Thursday, May 27, 2010

Johnny Orr is Going Through Tough Times

If you ever have met former Michigan and Iowa State basketball coach Johnny Orr, it's difficult not to like the guy. He's straight forward, humorous and is a people person. I can vouch that many Iowa State fans loved him when he was coaching in Ames. I was there for two of those years and saw people's reaction to his stepping on the floor to Johnny Carson's Tonight Show Theme. It was simply electric.

Coach Orr even reached out to me one night after a game. He and I were leaving the basketball area at about the same time and we spoke. He would get into his car a few steps later, whereas my car was probably 2-3 blocks away. It was your typical cold, Iowa winter night. He invited me to join him in his auto and he would deliver me to mine. At first, I resisted, but he was persistent. So, I agreed. He could have jumped into his car and left me to exercise on the cold night, but Coach Orr is a nice guy.

I say all this because he is going through some tough stuff. He recently lost his 54-year-old daughter to Lou Gehrig's Disease and his wife suffers from dementia. It's difficult not to cheer for anyone going through hard times like that, but especially when it's someone you appreciate.

Hang in there, Coach Orr. People are cheering for you again.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Hoiberg Can Make Impact Sooner

First, the good news. The Iowa State men's basketball team has another open scholarship. The bad news is that another player departed.

LaRon Dendy, a 6-9 junior forward, told coach Fred Hoiberg he is leaving. Iowa State fans are at the point to really say, "Whatever or So What."

The Cyclones are down to only three scholarship players from last season's squad. Even before former Cyclone Coach Greg McDermott left, the "help wanted" sign was already up.

Basketball commentators are fond of using the phase "When blank gets his own players, then we will see what kind of coach he is." Based on all the player defections, we should be able to grade Hoiberg sooner than later. True, he has a few of McDermott's players and his recruits, but playing time is wide open in Ames, Iowa. If you can play, you WILL play for Hoiberg.

Hoiberg should find eager players ready to buy into his system. There will also be less focus on what McDermott said or did. Hoiberg will definitely put his stamp on his first team at Iowa State.

Dendy's departure reminds me of another area--free throw shooting. Being as nice as I can, Dendy was a terrible free throw shooter. Many of his former teammates were poor free throw shooters as well. Hoiberg was an excellent free throw shooter in his day. Hopefully, Hoiberg's team will take after him rather than last season's team.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Michigan Mess

Media reports out of Michigan stated today that the University of Michigan is placing self-imposed penalties on its football program. It apparently stems from too much training and practice time.

Well, the Rich Rodriquez era at Michigan hasn't lacked for controversy has it?

Michigan is now acting like a kid caught in the act of stealing cookies. Michigan knows something is definitely wrong, the NCAA knows something is definitely wrong and Michigan is throwing itself at the mercy of the NCAA. The old line, we'll discipline ourselves before Dad can do it when he gets home.

Rodriquez doesn't act like he is pleading for much mercy. If you listening closely, he hasn't said much. Is he just trying to save his neck or what? I know the NCAA rules manual is thick, but shouldn't a coach understand too much practice time? Isn't this like simple addition? Any calculator could handle this one.

Because Michigan has a history-rich football program, I wonder what the NCAA will do. Will that body come down hard on the Wolverines or give them grace based on Michigan's tradition? Supposedly in August, the NCAA will decide/announce its ruling.

If I was Rodriquez I would keep my eyes on the job openings and real estate listings. They might come in handy down the road.

What do you think about the Michigan situation? Who is to blame? What will happen?

Friday, May 21, 2010

Are College Players Spoiled?

Ken Miller who does a radio sports talk show on Des Moines, Iowa's KXNO wrote an interesting blog yesterday ( Iowa State's Athletic Director Jamie Pollard's comments on transfers.

It seems Pollard last month wrote comments to Keith Murphy, WHO-TV Sports Director, lamenting that over 500 players in the last two years have left one Division 1 program for another. Pollard basically questioned the character of these players saying that if things don't go the way they want them to at their school, they quickly transfer somewhere else.

Miller thought Pollard's comments were especially interesting in lieu of the fact that Iowa State accepted a basketball transfer this week from Penn State. Miller was probably thinking why Iowa State would allow this when Pollard basically said this tranfering was a huge problem in Division I basketball.

But this issue begs the question are college players spoiled? Yes, yes and yes. Maybe it started when little Johnny could shoot a basketball like none other in his grade school class. Special talent turned into special privileges. Well, that continue all through high school. Johnny gets to college and then realizes there are other talented players on the team and only one ball. Maybe his coach doesn't think he is as talented as Johnny believes. Johnny thinks the grass is greener somewhere else. He transfers.

This thought process may plague numerous college basketball types today. And if that is the case, what happens (as Pollard suggests) when the player gets out into real life? Who will save him then?

Players shouldn't shoulder the entire blame. How about coaches, parents and fans taking their share too? Not everyone can be a "star" in the athletic world and support players are definitely needed College athletics should prepare athletes for life experiences not only how to shoot a basketball and win games.

Life often throws full-court presses that requires staying and enduring the situation rather than fleeing from it. What better time to learn that coping skill than when you are young.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The College Sports Lull

I don't care how many hours ESPNU or the Big Ten Networks spends televising track or college baseball and softball, count me out.

Fortunately, my college sports desire doesn't need a sport for every season. Frankly, track, baseball and softball holds little interest. I turn my attention to the Major Leagues during this time.

I do enjoy reading stories about the various athletic departments going out this time of year to promote its teams. That helps raise my excitement level somewhat for the upcoming football and basketball seasons. I have never attended one of the those events, but it sounds fun.

The college football magazines will be coming out in a few weeks. Again, I don't need my football fix yet. I don't care if the University of Louisiana-Monroe is ranked the 112th best team in the nation or if Florida International comes in at 121st.

But about the middle of August, I will get ready for the football season. Sports Illustrated will feature its preview issue around then, and it will spark my interest. That is when I will look at where the University of Louisiana-Monroe and Florida International are ranked. Those schools will probably never go beyond the three-digit ranking, but it is good to see this teams receive exposure. You might also learn that one of your favorite BCS universities will place schools like these this fall.

What do you do to survive the summer months with major college sports?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Quiet on the Expansion Front...for Now

If you can believe Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany, he says expansion talk is months away for his league.

Delany and the conference seemed to quiet the expansion talk down this week at the Big Ten meetings. Delany apparently wants to dismiss possible discussion for a while.

His comment about wanting to add a Sun Belt team because that's where the population growth is was interesting, however. He wasn't talking about taking a Sun Belt Conference school either. I'm joking.

Of all the rumored schools, Texas is the only one that fits that group. And Texas pulls lots of weight in the Big 12 now and really, why would it want to join the Big Ten? One rumor had the Longhorns considering the SEC. If they do that, they would rejoin Arkansas from the days of the old Southwest Conference.

But I think Texas is fine with the Big 12. I don't see the Longhorns jumping unless the conference takes a big loss of schools. Would Missouri and Nebraska do that? I doubt it. If Oklahoma and other Texas schools jump, then Texas would have to cover its potential losses.

But for now, I think we can rest on the expansion front. Come late August, all the conference stars will be aligned in their proper places.

Hopefully the cooler talk will go away for a while too. Let the football season begin.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Big 12 Conference Dilemma

I have been blogging in recent days about possible Big Ten expansion. I mentioned that Missouri and Nebraska would probably bolt the Big 12 to accept Big Ten offers if asked.

It seems the Big 12 is the ripe conference for picking. Colorado and Texas are other league schools often mentioned for realignment. The last major picking came from the Big East when Boston College, Miami and Virgina Tech joined the ACC.

Frankly, the Big 12 is in a state of flux. Big 12 fans want to know what's happening.
Last week, the University of Oklahoma President and its athletic director basically stated that the conference will probably remain the same. You got to believe that the Big 12 Commissioner will do all he and the conference can to prevent this possible raiding.

I understand this expansion talk on one hand, but on the other hand, I don't. We are talking the almighty dollar here and the thought that expansion is a necessary and positive step.

Although, I have said in recent posts that Nebraska and Missouri should go to the Big Ten if asked, my sullen reasoning is basically it will happen whether I want it to or not. I would actually favor the Big 12 staying the same.

Notre Dame could save everyone lots of stress. The Big Ten wants a football championship game and it needs only one team. The Irish play as an independent, but if they join nobody else gets hurt except maybe NBC. Notre Dame would join a powerful league while it still has an opportunity. Notre Dame is pretty stubborn though and is still holding out.

But if the Irish remain committed to their independence, why not seek just one team from another league. If the Big Ten does that, then it gets a title game and the other conference loses just one member.

I know I make it sound simple. And on the surface, it is. But the Big Ten should be careful with its expansion. The ripple effect might come back to haunt the conference one day. If the Big Ten expands too far, it might became to exclusive and only be able to play member schools.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Talking Missouri in the Big Ten

According to media reports, Missouri would definitely listen to the Big Ten if it approached the Tigers about membership. That was the public response. I say the Tigers behind closed doors response would be "Where do we sign?"

Missouri apparently feels unloved in the Big 12. One example is that Iowa State received a better bowl game last season than Missouri despite the Tigers having a better record and beating the Cyclones.

Like seeing a beautiful girl from a distance, Missouri does have appeal for the Big Ten. The Tigers are a strong academic institution in the middle of two fairly large media markets of Kansas City and St. Louis. The Tigers offer successful programs in football and men's basketball. They also provide a passionate fan base.

The Missouri-Illinois rivalry is hot now and it could get hotter if the Tigers join the Illini in the conference. Missouri could also look to the University of Iowa for some heated competition. A few years back, Missouri broke a football contract with the Hawkeyes. That may have caused some bad blood.

Missouri would probably lose its rivalry with Kansas. You figure it loses some appeal if the Tigers leave the Big 12. And Missouri and Nebraska have had some close football games over the years. But if Nebraska jumps too, the schools have a natural rival.

But again as I posted previously, Missouri probably needs the Big Ten more than the Big 10 needs Missouri.

What do you think of Missouri in the Big Ten?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Talking Nebraska in the Big Ten

Recent reports about Nebraska linkage to the Big Ten is interesting. If offered, the Huskers would probably accept in a heartbeat.

Nebraska doesn't seem to have real ties to the Big 12 Conference these days. The Nebraska-Oklahoma game was the marque match up in the old Big 8 Conference. Now with the schools placed in a different divisions, the game has lost much luster.

Nebraska doesn't have a big rival anymore. In football, Nebraska played some tight, national type games with Colorado, but no longer. The Huskers haven't been able to compete with Kansas in basketball. Frankly, the Big 12 North is not that competitive in either football or basketball. The Big 12 South is far and away the best division year-in-and-year out. So what really would Nebraska lose if it jumped?

There are signs of life in returning to the national spotlight in football. But would the Huskers still be considered below Texas and Oklahoma in the Big 12 football power rankings even with consistent winning?

Nebraska offers the Big 10 a sound academic institution. The Huskers also bring a rich football tradition. Their women's basketball and volleyball teams are top-notch.

Nebraska doesn't bring huge population or mega media outlets, but a clean, solid university that the Big Ten would find appealing.

It could also develop new rivalries. The Huskers now play Iowa State. Just down the road in Iowa City, the Iowa Hawkeyes feature a solid football program. Maybe Nebraska could learn to dislike another neighbor in Minnesota. Okay, maybe that is a stretch since in football the Gophers are lacking.

But I think Nebraska could be a strong competitor in Big Ten football. Basketball would be on the level of Penn State. Not good.

But all things considered, Nebraska should depart if invited.

Are there any reasons Nebraska should remain in the Big 12?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

What's Really Going On With the Big Ten

Media reports said that the Big Ten Conference had offered Missouri, Nebraska, Rutgers and Notre Dame spots in the conference. But Ohio State Athletic Director Gene Smith stated that was not the case.

So who is right and wrong in this seemingly cat-and-mouse game? Are the media just trying to break a story? Is the Big Ten playing coy because its pieces haven't fallen together yet?

Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany is his usual quiet self. No word again from him. You can bet your retirement plan that media will hound him next week at the conference meetings. You can also bet Delany will be lost for words.

But for the sake of argument, let's say the media reports are true. If Rutgers and Notre Dame join, the college football picture wouldn't change that much.

Rutgers should jump at the opportunity. Despite its location and TV sets, this university isn't an athletic force. Here in the Midwest, I cannot remember seeing (for example) any Scarlet Knight apparel in sporting goods stores.

Notre Dame would be a great addition for the Big Ten. But unlike Rutgers, Notre Dame would probably lose with membership. Notre Dame with its own network must be thinking "Do we want to eat the whole pie or just have a piece?"

But a Missouri and Nebraska transfer would cause a ripple effect and probably destroy the Big 12. Missouri, like Rutgers, would probably jump at the chance to join. According to reports, the Tigers feel unloved in the Big 12. Can Nebraska benefit other than the money (from the Big Ten Network)? That is an interesting call.

So with most things in life, we will need to wait. I will although bet my retirement plan on Big Ten expansion. It's just who and when.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Celebrating Small College Sports

I attended Northwestern College of Iowa in the mid to late 70s. I wrote sports for the college newspaper and the sports information office. Writing about Northwestern's sports teams was always enjoyable because the Red Raiders fielded top-notch outfits.

A buddy and I went back to Northwestern last week for a "return home" trip. I hadn't been back in about 10 years. Yes, it's true. You cannot go home again. We felt like a couple of gray-beards, but that was okay. Time continues.

One thing that hasn't changed about Northwestern is it's sports success. I don't keep track of it too closely (one reason is I'm 140 miles away), but this NAIA Division II school just wins.

The women's basketball team and the men's basketball team have carried the sports banner in recent years. Northwestern was the first team in NAIA history to win both women's and men's basketball national championships in the same season (2001). The men won the title again in 2003. The women garnered additional championships in 2008 and just this past winter.

Northwestern's Deb Remmerde brought the Orange City school national press. She graduated in 2008 and during her career was a free throw shooting machine. Remmerde holds the record (on any level) for consecutive made free throws with 133. She also went on the CBS Early Show and sank 580 of 585 attempts.

Northwestern owns outstanding sports facilies. For example,the school has an impressive football stadium with field turf and a beautiful track. The Raiders also have a modern indoor sports place including a nice basketball gym.

It was fun seeing the pictures of the former Northwestern players who were named to the school's Hall of Fame. That brought back memories.

Northwestern athletes play for the joy of sports. They receive partial scholarships but are truly student athletes. If athletes are looking for bright lights and big bucks, they don't attend Northwestern. Northwestern athletes accomplish just as much as the big college programs, but with less fanfare.

That can still make an old gray-haired alumni proud.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Mother's Day and College Sports

I wish all the mothers who read my blog a Happy Mother's Day. You perform one of the most important jobs out there.

Mother's Day is bittersweet for me. My mother died February 2007. She was a good lady and I still miss her.

She enjoyed sports too. When people asked her why she was a sports fan, she replied, "How could I not be living with these men."

But I think she would have enjoyed sports regardless. She played high school basketball back in a day when many women didn't participate in organized sports.

My mother enjoyed college basketball too especially later in life. If Iowa or Iowa State played, her television was usually turned to the game. I remember sitting in her nursing home room and watching some games with her. She also read about the teams in the newspaper.

I wanted to teach her the game of football. I was even patient for a while, but then gave up. She tried, but she just couldn't understand it. But there was no shame in that. Other people struggle with the complexity of football.

My mother was a winner in the game of life. She taught me valuable lessons that help me play my life game too.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Notre Dame and the Big Ten

The Big Ten Conference is talking expansion. The rumors fly about various schools joining the conference. But the discussion always seems to return to Notre Dame. Will it leave football independence to join the Big Ten?

Notre Dame is like the pretty girl in high school you wanted to invite to the prom. There was a chance she would say yes, but a bigger chance she would say no. But the mystery around the situation made it exciting.

If the Big Ten comes calling to Notre Dame, there is a decent chance the Irish will say no. They don't have to share their money with any conference schools and Notre Dame still has good overall name recognition. The Big Ten's other options would surely be an easier sell. But like that pretty girl, the Big Ten probably dreams about Notre Dame being a member school. There is a mystery about the dynamic of the Irish's participation in the league.

Maybe Notre Dame needs the Big Ten more than vice versa. The football program is not the tried-and-true outfit it once was. Many wonder if the Irish can return to football glory. Who says NBC will provide the big money again when its contract expires?

Notre Dame might want to take a chunk of the money the conference receives from its successful network.

Do you think Notre Dame should join the Big Ten?

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Nurse the Odd Man Out

Nick Nurse was lost in the coaching merry-go-round last week of Greg McDermott and Fred Hoiberg.

About two weeks ago, Nurse landed the top assistant job to McDermott at Iowa State. Then a few days later McDermott took the Creighton job. Hoiberg replaced McDermott. Nurse was suddenly without a job.

But it turns out you can go home again. Nurse asked for his former head coaching job back with the Iowa Energy of the NBA Development League. The Energy said yes.

That sequence of events was just plain weird. Hopefully, Nurse didn't purchased a house in Ames or load up with too much Iowa State clothing.

It appears Nurse wants to grab an NBA coaching job. He might want to stay clear of college assistant jobs, because in the crazy world of college basketball a similar switch might happen again.

But don't feel too sorry for Nurse. Iowa State will still be paying him. Second thought, maybe Nurse had a great gig after all. How many coaches do you know that get paid before they coach even one game at a school?

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

North Carolina State in a Tough Position

North Carolina State has a proud athletic tradition. The Wolfpack won two national men's championships in basketball. Who could forget the picture of then Wolfpack hoops coach Jim Valvano when he raced across the floor in 1983 after NC State won the national championship?

The Wolfpack has also fielded competitive women's basketball programs. Other sports(both men and women) have had successful moments. But in recent years, fans have been vocal about the lack of success in the two most recognizable sports: football and men's basketball.

And for that difficult scenario, Lee Fowler became the fall guy. NC State announced yesterday that Fowler was fired as athletic director effective the end of June.

By most accounts, Fowler ran a clean program and was a fair and successful administrator. He spearheaded a major upgrade in Wolfpack athletic facilities. He also supported the student part of athlete.

But maybe it really wasn't Fowler's fault. Maybe he and NC State can blame it on what real estate agents call "location, location."

Located in Raleigh, NC State has been the weak sports sister of the three ACC schools located within about 30 miles of each other. Duke and North Carolina are consistently playing for men's basketball championships and always create lots of noise nationally.

Say, if the Wolfpack resided in a different part of North Carolina or a different part of ACC country, maybe the pressure becomes less strong. But reality is reality.

So, NC State looks for a new leader and new fortunes.

Here is hoping the changes results in better outcomes. And if it doesn't, we will know Fowler wasn't the problem.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Congratulations NCAA

The NCAA finally made its official men's basketball expansion plan public this week. Indeed, the college basketball world will now have a 68-team field.

I can live with three more teams. It was the 96-team early talk that concerned me. I maintained the attitude (like many other folks apparently)"if it's not broke why fix it." And I think the NCAA listened to the public backlash. Good move, I mean great move.

This will allow for additional surprised runs such as Butler made this past season. The element of surprise would become history if a 96-team field plays.

It's not like the NCAA is going to suffer because it scaled down the expansion plan. The group received a new TV contract and plenty of more money besides.

I also applaud the move to televise every game to every market. In the past, TV viewers were basically restricted to games in their own regions. Now, if I don't like the Midwest offering, I can watch something from a different region. However, viewers will need to pay closer attention to times and specific channels on their TVs.

I'm curious how this will all work out. It should become fun. Maybe the men viewers should plan on practicing with their remote controls before the tournament starts. It will become more challenging to follow the games, but a good challenge.