Monday, April 28, 2008

10. Iowa State Cyclones

We go from the plains of West Texas to the northernmost nowhere that is Ames, Iowa. This is a surprise to some, I'm sure, because if there's one thing the Cyclones do well, it's not football. But overall, Iowa State's athletic department is actually in fairly good shape. The Cyclones are basically Missouri with worse football and no baseball, and that overall strength gets ISU the #10 spot.

Competitiveness: Look at Iowa State's football program, and you think that the whole department is a joke. But in women's basketball, Iowa State is a perennial contender, and is almost always in the NCAA Tournament. Volleyball is now a consistent finisher in the top half of a difficult conference, gymnastics is always in the Top 20 nationally and I haven't even begun to talk about the Cyclones' wrestling program, which was the national runner-up last year. Beneath the surface, there's a lot to like about Iowa State.

Championships: Surprisingly, the Cyclones only have two titles in wrestling, easily their best sport. But ISU has three crowns each in men's and women's basketball, plus another two in gymnastics. That's a pretty solid amount. Iowa State has yet to have a period where it's not a threat to win something, and it doesn't just win in one sport.

Facilities: These might be the worst in the Big 12. Jack Trice Stadium is nothing but a glorified high school stadium. The Hilton Coliseum is used for all indoor sports, and while it is a decent facility, it was built in the 1970's. As such, it lacks the charm and tradition of venerable old buildings like Gallagher-Iba Arena and Allen Fieldhouse, and it lacks the modern amenities of places like Reed Arena and Mizzou Arena. It does have a strong Cyclone fan base, but that's another category.

Fan base: And here we have said category. The Cyclone fan base is supportive throughout good and bad of its teams, which is either a testament to how loyal ISU fans are to their beloved cardinal and gold, or a testament to how little there is to do in Ames, Iowa and the state of Iowa in general. Most likely, it's the first one, because there is Des Moines, which has some entertainment value.

Coaches: I'm not sure how, but Iowa State has some good coaches. Bill Fennelly is an excellent women's coach, also known as the man who was Brenda Frese's final boss before she went to Maryland. Gene Chizik is supposed to be a very good football coach, and Greg McDermott has similar credentials in men's basketball. Volleyball has experienced a rising from the ashes under Christy Johnson. With the exception of Fennelly, these coaches have been at Iowa State for three years or less. If they stay in Ames, the future could be bright.

Important sports: Football and baseball are almost or actually are non-existent in the race, but Iowa State has a solid basketball past that isn't too distant. With the right leadership, it's not hard to see these programs becoming relevant again. The solid past and possibility of a good future have ISU as the best of the bottom of the barrel in the Big 12.

My time is up. You've all been great. Enjoy Cross Canadian Ragweed.

Friday, April 25, 2008

11. Texas Tech Red Raiders

Because of a lack of desire and comments, I've taken a long hiatus from my blog. But now I'm back, so the dedicated audience of five (if that) can exhale.

That brings me to West Texas and the Texas Tech Red Raiders, who are known as the team in the middle of nowhere in the Big 12. But that's not the only portion where the Raiders are in the middle of nowhere. Texas Tech finds itself near the bottom in these rankings.

Competitiveness: The Raiders have a very competitive football team. But their basketball teams have both crashed, their baseball team is not very competitive and the softball team is worse. Other than football, which is Tech's best sport and could possibly produce a championship, Texas Tech does not compete in much. Finishing in the top half might be an accomplishment at this point for most sports.

Championships: The Raiders won a couple in baseball and women's basketball, but nothing else, and that happened a long time ago. There's almost nothing here. Tech is the only team in the Big 12 South that does not have at least 20 championships in the history of the conference. That is really bad.

Facilities; These are actually pretty good. Jones Stadium is a nice facility, even if it was slow to eliminate artificial turf and replace it with FieldTurf. United Spirit Arena was built in 1999 and is a very modern arena. This is an area of strength for the Red Raiders.

Fan base: Tech's fans are passionate about football. They plan to add 20,000 more seats to hold them all. That's a strong statement. But that doesn't carry over to basketball. Bob Knight criticized his fans for not providing enough support for his teams at the games. Seriously, what else is there to do in West Texas besides go see these games? It's not like Lubbock is a bustling metropolis. At least Colorado has an excuse, being close to Denver.

Coaches: Mike Leach might be a nutjob, but he knows what he's doing on the football field. Pat Knight might or might not make things work in Lubbock. But Kristy Curry is struggling to replace Marsha Sharp, and the women's program is crumbling. Larry Hays is a legend for Tech's baseball program, but his program's best days appear to be behind it. The coaches are solid, but maybe they just don't work in Lubbock.

Important sports: Football is a strength, but the remaining sports are not. Still, the Red Raiders do have a past history in all but men's basketball, so I will give them credit here. But Tech's present state is too much for their decent past to overcome. Maybe athletes just don't want to be in West Texas.

My time is up. You've all been great. Enjoy Staind.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The plot thickens

Until further notice, the Big 12 series is temporarily suspended, because of the battle for the Sonics. This means it will likely return in a few days.

But a story was dug up by Jim Brunner of the Seattle Times in 2007 that appears relevant. It's found here, and the key here is this phrase Brunner writes:

"It has been a year since the surprise announcement that Clay Bennett and a team of Oklahoma City investors had bought the Sonics and Storm from the local ownership group led by Starbucks Chairman Howard Schultz.

As part of that purchase, Bennett signed an agreement requiring a "good-faith" effort until Oct. 31 to seal an arena deal here."

Until October 31. As in October 31, 2007. But the e-mails from Aubrey McClendon and Tom Ward to Clay Bennett are dated April 2007, the ones that clearly show that the group did not have any intentions of staying in Seattle. April 2007, as in six months before the deadline where relocation could actively be explored. And if Brunner is correct, Bennett SIGNED an agreement. Not gave his word verbally. It says he actually signed something.

Plus, you've got McClendon saying that even though he knows the group will make LESS money in Oklahoma City, they don't care, they want the team in OKC. It can't get much more obvious than that. The choice is profit in Seattle versus a loss in OKC--by McClendon's OWN ADMISSION--and they choose OKC.

It's not over yet. Seth Kolloen, who writes Enjoy Your Enjoyment, a fine blog about the state of sports in Seattle that had the post about the story on McClendon, came up with this gem about the Schultz re-entry. In it, he describes a conversation with Joel Ngugi, a professor at the University of Washington Law School who teaches a course in contracts. Ngugi said that there is a question about whether that became part of the agreement. He added that Schultz would have to sue.

Now Schultz IS suing. If this signed agreement Brunner wrote of exists, he has a case. The city of Seattle has evidence that Bennett has lied all along. And a law professor says that it is enforceable.

Yeah, there is definitely a chance Seattle can win. The city's not going down without a fight, and Clay Bennett could be in for the fight of his life to win this one now.

My time is up. You've all been great. Enjoy Institute.

I love Starbucks

The shocking, sad saga to save the Seattle SuperSonics (OK, that's too many S words) has crossed from the standard story where an out-of-town villain comes in to steal a team, and has now entered the incredibly bizarre. Personally, I thought I'd seen it all when Jim Balsillie tried to buy the Nashville Predators and Gary Bettman said no, forcing Craig Leipold to hold on to the team.

But this is even stranger. Howard Schultz, the CEO of Starbucks and former owner of the SuperSonics, the man who sold the team to current owner Clayton Bennett of Oklahoma City, announced today that based on a breach of contract, he wants his team back.

I could be wrong, but I think this is a first for a pro sports team's sale. There have been situations where a group bought a team with intent of relocation, and the commissioner or other owners stepped in and stopped them, examples being the Predators and the San Francisco Giants' blocked move to Tampa Bay in 1992. There have been situations where an owner has announced a move and has been stopped in another way, such as Ken Behring's attempt to move the Seattle Seahawks to Anaheim in 1996, when lawyers discovered the move was blocked for another decade. But I do not think a team has ever been sold, approved by the commissioner (who is either an idiot or a lying piece of scum) and then the old owner decides he wants back in.

The way I see this? Good for Howard Schultz. He's finally showing some civic responsibility. Now, he could be doing this for his own skin, and probably is to prevent a boycott of Starbucks. But does that matter? Someone is finally stepping in to try do prevent Bennett and David Stern's betrayal of Seattle, and at this point, it doesn't matter why, it just matters that it's happening.

The question now, can this work? That depends on who you ask. Some believe that there's no way to prove that Bennett violated the contract by acting in bad faith and buying the team solely to move it to Oklahoma City. David Stern doesn't believe that it happened that way, although to be honest, Bennett could probably tell Stern the sky is minty green with purple clouds and Stern would then proceed to tell every reporter that it's true. The Seattle Times recently published a series of e-mails from Bennett to his co-owners that claim that there was never a desire to keep the team in Seattle. Stern has blamed the co-owners entirely so far. Good piece of reporting by the Times. If you're reading this, Cathy Henkel, (yeah, right), I'd love to work for you some day. (Editor's note: Dream on.)

But if it can be proven, then it gets interesting. Will a verbal agreement be enough? Is that all that Schultz has, or did he actually think to get it as part of the contract? If it's in the contract, the chances of Schultz winning the suit and going from fellow villain to respected citizen in Seattle go up dramatically. If he wins the suit, Bennett loses his team, and Oklahoma City loses its chance at the NBA. Plus, OKC might never get a team, because what owner would sell to Bennett after this scandal? The biggest loser if Schultz wins? Stern, who would be seen as a complete fool and a backstabber by everyone, not just in Seattle. Stern's put all his eggs in one basket, and now he could lose everything if a judge doesn't see it his and Bennett's way.

Personally, I don't think this is as big a longshot as is thought by some people. True, Schultz is looking at a large backlash in Seattle, where Starbucks is based and makes a good chunk of profit. True, Starbucks has 338 stores in a 15-mile radius of Seattle. True, the SuperSonics have fans throughout the state of Washington.

But Starbucks is now a global phenomenon. Schultz might not lose as much business if he does nothing as he could if he loses the suit in fees, because there are 48 states that don't care about the SuperSonics (Oklahoma excluded) and 43 countries. That's still a lot of business. So Schultz either is desperate for a good public image, or he really thinks he can win. Billionaires are not stupid.

I hope Oklahoma City does get a team, someday. But it shouldn't be Seattle's team. The SuperSonics haven't done a thing wrong. They deserve to remain in the Emerald City. To be honest, I can't remember a time when I wanted Starbucks this much.

My time is up. You've all been great. Enjoy Kenny G.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

12. Colorado Buffaloes

Several people who I've talked to about this expected to see Iowa State at the bottom of the rankings. If we were going on overall history, the Cyclones might very well be down there. But we are instead going on the status this year, 2008. So that costs the Colorado Buffaloes the most points, surprisingly enough. Everyone thinks of Colorado as a fine program, but the way things shape up right now in the Mountain Time Zone, it's actually a program in shambles compared to the rest of the conference.

Competitiveness: It's not pretty. Colorado doesn't compete in baseball or softball at all, the Buffaloes don't field a team in either sport. But in the sports where they DO have a team, it's still not great. The men's basketball team has finished dead last two consecutive years. The football team was decent, good enough to make a bowl game, but after losing said bowl game, still had a losing record, and was only the eighth-best team in the conference. The volleyball team, usually a big strength, finished 1-19 this season, tied with Texas Tech for last in the conference. After a promising start, the women's basketball team was 5-11. The only sports of substance for CU this year that the Big 12 sponsors are women's tennis, women's golf and cross country. No other CU team is in the top half of its league.

Championships: It doesn't take much of a memory to name the Big 12 cross country champions. Other than a 1998 women's title for Kansas State, CU has won the title for both genders every time. But that's almost all CU ever wins. I'm going to be kind and include division crowns along with conference and tournament crowns. That brings Colorado's mark up to 30. But only 7 of those were in a sport other than cross country, and four of the seven were division titles in football. That's a pretty poor mark. 23 titles aren't impressive if they all come in a sport nobody cares about.

Facilities: Folsom Field is a quaint stadium, picturesque and intimidating when the Buffaloes are playing well. The Coors Events Center is totally overlooked. And why shouldn't it be? It's not an appealing venue when viewed on television, and nobody goes to the games. It's not much, and it could be why the Buffaloes can't get anyone to play in it.

Fan base: You would think Colorado has a passionate fan base. And you would be wrong. The Buffaloes, even when playing well, rarely sell Folsom Field out. Folsom has been around since 1924, and since 1946, the Buffaloes have kept track of season attendance every year. In their history at Folsom since 1946, Colorado has sold out more than half of its games at Folsom six times. Six times out of a possible 62 seasons has Colorado even managed to sell out four of its home games. It's not like it's Neyland Stadium and holds six figures. Folsom holds 53,750.

Attendance at Coors is even worse. It looks like a ghost town most of the time. I haven't seen a true fire-exit crowd yet (a crowd so small that if there were a fire, everyone would have their own exit), but I wouldn't be shocked if Colorado manages it.

Coaches: Finally, something Colorado doesn't totally suck in. Pi'i Aiu, the volleyball coach, has a short, difficult name, but usually has a good program, this year of course being an exception. Kathy McConnell-Miller hasn't been around long, but has her basketball team on the road to respectability. The same can probably be said of Jeff Bzdelik and Dan Hawkins, but for rebuilding coaches, it's a long way back, due to history and emergence of other programs.

Important sports: You can't win if you don't play (baseball). In the other sports, CU finished eighth, ninth, and 12th last year. That's a rough mark, and coupled with only two conference crowns in history, it's pretty poor. This is an athletic department that should work, but isn't. Until it does, Colorado holds the crown as worst program in the Big 12.

My time is up. You've all been great. Enjoy Jessica Andrews.

Friday, April 11, 2008

New series

Off a suggestion from my friend Roberto Ruiz, I've got a new series in the works. This time, I'm going to be looking at the athletic departments in the Big 12 as a whole. Then I'll rank the athletic departments from worst to best, using several categories to put out a fair ranking. But this is not going to be a score in each category. Instead, I'll break down the pluses and minuses in each one.

Here's the criteria:

Competitiveness: Does the school compete for the Big 12 crown on a regular basis in multiple sports? Or are the school's teams usually pushovers, save for a couple specialty sports?

Championships: How often does the school bring home the hardware? In which sports does it win? Extra weight is given to sports that all or almost all the Big 12 schools compete in, plus extra weight is given to big sports.

Facilities: How nice are the school's facilities? If they're ancient, do their histories make up for it?

Fan base: How much do the fans care? Are they passionate at all times, or apathetic when things are poor?

Coaches: How good are the coaches in place? Does the school keep its best coaches around or lose them?

Important sports: How does the school perform in the four biggest sports in the conference, those being football, both basketballs, and baseball?

The series will begin with the worst team in the conference in the next post.

My time is up. You've all been great. Enjoy Emerson Drive.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Mid-week outlook

It's Wednesday, and I haven't done a post here recently. So here goes with every part of what I want to say.

Hockey: The playoffs start tonight. The Ottawa Senators face the Pittsburgh Penguins. To be honest, I doubt we're going to win, but it's still our crown as the Eastern Conference champion until somebody takes it from us. Even if we lose, it's still hockey. These playoffs are the most exciting events in sports, and I love every minute of it, especially because the Maple Leafs aren't in it.

My prediction is still up in the air, because almost nobody looks good enough to win. The Wings and Sharks always choke, the Wild are too much of an enigma, the Ducks are missing Corey Perry, the Stars never get the necessary goaltending, the Avalanche have Jose Theodore, the Flames could be a sleeper, but I'm not sure, and I doubt the Predators are for real. The Western pick is the winner of the Sharks-Flames series.

In the East, the Penguins are soft, the Canadiens don't look impressive, the Capitals don't have a ton besides Alex Ovechkin, the Devils can't score, the Rangers seem to have something missing, the Flyers and Senators fold too easily, and the Bruins are too young.

I pick the Penguins to become the East champion, and lose to the Western winner. I'll man up and say the Sharks.

Tennis: Daniela Hantuchova needs to perform well in Charleston next week at the Family Circle Cup. She blew it in Miami at the Sony Ericsson Open with a loss to Ai Sugiyama, now she needs to at least do well on the green clay at Amelia Island before Charleston to get her confidence up. A flameout here would spell trouble entering the clay-court season. That is exactly what happened, as she lost to Karolina Sprem. I hope she has an injury, because there is no other excuse for this.

Baseball: The Blue Jays have had very good pitching, or at least they have besides A.J. Burnett last night. That will have to continue if we are going to make it to the playoffs for the first time since 1993. The hitting looked strong too, but we always hit Boston well. We need to keep this going.

Basketball: The Kansas Jayhawks and Tennessee Volunteers are NCAA Champions. Congratulations to them and their fans. This leads me to a thorny issue. As a Missouri student, I was supposed to be rooting hard against Kansas, disgusted to see them win, angry about watching our biggest rival celebrating at the end to the point of not wanting to watch any of the postgame.

But I was not upset at all to see KU win. It did not matter to me. The reason? I am a journalist. I am supposed to be unbiased in everything I cover. As such, I have disassociated myself from the teams and the sports that I cover. It is my university, but I have no need to get involved in the rivalry. Plus, I do not take pleasure from other fans suffering. It is not and has never been my way. I do not need bragging rights and will not rub anything in. That is simply not who I am.

Now, I know that the argument is coming, that being how can I pull for my teams in the pros and not be biased for Missouri? Simple: I do not cover them. If I cover them at any point, I will have to renounce my rooting interest. I know that. But it has yet to happen. But I have already covered the Missouri teams. So I simply will not be as big a fan of them as most. I will not apologize for that. I have also watched the postgame every year, including two Carolina crowns and one from Maryland. I am certainly going to watch through Kansas winning if I did for those three.

Basketball: The Indiana Pacers managed a win to stay alive. I was pleased. I do not want to be in the draft lottery. It is an embarrassment to me. I would much rather get swept against Boston, because at least we were there if that happens. Plus, I know all about the lottery busting for a tanking team. Alexandre Daigle, anyone?

My time is up. You've all been great. Enjoy Gary Allan.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Same sport, same quality, fewer fans

It's Final Four weekend, and that means that the men's and women's national championships will be decided in the next four days. But for reasons I can't get, bashing the women's tournament has become incredibly popular. This happens despite the fact that the women have produce the better Final Four two years running. Nobody who knows anything can claim that the Maryland-Duke final of 2006 was anything but a classic. But if you ask most male fans, they will assert that the women's tournament doesn't matter.

I don't understand it. It's not like we're talking about a regular season game involving Missouri and Texas Tech, two teams so bad that nobody should be asked to pay to see them play. If you want to bash these teams, I might be right there with you. But we're talking about Connecticut and Stanford. We're talking about Tennessee and LSU. These are great teams, teams that are a pleasure to watch to anyone who cares about basketball. These games should be every bit as good as the men's Final Four, which also should be great to watch. These are great games that we should all enjoy.

But few people seem to care on the women's side. As far as I can tell, the only reason I can see that I don't really have an answer for is the game above the rim. I personally don't enjoy the dunk, it does nothing for me. To me, it's a positive that the women don't dunk, save for Candace Parker. But I can see why some people love it.

But as for the rest of the game? You're not a fan of fluid passing, good decision-making, good shots, athleticism? Really? I guess you aren't a fan of basketball. Those are the essentials of good basketball and yet, they get ignored, because of a love obsession with the dunk. Get over it. There was basketball played below the rim before the dunk, and it was just as good. Basketball does not need the dunk to be compelling. If you don't agree, go watch SlamBall reruns and leave the sport to the true fans.

Nobody says you have to say women's basketball is better than men's. I don't even say that as a whole. I said the last two Final Fours were better on the women's side, but overall, the men are a little better. But would it be that hard to watch the Final Four and make an informed decision, as opposed to living in the past?

In case you still need convincing, I've got a big difference that favors the women. The women's Final Four has Stacey Dales. The men's Final Four has Billy Packer. Big edge to the ladies on that one.

My time is up. You've all been great. Enjoy Jamie O'Neal.

Friday, April 4, 2008

On the cusp

And after taking a well-deserved break, mainly because my Internet sucks, I'm finally back to do something on my blog. Finally, the Ottawa Senators decided that making the playoffs would be a good idea by trashing the Toronto Maple Leafs. For the record, I officially hate when baseball and hockey overlap in the regular season because it puts me awkward position of pulling for a Toronto win in baseball and a Toronto loss in hockey. Fortunately, this stops being a problem after the regular season, because neither Toronto side makes the playoffs anymore.

Anyway, I guess I can't complain. My roommates would be happy to be in my position, since the St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks will again miss the playoffs. Neither has made it to the playoffs since the lockout. Will Palaszczuk, whose blog had its debut last night here, is a fan of the New York Islanders, who will also miss the playoffs. Last year's Eastern Conference top seed, the Buffalo Sabres, will miss the playoffs, which makes me happy.

So all we need is an overtime game with Boston tonight to get in. If we get that, or the Hurricanes lose to Tampa Bay, the Capitals lose to Florida or the Flyers lose to either New Jersey or Pittsburgh, we make the playoffs, and the year continues at least four more games.

It's exciting. It's the best time of the year, and to be honest, I'd....rather have clinched a spot two weeks ago. But what the heck, I'll take it.

My time is up. You've all been great. Enjoy Wolfmother.