Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Good: Rory. The Bad: UNC football

Opposite ends of the spectrum in this blog post, let's start with the positive.

Rory McIlroy's eight shot win at the US Open last week was a thing of beauty. Any lingering effects from his Masters collapse in April were nowhere to be found. It was good for him, and for golf, that he had such a week.

I take issue with the fact that people chose to rip Congressional for being too easy. Where were these people when Tiger Woods crushed the US Open field by 15 at Pebble Beach? Give credit to McIlroy for being better than everybody else for the tournament. The course was soft, and there for the taking. For EVERY PLAYER. McIlroy did it better than anyone else, including Jason Day, whose -8 total would have won 26 of the previous 30 US Open's.

Now, before we anoint McIlroy as "the next one," let's keep some names in mind. Andy North, and Scott Simpson. Both winners of major championships, accomplished golfers, but far from what many would consider legendary. I'm not ripping them, just comparing. McIlroy owns one major. Will he win more? Probably, but let's not get ahead of ourselves. The benchmark for this current generation of golfers is still one Eldrick "Tiger" Woods.

Turning to the bad, the North Carolina football program has 90 days to respond to the NCAA's Notice of Allegations it received on Tuesday. Amazing that Butch Davis seems to come from the documents unscathed. That just leads me to believe that he truly knew very little (if anything), based on what the NCAA and UNC investigations uncovered. Either that, or he has a great poker face. This still leads me to a difficult area.

How does the Head Coach of a football team not know what his players are up to? On this point, I am talking about the trips and benefits, not the academic issues. Those are separate. The Head Coach is the guy, ultimately, in charge. To Davis' credit, he accepts the blame, but how will he follow up on that? I'm not taking a shot at the school here, just pointing out that these allegations are serious business. This isn't something that will go away overnight. The University MUST be proactive, and openly proactive in how they show the NCAA, their students, and their fans how serious they are about keeping all programs clean and above board. I think they almost need to go out of their way to show folks they mean business.

UNC alums that I know (and some I work with), were very embarrassed by this scandal. Some have even called for Davis to be removed (which I don't think will happen). The guy who is under the most pressure in this is Director of Athletics Dick Baddour. It's on him to oversee what should be an in-depth look at how to get the schools athletic programs cleaned up. Mind you, it's not all of them, but still, the investigation needs to reach ALL student athletes. Again, this is serious. It needs to be addressed that way. I am confident it will be.

Mike Solarte

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Bruins win the Cup

Windows were broken, cars overturned and burning in the streets, people were injured.

Police tried desperately to control the unruly crowds. Looters had their way taking what they wanted, while other random acts of violence and senselessness filled the air.

Sounds a lot like what happened after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans.

This was in Vancouver on Wednesday night, and the reason? Their hockey team lost the Stanley Cup.

In the early stages of the mayhem, I was still at my desk, watching the Cup get passed from one Boston Bruin to the next, and my twitter feed was erupting with news of spreading chaos in Vancouver. It was with stunned amazement, that I checked out Canadian TV websites to see and hear the coverage. Utter insanity.

One of my wonderful followers tweeted to me that the people in the midst of the destruction should "grow up." While true, he led into those two words with something far more profound. "In many countries, they riot about government or for democracy, in North America we riot over sports."

Sad, but true.

From my perspective, the worst part of this story is that the celebration of hockey is pushed to this point in the blog. What a wonderful game 7. Two teams pushing themselves to the limit. One team standing atop the mountain. Hats off to the Bruins for winning their first title since 1972, and to Tim Thomas for winning the Conn Smythe trophy for playoff MVP. He's just the 2nd American born player to do so.

Mark Recchi took the opportunity to retire after 22 NHL seasons, and 3 Stanley Cups with 3 different teams. Young stars like Brad Marchand and Tyler Seguin will have their names on the Cup for 67 years (the amount of time it takes to remove a ring from the trophy). So many positives for the Bruins, it will make it tough for somebody to take it away from them in the coming years.

Hopefully, the team that comes up short won't burn things in the streets afterwards.

Mike Solarte

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

NASCAR, Dallas wins, and more

Congrats to the newest members of NASCAR's Hall of Fame. Cale Yarborough, Darrell Waltrip, Dale Inman, Modifieds legend Richie Evans and Glen Wood. Five men whose contributions to NASCAR could not be overlooked any longer.

The star of the announcements, as you would expect, was Waltrip. He ran to the stage, planted a smooch on the cheek of NASCAR Chairman Brian France, and did a few fist-pumps on his way back to his seat. The selection meant the world to him, and now he will be enshrined alongside some of the biggest names that stock car racing has ever known.

Had the chance to toss some questions his way, and asked him what Dale Earnhardt would say to him, and DW's reply was simple, and with a smile. "I got in first, " said Waltrip imitating the late Earnhardt's likely reaction. Great to see that there is so much reverence for such an honor, one that he doesn't take lightly, and ultimately, could be very good for the Hall. There is no debating the Hall is not making the money it projected it would (and admittedly some of those projections were inflated based on the economy at the time the planning was going on), but a guy like Waltrip could be a Pied Piper of sorts, leading fans to NASCAR'S showpiece. Time will tell, but to have a guy nicknamed "Jaws" talking up the Hall will not be a bad thing.

The Dallas Mavericks are the NBA champs, for the first time in their history. While it is a great story,it was made sweeter to the entire LeBron James hating public. I took no personal satisfaction from LeBron's defeat, but more joy in the notion that a team is stronger than a collection of individuals, which is what, ultimately, the Heat were. A group of very talented players, tha simply didn't know how to finish when all the chips were in the middle. The Heat are already installed as the favorites to win it next year, which is not a shock at all. Something tells me they will figure things out in the off-season, and come into the playoffs next year ready to prove the doubters wrong. They had a great year, but the Mavericks simply wouldn't be denied.

What does this say, though, about the legacy left by the season? When James convinced Chris Bosh to go with him to Miami to join Dwyane Wade, signing for less money than they would have made by staying with their previous teams, it was applauded and booed in the same breath. I admit, I didn't like it, and knew the pressure would be on them all season long. For the most part, they responded, but when faced with a team that had the conviction to battle past the "star-factor," the Heat had no response.

It's a cautionary tale of how what looks good on paper may not be the best thing to achieve the ultimate goal: winning a championship. Miami will look different from roster spots 5 on back, as many players took the minimum to ride shotgun to the trio, hoping for a ring. Don't think big name soon-to-be free-agents didn't see how fans reacted to the noise created in South Beach, and the subsequent thud that took place on Sunday night.

Speaking of the NBA, the Charlotte Bobcats have a new GM, Rich Cho. Cho was introduced Tuesday, and his hiring boots Rod Higgins up the ladder one notch to Director of Basketball Operations with the club. What does this mean? Well, it means a guy who was a small-market GM (in Portland), will now face similar challenges with small (but bigger) market Charlotte. Sounds like a lateral move, but in reality, it's a step up. Cho will be able to do the same things with the Bobcats as he did with the Blazers, but he's doing it with Michael Jordan overseeing things. All the feedback I heard on Cho on Tuesday was positive, and Bobcats fans are hoping he can help Charlotte take the step forward, and back into the playoffs.

Coming Thursday, my review of game 7 between the Boston Bruins and Vancouver Canucks. No need to preview it. it's game 7. Let the chips fall where they may.

Mike Solarte

Friday, June 10, 2011

Friday Free for all

Emptying my brain of all things sports before heading to the weekend.

The Carolina Panthers wrapped up 2 weeks of player-organized workouts on Thursday, with more than 40 players on hand. Considering there were some players who did not take part in any or all of the workouts (for a variety of reasons), any number between 40-50 should be looked at as a good sign.

Impressive turnout, considering that the Panthers went 2-14 last season. The workouts were minimally about implementing schemes and systems, and more about team building. Last year, I didn't get the sense that the players in the room didn't like each other. I did sense that the losing was grating at the team. Can't blame them They worked very hard, and got very little in the way of results. Looking at between 40-50 guys showing up to get as jump on the time lost is a positive sign. Shows me these guys truly care about their work, and improving. Players of lesser character would have taken the chance to get away, and not bother. I like the commitment shown by these guys here.

Of course, there are some players that elected not to take part, and in a lot of cases, the reasons are justified. Guys coming off surgery, players who may or may not be back with the team next season. It makes sense. I am not calling anybody out on this,as I understand their reasons for not being there. The decision not to work out is not a reflection of their desire to get better or be with their teammates. I will say that there are guys that didn't participate that I would love to see back in Panthers colors next season.

On the NFL theme, the talks that have been taking place between players and owners are an encouraging sign. If they are talking, there is a chance a deal can be reached, ending the lockout, and getting football back on the field and out of the courts. I'm not ready much into any of the talks, other than to say, the more the talk, hope remains alive that a season will begin on time, with minimal damage done to the on-field product. Carolina has already missed one mini-camp, and OTA's would be underway right now. The coaching staff is behind the 8-ball in getting their systems in place, and the players are behind in getting acclimated to a new staff. Judge the Panthers fairly, if they get out of the gates slowly. This team simply won't have enough reps under their belts to be at full speed when they get going, even if the season begins on time. The same is true for every team with a new coaching staff this season.

The NBA Finals have gotten good, rally good if you are a fan of the Dallas Mavericks. The Mavs own a 3-2 lead heading back to Miami for game 6 on Sunday. Dallas finally got a big night from their bench in game 5, giving them the lift they needed. The Mavs have done a nice job of weathering the Heat, and their big three of LeBron, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh. I can't say enough good things about the way Wade has played in this series, but to overlook what Dallas has done to this point would be unfair.

The critics are gunning for LeBron, and they are stockpiling ammunition. Sadly for James, he's handing them the bullets. LeBron has just 11 points in the five-4th quarters of this series. For the guy that has become the face of the NBA, and considered by many to be the best player in the league, he simply has to be better in crunch time. He hasn't been nearly as aggressive to the rim, which is a major strength of his game. He has settled far too often for jumpers. He has done a good job of trying to get others involved, but for Miami to have a chance at this title, LeBron has to be more selfish. He has to be the guy drawing the contact in the lane, taking it strong to the cup, and becoming the focus. Wade has been amazing, but LeBron has to be LeBron to give Miami a chance.

Flipside of things, the Stanley Cup Finals are tied heading into Friday night's game 5 in Vancouver. This series has seen everything. A Canucks player biting the finger of a Boston Bruin player (which went unpunished by the NHL in one of their worst disciplinary decisions ever), another Bruins player knocked out of the series due to a vicious head shot (which drew a 4-game suspension from the league in a competent decision by the NHL disciplinary folks), and Boston goaltender Tim Thomas get physical with Vancouver's Henrik Sedin (a clean play by the NHL rulebook, and drew no penalty). On my twitter account , I posted that, for the first time in my hockey-viewing life, the post-series handshakes may need to be policed by the officials. This is a nasty series, and now that it's down to a best of 3, I expect it to continue to be heated.

Quick shout out to Scott Harvey of Greensboro for winning the 47th North Carolina Open at The Club at Irish Creek this week. Harvey won by four shots, finishing -14 for the week, while Rick Lewallen was the low-professional for the event at -10. Harvey, as you likely have guessed, is an amateur, but more than that, he is the son of the first NC Open champ Billy Harvey, who also won the tournament as an amateur in 1965.

In the weeks ahead, we'll look at the Charlotte Bobcats and what they are looking at heading into the NBA Draft. However, the NBA is also dancing dangerously close to a lockout of their own, with their current Collective Bargaining Agreement set to run out on June 30th. Here we go again.

Mike Solarte

Monday, June 6, 2011

NASCAR fines Childress $150,000

"Have at it" can be costly. In this case, $150,000 coming out of the pocket of Richard Childress. NASCAR fining him that sum on Monday, and placing him on probation until the end of the calendar year.

It's a steep fine, and it's a fair fine. Frankly, though, I'm not sure it was enough. This all happened after the Camping World Truck Series race in Kansas, as Childress got into a fight (which NASCAR deemed Childress started) in the garage area. From all that I can piece together on this, it seems Childress was unhappy that Kyle hit an RCR truck after the race was over.

As a car/truck owner, that means more dollars out the window to repair the damage. I could see why the owner would be upset about that, especially when the offending party is also a truck owner.

Still, it doesn't excuse Childress for going after him in the garage area. A shouting match? That's one thing. Fisticuffs is another. If, and since I wasn't there it's an if, this all went down that way, Childress should consider himself fortunate he wasn't suspended for a certain amount of races, or worse, the rest of the season. I have less of a problem if two drivers are duking it out, than an owner taking on a driver. Two drivers are on the track, emotions run high, things like that can happen. A guy that has seen so many things in NASCAR like Childress is entitled to be ticked off, but should know better than to start throwing hands.

As it stands now, the message sent is fighting carries a fine in NASCAR, no matter who you are. And that's it. Maybe this is what NASCAR wants, but given the fact that this incident took place on Saturday, and we're blogging, and talking about it on Monday, NASCAR might be happy getting a free commercial about their series.

That $150,000 dollars isn't bad, either.

Mike Solarte

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Panthers players lockout media

Players for the Carolina Panthers are going through a 2 week schedule of workouts at Charlotte Christian. You have to take our word for it, because the players won't let media in to witness it, photographers to shoot it, video cameras to record it.

I want to state for the record, I am against the lockout of this, but at the same time, I do understand some of the reasoning behind it. I understand that the guys just want to do some team building, get into a physical routine, and be as prepared for the time they are allowed back into NFL stadiums to play football.

Panthers tackle Jordan Gross has been instrumental in organizing the workouts, and was pleased by the turnout of over 50 players. He wouldn't get too specific as to who was or wasn't there, but he offered up the best reasoning for blocking the cameras, and writers. There are players taking part that have uncertain futures with the team, and for their protection (more of a courtesy in my opinion), Gross and company determined that keeping the media out allows these players to get work in, and prepare without distractions.

I'm ok with it, I really am.

On the flipside of that, here's the media's argument. It's been a summer of discontent between fans and the NFL. The lockout is now 3 months old, no movement is taking place, and it's all about courtrooms, rather than film rooms. I know the players simply want to play. I have taken up for them in this labor battle, because they didn't lock themselves out, nor did they sue to keep the league from playing games (which the NFL owners actually did).

Still, how much of a distraction is it for the media to be in attendance to witness and report what they see? It's not like the reporters are on the field, listening to all conversations. The photographers are sending the video to other players-only camps around the league so other teams can watch and learn things about Carolina. The media is the bridge between the game and the fans.

Getting off the subject a little, Twitter is an amazing thing. A couple of examples. On Tuesday, when it went public (actually happened Monday night), followers of many Panther media folks were questioning why being locked out of the practices was such a big deal. When reminded that the media is the link to the team for fans, that argument quickly quieted down.

Wednesday, I had a nice exchange with Gerald Alexander, a DB that finished the season with Carolina. He's a good guy, we had plenty of conversations through the season. We went back and forth on the merits of opening/closing workouts. No jabs, no sparring, just an honest and open exchange. I see his point, he saw mine. I like that.

Back to the topic, the best thing the Panthers could have done was open the workouts to the media. A guy can simply say he would rather not talk about certain things, or even talk at all. It is our job to report that the player declined an interview, but still, we have fair shake, and so too, does the player.

In the end, all anyone wants is to be treated fairly. The players are going through that with their ownerships. Just wish the buck didn't have to get passed along.

Mike Solarte