• Delany Demands Apology For Reality: The Big Ten Network's rocky road into actual homes seemed to be turning mildly optimistic, though that strikes my very non-business-oriented sensibilities as a difficult attitude to sustain when a key negotiator calls the product "third tier":
The Big Ten and Comcast are at odds over the price of the new network and whether it should be offered on basic cable.
In a press release, Comcast said the network will show "second and third-tier sporting events," called it "a niche sports channel" and added: "Indiana basketball fans don't want to watch Iowa volleyball, but the Big Ten wants everyone to pay for their new network."
Comcast is obviously right about the very limited appeal, even regionally, of charging top dollar for the definition of a niche sports channel, intended to show events that, from a market perspective, have largely even less than second and third-tier levels of demand. The most popular action figures to be lopsided in-state football beatings like Akron-Ohio State and nostalgia trip football and basketball clips of yore, but the conference also announced its plans Thursday to devote equal air time to women's sports by its third year. You know, the ones currently generating huge ratings and ticket sales...
"And really, if they were intended to denigrate, there ought to be an apology."
That's a shrewd appeal to the region's sense of social justice on Delany's part. Nobody wants to deny the hardworking, no doubt ass-kicking women of the Big Ten their federally mandated right to compete with dignity. Ditto brave MAC opponents in money-making sports and, for example, Northwestern football. But does his politically correct optimism allow him to believe the women's volleyball team from Iowa, or from any other school, might carry a network? It does not:
"But if I read again about the second-rate, second-tier women's volleyball team from Iowa as the centerpiece of our programming, I'm going to say the same thing I'm saying now," Delany said. "That is, I think it's inappropriate."
That may be so, but Comcast doesn't feel "appropriate" is quite worth $1.10 per household. Neither do I, but I'm not from the Midwest and don't really have a dog in this fight, or maybe I'm just some kind of chauvinist, too. It's a burden we'll have to carry into jampacked, small city-sized stadiums the rest of our lives.
• Speaking of City-Sized Stadiums, Non-Jampacked Division... ...reader Mark Cabrera directs me to a Times-Picayune article on the decline in college interest in New Orleans as devotion to pro sports – even the Arena League team, the Voodoo (and their impressively-dubbed cheerleaders, the "Voodoo Dolls") – exceeds pre-storm levels. Mark is right about the low, low level of interest in Tulane football before the storm: I've written repeatedly about the eerie non-event of a Green Wave game in a four-fifths empty dome freezing from the lack of body heat, and the I-A status of Tulane football had to be publicly reaffirmed amid serious doubt back in 2003. In this story, though, they can't give tickets away - an old school fan interviewed at a Voodoo game says, "I can get the tickets for free, but it's hard to find anybody that wants to go with me," and last year's finale against Central Florida reportedly drew less than 3,000 actual people. That's roughly 62,000 empty seats.
The Saints and Hornets (!) are like "giant vacuum cleaners" sucking up the resources of a smaller city, while last year's Southern-Grambling Bayou Classic drew the smallest crowd in its 33-year history (47,136 announced, fewer people than attended just a few months after Katrina), UNO's Lakefront Arena won't be open for Privateer basketball or anything else (I saw Radiohead there in college, before contributing greatly to the local economy in alcohol and beignet sales) until 2008-09, delayed construction on its baseball stadium is partially blamed for a "slide" that kept recent powerhouse Tulane from hosting the C-USA tournament and possibly making this year's NCAA tournament field, the basketball regional featuring promising draws in Florida and Memphis was the worst-selling ticket of the tournament, the crowd at a Tulane basketball game against tenth-ranked LSU last fall barely cracked 4,000 and local interest in participating in January's mythical championship game, as opposed to the familiar Sugar Bowl, is lower than in previous championship-hosting years. There's no imminent collapse, but when Tulane AD Rick Dickson says, "We've done everything but play on a riverboat," it's hard not to envision a desperate overture to Ryan Perrilloux on the horizon.
• Quickly: Jerell Powe, keeping hope alive, but less and less for Ole Miss ... Michigan regents greenlight $226 million for Big House expansion ... Condolences to Kirk Ferentz on the death of his mother, Elsie Mae Ferentz ... The quarterback derby at Houston gets a late, albeit foregone entry: ex-Oklahoma State starter Al Pena was granted a waiver to join UH this fall ... Notre Dame lands a coveted running back from North Carolina ... Tryouts loom for the still-kicking concept that is the All-American Football League ... Kentucky is fumbling its TV options against Louisville ... Arkansas? Controversy? You don't say ... The Hogs have named their new play-by-play man ... And Southern Miss athletes are on the Internets!
The Rap Sheet
Crimes, misdemeanors and eligibility-crippling issues legal, academic, institutional and otherwise.
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Cooperating, "totally, fully, 100 percent," suspended Toledo running back Scooter McDougle, with the federal investigation into his role in the alleged point-shaving scandal that broke back in March. Well, according to McDougle's father, anyway - prosecutors merely describe the investigation as "continuing," though there are no new charges to replace the ones they dropped against Scooter shortly after the first reports of his arrest. But Senior Mac sees no reason for the drama:
McDougle's lawyer, for what it's worth, has long maintained his client's innocence. Meanwhile, Scooter McDougle's grandmother, Barbara McDougle, says University of Toledo president Lloyd Jacobs has not responded to her letter asking the school to lift her grandson's suspension from the team because the government dropped its charges.
"Scooter should be reinstated -- now. Not next week, not next month. He should be reinstated now and allowed to play on the team," she says.
The feds will be getting back to you about your status any day, Scooter. Pinky swear.
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Ordered, to pay a $100,000 fine to a charity that targets hunger, Colorado's athletic department, which was hit Thursday with probation for "undercharging 133 athletes for meals totaling $61,700" from the 2000-01 through 2005-06 academic years. Because a huge majority of the cheap dinners went to football players, CU also loses a football scholarship, which is considered a lenient reaction because of the "inadvertent nature of the infractions" and prompt reporting by an alert assistant athletic director [After only six years! - ed.].
The feds finally put away Al Capone for tax evasion; the NCAA hits the Barnett Era Buffs at last for meals infractions. Hey, whatever it takes.
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Compliance officers apparently approved the dining hall rate for some players' meal plans rather the more expensive training table rate, which is in the neighborhood of an entree and drink at a respectable sit-down chain. Once again, schools fail to learn from the lessons of Luther Van Dam, and pay the consequences.
Rescheduled, the arraignment for Montana cornerback Jimmy Wilson, latest and - along with another murder charge from last summer - most serious figure in the string of serious criminality by mostly coastal athletes playing ball in the Treasure State. Wilson's hearing in Los Angeles County, where he's being held on $2 million bond for allegedly shooting his aunt's boyfriend in a dispute earlier this month, was delayed until July 9.
Settled, days before it was set to go to trial, an ACLU-backed lawsuit alleging Hal Mumme singled out Muslim players at New Mexico State and created an unwelcome and probably illegal Christian "brotherhood" by having the team recite the Lord's Prayer at practices and games, etc. Terms of the settlement will be confidential for six months, but NMSU athletic director McKinley Boston said the university still does not admit discrimination anywhere in the agreement and maintains it did nothing wrong. Aside from losing, I mean.
Ruled, academically ineligible, all-ACC prospect Jared Gaither, whose classroom failings leave a 6-foot, 9-inch, 350-pound hole on the left size of Maryland's offensive line. Gaither's had his academic problems before – he went the Hargrave Military route after a single year of high school ball, and missed spring practice – but his size alone makes him a pro prospect and potentially one of the Terps' two or three best players when he wants to be; Phil Steele ranks Gaither as first team all-ACC based on his shutting out pass rushers in 2005, but the Baltimore Sun says the big guy was frustrated by increased competition at right tackle late last season. They hope to have him back in 2008.