College Football

March Madness makes NCAA a bundle!

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By Larry Fitzgerald
March 15, 2017
GAMEDAY GOLD

 

When do the athletes — most of them Black — get their fair share?

 

Many years ago my mother, Sally Fitzgerald, taught me how to value a dollar. “Practice trying to save 25 cents out of every dollar,” she said. “It’s a great financial strategy — it challenges you to keep an eye on your money.”

My biggest disappointment in seeing former President Barack Obama leaving the White House after eight years was that no investigation of the NCAA was done. If Black Americans were ever to receive reparations in this country, that is the pool of money to take it from. I thought the government could dive into the NCAA pool and try to go about rewarding us as a people for slavery.

Everyone gets all excited about March Madness and the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. It’s all about the seeding. The NCAA selection committee had many questioning its seeding. Defending Champion Villanova (31-3), Kansas (28-4), Gonzaga (30-1) and North Carolina (28-7) are all number-one seeds.

Billions of dollars are generated over the next three weeks with 68 teams playing to the Final Four in Phoenix and eventually a National Champion. The Gophers (24-9) are back in the NCAAs as a number-five seed Thursday in Milwaukee versus Middle Tennessee. Middle Tennessee pulled a huge upset last year as a number-15 over number-two Michigan State.

The Big Ten gets seven teams led by number-four Purdue and number-seven Michigan, the regular season and tournament champs. Wisconsin is seeded number eight — how is that? They beat the Gophers twice and finished ahead of Minnesota, Maryland, Michigan State and Northwestern. Yes, for the first time ever the Wildcats are in the money.

I have always been curious where the money goes that’s generated annually by the NCAA. I have long referred to them as the most corrupt organization in sports. That opinion has not changed.

College football and basketball generate enormous amounts of money for the 300 Division I programs across the USA. The wealth gets lost in athletic budgets funding the other sports teams and individuals and million-dollar salaries to primarily White coaches.

Universities and the television networks work hand in hand with the sponsors — apparel and shoe companies. Good to see Samuel L. Jackson, Charles Barkley and Spike Lee in those Capital One NCAA-themed spots.

Yes, I was hoping that former President Obama, because he loves sports, would have poked into this growing gravy train of wealth generation, especially considering that the majority of the labor force is Black players under the guise of amateurism.

When the great Jackie Robinson broke the race barrier in sports during the spring of 1947, White America did not see us as human, much less as equals. Major League Baseball called it an experiment, remember? However, they knew we could play.

We as a people were segregated back then, spending our hard-earned money supporting the Negro Leagues. Our dollars were unified then and went around in a big circle within our community.

Nobody gave a hoot about the NCAA tournament in the 1930s, ‘40s and ‘50s. Not until the late 1960s did the growth spurt begin. It’s still growing, the enormous wealth is staggering, and we don’t get a dime.

Sure, a handful of players get drafted each year first-round to the NBA, and others get their educations and start careers. But believe me, 60 to 70 percent of these thousands of athletes never overcome this.

That’s why my excitement is tempered watching the games. I have all these questions, and the NCAA says the exchange of a free education (scholarships) is fair compensation. I’m no Johnny come lately. I have seen where the Wild goose went.

I have echoed these sentiments before. We are supposed to be happy with what we do get. It’s a vicious cycle that has gotten out of control. When, I ask, are we ever allowed to touch the ceiling?

 

Larry Fitzgerald can be heard weekday mornings on KMOJ Radio 89.9 FM at 8:25 am, on WDGY-AM 740 Monday-Friday at 12:17 pm and 4:17 pm, and at www.Gamedaygold.com. He also commentates on sports 7-8 pm on Almanac (TPT channel 2). Follow him on Twitter at FitzBeatSr. Larry welcomes reader responses to info@larry-fitzgerald.com, or visit www.Larry-Fitzgerald.com.

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Eric Nelson

SPORTS NUGGETS: Cold and snow make for one cool MLS opener in Minnesota

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By Eric Nelson
March 15, 2017
GAMEDAY GOLD

MINNEAPOLIS -Sports Nuggets from the snowy Twin Cities…

Minnesota Loons MLS soccer team at TCF Stadium in Minneapolis

Minnesota Loons take the field

•Flakes and Loons: Minnesota United’s first-ever MLS game in the Twin Cities was a dud on the scoreboard. Atlanta United FC thumped Minn U 6-1 Sunday at TCF Bank Stadium. But in every other way the match was epic. The snowy day produced great visuals in the venue and on ESPN2. Snow and soccer are a rare combination, but thanks to the Minnesota elements, this historic match was a unique snapshot in time for Minnesota sports fans…

•Crowd Count: The attendance was an impressive 35,403 – the largest soccer turnout in the Land of Lakes since 1984 when the Tampa Bay Rowdies and Minnesota Strikers played before 52,621 at the Metrodome. According to the St. Paul Pioneer Press, the temperature was 20 degrees, tying the 2013 MLS Cup in Kansas City for coldest game in league history…

MLS fans in the snow at the Loons home opener

Minnesota United fans at the home opener

•Slow Start: Minn U (0-2) has clearly struggled this season. In games against Portland and Atlanta the Loons have been outscored 11-2. Meanwhile, Atlanta – also an MLS expansion team – won its first-ever match. The snowy pitch did not deter F Josef Martinez who scored three goals for AUFC…

•Quality Opponent: It’s a good news, bad news scenario for the Minnesota basketball team. The good news is that the Gophers (24-9) are a 5th seed in the south region. The bad news is they face a solid opponent in 12th seed Middle Tennessee. The Blue Raiders are 30-4 and have won back-to-back CUSA titles. They are led by F Jacorey Williams (17.3 points per game and 7.3 rebounds per game), F Reggie Upshaw (14.5 ppg and 6.8 rpg) and G Giddy Potts (15.8 ppg and 5.5 rpg)…

•Quick Trip: The game tips off at 3 pm CT Thursday at Bradley Center in Milwaukee. It’s only 337 miles from Minneapolis to Milwaukee on I-94, so Gopher Nation should be well represented in Wisconsin…

•Purple Defections: The NFL is a revolving door league as players are always coming and going. Minnesota lost a couple of former top draft choices to free agency as WR Cordarrelle Patterson (Oakland) and OT Matt Kalil (Carolina) signed with other teams. Kalil was the fourth choice in the 2012 NFL draft and made the Pro Bowl as a rookie. However, that was his pinnacle moment for the Vikings. In four other seasons, Kalil’s productivity dropped off because of injuries and sub-par play. Patterson, meanwhile, was a first round selection in 2013 and played in two Pro Bowls. He was very good on kickoff returns and punt coverage, but below average at wideout…

•Publicity Hounds: Give the NFL credit – the Shield has a knack for staying in the news cycle year-round. March used to be dominated by NCAA hoops, the NBA, NHL and MLB spring training. But, thanks to free agency, the NFL garners plenty of attention, stealing headlines from those other sports…

•Tasty Golf: Twin Cities restaurant mogul Wayne Kostroski has come up with another creative way to aid those in need. Kostroski – who started taste of the NFL during Super Bowl week – is staging the first-ever Taste of the Master Chefs in April. Kostroski has lured some of the top chefs on the globe to Augusta, GA for the Masters golf tournament. It’s a charity event, with all of the proceeds going to the Salvation Army of Augusta. Tickets cost $150. For more info go to www.tasteofthemasterchefs.com

•Fab Four: The NCHC’s fourth annual Frozen Faceoff starts Friday at Target Center. Western Michigan plays 2nd ranked UM-Duluth at 4 pm followed by North Dakota and top-ranked Denver at 7:30 pm. The defending champion Fighting Hawks won the Frozen Four last season and their appearance means plenty of No Dak fans will invade the Twin Cities…

•Pioneer Spirit: Denver (28-6-4) has won 13 games in a row and is paced by D Will Butcher, who is one of 10 players up for the Hobey Baker Award…

•Puck Stopper: Bemidji State G Michael Bitzer is also a Hobey Baker finalist. Bitzer is the WCHA player of the year and led the Beavers to their first-ever conference title and MacNaughton Cup. Bitzer had a sparkling goals against average of 1.40, a WCHA record…

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Thomas U. Tuttle

Start the Madness

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by Thomas U. Tuttle

It’s that time of year again for basketball fans, tourney time, those giddy days of intense college hoops known as March Madness – which leads, for a select few teams, to April gladness (or sadness). Yes, the semifinals take place on April Fools Day (the 1st) with the finals on the 3rd, all in Phoenix Arizona.

The usual suspects are at the fore, as expected. Duke looks tough, although inconsistent at times and with a wildcard star (Grayson Allen) who tends to act out crazily on the court (check out the videos of his purposely tripping players during regular season contests). Kansas, Villanova, North Carolina and Gonzaga are the top seeds in each region, with all but Gonzaga (in my opinion) a threat to win the tourney.

Much has been made of the fact that no dominant teams have emerged this year as heavy favorites to make a title run. Defending champion Villanova (who won a title-game thriller last year) comes in at 31-3, but similar to Gonzaga, doesn’t get tested on a week to week basis like several of the other contenders. North Carolina looks good to me, but two of their losses are to Duke and they looked bad in those defeats.

The Big Ten is represented well, with seven teams at the party but most of those unlikely to dance for long – I don’t envision a scenario where a team from the Ten makes it to Phoenix, unless Michigan continues to astound as it did to close the season. Or if Wisconsin’s underrated and eighth-seeded senior squad gets hot right now and uses a perceived lack of respect to get rolling.

Minnesota is a good club this year, but will miss Akeem Springs (injured against Michigan State and out for the duration) and has a tough opener against giant-killer Middle Tennessee State. They knocked out a two-seed last year (MSU) and bring back a number of starters from that squad. A Gopher win probably brings them Butler, always solid and a victor over #1 seed Villanova earlier in the season. The sweet-sixteen is doable, but getting there is going to require strong, consistent play for it to happen.

My alma mater Northwestern has made the tournament for the first time, which you have been made aware of by throngs of NU media alums. Stephen Colbert, Julia Louis Dreyfus, Brent Musberger, Michael Wilbon, Christine Brennan, Etc…Etc… There has been a lot of attention paid to the Wildcats accomplishment – too much, and I can’t fault anyone for being exhausted by the Cat mania. Hey, I’m an alum and I’m tired of all the blather regarding this squad. Yes, I’m proud they knocked off Maryland and didn’t back into their first NCAA tourney, but the hammering by Wisconsin in the semi’s of the Big Ten tournament was discouraging – and a big reality check. The Cats play Vanderbilt and should be one and done.

Minnesota goes off at 100-1 odds in Las Vegas to win the tourney, while Northwestern lists at 300-1. Hey, are you kidding me? While the Gophers could somehow pull off a surprise or two, and Northwestern could conceivably win a game, I’d make the odds something like 1000 to one for the Goph’s and maybe 10,000 to one for the Cats. It ain’t happening and for anyone who thinks it will, I’ll take your money.

A few years ago, when Minnesota made their run to the semifinals under Clem Haskins and (unfairly) had to forfeit the season, I put $20 on Arizona’s Wildcats to win the whole thing – back in November. When I showed up in Nevada to watch the final four, I put a few more dollars on AZ to win it all. They did, and I was paid well both ways. What fun, and I owe eternal gratitude to my buddy “Hondo” in Tucson who saw that train coming.

This year, Arizona is back, and they are good. I’m going to stick with them to take me back to the promised land. I like UCLA, too, but not quite as much. My thinking is that the number-one seeds are not going to win it this year – not like last year, when they all showed up strong. The exception is North Carolina, who might be ready for this despite the disappointing Duke defeats. Those bad losses could be a motivator for the Tar Heels.

And Duke Blue Devil head-case Grayson Allen can really play – if he stays under control and provides the leadership his team thrives on, Duke could pull off something special.
But count me among the Wildcat backers – just not Northwestern’s breed of basketball Cat. The Arizona Wildcats to win it at home in Phoenix.

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Gophers’ miracle season continues

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By Larry Fitzgerald
March 8, 2017
GAMEDAY GOLD

 

Do you believe in Miracles? Wow — from 8-23 last year to 23-8? Richard Pitino is just 31-31 the last two years, I remind you, as Gophers men’s basketball coach.

This is his fourth season, and just like Minnesotans, some fans are worried the famous name Pitino, son of legend Rick Pitino of Louisville, will have teams knocking down the door trying to lure him away from Williams Arena. While appearing on Emmy Award-winning TPT Almanac last Friday, I was asked by co-host Eric Escala if the Gophers might lose Pitino because of the team’s success.

After getting smashed at Madison Sunday 66-49 and having their eight-game win streak end, the greatest turnaround season in the country will in my view still land the Gophers and Pitino in the NCAA tournament. This would be his first trip to the NCAA men’s tournament and the Gophers’ first trip to the dance since 2013.

That was the same year Norwood Teague became athletic director and quickly fired legendary former NCAA championship coach Tubby Smith. Smith reached the NCAAs three times in six years and beat number-one Indiana at Williams Arena the only time in school history. Smith led the Gophers to the field of 32.

(Photo courtesy of Larry-Fitzgerald.com)
Nate Mason drives Gophers to NCAAs

Minnesota is a privileged institution. White coaches get contract extensions for what Smith accomplished while Smith was run off campus by a guy like Teague, a predator disgraced and fired on sexual harassment charges that usually land people like that in jail. But being privileged has its benefits.

You see, people around here think they know, and they don’t know squat. They think Minnesota basketball is comparable to North Carolina, Duke, Kansas, Kentucky, Indiana, Michigan State and UCLA. They think the only Division One basketball program in Minnesota is all that. Let’s be clear: It’s not.

Ten times in 105 years the Gophers have reached the NCAA tournament. Remember, three of those NCAA trips were vacated because of academic fraud charges under Clem Haskins. Having said that, I do like this year’s team. Pitino has done a really solid job worthy of earning him the BIG Conference coach of the year. He’s got my vote, and I’m a voter.

The Gophers play with heart. They play together like they enjoy each other, and they lead the nation in blocked shots. They started 15-2 losing five in a row and then reeled off eight straight wins. They beat BIG Conference champion Purdue on the road. They have been in five overtime games and are 3-2. They rebound well, and they are deep.

Junior Nate Mason might be the best guard in the conference. Freshman Amir Coffey has really played well — he’s likely the BIG Freshman of the Year. This is a young team that grew up fast.

The BIG Conference has not gotten much national respect this year. Just three teams have even cracked the AP and USA coaches polls — conference champ Purdue is number 13, Wisconsin number 24 and Maryland number 25. Michigan State, Indiana, Michigan and Illinois are down by their standards.

The 11-7 Gophers have earned a bye in the BIG Men’s Tournament set for Washington, D.C. this week for the first time ever. I think they will be a tough out and could receive a five seed in the NCAAs. Pitino did a good job not just coaching but cleaning up some of the disciplinary issues from last season. This is a good defensive team.

 

 

Larry Fitzgerald can be heard weekday mornings on KMOJ Radio 89.9 FM at 8:25 am, on WDGY-AM 740 Monday-Friday at 12:17 pm and 4:17 pm, and at www.Gamedaygold.com. He also commentates on sports 7-8 pm on Almanac (TPT channel 2). Follow him on Twitter at FitzBeatSr. Larry welcomes reader responses to info@larry-fitzgerald.com, or visit www.Larry-Fitzgerald.com.

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The brotherhood of blood transcends that of a hockey team for Minnesota Duluth’s Avery Peterson

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By Jimmy Gilligan

DULUTH, Minn. – 

After playing a key role in the University of Nebraska Omaha making a run to its first NCAA Frozen Four in program history in 2014, Avery Peterson shocked his teammates by leaving Omaha midway through his sophomore year to return home to Grand Rapids, Minn.

He wanted to be closer to his older brother Evan, who is battling a rare, terminal genetic brain disease called Metachromatic Leukodystrophy, or MLD. It progressively deteriorates intellectual and motor skills, and affects about one in 40,000 people.

Wanting to play in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) and for a strong program, Peterson officially committed to Omaha in August of 2013, five months after his brother’s diagnosis. At that point, he was largely out of the loop.

“I really didn’t know. My parents kind of kept it away from us kids,” Peterson said. “I don’t think they wanted it to affect us too much, but I knew there was stuff going on.”

After finishing up his senior season at Grand Rapids High School where he received Minnesota high school hockey’s highest honor, Peterson was a key offensive producer as a freshman at Omaha. He went on to record 21 points (11 goals, 10 assists) for the Mavericks, but his family — and brother — were in the back of his mind from the get-go.

“It was tough being so far away from my brother,” Peterson admits.

“We had a series in Mankato to start my freshman year and my parents left after the first game. On Saturday (Evan) was just kind of hanging out in the hotel by himself, and it just sort of hit me that he doesn’t have anybody. I know it’s a lot of stress on my parents, ‘cause in a small town like Grand Rapids, there really isn’t much to do there.”

The brothers were close growing up, playing on the same travel hockey team (even though Avery was two years younger), and skating together on their backyard rink. Peterson looked up to his brother, noting that he was the best player on the team — above himself and current University of Minnesota forward Jake Bischoff.

Their closeness, coupled with Evan’s terminal illness, made the 570-mile distance from Grand Rapids to Omaha feel like light years away.

“He really got in a tough situation his sophomore year, but while he was here he was well-liked by his teammates and coaches and did a great job in school,” said Omaha head coach Dean Blais. “It was totally his decision, encouraged by me. We’re in the business to win, but we’re also in the business to develop character.”

After several weeks, the 2014 Minnesota Wild sixth-round draft pick chose to finish up his collegiate career at UMD — a place that felt like home given all the familiar faces. While he could have kept up to game speed by playing somewhere in the USHL last year (while sitting out a year of collegiate action per NCAA transfer rules), he elected to remain close to home and train in Duluth.

“When I came here for my visit, you could just tell it was the place to be. There were so many familiar faces that it was a warm, welcoming feeling there,” Peterson said.

That familiarity stems from Peterson growing up playing alongside and against a number of current teammates including Dominic ToninatoNeal PionkAdam JohnsonKarson KuhlmanJared Thomas and his former high school teammate, Hunter Shepard. Furthermore, Peterson played 27 games under current Bulldog assistant coach Brett Larson, when he was the bench boss for Sioux City of the USHL.

But the real benefit of playing for UMD is that Duluth is just a 90-mile drive down Highway 2 from Grand Rapids, which allows him to go home on off weekends. When the Bulldogs are playing in Duluth, his parents and brother make the trip east. Even though Peterson just saw his first action as a Bulldog at AMSOIL Arena last weekend (Jan. 6-7), his family has yet to miss a home game this season.

Being so close, Evan is able to spend a lot of time at Avery’s house in Duluth, hanging out with his Bulldog teammates, playing video games and living the college life — something the 22-year-old wouldn’t have a chance to do otherwise.

“We played a lot of ‘Chel (NHL 17) over Christmas break, probably too much,” Peterson quips to a passing teammate. “It’s cool to be able to hang out with him in that atmosphere and the guys accept him so well. It’s something that I’m pretty grateful for.”

The brothers also get to spend time on the ice with Duluth Area Special & Sled Hockey, a team coached by Peterson and UMD teammates Sammy Spurrell and Brendan Kotyk.

While his brother and family are certainly appreciative of Avery living nearby, the feeling goes both ways. Because in Avery’s life, his family is far more important than hockey.

After undergoing a bone marrow transplant (of which his sister was the donor) in 2013, Evan appears to be handling his ailment well, although the nature of the disease leaves plenty of uncertainties. Even so, he continues to inspire those around him.

“It’s such a weird disease that you never really know, when people are diagnosed some people last a year, some people last five,” Peterson said. “He’s doing pretty well it seems like, in other areas it seems like he’s gotten worse. But he lives life, and he’s a good role model because he lives it to the fullest every day.”

Immediate Impact

Peterson has only played three games for UMD, having sit out a full year per NCAA transfer rules, but so far his impact has been clear. Head coach Scott Sandelin credited him with providing an extra spark in his debut with the Bulldogs, a 2-1 win over Bemidji State on Dec. 17 — UMD’s first win over their intrastate rivals in four years. In his second game, Peterson scored his first UMD goal, a tally which proved to be crucial in a 2-2 tie with Colorado College Friday night (Jan. 6).

On a team with plenty of depth, the 6-foot-3, 215-pound forward is able to contribute wherever the third-ranked Bulldogs need him.

“I think the intangible things he can bring, he can play center, he can play wing, big strong kid that can shoot the puck,” said Sandelin. “Just having him there, and him bringing that energy and excitement to play was a big lift for our team.”

Toninato, who played for Grand Rapids’ arch-rival Duluth East in high school, agreed with Sandelin’s sentiment, noting Peterson’s large presence on the ice and in a leadership role.

“He’s a big strong body, he uses that body well to protect the puck and he goes to the dirty areas,” Toninato said. “He’s really good on draws, he’s a smart hockey player and he can shoot the puck, so he basically brings it all.

“He’s also a huge locker room guy, and he adds depth to this team on and off the ice. We’re lucky to have him.”

Despite no longer being teammates, Peterson said that he still has a lot of friends in Omaha, and several of them even made the trip to Duluth to hang out this past summer.

While the Mavericks certainly won’t be lodging at Peterson’s house when they travel to Duluth for a series in early February, there’ll still be warm feelings and well-wishes for a former teammate.

“When you play hockey with the guys, you end up being such good friends, so I keep in touch with them,” Peterson said.

Some would even call that bond between teammates brotherhood. But for Avery, that’s a distinction reserved only for Evan.

–#NCHCHockey–
Frozen Faceoff Tickets

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Larry Fitzgerald, Sr.

Tracy Claeys: Gopher scapegoat

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By Larry Fitzgerald
January 11, 2017
GAMEDAY GOLD

 

Usually leadership at NCAA Institutions like Big Ten schools with 45,000 students comes from university presidents. Not at Minnesota, where President Eric Kaler has done his best recently to bungle the important role of the athletic program.

He places academic achievement as his number-one priority, and in many ways under his watch he has undermined the importance of the athletic program, which drives the revenue streams for university athletics.

It’s been called dysfunctional: The clear incompetence and laxity of administration leadership have pushed the Gophers to the verge of being a national joke. Last week, Head Football Coach Tracey Claeys was fired after becoming the first Gophers football coach to win both of his first back-to-back bowl games.

Claeys took over after previous head coach Jerry Kill resigned because of health concerns during the 2015 season; Claeys was his top assistant. In his first full season, he led the Gophers to a 9-4 season with the second-most wins by a Gopher team since 1905, including the 17-12 win over Washington State in the December 27 Holiday Bowl in San Diego.

former Minnesota Golden Gopher football coach Tracey Claeys

Tracey Claeys

When Claeys became head coach, the University did not have a full-time athletic director because Kaler dropped the ball. That was on the heels of longtime respected athletic director Joel Maturi resigning.

Kaler has long been casual in his support of Gophers athletics, and it shows. He has burn scars to prove it. Kaler hired a search committee to find his next AD, which is a sure sign of a president with a lack of commitment to his athletic program and one of the key reasons why the Gophers have not been in the Rose Bowl since 1961.

Norwood Teague was the guy recommended by the committee to the uncommitted Kaler, and he hired him from Virginia Commonwealth. Teague was supposed to elevate the athletic program and was believed to be a great fundraiser.

The first thing Teague did three years ago on arrival was fire as men’s basketball coach the highly respected Tubby Smith, one of the best coaches in college basketball. Smith had won an NCAA Championship at Kentucky before taking the Minnesota job. After six seasons, he was fired.

Three times Smith led the Gophers to the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. Smith beat UCLA in the NCAA tournament in his final win, and during the year even upset number-one Indiana at Williams Arena for the first time in school history. Never before in 100 years of Gophers basketball had the men’s basketball coach reached the NCAA tournament three times in six years.

Teague proved in short order that he was in over his head. He was fired after it was discovered that he was a campus sexual predator, harassing women administrators and media females with sexual advances. It was one of the most embarrassing and expensive mistakes in school history. The program has become a laughing stock in college athletics thanks to President Kaler.

For two years, the U of M athletic program has been without a full-time AD. Richard Pitino was hired by Teague to replace Smith. After three years and zero NCAA appearances, last year the young Pitino was 8-23, the worst season in school history.

Not until last fall was Mark Coyle hired as full-time athletic director. He is not the best communicator according to some. He did not hire Claeys, and it showed — he recently barbecued him in a news conference and fired him last week after the football team in September had four Black players accused of sexual misconduct with a female student.

Claeys suspended the players for three games because the university has a student code of conduct policy that allows Title IX investigators to launch their own independent investigation even after university and Minneapolis police had conducted an investigation into the alleged assault of the woman using video and audio of the sexual act captured on tape by the players. No charges were filed.

Three weeks ago, 10 Gopher players were suspended by the university after the Title IX report was issued. The football team’s remaining players announced a planned boycott of the Holiday Bowl game, demanding the 10 players be reinstated. Thirty-six hours later, after meeting with Coyle and reading the 82-page Title IX report, the players withdrew their boycott protest.

After his players announced their planned boycott, Claeys tweeted his support of their right to protest, not of the actions of the accused suspended players. The confusion of Claeys’ support angered some. Coyle used the opening to fire Claeys and hire his own guy, P.J. Fleck, who led Western Michigan to a 13-1 season and a trip to the January 2 Cotton Bowl.

Fleck will make $3.5 million a year over the next five years while the suspended Gopher football players await a hearing on their fate and suspensions. Kaler still has job, and his mistakes are evident. His lack of leadership and poor decision-making are clear and are costing this university a small fortune.

 

 

 

Larry Fitzgerald can be heard weekday mornings on KMOJ Radio 89.9 FM at 8:25 am, on WDGY-AM 740 Monday-Friday at 12:17 pm and 4:17 pm, and at www.Gamedaygold.com. He also commentates on sports 7-8 pm on Almanac (TPT channel 2). Follow him on Twitter at FitzBeatSr. Larry welcomes reader responses to info@larry-fitzgerald.com, or visit www.Larry-Fitzgerald.com.

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Larry Fitzgerald, Sr.

Coach Richard Pitino on his Gophers

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By Larry Fitzgerald
December 8, 2016
GAMEDAY GOLD

 

Truth in disclosure: Since Tubby Smith was fired unfairly three years ago by Norwood Teague, the ex-Gophers athletic director, I felt so strongly about how bad that decision was that I stopped covering men’s Gophers basketball. Last year was the worst year in school history at 8-22.

Two weeks ago I ended my protest by covering the Gophers vs. Arkansas at Williams Arena. They won. Before that game, I sat down with Richard Pitino (RP), now in his third season as head coach.

MSR: Congrats on a great start to the season!

RP: Thanks, it’s been a kind of quiet, challenging start to the season.

MSR: The Gophers are better. They are 7-1 and play New Jersey Institute of Technology next at Williams Arena. How are you selling your program and the keys to it?

RP: I would hope that when you talk about playing for the University of Minnesota, you’re obviously talking about a tremendous college experience. And tremendous opportunities outside of basketball if you get your degree from here with all the Fortune 500 companies. To play in the Big Ten if not the best one of the best basketball conferences. And to play in front of our loyal fans.

You talk about all those things. You talk about style of play and the commitment to getting these guys better on and off the court. And, hopefully, winning follows that too. You’re constantly talking about those things with our guys. Our guys love going to school here.

I think that’s kind of an underrated thing here. And they love playing in this arena as well.

MSR: Your dad Rick, head coach at Louisville, is a Hall of Fame coach. Is your goal to achieve some of the things he’s accomplished over the years?

RP: I’m 34 years old and I’m new at this, and to try and mirror a Hall of Famer’s career would make me pretty unhappy. I try to take it day by day.

Richard and Rick Pitino

Like father, like son?

I’ve been provided a tremendous opportunity to be the head basketball coach at a great school a Big Ten school, at a young age. I’m just trying to get better every day and pour myself into our team, my family, and do my best there. The whole trying to be like your dad…you really don’t think about those things.

MSR: Much was made of recruiting and the number of talented in-state high school players that got away from Minnesota. You did get one of the best in Amir Coffey. Can you talk about that?

RP: What’s difficult about local kids is you can’t take them all. You only get 13 scholarships, and you have to identify with the ones that you need. Amir was a guy that we needed. It was extremely important to get him.
It’s early, obviously, but he’s playing well. When you get a local kid and it works — and hopefully it does continue to work — that might be the best local recruiting tool that you can have. We’re going to continue to try and do our best and put him in the position to succeed.

I know the fans locally, they love him if you can see a local kid have success.

MSR: You have a more physical team in 2016-17. Is that what you wanted?

RP: Yes, we’re a much bigger team. If you look at our team, we’ve got more size [with] Amir at 6’-7” at the three spot. That helps. Your four spot is bigger. Reggie Lynch is bigger. That helps in defensive rebounding, and that puts pressure on the defense when you can play inside to out.

I don’t know too many teams in this league if you’re not big that are going to win. If we stay healthy — knock on wood — we’ve got the size to compete. I really do like our size a lot.

Richard Pitino in action court side

Minnesota Gophers head coach Richard Pitino

 

Larry Fitzgerald can be heard weekday mornings on KMOJ Radio 89.9 FM at 8:25 am, on WDGY-AM 740 Monday-Friday at 12:17 pm and 4:17 pm, and at www.Gamedaygold.com. He also commentates on sports 7-8 pm on Almanac (TPT channel 2). Follow him on Twitter at FitzBeatSr. Larry welcomes reader responses to info@larry-fitzgerald.com, or visit www.Larry-Fitzgerald.com.

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Jonathan Lowe

College Football: Seven on the Line

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By Jonathan Lowe
December 2, 2016
GAMEDAY GOLD

There’s not much to say.  It’s the two days of the year that provide a lot of joy and celebration.  The trophy games turn into efforts for trophies.  Yes, it’s a wild stretch.  But on Championship Weekend, a lot of wild stuff happens.  Here are the key games and my ill-fated predictions for their outcomes.

MAC Championship: Ohio vs. Western Michigan
This game usually has some flair to it.  And if you’re the statistical favorite, be anxious about raising the trophy.  Since 2000, the team with the worse of the two records won more than you would think (7-6 in favor of the worse record, with 3 years where the records were the same).  All I’m saying is that the Broncos should be weary.  The Bobcats will look to keep that trend out in front, but WMU is playing for more than just a showcase spot on New Years’ Eve or Day.  If the Broncos win, it would give them only their second outright MAC crown in program history (the other was 1988, and they shared the title in 1966).
My Prediction: Western Michigan (27), Ohio (24)

Pac-12 Championship: Colorado vs. Washington
The Buffaloes are the story of the season.  They’re looking to make the “worst-to-first” their own in a very tough way by doing it in a 12-team college football conference.  This CU team reminds many of the glory days of this program throughout the 1990s.  For the ultimate prize, they’ll look to top a program that hasn’t seen much sustained success since…well, the early 1990s.  Most feel that the Huskies should be into the national semifinals with a victory.  Everyone knows they’ll be out with a loss.
My Prediction: Washington (24), Colorado (20)

American Championship: Temple at Navy
If Western Michigan stumbles, the Midshipmen could be there to pick up the slack and represent the Group of 5 in a New Years’ Six bowl.  One question, though.  What happens if the Middies lose to Army next Saturday?  The CFP committee might delay that particular announcement until after the Army-Navy game on the 10th.  For Temple, this is the second straight season that they’ve found themselves on the road for the conference title game.  Last year was a magical season for the Owls.  This time, they’d like to show that the magic has stuck around.
My Prediction: Navy (27), Temple (20)

Big XII Championship (de facto): Oklahoma State at Oklahoma
The Sooners have rebounded very well from their early 1-2 start.  Eight straight victories have them on the precipice of another conference crown.  It appears that Bob Stoops has too much traffic in front of him to make a return to the national semifinals.  The real intrigue might come around if the Cowboys win.  Remember that Week 2 loss that wasn’t?  Could that controversial result against Central Michigan come back into question if Bedlam goes Mike Gundy’s way?
My Prediction: Oklahoma (48), Oklahoma State (44)

SEC Championship: Alabama vs. Florida
Basically, this is only a question of “Coronation or Potential Cracks in the Armor?”  The Tide are in.  If that’s not the case, I’ll sing the song “Barbie Girl” in public…in a Speedo.  No matter how much ranting Nick Saban does, I’m sure that he has a good idea his team will be playing in either Atlanta or Glendale on New Years’ Eve.  For Florida, like last week, this game is for pride.  Pride wasn’t enough to lift the Gators over Florida State.  Will it lead to a better result against the mighty Tide?
My Prediction: Alabama (24), Florida (10)

ACC Championship: Clemson vs. Virginia Tech
The Tigers are in the same position that Washington is in.  If they win, Clemson will solidify their position as a national semifinalist (a return trip for them).  A loss means that they, and the ACC, will be shut out of the running.  A convincing win led by their senior QB could also put DeShaun Watson back into discussion for the Heisman Trophy.  I understand that Louisville’s Lamar Jackson still has the clearest path, but he doesn’t have another opportunity to show off his dynamic skills.
My Prediction: Clemson (41), Virginia Tech (23)

Big Ten Championship: Wisconsin vs. Penn State
The last two years, this game has had a fairly significant impact on the seeding for the CFP.  This season, it’s not that the conference won’t be represented.  It’s that this game may not even matter when everything settles on Sunday.  The Nittany Lions and Badgers weren’t supposed to be here.  However, wins over Ohio State and LSU (respectively) set the stage for this.  The Buckeyes (and, perhaps, Michigan) appear to be participating in the playoff AHEAD of the conference champ.  Does Penn State (lost big to Michigan) have a gripe?  Does Wisconsin (lost close to both) have a gripe?  Will the noise be enough to create some change to the postseason system in the near future?  Signs point to no on all accounts.
My Prediction: Wisconsin (20), Penn State (16)

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Jonathan Lowe

College Football: Seven on the Line

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By Jonathan Lowe
November 24, 2016
GAMEDAY GOLD

Here’s to turkey.  Here’s to side dishes.  Here’s to four-day weekends.  Here’s to time for family.  Here’s to arguments, awkward, political, and otherwise.  And, of course, here’s to pigskin.  Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.  Now, on to the games!

 

Split Ends
The Big Ten West Showdowns: The last few weeks, this division has been very muddled.  Wisconsin controls its own fate.  Nebraska is hoping for one Badger slip-up.  Iowa and Minnesota are out of the running, but they could make things very confusing.

The Hawkeyes and Huskers take the stage first (Friday afternoon).  The Gophers and Badgers get a night to sleep on the results from Lincoln (they play Saturday afternoon).  If the road team’s can pull off upsets, we’ll see a four-way tie for the division title.  That would do wonders for Nebraska, whom would win a trip to Indianapolis.  It would also close out Wisconsin’s slim chances for a national semifinal spot.

Florida at Florida State: The Gators are hoping this will be a positive tune-up for next week’s SEC Championship Game.  Next Saturday, the offense will probably face the stiffer test of the two sides of the ball.  This week, that appears to be the defense’s issue.  Deondre Francois isn’t as dynamic a freshman quarterback as Jameis Winston was, but he still presents a ton of problems for opposing defenders.  And that’s before even taking Dalvin Cook into account.  The junior tailback now tops the Seminoles’ all-time rushing list.  He can also be a threat in the pass game, averaging more than 14 yards for he catch he makes.

While the Gators have bigger stakes on the line next week, the Seminoles have a lot of pride in their camp.  Funny fact I learned this week (from sources other than my brain; ahem, thank you Worldwide Leader)…if FSU wins this game, it will be the first time that a four-year senior class has defeated both Miami and Florida all four seasons (a combined 8-0 record).

 

Guards
Auburn at Alabama: Thanks to Georgia, the Iron Bowl has lost a bit of its sizzle.  Now, I wouldn’t tell that to the face of anyone from the Heart of Dixie.  However, what appeared to be another battle for an SEC West crown has turned into a shot to provide one-half of the ultimate spoiler.  The Tigers would love nothing better than to end the Tide’s repeat hopes, but they can’t.  If ‘Bama loses Saturday, they should still get into the CFP by beating Florida in a week.

I don’t believe that would matter to Tigers fans.  They would have bragging rights for the next year.  They would have overwhelming faith in coach Gus Malzahn and the direction of the program.  And the result may sew up a spot in one of the other New Years’ Six contests.  Larger goals might have been tossed out of the window, but, for some, nothing’s better than successfully pulling your rival’s goals out along with yours.

Wyoming at New Mexico: Since the beginning of the season, it was a foregone conclusion that Boise State and San Diego State would meet in the Mountain West title game.  That conclusion is still a possibility, but the foregone portion could be forbidden if Craig Bohl’s team can squeak out one more victory.  The road has been this team’s bug-a-boo, though.  All three losses have come from outside of Laramie, and Albuquerque doesn’t intend to be a friendly host to the Cowboys.

The Lobos know they’ll have to a step above to defeat a squad that has victories over EACH of the conference’s division favorites.  However, they may like the fact that Wyoming allows more yards (455.9) than they gain (447.1) on average.  The stakes all depend on Friday afternoon.  By Saturday’s kickoff, Bob Davie’s team will know if they even have a pulse for a share of the Mountain Division.  But for a team that struggled to a 2-3 start, that pulse has to feel pretty strong at this point.

 

Tackles
Washington at Washington State (Friday): There have been some important Apple Cup matchups.  The 2001 game is still the last time both teams were ranked going into that contest (Wazzu fell out of this week’s rankings after losing to Colorado).  The 1992 game was the second-to-last in the college career of Cougar QB Drew Bledsoe.  The 1983 Cougars denied that year’s Huskies a shot to go to the Rose Bowl, stunning UW in Seattle.

The most important edition of this long-standing rivalry?  That could have occurred in 1936, when the sixth-ranked Huskies shutout the twentieth-ranked Cougars, 40-0.  It turned out to be the only time in conference history that these two schools finished first and second, respectively, in the league standings.  It was the Pac-10 at that time…with the membership roster including Montana and Idaho.  With a trip to the Pac-12 Championship Game at stake, this could be the biggest renewal of the series in 80 years (minus one day, to be exact).

Toledo at Western Michigan (Friday): Sometimes, the schedules just work out perfectly.  Sometimes, there’s no letdown from the schools favored to meet in a season-ending showdown.  The MAC West title comes down to these two teams.  The Rockets are one touchdown (five-point loss to Ohio) and one field goal (two-point loss at BYU) away from being where WMU is currently at.  The undefeated Broncos know that a loss in either of the next two weeks will end any shot they have at a New Years’ Six bowl bid.

With weather conditions expected to be fairly tame for Friday afternoon’s kickoff, I believe this matchup is headed for a shootout.  The Broncos are extremely balanced in their surge to 508.9 yards (262.7 passing, 246.2 rushing) and 43.8 points per game.  WMU’s Zach Terrell should top 3,000 passing yards for the season.  He has 27 TD throws to accompany 1 (ONE) interception.  And he may not be the better QB in this matchup.  Toledo’s Logan Woodside can reach 4,000 passing yards in this game and add to his 40 TD total (with only 7 INTs to boot).  What a way to decide a division title.

 

Center

Michigan at Ohio State: There’s no way to avoid this game.  Really, there hasn’t been any way to avoid this game since Labor Day.  It’s probably more of a surprise that these two teams have each lost a game rather than rolled into this contest unblemished.  The squads have some things in common.  The Buckeyes are a little better getting up and down the field (493.1 ypg to 451.1).  They each rank highly when it comes to changing the scoreboard.  Ohio State shares the fifth-best spot when it comes to scoring offense (43.8 ppg).  Michigan stands at 11th-best (42.3 ppg).

However, it’s on defense where both of these teams shine.  Both are in the top four when it comes to stuffing opponents’ driving abilities (Wolverines lead the nation at 245.6 yapg; Buckeyes are 4th with 279.8 yapg).  The same holds true in respect to keeping scores down (Wolverines top the game with 10.9 papg; Buckeyes tied for third at 13.0 papg).  Michigan will need to rely on that “D” with questions surrounding the health of starting QB Wilton Speight.

The Buckeyes have the better, healthier offense.  They have the home-field advantage.  They have the series momentum (have won the last four straight and, technically*, 11 of the last 12).  Those are just the kind of odds that Jim Harbaugh relishes.
*Ohio State’s 2010 win vacated due to ‘Salegate’ sanctions.

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