Hansen's Sunday Notebook: Sorry Pac-12 fans, more national exposure means more game-time hassles for you

January 12, 2014 12:00 am

In this week's edition of Greg Hansen's Sunday catch-all, the columnist riffs on the harsh, fan-unfriendly reality caused by the necessity of big TV dollars and more national exposure, applauds prep baseball stars giving back as pros, marvels at Sean Miller's recruiting run and dishes on the latest Match Play and Tucson City Golf news – among many other topics.

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  • Do you realize Arizona will not play another Saturday game at McKale Center this season?

    The Sunday Night Series, driven by Pac-12 media rights deals with ESPN and Fox Sports, begins tonight at USC, one of an unprecedented five conference games today. The impact will be felt in Tucson when the Wildcats return from Los Angeles. Here’s the schedule:

    • Sunday, Jan. 26: Utah at Arizona, 6 p.m.
    • Sunday, Feb. 9, Oregon State at Arizona, 5 p.m.
    • Sunday, March 2, Stanford at Arizona, 6 p.m.

    It’s the new reality of Pac-12 sports, a TV-mandated and fan-unfriendly package that, among other things, pays multimillion dollar coaching salaries, funds charter flights to road games and makes it possible for a school like Arizona to pay a $3.3 million-a-year debt service on the Lowell-Stevens Football Facility.

    Pac-12 fans unhappy at a proliferation of late-night football kickoffs can now grind their teeth at Sunday night basketball. Worse, tonight’s USC game is on the Pac-12 Networks and may conflict with the end of an NFL playoff game.

    Asked about this during the football season, Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said: “The marching orders I was given when I came in (2009) was how do we shift the balance toward the national audience and TV viewers. We were hearing a lot of complaints two and three years ago that people couldn’t see the games on TV and that the conference was being punished in national (polls) and by the media because they can’t see our games.’’

    Scott’s work has paid off; money and exposure have multiplied greatly. The Pac-12 is no longer off the grid.

    It has made it possible for every league member to cash in. Even dirt-poor Washington State is building a $70 million football plant and making plans for a $25 million indoor practice facility.

    Pac-12 presidents last year quietly dispersed about $2 million in unexpected revenue to each school from a savings fund. In the future, there will be much more.

    But it comes at a cost of convenience and habit. Sunday night college basketball, here and elsewhere, will be strongly unpopular. The UA won’t have difficulty selling its inventory of basketball tickets, on any night, at any time.

    But check out the empty seats at Pauley Pavilion tonight when UCLA plays Arizona State. It will be more like a church service than a basketball game between two good teams.

  • It was 48 degrees at 9 a.m., Saturday when former UA and Canyon del Oro home-run king Shelley Duncan began a free baseball clinic for about 300 Tucsonans aged 6-16.

    The parking lots at the Kino Sports Complex overflowed and the star power took the chill off: I stood next to Hall of Famers Fergie Jenkins and Rollie Fingers.

    I watched as kids in baseball gear took photos of baseball All-Stars J.J. Hardy and Ian Kinsler, awaiting instruction from big-leaguers such as Tony PhillipsJack HowellEd VosbergJohn RauchScott Hairston and Jerry Hairston Jr.

    Duncan, who has played for the Yankees, Indians and Rays, operates the Tucson Youth Baseball Association without pay, merely hoping to give kids an opportunity to learn from the best.

    This is Duncan’s second year operating the non-profit baseball venture. It’s got enough momentum now to become an institution here.

  • Incoming UA basketball recruit Kadeem Allen scored 41 points for Hutchinson (Kan.) College on Wednesday, raising his average to 28.4, which is second among all NJCAA players. Allen, a 6-foot-3-inch combo guard from Wilmington, N.C., has scored 30 or more points in nine games this season. He’s not a spot-up shooter; he has attempted an average of 12.4 free throws per game, which is related to penetrating and challenging defenses. Sounds like Arizona could use him now.

  • Sean Miller continued his recent domination of Southern California recruiting late Friday, getting a commitment from 6-4 combo guard Tyler Dorsey, beating UCLA, among others. Dorsey is the first player Arizona has recruited from St. John Bosco High School since spring 1983, when Lute Olson signed his first UA player, point guard Michael Tait. How’d that work out? Tait was ultimately beaten out by Steve Kerr and transferred to Clemson.

  • Kerr’s daughter, Maddy, was a Pac-12 All-Freshman volleyball player this year at Cal. Now Kerr’s Arizona teammate, Jud Buechler, is sending his daughter, Reily, to the Pac-12; Reily, a first-team prep All-American from San Diego, signed with UCLA. She committed to the Bruins before Arizona volleyball coach Dave Rubio could make his final pitch.

  • Jessie Evans, a skilled recruiter who helped assemble Arizona’s Final Four talent of 1994 and 1997, is back in college basketball. After leaving San Francisco two years ago, where he was 47-48 as head coach, Evans is now an assistant coach at Southeast Missouri State.

  • Remember Pac-12 basketball referee Michael Irving, who called the egregious technical foul on Arizona at the Pac-12 tournament last year, touching off a brouhaha that cost Pac-12 director of officials Ed Rush his job? Irving has not worked an Arizona game this season, but he has called four ASU games and has mostly worked Mountain West and WCC games.

  • The annual Martin Luther King Basketball Classic, held on MLK Day at McKale Center for the past few seasons, is changing days, and will be held Saturday at McKale. The five-game schedule, as part of the Coaches for Charity organization, is capped by two strong prep state championship contenders: Sahuaro vs. Salpointe Catholic at 8 p.m. Jim Henry’s Cougars are 15-3, and are likely to be 17-3 at Saturday’s tipoff. Junior Nate Renfro, averaging 12.1 points per game, senior Arthur Gibson, 10.5 points and 8.6 rebounds, and senior guard James Molina, 11.6 points, give Sahuaro its best team since Hall of Famer Dick McConnell retired in 2007.

  • MoMo Jones has found a good place in pro basketball. Arizona’s 2010-11 point guard is averaging 23.3 points a contest for the Kumamoto Vorters in Japan. He’s second in the league in scoring and first in assists, with 5.6 per game. Jones, who completed his career at Iona, has scored as many as 41 points in a game in Japan.

  • Sahuaro grad Caitlin Leverenz, the 2012 NCAA women’s Swimmer of the Year and a London Olympics bronze medalist, was one of two American swimmers invited to speak Saturday at the World Aquatics Development Conference in Lund, Sweden. Leverenz’s first year out of college swimming has been busy: She was in London as part of Team USA for last month’s Duel in the Pool competition against Team Europe.

  • Reports that Accenture is leaving the World Golf Championships sponsorship umbrella are probably premature. Accenture has been kicking in about $10 million annually as title sponsor of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championships. The deal expires after the Dove Mountain event next month. Accenture and the PGA Tour are in negotiations, and this is part of the back-and-forth nature of renegotiating a contract. More uncertain is the return of Match Play to Southern Arizona in 2015, even if Accenture re-ups with the PGA Tour. But after eight years of playing host to a WGC event, it’s difficult to say Tucson didn’t get a fair shake.

  • If you’re expecting an eye-catching spaceship when McKale Center’s $80 million renovation is complete, you need to visit renovated Pauley Pavilon. The Bruins spent about $140 million and it’s basically the same place with new seats, new restrooms and an inviting concourse. The same thing happened when Cal turned Harmon Gym into Haas Pavilion and Washington spent a fortune turning Hec Edmundson Pavilion into Alaska Airlines Arena. Except for the new-car smell, except for expanded food service and walking space, they don’t appear much different.

  • Trying to replace legendary Vern Friedli, who went 11-2 as recently as 2010, hasn’t worked out for Amphitheater’s football program. His successor, Brandon Willard, is leaving Amphi after two seasons, 6-14 overall, including losses last season to Rio Rico and Safford. Willard didn’t retain any of Friedli’s staff nor establish ties with the man who coached 331 victories, an Arizona record. Sad.

  • I enjoyed the following Twitter message from former UA basketball assistant coach James Whitford last week: “The foot of snow in my driveway and 15-below zero is no problem. The two local Starbucks being closed is a total disaster!” In his effort to revive Ball State’s basketball program, Whitford is 3-9, which included a seven-game losing streak. Drink up, right?

  • OB Sports will take over operation of the five Tucson City Golf courses on Feb. 1. The Scottsdale-based management group will be paid $20,000 a month by the city, a flat fee to operate every conceivable aspect of the golf operation. The Mayor and Council, however, will structure all green’s fees prices. OB Sports, which is also bidding to take over the Prescott municipal golf operation, estimates that it can turn a profit of $713,000 in five years; Tucson City Golf announced it made a $102,000 profit last year. Good luck on that.

  • Arizona last started a basketball season 16-0 in 1931-32, but that record includes two victories over an Alumni team and two games that were used by coach Fred Enke as a tryout.

  • The only Pac-12 team to start a season 16-0 (or better) in the last 25 years is Stanford. Mike Montgomery’s Cardinal opened 26-0 in 2003-04; 20-0 in 2000-01; and 17-0 in 1997-98.

  • Niya Butts is 78-93 in her sixth season as Arizona’s women’s basketball coach. It’s not good, but it doesn’t approach the 34-82 of UA coach June Olkowski from 1987-91.

  • After two years, the Casino del Sol All-Star football game died a quiet death. The casino had been paying close to $100,000 per year to sponsor the game at Kino Stadium.

  • Not that many are paying attention, but both the Milwaukee Brewers and Houston Astros are hopeful they can improve their spring training situations, and possibly move. The Astros are struggling to reach an agreement in West Palm Beach, Fla. If Tucson had a well-connected community group in place, and realistic potential to fund a spring training facility near Marana, it could turn the heads of both the Astros and Brewers. Check back in another decade.

  • UA athletic director Greg Byrne will catch considerable flak for a 2014 nonconference football schedule that includes UNLV, Texas-San Antonio and Nevada.

    How weak is that in the Pac-12? As announced last week, only Colorado, which plays UMass, Hawaii and Colorado State, and Wazzu, which plays Rutgers, Nevada and Portland State, are less attractive.

    Byrne plans a grassroots ticket-selling campaign, especially in Tucson’s lower-economic areas, where he will make public appearances to announce a reduction in some prices and even a plan that makes it possible to make payments for tickets, rather than pay up front.

    If Byrne can figure out Tucson’s fickle nature in its support of college football, he’ll be the first. In 2012, the UA drew just 45,602 for No. 19 Oklahoma State, and there were a mere 47,822 for No. 10 USC.

    Maybe Duke, which won 10 games this season, has it figured best. The Blue Devils played North Carolina Central, Troy and Navy in home nonconference games. It only averaged 25,465 in those games, but won an ACC division title and rekindled interest in Duke football.

    Win first. Sell tickets later.

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