Tuesday, October 28, 2014

60 years

There's something symmetrical, I think, about turning 60 earlier this month and then attending the 60th Anniversary celebration for Allen Fieldhouse, which took place in that wonderful old barn last night.  The symmetry exists in how important Allen Fieldhouse is to me--heck, it's even the inspiration for the name of this blog given my perch in section 10 in the Phog.

I feel like I grew up in Allen Fieldhouse.  My parents began taking me to games when I was nine or 10 and from then on in my life, the number of games I missed only numbered in the dozens.  I witnessed, night after night and afternoon after afternoon, great games played by the likes of Wesley, White, Robisch, Stallworth, Valentine, Manning, Vaughn, Pierce, Collison, Simien, Collins and Robinson, and by lesser-known names like Franz, Kivisto, Kellogg, Thompson, Turgeon, Robertson, Morningstar, Reed and Releford.  I saw guys go off on Kansas--guys with names like Peeler and Durant--yet still lose, and I saw coaches stride off of the Allen Fieldhouse floor in a sullen funk, having been beaten yet again by the Jayhawks.

After I left home for school and then professional life, I always knew that I could count on seeing my parents, each game, at Allen Fieldhouse.  My first date with my wife was to a Kansas-Missouri game in that building.  My best friend,  who died way too early in life, and I shared season tickets when doing so meant a significant hit to our respective disposable incomes.  And, both of my children attended their first sporting event in, yep, the Phog.

If a building has a soul, as Jay Bilas contends with Allen Fieldhouse, then my soul and that of this building are inextricably woven.

I realize that I am incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to step into Allen Fieldhouse 500 plus time so that I could sit down on one of those rock-hard benches, get cozy with my neighbor, and look on as Kansas won one of its 713 home court victories in the Phog.

Last night's event was a chance to revel in the magic, relive the great moments, thank four of the five coaches (Dick Harp is deceased) who coached in this building, and pay homage to the greatest home venue in all of college sports.  It's the loudest arena in the land, says ESPN Magazine, and it's the "St. Andrews of college basketball," says Bilas.  Most importantly, it's home--home to so many great memories that I know are shared by all of those who see themselves as part of this wonderful family and heritage.

"Pay Heed" indeed--you truly can go home again.

Monday, October 20, 2014

It's been a long 29 years

It's World Series Eve and everything that could be written about these amazing, logic-defying Kansas City Royals seems to have been written.  Media outlets from the Huffington Post to the Wall Street Journal to Buzzfeed to the New York Times have sung the praises of this team and the town that they are representing.  It's one big, nationwide love affair, outside of the state of California, with the boys in blue and their long-suffering fans who have waited a generation--in some cases, a lifetime--for this moment.

From a local perspective, the eight wins in a row have ignited an outpouring of affection, pride, catharsis, giddy behavior and genuine love for a franchise that had lost this community.  Because, you see, while the eight wins are great and ultimately the reason for the Royals' first appearance in the World Series since 1985, it's the guys who are donning the uniforms and the relationship they've created with Kansas City that is truly special.

This is a franchise, after all, who had little in the way of a public persona in Kansas City.  The owner and his son were vilified for running a "stack 'em high and sell 'em cheap" retail-like operation and the GM was guilty by association.  Where the Chiefs and Sporting KC had cultivated civic and community relationships by engaging with fans and local leaders, the Royals seemed to have a bunker mentality with players who quickly came and went.

All of that has suddenly changed.  Yes, winning does wonders at changing perceptions but let's give this team and its ownership credit--they won with gritty play and with a cast of characters who have not only played hard and smart but have shown their human, personal sides as well.  Newborn babies are part of this storyline as are hot prospects given up for baseball dead; $15,000 bar tabs paid for by Royals players combined with a Korean fan-of-fans; guys sharing their ALCS trophy at an NBA exhibition game--all of this has combined into a story of redemption, community pride, and shoulders held back a bit more straight.

This has been a magical two weeks in Kansas City for a franchise that was down 7-3 in the 8th inning of a lose-and-go-home Wild Card Game against one of the best pitchers in baseball.  And, we all know what happened next.

Continue to ride with us, enjoy the moment, and let's all say "thanks" to a team of good guys who are representing a city with humility, grace, smiles and hard work.  That, I'd say, sounds like a description of the people of this wonderful town.  It's nice that the rest of the world seems to now be noticing.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

It IS a Blue October!

What do you say about these Kansas City Royals that hasn't already been written, told or explained?  That a whole city has stayed up well past its collective bed time on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday of this week?  That two guys that were written off at various times in their young careers have now hit home runs, on consecutive nights in extra innings, that resulted in the winning runs?  That a lost generation of baseball fans has momentarily hit the "pause" button on their love affair with Sporting KC and is actually wearing Royals paraphernalia and talking baseball?  Yes, yes and yes.

I've lived in this city for 35 years and have never experienced this community as united in an "isn't this fun" vibe given the Royals current postseason run.  Sure, the team won the World Series in 1985 and played in the Series in 1980.  Yet, this feels very, very different and I think it's been caused by the 29 years of baseball purgatory for fans in this city.

No one, and I mean no one, saw this coming.  The Royals came up a game short in the AL Central and were thus placed in that most awful of sudden death formats--Major League Baseball's Wild Card game.  We all know what happened with that storybook comeback and finish.  Next, the team won in extra innings in the ALDS not one, but twice, and now has two chances at home to wrap up this series and move on to the ALCS.

Let's not get ahead of ourselves and anoint the Royals a World Series participant just yet.  For now, let's soak up the euphoria, don our blue, and rejoice in the fact that this is now, indeed, a #BlueOctober.  Whodathunkit!?

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Another KU coaching reign comes to an end

Let's be fair--Charlie Weis inherited a pile of dog dew at Kansas when he arrived on campus in December 2011. The Lew Perkins' hire of Turner Gill was an abject failure at every level--the performance on the field was abysmal, players weren't exactly consistent in their class attendance, and stories of off-field issues were all too common.  Gill failed to connect with fans and his well-worn cliches became the focus of alumni bitch sessions.

Weis righted Gill's wrongs in the classroom and chased off guys who were disciplinary problems, such that he immediately was disadvantaged in competing at a Division I level, much less in the Big 12.

But, make no mistake--today's firing was necessary.  Yes, I know this is Kansas and, yes, I know how many head football coaches have come--and gone--on Mt. Oread.  The issue, beyond the obvious win-loss record, is that Weis lost support of donors, season ticket buyers, students and just about every other audience that is important to a power conference head coach.  In fact, one could argue that Weis NEVER had support of these audiences.  In today's world of college athletics, negative impacts on revenue are never a good thing nor is a lack of competitiveness in a sport that recently dictated which schools had relevance, and which did not, in the realignment discussion.

The hiring of Weis was a splash, for better or for worse, and briefly elevated the visibility of a program that had gone into free fall after an Orange Bowl win and a follow-up season that included an Insight Bowl victory.  Weis came to campus not only to clean up the Gill debacle but to also restore credibility to a program that had a messy divorce with Mark Mangino.  It didn't work.

Weis leaves Kansas with a lot--I mean, a lot--of money coming his way given the continued checks headed to his account from South Bend and the buyout due from KU.  He takes with him his "schematic advantage," his Super Bowl rings, and his job references from Tom Brady.  He also takes with him a grand total of six wins in three seasons at Kansas with two of those W's coming over FCS schools.

The list of issues with Weis are many but, in the end, his most egregious was his inability to find and/or develop a quarterback at Kansas.  KU fans were thrilled when news came of Dayne Crist's transfer to Kansas followed by the same news regarding Jake Heaps.  Both of those guys were recruited to run Weis' pro-style offense.  Silly us--it takes a premier offensive line to run a pro-style offense and Kansas simply did not have the talent up front to protect two immobile QBs.  (The same pro-style offense didn't work in Weis' brief stint at Florida, either.)  And, both highly recruited quarterbacks never displayed the talent that was showcased in their high school offensive systems.  Both players were over-sold to a hungry Kansas public, followed by Weis' praise for the potential of current QB, Montell Cozart.

Kansas fans are now left with what has become an all-too-frequent discussion--who will be the next coach of this now moribund program?  The sexy name will likely be Ed Orgeron with some suggesting that KU make another run for Jim Harbaugh, who was oh-so-close to being in Lawrence three years ago.  My hope is that Dr. Zenger goes for the less splashy but the more solid choice--David Beaty at Texas A&M or Ed Warriner at Ohio State.  Both have spent time in Lawrence, both know Texas high school football, and both look and talk the part.  And, make no mistake--selling the program, to any and all who will listen, may be the most critical qualification of the next head coach at the University of Kansas.  Kansas simply cannot afford anything less than stability and improvement for what, in the current world order of college sports, is the most important program in the athletics department.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Week one of the new world order of college football

Week one of the "best regular season in sports" is complete and it was hard, while watching, to not think about the impact of teams' performances on the College Football Playoff selection process.  Yes, "that" playoff starts this season and already we've got story lines developing for consideration by the 13-person selection committee.

Here are some initial observations.

Nick and Lane:  Okay, there was just something a little unsettling about seeing Lane Kiffin and Nick Saban roaming the same sideline, wondering whether the two could co-exist under the pressure cooker of all that is Crimson Tide football and inflated expectations.  Saban lauded Kiffin after the game with his handling of new QB, Blake Sims, and the offensive game plan.  Bama's coach was less pleased with his defense who he called out as "soft" at halftime.

Jameis being Jameis:  When a big play needed to be made, last year's Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston made it for Florida State, running in from 28 yards for a touchdown when Oklahoma State was threatening to upset the preseason number one team.

Don't schedule NDSU:  North Dakota State continued its dominance of FBS teams in week one action, knocking off Iowa State on the road and notching its fifth such FBS victory since 2010.  Former Kansas head coach Mark Mangino's debut as ISU's offensive coordinator netted only 14 points against the Bison's defense, all in the first half.

Under the dome:  Notre Dame opened in impressive fashion by dominating Rice, in South Bend, 48-17.  The headline for the Irish was the return of QB Everett Golson who looked good--14 of 22 for 295 yards passing and 41 yards rushing on 12 carries.

Sign that kid:  In case you missed it, here's the YouTube link to the Auburn ball boy who displayed his wheels in going stride for stride with wide receiver Melvin Ray on a touchdown catch.


Impressive:  Oklahoma State's youngsters, Kansas State's Jake Waters, Winston, Nebraska's 29 straight season opener wins, Kenny "don't call me 'Kenny Football'" Hill, the lightning in Gainesville, FL.

Not so much...:  Ohio State, South Carolina, Paul Rhoads, Iowa, ESPN's studio crew of Rece Davis, Lou Holtz and Mark May.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Reporting in from Jerry World

It's Jerry's world and we're all just livin' in it--all 79,444 of us.  Here's my report from yesterday's NCAA Tournament semi-finals at AT&T Stadium and some thoughts on this Final Four from Dallas...er, uh, "north Texas."

- The Westboro Baptist Church, Topeka, KS, was in force outside of the stadium promoting their homophobic hate-mongering.  Plenty of police were nearby.

- The north Texas weather was anything but welcoming as cool temps and rain kept fans away from the pre-game tailgate and the block party, featuring Tim McGraw, in downtown Dallas.  Only 10,000 or so hearty souls showed up for McGraw's set which was opened by none other than LL Cool J.  (Interesting mix of artists, huh?)  Cool J later showed up courtside at AT&T Stadium--he was one of probably 5,000 or so who could actually see the game from their vantage point without reliance upon one of the four "small" video screens or the two mega-deluxe "big" screens.

- Kansas did have a presence at this event--photographer Rich Clarkson was in the house with his credential, covering yet another Final Four.  The KU alum first covered the 1952 Final Four--an event that issued six photographer credentials.  This year, there are 129 photo credentials and 1,829 media credentials.

- Let's talk about sight lines, shall we?  AT&T Stadium is Texas-sized excess and is jaw-dropping upon first seeing and then entering the building.  And, that's what the ticket the 79,000 plus held got them--into the building.  For all but a few thousand, the viewing experience stunk with heads constantly turned upward (or down, if one sat in the 300 sections or higher) to see the mega-screen.  It's an expensive way for the common fan to be able to say "I was there."

- Celebrities in the crowd includes Johnny Manziel (suite), Dwight Howard (sitting among the Florida students), Danica Patrick (in a suite along with beau and fellow NASCAR driver Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., who was not identified alongside Patrick on the big screen), Drake (sitting among Kentucky fans), Troy Aikman (suite), Jerry Jones (his suite, of course), LL Cool J (court side), and CBS' Les Moonves, who sat next to Jones and was not identified on the big screen when the camera showed Jerry in his suite.

- Tubby Smith received a big round of applause from Kentucky fans when he was introduced along with fellow Final Four Coaches Club members Jim Calhoun, Roy Williams and Jim Larranga.

- Is it just me or does everyone in Dallas own a BMW or a truck?

- North Texas is putting its best foot forward for this event but the unfortunate reality is that this metropolitan area is just too spread out to be considered one of the best Final Four cities.  Unlike San Antonio, Indianapolis or Atlanta, events are spread out enough that driving is a necessity and the stadium is stuck in Arlington.  ESPN has its set in Fort Worth, the NABC convention is at the Sheraton downtown, and the concerts are at Reunion Park, which is also downtown.  Traffic has been manageable but it's still been a pain to navigate the area for this weekend.

- The Texas NASCAR race switched from its usual time slot of Saturday night to this afternoon.  Unfortunately, the weather is not cooperating as it's rainy, cool and cloudy.

- Fans were warned not to leave AT&T Stadium between games last night due to severe weather in the area.

- Back on the fan experience, parking costs a cool $75 if you want to get near the stadium.  If you're willing to walk about three-quarters of a mile, then your freight drops to $40.

- And, finally, what do we make of this match-up?  Monday night's championship game will feature a seven seed and an eight seed, and two teams who did not win their regular season conference championships or their conference post-season tournaments.  What we do have is an intriguing match-up of UConn quickness and lockdown perimeter defense against a Kentucky team that has obviously figured it out and is using superior athleticism coupled with guys making plays down the stretch.  Let's also credit both coaches for getting their teams to this place--Kevin Ollie kept his guys' heads in the game when they got behind to Florida early and everyone in the building thought the Gators were headed to the championship, and John Calipari's early second half timeout fueled a Kentucky run that was key to their victory over Wisconsin.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

It's Madness...!

What have we learned after the first--ahem, second--round of the NCAA Tournament, a k a March Madness?  Well, we know why Warren Buffett is not only smart but shrewd--who's surprised that no brackets, anywhere, are still in play for Buffett's $1 billion carrot for those hoping to pick a perfect bracket?  We also know that, as a friend tweeted, "what the tourney giveth, the tourney taketh away" (see VCU, Duke, and Ohio State.)

Let's do some grades, shall we, on early round action...

Pass:  12 seeds.  This is a tournament that, at least initially, will be known for the 12 seeds' dominance over five seeds--North Dakota State, Harvard and Stephen F. Austin all showed why the five seed is, annually, susceptible to the upset.

Fail:  Not only did five seed VCU fall to Stephen F. Austin but they did it by giving up a four point play with less than a second left in regulation.

Pass:  Thank you, NCAA and CBS, for expanding this tournament to Turner such that all games are televised and available for easy switching, to and fro throughout the day.

Fail:  Albany's unis.  Did you see those two-toned shorts?  Talk about a Glamour don't...

Pass:  Wichita State did what one seeds are supposed to do--they took care of business and easily demolished Cal Poly.

Fail:  Quick service burger restaurants.  What's with McDonald's cursory use of Johnny Manziel in the LeBron James commercial?  And, it's two days in and I'm already tired of the Burger King spot with Chris Webber and the obnoxious screaming fan.

Pass:  Bill Raftery and Verne Lundquist.  Raftery is the most engaging, fun color guy of the tournament and Lundquist makes the perfect foil and sidekick.  Yeah, these guys are long in the tooth but their voices just scream "March Madness."

Fail:  Gus Johnson, where are you?  We want you back...

Pass:  Kansas' freshman.  We all expected 19 points, 4 rebounds and 2 blocks from Andrew Wiggins but it was the two least heralded Jayhawk frosh--Conner Frankamp and Frank Mason--who provided significant minutes and production off the bench.  Frankamp steadied a ship that was taking on water in the first half with his steady play and ended up with 10 points, four assists and no turnovers in 25 minutes of action.

Fail:  Duke--it was the Blue Devils second opening round flameout in three years.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Reflections from the Big 12 Tournament

Greetings from downtown KCMO--home to the Big 12 tournament and the headquarters for fans of March Madness.  Let's kick it around as we observe the comings-and-goings here in the Power & Light District.

Bruise brothers team:  The Big 12 could field quite a bruise brothers team--I'm going with Tarick Black of Kansas, Cameron Ridley of Texas, Thomas Gipson of Kansas State, Jamari Traylor of Kansas, and Rico Gathers of Baylor.

Worst mascot:  It's a tie between the horse of Oklahoma and the Phillips gas pump guy.  I know, I know--the Phillips "thing" is a sponsor mascot but, seriously, that is a freaky looking life form.  The OU horse is just flat out weird and only makes sense if you like mullets.

KCMO:  Could the city have picked a worse time to seemingly have construction happening on every street and major artery into and in downtown?  The roadways were packed yesterday and, once downtown, parking was at a premium given all of the office parking spaces that were already in use.

Best game:  With deference to KU-OSU and those teams' overtime thriller, the best game award goes to Iowa State beating Kansas State.  There were numerous lead changes, opposing crowds going crazy, and NCAA Tournament seedings on the line.  For Kansas State, the loss puts them at 3-5 over their last eight games--not a good way to enter the Big Dance.

Creepiest promotion:  The Motel 6 Kiss-Cam is just downright awkward.  "We'll leave a light on for ya" indeed...

Best player:  Andrew Wiggins of KU put on a show yesterday.  While everyone is marveling at his 30 points, let's consider that he held Oklahoma State's Markel Brown to five of 13 from the field and one of four from three, with the one make an incredible fall-back jumper by Brown over Wiggins' outstretched arm.  Wiggins grabbed seemingly every rebound in the overtime and was simply the best player in any game yesterday in Sprint Center.

Nice touch:  The public address announcer thanked the ESPN Regional/Big 12 Network crew yesterday as this is the last year for that group's involvement with the tournament.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

It's March...it's (soon to be) Madness!

Let's throw it around a bit, shall we, as we enter the best college hoops month of the year.

Kudos:  Let's give it up for Wichita State.  The quest for an undefeated regular season has been well-documented--the thing that makes this team a delight to watch is that word "team."  The Shockers are unselfish, play hard, trust each other, and know their roles.  Yes, they've only played a couple of teams in the top 100 RPI but going undefeated, against anyone, is an unprecedented accomplishment.  All eyes are now on how WSU will fare once they have to play a team, likely in the second round, that will be better than any they've faced thus far this season.

Out of control:  Yesterday's out-of-control award goes to head coach Mick Cronin of Cincinnati followed by John Calipari's ejection in the Kentucky-South Carolina game.  This has not been a season of laudable coaching behavior and Cronin's antics yesterday were over the top.  Calipari, by comparison, simply looks like a guy who's about to blow given the frustration of coaching this year's Kentucky squad.  (By the way, remember when the preseason talk of an undefeated season was linked to Kentucky?  Yeah, what happened...?)

Can you see me?:  Just as Cronin's "I get no respect" sideline histrionics were embarrassing, let's not forget "TV Teddy" Valentine's role in this whole sideline drama.  Valentine is widely known as the one college hoops ref who adores the spotlight--his confrontation with Cronin was partially avoidable had TV Teddy not gone after the Cincinnati coach after the first verbal barrage.

Marcus, Marcus, Marcus:  Marcus Smart, sadly, is his own worst enemy.  A scintillating talent that can take over a game, as witnessed by the final minutes last night against Kansas, his flopping continues to detract from his NBA-ready talent.  Smart also used the national TV stage to mug and flex in front of KU coach Bill Self in the waning second of last night's win over the Jayhawks.

Court storming:  The announcement out of Austin, TX that the University of Texas is likely to begin selling beer at its athletics contests flew under the radar a bit this past week.  Can you imagine the combination of over-served fans with the current rash of court-storming behavior?  The court-storming needs to be stopped before the inevitable happens.  (And, shame on Digger Phelps suggesting that court-storming is simply the sharing of a celebratory victory by students with their fellow "student athletes."  Digger, while making that proclamation on ESPN GameDay yesterday, of course worked in the seven upsets of number one teams he had during his coaching career.)

No. 1 seeds:  Do you want to make the regular season more relevant?  Then, only schools that win their conference's regular season should be considered for number one seeds in the NCAA Tournament.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Do the Shockers need to lose...and other buy/sell/hold

Hold:  No mens college basketball team has run the table--the full table of regular season and NCAA Tournament--since Indiana in 1976.  As Wichita State continues to chase perfection, one has to wonder if head coach Gregg Marshall feels like his team might be better off losing prior to entering postseason play, very likely as a number one tournament seed.  The Shockers' remaining regular season games are against Loyola and Bradley on the road and versus Drake and Missouri State at home before the Missouri Valley postseason conference tournament, March 6-9.  As the Shockers continue to win, the chances for an early-round NCAA exit seem to rise.

Buy:  The two U.S. Olympic stars thus far who look poised to parlay their success into post-Olympic marketing dollars are T.J. Oshie and Sage Kotsenburg.  Oshie's hockey shootout success against Russia will only grow in status should the U.S. survive the knockout rounds and play for the gold.  Kotsenburg is full of wide-eyed, "hey dude" wonder that will be a natural for brands hoping to tap into the X-Games audience.

Sell:  The alpine skiing events aren't over yet but the U.S. Ski Team misses the marquee power of Lindsey Vonn.  Ted Ligety, used in advertising by a couple of Olympic sponsors, has been a disappointment and Bode Miller shockingly failed to medal in the downhill.

Sell:  Just how long can Scott Drew continue to coach at Baylor without being considered on the hot seat?  For sure, let's give Drew credit for rescuing the program and making it relevant.  Let's also call him out for once again failing to deliver on high preseason expectations--his team stands at 4-8 in the conference and has only won three of its last 10 games.  Saturday's double-overtime win over Kansas State provided a needed injection of hope but after tomorrow's Big Monday matchup versus Oklahoma State, the Bears must travel to West Virginia and Texas.  Baylor will once again end up in the NIT.

Hold:  NBC's coverage of the Olympics has been questionable, at best.  The peacock's programming took a hit with Bob Costas' ill-timed eye infection and the lack of compelling U.S. storylines.  Let's face it--Matt Lauer and Meredith Viera are not the approachable, warm hosts needed for a prime-time event of this magnitude.  Further, it seems that NBC has not optimized its cable outlets to complement overall coverage.  NBC over-indexes on figure skating coverage, which is made tough-to-handle given the sappy coverage provided by Scott Hamilton, Sandra Bezic and Tracy Wilson.  Thankfully, Johnny Weir and Tara Lipinsky have been refreshing with their commentary.

Buy:  I'm in the midst of reading Seth Davis' new biography about John Wooden and it's terrific.  Davis does a terrific job at uncovering the little known and unknown facets of Wooden's life and coaching style.  It's a great read for anyone interested in college hoops.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Texas Tech needs to act too

A college athlete pushes a fan in an opposing arena.  That newsworthy encounter has dominated Twitter and college sports media over the past 18 hours.  And, in this nothing-is-private social media world in which we live, the opposing fan has received his share of public scrutiny, including digging up a YouTube clip that shows his boorish behavior in a past game.

We'll hear from Marcus Smart and his coach, Travis Ford, in a couple of hours.  Will we hear from Texas Tech and/or the fan combatant in this story?  If so, there's little coming out of Lubbock that would indicate any rush to fair judgment on this so-called "super fan" who spends a lot of time trekking from home in Waco to Lubbock to other venues where his beloved Red Raiders play ball.

It will be a shame if Tech does not, at minimum, conduct a thorough investigation into the circumstances of this incident and what, if anything, was actually said between the fan and Smart.  In no way am I condoning Smart's physical contact with a fan as that has absolutely no place in sports at the college or pro level.  Yet, we all have been witness to, and recipients of, fan behavior at games that runs from the boorish to the scary.  I never cease to be amazed how some fans feel that their purchase of a game ticket provides them the freedom to say whatever they want, at whatever volume they want, to those seated around them and to the participants on the floor.

The word I keep coming back to for this incident is "sad."  It's sad that we're witnessing, in national media, the meltdown of a 19-year old who came back to his school for laudable reasons.  It began with the reputation as a flopper to the technical foul in Manhattan, KS to the kicked chair to the petulant behavior.  Now, it's this--a push of a fan who didn't deserve the attention and the ensuing ill-advised decision to not escort Smart off the court immediately.  Here's hoping that Oklahoma State doles out the appropriate punishment for Smart; that this becomes a time for Smart to accept the punishment, change his behavior and move on; and that Texas Tech quickly follows suit with their own announcement of what they plan to do with the fan, and improved security in their venues.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Buy, Sell or Hold in the Big 12

We're three games in to the Big 12 basketball conference season and the league leader has a familiar look--Kansas, winner of the past nine straight conference championships.  There's plenty of hoops left to be played--15 games to be exact--but KU's victory at Iowa State was even more impressive than a week ago when the Jayhawks won in Norman, OK after laying an egg at home the prior Sunday versus San Diego State.  The road doesn't get any easier for Kansas--Oklahoma State and Baylor at home on Saturday and Monday--but a 3-0 start has silenced, for now, the doubters.

So, with one-sixth of the regular season under our belt, let's check in on who we should Buy, Sell or Hold in the Big 12.

Buy:  Kansas, of course.  The puppies in Lawrence are growing up and appear to be a quick study on what it takes to win now on the road given non-conference road losses at tough gyms in Gainesville, FL and Boulder, CO.  Last night's win was not only impressive because it came against the #8 team in the country, but also on a night where Perry Ellis was off offensively.  The Jayhawks have many, many weapons and are deep--they can win big and they can win small.  The perennial conference champ is definitely a strong "buy" the day after they deflated the so-called "Hilton Magic."

Hold:  Iowa State.  Conversely, Iowa State has now lost two games in a row and faces a tough road test on Saturday with a trip to Texas.  The Cyclones have feasted on opponent mismatches and have ridden conference player-of-the-year candidate DeAndre Kane's playmaking ability and offense.  KU exposed ISU's lack of post presence and the consequence of State's reliance upon the three.

Sell:  Kansas State.  Tonight is a crucial game for Bruce Weber's Wildcats who are coming off a 26 point blow-out loss at Kansas.  KSU built a gaudy record, after losing early to Charlotte and Georgetown, but in that 10 game winning streak were no true road games.  A win tonight followed by a Saturday win at home against West Virginia will momentarily right the ship but I'm not convinced that this team is a top four squad in the league.  Given the toughness of the Big 12, KSU will make the NCAA Tournament but...I'd sell this investment.

Buy:  Joel Embiid.  The past two opponents have exposed that Embiid's shy nature off the court changes dramatically when on the court.  We also saw, last night, the dramatic growth curve of this superb talent--he took over the game in a key second half stretch that included an assist, block/steal, two baskets and altered shots by the opposition, all done while looking like some cross of Wilt, Dikembe Mutombo and Hakeem Olajuwon.  The guy is special.

Hold:  Look for Baylor to be the team solidly in second place to Kansas entering the month of February.  The Bears are at Texas Tech on Wednesday, then return home for an important date against Oklahoma.  They travel to Lawrence for Big Monday next week and then face Texas and West Virginia, both at home, to close out January.  The play of Isaiah Austin has been a disappointment but Cory Jefferson and Brady Heslip are guys who seem like they've played at Baylor for six years.  The Bears seem tougher than past BU teams but we've also seen that opinion change once conference season rolls around and Scott Drew's teams get punched in the mouth by the likes of KU, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma.  Baylor is solidly in the Hold category for now.

Hold:  Kansas' throwback uniforms.  Why isn't this a Sell given that the Jayhawks are 2-0 wearing these togs?  Well, the issue is adidas--the uniform supplier.  While the three-stripe company is to be applauded for the design of the two sets of unis, in typical adidas merchandising style the replica jerseys and shorts aren't available until next season.  Huh!?  But, hey, you can buy t-shirts right now that utilize the two designs.

Hold:  Texas is a work in progress and two important tests are upcoming--Iowa State in Austin on Saturday followed by KSU at home the following Tuesday.  Texas owns what, at the time, was a marquee win at North Carolina but given the Tarheels' issues, that win has lost a bit of luster.  The Longhorns lost at Oklahoma State and at home to Oklahoma, held serve versus Texas Tech and won at West Virginia.  It's hard to know what we'll get from UT over the next six weeks--let's hold on to this investment for now.

Sell:  Brent Musberger.  Big 12 fans were rudely reminded last night that, once again, we get Brent Musberger as the play-by-play guy on ESPN's broadcasts.  Musberger, whose voice is more tightly linked to college football, is out of his element on basketball broadcasts.  He's ill-prepared, acts as if he is more of a hoops expert than he is, and simply has lost several steps.  Among ESPN's stable of game broadcasters, Musberger trails--far behind--Dan Schulman, Dave Pasch, Sean McDonough and pretty much anyone the World Wide Leader has to offer.  Last night's broadcast made me reminisce of the days of Ron Franklin and Jon Sundvold.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Putting a bow on the BCS...and this season

We bid adieu to the Bowl Championship Series--whipping boy for pundits and fans alike but a system that over its shelf life of 16 years brought together the nation's number one and number two team each of those post-seasons.  In comparison, the number one and two teams met in bowl games only eight times in 56 prior years.  (Remember the Bowl Coalition and the Bowl Alliance?  Yeah, I didn't think so.)  So, while flawed, the BCS ratcheted up interest in college football such that the sport is now pushing the NFL in avid fan interest and is solidly in second place in viewership, attendance and overall interest among our nation's sports fans.

Let's put a bow on this season, and the BCS, with some final observations about 2013-2014.

Best national championship game ever?  It's hard to point to another BCS National Championship Game that was better than Monday night's Florida State victory over Auburn.  The 2005 Texas win over USC, also in the Rose Bowl, was the prior best final game with the Ohio State two-overtime win over Miami, in 2002, also in the running.

Phil Steele.  Let's give it up for Phil Steele, the guy who publishes what annually is the best preseason manual for the coming college football season.  Steele picked Florida State as his "surprise team of the year" and they certainly delivered with a magical 2013 season.

SEC.  Which SEC team won a meaningful bowl game?  Well, that would be Missouri and its win over Oklahoma State in the Cotton Bowl.  Not only did Auburn fail to continue the SEC national championship streak but Alabama whiffed against Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl.

Johnny Football.  Love him or not, name me another college football player in recent memory who has been so mesmerizing on the field as Johnny Manziel.  He's the kind of player who makes you run back into the TV room to see what he'll do when Texas A&M has the ball.  If Manziel announces today that he is leaving for the NFL, college football will lose one of its most compelling stars.

Brent.  It's time for Brent Musberger to go quietly into that announcing night.  Musberger's awkward forays into hip-hop mentions and other odd on-air left turns were a continuation of the Katherine Webb dust-up last year.  There simply are other, quality options for on-air talent for a stage as big as the national championship event.

ESPN.  The Monday night Megacast was a hit as ESPN used its portfolio of programming options to provide fans with coach insight and unique camera views for the national championship game.  Let's hope the Worldwide Leader, and other sports cable programmers, do more of this unique viewing solution.

The fans.  Fans are watching college football in droves with viewership on the title game eclipsing the NCAA basketball final, NBA Finals, Daytona 500 and other major non-NFL sports events.  However, a danger cloud is on the horizon and that is fan attendance and ticket buyer satisfaction.  The college game has got to get its act together when it comes to customer service, game-day experience, affordability and venue bandwidth in order to attract students, alums and fans back into stadiums.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Why do we care about preseason rankings?

On the eve of the last BCS National Championship Game, let's pause, go back and take a look how one national media outlet, like most others, whiffed on predicting the top teams in college football for the 2013 season.

Sports Illustrated issued its preseason edition of the magazine on August 19 and chose Alabama as its number one team.  The top ten was rounded out by Alabama, Stanford, Texas A&M, Ohio State, Oregon, South Carolina, Louisville, Notre Dame, Florida and Clemson.  Nope, no Florida State and no Auburn, and no Michigan State or Missouri either.  SI had the Seminoles at #13 with Auburn failing to dent the top 25.  Missouri also didn't make it into that preseason group as the Tigers weren't chosen over the likes of Virginia Tech (25), Northern Illinois (24), Northwestern (22) and Boise State (20.)

As for the Heisman winner, SI tabbed Jameis Winston as 25 to 1 to win the award, listing him with others who "are a long way from New York City but could replicate Manziel's rise and make an out-of-nowhere run at the Heisman Trophy."

Now, it's easy to yelp about how the media once again failed to adequately predict who would be the winners and who would be the losers in this season of college football.  But, isn't that unpredictability what makes this sport great?  I'm all for holding these preseason predictors accountable but also love that, each year, there is an Auburn who comes from nowhere with a story that's compelling and sucks us all in.

Here's to another stellar year of college football--let's hope tomorrow night's BCS National Championship Game will be a fitting jumping off to the new College Football Playoff that debuts next year.