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FODDER: Time for Pack to toughen up schedule

Joe Santoro
For the Nevada Appeal

Sports fodder for a Friday morning . . . Nevada Wolf Pack men’s basketball hasn’t been a topic of water cooler conversation in northern Nevada since a guy named Nick Fazekas left town. The crowds at Lawlor Events Center this season have been the smallest we’ve seen in 10 years. The Pack averages 5,428 fans a game and the last time that number was under 6,000 for an entire season was 1999-00 (5,884). The Pack averaged about 8,300 fans a night during Fazekas’ four seasons. That means there are about 3,000 fans a game that decide to stay home these days. Well, it’s time to come back to the Pack. Just five regular season home games remain. The Western Athletic Conference tournament at Lawlor is just 41 days away. And, no, I don’t get a piece of the gate receipts.

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The shrinking Pack attendance is not the fans’ fault. Pack fans, actually, should be commended for sending a message to the athletic department. And that message is that we don’t ever want to see a home schedule littered with the likes of Montana State, Fresno Pacific, South Dakota State, Eastern Washington, Wagner and Portland ever again. A total of 10,526 showed up to watch the Pack lose to North Carolina last season. That was just 1,074 less than the Fresno Pacific, South Dakota State and Wagner games drew this year combined. Going to the who-cares College Basketball Invitational the last two years (and losing at home both times) also didn’t help.

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When is the Wolf Pack going to retire another men’s basketball number? Edgar Jones’ 32 is the only one off limits for Pack players now. Number 22 (that belongs to Fazekas, for those of you who just moved into town) would be a good place to start. There’s a good chance more than 5,428 fans would show up the night No. 22 was lifted to the rafters.

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It doesn’t matter when they play the NFL’s Pro Bowl. They can play it before the Super Bowl, after the Super Bowl, at halftime of the Super Bowl. Watching a football All-Star game (college or pro) is about as exciting as watching Fresno Pacific and South Dakota State play basketball. The NFL needs to take a page out of the all-star baseball, hockey and basketball books and have a skills contest. How about a 40-yard dash between Chris Johnson and DeAngelo Hall? How about a drill where Darrelle Revis covers Randy Moss for 10 consecutive pass plays? How about a halftime speech contest between Mike Singletary and Rex Ryan?

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Did you ever think you’d see the day when the New York Yankees would pick up a player from the San Francisco Giants’ scrap heap? The Giants never had any intention of bringing back Randy Winn in 2010 – and for good reason. Winn (.262 batting average, .318 on base percentage in 597 at-bats) was one of the worst starting offensive players in Major League Baseball last year. The Giants will be just fine in the outfield this year without him with some combination of Aaron Rowand, Fred Lewis, Nate Schierholtz, Eugenio Velez and Mark DeRosa. OK, it’s not exactly Willie Mays, Felipe Alou and Willie McCovey, who combined to hit 102 homers and drive in 287 runs in the Giants’ 1963 outfield, but at least we won’t have to watch Winn ground out to second on 3-1 pitches anymore.

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OK, this might be painful for Wolf Pack fans, but imagine the Ohio State Buckeyes with both Evan Turner and Luke Babbitt. Babbitt, who verbally committed to Ohio State after his junior year at Galena High, might have been headed to the Final Four this season with Ohio State. The 6-7 Turner and the 6-9 Babbitt would have given the Buckeyes the best forward combination in college basketball.

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ESPN reported this week that the Western Athletic Conference will receive $7.8 million because of the Boise State football team’s trip to a BCS bowl game. That’s all well and good. But, don’t forget, all of that money would have gone to another conference had the Wolf Pack beaten Boise State the day after Thanksgiving. There’s just something horribly wrong about all of that. How about splitting all of the money derived from all of the bowl games evenly among all of the FBS schools? That would take money out of the equation entirely and not force conference commissioners and presidents to secretly root for the school that will earn them the most money down the road. Yeah, like that’s going to happen.

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What, exactly, are the Oakland A’s thinking by signing Ben Sheets for $10 million for one year? He gets that $10 million just for breathing. If he actually stays healthy (a big if), he’ll get another $2 million just for working 195 or more innings. Given Sheets’ injury history, that will probably come to about $1 million per start for the cash-poor A’s. The A’s are going to finish last in the American League West with or without Sheets. Why not save the $10-$12 million and give it to their favorite charity? The best thing the A’s can hope for out of all this is that Sheets stays healthy into July and August so they can deal him for three prospects.