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Saturday, July 31, 2010

Columbus's Arena Problem?

On the way to the Clippers game the other day, my father brought up an interesting point as I confirmed that Huntington Park was indeed in the Arena District in Downtown Columbus.  He said that it was totally unnecessary for Columbus to have two separate arenas, Nationwide for the Columbus Blue Jackets ice hockey team, and Value City Arena for the Ohio State men's and women's basketball teams.  I explained to him that the reason this was so was that even though the state owned Value City Arena, Nationwide Arena was privately owned(I thought by the McConnell family, turns out it is actually owned by Nationwide Insurance, they did not just lend the name.)  However, is it really necessary for Columbus to have two distinct arenas, even if they are owned by two separate groups? Columbus is no more than a mid major city, and even in Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Clippers share the Staples center with the Lakers.  Surely the Blue Jackets do not sell out more than the Lakers do, and even though Nationwide Arena holds events during the ice hockey offseason it is fair to say that for more than 200 (maybe 250) days per year the arena is empty.  Value City Arena, on the other hand, sells out far less, and I hate to say it, but it might not sell out at all during women's home games.  In some instances its operating costs might exceed the revenue it brings in.  But that only brings us back to the issue of ownership.  While the Schott(as it is also known) was built on taxpayer dollars for use by Ohio State, Nationwide Arena primarily serves Columbus only professional franchise.   But isn't there a way Nationwide could host both Blue Jacket and Ohio State games?  I think the answer is yes, and the state of Ohio could tear down Value City Arena and give the taxpayers some of their money back.  Until that happens though, Columbus will forever be known as the only city in America not large enough for two professional sports franchises but apparently large enough for two indoor sporting arenas.  What a dubious distinction.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Take me out to the ballgame...

This afternoon I had the distinct pleasure of attending a Columbus Clippers game in their new ballpark, Huntington Park, for the first time with my younger brother Trent, my father, Victor and my nephew, AJ, aka Victor the third.  All in all it was a great experience, and I will never forget some things that have been replaced since the Clippers used to play at Cooper Stadium: there is no longer the "Columbus Clippers ring your bell" chant, instead it's "Columbus Clippers...our team, our town(I know that's been around for a while, but bear (sp) with me as I said before, this is the first Clippers game I have been to in a while), the players have their own theme songs (I found it particularly ironic that catcher Lou Marson's was TNT by AC/DC as it appeared he had the lowest batting average of the whole team, but maybe he's just in a slump), and there were several mascot races today I found rather amusing.  The $3 hotdog and $8 cup of beer tasted like...well...any other hot dog or cup of beer I guess.  It was my nephew's second baseball game(as he continually reminded me), although his first in Columbus, Ohio, and I think he really enjoyed himself as well.  He had a hotdog, a large soda, ice cream dots, and some cotton candy, although I should have known he wasn't going to finish the cotton candy the moment I bought it for him, seeing as how at 6 years of age his stomach is a lot smaller than mine.  It really helped that the weather had cooled off somewhat before the start of the game; I had half expected us to be so hot we would have left in the second inning, but we ended up staying til the top of the eighth.
  As for the action on the field, the Clippers started as very gracious hosts to the visting Pawtucket team, spotting them an early 2-0 lead.  The turning point came in the fourth inning, when the Clippers scored 4 runs, capped by a base clearing double by designated hitter Jordan Brown.  Columbus' pitching seemed to hold up decent, but I am still puzzled as to why they pulled starter Hector Carrasco so early when he only had given up 2 runs on two hits.  Who knows, maybe the Indians are getting ready to call him up and this was just a warmup.  More interesting to me was the appearance of middle reliever Jeremy Sowers, who was the first to spell Carrasco, who just last season had been a starter for the Indians.  I guess I should follow Cleveland a little more, but lately the only team from that city I have had any interest in is the Browns.  Has always been my favortie pro team and will always be my favorite pro team.  But I digress.  The Clippers put on a valiant effort, and my first trip to the new stadium was a victory.  Maybe one day I will be reading about Jose Constanza or Luis Valbuena or Nick Welgarz making an impact for the Cleveland Indians as they battle for the playoffs, but today it was good just to see them lead the hometown Clippers to a win.  As the saying goes..Columbus Clippers...our team, our town.

Browns' Wallace Plan? Expect to see an expanded role for Seneca

As 2010 NFL training camps open this week, a big question that remains unanswered is how will the Cleveland Browns handle their quarterback situation.  Right now it appears that former Carolina Panther Jake Delhomme is entrenched as the starter (as evidenced by the 7 million dollar contract Cleveland signed him to during the offseason) with Seneca Wallace and rookie Colt McCoy nos. 2 and 3 on the depth chart, respectively.  But could there be a possibitly that Wallace is more than just a backup to Delhomme?  There has already been talk about using Wallace in the Browns' new wildcat formation, dubbed the 'cyclone' because that was the nickname of Wallace's alma mater, Iowa State.  The Browns have not openly stated how often they will use the cyclone, but one would have to assume they would at least consider it an option should the offense stall on consecutive drives.  The athleticism and accuracy of Wallace, who in five years as a backup at Seattle threw for a near 60% completion rate, also suggest that he could on occasion spell Delhomme for a series or two. Cleveland has not hinted at a quarterback platoon, although coach Eric Mangini has said he likes what both (Wallace and Delhomme) bring to the positiom, but such a move would almost be unprecedented.  There are concerns about Wallace's size(at 5-11 and 205, he's considered small for the position) but he is not really that much smaller than Drew Brees (6-0, 209).  There are several advantages to having a quarterback platoon: a)it keeps the defense guessing as to who they will have to face, b) it allows the starter two consecutive series to rest and compose himself, and c)it allows the offense to play at two different speeds.  The biggest question mark that a quarterback platoon would bring is the possible disruption of offensive chemistry, although I believe that at times the term chemistry is more a myth created by the media to scare the weak minded, sort of like a jedi-mind trick.  And while for the time being this is Eric Mangini's team to coach, we have already seen the influence team president Mike Holmgren has had on the offense, first with the drafting of Colt McCoy, and then with him bringing in his former offensive coordinator in Seattle, Gil Haskell, to serve as an advisor to Browns' OC Brian Daboll.  Holmgren hand picked Wallace to be the backup in Seattle, and now he has brought him to Cleveland to help infuse some life into an offense that was ranked almost dead last in the NFL in 2009.

Big Ten hopes riding on Buckeyes? National Championship or bust

It's almost fall, and that can mean only one thing: college football is right around the corner. For the past several weeks and months people all across the nation have debated who will the heisman, who will be first team All-American, and which teams will eventually play for the national championship next January.  For the Ohio State Buckeyes, capping the the 2009 season by defeating Oregon in the Rose Bowl has fans in Columbus once again thinking national championship in 2010.  But there is much more at stake this season as the Buckeyes prepare for their season opener on the night of September 2nd versus Marshall.  The past several seasons has seen Ohio State as the top dog of what the rest of the nation has viewed as an otherwise weak conference.  The Big Ten has dubiously earned this distinction as a result of losses by Ohio State in consecutive national championship games, to Florida and LSU respectively, during the 2006 and 2007 seasons.  Combine that with the recent dominance that the SEC has had in the national championship(winning the last four), and speculation continues as to whether the Big Ten will ever be able to recruit the speed necessary to defeat a team from the SEC in the NC game.  Which is why this season takes on extra importance for the Buckeyes. For all the talk by OSU head coach Jim Tressel that he does not worry about the national perception of his team or the Big Ten Conference in general, he should be.  Because there are many people out there who do not believe that the Big Ten is only slightly better than the Big East. And while the addition of Nebraska in 2011 should help its image, this season the only way the Big Ten is going to get the respect it deserves is by Ohio State winning the national title.  The Buckeyes have a very favorable schedule with eight games at home (including Miami of FL, Penn State and Michigan) and three of their non conference games coming against Mid-American Conference opponents (Marshall, EMU, and Ohio U).  The reason that the SEC gets a pass on their non-conference scheduling is obvious: when the chips are down in January, they come to play(i.e: they have won four out of the last five national titles).  Let this be a lesson to you, Ohio State: schedule whomever you want in September, but remember: the conference hopes rides on your coattails as late December turns to January.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Big Ten: The New Big 12?

With the addition of the University of Nebraska to its membership beginning in 2011, the Big Ten Conference will officiallly consist of twelve schools.  On the flip side, the conference that Nebraska is leaving, the Big 12, will be left with only 10 members, as the University of Colorado accepted an invitation to join the Pac 10 prior to the Big Ten making its offer to Nebraska.  So how then do we refer to these conferences in light of the fact the membership of each has shifted?  The Big Ten Conference has held that moniker since 1917, making it the oldest conference in college athletics.  Renaming the Big 12 Conference the Big Ten almost seems silly when you take that into account.  The Big 12, however, is not nearly as old, but has also established its own identity.  Do we then go completely back to the drawing board?  What if we were to name the Big Ten conference the New and Improved Big Ten, and the Big 12 conference now becomes the Big 12 lite?  What about the Big 10 version 2.0?  No, I think in the end, the Big Ten will retain its name, leaving the Big 12 conference to sort out its new identity.  The Big Ten has too much to lose financially by giving up what has been one of the most marketable brands in all of sports.  Not only that, but if history has taught us anything, it's that the Big Ten Conference will not at all be ruffled by the fact that it now has 12 schools:  if that were the case then there should have been a bigger push to become the Big 11 once Penn State joined the league in the early 1990s.  But that might still happen.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

OSU-Nebraska rivalry to overtake OSU-Michigan rivalry?

Happy Fourth of July, everyone.  Don't forget to take the time to say thanks to any loved one (friend or family) you know who serves in our armed forces, if it weren't for them we might not have the independence today that allows you to enjoy my awesome sportsblog.  Now on to the topic at hand.

The addition of the University of Nebraska to the Big Ten Conference(to become official in 2011) has, in recent months and weeks, sent shockwaves around the college football nation.  The Big Ten has now increased its membership to 12, and, while not in a rush to rename one of the most marketable brands in all of sports, certainly has strengthened its position as a power conference.  Recently debate has centered around how to divide up the teams in the Big 10 so that the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry still remains intact.   On paper that would seem to be the most logical way to go about separate the conference into two divisions, so long as both OSU and Michigan remain the top dogs in the conference.  But what if, however, Michigan continues its freefall into college football irrelevance? What if the Wolverines, after failing to qualify for a bowl game the past two seasons, are banned from potential postseason play in at least one of the next two years due to violations of NCAA practice rules?  Ohio State has clearly set itself apart as the cream of the Big Ten, and while their current two decade rivalry with Penn State has certainly become heated, it does not have the luster of the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry.  Nebraska can come in and make more shockwaves by bringing it to the Buckeyes from the get go.   As a newcomer, Nebraska could not immediately lift the OSU-UN rivalry to the status that the OSU-UM game shares, but with a few good games it wouldn't take long.  That is in part Why I believe when it is all said and done OSU-Nebraska will overtake OSU-Michigan for the number one rivalry in all of sports.

The history of the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry says that it won't be easy to replace it.  The Buckeyes and Wolverines have played each other for more than 100 years, with over half of their contests deciding who would win the Big Ten, with a handful of them deciding who would play for the national championship.  Then there is the pure hatred between the two fan bases, although as I grow older it seems to me that in Columbus the rivalry means more to Buckeye fans than it does in Ann Arbor to Michigan fans.  Ohio State-Michigan also boasts the legacies of two college football legends, the late coaches Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler, as well as dozens of former all-americans and heisman trophy winners. Nebraska, however, does have its own storied tradition when it comes to football; however, you might as well be talking about another country when mentioning Nebraska to the average Ohio State fan.

One factor Nebraska does have in its favor is the steady decline of the University of Michigan football program.  The Wolverines have failed to qualify for a bowl game for the second consecutive season, a dubious feat that had not been duplicated in the previous 40+ years.  Michigan appears to be poised to make a comeback this season, but they also still appear to be without a consensus starting quarterback, which could spell trouble.  Should Rich Rod get fired after this season, there should be a laundry list of former coaches waiting to be his successor.  But it takes a certain kind of individual to coach Michigan, as Rodriguez is finding out, and I don't think a lot of the better coaches want that type of scrutiny.  Which means that UM could be in a freefall for years to come.  Ohio State shows no signs of slowing, as they already have top billed recruiting class in 2011, and coach Jim Tressel isn't going anywhere.  If Nebraska can give Ohio State a little competition, this could be a budding rivalry.   Ohio State fans are still fuming about the Florida Gators and the Buckeyes loss to them in the NC game in '07, and the two teams haven't played each other since.  Imagine the possibilties that an every year Buckeye-Cornhusker game would create.

Another reason OSU-Nebraska has the potential to overtake OSU-Michigan is that Ohio State fans are becoming bored with the latter rivalry.  Ohio State has taken it to Michigan six straight times, and it doesn't appear that Michigan will have an answer for the Buckeyes anytime soon.  Sure, with each new season bring new optimism, but let's face the facts: Ohio State is favored to be a national title contender this year, and they have already got the top recruiting class for 2011 in the eyes of many.  Michigan, on the other hand, has one of three individuals who could start at quarterback(not necessarily because they're that good) is coming off consecutive lossing seasons, and could face major NCAA sanctions regarding their recent practice scandal which could include a loss of scholarship(s) and a postseason ban.  So while you will hear the average Michigan fan rave about UM holding records that no other school will touch, remember they're right: it's not likely that a Division-IAA school such as Appalchian State will defeat a top five ranked Division I-A school such as Michigan for a while, if ever again.  Nebraska brings a team that not only made a bowl game (which it won in dominating fashion, 33-0 against Arizona) it also came a within a potential missed field goal of knocking Texas out of the national champioship game.  So Ohio State fans shouldn't have to wait long to have another late season game they actually have to sweat about.

Finally, Nebraska is looking to make a splash in the Big Ten, and there is not a better way to do it than by beating Ohio State.  For all the talk of how Michigan is the winningest program in NCAA Division I-A history, Ohio State is the face of the Big Ten Conference.  No one commands more respect and hatred than the Buckeyes.  It is no secret that Ohio State has driven the conference's move toward expansion.  As much as it pains me to say this, should Ohio State lose to Nebraska in their very first meeting, it might be the best thing that could happen for the rivalry.  As the new kid on the block, everyone in the conference will be looking to bully the Cornhuskers around.  Should Nebraska beat Ohio State, that will certainly anger the Ohio State fan base, and put Lincoln, Nebraska on a whole new map, one that is called the Big Ten Conference.

While most people are wondering how conference realignment will work now that the Big Ten has 12 members, the University of Michgian should be more worried about how the University of Nebraska could potentially replace it as a perennial power.  Given the recent state of affairs in Ann Arbor, combined with the consistent dominance Ohio State has had in the Big Ten, and it migh not be long before everyone is calling OSU-Nebraska 'the greatest rivarly in college sports.'