The Wrigley Dilema

The Chicago Cubs open their 2013 season this week without a deal in place to renovate the historic Wrigley Field. The Chicago Sun-Times first reported that the Cubs and the city were close to agreement on a $500 million renovation of Wrigley Field that includes a $200 million hotel across the street. This comes on the heels of the news that the Mayor of Rosemont was offering land for the Cubs to relocate.

Has there ever been so much resistance to renovating a collapsing building? While Wrigley Field holds a lot of nostalgia for fans, let’s call it what it is, a dump. Opened in 1914, the stadium has long been an iconic part of the Chicago landscape. But the stadium has been dying for a face lift. Crammed spaces, lack of modern amenities and deteriorating infrastructure are nothing new for the building on the corner of Waveland and Sheffield.  Yet, despite these glaring problems, the fight to allow Wrigley to remain the same comes from fans and the city alike. The reasons have ranged from maintaining the integrity of the stadium to the problem of raising the appropriate funds. Now that the Ricketts family has ponied up the funds, they’re still seems to be a hold up.

“The mayor [Rahm Emanuel] and the mayor’s office has been terrific,” Tom Ricketts told “Carmen & Jurko” on ESPN Chicago 1000. “They’ve been really helping us coordinate and helping us push the deal through. We’ve got the alderman [Tom Tunney] who has been very productive; we’ve been working with him to kind of lock down some of the issues and really focus on some of the community-oriented issues. It’s a process and we’re 100 percent committed to it and we want to see it get through.”

Thanks to Chicago politics, a process that should’ve been completed years ago continues to be held up. Anyone with one eye and half a brain should be able to see that Wrigley needs help, no ifs, ands or buts. But what is really comical is that somehow the rooftop owners seem to believe they have some right to be apart of the negotiations.

While the rooftop owners have a contract with the Cubs, the idea that their feelings should be considered at all in the negotiations is laughable. The rooftops have essentially been stealing product for years. While they split some of the profits with the Cubs, the idea that they receive any profit is a joke. Name one other professional sports stadium or arena where those not inside the stadium are able to view the games. I’m pretty sure that you’ll have a hard time finding one. So while the rooftop owners will continue to moan and complain, the Cubs should tell them where to stick it.

Instead of worrying about the product that the Cubs are putting on the field, which is terrible, people are worried about how these renovations will affect them. The big picture is that the renovations are desperately needed and anyone who continues to fight them needs to get lost.

A Tradition Unlike Any Other

It is 7,435 yards of finely cut fairways, pristine greens and beautiful sand and water features. It is home to Amen Corner, Ike’s Pond and the Eisenhower Tree. Nestled away in Georgia is Augusta National Golf Club, home of The Masters. Founded by Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts on former indigo plantation, the course opened for play in 1933 and since 1934 has been home to The Masters. It is one of four major championships in golf and the only major that is played at the same site every year.

For those who enjoy golf, it is hard to find an event that is as enjoyable to watch as The Masters. It’s the first major of the year and it’s a course that has become so recognizable. It has provided hundreds of memorable moments including Tiger Wood’s chip in on the 16th in 2005, Phil Mickelson’s shot on the 13th from the pine needles in 2010, Jack Nicklaus’ 40 foot putt in 1975 and Bubba Watson hitting a massive hook from the trees during a playoff last year. The list is long and will continue to grow as those golfers invited peruse the famed green jacket.

Has a green jacket ever been so desirable? Contrary to belief, all 300 members of Augusta National receive a green blazer with the club’s logo on the left breast. The idea for the green jacket came from Cliff Roberts and it wasn’t until Sam Snead’s victory in 1949 that winners of the Masters received their own. Here is one more instance where the Masters is indeed “A Tradition Unlike Any Other,” the winner must return the jacket to the club house after one year . In most instances, the jacket is only removed from the club’s grounds by a first-time champion. If a person has won it multiple times, then they are awarded their same jacket.

The presentation of the green jacket is a unique event as well. The former winner presents the jacket to the current-year’s winner during a ceremony held on the 18th green. Can you imagine if Dirk Nowitzki had to present the NBA trophy to LeBron James and the Miami Heat last year? What if there had been a rematch? Can you imagine how Dirk would feel? That is what happens at The Masters, because more often than not, the previous year’s winner is part of the weekend festivities at Augusta. But in true golf fashion, the jacket is presented graciously because all professional golfers know how special it is to win a major.

It comes in early April, four days of spectacular golf on one of the most-famous courses in the world. It’s over before you know it. The green jacket and yellow flags are tucked away for a whole year. So whether you’re a fan of golf or not, The Masters is must-see TV for four days.

Everyday I’m Dufnering

 

First it was ‘planking’, then ‘Tebowing’, now ‘Dufnering’. Rarely does a golfer make the Twitter world go crazy unless it involves Tiger Woods love life, but the quiet Jason Dufner has started a trend. Dufner was sitting in a classroom full of children for a charity event when a photographer caught the golfer in an awkward moment. While Dufner is known for being a stoic and quite individual, this moment captured the golfer perfectly.

“Just caught me at a perfect time,” Dufner said Friday from Auburn, Ala. “The funny thing about it is the photo taken represents how I act all the time. It was a sheer moment of ‘Jason Dufner’ by whoever captured the moment for the 30 seconds I checked out.”

Sports anchor David Watkins put it on Twitter and fellow golfer Keegan Bradley saw the photo. Bradley enjoyed the photo so much that he then tweeted it out. From there, it took off. Bradley awoke to thousands of twitter responses from those enjoying the photo including many fellow professional golfers.

Bubba Watson, Luke Donald, Ricky Folwer, Dustin Johnson and Brandt Snedeker were just a few who took photos ‘Dufnering’ and posted them  to Twitter. But no one seems to be enjoying as much as Bradley and Rory McIlroy.

Keegan Bradley, Dustin Johnson, Brandt Snedeker

Bubba Watson

Ricky Fowler

 

“Every time I looked at it, I laughed harder than the first time,” Bradley said from the Houston Open. “Dufner is so funny with some of the things he does. That’s him.”

McIlroy said that he and Bradley have even discussed ‘Dufnering’ at the upcoming Masters.

While the new trend is providing laughs, what is truly refreshing is that the average golf fan gets a chance to see some of the personalities of professional golfers. Golf is a game that teaches those participating to harness ones emotions. It’s a gentleman’s game. Outside of a winning putt, the 16th hole at the Phoenix Open and the Ryder Cup, outsiders rarely get to see professional golfers having fun. Even in a game with as many highs and lows that golf provides, those on tour respect the etiquette of the game and keep the emotions in tact.

This small photo has given fans an opportunity to interact with the weekend warriors if only through social media. It gives a human presences to what sometimes can seem like robots. While ‘Dufnering’ is sure to fade just as ‘Tebowing’ has, one can hope that the golfing fraternity continues to show more personality. You probably won’t see Tiger Woods ‘Dufnering’ anytime soon, but one can hope.

 

 

Hoosiers

It’s been 26 years since the film Hoosiers was released. A low-budget film about a small Indiana high school basketball team and town. Based on the true story of the 1954 Milan High School basketball team, the film has become one of the more-famous sports movies. Recently, the Chicago Tribune held a screening of the movie at the Music Box Theater and the featured a Q&A period with actor Chelcie Ross and the real-life Jimmy Chitwood, Bobby Plump. It was a truly great experience.

The Q&A session explored what has made Hoosiers a movie with staying power. The low-budget film is indeed low budget. Outside of a few actors, one can tell that the actors used are not actors. While Gene Hackman and Dennis Hopper turn in great performances, to call the rest of the acting “basic” would be a kind remark. If you’re looking for Oscar-worthy acting or high-budget special effects, this film isn’t for you. This film is for those who can look past the shortcomings and into what the story provides.

What has given this film its staying power is the narrative of the underdog and redemption. The tale of the small-town basketball team with just a handful of players able to win a state championship. Unlike today’s modern state tournaments, during Milan’s run to the state championship, there were no classes based on school size. A school with just a hundred or so students played schools with enrollment north of 2,000 students. The ability to overcome massive odds to achieve some goal is something all people can relate to. Forget the basketball and one can see parallels to overcoming almost any adversity in life.

The other facet that has given this movie staying power is the tale of redemption. This story line weaves its way through the characters of Coach Norman Dale, played by Gene Hackman, and Shooter, played by Dennis Hopper. Hackman’s character is a coach who once coached a college program before an altercation with an athlete forced him to move on from the game he loved. It wasn’t until he showed up to the small Indiana town before he was given the opportunity to coach again. Coach Dale gives Shooter the opportunity to help coach the team. The local town drunk, who is an embarrassment to his basketball-playing son, also posseses good basketball knowledge. Dale gives Shooter the opportunity to clean up his act by making him apart of something. While this storyline may take a back seat to the aforementioned underdog story line, it is one that people relate to as well.  Everyone in life knows someone who needs a little redemption.

One of the more interesting things to come from the Q&A session was Chelcie Ross admitting that Hackman didn’t really believe that this movie would be as successful as it has become. This movie is one that 26 years later, people still relate to. If you have the opportunity to watch or even re-watch Hoosiers, I highly recommend it.

The Man With A Home

“On to bigger and better things” is often the saying. But bigger doesn’t always mean better. Just ask Tim McKinney.

McKinney is currently the Sports Information Director for Triton College in River Grove, Ill. McKinney’s story begins and continues with Triton College. McKinney was a graduate of Proviso West High School in 1995 and it was here he decided that he wanted to work on the radio calling sports. Tim visited prospective colleges but quickly  learned that it would be a couple of years before it would be his turn on the mic. It wasn’t until a power outage in his father’s home that he learned about Triton College.

Tim was at his father’s house when the power went out and he needed to fix his father’s clock. As Tim fixed the clock radio, the Triton College basketball game came over the airways. Tim listened and decided he would take a tour of the college. Seventeen years later, Tim McKinney is still a large part of the Triton College family.

While studying at Triton College, he traveled with the basketball team as a scorekeeper before earning his degree at Columbia College. He worked part-time as the play-by-play announcer for Triton College and community sports events on WRRG 88.9 FM, as well as freelancing for local newspapers. He was nominated four times in a three-year span by the March of Dimes for his work with the radio station and was recently inducted into the NJCCA Region 4 Hall of Fame.

While McKinney has had opportunities to move on from Triton College, the opportunities haven’t been the right fit. More importantly, you can tell the affinity he has for the college when he speaks about it. He’s found a home at the College and understands that’s just as important as a title or a salary.

The college also allows him to do other work. Tim has recently begun calling high school basketball games for High School Cube the Chicago Sun-Times’ free Internet prep streaming service. What started as a few games here and there turned into 34 broadcasts this season.

McKinney credits his preparation for his success. “Do the research,” he said. “Preparation is the most-important thing because you never know what’s going to happen.”

So while Tim hopes to continue to work with High School Cube, he will continue to work as the Sports Information Director at Triton College. Just visit any Triton College basketball game and you’ll be sure to find Tim working as the PA announcer.

The Northwestern Dilema

Former Northwestern Coach Bill Carmody

Bill Carmody has been fired after 13 seasons as the head basketball coach at Northwestern University. The news came Saturday morning after Northwestern finished the season 13-19 and failed to make the NCAA Tournament once again. The Wildcats have never made an appearance in the in the big dance. To put that into perspective,  the Wildcats are the only school in the power 6 conferences to never receive a bid to participate in the tournament.

“Look at 13 years. Athletic success does matter. It should matter,” Athletic Director Jim Phillips said. “We were here a year ago. One of the key differences was, we were down to one year on Bill’s contract. I didn’t feel an extension was warranted. It would have been really detrimental to the program, to Bill or his staff to try to recruit with less than a year on his contract.”

Carmody did take the Wildcats to four NIT Tournament selections in his 13 years, which should be considered an accomplishment given the state of the program when he took over and the limitations he worked with to build a program.

Before Carmody took over the program in 2000, current Harvard head coach Tommy Amaker interviewed for the position. In the interview, Amaker presented the hiring committee with three transcripts and asked if these students would be admitted to Northwestern. The committee reviewed the transcripts, and while the transcripts were good, the committee decided that the students would not pass the academic standards needed to be allowed into school. Two of the three transcripts belonged to college basketball stars Christian Laettner and Bobby Hurley. Amaker then removed himself from the interview process, saying that he wouldn’t be able to build a winning program if he wasn’t able to get students like this into school.

Northwestern famously does not make any academic concessions for the basketball team. All of those who play for the basketball team, on scholarship or not, must qualify for school just as the rest of the student body does. At some other institutions this may not be a problem, but Northwestern is widely considered one of the best academic institutions in the country and those admitted have some of the best high school transcripts in the country.

Duke University is another school with high academic standards, but do you think that coach Mike Krzyewski has any problem getting who he wants into school?

Another way Northwestern has failed the basketball program is in the facilities. Trying to compete with other Division 1A programs, specifically ones in the Big Ten, is difficult when students see the difference between, say, what Ohio State has to offer and Northwestern has to offer. Not only does Welsh-Ryan Arena pale in comparison to the rest of the Big Ten, but their notoriously poor practice facilities play a role as well.

Add all of these factors up and you get the recipe for a school that has never received an NCAA tournament bid. It’s not even like bringing a knife to a gun fight, it’s like bringing a water pistol.  So while a change at the coaching position has been made, until the university decides to arm the school with even a metaphorical knife, it doesn’t matter who the coach is. The results will be the same.

Catfishes Go Fishing

 

Think that Manti Te’o is the only athlete naive enough to be a “Catfish” victim? Think again. Michael Roth, one of the Los Angles Angles of Anaheim’s highly touted pitching prospects, says that he was also caught up in a fraudulent relationship for nearly a year. Roth was the starting pitcher for South Carolina in each of the last three College World Series championship games. After winning the championship in 2010, Roth traveled to Maine to pitch in a summer league.

It was here that Roth received a text message from an unknown number. The text message asked if Roth was the cute Michael the unknown person had met. Roth spent time texting and speaking on the phone with a woman he had never met, just like Te’o. And just like Te’o, Roth never met the woman claiming to be Hope Porter. Scheduled meetings were always cancelled and even though Roth suspected something wasn’t right after a few weeks, he continued to communicate with the woman for almost a year. Throughout the episode, Roth learned that three of his teammates had also been communicating with the woman.

“As athletes, you’re a target in general,” Roth told the LA Times. “I think it’s part of the problem with a guy being a guy, when you’re younger. You see an attractive girl that tweets at you or texts at you or whatever, and you’re somewhat intrigued.”

While Roth said that he never fell in love or slept on the phone with the woman, he was able to sympathize with Te’o.

The more disturbing aspect of this story is that the phenomenon of “catfishing” someone seems to be more of a normal than isolated occurrence with young adults. It would seem that those participating in the vast opportunities of social media have excepted the risk of falling victim to similar schemes. While I could go on a tangent about how social media is debilitating the way human relationships are truly formed and maintained, the focus should remain on what athletes can do to avoid falling victims to similar situations.

The University of Michigan is one school that has become active in helping to educate young athletes on the trappings of social media. The school’s athletic director hired a hired a pair of consulting firms to monitor how university student-athletes were behaving on social media.

“One of the two consulting groups … utilized a young, attractive woman to go online and contact student-athletes. Did anyone take the bait? Some of them did, and established contact online with her,” athletic director Dave Brandon told the Toledo Blade. “The unnamed woman turned over to athletic department officials posts and comments that were made, and the names of student-athletes. During a presentation to Michigan’s student-athletes regarding social media awareness, the athletic department introduced the woman to the student athletes.”

While the method of education may seem odd, there’s nothing that does more to educate than experience. Te’o’s story may be enough for athletes to consider before engaging in an online relationship, but active education can only help. Universities across the country should follow in Michigan’s steps and take time and effort to address the students. The best solution for most would be to avoid social media, but in a culture that promotes social media avidly, giving athletes the tools to defend themselves seems more probable.