Hansen's Sunday Notebook: Despite Arizona's 3-0 start, fans put expectations on hold

The Star's sports columnist muses on Arizona's lack of fan support at football games, a touching tribute to a late sports star and the UA's president understanding the impact of sports - among many other things.

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  • In its second year under Mike Leach, long-scuffling Washington State last week announced its Oct. 12 game against Oregon State is already sold out. If that’s not buying what the new coach is selling, what is?

    By comparison, Arizona’s announced crowd of 41,661 against UTSA was the smallest at Arizona Stadium dating to 1998, with the exception of the John Mackovic years and a post-Mike Stoops-firing game against Louisiana-Lafayette.

    In retrospect, the Wildcats were battling four considerable negatives against UTSA. It was hot (91 degrees at kickoff). It was a late kickoff, 7:34 p.m., televised live. The opponent wasn’t sexy. And it abutted the Mayweather-Canelo fight.

    As much as those four variables, I think the low turnout was because expectations are on hold until 2014 or later.

    Even Rich Rodriguez echoed such immediately after beating UTSA. In a locker room video, he told his players “nobody’s predicting us to do anything.”

    Arizona athletic director Greg Byrne said the perceived lack of interest won’t change his scheduling approach.

    “We have to play NAU every other year, as does ASU,” he said, reflecting a mandate from the Arizona Board of Regents. “And because we play nine conference games, I’m not interested in playing two BCS schools in a season.”

    The UA’s nonconference home opponents through 2017 are UTEP, Grambling, Nevada, UNLV, UTSA and Houston. Byrne, who inherited part of future nonconference home schedules, said he is in the process of adding more appeal.

    One problem: Because the Big 12 plays a nine-game conference schedule, and because the Big Ten and SEC are considering a nine-game format, maneuverability has been diminished. Stanford, for example, flew cross-country last week to play Army. A charter flight for a trip like that can cost as much as $200,000.

    “I also wanted to give RichRod a couple of years to get his feet under him,” said Byrne. “When we do add to our home schedule, it will have to make sense for us.”

    There is also an unspoken barrier: Those who are betting Rodriguez will build a power in Tucson by 2015 or thereabouts, might be unwilling to enter into a home-and-home arrangement.

    Unbowed, Byrne said “I like the size of our stadium; I think 56,000 is just right.”

    It might just be a matter of time. By Stoops’ third year, Arizona drew no fewer than 55,000 against BYU, USC, Oregon State, ASU, Cal and Washington. Typically, as the brand grows in Tucson, so does the number of those who will pay to watch the Wildcats play football.

    • Lost in the clutter of Arizona’s anticipated early-season basketball schedule is a Monday, Nov. 11 home game against Long Beach State. It is officially the “Fiesta Bowl Classic” game, minus a banquet and the fanfare of those remarkable post-Christmas tournaments that included Duke, Michigan, Florida, Michigan State and Purdue. This year, Arizona doesn’t play a game from Christmas to New Year’s for the first time since 1959. As much as athletic director Greg Byrne has difficulty finding a suitable home football opponent, the Preseason NIT foraged for seemingly forever before persuading Metro State, Rhode Island and Fairleigh Dickinson to be designated-victims in Arizona’s home games Nov. 18-19. The games were then given dismal start times of 9 p.m. on a Monday and a Tuesday. As the Star’s Bruce Pascoe reported, the UA had to pay a total of $461,000 to get Southern, New Mexico State, Long Beach State, Cal Poly and NAU to visit McKale Center this year. The NIT pays the teams involved in that field.
    • Sean Miller’s 2009-10 grad assistant, Luke Murray, will return to McKale as part of Rhode Island’s coaching staff. He is the son of actor Bill Murray.
    • As part of a video series with CBS’s Seth Davis, former Wildcat All-Pac-12 forward Luke Walton last week told collegeinsider.com that “basketball has allowed me to be a kid long enough; it’s time for me to grow up.” Walton, 33, has earned an estimated $33.9 million in the NBA, and is a free agent. It wouldn’t be a shock if the Denver Nuggets sign him as an 11th or 12th man; his attitude and acumen would benefit any contender. Walton is close friends with Denver president Josh Kroenke, who attended Walton’s recent wedding celebration in Aspen, Colo.
    • Friday was a special football night for Catalina Foothills coach Jeff Scurran. His young team improved to 3-1 by whipping Sahuarita 51-6. Simultaneously, his 1990 state championship team at Sabino was inducted into the Sabercats’ Hall of Fame. His wife, Joan Scurran, represented him at Sabino, along with Patty Green, widow of Jeff Green, a long-time assistant coach at the UA, Sabino and Pima College, among others. Those from the 1990 Sabercats who attended were Greg Tellam and Cole Ford, who played at USC.
    • One of Tucson’s top athletes, national championship junior diver Delaney Schnell, a freshman at Tucson High, will compete Thursday afternoon in the Junior Pan Am championships at the Hillenbrand Aquatic Center. It is an important week for Tucson’s sports future; the UA and the Tucson Diving Club are among six finalists to play host to the 2016 Olympic diving trials. If Tucson survives its competition from diving facilities in Minneapolis; Atlanta; Indianapolis; Riverside, Calif.; and Greensboro, N.C.; it would expect to get about 7,500 hotel nights during the Olympic trials in late June 2016. The heat is a negative in Tucson’s bid and so is the lack of locker room space at Hillenbrand. But the diving center at the school is superb, among the best of its kind anywhere. About 11,000 people attended the 2012 trials, in Federal Way, Wash. NBC will televise about 10 hours of the competition.
    • Pima College’s resounding football victory over NJCAA power Snow College last week highlighted the school’s lack of resources. It doesn’t even have a football statistician. Coach Pat Nugent goes through the video, play by play, a day after the game, figuring out the statistics. “When we play in Phoenix, my friend Bob Bensinger (a former UA athletic department employee, now on the Diamondbacks’ ground crew), does the stats,” said Nugent.
    • Pima won’t be able to play at its “home field,” Kino Stadium, on Saturday because the county has scheduled a beer festival there. It will play Glendale College at Tucson High instead.
    • Utah coach Bill Kinneberg, a former UA pitcher and assistant coach, has offered recruiting visits to a pair of Cienega High School seniors, lefty pitcher Jake Repavich and outfielder Andre Jackson. Repavich stood out in a recent 520 showcase in Albuquerque. He was 7-3 with 70 strikeouts in 66 innings at Cienega last season. Jackson, a rangy outfielder, hit .409 for the Bobcats.
  • During the Wildcat Walk two hours before last week’s Arizona-UTSA game, school president Ann Weaver Hart stood almost unrecognized, slapping hands with UA football players, enjoying the festivities even though it was almost 100 degrees at 5:30 p.m.

    How many college presidents do you see showing that type of attitude toward a somewhat insignificant football game, or any football game? She could’ve been with donors in the Sands Club, sipping chardonnay or having a hot dog.

    Several previous UA presidents, among them Henry Koffler and Manuel Pacheco, were almost never seen at a sporting event, big or small. And it showed by the school’s lack of commitment toward building a more competitive athletic department.

    Hart doesn’t necessarily have to be visible and smiling at Arizona Stadium or McKale Center, and it’s unlikely she will ever be as involved as former presidents Peter Likins and John Schaefer.

    But in an uncompromising conference where any lack of support from the administration can put a school into outer darkness, Hart’s enthusiasm suggests she won’t fight an athletic enterprise whose stakes have multiplied to almost $80 million a year.

    • The NCAA has quietly announced its three finalists for 2013 NCAA Woman of the Year, a Division I list that included a swimmer from Penn, a shot-putter from Texas Tech and a basketball player from Seton Hall. It was a significant surprise that Arizona high-jumper Brigetta Barrett, the Pac-12’s Woman of the Year, did not make the finals. Barrett won NCAA titles in the indoor and outdoor high jump, was second in the USA finals, graduated cum laude in theater arts and completed an impressive list of community projects. I’m not saying the NCAA decided it would be a good idea to look elsewhere for a Woman of the Year; Arizona’s Lacey Nymeyer, Justine Schluntz and Whitney Myers earned the award in recent years. But given Barrett’s qualifications, it does seem curious.
    • Golf course designer Notah Begay’s newest work, the Sewailo Golf Course at Casino del Sol, probably won’t open to the public until December while it completes its clubhouse. But the course is playable; UA men’s golf coach Jim Anderson took the Wildcats there for a practice round Friday.
    • It was strange to see Salpointe grad Sara Brown pictured in a UA golf shirt last week. The Michigan State All-American, who is a former LPGA Tour player, is now a volunteer assistant at Arizona. Brown played in seven events on the Symetra Tour, the LPGA-feeder circuit this year.
    • When former UA golfer Jim Furyk shot a 59 in the FedEx playoffs last week, it was often noted that he was the top golfer in Wildcat history. But when the Wildcats won the 1992 NCAA championship, Furyk’s senior year, he usually was the No. 4 or No. 5 man in Rick LaRose’s lineup. Manny Zerman, a first-team All-American, and David Berganio, a third-team All-American, were Nos. 1-2 for Arizona that year. Harry Rudolph, who was second overall at the NCAA finals, was a steady No. 3. Rob McIver and Furyk battled for the last two spots. Good team, huh?
  • Until Friday night, Sahuaro High School sophomore lineman Rick Botkin played for the Cougars’ junior varsity.

    Then, Sahuaro coach Scott McKee told Botkin he would be playing in the varsity game against Yuma Kofa. He would also be one of four game captains for the night.

    It was a special and emotional debut for Botkin, whose uncle, the late Ric Botkin, was Sahuaro’s quarterback in 1977, one of the top signal-callers in the state. Tragically, the elder Botkin was killed in the middle of the ’77 season in a car accident.

    On Friday night, the Cougars honored the memory of their former QB, No. 25, by putting his name across the 25-yard lines. Not only that, Sahuaro running back Qwaundre Yancy, gave young Rick Botkin his No. 25 jersey for the night. Botkin had been wearing No. 62.

    Adding to the whole experience, Sahuaro defeated Yuma Kofa 55-0, and Botkin helped make six tackles while playing on the line and special teams.

    If that’s not what high school football is all about, what is? McKee has my vote as Coach of the Year.

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