Sunday, April 29, 2007

A weekend of bad sports, from baseball to NASCAR

We began the weekend with a Major League manager belittling and berating the media. We finished it with furious race fans throwing beer cans onto a NASCAR race winner.

Fittingly, in between, NFL teams were digging into their wallets and preparing to pay mega-salaries to top draft picks who at some point be subject to being raked over the coals by fans, coaches, media and others who don't know when or how to hold back for the good of sports.

Tony La Russa's tirade against the Post-Dispatch over its critique of the Cubs was silly at best, shameful at worst. La Russa's been around the block. He's felt the heat of the media, and he's heard its praises. But to express outrage when the media portrays a rival baseball franchise with pin-point accuracy borders on hysteria. Maybe it's just his way of getting the media ready for dealing with new St. Louis University coach Rick Majerus.

At the other end of the spectrum were scores of NASCAR fans who showed the class of Liverpool soccer hooligans when Jeff Gordon won Sunday at Talladega, a victory that gave him one more win on NASCAR's victory list than the late Dale Earnhardt. The pro-Earnhardt fans' angry reaction: pelt the track and Gordon's car with hundreds, maybe thousands, of beer cans.

Blame it on the Bud if you want, but fan reaction like Sunday's will cost everybody in the long run, from local grassroots racing to the highest level of NASCAR. Sponsors cringe when they see fans chuck beer cans onto the track in front of a national audience. Families think twice about buying race tickets. From there, the dominoes begin to fall.

It was hard to imagine that such a big sports weekend would produce such poor sportsmanship and lack of class. Even worse, both were on a national stage for the world to see.

In retrospect, the solution looks easy. La Russa actually needed a beer to settle down, and NASCAR fans in Talladega each needed one less.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

New baseball team vows it will be ready, even though work remains

The new Frontier League team set to play across the river this year in Marion, Ill., promises it will be ready to play ball next month as scheduled, even though there's a lot of work still to be done to the new stadium under construction near Interstate 57. A story in Thursday's Marion Daily Republic highlighted the issues still faced by builders, but team officials say progress is steady.

The new Southern Illinois Miners will open their home schedule May 29 against Evansville. See the full schedule on their site.

• Backup center Dionte Perry won't return to the Southeast men's basketball team for his senior season. The news was confirmed this week, even though just seven days earlier coach Scott Edgar and local media scoffed when Mark Unterreiner reported on his blog that a player was leaving the program.

The Redhawks moved quickly and supposedly have already offered Seward County (Kan.) Community College sophomore Hank Harris a scholarship, which he's expected to accept.

• The news is sketchy surrounding Rick Majerus and his future as coach of St. Louis University. Some reports are saying that they're close to a deal, but others are speculating that Majerus hasn't decided whether he wants to return to coaching or remain at ESPN.

If their choice is Majerus, the announcement will come within a couple of days, possibly even Friday.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

A mix of insight: SEMO, Jay Spoonhour and Ben Hansbrough in the mix

A few notes while we collectively ponder why SLU waited until now to fire Brad Soderberg:

Toby Carrig has a piece of advice for the PR arm of Southeast Missouri State University: Just be honest. His Southeast Missourian column published Tuesdayprovides a step-by-step account of how SEMO stammered, bumbled and fumbled its way toward explaining the recent injury to football player T.J. Walls.

While SEMO's pattern of sweeping bad news under the rug and flooding local media with good-news PR fluff is nothing new, it's been historically fueled by local media that has too often quietly played along. To the credit of the Southeast Missourian, Carrig's insight on SEMO's selective, hush-hush style of community relations comes in the wake of its own actions that might be reversing the newspaper's trend of covering the local university's athletic department, including recent document requests and aggressive reporting.

Taxpayers, boosters and fans across the region deserve nothing less, and the Missourian's newfound burst of investigative journalism can only make SEMO a better and more accountable university.

• Bad news for fans of Jay Spoonhour who lobbied for him to replace Gary Garner last spring: He didn't get the job at University of Missouri-Kansas City either. He was one of three coaches interviewed to replace Rich Zvosec, but he was passed over when West Virginia assistant Matt Brown was hired late last week.

Spoonhour is an assistant at Texas-San Antonio last season.

• Poplar Bluff grad Ben Hansbrough likely faces a more high-profile role if he chooses to stay at Mississippi State for his sophomore season. The team lost two starters this week when twins Reginald and Richard Delk of Jackson, Tenn., said they are leaving the team, leaving Jamont Gordon to run the point and Hansbrough and Barry Stewart in the mix as forwards. Reserve forward Bernard Rimmer is also leaving the team.

Hansbrough, which hasn't commented publicly about plans to leave MSU, reportedly has confided in friends that he has considered leaving MSU before next season. The school also hasn't commented.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Pace's hasty exit wasn't good for anybody, or was it?

How quickly did Lisa Pace want to put SEMO behind her?

She didn't just take a moving van out of town. She took a rocket ship. If her past month was drawn out in cartoon form, she'd play the part of the RoadRunner leaving Wile E. Coyote looking confused underneath an anvil in the shape of Kenneth Dobbins.

Pace, who lasted seven seasons under two women's basketball coaches at SEMO, didn't last two months under new coach John Ishee. By the time she said yes to the Eastern Kentucky assistant job, she already had car keys in one hand and a road map in the other. You get the feeling she would have walked from Cape Girardeau to Richmond, Ky., if she had to.

Her reward? She leaves an assistant coaching job at Southeast, where she was part of two consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances, to coach at EKU, a team coming off an underwhelming 12-18 season. Sure, the Colonels have tradition, but this isn't the same powerhouse that won three OVC titles during Pace's days there as a star athlete. The past 18 months saw the OVC women's basketball balance of power shift heavily from the hills of Kentucky toward the hills of Missouri.

But EKU presented stability. Southeast, where the Redhawk logo has officially been replaced by a question mark, couldn't match it. Despite all its wins and its prized recruits that arrived before coach B.J. Smith was fired in December, SEMO's future is about as muddled and uncertain as it's ever been.

Ishee's appointment as head coach last month was a slap in the face of the players, who overwhelmingly disapproved of his hiring, and it was a slap in the face of Pace herself, who saw opportunity pulled out from underneath her. As a result, Ishee has no staff at his side, having lost Pace and assistant coach Jenni Lingor, who lasted less than a full year. Also vacant is the assistant job Ishee held before he was promoted to replace Smith during the past season.

Pace's goodbye to SEMO came in the form of an icy glare, judging from Ishee's tepid remarks Monday in the Southeast Missouri. "Coach Pace, from my understanding, is going back to Eastern Kentucky," Ishee said.

Going back? Or escaping?

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Dodgers assign DeWitt to spot in Cal League; is Hansbrough done at MSU?

The Los Angeles Dodgers have rekindled their affiliation with the Cal League, and that's led to a new home for former first-round pick Blake DeWitt of Sikeston.

The Dodgers signed a player development contract back in the fall with the Inland Empire 66ers, one of 10 teams in the longrunning league that kicks off its season this week. Among the top prospects on the 66ers' roster is DeWitt, a third baseman who spent last season with the Vero Beach (Fla.) Dodgers and played during the winter in a Hawaiian league. DeWitt is already expected to put up big numbers with the 66ers.

• There are rumblings that Ben Hansbrough's time at Mississippi State might be limited. According to sources, the former Poplar Bluff all-state basketball player has talked to friends and family about leaving the school, where he just wrapped up his freshman season. There's been no announcement from the family or the school.

• Now that the FBS-level schools (formerly Division I-A) are playing 12 games a year, more and more are looking at FCS schools (formerly I-AA) to fill out the schedule. Case in point: Cincinnati hosts SEMO to kick off the season August 30. One of the most-mentioned games for 2007 is Michigan's home date against Appalachian State, which will earn about $400,000 for playing at The Big House. Michigan fans are already lamenting the likely mismatch in this Charlotte Observer story.

• After a whirlwind of college basketball coaching changes in the past three weeks, there's still lingering buzz that SIU head coach and former SEMO assistant Chris Lowery will be contacted by Texas A&M, which lost Billy Gillespie to Kentucky last week. Lowery signed a seven-year deal worth $750,000 per year last week, but with it comes a buyout that's said to be less than $500,000 if Lowery leaves for another program.

• Speaking of college basketball coaches, here's the Big 12's newest addition: Frank Martin of Kansas State, hired Friday to replace Bob Huggins. Martin is a 41-year-old former Kansas State assistant coach who was fired from Miami Senior High in 1998 for violations the Florida High School Athletic Association called "more excessive than any school ever investigated." Martin claimed innocense, yet his days at the high school were so notorious that he was the focus of an entire chapter in a book called "Sole Influence: Basketball, Corporate Greed and the Corruption of America's Youth."