Saturday, June 26, 2010

Big Sports Markets Thrive

BY SCOTT MORGANROTH

During the past 12 months, the network executives of FOX, NBC ABC and CBS had to be gleaming.

When was the last time the top three television markets won major championships to compliment a feel good story? Never! Read the rest of this blog and you'll see the "feel good story of the century."

In November, FOX hit a home run with two historic franchises as the New York Yankees defeated the Philadelphia Phillies. The Yankees won their 27 championship and opened up their new stadium the same way they opened up their old one.

The No.1 media market in the country prevented the Phillies from repeating as World Champions.

The No.2 media market in the country, Los Angeles, won its second straight NBA title and earned revenge over the Boston Celtics, which defeated the Lakers two years ago. ABC had the opportunity to see superstar Kobe Bryant earn his fifth championship and he matched Lakers legend Magic Johnson.

ABC had a dream scenario as this series went seven games as the Lakers emerged with its 16 championship in franchise history, trailing the Celtics (17) by one for the most in NBA history.

I'll bet that ABC never thought it would see the Lakers and Celtics meet for the second time in three years since the Celtics had to defeat the Miami Heat led by Dwyane Wade, LeBron James' Cleveland Cavaliers and the defending Eastern Conference Champions Orlando Magic, led by Dwight Howard. But ABC got lucky as it had the biggest rivalry in Pro Basketball.

When the Detroit Red Wings and Pittsburgh Penguins met in the Stanley Cup Finals with each team winning a title on the others home ice, the NHL had to be thrilled as the model franchise faced it's upcoming star Sidney Crosby for two seasons in a row.

How could you top this when the Lakers and Celtics were battling on ABC? There had to be a lot of nervous executives at NBC as the Montreal Canadiens and San Jose Sharks were marching their way through the playoffs.

But when the Chicago Black Hawks and Philadelphia Flyers match-up materialized, this six game series was a battle of long championship droughts.

The Flyers won a pair of titles during the "Broad Street Bullies" era in the mid 1970's. Meanwhile, Chicago's last championship occurred in 1961.

The Black Hawks, playing in the No.3 media market in the country turned the city of Philadelphia into a runner-up again by winning the Stanley Cup Championship. An Original Six team ousted an Original 12 squad.

For years, CBS held the rights to NFC games and televised the New Orleans Saints when they were known as the "Aints" and the fans wore bags over their heads at the Louisiana Superdome. The quarterback was Archie Manning.

In February, the New Orleans Saints won their first Super Bowl by defeating the Indianapolis Colts 31-17. The signal caller for the Colts happened to be Archie's son Peyton.

No Big Market teams were needed as the Saints triumph was the "feel good story of the century" after the area was blasted by Hurricane Katrina.

These four Championships saw two franchises enhance their traditions, while two others finally broke through. The Black Hawks broke a drought and Saints won their first.

In the end, each network made out quite well in the past 12 months in all professional sports.

During "March Madness" CBS was fortunate enough to have Duke playing Butler in the NCAA Championship Game.

It's was a good six week period for Indianapolis based teams while even though Philadelphia came up short twice, the City Of Brotherly Love still had a lot to cheer about.

It will be neat to see what transpires during the next 12 months but what I do know is that with these three top media markets, their respective parades produced some very large turnouts downtown as well as excellent television ratings.

There were nothing but winners during the past 12 months in sports.

Scott Morganroth can be reached at scottsports33@aol.com and his blog can be read at www.scottsports33.com.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Inside The Jungle

BY SCOTT MORGANROTH

The last football game I saw was a dandy as the New Orleans Saints defeated the Indianapolis Colts 31-17 in Super Bowl XLIV on February 7, 2010 at Joe Robbie Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida.

On Friday Night, it was nice to see the pigskin flying around again. And it was flying around often as the Orlando Predators defeated the Jacksonville Sharks 70-48 at the Amway Arena in Central Florida.

The last time I saw an Arena Football League (AFL) game was on August 18, 1989 when the Detroit Drive defeated the Pittsburgh Gladiators 39-26 in Arena Bowl III at Joe Louis Arena as 12,046 watched Owner Mike Illitch hoist the AFL Trophy. The Drive won its second of four championships in a six-year period.

At that time, I was very speculative about whether the league could survive with too much scoring. Boy, was I was wrong. With the exception of last year's one season hiatus due to economic regrouping, the league is back in business.

The Predators have a tradition which dates back to 1991, have qualified for the playoffs in 17 straight years, the longest streak in the original AFL, have won seven Division Titles along with two championships in 1998 and 2000.

But here are some things which stood out as I spent June 18 "Inside The Jungle."

*Can't have a better seat than I had in the Press Box than at the 25-yard line.

*When you think of the Predators and the Sharks playing in "An Arena," the match-up which comes to mind is the NHL's Nashville Predators and the San Jose Sharks. The scores are much lower than 70-48. They play on the Frozen Pond, not Artificial Surface.

*A crowd of 14,010 were on hand as Orlando improved its record to 5-5 while Jacksonville dropped to 7-3. The energy and noise levels were incredible and the game was televised on the NFL Network. I even found myself sweating heavily in the press box loading up on soft drinks to keep plenty of fluids inside.

*At halftime, the AFL announced that the Philadelphia Soul which will be owned by former Eagles quarterback Ron Jaworski, will return to the league in 2011. The Kansas City Brigade and the San Jose SaberCats will also be suiting up next year.

*The salary for an AFL game is $400 while three marquee players earn $1,000 per-contest but they also have to make public appearances.

*The fans get to keep the footballs that go into the stands and an average of 4-5 souvenirs at $50 per ball are handed out each night.

*The Michigan connections for the contest between the Predators and Sharks included Josh Bush (Western Michigan) for Orlando who is 5-9, 165 and is a wide receiver and defensive back. Another Predator who is on injured reserve is defensive lineman David Stanton from Michigan State. Former Spartans kicker Paul Edinger has the challenge of kicking into the narrow end zones for the Sharks.

But the league is back and you never know where the next Kurt Warner is going to come from.

One thing is for certain, I was convinced that if you're a football writer, then it's worth the four hour drive from South Florida to Central Florida to see a game especially in a city where there is plenty to do with all of the various theme parks in Disney, Epcot Center, Wet N Wild and Universal Studios.

Since the NFL doesn't have a professional feeder system to compliment college football, this league is exciting to watch and just seeing skill players like quarterbacks, wide receivers, kickers and deep cover positions against potent aerial attacks could be the difference in which teams win future Super Bowls.

I'll be curious to see how much better the crowds get next season at the Amway Center for the Predators, but it just might be worth another trip to the Amway Arena and see one more event before this facility eventually falls victim to the wrecking ball later this year.

I'm sure the Predators will put on a great show at 600 West Amelia Street as they will be the last team to play in this arena which was built for $110 million and opened on January 29, 1989.

Scott Morganroth can be reached at scottsports33@aol.com and his blog can be seen at www.scottsports33.com.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

NCAA Sports Are Corrupt

BY SCOTT MORGANROTH

The USC Sports Scandals centering around former basketball player O.J. Mayo and Heisman Trophy Winner Reggie Bush are just the latest pitfalls as to what's really wrong with major collegiate athletics.

The whole system is completely corrupt!

When it comes to major revenue sports such as football and basketball, it's hard to name a major university which hasn't had problems over the years.

What factor is attributed to all of these probation's that have led to reduction of scholarships, revocation of wins, championship banners removed from the rafters and no participation in future post-season games, statistics not counting in the team's record books, etc.?

Money! Cash! Money! Cash!

Who is taking advantage of who?

To me, the answer is simple.

The university's are making tons of money off the athletes and it appears as though the student falls short on cash because rules prohibit them from accepting part-time jobs to dedicate themselves to work in the classroom and practice time.

There is no question that there is such a high premium placed on winning that there isn't enough time to hold a job. Therefore, athletes turn to boosters and other avenues as a way to put money in their pocket to get buy.

The NCAA has to increase the value of the scholarship and pay the athletes some extra money. It may not solve the problem but it should help take the pressure off.

Yet, being a former college student myself at the University of South Florida, it's permissible for other students to work jobs but not athletes. I had friends that had academic scholarships that worked as well and as long as their grades were high enough, there was no problem.

While the immediate focus is on USC Athletics and what doesn't help matters is the fact that former Coach Pete Carroll returned to the NFL to run the Seattle Seahawks operation perhaps anticipating there would be severe sanctions coming, thus it was tough to turn down the millions he'd get in the pros, I'm going to name a bunch of schools that have crossed the line over the years in both basketball and football.

There is a reason that Rick Pitino's name hangs in the rafters at Rupp Arena. In 1989, he rescued the program from a major recruiting scandal by former Coach Eddie Sutton and led the Kentucky Wildcats to a national championship in 1996. It was the school's first in 18 years.

The reason that Kelvin Sampson is an assistant coach in the NBA is he has the dubious distinction of bringing down the Oklahoma Sooners and the Indiana Hoosiers.

For years, Bobby Knight ran a clean program and won three national championships for Indiana. Now Tom Crean, who was hired on April 1, 2008, must feel like an April fool because of the mess that he inherited with the Hoosiers.

The Michigan Wolverines Basketball scandal centered around booster Ed Martin which led to the firing of Coach Steve Fisher in 1997.

Four eventual pro players, Chris Webber, Louis Bullock, Maurice Taylor and Robert Traylor borrowed a total of $616,000. This scandal cost the Wolverines the 1997 National Invitation Tournament, the 1998 Big Ten Championship, as well as appearances in 1992 and 1993 NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Tournament Final Fours. The program hasn't been the same since. Yet, the players moved on and made their money.

Over the years, the following football programs have faced the wrath of the penalties levied by the NCAA.

Oklahoma, Auburn, Alabama, the Miami Hurricanes, Florida Gators and Michigan State Spartans have had the hammer drop on them.

Nobody in Gainesville is saying anything nice about Charley Pell who caused the Gators aggravation in the late 1970's and early 1980's as Pell was suspected of 107 infractions and was fired three games into the 1984 season. He was replaced by Galen Hall, who won the SEC Championship, only to see that title stripped because of the violations.

Darryl Rogers bailed the Spartans out of some tough times after inheriting a mess left behind from Coach Denny Stolz in the 1970's.

The list of problems goes on and on. Yet, we know the reasons for them. The NCAA has no problem forcing schools to vacate titles, scrap past records, etc.

But lets face the reality, the NCAA profited on all of these scandals. They made money just has baseball did during the steroid era. You can't erase the memories for those who witnessed these moments.

In the NCAA's eyes, the games never happened, therefore, the tapes and videos should be destroyed and never be shown again on ESPN Classic.

Refunds should be granted to those that deserve them, yet we know that would never happen. The Media Guides have become wasted paper.

College coaches have become the highest paid baby sitters.

For every Butch Davis that turns the fortunes around like he did with the Miami Hurricanes, only to see Larry Coker win the national championship, there are the politics of a flawed system which forces these men to consider playing ping pong on whether to stay in college or go to the pros.

Michigan State Basketball Coach Tom Izzo is facing the toughest decision of his life whether to stay employed at $3 million per year until 2016 or double his salary to $6 million working for the Cleveland Cavaliers Owner & Spartans alumnus Dan Gilbert on a 4-5 year contract.

For Izzo, if he makes the jump to the NBA, all he has to do is coach.

Izzo knows that while he's done an outstanding job running a clean program, it takes one major incident to wreck a situation.

Current Gators Basketball Coach Billy Donovan has all of the security he needs but did leave to take the Orlando Magic job, however, he changed his mind to stay in school in 2007.

Izzo must be going through this right now talking to close family and friends.

With the recent football firings this past year, and current conference realignment leading to the emphasis on super conferences, the whole system is flawed.

The NCAA will continue to exploit its players to make profits and the coaches and players are the monkeys in the middle of all the politics.

Before I criticize USC and the tough job Coach Lane Kiffin has in front of him and if he thought working for Oakland Raiders Owner Al Davis was tough, then this challenge is much more difficult therefore, I'm not going to be as hard on the Trojans because over the years there is one logical explanation.

NCAA Sports Are Corrupt!

Scott Morganroth can be reached at scottsports33@aol.com and his blog can be seen at www.scottsports33.com.

New Big 12 Conference

BY SCOTT MORGANROTH

Now that the Big 12 Conference raid is in progress with Colorado headed to the Pac 10 and Nebraska on it's way to the Big 10, will this be the beginning of the Super Conference era while another conference bites the dust?

Once upon a time, there was the Southwestern Conference but there is no more.

It's just a matter of time before Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State rejoin Colorado in the Pac 10. Common sense says that Texas A & M should also wind up in the Pac 10 but this is college football so that doesn't exist in a sport that doesn't have a true playoff system to determine it's national champion. There is discussion that Texas A & M could land in the Southeastern Conference but I doubt that will happen.

There is talk that the Mountain West would like to add Kansas, Kansas State and Iowa State if the Big 12 folds.

But Kansas Basketball Coach Bill Self wants the Jayhawks to remain in the Big 12 in a BCS Conference. I can't blame him for that.

So lets have some fun with this college football realignment and create a new Big 12 Conference.

Which teams will join holdovers Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri, Iowa State and Baylor?

Since the Pac 10 seems to be raiding the State of Texas, the Big 12 needs to do the same to save face.

They need to go after big markets.

Even though the Mean Green of "North Texas" in Denton isn't a household name because they play in the Sun Belt Conference, being in the Fort Worth-Dallas market would be important, plus there would be a good rivalry game with "SMU" which is located in Dallas.

With the Houston Cougars and the UTEP Miners, we have the three biggest cities in the state.

Down the road, the University of Texas, San Antonio, a brand new program that's coached by former Miami Hurricanes Boss Larry Coker, will give the Big 12 a Texas presence that it lost due to this raid.

Coker's Roadrunners team will begin practice in August and their first season is slated for August of 2011. They'll compete as a NCAA Division I FCS Independent and play at the Alamo Dome.

A natural rival for UTEP would be enhanced by adding New Mexico State which is located 45 minutes away from El Paso in Las Cruces. The Big 12 could have a stranglehold on the Southwest by adding the New Mexico Lobos which have always been a great basketball school. The Lobos are coached by Steve Alford, whose training came from Bobby Knight. Self would welcome the Lobos with open arms.

Since the Big 12 is losing Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, there is nothing wrong with going with one of the biggest cities in the state by adding the University of Tulsa Golden Hurricane.

Since all of these Super Conferences are expanding their fan bases and media markets, the Big 12 could dive into Alabama and try to lure UAB and capture the Birmingham market or add another Sun Belt Conference school the Troy Trojans.

Troy is another Alabama university that I could see down the line landing in a major conference and is a sleeper. Year in and year out, Troy is always competing for a Sun Belt Conference title.

It's good to have this many possibilities because at some point, I do see Missouri ultimately landing in the Big Ten. Their academics are a good fit plus the Big Ten needs the St. Louis and Kansas City television markets. Even though the Tigers have been snubbed for now, if the Big Ten expands to 14-16 teams, Missouri and Notre Dame would be a part of their Western Division while Pittsburgh and Rutgers would land in the Eastern Division.

It will be interesting to see how all of this plays out but let the debate begin.

Scott Morganroth can be reached at scottsports33@aol.com and his blog can be seen at www.scottsports33.com.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Tribute To John Wooden

BY SCOTT MORGANROTH

During the past 30 days, I've been very fortunate enough to be associated with two "Golden Treasures" whom ironically passed away after 5 PM local time on the fourth.

My close relationship with Tigers legendary broadcaster Uncle Ernie Harwell (92) has been well documented as he died on May 4 due to Bile Duct Cancer.

On Friday, June 4, UCLA legendary Coach John Wooden (99) passed away because of Natural Causes, just short of his 100 birthday on Oct 14, 2010.

When the news broke of Wooden's death, I went to my sports show case and looked at the 1991-92 UCLA Bruins Media Guide Wooden autographed for me when I went to a game at Pauley Pavilion versus the Georgia Bulldogs on Jan 4, 1992.

I'm quite sure that UCLA defeated Georgia but to tell you the truth, I didn't go there to write a game story and don't remember. Nor do I care to research the result.

I went to this game to see the championship banners that the "Wizard of Westwood" was responsible for bringing to Southern California. More importantly, I wanted to write a story on the man who was named the greatest coach in the history of team sports by The Sporting News in 2009.

For years, my father always admired Wooden and bought his book, The Wizard of Westwood.

My dream came true and I had the opportunity to interview him.

In my 20 minute halftime interview with Wooden, which was the greatest 20 minutes of my professional life, we talked about a lot of things and I never felt rushed at all. Wooden was very polite and a class act! The main subjects included Indiana Coach Bobby Knight and his Pyramid of Success.

Wooden taught me to always me to stand up for what I believe in but just don't be Bull Headed about things. He always emphasized how important it is to Keep Your Word. I took these comments to heart and mind and felt privileged to benefit from his insight and experience.

To this day, my interview with Wooden ranks as one of the best in my 31 year tenure working in Sports Media. The tape of this interview is in a nice safe place at home and I listen to it when I need encouragement. My Wheels Turn every time I read his Pyramid of Success and I often print it out to give to family and friends.

There wouldn't be enough space to document Wooden's legacy. But it took him 17-years to win his first NCAA Title at UCLA. When asked why it took him so long, he'd joke around and say, "I'm a slow learner but when I learn something, I don't forget it."

I'm exactly the same way.

How can we forget that Wooden had a record 88-game winning streak, a career record of 664-162, won seven national championships in a row, 10 titles and accomplished that in a 12 year span? He won 38 consecutive NCAA Tournament Games.

Wooden was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame as a player and a coach. He never earned more than $35,000 a year as a coach and turned down an offer by the Los Angeles Lakers and Owner Jack Kent Cooke that could have paid him 10 times more money than he was earning as a Bruin. This showed that money couldn't buy happiness. Loyal is a word that describes Wooden real well.

But he earned his money with his books, public speaking engagements, etc.

There are so many things to admire about this man and if it weren't for a break down in communication, he could have been the "Mastermind In Minnesota" as the Golden Gophers head coach.

Once Wooden gave UCLA His Word after he thought the Gophers weren't interested in his services, he kept it to coach the Bruins.

As a result, UCLA celebrates John Wooden Day every February 29.

As I watched every single tribute on ESPN, ESPN News the night of his death, it made me proud of the fact that on one night in Los Angeles, I had a chance to sit with this icon at his seat in Westwood that anybody could only dream of meeting.

I've had the pleasure of many great memories with Los Angeles Sports Connections.

For years, former Dodgers Manager Tommy Lasorda and I stayed in touch. Lasorda was my first big interview.

I saw an Olympic Baseball Game at Dodger Stadium in 1984, a couple basketball games at The Forum, The Michigan Wolverines lose to the Washington Huskies in the Rose Bowl, a Lakers game against the Pistons at the Staples Center.

I interviewed legendary Lakers Announcer the late Chick Hearn at the Pontiac Silverdome when they faced the Detroit Pistons in the NBA Finals.

I spoke to former Dodgers Pitcher Jerry Reuss and current announcer Charley Steiner at Dodger Town in Vero Beach, Florida.

I still hope to meet the legendary Vin Scully one day, but my one meeting with Wooden against Georgia still goes down as one of the greatest memories and moments in my life.

When you factor in four Super Bowls, the 1982 Final Four in New Orleans, a pair of Indianapolis 500's, the Final Game at Tiger Stadium in 1999, an interview with Muhammad Ali, if I were to die tomorrow, I'd pass away with no regrets!

While I'm saddened that Harwell and Wooden passed very quickly, at least Wooden can rejoin his wife Nellie. Wooden never suffered at the end as Harwell did.

Yet at the end of the year, they'll go down as the biggest names to die in 2010. But now they'll be reborn in eternal life and hopefully their paths will cross in heaven.

I'm thankful that I've had great memories from both Ernie and Coach Wooden and I've learned a lot from them.

I'm sure that God will welcome these two "Golden Treasures" with open arms. They'll have plenty of stories and he'll learn a lot.

Especially from Wooden's Pyramid of Success!

I just hope that the man upstairs takes a break and doesn't add another "Golden Treasure" on July 4.

Otherwise, ESPN, ESPN News, ESPN Classic and every other media outlet will be busy which will send me into another sleepless night with more misty eyes.

Scott Morganroth can be reached at scottsports33@aol.com and his blog can be seen at www.scottsports33.com.

Schnellenberger, Harwell, Wooden & Hall

BY SCOTT MORGANROTH

During the past 30 days, ironically, on May 4 and June 4, my eyes have been quite misty due to the deaths of longtime Detroit Tigers Hall of Fame Broadcaster Ernie Harwell and legendary UCLA Basketball Coach John Wooden.

Harwell's death was extremely difficult because the last time I saw him was on my 46 birthday on December 29, 2008, just a few days after FAU defeated Central Michigan in the Motor City Bowl in Detroit. Ernie was an uncle to me as well as a colleague, who I met in 1982 in Clearwater, Florida during Spring Training. He passed away at the age of 92 due to Bile Duct Cancer on May 4.

What made the last trip to Detroit so special was being able to see Ernie and watching another dear friend FAU Coach Howard Schnellenberger lead the Owls to their second straight bowl victory. Even though this trip was the last time I saw Harwell, we did exchange e-mails and spoke on several occasions.

During this trip, after the Motor City Bowl, I took the nine hour drive down I-75 South to see the FAU Basketball Team face the Kentucky Wildcats at Rupp Arena on December 27. I had the good fortune of writing a story on legendary Wildcats Coach Joe B. Hall.

I came away from Rupp Arena with the feeling that Kentucky Basketball is in a class by itself with 24,000 passionate coaches screaming, cheering and second guessing every play.

On Friday Night, Wooden passed away due to Natural Causes at the age of 99, just four months shy of his 100 birthday on October 14, 1910.

I feel very privileged that I had the opportunity to meet Coach Wooden on January 4, 1992, when I was in Los Angeles to cover a UCLA game against the Georgia Bulldogs.

I don't remember the score of the game nor do I care to research it. When I entered Pauley Pavilion in Westwood, all I remember were the championship banners in the rafters.

During half-time, as I did with Hall, I interviewed Coach Wooden for 20 minutes.

It was the best 20 minutes of my life!

I learned so much from Coach Wooden and he was kind enough to sign my media guide. I have that interview stored away in a safe place.

Schnellenberger, Harwell, Wooden and Hall are icons.

As fans and media members, we need to appreciate not only the championships and big victories between the lines, but the legacies they leave us outside the lines.

Schnellenberger has his national championship with the Miami Hurricanes and his name will be at the new on campus stadium at FAU.

He is “The Father of FAU Football.”

Harwell is in the Baseball Hall of Fame, while Wooden and Hall are NCAA Men's Basketball Champions with legendary programs who are beloved in their communities.

My advice to FAU football fans this fall is even though there are only four home games at Lockhart Stadium this fall, enjoy Schnellenberger's tenure. When his coaching days are over, his shoes will be as large to fill as Harwell's Wooden's and Hall's.

Scott Morganroth'a blog can be seen at www.scottsports33.com. and he can be reached at scottsports33@aol.com.



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