Cliff Pfenning's blog

Hey, you NBA dudes, get busy with your money

Wed, 01/26/2011 - 8:06am
Cliff Pfenning
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So what's the state of the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the NBA and it's Player's Union these days?

I couldn't help but wonder about that after watching the State of the Union address Tuesday night. President Barack Obama spoke on the condition of the U.S. and his plans for helping the nation move forward toward a brighter future, one filled with uncertainty due to the economic struggles of a recession.

There certainly was a lot of hope in his assessment. The response from the Republican Party had a different version of hope, one that pointed out all the negatives it sees within the current President's' administration, but it was a vision of a brighter future for a lot of people struggling to make ends meet, from small businesses to large corporations.

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Both visions of the future involve the two major parties to work together. That's Democrats and Republicans. Working together to make a better America, not just the one they each see as THE way to go.

And, then there's the CBA.

Professional basketball players and the owners that pay them have an agreement on how to disburse the monies that come into the league from television rights fees to league sponsors to attendance, but that agreement runs out after this season. So, how will these two sides work together to make a better world for basketball players and fans? Currently, everyone familiar with pro basketball thinks the owners will simply lock the doors to the league because they're collectively losing money, and not playing at all is better than playing and losing money in this case.

It's called a lockout, and it's where pro basketball is headed.

Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge, Greg Oden ... you guys are great, but we're losing money with you so agree to take less or we'll have to lock the doors.

Less than an average of nearly $6 million a season, by the way. That's not THEIR salaries, that's the league average. For some insight, the average NFL player makes around $700,000 - still not too shabby, but a lot, lot, lot less for a sport that's dealing with a major increase in concussions. NFL players play fewer games - although that's a factor in the bargaining between owners and players in the coming future - but you can easily argue they play a much more dangerous sport and have a much larger audience. The Super Bowl dwarfs anything the NBA can throw at it. NFL teams just pay more than 50 players per team, which draws down the average salary.

The only major pro sports league in the U.S. with players who are paid even remotely what an average citizen is paid is Major League Soccer, which has an average salary of around $115,000. There are quite a few players who make under $50,000 in the league.

So, what's the point here? There's a lot of the U.S. that's going to be looking at the future bargaining between very wealthy players, who get more than 60 percent of all monies that come into the league, and the owners who are all multi-millionaires based simply on the fact they own franchises valued at an average of $350 million.

How to split up all that money and be happy? The owner want to make more profit, or in some cases ANY profit, and the players want their fair share.

After watching the State of the Union address and feeling pretty good about where the nation is headed, I'll be following the CBA talks very closely to see where the NBA and it's Players Association thinks the nation is headed.


If only LaMichael had gotten a few more touches

Tue, 01/11/2011 - 3:41pm
Cliff Pfenning
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If the final stats had shown LaMichael James with 20 carries, Monday's loss in the national championship game would be a lot easier to handle. But they don't.

Instead, the final stats show James with 13 carries for 49 yards, while Auburn freshman Michael Dyer ran 22 times for 143 yards. As a fan, that's the toughest thing to take away from Oregon's last-second loss Monday night in Glendale, Ariz., Oregon's running game just never got going. Even tougher, it never seemed to get going from the coaching box. Auburn's defense beat Oregon mentally as well as physically, and that was enough to turn an Oregon blowout into an Auburn win.

When you look back at a game, regardless of the result, it's comforting to see the best players on the team you pull for had the most chances to affect the outcome, but James didn't. Orgon's offensive line might have had a lot of trouble with the Auburn D line, but James still managed almost 4 yards per carry - more than he did when the Ducks played at Cal. In that game, he got the ball 29 times and ran for just 91 yards - 3.1 per carry. Oregon dredged out a 15-13 win.

James carried the ball 25 times or more in seven of Oregon's final eight games leading into Glendale.

There's a key discussion point for the offseason - how do you keep everyone happy in a backfield with a lot of great players, especially while featuring a potential Heisman Trophy winner?

And, it's the offseason. With the Oregon basketball team in rebuilding mode and baseball still with the feel of a sport the Ducks have borrowed from Oregon State, it's time to settle back into the memories of the past season and look ahead to the divisional alignment and the specifics of the Pac-12 Title Game, which will be televised by FOX on Dec. 3 at the home stadium of the school with the best conference record.

The Pac-12 Title Game is five weeks ahead of the 2012 BCS Title Game, Jan. 9, in New Orleans.

Hey Beavs, thanks for helping the Ducks make ABC happy

Sat, 12/04/2010 - 4:47pm
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They sure did their part to make the Civil War interesting - those Oregon Ducks.

Yes, Oregon State put up a fight, especially in their "Giant Killer" unis, and on their home turf. But, the Ducks made ABC happy with turnovers, a missed field goal, even praying as the fourth quarter began - when the game was at its most dramatic.

Heck, if OSU coach Mike Riley was a gambler of any kind and had gone for a touchdown on fourth down to try to pull within 23-17, what a game that would have been. But, Riley went for the sure field goal, and a brutal pass interference penalty gave the Ducks the little relief they needed to move to a 37-20 win and a sure spot in the BCS National Championship Game, Jan. 10, in Glendale, Ariz.

Oregon coach Chip Kelly called for a fake punt at his own 25, and it worked.

OSU coach Mike Riley called for a field goal on fourth-and-goal at the Oregon 5. The field goal worked, but three points didn't put the kind of pressure on the Ducks that a touchdown would have.

So, onto The Natty for the Ducks, who used up that fake punt for that game. Auburn won't fall for that.

Darron Thomas's leadership vs. Cam Newton's leadership.

LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner vs. whoever Auburn has in its backfield besides Newton.

Jeff Maehl vs. whoever catches the passes for Auburn when Newton doesn't run.

Oregon's defense vs. Newton.

Oregon State played its role of showing off the holes in Oregon's juggernaut offense, and helped showcase Oregon's defense.

There's five weeks to prep for Oregon (representing the Beavers state - bring the OSU fans along) vs. Auburn (it's actually a city, located about an hour from Birmingham). Auburn has Alabama as its big rival, so the game is between the two states - Oregon vs. Alabama.

Congrats Oregon: Chip Kelly, Nick Aliotti, all the Autzen Stadium faithful, Uncle Phil Knight, it goes on. Wow, what a season.

Now, it's time to learn a lot more about Cam Newton.


Hawks start pimpin' Memorial Cup possibilities

Thu, 11/25/2010 - 12:07am
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It’s 10 weeks into the Western Hockey League season, and the Portland Winterhawks are finally ready to openly talk about the one thing that might make people go to Memorial Coliseum to watch them play: the Memorial Cup.

Yes, the Hawks are free to talk like they’re a serious contender for not only the WHL title, but the top prize for junior hockey in North America.

It’s amazing to think the franchise lost 21-straight games just two seasons ago.

The Memorial Cup puts the champion of the WHL, the Ontario Hockey League and the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League together with a host team and they duke it out until there’s a champ.

Portland has won the Cup twice since 1976: ’83 and ’98. This year’s squad features so many NHL draft picks, it’s a huge favorite to get to win the WHL, which gets a spot in the final four.

Head coach Mike Johnston, though, like any coach, doesn’t want to think that far into the future – the Cup is played in May, but he really had that goal for the first 20 games. Now that they’re headed for Game 29 by Sunday, they’ve got the go-ahead to start telling it like it is in the locker room.

“We talk about it,” Oliver Gabriel said Wednesday after scoring a pair of goals in a 4-2 win over Everett. “We’re one of the top ranked teams, so we should be talking about it.”

Portland is No. 2 in the latest BMO Mastercard CHL Top 10, and has been among the top teams for much of the season. They’re behind only Mississauga St. Michael Majors, who, are the host team for the Cup this season, so they’re already in the final four regardless of what happens in the OHL playoffs.

The exciting thing from here is that looking ahead to a run at the Cup might connect such a fabulous group of players to the Rose City, which regularly shows up with many hundreds of fans for games at Memorial Coliseum.

Talking up the Cup is a good way for the team to bring interest to both itself and hockey in general after nearly plunging into darkness due to what can only be described as humiliating owners.

From disaster to the Cup. What a story just waiting to happen.



Concordia's women carry Oregon's soccer hopes

Wed, 11/24/2010 - 3:18pm
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They’re ready to thaw out, the players on the Concordia women’s soccer team.

That’s what you would have gotten from their final practice before the trip to Decatur, Alabama that starts Friday.

The Cavaliers, ranked No. 1, will be chasing the university’s first national championship in a team sport when they arrive for the NAIA National Championship tournament at the Jack Allen Recreation Complex.

Concordia, 19-0-2, plays Hastings, Neb. College, Monday in the 16-team tournament. No. 2 Lee University of Cleveland, Tenn., plays Monday as well.

The Cavaliers won’t meet Lee until the final if the two continue to win. If it happens, it’ll be the third straight year the teams will have met either in the final or the semifinal. Lee won both, in the final two years ago and the semifinals last year.

The wins have put that school on another level in women’s soccer.

The Lee roster includes an international cast with two freshmen from South Africa, and one each from England, Scotland, Denmark and Norway.

Katrine Korsgaard, the freshman from Denmark, scored two goals Saturday, and two other international players also started Saturday.

The team’s top player, though, Jamie Achten, is a junior from Franklin, Tenn.

Concordia’s answer to their Southern/international rival is a roster of West Coast players led by senior midfielder Kaitlyn Tebbs, from Bend High, and Alex Thomas, from Camas, Wash. None of Concordia’s players are from towns East of the Rockies.

Tebbs scored 11 goals and dished out eight assists, while Thomas has eight goals and four assists. In 21 games, the Cavs have scored 55 goals.

The team’s real strength, though, is defense, having given up just five goals all season. Opposing teams converted just five of 60 shots on goal against goalkeeper Tori Talbutt and Marie Burn, and had a combined 27 corner kicks.

Lee plays conference rival Mobile, it the beat just 2-1 two weeks ago, in its first game in Decatur.

Azusa Pacific, which handed Lee one of its two losses back in September, is also in the Lee half of the 16-team bracket. Lee’s side has five teams with two or fewer losses.

On Concordia’s side, there’s just one team with fewer than three losses: William Jewell of Missouri, and it gave up four goals in an 8-4 win Saturday. Martin-Methodist of Tennessee, which has won two titles in the past five years, is in Concordia’s side.

Those facts are just meaningless points of interest, though, especially for a team that needed to rally from behind to win its first-round playoff game, 2-1, against Simon Fraser Saturday.

They won’t just have the opposition to worry about, but the rain and mud, something with came up as a big factor from last year’s drive to the semifinals.



2012 is on the horizon for Blazers fans

Wed, 11/17/2010 - 10:09pm
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Portland-area police, get ready becasue the big slogan on the farm subsidy building outside the Rose Garden is just about ready to be tagged.

It already says “Rise with us.” Someone's going to hit it with “to OHSU” real soon.

What a season, and it’s just 11 games old. And, TNT is in town Thursday.

Even a win against division rival Denver on national TV isn’t going to do anything to make pro hoops fans think the Blazers aren’t headed for the Lottery, and, maybe, for a while. They were just at No. 4 on one of the two ESPN power rankings – two weeks ago. Now, they’re just a press release regarding Brandon Roy’s knees away from the Lottery.

Can Wes Matthews go off for 30 points regularly? Andre Miller for 50 once a month? Nicky Batum start heading for All-Star caliber play? Rudy actually play like he’s dangerous every once in a while? LaMarcus … carry the team?

Damn, the Western Conference sucks.

The Aztecs knew this day would come, it just arrived early for Blazers fans.

What a week.

Ricky Cho, now’s the time to get that Excel spreadsheet hot. And quick, because David Kahn's T-Wolves are starting to look competitive.

Ah, those crummy stats

Mon, 11/15/2010 - 2:20pm
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As soon as the match reached the shootout, it had the feeling of disappointment, especially with that one, big glaring stat on the scoreboard – shots.

Portland 27, Washington 6.

And they weren’t just shots from Portland, but a lot of really good shots, forcing Washington’s keeper, Jorde Lafontaine-Kussman, to make a number of spectacular saves – 13 in all during the match.

So, Washington entered the shootout with a hot goalkeeper with nothing to lose as the host Pilots were a big favorite playing on their home turf Sunday in the second round of the  NCAA women's soccer playoffs.

Ugh, that scoreboard.

The Huskies were superb throughout the shootout, hitting near the posts on either side for all 11 rounds, missing only once wide to the left. Lafontaine-Kussman stopped one – hit directly in the middle of the goalmouth and got a hand on another to her left. The Pilot seemed to fear going all the way to the post, where any goalkeeper cannot make a save, but they only did that about half the shots.

As the rounds kept moving along, five, then six, then seven, eight, and the Huskies kept hitting just inside the post, the pressure just kept building, with that miss just waiting to happen. Then, in round 11, it did. Season over.

The Pilots have an exceptional group of underclass players, so they’ll be strong again next year, but that’s a season too late for the current group of seniors. They’ll be remembering the pressure of the shootout and that stat on the scoreboard – so many chances that didn’t did get fulfilled. Now they’re program alums.


Re-alignment is easy without Seattle

Mon, 10/04/2010 - 10:37pm
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When I think about re-aligning the NBA, it's based on reality. The league isn't going to want to go all Facebook/Twitter and completely restructure how Americans view something like basketball. Television rules its fans, and the current alignment is working just fine - league revenues continue to increase yearly. But, a little change will be good for the league to show it can adapt to the changing world. So, here's my view of the new NBA after the CBA is ratified.

The big shift I see is that Milwaukee moves to the Western Conference, while New Orleans moves to the East. Milwaukee is just an hour from Chicago, so that's going to frustrate some fans, but it's almost as close to Minneapolis and the Timberwolves, so there's a natural rivalry waiting to be activated. Minneapolis and Milwaukee were rivals for years in the American League, so there's plenty of background there. The Bucks are now in the Northwest Divison of the Western Conference, joining the Blazers.

New Orleans is a natural for the East, as it's the most Eastern team from the Western Conference, and is a rival of Atlanta in the NFL. Most of my re-alignment is close to the current alignment, just a few teams move - Toronto to the Central, while Washington moves to the Atlantic in the East. Oklahoma City replaces New Orleans in the Southwest Division.

It's really pretty easy without Memphis moving to Seattle. But, that's on the horizon.

Here's how I see it for the 2012-13 season.

NY Knicks
New Jersey


New Orleans

LA Lakers
LA Clippers
Golden State


San Antonio
Oklahoma City

Chip Kelly finally crosses midfield on the likability meter

Mon, 09/13/2010 - 6:21am
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I haven’t been much of a Chip Kelly fan since he arrived from Div. I-AA four years ago, but that changed Saturday night.

It happened late in the first half at Tennessee, just as tailback LaMichael James hit the grass after a one-yard gain to set up fourth-and-1 at the Oregon 48. Oregon trailed 13-3 at the time and was struggling to get anything going against the the mostly inexperienced Volunteers and, beer in hand, I yelled at my television “we gotta get something going here - go for it.” And, Kelly did, without hesitation. Quarterback Darron Thomas handed the ball to back-up tailback Kenjon Barner and he followed his experienced offensive line forward for 3 yards and a first down. The Ducks got only a field goal out of the drive, but quickly got the ball back and drove 62 yards in four plays for the tying touchdown with 1:04 left in the half.

It’s that last 64 seconds that really sold me on Kelly.

Tennessee got the ball on its 23 with plenty of time to drive for more points, but seemingly elected to run out the clock and head to the lockers with a 13-all tie – a huge victory of sorts for an unranked team with a first-year coach against the seventh-ranked Ducks.

Oregon used a timeout, which had me wondering what Kelly was doing. Why make the half longer so that the Vols have more of a chance to score? The ESPN commentators talked about the Ducks maybe getting the ball back, but Oregon only had one timeout left and wasn’t going to get the ball back without a turnover, so what was the point with that?

Then it hit me, that’s brilliant … and just plain mean. Psychological warfare.

What Kelly did was effectively tell Tennessee the game could be as long as possible, they weren’t going to win.

And that’s what happened. In the third quarter, Oregon moved at will on offense with three touchdowns, pummeled the Vols on defense – scoring on an interception return, and even scored on special teams – a punt return by Barner.

New Mexico? Tennessee? At least the Vols didn’t get shut out in front of their fans, who mostly left by the start of the fourth quarter.

As a fan who wants to see a little of himself within the coach of any of his favorite teams, those last minutes of the first half sold me on Kelly and his sweatsuits. Maybe Mike Bellotti really did know what he was doing in handing the program off to Kelly.

So, how or when can Oregon schedule Texas or Alabama? Maybe even Boise State again. Bring ‘em on.

What's an owner to do without customers?

Wed, 09/08/2010 - 6:34am
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Watching all the people streaming off MAX Monday afternoon, I could only imagine how tough it was for diehard baseball fans to accept the reality the Portland Beavers were on their way somewhere else.

There’s one fan, in particular, that it must have hit harder than anyone else at PGE Park – Merritt Paulson, the team’s owner.

And, if you want to blame anyone for the team’s upcoming move, blame him.

You have to recognize him for being a smart business owner, too.

Paulson showed up in Portland in 2007 after having tried to buy a Class A team in Petaluma, California, a deal that involved the city assisting in building a $10 million stadium on the county fairgrounds. City leaders were on board, but the deal broke down over the $250,000 the fairgrounds would have needed to give up annually for 25 years.

So, Paulson, the son of former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, bought the Beavers and Timbers instead, likely thinking PGE Park would continue to be a good home for the Timbers and the city only needed an inspired owner to help build a new baseball stadium.

The soccer part happened. The baseball part didn’t. So, the Beavers are headed elsewhere – probably California, and at a profit for Paulson. Blame him for that.

You can’t blame him for not trying to get that new stadium built – at three different locations in the metropolitan area. Portland, and Beaverton, just didn’t want to build it. That’s civic leaders and ultimately residents opposing all three. If the city had more baseball fans, a stadium would have happened.

Ultimately, a business owner gets the blame for a business moving or folding. Paulson tried, it didn’t happen and the next move is the team moving because Portland is not a Triple A town.

Portland needs a Major League Baseball stadium to lure an MLB team, not a smaller stadium to lure a Triple A team. If minor league baseball returns to Portland, it’ll be to the Portland area, likely Beaverton, which would build a stadium to attract a team.

Paulson, of course, did get a stadium built for the Timbers because the stadium already existed – Multnomah/Civic Stadium/PGE Park, which is never going to get replaced in the lifetime of anyone reading this. Archeologists 3,000 years from now won’t have to dig it up because it’ll still be in the open air, like the Pyramids.

PGE Park needed a much smaller effort by civic leaders to be renovated into a soccer stadium, so that happened. Paulson chose soccer over baseball because Portland is a soccer town more than it is a minor league baseball town. Paying customers say it is.

If the Beavers had more paying customers, civic leaders would have had the support they needed to help build a new stadium. But, that’s not the case. So, Paulson chose soccer over baseball – as a business owner.

Paulson showed up in Portland as a baseball fan, and is remaining as a soccer team owner. A pro sports team owned by someone who lives here. There’s some significant respect that goes along with that. The Blazers don’t have that. The Winterhawks don’t have that.

And, he didn’t just walk away and let someone else take care of the teams, which is what happened with Portland Family Entertainment, the locally-owned organization that pushed for PGE Park to get renovated in time for the 2001 season. When baseball fans, mostly the more wealthy ones who were needed to purchase those “luxury” boxes, didn’t show up, their financial resources dried up and they just … walked away.

So, the Beavers are going to leave – for the third time, and are probably never going to return. Paulson’s got to feel miserable about that and his role in it. But, he’s still here.

And, hey, maybe he’ll try to become a civic leader and run on a platform of bringing Major League Baseball to town. Now, that would be a real gauge of the public’s interest in baseball.

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