Return of the Todd Lickers. Finally home from Cedar Falls, Iowa gets back on the bus today and travels to Ames for its annual run-in with Iowa State (7:05, Hilton Coliseum). The Hawkeyes come in 13-point underdogs; given Tuesday's performance, that seems a little light. No word yet on television coverage of the game; it is being broadcast on something called "Cyclones TV" which probably doesn't actually exist. We'll update if and when we find out where you can watch.
For the third consecutive game, head coach Todd Lickliter will not be on the bench, as he continues to recover from a torn carotid artery. Initially, we were told the team was optimistic that the Lick could return for Northern Iowa. Then it was Iowa State. Now we're hoping for Drake. Before we know it, we'll be hoping he returns for the National Championship game with Kansas.
His Policy is Kicking Ass First, Taking Names Later. Kirk Ferentz has been named as one of ten finalists for the Liberty Mutual National Coach of the Year award, given to the coach who best demonstrates "sportsmanship, integrity, and responsibility on and off the field." Obviously, there isn't a heavy emphasis on performance; the list of finalists includes Dabo Swinney (who lost to Maryland) and Pete Carroll (who lost to everyone else). Ferentz was previously named Big Ten Coach of the Year for the third time in this 10-year tenure. The announcement comes on the same day that Brian Kelly was named Home Depot Coach of the Year. There are approximately 57 more coach of the year awards left to be announced; we expect Ferentz to win at least 6 of those.
Heads are ROLLIN' Meanwhile, all hell is breaking loose in Champaign-Urbaba, as 2007 Liberty Mutual Coach of the Year Ron Zook (that's not a typo) holds onto his job for dear life. Earlier this season, Illinois AD Ron Guenther issued an inexplicable vote of confidence in the Zooker. But then came widespread defections and decommitments, including a trio of sophomore skill position players transferring elsewhere, a four-star corner who recently changing his commitment to a coachless Notre Dame, and, of course, The Polish Hat committing to Iowa. The boosters who paid for the recent stadium expansion did not appreciate this, and the long knives are now publicly unsheathed:
"There are guys like me,’’ said one booster, who said he donates $30,000 per year to the university. "I’m just the tip of the iceberg. What I’m hearing is half aren’t going to renew on season tickets and half won’t donate to the (scholarship) fund.
"The athletic department tells me, ‘Don’t give up the ship. Something is going to happen. Give us until next week.’ I said something has to be done. If we ran our business the way they ran that football program, we’d be bankrupt. It’s not going in a positive direction.
"You don’t reward mediocrity in business. You don’t reward mediocrity in coaching.’’
"Illinois is one of the biggest underachievers in college football,’’ said another booster, who annually gives $20,000. "They’ve got world-class facilities. It’s a great school. We’re perennially behind Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan State and lately even Northwestern. It’s unacceptable. I don’t think it’s asking too much to be in the top half of the Big Ten every year.’’
Zook received a huge extension after their fraudulent Rose Bowl campaign in 2007, and has a rumored buyout of $5M - $7M, which is no small amount of money for a state school that just finished a putrid football season in a recently-renovated (and half-empty) stadium and no hope of state assistance. Even with that, speculation is that Zook will be forced to fire a number of assistants to save his own scalp. Hail to the Orange comes up with about 48 words in favor of retaining The ZookHook for another season, and writes Magna Carta in support of canning him like tuna. Whether he survives or not, some Jets-Sharks style shit is about to go down at UIUC. Step back and enjoy the carnage.
Red Shift. This week's batshit insane rumor: The NCAA is considering an expansion of the basketball tournament field to 96 teams, giving byes to the top 8 teams in each bracket and making the tournament an unwieldy mess.
The tournament is supposedly in place to identify the nation's greatest college basketball team and crown it as national champion. In any given year, there are at most 15 teams (and usually far fewer) that could fit that description. There are always four or five teams that can lay claim to the last tournament spot, to the claim that they are the nation's 46th-best team. Not one of them -- not even that 2006 George Mason team -- had a legitimate claim to the title. When we discuss the qualifications of bubble teams, we are ostensibly discussing whether a team that is seventh in the Big East or third in the Missouri Valley has a legitimate chance at being the best team in the country; the answer to that question is invariably in the negative. To say that we would have a more representative sample from which to draw a national champion is ludicrous. In fact, the tournament is bloated at 65 teams, but it's so fucking awesome that nobody cares.
No, no, this has nothing to do with the tournament's stated goals. As Eamonn points out, this is about getting more major-conference teams on television in March, making more money, and keeping coaches employed:
A few of the major issues that would arise from an expanded field: the regular season would be rendered even more meaningless, a glut of mediocre-to-bad big-conference schools would reap the benefit and casual fans wouldn't be as interested in filling out a 96-team bracket (too daunting, asymmetrical, wouldn't fit on a regular sheet of paper). There's no call for more NCAA tournament games. Pretty much everyone thinks the 64-game event is perfect, except for one very biased interest group.
As SBJ reports, some college basketball coaches like the idea (Jim Boeheim, in particular). Of course they do. The more teams that get into the NCAA tournament, the fewer reasons there will be to fire the coaches of the 32 teams that wouldn't have made it otherwise. It's a self-serving move. It's like Congress having the ability to vote itself a raise.
If you're scoring at home, the only two valid reasons to expand the tourney: the possibility of getting more money and mediocre coaches getting a stay of execution. Sounds like a good reason to ruin the best event in sports to me!
Would it be fun? Yeah, maybe, but no more fun than mid-level large-conference teams teeing off on the SWAC champion or falling into a trench warfare slopfest with equally mediocre opposition. Bohnenkamp argues a 68-team field might work, and it might (especially if it's the at-large teams trying to play in), but blowing up an event universally lauded as the greatest thing in the history of the world seems unnecessary and dangerous.
- The Iowa women's basketball team lost to ISU last night 85-66. With the loss, the Hawkettes fall to 5-5 on the season. This one wasn't close; Iowa actually staged a late comeback from a 30-point deficit.
- Iowa baseball (still a varsity sport!) will play a seven-inning exhibition against the Iowa Cubs in Des Moines on April 7, one day before the I-Cubs start their 2010 season. If you haven't been keeping up with Pacific Coast League baseball, former Cubs second baseman and Hall of Fame inductee Ryne Sandberg is managing the I-Cubs this season. So you can watch him bring in mopup pitcher after mopup pitcher.
- Former Hawkeye, and current Atlanta Falcon, Jonathan Babineaux was picked up on charges of possession of marijuana with intent to distribute. While it doesn't sound like a positive situation, it could always be worse: He could have arrested for possession with intent to throw snowballs.
- A bill prohibiting the BCS from billing its finale as a "championship game" made its way out of a House committee earlier this week. Proponents see it as the first step to dismantling the Bowl Championship Series and instituting a playoff. Normal people see it as an enormous waste of time.
- On the heels of Indiana's decision to take the money and move a home game against Penn State to FedEx Field in Washington, D.C. -- the first sell-out in the history of Indiana football RIMSHOT -- Michigan State has moved its scheduled road game against the Florida Atlantic Fightin' Schnellenbergers to Detroit. The game had originally been scheduled as the opener for FAU's new stadium, but when the Owls ran out of money, the teams agreed to a "neutral site" game 90 miles from East Lansing.