Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Random Musings From Opening Weekend

(Editors Note, The preview articles got stalled due to family obligations, work and the rest of my real world life beyond the keyboard. I'll try to bring them back next year)

Oh, it was Christmas Day for me and the millions of college football fans across the country. It was opening weekend! We had to sit through the long hot summer of two-a-days, as in visits to our favorite teams' message boards. We read the stories of the fights in the clubs, the breaking and enterings, the DUI's, and the suspensions. The message boards became feeding frenzies when the 5 star athlete with the 1.6 GPA ended up at some backwoods JUCO diploma mill in Mississippi, probably never to be heard from again. Thank God we finally kicked it off and the stories are now about what happens between the white stripes and not about the athletes wearing the stripes.

Instant Karma is gonna get ya
Remember what I was saying about Karma, it seems it is coming to fruition. From my own hillbilly-centric point of view, we West Virginia fans had the trifecta. Michigan lost at home in Rich "the product" Rodriguez's home opener. Virginia Tech lost to East Carolina in a huge upset and Pitt lost at home to a MAC team, Bowling Green. Coach Dave Wannstedt's reaction to the loss was, "They ran some complicated offenses." Ureka!

Somewhere up there Jack Fleming is calling in some favors. If my Mounties run the table, I think we may hit Nirvana.

Did you hear Beanie Wells got hurt?
The national media attention this has received has been unbelievable and somewhat disheartening. It goes to show that as long as you have the big TV contracts, the big schools are going to get the coverage. I'm not knocking the kid or his injury, but when is the media going to wake up and stop pimping programs because of TV contracts and how much merchandise they sell? Let's start talking about the teams that are getting it done on the field, not to say that OSU has not. Maybe I'm sick and tired of the fix being in college football where only certain programs are marketed to be able to play for national titles. I actually have this strange notion that everybody should have a chance to be successful and that your success is based what you do on the field, not what some network talking head thinks will sell more commercial air time.

Notre Dame Didn't Lose...
Well idle gave them a tough match up, but they came through without any injuries. As long as as Jimmy Claussen can stop dressing in spandex, the schedule looks a bit easier than first thought for the Irish. Charlie Weiss will still have to pay that medical bill he tried skip out on. Chalk one up for the doctors and not the lawyers...

For those that have read my articles chronicling the career of Mr. Williams, you know that I have been hard on the guy. I mean c'mon, after 11 arrests and being kicked out of two schools, it was too easy for him. Where is he now you ask? We hillbillies took him in, of course. He's now at WVIAC power Glenville State. Hey Willie, you won't find many free lobster dinners in Gilmer County, but what you will find are some of the best people around to help you get your life back on track. He didn't make the box score for the opening game against Lock Haven, but hopefully he gets something better out of all of this; a good education. I'm actually rooting for the kid.


Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Shwag's Annual College Football Preview: The Big East

Many of you may remember my annual college football preview from I have decided to revive this annual fluff article and expound upon you what I really don't know. Ahh, the future, what will it hold? It is time I put on my great Carnac hat and peer into my crystal ball. First up in my series, we'll look at the Big East, a conference I that I may or may not have an affinity for.

Predicted Order of Finish
  1. West Virginia
  2. USF
  3. Cincinnati
  4. Rutgers
  5. Pitt
  6. UConn
  7. Louisville
  8. Syracuse
The era of change. West Virginia has a new head man in Bill Stewart. Ray Rice, Steve Slaton and Brian Brohm have moved on. These were the players that saved the league, but none of them have left the cupboard too bare. Coming off the league's third straight BCS bowl win, the league has let everyone know that it is here to stay and the future looks very bright with some outsanding recruiting classes and major investments into the programs from the schools themselves. Commissioner Mike Tranghese can go out knowing that the league is in such a great shape.

West Virginia
The Rich Rodriguez departure from Morgantown and subsequent court battle, could have been the start of the downfall of the program in Morgantown. A funny thing happened. The players and the coaching staff that was left, made sure to remind everyone, WVU was not going away and in fact may be stronger than last year. Ask Oklahoma, how good they are. Coach Bill Stewart made sure to surround himself with one of the top staffs in the country. He brought in Doc Holliday from Florida, David Lockwood from Minnesota and Notre Dame, Mike Joseph from Notre Dame, Jeff Mullen from Wake Forest and most notably, DC Jeff Casteel, stayed home. With coach Mullen coming in from Wake to install motion and downfield passing into West Virginia's vaunted spread offense, the mounties are no longer one dimensional. West Virginia returns their whole line which was ranked third in the country in rushing last year. Did I mention that Pat White is back? Throw in some Noel Devine and the mountaineer offense will probably be amongst the nation's best again. No more eight in the box. The defenses will have to be honest this year.

The big question will be on defense where the mountaineers need to replace seven starters. The good thing is that Jeff Casteel has an abundance of talent to work with. The mountaineers finally brought in a defensive back coach to properly teach proper techniques, with one of the best in the country in David Lockwood. The DB's for years had been sort of an achilles heel under Rodriguez. Look for an upgrade here. The linebackers are as deep as they have ever have been at WVU. Reed Williams, the Fiesta Bowl defensive MVP, is the big question mark on whether he can return this season after shoulder surgery. The defensive line has some major holes to fill with the departures of Kellien Dykes and Johnny Dingle. Look for newcomer Tevita Finau to push for some time up front.

South Florida
The monster has awoken. No longer is there the big three in Florida. Say hello to our friends with the geographical error in their name. Say hello to South Florida. Jim Leavitt has done an incredible job building the program from scratch in Tampa. With the abundance of talent in Florida, his recruiting travel budget is probably one of the smallest in the NCAA. He can throw a rock from Raymond James stadium and probably hit the homes of ten division one players. Their success has not been a fluke. They are for real and should challenge again for the Big East title. Back again, is one of the Big East's best QB's in Matt Grothe. When he is on the run, he is almost like Houdini at getting out of trouble. RB Mike Ford is as fast is he as he is big. At 6'2" 225 lbs, he reminds me of another former big east back from Louisville named Michael Bush. He is Michael Bush with a legit 4.3 forty. The Bulls only had to replace one man on the line. They look to be very big and strong this year. The big question mark will be at receiver where they led the league last year in dropped balls. They will need an upgrade in performance this year.

The Bulls return probably the best defensive coordinator in the league in Wally Burnham. He is an absolute tactitian on the sidelines. Up front, the Bulls return the top DE in the league in George Selvie. Nobody is quicker off the ball. The linebackers must replace Ben Moffit. If they can, the linebacking corps should be pretty good. Their biggest holes will be the in backfield where they will need to replace the top corners in the league in Mike Jenkins and Trae Williams. Look for the bulls to challenge the Mountaineers for the league title this year. I can guarantee that both teams have December 6th circled on the calendars.

The best young coach in the league is the Bearcat's Brian Kelly. He has been a winner at every stop along the way. Coming off a 10-3 record in his first year, I expect coach Kelly to be right on par or even better this year. This team is centered around its defense and as the old adage goes, defense wins championships. Pre-season All-American DT Terrill Byrd anchors the top returning unit in the league. The senior laden unit is going to be tough especially against the run with two of the three linebacker are returning letterman. Mike Mickens is one of the best returning DB's in the league. They need to however replace both safeties.

The big question is who will be the signal caller this year. If Ben Mauk can get one more year from the NCAA then all is good. If not, the nod will probably go the Notre Dame transfer Demetrius Jones. Coach Kelly has a reputation as being one of the top qb coaches in the land, so I think whoever it is, should be adequate. Their running game has been mediocre at best. If freshman Isiah Pead is as good as his high school press clippings, things may be different in the queen city. Marcus Barnett at receiver is absolutely gifted. The question is, can they get the ball to him? The line must replace the right side. The offensive unit has so many questions , that I can't rank them higher. Coach Kelly is such a tremendous coach, that I think they should end up in the top three by year's end.

Greg Schiano said hell no to Michigan, got a new stadium expansion and lost the best running back in school history. It has been one of those years. RU has had their best run ever under the tutelage of Coach Schiano. It all began his first year when he gathered all the top prospects in New Jersey that year in a room and asked them to stay home and help build something together. Many did. No longer is New Jersey being poached by other schools. With Schiano's ties to south Florida, it is no wonder they have been so successful. The success of this years team rides on the arm of Mike Teel. For all the talent he has, he needs to stop throwing the ball to the opposing team. He does have the league's best wideout tandem in Kenny Britt and Tiquan Underwood. Both will be playing on Sundays in the future. Their line should be outstanding, thanks in no large part to their recruiting efforts. Anthony Davis is an absolute beast. The big hole will be at running back where they will need to replace Ray Rice. It looks to be that they will use a tandem of backs with Jordan Brooks and Kordell Young. Another guy who could get some looks, is a local kid Joe Martinek from my neck of the woods. If Joe Sr. is reading this, he knows that I have felt that Joe would have looked great in the gold and blue.

Rutgers returns five of the starting front seven on defense. That would be great for some teams, but until they learn to stop the run, it could be track meets again for Rutgers. This has been their achilles heel. With the influx of young talent pushing the current starters, maybe this year could be the year. I will believe it when I see it. The DBs are very strong with mostly everybody back, except for strong safety. Courtney Greene's decision to stay should bolster this unit. Now I would have ranked RU higher, but they need to prove to me that they are ready to make that next step.

No loss will ever be more devastating to me than the loss that my beloved Mountaineers had against Pitt. No win was ever more important for one guy's job than Pitt's victory over WVU. Dave Wannstedt got the win he needed to right the ship. On paper, he has been a great recruiter. On the field, for the most part, until the win at WVU, their teams have been a disappointment. Returning this year is one of the league's outstanding backs in Lesean McCoy. He has NFL star written all over him. At receiver, Derek Kinder returns along with incoming stud freshman Jonathan Baldwin. Both have great hands. Both should make great impacts. Jonathan Baldwin should win the league's freshman of the year. The big question marks are at QB and on the line. Who will be the QB, Junior Bill Stuhl or Sophomore Pat Bostick? The line returns only two starters. Will the skill guys be enough?

On defense remember this name, Scott McKillop. He is the best linebacker to play at Pitt since Hugh Green. The whole unit is deep. The line returns almost everybody as well. All of the DB's saw significant playing time on a unit that was in the top five nationally. The big problem is, can they replace DC Paul Rhoades? With Wannstedt in charge, I am not sure. Can he finally learn to develop the talent? I am not sure that he can. If he does, this team may be one for the ages, but I am not holding my breath.

Randy Edsall has been quietly building a strong program at UConn. After last year's success of sharing the Big East title, will they build on this? I am not sold on this program yet. Last year's 66-21 loss to my mountaineers tells me otherwise. QB Tyler Lorenzen has all the skills to make it at the next level. The big question is will he have anyone to throw the rock to? The huskies receiving corps is thin at best. Edsall is looking to basically have warm bodies after his top guy transferred and the other two returners didn't take a snap in spring ball. The line looks so so, with with three returners. They need to protect Lorenzen. He was on his back far too much. The huskies have a nice one two punch at RB with Donald Brown and Andre Dixon. I don't how well the line will hold up.

On defensive, the huskies return six of their starting front seven. They must learn to stop the run or like RU, get out your track shoes boys!. The DB's are young, so expect a big learning curve. Will Lorenzen be enough to get them through? That is the big question.

The makeover in Louisville has begun. It is going to be long year for the Cards as Coach Steve Kragthorpe looks to change the atmosphere and the defense at Papa John's Stadium. For a guy who had all the accolades coming in and all the talent on the field, Steve Kragthorpe's first year was a huge disappointment to the Cardinal faithful. He needs to get the talent to match his quasi-spread offense that he ran at Tulsa. For all the arm strength that QB Hunter Cantwell has, he is not matched for Coach Kragthorpe's system. As well, his top returning running back, transferred. Look for Victor Anderson to step up. Hopefully he can live up to his high school credentials. Who are the receivers going to be? These are the questions that many are asking. The line is being rebuilt as well.

Now to the defense. There is nowhere than to go up from where they are. They couldn't stop the pass. They couldn't stop run, but they were tops in penalties. The defense only returns four starters. Kragthorpe brought in former Michigan DC Ron English to overhaul the unit that was near the league bottom in every statistical category. Can Kragthorpe do it? I hope, but some decisions are making me wonder, like pulling out of Florida to only spot recruit there. He has decided to go the Kansas State route and load up on Jucos. It may be a long couple of years for my friends in da'ville.

At least Louisville can say,Thank God for Syracuse. No coaching tenure has been worse in the history of the Orange than Greg Robinson. He has been 7-28 in three years. From the school that produced so many great stars and has had such a rich history, this has been unacceptable. The only good thing that the Orange have is Mike Williams at WR. He is the best wideout they have had since Marvin Harrison. Laver Lobdell could be great at WR, but without significant coaching, I don't see it happening. Andrew Robinson is a good QB with no line or running back to bail him out. I can't see that many points put up this year by the Orange.

On defense, the line could be its strength. Arthur Jones is a stud at Nose tackle. The other stud is CB Mike Holmes. The problem is that they need nine other guys to show up. I knew Greg Robinson was doomed from the start. In his first year, against Iowa, they were going for the win on their own goal line. The Orange ended up with eight chances to do it thanks to a Hawkeye penalty. They ran the same play eight consecutive times with a hand off to the running back. The problem was that the starting running back at the time was on the sidelines, not even in the game. Coach Robinson had no clue. So as they say, it will be a long year up north. Plenty of good seats will be available.


Next up the SEC....

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

One For the Road

January 3, 2006 is the day that will live in infamy, not just for the victory that my beloved Mountaineers had over the much favored Georgia Bulldogs in the Sugar Bowl. More importantly, it showed that the Big East truly belonged. One conference commissioner, was sitting in the press box of the Georgia Dome that night, with that Cheshire Cat grin, knowing that he had been right all along. I learned that Mike Tranghese was a man that I should never play poker against. Because when the chips were down, he was holding that royal flush the whole time.

Last week, Big East Commissioner Mike Tranghese announced that he would be retiring at the end of the 2008-2009 academic year. With nearly 30 years with the conference, his time had come. He had been there since the beginning in 1979, when a small group of eastern basketball powers would form a league. It was he and then conference founder Dave Gavitt that took a chance with a relatively unknown entity at the time with ESPN. The decision in hindsight would be the first in many great decisions that would define his career. In an almost symbiotic relationship, the league and the channel would grow to unprecedented heights during the 1980's and beyond.

In 1990 when he took over as the commissioner, the next move was to try to fulfill Joe Paterno's dream of an eastern football conference. For years, the eastern powers wanted to do it except two teams, Pitt and Syracuse. They were afraid that an Eastern conference would destroy what they had in the Big East in basketball. They could not have been more wrong. In 1991, Penn State fed up with the stances of Pitt and Syracuse, decided to join the Big 10. Tranghese had enough foresight, to expand the Big East to include the football schools as a part of the league, bringing in WVU, Miami, Virginia Tech and Rutgers. The league would thrive.

The departures of Miami, BC and Virginia Tech could have been the end of the conference, but again, when the chips were down, Mike Tranghese was at his best. As much as it is not needed now, the relationship with Notre Dame was needed so the Big East could have a seat at the big boy table at the BCS fortress of ineptitude. With that secure, the conference needed to prove itself. Pitt's thrashing by Utah in the Fiesta bowl was not a good omen for the league.

What the league needed was an influx of talent and exposure. In one of his smartest moves, Tranghese negotiated with ESPN to broadcast their games on Thursday nights. As per usual the critics and traditionalists were in an uproar. How could they do something as crazy as play a game on a weeknight? It was, in hindsight, pure genius. The league was the only show in town on that night on TV. Instead of playing their marquee games on Saturdays, going against every other conference, they said why not play when there is no competition? The exposure and its results in upgraded recruiting and coaching are now bearing this out.

Since the departure of the three teams, The ACC has not won one BCS game. The Big East, however, have one the last three straight, beating the conference champs of the SEC, ACC and Big XII respectively. Karma is a bitch.

For all the venom, I had against Tranghese with the handling of the departures of VPI, Miami and BC, and his help in the formation of the BCS, I could not have been more wrong about that man. I have learned that sometimes, it's better to sit back and have faith that he will lead us through the darkness. That's what great leaders do. Now if only Jim Delaney at the Big Ten (11) would follow suit...



Rest in Peace, Jim McKay

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Kickin' It Old School

For many of you that read my blog, I am usually taking on the wonderful world of college sports, but today, something has me feeling nostalgic. It could be the after effects of the high school reunion a couple weeks back. It could be that I have a jumped the shark as they say and I'm on the downward slide. Maybe Neil Young was right, it is better to burn out than to fade away, but at least, I've got the memories to keep me going. For the first time in a long, long time, I have a genuine interest and excitement in the NBA finals.

A long time ago, I was this small town kid with the Tony Hawk shwap. I lived and breathed everything that was the NBA. Baseball didn't do it for me. Football was cool. Hockey was great. My soccer fandom was in its infancy. None of them however could feed my imagination the way that basketball did at the time.

With every fantastic highlight, I would go outside and somehow try to imitate on our backyard court what I just saw. Lack of athletic ability usually got in the way. Everyday I would shoot hoops for hours on end. Often, my dad and I would play a game of horse. Of course I would try every fantastic highlight reel film shot I saw. My Dad of course would be shooting shots popular in his era like the hook, the set shot and the left handed layup, while I would be trying the double pump in mid air, with a kiss off the glass. I thought I was Jordan. My dad thought he was Bill Walton. Neither one of us though had a great shooting percentage. I guess that would explain why Coach K never sent me that scholarship offer and my dad never made it past the Fountain Hill High School varsity.

In my dad's youth, they had Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Jackie Robinson, Roberto Clemente and Whitey Ford. We had Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and of course, his airness, Michael Jordan. These were my heroes. Charles Barkley telling me that he was no idol, made him more of one to me. I remember Mr. Robinson's house. I remember Dominique Wilkins with the windmill slam. Watching Spud Webb win the slam dunk competition gave hope to the little guys like me. When Michael hit the last shot against Utah, it ended. It ended that is, until now.

Something feels right about a Boston - LA final. I am not a particular fan of either team, I guess its the nostalgia of so many great memories of my youth coming out. It was Magic vs. Larry back then. Now its Kobe vs. Boston's big three. It has everything you want, from the Zen Master on the sidelines to Jack Nicholson sitting in the stands. If only Chick Hearn and Johnny Mosley were still alive to call the games, we then could have had basketball nirvana. Showtime may have closed its curtains, but Kobe and company opened it back up in HD.

So I guess now I'll be looking for the Spike Lee Mars Blackman Nike commercials again. It was never really the shoes Spike. For the first time in many years, the other day I went to the local basketball court to shoot some hoops. I probably had a shooting percentage of around fifteen percent. Just like back in the day, it was the wind, of course...


Tuesday, May 27, 2008

My Own Friday Night Lights Revisited

Sometimes life is kind of funny. Sometimes, providence takes center stage. Without seeing it coming, my foundation was sured up and in some ways I was renewed by my past. The older I get the more I realize how it is all connected. From my past, to my future; from my pals long ago, to the places I have been, it all makes this beautiful tapestry that sometimes I think I have failed to see.

Over this past weekend, I celebrated my 15 year high school reunion. I returned with my daughter in tow, to that sleepy little town on the Ohio River. I returned to the place, that fifteen years ago seemed like a prison, that I could not wait to escape from. Now many years later, I find myself wishing I could return. The impatience and angst of youth seems to be getting replaced, by an appreciation for what that town made me into today. I have come to realize that the good in the long run will always be remembered, while the bad just kind of fades away like fallen leaves.

As I walked into the room of the restaurant, I had no ill feeling of the past, just an anxiousness to see what the present held for my fellow classmates. We were all a little bit heavier, well some more than others. Some of us were a few hairs less. Some were married. Some were divorced. Some had children. Some had child support. We all, though, it seemed, had come together for the same reasons. We came together, because no matter, where we end up in this deal, we all started from the same point. We were forever connected.

I was not prepared for the emotion of the next day. In one of the great small town traditions, the town gave back what it could and reminded me of what my values really were. As tradition held, Memorial Day Weekend in St. Marys, WV has been known as Alumni Weekend. We all knew that our reunion would be this weekend. It was also the weekend that the current graduating class would be walking the aisles and receiving their diplomas as well. The past was touching the present and the future.

After the night of socializing the night before, we all met down at the marina to board our float and be paraded through the town. We weren't the only ones there. There was the classes of 2003, 98,93,88, 83, 78 and so on. All the classes celebrating their reunions, were there as far back as 1938. All of them were donned in the purple and gold. My sister came in too, for it was her class as well celebrating their ten year reunion. There was the float for the past belles or in another vernacular, the home coming queens. There were the honored alumni riding in convertibles. The alumni band came as well. I was impressed that they still remembered how to play. We loaded up and headed back towards the main part of town. I was not fully prepared for what came next.

As we made our way onto the corner into downtown St. Marys, I first saw my daughter with my family standing there to greet us. Standing behind them, lining the street almost three persons deep, was the rest of the town. It seemed like everyone had come out. There were the old teachers and administrators, the local politicos, the volunteer fireman and even the town weirdos had come back to honor the past graduates. They were reminding us all what community meant and giving back in such a way that no amount of money could ever replace. I was moved in a way that I was not expecting. I had never been more proud of where I came from than at that very moment. That to me is what home is all about.

As the float made the turn to head back to the marina, I hopped off and decided to walk through the crowd and make my way back to my family. As I began walking, I bumped into one friend and then another and then another and so on. There were no strangers, just friends from long ago. I made it back to the center of town as the alumni band stopped the procession and played the alma mater. We all broke into chorus singing along just like we did for every function while we were in school. No matter what walk of life, we were one in the same for a brief moment in time.

Afterwards the class met one more time with our families for a picnic. We shared a lot of memories and laughter and never once was there a feeling of angst between the members of the class of 1993. The reunion came to an end, but my journey was not over yet.

The next day, with my daughter and my sister's new boyfriend along for the ride, we headed back to Ritchie County. This was the site of our farm from my early childhood. It had been more than twenty years since I had been back. I decided to take back roads all the way back. I am glad that I did. Maybe I'm just a bit biased, but I will always think that West Virginia is one of the most beautiful places on this earth. The hills and hollers were in full bloom.

As we made the trek up to the farm, everything seemed so much smaller, but I guess I was half the size I am today, the last time I was here. The barn and the chicken coop were about all that was left of the original buildings, but the natural beauty of Dog Comfort, never left. We then drove down to Everitt's Green and White store that has since been abandoned. I used to ride my bike down to Everitt's to buy a soda and play some pinball. Memories were rushing over me. I felt like that kid again riding his huffy over the trails through the woods. This time I was sharing it with my daughter and the rest of my family.

We made the trek to Mam Mam's grave. Mam Mam or Mae Satterfield, as she was known to everyone else, was the epitome of what most West Virginians are about. She lived at the end of our road. She took care of me and my sister. Hell, she practically raised us. Mae treated us as one of her family as we treated her the same. The rest of my blood relatives lived very far away and I was probably closer her than most of the rest of my family. She made our family a part of hers. The kindness she showed was just the way they all are back home. I encountered it everywhere we went. My sister's boyfriend couldn't believe it. Living in New York, it was in stark contrast to what he was used to. By the end of the trip, he had me play Country Roads one more time as we went to the train station.

I took this trip, not looking for anything really. I ended up finding hidden treasures that were always there in front of me. I guess I had to open my eyes and look back, because they were always there helping me through this crazy life that I live. Thanks West Virginia....


Thursday, May 15, 2008

Enough is Enough

I have tried to stay away from weighing in on the Rich Rodriguez-WVU divorce. I have felt that I was too close to the story. It has been too personal. Like most WVU fans, I feel like a child caught in a nasty custody battle. Like most divorces, nobody comes out unhurt or clean. I have felt in someways that we fans have been stuck in this eye of the storm and it still hasn't made landfall. After reading so many negative slants towards West Virginia and just plain lazy journalists, I feel it's time that the other side be heard. I guess I have to do this, because I, like many others, need my catharsis. I need my faith restored.

This past week Rich Rodriguez's deposition was released. Nothing new really was learned in the deposition than what really has been previously reported. It's all now out on the table.

From the start of this whole exercise, I have been trying to determine how West Virginia has been the villain in this whole soap opera. First we were called racists by Rod's top assistant, Calvin Magee because he was not considered for the head coaching position. This made national headlines. Yet, when a sworn affidavit from former Mountaineer Athletic Club official, Larry Aschebrooke, comes out calling Rod and his team on his bluff, it barely makes a ripple. Rod's only response was that were more than twenty lies. Well, my question is what are they and can you back it up with your own affidavit?

Chuck Finder, a writer and I use that term loosely, was covering this situation for the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. It was he, who first reported the racist claims without getting verification. Then he cited claims of harassment and threats towards Rod, his family and his coaches. This made national headlines. Rod went on ESPN crying. Yet, the Monongalia County Sheriff and the West Virginia State Police investigated and found nothing. There were no police reports filed, yet nobody, again, in the national media picked it up. Rod found his conduit in Chuck to help spread his PR battle against WVU. After the affidavit broke, the Pittsburgh Post Gazette did not cover it. In it, Aschebrooke, claimed that Rod said that Chuck (Finder) would take care of things in the media. Chuck Finder was "reassigned" to cover the penguins in the NHL playoffs and a new beat writer was assigned to cover WVU.

My question is that how does a journalist like Chuck Finder get away with writing false stories and yet there is no punishment for him? I'm all for freedom of the press, but Chuck and the Post Gazette should be held accountable. The problem is how do you prove libel. That's the problem with modern day media. They go for the tabloidy, sensationalistic stories and there is no reprocussion for their actions. It is a sad state of affairs.

When Rod's deposition was released, the headline read and I quote " Rod Says W. Va. Officials Pressured Him to Sign in 2007". How about calling it down the middle and reading the actual affidavit? Rod does make these claims, but yet again, somehow the headline reads that West Virginia is in the wrong.

Rod's lawyer Marv Robon claimed that the $ 4 million buyout was akin to slavery. Rod had it rough living in his $ 2 million slave quarters on Cheat Lake. I guess two million dollars a year and getting all new upgrades to the locker room, the new academic center, the new suites, and the new scoreboard weren't enough, yet Rod said we hadn't done enough.

I guess it hurts more when it's one of your own. It hurts more when you buy into it and to find out that the man is Charlatan. One can only hope that John Lennon was right and, "Instant Karma is gonna get you."

Maybe I'm sick of the West Virginia stereotypes. Maybe I'm sick of getting talked down to, but enough is enough. We are a proud people. West Virginia has no pro sports teams. We don't have much in the way of well paying jobs or great highways, but the one thing we do have is WVU and I'm sick of the bashing. We were raised on Jack Fleming. We were raised on the arms of Jeff Hostettler and Major Harris. We were raised on the exploits of Jerry West, Sam Huff and Hot Rod Hundley. We were raised on the coaching of Don Nehlen. We were raised on the three pillars, Friday night high school football, Saturday afternoon WVU football and Sunday morning church. If you have a problem with that, kiss my hillbilly ass! Whew, I feel better already...


Thursday, May 8, 2008

Random Thoughts From the Road

After spending the last week in the belly of the beast and looking for fear and loathing in Sin City, I find myself sitting in yet another lonely hotel room somewhere on the outskirts of Minneapolis. Such is the life of a salesman. This is the winter for me. Spring practices are over. The BCS fortress of ineptitude is dormant again. The spring combine recruiting circuit is begining to heat up, but I can't get that interested in how fast a seventeen year old can shuffle between two cones. That's just me. The internet message boards are full of drivel now, mainly filled with guys who haven't been laid since Dennis Rodman married himself; fighting with each other over who has a bigger keyboard. Such is life. At least my beloved Chelsea is in the UEFA finals.

Have we jumped the shark?

Kentucky just received a verbal from 6'4" Forward Michael Avery. The kid has been dominating his competition. The problem is that his competition is mostly fellow eighth graders. Yes that's right,eighth grade. Let's see ,when I was fourteen, I was barely pubescent, hated my parents, was doing my best Tony Hawk imitation and thought I was well on my way to being the next great linebacker for Joe Pa. I quickly grew out of this thinking, as I think, will Mr. Avery. What the hell is an eighth grader doing by committing? Why is it being covered the way it is on the national recruiting sites where most are barely blinking an eye and calling it the way of the recruiting world? Some of the comments I read from some of the fan sites have me even more concerned that we have truly reached a tipping point in our society. Some said it was "outstanding" and others were "proud at how hard the staff seemed to be working". What? Huh? Why was the kid allowed to be offered in the first place? We're doomed...

Only in Bama

Well, last year, they cut out texting and coaches said it will hurt their recruiting. That's kind of funny since texting had really only been around for about 4 or 5 years. Now coaches are banned from visiting recruits on site for most of the spring. Leave it to fellow Hillbilly Nick Saban and Bama to turn to new technology to get around the NCAA. Ol' Nick is using the next best thing, video conferencing. This is why I love the SEC. It's like the Laverne and Shirley theme song, "...give us a rule we'll break it..."

Leaving on Jet Plane

Looking out a window while flying across the country, I am always struck in awe by the beauty and majesty of our country. Wherever I go, I am amazed by the commonality in all of us. For all it's good and the enjoyment, I get from it, the internet can never replace bull shitting about our favorite teams over cold ones in taverns across this land. That my friends is what America is about. That is what connects us. It's sometimes the simple pleasures that makes it so great here.

P.S. Go Blues, Bring the Cup Home from Moscow...

Thursday, May 1, 2008

The Fortress Of Ineptitude

The past few days in Florida, the power brokers of college football gathered at their round round table to discuss the future of post season football in Division 1-a. I refuse to call it by its new moniker the Bowl Subdivision, because it's just another way that they are marketing their ruse on the American football public. As predicted, no changes to the current post season in college football were made. I would expect nothing less than nothing from those that work within the walls of the fortress of ineptitude.

I know my enemy and I see him for what he is

Before the meetings were even held, Big 10(11) Commissioner Jim Delany and his minions made it perfectly known that there would not be anything that resembled a playoff in the foreseeable future. Why would he want anything different than the sweetheart deal he has with the Rose Bowl and the Pac Ten. A few years back, to get the Rose Bowl to move into the BCS, the powers that be, waived the annual $ 6 million fee that the bowls must kick in, to be a part of the BCS. The Rose Bowl was able to negotiate it's own deal outside the BCS with ABC, not FOX who has the rest of the BCS. The Big 10(11) and the Pac 10 were able to keep the guaranteed tie in to the Rose Bowl and a tie in to the BCS. Cute, right? We all remember that compelling and evenly matched, Illinois-USC match up from last year.

In many ways, as tough as it is for me swallow, the WVU loss to Pitt helped show what an absolute farse the BCS is. It provided us with yet another match up, that left many wondering if LSU and Ohio State were even the best two teams at the end of the year. I can not wait for another over-rated Big 10(11) team and a two loss team to duke it out for the mythical national title. This is going to keep happening more and more.

No one in the media, seems to grasp the realities of college football. There are less and less of the traditional powers, yet they keep on propping up these programs like they are the be and end all of football. It has been almost two decades since the last time when Notre Dame actually challenged for a national title. Mysteriously, they have a part in the BCS. They, along with the 6 BCS conferences have a seat at the table. They can get in if they are in the top eight. As well, they get money from the BCS even if they don't go to a BCS game. In reality an undefeated conference champ from the WAC or Mountain West would have less of a chance to make it to a BCS game than a two loss Notre Dame team, if they were ranked lower. The fix is in.

With scholarship limit rules in place, no longer are the traditional powers able to soak up all the talent. The playing field is being leveled. LSU is a perfect example of this. They have emerged in the last ten years contrary to popular belief. Their program was good, but never considered elite until Nick Saban built it and Les Miles is continuing to do. My own alma mater, West Virginia is another glaring example of what it is going on.

Money, Money, Money, Money!!!

Teams like TCU, Boise State and BYU (who many people forget actually won a national title), deserve a an equal chance at the table. Now they do not currently have it. Only six of eleven conferences have automatic births. They say that they have opened up the access, which in some ways they have. Now you must be in the top twelve and a conference champ to get access, but why not have equal access like everybody else? It all comes down to money. The most recent revenue numbers I have from the NCAA show that in 2006-2007 the BCS took in a little over $ 142 Million in revenue. Only $ 18 Million and change went to the non-BCS conferences. Why would the BCS conferences want to give that up? Somehow at the end of the day, certain programs and certain conferences are getting all the deserts and the rest are left to scramble for the crumbs.

In my perfect world, there would be a 16 team playoff where all 11 conference champs get in, with 5 at large bids. We would cede it and watch the good times roll. In my perect world, I would be 6'3" 230 lbs and run a 4.3 forty as well. Neither this or a college football playoff are happening anytime soon.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

A Return To Glory?

"In my dreams I hear again the crash of guns, the rattle of musketry, the strange, mournful mutter of the battlefield. But in the evening of my memory I come back to West Point. Always there echoes and re-echoes: Duty, Honor, Country."
-Gen. Douglas MacArthur

I can think of no other finer words that have ever been spoken on the place, and the ideals for what our nation's service academies stand for. Duty, Honor, Country are words and ideals that are often lost in today's technological and greed driven world. Even in the college football world, I often wonder if they can co-exist with the realities of what the sport has become. A decision, by our Military brass may have just done that, to which these ideals and the modern day realities can co-exist.

Recently the military announced the Alternative Service Option program for athletes from the service academies. Under guidelines of the program, Cadets will be allowed to play sports with their respective professional teams while assigned to recruiting stations for two years as long as they remain under contract. Should they retain professional contracts following two years, they will be offered the option of “buying out” the remaining three years of their active-duty commitment in exchange for six years in the Reserves. What their duties would entail would be that they would act as recruiters while working in the NFL, NHL, etc..

The days of Roger Staubach, Pete Dawkins and Doc Blanchard seem like a distant memory. It was a long time ago, when our service academies truly challenged for the top spots nationally. Yes I know, Navy has had some good teams recently, but what I'm talking about is the chance to possibly be thought of as our nation's elite sports program's again. During my lifetime, I have never seen Army, Navy, or Air Force, truly challenge for the mythical national championship. During my parents childhood, they did, year in and year out.

In the last thirty years or so, it has been rare for the service academies to attract the top athletes. The academies were not able to compete for the services of some of these kids, because most did not want to have to honor their service requirements before playing professional ball. This decision will allow them to do both. This in my mind has been long over due.

This decision will have great effects, not only for the service academy sports programs, but the nation's military as a whole. Imagine, you are thinking about the military and your recruiter is the starting running back for your favorite NFL team. That's a major coup for the military in an era of low enlistment numbers.

In this era in college sports, where recruiting means everything, imagine too, if there is a top athlete who has the academics to make it, at an academy. Hypothetically, the local military recruiter could be that same professional athlete whom I mentioned earlier. That is a major pull for the kids. The service academies, may be able to level the playing field a bit.

Will the academies be able to compete year in and year out? That is the major question. I'm not sure, but at least they are giving themselves the tools to make it possible. That's what the service academies are truly about, making us believe that we can truly do the impossible...


Friday, April 25, 2008

Notre F'n Dame...

I am a Notre Dame hater. I have been a Notre Dame hater since the day Lou Holtz said that the best thing to come out of West Virginia was the bus he left on. Yes, I have hated them since the cheap shot on Major Harris in the 1988 Fiesta Bowl. I have hated them since the catholics vs. the convicts series with Miami. This is all coming from a catholic boy with a wee little bit of Irish blood running through his veins. Maybe I am a wee bit jealous but I am convinced of this simple truth. There is a yin and yang for everything and we all need something to hate. Such is life. Some people hate certain foods. Some people hat certain clothes. Some people hate certain shows. I...hate Notre Dame.

One of my fondest Notre Dame memories happened on a cold night in Beaver Stadium in 1991. The Irish came in as one of the top Teams in the land, coming off a shocking defeat a week earlier against Tennessee. I witnessed one of the great Irish drubbings in history. PSU's Tony Sacca and OJ McDuffie absolutely lit the Irish up in a 35-13 romp. That in some ways was the cathartic moment I needed to rid myself of the painful Mountaineer loss to Notre Dame in 1988. Again, it is the yin and the yang. Now I must somehow try to remain somewhat objective when looking at their place in college athletics today.

I recently read that Notre Dame agreed to a long term series with UConn. The problem with it, is that the deal is somewhat one sided. UConn will not have one home game in the series. Their "home" games will take place, not in Conneticut at their brand new stadium, but one state away in Foxboro, Massachusetts. This deal raised more than a few eyebrows around the country.

To understand this, you have to understand Notre Dame's membership with the Big East. They are a member in every other sport except football. The Big East also has a bowl tie-in with football where Notre Dame can replace a Big East rep in certain bowls when they are actually good enough to make a bowl game. Notre Dame has its own special deal with the BCS where it gets an automatic bid when it is ranked 10th or higher. Not bad for a team that hasn't won a bowl game since I was wearing flannel shirts and Doc Martens. Who says the BCS isn't bogus?

Notre Dame, being the generous member that it is, has agreed to play three Big East teams a year, but it looks like only on their terms. They tried to strong arm a deal with Rutgers, to get the same set up like UConn. Much to RU's credit, they told the Irish to essentially, stick it.

"Rutgers entered into discussions about a possible long-term series with Notre Dame, but at the end of the day both schools could not agree about the site of the games," Rutgers athletic director Bob Mulcahy said in a prepared statement issued by the university. "We feel Rutgers' home games should be played on campus at Rutgers Stadium."

The real reason, the Big East had this deal with Notre Dame; it was the only way the BCS would allow them to have a seat at the table after the defections of Miami, BC and Virginia Tech to the ACC. Fast forward a few years, it appears, in my mind, that this deal is no longer needed. The Big East has won their BCS bowls, the last three years straight, while the ACC has not won one. The old yin and yang rears its head. Some of the highest rated games on TV, have been the Thursday night league games on ESPN and I'm not talking about games out of conference or against the Irish.

I think nobody has given Big East Commissioner Mike Tranghese enough credit for negotiating these Thursday night games. They have been a such great help for the league. Some fans are against them for travel reasons, but the effects on the programs for exposure and recruiting have been immense. Now it's time for Tranghese to make his next big gamble and tell Notre Dame to get in or get out. I would prefer the latter, but that's just me. Many of the league's coaches have been calling for a ninth member for scheduling. If the Irish say no, there is plethora of teams willing and able to take their place. At this point, the league is strong enough to stand on its own with or without Notre Dame.

So in the end, Lou Holtz is still a slobbering fool. Rudy still sucks and I will still hate Notre Dame...


Monday, April 21, 2008

It's Football Ray..

Spring has sprung friends. Flowers are blooming. The leaves are returning. The bees are buzzing around the yard. The grass is growing again which means I get to drag my mower and beloved Stihl weed trimmer out of storage. Like the spring time returning, I can always count on that weed trimmer to start. (Author's note, stating this now can only mean that the engine will blow by season's end.) I can always count on the fact, that my favorite sport returns. Yes, it's football season.

A not so long time ago, in a galaxy that looked much like ours, baseball was king. Springtime was meant for baseball. The crack of the bat, the dirt in the infield, and the syringes in the lockers were all apart of the game that we all loved. Many of us still love it, but it is no longer our nation's past time. Football is king. I believe this now more than ever.

The last few weeks, around our nation's college campuses, the multi-million dollar practice facilities were alive with the crack of the pads, the crunch of the tackles and the screams of overpaid, yet underachieving coaches. Over-hyped high school recruits were making their initial visits and some are even making their future intentions known. Many of us, including myself are lapping up each piece of it. It is truly the end of the winter blues.

Last weekend, at the University of Nebraska, had more than 80,000 faithful show up to watch nothing more than a scrimmage. Virginia Tech had more than 30,000. Last year Alabama had 92,000 show up for their spring game. If football isn't king, I would like to see 80,000 show up for batting practice at a baseball game. I remember going to the spring game and it would be a good turn out with a few thousand. The times have changed.

The NHL and NBA playoffs are under way. MLB is in its third week of the season. With all that said, at the top of all the sports headlines this week, is the NFL draft. I ask how many of you have ever seen an MLB draft or have read the scouting report on a Canadian Junior League left winger. I can say on good authority that many of us have looked at tons of NFL mock drafts and hold Mel Kiper's word as the gospel. We all will be watching and waiting to see who our teams pick. What other event allows us to talk smack on potential?

A few years ago before I got married, my wife and I had to go through pre-marriage classes in our church before we were to be married. We were in these classes with several other couples. One of our classes happened to fall on the day of the NFL draft. I set my phone on vibrate to notify me of the picks as they came in. I let some of the other husbands know what I was up to. To keep from being discovered, I would share their favorite teams picks. I was like a kid again in school giving secret messages to the others as the picks came in. I still don't remember what any of the speaker's said that day, but I do know that my Steelers picked Ben Roethlisberger. Somehow, my marriage has survived and Ben has guided my beloved Steelers to a Super Bowl title.

Now I will be working on the script for Field of Dreams 2. This time, a long haired hippy in West Virginia builds a football field where his pot plants used to grow. Players from long ago are again playing the game as we knew them. He is drawn to Canton, Ohio by a voice from the heavens. Why? Because It's Football Ray...

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Must be an Election Year...

Paraphrasing the late, great Hunter S. Thompson, the weird are turning pro. If Hunter were still alive, he would be reveling in the times we are living. The winds of change are blowing with a somewhat foul stench. It only happens about every four years, kind of like El Nino, only with a lot more hot air. The stock market is down. Unemployment is up. We are on the verge of the greatest credit crisis since the Great Depression. The price of gas has quadrupled since 2000 and oh yeah, we are at war. Congress has decided to take a look at one of the greatest problems that has plagued our society in the last decade, the BCS.

You may be asking why congress is taking on such a daunting task? The answers are simple and it is simply politics 101. First, find an easy target. Next, make sure it stirs up a lot of emotion. Make sure it grabs headlines nationally. Most importantly, make sure it does not effect our everyday lives. Make a grand spectacle of the investigation and in the end, do nothing about it. Those at the BCS Fortress of Ineptitude, do just that. Steroids in baseball are losing their luster in the media. Senator Arlen Specter's crusade against the NFL's handling of the New England Patriots Spygate scandle has garnered little attention. So now comes something that gets myself and many others riled up. That my friends, is the BCS.

Those of you, who have read my rants and writings on the BCS, know that I am no fan of the BCS. I, like most rational thinking college football fans, can never understand why there is not a real all inclusive playoff system in college football. The excuses from the powers that be, have been ground down to us over and over again. My favorite being the effect on the welfare of the student athlete, yet those kids playing in every other division that have playoffs, somehow do not matter. Another favorite of mine, is how they claim to be all inclusive, yet only about half of the schools have a guaranteed chance to play. In the end, we all know it comes down to money and only a few want to control it.

I, being the political junkie that I am, will enjoy this spectacle. Nothing makes for better fodder than watching some of the politicians acting like fans, while others will be acting like the prosecuting DA on Law and Order. This, my friends, is that civics lesson we slept through in school, coming alive before our very eyes. Who wouldn't want to watch Darth Vader, I mean Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delaney getting grilled in congress? I will admit he is no Fawn Hall, but him trying to grandstand against people who grandstand for a living, makes for great television. This could get bigger ratings than the Iran-Contra hearings.

So sit back. Pop up open a cold one. Bring your tailgate grill to our nation's capital and watch nothing get done. It must be an election year.


Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Hello World...

Just when you think everything is completely out of whack, life throws a hanging curveball that you take out of the yard. Yesterday I became the father to one of the most beautiul little boys to ever grace this earth. As I was sitting at my wife's head, I screamed, "Thank God!" at the top of my lungs, making the whole operating room jump. In retrospect, it was probably not the smartest decision, with my wife's and newborn's life laying in the balance. No matter what, I had a son.

When he goes under center for the first time for the gold and blue, he will know what to do. He'll know if the free safety starts heading to the line of scrimmage, he would know that the wide reciever would have single coverage and throw it deep. One day he'll tee it up at Amen corner and remember the choked up 7 iron chip off the fringe that Dad taught me and I have passed down to him. When he takes the mound for the Yankees, he'll remember the "junk" pitches his grandfather taught him, because he knows that he can't win on his fastball alone. One day he'll plug his gibson into that amp, as he goes onstage, for the first show in a week long run at the garden. He'll remember the first few chords I taught him years before. One day he'll step in front of that podium and remember the virtues his mother and I instilled in him, as he takes the oath of office.

Or just maybe, he ends being the best person he can be, no matter who or what he becomes. Welcome to the world Devon Patrick....

Friday, April 11, 2008

Note to Self..

Just when my faith in college coaches had reached it's breaking point, something funny happened. Bill Self said no to T. Boone and his millions. Maybe they're are some that do it for more than the money. Maybe they are all not looking for the next payday. Maybe the foundation they have laid is stronger than you think. Maybe there are a few left that still hold to the ideals that we were all taught. Then again, he may have received a better deal...

This decision by Bill Self to stay at Kansas was shocking. Not only did he turn down an unbelievable payday, but more importantly he turned down a chance to go back to his alma mater. That is a strong pull. I know if AD Ed Pastilong at WVU ever called me, I would be on the first flight to Mo'town. By the way Eddie, I know you need a new Sports Information Director...cough, cough, wink, wink.

I guess the promises he made to those kids and their families actually mean something. If by chance, my kid was that 1/2% of kids who are gifted enough to earn a scholarship, I would want to know how committed that coach is to the program. How often do we see coaches jumping from school to school or to the pros? When this happens, the people hurt the most are the players. Forget about what the NCAA says. Most kids are committing to a coach. There are some who do it because they are a fan of the program. Some may be legacies, but for the most part, they are committing to a coach.

When that coach leaves, what are the options for the kids? They can stay with someone they don't know. They can leave and in my mind be punished by having to sit out a year. That is not fair, especially for kids going into their senior years. They did not make the decision for the coach to leave, why should they be punished for it? Yet again the NCAA is doing what it does best, nothing...

In the era of the rent-a-coach, it is refreshing to see a man who actually still lives by the ideals most of us hold important. Thanks for giving me a little faith Coach. One question, what the hell does the "Rock, Chalk, Jayhawk!" cheer mean anyway??????


Wednesday, April 9, 2008

For the Glory...

If the truth be told, I have been a life long Penn State fan. Yes I love my Mountaineers, but PSU will always have a special place in my heart. Yes I am a polygamist of college football fandom. I love two teams, well maybe the Gold and Blue a little more, but not by much. My father was a PSU alum and made me what I am today. I still remember going to games at Beaver Stadium with my dad. We would wake up at some ungodly time in the morning and make the five hour trek from our home in West Virginia for games. I dreamed of playing middle linebacker for Joe Pa, but speed, height and general lack of athletic ability quickly dashed this dream. So it was off to WVU for me and as they say, the rest is history.

372–125–3, 4 Undefeated Seasons, 2 National Titles, 2 Big Ten Titles, 1 Heisman Trophy Winner and an ice cream flavor named after him; these are the career records of one, Joseph Vincent Paterno, head coach of the Penn State Nittany Lions. The records speak for themselves. His impact on the game is undeniable and the respect Paterno, has earned is unmatched. Now comes the hardest decision in all of Joe's long career. Many are asking, if the time has come, to hang up the black cleats? I decided to take a look at the last ten years of Joe's long career. Here is what I found.

Year Overall Big 10 League Bowl
1997 Penn State 9–3 6–2 T–2nd L 6–21 Citrus
1998 Penn State 9–3 5–3 5th W 26–14 Outback
1999 Penn State 10–3 5–3 T–4th W 24–0 Alamo
2000 Penn State 5–7 4–4 T–6th
2001 Penn State 5–6 4–4 T–4th
2002 Penn State 9–4 5–3 4th L 9–13 Capital One
2003 Penn State 3–9 1–7 T–9th
2004 Penn State 4–7 2–6 9th
2005 Penn State 11–1 7–1 T–1st W 26–23 Orange
2006 Penn State 9–4 5–3 T–4th W 20–10 Outback
2007 Penn State 9–4 4–4 T–5th W 24-17 Alamo

The numbers weren't great, but they weren't as bad as many have stated. The rules have changed. During Penn State's great years of the 1970's and 1980's there were no scholarship limits. In a talent rich state like Pennsylvania, Joe was able to bring in pretty much whomever he wanted. Now a school can only have 85 kids on scholarship. A former Don Nehlen assistant at WVU stated that in the early eighties whenever they went head to head with Penn State on a recruit, they lost. The kid would always pick PSU. The record from 1977 to 1987 bears this out.

1977 Penn State 11–1–0 W 42–30 Fiesta
1978 Penn State 11–1–0 L 7–14 Sugar
1979 Penn State 8–4–0 W 9–6 Liberty
1980 Penn State 10–2–0 W 31–19 Fiesta
1981 Penn State 10–2–0 W 26–10 Fiesta
1982 Penn State 11–1–0 W 27–23 Sugar*
1983 Penn State 8–4–1 W 13–10 Aloha
1984 Penn State 6–5–0
1985 Penn State 11–1–0 L 10–25 Orange
1986 Penn State 12–0–0 W 14–10 Fiesta*
1987 Penn State 8–4–0 L 10–35 Citrus
*Denotes National Title

As well the talent rich area of Western Pennsylvania is not what it once was. Factories have shut down. People have moved to the sunshine states and other places. The talent pool is not what it once was. The demographics have changed, but Paterno has not.

This is my cause for concern, with the change in rules and now technology, the times have changed. I'm fearful that this is Joe's Waterloo. In an article recently, it was stated that Joe only made one recruiting trip last year. I doubt he has spent any time on the recruiting websites that seem to be everywhere. The days of living by your name as a program are numbered. You need to be out there. I'm not sure if Joe can do that anymore. It was also brought up that he works from home more. Have you ever noticed that Joe does not wear a headset on the sidelines? So it seems that Joe may be the figurehead now. That is fine as long as you have competent coaches underneath you. Joe has that.

Where do we go from here? I'm not ready to ask Joe to step aside. He has earned the right to go out how he wants. I think for the good of the program, however, a succession plan needs to be put in place. It has worked at Wisconsin. Purdue and Kentucky just recently did the same. Recruiting is a dirty game and recruiters will use the uncertainty at Penn State to their advantage. All I'm asking is that Joe does the right thing like he always has for the glory of old state...

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Phil Knight is Watching You....

As I was saying about the growing influence of donors in Division One...


Monday, April 7, 2008

The Voice

In an era where stadium names change with the stock market, an idea has sprung up on the internet that is long overdue. An online petition has been started to name the press box at Mountaineer Field at West Virginia University after Jack Fleming, former long time announcer for West Virginia and the Pittsburgh Steelers. For those of us that grew up listening to Jack, I could think of no better way to honor "The Voice". Growing up in West Virgnia, there were certain things you could always count on; Friday night high school football, pepperoni rolls, skipping school the first day of deer season and Jack Fleming. This is what we knew. This is how we lived.

In 2001, when I heard that Jack had passed away, I felt I had lost something. I felt that I had lost a part of my childhood. I remember cutting wood with my father somewhere out in the middle of nowhere in the woods. My dad to this day calls it, "firewood aerobics". I, however, knew it at as some form of cruel and unusual punishment. It could be why, he is one of the healthiest people I know. Anyway, we had this big old brown Chevy truck, that had various dents from firewood misthrows and mishaps. Just like Jack, though, the truck was something you could always count on. We would roll down the windows and put Jack and his infamous sidekicks on the radio. There was Woody O'hara for the WVU games and Myron Cope for the Steeler games. Both of their color announcing styles were always in stark contrast to Jack's straight play by play call. Somehow they worked perfectly together. Woody would always be on the guys in the stripes, while Myron couldn't have been a more of a "homer" announcer. In 1997, Jack was asked to cut back on play by play duties and my dad sold the truck.

Now the time has come for us to honor the man that meant so much to so many. Instead of naming the press box after some alumni who can give a large donation, it's time we name it after a man who gave so much. No amount of money could ever amount to what Jack meant to, not only West Virginians, but football fans as a whole.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Don't Trust Anyone over 40

Back in the sixties, they used to say don't trust anyone over thirty. Well since I am now entering my soon to be thirty third year on this planet, I have decided to change the rules a bit. Thirty is the new twenty, right? At least that's what my wife's Glamour magazine in the bathroom reading section is telling me. Before anyone says anything, most of you would read the label on toothpaste, if given the chance while sitting on the throne. Beggars can't be choosers.

I was listening to one of the sports' radio show talking heads yesterday. They were talking about soccer in America, or as the rest of the metric thinking world calls it, football. They were going on and on about how soccer will never take off in this country. They were talking about how it is a boring game where few points are scored. They said that it would never be on par with the big time pro sports over here. These arguments have been rehashed and drowned down to us for years, by those who aren't paying attention and usually by someone over the age of forty. You can guess that this talking head was born before 1968. The same arguments can be made about baseball, hockey, and hell even Nascar.

I grew up in a small town in Appalachia which is about as far removed from the mainstream of soccer fandom as you can get. My love for the game was brought to me by a Colombian exchange student named Dario Delgado who has became one of my dearest friends over the years since. We had no soccer in our town. It was nothing but the traditional American sports we all played, like football, basketball and baseball. Soccer wasn't even a thought in our minds. One day I saw Dario walking down the hallway. He was kicking a soccer ball in the air as he was walking and not letting hit the ground. It was an amazing trick. I walked over towards him. He kicked the ball to me and I sent it right back. He sent it back to me and I to him. It came almost naturally to me. This went on for a few minutes. We didn't notice, that a crowd of my friends had gathered around us watching us do this. A teacher came up and stopped us and said that we needed to take it outside. Something happened. I was hooked. All that year, whether it be at lunch, before school, or after school, we played soccer or some sort of game involving a soccer ball. Dario could barely speak English and I could barely speak Spanish, but we both spoke the game of soccer. By the end of that year, we both could speak each other's language making us both bilingual.

As time went on, more kids joined us. We soon would have enough for pick up games. We used anything we could for goals. It was never really organized. I don't remember who won or lost. I don't remember who had the most goals. All I remember is just playing. It was pure, just kids playing a game. For the next few years, we tried to get a team started. The football coach blocked us because he thought he would lose too many players. He was over forty. We talked to the head of the park system about a rec team. He said they didn't see a need for it. He was over forty too. So it was pickup games for us. When I went to college, I played intramurals both outdoor and indoor. Through it all, I never lost touch with my friend in Colombia.

During this time, a funny thing happened. America had the world cup. Soccer had begun to take hold. My town that had no interest in a rec league, soon had one. The high school had a team. The sport had begun to take off. I talked to a friend of mine a while ago back in my hometown. She said that the soccer program was by far the most popular sport for the kids. They now have as many kids in the soccer program as they do in all the other programs combined. This is just not in Appalachia, this is everywhere. In the US, soccer is by far the number one sport played by our youth.

From that World Cup in 1994, a new sustainable professional soccer league has begun to take hold. The MLS has learned its lessons from the NFL. It is by no coincidence either. One of the founders behind the league was the late great Lamar Hunt. Lamar was the owner of the Kansas City Chiefs. He helped build the AFL that eventually led to the merger of the NFL. There was a salary cap, so they didn't repeat the mistakes of before by having one or two teams with all the talent. They started small and have grown every year since in both ratings and attendance. The latest gigantic leap, being the Beckham Rule, which basically means a team can have one "designated" player who's salary does not count against the cap. This is why David Beckham is now in LA.

Is MLS the best league in the world? No, but it is growing. Proof of this, is that by 2010, almost every team will have it's own soccer specific stadium. Not bad for a league that just started in 1994. The NFL has been around since the 1920's. The MLB has been around since the turn of the century. The NHL has been around since the days of Prohibition and the NBA has been around since World War II. It is very short sighted to bash a league that has been around since the 1990's.

It seems to me, the people who are bashing it, never played the sport and never had the chance to. It shows their age and I dare say ignorance. I ask, how many people remember soccer leagues growing up? I had none. There were few if any and mostly in the big cities. Now it is the number one sport played by our kids today. Our Men's national team is in the top ten in the world. The junior team made it the quarters of the junior world cup. Some of our best players are playing in some of the top professional leagues in the world. It seems the rest of the world seems to think we are a growing power. It's a shame that some of us here can't see it. As the cliche goes, sometimes you can't see the forest for the trees. Don't trust anyone over forty...


P.S. Let's go Chelsea. Go Blues....

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The Arms Race Continues...

A few short years ago, I wrote a column on about the increasing arms race in college athletics. Then it was the football facility building boom that is still going on today. Now it has leapfrogged into other sports including men's basketball, women's basketball and some "olympic" sports. Olympic, meaning they bring in no money. It has fueled the hirings and firings of mercenary coaches all across this land. The latest hiring of Tom Crean at Indiana, the firing of Sean Sutton at Oklahoma State and the tumultous coaching changes this off season in football, has me wondering if we have reached the tipping point.

Oh how the mighty have fallen. Indiana for all it's glory has not been the same since one Myles Brand was the president of the school. He's the guy that fired Bobby Knight. He got rewarded for such a move, by than being named the president of the NCAA. Only in America, can you screw up that bad and get rewarded for it. The Hoosiers have never been the same since. Mike Davis was ran out of town, well, because he wasn't Bobby Knight. Calvin Sampson was hired and fired because he just couldn't put down the phone. My wife has the same problem.

Indiana now has turned to Marquette's Tom Crean to lead the Hoosiers back to the promised land. Let me get this out of the way. I think it was a great hire by Indiana. My problem is with this mercenary way that big time college coaches view their jobs. You see, Marquette had rewarded Coach Crean with a new, very large contract just last July. It made him one of the highest paid coaches in all of college basketball at around $ 1.65 Million per year. I understand looking around for a better job, if you're unhappy. Don't sign a contract that you will bail on, only eight months later. These schools make significant investments into the programs. The largest expense is no longer the up keep of facilities, it is quite often the coach's salary, especially at a place like Marquette. There is no more loyalty. I wish Tom and his wife Joani (the sister of one, Jim Harbaugh) all the luck in the world. I just would never trust to send my kid to a guy looking for a bigger and better opportunity. Somewhere up there Coach Al is shaking his head in disbelief.

Yesterday, as well, Sean Sutton was fired...cough, cough, uh..I mean resigned from Oklahoma State. To understand this, you have to meet a man named T. Boone Pickens. Well, he is a very wealthy man who loves his alma mater very much. So much so, that he gave them the single largest donation to any university's athletic program to the tune of something like $ 265 Million. Now that, my friends is a lot of dough. They are building some of the finest facilities in the nation. Yet again the arms race continues.

Unlike most, I too think it was a good move to rid themselves of Sutton, even if it was a little early. I knew it was over for him when he said that he would begin to talk to other coaches about how they run their programs. Maybe you should have done that from the start, Coach. My problem with this, is that it was not done by the AD or the school's president, even if a press release says it was their call. Make no mistake about it, T. Boone made the call. He wants nothing but the best for his school, and will make a run at a big named coach, most notably OSU alumnus and current Kansas Head Coach, Bill Self.

Nothing good happens when the boosters take complete control of an athletic department. It is like we are forgetting the past. I guess nobody learned from what happened at Auburn in the early nineties, Alabama just a few years back, and practically the whole South West Conference in the late seventies and eighties. It is happening because of this arms race, because of the money being thrown around. To keep up with the Jones' the big time schools are letting the boosters have more and more say on how the sports programs are ran. It is not just Oklahoma State, it is everywhere in Division one and most notably, the BCS schools. We have reached a point that there needs to be some reigning in. The problem is nothing will happen, because there is too much money involved. The good thing, it gives me something to rant about on this blog.