Wednesday, July 28, 2010

This is RAGBRAI Week in Iowa

The last week in July, bike riders from Iowa, the rest of the country and some foreign counties invade Iowa with their bicycles. This ride begins at the Missouri River in western Iowa and concludes at the Mississippi River in eastern Iowa.

From Sunday to Saturday, upwards of 20,000 bikers take part in the event that begin in 1972 when you two Des Moines Register writers rode their bikes across the state. RAGBRAI (Register's Annual Great Bicycle Race Across Iowa) was born.

The route changes each year and covers more than 400 miles. Designated cities(they apply for the opportunity) across Iowa host riders every night. Even though it isn't a race, you better be in shape. This isn't like going out with your grandma and leisurely viewing the country side. You best be ready to grind out approximately 60-80 miles per day.

Riders are traveling the northern route this year so there is more interest in the event for people in my part of the state. Yesterday, there were a short 11 miles north of my town.

It is quite the site to see the sea of bikes and bikers. I talked to one biker yesterday with a Texas outfit. I asked him what his favorite college sports team was. Much to my surprise he said that he cheered for Iowa State. This Dallas, Texas guy grew up in Iowa.

I have friends from southern Missouri on the ride. So I went to see them Monday night. I saw a biker with a Florida State outfit and my friend saw an Auburn outfit.
Of course, there are plenty of Iowa Hawkeye gear too.

So college sports even show up in a biking event. I could have almost guessed that Texas guy was going to declare his love for the Texas Longhorns, ha. I guess I was wide right on that prediction.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

I Want Some Good College Sports News

Maybe I am too pessimistic, but doesn't it seem every day we hear in the news about a college player, coach or program in trouble?

Have you ever wondered why that is? Do people only want to hear the bad news about somebody or something else? Is it a case of comparing people and situations to ourselves and saying, "Hey, we're not so bad after all."

The Internet's 24-hour news cycle has made the bad news worse. If the news never sleeps like in the old days (with just newspapers, TV and radio), content needs constant attention. And obviously, bad news is easier to sell (or put out there) than the good news. And media people thought it was tough breaking a story first in the old days. Now, the competition is fierce.

Media does provide some good college sports stories. We enjoy those pieces about athletes or coaches who made wrong choices and turned their situations around. We cheer from a far when we hear of players or coaches who are successful in their sport and are genuine good people. Case-in-point, it was difficult to cheer against Tim Tebow unless you didn't agree with his religious views or you really hated the Florida Gators. The guy used his popularity for the good of others. He also loves his mother.

But I wish to hear more positive stories. Can't we balance this coverage out? How about if the media gives us one positive story to ever two negative stories?

Athletes in Action, a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ, sends dozens of college-type coaches, athletes and other people in various sports to different parts of the world each summer. They play games and they serve people and communities. We need to see more of those stories online, in the paper, radio and TV. Good, solid and positive stories.

We will always have the bad news with us. I'm just asking for a little more balance in the news world. It would help brighten my day. How about you?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Pat Haden and the USC Trojan Horse

Congratulations to Pat Haden on landing the USC athletic director job. Media far and wide are lauding this appointment as a great hire.

These are tough days in the USC athletic department and Haden was hired to restore order to the sanction-ridden department. In case you haven't been around the sports world for a long time, the USC basketball team and football team didn't play nice. USC was charged with the 'ole extra benefits tag. Some say the NCAA gave the football program the next to the death penalty status.

I am surprised former athletic director Mike Garrett survived as long as he did. These bad things occurred under his watch and that usually means the incumbent moves quickly toward the unemployment line. It just took USC a while to push Garrett there.

Like Garrett, Haden has deep USC roots. Haden, a former championship quarterback at USC, has been successful in life while maintaining a positive image. USC is banking on Haden's reputation.

Being a long-time sportscaster should help Haden deal with the media and the damage control going along with this job. I see Haden performing that role with honesty and class. Haden is old school USC and that is what the Trojans need.

Can Haden clean up this mess? Yes, he can. He needs to make the Trojan program transparent again and squeaky clean.

Right now, the Trojan horse has deep shades of gray and black on its white coat. The horse was once the symbol of a proud and successful program.

Haden wants to make that horse pure white again.

Monday, July 19, 2010

This Big Ten Division Thing is a No-Brainer

I admit that I am no math or geography whiz, but this Big Ten division setup took me about one minute. And it took me that long because I couldn't remember all the teams in the conference. Sorry, Big Ten

So I say to the conference officials, this division stuff is far from brain surgery.

I would divide the schools on a west and east basis. My alignment focuses on men's athletics which for better or worse pays the bills.




Penn State
Ohio State
Michigan State

The cream of the conference in this setup appears in the east. But based on natural and long-term rivalries, this seems best.

If Michigan can ever become the old Michigan in football, that division would be tough. As it stands now, Penn State and Ohio State would battle it out. Michigan State could throw a wrench (make it interesting) into that division occasionally but not often.

Over in the west division, Iowa, Nebraska and Wisconsin would become the top teams. Maybe Illinois and Northwestern could play spoilers, but don't look for those schools to play in the championship game.

There really isn't a need for divisions in basketball, but for the sake of argument, here is the scoop.

In the east, Michigan State and Ohio State would rule. Purdue might be a darkhorse from time-to-time and if Indiana could become the old Indiana, the race in hoops could be interesting.

In the west, Wisconsin and Illinois would become the favorites. Minnesota might challenge on occasion, but Tubby Smith needs a more consistent program.

So in your opinion, which Big Ten teams should play where?

Friday, July 16, 2010

More Johnny Orr

As stated in my previous blog on former Iowa State basketball coach Johnny Orr, I enjoyed asking him questions on various topics.

I wanted Orr's take on new Cyclone basketball coach Fred Hoiberg. Hoiberg was an outstanding player under Orr and seemed like a coach on the floor. Johnny believes Hoiberg will do well but this initial year could be rocky. Orr said that Hoiberg needs players. He says assistant coach Jeff Grayer will help Hoiberg get players.

Grayer was Orr's best player at Iowa State where he garnered an All-American selection.

Grayer, a native of Flint, Michigan, will convince players from Flint and Saginaw to play for the Cyclones, Orr said. Orr also told me that Grayer was the No. 1 high school player his senior season in Michigan. So look for Iowa State to restore the Michigan connection.

Orr believes Hoiberg will return the uptempo style to Iowa State basketball. Former Iowa State coach Greg McDermott played more of a controlled style. Orr's teams played uptempo at Iowa State. He said he enjoys watching uptempo basketball so Orr coached that way.

Orr said that he talks to Hoiberg on the telephone once a week. Look for Orr to engage himself more in the program now that he has two of his former players in charge.

Orr would no doubt become proud if Hoiberg has great success at Iowa State. A fan in Garner, Iowa said that Johnny put Iowa State on the map. Hoiberg would like the basketball world to discover that map once again.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Hanging with Johnny Orr

I had the privilege to ride with former Iowa State basketball coach Johnny Orr in a parade last Saturday. Orr and I go back to the mid 80s when I work in the Iowa State sports information office.

Orr still looks good at 83. He lives on a golf course in West Des Moines, Iowa (one of his homes) and plays lots of golf anyway. He quipped that he went to coaching so he could play golf.

These days, Orr is a pitchman for Iowa Network Services. He attends about 25 events for the telecommunications company.

Fans still adore Orr and they told him so during the parade. They cheered and yelled, "Hey Johnny." Orr made his signature coaching gesture a few times too: the raised arms and clinched fists. I smiled inside and outside.

Orr loves to tell stories and he told me several.

One was how he recruited Barry Stevens a talented player out of Flint, Michigan. Stevens grades weren't good, but then Orr found out the school counselor attended Iowa State. A story with a happy ending as Orr said Stevens graduated from Iowa State.

Another one was about a Detroit sportswriter who tangled with Orr when he coached Michigan. Orr said he continued to badger him when Iowa State played Michigan in the NCAA tournament in Minneapolis. Well, when the Cyclones upset the Wolverines, Orr was looking for that writer at the post game press conference. He was obviously going to ask him what he thought of Orr's Iowa State team after the victory. The writer never showed up.

I asked Orr if he ever met John Wooden. He said his Michigan teams played UCLA three times all in Los Angeles. Michigan went 0-3. He confirmed that Wooden was a great guy.

But for all Orr's success at Michigan and Iowa State, you can tell his first love is for the Cyclones. He said once that other than marrying his wife, the best decision he ever made was coming to Iowa.

I think he made a great decision. And thousands of Iowa State fans still feel the same way too. I experienced a sampling Saturday.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Hawkins Hopes to See the Pac-10 Conference

I have written in this space before about Colorado football coach Dan Hawkin's plight. He is in trouble and needs to win big in 2010. Rumor has it that he would have been fired after the 2009 season if Colorado had the severance pay. Was that really an issue? I'm thinking one of two boosters could have written that check, buy anyway...

Hawkins is in this position because he has lost twice as many games as he has won in Boulder. He has a mark of 16-33 in four seasons and the Big 12 record is equally dismal at 10-22.

I bring this all up because yesterday I read a profile on Colorado's upcoming season. Will Hawkins survive one more season let alone two seasons before Colorado officially joins the Pac-10?

The Buffs have an interesting 2010 schedule. They play non conference games again California and Georgia. In the league, they must play Oklahoma but escape Texas. With Colorado leaving the Big 12, you can imagine its opponents giving it a little extra when they face the Buffs. So Colorado has two huge marks on its targeted heads: the Big 12 thing and the Hawkins thing. The Buffs' schedule could play difficult.

The eyes of the college football world will focus on Hawkins. He is the Colorado story these days. It's safe to say that if things don't quickly turn around, there will be no reason to carry Hawkins contract into the Pac-10 era.

Even the famous Colorado mascot, Ralphie, could make that determination.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Will Notre Dame Ever Jump?

My friend is a Michigan State fan and he wants Notre Dame to join the Big Ten. He thinks that would be a good move.

Nebraska is probably glad the Irish didn't join the conference. If they did, the moving van stays in Lincoln.

I question whether the Big 10 wants or needs Notre Dame now. You can ask a pretty girl out so many times before you take the rejection in a big, personal way. It's anybody's guess if the Big Ten is done expanding, but 12 becomes better than 11 and it means a conference playoff game is possible.

Apparently, Notre Dame remained steadfast during the recent offering of college musical chairs. The Irish must still believe in their brand and product. But has both items become worn and outdated? If Notre Dame can grab numerous football victories this fall, then maybe the old brand and product will experience revitalization. If not, Notre Dame better have Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany on speed dial.

Notre Dame is in probably one of the most unique situations in its storied history. The result could be good or bad for the Irish. Either they will continue to beat their chest or they will come begging on bended knee.

Wouldn't the second scenario be interesting?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Damon Evans has Problems

About a week ago, I didn't know Damon Evans existed yet alone was the athletic director at the University of Georgia. But that all changed when Evans found himself with a DUI charge.

Evans became a news maker for the wrong reasons. At the time of the arrest, an Atlanta columnist cried out for Evan's resignation. Well, it took a while, but Evans did quit at Georgia.

These things are always difficult to figure out. Did Evans resign by his own free will or did the Georgia administration help him decide? Either way, it is a sad situation.

As the Atlanta columnist said, how can Evans post drinking-and-driving messages on the board at football games when he himself is caught with a DUI?

I hope the guy realizes he has a problem and seeks help. He should also repair his family situation. The night of his arrest, a woman (not Evans' wife) was in the car with him and according to police reports he had some red women's panties on his person.

Evans will receive a nice severance package. Take the money, get help and show your children that you truly love them by loving their mother.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Are You Ready for Some Football?

The calendar says July 1 today, so that means college football is only about 6-7 weeks away.

Here in the Midwest, we have unique football weather. When the season begins, the heat and humidity team up to make the conditions often unpleasant. As the season progresses, fall is in full swing. At the end, the weather can become extremely cold with snow in the air.

My final year of undergraduate work, I attended a playoff game in Northfield, Minnesota, the week before Thanksgiving. Concordia of Minnesota was hosting my school, Northwestern of Iowa. As a journalist, I was privileged to sit in the press box which on bad weather days is usually wonderful. The weather that day was brutal: snow on the ground, extremely cold and windy. However, the press box was no weather escape because it was not heated.

I remember grumbling about the lack of heat. Didn't the locals realize how bad the weather gets in northern Minnesota in November? Was the college just cheap and trying to save a buck? I never drink coffee except for that day. My writing instrument was even cold.

Northwestern's performance that day was like the weather. The field was rock hard and the Northwestern players didn't wear the proper shoes because they often slipped and slided. The Concordia players had the proper cleats because they were running around the field like it was sunny and 70 degrees.

I was so cold that mid 1970s day that I vowed never to return to Moorhead, Minnesota, again. As sometimes happens in life, the vow didn't last. I began dating a woman from Moorhead 30 years later.

By the way, the weather hasn't changed in Moorhead. It's still bitter cold there in November, December, January, February. You get the picture.