Monday, January 30, 2012

Super Bowl Week

Less than a week away from finding out who the champions of the NFL will be in Indianapolis' Lucas Oil Stadium, and the festivities are fully underway. Both teams have made their way to America's Heartland with Tuesday's media obligations next on the itinerary. And while the teams prepare for the biggest game of the season, players from different teams and different eras will fill the airways hawking their latest corporate sponsor disguised as interviews.

Indianapolis has hosted many events to prepare themselves for this big day. NCAA Final Fours are common as well as Big Ten Championship events and the Indianapolis 500. But the NFL isn't foreign to the Indiana State capital. Annually the NFL holds their college combine, first at the RCA Dome and now Lucas Oil. The Combine is a ten day event in February that is a big economic boost to the local economy. But now Indianapolis has built up their downtown area even more knowing the Super Bowl is in their town. Restaurants have been added as well as numerous hotels. And the downtown streets are heated and covered to allow for outdoor parties throughout this week.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Eliminate the DH

Today Prince Fielder signed with the American League Detroit Tigers for 9 years and $214M. Earlier this off-season Albert Pujols inked a deal with the American League Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim for 10 years and $240M. Both were members of National League Central teams. Fielder is 27 years old, and Pujols is 32.

Each took advantage of being able to sign a wealthy long-term contract with American League teams, most likely ending each of those first baseman will end those deals as the team's designated hitter. That gives those AL teams the advantage of signing these all-star caliber players to long-term contracts.

National league teams shied away from such deals. Both the Milwaukee Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals had interest in keeping their high-profile athletes, but neither felt comfortable to long-term deals for the prices each athlete was asking for. The Cubs are dealing with the results of such a contract. In 2007 Alfonso Soriano went to Chicago's North Side for 8 years and $136M, the wealthiest contract in Cubs history. By the time this contract runs its course in 2014, Soriano will have been well past his prime for a player better known for his hitting than his fielding.

And as long as the American League plays by different rules, encouraging players to to sit on the bench for over half the game and only coming out to hit once every nine batters, the NL will be at a disadvantage on the field and off by signing marquee players for long-term contracts. Both Pujols and Fielder know they will not be a position player for their entire contract with their teams, rather be relegated to the DH role and extend their playing career.

As much as I'm against the DH rule, Major League Baseball needs to address this issue. They need to make sure it is not a disadvantage for National League teams to compete in the free agent market and eventually on the field.

Joe Paterno

Walking past me as he entered the visiting coaches booth at Kinnick Stadium was one memory I will have of Joe Paterno. Due to an injury occurred much earlier, Paterno was forced to watch his team play away from his typical surroundings of the Penn State sideline and from the press box of many different stadiums. And it was on this day the long-time leader of the Nittany Lion football team watched his nationally ranked, number three team fall to the Hawkeyes on a last second field goal.

Years earlier, while in State College for the NCAA Wrestling Championships, another encounter with Paterno was very unexpected. Arriving in Happy Valley days prior to the Championships, my assistant and I decided to visit our peers with the football team. We walked into the complex through a back door to the video offices, but they were out of the office, setting up for the championships. We walked back out, and drove away only to be stopped at a nearby traffic light. Looking in my rear view mirror I see an older gentleman behind the wheel of a Cadillac with these iconic glasses on. And immediately I said, "Joe Paterno is right behind us." Something very unexpected, but probably common in this small central Pennsylvania college town.

Paterno has been the face of Penn State University for at least 30 years. And that has been discussed since November whether that is healthy for this Big Ten institution. However if he hadn't been the face, most likely Penn State would not be in the Big Ten, the football stadium would not need to seat over 100,000 and the most iconic symbol of the school would be the creamery.

Penn State and State College owe much of its notoriety to Paterno. A big-time school that sits hours from the nearest metropolitan area, grew because of its football program. The infrastructure to get to State College would still be single-lane highways, the airport would not have a runway able to land major airplanes, and the economic impact of the small community wouldn't be as great if it had not been for the success of the Nittany Lion Football team. And that is a tribute to Paterno.

The tributes I've read from my peers who have worked for him over the years have credited Paterno for making them who they are today, and are appreciative of him for taking chances by hiring them. Video for Paterno is a very foreign thought. Until he coached his last day his process of reviewing a game hadn't changed since the advent of the video tape. He continued to watch the previous game in chronological order on a simple VHS tape. Coaches of today can be seen watching each side of the ball collectively on either their laptop or iPad. But Paterno continued to concentrate on watching the entire game as he did over twenty years ago, and in a similar fashion when it was attached to a reel, connected to a projector.

My peers continued to face challenges as Paterno would not accept change in the video world. And as much as they wanted to take the next step technologically, it needed to be a commitment of Paterno's assistant coaches to convince the head coach it was the right direction to take. And as the Penn State video staff struggled over the years to convince Paterno of making any changes, at the end of the day, the appreciated Joe for trusting them with making a impact on Penn State football and its family.

None of us could've imagined that Penn State football would be in its current day shape. When many programs were facing probation periods and going through coaching changes every few years, Penn State was the stable force that everyone admired. A program that did everything right and with a coach who had no interest ever in leaving for someone better. But that changed in November and that stable force that the Penn State family relied upon was gone amid accusations no one could've imagined. And it was these charges that every one attributes to the demise of Joe Paterno's health and ultimate death.

Joe Paterno will always be associated with the accusations in November of the Penn State Football program, as he should. But I understand how difficult it is for the Penn State family to have to deal with this. The one standard in most of their lives is gone and change is never easy. Even if it is the change of football coaches. As life changed for many, Joe was the constant they could rely upon.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Coaches Convention

Four days of reunions, interviews, and learning concluded in San Antonio. The American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) closed its doors on another successful run and looks forward to doing it again next year from Nashville, TN.

The convention brings coaches from the high school to college level together for breakout sessions of X's and O's as well as honoring those who have served young student-athletes over the years. A ballroom of vendors from Nike and XOS Digital on down to the numerous nutrition companies attract the many coaches looking to make a deal.
But the most important reason to attend this convention for most young coaches is to gain employment on a football staff. Above portable bulletin boards are covered with resumes of these young and upcoming coaches who hope that someone stops to look at their qualifications. The lobby area of the convention center and hotels are covered with these same individuals who are anxious to make a first impression. But the same can be said for older, more mature coaches. Those who may have been on a recently released staff are also on the lookout for their next employment. They, too are also shaking hands and introducing themselves to potential employers.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

AFCA in San Antonio

The annual collection of football coaches (AFCA) takes place in the Alamo city, San Antonio. This three day convention allows coaches to connect, learn and celebrate the end of the football season. All levels congregate on the San Antonio convention center for this yearly event.

Friday, January 6, 2012

College Football Year In Review

The Iowa Football season has come to a close and instead of looking forward, I want to take this opportunity to look back and highlight some of the different good and bad to the season. Feel free to add some of your own in the comments long as you keep it clean. And check back as I may update as more come to mind.

  • Best game I worked: Iowa v Michigan - Any time Michigan is defeated, it has to rank as one of the best of the year. It marked the third straight year Michigan lost to the Hawkeyes and it came down to the final play.
  • Best game I witnessed as a fan: Big Ten Championship Game, Wisconsin v Michigan State. A one game playoff to decide who represents the Big Ten in the Rose Bowl. This game surpassed expectations anyone had when divisional play was decided. The game had its switches of momentum with great plays in all three phases.
  • Worst Marching Band: Oklahoma. A traditional football power that is Oklahoma, I expected greatness from their marching band. Their song selection didn't "wow" me, and their formations were extremely basic. I was waiting for the "OU" formation, which I never saw, just one big "O."
  • Best Friday Night Chocolate Chip Cookies: University Inn and Convention Center, West Lafayette. Part of the Friday night snack are the chocolate chip cookies. Some hotels can hit a home run with them, as the University Inn did. Or some may strike out. It is important to have fresh, chewy cookies, not hard and crunchy.
  • Best Press Box Food: Iowa's Kinnick Stadium. The fare on the fourth floor gets knocked my some in the media, but it is free with some variety. At Nebraska we were treated to Pizza and Popcorn, but in Iowa City there is always some sort of sandwich with salad and dessert. And if they run out, there are always hot dogs.
  • Best Press Box Hot Dogs: Sun Devil Stadium. I'm not sure why. Perhaps I was hungry, or tired of the many different types of Tostitos being offered, but the hot dogs were so good that I had to have two. I didn't need two, but after having one, I felt like getting another.
  • Worst press box beverage: Hot Tea at Ross-Ade Stadium. Shooting from atop the Purdue press box on a cold, dark and windy day, I was hoping for a hot chocolate before heading up at game time. But after asking, I was told there was no hot chocolate. To my disappointment as I do not like coffee I then asked for green tea. The nice lady who helped me find a packet with hot water. But my tea did not look green and the water was not hot.
  • Song that needs to retire: Sweet Caroline. Great tune to get the fans involved, but it was played in the stadiums of our first two losses. And it was re-played after the 3OT finish in Ames. I don't need to hear that again.
  • Most surprising game day experience: Nebraska. Another football power like the Big Red I was expecting many tailgators arriving early for the 11am start. But our 7am drive to the stadium went quite smoothly and there were more Hawkeye fans with their tents than those wearing red.
  • Worst game day experience: Purdue. A week after the Boilermakers beat Ohio State for their biggest upset of the season, a Senior Day crowd was very sparse. The Hawkeye fans in attendance made more noise than the other black and gold supporters.
  • Game I would've like to been at: Nebraska at Penn State. This was the first game following the scandal that rocked the Nittany Lion, and College Football world. After witnessing an incredible environment in 2009, and another great crowd a few weeks earlier, I would've been interested in seeing how different the Penn State crowd was. And I like to be where the news is happening. Many storylines were unfolding in State College that day.
  • Favorite Stadium: Sun Devil Stadium. Aside from it being our bowl game site, the home of Arizona State is tucked nicely into a mountain side. Super Bowls and National Championships have been played there creating for an arena of great history. However it is better to be the home team than the visitors. The walk from the visiting locker room is up to 2 minutes, while the home's is located 30ft from the field.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Insight Bowl Game Photos

The sun has set on another Iowa Football season. It concluded with their first bowl loss since the 2006 Alamo Bowl defeat to Texas. Three straight bowl wins is something accomplished by few, and it was ended by the Pre-Season #1, Oklahoma. The 10-3 Sooners didn't look like the pre-season pick in Sun Devil Stadium, but was the best team on the field Friday night.

The Insight Bowl had over 54,000 fans in attendance for the Big 12 - Big Ten match-up, and works hard to become a major player within the Big Ten bowl line up. And it is a bowl that has a future in college football. In terms of importance, it doesn't take a back seat to the BCS brother, Fiesta Bowl. The staffs work hard to make both bowl experiences quality to the participating teams.
Our hosts for the game were Bob Whitehouse, Steve Leach, and Jeff Smith. These were the same hosts we had a year ago. Bob is an Air Force pilot who spent six months in the middle east after last year's game. Steve is a Dubuque native and Iowa alum. Jeff is Vice President of Wells Fargo in Phoenix. Hospitality is something all bowls take pride in. These three take a back seat to none of those other bowls. They were on top of each detail.
It was also the last game for Iowa's defensive coordinator, Norm Parker. Parker has had stops at Minnesota, Vanderbilt, Illinois and Michigan State before joining Kirk Ferentz's staff at Iowa in 1999. He spent every game on the sidelines before diabetes caused complications with his leg forcing its amputation. He has been in the booth since 2009. At the age of 70, Parker decided it was time to step down from his coaching responsibilities.
Another storyline from the game was Oklahoma's head coach, Bob Stoops. Stoops played at Iowa, as well as his brothers Mike and Mark. All three were defensive backs who wore the #41. He became the Sooner coach in 1999, the same year Ferentz became the Iowa head man. Stoops isn't the only Iowa grad on the OU coaching staff. Jay Norvell was also a defensive back for the Hawkeyes in the mid-80s, and Bruce Kittle played on Kirk's O-Line in the early 80s.
 The Sooners have had their share of great quarterbacks over the last decade. The latest is #12 Landry Jones. Jones is only a junior and is projected to be an early pick in the NFL Draft once he declares himself eligible. But the story of the night was his back-up, the freshman, Blake Bell. Bell, #15, came in for the Sooners and scored two touchdowns with his feet. He is most likely the future of the Sooners.
And less than a year ago Iowa radio analyst, Ed Podolak was severely hurt in a pedestrian - auto accident in nearby Scottsdale. Podolak underwent many surgeries to recover and was able to return to the broadcast booth.
However the Insight Bowl experience wasn't a highlight for the Iowa Radio crew. Placed in a booth usually used for stadium security personnel, Gary Dolphin and Podolak were unable to open the windows for their crowd mics. The booth also lacked a replay monitor. Insight Bowl officials did supply one, but it was circa 1975 and took up much of Podolak's space. Frequencies for the radio team were also an issue as the stadium was reluctant in granting them their typical transmitting signals to communicate with Rob Brooks on the sideline. Engineer Jon Swisher was able to put the broadcast together is some atypical ways.
The Sooners being awarded the Insight Bowl Trophy
What the Insight Bowl may be remembered for more than the winner is the ESPN Skycam falling late in the fourth quarter. The aerial camera came crashing down after a wire snapped, narrowly missing Marvin McNutt as he broke a huddle heading to the line of scrimmage.
Skycam operators scrambled following the incident. Obviously the information on the computer monitor does not indicate the camera had fallen. Due to the disaster in the Insight Bowl, officials at the bowl and ESPN decided it would be best to not use the technology in the Fiesta Bowl.