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Eric Nelson

SPORTS NUGGETS: Despite what the NCAA says, Minnesota played in the 1997 Final Four

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By Eric Nelson
March 30, 2017
GAMEDAY GOLD

MINNEAPOLIS – Sports Nuggets from the home of Post it Notes…

• Eyewitness Account:  I don’t care what the hypocritical NCAA says, the Minnesota Gophers played in the 1997 Final Four. I know because I was in Indianapolis. I saw a quartet of teams – Minnesota, Arizona, Kentucky and North Carolina – play at the RCA Dome. It really did happen. That is why Gopher fans should celebrate the 20-year anniversary of Minnesota’s only trip to the Final Four – despite the fact that the NCAA wiped out the achievement because of an academic fraud scandal…

• Revisionist History: The ’97 Final Four run remains the pinnacle moment in U of M basketball history. But, the power-hungry NCAA airbrushed everything connected with that team from the record books. In their warped world, all those magical memories never happened and Minnesota forfeited every win. Cheating is wrong and the Gopher program suffered because of it. However, erasing  history makes no sense…

• Invisible Season: Of course, this is how the almighty NCAA operates when a school cheats. The Gophers are just one of many programs who saw their athletic accomplishments vanish in the wake of a scandal. USC’s remarkable run with Reggie Bush and Pete Carroll was expunged from the record books because of violations. Same with Michigan’s famed Fab Five. The penalties were doled out long after the NCAA profited from packed venues, huge television ratings and media attention generated by those schools…

• Money-Ball: Did the NCAA refund Minnesota fans who bought tickets to games that were forfeited? Did they return money to folks who snapped up Wolverine caps, Bush jerseys, Gopher jackets, Final Four pennants and other souvenirs associated with tarnished programs? No way. Those checks got cashed…

• Just Asking: Why can’t the Oakland Raiders share Levis Stadium with the San Francisco 49ers? Yes, the Raiders and 49ers are polar opposites. Yes, they are Mars and Venus when it comes to organizational philosophies. But Santa Clara is a lot closer to Oakland than Las Vegas. The NY Giants and Jets co-exist in the NJ Meadowlands, despite being an NFL odd couple, so it can be done. Besides, it would be good for Santa Clara to get a guaranteed 10 extra NFL dates in their $1.3 billion venue…

• Greener Pastures: For those of you keeping score at home, three NFL franchises have relocated in the past 14 months. The St. Louis Rams moved to Los Angeles in 2016. The San Diego Chargers moved to LA earlier this year. Now the Raiders are off to Vegas…

• Desert Digs: The Raiders new Las Vegas playpen will be a $1.9 billion, 65,000 seat retractable roof stadium. There will also be end zone windows that open and provide panoramic views of the strip. Too bad Minneapolis did not have this kind of vision with US Bank Stadium. Minnesota should have a roof that opens and shuts – not another dome…

• Super Stage: Look for Las Vegas to get a Super Bowl in the future. The NFL likes to reward cities who build new stadiums or renovate old ones. Just ask Arlington, TX, East Rutherford, NJ, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis or Santa Clara…

• Oakland Exodus: When it comes to pro sports, Oakland will soon be a one-team town. The Raiders are moving to Las Vegas in 2019 or 2020 and the NBA Warriors will cross the Bay Bridge and move into a waterfront arena in downtown San Francisco in 2019. The MLB A’s will be the only team left…

• New Digs: Like the Raiders, the A’s have wanted a new stadium for years. Now they have some leverage. We will see if Oakland builds the A’s their coveted new ballpark…

• Sputtering Start: No one is happier to see April come than Minnesota United. It was nothing but March sadness for the Loons in their first month of MLS play. Minn U (0-3-1) was outscored 18-6 and has given up the most goals in the league. The Loons host Real Salt Lake (0-2-2) on Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis…

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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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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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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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Podcast

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Gameday Gold Radio – September 14, 2017 – s.3

Cleveland Crushes; Will Gopher Revenge Be Sweet?

Segment 3: Can anybody cool off the Indians?  Thursday marked the team’s 22nd consecutive win, an American League record.  Does this bode well for Cleveland returning to the World Series?  Plus, the Gopher football team can exact some revenge for the men’s basketball team?  Middle Tennessee comes to town for this week’s contest.

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Gameday Gold Radio – March 3, 2017 – s.6

Two Local Teams Peaking Towards the End

Segment 6: The Gopher men’s basketball team has now reached the level of “red hot” as they reach the close of the regular season.  The fellas take a closer look at this squad that appears to be a lock for an NCAA Tournament bid.  And, despite a Thursday night setback against Columbus, the Wild continue to lead the NHL’s Central Division…but for how long?

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Gameday Gold Radio – January 20, 2017 – s.6

A Little Cooler on the Ice and the Court

Segment 6: The Wild finally cooled off a bit after a big weekend after Central Division rivals.  Eric and Larry look at the team’s latest exploits on the ice.  MLB Hall of Fame member Willie McCovey receives quite a present from President Barack Obama.  Then, can Gopher men’s hoops turn their recent losing streak around against Wisconsin?

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Gameday Gold Radio – November 24, 2016 – s.1

The turkey is consumed (for the most part), and much of the sports world got a nice break for Thanksgiving Day.  Now, the teams are back at play, and our hosts get us caught up.  Eric and Larry bring you this week’s program from St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center.  They look at the good start on the ice for the hometown side, the continued struggles of the Timberwolves, the Vikings’ loss in Detroit, and Gopher football’s odds to finally get the Axe back.  Plus, get insight in the great start by the Gopher hoops team.  Richard Pitino stops by to explain the team’s hot start.

Soaring Starts Continue For Some TC Teams

Segment 1: The Minnesota Wild continue to pile up the points in this early portion of the NHL season.  Eric and Larry saw it in person on Wednesday night, and they comment on what impressed them.  Plus, we hear a little bit about the unbeaten Gopher basketball team.