Cliff Pfenning's blog

The Majors are heading for a great playoff run

Wed, 08/13/2014 - 7:54am
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The Major League Baseball playoffs are still a couple months away, but it's not too early to start predicting the teams that are likely to be involved. And, it's going to be a nervous two months for baseball executives watching the wild-card races in terms of who's going to be watching those upcoming playoffs.

They've got some tough numbers to beat, as last year's playoffs produced some of the best ratings in three seasons when the Boston Red Sox beat the Detroit Tigers in the American League Championship Series, and St. Louis Cardinals beat the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League.

This year, it could be the Dodgers against the Washington Nationals, while the Baltimore Orioles play the Oakland A's. That would be something - going from four of the hotbed markets (they were four of the top nine teams in the league for average attendance and filled an average of 90 percent of their stadiums), to only one of the top 12 in terms of attendance, with an average of just 75 percent of their stadiums filled.

And, they would only be in three markets - Baltimore/Washington, D.C., Oakland and Los Angeles.

So, New York Yankees, you've got baseball and television execs pulling for you every game, just as they're pulling for the Tigers and Los Angels Angels in the American League. They're pulling for the Cardinals, Atlanta Braves and San Francisco Giants in the National League.

Gonna be a great playoff run, not only on the field, but in the stands and on television.

What a playoff season

Fri, 04/25/2014 - 9:05am
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It's been one of the craziest NBA Playoffs in recent memory, and the lower seed results are starting to drift into the frontal lobes of basketball fans everywhere with a basic question: what if Oklahoma City and Indiana get eliminated in the first round?

That's not just the Thunder and Pacers, respectively, but superstar Kevin Durant and burgeoning superstar Paul George. For the NBA and its TV partners, that would be a huge whack in the gut.

Memphis and Atlanta? In the second round? They each have a 2-1 series lead with a home game coming up this weekend.

Even the Blazers beating Houston in the first round has to be making the NBA shutter as it would take out Superman and constantly media-hyped defensive standout Dwight Howard, and scoring maching James Harden and his beard.

Houston gone, and Portland - hidden out in the Northwest for basketball fans - moving along. Sure, LaMarcus Aldridge has been an All-Star for three consecutive years and has absolutely dominated the series in a historic fashion, but he's never been much of a media personality. His name has rarely been in any offseason headline other than last summer when it was rumored he wanted out of Portland. He denied it quickly, and the story died.

Media hype means viewers.

Fortunately, point guard Damian Lillard is getting some pub through his connection to Adidas, and has started showing up in at least one TV ad. But that's only just starting, and he hasn't gotten into the public eye much in his two years in the league. He's no Steph Curry.

And, it could get worse, too, if Washington upsets Chicago.

The NBA has to be pulling for the Los Angeles Clippers (Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, Doc Rivers) and Miami Heat (Lebron, Wade, Bosh) to move along to a Finals duel, which conspiracy theorists might look to as a reason to why Golden State's Curry didn't draw a foul on the final play of its game against the Clippers Thursday night.

Think officiating might be a factor in the Blazers series with Houston for the next week?

Aldrige deserves attention

Thu, 04/24/2014 - 8:03am
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For all the talk of the offensive power LaMarcus Aldridge had displayed in the first two games of the NBA Playoffs, it was his defense that quietly carried the Portland Trail Blazers to victory Wednesday night.

Aldridge went off for 43 points on 18-of-28 shooting Wednesday, just three nights after scoring 46 points, which put him among NBA greats for playoff output in a two-game stretch.

But, his defense absolutely shut down Houston's Deight Howard, who began the game by scoring the Rockets first 13 points - all in impressive style. At the half, Howard had 25 points, and had TNT commentator Shaquille O'Neal boasting his season-long badgering of the NBA's most intimidating player had finally gotten through. And, he wouldn't shut up about it, even when Charles Barkley tried to get a word in.

Barkley - pro sports best overall commentator - pointed out that whatever Howard had done in the first half, it wasn't going to be enough if the rest of the Rockets didn't fulfill their game they were on the path to another loss.

Aldridge's play garnered only a brief few seconds at the end of the halftime commentary - and it was his offensive output of 23 points.

All the commentators missed out on the work Aldridge did on Howard at the end of the first half and start of the second half. After dominating the game's opening 20 minutes - primarly against Robin Lopez, Howard drew a defensive match-up with Aldridge and scored only one point in the next 16 minutes. Aldridge kept Howard away from dunk territory and forced him to be a shooter. Howard responded by basically throwing the basketball in the direction of the basket, not actually shooting.

Without dunking, Dwight Howard is just a good big man, not the dominating center Shaq slobbered all over at halftime.

Houston is likely to produce the same offensive attack Friday in Game 3, but will also have the freedom to shoot and attack with abandon as the underdog that knows the 2-0 series edge the Blazers have, it's only nine total points that separate the two teams after two games. And, the Rockets have played sub-par in both of those games, while the Blazers have gotten career-defining performances from its top player.

This series is far from over, but not if Aldridge continues his incredible play - and there's nothing to indicate he won't. If that happens, it's not going to take long to look at the rest of the league and wonder if Howard, a three-time Defensive Player of the Year, can't stop him, who can?




LMA is the key for Portland

Sun, 04/20/2014 - 10:41am
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It's no secret the Portland Trail Blazers will go only as far in the playoffs as LaMarcus Aldridge takes them.

The first round series against Houston offers a tremendous opportunity for Aldridge carry an underdog - even one that won 54 games during the regular season - past a huge favorite - the Houston Rockets.

Houston has two fan favorites in center Dwight Howard and shooting guard James Harden, while the Blazers are virtually hidden in the Northwest with a pair of All-Stars on its roster as well - Aldridge and point guard Damian Lillard.

The Rockets have the luxury of directing one of its youngest players, Terrence Jones, to defend Aldridge, with his entire focus during the game simply to stick to Aldridge. That's a huge advantage for the Rockets in that they can direct a player to just hound an opponent's top player. So, if Aldridge were going to assume the leadership role that the Blazers need him to, that's where it starts - with Jones, then the rest of the Rockets.


Portland heads for long AFL franchise history

Wed, 03/19/2014 - 12:48pm
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As long as there's an Arena Football League, the Portland Thunder will be playing in it, if only because of its owner, Terry Emmert.

Emmert has been a long-time, hardcore sports fan who's tried to make a name for himself in unique ways such as trying to purchase the Portland Fire of the WNBA from the Trail Blazers.

Now, he's got the Thunder, and has enough money behind him to ensure the only reason the team would fold or move will be his lack of interest. And, that doesn't seem possible.

After watching the Thunder's opener, the main problem with making the franchise a success will be winning ... and the game itself. While the field is shorter and more compact, and the game is promoted as being fast-paced, it's really a slow event. There were a ton of extremely long timeouts during the game, all of them due to television commercials. The down-time made for plenty of on-field promotions, but those can rarely generated any excitement such as the "Kiss Cam," which can't be used for every timeout.

Was the game entertaining? Yes. It's football, and you can't mess up the game unless it's filled with incompletions and just plain poor play. The Thunder had both, and yet it was still entertaining.

But, the commercials made for an extremely long game, which was hard to handle. Playing on a school night, the crowd thinned significantly at halftime, and continued as any suspense dwindled with Portland's poor play in the second half. One of the key parts of the game, which is likely to be the same for every game, is getting a game ball. Fans keep them when they're thrown or kicked into the crowd, which leads to a spirited throng of fans underneath the goal post net after touchdowns.

Monday's game lasted 2 hours, 53 minutes for the 60 minutes of game time. In comparison, a standard Timbers game rarely lasts longer then two hours, Tuesday's Blazers game that included overtime lasted 2 hours, 40 minutes, and a standard Winterhawks game lasts around 2 hours, 15 minutes.

Portland's game Monday was right in line with the rest of the league, which had seven season openers last an average of 2 hours, 45 minutes. That length of a game is frequent in major college football and the NFL, but they feature much more action with longer drives and fewer long timeouts for commercials.

Still, it's football, and with a motivated, commited owner, the Thunder will be at the Moda Center for a long time.




No problem with tickets this year

Wed, 01/08/2014 - 1:33pm
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After a year of e-mails essentially begging for last-minute ticket purchases, the University of Oregon shouldn't have trouble selling out the 2014 season of home football games.

That's the quick assessment of the six-game home schedule.

Michigan State, which won the Rose Bowl last week, Stanford and Arizona are all on the schedule, with the MSU game even being moved so that it would be played during the day on national television.

Interstate rival Washington will appear in Autzen, as will Colorado.

There's even a Thursday night game for television, too.

And, one of the two "payday" games annually scheduled to rack up some stats against an overmatched opponent, is actually appealing with Wyoming visiting Autzen.

South Dakota, which plays in the Missouri Valley Conference, is the other gimme.

The top road games are at UCLA, at California in the new home of the 49ers, and the Civil War against Oregon State in Corvallis.

A look at the 2014 schedule.

Aug. 30 (Sat.)     South Dakota

Sep. 6 (Sat.)       Michigan State

Sep. 13 (Sat.)     Wyoming

Sep. 20 (Sat.)     @Washington State*

Oct. 2 (Thur.)      Arizona*                                                                  

Oct. 11 (Sat.)      @UCLA*                                                                 

Oct. 18 (Sat.)      Washington* (Homecoming)

Oct. 24 (Fri.)       @California* (Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara)           

Nov. 1 (Sat.)       Stanford*

Nov. 8 (Sat.)       @Utah*

Nov. 22 (Sat.)     Colorado*                                                                

Nov. 29 (Sat.)     @Oregon State*


NCAA headed for OSAA changes

Thu, 12/12/2013 - 7:37am
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When the OSAA expanded to six classifications in 2007 it was to handle competition inequality that much of its membership had become familiar with from regular season and playoff experiences.

Bigger schools had more resources and they were able to win more. So, more classifications seemed like the right way to even out the playing field. Right or wrong, it's now become the way of things in the state with the difference in resources affecting regular season and playoff results less because there's just more playoff results. The change was motivated by smaller schools wanting a better chance to win.

The NCAA might very well be headed for this kind of change, but not because of better chances to win, but better chances to spread the financial resources around - to athletes.

The five biggest conferences: the ACC, Big 10, Big 12, Pac-12 and the SEC; are looking at the NCAA for ways they can provide more compensation to their athletes because the level of money available from television and marketing has exploded. As with any profession, the workers involved - athletes - want their share, and they've got the public on their side. The schools want to provide more for them, too.

Now, the NCAA is going to be tasked with how to allow that to happen for its members at the Div. I level, which currently has 340 schools. But, only 120 of them play in the Football Bowl Subdivision - FBS, where the money is, and only 65 of them are in the five major conferences, where the real money is. Div. 1 football is already split into two divisions, FBS and FCS, and football is splitting up conferences, too. The Big East split in half last year because some schools did not have big-time football teams. That conference turned into the American Athletic Conference, which the Big 5 have to share revenue with through the NCAA because they both play Div. I basketball, which hasn't been split in two.

Many of the Div. I schools, though, rely on money from the NCAA Basketball Tournament as well as the marketing presence simply playing at Div. I gives them. That's like the Kansas City Royals being able to play the New York Yankees. Overall, the Royals have almost no chance of winning the World Series because their player salaries are about a quarter of what the Yankees can pay their players. The NCAA has this at the Div. I level because of football. That's like Arkansas State being able to play at Oregon last year. The Ducks used it to boost their stats in front of nearly 60,000 fans. The Red Wolves used it to get a fat check from the Ducks.

In a couple years, it might be the Ducks compensating its own players with the same money it used to pay Arkansas State to visit Autzen Stadium.

It's not hard to see the five major conferences moving toward becoming the real Div. I with the ability to compensate players, and there being more than three NCAA classifications.

Football bowl games have been a sticking point for years, but with the creation of a playoff system, and realization that bowl games are bonanzas for the cities and organizations that run them more so than for the schools involved, the bowl system is headed for elimination. Why should Oregon State and Boise State pay Honolulu thousands of dollars to play there - buying expensive tickets for the game being part of the process - when they can make that money themselves by playing at one of the two schools in a playoff game?

This is the first step toward football money changing the face of NCAA athletics and athletes, too.




The trouble with snow

Tue, 12/10/2013 - 7:58am
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A snowball fight that went viral?

People who didn't grow up with social media don't have any understanding of how cool that is among people who did, and that's something to consider when assessing Friday's SnowBowl 2013, which happened on the University of Oregon campus.

College students throwing snowballs at one another? Then throwing them at passing cars?

On what college campus would that not happen, especially one where snow is not a regular occurrence and many of the students involved had never been in a snowball fight. They were having a fun time - and the cars driving by were moving at 1 mph.

The world can overreact to about anything.

Here's how Oregon media writer Rob Moseley described the incident Dec. 7 - before the online world went nuts.

The drama that made the online video posting go viral is that one of the drivers got out of his car to confront the students throwing snowballs at his car - kind of like getting out of a tank to talk some sense into the snipers shooting bullets at you in "Call of Duty," the video game.


"You stupid kids, I'll talk some sense into you!"

Fortunately, the two drivers involved, one a former college professor and the other a University administrator, decided not to press charges.

Press charges?

Because some college kids were throwing snow at your car, which you drove into a snowball fight on a college campus at 1 mph? How hard would it have been to just keep driving? Or not drive through the snowball fight to start with? Not hard at all.

About every third comment on this video blasts the players for acting like 12-year-olds.

Who doesn't turn into a 12-year-old around snow?

The story gets better in that some football players organized the snowball fight - it then turned into two battles.

It's not hard to see this affecting the Oregon football team into the future - through recruiting.

Recruiting is hardcore competition, and every edge is going to get used, whether it's on your school's side or against another school. It's going to show up into the future through that simple phrase - "who's got your back?"

Nike has Oregon's back, big-time, but that doesn't affect the sideline other than fashion and through a private practice facility. Head coach Mark Helfrich affects the sideline and this battle put him into the limelight in terms of discipline for one player involved - back-up tight end Pharoah Brown. Helfrich suspended Brown for the Alamo Bowl because he threw snow onto the driver who got out of his car to talk some sense into him about having fun with snow.

The news of the suspension made the viral video an even bigger attraction, and that's going to get the attention of high school players all across the nation, especially those kids who don't play in snow very often, or ever. And when the event got out of hand, Helfrich went to the Bank of Discipline and suspended Brown. At least that's how it's going to play out for some high school kids, the very kids that Oregon needs to stay where it is on the national level.

At least that's how more than one college recruiter from every other school dueling with Oregon for players is going to talk about this incident.

"You better not throw a snowball at Oregon, otherwise your coaches will bust you."

"And, you'll be lucky that you don't end up in jail."

"That's definitely not 'Animal House' anymore, so why go there? You've never seen 'Animal House'? Oh, never mind."

A more established coach might have just gotten into the community's head with a little bit of hair diffuser and talked up the rationale of some college kids having a little too much fun in the snow. "Have a heart, folks. No one here got hurt."

Hopefully, Brown, who apologized publicly, will continue to play his role with the team at a high level and only miss the first quarter of the bowl game.

And, hopefully, the U of O will issue some rules for its students and teachers and administrators in time for future snowfall:

1. Hey students, don't throw snow at passing cars.

2. Hey teachers, don't drive through a snowball fight and think you aren't going to get hit.

3. Everyone, remember anything you do in public, or virtually anywhere nowadays, is going to get recorded and uploaded to the World Wide Web and seen everywhere, so be ready to accept the consequences.



How about those Viks?

Tue, 12/03/2013 - 3:11pm
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With the college football regular season winding down, and all the NCAA Div. 1 schools having the week off, a brief look at the seasons for Oregon, Oregon State and Portland State (yes, they're Div. 1) shows that a review of the three head coaches might show that ... Portland State's Nigel Burton should be the Coach of the Year.

Portland State finished only 6-6 in the Big Sky Conference, and didn't reach the FCS playoffs, but Burton's work of getting his team to that record puts his job performance slightly ahead of Oregon coach Mark Helfrich, and OSU's Mike Riley.

In Helfrich's first year, Oregon finished 10-2, a record that's a major disappointment for fans.

Riley, in his 13th season, guided the Beavers to a 6-6 record, which got them bowl eligible - a worthy season for fans in Corvallis every year. But, the Beavs lost their last five games after giving their nation time to whisper those magic words: "Rose Bowl." Not this season.

What puts Burton's Viks ahead of the Ducks and Beavers is their play at the end of the season, especially in their final game. Playing at No. 3 Eastern Washington, the Vikings nearly pulled off what might have been the program's greatest upset in Big Sky Conference play before losing by a missed extra point in the closing minutes, 42-41. That loss came a week after a 43-42 loss to Sacramento State at Jeld-Wen Field in which they gave up two scores in the final nine minutes.

The Viks finished their Big Sky season at 3-5, having beaten the three teams that finished under them in the standings. Four of the team's conference losses were by a combined 16 points. Only Montana, which headed to the FCS playoffs ranked No. 10, blew out the Vikings - on the road - 55-27.

Oregon finished 10-2 and is likely headed for a bowl game that will attract a smile or two from those fans unhappy with the team not getting to the national championship game. If Oregon won't play for the title, or even for the Rose Bowl, it better face a quality opponent in a bowl game. If they take on Oklahoma in the Alamo Bowl, that'll be the case.

Although Oregon's Mark Helfrich guided his team to a better record than PSU, the Ducks took a heavy beating with video from the sidelines showing simple desperation during the Stanford loss, and crazy quotes such as not caring about playing in the Rose Bowl as they had "already been there." The Rose Bowl comments came up time and again during a all-out spanking from Arizona in Week 11.

Riley got his team recovered from a season-opening loss at home to Eastern Washington to a 6-1 record heading into a home game with Stanford. Even though the Beavers seemed to outplay the Cardinal for significant parts of the game, they still managed to lose, starting a slide that included trailing Washington 48-0 ... at home ... in Week 11.

Burton hasn't gotten the Vikings over the hump of reaching the FCS playoffs, but there at least was plenty of fight in the team that can be spun in many positive ways - and Denver tight end Julius Thomas' development in the pro ranks can only help.





What a month for the Ducks

Sat, 11/23/2013 - 4:45pm
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Mark Helfrich got a lot of face time during Saturday's game at Arizona, so the nation knows who he is now. And, he's already headed for a hot seat after his program got absolutely trounced by the host Wildcats.

Not only did the Ducks get stomped by an inspired group of players, they openly got trounced by the media for some comments made by players that they weren't all that excited about heading back to the Rose Bowl because they had been there before.

So, they got their wish.

For the second year-in-a-row, Stanford, not Oregon, will play for the Pac-12 Title and Oregon is headed for a non-BCS bowl game. Fans will get to travel to somewhere other than Pasadena or Phoenix this year.

Oregon still needs to beat Oregon State to avoid playing somewhere like New Mexico.

The game against Oregon State, and Arizona, looked like blowouts earlier in the month, but then the Ducks hit some major snags - mostly inside the opponents 10-yard-line, but also on the sideline.

Oregon has looked terrible on the sideline, and that's Helfrich's domain. When players look lost and uninspired, the first place media and fans look is the head coach. Helfrich hasn't performed so well in that category. He's no Chip Kelly.

There's still a lot to be learned about Helfrich, who hadn't been the top guy in any program before taking over earlier in the year when Kelly left for the NFL.

Against Stanford, players openly seemed distraught on the sideline as the Cardinal built a 26-0 lead in the fourth quarter.

Then, the team bounced back and got within a touchdown of producing a magical victory. After a bland victory last week over Utah, the team seemed to just fall apart at Arizona, unable to stop the Wildcats' running game and unable to finish drives.

It's crazy to think a 9-2 record is underachieving, but it is, especially when the season started with tours of the new football team practice facility, and then a spot on the cover of Sports Illustrated heading into the game at Stanford.

The slide can't be centered on the defense, as it's truly done its part to produce wins. The offense just hasn't done its part, through turnovers and stalled drives. The play-calling on offense has become a disaster and Marcus Mariota has turned into someone getting outplayed by former junior college walk-ons.

Wow, what a month November has been for the Ducks. And, Helfrich, who is now the head of a powerhouse program that's back amongst the ranks of "beatable" for just about anyone they play.

We're going to learn a lot more about Mark Helfrich in the coming weeks, especially this week when he gets compared to Mike Riley at Oregon State.

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