Saturday Morning Musings
(Getting this out of the way early this week as I’ll be heading to Miller Park Sunday morning.)
The “big” news in Badgerland this week was the addition of the University of Nebraska to the Big(12)Ten. After months of consideration and conjecture, the Big Ten made it official on Friday afternoon with a press conference from Lincoln announcing that “Big Red” would join the conference in July of 2011. Funny how, after all the public denials by Big Ten officials that expansion was imminent, they were able to wrap this up in about four hours and that Nebraska would join the league a full year before anyone even thought was feasible. While some fear that UNL’s inclusion may devalue the educational mission of the conference (the Big Ten is an academic, as well as athletic, affiliation after all), obviously the university presidents didn’t feel that way or they wouldn’t have voted them in unanimously.
Make no mistake, though, like all such decisions both parties in this dance were motivated primarily by money. Nebraska believed it was getting a raw deal in the Big 12 and was afraid of getting left out in the cold by the secession of other schools. Colorado already announced it was leaving for the Pac-10 before Nebraska even made their move and there is widespread speculation that Texas and Oklahoma will join them in heading west. As for the Big Ten, I agree with commissioner Jim Delany that Nebraska is a “good fit”, at least athletically. The most direct benefit of Big Ten expansion is increased exposure for the cash cow that is the Big Ten Network. Lincoln may not be a large media market but it’s football program, despite some down years, maintains at least a degree of the national reputation it once had and appears to be on the rise under coach Bo Pellini.
The defection of Colorado and Nebraska from the Big 12 is expected to set off a chain reaction in conference realignment that I anticipate will eventually result in the addition of both Notre Dame and Syracuse (if not others) to the Big Ten. Both schools would be an even better all around fit than Nebraska, especially academically. Syracuse would open up the larger New York market to the conference and Notre Dame would provide a national following. If just the threat of conference realignment was enough to induce Nebraska to turn its back on its traditional rivalries with Oklahoma, Texas and Colorado, the impending realities of it should be enough to ultimately implore the Golden Domers to abandon their stubborn independence.
Now that the initial expansion is a done deal, it also paves the way for the conference football programs to divide into two divisions culminating in what should be a lucrative conference championship game. The most logical split would be geographically based with Nebraska joining Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois and Northwestern in the West Division while the East would be comprised of Ohio St., Penn St., Michigan, Michigan St., Indiana and Purdue. On the surface, the East would seem to be the stronger division because it includes the traditional football powers. In reality, though, the dvisions would be pretty even because Michigan sucks these days. The East would tend to be top heavy while the West should be better overall. The geographical divisions also preserve the Big Ten’s longest and most intense rivalries. Even an 8 game schedule provides plenty of opportunity for cross division games. As things now stand, teams can go one or two seasons without playing each other. My hope is that the aftermath of Big Ten expansion brings about more games within the conference in leui of scheduling non-conference ‘cupcakes’.
At any rate, it will be interesting to see how the landscape of college athletics shapes up a year or so from now. The guess here is that it will have a vastly different look.
***It seems that the worm has turned on the home and road fortunes of the Milwaukee Brewers. For most of the season, the Brewers have played significantly better on the road than they have at Miller Park. Until the last two weeks, that is. On their most recent road trip, the Crew lost 5 of 7 games against the likes of Florida and St. Louis. The flip side of that coin is that they’ve now won 7 of their last 10 home games. As a general business model, it’s always better to send the partisan patrons home happy.
***For most of the season, Jeff Suppan served as the poster boy for the Brewers’ pitching staff. Suppan was the lightning rod that deflected attention away from the team’s other shortcomings. When general manager Doug Melvin belatedly pulled the plug on Suppan’s tenure in Milwaukee this week, I wondered who would assume the mantle of team whipping boy. As it turned out, I didn’t have to wait long to find out. Two days after Suppan’s release, Randy Wolf gave up 8 runs in 4+ innings en route to a 9-4 loss to the Cubs. Over the last month, Wolf has dropped 3 of his last 4 decisions while sporting a 6.37 ERA and a 1.79 WHIP. Probably not what Melvin had in mind when he signed him to a $30 million contract this last winter.
***Don’t look now, but rookie Jonathan Lucroy is beginning to look like a major league catcher. Lucroy is batting a respectable .261 on the season and has shown signs of getting better defensively, throwing out would-be base stealers on Thursday and Friday. He’s also doing a better job of blocking balls in the dirt. Manager Ken Macha has suggested that Lucroy is already one of the hardest workers on the team. Given how nominal starter George Kottaras has struggled at times behind the plate, I would expect to see more of Lucroy in the lineup.
***The Brewers are now learning what the Mets and Twins previously found out about centerfielder Carlos Gomez. Gomez showed what his speed can accomplish in the 10th inning on Thursday. He scored the winning run all the way from first base on a sacrifice bunt on what Craig Counsell cleverly described as their “Willie Mays Hays play”. The comparison with Wesley Snipes’ fictional “Major League” character is particularly apt. The old adage that ‘you can’t steal first base’ seems to have been coined for Gomez as his pathetic .294 on-base percentage prevents the Brewers from fully utilizing his speed on the base paths. By most accounts, Gomez has all the tools to be a successful major league player (think of him as an offensive Manny Parra) but apparently still fancies himself as a home run hitter to his own detriment. Perhaps a trip to Nashville would impress upon him the need to play to his strengths but if he hasn’t ‘gotten it’ by now, I’m afraid he never will.
***The inconsistencies of the Brewers’ hitters this season have inspired Macha to constantly tinker with his batting order. I understand that Macha must have his reasons for aligning the order as he does but I question the wisdom of changing the order on a game to game basis. Beyond getting his best hitters at the top of the order to insure more at-bats, it seems he might be better served by letting his players get into some sort of comfort zone.
ODDS & ENDS:
***I had to chuckle at the news out of Minnesota this week. Apparently, Vikings head coach Brad Childress was unhappy with star running back Adrian Peterson for skipping a portion of the team’s OTAs in order to attend a day of recognition for himself in Texas. Meanwhile, a certain veteran quarterback and supposed team leader is sitting home on his tractor in Mississippi allegedly contemplating his future. Does anyone else see the irony?
***I wonder if USC football coach Lane Kiffin still considers his new post to be his dream job now that the NCAA has handed down sanctions on the university’s athletic program. The NCAA concluded a 4 year probe into the Trojans athletic department by instituting a 2 year ban on postseason participation along with a reduction in scholarships. No doubt the folks down in Knoxville find this news particularly gratifying. Former coach Pete Carroll said that he was “shocked” that there were violations that merited such a penalty but the timing of his departure for the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks speaks volumes. If Carroll was in fact unaware of such goings on, it’s only because that was in his best interest.
***What’s the over/under on crowd incidents for this year’s World Cup? They’ve already ‘warmed up’ with a stampede that injured 15 people last Sunday at a “friendly” between North Korea and Nigeria. By soccer standards, that’s pretty mundane but history suggests there may be more to come……….
Thanks for reading. Enjoy the rest of your World Cup weekend.