Two years ago in May, Jim Delany was exercising in his Chicago home (treadmill, if I remember right) while taking my questions about college baseball.
Delany is a huge fan — his dad was a standout at Seton Hall and later a high school coach. Yet because it was baseball — not the BCS — the Big Ten commissioner’s opinions had gone mostly under the national radar.
Delany had spent 10 years seeking radical NCAA reform. He had proposed expanding the CWS to 10 teams and reserving two spots for northern schools. He told me that he was tired of beating his head against a wall. If the NCAA didn’t make life easier for northern schools, well, the cold-weather programs may have to form their own division.
“It’s a national pastime sport,” Delany told me in this story, “but the college part of it is really not alive and well in the cold-weather parts of the country.”
I asked Delany if he’d ever been to the College World Series. “Why would I go?” he said. “I don’t have a team.”
Well, he does now. Indiana became the first Big Ten team in 29 years to advance to Omaha. And while the Hoosiers probably won’t win a national championship, their accomplishment is 1) a sign of the Big Ten’s strides in baseball, thanks partly to better financial commitment; and 2) a kick in the butt for people (like the commish) who have made too many excuses over the years.
Yes, the tournament selection process has favored southern schools. Yes, the college baseball season should move back a few weeks. I agree with Delany on some issues. But if Indiana (or Stony Brook/Kent State) can get to Omaha, then Michigan and Minnesota can, too.
We’re going to see some usual suspects this weekend at TD Ameritrade — LSU, UCLA, North Carolina/South Carolina and Virginia/Mississippi State. But a first-round game between Indiana and Louisville is fantastic for college baseball. A spot for Oregon State (or even better, Kansas State) is wonderful, too.
We love the CWS in this town. But to make college baseball hot in cold-weather places, Delany is right, every corner of the country needs to feel hope. Hopefully the Big Ten’s breakthrough is a step in the right direction.
And hopefully Delany is here to see it.
>> The funny thing about a close playoff series (in any sport, really) is you watch the Spurs steal Game 1 and think, “How is Miami possibly going to win this series? San Antonio is just too good.” Then you watch Game 2 and think, “How is San Antonio possibly going to win this series? Miami is just too good.”
It’s natural to overreact. Sunday night showed that Manu Ginobili apparently hasn’t dribbled a basketball in five years. It also showed (again) just how explosive Miami is, LeBron James in particular. James struggled most of the night. But when he turns it on, it’s like a guaranteed 10-0 run.
It’s easy to focus on the blocked dunk — that’s probably the best block I’ve ever seen. Ken Berger called it “an arm-wrestling match 11 feet in the air, and I don’t have to tell you who won.”
LeBron is easy to appreciate because of moments like that one. He’s 6-foot-8, 260-some pounds. He has Karl Malone’s body and Michael Jordan’s athleticism, (a fact Dennis Rodman doesn’t appreciate). He runs like a wide receiver and dunks like one of those dudes with a trampoline at a halftime show. He’s a highlight machine.
But I’ve never seen a player control a game in so many different ways.
Yes, LeBron can score 30. And he does, often. But his passing is a wonder to watch — firing it cross-court out of a double-team to Mike Miller in the corner, for instance. He has 15-20 passes every game that are absolutely perfect. He rarely takes a shot when a teammate is open. And unlike another big floor general, Magic Johnson, his defense is intimidating, especially at the rim — George Hill knows how Tiago Splitter feels.
LeBron isn’t quite redefining basketball. Kobe and Jordan were pretty great all-around players, too, not to mention a few legends before my time. But James’ stat line rarely tells the whole story.
The hard part for LeBron is that when Miami wins, fans and critics LOVE all the things he does. When Miami loses, well, they just wonder why he didn’t score 30. Why he didn’t take a fadeaway jumper rather than fire that ball cross-court to Miller for an open 3.
If he can block out the Monday morning quarterbacks, LeBron will get his highlights. But he’ll also become a hero to the purists.
>> Considering momentum in the program and that fancy, new spaceship-looking building in downtown Lincoln, Tim Miles will never have a better opportunity to sign a big-time recruiting class. If he can’t do it in 2014, he never will.
Well, luring the top assistant from John Thompson’s bench at Georgetown is a good start. Miles announced this morning that he hired Kenya Hunter to be his top assistant — and presumably top recruiter. It sent minor shock waves around the hoops landscape.
“Simply put,” CBS Sports’ Gary Parrish writes, “this is not your grandfather’s Nebraska. Or your father’s Nebraska. Or even your older brother’s Nebraska.”
The Huskers will likely shift some recruiting resources to the East Coast, where Hunter has experience. Which means Miles and Greg McDermott may be eating meals together in Philly, D.C. and New York. I recommend Carnegie Deli, guys.
>> In Sunday’s World-Herald, I profiled Sami Spenner, a UNO star heptathlete banned from NCAA championships. Her accomplishments deserve attention.
>> The perception has always been that longer courses favor Tiger Woods. In his early days, he hit it farther than anybody else — see: 1997 Masters. Thus, “Tiger proofing” meant lengthening the courses. Not true. Not even close.
Tiger’s struggles with the driver make a short course like Merion a great place for him to end his major drought. He can hit 5-woods and 2-irons off almost every tee. From 150 yards in the fairway, he’s tough to beat.
>> Can Phil finally win a U.S. Open? Nobody has ever deserved a tournament more (five second-place finishes, two fourths and a seventh). Mickelson, who played well in Memphis, won’t get as much attention as Tiger and Rory this week, but I think he still has one major in him.
>> I totally agree with this: The Djokovic-Nadal rivalry has already surpassed Federer-Nadal in history. Roger and Rafa just never had enough great duels.
>> My enjoyment of watching baseball is like my enjoyment of playing golf. It’s directly tied to how long it takes! I don’t mind 3 1/2 hour games in October, when every at-bat is critical. But the Boston Globe examines the wasted seconds that ruin regular-season baseball.
Vin Scully has a great line: “I partly blame it on Velcro.”
>> Incredible story about the mysterious death of Cullen Finnerty, a Division II quarterback who won three national championships at Grand Valley State.
>> North Carolina is a bad, bad place right now. You had the John Blake/Butch Davis stuff. Now you have basketball player P.J. Hairston getting arrested for drug (and gun) possession. In between, an academic scandal that won’t go away. Mike Fox better get the baseball Heels to Omaha, just so they can take their minds off the junk.
>> Great story of the Arizona Diamondbacks drafting Cory Hahn, a once-great prospect paralyzed sliding into second base two years ago.
>> Chad Ochocinco received treinta days in jail for giving his lawyer a celebratory slap on the butt. Seriously.