Category: Sports

A shot at a Bucks farm team

The Oshkosh Northwestern — sorry, “USA Today Network–Wisconsin” — has interesting news:

Windward Wealth Strategies, an Oshkosh wealth management firm, is competing against other cities to bring a Milwaukee Bucks D-League farm team to Oshkosh. The group has been in talks with the Bucks for about a year.

If a deal is reached, the basketball club would be the first professional team to play in Oshkosh since the Wisconsin Flyers disbanded in 1987.

To make it happen, Windward would need to build a 3,500-seat stadium for the team, said Greg Pierce, president of Windward Wealth Strategies. The group is scouting locations for the venue with the Greater Oshkosh Economic Development Corporation (GO-EDC) and the city of Oshkosh.

Windward, working with local stakeholders, has responded to a Bucks bid for the project and will submit plans at the end of June. The project would be funded entirely with private money at a cost upward of $4 million, Pierce said.

The chosen city would likely see an economic boost from 24 home games in the dead of winter, when tourism spending drops for many Wisconsin cities, Pierce said.

“Oshkosh has a long history of supporting basketball,” Oshkosh City Manager Mark Rohloff said during a city council meeting Tuesday. “There’s a lot of excitement that’s being generated because of this.”

The push to bring a Bucks farm team to Oshkosh comes as the Bucks franchise is working to keep pace with the growing trend of D-League teams in the NBA.

Since the D-League’s first season in 2001-02, only eight players made the jump from the minors to the big leagues. But last season, 40 percent of pros began their career with a farm club team. Only 11 of 30 NBA teams, including the Bucks, are without a D-League team.

In a statement to USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin, the Bucks said a farm team would be an important addition, but plans for that are still in the early stages. The team hopes to launch a farm team by fall 2017.

“While there is no immediate timetable for an announcement, we are excited to learn more about the cities throughout the region that have expressed an interest in welcoming the Bucks’ D-League affiliate to their community,”  the statement said.

Unlike baseball, NBA D-League teams often drop roots within a short drive of the pro club’s headquarters, though the Bucks also have the option of forming a farm team out-of-state.

The bucks would likely seek out a D-League site somewhere in Wisconsin to build a fan base outside Milwaukee and Madison, Pierce said.

The Bucks have not announced the cities that have expressed interest.

Pierce, though, is confident that his group will beat out plans in other cities.

“My belief is that Oshkosh is the right fit for a D-League team,” he said. “We are better organized, better funded and have a better plan than other communities.”

Readers of a certain age may remember the Continental Basketball Association and its Wisconsin Flyers, which played at, from what I am told, in approximate chronological order Oshkosh West High School, UW–Oshkosh’s Kolf Sports Cave — I mean Center, Oshkosh North High School, Neenah High School and Appleton East High School. (The Bucks formerly played “home” games at the UW Fieldhouse and the Dane County Coliseum in Madison when there were Milwaukee Arena conflicts, so having more than one home arena per season isn’t unheard of, though it is certainly not the preferred arrangement.)

The CBA was not directly tied to the NBA (in fact the CBA predated the NBA), but a number of NBA coaches (including former Bucks coach George Karl, Bulls and Lakers coach Phil Jackson, and Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders) got their coaching starts in the CBA. The CBA also featured the innovation (which didn’t stick elsewhere) of awarding standings points not only for winning games, but for winning quarters, presumably intending to keep fans watching during blowouts.

(Small world alert: The first year I announced Ripon College games I worked with the Flyers’ former announcer. He had some interesting stories to tell about the Flyers. He also had the grueling task of announcing the road games, because their station didn’t carry home games. Being a road announcing warrior is grueling, as I can attest.)

Ten years after the Flyers flew to Rochester, Minn., Keary Ecklund of Ecklund Logistics got a franchise, the Wisconsin Blast, in the International Basketball Association, at the same time that Ecklund started the Green Bay Bombers in the Professional Indoor Football League. The Blast played one season at the Brown County Arena and, I believe, one season at UW–Fox Valley. Their first coach was Pat Knight, son of Bob, who I interviewed for a story in my previous life as a business magazine editor. Knight was a good interview, and, I discovered while covering the Blast’s first game, out of print had a vocabulary similar to his father’s. The Blast moved after two seasons to Rapid City, S.D., as the Black Hills Gold, and then moved to Mitchell, S.D., to become the South Dakota Cold (not, sadly, Corn Kings), and then disappeared into the sports franchise afterlife.

Around the time of the Blast’s founding, there were proposals in the Fox Cities to build a small arena to hold not only a sports team, but such events as the Fox Cities Business Expo (which was at the Tri-County Arena in Neenah, an ice arena). So it’s interesting that this proposal is based in Oshkosh, a smaller area population-wise (and for that matter already possessing an arena that you’d think would be D-League size) than the Fox Cities. The fact I’m writing this should prove that no group in the Fox Cities managed to get its act together to build an arena for the Blast or any other team.

I wonder how well this is going to work in Oshkosh, if that’s where the D-Bucks end up. Given the Fox Cities’ greater size and lack of a larger college team (Lawrence University is in Appleton, but private NCAA Division III schools obviously have smaller fan bases than UW System schools), that seems a more logical place were it not for the arena issue, and as it is a new arena apparently will be built for the D-Bucks anyway.


How to (maybe) raise an NFL quarterback

Monday Morning Quarterback has a fascinating, though long, read of the attributes of the newest NFL quarterbacks.

We talk about them the most when we talk about quarterbacks. Yet we rarely discuss where they come from, or how a passer goes about acquiring them. For many quarterbacks who end up in the NFL, this grooming process often begins all the way back in Pop Warner. But how, exactly, do you raise and mold a quarterback? And what traits make QBs rise and fall in the eyes of NFL decision-makers?

For answers, The MMQB examined the youth football careers and family backgrounds of the 15 quarterbacks who were drafted in 2016 (a record number). They are not all coach’s sons, nor are they all sons of ex-athletes. And while a certain basic requirement for arm strength unites them today, it didn’t link them when they were first handed a football as kids.

After consulting with experts in the field of training and evaluating quarterbacks, and after interviewing more than two dozen parents and coaches of these newly minted NFL passers, we identified several key life experiences that appear to be predictors of success:

13 of the 15 quarterbacks grew up in homes that were valued near or above the median home value in their respective state, according to public records and online real estate figures. Seven families lived in homes that were more than double the median values: Goff, Hackenberg, Carson Wentz, Connor Cook, Jeff Driskel, Kevin Hogan and Jake Rudock.

13 of the 15 quarterbacks in the 2016 draft spent their early childhoods in two-parent homes. (Of note, a majority of the 30 parents hold four-year college degrees.)

On average, the 15 quarterbacks taken in the 2016 draft began playing the position at age 9, with only two having taken up the position in high school.

At some point before high school graduation, with many paying significant fees or traveling great distances to do so, 12 of the 15 received varying degrees of individual instruction from a QB coach who was not a parent or a team-affiliated coach; 12 of the quarterbacks also participated in offseason 7-on-7 football during their high school careers. …

Many of the 15 quarterbacks selected in the 2016 draft have benefited from factors such as parental involvement, family wealth, individual instruction and offseason competition—or some combination that increased opportunity not only for personal growth, but also to be noticed by coaches and scouts along the way. It begs two obvious questions: How much do these factors separate NFL draftees from the rest of the crop? And who is being left out?

You might find this part really interesting:

At Michigan State’s pro day on March 16, Chris Cook paced nervously behind a row of bleachers assembled in the middle of Spartans’ indoor practice facility. An imposing man with a broad smile, Chris had played tight end at Indiana from 1982-84 …

Chris’ involvement in his son’s affairs and his outsized, sometimes abrasive personality were noted by several NFL evaluators as potential red flags for Connor Cook, who fell to the Raiders in the fourth round. After the Michigan State QB was drafted, screenshots of aggressive and homophobic tweets apparently published years ago by Connor’s father surfaced in media reports and provided a public glimpse of what teams had known for months. According to a source close to the Spartans’ program, Chris called coach Mark Dantonio at the beginning of last season and expressed concern that the team’s decision to not make Connor a captain would damage his draft stock. …

“A lot of it comes down to resources,” says Bruce Feldman, author of The QB: The Making of the Modern Quarterback. “The position is so nuanced, you don’t have guys showing up in college with very little experience and having success at quarterback like you see with other positions. Rarely do guys all of a sudden become quarterbacks.

“At the same time, I remember Oliver Luck telling me, you can’t force it on the kid. If they don’t really love it, they’re not going to be doing the extra work and doing all the stuff that it takes to be really, really good.” . …

What all of these quarterbacks have in common—even the outliers in this study—is empowerment. Along the way, their efforts were first validated by parents or guardians, and then by multiple people whom each athlete respected in a football sense. From California to Louisiana, parents of quarterbacks who make it this far are often described by people using the same words: devoted, intense, and very supportive. The high school coach of former Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch, a first-round pick of the Broncos, describes David and Stacie Lynch as having been “very involved.” …

Kevin Hogan, the former Stanford QB and fifth-round pick of the Chiefs, was once ferried by his parents from a summer basketball tournament in New Jersey to a 7-on-7 tournament his high school football team was playing in at the University of Virginia—all in the same weekend. “They were just very supportive of everything Kevin did,” said Joe Reyda, Kevin’s head coach at Gonzaga High in Washington D.C.

The Dolphins’ seventh-round selection, Brandon Doughty, is a local kid who grew up in Davie, Fla. In order to get on the recruiting radar, his father took him to camps as far away as Boston College and Ohio State. “I’m gonna be honest man, my dad’s my best friend,” says the former Western Kentucky quarterback. “I don’t even know why I remember this, but we were at N.C. State when Michael Jackson died, and I just remember exactly where we were. The recruiting stuff was a bonding time with me and my dad. It’s something I’ll hold dear to my heart for the rest of my life.” …

One of the major benefits to youth quarterbacks is the progressive effect of empowerment, according to Dr. [Kevin] Elko, the sports psychologist. “All coaches are not created equal,” Dr. Elko says, “but the really good coach will show you how you’re better and convince you you’re better. That’s especially important for quarterbacks, because we know the best quarterbacks have a confidence that’s not really related to anything tangible. They just believe.”

The upshot is that these potential future NFL stars’ parents support and help them (often to financially large extent), but, unlike Cook, aren’t overbearing problems to their sons’ high school coaches. I’ve seen a fair number of overbearing problem parents. I have yet to see any of their children become professional athletes, and few end up having an impact even at the Division III college level. And once their playing days end, then what?

A sports editor I know points out it’s much easier to get an academic scholarship to a college than it is to get an athletic scholarship.


The great Scully

Sports Illustrated writes about the best baseball announcer of all time, Vin Scully, beginning with a commencement address at his alma mater, Fordham University:

“I’m not a military general, a business guru, not a philosopher or author,” Scully told the graduates in the adjacent Vincent Lombardi Fieldhouse. “It’s only me.”

Only me? Vin Scully is only the finest, most-listened-to baseball broadcaster that ever lived, and even that honorific does not approach proper justice to the man. He ranks with Walter Cronkite among America’s most-trusted media personalities, with Frank Sinatra and James Earl Jones among its most-iconic voices, and with Mark Twain, Garrison Keillor and Ken Burns among its preeminent storytellers.

His 67-year run as the voice of the Dodgers—no, wait: the voice of baseball, the voice of our grandparents, our parents, our kids, our summers and our hopes—ends this year. Scully is retiring come October, one month before he turns 89.

One day Dodgers president Stan Kasten mentioned to Scully that he learned the proper execution of a rundown play by reading a book written by Hall of Fame baseball executive Branch Rickey, who died in 1965. “I know it,” Scully replied, “because Mr. Rickey told me.” It suddenly hit Kasten that Scully has been conversing with players who broke into the major leagues between 1905 (Rickey) and 2016 (Dodgers rookie pitcher Ross Stripling). When Scully began his Dodgers broadcasting career, in 1950, the manager of the team was Burt Shotton, a man born in 1884.

It is as difficult to imagine baseball without Scully as it is without 90 feet between bases. To expand upon Red Smith’s observation, both are as close as man has ever come to perfection. …

I am not in search of more tributes to Scully, nor, as appreciative though he may be, is he. “Only me” is uncomfortable with the fuss about him. He blanches at the populist idea that he should drop in on the call of the All-Star Game or World Series.

“I guess my biggest fear ever since I started,” he tells me, “besides the fear of making some big mistake, is I never wanted to get out ahead of the game. I always wanted to make sure I could push the game and the players rather than me. That’s really been my goal ever since I started—plus, trying to survive. This year being my last year, the media, the ball club, they have a tendency to push me out before the game, and I’m uncomfortable with that.”

Tributes are plentiful. What I am searching for is a rarity: Scully on Scully, especially how and why he does the incomparable—a man on top of his game and on top of his field for 67 years.

Vin is America’s best friend. (“Pull up a chair….”) He reached such an exalted position not by talking about himself, not by selling himself, or, in the smarmy terminology of today, by “branding” himself, but by subjugating his ego. The game, the story, the moment, the shared experience…. They all matter more. …

I remind Vin about the home opener this year, when Koufax was among many former Dodgers greats who greeted him in a pregame ceremony on the mound.”

“I thought, Oh, wow. That’s nice,” he says. “Sandy has always been one of my favor­ites. Of all the players on the mound, he and I threw our arms around each other.”

Just then something magical happens.

I see it in his eyes. Vin is about to go on a trip. It’s the kind of trip that is heaven for a baseball fan: Vin is about to tell a story. For a listener, it’s like Vin inviting you to ride with him in a mid-century convertible, sun on your arms, breeze on your face, worries left at the curb. Destination? We’re good with wherever Vin wants to take us.

“Because, oh, I’m sure I’m the only person alive who saw Sandy when he tried out.”

And we’re off….

“Ebbets Field. We had played a game on kind of a gray day. Not a lovely day. And I was single, and the game was over early. I had nowhere to go, and somebody said, ‘They’re going to try out a lefthander.’ So I thought, Well, I’ll go take a look, and went down to the clubhouse. I looked over and my first thought was, He can’t be much of a player. The reason was he had a full body tan. Not what you call a truck driver’s tan, you know? Full body.

“But I did notice his back, which was unusual. Unusually broad. So I thought, I’ll go watch him, you know? And I had played ball at Fordham, so I saw some kids that could throw really hard and all of that. He threw hard and bounced some curveballs and … nice, but you know, I never thought, Wow, you’re unbelievable. Nothing like that at all. So what a scout I am.”

It’s classic Vin. He never speeds when he drives. He takes his time. He stops to note details, such as the weather and the expanse of a teenage Koufax’s back. The use of the word “so” to link his sentences, where most people use the sloppier “and,” is warm and friendly. It is one of his trademarks. He includes himself in the story, but only as a self-deprecating observer.

“His timing is impeccable,” Monday says. “He’s never in a rush. It’s like the game waits for him. We have a little joke among us. When Vin starts one of his stories, the batter is going to hit three foul balls in row, and he’ll have plenty of time to get it in. When the rest of us start one, the next pitch is a ground ball double play to end the inning.” …

From 1958 to ’68, with only a rare excep­tion here or there, Dodgers fans in Los Angeles could see their team on television only in the nine to 11 annual games the team played in San Francisco. O’Malley blocked the national Game of the Week from the L.A. market, even when the Dodgers were on the road. Virtually the only way to “see” the Dodgers play was to hear Scully describe it—even if you were in the Coliseum. California’s booming car culture, its beautiful weather that encouraged a mobile citizenry and the early local start times for most road games made Scully’s voice ubiquitous.

After just two years in Los Angeles, the Dodgers left KMPC for KFI and a sponsorship deal with Union Oil and American Tobacco Company that paid the club $1 million annually, the game’s second biggest local media package, even with virtually no television income, behind only the Yankees. Scully was the driving force of the revenue. By 1964 the Dodgers were paying Scully more than most of their players—$50,000, which was more than three times the average player salary and almost half the earnings of Willie Mays, baseball’s highest paid player at $105,000.

“I had played six years in the major leagues,” says Monday, who grew up in Santa Monica and broke in with the Athletics in the American League. “It wasn’t until my seventh year, when I was with the Cubs and we played the Dodgers, that my own mother finally thought of me as a major leaguer. Because it wasn’t until then that she heard Vin Scully say my name during a broadcast.”

Circumstances created an ideal audi­ence for Scully. By tone, wordsmithing and sheer talent, Scully turned that audi­ence into generations of votaries. He became not only a Southern California star but also a national treasure, branching out to call 25 World Series on radio and television when baseball was king. (In 1953, at age 25, he was the youngest ever to call the Series; in 1955 he called the first one televised in color; and in 1986 he called the highest-rated game in history, the Mets’ Game 7 win over the Red Sox.) He was the lead announcer for CBS in the 1970s on football, golf and tennis; the lead announcer for NBC on baseball in the 1980s; and even a game-show host (It Takes Two) and afternoon talk show host (The Vin Scully Show) in the late ’60s and early ’70s. The man who called his first event, a 1949 Boston University–Maryland football game, from the roof of Fenway Park armed with a microphone, 50 yards of cable and a 60-watt bulb on a pole now can be heard worldwide by anyone with an Internet connection and an subscription (though, because of a cable carrier dispute, not in 70% of the Los Angeles viewing market).

“Many of the best announcers have some of the best qualities Vin may have,” says MLB Network’s Bob Costas. “The command of the English language, the terrific sense of drama, the ability to tell a story…. But it’s as if you had a golfer who was the best off the tee, the best with the long irons, the best with the short irons, the best short game and the best putting game.”

Time for another ride. Hop in. . . .“We were in the back of the auditorium,” Vin says. He is driving us back to Fordham Prep in the early 1940s. “I remember I said, ‘Larry, when we get out of here, what do you want to do?’ And he said, ‘I’d love to be a big league ballplayer.’

“And I said, ‘I wonder what those odds are.’ And then I said, ‘Well, you know, I’d like to be big league broadcaster. I wonder what those odds are.’

“And then I said, ‘How about this one for a long shot: How about you play, I broadcast, you hit a home run?’ And we said, ‘The odds, no one would be able to calculate that!’ ”

Larry was his friend, Larry Miggins. A few years later, on May 13, 1952, playing for the Cardinals, Larry Miggins hit his first major league home run. It happened at Ebbets Field against the Dodgers. On the call that inning in the broadcast booth happened to be Larry’s buddy from Fordham Prep, sharing duties with Red Barber and Connie Desmond.

“Incredible, isn’t it?” Scully says. “I mean, really, absolutely incredible. And probably the toughest home run call that I ever had to call because I was a part of it. He hit the home run against Preacher Roe, I’m pretty sure. And I had to fight back tears. I called ‘home run,’ and then I just sat there with this big lump in my throat watching him run around the bases. I mean, how could that possibly happen?”

Scully has called roughly 9,000 big league games, from Brooklyn to Los Angeles to Canada to Australia and scores of places in between. He has called 20 no-hitters, three perfect games, 12 All-Star Games and almost half of all Dodgers games ever played—this for a franchise that was established in 1890. The home run by Miggins was and remains the closest Scully ever came to breaking down behind the microphone. …

Says Costas, “He never shouts, but he has a way within a range that he can capture the excitement. If you listen to the [1988 World Series] Gibson home run…. ‘In a year that has been so improbable…’ he’s letting the crowd carry Gibson around the bases, but then he has a voice that has a tenor quality that cuts through the crowd.”

Most every other great announcer is framed by singular calls—and Scully, from the 1955 Dodgers to Koufax to Aaron to Buckner to Gibson, has a plethora of them. Such a narrow view, however, sells short his greatness. Like listening to all of Astral Weeks, not just one track, Scully is best appreciated by the expanse of his craft.

“What he truly excels at,” Costas says, “is framing moments like that and getting in all the particulars so the drama and anticipation builds. You don’t always get the payoff, but he always sets the stage. Other announcers have great calls of special moments. What he’s incredibly good at is leading up to those moments—all the surrounding details and all the little brushstrokes to go with the broad strokes.”

Here is more of what sets Scully apart: his literate, cultured mind. Scully is a voracious reader with a fondness for Broadway musicals. He doesn’t watch baseball games when he’s not broadcasting them. “No, not at all,” he says. He has too many other interests.

He once quoted from the 1843 opera The Bohemian Girl after watching a high-bouncing ball on the hard turf of the Astro­dome: “I dreamt that I dwelt in marble halls.” When he appeared with David Letterman in 1990 he quoted a line from Mame. He suggested a title if Hollywood wanted to turn the 1980s Pittsburgh drug trials into a movie: From Here to Immunity. Last week, during a game against the Padres, he offered a history on the evolution of beards throughout history that referenced Deuteronomy, Alex­ander the Great and Abraham Lincoln.

Barber, his mentor, majored in education and wanted to become an English professor. Lindsey Nelson taught English after he graduated from college. Mel Allen went to law school. Ernie ­Harwell wrote essays and popular music. Graham McNamee started out as an opera singer. When Scully calls his last game—either the Dodgers’ regular-season finale on Oct. 2 in San Francisco or, if they advance, a postseason game—we lose not just the pleasure of his company with baseball but also the last vestige of the very roots of baseball broadcasting, when Renaissance men brought erudition to our listening pleasure.

“I really like to do the research,” he says. “So, in a sense, that’s a little bit in that renaissance area, the research of the game. Plus, I’ve always been—even in grammar school—always afraid to fail. So I always studied, not to be the bright guy but just to make sure that the good sisters didn’t knock me sideways, you know?”

A story: At age 88, in preparing for his 67th home opener, Scully notices a player on the opposing Diamondbacks’ roster with the name Socrates Brito. The minute he sees the name, Scully thinks, Oh, I can’t let that go! Socrates Brito! Inspired in the way of a rookie broadcaster, Scully dives into his research. So when Brito comes to the plate, Scully tells the story of the imprisonment and death by hemlock of Socrates, the Greek philosopher. Good stuff, but eloquentia perfecta asks more:

“But what in the heck is hemlock?” Scully tells his listeners. “For those of you that care at all, it’s of the parsley family, and the juice from that little flower, that poisonous plant, that’s what took Socrates away.”

It’s a perfect example of a device Scully uses to inform without being pedantic. He engages listeners personally and politely with conditionals such as For those of you that care … and In case you were wondering…. Immediately you do care and you do wonder.

Scully isn’t done with Socrates. In the ninth inning, Brito drives in a run with a triple to put Arizona ahead 3–1.

“Socrates Brito feeds the Dodgers the hemlock.”

Someone once asked Laurence Olivier what makes a great actor. Olivier responded, “The humility to prepare and the confidence to pull it off.” When Scully heard the quote, he embraced it as a most apt description of his own work. So I asked Scully, because he pulls it off with such friendliness, if he had a listener in mind when he broadcasts games.

“Yes. I think when I first started, I tried to make believe I was in the ballpark, sitting next to somebody and just talking,” he says. “And if you go to a ballgame and you sit there, you’re not going to talk pitches for three hours. You might say, ‘Wow, check out that girl over there walking up the aisle,’ or, ‘What do you think about who’s going to run for president?’ There’s a running conversation, not necessarily the game. So, that’s all part of what I’m trying to do—as if I’m talking to a friend, yes.” …

There was a moment at the end of the ceremony when the former players retreated to give Scully his own space and his moment near home plate. Gazing up on the adoring Dodger Stadium, where he has worked 55 of his 67 years in the business, Scully stood alone with his thoughts.

“I looked at him,” Monday says, “and I saw a look I never saw before. It was emotional. He never lost it, but it was wistful.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Nothing great was ever accomplished without enthusiasm.” I remind Vin of this, and then I tell him, “You can’t be this great for this long without enthusiasm. So, for Vin Scully, what are the points of enthusiasm?”

“Well, I guess the challenge to be prepared, number one,” he says. “As soon as I have a little breakfast, I’m on the computer checking rosters to make sure that in that dramatic moment [I know if] somebody comes into the game who wasn’t on the roster three days before. Again, the fear of failing.

“And then, there’s the one thing that to me is the most important, and that’s the crowd. The enthusiasm of the crowd is enough even on those days when I think, you know, I’d rather be home sitting under a tree and reading a book or something. I’ve been asked several times now already, ‘What would you miss the most when you retire?’ I said, ‘The crowd. The roar of the crowd.’”

“For three and the win …”

Deadspin has every reported U.S. call, and two foreign-broadcaster calls, of the finish of Monday’s NCAA Division I men’s basketball championship game.

This play henceforth shall be called “Villanova” or “Nova” by every coach who uses it. And it’s a good play, because the ball-handler ends up acting as an additional screen for the shooter. Even though the point guard was apparently the designated shooter, I think it works better with the inbounder and trail guy taking the shot.

TBS extended its Team Stream — featuring team-biased announcers — to the national championship, which is great, and should be emulated by all pro and Division I college sports broadcasters.

To no one’s surprise Villanova’s announcers were bigger fans of the finish than North Carolina’s. I don’t know that if I were the Tar Heel announcer I’d go to dead silence, but given the audience it isn’t necessarily inappropriate. Nearly always on TV less is more.

(I got to call a buzzer-beater that went the wrong way this college basketball season. What I should have said was something like “this was a great game … for 39 minutes and 59 seconds.”)

As for Villanova radio …

The one thing that got somewhat ignored in the frenetic finish was that the final shot had to be reviewed by the officials, even though the confetti and streamer bombs had been fired off already. Imagine what would have happened had officials waved off the shot. Before overtime would have been played, the floor would have had to have been cleaned off of all the debris.

The postgame interview is a sad moment. TBS’ Craig Sager has leukemia, which is no longer in remission, meaning this may be the final Final Four he gets to work.


The silliest thing you will read today

It has nothing to do with the election. It comes from Sports Illustrated, which wrote what the 15 National League teams need to do to win:

Milwaukee Brewers: Get good years from some rookies

It was just a few years ago, in the fall of 2011, that the Brewers were two wins from the World Series. Four long seasons later, only Jonathan Lucroy and Ryan Braun remain from the team that won 96 games and the NL Central. In its stead is a roster in transition backed by one of the stronger farm systems in baseball, headlined by top 10 shortstop stud Orlando Arcia. Milwaukee, deep into a rebuild and chasing three 2015 playoff teams in its division, is admittedly one of baseball’s longest shots to win the World Series. To do so the Brewers need not only strong performances from stars Lucroy and Braun, but also big rookie seasons from Arcia (once he’s called up), rightfielder Brett Phillips and pitchers Josh Hader and Jorge Lopez. Does that sound like too much to ask? The Cubs reached the NLCS last year with three rookies in their starting lineup, so it can be done. Besides, Bud Selig’s old team should always have hope and faith.

Why should the Brewers have “hope and faith” when the only way the Brewers could make the playoffs is if all their opponents forfeit their games? It is ludicrous that the Brewers are marketing their 2016 (and 2017, and 2018, and 2019, and …) season as Major League Baseball when the Brewers’ major league roster is full of has-beens, never-weres and never-will-bes, with the Brewers actively trying to get rid of their two players with any skill, Jonathan Lucroy and Ryan Braun. Paying full price for a Brewers ticket for the foreseeable future makes as much sense as paying full price for a UW football ticket in the late 1980s.


Presty’s Positively System-Free March Madness picks!

Go ahead and laugh at my 2016 Bracket Challenge March Madness bracket:

2016 March Madness bracket

In the past I have tried to figure out a system for March Madness. One year I spent valuable time figuring out Net Efficiency — efficiency on offense and defense. That system worked as well as throwing darts on a dartboard, putting two bowls of food (each representing a team) for your dog to choose, etc. For one thing, the most offensively efficient team is St. Mary’s of California, which is not in the tournament. The second most offensively efficient team is Indiana, but Indiana is coached by Tom Crean, and you should never pick a Tom Crean-coached team.

The only thing that comes to mind out of this bracket is that my Final Four picks accidentally fit the Blue Rule — that is, picking blue teams, because the biggest historic NCAA powers — Duke, Kansas, North Carolina, UCLA, etc. — wear blue. I also routinely refuse to pick Big Ten teams to go far, and indeed I have picked three Atlantic Coast Conference teams to go to the Final Four, because the ACC is to basketball what the Southeastern Conference is to football.

Frankly, it’s a boring field, with three number one seeds going to the Final Four. Since I’ve been busy with sports of my own, I have not really followed NCAA basketball that much except for Wisconsin …

Yes, that is my UW Band trumpet I’m playing.

… and apparently I have them going to the Sweet 16, largely because of my feeling that when you have a non-traditional power with a high seed, that is a ripe situation for an upset. But it’s only a feeling.


The WIAA and open meetings and records

The Post~Crescent committed a flagrant act of journalism last week:

The business of high school sports tournaments has never been bigger in Wisconsin, generating $7.6 million last year from ticket sales, broadcasting rights, sponsorships and other sources.

The paychecks of top Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association executives have followed suit, according to nonprofit tax records reviewed by USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin.

The WIAA reported paying its top six executives $1.1 million last year, a 72 percent boost from 2001 tax filings that outpaced hikes in other workers’ compensation.

Executive director Dave Anderson received a $162,000 salary in addition to $78,000 in benefits, including retirement contributions. His predecessor’s salary in 2001 was about $37,000 less and his benefits cost $47,000 less.

The WIAA receives most of its funding from operating the state’s annual postseason athletic tournaments. …

Until this year, hundreds of public and private school districts have also directly funded the association through membership fees and dues. School district funding last year totaled $424,000, according to the WIAA’s tax filings.

USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin took a closer look at the WIAA’s spending in light of a proposal moving through the Capitol that would require the association to comply with government transparency laws. Some legislators say the WIAA is so strongly tied to public schools that it deserves equal scrutiny.

Tax filings, open to public review under federal laws, already provide some insight into the association’s operations and how paychecks at the top have climbed even through years in which public school officials complained of state funding shortages.

About 13 cents of every dollar raised by the WIAA ultimately flows into the pockets of its top six executives: Anderson, four lower-ranking directors and an association spokesman. Each received a six-figure salary and more than $57,000 in benefits last year.

Anderson, in response to our review, said salaries are approved by a member-elected board of school officials and reflect industry rates. He said directors now work 10 more hours per week than in 2001 and noted rising consumer prices as a factor in pay changes.

Anderson disputed the fairness of comparing total compensation reported in tax filings, saying federal laws today require nonprofits to account for benefits differently than 15 years ago. By the WIAA’s calculations, the reported cost of Anderson’s benefits last year would’ve been about $28,000 lower under 2001 reporting laws.

Still, Anderson and three WIAA board members interviewed by USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin didn’t challenge our core finding that executive pay has grown alongside the association’s expenses as a whole. The combined salaries of the top six executives alone have climbed by about 40 percent since 2001 and one person’s salary has nearly doubled.

Anderson isn’t a public employee. But as the WIAA’s executive director, he now earns more than just about every administrator at a WIAA-member public school as well as the state’s superintendent and governor.

Recent calls for greater transparency at the WIAA trace back to December when a Hilbert basketball player was suspended for 4½ games because she used an expletive on Twitter to criticize the association for banning crowd chants such as “air ball” and “scoreboard.” …

The fallout prompted John Nygren, a Marinette Republican in the state Assembly, to resurrect a proposal requiring the WIAA to comply with state public records and open meetings laws. The proposal was previously introduced by a Democratic legislator in 2009 but failed to gain traction.

Nygren has argued the WIAA is a quasi-government entity and that more transparency after the suspension would’ve saved the state from international ridicule. The WIAA is opposing the proposal with the aid of four lobbyists, arguing it would set a dangerous precedent for any nonprofit that works with tax-funded agencies.

“This is a fast-tracked punitive bill that is a slippery slope eroding the privacy protections of other private entities,” Anderson wrote in a Feb. 10 memo to Assembly legislators. “Schools pay no membership dues or fees. The WIAA receives no public tax dollars from the state.”

Only recently has the WIAA cut direct ties to tax dollars, though. Member school districts, the vast majority of which are taxpayer-funded, have contributed more than $6 million to the association since 2001, according to its tax filings.

The WIAA voted in April last year to cease membership dues for two years, citing an interest in distancing the association from taxpayer funds and easing financial pressure on school athletic budgets. The association plans to vote again next year whether to continue the break, Anderson said.

Nygren’s proposal passed the state Assembly last month. It next heads to the Senate and possibly Gov. Scott Walker’s desk, where is faces an uncertain fate. Asked about the proposal last month, neither Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald nor Walker endorsed the bill and only offered that it would be considered.

A recent veto by Walker also suggests he might oppose the proposal. Explaining a veto last summer related to student eligibility for public school sports, Walker said, “I do not believe state statutes should stipulate the participation and membership requirements of a private athletic association.”

That position may be foretelling in this case because Nygren’s proposal would effectively thrust state transparency laws on the WIAA via new limits on school district participation. The proposal says no district may join an athletic association unless that association elects to comply with state laws.

While the WIAA is lobbying against Nygren’s proposal, several association leaders told USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin that they don’t entirely oppose following state transparency laws because the association is already so open with its business.

“We got absolutely nothing to hide,” said Mike Beighley, the superintendent public schools in Whitehall and a current WIAA board member. “We already put everything else out.”

Association leaders pointed to allowing news reporters at Board of Control meetings where financial reports and other internal business are discussed, and their publishing of meeting minutes online like a government agency.

Simple requests for information are also routinely honored in spirit with the state’s Public Records Law, they said. Indeed, they answered most of USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin’s questions and released internal figures to back up some statements.

“What would be different? I don’t see that as a big deal,” said Dean Sanders, the superintendent of public schools in Lake Mills and a longtime voice on the WIAA’s Board of Control.

Of course WIAA leaders have their concerns. Aside from disagreeing with the principal of extending state law to a nonprofit, Sanders said he worries that athletes would be more reluctant to speak candidly during meetings or in messages that could be released publicly.

No longer would the WIAA have discretion to allow visitors at board meetings or to release certain information. These activities would be required with the added risk of lawsuits and hefty legal bills over failures to comply.

Beighley said he worried that open meeting laws could slow the WIAA’s response in unusual situations, such as an athlete who needs an emergency waiver of association rules, or invite frivolous requests that increase costs.

“Is it going to change our operation? No,” Beighley said. “Is it scary to me? Yeah.”

Sanders and Beighley, both past presidents of the WIAA’s Board of Control, are familiar with government transparency laws in their work as superintendents. They are reimbursed for meals and mileage by the WIAA but do not receive a paycheck.

The Board of Control includes nine public and two private school officials. Sanders and Beighley said board members vary in clocking hours for the WIAA. Some use taxpayer-funded school district time for WIAA meetings and personal time for tournaments.

“I’m on school time and expected to make up whatever I do on Sunday when I’m home,” Sanders said. “My (school) board knows that I put in enough time.” …

Sanders and Beighley scoffed at comparing WIAA paychecks to compensation at member school districts, saying the Board of Control instead looks at other high school athletic associations. The head of Minnesota’s association, for example, earned $61,000 more than Anderson in 2013, the most recent year for which comparable tax figures were available.

“We’ve always tried to be right in the middle. I also don’t think Wisconsin athletics should be right in the rear,” Sanders said. “By being in the middle, we’re saying we respect what you do, we respect what you’ve done.”

Beighley also said the WIAA hasn’t increased revenue merely to boost executive pay, noting that tournament costs, legal bills, insurance, printing and other expenses have risen over the years as well.

“I don’t think we’ve set out to make more money to pay people more money,” he said.

The WIAA has been able to provide larger paychecks to its executives over the past 15 years in part due to hikes in ticket prices, referee licensing fees and broadcasting partnerships.

In just the past decade, association figures show revenue from operating the state’s high school tournaments has grown from about $5.9 million to $7.2 million annually while royalties have increased eight-fold to $476,000.

In some cases, those royalties have come from media organizations seeking to cover high school postseason competition. The WIAA in 2009 sued The Post-Crescent and the Wisconsin Newspapers Association over the broadcasting rights of state tournament contests held in public schools. A federal appeals court sided with the WIAA, rejecting the argument that the games were public events. The Post-Crescent is part of USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin.

The WIAA operates more than 3,000 competitions annually, with more than $2 million flowing back to host schools through payments that vary by sport. For example, hosting a basketball tournament pays $60 per game compared to $80 per game for football.

Sanders said growing revenue was critical to eliminating membership fees and dues last year. The Board of Control wanted to make the decision permanent, he said, but that can only happen under a vote of all member school districts.

“It’s been a goal of (Anderson’s) ever since he took over as executive director,” Sanders said.

The most interesting comment on the story came from …

… I was on the WIAA advisory committee for hockey back in the olden days. When we want to enhance the WIAA State HS Hockey tournament and use The Minnesota State High School League’s State Hockey Tournamenr as a comparison, the WIAA’s response from Tom Shafranski was quote. “We don’t compare ourselves to Minnesota when structuring our state tournaments.”

The WIAA had no problem comparing themselves to Minnesota’s High School League executives when it benefited their pocket books.

The WIAA’s claim of not using taxpayer resources is false, irrespective of whether or not the WIAA charges membership fees for state high schools. Where are the vast, vast majority of those 3,000 high school sports events (including all 20 boys basketball sectional finals Saturday) played? In high schools, funded by those school districts’ taxpayers. Who pays coaches? School districts, which means local property taxpayers and state taxpayers (through state aid). Who pays the teachers and other staff who man the games? Same answer.

If school districts and other governments are required to abide by state open meetings and open records laws (and they absolutely should be), then the WIAA, which also uses taxpayer dollars, absolutely should be bound to those same open government laws. The state Senate has until Tuesday to vote on Nygren’s bill. The Senate should approve Nygren’s bill, and Walker should sign it.

March Madnesses

Tonight, I get to have another professional thrill by announcing the WIAA girls basketball state tournament, for the second consecutive season, on this outstanding radio station.

I will be announcing Mineral Point, one year after I announced the Pointer boys at boys state in Madison. This is the first state trip for the Pointer girls in school history, and their radio announcer hopes their state experience ends like mine did.

The only downside of announcing girls state is that it’s at the Resch Center in Ashwaubenon, which is a great facility at an inconvenient end of the state, as I have discussed here before.

The Resch Center works better for girls state in contrast to Madison arenas because it is (1) nicer than the UW Fieldhouse, (2) smaller than the Kohl Center, and (3) not several miles from the UW campus as the Dane County Coliseum — oops, Alliant Energy Center — is. A high school girls game at the Kohl Center is analogous to a state football title game at Camp Randall Stadium, which usually is one-eighth filled. (Which is still better than the last days of Don Mor(t)on.)

The Resch Center is the home of UW–Green Bay’s men’s basketball team, whose announcer made news one day before the Phoenix clinched, the, uh (its? their?) first NCAA berth in 20 years. The Green Bay Press–Gazette reports:

UW-Green Bay men’s basketball radio announcer Matt Menzl briefly was off the air during the game during Monday’s Horizon League semifinal victory over Valparaiso after referee Pat Adams kicked him off press row for what Menzl described as a misunderstanding.

Full audio | Hear Menzl’s ejection here

Menzl said Adams thought he was waving him off after a call went against the Phoenix. Adams thought overwise.

“I talk with my hands,” Menzl said. “I was trying to describe that we had two guys fighting for the ball, and he took it as I waved him off, like saying that’s a horrible call.

“At first he gave me a warning. Then two seconds later said, ‘I want this guy removed and I won’t start the game until he gets removed.’”

Menzl had to hand over his headset to an Oakland play-by-play announcer and went into the tunnel, where he explained the situation to UWGB athletic director Mary Ellen Gillespie and Horizon League spokesman Bill Potter.

Potter told Menzl to go back and that they’d deal with it.

“I maybe missed actual game action, a couple minutes,” Menzl said.

This is what it looked like on TV:

And this is what it sounded like on the air back to Green Bay:

Nation of Blue adds:

Audio has surfaced of referee Pat Adams ejecting the Green Bay radio guy and it makes Adams look even worse than we originally though.

The radio guy appears to be calling the game and suddenly Adams can be heard screaming, “who is this guy?”

After a commercial break, the Green Bay guy is replaced by another radio guy who is filling in.

Given where I will sit for tonight’s game, two-thirds of the way up in the stands, this is not going to happen tonight. However, where I usually sit to announce UW–Platteville games, more often than not courtside, it theoretically could happen, though I would hope I would be professional enough to not get myself tossed or assessed a technical foul. You’d hope the officials would be professional enough to not have rabbit ears, too, but apparently that’s too much to ask in Adams’ case.

Menzl deserves credit for being professional enough to not pop off on the air about Adams’ bullylike behavior. (Adams apparently is a legend in college basketball, and not for good reasons.) There have been announcers over the years who have not been so self-controlled over official calls. That includes legendary Wisconsin announcer Jim Irwin, who would heckle NBA officials on the air during games.

Menzl is not the first radio announcer to be asked to leave a game. Apparently in 2003 during an NCAA tournament game between Cincinnati and Gonzaga at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, this happened:

For a recap of Thursday’s action, we turn to Bearcats play-by-play radio announcer Dan Hoard, who described the key moments of second-half action on WLW-AM 700.

“Coach Huggins has just been ejected, and he’s about to be joined by my partner!”

It was nuts, all right.

With Gonzaga up 47-40, Cincinnati coach Bob Huggins went gonzo on referee Mike Kitts after Bearcats forward Jason Maxiell was called for traveling in the back court when Huggins clearly thought his player was fouled.

Huggins screamed in protest and received a technical for leaving the coaching box. A few seconds later, Huggins was hit with a second technical for refusing to leave the floor. He was escorted away at the 16:17 mark, jawing to police officers as he was led up the corridor.

This is the same Huggins who, last Sept. 28, suffered a near-fatal heart attack in Pittsburgh, a traumatic experience that apparently has not tempered his on-court passion nor his hair-trigger temper.

Meanwhile, courtside, Bearcats color commentator Chuck Machock did not wish to confine his feelings only to his listening audience. When Kitts got within earshot, Machock blistered the referee with a foul-mouth tirade.

Officials of other sports sometimes butt heads with announcers as well:

This also reminds me of my favorite college basketball technical foul, well earned by former Oklahoma coach Billy Tubbs: