Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Make it stop!!!! Please!!!

It's the middle of the week, and it's about the time I start getting itchy for the weekend, which in turn means, I'm getting the "short fuse" for things that bother me.

Exhibit A. Brett Favre.

Brett, you signed your reinstatement letter, the Commish will likely allow you to return, so go, play football, and enjoy yourself. I don't care if you play for the Green Bay Packers or the Hamilton Rough Riders of the CFL, just go play, and go away.

The whole saga has been an embarrassment for the NFL. Favre is arguably one of the biggest names (and obviously players), the game has ever seen. His yo-yo approach with the Packers over the past few years has been irritating (putting it mildly), and then, after he retires, he thinks about it, and decides he wants to return.

Fine. Come out and say it, then. Don't have the story leak out, be the guy to call a press conference and say, "I want to play for Green Bay again, if they will have me." Just like yesterday's post--straight talk earns points.

The Packers don't want him, but they don't want anyone in their division to have him either, and the Chicago Bears, Minnesota Vikings and Detroit Lions all could use a decent QB. The Packers want it both ways, and of course, they can't have it both ways. Green Bay would do well to trade Favre out of the conference, but who is to say that another team, say the Patriots (for this discussion only--they don't need Favre) make the swap with Green Bay. Say Favre to the Pats for a 2nd round and 4th round pick. What is to stop the Patriots from then offering Favre to Minnesota, Chicago or Detroit for a 1st round pick? Granted, I don't know ALL of the NFL trade rules and regulations, but it seems to me the Pats (or any other team for that matter) could do this deal, and be alright when the dust settles.

In any event, just make the Brett Favre situation stop. I liked him so much more when he was Brett Favre, the actor in "Something About Mary."

Michelle Wie. It's been a while since her nails dragged down my blackboard, but the screeching sound is back.

Stop playing on the PGA Tour. Please. You aren't making cuts, you are taking a spot away from another pro that is trying to make a check (some guys don't have endorsement contracts like you do), and you are skipping a major on the LPGA schedule. Yes, I know she is playing on a sponsor's exemption. Translation: Wie is a sideshow, and organizers hope she will attract people to watch her play. Ticket buying people, that is.

Last I looked, Michelle Wie hasn't won anything on the LPGA tour, although she has come close, with some 2nd place finishes a few years ago. Why is she bothering to try and compete against PGA Tour players when she hasn't bested a field on her own tour (of which she is not a full card carrying member anyway)? I don't get it. It's not a high profile thing to be a part of a PGA Tour event as a female, and get dusted by the guys. It doesn't enhance the legacy that is Michelle Wie, amateur golfer ate Stanford. It enhances the image of Michelle Wie, great player getting horrid advice by the people closest to her.

Before you click the comment box, and start proclaiming me a Wie-hater, or a chauvinist pig, let me point out that Annika Sorenstam, Paula Creamer and Helen Alfredsson, all accomplished players on the LPGA Tour are saying EXACTLY the same thing. When Sorenstam played on the PGA Tour (at Colonial I think), she had already won a basketful of LPGA major titles, and regular events. She was the world's top ranked female golfer. She EARNED the right to take her shots against the guys. She had proven herself, and I for one liked watching her take her shots. Wie hasn't earned anything yet, except making the cut against the men in Asia. Once.

I am all about the good story, and people chasing their dreams. Michelle Wie's dreams should lie on the LPGA Tour. Not because she is a female, but because her talents don't translate to playing against the men on the PGA Tour. This is her 8th attempt against the men. Almost as many absences as Ferris Bueller had, before he changed them.

Make it stop. Please. Next thing you know, Chicago Cubs fans will blame losing out on a World Series title on a fan reaching for a foul ball, or some billy goat curse.

Wait a minute....

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Emeka, Stewart, and more

Emeka Okafor has agreed to a new contract with the Bobcats--6 years, $12 million per. $72 million total. (More on the story here at What was different on this offer than the one he turned down last year? The length of deal. 5 years versus 6.

If the difference between player and management was length of contract, why won't someone come out and say that? Seriously, there would be a lot less animosity in sports, if people stopped hiding behind things, and just came out and said, "we agree on the dollars, we just need to nail down the length of contract." John Q. Fan would then not have to be bitter about an athlete being offered $12,000,000 (did that on purpose so you could count the zeroes) per season, only to refuse it. The perception becomes "the athlete is being greedy." The Bobcats aren't exactly the number 1 team in Charlotte's heart these days--attendance numbers are not where the team would like them to be, they have yet to make the playoffs, and I still think the city has a Hornets hangover (yeah, it was some kind of party).

The Okafor contract situation (which appears to be resolved) may have widened the divide between the team and fans. I hope not, but it certainly fueled some people I've talked to into feeling like the Bobcats aren't holding their interest anymore. Others say they want so badly to like the team, but they continually screw things up. Here's hoping the answers and some positives are around the next bend for the Cats.

Tony Stewart roughed up a USAC official last week in Indianapolis. OK, that's an overstatement. He grabbed the official's headset off his head, and chucked it to the ground. Stewart then ran into another official (who ran at Stewart--Stewart braced himself and then pushed back at the 2nd guy). It was an eventful night, no doubt. Smoke has been fined $10,000 dollars, and placed on probation for the remainder of the year. Not in NASCAR, but in USAC. This punishment is not a big deal. Stewart crossed a line, and was penalized for it. Stewart has even gone beyond the punishment, and will buy new uniforms and new radios for the USAC officials. What this also does, however, is dispel the notion that Stewart is a jerk. Did he over-react? Absolutely. Is he sorry for it? You bet. Is it excusable? Not in the least. His reaction in the aftermath is a far cry from the driver/person he used to be. In the past, Stewart would do something, be punished, and show no remorse for his actions. If you asked him, the others would be the ones to blame, and his actions were justified. Not anymore. It's a step in the right direction.

Panther training camp continues in Spartanburg, leading up to Fan Fest at Bank of America Stadium this Saturday at 11 a.m. I won't lie, camp isn't fun for anyone. Players, coaches, media, nobody enjoys it. The best part of camp is the fact that each day that wraps up means the season is one day closer to beginning. I haven't been back to Spartanburg since Saturday's opening practice, but by all accounts, the vibe at Wofford is different (over the course of the first 6 workouts), than it has been in years past. I got a sense of that on Saturday, but having not seen it with my own eyes since makes it harder for me, personally, to make that statement.

It does make sense, though, that players and coaches would be in a different state of mind, considering that the heat is on Head Coach John Fox and GM Marty Hurney to get this franchise back into the post-season, or else. The players all seem to love playing for Fox, and simply do not want another coach in their calling the shots. It's as much on the guys in the uniforms as it is on the coaches and front office to make this season successful. It's unity in face of danger, yet they aren't looking scared. They look eager, confident and excited. Pretty good place to be, if you asked me.

Mike Solarte

Monday, July 28, 2008

Happy Monday

Panthers training camp rolls on with 2 practices set for 9:10 am and 6 pm. So far, only a pair of minor injuries (RB Nick Goings and WR Josh Davis), and as long as the Spartanburg bumps and bruises remain minor, everyone will be happy. I was at camp on Saturday, and it's a good vibe with the players. They know the job in front of them, they are putting in the time to get it done, and they are doing it with as much of a smile as one can muster being trapped there.

We'll have more training camp news for you on Sports Night at 10.
I want to know where the outcry is. Seriously. I want to know.

The Daytona 500 is the Super Bowl of Stock Car Racing. It's the Great American Race. The NASCAR race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (or the Brickyard if you like), is considered the 2nd biggest race on the Sprint Cup schedule.

And we got that?

If you missed it, the Allstate 400 was the worst display of racing NASCAR has ever seen. I say this even after watching (and covering) the debacle that took place a few years ago at Lowe's Motor Speedway after the track was resurfaced by diamond-grinding it. You see, the surface at Lowe's was only partially done. Parts of the track patches didn't take, plus the surface was still very raw, eating up tires faster than a 9 year old with a pack of Gummi Lifesavers.

The Brickyard has a reputation fo chewing up tires, and NASCAR and Goodyear KNEW this was the case, after an April test session. Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Kurt Busch and Brian Vickers tested the new car (formerly known as the COT) at Indy, and they were burning up tires back then. So between April and July 27th, Goodyear couldn't come up with a better tire for this particular surface, when they had all the data they could get?

Where are the drivers on all of this? Only a few have voiced their displeasure, saying the situation was embarrassing, or calling it a joke. Where are the others? Oh, wait, NASCAR threw a basic "gag-order" on all of them earloier this season. basically, say something nice, or don't say anything at all. A majority of drivers are playing the nice role, saying things like "it's nobody's fault," or "we did what we had to." What would the late Dale Earnhardt say? Whatever he wanted.

This is not the first time this season a tire issue has come up in NASCAR's top series, but I would have to think it's coming pretty close to being the last. The price of gas, tickets, supplies (for those fans that camp out at the facility) and so on is too high for the fans to see such a mess. The drivers apologized to the fans, then then praised NASCAR for handling a bad situation as well as they could.

Someone is to blame here. Whether it is Goodyear for making a garbage tire for that surface, or it is the Brickyard for having a track that resembles 80 grit sandpaper. For me, the blame falls on both Goodyear and the IMS equally. Indy's surface should be better than that (after 99 years of racing, a new slick of asphalt is ok every 10 years or so, right guys?). Goodyear KNEW there would be tire issues, and brought a tire that was simply not up to snuff.

NASCAR is not totally off the hook, however. Many folks at the track were saying that the new car is also a culprit here--a heavier car that worked the right rear tires like they never have before. Another flaw in this new ride that the folks at NASCAR R&D will likely look into. Still, I, too, applaud the way Robin Pemberton and his folks handled Sunday--someone pass him the Advil.

When the track at Lowe's was resurfaced (and before it was re-paved), Tony Stewart ripped Humpy Wheeler saying "if he wants to see how a track is resurfaced correctly, he should go to Indy." I would hope Stewart would attempt to seek out Mr. Wheeler today, and apologize. Indy's showing on Sunday left a bad taste in everyone's mouth, except race winner Jimmie Johnson.

At least he wasn't dealing with bits of tire rubber when he kissed the bricks.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Camp Report-Saturday morning


In the dead of night, while most, if not all of us, were asleep, the Panthers came to terms on the rookie contract of Jonathan Stewart. The deal is for five years and worth $10.8 million. The Panthers got the deal done with Jeff Otah on Friday, and to make room on the roster, the Panthers released RB Alex Haynes and LB Brandon Jamison.

Notes from the morning workout:

Stewart worked alongside DeAngelo Williams splitting the carries during the morning workout with the ones. Stewart looked good, showing no signs of the surgically repaired toe that kept him out of mini-camp work in April. He also missed the OTA's, due to his school (Oregon) still being in session, which forced him to skip those workouts. Long story short, he's not in football shape (but trust me, he's not fat), and he's practicing. On time. No hold out. Big positive.

Jake Delhomme is bouncing around like a schoolkid. Having missed most of last season with the elbow surgery, he was chomping at the bit to get started this morning. His passes looked good, and Head Coach John Fox mentioned they would keep an eye on him, and the number of throws he'll get. This is nothing new, as they have regulated Jake in camp before, but now they will be keeping a closer watch, simply because he is coming off the surgery. Fox says the team doctors have pronounced him healthy, so he will practice. Don't be surprised, though, if Jake gets a workout or 2 off just to keep him fresh.

The O-Line, revamped, re-tooled, and re-fed, looked good. The Panthers worked Toniu Fonoti at the right guard spot with the ones today. That's not an indication of where he'll begin the season, but "you have to start somewhere on the depth chart," according to Fox. The other OL ones in the morning: Jordan Gross at LT, Travelle Wharton at LG, Ryan Kalil at C, Fonoti at RG, and Otah at the RT position. Lots of pad popping during the 11-on-11 drills, and much of the noise coming from the line of scrimmage. They should be earth movers, if they stay healthy.

Julius Peppers won't be speaking to the media today, but that won't stop us from talking about him. He looked leaner (believe it or not), which will likely lead to people speculating that he has a tapeworm or something. He looked fine in the practice-he's not a rah-rah guy in practice anyway. One highlight from #90--in 1-on-1 drills, he blew Gross back about 3 yards in pursuit of a ghost QB. Hope that is a sign of things to come.

Jason Carter made several tough catches during the practice, and made all the routine ones. I didn't see him drop a pass all practice long.

The Spartanburg weather cooperated with the team. Overcast skies and brief rain showers made the practice bearable.

More as camp progresses, and as always, on Sports Night at 10.

Mike Solarte

Friday, July 25, 2008

Otah is in

The Panthers have finalized the contract of 19th overall pick Jeff Otah, and continue to work on the deal for 13th pick Jonathan Stewart.

From afar, it appears that Stewart's deal is close enough to being done that he shouldn't miss significant (if any) time at camp this weekend, as the Panthers generally don't mess around with rookie contracts. My guess (and this is a guess), is that Stewart gets done, and may miss the morning workout Saturday, but will be practicing Saturday night (at the 6pm practice).

I'll know more in the morning in Spartanburg, and will update you then.


Christmas in July

Sing it with me...

"It's the most wonderful time of the year...."

Camp opens Saturday morning, and I'll make the trek to SpartanVegas for the morning workout. Here's the Panther practice schedule if you feel the urge to check out the team--all practices are free and open to the public on the campus of Wofford College.

Saturday, July 26 9:10 a.m. 6:40 p.m. (night practice)
Sunday, July 27 3:10 p.m.
Monday, July 28 9:10 a.m. 6:40 p.m. (night practice)
Tuesday, July 29 3:10 p.m.
Wednesday, July 30 9:10 a.m. 3:10 p.m.
Thursday, July 31 3:10 p.m.
Friday, August 1 9:10 a.m. 6:40 p.m. (night practice)
Saturday, August 2 FANFEST at BANK OF AMERICA STADIUM 11:00 a.m.
Sunday, August 3 OFF

Monday, August 4 9:10 a.m. 6:40 p.m. (night practice)
Tuesday, August 5 3:10 p.m.
Wednesday, August 6 9:10 a.m. 3:10 p.m.
Thursday, August 7 3:10 p.m.
Friday, August 8 10:45 a.m.

Saturday, August 9 vs. Indianapolis Colts 7:30 p.m.

Sunday, August 10 OFF
Monday, August 11 TBD
Tuesday, August 12 TBD
Wednesday, August 13 TBD

It would appear by the schedule that the week after the Indianapolis game could be a short one in Spartanburg, but that determination will be made later.

Tim Baier was on hand as the players reported for work on Friday. Among the things he passed along:

Steve Smith is making a video diary for NFL Network. Smitty apparently likes News 14 or just knows us fairly well. He got out of his car, camera in hand, pointed it at Tim and said, "there's channel 14..." and then went to the other cameras in attendance and asked them who they were and who they were shooting for. That's kinda neat.

DeAngelo Williams and Richard Marshall have made some investments for their stay at Wofford--motorized mini scooters. Williams says the scooter will help him save his legs from all the walking he'll do between the practice fields and the dorms. DeAngelo marches to his own beat, so this is actually rather funny, considering he's generally in unbelievable shape.

Jake Delhomme is eager to get back to work, but don't be shocked if the coaches keep him on a strict pitch count for camp. It's no secret that this team was a rudder-less ship after he went down to injury in 2007. There is no way Head Coach John Fox will allow Jake to throw more balls in practice than he needs to. It wouldn't shock me in the least if Jake actually gets days off during camp, just to keep tabs on his Tommy John-repaired throwing elbow.

GM Marty Hurney and Fox were scheduled to meet the media at around 5pm today. We'll let you know what was said tonight on Sports Night at 10.

More camp notes on the weekend!

Mike Solarte

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Friday's Mental Floss

The Carolina Panthers are in Spartanburg, SC for the start of training camp. The first practice begins at 9:10a.m. on Saturday morning, and I will be there. This is the time of the year that officially kicks off the Sports department's version of "Hurricane Season" (just check out the News 14 Weather Team when the tropics start firing up--you get the picture). As of this morning, no word on the contract status of 1st round picks Jonathan Stewart and Jeff Otah, however, we hope to hear from GM Marty Hurney and Head Coach John Fox this afternoon. Keep watching News 14 Carolina for all your Panther Camp coverage, right through the pre-season and into the season opener with San Diego.

When will people learn? Seriously?

CMS came down hard on the East Mecklenburg H.S. football program, wiping out their 2007 season, and punishing 3 members of the coaching staff. The penalties come after a volunteer coach was found to have recruited players to play for the school.

3 players were ruled ineligible, and will be forced to sit out 1 game this season for every game they played last season.

It's hard for me to be sympathetic to situations like this one. The rules are in place. They are in place for a reason. Just as NASCAR was wrong to penalize Toyota to level the playing field, CMS is correct with these penalties for the same reason--keep people honest.

The coaches have not been fired, so their punishment is minor in financial terms, but major in the shame of being pointed out as rule breakers. The kids losing eligibility is major for them, having a game they love taken away from them.

Maybe there are extenuating circumstances for these players that we just don't know about. Maybe they filed the necessary papers, and they are just missing right now. Maybe the kids and coaches are innocent.

Isn't it time that people just accept the rules that are in place, rather than try to find ways around them? The ones getting hurt the most are the kids, and ultimately, the game.


The WNBA handed out fines and suspensions for the pushing match in Detroit the other night. 10 players, and Detroit assistant coach Rick Mahorn got varying degrees of suspensions and fines. Hats off to the league for implementing discipline for such an instance, considering there are no concrete rules surrounding players and coaches leaving the bench for altercations (such rules exist in the NBA). That incident was ugly for the WNBA, but it got their name in the papers, and on TV for a few minutes. Maybe that will kick-start interest in their produce again, considering it has fallen off quite a bit.

While the discipline is a positive, Detroit signing Nancy Lieberman to a 7-day contract is certainly a negative. If the WNBA wants to be considered legitimate as a league around the country, why resort to a (and I mean this with the utmost respect), "Humpy-Esque" move? Former Lowes Motor Speedway President and GM Humpy Wheeler was the king of these things. Dreaming up something to get folks interested in his product. How is the WNBA going to advance itself with a 50 year old player suiting up and playing against athletes half her age, and likely twice as talented as she is now? The answer is, it won't.

Detroit Head Coach Bill Laimbeer says he plans to use Lieberman in games, since he has lost some players due to injury and suspension stemming from the "fight," but realistically, this move comes off as nothing more than a publicity stunt, and a bad one at that.

If the WNBA needs a publicity stunt, here's an idea: Have Laimbeer suit back up in his Detroit Pistons uniform (the style he wore when he played), dip him in honey, and drop him into a glass tank full of bees. Why? Well, it is mildly connected to basketball, and people (at least basketball fans from NBA cities that hated Laimbeer), would pay good money, both in gas and admission, to watch that.

Toyota gets clipped

On Wednesday, NASCAR told all Toyota teams in the Nationwide Series that their engines made too much horsepower, and that they would have to ditch the extra speed, in the name of competition.

NASCAR also ruled that Toyota did not break any rules, and, according to Robin Pemberton (NASCAR's competition guru), Toyota (and I'm paraphrasing here), worked within the box given to them by NASCAR.

So let me get this straight. They broke no rules, but are having horsepower taken away because their engines are simply TOO good.


This flies in the face of the word competition. When did being the best, and doing so within the framework of the rules, become a punishable offense? As a kid playing baseball, hockey, golf, whatever, the goal was to be the best you could be in order to win your game. Toyota has done that in all 3 of NASCAR's divisions. They have done that without breaking rules as a manufacturer. Yeah, there was Daytona last year when a member of Michael Waltrip's team put some additive in the fuel line to help Waltrip's car make the race (for which the team was hammered by NASCAR, and Toyota threatened to walk away from MWR). Toyota has done all they can to be above board since their arrival to stock cars.

NASCAR's ruling in the Nationwide Series comes after two-thirds of the races run this season have been won by drivers in Camrys. 14 of 21 checkered flags belong to the Toyota's, and most of those 14 are found at Joe Gibbs Racing (between Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano). NASCAR decided it was time to investigate what the issue was, and they found it.

These Toyota teams are making a better racing engine.

Too bad NASCAR doesn't have that competitive spirit where they allow others to try and rise to the bar. They would prefer to simply lower it.

Mike Solarte

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Wednesday thoughts...

I noticed that in yesterday's post (Tuesday), I wrote that i would chat more with you on "Tuesday." That's what time off does to you--makes you forget what day of the week it is.

Welcome to WEDNESDAY!


NFL Draft picks not getting signed before training camp is one of the things that still boggles my mind, but at the same time, I do understand the player perspective. I am not giving any un-signed player the business here, just pointing out that most NFL training camps will open within the next week (if they haven't already), and there are a load of players (1st rounders mostly), that have yet to get the rookie contract done.

All of the years of lifting weights, and sacrificing personal time in the pursuit of reaching the pinnacle of football--all to be halted because the numbers don't add up the way the player, or in most cases the agent, would like them to. That's the head scratching side.

The practical side is this--rookie drafted in the first round, gets wants to get his deal done the way he wants it. The papers get signed. First practice out of the gate, the player suffers career-ending knee injury after an agility drill. That player now has his guaranteed money (the signing bonus, basically) to fall back on, until he can get acclimated to the real world, and get a job like the rest of us. That's the part I understand from the player perspective.

It's a never ending cycle of which should be priority one: the unproven player getting the giant contract having not proven themselves in the NFL, or the unproven player taking the first deal given to him because he hasn't proven anything yet at the NFL level. that cycle is likely going to stick around for quite a while (love it or hate it), because it appears to be a very difficult task of implementing an NFL rookie scale for draft picks. The NBA can get away with it--their draft is just 2 rounds. The NFL goes 7 rounds deep--a much different animal.

Best case scenario for all is that the 1st round pick gets the deal he (and his agent) want, and it gets signed in time for the start of camp, so he can begin the job of proving himself at the NFL level.

Congrats to the NHL for bringing the 2009 Winter Classic to Chicago on January 1. The Chicago Blackhawks will face the Detroit Redwings on the outdoor surface that will be constructed inside Wrigley Field. The venue will seat an estimated 40,000 fans, and the weather in Chicago should be ideal, down by Lake Michigan. Having grown up there, I know that a backyard rink is not a problem, so getting the NHL ice-making pros to get a surface at Wrigley should be a piece of cake.

I only have 2 issues (and one is really a suggestion). First issue is the venue. This has NOTHING to do with my die-hard allegiance the the 2005 World Series Champion Chicago White Sox, perhaps the greatest assembly of power, grace, and pitching that Major League Baseball has ever seen (ok, that was over the top, but it's my blog post, dang it). I wouldn't ask the NHL to host a hockey game at US. Cellular Field. I don't like the idea of this showcase game being played in a venue with such a low number of seats.
Think back to the 2008 version of this game, between Buffalo and Pittsburgh. 73,000 plus inside of Ralph Wilson Stadium, enjoying the snow, cold, wind...all of it. The idea behind the Winter Classic was to play hockey in massive stadiums, not broken down and antiquated ballparks like Wrigley. Wrigley has its charm--in the summer when the chants of "left field sucks," are only offset by the ivy that clings to the brick walls in the outfield. The park has character, and history (of losing--again, another Cubs jab. I can't help it), but it's because of the baseball team that has called it home. The Bears played games there during the Gale Sayers and Dick Butkus hey-day. They didn't play there long because the outfield area simply wasn't big enough for a complete 10-yard deep end zone. Imagine Arena Football, but with a brick wall instead of padding. Ouch.

This game between the Hawks and Wings BELONGS at Soldier Field. It's massive. It's updated. It's beautiful at field level. It has luxury suites (read--big bucks for the NHL). It's on the lakefront. Do you know who is to blame for the game NOT being played at Soldier Field?

Da Bears.

Citing potential post-season conflicts, the Bears refused to allow the NHL to stage this game in the facility.

I made a mention of this "potential conflict" on the air during Sports Night on Tuesday, and got a nasty-gram e-mail from a viewer. Obviously a Bears fan, and obviously someone not clued into reality. As they stand now, the Bears are NOT making the playoffs. Let me know if Chicago somehow finds a QB between today and the start of the season. If they do, I may re-evaluate that prediction. Until then, enjoy Rex Grossman and Kyle Orton (Orton is the better of the 2 by the way).

My suggestion for the Winter Classic: Have Chicago and Detroit wear throwback uniforms, much the same as the league had in the 1992 season. Both Chicago and Detroit entered the NHL in 1926, and during the league's 75th Anniversary season, the Original 6 teams (Boston, Montreal, Toronto, NY Rangers, Chicago & Detroit) wore vintage uniforms. Bring them back, Commissioner Bettman. Please.

Breaking down the Palace's Cat Fight

Is any publicity good publicity?

That seems to be one of the big questions at the center of yet another brawl at The Palace of Auburn Hills in Detroit, (the site of the Pacers/Pistons fight in 2004 that spilled into the crowd and involved players fighting fans.)

The only difference is this time the fighting involved women as the WNBA's Los Angeles Sparks and Detroit Shock mixed things up with 4.6 seconds to go in the Sparks' 84-81 win. It involved Sparks rookie star Candace Parker, Detroit assistant coach Rick Mahorn and veteran Lisa Leslie, also of the Sparks, among others.

I was eating dinner and saw the fight live on a TV at the restaurant, and I can honestly say I watched more of the game after the fight (4.6 seconds) than I had seen in all the time leading up to it. Everyone in the restaurant turned toward the TVs, wondering just what the heck happened. (Seemed like dirty playing by Detroit's Plenette Pierson...)

Most sports talk commentators on Wednesday morning said the fight hurt the WNBA's image and was bad news for a league that is already struggling to reach fans. In just 12 years, the WNBA has seen four teams fold, including the Charlotte Sting, and two teams have relocated. Average attendance at league games was just 7,742 last season, and the Chicago Sky attracted only 3,710 fans per game. The minimum salary for veteran players is $42,000 and just $30,000 for rookies, while in the NBA, rookies make a minimum of $385,000.

That's why I think the brawl was actually good news for the WNBA as sad as it is to say. My reason being is that interest in the league is so low that news of the brawl can't hurt it, it can only help. I'm sure my interest mirros that of a number of fans, and this is the first time I've been interested in the WNBA in its 12-year history. While I enjoy women's college basketball to a degree (especially when Ivory Latta played for North Carolina), I have never been able to get into the WNBA.

Now I'm actually interested to see how Parker plays when she comes back, what happens with the Lisa Leslie/Rick Mahorn incident, and most notably -- what happens if and when these two teams meet again, especially if that's in the WNBA Finals.

I can say that's exponentially more interest than I had in the WNBA before last night. That can only be a good thing for the struggling league.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Go on vacation, and come back to this?

A guy goes on vacation, and finds this mess in the world of sports.

Billy Packer leaving CBS is not the greatest thing since sliced bread (sorry to disagree a little with my counterpart WW here). While Packer has come off like a pompous jerk on more than one occasion, the man knows basketball. I actually enjoy his "remember whens," as he conjures up memories of Final Four's of the past. His departure clears the way for Clark Kellogg, and I hope CK realizes he has some big shoes to fill. I was not Billy Packer "fan," but I certainly wouldn't fall into the "hater" category either. I wish Billy well.

Emeka Okafor and the Bobcats are at an impasse? Huh? I read that this morning and almost fell out of my chair. How in the world are these sides at an impasse, and now Okafor wants a sign and trade? Has someone removed the mirrors from Okafor's home? Last I looked, Okafor is a guy that averaged a double-double, and does good things on defense. Was Okafor at the All-Star game? Was Okafor among the players invited to represent Team USA in Beijing? Was Okafor a key ingredient in getting the Bobcats into the playoffs?

No, no, and

He turned down a big contract last season, and was able to prove he was durable, for the first time, to play 82 games in a season--that's the max without playoffs. Okafor has yet to prove he can be that guy year in and year out. He has yet to find himself among the elite bigs in the NBA. He turned down the big contract last year, and now he wants out? Not exactly the kind of "feel good" story this franchise needs to score points with its fan base.

If Okafor does sign and return to the Bobcats, it should be at their price, and not his, and that's how it should be, in my opinion. I understand the athlete perspective--they put out the effort, the sweat, the risk of injury, but when the athlete rejects a deal that could pay $12 million a year (reportedly the figure Okafor rejected), it's hard to be sympathetic to their cause.

The Panthers report to Spartanburg this Friday for the start of a shortened training camp session at Wofford College. I can't say I am unhappy about the reduction in Spartan-Vegas time, quite thrilled, actually. Certainly the players are even happier. GM Marty Hurney has bu 2 draft picks to sign, the 1st rounders RB Jonathan Stewart and OT Jeff Otah. Not hanging Marty out to dry on this one--the NFL rookie's generally slot themselves, and for Stewart (at #13) and Otah (at #19), there's no numbers to slot them with, which leaves the Panthers in a pickle. When I say slot, I mean that the 13th pick will generally get a little less than the 12th pick, and more than the 14th. As of this morning, the teens were a black hole of signings--nothing there. My guess is, Stewart and Otah will get signed, but it may not be until the first of next week. Hopefully, I am wrong about this, because I think the rookies need all the reps they can get, but Jon Beason was a late arrival last season, and he turned out just fine. I would hate to see either Stewart or Otah turn into Jamarcus Russell situation (QB in Oakland who missed all of camp, and preseason before signing).

Oh, and Marion Jones wanting her sentence commuted is like losing a bunch of money in Vegas gambling, knowing the risks, and then asking the casino to give you your dollars back. Laughable. I applauded here when she represented the USA in the Olympics, and all the good work she had done on the track, but her positive tests, followed by the lies, and then a check fraud scheme? It's a sad tale, and I feel pain for her 2 kids. Hers is a lesson in how not to handle yourself when the lights shine brightest on you.

I'll hop off the soapbox and be back with more "riveting" stuff for you on Tuesday. See you on Sports Night tonight at 10!

Mike Solarte

Monday, July 14, 2008

Good riddance Billy Packer

* Billy Packer is leaving CBS.

Would any other statement in college sports cause as much universal celebration as that one? Some might come close, but I dare you to name two people you know who actually like Billy Packer. Some may be indifferent, but does anyone actually enjoy the man? I honestly can't name a single person I know.

CBS ended its partnership with the controversial basketball analyst on Monday, 27 years after Packer landed arguably the best college basketball job in the country. He has worked 34 straight Final Fours, has probably seen more Duke-Carolina basketball games than Mike Krzyzewski, and served as the voice of arguably the greatest game of all time -- the 1983 National Championship game NC State won at the buzzer:

"They won it... on the dunk!"

Despite all that history, I dare you to Google Billy Packer and find positive posts from bloggers, sports writers or ... well ... anyone. Seven of the top 10 things you will find are all critical, two offer today's headline that he is leaving, and the only other thing listed in the top 10 is Packer's Wikipedia page, which details plenty of the controversies he is known for:

• He called Allen Iverson a "tough little monkey" in 1996.

• He allegedly asked two Duke students, "Since when do we let women control who gets into a men's basketball game? Why don't you go find a women's game to let people into?" when the two students asked to see his credential in 2000.

• In 1979, 2004 and 2006, Packer criticized the inclusion or ranking of teams in the NCAA Tournament only to later eat his words when those teams performed well.

What is perhaps most surprising is that the disdain for Billy Packer is held across both rivalries and conferences. Do Carolina fans like Billy Packer? Ha, head to Google again and type in "Billy Packer UNC." The first five hits are all along the lines of the first one -- "Fire Billy Packer." Ironically though, the enemy of their enemy is still hated at Duke. Blue Devil fans can't stand the man either. Ditto for the average Maryland fan, NC State fan... and you get the point. Maybe those "indifferent" people all went to Wake Forest, but being from Winston-Salem, I know plenty of Demon Deacon fans who loathe Billy Packer as well.

Now it's Clark Kellogg's turn.

I enjoy Kellogg's analysis for the most part on CBS, though I am hoping he goes a little more indepth with his analysis this year. (Personally, I was hoping for ESPN's Jay Bilas even though I knew it was wishful thinking.)

The thing I like most about the switch -- and the reason most people dislike Billy Packer -- is this will end the negative analysis. Too often, Packer criticized college kids for not making plays. If someone got their shot blocked, it was because they made a bad play -- not because the defender made a good play.

I'm happy to hear fair criticism and I encourage it, but Packer went far too negative far too often. He also gave analysis of players' body language. As an analyst, don't go there. Tell me about basketball, tell me why UCLA's guard play is giving Stanford fits, but don't tell me that one player's heart just isn't too the game or that he's quitting on his team. You have no idea what's in his heart or what's in his head.

I'm happy to be getting an analyst and not a shrink.

Goodbye Billy Packer. Good riddance.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Final thoughts before the weekend

* Brett Favre continues to hold Green Bay hostage. He wants to come back, and has now asked for his unconditional release. Green Bay is in such bad spot. If they let him go, he can sign with anyone. Like Minnesota or Chicago for instance. Both teams in the Packers division, and Favre would see his old franchise twice a year. If they keep him, they shred Aaron Rogers confidence. The Packers claim they will do what is in the best interest of the team. Ok, take him back, and make him the back-up.

Yeah, like that would happen. Ugh. Stay tuned as more episodes of "As the Brett Turns" will be coming in the weeks ahead.

* Kyle Busch won the Nationwide race in Chicago Friday night. That's 5 wins on the junior circuit. He has 5 win on the Cup side too. One word--Dominance. Where was all this ability when he was at Hendrick?

* Failed to mention this on Thursday, but Paula Creamer fired a 60 in the opening round of the Jamie Farr Classic. Why isn't anyone screaming "performance enhancers?" Oh, that's right. She's young and doesn't need them. How about, she's that good. She backed up the 60 with a 65 on Friday, for a nice and tidy 125 2-day total. Hope she smokes the LPGA scoring record this weekend.

* Panthers should have 3 of their 9 draft picks under contract by Monday, and perhaps more. I am hopeful that GM Marty Hurney can get both Jonathan Stewart and Jeff Otah signed before the start of camp on July 25th. Those 2 will be key cogs in the Panther offense in 2008, and they need all the time on the field, in practice, film study, and meetings they can get. Stewart has yet to run a play in practice with the Panthers--he missed the post-draft mini-camp with his foot in a boot after surgery, and was ineligible to take part in the Off-season Training Activities (OTA's or "Summer School") program, because Oregon is on a quarter system (an NFL rule to keep kids in school to finish before they head to the pros I suppose). Those negotiations need to be painless, and fruitful.

Once camp opens, we'll get a better sense of how Stewart will be utilized, and how Otah fits into the O-line (likely at a starting tackle spot). I know it's 2 weeks away, but I am geeked about football coming back.

* Wanna have some fun? Put yourself to the test by clicking this link:

I hate timed tests (they get me wound up), and finished with a paltry 62 (take the test to know what I mean). I completely spaced on the Big East. Good luck!

I will relinquish the blogging duties to my colleagues while I take some much needed time off. Re-charging the batteries before camp is necessary, and I look forward to chatting with you all again soon.

As of this writing, 13 days until training camp begins!

Mike Solarte

Thursday, July 10, 2008

"Smoke" is no joke

* Tony Stewart will become a NASCAR owner/driver this afternoon in Chicago, officially announcing his intentions to partner up with Haas-CNC Racing. We've known this was coming down the pike for a while, and it comes to fruition in Joliet, Illinois, at Chicagoland Speedway.

David Poole of the Charlotte Observer wrote in his column today that Stewart is stepping into some choppy waters as an owner/driver, based on stats that say that combination (being an owner/driver) has a low success rate. The numbers certainly suggest that it's a struggle to be competitive and successful both on and off the track in that dual role.

I say Stewart will do more than meet this challenge. He may very well become the modern day Lee Petty.

Now before I begin to list the reasons why, in the interest of disclosure, I have never been a "fan" of Stewart in the sense of wearing his gear, buying memorabilia, and only recently have I shopped at Home Depot (they had a great deal on hardwood flooring, and I couldn't pass it up). Normally I am a Lowe's guy (and I do like Jimmie Johnson).

Back to the topic--Stewart, like every driver in the series CARES about winning and being successful. Stewart sets himself apart from the others in this, because he not only cares, he lives and dies with racing. I said it on Sports Night on Wednesday, that Stewart is likely the most talented driver in the series. Period. Jeff Gordon, Johnson, Kyle Busch aside, Stewart can out-drive them all. Stock car, Indy car, modifieds, lawn tractors, you name it.

The passion to race burns so deeply and so strongly in Stewart, that a bad result eats at him more than anything, and to his credit, he's done a very good job of being a professional on the outside. Remember, a bad result is a finish less than he should expect given his equipment. If he has a great car, he expects to win. If his car is a little off, his expectations drop. Stewart gives credit to his team for fighting the good fight, and adjusting the car. He will do what he can to take a 9th place car, and bring it home 9th or better. If he fails in that mission, it's on him, and he's the one laying the blame.

Stewart will succeed as an owner/driver because he tries the hardest at not failing. Failure is not an option for him in anything. Now, he will be the guy responsible for signing the checks. HIS name goes on the marquis outside the shop. HIS name is on the signature line of that check. HIS reputation as an owner is now on the line. Stewart will protect his name and reputation with the same fire that he takes into the car each weekend. This will be fun to watch, and I gotta tell ya, I'm rooting for him to blaze the trail into owner/driver race success.

* Had the chance to visit with Omar Gaither on Wednesday night, at the AMF Lanes on South Boulevard. Gaither is as close to a "News 14 Baby" as you can get. When we opened our doors in June of 2002, we turned a story on Gaither, as he prepared to leave for Tennessee to play football. The Myers Park High School star was going to the SEC to ply his trade, get an education, and make his way in life. After college, he was selected in the 5th round of the NFL Draft by the Philadelphia Eagles, and jumped in as a starter for the birds.

The best part about Omar is that he has only changed his appearance--he's gotten bigger and stronger. He is still the same person that he was when he left Myers Park to go to school. Success hasn't changed him--he still has that wonderful work ethic, that same smile, that same laugh, and that same confidence. He began a project called "Sports Fest," and the first event was a fun bowling/poker game--players earned cards for strikes and spares, and the cards were then used to make their best poker hand to win prizes. Myers Park supporters and coaches were on hand, along with a few of Omar's NFL friends. He's starting to give back to the community, and I hope this is something that continues for him. Omar, ya done good.

You can find out more about Gaither and his soon to be announced foundation at

* Davidson Baseball Coach Dick Cooke will be a guest on Sports Night tonight at 10. Coach Cooke is looking ahead to the Beijing Olympics, and we'll talk about the upcoming games.

Hope you'll check us out!

Mike Solarte

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Tuesday Tidbits

* Brett Favre is NOT coming to the Panthers. I'll be the most shocked person in the world if Carolina brings him in, but they won't. I don't know if there is a more frustrating thing on the planet than this particular nugget thrown into the internet rumor mill by a less-than-credible website. I won't even give you the site's name, just so they won't have the satisfaction of new user hits.

Favre is retired. Carolina is Jake Delhomme's team. The Panther brass didn't sign--shoot, they didn't even LOOK at a veteran back-up in the off-season. Favre should continue to do what he has done since March. Play golf, shoot Wrangler commercials, and enjoy his retirement with his wife and family. If he wishes to play again, that's fine, there are other NFL teams that have much more severe QB needs than Carolina.

No disrespect to Favre, his career is unmatched. When he is on, he is one of the best QB's to ever play in the NFL. He proved that he is still capable by leading his team to the NFC title game last season. Carolina just isn't the spot for him, if he indeed decides to come back.

One question, though. What does Favre have to prove, anyway?

* Dara Torres is an Olympian. Again. What a story. 41 years old, been swimming in international competitions, and trying to make Olympic teams since 1984. She's a mother, now a 5-time Olympian--remarkable.

She's competing against other swimmers that could be her children. Literally. And she was beating them in the pool. She qualified for both the 50m and 100m freestyle races, but withdrew from the 100m events in Beijing to concentrate on the 50m only. Her choice, and if that decision paves the way for another American swimmer to step in and win gold there (one that she didn't feel good about winning), then it was the right call. I respect athletes that put team first.

It's only been a few days, but already, fans out in a place I like to call Random Internet City are saying they think Torres isn't clean. That her performances are enhanced by chemicals.

Welcome to the reality of athletics in 2008.

An athlete simply cannot go out, perform to the best of their ability, and be congratulated for it any longer. Now, whenever someone runs the race of their life, throws a discus further than they ever have, or jumps farther than anyone has ever seen, the immediate response is, "drugs."

How sad.

I have no reason to suspect Dara Torres of using performance enhancers. She offers to be tested routinely, and routinely, when tested she passes. Does that mean she is using something that is undetectable? I don't think so, but it's a shame that there are those folks in the world who immediately suspect something underhanded is happening.

Torres has won 9 medals, and was competing in the Olympics at the age of 15. The only time I have seen the Olympics is on TV.

She is 41 years old and appearing in her 5th games, which is a new record.

Mr. Naysayer, what have YOU done today?

Instead of being a non-believer, try being inspired by an athlete who's desire to compete, no matter what age, is as strong now as it was 26 years ago when she first started.

I hope Torres is able to win gold in Beijing, pass every drug test and then smile into the camera and say "I love you," to someone back in the states. Upon her return home, I hope she ends up doing commercials for a calcium-enhancing drink, or yogurt, or something that gets he face on TV (and dollars in her pocket), so that way Mr. Naysayer in Random Internet City has no choice but to think, "I can't believe I saw a 41-year-old woman win Olympic gold, and do it without the help of performance enhancers."

Wow, do I hope.

Mike Solarte

Monday, July 7, 2008

I'm not grumpy, I promise

I have tried, honestly, I have. I have tried so hard to give Bud Selig and Major League Baseball a chance to do something right. They just refuse.

The latest case in baseball's walking case of Idiocy, comes in the All Star selections. It happens every year, where someone is unhappy about his/her favorite players being snubbed for the game. I'm not here to gripe about players that were snubbed. I'm more upset that players from 2 teams take up 14 of the 64 available spots for the Mid-Summer Classic.

7 Boston Red Sox, and 7 Chicago Cubs highlight the AL and NL rosters.

7 apiece?

I find it hard to believe that 7 of the 25 players that make up the Cubs roster (and Boston's as well) are among the best in an entire league at their given position. For instance, Chicago catcher Geovany Soto is 5th among the NL catchers in batting average alone, and he will start behind the plate, becoming the first NL rookie to do so at that position. Yadier Molina (STL), Russel Martin (LA), Brian McCann (ATL), and Benji Molina (SF) are hitting at higher clips (albeit slightly), than Soto. Soto and McCann's numbers are very VERY close, so how does Soto get the start over McCann? Maybe, since the Braves are 6 games back of Philadelphia, that must make Soto the better catcher.

Or, maybe not. The fan vote got Soto in ahead of McCann, and when you compare the baseball fans of the Cubs to the Braves, Cub-Nation has them outnumbered.

There are a lot of correct decisions made for this All Star game, but there are some real clunkers, too. Boston has 4 starters named, among them David Ortiz. What kind of season is Big Papi having? How about nothing since June 3rd, when Boston placed him on the DL. Why is he even being considered for votes, especially after he went down with the injury? He's hitting .252 this season in 54 games played. Mind you, Ortiz won't play because he's still recovering from the wrist injury, and Milton Bradley (TX) will take his DH spot. Still, this is a case of fan voting gone wrong.

The players also had a say in who is going to Yankee Stadium, and there is truly one selection that even Selig has to wonder about.

Jason Varitek is in, voted by the players, as a reserve catcher.


Varitek is hitting a Bob Eucker-esque .218 with 70 strikeouts this season. Oh yeah, I gotta have THAT GUY on my All Star bench. Maybe the AL needed a bullpen catcher. That has to be the way he got on this squad. Meanwhile, a guy like A.J. Pierzynski (yes, he's a White Sox player, and I am a White Sox guy), is left behind. What's A.J. doing this season? 33 RBI, 7 HR, a .296 average (his best since 2006), and 35 whiffs.

By the way, for the mathematically challenged, 35 is HALF of 70.

Varitek got in by the players which can only mean that the overall MLB family simply does not like Pierzynski.

This, too, is another flaw in the system.

Manager's make selections to fill out roster spots, and the fans also get ANOTHER say in the matter with the "final vote", conducted online. Among the AL players up for the final roster spot--Jermaine Dye (CHI), Brian Roberts (BAL), Jason Giambi (NY), Jose Guillen (KC), and Evan Longoria (TB). While I would love Dye to be selected by the fans, I would vote for Longoria. Why?

Well, here's why. The team with the best overall record in the majors has just 2 representatives--Pitcher Scott Kazmir, and catcher Dioner Novarro (who?). The Rays have had a great year, thanks to some great pitching, and timely hitting, but Navarro is not their best player, in spite of a.318 average. He's driven in 33 runs, with 4 HR's this season, in 63 games. Longoria, in 77 games, has 52 RBI, 16 HR's, and has been far more valuable to the Rays success.

I understand there are lots of ways things like this can go, it is just frustrating that players get shut out of something as special as the All Star game because of oversight.

For all of my complaining about this, I should have a solution, right? Well, I don't. It's an imperfect system for a game of imperfections. Umpires make mistakes, managers make mistakes, players make errors. The imperfection of baseball, and the games ability to make us wring our hands over close losses, get mad at All Star snubs, despise bad Commissioners, and curse bad trades makes it all, well, perfect.

Congrats to Raleigh native Josh Hamilton on his All Star selection. His amazing comeback story gets new chapters written every day. Drafted 1st overall, he fought injuries and then addictions. He leads the planet in RBI, and for me personally, I couldn't be happier for him. I covered him at Athens Drive H.S. when I worked in Raleigh. he was a good kid then, and I think he is still a good man. I hated to see him wallowing through those dark days, but luckily, he found the light switch in time. Nice to see the lights shining brightly on him, for good reasons now.

Kyle Busch won the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona on Saturday, but my pick of Tony Stewart was looking pretty good, until he simply couldn't drive anymore, due to flu-like symptoms. I wouldn't have changed my pick, even if I knew he was ill. Being taken out of that car 72 laps into the 160 lap race likely made him feel worse than whatever sickness was sapping his body of strength. Stewart is a racer, and he'd sooner cut off his arms than be taken out of a race car. Once he's healthy, he'll be a threat to win. A lot.

Hope everyone had a good holiday weekend. We'll chat again on Tuesday.

Mike Solarte

Wow! What a Wimbledon

Incredible, that’s how I describe what I witnessed Sunday afternoon from the All England Club in London. For over four hours Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer provided arguably the best tennis match of all time.

With the excitement of each serve and the anxiety of each volley, I shut off the world around me: cell phone-unanswered, e-mails-unchecked, food-who needs it.

Who wants to be the guy who missed this match?

Now, I’m by no means a tennis expert, I am not even a good player. But for those few hours Sunday I knew I was watching history. Through rain-delays and a two set deficient Federer stormed back. Through break points and possible breaking-points Nadal persevered.

And in the end Nadal finally got to bite from the golden cup.
Is it an end to an era? No!

Yes, Nadal finally beat Federer on grass but are we really shocked? He has been working toward this moment since last year’s loss. Federer is still the number one player in the world with one more Grand Slam to play in Flushing, Queens. And for the record, R-Fed has won the past four U.S Open tournaments.

One thing is certain though, to all of us who watched Sunday we know we were all witnesses’ (yes I stole that from Nike’s Lebron campaign) to something INCREDIBLE!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

A couple notes on a Thursday

** Davidson Baseball Coach Dick Cooke is going back to the Olympics, this time as a Auxiliary Coach for Team USA. He'll be on the staff led by Davey Johnson. He was an assistant to Tommy Lasorda in 2000, when Team USA won gold in Australia. Sounds like a great honor and a great trip. Congrats, and good luck!

** Cullen Jones, a swimmer at NC State, needs a top 6 finish in the 100 meter freestyle tonight to make the Olympic team. There are 8 competitors, he needs to finish in the top 6. I would hate to be the guy finishing 7th in that race. 7th might be worse than 8th, if you think about it.

** If you are a baseball fan, then the Kannapolis Intimidators and Charlotte Knights can fill you holiday needs, as both teams will be at home for the 4th of July. For Kannapolis, it marks the first time in 5 years that they have a home game on America's birthday, and they are planning a big night, complete with the game, post-game fireworks and more. The Intimidators are facing Lake County (the artists formerly known as the Cape Fear Crocs in Fayetteville--they had a dynamite logo).

The Knights will host the Durham Bulls--the intrastate rivals from the Triangle--for 2 games, starting Friday and ending Saturday. The Knights and Bulls have played twice this week, and will play again tonight in Durham, before coming to Knights Stadium Friday and Saturday. Pick your park--celebrate the nation's b-day with some baseball and fireworks. It don't get more American than that.

** Charlotte Bobcats will be meeting in Las Vegas beginning next week, as they prepare for the Vegas Summer League that will take place July 14-19. The players are scattered around right now, and will be travelling to Sin City individually--not via team charter or anything like that. Several veterans are making the trip, including Raymond Felton, Jason Richardson, and Sean May, just to name a few. The idea is to get acclimated to Larry Brown's coaching style, and practices.

This is a good thing in theory--the players wanting a head start with the new coach. You can't help but think, however, that the vets making the trip also want to make a good first impression by being interested in attending the boss' first practices. You know, let the coach know "hey, I want to be a part of this team, so don't trade me, ok?" That kind of thing. I could be wrong about that, but it seems funny that on draft night, there was talk of Gerald Wallace being dealt, and then the Cats select D.J. Augustin, raising questions about Felton's future. A puzzler for sure.

** It's the day before qualifying for the Coke Zero 400 in Daytona, so it's ti8me for my bold race week predictions:


So the picks aren't that bold, but I've said it before, and I'll say it again, "Smoke" Stewart is about to go on a heater.

If I don't blog Friday, have a safe and Happy 4th of July!

Mike Solarte

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Free Agency Dance

July 1st marked the start of free agency in both the NHL and NBA, and both of the state's teams in those league were busy, one more than the other.

First, the NBA Charlotte Bobcats

They made qualifying offers to Emeka Okafor and Ryan Hollins and picked up the team option on Jermareo Davidson. All of this was expected, as was the release of Othella Harrington (or the team not picking up his option--semantics). Okafor, Hollins and Davidson are younger, and will be around longer than Harrington.

Okafor's case is puzzling, because I don't know what he is thinking. He's a good player, but not great--at least not yet. He averages a double-double, which is impressive, however, he's not the marketing "[put fannies in the seats" player that a Dwight Howard is. Jason Richardson can be that guy (and has been at times, although the fannies have yet to find the seats), but Okafor is a bread and butter big man. He gets his 10-15 points, 10-12 rebounds, 3-6 blocks and defends the bucket so well, Rick Bonnell, the Charlotte Observer Bobcats beat-writer calls him a "goalie at the basket." All positives, yet Okafor turned down a contract offer from the Bobcats last summer, and may not get a new deal in place before the start of the upcoming season, meaning he plays one more year in Charlotte, and then becomes an unrestricted free agent.

What does he feel he commands on the open market? My guess more than the Bobcats offered him last summer (a deal believed to be in the 7 million dollar a year range). Don't get me wrong, I like Okafor, but at some point, athletes ought to realize that playing a game for 7 million dollars a season isn't the worst thing in the world, and that 8-10 million a year won't be all that different.

As for the Bobcats in free agency, I don't see a big splash ,simply because they don't have much cap room--most of the surplus was eaten up by the Jason Richardson and Nazr Mohammed deals. Believe it or not, I think the team can be fine--we'll just have to see what the Larry Brown effect is on this group. My guess is, it will be far better than the Sam Vincent effect.

In the eastern portion of the state, the Carolina Hurricanes hit free agency quite hard, signing some players like Anton Babchuk and Ryan Bayda, but the big splash came in the form of a trade, sending right winger Erik Cole to Edmonton for defenseman Joni Pitkanen. Those of you that know me, know that hockey is my game, my passion, my love. After playing it for years through college, and beyond, it's a part of me.

People tried to tell me this was a bad deal on Tuesday. Tried convincing me letting Cole go is a mistake.

I like the deal from a hockey perspective, but don't like it from a fan perspective. Here's why.

Hockey perspective:
The Hurricanes (I hate calling them the Canes--a cane is a device to assist someone in walking) blue line suffered 2 losses after the season. Glen Wesley retired (after a pretty darn good career), and Bret Hedican is testing free agency. Don't ask.

Losing those 2 players off the back line is severe, as both hold a vast amount of experience on the back end. They had to get younger, and were doing that with Tim Gleason and Joe Corvo playing defense, and the re-addition of Babchuk. Pitkanen is a very good defenseman, very capable of playing the power play, quickly starting the transition game from defense to offense. I like Pitkanen, a former top 5 pick in the draft. He's the offensive-defenseman GM Jim Rutherford has wanted for years. Once upon a time, he signed Sandis Ozolinsh, one of the better 2-way defenders at the time, and I think Pitkanen is better than Ozolinsh was. In the end, the Hurricanes had to give up something to land him, and that something was Cole.

Fan perspective:
I LOVE Erik Cole's game to pieces. The guy never left anything in the dressing room--it was all on the ice for the Hurricanes. Every stride, pass, shot, or body check was 100%, and I imagine that will continue in Edmonton. Cole was a fan favorite, and that is always tough for the paying customer to stomach--losing a guy you may have spent $200 on a customized jersey for yourself with their name and number stitched on it never feels good. Still, when Cole and Edmonton return to the RBC Center, I would hope that the fans greet Cole with a warm reception during the warm-up and introductions. He didn't ask to be traded, didn't ask to become the enemy. I wish Erik well, except when he plays Carolina or Chicago.

Speaking of Chicago, my beloved Blackhawks got miles better when they signed both goaltender Cristobal Huet and defenseman Brian Campbell on Tuesday. Scary that the Blackhawks could actually become relevant in their home town once again, a sensation that vanished in the early 1990's. Coincidentally, the Blackhawks moved from the now torn down Chicago Stadium, and moved across the street to the United Center at the same time.

23 days until Panthers training camp.

Mike Solarte

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Where's MY signing bonus?

I've been thinking. News 14 Carolina got off way too easy when I signed my first contract there in 2002. I mean, I was a heralded veteran with 9 years in the game, loads of experience, the whole "been there, done that" thing. Yet, when I signed my first contract with the station, they did not give me a signing bonus. What the heck is that? I mean, these kids come out of college and step right into jobs, and get money that they haven't proved they are worth!

OK, that's a slight exaggeration, because there generally are NO signing bonuses for television contracts, but when NFL rookies sign their first deal (or just about any deal in the league for any player), there is generally a signing bonus, or the guaranteed money the player will earn. It begs the question, why?

First off, NFL contracts are not guaranteed, so the signing bonus money is the only portion the player KNOWS will be banked, no matter what happens (think injuries). I understand that a player needs protection for himself, especially in a game as violent as football. My question is this, though. Why are NFL rookies, guys who have yet to play a snap in an NFL game, holding teams hostage for such huge signing bonuses when they haven't proved their worth in the league?

This is also a question raised by Commissioner Roger Goodell, and I applaud the Commish on this. It is time that someone step in and say "hang on a second," to this issue. Jamarcus Russell, the top pick in the 2007 draft, missed all of training camp, and (if memory serves) 3 of the Oakland Raiders pre-season games before signing his contract. And the Raiders STILL gave him a huge signing bonus. I still can't figure that one out.

My suggestion is for the NFL to set the standard for the rookie signing bonus--make it a rookie bonus scale, if you will--similar to the NBA's rookie contract scale. The guys coming into the league know that if they are selected in round 1, they are guaranteed dollar amount X, based on their draft location. For example, pick number 1 gets more than 5 who gets more than 9, etc. It's all slotted. Granted, the NFL may have to set the top pick number at something like $7 million dollars, and slot it down by $250,000 per pick (I'm just spit balling here, so don't think this is a finished product), but still, teams know, players know, contract holdouts could become a thing of the past.

The Panthers have had contract scares in the past, with Jon Beason being the latest--he missed minimal time in Spartanburg (although I doubt he would say he "missed" it), but was in camp for a majority of the work, and was outstanding during the season. Jonathan Stewart and Jeff Otah are still unsigned, and training camp opens in 24 days (did I just write that?).

I love my football, but I hate it when teams are held up by a player that hasn't proven themselves yet. Either way. Proven they belong, or don't belong.

I proved I belong, so where's my signing bonus?

Mike Solarte