New podcast for you guys.

First, Chris Ingram and I had Raphielle Johnson, blogger for NBCSports.com’s CollegeBasketballTalk on to discuss all things college hoops. The second part of the podcast is some raw audio of Oakland men’s basketball coach Greg Kampe from after last week’s Horizon League presser at the Detroit Athletic Club. Enjoy!

The Oakland University Board of Trustees unanimously voted to accept the school’s invitation into the Horizon League Tuesday afternoon.

“We’re excited about this possibility,”  Oakland University President Dr. Gary Russi said. “We’re excited to join a group of institutions that will not only provide great competition for us, but to provide a core value, and that’s academics.”

The move, effective July 1, 2013, means the school’s athletics will participate in the league in time for the 2013-2014 academic year.

“[The decision to join for the immediate academic year] was a question that certainly came up,” Oakland University Director of Athletics Tracy Huth said. “It was well into April before we were able to find out, and it was beginning to get to the point where we were asking whether it was still feasible for us to be able to participate in ’13-14.”

“I think our coaches and student-athletes feel pretty strong that this is a good move for us, and they were willing to wait as long as we could. We were starting to get to the point that we’d have to make a decision, but fortunately it worked out for us.”

Men’s and women’s basketball coaches Greg Kampe and Beckie Francis, respectively, were not made available to comment, but will be at Wednesday’s press conference at the Detroit Athletic Club at 11 a.m. ET. The conference will be streamed live at HorizonLeague.com.

Oakland University President Dr. Gary Russi speaking to the media at the school’s press conference confirming the move to the Horizon League.

The news is sure to invigorate the school’s students, alumni and general fan base. Much of that has been due to  the desire to officially renew a natural geographic rivalry with University of Detroit Mercy, particularly in men’s basketball.

“I think with Oakland joining we look forward to some epic battles across the 14 sports we have in common along with a little more media coverage,” UDM interim athletic director Jason Horn told Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press.

At the meeting and the following press conference, Huth confirmed a Summit League exit fee of $250,000, and the school will also pay an entrance fee to the Horizon League of $882,000, both of which will come from external sources.

Despite those fees, without mentioning expected increased revenues by the move, cost reduction over the long haul also played a significant factor in the decision. The ability to cut down on flight travel as opposed to the Summit League will be severed dramatically due to the geographic blueprint of the Horizon.

“I’m going to guess overall on average, 75 percent of our operational budget has been spent on travel,” Huth said. “It’s probably going to drop between 20 to 25 percent, maybe.”

Despite the success that many of Oakland’s participating teams have had throughout its membership in the Summit, the impact of lengthier travel went beyond just cost. Faculty athletic representative Robby Stewart, who spoke at the meeting and conducts exit interviews with all senior athletes, emphasized at the meeting how much a decrease in travel within the new conference would benefit student-athletes.

“We have been wrestling with excused absence issues, and the problems of flying to some of these cities…playing a game and not being able to fly back after the game was over because they don’t have a flight back to the Detroit area,” Stewart said. “We estimate that the amount of time on the road missed from the classroom is going to be close to cut in half by making this transition, and that could have a major impact on academic success.”

Huth confirmed that the school had interest in making the move initially after Butler departed the Horizon, but no formal communication was made until within the past month about the process.

“We were pushing at one time around the time that Valpo got into the Horizon League, we thought it made sense for us back then, too,” Huth said. “I think primarily we’ve always felt that given our location and being here with Detroit what we could offer…our profile was very good.”

The factor of Oakland being a natural travel partner with UDM was noted as a positive factor during the board meeting, also.

With speculation present that the Horizon League desired to add a school with baseball in order to maintain a certain number of schools with the sport, Huth addressed that in terms of how it may have weighed in adding Oakland.

“I think it’s important…I don’t think it’s the [sole] thing,” Huth said. “I think it’s a  situation that it’s a core sport, and then all the sudden you’ve got to meet all these NCAA requirements…I think it’s certainly a piece of it.”

Huth speculated that it’s “starting to get a little late” in terms of the league adding a potential tenth member for the upcoming academic year, but added that it’s “not an issue” for the league to function with nine members for now.

When asked whether any departures or movement of the Summit League was an issue, Huth seemed to dismiss the notion, saying that Oakland was “comfortable” with the stability of the league, and reiterated that the benefits of the Horizon were too great to ignore.

Notes:

  • When asked about men’s basketball scheduling: “We think playing in the Horizon League will be better when we’re dealing with [exposure to] recruits, so we think we can probably cut down a little bit on those [high-major] games. We’ll still certainly do some. You know Coach Kampe, he’s a competitive guy. He wants to play against the best, and beat the best.”
  • How about the ’13-14 men’s basketball non-conference schedule that includes early trips to Cal, Gonzaga, North Carolina, and UCLA? Huth said those commitments will remain.
  • Although the O’Rena does not meet Horizon League standards in terms of minimum capacity,
  • Huth on Oakland’s student population: “Now in the Horizon League, you’ve got the opportunity (in the conference tournament) where you’re either hosting, or you’re going to Detroit, Cleveland, Chicago…you’re going somewhere that’s within proximity.” He referenced the idea that students or parents of athletes should find more ease in the ability to travel and watch teams on the road.

I’ve noticed a lot of Oakland fans still skeptical about the news that the Golden Grizzlies will be jumping to the Horizon League in the immediate future. PantherU.com’s Jimmy Lemke, who has confirmed the news again and also broke other re-alignment news regarding the conference, joined me for a podcast today to relieve fans of their curiosity.

We also discussed the strengths of some of the other Horizon League sports as it pertains to Oakland, whether the jump will happen for the 2013-2014 academic year or not, and what other schools might the league be looking to add (an addition of Oakland puts the league at nine).

More to follow as it’s announced.

The major moves in college conference re-alignment – save for B1G divisions – seem to be settling, but one which has been foreseen for some time looks to finally be coming to fruition.

PantherU.com‘s Jimmy Lemke is reporting that multiple sources have confirmed that Oakland University will indeed be leaving the Summit League for the Horizon League, and a move is expected to be announced in the coming weeks.

My thoughts on what it means for the various parties involved:

Oakland: Alumni and fans of the Golden Grizzlies will almost unanimously consider this a win-win situation. The Summit League has proved to be, in theory, a feeder system, and teams that migrate (save for Oral Roberts) have ended up for a majority in the Horizon when they’ve left, dating back to the Summit’s days when known as the Mid-Continent Conference. Now Oakland will realize a similar fate, set to gain as much as any of the others who paved the way. As far as the other prevalent OU sports? Swimming and diving should maintain its dominance. Men’s and women’s soccer also figure to be just as competitive (Oakland had the highest RPI of any Summit team on both sides last season).

Travis Bader will likely transition Oakland in its last year of Summit League competition, with the potential to break NCAA records in the process.

As far as basketball, though the Summit has been strong on the top half, conference RPI has been considerably stronger on the women’s side for the Horizon League in comparison. Women’s head coach Beckie Francis returns a very talented squad next year, though, led by Bethany Watterworth returning from injury to join a young, balanced squad. They figure to compete at the top of the conference, and that young group will be present to make the transition. On the men’s side, the larger talking point will be the much-anticipated rivalry with the Detroit Titans. Along with that comes a boost in recruiting (Chicago will be a new potential area to pursue) and some more battles for recruits with UD.

Horizon: It’s been no secret that the conference has been flirting with the idea of adding Oakland for some time now. No one will confuse the Golden Grizzlies with the unparalleled success that Butler had in the league, but adding another perennial contender is what the Horizon needed from a ninth team. Oakland’s location makes complete sense, and the O’Rena is a fine place to play despite having a smaller capacity than most Horizon arenas. Might the conference expand to as many as 12 members? Where would they find others? Well...

Summit: The obvious loser in this scenario. Coupled with North and South Dakota State, Oakland has been a staple of the forerunners within the league. Travel distance aside, the Summit might have looked the better conference for the long run had Oral Roberts not left the stable for closer pastures, if not greener in the Southland Conference. Adding Denver, which figures to be a strong program next year, was a good move but didn’t tighten the footprint of the league. Will the bleeding stop at Oakland, though? If the Horizon is still looking for other strong programs to add, my first recommendations would be the aforementioned NDSU and SDSU. For a conference that has been taking steps in the right direction in spite of the departed, that would be a death knoll for respectability, if nothing else.

More on all this in the coming days, or weeks.

 

This weekend was in no short supply as fights were concerned. Boxing action was great, and it was all day: Amir Khan was mostly defenseless, if not again thrilling in a close victory, and on the undercard, America’s most promising heavyweight in Deontay Wilder scored another victory and seems close to facing a top 10 opponent, perhaps next. Sergio Martinez and Martin Murray’s tilt in Argentina (at a soccer stadium, in the rain) was not without theatrics, and the other major bouts of the weekend, including Garcia-Judah and a fantastic fight between ESPN’s fourth-ranked heavyweight Cristobal Arreola and Bermane Stiverne, did nothing to disappoint.

Just as much, if not more talk, though, will rest on UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Jon Jones and his quick, but costly defense of the title Saturday night against Chael P. Sonnen. Jones got Sonnen to the ground at the end of the first round and started quickly turning the former middleweight challenger’s face into putty, and not long after an official stoppage put an end to the carnage. But it could have been a disastrous ending, as Jones suffered a broken left toe, and if the fight had reached the conclusion of Round 1, there’s a good chance it’d of been waived off and Sonnen would have been unfittingly deemed the victor.

I endorse the views of Josh Gross on the fight in terms of competition for Jones. Ultimately, Daniel Cormier makes a lot of sense if he chooses to abandon his quest for the heavyweight strap. As the best prospect in the offing that I can see, giving Alexander Gustafsson one more top-tier test would be best in the interest of marketing and competition. What or when’s next for Jones? Dana White has publicly stated that FOX Sports 1, the network’s new flagship channel to rival ESPN, will feature a PPV-caliber bout and a stacked card. With the broken toe, it might be just a bit too short of turnaround time, but September or October isn’t out of the question.

As for the rest of the card? Meh, mostly. The most notable results were Michael Bisping staying very active in a nice victory over a largely lethargic Alan Belcher. Roy Nelson did score a quick, thrilling victory over Cheick Kongo, and puts himself in the thick of the heavyweight title picture yet again. Sara McMann, a former Olympic medalist in freestyle wrestling, also put herself on the radar of Ronda Rousey with a dominating victory in her UFC debut. Overall, UFC 159 gets a B-/B

Some other thoughts on the weekend:

  • Not good news for the NBA. First Kobe Bryant, a blessing for ratings annually, gets removed from the picture. Then the perception of a real challenger to Miami’s crown takes an irreparable blow as Russell Westbrook gets ruled out of the entire NBA Playoffs. Though I’ve never been one to right off the regular season (particularly the past few seasons), April and beyond has always been prime time for the NBA. I’m not buying the Spurs’ chances to de-throne Miami, so the best hope rests on the Knicks to shoot out of their bloody minds for handful of games. Either way, it’s not quite the ideal situation.
  • It looks like the intrigue of the Premier League and the fight for Champions League spots next season could boil down to Relegation Sunday (May 19). After Tottenham was fortunate (read: Gareth Bale got this goal, and the Spurs’ other was a Wigan own goal) to get a tie, eyes were mostly on Arsenal-Manchester United at the Emirates on Sunday. While not as wildly entertaining as others when the two fought for a share of Premier League title spoils, it was quite spacious. Theo Walcott struck early, and Bacari Sagna gifted a penalty to Manchester United at the end of the first 45′ when he took down Robin Van Judas  Persie, who converted the penalty kick and gave the game its eventual final tally of 1-1. Eyes will turn next to Manchester United and third place Chelsea, who do battle at Old Trafford next weekend.
  • Good grades coming in for the Lions’ drafting over the weekend. Save for the thoughts on the punter choice (some may have taken greater issue with the individual punter taken, not necessarily drafting one), the majority of the team’s needs were addressed in a draft that saw lots of value being had for a number of teams. The usual teams (Niners, Packers, Ravens) notorious for drafting well seemed to do more of the same, too. Though I felt they did a middle-of-pack job, this might have been the first time in a number of years I felt better about the Lions’ drafting than my Chiefs.

In honor of the return of several of television’s best shows, you’re probably enjoying the new seasons of “Game of Thrones” and “Mad Men,” and the final ones of “Breaking Bad” and “Dexter” this summer. For those fishing for some other favorites, here’s my Starting Five other best TV shows you might not be watching.

  1. Orphan Black – BBC America’s new drama has one of the best pilot episodes of the past few years I can remember.
  2. Archer – Just finished its fifth season on FX, and now has to be considered one of the top five animated shows ever. Often equally funny and offensive.
  3. The Americans – Another new series that’s growing the FX original brand even in its infancy.
  4. House of Cards - The Netflix original made for binge-style watching is worth the time, however you choose to indulge.
  5. Top of the Lake - Don’t watch the Sundance Channel? Me either, until now. For added incentive, it stars Elizabeth Moss, who plays Peggy Olsen on “Mad Men.”

Detroit Lions beat writer Dave Birkett from the Detroit Free Press called in from New York to discuss the NFL Draft, how covering it has changed, and off-season changes.

The announcer on FX of Wednesday’s Champions League semifinal questioned whether the powers where European soccer rest had changed over night.

Indeed, the answer might be yes. But overnight, no. These new kings have been groomed for some time.

Even without a team in the quarterfinals, no one is questioning the obvious staying power of the Barclay’s. Too much money and history rests within England’s prized league to even bat a lash at the notion. The well-respected Serie A figure to see Juventus and AC Milan anchor a relatively balanced league, while Paris Saint-Germain will mostly grab the headlines from France. All these seem to be relative constants.

The chapter on football in Spain has been one quite cemented as of late, too. As Messi goes (mostly), so do FC Barcelona. Ditto for Cristiano Ronaldo and Real Madrid. They dominate La Liga (this may be the fifth consecutive year they hold the top two places in the league table), the domestic cup, and make lavish runs in the Champions League. Only Falcao, Atletico Madrid’s world-class striker who figures to be headed to England within months, has maintained any semblance of a challenger lately. But the lopsidedness has meant the league as a whole is far less intriguing to follow.

Has the world’s second-most attended sports league on a per-game basis (the NFL reigns supreme) been so vastly different? Germany’s Bundesliga has seen a bit more parity at the top, but this will almost assuredly be the second year in a row that Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund eviscerate their stablemates. Munich, affectionately known as “FC Hollywood,” sport a +75 goal differential. Dortmund stand at +39, so points are not the only evaluating factor for domination.

While these discussions of how the dominate clubs stack up in the hierarchy of the world’s best is partially based in aforementioned riches of domestic league dominance, the UEFA Champions League tends to be the concrete evidence presented yearly.

Based on this critiquing, La Liga have brought the best pair to the dance. The past three competitions have seen both the dominant Spanish clubs in the semifinals, and Barcelona, who won one of those, also took the 2008-09 campaign’s title. The Germans haven’t been absent, of course. The Bavarians have reached the finals two of the last three years, and FC Schalke found its way to the semis in 2010-11.

Suddenly, the world is taking notice of the Bundesliga this week, largely due to a combined battering of the Spanish giants by Bayern and Dortmund in the first leg of this year’s Champions League semifinals by a combined aggregate of 8-1. There’s a good chance Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s dominating results mean that May will see the first all-German Champions League final. They’ll dominate the discussion, and the Bundesliga will own the spotlight.

Bayer Leverkusen Andre Schurrle, 22, is another star of the Bundesliga who resides outside of Germany’s dominate duo of teams. Chelsea have had recent talks for the winger’s services.

 

Could you have seen it coming? You’d have to awfully look hard. Unless you own a sports-specific television package, chances are you don’t have GOL TV, which owns the rights to broadcasts stateside. Unlike the Premier League, games aren’t distributed throughout the dial on Fox Soccer and ESPN semi-regularly. Lesser in competition, Mexico’s Liga MX is now getting airtime on ESPN, too. Even “El Clásico,” the term given to matches between Barca and Madrid, often get the ESPN treatment once a year (plus the given Messi/Ronaldo highlights). Starting next season, the BPL will be far more visible here in America, too. Haters will deny it, but soccer is getting more popular in the good ol’ US of A. The ratings plainly prove it.

Other leagues will surely poach the services of young stars outside the Bundesliga’s two big teams, and chances are excellent that Dortmund and Munich will continue to dominate the rest of the decade. But stars like Polish international Robert Lewandowski, who netted all four of Dortmund’s goals against Madrid on Wednesday, along with other young stars scattered throughout the league, are breeding increasingly watchable soccer.

Does the Bundesliga need an elaborate deal like the BPL to reach vast American audiences? Not quite, but it seems time that a national audience should be treated to more of Bayern and Dortmund, especially when the two meet. In our age of immediate information and media that’s widely available, more fans should’ve seen the rise of the Bundesliga, and perhaps the shift in power both coming. Unless, of course, you couldn’t.

Punched In: Can’t Look Away

Posted: April 1, 2013 in Arts, NCAAB
Tags: ,

Legacies: They can be about sweet triumphs, or forgettable fades into the sunset. Ebbs and flows, endings of vast unpredictability. This weekend seemed to leave a sweeping variety of all sorts of images and the impact on various legacies.

Sometimes, though, moments of initial or significant, repetitious poise in critical instances are fleeting when the final images are so vivid. And so, farewell Elijah Johnson.

I could have reminded all the Michigan fans who doubled as my good friends watching Friday night’s Sweet Sixteen tilt about how Johnson played well in three victories over Ohio State in the last two seasons. Or, if anyone had forgot, how he went NBA Jam at Iowa State this season in a victory that likely shouldn’t have been, but was with Johnson (and the referees).

When you’re a displaced, passionate fan, you’re often left singing more praises than criticisms of your team or program. Somehow, though, those extremes have been accentuated in some sort of Michigan-centric fashion since I’ve planted my feet in this soil. A heartbreaking first-round upset to Bradley at the Palace in 2006. The snuffing out of Steph Curry and Davidson’s run in 2008 at Ford Field en route to a National Championship.

Now, after Johnson’s final game as a Jayhawk in Friday night’s loss to Michigan, he’ll exit stage right remembered as a failure and a hack in these parts for the way he went out. I’m not so sure he’ll be remembered so favorably elsewhere, or in my own mind. I’m at least grateful that Kansas will get a chance to erase the stench that was left, unlike Johnson. Its legacy deserves better.

As for the immediate future, intrigue awaits for both programs in a similar fashion. Both are set to likely lose underclassmen as NBA Draft lottery picks, and even more as potential first-round picks in the case of Michigan. The pair are also bringing in very good recruiting classes and will be depending on some fresh blood to keep it rolling in 2013-2014. A familiar fate for the Jayhawks, and a new test for Michigan. I suspect either way they’ll be playing on the biggest Monday of the season.

Still relatively unknown, “GGG” is about to become a household name to even the casual boxing fans.

Hopefully the lasting legacy of this Michigan season is one that, like for Kansas in 2008, leaves everything else irrelevant in the wake of a title, this time one that will leave flags flying forever.

 

  • So many other lasting images from this weekend’s tourney games. Florida, who wiped away SEC opponents more handily than they did the memorable run of Florida Gulf Coast, got flushed as well quite handily in what ends somewhat of a less-than-memorable campaign. Wichita State’s victory, the first MVC team to reach this stage since the days of Larry Bird. And the sickening Kevin Ware injury. This season may not produce the richest crops in an NBA sense, but the storylines have still been there.
  • Saturday was so ripe with tourney action, it was easy to forget that its boxing action should have reminded the younger generation why it was a sport that put our fathers and their fathers on the edge of their seats. On pay-per-view, it was easy to miss another epic knockout from middleweight Gennady Golovkin, who put down Nobuhiro Ishida with impressive ease. If you’ve followed anything from me or our boxing talk on the radio, you know about “GGG” by now. But even the casual boxing fans are going to know the name soon. His style is like a fireworks finale, and now that he’s passed the test against legitimate competition, I’m betting a date with one of the top names in the division like Sergio Martinez could be on tap before the end of the calender year. As for Saturday night’s Rios-Alvarado II, if you haven’t already subscribed or re-newed HBO for “Game of Thrones”, here’s another reason. It gave March’s Bradley-Provodnikov bout some company in the Fight of the Year candidacy.
  • Speaking of, I won’t get around to watching the Season Three premiere of GoT until tomorrow, but its return couldn’t have come at a better or worse time, depending how you look at it. It couldn’t have lost the 9 p.m. ET slot, though, after what we got from the competing season finale of AMC’s “The Walking Dead.” The half-season has produced some great television, like the penultimate episode and “Clear,” and some very underwhelming ones which dwelt on a poorly-developed character in Andrea (and in some respects, the Governor) and seemed too static at times. Without subjecting myself to any spoilers, it became even clearer after talking to those who’ve read the graphic novels that the way the corresponding action has played out in the television series over the past episodes has been even more confounding. As I’ve told some friends, to expect the same level of consistency from TWD as we’ve seen from shows like GoT or “Mad Men,” which returns next Sunday, is to set yourself up for perpetual disappointment it seems.

 

Punched Out Radio returns this Friday at 4 p.m. ET. Plan to talk more TV, and of course look at the open of MLB season, so tune in. Play ball!