Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Sports Talk: New Events for the 2014 Olympics

As a correspondent sports writer for The Casey County News, I write an weekly editorial column for the publication. Published Jan. 22, 2014.  
Still two and a half weeks out, I can't help myself but to go ahead and start talking about the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. With so much happening in such a short span of time, it is difficult to determine what to write about in this column. And this year, there will be more activity than ever before, literally, as there more events than any past Winter Olympics. 

Four new events for both men and women as well as one new event for women and three new team events have been added to this year's games. Because of the growth, for the first time, competition will be taking place before the opening ceremonies on Feb. 7. Thankfully, this also means that NBC will begin its prime time coverage in Sochi, Russia, on Feb. 6, before the Opening Ceremonies--also a first.

So what are the new events to look for?
  • Ski Halfpipe (men's and women's)
  • Ski Slopestyle (men's and women's)
  • Snowboard Slopestyle (men's and women's)
  • Snowboard Parallel Special Slalom (men's and women's)
  • Women's Ski Jumping
  • Biathlon Mixed Relay
  • Luge Team Relay
  • Figure Skating Team
 Coming form a sport (track and field) where there was a lot of focus on individual performance, I actually came to love the importance of the team aspect of such sports. Because of that I am most excited about the addition of the new relays and the figure skating team event.

The figure skating team event will actually begin on Feb. 6, and, woo-hoo, Team USA is considered a medal favorite, having won the 2013  World Team Trophy. This team medal, however, will be for men and women combined. The score will be totaled from the men, women, pairs and ice dancing scores. I love the ice skating anyway, but I'm also all for an event that gives the red-white-and-blue a good chance at another medal!

Then there is the Biathlon Mixed Relay. For those that don't know, biathlon usually refers to (and does in this instance) the combination of cross country skiing and rifle shooting--exciting, no? What's extra exciting about this new event is that it is 'mixed'--meaning two legs by men and two by women.

The Luge Team Relay will actually be an event for men, women and men's doubles. Honestly, how many of us basically did this as kids (and still do, maybe?) when there is actually decent snow on the ground? Luging is basically an elaborated and extremely intense version of sled racing. Turn that into a relay event and it gets that much more intense. (Can you tell relays were one of my favorite parts of track and field??)

The winter Olympics get me excited because so many of the events, even the popular ones, are what you might call "uncommon". It's not every day you watch skiing, snowboarding, ice skating, bobsledding or curling. Even hockey--a mainstream sport--gets lost behind basketball, football and baseball (particularly in a state like Kentucky). However, if you remember when Lexington had a hockey team, the Thoroughblades, you know just how exciting hockey can be. Seeing these 'uncommon' sports being performed by the world's best makes you recognize some of the world's most incredible athletes whom the everyday sports' fan doesn't always tune into.

I just hope that with all of these extremely cold temperatures we are experiencing, we could actually get some decent snow. The cold is much more fun when you can play games and compete in it! (And kids these days need to be able to do their own 'mock' luge races!)

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Sports Talk: Your Thoughts on Charlie Strong and Bobby Petrino

As a correspondent sports writer for The Casey County News, I write an weekly editorial column for the publication. Published Jan. 15, 2014.  
It was time to hit the streets (or the 'book' in Facebook) again and find out how YOU feel about some recent big news in the Bluegrass sports world. Thanks again to the admins of the The Kentucky Sports Rivalry Facebook page, I was able to get some area feedback on last week's hubbub over the University of Louisville football program.

The situation: First came the announcement that Charlie Strong was hanging up his Cardinal hat and heading to Texas. On the coattails of that news came Athletic Director Tom Jurich's decision to bring back former coach Bobby Petrino to fill the vacant head coach position. Petrino had a 41-9 record during his four years at Louisville from 2003-2006. While the coach has a strong winning history, he not only left the university previously when bought out by the NFL, but his poor ethical and moral decisions have previously earned him the spotlight. This begs the question: Is this the type of person you want leading college athletes? 

I asked area sports fans their thoughts on these two questions:

  • How did you feel about Charlie Strong's departure and how it took place?
  • What do you think of Athletic Director Tom Jurich's decision to bring back former coach Bobby Petrino?

"I think Strong hit the lottery. Decent coach? Maybe. Texas quality coach? Don't think so. I don't think this is the HR hire Texas was capable of getting. We shall see.  Petrino is a proven winner and that is why he was re-hired, meanwhile hoping he wins enough to outweigh and make people forget all the negativity associated with him."
-Bradley Clark, UK Fan

"Tom Jurich's job as AD, was to find the best coach available for the University. No doubt, on the football level, he did just that. Bobby Petrino has less than stellar moral baggage, but, he has never violated NCAA rules, and puts a quality product on the field. I agree with his hire, but time will tell if it was a wise choice as to his off the field antics. As for Coach Strong leaving... it disappoints me, I am old enough to remember coaches that stayed for what seemed like forever. But, due to the Millions of dollars that are involved, those days are gone. And in my opinion, that is not a good thing!" 

-Don Chappell, UofL Fan

"I feel this is an interesting hire for UT. Strong is a good coach who recruits character guys and develops a winning program. The job at UT is one of the top 5 (maybe top 3) jobs in college athletics. The big difference between UT and 99% of all the schools is the non-football side. The boosters at UT are very involved and expect to be catered to. I would compare the UT job to UK basketball: you can win games but you have to be a PR type person and know how to relate to the fan base. We will see how Strong is able to adapt to the pressure of one the most high pressure jobs in college football. As for him not telling his players that he was leaving, they were on Christmas Break. Most, if not all, had left the school for the break. He was very respectful to U of L in that he waited to talk to Jurich before deciding on the UT position. It is tough thing for all parties involved when changing jobs like this. I think this is much better than leaving during the middle of the season and having an assistant tape a form letter to the players' lockers.” 

-Daniel Rigney, UK/Baylor Fan

"Strong to Texas is a great career move for him. Whether he's successful at Texas or not, you can't fault a man for taking a pay raise and a promotion. Him not addressing the players was awful though. As far as the Petrino hire goes, I support it. He's a winner and (sadly) that's all college sports cares about right now. If he's as successful this time around as the last, everyone will forget his indiscretions and he'll likely leave for a better job. Which is the same thing any of the other rumored candidates would've done after 3-5 successful years." 

- Josh Watson, UofL Fan

"I feel this was a last second chance for Jurich to look good by wins. He knew they were going into a tougher conference without Teddy (Bridgewater) or Strong so in a chance to save his face he threw all morals and history aside and went with what he thought was his best chance to look good on paper." 

-Josh Richardson, UK Fan

"As far as the Petrino hire, Jurich made a smart move by bringing a winning coach to the University. Louisville fans have recently witnessed such greatness in our athletes and the program that they represent. It has made all of us proud to support the Cardinals. We will certainly see success in the future under Petrino, I just hope that success isn't a prelude to more embarrassment through poor ethics and morals, or more heartbreak for players and fans being left high and dry for something "bigger and better." While I am not thrilled with the persona of Petrino and am weary of his return, I will always support UofL athletics and will cheer until the final seconds of the game have passed." 

- Michelle Delk, UofL Fan
"Strong's departure from Louisville was I think a decision made in haste. Hence why there has been some backlash from some fans over it. Yet as some have said before me it was a wise choice on Charlie Strong part. First and foremost this gentlemen is not a Louisville Alum and never had previous ties to UofL other than being its football coach. So there was no cause to hesitate on a sentimental level Secondly no disrespect to Louisville but as a football school Louisville is not on the level of tradition that say a Texas, Notre Dame or even Alabama are. So I think Strong decided to take a step up. He had proven himself at Louisville and now it was time to take the next step up." 

- Stephen Huber, IU Fan

"My thoughts on Strong's departure are that HE handled it about as well as he could've. You can't blame him one bit fit taking one of the premier jobs in all of sports. I would be upset with Texas if I were him for leaking the story before I even got a chance to tell my boss/players. You can knock Petrino for the way he left the Falcons but when he left Louisville in 2007 he told his players. My only real gripe with Strong has been his targeting of our commits after arriving in Texas. I realize that's a common practice but he was specifically asked about going after Florida recruits when he arrived and he said he wouldn't (and didn't) go after Florida recruits because "those recruits were earned on Florida's dime." Obviously he's compromised his own morals after feeling immediate pressure in Texas. I will however be forever grateful for him turning the program completely around in such a short time. I wish him the best. As for Petrino, I think Jurich hired the best candidate. He interviewed 8 people including some impressive coordinators who I think would've been good hires. I think that Jurich really believes that Petrino wants to stay here and finish his career as he said in his press conference. I'm not sold on that notion but as Bobby said, he's going to have to prove it. I personally love the hire, I loved it when Petrino was here the first time. It didn't matter who we played when he was our coach, you really felt as a fan, that you could win any game." 

-Chris Edwards, UofL Fan

"I think Strong made a smart move to leave Louisville as they transition to the ACC and their star QB is leaving. This way, Strong won't be exposed as a weak coach and can say he was the coach of Texas for at least 3 years." 

- Jared Hatter, UK Fan

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Sports Talk: Farewell to the BCS!

As a correspondent sports writer for The Casey County News, I write an weekly editorial column for the publication. Published Jan. 8, 2014.  
After 16 years, it has come to an end, and it was the perfect show for closing the curtain on the BCS...and I’m an Auburn fan!

Ok, so probably not as hardcore of a fan as those who were heartbroken in the stands on Monday night, but I’ve chanted, “War Eagle” in my day. My older brother attended the school’s veterinary program which made my family begin following the Tigers more closely about eight years ago.  I’ve thoroughly enjoyed their play this season and particularly their last minute victory over Alabama.

However, I admit that going into Monday’s game, there was a part of my completely fine with Auburn falling to Florida State—primarily for one reason really: SEC. I’m not anti-SEC; however, like many, I get tired of the people who are SEC obsessed. I know it’s not a blanket statement, but it’s definitely the common trend for UK fans to love everything SEC and one can’t help but say that stems from the fact UK’s football team is regularly at the bottom of the conference. Loving the SEC allows UK fans to do two things: (a) have something to cheer for—an entire conference and (b) have an excuse for losing.

With the SEC having dominated the BCS for the past seven years, I couldn’t help but want to end the BCS with a change-up in which conference the trophy was going to. Besides, with Florida State’s victory they earned a perfect season. Because of Auburn’s one season loss, even with the national title, they would not have had a perfect record. Florida State got it all this season: Heisman, perfect record and a national championship. You’ve got to be excited for them for that.

Beyond the winner of Monday night’s game, since I was semi-impartial to who it would be, what I was most happy with was the game itself: it was the perfect championship game. There were changes in the lead, exciting moments for both sides, big game-changing plays, and an outcome that was determined in the final minutes of play.

No matter if you loved or hated the BCS, if you love college football, it’s the end of an era and there is always something a little sad about that. I’m glad Auburn and Florida State could give us a climactic ending with the fireworks one hopes to see. (Because, let’s be honest, not every BCS National Championship game has been exciting… As an Ohio State fan, I know this to be oh-so-true, sadly…)

Honestly, I’m mainly sad that college football has come to an end again. But there is a lot of change to look forward to in 2014… The Governor’s Cup moving to the end of the season, a new Cardinal coach and the first year of the four-team play-off for the national title. But for now, we will just focus on basketball (and cheer for the Colts and Bengals).

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Sports Talk: 2014... Year of the Cards or Cats?

As a correspondent sports writer for The Casey County News, I write an weekly editorial column for the publication. Published Jan. 1, 2014.  
"The time has come," the sports fan said,
"To talk of many things:
Of games--and players--and team records
of championship rings..."

The year 2013 is officially behind us. As great or as bad of a year as it may or may not have been for your teams and players in the world of sports, it is now time to move on and let go.

This could be a good or bad thing in your book. I'd say for Kentucky Wildcat fans, it is a positive. With the exception of ending on Saturday's basketball victory, 2013 did not exactly bring the greatest of great--it brought a lot of hope with new coaches and great recruits, but it produced nothing solid to brag about on a large scale.

The Louisville Cardinals, on the other hand, LOVED 2013. It brought one great team after another: lots of national spotlight time and big wins and even championships. 

The entry into 2014 is a little bittersweet for Cardinal fans; especially those who are avid Anti-Wildcat. UofL fans have loved all of the accomplishments of 2013 and loved to talk about it. They've loved to remind UK fans over and over of all of the big things their school has accomplished in 2013, while UK fell short in many regards; but now is the time when Cardinals either become hypocrites, or step up and act as respectable sports fans.

Having lived in both a heavily UK-centric area (Casey County) and a Cardinal-crazed area (Louisville), I've regularly heard the common gripes fans have about each other and one of the more popular teases Louisville fans like to throw at Kentucky fans is their tendency to "live in the past". They love to point out that UK fans brag about past championships and accomplishments when there is nothing in the present to be excited about.

So, now that 2013 is over, it remains to be seen if Cardinal fans will fall victim to their own UK joke. Will Louisville fans continue to brag about their 2013 accomplishments  or will they simply maintain pride and love for those teams and players but embrace the now?

As a Cardinal fan who loved the excitement of 2013, I am probably like most Louisvillians who hope that the excitement only continues and there is not even a need to "live in the past"; however, only time will tell who earns the bigger bragging rights of 2014. For me, even if it's Kentucky, I'm quite all right with that and will enjoy any excitement relating to Bluegrass sports teams. I've got my Wildcat blue in my wardrobe right alongside the Cardinal red! And, of course, I'm always hoping to see big things out of my Bellarmine Knights!

Happy New Year, sports fans!