Sunday, March 09, 2008

Local sports musings

Lots of interesting things happening on the local sports front:

• As somebody who still fondly remembers the fifteen-game winning streak that the Rockets managed at the start of the 1993-94 season - a season that, incidentally, ended with a championship - the team's current eighteen-game winning streak is a real treat. Especially since it's so unexpected.

The 2007-08 season did not start out well for the Rockets. They were adjusting to new head coach Rick Adelman. They were sloppy and inconsistent. They were blowing leads late in games. As of January 2nd, they were a very mediocre 13-15. They playoffs were a distant dream.

Since January 4th, however, the Rockets are an astounding 27-3. They finally "got it together" as a team, and the sloppy, inconsistent play of the first two months of the season is a thing of the past. Right now, they are dominating; Saturday night's 106-96 win over the New Orleans Hornets was their ninth in a row by double digits. The playoffs are no longer just a dream for the Rockets; they're currently the third seed in the Western Conference. It is especially important to note that they're continuing this winning streak without star center Yao Ming, who suffered a stress fracture six games ago and is out for the rest of the season. A lot of credit has to go to Adelman; he kept the team focused and unified even as it struggled to adjust to his style of play.

I'll admit that I essentially stopped paying attention to the Rockets last December, when it was looking like they were on their way to yet another forgettable season. Well, they've got my attention again.

• The All American Football League is in trouble, and it hasn't even yet played a single down of football. Last Thursday, it was reported that the college-themed spring league was facing financial difficulties and would postpone its 2008 season unless it was able to secure a TV deal or other sources of funding.

I was actually warned about this by somebody close to Team Texas over a week ago; apparently, the nascent league's line of credit was tied to the federally-guaranteed student loan securities market (not surprising, considering that AAFL CEO Marcus Katz co-founded a company that provides student loans). The current subprime mortgage crisis has begun to spread into other sectors of the credit market, including student loans, and the result is a lack of financial liquidity for the league. The AAFL has already held a player draft, and training camps were supposed to open this Wednesday. The season was scheduled to begin on April 12th. Now, however, all of that is in doubt.

Katz was upbeat about the AAFL's situation in an interview with the local FOX affiliate Thursday evening, claiming that the league has indeed secured a TV deal, was working to bring new potential investors on board, and that there were no plans to postpone the league's debut to 2009. The start of the training camps, however, will be delayed while the league attempts to sort its financial situation out.

I'll hold out some that Katz is telling the truth and that the AAFL will indeed begin playing football next month. As a football junkie, I was looking forward to watching some spring pigskin. As of right now, however, things don't look good for Team Texas and the other five AAFL franchises.

• AAFL or no, and against my better judgment, I'm already beginning to look forward to the start of college football season this fall. Spring practice for the Houston Cougars began Saturday, and a good write-up of new head coach Kevin Sumlin appeared on last week. Throw in a favorable schedule, and what about the 2008 season is there not to get excited about?

Well, actually, a lot. As good as Kevin Sumlin's resume looks, he's still unproven as a head coach. The Cougars have to find ways to fill holes left by talented departing seniors such as Anthony Alridge, Donnie Avery, Brandon Pahulu and Rocky Schwartz. The quarterback, the offensive line, the secondary and special teams remain ares of concern until proven otherwise. And kickoff is still an enthusiasm-deadening 173 days away. In other words, it's way too early to get excited.

That being said, I'll be following spring practice reports to see who's stepping up, who's standing out, and what we might overall expect to see this fall.

• Houston Baptist University has filed a lawsuit against the NCAA:
HBU rejoined the NCAA in March of 2007, after 17 years in the NAIA, expecting to have to wait three years to regain full membership. The NCAA informed the school a month later they would actually have to wait seven years.

The lawsuit, filed in Harris County District Court, accuses the NCAA of violating its own Constitution by forcing HBU to wait an additional four years before becoming a full-fledged member.

HBU is seeking a temporary and permanent injunction "barring NCAA from enforcing a seven year provisional period and requiring it to follow its own constitution by applying a three-year period."

After becoming a provisional member last year, the NCAA notified HBU in April of 2007 that the (NCAA) constitution had been "editorially revised" by "staff" from three to seven years only weeks before HBU's application.

The lawsuit points out that "such an amendment would have to be voted on by the full membership and passed by a two-thirds vote."
Apparently, the NCAA is claiming that the change in regulations governing the provisional period for new members is not a "substantive change" requiring a vote by the full membership. It's no secret that the NCAA has been attempting to stem the onslaught of schools from lower divisions, as well former NAIA schools such as HBU, who are trying to join Division I. This "editorial revision" is most certainly a means to that end.

I think this is another example of the imperious hypocrisy that the National Collegiate Athletics Association is known for. Member schools are required to follow NCAA rules and regulations to the letter, lest they get hit with probation, yet the NCAA itself can get around following its own procedures by claiming that changes to its regulations are merely "editorial revisions" that do not require a formal vote.

I'm sorry, but there's no way in my mind that tacking four years on to the provisional period for new members is merely an "editorial revision, " especially when one considers the effects that this change will have on HBU. Under the understanding that they would become full members of the NCAA in three years, the southwest Houston school began augmenting its athletics program in order to meet NCAA requirements for full membership. The Huskies added sports, built facilities and tripled overall athletic expenses. Having to wait another four years before reaping the full benefits of those investments is going to place a huge financial hardship on the school, to say nothing of its ability to recruit student-athletes over the next several years. How are high school prospects going to react, after all, when they're told that HBU won't become a full member of the NCAA until after their eligibility is complete?

I have no connection to HBU and I don't really follow their sports programs. But I'll be rooting for the Huskies in this fight against the NCAA.

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