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The Fire should be burning in Portland

Fri, 02/14/2020 - 4:25pm
Cliff Pfenning
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An election year is a good time to debate about women's issues.

Especially, when it's an Olympic year, too (that's always the General Election). 

In the sports world, over here in Portland, women's sports actually have it pretty good these days, starting with the Portland Thorns. The Thorns, the ladies' side of the Portland Timbers franchise, regularly fill Providence Park, and can fill it up on some occasions. 

The women's soccer team at the University of Portland still has one of the proudest histories in the nation, and also can fill up Merlo Field when the right opponent shows up. Investing in women's soccer was one of the great moves the school made in the '90s with coach Clive Charles.

But, it's basketball I'm looking at these days, and that's not a part of the landscape here. It was at one time, but not today. Maybe it's time for a looksy again.

The WNBA has been around since 1997, and had the Portland Fire along for the ride from 2000-02. Team owner Paul Allen, was having trouble with hid men's team staying under the Luxury Tax - and by a lot - and couldn't seem to afford to lose any money on the women's team and tossed it.

These days, the women's game is making a big comeback ... in Oregon. In Eugene and Corvallis to be exact, and there's no reason to think it wouldn't get support in Portland again, especially with the same name and logo involved - they both fit the city pretty good.

Attendance for women's basketball in Eugene actually outpaces the men's team, which happens often in Corvallis as well. It figures because both women's teams are ranked in the Top 12 and have been all season.

Oregon, the nation's preseason No. 1, is going bonkers at the gate with more than 10,000 fans per game. That's up from 4,255 just two seasons ago. Enter Sabrina Ionescu and friends, and the MAT has been rocking. The Ducks get 12,000-plus for games these days heading toward the NCAA Tournament and a run towards the school's first title in a TV sport since, before it was on TV.

The Beavers were 16th in the nation in attendance last season with more than 5,400 fans per game.

So, what's with Portland?

Portland's got all kinds of fans who want to build a baseball stadium to LURE a team to the Rose City. All the town needs for a WNBA team is an owner and a marketing team to corral a fan base.

The Fire would step right into a hot situation with Northwest rival Seattle involved with the Storm. Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Phoenix are in as well, so there's easy road trips to be had. 

Now is a perfect time for a local investor to look into this, and the league needs some new energy. It really needs some new energy for the 12 other teams. Average game attendance has fallen from 7,700 fans to 6,500 fans in just two years and things such as travelling conditions have been in the news beyond just simple salaries.

With Oregon's Ionescu figuring to be the top pick in the draft, the opportunity to begin a franchise may not be better, especially without the luxury tax on the men's team to hold it down.

 

 

When is the Rose Bowl a cheap thrill?

Mon, 11/25/2019 - 12:14am
Cliff Pfenning
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Is it possible to think playing in the Rose Bowl on New Year's Day is the end to a lame season?

For fans of the University of Oregon it might be a challenge to get hyped for that prospect, even if they'd get to the game by winning the Pac-12 Conference title over Utah - potentially keeping the Utes from a College Football Playoff berth.

Oregon hasn't played in the Rose Bowl since 2015 when it was the semifinals of the playoffs - a rousing 59-20 win over Florida State.

In fact, since the rebirth of the Oregon program to the national level that closed with the 1995 Rose Bowl, the Ducks have played in the Rose Bowl only four times. So, getting to the game is a true victory for the program.

It should be, anyway, but not this year.

After the 31-28 shellacking at Arizona State Saturday, Oregon's best finish would be in the Rose Bowl, likely against Penn State. That would be following a win over Utah in the conference title game, Dec. 6, at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.

Even though the score was just a thre-point loss, the "shellacking" would be the feel for fans following a loss to an ASU team that lost to Oregon State the week before. With a No. 6 spot in the CFP rankings, Oregon had hopes for a semifinal berth and chance to win a national championship entering the game.

But, a horribly subpar performance by both the Oregon offense and defense allowed the Sun Devils to record a huge upset, handing the Ducks a second loss from a team starting a freshman at quarterback.

Oregon finishes the regular season at home Saturday against Oregon State, then gets to the post season against Utah, which has lost only to USC.

 

 

 

 

Follow the money Team USA

Tue, 07/09/2019 - 3:04pm
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As America celebrates its heroes from the Women’s World Cup, the real key to the month of success on the soccer pitch will be on the fields of the U.S., in such towns as Kansas City and Atlanta.

Now that Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan, Tobin Heath and company have dominated the world on behalf of the nation, it’s time to see if anyone will show up to see them when they’re not repping for the Stars and Stripes.

This is the challenge that’s truly bigger than the world, too, because it’s the future, in the attendance figures of the National Women’s Soccer League.

The nation fell in love with Team USA’s players as a unit, but will that translate into more paid ticket sales and sponsors for the league the players star in?

Getting better or even equal pay from the U.S. Soccer Federation seems very logical for the top players, but getting better pay for the breadth of the NWSL’s players will be the greater success of the World Cup win.

One of those keys to success has actually happened, too - the NWSL has a beer sponsor.

As the U.S. was beating The Netherlands in France on Sunday, the league announced Budweiser had become its first beer sponsor and will attach its name to a host of elements such as the championship game.

A check of the league website shows Budweiser adds a significant sense of legitimacy to the league along with Nike. The three other NWSL sponsors are Cutter, which is an insect repellent, Thorne, which produces supplements, and Lifetime Network, although it doesn’t seem to have much if any involvement in airing league matches. ESPN will air matches on ESPN2 and ESPN News for the remainder of the season.

Budweiser is a step the NWSL has needed, and the Team USA players should address directly because that’s where the future of the professional games lies. And, women need to recognize that because equal pay requires equal results within capitalism. Kansas City can be a valuable asset in this arena. Atlanta, too.

During the World Cup final the FOX broadcast switched to a party being held in a public section of Kansas City that attracted a reported 10,000 fans. It was a wild atmosphere worthy of such an event. Kansas City officials used the party to promote the city as a host site for men’s World Cup headed for North American in 2026.

Kansas City is a great soccer town, evident by 10,000 fans showing up to watch Team USA win the World Cup. But, where is the town on women’s soccer? It had one, but it folded and its players moved to Salt Lake City, Utah to form the Utah Royals FC.

Atlanta joined the MLS in 2017 and immediately set the soccer world on fire with its raucous crowds at Mercedes Benz Stadium. The team led the league in attendance its opening year and set a record of 53,000 fans per game in 2018 on the way to winning the league title. Atlanta does not have a team in the NWSL.

And, moving across sport lines, Portland has some women’s equality issues to deal with, too - in basketball. For all his wealth, the late Paul Allen didn’t have much passion for the Rose City in terms of women’s sports. Allen owned the Portland Fire in the early years of the WNBA, but folded the team after only three seasons (2000-02) because of economics. It was an era when the Blazers were losing a tremendous amount of money due to luxury tax issues, and Allen’s company was on the way to filing for bankruptcy from just running the Rose Garden.

A women’s team in the WNBA would seem like a solid economic gamble these days considering the University of Oregon and Oregon State have some of the best attended games in women’s basketball these days, and win on the court regularly. Would Portland’s basketball fans support the Portland Fire the way its soccer fans support the Thorns? Portland would be a great market for the WNBA, and in the process serve as a step forward for women’s pro sports if it works economically.

Team USA can beat the world in the World Cup and in the Olympic Games, but can its players survive as professionals within their own league? It requires fans in seats.

Of the NWSL’s nine teams, only Portland and Utah, which features Team USA players such as Becky Sauerbrunn, Kelley O’Hara and Christen Press, average more than 10,000 fans per game. The other seven teams aren’t past 5,000 fans per game even though they also have Team USA players on their rosters.

Fans in seats, eyes on screens, sponsors on jerseys and beyond.

Team USA’s stars have earned some celebration time in the very near future, but they need to capitalize on this momentum to make the NWSL a stronger league, which is how women’s soccer, and women’s pro sports, will truly win going into the future.

ABC gets an F for its football coverage

Sat, 09/01/2018 - 7:38pm
Cliff Pfenning
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The college football seasons opened up for teams across Oregon Saturday and the results were basically as they were predicted ... by Las Vegas ... with No. 24 Oregon scoring a blowout at home against Bowling Green and Oregon State getting mauled at No. 5 Ohio State on national television.

Portland State lost at Nevada .. and Div. II and NAIA teams also kicked off to spirited fanfare - George Fox opened with 122 players on its roster.

The thing that caught my attention most, at least in the morning hours, was ABC’s coverage of the OSU at OSU game, and it owes an apology to Oregon State and Beaver Nation for how it turned the game into a local broadcast of the Buckeyes.

Oregon State traveled halfway across the country to face a very difficult game - underdogs by 39 points and with a new head coach (the program’s fourth in five years), but it pretty much wasn’t even involved in the game, other than as the program getting fed to the host school.

Jonathan Smith, a former Beavers standout at quarterback, was coaching his first game as a head coach, but ABC didn’t even acknowledge him until more than 12 minutes had gone by. The Beavers had the ball for the fourth time, had already scored a touchdown and been in OSU territory three times before they put the camera on him and let the nation know he was one of the brightest offensive minds in the game. The Beavers even lost their starting quarterback after just one possession to make the game that much harder, yet back-up Conor Blount was performing admirably against one of the premier defensive lines in the game.

The network, and rightly so, opened the broadcast with an update of the drama surrounding Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer’s three-game suspension that led to assistant Ryan Day taking over as interim head coach. ABC’s broadcast team of Dave Pasch and Greg McElroy covered Day extensively, as it should have.

But, Oregon State actually played in the game, too, and they pretty much forgot to include that element as part of the broadcast for most of the first quarter. They eventually got around to Smith and former coach Mike Riley returning to become an assistant on the team’s fourth possession.

The score by the team’s fourth possession was getting out of hand, and it was a disaster of a game on defense along the way to giving up 77 points. But, the offense played heroically behind Blount, receiver Trevon Bradford and running back Artavis Pierce, and eventually scored 31 points.

ABC just covered Ohio State for almost the entire first quarter, something that shows no respect for a major college program, which might be in a rocky spot in football - almost half of the team had never played in a Div. I game before, but is still celebrating a national title in baseball so there’s plenty to talk about regarding the teams from Corvallis. None of that drama or excitement got anywhere near the broadcast until a half-hour had passed.

The game wasn’t much in doubt pretty quickly, but Oregon State deserved a lot more respect that it got shown by ABC Saturday morning. And, it’s apology worthy - to coach Smith and Beaver Nation, regardless of the eventual score.

NCAA shows very little interest in women

Tue, 03/20/2018 - 5:14am
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When the NCAA Tournament bracket was released for women’s basketball last week, Oregon State University didn’t get treated very well. And, it kinda got worse, because even though the Beavers’ program produced some unprecedented success, the entire women’s game got fairly well disrespected this weekend.

For starters, Oregon State, despite being ranked No. 13 nationally in the Associated Press poll, which is promoted on ncaa.com, the Beavers were relegated to a No. 6 seed, something that would put them ranked 24th or worse. With that seed, OSU didn’t get to play host to one of the 16 four-team sub-regional tournaments, which the sixth-ranked Oregon Ducks did as a No. 2 seed. The Beavers were the only team among the top 16 that didn’t get to host games over the weekend.

When the results came in, though, the NCAA did plenty to disrespect more than just the Beavers. They did it to the women’s game.

Oregon State won its two games, including a win over host Tennessee that was the Vols’ first ever at home in the tournament. The Beavers might not have gotten seeded where they should have, but they played like a team that should have been seeded higher. Great job OSU.

It’s in looking for results on the game via the NCAA website that you find out how much respect the organization has for women’s basketball, or perhaps women’s sports in general.

As the men’s tournament is taking place at the same time, there’s tournament games aplenty to provide results on, and the NCAA did that ... for men’s games. Every game Sunday got a video, a short recap of the game and the game box score. The front page of the NCAA website shows off the thrill of the tournament. And, there’s one story on the women’s game.

Each one of the women’s games got a box score, and a link to a story that turned out to be the tournament bracket. The games involving a No. 1 or 2 seed got a short video, but all the website story links went to the same place - the tournament bracket. Even the headlines from Monday that promoted some excitement of the day - “8 more teams vie for Sweet 16 berths” - went to the bracket.

Today, after those eight games were decided, the NCAA website promoted the men’s tournament Sweet 16 being set with a video and story, and the women’s Sweet 16 being set with a listing of the scores from the previous two days.

This actually seems like an opportunity for women to address the importance of their sports to their governing body - why does the NCAA care more about the men’s game than the women’s game? Obvioiusly, it’s money. But, it shouldn’t affect something as basic as the NCAA website where the economic affect of putting a little more effort into promotion of the women’s tournament is just flat out effort.

Oregon and Oregon State are getting covered just fine by local media, which has put them at the top of their news. And, the Ducks and Beavers have plenty of fans - show off by the Ducks getting more than 7,500 fans for their game Sunday. But the NCAA is showing off just how little it thinks of women’s athletics by putting effort into only promoting the men’s tournament.

 

This year's Tournament is only halfway interesting

Thu, 03/15/2018 - 6:27am
Cliff Pfenning
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The NCAA Tournament begins today, at least the men's portion does, and I'm probably the least interested that I've ever been in the bracket.

Again, at least the men's side.

With the Oregon men's team pretty much making next season far more interesting than this one due to recruiting, and playing only into the NIT, and Oregon State just in the background of the conference, the local need to pay attention went away in the past month. And, that's

Then, there's the national scene that went haywire, which I'll get to later.

Oregon's women, and the Beavers, too, helped save some my attention for college hoop, but sports fans on the national level still aren't ready for women's basketball other than on cable television. The Ducks are going to be televised, but only at a neighboring restaurant that pays for the most expanded cable package available.

Oregon State, too.

One of the key issues in college men's basketball this season has been all the scandals involving the biggest programs. North Carolina, Louisvill, Arizona. And, there's the issue of whether high school players should be able to return to simply bypassing college altogher and go to the NBA.

And, there's Lavar Ball and European basketball. In covering high school games, I've taken to asking players being recruited by Div. I colleges if they'd consider heading to Europe if a two-year contract worth more than $100,000 per season were offered them by a team in Greece. Would they sign that? So far, the answer has been "no - my education comes first," but, perhaps, only because that thought never came up before. When asked a second time, and the amount of money being stressed further, the answer came back as, "I'd have to talk to my parents," for both the players I talked with.

The high school season really captivated my interest in the game, but it's over.

If you have a television in your house, and who doesn't, you can't miss the men's tournament, and it is fun to await the crazy upsets that happen today and tomorrow. I picked the Pac-12 teams to advance at least to their region finals in my online bracket, but two of the three teams already lost their play-in games. Thanks UCLA and Arizona State.

Hopefully, the Ducks will blow out their first two opponents this weekend in the women's tournament.

Probably the most interest I'll have this weekend is in Knoxville, Tenn., where Oregon State got sent with a sixth seed. I might even follow their game Sunday against Tennessee - if it happens - online, to pull for the Beavers giving a big middle finger to the NCAA selection committee for making them a six seed despite being ranked 13th.

The NCAA doesn't seem to think much of Corvallis, so this is a great year for Oregon State to make a playoff run like the Ducks did last year as a 10-seed reaching the Elite Eight.

I'm a fan of the underdog, so Oregon State might actually be the team I'm pulling for most, at least this weekend.

 

Don't forget your homework

Fri, 03/09/2018 - 6:21am
Cliff Pfenning
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Homework came up a couple times in entertaining ways in basketball environs Thursday.

While chatting with Western Oregon senior Malik Morgan about the upcoming NCAA Div. II men's basketball regional, I asked him about the other three games set for today on the WOU campus, if he planned to attend any of those games. His senior-dominated team plays at 7:30 p.m., with the other games beginning at noon.

He answered as a committed student-athlete:

"That's one of the bad things about having the tournament in our gym," he said. "You still have to go to class, take tests, pay attention and all that."

In Corvallis, following Marist's comeback win over Silverton in the Class 5A semis, the Marist girls went directly to their fan section and got mobbed, something that hasn't happened to them this season, even though they've been at the top of the state all year and have lost just three times.

"It's nice to finally have some students at our games," junior Kayley Elliott said. "We've been getting great support since we got to the tournament."

But, not, she admitted, before the tournament.

Listening over my shoulder, a grandparent of one of the girls got in my ear.

"You know, we take homework very seriously at Marist," she said. "So the kids don't have all the time to go to basketball games."

They did Thursday, taking a bus from Eugene to Corvallis in the middle of the day as the game started at 1:30 p.m.

The prep state playoffs are an odd connection between teams and fans, and teams don't seem to mind because they get that tournament feel - a feel they might never get again.

High school playoffs, and even small colleges, would be much better served with a Final Four set-up, something the community college playoffs have now adopted instead of playing so many games in such a short time. At the NAIA national tournaments, teams, Eastern Oregon and Southern Oregon are in Iowa playing in their national tournament, have to sin five games - in five days for half the tournament, to win their national title.

For starters, at a tournament - both high school and small college, almost none of the games are played at the time from the regular season, when parents and students are most likely to be able to attend a game - that's 7 p.m. or later. Especially for the prep quarterfinals, it drastically reduces the level of team support available for virtually every team, especially ones that are even a moderate distance from the tournament.

And, with a quarterfinal loss, a team is headed for the consolation bracket, which features games that begin as early as 8 a.m. Nyssa, playing in the Class 3A tournament in Pendleton last weekend, lost it's quarterfinal at 1:30 p.m., then won its second game at 8 a.m. the following morning, and played in the fourth-place final - at 8 a.m. Saturday. The Bulldogs, who lost Satuday and finished 17-11 with a sixth-place trophy, played three games in three days and two started before the school day would have even started back home.

But, they probably loved it, because the games had "tournament" attached to them.

Quarterfinals played at home sites would attract much more attention and bigger crowds basically everywhere, and students would miss less class time, with a Final Four being a lot more vibrant as it would have several days of pre-game anticipation. And, it would be less expensive on the OSAA, which manages the tournaments and reimburses schools for travel and other expenses.

But, the schools and teams don't want it, said OSAA Executive Director Peter Weber.

"We look at it every few years, but the schools ... they really don't support it," he said at the Class 6A tournament Wednesday, acknowledging that a Final Four would be more financially attractive for the OSAA. "They really like the tournaments."

And, Clackamas senior Elly Bankofier said the game itself was the key part of the experience - the Cavaliers having lost to Southridge in the quarterfinals Wednesday at 1:30 p.m. They did have a couple dozen classmates in their student section, who were kept away from them until after they appeared from their lockerroom.

"I like that it was played on a neutral court," she said. "There probably would have been more people at a game at their gym, but I like the way it is with the tournament."

So, a Final Four would be much better for high schools, but the players involved don't want that because for at least one week they get to be athletes 100 percent of the time, and students on the way to making up homework sometime in the future.

 

The NBA Academy

Mon, 03/05/2018 - 9:25pm
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The news broke earlier today, March 5, that the NBA is looking into creating its own minor league. They won't call it that but that's what we're talking about. Sure they have the G League, but this will be different. This is where one and done's can go. 

But, the big news here is that the NBA, if this happens, will now be talking to high schoolers.

Yes, if the NBA creates academies these players will be in the NBA, making money and gaining experience, strength and maturity. Sounds good to me.

For now it seems that the NBA will not go down this road quickly. They may look to intertwine themselves with high schools through camps and workouts. Bringing in "experts" to help these young men learn what it's like to be a professional athlete both on and off the court.

I'm all for it. I think this would reduce the number of flameouts in the NBA, and help the college teams regain some stability knowing that the players they just recruited will more likely stay around campus.

 

A great reason to coach photography

Fri, 02/23/2018 - 11:36am
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This weekend I'll probably coach my son for the final time in a sporting event.

It's been quite a few seasons, and a lot of fun, mostly, anyway.

We started with his first throw of a small, plush football that was a perfect spiral at age 18 months. And, while we never got to the level of club teams for more than a season, playing a sport three seasons per school year has been a wonderful experience and forged a strong bond between us. Until the teenage years, at least.

As we draw to a close in the Portland Parks Goldenball basketball season, it's a time to look back and think upon what I taught my son and/or what I hoped he learned from all the seasons of soccer, basketball, baseball and one season of football and lacrosse.

I'm not sure I have a good answer, which is a bit disappointing.

In contemplating these two thoughts, though, I reinforced my belief that photography is something every parent should focus on more as it relates to their children. And, it should be taught as a basic requirement in the education system. People should know how to take good pictures, how to print them out and what their importance is in the world.

It's something that should be talked about at the start of every season for every team - "hey, make sure we capture some of these moments on film (they're going to be printed on paper).

For one thing, pictures don't lie, at least not without Photoshop.

And, they tell stories that don't need words - words being one of the great methods of ruining any situation in parenting.

A whole lot of teams, especially ones that play indoors, have a handle on the value of photos at the end of a season through "Senior Night." That's when seniors and their families get a moment to celebrate the close of their son or daughter's athletic career with public recognition and a family picture. It's a very strong moment for most of these families and captured with a photo.

Or course, you don't know when your athletic career might end, so getting a photo from every season is important.

This past week I did the play-by-play for a webcast of the Grant at Jefferson boys basketball game, which was a great experience especially as the color guy ended up being Portland Community College coach Tony Broadous. We had a great time and the webcast showcased that, but I missed having someone take a photo of us, which would have multiplied the value of the experience. Thursday, I sang the national anthem at a high school basketball game ... with a parent as a duet, but missed getting a photo, which would have made my Facebook page go wild.

It's not something just for athletics either. How many parents are able to get a photo of their son or daughter studying? Some of the great photos from American history are of people just thinking - President John Kennedy and his brother Bobby during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

The skill of photography that might be taught is how to isolate specific photos. Everyone has a camera now via their cell phone, and can take thousands of pictures. They forward many of those photos to social media, and that's where the photos end. Getting a physical copy of photos is a tremendous loss in our society.

I think I have enough good pictures of my son, and daughter's athletic career, too, that I feel good about how he'll look back upon all those practices and games in two, five, 10 years and beyond. How we will look back upon them as we grow older.

 

 

Five reasons to watch the Winter Olympics

Fri, 02/09/2018 - 9:45pm
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If you're like me the summer edition of the Olympics carries a bit more interest than the winter version. But, there are still some great stories and amazing athletes to watch.

5. Curling – What was it, 1 or 2 Olympics ago, curling became the world’s favorite pastime - for a few days anyway. Will this continue this year or will another sport take it’s place like … OK nothing is that quirky. Curling it is.

4. Snowboarding – Welcome to the “X Games more people watch.” In all seriousness, snowboarders are pretty much the cool kids at the games, and unlike other sports each time we watch them we see something new and impressive.

3. Hockey – Who will win this year? Ok, it shouldn’t be a surprise right? Sweden on the men’s side, and Canada on the women’s side. But Russia, Canada and even the U.S. have a shot at the men’s gold even though Russia hasn’t ever won a gold in this event … who knew? For the women only Canada and the U.S. have played for a gold - how big of an upset would it be if anyone outside of those two made the gold medal game, let alone wins it?

2. Crazy People – The luge, skeleton and bobsled. You folks are crazy, I hope you don’t crash, but when you do I understand people who watch NASCAR for the crashes.

1. Local connections – Cheer on your fellow Oregonians!

Tommy Ford – Alpine skiing

Laurenne Ross – Alpine skiing

Jacqueline Wiles – Alpine skiing

Sam Michener – Bobsled

Ben Ferguson – Snowboarding

Asa Miller – Alpine skiing

 

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