Pinnacle Bank Arena

Husker Hot Takes – 9/26/2014

Turn on a fan, because I have more Husker Hot Takes:

The Boyd is Back in Town. 
Pioneering Strength & Conditioning coach Boyd Epley has returned to the Nebraska athletic department as the Assistant Athletic Director for Strength and Conditioning.  The reaction I saw was all very positive.  Of course, Husker fans have a strong affinity for bringing back people that they associate with the pre-Callahan glory years.  Epley certainly fits the bill.

Frankly, I’m not real sure what to make of this.  On one hand, I certainly know and appreciate the many innovations Epley is responsible for, as well as the physical advantages the Huskers had over most of their opponents during his 35 year tenure.  Yet, I also heard rumblings from many outlets about a drop-off towards the end of his first run in 2004.  Additionally, the rash of athletic pubalgia injuries in that time was concerning.  I guess I’m in wait and see mode on what Epley’s day-to-day role will be – and how it will translate to results on the field and court.

The important caveat in this hire is that Epley will oversee all sports – except football.  This has the detractors of current S&C coach Tim Dobson (who apparently is responsible for every ACL injury in Lancaster County since 2010) plotting for Epley’s triumphant return to football – possibly in time for his 70th birthday later this year.

Tim Miles Lands Another Big-Time Recruit
This week, highly touted basketball recruit Ed Morrow, Jr. gave his verbal commitment to play for Nebraska.  Now, I know even less about basketball recruiting than I do about football (read:  absolutely nothing), but the hype metrics (four stars, #62 in the nation per ESPN ) are very impressive.  Obviously, Tim Miles and his staff are doing an excellent job on the recruiting trail, as Nebraska is poised to have it’s best hoops class ever.

But let’s also give credit to an unlikely figure in Nebraska’s hoops revival:  Tom Osborne.  It was Osborne who worked to get the world-class Hendricks practice center built.  It was Osborne who helped broker a deal to get Nebraska into the Pinnacle Bank Arena, and you better believe that Osborne’s support played a role in the arena ballot initiative getting approved by Lincoln’s voters.  And finally, Osborne gets credit for firing the ultimate nice guy, Doc Sadler, and for finding/hiring Tim Miles.

And since Morrow is a basketball recruit, let’s give a big assist to the 91,000 fans who attended the Nebraska – Miami football game last Saturday.  The atmosphere and fan support in Memorial Stadium was impressive.  It is very easy to imagine Miles telling Morrow that it gets just as crazy inside The Vault.  A great game day atmosphere pays dividends for all Nebraska sports.

Ameer Abdullah offers some tough love for Jameis Winston
After Monday’s press conference, Ameer Abdullah was asked about Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston, who sat out last week’s game for yelling something inappropriate in the middle of Florida State’s campus.  As is Abdullah’s style, he was honest, yet measured in his comments:

“Great reward brings great responsibility, and he needs to mature and understand that every decision I make has dire consequences, not only to myself but my family, team, coaching staff and university. And before I act, I need to make sure I represent myself in the right way.”

On the surface, this is rather odd.  I mean, when is the last time you saw an athlete from one school discuss an athlete from another school / conference – especially in a negative light?  But both Abdullah and Winston are from the Birmingham, AL area and have known each other for many years.

Regardless, I find it fascinating to see Abdullah offering such advice publicly.  Had Ameer said something to the effect of “Yeah, I’ve reached out to him to share my thoughts and opinions, but I’d prefer to keep it between us” nobody would have batted an eye.

Was Ameer out of line with his comments?  I don’t think so.  As we discussed last time, Abdullah is a natural leader who is not afraid to call it like he sees it.  And given Winston’s off-field exploits in the last year, he’d be wise to listen to his old friend Ameer.  Abdullah clearly has his life pointed in the right direction, and the sky is the limit for what he can accomplish.

The Cornhusker Marching Band will #FearAmeer. 
On Wednesday, the Director of the Cornhusker Marching Band tweeted that the band will spell out “Fear Ameer” during their halftime performance of the Illinois game.

*Side note:  I bet that software that created this image is fun to play around with.  I’d have those pixelated performers going in all sorts of crazy formations.  Hell, I’d write this entire section in marching band formations if I was smart enough.

In the past, I have been critical of the band for halftime shows that many fans find uninspiring.  Therefore, I love that the band is doing unique and potentially viral – I guarantee national outlets like ESPN, Deadspin, Bleacher Report, and others will show it.  Embrace the star player, get him (and your band) some hype.  That is the definition of “win/win” in the social media age.  My question is will this a one time deal, or will the Pride of All Nebraska continue to step out a little more?  Maybe they don’t go full Ohio State viral video mode, but I still believe there is room for improvement in their halftime shows*.

*Case in point:  The theme from last week’s Miami game was songs to commemorate the writing of the Star Spangled Banner.  Seriously?  No disrespect to the talented musicians in the band, but I have no desire to watch that.  With the 1994 National Championship team being honored at the Miami game, the theme “Songs of 1994” (featuring Ace of Base, Salt-N-Pepa, Tag Team, and Snoop Dogg) should have been an absolute no-brainer.  It would have been a fun performance for fans to watch, and I’m guessing more enjoyable for the band members to play.

Environmentalist’s Idea Goes Over Like A Lead Balloon
Benjamin Vogt, an English professor at UNL, has started an online petition to have Nebraska halt the traditional practice of releasing red balloons after the first touchdown.  He calls the practice “mass littering” and claims the balloons are not bio-degradable (he buried one in his yard to back his claim) and potentially harmful to animals.  A quote from Vogt in the story Deena Winter of NebraskaWatchdog.org wrote this week:

“The reality is that while the balloons may indeed shatter, the pieces are not impossible for animals to eat…In fact, the fringe of shattered latex balloons mimics the shape of jellyfish, a favorite meal for many ocean animals.”

Okay.

I realize that I only minored in English, but my dad was a biologist with the Fisheries Division of the Nebraska Game & Parks for many years.  So I know that, yes, there ARE jellyfish in Nebraska (really).  But I also know that the only ocean animals within the borders of the Cornhusker state reside in fish tanks, aquariums, and the Henry Doorly Zoo.  While it is possible that a fragment of a balloon released from Memorial Stadium could find its way into the aquarium at your dentist’s office (Shark bait!  Hoo ha ha!), I’d like to see the wildlife casualty numbers before we scrap this beloved tradition.

Regardless, should the balloons go away, I am prepared.  Back in 2012, when there were concerns over helium supplies, I made a list of alternate methods to celebrate the first touchdown.  I think many of them still apply today.

Husker Hot Takes – 5/28/14

The initial installment of Husker Hot Takes was fun and fairly well received, so we’ll do another round…

1.  The Athletic Department is advertising football season tickets for the first time in a long time.  Should we be worried about the coveted sellout streak?

Okay…technically, the ticket office is advertising the ability to join the wait list for season tickets.  You go to a NU Ticket Office website, select how many tickets you would like, pay a non-refundable $25 deposit, and…that’s as far as I went (I currently have tickets and don’t currently have a need for more).  My guess is in one of the next steps you’re asked how much you’d be willing to donate for season tickets.  My assumption is your response to that question plays a big role in where you end up in line.  (Feel free to correct me where my assumptions are wrong).

First off, does anybody remember the last time Nebraska was advertising football tickets for home games?  In my freshman year at UNL (1993) a letter went out to parents of students giving them the opportunity to buy season tickets, but I’m not aware of anything since then.  (Again, feel free to share information in the comments.)

Maybe this is nothing to be alarmed about, and the University is just restocking the backlog of requests (and seeing if they can generate some new donations).  Or maybe the new East stadium expansion coupled with the increasing allure of watching games at home is putting the vaunted sellout streak – the only thing still standing after the Solich and Callahan eras – in real jeopardy?  We all saw the empty pockets of seats in several home games.  Is that a sign of fan apathy?

I don’t know.  What I do know is the proposed changes for the game day experience coming this fall (better Wi-Fi, better tunes, etc.) should help swing the pendulum from Watch at Home to Watch In Person.  (I also think there is room for more improvements to game day, but that is a separate topic).  Regardless, I do have concerns about the streak.

But, I also think that if you were able to get in on that ticket offer in 1993, you got to see some amazing teams.

2.  Buy Beer in Memorial Stadium?

I recently read a column from Brandon Cavanaugh on HuskerCorner.com entitled “Beer Should Flow in Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium This Fall

With no disrespect to Cavanaugh, I have to say:  No.

It’s not just that conservative Nebraska would never go for it (although that should not be underestimated), it’s that the column doesn’t give me a lot of good reasons for why it should happen.

Cavanaugh cites information from Big Ten peer Minnesota that notes how the Gophers actually lost around $180,000 on beer sales last year (partially due to one-time expenditures), and will likely only see a relatively small profit ($15,000) this year.  Okay, so if we’re not doing it to make money, then why should we do it?

Cavanaugh points to the “fan experience”.  In short, fans who tailgate/prime/pick-your-name-for-pregame-boozing ride an alcohol fueled high for the 1st and 2nd quarters, but as they sober up, the second half is flatter than three day old keg beer.  Additionally, Cavanaugh says selling beer would help keep the students around longer, and give a much-needed boost to the “rowdy” factor.

Yeah…Let’s start with the “fan experience”.  I can think of several non-11 am kickoffs where the crowd in the first quarter has been fairly reserved.  And we all can remember many games where the crowd was deafeningly loud in the fourth quarter.  Were these things impacted by the fans sobriety – or lack thereof?  Nope, I think crowd involvement has more to do with the action on the field than the number of Jim Beam and Cokes I consumed prior to the game.  Obviously, opponents and kickoff times matter.  But even with beer being sold in the stadium, an 11 am kick against Illinois will never match the buzz of a night game against Michigan (pun intended).

As for the student section, Cavanaugh notes that the section is often littered with bottles of hard alcohol.  It’s been several years since I sat over there, but that sure sounds familiar.  Would selling beer in the stadium really make a big dent in those empties?  It says here that students are famously short on cash.  Spending $6 for a 16 oz beer is okay, but the thrifty student knows the bigger bang for their buck is sneaking in a half pint of booze and buying one or two sodas.

Bottom line: I think beer has a better chance of flowing at Pinnacle Bank Arena than Memorial Stadium.  Regardless, I think it will take more than “boosting the fan experience” to get alcohol sales past the Board of Regents.

3. Kenny Bell claims he cuts his hair.  Mass hysteria ensues.

On Tuesday, Kenny Bell tweeted that he “lost a bet” and had to “shave the fro”, accompanied by a picture showing Bell without his glorious head of hair.

I’ll go on record:  I don’t buy it.

I don’t know if the picture was altered, really old, or featured some sort of miracle head band*, but my first thought when I saw that tweet was “Kenny’s a little late with his April Fool’s joke”.

*And seriously, Kenny, if it does turn out to be a miracle head band, can you send me the details on where you got it?  My daughter can rock the ‘fro too, but sometimes we just need it out of the way.  Thanks.

If he truly did shave it, I’ll take it as a sign that he’s going to be locked in and laser focused for his senior season.  If not, I’ll continue to feel that Bell is a fun-loving guy who enjoys pulling a good prank on the media and fans.

4.  Where was BTN for Nebraska’s first round game of the B1G baseball tournament?

Games 1 and 2 (Illinois vs Michigan State and Ohio State vs Nebraska) were not shown.  Games 3 and 4 (Indiana vs Iowa and Minnesota vs Michigan) were shown live on BTN.  Adding to the injustice, instead of Nebraska – Ohio State, BTN viewers had a replay of the 2010 Insight Bowl (Iowa vs Missouri) and the 2007 game* between Purdue and Indiana.

*I get that BTN wants to showcase ALL of their schools, not just the marque brands like Michigan, Ohio State, Nebraska, and Penn State, but to consider any football game between Indiana and Purdue as one of “The Big 10’s Greatest Games”, is an insult to the intelligence of any BTN viewer.

I understand the disappointment and even some of the outrage.  That game, and especially the ninth inning comeback would have been fun to watch.  Heck, I even had some fun with it myself.  But at the end of the day, I’m not going to lose too much sleep about it.

Let’s face it:  BTN has spoiled us.  We expect that every football game, every basketball game, and every other key event from around the conference will be presented to us.  That is pretty cool.  Remember kids, we are not all that far removed from the days of paying $29.95 for pay-per-view (with those horrible Ticket Express ads) just to watch a home game.  Seriously, if this is the biggest event that BTN misses in 2014, we  have it pretty damn good.

5.  Who is the Most Disliked Person in Sports for Nebraska?

SI recently came out with a slide show of the “Most Disliked People in Sports” (Spoiler:  Donald Sterling wins easily).  No current Huskers made the list of 35 sporting figures (although Richie Incognito and Ndamukong Suh checked in at #4 and #13, respectively).  I saw a tweet from 1620’s Unsportsmanline Conduct asking who would top the Nebraska list.

Who would you pick?

The most common responses were rather predictable:  Bill Callahan, Kevin Cosgrove, and of course:  Steve Pedersen.  I’ll be honest:  my initial answer was Pedersen too.

But should it be?  I get it:  the man was grossly unpopular and is ultimately responsible for a lot of damage done to the football program and the athletic department as a whole.  “Gravitate towards mediocrity” is in the pantheon of infamous Husker quotes.  But c’mon.  It’s been nearly seven years since he was fired.  Since then Tom Osborne came back and helped us believe again.  We canned Callahan.  We joined a better conference.  The Lincoln campus is awash in beautiful new facilities, and teams in many, many sports are on the rise.  Football is as good – if not better – than it was when Solich was fired.

Shouldn’t we move on?

I’m not saying we should forgive and/or forget.  I’m saying we should move on.  Find somebody new to focus our collective dislike upon.

I just am not sure who yet, (but suggestions are welcome).

Dear Tim Miles

An open letter to Nebraska Basketball coach Tim Miles

Dear Tim,

I was wrong.

When your predecessor, Doc Sadler, was fired I used this platform to lay out my thoughts for who Nebraska’s next coach should be.  In that piece, I was strongly against hiring a guy like you:  the “no-name” coach from a mid-major program who lacked dynamic recruiting ties.

When you were hired, I was (to say the least) underwhelmed.  The coach from Colorado State?  Really?  Despite my Wyoming buddies telling me that you were the “real deal”, I was all but convinced that Nebraska was falling into the same trap of the mid-major coach who would not be able to recruit and/or compete in one of the nation’s best conferences.  I actually started a piece expressing my frustration and lack of enthusiasm for the hire.  Thankfully, that one never saw the light of day.

But if you read that link above, you may have noticed that I also wanted a coach like you.  Notably, I called for a head coach who is:

  • A top recruiter.  The jury is still out, but I like that you were in on star forward Terran Petteway out of high school.  You couldn’t land him at Colorado State, but were able to get him to Lincoln.  The visit from the highly touted “Chicago 5” recruits made some noise, and now it comes down to being able to land that talent.
  • A dynamic personality who can sell the program and inspire the fans“.  Not to pat myself on the back too hard, but that is you in a Twitter-length nutshell.  Your personality, media savvy, quick wit, and use of social media is, frankly, more than I could have ever dreamed.  Fans believe in this program for the first time this century.  I like to say that you are “undefeated in press conferences”, and I suspect that will be the case for a long, long time.
  • Somebody who can coach.  The overriding opinion is that you know the x’s and o’s, and several of Nebraska’s wins are directly related to your game planning, adjustments, and ability to lead your team.  Your team has a clear identity, the players know and embrace their roles, and it is apparent that your team will go to war for you and for each other.

The transformation of this program in two years is astounding.  As I write this, Nebraska is 8-1 at home in Big Ten play, with the lone loss coming by 1 point to the #12 team in the country.  Sure, some of the credit for the turn-around must go to the new Pinnacle Bank Arena – the atmosphere is so raucous that the blue hairs are writing letters to the editor to complain about the noise.  But we both know that a Doc Sadler or Barry Collier team would not be as beloved in the new arena.

You have given the fans something to cheer about.  The talent level is notably improved.  Nebraska has their first legitimate NBA-caliber player in years.  Defense and floor burns get bigger cheers than breakaway dunks.  Heck, you even have players proposing to their girlfriends at half court.

It’s only your second year in Lincoln, and your team has done things that nobody thought was possible at Nebraska:  finishing in the top half of the league, dominating your home court, knocking off two top 10 teams, earning a first round bye in the conference tournament, and all but guaranteeing Nebraska’s first appearance in the NCAA tournament since 1998.

I’m impressed by how handle things.  You know exactly when to be hilariously funny, aw-shucks humble, brutally honest, and when to take jabs at Billy Bluejay*.

*Sure, there is something to be said for taking jabs at your in-state rival two months AFTER the game (especially when they run you out of the gym), but this is a great time for Miles to establish Nebraska as the dominant program in the state.  Seriously.

If Nebraska and Creighton’s basketball programs were stocks, I would be buying Nebraska and selling my portfolio of Creighton.  I don’t know if Creighton maintains (or even approaches) their 5 year level of success without Doug McDermott.  Big Red is poised to become the dominant program in the state.

Most importantly, you refuse to let the wretched history of this program be a crutch or an excuse.  All of the years of finishing 10th or 11th in the conference are irrelevant to you.  You have done this before and you are doing it again.  And it is a blast to watch.

So allow me to say it again:  I was wrong.  I did not think you would be a good fit, and you would keep Nebraska mired in the same muck of mediocrity that the die-hard fans have known for years.

Please accept my sincere apology.  I am a believer in what you are doing, and will be standing in support of your team as you continue to rewrite the history of Nebrasketball.

I have never been so happy to be this wrong.

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What We Can Learn From Jean Peck

I’m a little late to the party on this, but it’s too good to let it go by without comment:

A woman recently wrote a letter to the editor of the Lincoln Journal-Star.  Her beef?  Fans chanting “Husker Power” before basketball games – specifically, during when the starters for the other team are being introduced.  This woman, Jean Peck, feels it is “rude and unsportsmanlike”, and fears that such a cheer could “tarnish” the reputation Nebraskans have for being good fans.

Seriously.

On one hand, I can see where Jean is coming from.  Nebraska spent the last 25 or so years playing at the Bob Devaney Sports Center, a place so lacking in atmosphere and competitive advantage, that media members often referred to it as the “Lincoln Library”.  Going to a game at the new Pinnacle Bank Arena, where Nebraska is enjoying a healthy home court advantage, must have been a shock.

But really?  The Husker Power chant is unsportsmanlike?  For those who are unfamiliar, the chant works like so:

  1. One half of the building shouts “Husker”
  2. The other half of the building shouts “Power”
  3. Repeat.

That’s it.  There is no foul language, thinly veiled threats, sexual innuendo, or anything that taunts, harms, demeans, or otherwise attacks an opposing player or coach on a personal level.  Maybe you can make a case that cheering over the P.A. announcer while the other team is being introduced is rude – but only to the P.A. guy, and even that is a reach.

But what I find fascinating is how many lessons one can learn from a simple, 107 word letter.  Among them:

  • Some folks have wayyyyy too much time on their hands.  Seriously, Jean – consider picking up a hobby.
  • Clearly, Jean has never been to basketball game (high school or college) with a strong and rambunctious student section.  Often times the introductions of opposing players are met with a chorus of “Who cares? He sucks!”.  Back in my day, we all pretended to read the Daily Nebraskan as the other team was introduced.  Both of these are more rude than Husker Power.
  • Some fans don’t understand that loud and intimidating does not necessarily mean rude and obnoxious.  Personally, I really like how Nebraska volleyball fans handle player introductions.  After each player is announced, the crowd claps three times in unison.  I think the resulting effect (“Amanda Whatsherface” *clap*  *clap*  *clap* ) would be rather intimidating for an opponent, especially when done by 8,000 fans.
  • However, quiet and friendly almost always leads to a losing season.  Nebraska basketball has stunk for a while.  A large part of that is due to a lack of talent, and the struggles of past coaches, but having zero atmosphere did not help.
  • There are people who attending sporting events who are more concerned with how their team/university/city is perceived than in if their team/university/city actually wins.
  • Life in Lincoln, Nebraska is pretty damn good if this is a debated topic of conversation.  (The other letters printed that day were about global warming and using resources to protect trees from an invasive beetle).
  • Newspapers – and especially the Journal-Star – are not above trolling their readers for a reaction (and online clicks).  Unless they only received three letters on that day, fishing for a reaction is the only logical explanation for why this letter saw the light of day.

Personally, I think the last one is the biggest lesson to learn – and the most disappointing.

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