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Saturday, September 17, 2011

Wolfpack deals South Alabama expected first loss, and now it gets tough

Posted by on Sat, Sep 17, 2011 at 10:42 PM

CARTER-FINLEY STADIUM/RALEIGH The Wolfpack returns home tonight to a sold-out game it should win, but it’s against a very unusual opponent.

State FB Taylor Gentry
Invading on Military Appreciation Night is South Alabama — or USA, as the folks in Mobile like to say — which comes in with a 2-0 record and has never, ever lost a football game.

That of course has a major asterisk on it, as the Jaguars are 19-0 in two-plus seasons of football as they move from having no football in 2008 to full-fledged FBS membership in the Sun Belt Conference. USA is technically an FCS member this season.

Most of the legal gambling establishments don’t have this one on the board because of the uncertainty involved, although one did have the Wolfpack a 24 ½-point favorite

State is the first FBS member team the Jaguars have ever played, although they’ll visit Kent State next week. It’s the first of a three-game contract between the schools, as the Jaguars will visit here next season and State will be the season opener for USA.

The Wolfpack doesn't apply the knockout punch until the closing minutes and gives the Jaguars their historic first loss, 35-13.

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Friday, September 16, 2011

Sharing the pie: practical reforms for NCAA sports—Part 2

Posted by on Fri, Sep 16, 2011 at 3:43 PM

A Duke player during warms-up during a preseason practice last month.
This is Part 2 of an essay in which the author proposes modest, achievable reforms that could address inequities in the perennially troubled system of college athletics. Part 1 is here.

4. Provide an increased stipend in the scholarship sports, access to a savings bond upon graduation and the ability to share in revenues from use of player names and imaging in NCAA marketing, including licensing of images and names in video games.

The thrust of this proposal is two-fold. First, college players should have a large enough stipend to be able to meet their basic needs and fit in socially in college. Numerous journalists and coaches have endorsed the idea, and suggested anywhere between $250 and $500 a month as a reasonable figure. At the very least, a stipend would reduce the temptation of athletes—and those with whom they are in contact—to break NCAA rules for relatively small amounts of money.

Second, players in the revenue activities should have a share in the enormous stream of money generated by big-time college sports. There are good reasons not to want college athletes to be able to offer their services on the open market—that would quickly lead to the professionalization of college sports, and likely lead many schools to finally get out of the game rather than try to keep up with those schools willing to pay the most. It’s also hard to believe players who were getting paid serious money would be invested in their academic work. In short, if players are paid, the odd but well-established legitimacy that intercollegiate athletics have on college campuses would quickly evaporate.

This does not mean that players are not entitled to a piece of the pie they help bake every season. But to avoid a bidding war between schools, and to abide by Title IX regulations forbidding institutions from treating men and women unequally, the money needs to come from the NCAA or from other outside sources.

Here are two ways that could happen. First, the NCAA could set aside 10 percent of the gross revenue from its annual television contract on the men’s basketball tournament, amounting to roughly $50 million a year. Now suppose that the NCAA allowed all graduating men’s basketball players—regardless of contribution to their team, or whether or not their team made the tournament—to claim a share of that revenue upon graduation (i.e. successful completion of the academic program). Now assume that the 300-plus schools playing Division I basketball graduate a total of 1,000 players each year. Under this proposal, each of those graduates would be entitled to $50,000 from the NCAA pool.

Enough to make one rich for life? No, but this would be a substantial boost in getting a start in post-college life. It would also provide a clear incentive for athletes to do their schoolwork and graduate. And it would assure that those who put in the sweat, effort and hectic schedules for the greater glory of their school for four years would not walk away empty-handed.

Note that this is a basketball proposal. The NCAA has not participated in the televised football revenue stream since colleges and conferences were freed to negotiate broadcast deals on their own in the wake of the 1984 U.S. Supreme Court decision in NCAA v. Board of Regents of University of Oklahoma. But the establishment of an NCAA football tournament would create a similar revenue stream to benefit football players.

The second route to getting athletes paid is by compensating them for use of their image and names in marketing materials, from uniforms to video games. Notoriously, college players get nothing from the enormously popular NCAA football video game franchise published by Electronic Arts each summer, even though the game contains replica models of each player’s appearance and an approximation of their ability, and even though a 15-second download allows users to obtain a user-created file in which all the names have been edited to match the players’ real names.

Again, there are reasons why permitting individual players to sell their names and likenesses on the open market would be a bad idea—it would quickly lead to out-and-out professionalism. What’s needed is a more collective approach, in which all players are enrolled in an organization—a union, if you will—that negotiates on their behalf to obtain compensation for the use of these images, then distributes those revenues to all “union members” equally.

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Duke, UNC get challenges while Wolfpack has an easy one

Posted by on Fri, Sep 16, 2011 at 10:09 AM

Duke will need to focus on offense against Boston College Saturday. Here, Brandon Connette scores a touchdown against Richmond two weeks ago.
  • File photo by Al Drago
  • Duke will need to focus on offense against Boston College Saturday. Here, Brandon Connette scores a touchdown against Richmond two weeks ago.

It’s Week 3 of the college football season, and so far the Triangle area’s three ACC teams have had mixed results.

Despite all the preseason problems resulting in the firing of former coach Butch Davis and the announcement of the retirement of athletic director Dickie Baddour, everything is going along swimmingly in Chapel Hill. The jury is still a bit out at N.C. State, where Mike Glennon is calling the signals while former quarterback Russell Wilson is starring at Wisconsin, while Duke keeps getting better but still needs to beat somebody to get positive attention.

David Cutcliffe’s Blue Devils (0-2) open ACC play on Saturday at 12:30, when they visit Boston College (0-2) and perhaps the conference’s best player in linebacker Luke Kuechly. The Eagles are listed as seven-point favorites.

Interim coach Everett Withers’ 2-0 Tar Heels will open conference play at home at 3:30 against Virginia (2-0) in the ACC opener for both teams. UNC is a 10-point favorite.

And in Raleigh at 6 p.m., Tom O’Brien’s Wolfpack (1-1) will try to recover from last week’s painful loss at Wake Forest when South Alabama (2-0) comes into a sold-out house. USA, which will be Division I-FBS in 2013, is in its third season of football but has never lost a game (19-0). State is the Jaguars’ first FBS level opponent, and the only available point spread is 25 ½. My gut feeling is that that’s low.

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Thursday, September 15, 2011

Forget the radical reforms, here are realistic proposals for cleaning up college football (Part 1)

Posted by on Thu, Sep 15, 2011 at 1:34 PM

A UNC football player keeps cool during a preseason workout.
College sports are not going to be abolished, they are not going to be turned into an Ivy League model and they are not likely anytime soon to be converted into freestanding professional teams. For better or worse, the unique system of big-time sports attached to universities is here to stay.

Too many parties (TV networks, advertisers, universities, alums) are invested in the current system and too many people (fans, participants, alums) derive too much pleasure from big-time college sports for revolutionary reform or abolition of the current model to be a realistic possibility, even if those goals were judged desirable.

But that doesn’t mean significant improvements can’t be made to the current college sports model. In fact, a range of reforms addressing all aspects of big-time college sports can be specified. Taken together, they could have the impact of re-balancing big-time sports in ways that enhance the power and reduce the exploitation of student-athletes while lowering the tension between sports and the academic mission of universities. They also reduce the power of the almighty dollar over college sports, and dramatically increase the incentives of coaches and schools to avoid rules violations and other systemic problems.

In this two-part column, I will present six ideas that take us a long way in this direction.

1. Reduce the number of scholarships in FBS football from 85 to 65.
Why does a college football team need 85 guys on scholarship when NFL teams get by with just 55 players? The extraordinarily large size of football teams has several negative effects. First, it is expensive. Second, it crowds out other men’s sports, and also obliges schools to operate a larger athletic program overall than they might otherwise because of the Title IX obligation to provide equal athletic opportunities for women.

Third, and more critical, the size of the current football programs makes it difficult to manage. Coaches are under pressure to bring in large quantities of bodies, meaning they can’t be as selective about character and academic fit as would be ideal. The large size of the program makes the football team a culture unto itself within the university.

The current model is also bad for the players—it makes them more expendable. Coaches now operate on a model of bringing in 20 or more players a year in hopes that 10 or 12 will pan out as productive, starter-quality players. The rest will ride the pine, risk their necks on special teams or magically disappear before graduation. With a smaller squad, the contribution—and value—of every player would become magnified.

Moving to smaller squads would have another benefit as well: It would spread the talent around and make it more likely that good coaches outside the established power schools and conferences could be successful. Yes, Duke football could be relevant again!

2. Stop the conference expansion madness by instituting a national football playoff.
At a time in which many editorialists have tried to focus attention on the need for reform in the wake of the string of football scandals dotting the national landscape, universities in the Big 12 and elsewhere are contemplating setting in motion yet another round of conference expansion and conference-hopping, with seismic consequences that could well reach the ACC. This scramble is driven by one thing—the chase for football and Bowl Championship Series dollars.

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Saturday, September 10, 2011

Wolfpack falls behind early, can't catch up as Wake jinx continues

Posted by on Sat, Sep 10, 2011 at 10:44 PM

GROVES STADIUM/WINSTON-SALEM N.C. State travels to face its oldest rival today on one beautiful afternoon for football or any other outdoor activity, and it’s going to be the first big test for first-year starting QB Mike Glennon.

N.C. State coach Tom OBrien
Glennon struggled through the first half last week against visiting Division I-FCS Liberty before the Wolfpack escaped with a 43-21 win, but that result was expected.

Today the opponent is 0-1 Wake Forest, which lost a heartbreaker at Syracuse in its opener nine days ago. State throttled the Deacons 38-3 last season in Raleigh, but the Wolfpack hasn’t won in this stadium since 2001.

State is still a 1 ½-point favorite.

The Wolfpack gets behind by as many as 21 points before rallying, but winds up losing 34-27.

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Friday, September 9, 2011

Wolfpack faces ACC opener, Tar Heels get a good test, Duke hopes for a miracle

Posted by on Fri, Sep 9, 2011 at 1:06 AM

Duke quarterback Sean Renfree completed 23 of 33 passes last week against Richmond.

It’s Week 2 of the ACC football season, and there are still plenty of questions to be answered for the three local teams.

Is UNC’s new starting quarterback Bryn Renner, who completed 22 of 23 passes in the Tar Heels’ season-opening 42-10 romp over FCS member James Madison on Saturday, always going to be that accurate?

Well actually he isn’t. The Tar Heels are going to get a little tougher test today at 12:30, when Rutgers (1-0) visits Kenan Stadium. Rutgers is, of course, coming off a 48-0 season-opening rout of N.C. Central in the first game the brand-new FCS Eagles may have count toward someone else’s bowl qualification.

(Disclaimer: I work frequently for NCCU on the website.)

Is N.C. State’s new starting quarterback Mike Glennon ready for an ACC opponent after Saturday’s 43-21 win over a good FCS team from Liberty? The Wolfpack will be visiting fellow ACC member Wake Forest at 3:30, and the Deacons are coming off a heartbreaking 36-29 season-opening loss at Syracuse.

And can Duke’s experienced quarterback Sean Renfree help the Blue Devils get turned around after yet another tough loss to visiting FCS Richmond - this time 23-21 after All-ACC kicker Will Snyderwine missed a short field goal and then a prayer at the buzzer? The Blue Devils will host the Duke of the West No. 6 Stanford — a 57-3 winner over San Jose State in its opener — at 3:30 and will try to slow down Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback Andrew Luck in an attempt to get their biggest win of the new century.

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Thursday, September 8, 2011

Veteran Talbot is more effective than rookie Archer as Columbus takes a 2-0 lead

Posted by on Thu, Sep 8, 2011 at 11:26 PM

DBAP/ DURHAM The Durham Bulls have been here plenty of times, making the Governors’ Cup Playoffs in a ridiculous 11 of their 14 International League seasons.

Bulls manager Charlie Montoyo
But tonight they’re pretty much facing a must-win situation, as they trail the first-round series with Columbus 1 game to 0 and the rest of the series will be in Columbus.

The Bulls, who have won five straight South Division titles, are seeking their fifth straight appearance in the Cup Finals under Charlie Montoyo. Durham has won three Cups, including the National Championship team from 2009.

The defending Triple-A National Champion Clippers are looking for their second straight Cup under second-year skipper and manager of the year Mike Sarbaugh, who is looking to become the fourth manager to win the title in each of his first two seasons in the league. Columbus has won eight IL championships, including defeating the Bulls in four games in last season’s final.

The survivor will host the first two games of the best-of-5 final against either Pawtucket or Lehigh Valley beginning Sept. 13, with the winner going to the National Championship game in Albuquerque on Sept. 20. Durham will host the National Championship Game in 2012.

Tonight presents an interesting pitchers’ duel, as rookie Clayton product Chris Archer (1-0, 0.69) will go for the Bulls with former Bull Mitch Talbot (4-2, 4.26) — who was a member of that 2009 team - going for Columbus.

Sadly for the Bulls' this one goes the wrong way, as Columbus dominates after the first inning in an 8-3 win.

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Remembering Big Joe Vasicek and the goal that put the Hurricanes on the map

Posted by on Thu, Sep 8, 2011 at 10:54 AM

Wednesday morning, an airplane carrying a Russian professional hockey team crashed into the Volga River outside the city of Yaroslavl just after takeoff. Almost all of the Lokomotiv team—27 players—died in the crash, among them several familiar former NHL players including Czech forward Josef Vasicek, who played six seasons for the Carolina Hurricanes. Big Joe’s name is engraved on the Stanley Cup with the rest of the 2006 Canes.

Even though Vasicek was a minor player for the Canes, he was a major part of a crucial moment for the Carolina franchise, a moment that both brought Raleigh onto the national hockey radar screen and cemented the Hurricanes in the Triangle's mainstream culture.

In essence, Josef Vasicek scored the goal that put Hurricanes hockey on the map.

I had a soft spot for No. 63 from the moment I saw him. Sturdy but boyish, with a face that always seemed about to smile. That Czech air of slight facetiousness. With a frame reminiscent of my favorite all-time player, Jaromir Jagr (squint a little and the 3 on his back kind of filled in and became Jagr’s 68), Vasicek could skate a line and there was nothing anyone could do about it. Some nights, at least.

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Columbus Clippers shut out Durham Bulls, take first game of Governors' Cup playoff series

Posted by on Thu, Sep 8, 2011 at 6:00 AM

DBAP/ DURHAM—Last night's game was set up as a pitchers' duel: Durham's Matt Moore versus Columbus' Zach McAllister. It came close to its billing. Columbus beat Durham, 3-0, behind six excellent innings from McAllister, who was backed by Chad Huffman's solo homer and booming RBI double. The Bulls went hitless after the fifth inning against McAllister and two relievers—and two of the five hits they got up to that point were bunt singles; a third was a chopper past the mound that went about 90 feet.

There's no question that McAllister pitched well. He kept his sinking fastball down, mixed in his slider and changeup, and made a team that has had a painfully hard time scoring runs look totally feckless. (Personal to DeMargel: is that what you wanted?) In the deathly quiet ninth inning, the heart of the Durham order—Matt Carson, Dan Johnson and Russ Canzler—all struck out swinging in lame sequence against Columbus closer Zach Putnam. As the teams left the field following the 2:23 game, it felt as if the Bulls would never score another run ever again.

They will, though. But will the bedeviled Bulls score enough to win a game?

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Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Governors' Cup Playoff Series Preview: Durham Bulls vs. Columbus Clippers

Posted by on Tue, Sep 6, 2011 at 11:27 PM

For the fifth straight year, and Charlie Montoyo's fifth as manager, the Durham Bulls have qualified for the International League playoffs.

Before we go any further, it's worth taking a moment to appreciate what a rare and remarkable accomplishment that is—especially in the chancy environment of Class AAA baseball.

There are those who might argue that, because the Tampa Bay Rays have one of baseball's top farm systems, Montoyo's job is easy. All he has to do is preside over his two-dozen blue-chip prospects and watch the wins pile up.

For one thing, it doesn't really work that way—there are seldom more than three or four legit big-leaguers on any Triple-A roster. For another, every team at the Class AAA level has good players. The talent gap between the Durham Bulls and just about any other team, even the worst of them, is actually quite slim. Somehow, the Montoyo-piloted Bulls keep finding, every year, that margin of difference. We'll call it The Extra 2%, in honor of Jonah Keri's book-length homage to the Rays' acumen.

This year's team did not have the overall talent of last year's, which was so good that, for a while, it had eventual league OPS-leader Chris Richard batting seventh in the lineup. The 2011 Bulls were a more modest club in terms of talent and overall character. It wasn't until after the All Star break that this year's team really began to come into focus, when half a dozen Montgomery Biscuits began their collective rise to Durham. Those younger players, along with a few Class AAA stalwarts, helped Durham finish 80-62, good for the league's third best record. It was an over-achievement, and another boldfaced bullet-point on Charlie Montoyo's already loaded résumé .

The Bulls' reward for their accomplishments this year is a first-round rematch of the 2010 Governors' Cup Championship Series against the International League's best team by far: the Columbus Clippers.

"I kind of like it," Montoyo said this afternoon. "Because if we go through Columbus, our chances are better."

I actually have a prediction for this series. You can read through to the end, or just cheat and skip. But you'll feel dirty if you do.

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