive preseason college football magazine, given the overwhelming amount of data used to make his various predictions.  The Steele publication for this season has just been published and Florida State is his preseason pick for a national champion.  Before you scoff, understand that Steele has correctly chosen two preseason national champs in the past five years and makes a compelling case for why FSU is a good choice, including the fact that they have 17 starters back as well as 68 lettermen.

Three-pointer:  It was good to see the Celtics win last night in Boston but it's hard to predict that we aren't headed to a Heat-Spurs NBA Final.  And, speaking of the NBA, congratulations to our buddy, Jamie Gallo, who was announced yesterday as the chief marketer at the league.  Gallo was at TBWA\Chiat\Day, New York.

Bogey:  Switching swing coaches has not been good for Gary Woodland.  The Kansas alum shot a 77-79 at The Memorial and missed the cut.  Woodland was #17 on the PGA Tour money list last year but is #110 thus far in 2012.

Touchdown:  Who will play the toughest college football schedule this season?  Steele says that "honor" goes to Notre Dame followed by Mississippi and Iowa State.  Baylor has the seventh most difficult schedule and Kansas is at 11.  Other notables are TCU, 16; Missouri, 19; and Oklahoma, 20.  Kansas State has the 34th most difficult schedule.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

There's a stalemate a-comin'...

Don't look now, college football playoff fans, but there are storm clouds on the horizon of getting a playoff actually implemented.  The Big Ten and Pac 12 conferences came out this week by saying that they favored the "plus one" concept--the plan to use existing BCS bowls as the two semi-final games to determine who gets to the national championship.  Conversely, the Big 12 came out and said that they want the four-team playoff to exist outside of the bowl structure as a true stand-alone playoff.  The SEC is expected to take the same stance as the Big 12.

This puts the current four power conferences at odds with one another.  And, are you surprised?  The easy part of all this was the conference commissioners saying "yes, let's have a playoff."  The hard work is now determining whether the bowl system remains in place or not, how the teams get ranked (e.g., is there a football equivalent of the college hoops Mens Basketball Selection Committe), if the games are played on neutral sites, and all of the other operational details which make up the enormity of this postseason system.

The June 20 meeting of conference commissioners is shaping up to be very, very interesting.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Writer's block? No, the dog days of sports...

I have a confession to make--I'm not sure what to write about on this blog right now.  I know I have loyal readers out there who are asking "Hey, Mike--what gives?  Why isn't there anything new on Section 10?"

Well, in the best worldwide leader vernacular, let's "break it down," shall we?  One, college hoops is over.  Sure, recruiting is in full swing but let's face it--the finality of the season is just a bit traumatic for basketball junkies like me.  Two, my local Major League Baseball team features several young stars-in-the-making but also is owned by a guy who refuses (it seems) to invest in quality pitching.  I mean, how many blown leads can fans be subjected to in this town?  Three, NFL training camp has not yet started so it's premature for any football talk.  Four, there currently are no compelling story lines in the world of golf.  And, finally, the college realignment melodrama is but a whimper this summer compared with what we got to experience the past two years.

Yes, it's the dog days of the sports year.  Hang with me, friends, as this too shall pass.  I just felt like I owed an explanation to the thousands of you (okay--maybe a dozen of you) who have asked yourself, "I wonder what's up with that guy?"

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The SEC and Big 12: Strange bedfellows or a match made in heaven?

Well, just when we thought it was safe in the land of conference realignment comes this bombshell from the SEC and Big 12 offices--the two conferences will begin a Rose Bowl-like New Years Day game, beginning in 2014, pitting the top two football schools from each conference in a match-up which likely will take place at Cowboys Stadium in Dallas.  The exception will be if a school, or schools, from either conference is involved in the national championship game.

The news immediately elicited well-crafted statements from Big 12 athletics directors who lauded the agreement and pointed to it as validation of the conference's stability.  Down in SEC country, the P.R. releases were more about the benefit of seeing these top two football conferences compete head-to-head in a game of this magnitude.

This news, along with the soon-to-be-announced details on an improved television deal, does reinforce that the Big 12 came back from the land of the un-living and is one of the four strongest conferences in the U.S.  And that, my friends, means that the Big 12 is now in a position, along with the SEC, Pac 12 and Big Ten, to start the movement toward four "super" conferences of 16 teams each.

The questions on every sportswriter, blogger and talk radio host's mind now is "what does this mean for Notre Dame?" and "what will happen to the ACC?"  The noise of last week about Florida State to the Big 12 now makes much more sense and schools like Virginia Tech and Clemson must be wondering if its time to place their name into the "what if" kitty.  As for the Golden Domers, it has to make sense for the Irish to reconsider the Big Ten possibilities of two summers ago--if that invitation still exists--or to look west to the Big 12.  Culturally and geographically, the Big Ten still is the most logical place for Notre Dame to go.  But, now is the time for the Big 12 to place a major rush on the school with this unparalleled football brand.

There is one small issue though, that the Big 12 must reconcile--playing this game is good for the conference's brand as long as a Big 12 team wins from time to time.  If the SEC dominates this bowl game, then the gap between what is truly the best football conference in the land and the rest of college football only gets more and more embarrassing.

Stay tuned, realignment junkies--this is the first major salvo in the summer of conference realignment, 2012 edition.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Whither realignment?

Are you having withdrawals?  Face it, the last two summers provided plenty of sports talk show and blog material given the seemingly minute-by-minute discussions and machinations which were college sports conference realignment.  I have to admit that I'm a bit bummed at the lack of sports page material on this topic as it was a nice diversion from the fortunes of the local Major League Baseball franchise.

There is some noise coming from Tallahassee, FL that the Seminoles of Florida State may be hiking their skirt up to some appealing conference--notably, the Big 12.  FSU is said to be upset at how third-tier rights are handled in the ACC and that this piece of the media agreement favors schools like North Carolina and Duke.  And, where have you heard this before--an informal poll of Seminole fans indicates that they are all too willing to say "let's skeedaddle."  Thus, more fuel is added to this latest realignment brush fire.

The possibility of Florida State in the Big 12 is appealing.  FSU isn't the toniest academic institution in the   southeast but it outshines schools like Louisville and Cincinnati, who also have been rumored to be on the Big 12's radar.  Florida State would bring more football punch to a conference now boasting TCU and West Virginia as its newest members and also has a much-improved basketball program.

Big 12 coaches probably like the idea of a toehold in the fertile recruiting ground of Florida.  And, bringing on FSU would add in another Eastern time zone school.

Who knows if there is actually any "there" there with this latest realignment buzz.  And, perhaps it's the lessson of the past two summers which have caused us all to be suspicious about this latest "news."  For now, we'll keep our ear to the ground, check out the usual suspects who are blogging about this annual summertime topic, and continue to consider the possibilities.