Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The King of Pop checks out

In the several days since Michael Jackson died, one of the constant refrains of the relentless media coverage of his death is how we've tragically lost such a brilliant, talented, iconic entertainer.

This isn't entirely true. That brilliant, talented, iconic entertainer - the Michael Jackson who fronted the Jackson 5 as a child, who created two of the greatest pop albums of all time in Off the Wall and Thriller (the second of which is the biggest-selling album in history), who invented the moonwalk, whose contributions to early MTV programing, including the groundbreaking mini-movie for "Thriller," essentially defined the music video genre - died a long time ago. In his place emerged a frail, bleached, plastic freak who insisted that there was nothing wrong with sleeping in the same bed with young boys, who dangled babies from hotel windows, who showed up to courtrooms in pajamas, who, in spite of amassing unbelievable wealth in his lifetime, died hundreds of millions of dollars in debt. That pitiable Michael Jackson, not the early '80s superstar, is who passed away last week.

There's no question that Michael Jackson created some great music. That's reflected in the fact that, at one point earlier this week, sixteen of the top 25 downloads on iTunes were his songs. His best song, in my opinion, is "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough." The fact that it was released towards the end of the disco era doesn't matter: if this whirlwind of a song didn't get you and your leisure suit off the suede couch and onto the plexiglass dance floor with the blinking lights underneath and the mirror ball overhead, you simply didn't have a pulse. "Man in the Mirror" is another one of my favorites; while Jackson would never be able to replicate the success of Thriller, he still had enough drive and talent left in him to make Bad a decent album. After that, however, it was all downhill for the man who would eventually be known as "Wacko Jacko."

The story of Michael Jackson will not end with his memorial services next week; the true circumstances of his death, the future of his children and the disposition of his estate will continue to be played out in the media as well as in the courtrooms for months, if not years, to come. And it's only a matter of time before the nutty, Elvis-esque "Michael Jackson faked his own death" conspiracy theories arise. I'm going to do my best to ignore all of that. As I said, the Michael Jackson I want to remember was gone a long time ago.

Florida International eliminates its cheerleading squad

Seriously: how can you have a college football team without cheerleaders or a band?

Currently ranked fourth in the country, Florida International University's cheerleading squad has often enjoyed more success than the football and basketball teams it roots for year in and year out.

But when FIU's fledgling football team takes the field this fall, the pompoms and pyramids will be conspicuously absent.

In a year when public universities statewide are slashing academic programs and laying off employees, FIU's cheerleading team is the latest to get the ax.

The decision follows FIU's recent move to eliminate its marching band -- also a fixture at football games.

I know times are tough, but I'm not aware of any other FBS program making cuts as drastic as this. The lack of a cheerleading squad or a band stifles student participation in the program and significantly detracts from the college football gameday experience. Given the other problems facing the FIU Pathers football program - the fact that it has never had a winning season in its short existence, or the fact that its 2008 attendance (13,852 fans per game) was next-to-last in FBS - you'd think that FIU adiminstrators would want to avoid taking actions that would make FIU football games even less attractive for people to attend. Especially since the amount of money being saved is rather paltry in the context of the budget of an FBS football program:

Doing without a cheerleading squad will save FIU an estimated $45,000 annually. FIU's cheerleading coach, however, protested the way university administrators handled the decision. For one, FIU just recently finished recruiting this year's squad -- which required extensive tryouts and interviews.

Coach Maria George -- a former Miami Dolphins cheerleader -- also questioned why FIU administrators hadn't responded to her offer to work for free and to finance the cheerleading team through private sponsorships and donations.

Hmmm... University administrators making poorly-timed decisions and refusing to accept input from those being affected? That sounds familiar.

It remains to be seen if the loss of a band and a cheerleading squad will have a negative effect on the FIU program's fan support. But it might not matter if the Panthers cannot find a way to improve on its .262 all-time football record. As somebody commented on another forum: "now there's nothing to distract the fans from the ineptitude that is FIU football."

Saturday, June 27, 2009

The world in flags

I recently came across this map. I don't know who made it, but I think it's pretty cool:

Click for a full-size version.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Her name was Neda

Yes, this is graphic and disturbing. And yes, you need to see it:

She literally chokes to death on her own blood - on camera - after a basiji thug shoots her in the chest and causes an internal hemorrhage.

There's talk on the internet that Neda could become to Iran in 2009 what the guy standing in front of the tank was to Tienanmen Square in 1989. From my perspective, I think it's probably too early to make those kinds of analogies.

But, if nothing else, her fate proves to the world just how despicably brutal, evil and immoral the current Iranian regime under Ayatollah Khamenei and President Ahmadinejad truly is.

I know Iranians. I worked with them in Dubai last year. They are wonderful people who are the inheritors of a complex, millennia-old culture. They do not deserve this fate.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

When Little League dads just can't let go

So you're a father whose son plays baseball. Naturally, you're proud of his accomplishments and you think he's a great player. So what do you do when your kid goes to college but has a disappointing stint there? Well, if you're the father of former University of Houston baseball player Jimmy Raviele, you write a 16,000-word manifesto trashing head coach Rayner Noble, buy a domain, put it up on the interwebs for the entire world to see and, in the process, make a complete fucking fool out of yourself.

From accounts of acquiantances who who follow UH baseball more closely than I do, Jimmy Raveile is a good kid. As a pitcher, however, he was, well, not that good. According to Jimmy's dad Vinnie, that's entirely the fault of Noble, who apparently did not like Jimmy, rarely played Jimmy, pulled Jimmy off the mound when Jimmy made the slightest mistake, and otherwise purposely set Jimmy up for failure. "Jimmy was doomed from day one!" Vinnie declares.

The massive missive details Jimmy's success in Little League and in high school - as if what a kid does in Little League or high school is somehow relevant or comparable to Division I college baseball - and then breaks down his time at the University of Houston, season-by-season, to explain just how good Jimmy could have been if Rayner Noble, damnit, had just given him a chance!

I'm not going to quote a lot of it, especially since I couldn't do all of the font size, style and color changes justice. But here are a few of my favorite sentences:
The pitchers that ended up doing better this past 2009 season were the ones that Noble pitched more.
Really? It couldn't have anything to do with the fact that Noble wanted his more-talented pitchers to throw more than his less-talented pitchers, could it?
Most (Little League) parents were not realistic and saw their child’s talent through rose colored glasses.
Oh, the irony.
My son is a much bigger man than I am, because he did not want me to write and post this letter.
So then why did you, Mr. Raviele? Is it because, in spite of the fact that his name appears in your epic rant over 500 times (somebody on another site actually counted), this really isn't so much about Jimmy as it is about you, and your expectations for your son? The simple fact is, Rayner Noble did not share your feelings about your son's talents, and now you harbor a grudge against him that you want to share with the entire world:
The reason I posted this on a web site is because anytime someone Google's [sic] the name "University of Houston Baseball" or "Rayner Noble" I want them and their parents to read this and decide for themselves if they REALLY want to come here with a coach like Noble!

The sad thing is, Jimmy's now a college graduate. He's old enough to think and speak for himself. This website is embarrassing, and it's completely unfair to him. It truly is little more than the angry rantings of an overbearing father who still regards his son as a 10-year-old Little Leaguer and who can't let go.

To make it clear, I'm not defending Rayner Noble. I've heard a lot of stories about his coaching style that don't reflect well on him, and in any case the fact that his program hasn't come close to the success it enjoyed in the early part of this decade is something that he must account for. But if Rayner's tenure as a head coach is to come to an end, it will be on the basis of his team's record, and not because some bitter parent decides to make an ass out of himself on the web.

Given the "houstoncougarsbaseball.com" url, it's only a matter of time before the University of Houston's lawyers sue to get it taken down, so enjoy it while it lasts.

Always up to task, Fourth and Fifty and Scott and Holman share their thoughts. National sports website Deadspin picked up on it as well.

UPDATE: as expected, the diatribe has been taken down and replaced with this message:
- Vinny Raviele
If Vinnie's goal was to make himself look like an angry, classless buffoon, then I'd have to say mission accomplished indeed.

The domestication of the cat

Why do humans like cats so much? Felis catus is now mankind's most popular pet, with over 600 million of them living among us. But how did it get to be that way? Unlike other domesticated animals, such cows, horses, chickens, sheep and dogs, cats really haven't contributed much to humankind's survival save their ability to kill destructive or dangerous vermin such as mice, rats and scorpions.

This month's Scientific American has a fascinating article about the cat and about how it became one of our companion animals in spite of the fact that it doesn't provide us with meat or wool, we can't ride them or use them to tow carriages, they don't help us hunt or herd and they are not, to say the least, particularly compliant.

The short story is that we didn't adopt cats as much as they adopted us. With early agricuture came early settlements in the Middle East's Fertile Cresecent, early grain stores, and early mice infestations:
It is almost certainly the case that these house mice attracted cats. But the trash heaps on the outskirts of town were probably just as great a draw, providing year-round pickings for those felines resourceful enough to seek them out. Both these food sources would have encouraged cats to adapt to living with people; in the lingo of evolutionary biology, natural selection favored those cats that were able to cohabitate with humans and thereby gain access to the trash and mice.
As cats adapted to their human surroundings, humans adapted themselves to cats:
Considering that small cats do little obvious harm, people probably did not mind their company. They might have even encouraged the cats to stick around when they saw them dispatching mice and snakes. Cats may have held other appeal, too. Some experts speculate that wildcats just so happened to possess features that might have preadapted them to developing a relationship with people. In particular, these cats have “cute” features—large eyes, a snub face and a high, round forehead, among others—that are known to elicit nurturing from humans. In all likelihood, then, some people took kittens home simply because they found them adorable and tamed them, giving cats a first foothold at the human hearth.
I'd add one other characteristic of cats that made them as agreeable to humans 10,000 years ago as humans today - their purr. A cat's purr is a satisfying and calming sound, and is one that no other domesticated animal makes.

It was in these early settlements in the Fertile Crescent that the cat gradually became domesticated. Domesticated cats were then introduced to ancient Egypt, where they were worshipped, and from there on to Greece, the Roman Empire, the Far East and, eventually, the Americas. Today, cats are members of one out of three American households, including mine.

Anyway, whether you're a cat person or not, this really is a fascinating article. Read the whole thing.

Kirby's graduation, and more HDLS news

With the University of Houston's Human Development Lab School closing in seven weeks, and the number of students enrolled there steadily dwindling as parents seek alternative arrangements for their children, the school decided to hold its "graduation ceremony" a few weeks early. Here's a grimacing Kirby, in cap and gown and diploma "for successful completion of preschool" in hand:
Meanwhile, earlier this week the Houston Press Hair Balls blog had a follow-up entry on the controversy surrounding the HDLS closure. This blog details the inept and ham-fisted manner in which the administration of the University of Houston College of Education handled the closure, as well as its effect on parents and students:
Back in December, College of Education Dean Robert Wimpleberg and Associate Dean Jacqueline Hawkins sent Lab school parents a letter basically stating that the school was staying the course and looking for ways to improve.

Despite that reassuring missive, rumors started flying mid-semester that Hawkins was concocting a plan to close the school. Those plans were made public on May 11. The school is to be shuttered on July 31, leaving parents -- some with special needs children -- to scramble for the last full month of the summer and the eternity to follow.

Lab School parent Dr. Liz Chiao, an HIV researcher at the Baylor College of Medicine, curses their timing. "They should have let us know in December that they were closing, because then we could have looked at other schools," she says. "Instead, we got this crazy letter that said 'We want to bring this school up to the best standards blah-blah-blah.' Just bizarre."

Heidi Hofer, a UH assistant professor of optometry, is the mother of an autistic daughter who is attending the Lab School. The closure is hitting her much harder than most parents. "These problems are exacerbated for me because my child has bona-fide special needs and no alternative program will accept a child for a period of only one month," she wrote in a letter to UH President Renu Khator. "What am I suppose to do with my child during this time period, bring her to the lab with me?" Hofer also is deeply concerned with the psychological impact of not one but two new schools will have on her transition-averse daughter, and there are several other Lab School parents the same boat.

Last week Dean Wimpleberg sent Lab School parents an email notifying them a meeting was being organized to help them find alternative schools for their children.

Chiao fired back saying that these efforts, while appreciated, were much too late. What's more, she wrote, the school demonstrated a callous disregard for both the kids and their parents. "A decision that affects this many families and children, especially those children with special needs, should not have been executed as a standard business procedure, with the consequences for families as an afterthought," wrote Chiao.

Dr. Audra Timmins, a Baylor College of Medicine Ob/Gyn, agreed in a subsequent email. "The way this was handled would be akin to telling a woman after a radical mastectomy what her options for breast cancer treatment were," she wrote.

Wimpleberg had also furnished the parents with a list of alternatives the parents could pursue, which inspired a blast of sarcastic fury from Lab School parent Lori "The Wine Woman" Gray:
"I must just say 'WOW!' What wonderful help you have been in our time of crisis that you created for us. It was 3 weeks ago that you told us the school would be closing and you are just now getting around to 'scheduling' a meeting with Collaboratives for Children for us...???.... Are you serious when we are T-minus 8 weeks? Also, thanks for the list of 'daycare' centers we can contact. Looked similiar to the phone book."
"The Wine Woman" is, of course, my wife. And she and I are still trying to figure out where Kirby will go to school come August.

The University of Houston strives to be a "Tier One" institution. However, as long as embarrassingly incompetent administrators like College of Education Dean Robert Wimpleberg and Associate Dean Jacqueline Hawkins are allowed to remain in charge and make thoughtless and amateurish decisions such as this, negative stereotypes about "Cougar High" will continue to be reinforced.

Friday, June 12, 2009

University of Houston announces new athletics director

Yesterday, the University of Houston announced the name of their newest Athletics Director. Mack Rhoades, who spent the last three-and-a-half years as the AD of the University of Akron, will succeed Dave Maggard, who abruptly announced his resignation from the helm of the athletics department last April.

According to Chronicle UH reporter Steve Campbell, Rhoades appears to have been highly-regarded at Akron, where people described him as dedicated and motivated:
Rhoades is 43, and people in Akron say the UH community will really, really, really like him. They say he's a mover and a shaker, a tireless worker, a master at building relationships, a person who expects results but provides the resources to do so.

"The University of Houston is unbelievably fortunate," Akron executive senior associate AD Hunter Yurachek said. Yurachek noted UH's history of Final Fours and Cotton Bowls and said, "Mack will embrace that tradition, and you will see that tradition really bloom again here in the next couple years under his leadership and vision."

Rhoades, 43, has been the AD at Akron since the start of 2006. On his watch, Akron has had an athletic renaissance. Rhoades pushed through the construction of a $55 million on-campus football stadium set to open in September. He put in place plans to improve the basketball facilities. He has emphasized academics and given attention to a previously neglected women's athletic department.

"You have a guy who to me has the potential to be a star, really, because he's an out-of-the-box thinker," Akron basketball coach Keith Dambrot said. "I don't want to sound like his publicist ..."

But ...

"He's a tireless worker," Dambrot said. "That's kind of an overused term, but he's the last guy out of this department every night. He works like a coach rather than an athletic director. I know a lot of athletic directors won't like that, but he's here late."

That's great, but what do I think about this hire?

The upside is that he can raise funds. That, in fact, is clearly the main reason why he will be Houston's next AD. You don't raise $55 million to build a completely new football stadium at the University of Akron - a school whose football history and fan support, believe it or not, are worse than Houston's - without possessing considerable skill in that regard. While AD at Akron, he also oversaw the addition of an indoor football practice facility. It's very obvious that UH President Renu Khator expects Rhoades to address the athletics program's facility-related needs, especially as they relate to Robertson Stadium and Hofheinz Pavilion.

The emphasis Rhoades places on academics is also a plus. Under his watch at Akron, the graduation rate of student athletes rose from 60 percent in 2006 to 68 percent in 2008. In that regard, he is expected to build on the success that Dave Maggard had in increasing the graduation rate of UH's student athletes.

The downside to Rhoades is, in my opinion, twofold. First of all, Rhoades does not appear to have much of a track record when it comes to making big coaching hires. At Akron, he was not there long enough to hire new coaches for either football or mens basketball. However, he did see fit to extend Dambrot's contract after Akron won the MAC conference championship and went to the Big Dance this past season.

Here at UH, Rhoades is stepping into a situation that will likely require him to make some major hires within the near future. For example, it's highly likely that, unless he manages to coach the basketball team to the NCAA Tournament in 2010, Tom Penders will be shown the door. Rhoades will then have to find somebody who can build on the modest success that Penders has had (to be sure, the basketball program is in better shape today than it was when he arrived, although progress has stalled) and bring the once-gloried UH basketball program back to something resembling relevance. Meanwhile, the baseball program is struggling and the seat underneath coach Rayner Noble is getting warmer. Finally, there's the sad but true fact that football coach Kevin Sumlin, should he remain successful, is likely to be attracted to a bigger program in the future.

And speaking of folks that are probably not going to be at UH for the long haul, it's worth mentioning that Rhoades was only at Akron for three and a half years before making the jump to Houston. As somebody at Akron warns Campbell:

Another Akron insider, too, said people will like Rhoades. Just be wary of falling in love with the man entrusted with building on the work Dave Maggard did the past seven years.

"You'll probably be looking for another athletic director in three years," the insider said.

This is, in my opinion, the other downside to Rhoades. Since legendary AD Harry Fouke retired in 1979, the AD's position at UH has been a revolving door. I am convinced that this lack of stable leadership at the helm of the program is one of the major reasons why Cougar athletics has fallen so far from its glory days of Cotton Bowls and Final Fours. At seven years, Maggard was the second-longest-tenured AD, and I was hoping that his successor would be somebody who would be at Houston for even longer. However, unless Rhoades decides that he really likes it here, it's highly likely that he'll be here for more than a few years. Which means that the University of Houston will have to undergo this process again soon.

But clearly, longevity wasn't a concern for Khator or the higher UH administration - they were more concerned about finding somebody who could bring short-term results, especially as far as facilities upgrades are concerned - and they feel they've found that person in Mack Rhoades. Regardless of how long he is here, I can only hope that he builds on the foundation set by Dave Maggard and continues the task of bring the University of Houston's athletics program back to national prominence.

Rhoades' first day on the job will be August 1st. Scott and Holman and Fourth and Fifty have more.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The High Line

For those who haven't heard about it yet, earlier this week the first section of what may very well be America's coolest linear park opened on Manhattan's West Side:

Also check out this slideshow at the New York Times as well as this article in New York Magazine.

I had been following the progress of this project for a long time. I thought it was a great idea when I initially heard about it many years ago, but I was skeptical that it would happen due to all the obstacles it faced. But thanks to the preserverence of the Friends of the High Line organization that spearheaded this project, this unique and wonderful park has become a reality and is providing inspiration for smiliar projects around the nation, such as the Reading Viaduct in Philadelphia.

What a great way to re-utilize an abandoned structure that otherwise would have been torn down. One of these days, I'll have to go to New York City and check it out for myself.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Ten years in the real world

Ten years ago today, on June 10, 1999, I became a full-time, productive member of society when I began work as an employee of the City of Denton, Texas.

I had just finished up graduate school a few weeks before and this was my first "real" job. I had had jobs before, of course, whether it be a menial summertime job at a now-defunct amusement park or a decent job at an architectural consulting firm I held for several months between the end of my undergraduate education at the University of Houston and the beginning of grad school at the University of Texas at Austin. Technically, in fact, I hadn't even finished with graduate school when I took the job in Denton; I wouldn't receive my diploma until I turned in my professional report that following November. But Denton was my first "professional" job: school was over and from now on, this is what I was going to be doing. And I've been doing it ever since.

Normally, this is where I'd write something cliché about "has it really been that long?" or about "how time flies." But I can't, because it really, truly feels like it's been ten years since my "real life" began. That's probably because so much "real life" has happened between then and now: Lori and I lived in Lewisville for one year, then we moved to Denton so I could be closer to work and she could be closer to her classes at the University of North Texas, 9/11 occurred, Lori got her master's degree, I quit Denton, we moved back to Houston, I found another job, we got married, we moved into an apartment in Midtown, Kirby was born, I changed jobs, we brought a house, the Astros went to the World Series, Lori's brother moved in with us, Lori's mother died, Hurricane Ike came... At lot of stuff, whether good or bad, has occurred over the past decade. For that reason, my first day at the City of Denton really seems like something that happened a long time ago. Life evolves over time, and that's absolutely what's happened to my life over the past decade.

It is said that over the course of life you are supposed to become both smarter and richer. Richer, yes - I'm thankful that I'm in the the best position, financially, that I've ever been in - but smarter? Eh. I am certainly more cynical today than I was a decade ago, but I don't know if that counts. What does matter is that this past ten years in the "real world" has been, on balance and in spite of the hardships, a lot of fun. And since I still have a lot of the "real world" ahead of me - it will be another thirty years, at the earliest, before I can retire - I can only hope that the next few decades are as interesting and as fun as the last one has been.

Southwest's Youngest Pilot!

These pictures were taken after we landed at Louis Armstrong International Airport in New Orleans last Friday. As we were getting off the airplane, the pilot and co-pilot insisted that Kirby come take a seat in the cockpit and try out the controls for himself.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Is it football season yet?

The beginning of June can only mean one thing: another hot, oppressive Houston summer is here (although today was actually nice, relatively speaking). The only good thing about the summer, of course, is that I will be rewarded for my suffering towards the end of it when college football season starts.

To be sure, kickoff for the University of Houston's 2009 campaign is still over 90 days away. And, of course, I'm trying not to get too excited about the upcoming season because the more excited I become, the worse the team seems to do. But it's hard not to at least begin building some optimism for a team that is coming off its first bowl victory in almost 30 years and is returning a bunch of skill on offense. Especially when ESPN's Bruce Feldman picks the Coogs as a potential BCS buster:
4. Houston: Kevin Sumlin is a rising star in the coaching business and his team should be dangerous this season. QB Case Keenum is an underrated gem with wonderful pocket presence and is just one of those undersized, Texas-bred quarterbacks who light up the scoreboard all season. He has a lot of speed around him and UH imported some talented juco O-linemen. The D does have a lot of holes to fill but UH is going to win a lot of shootouts. The game at Oklahoma State could be a 70-55 kind of affair. Then, UH gets a week off before hosting Texas Tech; Mike Leach protégé UH offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen gets to try to take down his mentor. The Cougs [sic] have the talent to keep both games very interesting. Road trips to Tulsa and UTEP also will be worth watching. Ten wins might seem like a lot but I think it's very realistic and would get them into the top 25.
It's hard for me to believe that the Coogs will actually be able to bust into the BCS picture this fall - I think there's just too many missing pieces on defense for that to happen this year - but the mere fact that Houston is now being recognized by the national media as being among schools like Utah, BYU, Boise State and TCU as possible BCS party-crashers is definitely welcome.

Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports also thinks Houston could be a potential BCS buster. And he expcets the Coogs to win their division this fall, as well:
West Division

1. Houston -- Kevin Sumlin set a school record for wins by a first-year head coach (eight). Don't be surprised if the former Oklahoma assistant pumps out double digit wins this year. Sumlin's best players still haven't reached their peak yet. Quarterback Case Keenum (5,020 passing yards) should be a Heisman candidate. Tyron Carrier caught 80 balls as a freshman. If a shaky defense holds up behind CUSA defensive player of the year Phillip Hunt, the big boys better watch out. Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and Mississippi State are all on the schedule. They're all winnable games.
This would be a great write-up, Dennis, except for one thing: Philip Hunt has graduated. Gotta do your research before you write these things. The loss of players like Philip Hunt, in fact, is why I'm so worried about the UH defense this fall. I really fear it will be worse than last year's.

There's still a long way to go, though. Maybe some fresh talent coming into school this fall will be able to fill some of those holes on the defensive side of the ball. I'll wait to see who's enrolled and catch a few August scrimmages before I cement my expectations for the coming season in my annual season preview.

Finally, you know the summertime doldrums have arrived for University of Houston sports fans when the Robertson - versus - Reliant debate rears its ugly and tired head once again. The Chronicle's Steve Campbell generated some discussion going on his blog when he reposted a comment from somebody who claims that that the University of Houston will never be a viable candidate for inclusion in a BCS conference because Robertson Stadium (and, for that matter, Hofheinz Pavilion) cannot become "the kind of facilities that turn heads" regardless of how much money is spent to improve them. The commenter describes a rosy scenario of 72,000 fans showing up at a stadium to tailgate prior to a game between the University of Houston and the University of Alabama and then writes:
This game will never take place on the UH campus. This game can only occur when UH leaders follow the wisdom of their forefathers and bring UH football to Reliant Stadium. Just as school leaders in the 60's came to realize Houston, the city, has some of the most outstanding athletic facilities in the world and UH is taking a narrow perspective turning our backs on this gift of the taxpayers, following some dictate that UH football has to be on the campus.
Please. If I had a dollar for very time I've heard one of these lame and logically unjustifable statements on UH discussion forums - that the University of Houston will never have a big-time game-day environment on campus (because of the bad neighborhood, presumably), that the UH administration needs to move its games to Reliant in 2009 just because a previous administration moved its games to the Astrodome in 1965, that it's somehow beneficial for the program to play its games in off-campus venues that it rents rather than on-campus venues that it owns - I'd have enough money to pay for Robertson's refurbishment myself.

The cold hard fact is that the University of Houston simply does not have a large enough fanbase to make renting out a 70-thousand seat facility like Reliant economically feasible. Besides the fact that the program would lose money - in addition to rent, it would have to share parking and concessions revenues with the owners of Reliant - the games would assume the sterile, tomblike atmosphere of playing in a stadium that's too big for the fan base, which is exactly what happened at the Astrodome for all games except those against Texas, Texas A&M and Arkansas (wherein 2/3rds of the fans were Teasips, Aggies or Hogs anyway). No thank you.

We've tried the Reliant experiment before, as a matter of fact. It was only half-full for the game against Miami in 2004, and was positively cavernous for the game against Oregon in 2005. It's simply too big for the UH program as it currently exists. It doesn't fit the program's needs. Period.

Does Robertson Stadium need upgrades? Yes, desperately. Will those upgrades be expensive? Of course. Where will the money come from? That's a good question. But, in the long run, the UH football program is going to benefit more from playing in an on-campus venue that it can tailor for its needs rather than in an off-campus venue that simply does not meet them. This is especially true as the University of Houston implements its master plan which seeks to build more student housing and add more amenities so that the campus is transformed from a commuter one to a residential one; in that regard, moving the football games to Reliant (or, for that matter, the basketball games to the Toyota Center) makes absolutely no sense. (Short-sighted decisions like closing the Human Development Lab School don't make sense in that context, either, but that's an argument for a different day.)

So lets quit beating this dead horse. I'm looking forward to the start of football - in Robertson Stadium - this fall.

How many pitches is too many?

I don't follow college baseball as closely as some people (it doesn't help that the team I normally follow had a poor outing this past spring). But it's interesting to follow the fallout from last weekend's remarkable game between Boston College and the University of Texas. The game set a new NCAA record, lasting a grueling 25 innings, before the Longhorns finally won 3-2. The hero of the game was UT reliever Austin Wood, who pitched an astounding 13 innings, cruising through the first twelve of them without giving up a hit.

You'd think that this young man's feat would be something for sports fans to marvel at and celebrate. But that's not the case for some, including Chronicle sportswriter and UT alumnus Richard Justice. He thinks that UT head baseball coach Augie Garrido should be punished for allowing Wood to throw 169 pitches:

There's simply no excuse for it. Young pitchers are too susceptible to arm and shoulder injuries. When a big-league team gets a young pitcher, he's brought along slowly, allowing his arm to strengthen year by year.

But big-league teams have so much invested in young pitchers and understand that young pitchers are the lifeblood of an organization, that they're not about to take a chance on ruining one.

I can see Justice's point here - 169 pitches is a lot - although, as some of his commenters (many of whom seem to have a good grasp of the mechanics of pitching and the effects of over-using a pitcher) point out, there's more to this story than just the pitch count itself. Factors such as the type of pitches being thrown, the number of pitches per inning or the way the pitcher has been used over the course of the season also come into play. For what it's worth, Wood never seemed to be laboring on the mound that night, and his average pitch count per inning - about 13 - was actually rather efficient. When somebody's throwing a no-no, you generally want to leave them in as long as they seem to be cruising, and that's what Garrido did.

But that's apparently not acceptable to Justice, because Garrido put winning the game above the senior's possible future career in the pros:

The entire mission is different at Texas. It's about winning for Texas and everything else appears to be secondary. Whether Austin Wood's career has been harmed or not isn't even an issue. Garrido was risking the kid's career — and he appears to have one — by allowing him to throw that many pitches.

It's really remarkable that a professional sportwsriter gets paid to write something as jaw-droppingly stupid and disingenious as this. Of course it's all about winning! As the Houston Press's John Royal correctly points out:
Garrido's job at the University of Texas isn't to prepare Austin Wood for a possible pro career. Garrido's job is to win baseball games, and I'm pretty damn sure that, if the Texas baseball program stunk, Longhorn alumnus Richard Justice would be calling for Garrido to be fired. And based on statements he's made recently, Justice ought to be happy that Nolan Ryan ain't running the UT baseball program, because Ryan has made it pretty clear that he thinks that pitch counts are jokes and that pitchers should be prepared to pitch complete games every time they pitch.

But that's Nolan Ryan. He's just one of the game's all-time greatest pitchers. There's no way he can possibly know more about the sport than Richard Justice.
It's also worth mentioning that Wood's pro future isn't as inevitable as Justice implies it to be. Wood went undrafted last season as an eligible junior and, if anything, this game helped his chances to make the pros by gaining him some recognition.

Finally, if what happened to this young man last weekend is so potentially damaging, then why doesn't the NCAA have rules in place that limit the number of pitches a player can throw in a given game or set of games? Maybe Justice's ire should be focused on the NCAA, rather than on a coach who found himself in an extra-innings situation in a double-elimination tournament last weekend with a player who was pitching well?

I'm not a big fan of Augie Garrido. I still remember how he classlessly declined to accept the second-place trophy after the Longhorns were defeated by Cal State Fullerton on the 2004 College World Series. But given the circumstance (i.e. that it was a playoff game, that it turned out to be the longest baseball game in NCAA Division I history, and that the guy pitched a no hitter through 12.1 innings), I'm inclined to cut him some slack.