Friday, April 29, 2011

My Annual Rant

Maybe I should have taken a happy pill before I started this piece. But I’m sorry folks, I can’t wait any longer. This is my annual rant about college spring football.

I thought the spring cycle was over a couple weeks ago, but now I find out there are even spring games this weekend. Is this a conspiracy against me?

ESPN continued to broadcast games this season. The only reason I know it is because I was flipping channels. Did I stay to watch the game? My answer: a resounding no. Do I care to watch a different colored jersey quarterback be treated like a school crossing guard take little children across the street? Or do I care to watch a game that has special rules so the score can stay close? Do I want to hear about Joe Blow fighting for the left tackle position?

I really don’t understand the media’s fascination with spring football. The beat writers have reports in the papers. Schools broadcast their games on the radio. If the media is trying to get me excited about the upcoming season, it isn’t working. Get back to me when fall practice starts and I can dream about the upcoming matchups instead of seeing my team scrimmage each other.

Due to my work in athletics, I was forced to attend three spring games. They were three too many. There is a real spirit of apathy at those games. How can you get excited about them or actually cheer? And how can the players get excited unless you are fighting for a spot in the fall. The coaches are probably the only ones excited about spring football. Coaches are always excited about practice.

Okay, my rant is official over until probably next spring when we go through another cycle of spring football.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Basketball on Ship

I must admit, some days I’m just plan slow. When I saw last week the words Michigan State, North Carolina and carrier, I thought the two college basketball powers were going to play a game at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, New York. Teams play games frequently at neutral sites.

When I investigated it further, I realized that the carrier was a small “c” and this carrier was a ship in California. Yes, Michigan State and North Carolina will play a basketball game on a real ship.

There will be no public sale of tickets. You either need to know somebody or be somebody to attend this game. Can you imagine the security issues involved?

This is no ordinary ship. It is normally used for military stuff not playing some basketball game. I assume the uniqueness of this event will draw considerable interest.

Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson will serve as honorary captains. I would like to see the two battle each other in a little one-on-one competition. It would be a throwback to their NBA days.

But let’s hope this game comes off without incident. These are troubled times and all these teams want to do is offer some friendly competition (minus the rough play under the basket) between two popular schools.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Can Ohio State's Jim Tressel Survive?

Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel was back in the news Monday. And the news just seems to get worse with this guy.

The NCAA sent Ohio State a communication that said in part Tressel may have committed “potential major violations.” This stems from Tressel lying and withholding information regarding his players’ tattoo parlor incident. Tressel is already suspended for the first five games next season.

The national press is demanding Tressel’s resignation. They say he has placed a big, dark mark on Ohio State.

Tressel may think the fight in the Big Ten Conference is rough, but battling back from his sins appears a much more difficult road. The national media will not let this story die. They will continue to put pressure on Tressel.

Apparently, the Buckeye fans are still in love with him. Ohio State continues fairly silent over this latest NCAA revelation.

Ohio State fired legendary coach Woody Hayes when he punched a player in a bowl game. The Buckeyes don’t appear ready to pull the plug on Tressel just yet.

But whether Ohio State fires him or he resigns on his own feel will, I don’t think the guy that made the sweater vest famous survives. There are too many bullets flying Tressel’s direction. And I don’t think his vest is bulletproof.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Iowa Basketball Creates Stir

Iowa basketball coach Fran McCaffery signed a junior college player over the weekend and the whole state of Iowa is buzzing about it.

But this isn’t your usual buzz. The talk centers on the player’s personal life rather than his basketball skills.

McCaffery inked Anthony Hubbard a 26-year-old who served prison time in his younger years for armed robbery.

As you can imagine, the reaction has ranged from why Iowa is doing this to give the guy a second chance.

McCaffery said he has thoroughly checked out Hubbard and he comes to Iowa City with high personal marks.

In my mind, this is a curious addition. I wonder if behind closed doors, Iowa athletic director Gary Barta is wondering the same thing. Iowa’s other major sport—football—has been rocked with players in trouble with the law. You would think the athletic department would run from controversy not invite it.

But I guess we will have to give McCaffery the benefit of the doubt. He ran a clean program in year one at Iowa but this should tighten the microscope a bit.

On the court, Hubbard is an undeveloped player. He has played only two seasons of organized basketball all on the junior college level. He averaged over 20 points per game last season for a Maryland junior college.

McCaffery wanted people to start taking interest in Iowa basketball again. This move has definitely accomplished that objective.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Jim Larranaga Moves South

The off-season coaching moves continue to surprise me.

In yet another “we need to hire somebody” move, Miami tabbed former George Mason head guy Jim Larranaga as its new coach.

Apparently, people weren’t lining up (like other jobs this cycle) to lead the Hurricanes. Some people reportedly were hoping for Kansas State’s Frank Martin, but for whatever reason that didn’t happen.

Larranaga is a safe hire. He offered rock star status at one point in his career, but now at 61 he is probably at his final stop.

The guy had major success at mid-major George Mason. He led the school to a Final Four appearance in 2006 and five overall NCAA tournaments. He was in Virginia for 14 seasons and complied a 273-164 mark. He is 470-334 in his college career.

But this new job is far from the George Mason gig. Miami has a reputation of being cheap with its basketball program. Larranaga will need to win against program apathy. And then there is this small matter (I’m kidding for my foreign readers) of playing in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC). For example, Duke and North Carolina will present problems unlike anything Larranaga faced in the mid-major circuit.

But this is a good move for Larranaga. He accomplished about all there is at George Mason. He comes to Miami with little expectation and little fanfare. And if it doesn’t work out, he can retire to his fishing boat or some other recreational activity.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

A Good Evening

I had the privilege Thursday night to speak at the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) meeting in Marshall, Minnesota. There is an active group of athletes at Southwest Minnesota State University.

These young adults are an attentive bunch that enjoys free food. It was a blessing after the meeting to visit with them. I heard stories of how the athletes want to go into fields such as medical and special education. Not once did I hear someone say they wanted to take a job that made them lots of money. That made the ‘ole heart feel good.

I didn’t know much about Southwest Missouri State University going into my talk. But I was impressed with the people and surroundings. The university has about 3,500 students and competes in Division II. The Mustangs have modern facilities in both basketball and football.

Overall, it was a real positive experience. Cold and rainy weather became the only negative aspect.

I want to thank Kevin and Karla Anundson for their hospitality. These folks are real winners.

And as I told the athletes Thursday night: go Mustangs!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Traveling Man

I am off to the great state of Minnesota today for a speaking engagement. I will be traveling for a couple days but hope to return for the weekend. Look for my post on returning to a college campus.



Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Bobby Knight and One and Done

ESPN’s Bobby Knight is in the news again.

Knight went after the University of Kentucky during a speech over the weekend. Knight lamented the “one and done” scenario in college basketball saying that the Kentucky freshman players in 2009-2010 weren’t going to class the spring term in anticipation of the NBA draft. Kentucky denied the charge and Knight later apologized.

You can bet Knight and Kentucky Coach John Calipari won’t be exchanging Christmas cards anytime soon. It’s safe to say, Knight has not been a fan of Calipari for a long time.

But on the premise that the “one and done” scenario is hurting college basketball, I’m in Knight’s corner on this one. When the rule was changed to force players to attend college for at least one year before turning professional, did this really help anything?

Colleges are basically renting players under this system. And there are plenty of schools willing to take the one-timers and live in the moment. But we have seen in recent years, success coming to the mid-major schools that feature juniors and seniors. I say great.

I have said for a long time if a player goes to college he should be required to participate for at least two full seasons. This would allow the player to develop his basketball and social skills in a less competitive environment. Make no mistake about it the NBA is a job full of big money and big temptations.

It was encouraging to learn that a number of freshman players are coming back for their sophomore season next year. College basketball needs some stability in this vein.

Are you comfortable with the “one and done” rule?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Nick Sabin in Statue

We have entered a new era in America. People still living are getting statues. Dead people are no longer the only candidates for bronze in these times.

Apparently winning games in the Southeastern Conference (SEC) isn’t good enough anymore. Now the arms race has turned into statues. First, Florida honors its Heisman Trophy winners with hard surfaces. Then over the weekend, we learn football coach Nick Sabin has a nine-foot statue at Alabama.

I find this all interesting. Last time I checked, America was having an economic crisis. But we find out there is plenty of money to honor breathing people with hard surfaces.

I will give the University of Florida a pass (no pun intended). The Gator are honoring memories—former Heisman winners. But what’s up at Alabama?

Anyone who follows college football knows the huge tradition at Alabama. Coach Bear Bryant was a legend. Football is like a religion to Tide followers.

But Sabin is far from a legend. He is an outstanding football coach. Yes, I get that. He has won two national championships including one at Alabama. But he has only coach the Tide for four years. Does Alabama like the guy that much that it already wants to show him with hard surfaces?

What if Sabin and Alabama decide to part ways? It could happen. They seem very much in love now, but in the wacky world of college football you never know.

I just don’t want the Tide to have to donate the statue to some museum or worse yet, destroy the thing.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Harrison Barnes' Decision

I was already this morning to write about North Carolina’s Harrison Barnes not making a decision about the NBA yet. And then I find out he made his decision.

The folks in Carolina can rest easy. Barnes is returning for season No. 2 in Chapel Hill.

I was somewhat puzzled that Barnes was taking his time with the decision. Two of his high profile teammates, Tyler Zeller and John Henson, had already decided to stay in school. I thought that might have an impact on Barnes’ choice.

So the family will stay together at least one more season.

Barnes may have been scared off by the potential NBA lockout. If he would have gone to the pros and there was a work stoppage, Barnes would have been stuck. Now, he can play ball and allow the NBA to work out its issues.

Barnes is a talented player obviously, but his game can use development. He can grow his game in college, enjoy his teammates and the entire college experience. This is a win-win situation for Barnes.

And a win-win for Carolina. Coach Roy Williams’ group should be a major factor next season with three outstanding returning players and the usual top-notch incoming freshmen talent.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Fox Sports and Big 12 Continue Marriage

A conference that wondered last spring if it would be in existence anymore landed a big deal this week.

Fox Sports and the Big 12 Conference signed a new football TV agreement. It begins in 2012 and will last 13 years for about $90 million per year. The conference will receive more money games and more Fox platforms (stations) than the current deal. The Big 12 will also continue its agreement with ESPN.

But the Fox deals were causing Big 12 people to do handstands all over the Midwest. They were certainly applauding the deal. Yes, it does give the league more money and more exposure, BUT…

I hate to become the bad guy in this, but I hope this next deal is different than the present one. Let me explain.

Right now, I watch the Big 12 package on Fox Sports North. If the Minnesota Twins or Minnesota Wild is playing, chances are Paul won’t be able to see the game. And as you can imagine, that frustrates me. I’m a college football guy not a Twins or Wild fan. So I call the station to complain. I never get a live person. I leave my number and never get a return call. I guess customer service is a thing of the past.

But maybe now if there is a conflict, they will offer it on another Fox platform. We can only hope that Fox and the Big 12 will allow us football folks the entire football package.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Don't Cost Your Team the Game

With spring football either coming to a close at many institutions or happening in the near future, it’s time to consider the 2011 season.

One interesting new rule on the horizon will change the way players celebrate.

In the past, you have seen a running back or wide receiver break out a long gain that results in a touchdown. I guess defensive players can do this too.

Often these players would do there own little celebration before going into the end zone. They would dance; strike the Heisman Trophy pose, etc. The player would still get credit for the touchdown and the penalty would either be charged on the extra point-try or the kickoff.

Now if it happens in the field of play, it’s a foul at the point of the infraction and the offending team receives a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty and no touchdown.

This could cost a team the game. Your team might need a touchdown to win the game and as the player makes this play, the game-clock runs out. Sorry, folks, game over.

Another interesting twist to this rule says that an official can flag someone else besides the ball carrier for the unsportsmanlike conduct. Say, an offensive lineman gets excited at about the 50-yardline and starting a taunting motion. By rule, then official can flag this at the 50 and the ball returns to the 35 with no touchdown.

I think this is a good new rule. These individual celebrations are hurting the spirit of college football. Go ahead and celebrate with your teammates, but leave the dancing to that TV show.

Now, if a player breaks out in a dance, the coach and the fans may not appreciate self-expression because it may provide a dire result.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Open Door

The Iowa State basketball program continues to place the welcoming mat outside the front door. Yet another transfer is joining the Cyclones.

Former Utah player Will Clyburn announced he is transferring to Iowa State. The Detroit native led the Utes in scoring and rebounding last season at 17.1 points per game and 7.8 rebounds. He won’t play until the 2012-13 and have just one season remaining.

Clyburn is familiar with the Iowa winters. He played two seasons at Marshalltown Junior College.

Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg is getting a reputation for taking in transfers. Maybe they should call the basketball program Transfer U. Anyway, fans need a scorecard to know what players are eligible and when.

But rumor has it Iowa State had an awesome scout team this past season. Some of those guys are eligible next fall.

If it seems like the basketball roster is always changing, that’s correct. Hoiberg has to go out and recruit a couple coaches for his staff now. The key hire will be landing someone to take the place of departed Bobby Lutz. He was a key cog on the staff last season.

So keep those scorecards handy Cyclone fans. And don’t leave home without them.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Surprise: Perry Jones Stays at Baylor

For all the so called expects that said Baylor’s Perry Jones would leave the Texas school after one season, Jones had a surprise answer for them. The freshman said he would play a second season at Baylor.

Many thought Jones would be a top pick in this year’s NBA draft. At one time, he was projected as the No. 1 overall pick. But Jones had some serious off-court issues during the end of the season.

The NCAA declared Jones ineligible for the opening game of the Big 12 Tournament due to inappropriate benefits. Baylor lost that game handedly and would not play in another postseason game.

But the real kicker was the NCAA said Jones would need to sit out the first five games of next season. Many thought that additional ruling would cause Jones to take his ball and go to the NBA.

But you must applaud the young man for staying at Baylor and facing his punishment. Many thought the NCAA treated him unfairly in the case. He was charged with accepting airplane fare and a professional basketball ticket. His mother also ran afoul with the NCAA by accepting loans (which were paid back) from his AAU coach.

I think Jones will benefit greatly from another year in college. He has loads of talent that needs development. Putting more weight on and gaining more strength will greatly assist his game.

Plus, he is a nice, young man. And college basketball definitely needs those guys around.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Iowa State Loses a Good One

Assistant men’s basketball coach Bobby Lutz lasted just one season at Iowa State. Cyclone fans knew the day would eventually occur but they were hoping it wouldn’t come this soon.

I figured that Lutz would depart for a head coaching job sooner or later. He was successful at North Carolina-Charlotte leading the 49ers to a 218-158 record including five NCAA tournaments and three NIT tournaments. The guy proved he could coach.

The surprising aspect is he left for another assistant job. Reports over the weekend said he had accepted a job at North Carolina State.

Maybe the North Carolina native wanted badly to return home. Maybe the Southerner couldn’t tolerate the Iowa winters. What’s not to dislike like about a foot of snow on the ground and 20-below wind chill factors?

But Lutz will definitely be missed in Ames. He was first-year Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg’s right hand man. Since Hoiberg had zero head coach experience heading into the 2010-11 season, Lutz’s successful head coaching pedigree was vital. You could observe during timeouts Lutz having a large say in the huddle.

Hoiberg hit a home run when he hired Lutz. Hoiberg is now looking for another long ball and it’s important that he find one.

Friday, April 8, 2011

The Tale of Three Coaches

Butler’s Brad Stevens, Virginia Commonwealth’s Shaka Smart and Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall were this year’s so called hot coaches.

All three had major success in the recently completed season. Steven’s took the Bulldogs to their second straight championship game. Smart led the Rams to the Final Four. Marshall helped the Shockers to the NIT championship. Yet, all three decided to remain at their mid-major schools.

I find that somewhat hard to believe.

Conventional wisdom says a coach should use postseason success as a springboard to more pay and a BCS job. But just maybe these guys didn’t want to go to the bright lights and start over. Generally, the reason the job is open in the first place is because of lack of success from the previous coach. And why leave a successful program for the unknown?

Just maybe these guys have learned from the bad experiences of other mid-major coaches.

We have two examples here in the state of Iowa.

Keno Davis led Drake to the NCAA tournament in his first season as coach. He cashed in on that success and moved on to Providence. The trouble was Davis lost his job at the end of this season after only three years.

Greg McDermott was laboring at Iowa State after leading Northern Iowa to three straight NCAA tournaments. The talk was Iowa State would give him one more year. But this had a happy ending for McDermott. Before Iowa State could pull the plug, Creighton offered McDermott a 10-year deal.

So maybe Stevens, Smart and Marshall subscribe to the theory that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

More Coaching Talk

If you think the folks at NC State were surprised with their basketball hire, what about the fans at Missouri?

Missouri named former University of Miami coach Frank Haith as its new coach this week. And the initial reaction was far from favorable

To be blunt, schools weren’t exactly knocking down the door to hire Haith. He complied a 129-101 record in seven seasons at Miami, but only a 43-69 mark in the Atlantic Coast Conference. The Canes went to just one NCAA tournament, but four NIT affairs.

No doubt Haith jumped at the Missouri opportunity. Rumors said he was on the hot seat in Florida. So, apparently Missouri gave him a huge break.

The jury is still out whether Haith can coach. Some say he was hindered in Miami by the school’s lack of support for the basketball program. Some say he did more with less. He comes to Missouri with more resources and more support.

He battled the likes of Duke and North Carolina in the ACC, but the Big 12 Conference has top talent too. Texas, Kansas and Kansas State will make life interesting for the new Missouri coach. Word has it Haith is a strong recruiter and he will need those skills in his new conference.

Missouri tried to make a splash hire in courting Purdue’s Matt Painter. In these first few months, Haith will need his public relations skills as much as his coaching ones. He must prove that splash doesn’t necessarily translate into success and there are different paths to the victory column

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

A Curious Hire

North Carolina State finally landed itself a basketball coach yesterday and it was just plain strange.

I have nothing against Mark Gottfried the new coach. I have heard and read he is a good guy. Gottfied had success at Alabama before resigning in the middle of the season. He has been working for ESPN the last two years.

The fact that the Pack hired a coach who had been out of the game for two years tells you something about how low this job has sunk. Virginia Commonwealth’s Shaka Smart turned it down and apparently a host of others.

In another strange twist, athletic director Deb Yow sent an email out to Pack fans the night before Gottfried was hired. She said coaches she talked to about the position said it would take a major revamp job and that fans need to be patient about the search.

Then to top off the strangest of all twists, Yow attacked Maryland basketball coach Gary Williams for in Yow’s words “sabotaging the search.” This happened at Gottfied’s press conference. Yow is a former Maryland athletic director and the two didn’t get along in College Park. Apparently, Yow thought Williams wasn’t saying nice things to potential NC State coaching candidates. Williams, of course, denied this through the Maryland sports information office.

I am wondering if after the sideshow, Gottfried really wants this job. The marriage has gotten off to a rocky start and we haven’t even had time for the honeymoon.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

A Woeful National Title Game

I don’t blame you if you watched part of the Butler-UConn title game last night and then switched your TV over to ‘I Love Lucy’ reruns. I would have said goodnight to the game too, but I was watching at a friend’s house.

This game was simply woeful. There was little scoring in the first half and just a little more in the second half.

Butler probably couldn’t have hit a shot if it was shooting at two baskets. The Bulldogs were an ice cold 12-64 from the field (18/8%) and only 9-33 (27.3%) from the three-point line. Butler shot so many bricks it could have built a house.

UConn made enough shots for the victory. The Huskies weren’t exactly lighting it up either with 34.5 % (19-55) shooting and just 1-of 11 from three-point territory.

You keeping thinking somebody would start making some shots, but it was only wishful thinking. At the start of the night, you would have never imagined the winning team scoring just 53 points and the losing team getting only 41.

So this game will quickly pass from memory. Ten years from now, nobody will ever bring this thing up again. And that’s good.

Butler must be pretty depressed this morning as the reality continues to make its mark. The Bulldogs seemed so confident and so ready to play. Then all they did was thud, thud and thud.

It was sad.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Go Butler Go

Let me be perfectly clear: I will not cheer for UConn in tonight’s college basketball finale. No way, no how. I cannot do it.

I cannot cheer for a Big East Conference team. Call it bias if you must. By the way, UConn is an east coast team and that doesn’t score points with me either. You want further justification. Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun is in trouble with the NCAA.

Now that I have the negativity out of the way, let’s talk about Butler.

This is the second straight year the Bulldogs have played in the final game. Last year, they were the Cinderella team. This year, they have played like they belong in the club. Butler needs to finish the job and take the title back to basketball-rich Indiana.

As I have stated in the past, this Butler outfit displays blue collar. Style is not a consideration. It is a team in the true sense of the word. Nobody cares who scores the points. Play tough defense, score enough points and go home with the victory.

Brad Stevens should win another coach-of-the-year award. He’s the driver of this bus and knows how and when to pull the right buttons. Simply, the guy can coach. And he does it with class. You won’t see him beating his chest telling the world he’s something wonderful. As I like to say, it’s hard not to cheer for the guy.

So come on, Butler, do your school proud. Finish the job and cut down the nets. Most of the America is cheering for you.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Talking Final Four

The college basketball season has come down to four teams: Cinderella Virginia Commonwealth, Butler, Kentucky and UConn. Sixty-Four teams have already gone home unhappy. Two more will join them today and then one more Monday.

So this suddenly long and grueling season is down to only two games. Remember the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday tournaments? They seem so long ago. Even the first week of the NCAA tournament feels like history.

CBS must think the Kentucky-UConn Final Four game will attract the most viewers since it is the nightcap contest. Maybe CBS is counting on those East Coast television sets and Kentucky’s basketball tradition. Some say this winner will take Monday night’s game too.

But if I could only watch one game, I would choose Virginia Commonwealth and Butler. The Rams are playing for history. If they can win tonight and the championship game, they will have collected seven tournament victories. No team has ever done that.

The fact that Virginia Commonwealth is the Cinderella team is reason enough to view this game. The Rams have stolen the routing interest of many Americans and they want to see them go all the way.

Others still favor Butler. This former Cinderella still garners a strong following. The Bulldogs are playing their best basketball of the season and it’s no stretch that they could win two more games.

So prepare for championship basketball. Who do you think will win it all?

Friday, April 1, 2011

The Silent Coaching Search

North Carolina State Athletic Director Deb Yow has been true to her word. The silent has been deafening.

Yow has made no public comments about the Wolfpack coaching search since she fired Sidney Lowe about three weeks ago. Yes, there has been speculation, but nothing firm from Yow’s office.

Former NC State Athletic Director Lee Fowler’s basketball coach search was extremely public. Apparently, Lowe was way down on the pecking order as big-named coaches turned down Fowler.

So Yow has done a 360-degree turn in hiring philosophy.

Apparently, Yow did go after Arizona coach Sean Miller. The former Wolfpack assistant said no to Yow according to Miller’s father.

This job may not be as attractive as some people reason. Lowe’s performance lowered the appeal. He led the Pack to zero NCAA tournaments. At least, the guy before, Herb Sendek got NC State to the tourney. Plus, the Pack is in an extremely competitive environment. For my foreign readers, NC State is only about 30 miles from powerhouses Duke and North Carolina.

So maybe Yow is trying to attract a hot, postseason coach. When the tournament is over, we may realize why Yow waited in silence.

NC State fans hope the silence is worth the wait.