News of Note: Tedford, Arizonas, ESPN, Rabbits, Luck, McCaffrey, Cal $, Pac-12 Network, Basketball S
Notes from around the sports world:
Tedford Returns: One of the feel-good stories of the 2017 college football season that has largely fallen under the radar is taking place at Fresno State. Former Cal coach Jeff Tedford, in his first season as the head man at his alma mater, is off to a 5-2 start. On Saturday the Bulldogs shut down highly-regarded San Diego State—the same team that upset Pac-12 stalwarts Stanford and Arizona State—27-3. Tedford’s only losses have come at the hands of No. 1 Alabama and No. 12 Washington. His team is now the favorite for the Mountain West title and certain to go bowling this year.
Arizona Resurgence: In the annual Pac-12 pre-season media poll, the writers covering the conference picked Arizona State and Arizona to finish at the bottom (fifth and sixth) in the Pac-12 South. Well, guess what. After seven weeks, the two Arizonas are tied for second a half game behind faltering USC. The Trojans, who were blasted by Notre Dame on Saturday and upset by Washington State earlier, have a 4-1 conference record, while ASU and Arizona are both at 3-1. Sun Devil coach Todd Graham, thought to be on very thin ice after a 2-3 start, suddenly is looking more comfortable with wins over Washington and Utah. Arizona’s Rich Rodriquez, also the subject of some job security speculation, has been revitalized with the emergence of brilliant sophomore quarterback Khalil Tate, who has rushed for 694 yards in three games and led the Wildcats to victories over Colorado, UCLA and Cal.
ESPN apology: After the inexcusable on-air bashing of Washington coach Chris Petersen by four ESPN talking heads two weeks ago, the network was rightfully taken to task throughout the sports media landscape (including in this space). Petersen, you’ll recall, committed the unconscionable sin of complaining about late kickoff times. Last week, cooler heads prevailed when Pete Derzis, ESPN’s Vice-President for College Sports Programming, phoned Washington Athletic Director Jen Cohen to apologize for the unfortunate episode. Derzis assured her that the incident had been dealt with at the network and wouldn’t happen again. Hopefully, this will put the matter to rest. No more cupcakes on the sideline.
I’ve known Derzis for years. He’s a very sharp executive and a real straight shooter. Cohen is also a class act. We hosted the Huskies in the Fight Hunger Bowl in 2012, when Jen was associate AD, and she impressed everyone at the bowl with her enthusiasm, knowledge and follow-through.
Quote of the Year: Stanford coach David Shaw, when asked about the speedy rabbit that raced onto the field during the Cardinal's victory over Oregon: "I've seen the same guy for two years. It's the same guy. He hangs over by Maples (Pavilion). At least it looked like the same guy. I don't want to be anti-rabbit and say, "They all look the same."
Un-Lucky: Whispers around the NFL are getting louder that the career of Indianapolis Colt quarterback Andrew Luck might be in jeopardy. The former Stanford All-American still
hasn't recovered from a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder suffered over a year ago. Luck, now in his fifth year in the league, has absorbed a tremendous beating because of a Paper Mache offensive line and no running game. The timeline on his comeback has been repeatedly delayed and pushed back over the past several months. He was “too sore” to throw at all last week, after working out only every other day the previous two weeks. If Luck is unable to return, it would be a tragedy. Not only is he one of the brightest young stars in the NFL, he’s one of the nicest guys in all of sports. Let’s all hope the rumors are wrong.
McCaffrey Update: Speaking of ex-Stanford stars, former Cardinal running back Christian McCaffrey has found tougher sledding in the NFL. The Carolina Panthers' first round pick (No. 8 overall) is doing well as a receiver--with 44 catches for 329 yards and 2 TDs this far--but struggling from the line of scrimmage. After rushing for over 3600 yards and 6.2 yards per carry in his last two seasons on the Farm, Christian has only 114 yards and a 2.5 average so far in 7 games. The last three weeks: 14 carries for 25 yards.
Cal AD Search: Cal Athletic Director Mike Williams has announced plans to step down, and the Bears are searching for a new AD. The new hire will have to address major financial challenges and real questions about the future of the program, according to recent reporting by the Cal Daily and ongoing coverage by Bay Area News Group’s Jon Wilner.
Apparently, Cal Athletics has received about $100 million in bailouts from the chancellor’s office over the past seven years to clear deficits, including $20 million this year (as authorized by outgoing chancellor Nicholas Dirks) and $22.9 last year. The main reason for the shortfall is the 2012 renovation of Memorial Stadium and construction of a tony athletics complex, which cost in the neighborhood of $450 million (combined). According to public financial reports, Cal pays about $18 million per year in interest, a number that will jump to over $25 million in 2032 when payments towards the principal are added.
A blue ribbon committee appointed by Dirks failed to reach a consensus on substantive recommendations, but the new AD will have to consider cutting sports (particularly on the men’s side, to comply with Title IX), as well as new revenue-producing ideas such as selling beer in the stadium and turning the Edwards (track) Stadium into housing.
Pac-12 Network: Another contributor to the Cal financial deficit is the underperformance—from a revenue standpoint—of the Pac-12 Network. Although conference schools have certainly reaped the benefit of the league’s $3 billion, 12-year contract with ESPN and Fox (and been forced to endure late kickoffs dictated by TV as a result), they all anticipated much higher returns from the Pac-12 network and budgeted accordingly. School officials have been reluctant to comment on this publicly, but Washington State President Kirk Schultz didn’t hold back in an interview with the Seattle Times last week.
“The original projections made way before I was here was that there was going to be substantial revenue coming in to the different members of the Pac-12,” Schulz said. “While we have exceeded some lower level expectations, I think the Pac-12 Network is still not providing the sort of dollars the other schools in the SEC and the Big Ten get from their conference networks. This is a concern of the Pac-12 presidents and I can tell you it’s a large discussion point with meetings with the commissioner at every single meeting, because everybody needs these revenues to be competitive…and we’re falling behind.”
That revenue disparity might have prompted WSU Athletic Director Bill Moos to depart
for greener pastures at Nebraska just last week. Moos reportedly doubled his salary and inherited a much healthier war chest than what he possessed in Pullman.
College Basketball Commission: Two local names appeared in the lineup for the NCAA’s new commission on college basketball. Former U.S. Secretary of State and Stanford Provost Condoleeza Rice was tabbed to chair the group, and former Stanford, Cal and Warriors’ coach Mike Montgomery was named as a committee member. The committee was formed in the wake of the recent arrests of several assistant coaches and an Adidas executive for payments to prospective recruits. Its charge: recommend legislative, policy and structural changes to protect the integrity of the sport and reduce the influence of shoe companies, agents and advisors.
It’s a tall order. As ESPN analyst Jay Bilas, the former Duke star, opined recently: “I don’t see meaningful change coming. The reason? Money. Do you believe the shoe companies will go away based upon this scandal? No way….Do you believe that the NCAA can stop the influence of grassroots basketball or the AAU scene? No way…Do you believe that the NCAA will stop the influence of agents? No way…Money will find a way. In NCAA sports, it always does.”
In a related note, one of the assistant coaches charged in the case, USC’s Tony Bland, has retained the services of New York attorney Jeffrey Lichtman, whose former clients include Mafioso John Gotti Jr. and the drug lord, El Chapo.
And this is amateur athletics.