Thursday, July 29, 2010

Thursday thoughts

Carolina Panthers opened training camp with a full pads, 9 a.m. practice in Spartanburg. By all accounts, it went well. A couple of players were dinged up with hamstring issues, and what not, but for the most part, nothing out of the ordinary. That automatically means the start of camp 2010 is far better than 2009, when DT Maake Kemoeatu went down with a torn Achilles tendon in the first half hour of the workout.

We'll have complete coverage of day one at Camp Wofford on Sports Night at 10, so don't miss it.

Other notes on this Thursday...
  • The US Senior Open is underway at Sahalee C.C. in Washington. Charlotte's own Rick Lewallen is in the 156 player field. Had the chance to visit with him last week before he went out. Wonderful man with an even better story. He is a cancer survivor, defeating prostate cancer. After talking to him, I hope he is a guy in the hunt on the weekend, so the world can hear his story. We'll keep our eyes open for him on ESPN2 both Thursday and Friday, and then on NBC over the weekend.
  • NASCAR off to Pocono this week, and what a week the Sprint Cup series has had. You had the super-secret fining of 2 drivers ( has identified Denny Hamlin and Ryan Newman as the drivers that were penalized), for critical comments of the series. Jeff Dickerson was hired as Jeff Gordon's new sponsor. Marcos Ambrose is leaving JTG-Daugherty Racing at season's end and will be replace by Bobby Labonte in 2011. Ambrose hasn't outlined his plans, but there is talk he could end up at Richard Petty Motorsports.
  • And then there was the plane crash of team owner Jack Roush in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. It's Roush's 2nd plane crash, the first coming in 2002. The Cat in the Hat has been moved to the Mayo Clinic after having surgery to repair damage to his face. As of this writing, he was in serious, but stable condition. I'm not one to tell people what to do, but Mr. Roush, maybe it's time to hire your own pilot. We understand you are a tough man, but you don't have to crash planes to prove it. I know he didn't intend to do so, but this might be the time to quit while you're ahead.
  • Also had the chance to check in with the Big South on their media day on Thursday. Big year for the conference, as their conference champion will earn an automatic spot in the FCS Championship playoffs. Gardner Webb is a pre-season pick to finish 5th in the conference, with Liberty being picked to rule the conference. We'll hear from Commissioner Kyle Kallander and GWU Head Coach Steve Patton on Sports Night as well.

Mike Solarte

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Monday, July 26, 2010

Fines and Punishment

So much going on within the world of racing, I'll offer up my thoughts here. First to NASCAR.

On Monday, the Associated Press reported that NASCAR had fined two of its more popular drivers for criticisms made of NASCAR. One of the drivers was hit with a tag of $50,000 for running off at the mouth.

NASCAR is NOT identifying the drivers, so as to not embarrass that driver, or the driver's sponsors.

Once upon a time, NASCAR told the drivers, to basically shut up and drive. Stop griping, just do your job. This was during the time when the Car of Tomorrow had a wing, and was very difficult for the drivers to drive, and the teams to prepare. Between then and now, NASCAR has changed the COT by bringing back the spoiler. Drivers seem a little happier with the car now.

Then in January, NASCAR told the drivers the "have at it, boys." Be self-policing on the track. NASCAR has done a pretty good job of allowing that to take place, however, when they have had to step in, they have done a soft-shoe to get into place. A harsher approach would have been more effective. At the same time, they said they want the drivers to be more colorful and expressive. Less corporate.

Now, after that directive, NASCAR has stepped in and fined two of them. You can't have ti both ways. You cant' tell drivers to speak their minds, and then fine them for doing just that. Either they can speak freely without fear of punishment, or you bottle them up. The punishments to the drivers sends a very mixed message. I understand NASCAR's reason for protecting the brand, and making sure its best foot is forward. Mixed messages only bring in confusion, not clarity.

Years ago, when I covered the Carolina Hurricanes in Raleigh, team captain Ron Francis was asked a question about officiating after a game (questions that were warranted given the way the game was officiated), and his response was priceless. He said (paraphrasing here), that he finds it funny that he lives in a country that protects the right to free speech, but can't tell truth when answering a question about the refs.

Same deal for NASCAR, it appears.

Shifting gears to the recently completed Tour de France, a story crossed the news wires on Monday regarding Lance Armstrong's team possibly being punished for wearing unapproved uniforms for the final stage of the 3-week long event. The jerseys in question were all black, with a number 28 on the back, signifying the 28 million people battling cancer. Tour officials made Armstrong's Radio Shack team change into their other uniforms, causing a 20-minute delay in the final stage.

Tour officials look like the bad guys here. The International Cycling Union said they were disappointed that the team did not coordinate the switch with Tour officials prior to the stage. Does anyone honestly think the Tour would have allowed Lance and his team to do so? I am of the belief that Armstrong isn't well-liked by the Tour de France, even though he is a 7-time champion of the event. Too many people believe Lance cheated, by using performance enhancing drugs.

Bottom line is, Armstrong, nor any of his teammates were a threat to win the yellow jersey as the overall Tour victor. This was nothing, and the ICU are now turning this into an investigation about improper jerseys. This is the same thing as when Peyton Manning asked the NFL is he could wear black high top shoes to honor the passing of Colts legend Johnny Unitas. The NFL said no, he could not. Sometimes it is better to beg forgiveness, than ask permission.

I know they should have asked, however, does the Tour need to step in and look like a group of uncaring jokers?

Mike Solarte

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Thursday, July 22, 2010

Thursday Thoughts

Working through the bag today....

  • NASCAR didn't penalize Carl Edwards enough for his hook job on Brad Keselowski. They weren't taking away the win, but a $25,000 fine and docking him 60 points in the Nationwide Series is hardly a punishment. A well-respected NASCAR writer said, via his Twitter account that "NASCAR really threw the pamphlet at him." Well played. What should they have done? You want to stop these guys from doing this again? Park the offender for 1 race. No points to be gained. Oh yeah, and fine him $100,000. Make it sting to have to write that 5th "0" on the check. I don't think Carl is a bad guy, but I do think that this thing he has going with Brad is gonna get one of them seriously hurt. And nobody wants to see that.
  • While on the subject, I disagree with the notion that the "have at it" policy is now lost. The Edwards-Keso thing was a 2nd incident between the same 2 drivers. Jimmie Johnson wasn't punished for punting Kurt Busch. Jeff Gordon wasn't reprimanded for booting Martin Truex, Jr. at Sonoma. To their credit, NASCAR has done a good job of keeping an eye on things, and stepping in where they have to. Problem for NASCAR, though, is that when they have stepped in, they have done so with a white glove, rather than an iron fist.
  • Carolina Panthers head to training camp next week. Already? Yeah, I know, the summer months drag on, and when football finally appears, I gripe. Not true. I don't gripe, but I do look ahead at the coming months and see long days. Truth is, the long days, are actually good days, and I for one, will savor this coming NFL season, as it may be the last one we see for a while. No movement on the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) talks, and by all indications, both sides appear to be ready to drag this thing out until someone wins. Note to the sides: No one will win this scrum. You both will lose if there is no football in 2011. Now lock yourselves in a room with no air conditioning, and don't come out until you hammer out a deal.
  • This NCAA investigation at UNC (among other places), has me worried for the future of some of these kids allegedly involved. As I said on the show last night, it's hard for me to blame UNC, their coaches, and staff. It's hard for me to blame the kids, too. They are to blame, however. It's just not entirely their fault. Agents are trying to lure clients, and they do not play by the NCAA rules. They don't have to. The kids have to know what they can and can not do. The schools should be educating these athletes on what the rules are, and how not to break them. I believe the schools do a good job of that. The players are the ones that have to make the choice, and if the UNC players that are alleged to be in question made wrong choices, then there is no way they can be allowed to play. Of course, this has to be proven, and I am all about innocent until proven guilty. There is no easy answer to this, but I did like the comments of Brian Griese on an ESPN show (may have been College Gameday, but I'm not sure). Griese saying that the NFL needs to hold unscrupulous agents accountable, and impose some kind of sanctions on them. I like the idea, just don't know how they would go about it.
  • The Tour de France is wrapping up, and it looks like Alberto Contador will wear the leader's yellow jersey into Paris this Sunday. I have been really pulling for Andy Schleck, as he is a fine young rider, with a ton of poise and moxie. Right now, though, he's just a bit too young to overtake the powerful Contador. Schleck's time will come, and it may come sooner rather than later. That's right, I just blogged about the Tour de France.

Great stuff coming up on Sports Night over the next few days--make sure you check it out!

Mike Solarte

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

NASCAR needs to revisit policy

I have to admit, back in January, I got caught up in it. I got caught up in the swell of excitement when NASCAR told its drivers they could "have at it, boys." NASCAR basically admitting they were going to allow the drivers to police themselves. Driver rubbed your fender? Rub him back.

For the most part, the trading of paint has been just that, but there have been some incidents where a driver is flat-out wrecking another driver as payback. I don't want to soften NASCAR up, but someone needs to remind these guys that rattling a driver's cage is a lot different than making that driver, oh, I don't know....dead.

NASCAR hasn't come out with any punishment for Carl Edwards after his latest dust-up with Brad Keselowski at Gateway on Saturday night. I'm not sure they will do anything. NASCAR needs to do something, however, and it doesn't have to include a sanction against Edwards. NASCAR needs to back out of the throttle on the "have at it," thing. Enough is enough. The drivers need to be reminded that trading paint is one thing, crashing another guy out is another.

Again, I'm not talking about bumping a guy out of the way. I'm talking about blowing that guy into the wall. It's about finishing first, but at some point, there has to be a respect for the other driver, whether you like him or not. Had Edwards roughed up Keselowski, and not turned him into the fence, we wouldn't be talking about this. That's not how it went down. Frankly, NASCAR is lucky Keselowski isn't seriously injured, or worse. It's time for NASCAR to pull back. Tell the drivers, they are watching, more than ever. Anything that slightly resembles malicious intent gets your called to the trailer for an unpleasant chat. And then a little unscheduled vacation.

The people running NASCAR have seen enough of these kind of things to determine intent to wreck, or intent to win. Time to let the drivers know they've seen enough.

Mike Solarte

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Bobcats Deal Chandler, Ajinca to Mavs

The Charlotte Bobcats finally pulled of a trade on Tuesday, but it involved Dallas, and not Toronto.

I would have been a fan of the talked about Raptors deal. The Bobcats were believed to be getting PG Jose Calderon and F Reggie Evans in exchange for C Tyson Chandler and F Boris Diaw. Nothing against Chandler and Diaw, but it was partially about money, and mostly about addressing a hole at point guard. Calderon is a guy that would fit nicely, given his ability to not give the ball away. That deal blew up overnight, so the Bobcats went elsewhere.

The deal they made sends Chandler and C Alexis Ajinca to the Mavericks for C Eric Dampier, F Eduardo Najera, and G Matt Carroll. I like Carroll a bunch, Najera has ability, but Dampier has something that makes the Bobcats smile--a non-guaranteed contract. Will any of these 3 be on the roster to start the season? Good question. Najera maybe, Carroll possibly. Dampier? Doubtful. The Bobcats aren't done dealing, and any of these three could land elsewhere before it's all said and done.

I like this trade because it gives Charlotte some flexibility now. and to me, there's no question the dealing is far from over.

We'll be watching.

Mike Solarte

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Congratulations to Miami

LeBron James will join the Miami Heat. The rest of us can go on with our lives, and in case you'd forgotten:

The oil still leaks in the Gulf of Mexico. Troops continue to fight in Afghanistan. Searing temperatures continue to bake the country, making life even more dangerous without proper shelter and cooling.

Back to Fantasyland (a.k.a. NBA Free Agency), my blood began to boil a little listening to NBA analysts call LeBron's move to the Heat a "sacrifice." What is he giving up, other than money? He's moving to Florida, he'll play alongside 2 very talented guys in Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh, and he'll be paid handsomely to do it. Mind you, he's not getting the full amount he would have gotten had he stayed in Cleveland, but he's still going to get double-digit MILLIONS. Sorry if I am not crying for his "sacrifice."

Off my soapbox now, the Heat have a huge amount of pressure on them now. not only do they have to win, they have to win a lot. As in set the wins-in-a-season record, and then blitz the playoffs. And then, they have to do that again. And again.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. said after winning the Nationwide race in Daytona last Friday (the one he drove his father's blue Wrangler 3 tribute car), he felt tremendous pressure because if he had finished 5th, "people would have said, 'why do it? what a waste of time."

Such is the quandary facing the Heat. Why bring in all this talent, and have these guys take less than they could have gotten elsewhere, if you aren't going to be the best team in the NBA?

Mike Solarte

OK, enough already.

Thankfully, by the time you read this, the NBA Free Agency Visit-Palooza will be over, and teams can actually start signing these guys to their multi-million dollar contracts.

Lost in the shuffle of LeBron James made-for-LBJ special on ESPN on Thursday night, was this wonderful nugget. Kevin Durant is staying with Oklahoma City for another 5 years. No pomp and circumstance. No fanfare. Just do the deal. Good for him.

Then you have the Miami Heat saying formally, they will pursue player contracts with Dewayne Wade and Chris Bosh once the moratorium period ends. This after Bosh visited every team that had interest and cap room to sign him. Wade had the option to look around, did so, and since Bosh is coming to South Beach, he figures he'll stay awhile longer. Good for them.

I don't begrudge athletes looking around, and seeing what the market will pay. It's their right. They earned it. Go ahead, look around. See what city best fits you.

When it comes to LBJ, though, I gotta insist it ends.

He's bargained with ESPN to hold a 1 hour special on HIS decision. A modern day "Brewster's Millions?" Really?

OK, there is a positive to this. LBJ says that commercial revenues will be donated to charity. Nice.

There is still the fact this this ONE GUY, with ZERO NBA Championships, is insisting the ENTIRE SPORTING WORLD drop what they are doing, and LOOK AT ME!!!!!

That's too much. Way over the top. One player is NOT bigger than the game.

I had the honor of speaking with Michael Jordan on Wednesday, as he was taking part in a golf tournament benefiting Achievements Unlimited, a brain-child of Bobcats President Fred Whitfield. I told MJ that the Twitterverse was invoking his name, recalling how he told the NBA he was returning to the court.

He did it via fax. Two words. "I'm back."

MJ simply smiled, and said, "what else was I supposed to do?" When I told him the twitter folks were wishing today's players could be more like him, he smiled again.

Where will LBJ end up? Depends on who you ask. Some say New York, others say Miami, others insist he's going back to Cleveland. One thing is certain, though. The pressure factor on him has been amplified. Where ever he goes, a championship is a must in year 1. Cleveland, NY, Miami, Bora Bora. Where ever he goes, that team had better be in contention.

If they aren't, I doubt we'll see "Brewster's Millions 2, The Apology."

Mike Solarte

Friday, July 2, 2010

How much change does NASCAR need?

The Sprint Cup series Chase format is, once again, under review by NASCAR.

Stop me if you've heard this before.

Clamoring for some kind of (pardon the pun), jump-start to TV ratings, NASCAR Chairman Brian France brought up the subject in Daytona on Friday.

"We want to make sure [the Chase] is giving us the biggest impact moments it was designed to do. Everything, to us, means pushing the winning envelope to mean what it needs to mean in our sport. We're happy with the Chase, [but] if we can enhance it in a pretty significant way, we may do that."

That kind of talk prompted driver Denny Hamlin to hit his Twitter page with a couple of blasts.

"Why do we keep wanting to change chase format, bc 1 guy has won 4 in a row?? i mean damn he deserved it," followed by, "if we haven't noticed already... the more we change stuff the lower the ratings get."

For a format that was introduced in 2004, it has undergone a few facelifts to try and make it more fan friendly, however, I have to side with Hamlin on this one. The more change that is introduced, the more confusion you throw at your fan base.

Perhaps, NASCAR is watching what has taken place in the NBA and NHL finals, where the LA Lakers won in 7 games, and the Chicago Blackhawks won in 6. A pair of tremendous series, filled with action and drama. NASCAR isn't about 7 game, head-to-head series. It's about week in and week out racing, being consistent, and winning races (or should be, anyway).

Over the history of the Chase, 2 bad races in the final 10 for a contender equals disaster. That makes the Chase format viable. Consistency is rewarded. Good finishes are rewarded. Wins could be rewarded more, but if you are running up front, your chances of remaining in the Chase are quite good. Bad luck is a part of racing. Getting caught up in someone else's mistake happens in the Daytona 500 (race #1), as it does in Richmond (race #26). Why should the Chase format become something that is outside of the normalcy of the Series?

Is it time for NASCAR to consider going back to the good old fashioned "gather your points during the year, add 'em up, and crown a champ" method? Maybe. Sometimes, simplicity is the best answer.

Mike Solarte