Sunday, December 1, 2013

Coaches, memories and a November to remember

Where were you:  I can remember where I was when Doug Flutie worked his magic against Miami in 1984, when Charles White ran amok for four second half TDs versus Notre Dame, and when Vince Young seemed to single-handedly beat USC for a national championship.  Last night will be another to add to that list.

Where were you when Auburn's Chris Davis pulled off a "War Damn Miracle" by returning a failed field goal the distance against hated rival Alabama, catapulting the Tigers into next Saturday's SEC Championship?

Yes, the wonderful world of college football has given us yet another "where were you" moment and this one is, arguably, the greatest ever given the oddity of the play, the stakes, and the rivalry.

The November to remember:  Has there ever been a better November in college basketball than the past month?  It's been less than three weeks since we saw Julius Randle and Kentucky lose to Michigan State's veterans, the scintillating overall game of Duke's Jabari Parker and the late-game heroics of Kansas' Andrew Wiggins.  Since then, Marcus Smart of Oklahoma State positioned himself as the clubhouse leader for Player of the Year honors, Arizona showcased what perhaps is the best overall team in the land, and Villanova beat Kansas and Iowa to likely jump into the top ten.  If November is any indication, this year's college basketball season will rival the drama we've witnessed over the past few weekends in college football.

Feel good:  It's incredibly fitting that Missouri's Henry Josey scored the winning touchdown in last night's Tiger win over Texas A&M.  Josey is the feel-good story of this college football season given his return from what seemingly was a catastrophic knee injury.

Coaches, coaches, coaches:  Votes of confidence were issued yesterday to notable coaches Bo Pellini of Nebraska and Will Muschamp of Florida.  Elsewhere, Kansas athletics director Sheahon Zenger did the same for his coaching hire, Charlie Weis.  While I agree with Zenger's sentiment that turning around a program takes time, it's obvious that Weis' short-term fix approach of transfers and junior college players was an abysmal failure.  Weis first over-sold Dayne Crist and, this year, did the same with Jake Heaps and Justin McCay.  Only one juco transfer, Cassius Sendish, panned out to the level expected of those that joined the KU program.  Next year, Kansas will have a senior-laden lineup and, if rumors are true, a new offensive coordinator and O-line coach in John Reagan from Rice.  The seat is very, very hot for Weis given the growing apathy surrounding the Jayhawk program.

Rules:  I remain skeptical about the positive impact of the rules changes/emphasis in college hoops.  The charge call is a distant memory in the college game and players, coaches and officials all seem to be struggling with how this change has affected the sport.

And, finally:  There's something fitting about Auburn beating Alabama in the year that the historic trees at Toomer's Corner in Auburn, AL had to be chopped down due to the poison that a misguided Bama fan used on the oaks.  The lack of trees didn't stop Tiger fans from littering that historic intersection with toilet paper last night.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Wiggins, Selden, Andrew Baggett and other sporting odds 'n' ends

Hype:  I don't know that I've ever anticipated an exhibition game more than tonight's Kansas vs Pittsburg State match-up.  Yes, Pitt State is a NCAA Division II institution that is one of KU's regular exhibition foes.  And, yes, these games are typically blow-outs or feature lackluster play--or both.  But, this year--this year is different.

The hype machine that is Andrew Wiggins and his Fab Five freshman cronies has been on overdrive.  Tonight--finally--we get to see, at least partially, what the hype is all about.

Reality:  Personally, I'm actually more excited to see Wayne Selden of Kansas in action tonight.  Selden is Wiggins' fellow McDonald's All-American recruit, and several members of the media have gushed about Selden's skill and practice work ethic.

Sickening:  The morons and cowards who have bashed Missouri's Andrew Baggett via social media should be ashamed.  In case you missed it, Baggett is MU's kicker who missed a field goal attempt in the third overtime, thus securing South Carolina's come-from-behind victory.  The world of social media lit up with several tweeting sickening rants aimed at Baggett.

Reality-check:  Look, I think Baylor is really, really good and that this Bear team finally has a defense that can stop someone.  The offense is, well, the most potent this side of Eugene, Oregon.  Let's then look at who these Bears have beaten, shall we?  Kansas?  Check.  Louisiana-Monroe?  Check.  West Virginia?  Check.  Wofford?  Check.  The harsh reality for Baylor is that, after this bye week, they now face Oklahoma and Texas Tech at home followed by Oklahoma State on the road.  Baylor then finishes with unranked TCU in Ft. Worth and Texas at home, marking the last game at Floyd Casey Stadium in Waco.  It's hard to see Baylor going through those five games without a couple of losses.

Hype:  How do you set a decibel record in an very open stadium in the last few minutes of a game after many in the crowd are comatose from hours of tailgating and pre-game fun?  Just askin'...

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Week One: Winners and losers

Week one of college football 2013 style is almost in the books so let's go ahead and review the opening weekend winners and losers.

Winner:  College Football.  The final year of the BCS generated tons of media coverage last week and a scintillating opening marquee match-up in Clemson-Georgia.  It is, indeed, "the best regular season in sports."

Loser:  Kansas State.  I'm not sure what's worse--losing to an FCS team or doing it on the day when a statue of Bill Snyder was unveiled.  While North Dakota State has proven that it's worthy of respect, given its record against BCS foes, few saw this upset coming.

Winner:  Clemson.  The Tigers emerged as a legitimate top five team after scoring one for the ACC over the SEC.

Loser:  Johnny Manzeil.  The guy is pure electricity when the ball is in his hand; when it's not...not so much.

Winner:  Bobby Petrino.  Let's give a nod to Petrino for his return to college coaching and a very solid opening win by Western Kentucky over Kentucky.  (Explain to me again why they played that game in Nashville?)

Loser:  Big 12.  Hmm--KSU goes down to an FCS school as does Iowa State.  West Virginia looks anything but tough in beating William & Mary.  And, Kansas will soon face a Rice team that hung with Texas A&M for a half.

Winner:  Oklahoma State's defense.  We all knew about OSU's offense but holding Mississippi State to three points--c'mon!

Loser:  Will Muschamp, head coach at Florida, was upset at three media outlets for reporting that freshman Jaynard Bostwick was suspended.  Bostwick wasn't among the four suspended but it would alleviate these issues if Muschamp and his peers would announce who IS suspended and/or not playing.  The week one hi-jinks of guys like Muschamp, Les Miles of LSU and Gary Patterson of TCU was petty and silly.

And finally, let's give one final shout-out to Iowa, loser in weekend one to Northern Illinois.  How much longer can the folks in Iowa City keep paying big bucks to Kirk Ferentz, the most overrated coach in college football?

Friday, August 30, 2013

Finally--College Football is back!

Sure, the Royals were competitive further into the season than is normal in Kansas City.  And, yes, it was fun to watch Kansas native Gary Woodland make a late season surge on the PGA Tour.  The Kansas City Chiefs are generating optimism and Sporting KC is once again a contender for an MLS crown.

But, finally, FINALLY--College Football is back.  The season kicked off last night and immediately reminded us of why we love this game that features the best regular season in sports.  ESPN viewers were treated to the pageantry of the SEC with a marquee opener of North Carolina at South Carolina, followed by Ole Miss against Vanderbilt.  Fresno State held on in overtime against Rutgers.  And, USC went on the road (or should I say ocean) to beat Hawaii--not the easiest of away games.

Let's break down a few things as we open college football in full swing this weekend.

Heisman watch:  Is Jadeavean Clowney a product of the hype machine?  The kid is incredibly talented and his mega-hit in last year's Outback Bowl is the stuff of YouTube multi-million viewings.  Yet, he took plays off last night, was frequently double-teamed and seldom was a factor.  Unfortunately for Clowney, there are infrequent occasions for a defensive lineman to have "Heisman moments."

Underrated:  The Pac-12 is loaded this year.  Stanford and Oregon are top 10 teams, USC will rebound from a miserable 2012, UCLA under Jim Mora has an electric QB in Brett Hundley, Washington is much improved and look out for the Arizona schools.

Overrated:  This is the year the Big 12 needs to put up or shut up.  Oklahoma State may be the cream of the conference crop but it's schools like Oklahoma and Texas that need to win big games again.  Kansas State is the darling of local media but, once again, no one nationally is taking them seriously.  Baylor may have the most productive offense in the country but can they stop anybody?  The league has lost a bit of its mojo and now trails the SEC and the Pac-12 as a power football conference.

Weis:  To Charlie's credit, he is not automatically granting starting berths to his crop of junior college transfers.  Kansas is disappointed that highly regarded Chris Martin was booted from the team, that transfer Nick Harwell has to sit out a year, and that Marcus Jenkins-Moore is out with a knee injury.  That means other transfers must step up and, thus far, only a select few are listed as starters.  Good for Weis--he knows fans want instant improvement but he also understands the need for long-term stability and cultural change in the program.  Improving in the win column is a must to show progress but, after next week's opener, where will KU get its wins?  A win at Rice on September 14 is absolutely critical.

Pinkel:  There's a hot seat in Columbia, MO and Gary Pinkel is on it.  What's the number of wins required for this season to be a success?  The Tigers had better start 4-0 (although a trip to Indiana will not be a sure win) before road trips to Vanderbilt and Georgia followed by visits from Florida and South Carolina.  If the Tigers are 5-3 at that point, they could easily finish 7-5; if they are 4-4, then it could be a struggle to become bowl eligible.

Snyder:  How does Saint Bill improve on last season?  Gone are Collin Klein and Arthur Brown but methinks that Purple Nation will see a reloaded K-State.  The 'Cats won't make a second straight BCS game given the prospects at Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and Texas but will likely finish fourth in an improved league.

Bye-bye:  It's bye-bye, BCS.  The system that irked fans, coaches and media types is giving way to the College Football Playoff in 2014-2015.  Yet, for all of its faults, the BCS did successfully pit one versus two on a consistent basis, even if the ranking system riled up emotions across the country.  We look forward  to the new four-team playoff and the controversy that will occur the first time that the fifth ranked team cries "foul!"

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Finally...Major League Soccer

(Editor's note:  The following is reprinted from the Premier Sports Management website,

It may be hard to remember, or even fathom, but for one 30-day period almost 20 years ago this summer, the U.S. was the focal point of the world—not just sports…the world.

In 1994, nine U.S. cities hosted matches as part of World Cup USA 1994, the most-watched sporting event in the world on a quadrennial basis.  Beginning with the opening in Chicago on June 17 and culminating in the Brazil-Italy final a month later in the Rose Bowl, American stadia hosted sellout crowds and boisterous fans from across the globe.  The U.S. squad even pulled off a stunning upset, beating Colombia 2-1, in an early round match.  Players like Tony Meola, Marcelo Balboa, Eric Wynalda and John Harkes were stars of that U.S. roster and the grand plan, for the U.S. Soccer Federation, was to use the success and visibility of the World Cup to propel soccer to its rightful place as a major American sport.  Major League Soccer was formed in 1993 and the league used World Cup as the forum for reaching out to prospective sponsors and key media.

It’s been a long 19 years since that heady time of ’94.  MLS sputtered out of the gate in the post-World Cup world of American soccer and only recently has found growth given the construction of soccer-specific venues across the league, and the success of franchises in markets like Seattle, Portland and…Kansas City. 

“Kansas City” you say!?  Yes, here in the good ol’ Midwest, none other a media outlet than The New York Times has realized the success story of Sporting Kansas City and Major League Soccer as the fourth professional franchise in town.  (Kansas City boasts the NFL Kansas City Chiefs, Major League Baseball Royals, and two NASCAR events each season at Kansas Speedway.)

Yesterday’s article in the Times, written by Sam Borden, correctly identified the key strategic move made by the owners of Sporting Kansas City—define your target, i.e., the 18-35 young professional demographic, and intentionally reach out to that technologically connected audience.  It helped, of course, that this audience was one who had experienced little to no postseason success via the Royals and the Chiefs.

Sporting engaged with this connected audience via social media to determine likes/dislikes and to help guide franchise decisions.  That fan data helped influence the naming and branding decisions of the club.  And, the local owners designed a venue, Sporting Park, that began to address the needs of those attending live events today—strong WiFi, social media connectivity during the match, and advanced camera systems for appealing videoboard activity.  It’s that sort of fan experience that is so appealing to the young professional demographic that Sporting covets.

Have there been missteps along the way?  Of course, with the Livestrong naming rights being one questionable move coupled with issues raised by some season ticketholders about customer service.  Overall, though, the franchise has been a roaring success off of the field coupled with the quality of play on the pitch over the past three seasons.  The success story has enough across sports appeal that 200 different franchises have sent executives to Kansas City to see Sporting Park and to talk to the team’s ownership and management team.

Next week, Kansas City will host the MLS All-Star Game, a fitting tribute to the work of this very successful local franchise and ownership group.  It will be a time to acknowledge what’s been built here in Kansas City and also to reflect back on that seminal worldwide event of 19 years ago and think “finally.”

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Is there a more humbling sport than golf?

Is there a more humbling game than golf?  Seriously.  If so, what is it?

Today we witnessed the magnificence of one of the truly "good guys" in golf and in sports--Phil Mickelson won his fifth major championship and his first British Open championship, closing with a 66 to pull away and win by three strokes.

Yet it was this same Mickelson who self-proclaimed himself a "dope" for his colossal collapse at the 2006 U.S. Open when, up by one stroke on the 18th hole, he hit driver and what had to be the worst shot of his professional career.  How bad was the shot?  Let's just say that there were fans in hospitality tents who had a better lie and line than Mickelson did for his second shot.

Fast forward to this summer's U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club where, once again, Mickelson collapsed in grand style, causing many media members to very publicly question the golfer's ability to win another major and, more caustically, question if he had what was between the ears for our nation's championship much less "The Open," which has been around for 142 years.

The beauty of Mickelson is that he was humbled and has come back.  Yet, for every Mickelson (and there are few), there is a Greg Norman, a Jean van de Velde, or an Ian Baker-Finch who has very publicly struggled to win a major, infamously blown a lead, or faded into obscurity because of the dreaded yips.

Yes, golf is the most humbling of games given the individuality of the sport and the fact that every round and every shot is different--none occur at the same place on the same course over the course of a career.

Today's British Open is ultra-fulfilling because a golfer who had been humbled has shown he still has what it takes to be defined as one of the game's greats.  As for Norman, van de Velde, Baker-Finch and the others, their names are there with the countless golfers who few remember...those who have been humbled.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The lost generation

My son is 26.  During his lifetime he's experienced and witnessed the following:

- The internet.
- Apple becoming a half-trillion dollar company.
- Five presidents.
- Wireless networking.
- Three wars in the Middle East.
- Windows, Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7 and Windows 8.
- The adoption of the DVD, CD, Blu-Ray and now, digital and on-demand media.

What my son hasn't witnessed:

- Major League Baseball playoffs in Kansas City.

Seriously--is there a more stunning data point about the futility of this franchise?

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Welcome to Kansas, Mr. Wiggins!

A bit over 24 hours ago, Bill Self, Kurtis Townsend and the rabid fan base that bleeds crimson-and-blue found out what few expected--Andrew Wiggins, the consensus number one recruit in the U.S., had committed to the University of Kansas.

The resulting hue and cry from those giddy with anticipation to those wronged by the slight caused #Kansas, #kubball, and #Wiggins to trend on Twitter.  A few misguided Kentucky fans took their anger out on Wiggins, sharing threats of injury and other epithets via social media.  And, Kansas basketball was suddenly thrust back in the sports news--46 days removed from that 25 foot three point dagger by Michigan's Trey Burke in the NCAA Tournament's round of 16.

What do we make out of all this?  Well, on this day after, cooler heads are acknowledging that Wiggins will be hard-pressed to live up to the hype.  Yet, who suddenly isn't intrigued by the impact Wiggins will have on Kansas' program and the unbelievable Champions Classic in Chicago, November 12, which will feature Kansas versus Duke and Kentucky versus Michigan State.

Here's the impact that "the decision" by young Mr. Wiggins will have on Kansas and his new teammates:

- The addition of Wiggins cements this year's Kansas recruiting class as the school's best ever--not just under Self but...ever.  Self and staff (giving major props to Townsend for his role in landing Wiggins) have arranged a class full of guys who can play right away, from McDonald's All American Wayne Selden to Joel Embiid, now the top center prospect in this class, to sharpshooters Brannen Greene and Connor Frankamp, to speedy PG Frank Mason.  There's even the possibility that Tarik Black, a Memphis transfer who's immediately eligible, could commit and provide further reinforcements to Self's frontcourt.  Of course, the cherry on top is Wiggins--a certifiable talent who not only is the best finisher in the class of 2013, but also the best defender, which has to make the defensive-minded Self just salivate.

- The Jayhawks very likely will struggle early, given the wholesale changeover in the roster and the murderous non-conference schedule.  In addition to Duke in Chicago, KU travels to play Florida and Colorado; hosts New Mexico, Georgetown and San Diego State; and travels to the Bahamas for a tournament there.  That isn't exactly the type of schedule built for team who doesn't have one returning starter.  Yet, Self acknowledged that Wiggins is an "alpha dog" and the type of kid who will provide an "assassin's" mentality to the team, thus giving his coach reason for optimism even with a very difficult schedule looming.

- Yes, Oklahoma State will be very formidable with the return of Marcus Smart, Markel Brown and LeBryan Nash.  But, seriously--who's betting against Kansas now to take their 10th consecutive Big 12 title?

- While the hype machine will go into overdrive once Kansas begins play in November, the good news for Wiggins is that KU has other offensive weapons--notably Perry Ellis.  Wiggins' arrival will take pressure off of Ellis, who exploded late in the season, and vice versa.  Throw in Wayne Selden at the two guard spot and the Jayhawks have three scoring threats combined with a PG, Nadiir Tharpe, who turned into an excellent distributor by season's end.

- Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the decision by Wiggins is Self's biggest commitment ever at Kansas.  There have been mutterings about Self, who is widely considered as an excellent recruiter, inability to get "the guy."  The known courting of kids like Kaleb Tarczewski, Josiah Turner and Julius Randle, among others, who all spurned KU was causing some to wonder if Self had lost his touch with top 10 recruits.  Yesterday's decision was an emphatic "no."  Self connected with Wiggins more than any other of the four coaches and ultimately pulled off the recruiting coup of 2013.

Yesterday was fun but it will pale in comparison to the fun of watching Wiggins play under the banners in Allen Fieldhouse come this November.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Wrappin' it up in Atlanta

Madness is ending in about five hours and thus begins the most bittersweet sports night of the year.  Let's wrap it up here in Atlanta, a wonderful host for this 75th Final Four.

- Worst attire:  Michigan fans need to figure out that this is college hoops--football jerseys are not appropriate attire.

- Best fans:  The fan count, at least downtown, was as close as the betting line for tonight's game.

- Best exhibit:  Bracket Town, the NCAA's fan festival, was open for the last day today and continued to draw great crowds.  The LG presence, in particular, was well done with a fan interactive tour through an LG "house," complete with phone, television, washer-dryer and kitchen appliances.

- Worst TV:  Speaking of LG, the television section of their exhibit included old models.  The 1957 triple overtime thriller, where North Carolina beat Kansas, was showing on one of the old boxes.

- Best song:  Michigan's "Hail to the Victors."

- Creepiest mascot:  The Wichita State Shocker.  Dude...the facial expression.

- Best scheduling:  For the first time ever, the championship games of the NCAA Division II and Division III tournaments were held in the same city as the Final Four.

- What's up with the licensing:  It's a battle of two Adidas schools here in the final--Michigan and Louisville.  But, don't look for the actual sideline wear of either team in your local sporting goods store--they only sell the replica model.

- Worst cheer:  "Go Blue."  Sure, it's a fine cheer but have you all noticed that your team is wearing neon yellow all the time?  (The last time I checked, maize is defined as the color of corn, which is a far more muted yellow.)

- Best coach:  Rick Pitino.  If Pitino wins this evening, he'll have guided two schools to a national title.  And, irony of ironies, those two schools reside in the same state and are bitter rivals.

- Who'll be the X factor tonight:  If I were a betting man, I'd put my money on Nik Stauskas of Michigan who will open up the offense by hitting from outside.

- Most obvious quote:  Mike Slive, Commissioner of the SEC, in the elevator, "I wish we had a team here."  Every coach, every athletics director, and every commissioner who's not involved with these four schools is thinking the same thing.

- And, the winner is:  Michigan.  Why?  Just because...

Sunday, April 7, 2013

The view from the Georgia Dome

The dust has settled from Semi-Final Saturday and methinks we couldn't have asked for a more entertaining match-up than what we'll get on Monday night between Michigan and Louisville in the national championship game.  Here's a breakdown of Saturday from my view inside, and outside, the Georgia Dome.

- Pre-game:  Ludacris entertained fans in Centennial Park, close by the dome, at a concert preceding the first game between Louisville and Wichita State.  I determined, though, that my place at Stats at the CBS pre-party  was just fine--a cold beverage, food and a seat overlooking Marietta Street, on a 65 degree day, seemed the better play.

- How were your seats:  The announced attendance was 75,350--keep in mind that about 10% of those in attendance sat in decent seats with reasonable sight lines.

- Air Thompson:  Before there was Air Jordan there was David Thompson, the sky walker from North Carolina State, who unfortunately played in the college age where dunking was not allowed.  Thompson sat in the row ahead of us and sported a Wolfpack polo shirt and cap.

- Best jersey:  The best jersey of the night belonged to a 60+ year old gentleman who sported a top that had "Hickory" on the front and "Chitwood" on the back.  (Fans of Hoosiers will get it...)

- Random sightings in the crowd:  Will Ferrell (isn't he a USC guy?) and Denard Robinson, Michigan's star quarterback.

- Former bench player who now may be a lottery pick:  Mitch McGary of Michigan.  McGary's motor doesn't stop--he had 10 points, 12 boards, 6 assists and 2 blocks last night.

- Second half cool down:  C.J. Fair of Syracuse had 18 points at half but was held in check in the second half, finishing with 22.

- What happened, MCW?  Michael Carter-Williams of Syracuse wilted under Final Four pressure, going one for six from the field, accounting for five turnovers and fouling out, all the while bitching at the officiating crew.

- The mid-major effect:  It will be very interesting to track what Wichita State's Final Four appearance does to school enrollment, and to coach Gregg Marshall's recruiting efforts.  The Shockers return stud Cleanthony Early next year, along with Fred VanFleet, Ron Baker, Tekele Cotton, Chadrack Lufile and Jake White.

- Most vocal fans:  Michigan gets the nod as the most vocal fans, as they were into it from the time the first game ended.  But, seriously, can you all please spend $20 and buy a basketball-related t-shirt versus wearing Michigan football jerseys?  I get the whole Big House tradition and such, but this is hoops, people!

Saturday, April 6, 2013

The view from Atlanta

The best day in sports has arrived.

Yes, semi-final Saturday at the Final Four is the best day in sports.  There is no event that provides the drama and excitement that is felt by the teams and fan bases of these four schools as all think that they are two wins away from a national championship.

In this Final Four town, excitement rose dramatically yesterday as Friday is typically the big fan arrival day.  Unlike New Orleans and San Antonio, or Indianapolis, a host city like Atlanta does not offer the convenient, compressed areas where fans gather so it's hard to judge who's winning the fan attendance battle, but my money's on Louisville.

Here are some odds-and-ends observations from the Peach State thus far:

- Atlanta's downtown hotels are feeling very dated.  The Hyatt Regency, Marriott Marquis, Hilton and Westin were all built in the mid-1970's to mid-1980's and feature that architectural design of the time--the large, expansive atrium.  All of these hotels are dark, concrete and brick.

- Curious how to find a coach in Atlanta?  Look for the guys in sweat suits.  As is the custom, the coaches mingle in their hotel lobbies, all adorned in their respective team sweats.  Thankfully, Kurtis Townsend of Kansas broke the mold this morning, looking very dapper at breakfast in suit and tie.

- Final Four alumni are always present, it seems, at this event.  Spottings thus far include Christian Laettner (Duke), Mateen Cleaves (Michigan State), Jim Harrick (UCLA), Eddie Fogler (South Carolina) and many other former coaches and administrators.  Maybe that's one reason fan tickets are so hard to come by.

- The Georgia World Congress Center, close by the Georgia Dome, is the site of this year's Bracket Town, a fan festival sponsored by the NCAA's Corporate Partners.  The event has grown huge since its inception as Fan Jam and Hoop City in the 1990's.

- If you're wondering whatever happened to Bonnie Bernstein, the CBS journalist who famously had Roy Williams respond "I don't give a *!#t about North Carolina" in response to her question in 2003, she's a host on IMG's Campus Insider television show, which broadcast live last night from IMG Learfield's Final Four Party.

- Basketball Times, not exactly a mainstream publication, is being distributed to primary hotels in Atlanta this week.  This issue (April) of the publication included their ranking of the Top 60 College Coaches and the Top 50 Assistant Coaches.  Not surprisingly, they chose Mike Krzyzewski of Duke as number one.  The remainder of the top ten were Rick Pitino (Louisville), Larry Brown (SMU), Tom Izzo (Michigan State), Roy Williams (North Carolina), Bill Self (Kansas), John Calipari (Kentucky), Jim Boeheim (Syracuse), Billy Donovan (Florida) and Mark Few (Gonzaga.)  (No specific criteria was offered on how the selections were made.)  Other coaches and their rankings:  Bob Huggins (West Virginia) - 12, Lon Kruger (Oklahoma) - 24, Scott Drew (Baylor) - 25, Bruce Weber (Kansas State) - 27, Shaka Smart (VCU) - 30, Rick Barnes (Texas) - 38, Mark Turgeon (Maryland) - 39, Frank Haith (Missouri) - 40, and Mike Anderson (Arkansas) - 41.  Travis Ford (Oklahoma State) was number two in the "Next 55" and Fred Hoiberg (Iowa State) was number three on the list of "Up-and-Coming Coaches."  (Dave Rice of UNLV topped the up-and-comers list.)  As for Assistant Coaches, Kansas was well represented with Joe Dooley (one), Norm Roberts (six) and Kurtis Townsend (eight.)

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Madness? You bet...

There's a certain pleasure we amateur pickers get when we see an "expert" like Jay Bilas or a magazine like Sports Illustrated get their brackets busted by the sexy pick, a k a VCU, exiting early.

Here are some observations from the couch, and section 117 at Sprint Center:

- Bird mascots are faring well in the tournament thus far.  That means my granddaughter's bracket is beating my rear end.

- Carolina versus Kansas/Roy versus Bill was expected; LaSalle versus Ole Miss was not.  It's a buyer's market for tickets to tomorrow's action at Sprint Center.

- CBS color commentators:  Wily veteran - Bill Raftery; up-and-coming rookie - Doug Gottlieb.

- Spotted at Sprint Center yesterday:  NCAA President Mark Emmert sat on press row during the afternoon session; Angel Morris, mother of Marcus and Markieff, sat in the Kansas section last night; Wanda Williams, wife of Roy, was in her usual aisle spot in the North Carolina section.

- How can Kansas State not have Rodney Magruder touch the ball even once during its last two possessions yesterday?

- Mitch McGary was heavily recruited by Kansas but John Beilein of Michigan won that recruiting battle.  McGary had a career game today and his energy was a difference maker for the Wolverines against VCU.

- Marshall Henderson of Ole Miss is a mercurial talent and one of the most emotional players I've ever seen.  One of yesterday's refs did a good job when Henderson cursed after a questionable call, following Henderson into the Rebel huddle and warning him that the next such outburst would result in a technical.

- AT&T campaign with the children is endearing and the new basketball-themed spot about the pick-and-roll is good work.  But, how in the world can the brand rationalize spending millions on its NCAA partnership, yet now using the designation in any way in this advertising?

- Big Red, the Western Kentucky mascot, drew audible laughter from the Sprint Center crowd when it made its appearance last night.  The red blob is nothing if not unique.

- Those lucky enough to be in Sprint Center's Founders Club for a halftime cocktail and bite to eat were shooed out once halftime ended, given the NCAA's dictum to keep fannies in the arena seats.

- At some point, doesn't Georgetown have to question its propensity to schedule patsies during the non-conference portion of the schedule?  The Hoyas dug a huge hole yesterday against Florida Gulf Coast and never could recover.  Georgetown is a team, in recent history, who seldom seems tournament tough.

- On the clock:  The Ben Howland watch is officially underway at UCLA.  Conversely, Shaka Smart will be mentioned as a candidate once jobs begin opening up in the days and weeks ahead, as will Memphis' Josh Pastner.  I wouldn't be surprised to see Pastner as the front-runner for the UCLA job, if Howland departs, given his experience in the Pac 12 while at Arizona.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

K.C.'s compelling story lines

The NCAA Mens Tournament games this weekend at Sprint Center in Kansas City are rife with story lines.  There's the possibility of Ol' Roy versus Bill III, Marshall Henderson as anti-hero, the emergence of Perry Ellis as an offensive force for Kansas, that Wisconsin dude's hair, and the question of whether Kansas State fans will cheer for Kansas...and vice versa.

Roy versus Bill III

If North Carolina and Kansas meet for the third time in six years in the tournament, both teams will have advanced past first round foes Villanova and Western Kentucky.  (North Carolina is a four point favorite over Nova while KU is favored by 20 over the Hilltoppers.)  Reports out of Chapel Hill indicate that Williams isn't happy about the eight seed placed upon the Tarheels and that displeasure was compounded by the prospect of facing his old school for yet a third time in recent postseason play. KU, and Self, have famously whipped Carolina twice and both were in higher stakes games--the Final Four semifinal in 2008 and last year's regional final in St. Louis.  It can't make Roy happy to think that version three will play out in front of thousands of Kansas fans eager for a third helping of Carolina blue.

Marshall Henderson

Henderson has catapulted the Ole Miss basketball program, long irrelevant, into the national conversation.  Henderson was the leading scorer in the SEC but did not make either first team or second team all conference--to say he's a polarizing figure would be kind.  Henderson has poked fun, and worse, at numerous fan bases and often has to be pulled into team huddles during games given his propensity to focus elsewhere.  He's not only a handful for the team he's playing, but for his coaches and teammates as well.  How will Henderson perform on a national stage?  We'll find out when the Rebels take on Wisconsin in the first game of Friday's session in Kansas City.

Perry Ellis

It's been well documented that Perry Ellis of Kansas had his coming-out party at the Big 12 Tournament.  Consider this--Ellis went 18 for 23 (78%), had 19 total rebounds and 43 total points in 55 minutes of play during the three games of the tournament.  In the title game, Ellis came off of the bench against Kansas State and notched 12 points and six rebounds in 13 minutes, a stark contrast to the zero points in six minutes he had when the teams met February 11 in Lawrence.  If Ellis continues his sterling play off of the bench, the offense opens up for Ben McLemore and Jeff Withey, thus giving KU solid scoring opportunities across the floor.

Mike Bruesewitz

Mike Bruesewitz, a k a "that guy with the hair," isn't a stellar scorer or rebounder for Wisconsin, but he is "one of the 26 hottest guys of March Madness" according to Cosmopolitan magazine.  Bruesewitz's curly hair caused Cosmo to write, "there's just something about Mike's ginger fro that makes us swoon."  Uh, okay...

Kansas State versus Kansas...and vice versa

Kansas fans will cheer for KSU during the day session, won't they?  Wildcat fans that show up for the evening session will cheer for KU, right?  Hmm...maybe.  The forecast cold weather and snow this weekend may keep both fan bases inside Sprint Center, instead of opting for the adult beverages across the street in the P&L courtyard, thus causing an interesting dilemma about whether one roots for one's in-state rival. I, for one, will cheer on our Big 12 comrades.

Roy's wardrobe

How big a deal is William's sartorial choices?  Well, there's a Facebook page devoted to Roy's choice of neckwear, and last weekend's plaid sportcoat of choice was the stuff of much social media scuttlebutt.  What will Roy wear in K.C.?  Call me crazy, but I doubt any of it will veer far from a Carolina blue hue.

Bruce Weber and Bo Ryan

The Sunday match ups, if all goes to plan, will not only feature Roy versus Bill but also Bruce versus Bo, two former coaching colleagues in the Big Ten Conference.  Ryan was 12-9 versus Weber in the Big Ten and knows Weber's motion offense, which flummoxed many a Big 12 foe.  Wisconsin is 2-0 against Kansas State in recent tournament history, bouncing KSU in the second round in 2008 and in the third round in 2011.  If they meet on Sunday, Kansas State will be the favorite by virtue of their seed and the Sprint Center crowd, but this match-up gives Willie the Wildcat the willies.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

A one-year old's view of bracketology

I decided to turn to my granddaughter, who celebrates her first birthday today, to make my March Madness selections.  No, she's not talking yet but I do think I know her well enough to know what teams she'd pick if she was filling out a bracket.

Here would be her strategies:

Birds win - The nursery is decorated with a bird motif, so that means that birds will advance throughout the tournament, be they Jayhawks, Cardinals, Bluejays or Owls.

Bears win too - Brown Bear, Brown Bear is her favorite book, so that means that Golden Bears, Grizzlies and Bruins are all solid picks.

Dogs and cats, oh my! - My granddaughter's pets include a dog and a cat so she'd have to pick Bulldogs, Great Danes and Wildcats, right?

Is it pink? - No school in the field of 68 sports pink as a color but purple, another favorite, is prominent and would certainly influence her choices.  Perhaps we throw in the color orange as well, given that Syracuse is the only school with a lone color as its nickname.

Once these strategies are implemented, the bracket yields a Final Four comprised of Kansas (bird), Syracuse (color), Louisville (bird) and Kansas State (cat.)  Who wins?  Well, Kansas beats Syracuse as the bird trumps color and Louisville beats Kansas State as she prefers birds to cats, given the general grumpiness of her family's feline.

National championship:  In the final, and match-up of the best birds, Kansas would emerge as the winner given her final strategy, i.e., "I'd pick who Mommy and Daddy want to win!"  (It also wouldn't hurt that her family holds five degrees from that fine institution.)

Sunday, March 17, 2013

It's Selection Sunday!

Yeah, yeah, I know it's St. Patrick's Day but, c'mon, what really is important is that it's SELECTION SUNDAY!  In case you've been under a rock and not cruising your favorite sports websites, today is the day when all of us will spend way too much time trying to find out Middle Tennessee State's Ken Pom rating or debate whether Gonzaga is truly deserving of a one seed, even if they do have the best record in the country.

Let's throw it around a bit as we all gamely wait for 5:00 p.m. CT and the talking heads at CBS, followed by the inevitable wailing from Dick Vitale and his posse on ESPN an hour later.

- Why isn't winning a regular season conference title a prerequisite for becoming an NCAA Tournament one seed?  Sure, as a Kansas fan, this is self-serving but the reality is that this provides greater relevance and importance to the regular season, thus heightening fan interest.

- The big one seed debate seems to be Kansas or Duke.  The so-called locks at the one line are Gonzaga, Indiana and Louisville who, by the way, all won their regular season conference titles.  Duke has long been suggested as a one but did not win the ACC regular season (that honor went to Miami) and is not in the final of the ACC Tournament.  Yes, I know that Duke was undefeated with Ryan Kelly in the lineup but he was starting when Maryland took the Blue Devils down on Friday.  If Duke gets the one, then Kansas will surely be the two in that region--likely the South.  But, the Jayhawks deserve the one by virtue of sharing the Big 12 regular season championship coupled with their winning the league's post-season tournament championship.

- John Higgins, the veteran ref who T-ed up Bill Self on Friday night, did not work the Big 12 Tournament final yesterday.  Higgins normally would seem to be a logical choice for that final game, given his experience and stature, which makes me wonder if league officials decided that pairing him with Self, the day after, was not a good choice.

- And, on the topic of officiating, yes, in both halves yesterday, there was an opening foul disparity of no fouls for Kansas and six for Kansas State.  The final tally in the game was 12 fouls on KU and 14 on KSU.  A key reason for the early gap in numbers was the way the Wildcats opened each half--eating up shot clock and standing on offense versus attacking the basket.

- Suggestion to Bruce Weber:  Don't tug on Superman's cape by lamenting the loss of a regular season conference crown due to questionable officiating in Ames, Iowa.

- Jeff Withey of KU won the Big 12 Tournament MVP but I'm curious about how many votes were cast for Kansas' Perry Ellis.  Ellis exploded in two games against Iowa State and Kansas State, going 15 of 18 from the field with six rebounds each night.

- Rodney Magruder of Kansas State is one of the least appreciated players in the country.  The kid is terrific at creating space to get his shots and is a load in Weber's motion offense.

- This weekend's Big 12 Tournament set attendance records, which means more of the same will follow should both Kansas and Kansas State make it to Sprint Center, as expected, on Friday and Sunday of this coming week.  KSU will likely end up in Kansas City, should they score a four seed or better.

Friday, March 15, 2013

The View from the Big 12 Tournament

Almost ten years ago, a small group of locals activated an effort to build a downtown arena in Kansas City, MO and this week the region is feeling, once again, the benefits of that dream.  Sprint Center is hosting the Big 12 Mens Basketball Tournament for the third straight year and fourth out of the last five, and has the tournament through 2016.

Here are some observations from yesterday's action in and around the arena:

- When did Iowa State fans turn from that lovable, ketchup-and-mustard clothed traveling band to an angry horde?  I am not big on generalizing about fan bases but during last year's and this year's tournament, ISU fans seem to have grown surly and profane.

- Parking was a big issue yesterday given the daytime start times and the lots already filled downtown with regular office worker traffic.

- Former Kansas guard Sherron Collins was in section 110 with a small posse and new Kansas City Chief took in his first major event in his new town.  There was also a rumor that Michael Jordan was courtside scouting on behalf of the Washington Wizards.  The rumor was never confirmed.

- The P&L District makes this tournament something special--the opportunity to walk across Grand and  into the area filled with bars and restaurants is a differentiator for Kansas City.  However, there needs to be pop-up food options, given filled restaurants, and more seating on the closed-off section of Grand.

- The between game "entertainment," hosted by 810 Radio, featured a bad game of "horse" by contestants pulled from the crowd along with a sausage eating contest.  C'mon...this event deserves better.

- For those nostalgic for the good ol' days, the four remaining teams in the tournament are all ex-Big Eight members--Kansas, Iowa State, Kansas State and Oklahoma State.

- Thursday game awards:  Loudest fans - Kansas State; Best player - Ben McLemore; Streakiest player - Pierre Jackson; Worst call - Phantom foul on Phil Forte of OSU; Worst uniforms - Baylor; Best cheer squad - Texas.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Getting ready for the postseason

Let's wrap up things a bit as we get ready for the postseason of college basketball--the most wonderful time of the year (contrary to the same lyrics that go with a well-known Christmas carol.)

Turnover:  Shame on Kansas State coach Bruce Weber if he truly did joke that he had hoped to celebrate a Big 12 championship a week earlier on Senior Day, but poor officiating--referencing Kansas's overtime victory at Iowa State--"got in the way."  I've yet to have anyone bring up the 34 foul shots ISU received in that game, even though they jacked up 41 three-point shots, or the horrible charge call on Jeff Withey in the first half that negated a KU basket.  Once again, let's make the point--an official's questionable call in the first minute of a game equals the same questionable call in the last minute of the game.

Assist:  Speaking of Weber, he is the clear-cut choice for Big 12 Coach of the Year.  The current players on KSU's roster were recruited by Frank Martin but the team bought into Weber's motion offense and now is a load to guard for a full possession on the shot clock.

Slam Dunk: has a bracket titled "The Most Hated College Basketball Players of the Last 30 Years."  Not surprisingly, Duke has its own portion of the bracket with Christian Laettner, Greg Paulus, Steve Wojciechowski, Shane Battier, Danny Ferry, Austin Rivers, J.J. Redick and Bobby Hurley all in the 32-name "tournament."  The other player are grouped by decade--the only Big 12 player making the list is Kansas' Kirk Hinrich.  North Carolina has three players on the list--Rick Fox, Eric Montross and Tyler Hansbrough.

Charge:  Indiana coach Tom Crean has become a YouTube sensation given his blow-up with Michigan assistant coach Jeff Meyer after IU's thrilling victory Sunday in Ann Arbor.  The stupid grin that Crean had walking off the floor makes me wonder if that verbal exchange was a bit more premeditated that perhaps the Hoosier coach let on?

Block:  Can someone please explain Baylor's mens basketball team to me, please?  The Bears looked unbeatable on Saturday against Kansas, with Cory Jefferson and Pierre Jackson combining to go 22 of 26 (53 points.)  Yet, this same squad did not beat any conference team in the upper half of the league.  In addition to the Kansas home win, the only other victory of note was back on December 1 at Kentucky.  Baylor will have to beat Oklahoma State on Thursday if it has any chance of making the NCAA Tournament.

Timeout:  Kansas was once again reminded that it's a mediocre team if it does not play with energy and defend.  The loss to Baylor was KU's first since the infamous three-game losing streak to Oklahoma State, TCU and Oklahoma.  The more optimistic KU fans are suggesting that the defeat was actually a good thing--that the Jayhawks now are poised to go 9-0 with a romp through the Big 12 Tournament, and then the NCAA Tournament.  I'm not so sure--this team is too mercurial offensively and has horrid shot-making ability coming off of the bench.

Last-second shot:  CBS Sports' documentary, The Miracles, on the 1988 Kansas national championship team is a wonderful glimpse back at a program that was trying to rebound from high expectations and a disappointing 1987-88 season.  It's also a reminder of the sensational talent of Danny Manning and the coaching ability of Larry Brown.  That national championship, combined with the Final Four appearance in 1986, was the beginning of Kansas' current, unprecedented run as the winningest program in college hoops.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

"What's wrong with Kansas?"

Here in the heartland, few things are as sure a bet as Kansas winning in basketball.  A three-game losing streak is thus cause for a meltdown within the Jayhawk Nation, and reason for gloating and tsk-tsking by local rivals.  "What's wrong with your team?"  "Are you in mourning?"  I couldn't even get away from the recent misfortunes of my team while attending church this morning.

I never want to take for granted the unprecedented success of my Jayhawks, but it's hard not to when one considers the level of success of this program:

- Best winning percentage in the nation, 1990-2010:  .774., followed next by Duke, .771; North Carolina, .765; Kentucky, .761; and Syracuse, .730.
- Longest streak of consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances:  23, followed next by Duke at 17.
- Eight consecutive conference titles.
- A combined 67-10 record for the 2010-2011/2011-2012 seasons, for a .870 winning percentage.
- A 69 game home winning streak, starting in 2007, that ended on January 22, 2011, the day after Thomas Robinson's mother was found dead.  The program then had a 34 game home winning streak which ended against Oklahoma State on February 2.  That means that Kansas has won 103 of its last 105 home games headed into tomorrow's Big Monday matchup versus Kansas State.

The prolonged excellence of this program has made these three losses startling.  But, really, is anyone who closely follows this team surprised?  One, no team can continue to win at this clip.  And, two, the Jayhawks are missing several key pieces which have distinguished their better teams:

- It's been over-reported, but it's true--Kansas does not have a premier point guard on its roster.  Elijah Johnson is playing out of position and insider reports out of Lawrence would indicate that Johnson may not be fully recovered from leg injury problems.  Let's also point out that head coach Bill Self has struck out on some high profile PG recruits and was not able to backfill the vacancy left by Tyshawn Taylor's departure after last year's national championship game.

- This Kansas team does not have a player, or players, who have exhibited the mean streak of Thomas Robinson, Taylor, the Morris twins or Sherron Collins.  Those players, at various times in their career, took over games not only with their skill but also with their attitude.

- Highly touted recruit Perry Ellis has struggled to adapt to the college game.  And, fellow bench mates Naadir Tharpe and Jamari Traylor have been inconsistent, at best.  Solid bench play was an earmark of Self's past five or six teams.

What will happen tomorrow night in Allen Fieldhouse?  Well, let's not discount the work that Bruce Weber has done in Manhattan but it's hard to imagine KU losing four straight games--something that hasn't happened since 1989.  The last time KU lost three straight was in 2005 and the game coming out of that streak was the classic 81-79 Jayhawk victory over Oklahoma State.

One thing's for sure--the KU losses, combined with Kansas State's ascension into first place in the Big 12, has suddenly elevated this game and this rivalry back into the national spotlight.  And, the rest of the league is watching, wondering if Superman has suddenly been dealt a dose of Kryptonite.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Super Bowl winners and losers

Super Bowl XLVII is in the books and what appeared to be a potential disaster ended with a stunning comeback, a dazzling halftime show, and a much talked-about power outage that Twitter all aflutter.

Let's break down last night's winners and losers:

Winner - Tide.  No ad on last night's broadcast captured the product benefit like this brand's story about a Joe Montana silhouette which appears on a Niners jersey via a salsa spill.

Loser - Anheuser Busch.  Can you remember a Super Bowl with a less distinguished ad effort from A-B?  Yeah, I can't either.

Winner - The Harbaugh family.  Let's face it, the storyline was compelling, both coaches were amped, and the game ended up being another in a recent line of close championship contests.  Good stuff...

Loser - The Superdome.  I rhetorically asked the question last night, "what venue has hosted a Final Four and Super Bowl in the same 12 months?"  After last night's power outage, the NFL and NCAA will likely take a long look at this dome before coming back.  Perhaps the outage was caused by some other oddity but the immediate reaction was "ouch--this isn't good for the Superdome and the city of New Orleans."

Winner - Twitter.  Once again, this social networking and news site was the place to be, particularly during the 35 minute delay due to the power outage.  And, let's give props to those brands (e.g., Oreo) who capitalized on the outage in a witty, respectful way.

Winner - The automotive category.  Auto manufacturers were the overall spending winners on the broadcast as Jeep, Dodge, Audi, Mercedes Benz, Hyundai, , VW, Mazda and Kia were all represented with ad buys, pre-game shows, and/or venue entitlement.  Among the brands, Audi's spot for the S6 stood out, as did VW's controversial commercial, while Jeep and Dodge effectively pulled at viewer heartstrings.

Other winners - CBS, whose broadcast was solid, from pre-game to in-game; Coke's security camera spot; and the girl power of Beyonce, with a fun appearance from Destiny's Child mates, plus pre-game performances by Jennifer Hudson and Alicia Keys.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

It's Super Bowl Ad Sunday!

Super Bowl Sunday--the bacchanalian feast of food, football and...advertising.  I'm not sure when the first advertising person thought, "hmm, there are a lot of eyeballs watching this game on TV," and thus considered the brand benefits of launching a product or key message on the game telecast.  We now know, of course, that the advertising is, for many, as big a draw as the game itself, tracked by AdMeter and numerous pundits who opine on who "won" the Super Bowl ad wars.

I've personally lived through those ad wars on three different occasions where my company was an advertiser.  And, I was intimately involved in the determination of our message and the creation of the commercial which would cost millions of dollars, not only for the media time but for the development and production as well.

The creative process, at any time, is one where the line between great and mundane is very, very thin.  When it comes to Super Bowl advertising, that line becomes razor-thin.  Creative legacies are built on spots that resonate and become a part of popular culture.  Brands are derided for spots that fall flat, failing to capture the public's imagination and thus risking being thought of, by management and critics, as wasted media dollars.

What's the best Super Bowl spot ever?  It depends--if you ask an ad-type, you'll automatically get "1984," the Orwellian spot from Apple that launched the brand mystique of that company; if it's a consumer, aged 45+, you'll likely get the Mean Joe Green commercial for Coke as the response.  One tugged at the consumer's heartstrings, the other tried to portray the vision of a brand where "think differently" became much more than a corporate slogan.

Which spot will win on today's telecast?  Maybe it'll be Audi and the Venables Bell spot, featuring a bookish teenager who goes to the prom solo, but gets a heavy dose of swag by getting to drive his Pops S6.  If it's a tearjerker spot you want, stay tuned for Budweiser's Clydesdale spot where the trainer of the horse reunites with the adult animal.

I'll be tweeting about my take on the Super Bowl advertising, on behalf of Premier Sports, at @PremierKC.  Follow us on Twitter and let me know what you think--advertising game on!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

It's hard when heroes die

Perhaps it's fitting that yesterday, amidst headlines of fictitious girlfriends and admissions of doping, we had a sports hero who, just as quietly as he excelled, passed away at the age of 92.

Stan Musial was my first sports hero.  Musial was, as to many men of that generation, my father's hero and thus he became my hero as well.  It didn't take much to bond my father and I together, as I worshipped the man that he was, but I now realize that it was Musial who, in many ways, was a key link for us when I was initially developing my interest in sports.

My dad was a St. Louis Cardinals fan as it was the closest franchise to our small town in eastern Kansas, and the Kansas City Athletics were a major league franchise in name only.  Many were the Sunday afternoon or weekday night that we would tune in Harry Caray on the transistor or car radio, listening to the tinny speakers carry descriptions of our Cardinals versus their National League foes.

I can remember my father straightening up in his seat or lawn chair when Caray announced that Musial was coming to bat.  And, I had seen enough television and photos of "the Man" to picture, in my mind's eye, the at-plate crouch and the number six turned to face the pitcher.

My favorite memory of Musial, my dad, and me was on a warm Sunday afternoon--July 8, 1962.  Dad and I were out by the orchard of fruit trees, lawn chairs in place, cool beverages in hand, and battery-powered transistor tuned in.  On that special day, a 41-year-old Stan the Man became the oldest player ever to hit three home runs in one game.  I vividly recall my father's glee as each Musial at bat brought the excitement of what he would accomplish that day.

I have found, in the past 24 hours plus, that many of my friends had similar bonds with their fathers via Musial.  And, I've re-connected, through the writing of Joe Posnanski and others, to Musial's unparalleled achievements and the humility in which he carried himself, both on the field and off.

An athlete who never was kicked out of a game and who seldom refused an autograph--what a contrast to the headline-stealing antics of others in sports over the past few days.  We miss you, Stan the Man--you were our hero.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

On the ground in South Florida

Greetings, all my cold-climate peeps, from sunny South Florida.  You're on-the-ground correspondent is reporting in on all of the festivities surrounding the national championship game tomorrow night between Notre Dame and Alabama.

- Reports of ticket demand among the Notre Dame faithful are being supported by the overall presence of Notre Dame fans, as measured by adornment of licensed apparel, here in Miami and Fort Lauderdale.  Reports from the Miami Herald indicate that 95% of available hotel rooms are booked for the weekend.

- A reported 50,000 Notre Dame fans attended the Irish pep rally last night on South Beach.

- The Notre Dame team hotel is The Diplomat in Hollywood; the Alabama team hotel is the Fontainebleau in South Beach.

- There is one more BCS national championship game, in 2014, before the new four-team college football playoff kicks off at the end of the 2014 regular season.  Next year's BCS championship game will be held at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, CA.

- While this year's game has been a boon to South Florida, there is concern here about the ability of the region to attract future national championship games.  The playoff's championship game will move, year-to-year, from venue-to-venue based upon host markets who bid for the right to host the game.  South Floridians are concerned about the size of Sun Life Stadium, compared to other venues, as well as the aggressiveness of other regions who may be willing to offer larger subsidies in order to host the event.

- Favorite t-shirt to date:  "Catholics vs Cousins."

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Championship game could provide record viewership

It should come as no surprise, given the extreme demand for tickets to Monday night's national championship game, that television viewership for Notre Dame-Alabama may break BCS records for most eyeballs tuned into the final game.

The highest rated championship game in the BCS era is Texas-USC in the 2006 Rose Bowl.  That dramatic game, won by the Longhorns, was seen by 21.7 percent of U.S. households.  The 2006 game was broadcast on ABC, meaning the game was available to more viewers, but experts speculate that this year's game, on ESPN, will compete with those lofty '06 numbers.

Other highly rated past national championship games include:

2001 - Oklahoma and Florida State (17.8)
2000 - Florida State and Virginia Tech (17.5)
2007 - Ohio State and Florida (17.4)
2010 - Alabama and Texas (17.2)

Last year's Alabama-LSU contest had 14% of U.S. households tuned in; the lowest rated championship game was in 2005, USC and Oklahoma, which had 13.7% viewership.

Source:  Birmingham News