Friday, February 17, 2012

Black Uniforms? Not My Choice But...

So, we watched a DVRed "new" episode of Law and Order: Special Victim Unit last night just prior to settling in for the NC State-Duke basketball game. (The 14-year old girl, who was being repeatedly sexually abused by her father while her mother didn't stop it, planned the entire killing of her parents but was in the way of a bullet and ended up in the hospital where it was discovered she had herpes given to her by dear old Dad but her boyfriend loved her anyway as she was arrested for conspiring to kill her parents.)

Anyway, L&O:SVU ended right at 9:00 p.m. and I quickly switched to the basketball game only to see my beloved Wolfpack wearing black uniforms. At first I was appalled as I was last fall when the football team wore black uniforms trimmed in red, white and pink and as I was several years ago when the basketball team came out in all black attire. I made a snide comment; my wife Nancy said State should never wear a color other than red and white (official, if there is such a thing, school colors). She's big on talking about fashion during basketball games or any sporting event, for that matter. She thinks Phil Mickelson looks dumpy the way he dresses, but as long as he wins, who cares what he's wearing? Nancy does. (I'm not disparaging you, Nancy. I'm just saying...)

Then I realized I was wearing a charcoal gray sweatshirt with NC State and the Block "S" across the front. One of my favorite NC State items to wear. I think it makes a fashion statement. Looks good, feels good. As the game got underway, Nancy kept talking about how awful the black uniforms looked and I kept telling Nancy that fashion did not matter as long as the Wolfpack won. In other words, I realized what I was wearing. But, as far as the basketball team wearing black, it should be a no-no.

According to today's reporting in The News & Observer, last night was the first time since Feb. 6, 2000 that State wore black uniforms. The Wolfpack lost to Maryland, 78-73, that night and then lost seven straight games. Last night was Feb. 16 (close enough) and Duke won 78-73. This is where a Yogi Berra quote should be inserted. I hope a seven game losing streak is not ahead of us because if it is, if you include last night, the 7th loss would be in the first round of the ACC Tournament and that would be a terrible way to end this season which has been pretty good so far.

I was disappointed in losing after leading by 20 points at Duke. The effort was excellent for the first 29 minutes as we made Duke play like NC State wanted Duke to play, but the foul problems were disheartening to the players who backed off and became shooters not scorers. We let Duke back into the game. You could see misery and lack of understanding on the faces of our players. Dismayed is a good way to describe coach Mark Gottfried expression. Oh well, good effort for much of the game. To my fellow Wolfpackers: I see light at the end of this tunnel. Keep the faith; the Pack will be back. But, please discourage black uniforms. Let's stick with Red and White.
It continues to be about the money and not the fans
From where I sit, the Atlantic Coast Conference and ESPN have again taken a small hand tool to the Wolfpack. This time, it's the football program. NC State is scheduled to play Tennessee in one of two Chick-fil-A Kickoff games in the Georgia Dome Labor Day Weekend. State's game is Friday, Aug. 31 and will be shown on ESPNU. The next day, Clemson and Auburn play and that game will probably be shown on ESPN, the Mother Ship.

State Athletics Director Debbie Yow and football coach Tom O'Brien put a positive spin on the game and the day it's to be played. "NC State fans love Atlanta...We think there will be a lot of State red there to cheer on our team," said Yow. And TOB said: "We know that our loyal fans will make sure that there is more red than there is orange in the dome that night." Exact time for kickoff is not known, but, as Tom suggested, it's a good guess the Wolfpack will be playing Friday night, not the best time for fans or the program.

Since most State fans live close to Raleigh, going to Atlanta will mean either a Thursday arrival or a long drive on Friday, and it's is Labor Day Weekend when attendance at home games has not been its best. Saturday would have been better. I sent a text to a friend who tries to put a good spin on everything ACC, and he responded: "Great trip. Play the game on Friday and then head to the beach for Labor Day weekend. Perfect scheduling instead of ruining a good Labor Day weekend."

Maybe he doesn't realize where Atlanta is in relation to most beach spots for Wolfpackers. So I replied we would have more fans if played on Saturday. Then he got serious: "It's a great time to play for recruits since they will all be playing that night. So much for the ACC

Even though most high schools in this area and possibly across the country play football games on Thursday before Labor Day instead of Friday, he's got a point about Friday night high school football. The Chick-fil-A Kickoff wanted two games and invited the teams. ESPN controls the play days and the kickoff times. It is all for the money. It'll be good exposure for the Wolfpack, but why not consider the fans?
UP-DATE: February 18, 2012
Shortly after posting this Friday, two emails arrived at my in box and each shed a little more light on these subjects.

The first came from Athletics Director Debbie Yow who had read this post while at the NC State baseball opener at Doak Field against Marshall. Concerning the black uniforms, she wrote: "(The) players wanted a special uniform (for the Duke game). (They, the black uniforms are) not likely to become a fixture." And, as far as the game in Atlanta, she clarified by writing, "The contract with Tennessee I inherited gave the Peach Bowl (Chick-fil-A Kickoff) the choice for date 'between Thursday-Saturday' of Labor Day weekend. They chose Friday." I appreciate Debbie offering the explanation.

The second email came from a member of the ACC staff who wrote: "FYI, we didn't have anything to do with scheduling this game. But, let me see. You get a chance to spend a long weekend in a great city, watch the Pack play Tennessee (definitely not south Alabama), have a chance at a great start to the season, and you still don't like it? There was a time when Wolfpackers would jump for joy at any trip to Atlanta." He's right but we prefer that trip to include either a Saturday game or the Chick-fil-A Bowl game after Christmas! Maybe we will have a good crowd for the Aug. 31, Friday night game against Tennessee in Atlanta. I hope so.

I also received an email from someone enlightened me that most high school games around Labor day ARE played on Friday. Guess those kids will not be watching NC State that night.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

ACC Basketball Schedule: Bad, Good for Pack?

When the Atlantic Coast Conference last week announced the remake of the men’s basketball schedule, expanding it to 18 games and reducing NC State’s annual meetings with North Carolina to just one game a year for two years and then two in a third year of the remake, I was one of the faithful Wolfpackers who immediately was upset. Blasphemy! I was not disturbed at the 18-game schedule though I wanted at least 19 league games; I was bothered by playing our primary rival just once a season.

Since a few years ago when the ACC expanded from nine conference members to 12 and now to 14 (whenever Syracuse and Pittsburgh are available), the NC State-Duke rivalry (yeah, we like to think that’s a meaningful series as well) has been reduced to practically nothing in basketball and football. Imagine living that close to each other (physical distance only; mentally, NC State is a fine southern school with lots of wonderful traditions; Duke is nothing but damn Yankees, enough said.), being in the same conference and playing basketball once a regular season and practically never in football.

I was upset with the ACC’s decision on State-Carolina. My first reaction was to blame it on…well, you decide. This is what I quickly penned upon hearing the decree:
If what I recall from a few weeks ago is what was said, the new Atlantic Coast Conference basketball schedule system is a result of cry-baby Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, who, along with crying about the way his players are responding to his coaching these days, said he would gladly go to an 18-game schedule (he took a long, deep breath before he said that) but that each member of the conference should have only one primary partner. In other words, on an annual basis, Duke would only have to play one definite ACC school twice a year instead of the current two. In other words, Mike only wanted to schedule North Carolina twice on a regular basis and rotate duplicate games among the remainder of the league. It’s been UNC and Maryland. To get to 18 games, there will be four other annual duplicates but only North Carolina twice every year.

Because Mike has way too much influence over league basketball proceedings, the ACC—lead by UNC graduate and former Tar Heels Athletics Director John Swofford and his co-conspirators at ESPN, the mega-millions media rights holders to all things ACC—decided to do as Mike wanted. So, that means the natural home-and-home scheduling between NC State and North Carolina is reduced to one game a year for two of a three year rotation and then the two-game schedule in a third year which could be the first, second or third of the three years. No schedule for 2012-13—when the ACC says Mike’s Rule is applied—has been released, so we’re not sure when the Wolfpack and Tar Heels will show on each other’s schedule for a single game. But, it stinks.

This, though, is bigger than a simple complaint about State and Carolina playing only once a year. The Wolfpack has rarely played Duke’s basketball team more than once a season for several years and it seems as if the two haven’t played football but maybe twice in 10 years. (I refuse to look it up, so someone please confirm the true stats.) Here we have one of the most natural of rivals—State-Duke—and the two don’t play football every year. Then in basketball it’s regularly just once a year.

NC State and North Carolina’s basketball rivalry now will be reduced to once a year for two years and then two for one year, or something like that. I don’t’ care if NC State loses most of the time (actually I do). I want North Carolina (and Duke) on my season ticket every year. The price is $34 per conference game this year for my endzone seat and who knows what it’ll be next year and thereafter. The ACC is telling me to watch the Wolfpack play Miami or Clemson or Boston College instead of UNC on State’s home court—the RBC Center or the PNC Arena or whatever its name is these days—away from home (Reynolds Coliseum). That’s nuts. If I had a mind to, I’d tell my fellow Wolfpackers to stop buying season tickets because the schedule just isn’t worth it!

Why did Mike want to do that? Well, first of all, we all know that if he had it his way, the ACC schedule would probably be reduced to 14 games for 14 teams. He’d keep that duplicate game with North Carolina (because it’s two national TV appearances) and play the other 12 league teams and then he’d schedule more games with Rollins College, and UNC-Greensboro, and so on and so forth at home along with those selected “national” tilts such as St. John’s in Madison Square (the place is round) Garden. Ooh! That’s a biggie. At least, this year, NC State played Syracuse, Indiana, Vanderbilt and Stanford. And, the Wolfpack has two games with UNC and one with Duke. That’s tougher than the Duke schedule. Mike and Duke should play a tougher schedule unless of course the players do not play like Duke—whatever that means. If the Duke players, as the Duke players say, don’t play like Duke (that’s when they play like dookie) then they should play a team that doesn’t play well no matter how bad Duke plays. That’s when they don’t play like Duke—whatever that means.

Am I blaming all this on Mike? No, it’s also part of Swofford’s idea of improving ACC football, to try to build a better “brand,” whatever that means. Ha! Ha!
That’s where I stopped writing, putting down the pen for a couple of days, to allow for a further look. So, upon further review…

NC State actually got a better deal than UNC or Duke. Instead of having to play either of those teams more than once a season on a definite basis, the Wolfpack gets to play Wake Forest twice. If the two programs—State and Wake—are where they should be on a regular basis, NC State should get two wins instead of the always strong possibility of a second loss to UNC or Duke. While I appreciate the effort Mark Gottfried is doing at State, not having UNC or Duke twice a season on the schedule means a better chance for another conference win instead of a good chance of another conference loss. To give this perspective, Florida State defeated (demolished) UNC this season and UNC does not have the opportunity to return the favor unless the two meet in the conference tournament. The two teams could finish with the same record and the Seminoles would be top-seeded in the ACC Tournament. Good deal!

On the other hand, when it comes to strength of schedule for an NCAA bid, will the NCAA selection committee hold it against NC State because the ACC didn’t give the Wolfpack additional games against UNC or Duke? That’s to be scene, but a close loss to either would be better than big win against Morehead State.

I’m not suggesting Wolfpack fans stop buying season tickets. We need to buy more. We also need more fans at the games. State fans need to learn to go to the games to watch the Wolfpack and to forget about the team sitting on the other bench. I’m guilty sometimes, but I’ve suffered through plenty of Northeastern, Western Carolina and Delaware State games. We also have too many empty corporate seats during conference games. The good news is that those corporations with the seats between the end lines who live for the UNC game in Raleigh will not always have that game to attend. Good, stay at home. Give up your tickets to someone wearing red instead of hording the tickets and waiting to arrive in baby-blue clothing. While we need you money, we do not need your lack of faithfulness when it comes to attending or sending others to the games.

I still believe Mike, the Duke god (hey, just look at his University title, his ridiculous income and his jet-black, royal-like hair), is the cause of the 18-game schedule. He has little regard for the ACC when it comes to scheduling. He wants the notoriety of playing in the league but not the responsibility of playing a tough conference schedule. He loves to sprinkle patsies in his schedule. In reality, the ACC needs to do more to promote ACC basketball and get it back to the glory days when all arenas were full for conference games. While I would now prefer a 26-game conference schedule, the ACC would be better with a 19-game, two division calendar. Here’s how it would work, creating excellent all-the-time rivalries:

Inside Division: Clemson, Duke, Maryland, North Carolina, NC State, Virginia, and Wake Forest; Outside Division: Boston College, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Miami, Pitt, Syracuse and Virginia Tech. Schedule two games each within the division (that’s 12) plus one game against all teams from the other division (that seven games) for a total of 19 games. ACC Tournament: Divisional leaders get first round byes; Division of the team with overall best conference record plays three games Wednesday; Other Division has three games Thursday; six winners along with Division leaders advance to Friday for four games; Semifinals Saturday; Finals Sunday. That seems reasonable.

Too bad Mike Krzyzewski didn’t come up with this idea. It’s what the league would have done. On the other hand, if he had come up with that plan, I would be the first to say it was a bad idea because it was his idea.

As far as football, with the expansion, there will be some good things that come with 14 teams. There are two seven-team divisions and one cross-over guarantee, I think. That’s seven games a year plus two more (nine total). That means NC State should play UNC every year and Duke every three years. In reality, for fan interest, State and Duke should schedule each other in non-conference football games when not playing each other in league football games.

This is not about ACC football; it’s about ACC basketball which used to be the central focus of the conference from the perspective of everyone outside the league. With expansion to 14 teams (andtwo more in the coming years) and with the 18-game schedule recently announced, the importance of the regular season and the importance of the ACC Tournament has been reduced to lip service. It may be all about how much the ESPN contract is worth; it may be all about how many teams the league qualifies for the NCAA basketball tournament; but along the way, our conference leaders have lost sight of the fans and what’s important to them, those of us who’ve supported the league as it grew to greatness. Swofford may be trying to build a better brand, but along the way, he and others have lost sight of and have changed the formula that made the brand popular.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Bev out! Erskine in? Did Obama Influence?

Skipper Bowles Family circa 1971-72

Sometimes, often during election years, I enjoy putting to use my NC State University BA degree in Political Science (’77). While politics is not always pleasurable to the masses, I do enjoy a good political discussion and campaign. If you do not want to be bored by the details, fast forward a few paragraphs while I detail my history in politics.

In 1960, before my 8th birthday, I recall my father being asked by Terry Sanford to lead his gubernatorial bid in Lee County (Sanford NC) but Dad declined because he had already committed to the campaign of Malcolm B. Sewall, who lost the primary to Sanford, and then my Dad—and the family, especially my mother who was also a political junkie—worked on behalf of Sanford who defeated Sanford (NC) attorney Robert Gavin in the general election.

Four years later, our family worked on behalf of Richardson Preyer, a former federal judge who had presided over a civil trial between my father’s business and an insurance company that didn’t want to pay a claim on a fire that destroyed the business’s main plant and offices. Preyer, who came in first in the primary but was short of the 50% plus one vote needed to win outright, lost in the Democratic Party’s run-off election against Dan Moore who was supported by third-place Beverly Lake. To get Lake’s support, Moore who eventually defeated Gavin, the Republican nominee again, in the general election, promised to appoint some of Lake’s aides if he won. Preyer would not make the agreement with Lake who went to Preyer with the request before he went to Moore.

In 1968, we picked a winner with Democrat Bob Scott whose campaign was managed by Roy Sowers a former assistant to my Dad in his textile machinery business. My dad, a world-wide successful businessman, was well-known by statewide politicians, and, in 1972, when Hargrove “Skipper” Bowles, a state senator from Greensboro came a calling, my parents, getting older and wiser, leaned a little more to the right, wanting Nixon over George McGovern—they also supported Nixon in 1968 against Humphrey because of his close ties to unions—but were okay with supporting Skipper Bowles whose son Erskine was married to the former Crandall Close, daughter of William “Bill” Close who had married Anne Springs, daughter of the Elliott White Springs who was president of Springs Cotton Mills. Bill Close eventually became President of Springs. He and my dad were friends; Springs Mills was a customer of my dad’s business, Roberts Company, purchasing spinning frames. It was “Colonel” Elliott Springs that helped move my Dad’s Roberts Company from a spinning frame spare parts supplier to being the world’s largest manufacturer and supplier of spinning frames.

In 1972, I was in college and, after a rugged start majoring in Mechanical Engineering (I couldn’t grasp the concepts of the “right hand rule of thumb”), was beginning my search and studies for a degree in political science. (That’s right. I started college in 1970, and finished in 1977: seven years.) Anyway, I was for Skipper Bowles, despite his close connection to UNC-Chapel Hill (forgive me NC State faithful but I didn’t know any better then), but he was caught up in a tough situation with Republican Richard Nixon seeking re-election as President and Jesse Helms, a popular television commentator, seeking the United States Senate seat against US Congressman Nick Galifianakis who had defeated incumbent Senator B. Everett Jordan in the Democratic primary. Skipper Bowles was defeated that fall by Jim Holshouser.

But looking back, it wasn’t just that Holshouser was elected on the coattails of Nixon and to some degree Helms. There was more to it—from what I remember—and that’s where this year’s race for the North Carolina Governorship and that photo at the top of the page come in. The photo is of Skipper Bowles and his family. It was a Christmas card in either 1971 or 1972. It remains in my archives and memorabilia retained from my parents collection of important things.

Last week, NC Governor Beverly Perdue, a Democrat, announced she would not seek re-election. According to everything I’ve read on the internet and in newspapers and heard on radio and television, Perdue wants us to think she was sitting around Wednesday night, February 25 and came to her own conclusion to limit her time as Governor to one four-year term. This was the “new sheriff in town” when she took office in January of 2009, but as she worked her way through three years in office, especially in the last year, her power as sheriff was waning. She knew it but was reluctant to admit it. I remember talking recently to a high-ranking Democratic legislator who is out of power right now. He told me that not being in power made serving in the General Assembly not as much fun. He was considering not seeking re-election. Maybe Governor Perdue, though not directly controlled by the Republicans at the General Assembly, felt the same way: not as much fun. It’s not supposed to be about having fun.

What we know is this: Her battles with the Republican controlled General Assembly were too much for this tough leader; her battles over campaign finance disclosures and irregularities continue and would have been detrimental, no matter the outcome even if it all stopped right now, to her effort to get re-elected. She didn’t want to go out in defeat, so she decided to step aside. She says she made the decision so she could fight for her causes without making it political—as in her re-election campaign. Duh! Anything a sitting elected official does is political no matter how she spins it.

What we do not know but we may surmise is that the Democratic Party on the national level and probably through the President’s office asked her not to run for re-election because she would be a drag on President Obama’s effort to win North Carolina. The President has visited North Carolina several times since being elected in 2008. He’ll be here more in the coming months. He chose Charlotte to host the Democratic National Convention. His Vice President and Cabinet members travel regularly to North Carolina for several reasons, all of which are about his political effort to win the Tar Heel State and the electoral votes which come with it even if the speeches and talks are policy in nature. There is no doubt that North Carolina will be instrumental in the Presidential election in November.

But, and this is big, while Nixon helped to elect Holshouser in 1972, Perdue’s lack of support and the rise of Republican Pat McCrory would bring down Obama in North Carolina more than Obama’s effort would elevate Perdue. Without a race for a United States Senate seat and with new Republican leaning Congressional districts and strong candidates at hand, Obama faces an up-hill battle in North Carolina. With Perdue on the ballot, Obama would struggle here. Even if Obama were stronger in North Carolina, he could not have pulled Perdue along to victory. So, why take the chance? This is just the opinion of this amateur political scientist who, after very early in the evening of the day of the 1980 election after United Press International “called” incumbent Robert Morgan the winner in his re-election bid, told UPI officials they were wrong, that a mistake had been made, that the un-counted votes when tabulated would give the seat to John East. I was correct in my knowledge of the North Carolina voting precinct maps. Patting myself on the back, I had then and have now a good grasp of the political landscape of North Carolina.

So, with Perdue on the sidelines, but still willing to fight the General Assembly Republicans over a sales tax increase of less than one penny so she can look like a hero to the North Carolina Association of Educators, the Democratic Party, of which I remain a registrant thereof, is seeking a candidate that can do two things: Win against McCrory, and help Obama take the state. While Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton—didn’t you find humor in his commercials in 2008? And, by the way, who is Walter Dalton and what has he been doing the last three years except campaigning for re-election?—and State Representative Bill Faison (D-Orange County) have tossed their hats into the race, many of the long-time and old-time Democratic leaders are asking Erskine Bowles to seek the nomination and the post. They, and there are a lot of them, want him to run for Governor.

Erskine Bowles has a storied background, especially as a Chief of Staff to President Clinton and as a President of the University of North Carolina. He’s no doubt a great leader. He knew how to run Clinton’s office and keep Clinton’s trouble in check; he knew how to work with Congress to put the United States on better financial footing; he had a good plan for his work with the UNC System and put into place many of the current Chancellors, all seeming to do an excellent job under dire budget restrictions and changes. One or two chancellors might not be doing so well with athletics but that’s a subject for a different time.

Erskine has had a successful business career and would continue to keep a good climate for business in North Carolina. He would be an excellent recruiter for jobs here. His pluses are many and pile up with ease. But he has negatives as well including that he has never won an election, a public election. He twice ran for United States Senate—2002, losing to Elizabeth Dole, and 2004, losing to Richard Burr. In 2002, there was strong sentiment for the Republican administration of George W. Bush, and Dole, a native daughter with a national reputation, returned home and won, 54% to 45%. In 2004, despite a strong effort by Mike Easley in the gubernatorial race, Burr, who had served for 10 years as a member of the US House of Representatives, came from behind in the final weeks of the campaign to win 52% to 47%. After that election Erskine basically admitted he may be better off serving in other capacities.

This could be his moment in politics, but if I were advising him—and what do I know—I’d tell him to stay out, to enjoy his retirement and participate in public service on his own terms. He’s good at doing that. There are other reasons. One goes back to the photo, and the other goes straight to President Obama. In 1972, in one of the television commercials, Skipper Bowles had his family together, just as in the photo. The words I remember are not exact but he was introducing his family to the citizens of North Carolina, telling us that when—not if—he is elected these are the people who would be living in the Governor’s Mansion in Raleigh. This was going to be the State’s First Family. Skipper was a very nice person, a good politician, a sound businessman, but he came across as if he already had the job without the note, a projection the citizens didn’t appreciate so much. Erskine should not assume he can win just because Democratic leaders and friends are telling him he can.

As far as the part the goes straight to the President, in 2010, Mr. Obama asked Erskine, a Democrat, to co-chair the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform with Alan Simpson, a former US Senator (R-Wyoming). The result was a report—the Simpson-Bowles report—that outlined a path to return the United States government back to a balanced budget, a surplus possibly, how to restructure Medicare and Social Security to keep both of those programs solvent and working, and a whole lot more. While the votes needed within the Commission to pass the report were not secured, President Obama turned his back on the entire effort and turned it down because it was not politically good for him. Erskine and Simpson, and many others, really believe the work they did was important, but it appears President Obama didn’t. So, what leads Erskine to believe that President Obama would help him win the Governorship? "Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me."

If Erskine Bowles decides to take the plunge, to run for Governor, my advice is this: Do not take for granted you can win just because you are Erskine Bowles, a good name with a good family pedigree, and do not run just because North Carolina Democrats in high places asking you to run. And, do not run if you think President Obama will help your campaign. It’s the other way around. With you on the ticket, you’ll be helping Obama, something you may desire, but that is not a good reason to run for Governor.