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Shunning A&M

It’s not just the UT-A&M football game that’s on the endangered list.

The SEC-bound Aggies have said they’d love to keep playing UT as a non-conference foe, but Longhorns athletic director DeLoss Dodds has said the school’s football schedule is full at least through 2018. That isn’t the case for all sports, but so far A&M has come up dry in scheduling future contests of any sort with UT.

“There doesn’t seem to be nearly as much interest from the other side,” A&M athletic director Bill Byrne said Monday.


Byrne has instructed his coaches to contact their UT counterparts about scheduling future non-conference games – with no luck to date.

“I reached out about four weeks ago to Texas and emailed and said we’d love to keep the series going,” A&M soccer coach G. Guerrieri said. “I haven’t heard back.”

A&M baseball coach Rob Childress said he and UT counterpart Augie Garrido have yet to discuss whether to continue playing as non-conference foes.

I’d speculated about this before, and I can’t say I’m surprised to see UT give A&M a cold shoulder. There’s no real incentive for them to do otherwise. The question now is whether any other Texas-based school will follow the Longhorns’ lead. At least one so far seems to be doing so.

As for the Aggies perhaps playing another soon-to-be former Big 12 mate in Baylor, Bears athletic director Ian McCaw said via email Monday, “At this time, our future non-conference football schedules are filled through 2020. With regard to scheduling Texas A&M in other sports, it will be considered on a sport-by-sport basis.”

Anyone know what the status of future games between A&M and Texas Tech is? How about TCU, SMU, and UH? Rice has played A&M fairly regularly in baseball lately, and occasionally in basketball, but has not played them in football since the demise of the SWC. I don’t expect any changes there. Looks to me like the Aggies will be racking up the frequent flyer miles in the coming years.


Tradition, schmadition.

This Thanksgiving one of college football’s oldest and most storied rivalries will be put on indefinite hold when Texas and Texas A&M meet for the last time as Big 12 foes.

The Aggies wanted to continue the series when they left for the Southeastern Conference in July, but the Longhorns told the Aggies that their non-conference schedule is full through 2018.


Texas A&M president R. Bowen Loftin, who led the charge for the Aggies to move to the SEC, has been vocal about his desire to continue playing Texas throughout the conference realignment process.

“We’re able to accommodate them anytime they want to make that happen,” he said of the rivalry. “It’s their choice, obviously, if they don’t want to do that, and I have to respect that choice, but it will be a loss to both of us and the state of Texas.”

Loftin pointed out that most states have key instate rivalry games that take place each season despite conference boundaries.

Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds emailed Texas A&M athletic director Bill Byrne late last week to tell him the Longhorns couldn’t fit A&M into their schedule through 2018.

“What we have right now is a full schedule, but if any future options are available, the decision will not be made by just one person,” Dodds said in a statement.

Loftin hopes they can renew the rivalry when Texas has room on its schedule.

“It’s open at any time,” Loftin said. “There’s no doubt in our minds to accommodate this kind of game at any time now or in the future.”

My sense, as someone who is neither a Longhorn nor and Aggie and who doesn’t really care one way or the other about this is that A&M is more interested in continuing this rivalry than UT is. From A&M’s perspective, their income will increase in the SEC, but so will their travel costs. Being able to play a few non-conference games in any sport in Texas will ease that a bit. I’ve mentioned before that if UT wanted to be a bit vindictive towards the Aggies, they’d refuse to play them at all, and would encourage other Texas schools to do the same. (Kim Mulkey, for one, does not need to be convinced of this.) The Horns can always offer games against themselves, with perhaps some exposure on the Longhorn Network (to the six homes that receive it, anyway) as incentive. I’m just spinning a scenario here, so don’t take any of this too seriously, but I will be interested to see what A&M’s nonconference schedule in men’s and women’s basketball, baseball, and volleyball look like next year and in 2013.

Houston to get 2013 NBA All Star Game

Assuming the lockout has ended by then, of course.

The game will be played Feb. 17 at Toyota Center, which also hosted the 2006 game.

“It’s a done deal,” a person familiar with the bidding process told the Chronicle on the condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak publicly. “We’re just waiting for the NBA to make the announcement.”

There is no timetable as to when the NBA might formally award the game to Houston, although an announcement could be delayed until the end of the labor lockout, the person said.


The last time the All-Star Game was here it had an estimated economic impact between $80 million to $90 million.

sigh How is it that after all these years, the Comptroller’s office can provide before-the-fact estimates of “economic impact”, but can never seem to provide after-the-fact sales tax figures so we can have some kind of objective data points? Yes, I know there’s more to “economic impact” than that, but it would be a nice starting point. And if the Comptroller’s office does provide this data, why is it that the reporters who write these stories never seem to be able to include it? This has been your regularly scheduled rant about “economic impact” estimates.

During the past decade, Houston has been host to some of the country’s top sporting events, among them Super Bowl XXXVIII and Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game in 2004, the NBA All-Star Game in 2006, NCAA South Regionals in 2008 and 2010 and the Final Four this past April. Reliant Stadium, home of the NFL’s Texans, also will host the 2016 Final Four.

Before this busy decade, there was quite the long drought for such events. As the story notes, the last NBA All Star Game to be held here in 2006 was in 1989, at the Astrodome. The last MLB All Star Games was 1986, and the last NCAA championship game – there wasn’t a “Final Four” back then – was 1971, both also at the Dome. The last Super Bowl was 1974, at Rice Stadium. I don’t know how long we’ll continue to be in the mix for these things, but it’s nice while it’s lasting.

Yao retires

Godspeed, big guy.

Yao Ming, who became the face of China’s outreach to the West and the NBA’s growing popularity around the globe, has informed the Rockets and NBA he would retire, several individuals told of the decision confirmed on Friday.

Yao has played in just five games the past two season and has had five consecutive seasons ended or interrupted by bone injuries, most recently a stress fracture in his left leg suffered Nov. 10 in Washington. reported that Yao officially informed the NBA of his decision in the past 48 hours.

Here’s the tweet from Adrian Wojnarowski that broke the story, and more from Yahoo and ESPN. All I can do is quote John Greenleaf Whittier:

Alas for maiden, alas for Judge,
For rich repiner and household drudge!
God pity them both! and pity us all,
Who vainly the dreams of youth recall;
For of all sad words of tongue or pen,
The saddest are these: “It might have been!”

Enjoy the rest of your life, Yao. Thanks for all you did, and all you tried to do, while you were here in Houston.

Are you ready for 2016?

Unlike the Super Bowl, Houston will get to host another Final Four in the near future.

Detroit set the previous record in 2009, but the Final Four at Reliant Stadium established a new standard for the event’s highest total attendance — 145,747.

Those numbers were much more palatable than the ones posted by Connecticut and Butler on Monday during a universally panned title game won by the Huskies 53-41.

But not even a lackluster final could dampen the enthusiasm generated in a city that hadn’t hosted the Final Four in 40 years.

“This is what a showcase, what a national championship should feel like,” NCAA interim executive vice president of championships Greg Shaheen said Tuesday. “It was exactly what we hoped it would be.”

Which is good for Houston, since the Final Four returns in 2016. A regional will be held at Reliant in 2015.

My office is walking distance from Reliant, and I didn’t feel disrupted by the presence of the Final Four. I’ll be happy to see it come back in five years. In the meantime, I anxiously await word about how those economic projections turned out. For once, I hope they all underestimated.

Get your economic projection brackets ready

The Final Four will be played in Houston this year, and you know what that means.

The NCAA’s estimate for economic activity in Houston puts the total to be spent during the Final Four at $60 million, while the Greater Houston Partnership estimates that total will exceed $105 million.

And businesses from hotels and taxi services to restaurants and street vendors are preparing to welcome the surge of visitors expected to fill Reliant Stadium for three games, each packed with 76,500 fans.

“I’ve been hearing that it’s almost like the Super Bowl,” said Sophia In, who sells parking at her Shipley Do-Nuts location near Reliant Stadium.

As long as you don’t mean Super Bowl LXV, I hope. The last thing we need here is an ice storm.

“I believe that this event, in terms of the direct expenditure, is going to be better than the Super Bowl of 2004,” [Greg Ortale, chief executive officer of the Greater Houston Partnership] declared.

With the attendance per Final Four game equaling that of the Super Bowl of 2004, the thee games will bring more spending from fans who likely will stay in Houston for much of the five-day event, he said.

The Texas comptroller’s office anticipates the Final Four in Houston will generate $11.7 million in tax revenues. The NCAA Regional Final in Houston last year generated $5.7 million in tax revenue over a 30-day period.

We have some actual numbers to play with, so let’s see what they mean. Last year at this time, when Houston was set to host a regional final, we learned the following:

Houston and Reliant Stadium last hosted an NCAA regional in 2008, employing the “mid-field” court configuration and elevated seating systems that now serve as the model for all Final Fours. The attendance then was similar to Friday’s.

“We were north of 38 (million dollars),” Ortale said. “We verified it through a third party, and we think it’s a conservative estimate. We prefer to err on the side of being conservative instead of overstating.”

Let’s assume the $38 million figure was accurate, and that we got the same amount of activity last year. Using those assumptions, and the assumption that the ratio of economic activity dollars to tax revenue dollars remains constant, the Comptroller’s tax revenue projections equate to $78 million in economic activity. Which falls right between the NCAA’s number and the GHP’s, so everyone is being consistent. I still think there’s a nontrivial amount of voodoo in these calculations, but at least there’s nothing obviously ridiculous. We’ll see how it all turns out.

Way to go, Caltech!


The Caltech men’s basketball team ended a 26-year conference losing streak Tuesday night after posting a 46-45 victory over Occidental in the team’s regular-season finale on senior night.

It was the first victory for the Division III Beavers since beating the University of La Verne 48-47 on Jan. 23, 1985, a span of 310 games in Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference play.

“Tonight’s win is a testament to the hard work each member of this team, the alumni and the supporters have put into this program,” third-year coach Oliver Eslinger said in a statement released by the school. “I hope that everyone who has participated in Caltech men’s basketball is able to celebrate a little tonight.”


Caltech finished the season 5-20, its best record in 15 years. The Beavers went 0-25 last season and hadn’t won more than one game in any of their previous eight seasons — but back in 2007, Caltech ended an NCAA-record 207-game losing streak with a victory over Bard College of New York.

As a fan of Rice athletics, I know a little something about perseverance in the face of adversity. My sincere congratulations to Caltech and its fans for the win.

Houston bidding for another NBA All Star Game

I wish them good luck with that.

Rockets CEO Tad Brown has often said that the Rockets have pursued another All-Star weekend since the 2006 event in Houston ended, but he said Tuesday that he was more confident than ever that the Rockets and the City of Houston would land the game and the events that come with it.

“Since last All-Star game, we’ve submitted to the league a proposal to host the All Star game again. We’re under consideration for 2014. We’re hopeful, but the NBA has not made any determinations. There are a number of cities bidding for the same thing. We’re working with the City and the Sports Authority to try to get the game.”

Like I said, I wish them luck. Far as I can tell from my archives, the only thing I wrote about that previous All Star Game was my usual harrumph regarding economic projections for it. I look forward to getting to do that again. Hair Balls has more.

TCU to the Big East

Can’t say that this was unexpected, given that TCU changes conferences more often than some people change clothes.

TCU, located “Where the West Begins,” is headed east. To the Big East Conference, to be exact.

The school announced Monday that it has accepted an invitation to join the conference in 2012. All sports will participate in the Big East.

TCU has competed in the Mountain West Conference since 2005 and will remain in the league for the 2011-2012 school year.

Rumors of the move have been circulating since September, but TCU wasn’t officially asked to join the conference until Sunday evening.

Father John Jenkins, the Notre Dame chancellor and chairman of the Big East Executive Committee, made the offer to TCU Athletic Director Chris Del Conte by phone.

TCU’s Board of Trustees, knowing the offer was coming, held an emergency meeting Monday morning and voted unanimously to accept.

Since the breakup of the Southwest Conference in 1995, TCU has been in the WAC, C-USA, and the Mountain West. You have to figure that if the Big XII comes calling some day, they’ll be receptive to yet another move.

Is it a good move for them? Well, it means that they’ll have a guaranteed shot at a BCS bowl every year, at least until 2014 when the current agreement expires. Beyond that, it’s a good question.

[U]sually when a school makes a major change like the one TCU is announcing today, it can at least try to sell the idea that it’s good for all the sports at the school.

This one seems strictly designed for men’s football.

We know that TCU is no powerhouse in men’s basketball. It’s going to play in the Big East with UConn and Louisville and Syracuse and Pitt and the rest of those big boys? Good luck.

As for women’s sports and the smaller men’s sports, the travel through the Big East would seem to be prohibitive although there was obviously some very difficult travel in the Mountain West as well.

But I think without question this is being done strictly for the opportunity to pursue an automatic BCS bid…which hasn’t really been a problem for TCU lately, anyway. The Frogs are going to the Rose Bowl this year. Outside of playing in the BCS national championship game, the stage doesn’t get any bigger than the Rose Bowl.

I realize that Frogs fans believe their team is just as deserving of that national championship game as Oregon or Auburn. I get that. But this move doesn’t get rid of the possibility of being left out of the title game in the future.

If everything was the same with Oregon and Auburn this season and TCU was just finishing an unbeaten run against the likes of Rutgers and Cincinnati and their new Big East foes, wouldn’t the Frogs still be, in all likelihood, No. 3 behind the Ducks and Tigers?

I would think so.

For what it’s worth, the highest BCS ranking of any Big East school is West Virginia at #24, though it’s Connecticut that has the edge in getting to a BCS bowl this year. I have to figure that if there were a real college football playoff, this move would be less likely to happen, as TCU would have its shot at a championship and wouldn’t have to worry about being passed over by forces beyond its control.

I dunno, I mostly think of the Big East as a basketball conference. As far as that goes, it won’t be pretty for the newcomers.

TCU spent the past five seasons as an also-ran in the Mountain West; its best finish was seventh (at 6-10) in 2007-08. Its highest rating in’s adjusted efficiency rankings during that stretch was 124th, in ’08-09. Because the efficiency rankings are best way evaluate teams from different leagues on the same plane, we can use them to project where TCU would’ve ranked in the Big East from 2006-10:

TCU Efficiency Ranking: 178
Big East Teams with lower efficiency rankings: 0 (Closest: No. 172 DePaul, No. 156 Rutgers)

TCU Efficiency Ranking: 124
Big East Teams with lower efficiency rankings: 3 (No. 135 South Florida, No. 141 Rutgers, No. 198 DePaul)

TCU Efficiency Ranking: 169
Big East Teams with lower efficiency rankings: 0 (Closest: No. 164 Rutgers, No. 126 St. John’s)

TCU Efficiency Ranking: 152
Big East Teams with lower efficiency rankings: 1 (No. 166 Rutgers)

TCU Efficiency Ranking: 229
Big East Teams with lower efficiency rankings: 0 (Closest: No. 162 South Florida, No. 108 St. John’s)

Those numbers indicate that the Big East is adding a team that would have finished 17th, 14th, 17th, 16th and 17th, respectively, in the league over the past five years. TCU’s ’09-10 team was, improbably, worse than the DePaul squad that went 1-17 in conference play that season. The Horned Frogs give the league a new TV market (Dallas-Fort Worth, which is the nation’s fifth-largest), but they will not make for quality hoops TV.

And that’s before you consider scheduling and tournament issues. Obviously, the Frogs can strive to improve their hoops program – they’ve done all right with football, after all – but it could be ugly for awhile. Anyway, congrats to TCU for finally getting what they want, at least until something better comes along.

68 is a difficult number to work with

The poobahs of the NCAA are gathering this week to discuss the nuts and bolts of the new 68-team basketball tournament, and they’ve got a challenge on their hands.

After meeting in May, the [10-member Men’s Basketball] committee asked NCAA schools to offer opinions on the recommended expansion to four opening-round games, one in each region. Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith confirmed there were three options on the list — making the eight lowest seeds in the tourney play in the opening round, making the last eight at-large teams in the field play or a combination of the two.

The only thing clear-cut heading into the meetings, which start Sunday, is this: There is a wide split between what the big schools and small schools want.

Teams playing in conferences such as the Southland, like [UTSA athletic director Lynn] Hickey’s Roadrunners, or the Southwestern Athletic, a league made up primarily of historically black colleges and universities, don’t want to be pigeonholed into playing an extra tourney game each year. Power-conference schools, which usually take most of the 34 at-large bids, think they should avoid the opening-round games, too.

So Smith and Hickey must figure out how to play both advocate and arbiter.

“My responsibility is to the groups I represent, so I need to be very well informed about what they want,” Hickey said.

I’d say the fairest solution is the combo plan – make the four bottom seeds, and the four last-in at large teams do the play-in games. The main problem with that, of course, is that it slots those at large teams in as 16 seeds, where they would otherwise likely have been no worse than 12 or 13. But it’s also not fair to essentially consign eight conferences to the minor leagues and deny them a guaranteed opportunity to play a team they’d never get to play otherwise. This to me is another argument in favor of the 96-team tournament plan that seemed to be on track earlier this year. An opening round with four games, much like the current play-in game, doesn’t feel like it’s part of the tournament as a whole. It feels more like an afterthought, or an extra obstacle to playing in the main event. There’s little drama, no chance of a Cinderella story, and likely very little audience for it. By contrast, an opening round with 64 teams (as would be the case with NCAA-96) or 32 teams (as you’d have in an 80-team tournament) feels like the real thing, with a diverse set of teams and much higher stakes as some of those teams will have aspirations for going deeper into the tournament. I understand the NCAA’s desire to take a baby step on tournament expansion, but now that they have done so and seen that what they got out of it was a baby improvement but a grown-up problem, I hope they’ll move up their schedule for considering when to take the logical next step.

The Suns take a stand

I’m very glad to see this.

In an extremely bold move, the Phoenix Suns as an organization made a strong political statement in opposition to the recent Arizona immigration bill.

Discussions on taking action began last week after the bill passed, with an idea that came from Robert Sarver, Managing Partner of the Phoenix Suns.

According to Steve Kerr, the team discussed it internally before going to the league for approval to both wear the ‘Los Suns’ jerseys, but also to come out publicly in this way.

Kerr said both the NBA and the San Antonio Spurs were fully supportive of the Suns move.

Ultimately, the decision was left up to the players, but in a locker room led by Steve Nash, it is no surprise how that turned out.

“I think the law is very misguided. I think it is unfortunately to the detriment to our society and our civil liberties and I think it is very important for us to stand up for things we believe in,” Nash said of the bill. “I think the law obviously can target opportunities for racial profiling. Things we don’t want to see and don’t need to see in 2010.”

Sarver’s statement is here; judging from the comments – this is posted on a Suns fan blog – it was clearly a gutsy thing for him to do. Surely now the path is clear for Commissioner David Stern to take a stand. More here and here.

UPDATE: More from Fanhouse.

Not just MLB

Basketball writer Bethlehem Shoals argues provocatively that NBA Commissioner David Stern should take a stand on the Arizona “Show me your papers” law.

Enter the NBA’s éne-bé-a campaign, launched at the beginning of this season in attempt to capitalize on and expand all manner of “Hispanic” interest in the league. There were web pages in English and Spanish; promotion of players and just plain promotion of the sport in certain neighborhoods; and most controversially, “Latino Power Rankings” that made absolutely no sense.

What exactly “Hispanic” meant was up for grabs, since they brought in both English-speaking Melo and non-Latino Rudy Fernandez. The distinction between Afro-Latin players like Nene and the Italian-by-descent Manu Ginobili has always been sticky, and rarely so — sorry for this one — black and white. But as tone deaf as the éne-bé-a effort may have been, it showed the NBA — not the Players Association — had an undeniable interest in this demographic, just like the MLB union.

Here’s the massive irony, one bigger than Nash the hostage do-gooder, or LeBron and burden of greatness. The Players Association just isn’t going to touch this issue because of another racial element in this equation. The league doesn’t have enough Latinos to make a union statement look like an act of solidarity. It’s not truly diverse enough to appeal to notions of universal justice. This league is still seen as African-American, and from a public relations perspective, nothing’s scarier than a bunch of black men who stake out a strong political position.


David Stern is notorious for being a ruthless capitalist who, on his own time, lends his support to Democratic causes to a degree that would put Steve Nash to shame. For once, the two seem to match up well. Strange as it is for the league to show more political gumption than its players, in this case, Stern’s the one whose hand is being forced. And, you’ve got to figure, he’d be more than a little happy to take the bait.

The NBA may not be heavily Latino, but it does have a lot of foreign-born players in it, some of whom may have a few thoughts about this issue. Maybe if someone like Yao Ming said he thought this law wasn’t such a hot idea, it might get some people’s attention. I don’t mean to single him out, I just think there would be value in reminding people that “immigrant” does not necessarily mean “Latino”. Even in Arizona, as the Canadian-born Steve Nash could attest. But I agree that Stern is more likely to speak up, and may be a better fit for it anyway. And regardless of that, more sports leagues and teams should be a part of this conversation as well.

Don’t play ball with the state of Arizona

What Kevin Blackistone says.

About 10 years ago, the NCAA made one of its most bold and upright decisions: it refused to allow any more of its postseason tournaments, like March Madness, to be held in South Carolina until the state stopped flying the banner of the long defeated racist Confederacy in the face of 21st century societal progress.

NCAA spokesman Bob Williams explained at the time that the organization wanted to “ensure that our championships are free from any type of symbolism that might make someone uncomfortable based on their race.”

As such, it is time for the governors of college athletics to expand their postseason ban. Arizona should be next, immediately.

The University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., should lose the BCS National Championship Game scheduled to be played there next January unless Arizona legislators rescind soon and for good an anti-immigration law they just passed that gives police the right to stop and search for documents anyone police suspect of being in the country illegally.

After all, that law means racially profiling people who appear to be Hispanic, no matter what Arizona lawmakers claim. That means making an entire group of people, as the NCAA spokesman said, uncomfortable in Arizona because of their heritage. That’s unquestionably wrong.

In my previous post, I mentioned former Arizona Governor (and world class bozo) Evan Mecham, whose racist antics cost his state a Super Bowl, among other things. Evan Weiner recalls that, and notes that there are other sporting events that may – ought to – be yanked until the Arizona Lege makes amends.

The Glendale, Arizona stadium, that is the home to the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals and hosted the 2008 Super Bowl, is one of the 18 cities that has been proposed for use by USA Bid Committee in an effort to win the FIFA World Cup in either 2018 or 2022.

Houston is on that list as well, with the Dynamo ownership being on the USA Bid Committee. Note to local activists: Why not put a little pressure on the Dynamo to raise a stink about this? If there’s going to be any real blowback against Arizona for this bit foolishness, it’s got to come from the grassroots, and this is a good entry point. Here’s their contact info:


1001 Avenida de las Americas, Ste. 200
Houston, TX 77010

Phone: (713) 276-7500
Fax: (713) 276-7572


Let them know, politely, that you don’t want any Arizona city included on the USA Bid Committee’s list for the FIFA World Cup, and that you would like the Dynamo to take a stand on the matter. If you’re a Dynamo fan, especially if you’re a season ticket holder, make sure they know that as well. They have an interest in keeping their fans happy. Obviously, the Dynamo haven’t done anything wrong, but this is how stuff gets done.

And Astros fans can get involved, too.

Major League Baseball is set to hold its 2011 All-Star Game in Phoenix, where the Diamondbacks play, and activists are calling on MLB to pull the game out of Arizona in protest of the new law. The idea is being espoused by activist bloggers at Daily Kos and, hosting a petition on its website to move the All-Star Game out of Arizona.

Some are calling on baseball fans to boycott at least one MLB game. A Facebook group is specifically calling on fans to boycott the Arizona Diamondbacks’ May 7 home game against the Milwaukee Brewers. The group wants the D-Backs to state a position on the new law.

There’s hashtag, #AZMLBB, being used on Twitter for discussion of this movement.

Unfortunately, the Astros do not display Contact information as prominently as the Dynamo do, so you may have to figure out the best way to let them know how you feel yourselves. They’re on Facebook here. As with the Dynamo, they too will want to keep their fans happy. Stace has more.

NCAA tournament expands

To 68 teams, which is a lot less than 96.

The three-team expansion is much more modest than 80- and 96-team proposals the NCAA outlined just a few weeks ago at the Final Four. The move coincides with the new, 14-year broadcasting arrangement that interim NCAA president Jim Isch said will provide an average of $740 million to its conferences and schools each year.

So there will be four play-in games instead of one. That’s great news for the last three bubble teams, but I think it sucks for the auto-bid conferences that always get 15- and 16-seeds, because now instead of getting to play a Duke or Kentucky or Kansas, they’ll be stuck with a Vermont or a Prairie View. Which is to say, for half of them their Tournament experience won’t be any different than a regular season game for them, except it’ll be on TV. I suppose no one really cares about that, though.

The men’s tournament last expanded in 2001, adding one team to the 64-team field that was set in 1985. Talk of tweaking March Madness again generated a lot of chatter from fans worried the competition would be watered down and those who feared the additional bracket guesswork needed to predict a winner.

Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, who favored expansion, said the proposal was “better than nothing.”

“As a coach I’d like to see more people get in but 68 is a good step and the easiest way, to have the least amount of turmoil,” Boeheim said. “There’s really no way to do a little bit bigger expansion. You can’t expand by eight, 10. There’s no way to figure that out. This is the easiest way and hopefully down the road there will be a bigger expansion.”

I seem to recall they went from 48 to 64 all at once, so I don’t think the 96 team proposal would have caused that much actual turmoil, outside of the usual wailing and gnashing of teeth that these things always bring about. Be that as it may, there’s no reason future expansion can’t or won’t happen, and once people are used to the idea of 68 teams, it may be easier to take the step to 80. We’ll see how it goes.

NCAA 96 on the way

Let the wailing and gnashing of teeth from the reactionaries begin.

The NCAA appears to be on the verge of expanding the men’s basketball tournament to 96 teams.

Insisting that nothing has been decided, NCAA vice president Greg Shaheen nonetheless outlined a detailed plan Thursday that included the logistics and timing of a 96-team tournament, how much time off the players would have and even revenue distribution.

Shaheen said the NCAA looked at keeping the current 65-team field and expanding to 68 or 80 teams, but decided the bigger bracket was the best fit logistically and financially.

It would be played during the same time frame as the current three-week tournament and include first-round byes for 32 teams.

Although the plan still needs to be approved by the Division I Men’s Basketball Committee and passed on to the board of directors, most of the details already seem to be in place.

“We needed to make sure that we did everything possible to use the due diligence window to understand ourselves and understand what the future would hold,” Shaheen said. “So that’s what we’re doing, that’s the process we’re undertaking. We’ve been handling it every day for the last several months and years, as we studied for the benefit of the organization.”

As you know, I favor this idea, and I think that the doomsayers are largely full of it. Sure, this is about money as much as anything else – what isn’t these days? – but it’s also sensible and is in my opinion more likely to intensify interest in the tournament than dilute it. I also think you’ll see some more competitive games in the first round for the top seeds.

“I don’t see any watering down at all,” Minnesota coach Tubby Smith said. “I think there are a number of teams playing in the NIT that could have gotten in, and I think there will be more people and more excitement with more teams in.”

What you’ll get with NCAA96 is the 34 or so teams that everyone agrees are Tournament-worthy, plus the automatic qualifiers from the little conferences that seldom win games – bear in mind, of course, that the Horizon League, home of Butler, used to be one of those conferences – plus the teams that would have made it to the NIT, most of are better than many of the teams in the second group. Putting it another way, the 23 and 24 seeds of tomorrow are the 15 and 16 seeds of today. Whatever seeds survive to play the #1s will almost certainly be a tougher matchup for them than the 16 seeds are now.

If there’s a big sporting event in town…

Then it must be time for a story about the economic impact of that big sporting event.

For a city that has hosted the Super Bowl, the World Series and NBA and MLB All-Star games in the past decade, the Final Four represents one more opportunity for a national showcase — and potential economic windfall.

Greg Ortale, president and CEO of the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau, expects the area to see some $38 million in extra income this weekend thanks to what amounts to home games for the third-seeded Bears and their green-and-gold-clad fans.

“That’s very good, and we’re definitely pleased with that,” he said.

The real jackpot, however, awaits next spring. Ortale, who’ll be at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis for this year’s Final Four, anticipates 75,000-plus passing through the Houston turnstiles in 2011. Houston will again host the Final Four in 2016.

“We should at least double what we did in 2008 next year,” Ortale said.

Houston and Reliant Stadium last hosted an NCAA regional in 2008, employing the “mid-field” court configuration and elevated seating systems that now serve as the model for all Final Fours. The attendance then was similar to Friday’s.

“We were north of 38 (million dollars),” Ortale said. “We verified it through a third party, and we think it’s a conservative estimate. We prefer to err on the side of being conservative instead of overstating.”

At least this story addressed the question of what the impact was of a past event, rather than just giving us another projection about a current or future event. Given the financial situation we’re in, it would have been nice to know what effect on the city’s sales tax revenue is to be expected. Was there a noticeable bump in the amount of sales tax revenue Houston received from the state in 2008? If so, given that sales tax revenues have been depressed for months, do we expect the check for March of this year to show a similar or even greater increase? Seems to me that’s what really matters.

Expanding the NCAA Tournament may still happen

Put me down as being in favor of this.

The NCAA started talking about [expanding the men’s basketball tournament] in the fall, along with numerous topics in all 88 championships, and hasn’t gotten past the discussion stage yet.

“It’s still a work in progress, so there’s no further developments or status from (the fall),” NCAA senior vice president Greg Shaheen said. “It’s just a series of ongoing dialogues with interested parties, but nothing definitive to even analyze at this point.”


Whether it’s increasing the tournament field to 68 (four play-in games instead of one) or enveloping the NIT to make it a 96-team field, more teams are bound to add up to more excitement, the thinking goes.

“If you’re talking about adding more teams, I don’t think the games would change a bit,” Texas Tech coach Pat Knight said. “They’d be just as competitive and I think you’d see more Cinderella stories, more teams people didn’t think had a chance and there’d be a lot more upsets if the NCAA expanded the tournament.”


In the current format, 18 percent of the teams get into the NCAA tournament and another 9 percent receive invites to the NIT. That’s far below the number of teams that get postseason berths in football: 68 of 120 teams, or 56 percent. By comparison, 53 percent of NHL and NBA teams get into the playoffs, 37 percent in the NFL and 26 percent in baseball.

I made the relative percentages argument back in 2007 when I first heard about this. As I said back then, expanding to 96 teams would only require adding two more days to the event. The top eight seeds in each region get a bye, and the remaining teams play on Tuesday and Wednesday to reduce the field to 64; from there it’s business as usual. I’m old enough to remember when the tourney had only 48 teams participating, so to me at least there’s nothing special about having 64 teams – excuse me; sixty-five – as we do now. Besides the NIT, which would be obsoleted by this expansion, there are two other postseason tournaments now in existence, so it seems to me there’s plenty of demand for a bigger product. I think the argument in favor of a 96-team event is strong, but we all know what it will come down to.

The NCAA has an 11-year, $6 billion contract with CBS, but can opt out after this season. It has already consulted with several networks and isn’t likely to pull the trigger on expansion without a green light from TV. CBS has a strong interest in keeping the tournament and other networks are reportedly putting together bids.

“I’m sure what’s best for TV is what’s probably going to happen and we all have to understand that,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “We wouldn’t have the following we do in college basketball if it weren’t for TV. As coaches and players, we’re just playing games, and we’ll be fine with whatever it is.”

That’s about the size of it. For an opposing view, see John Royal.


I’ll say this much in defense of Yates basketball coach Greg Wise: I don’t think it’s any less humiliating for the opponent that you’ve thoroughly dominated if you tell your team to just stop playing like they care about the game. I don’t think it’s any better for your own kids, either. As long as his statement about having 15 kids on the team that all play means that the last five or six guys on the bench played the bulk of the second-half minutes, then I don’t think he committed an unforgivable sin. Of course, his justifications today sound an awful lot like that girls’ team coach from a year ago, and that didn’t end well from his perspective. So maybe he could have found a way to dial it back without any further loss of dignity for those involved.

I am wondering, though, what the “correct” action for the coach of the dominant team is supposed to be here. In baseball, where there often is a mercy rule even at the college level, all that’s really expected is that you stop being aggressive on the basepaths. In football, you run the ball and play the prevent defense. I would have advised coach Wise to cut it out with the backcourt press already. Yes, I know, you want your scrubs to get some real game experience, but it should have been clear early on that it was going to be One Of Those Games, and you could have gotten them that action before halftime, then played a non-press defense in the second half. You can’t tell them not to shoot the ball – no threes, obviously – and while you can have them back off a bit on defense in the front court, you don’t want to cross the line into playing apathetically, which as I said I’d consider to be the bigger show of disrespect. So we’ve got 1) Play the scrubs; 2) No three point shots; 3) Call off the press. Anything else he could or should have done?

Here’s one coach’s perspective:

Yates’ victory was a hot topic of conversation Wednesday at Strake Jesuit High School where the Crusaders accepted the “Honoring the Game” award from the Positive Coaching Alliance.

PCA’s lead trainer Harry Colon spoke with athletes, coaches and parents at Strake Jesuit about stressing sportsmanship through athletics.

“Strake Jesuit won this award because the players and coaches here honor the game,” Colon said. “They stress the importance of sportsmanship, respecting each other, the game and their opponents in all sports.”

Colon, a former football player at Washington High School and a current coach at Reagan, said he would stress to the Lee players that there are more games to be played.

“All you can do is make this a teachable situation,” he said. “Those kids need to learn from this and strive to get better.

Yates is a very good team, and they are going to score a lot of points and win a lot of games. As long as they are respectful to their opponents, they can win with a lot of grace.”

Yeah, but what specifically they have to do to be respectful is the point of contention. Play as hard as they can all they way through, or ease up in some not-fully-defined fashion? I’m pretty sure there is no consensus on this, which is why there’s so much discussion of it. Sam Khan and Jenny Dial have more.

Will the Rockets suck this year?

Maybe not, say the statheads at the Wages of Wins Journal, who note that seven of the eight top players for this year’s team all measure above average by their Wins Produced metric. By that metric, the Rockets are already about a .500 team, and that’s without considering the possibility that some of these guys may kick it up in their expanded roles. If nothing else, it’ll be an interesting test for their system, and a reed on which to hang one’s hopes for the upcoming season.

Lawsuit over NCAA licensing practices

Came across this the other day and have been meaning to give it a mention.

Lawyers for the former U.C.L.A. basketball star Ed O’Bannon filed a class-action lawsuit against the N.C.A.A. on Tuesday, claiming former athletes should be compensated for the use of their images and likenesses in television advertisements, video games and apparel.

The lawsuit, which did not include a dollar amount sought, will bring into focus how the N.C.A.A. handles player images, especially after players leave college and are no longer bound by N.C.A.A. rules, and its vast licensing deals, which are estimated at about $4 billion. None of that money goes to the former players whose images, jersey numbers and likenesses are used.

“We really couldn’t believe that these compensation practices still existed in any kind of industry,” said Jon T. King, a partner at Hausfeld, a Washington-based law firm that is representing O’Bannon. “We do antitrust cases in all sorts of industries, and when we learned about this disparity, it was literally shocking to us.”


Hausfeld said that the lawsuit would end up seeking a “huge sum of money” because the N.C.A.A. and its licensing partners are booming businesses that are only getting bigger. For the N.C.A.A., the crux of the issue will be the “08-3a form” that student-athletes sign, giving up their names, likenesses and rights to receive compensation from the N.C.A.A. and its third-party partners.

“It’s a one-year contract that ends when the student is no longer a student-athlete,” Hausfeld said. Two former college football players have previously filed suits over the use of athletes’ images in video games.

Andrew Zimbalist, an economist specializing in sports at Smith College, predicted that the case would give the N.C.A.A. an opportunity to re-evaluate its views on amateurism.

“I think this is a fairly clear-cut ethical issue here that the N.C.A.A. is asking for trouble on,” Zimbalist said. “They need to retreat and reassess what they’re doing. As they do that, they have to look at the phony and false way they try to delineate what amateurism is.”

He added: “This is a wedge issue here. It’s a foot in the door to open all sort of question about the hybrid model of the N.C.A.A.”

Boy howdy does this have the potential to wreak havoc on collegiate sports. Long overdue and well-deserved havoc, mind you. Keep an eye on this one. Thanks to Chad for the link.

Mutombo says his career is over

Aw, rats.

Perhaps the biggest highlight of Dikembe Mutombo’s career came during the 1994 playoffs when he was lying on the floor holding a ball in the air in joy after leading the Denver Nuggets to a titanic playoff upset of top-seeded Seattle.

Mutombo found himself lying on the floor again Tuesday night, this time pondering the end of his career.

Mutombo, 42, was carried away on a stretcher in the first quarter of the Rockets’ 107-103 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers in Game 2 with what he said was a career-ending left knee injury.

“It’s over for me for my career,” said Mutombo, who will be examined by team doctors when the Rockets return to Houston today.

An eight-time NBA All-Star and four-time Defensive Player of the Year, Mutombo is one of the game’s great humanitarians and had a distinguished 18-year career with Denver, Atlanta, Philadelphia, New Jersey, New York and Houston.

“It’s not something that I planned,” he said. “All I can say right now is I had a wonderful run of 18 years and stayed injury-free. I thank God a lot for all this blessing and putting such great people around me for all of my career in the NBA. I’m just happy.

“I have to go out with my head high and not be disappointed and have no regrets. I have so many things I can be so thankful for over my 18 years.”

Tiffany was a student at Georgetown while Mutombo played there for John Thompson. She says he was as popular and beloved then as he is here and as he has been at every stop in his NBA career. Thanks for all you’ve done, Deke. We’ll all miss having you as part of the Rockets. ClutchFans has more.

Women’s Professional Soccer

Has it really been over five years since the Women’s United Soccer Association (WUSA) closed up shop? Time does fly. In any event, if you’re a fan of women’s soccer and have been waiting for another professional league to come along, your wait is over.

[T]he first Women’s Professional Soccer season [launched] Sunday against the backdrop of a troubling recession that could yet be the precursor to another Great Depression.

With infinitely better timing, the WPS’ predecessor, the Women’s United Soccer Association, lasted barely three seasons before closing. And basketball’s WNBA, the reference standard of the genre with its dozen years of history, has seemingly plateaued despite optimism about its future. The demise of the once-dynastic Comets last summer for lack of ownership sounded an ominous warning shot.

Here’s the WPS website. They didn’t take my advice about a regional approach, as you can see, but hey, what do I know? Somewhat amusingly, or perhaps ominously, the third Google result for “women’s professional soccer” is this dead WUSA page. Make of that what you will.

A crucial question remains to be answered, and quickly: Will viewers embrace the games on television, shown exclusively by Fox’s soccer channel? And, most important for the long term, will the young women who aspire to play in the WPS congregate around TVs themselves to marvel at the skills of the brilliant Brazilian Marta — just as adolescent boys do when Kobe and Lebron light up the flat screen?

Plenty of girls play soccer or basketball or both, many at an intensely competitive level, but far fewer are inclined to spectate. Therein lies a huge rub, no doubt a crucial reason why the female pros haven’t secured a niche for themselves as must-see TV, arguably a foundation for assuring their leagues of true viability. Boys aspiring to become athletes are almost always fans first — and remain so after they quit playing. Women? Far less of a given, to be sure.

“I struggle to get my players to watch soccer on TV, or even to attend (Dynamo) games at the same stadium where we play,” admits [University of Houston women’s soccer coach Susan] Bush. “I definitely encourage them to and want them to, but … as little girls, it’s just not something that we did.”

Kristine Lilly, who will play for her hometown Boston Breakers in WPS and, at 38, is the most tenured national team player — male or female — in soccer history, calls the observation Bush makes a “double-edged sword.

“In the past, young girls haven’t had many opportunities to watch women (compete in sports) on television,” Lilly said. “Now they have options, and I really think it’s going to change the culture. It’s very important for young girls to see that they can play at a professional level, too.”

I’d been wondering about that lately, and I’m glad to see the article address that question. For my part, I’ve been trying to get Olivia to watch sports with me, but I haven’t had much luck so far. She’s shown no interest in televised sports, and while she’ll attend live events with me, the games themselves don’t hold her interest for long. Of course, that’s largely a function of her age and attention span, at least for now. Ask me again in a few years and we’ll see if I’ve succeeded.

Planning the workaround

While one may feel reasonably optimistic about the chances of a legislative override to Governor Perry’s decision to reject stimulus funds for unemployment insurance, it never hurts to try to grease the skids a little.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee said she would ask Vice President Joe Biden, who chairs a task force on the use of stimulus funds, to allow Texas to receive the money even if the state enacts provisions to automatically end these additional benefits after two years. Current federal rules forbid such a “hard-sunset” provision.

Making the changes temporary would be politically beneficial in getting them passed, said Democratic state Sen. Rodney Ellis, but he believes the Legislature should eventually make them permanent.

Perry said accepting the stimulus money would increase costs on small businesses and would come with too many federal strings. The state would have to provide unemployment payments to certain part-time workers and to a spouse who stayed home to care for children while the other spouse worked, for example.

Ellis said he would work with colleagues to pass a resolution accepting the federal funds, make necessary additions to the state’s unemployment insurance system and override a presumed Perry veto.

Jackson Lee and Ellis spoke harshly of Perry’s decision.

“We find ourselves in a difficult situation, because the governor of the state of Texas has decided that roads are more important than people,” Jackson Lee said, noting that Perry had accepted stimulus funds for infrastructure projects.

Yo, Kay Bailey! See how easy that was? And Jackson Lee didn’t even mention toll roads. You gonna voice an actual opinion on this, or are you just going to let Rick Perry continue to dictate the terms of the debate? The Lege is taking action. What are you doing?

It is true, as Clay Robison points out, that KBH voted against the stimulus package, as did nearly every other Republican in DC. But so what? Perry campaigned against it in his leadership role with the Republican Governors Association. That hasn’t stopped him from grabbing over 95% of the funds with both hands. It would be child’s play for KBH to say that she took her stand against the stimulus, but now that it’s law she wants to make sure Texas gets everything it has owed to it. Hell, Ron Paul does this, and if you listen to him explain his actions it almost makes sense. This is not rocket science.

Finally, how precious is it that the Chron editorial board says “We don’t know” if Perry’s actions here “[have] something to do with the politics of the 2010 governor’s election”? Yeah, and I don’t know if John Calipari’s complaints about Memphis not getting a #1 seed have anything to do with the politics of player motivation. Must be hard to type those editorials while clutching one’s pearls, that’s all I can say.