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June 29, 2010

Things college football should adopt from soccer

Every time I opine about soccer, I get a bunch of e-mails. I don’t particularly like soccer. It’s just not my thing. This, however, generally leads people to call me as an uncultured fool, a xenophobe that looks down on the world’s sport.
Believe me, that’s not it. I just don’t really like soccer that much. There’s nothing more to it than that. No deeper meaning. No hidden agenda. I like watching baseball and golf, sports many classify as boring. Agree to disagree, I guess. I won’t take it personally. (I will say that this tweet comparing soccer to the “Twilight” movies is pretty funny, though.)
But I am transfixed by the World Cup. I can’t stop watching it, vuvuzelas aside. I like the passion, the energy, the stakes, the organization, everything about it … just not the soccer. Which makes me wonder: what is the World Cup doing so right that even a soccer-watching novice like myself refuses to turn the channel? Well, a bunch of things, some of which I think can translate well to the world of college football and improve the game. Let’s take take a look at some of them, shall we?

The red card/yellow card system: Love it. Absolutely love it. It’s a great way to police unsportsmanlike behavior in the game. And let’s face it, all unsportsmanlike penalties in college football are not the same. An incidental grabbing of the facemask is 15 yards. So is grabbing and twisting until a player’s head nearly comes off. I think there should be some sort of accountability for plays like that. If you blatantly hit a player in an unsportsmanlike manner (like, with intent to injure), it should be more than 15 yards. That player should get a yellow card. Get two and you’re gone from the game. Keep getting them throughout the season and you can sit on the bench for a game. If Brandon Spikes wants to eye gouge somebody, that’s a red card. Enjoy the next game in street clothes, no questions asked. Wouldn’t this police some of the chop blocks, late hits and intentional helmet-leading hits that are dirty and don’t belong in the game? The NFL can punish its players with fine for illegal actions. What can the NCAA do? It’s powerless in that regard. Take it out of the coach’s hands, because those decisions are generally blurred by how important the player is to the team.
Unrestrained celebrations: Goals are so infrequent in soccer that when someone scores one, he celebrates like he’s been greeted by God and the only way to get into heaven is to dance, dance, dance. After the requisite boogieing and/or gymnastics move, teammates mob him and bench players in their warmup suits get into the action. And on and on it goes, just pure, unadulterated joy. Why is this a problem? Why do we treat our sports celebrations like they are some sort of indication of the moral decay in society? Is jumping around and dancing after doing something exciting really that damaging? Lighten up, people. Let the kids dance. Let them high five. Let them acknowledge the screaming crowd (I’m sure Georgia fans would agree with this). Don’t leave it up to a subjective definition of excessive celebration. Each referee has a different idea of what that means, and quite honestly, they have larger matters to concern themselves than being the prudes who have to tell everyone to turn the music down after a touchdown.
Outlandish fan costumes: The above picture is of Argentina fans. You can tell this because … well, look at them. There is no mistaking who those guys are fans of (unless you guessed Uruguay, which has a similar color scheme). The point is, soccer fans really get into it. If you’re at a game, you’re wearing the team colors … and possibly a team scarf … maybe with your face painted the team’s colors … probably with a festive hat. And everyone else around you is dressed with a similar zeal. Some college football fans go this far, but let’s be honest: it’s time to step up your game. I realize the shirt and tie/sundress thing is an SEC tradition, but it’s a football game, not a yacht club meeting. Dress as such. If a TV camera happens to pass you by, leave no doubt which team you’re backing.

Coaches in suits: If Diego Maradona can suit it up, so can you, Gene Chizik. I’m not saying you have to do it for every game. But how about the big ones? What says, “I’m classy” quite like a three-piece suit. Basketball coaches do it all the time. And the well-dressed ones get noticed. Football should follow suit (see what I did there?) and get these guys dressed to the nines.
No commercial breaks: How fantastic is being able to watch a soccer match in two hours? Just continuous action, with no momentum-shattering two-minute stops while a guy with a red hat comes onto the field and says nobody can play. Notice I didn’t say no advertisements. You can’t look at a soccer field and not see an advertisement. The scoreboard in the upper right-hand corner is clearly sponsored by Sony. Giant Visa ads surround the playing field. I’m sure it’s not cheap to advertise that. Why do we need to stop the game to show everyone an ad? Maybe this will cut down on the 3.5 to 4-hour football games that have become so common of late. Nothing is more frustrating that the commercial break-kickoff-commercial break sequence that football loves so much (maybe that’s only in the pros; it’s maddening nonetheless). Take away the break. Everyone will be happier.
A single-elimination tournament to determine a champion: Even soccer gets it, college football. Why can’t you? The World Cup would be kind of boring if, after the qualifying rounds, they determined that, based on the world rankings, No. 1 Brazil would play No. 2 Spain for the championship. Give us a playoff, college football. Every argument for it works. Every argument against it is bogus. There’s no denying it.
Relegation: This is not related to the World Cup, per se, but it’s a staple of all the major soccer leagues in Europe and around the world. In short, in a relegation system, a small number of teams at the bottom of a league’s standings are moved down to a lesser league after each season, while the top few teams in the lesser league are bumped up. It guarantees competitiveness in the highest levels and lets less-talented teams match up against similar competition.
Here’s how I think it can work in football: unite the non-BCS conference schools under one umbrella and divide them into tiers. This is football only, since football seems to operate by its own rules in college athletics. Have the teams in those tiers play each other and, on a yearly basis, promote and relegate three teams between the levels. This way, the top tier faces top-notch competition. Teams like TCU and Boise State, whose schedules come into question every season, play a slate of competitive teams. Give the winner of that tier an automatic BCS bid. And, quite honestly, if you’re second, you should deserve BCS bowl consideration as well. Look at the top nine non-BCS schools from last year (end-of-season Sagarin rankings in parentheses):
  • TCU (4)
  • Boise State (5)
  • BYU (15)
  • Utah (24)
  • Air Force (35)
  • Navy (38)
  • Central Michigan (42)
  • East Carolina (51)
  • Houston (53)
Have them play each other, just like a regular conference. You mean to tell me whoever comes out of that group wouldn’t warrant a BCS bowl bid? By doing this, you 1) let non-BCS teams play their way into marquee bowl games and 2) appease the big-conference teams that think teams like Boise State and TCU don’t play tough enough competition to earn premier bowl consideration.
Once the most recent conference realignment is done, there will be 67 BCS teams and 53 non-BCS teams. Split the non-BCS teams into five divisions of nine and one division (the lowest one) of eight. Each division plays eight “conference” games (the bottom group plays seven). The top three teams in a division at the end of the year move up a level; the bottom three move down. Sustained excellence gets rewarded by moving up to higher-tier divisions and greater exposure/bowl possibilities. Plus, the divisions should pit teams against one another that are close in terms of talent. It’s a winning situation all around.
(And yes, before you e-mail me to tell me I’m an idiot, I realize this system is completely implausible. But it would be cool, wouldn’t it?)
Now, soccer viewing isn’t perfect. Naturally there are some things that I’d rather do without, leading to …

Vuvuzelas: It’s American sports fandom’s biggest scourge since the great Thunderstix invasion of the early 2000’s. These vuvuzelas are annoying. There’s no getting around it. Keep them away from the football field. Thankfully, the SEC has already drawn a distinction between the soccer horn and a similar noisemaker, the Mississippi State cowbell. Both are kind of irritating. Both are there for the sole purpose of making noise. But only one has historic ties to an SEC school. College football fans can put up with the latter. Introducing the former would help ruin the gameday experience.
Diving: Single-handedly the most annoying thing about soccer. These theatrics are just plain cheap and embarrassing and, based on my limited viewing, very effective, unfortunately. (This isn’t the World Cup, but it’s my favorite example of how stupid this whole diving thing is. The ridiculous part happens about 12 seconds in.) Personally, I wish FIFA would review some of these dives after the fact and retroactively retract cards given out by an egregious dive. In fact, give the diver a card and a suspension. That’s how much I dislike this “gamesmanship” aspect of the sport. The closest example in football is the lengths most kickers and punters will go to get a roughing the kicker penalty. If any hittable player tried that nonsense, they’d feel it on the next play.
Extra time: Soccer should know, we have the technology to start and stop a clock these days. The future is now. This ambiguous extra time that only the referee knows about until the very end would not fly in the world of SEC football. Can you imagine the conspiracy theories if Alabama was allowed to score a last-second touchdown to beat Auburn because of three mysterious minutes added to the clock. Reverse the roles or substitute any great SEC rivalry in this situation and you’re dealing with an extremely loud and passionate group of people who will cry foul. The point is, we have a clock capable of starting and stopping. Let’s continue to use both of those functions, OK?
Ties: A very un-American way of ending things (well, except for the Korean War, I guess). Yes, the SEC has some famous ties in its history, but they’re so unsatisfying. Somebody wins, somebody loses. That’s how football works. I don’t care if we disgrace the game and skew the statistics by having a final score of 122-116 after 15 overtimes, I’d rather have that as an outcome than a tie. This is America. Once you turn 13, only one team gets juice boxes after a sporting event.
Have any thoughts? Comment below. And be sure to follow the blog on Twitter.

June 28, 2010

Tony Barbee thinks he’s put his stamp on Auburn basketball program after only a few months

Tony Barbee has only been on the job for a few months, but Auburn’s new basketball coach thinks he’s put his stamp on the program in that short time.
“Anytime a new coach takes over there’s always a transition,” Barbee said during a Monday teleconference. “You’ve got to make sure it’s a fit both ways, for the player and for myself and my staff, my system and how we’re going to do things. So I’m pleased with how the current team is shaping up.”
Barbee, who got his first head coaching gig at UTEP on the eve of the season, has had substantially more time at Auburn after being hired in March.
That extra time allowed him to make inroads on the recruiting trail. Forwards Josh Langford and Luke Cothron and point guard Chris Denson all signed in the late recruiting period. The other three players in the recruiting class signed under Jeff Lebo‘s watch.
Of the signees, Langford, Denson and small forward Allen Payne have already enrolled, according to AuburnUndercover.com. Forwards Adrian Forbes, Shawn Kemp Jr. and Cothron hope to be enrolled in August.
Several other Lebo signees have gone elsewhere, including forward Heath Houston, who recently signed with VCU.
Barbee acknowledged he’ll be working with a young group next year, one that includes only two juniors. Of those two, guard Frankie Sullivan is the only player who got significant minutes last year.
“We’re starting over,” Barbee said. “But it’s exciting to start over in a way, because you get a chance to mold a younger group of players who haven’t been set in their ways of going through a system for several years.
“It’s going to be like molding clay. And every day is a different challenge. … It’ll be fun and a little apprehensive at the same time.”
Here a few other things he had to say:
  • Barbee sounded very excited to get Cothron on the court. “I think Luke brings a different level of talent that this program hasn’t seen in a long time. One of those 6-8, 6-9 hybrid forwards that can score from different angles of the perimeter. He can go out to the 3-point line, is great around the basket. He’s got great feet and great hands and has a knack for rebounding. So there’s no question he’ll bring a lot to the team as a freshman.”
  • He didn’t pay much attention to all the conference expansion talk, which was mostly driven by football. “As coaches, that’s outside of our responsibilities,” he said. “I’m kind of glad it is.” He said he’s a traditionalist and is satisfied with the current order.
  • On improving Auburn’s defense: “My philosophy has always been based around defense. That’s where we started from Day 1 when I got the job in the limited time we had with the team individual work-wise was molding the team about how we’re going to be on defense. Your offense is going to come and go, but defensively you can be consistent with that every night.”
  • He said Auburn will have to lean on defense, especially considering how “offensively-challenged” the team might be next year.
  • Auburn shot a lot of 3-pointers last year. Barbee doesn’t mind. “I don’t think it matters how many you shoot, you better make some of them.” He thinks because of the team’s lack of size, it might have to rely on 3-point shooting.
  • He’s very high on Sullivan, who used to go to camps Barbee would help out with as an assistant coach at Memphis. “He’s one of those guys that you want your entire team to play like, with reckless abandon, a toughness that he’s not going to back down no matter who he plays against.”

June 25, 2010

Auburn to host swimming and diving NCAA championships, gymnastics regional in 2012

A pair of NCAA women’s events will be coming to an Auburn arena near you in the not-so-distant future.
The NCAA announced Friday that Auburn will host the Division I women’s swimming and diving championships and an NCAA regional in women’s gymnastics, both in 2012. The swimming and diving championship will take place March 15-17 at the James E. Martin Aquatics Center, while the gymnastics regional will take place April 7 at the Auburn Arena.
“We’re very pleased that the NCAA has selected Auburn as the host for these two events in 2012,” Auburn athletics director Jay Jacobs said. “These championships will be great not only for Auburn athletics and our student-athletes, but the university and community as well. Thousands of coaches, athletes and fans from across the country will be treated to first-class events and Southern hospitality that is second to none.”
It’s the third time Auburn will host the swimming and diving championships. It hosted the women’s event in 2003 and the men’s in 1998.
Auburn is one of six schools to host a gymnastics regional in 2012. It last hosted a regional in 1991, although it held the 2005 women’s championships in 2005.

June 24, 2010

Ranking the SEC’s non-conference schedules

Seventy-two. That’s the number of days until the start of the football season, which seems like an eternity. It also makes it hard to find blogging subjects in these summer months.

Today, for no reason whatsoever, let’s take a look at how each SEC team’s non-conference schedule stacks up. I’m normally of the mind that if you play one quality non-conference opponent, it’s not the worst thing to line up a few cupcakes for the other three games, especially for a conference that has as many potential landmines as the SEC.

I’ll even give each schedule an arbitrary point system to make things seem more official, with opponents falling into one of four categories. Three points for a top-flight opponent (conference contender/top 25 team), two for a quality opponent (decent BCS school/solid bowl team), one for an average opponent (low-tier BCS/decent non-BCS) and none for cupcake (lower half non-BCS teams/almost all FBS opponents).

TIER 1 (6 points)
  • Florida: Miami of Ohio (0), South Florida (2), Appalachian State (1), at Florida State (3) — I debated whether or not to give Appalachian State a point. It is, after all, an FCS school, but it’s a good one. Like top-five good. In the end, I gave it the nod. Florida State, in the post-Bobby Bowden era, could be on the rise again, a popular pick to win the ACC Atlantic Division. And South Florida, despite its coaching change, isn’t a pushover. Very respectable scheduling by the Gators, even if the Seminoles are a guaranteed opponent every year.
  • LSU: North Carolina in Atlanta (3), West Virginia (3), McNeese State (0), Louisiana-Monroe (0) — I had some internal debate about this one as well. The Tar Heels are a consensus preseason top-25 team, with a stud defense waiting to be unleashed. (Perhaps I could have given bonus points for teams that play on the road or in neutral sites against quality opponents too. Oh well, LSU can settle for three points here.) The Mountaineers I had somewhere between two and three points. Many preseason magazines have them as the No. 2 team in the Big East and a borderline top-25 team. I gave them the benefit of the doubt. This is a team that’s won 51 games in the last five years.
  • South Carolina: Southern Miss (2), Furman (0), Troy (1), at Clemson (3) — The Gamecocks get a built-in 3-pointer thanks to state-rival Clemson, who will make the non-conference rounds in the SEC this year. I initially had Southern Miss as a 1-point team until seeing many magazines think the Golden Eagles could win the Conference USA East. Troy’s not exactly a pushover either, one year removed from running the table in the Sun Belt.

TIER 2 (5 points)

  • Vanderbilt: Northwestern (2), at Connecticut (2), Eastern Michigan (0), Wake Forest (1) — No real blockbusters for the Commodores but, except for Eastern Michigan, which was winless last season, three decent matchups. Northwestern has turned itself into a mid-level Big Ten team and Connecticut has won at least eight games the last three seasons. Wake Forest isn’t great, but Jim Grobe usually puts a competitive team on the field. This smart-school schedule isn’t as bad as you would think.

TIER 3 (4 points)

  • Alabama: San Jose State (0), Penn State (3), at Duke (1), Georgia State (0) — If you schedule the Nittany Lions, you can usually get a break on the rest of your schedule. Personally, I’m excited to see the teams with the two plainest uniforms in football square off. Duke, despite its reputation, gets a point after winning nine games in the first two years under David Cutcliffe. The San Jose State and Georgia State games could get ugly, though.
  • Georgia: Louisiana-Lafayette (0), at Colorado (1), Idaho State (0), Georgia Tech (3) —Another built-in 3-pointer thanks to the state-rival Yellow Jackets, who could contend for the ACC Coastal Division title and are close to being in the top-25 in most preseason magazines. Colorado is a 2-point school stuck in a 1-point rut. This matchup probably looked a lot better when Georgia scheduled it.

TIER 4 (3 points)

  • Auburn: Arkansas State (0), Clemson (3), Louisiana-Monroe (0), Tennessee-Chattanooga (0) — Kudos for scheduling Clemson, a matchup between similar programs who seem like they should be playing each other more than the occasional bowl game. Beyond that, there’s not much. Despite occasional competitiveness against top-notch competition (Iowa last year, Texas A&M two years ago), Arkansas State doesn’t appear to have much going for it this season. Monroe and Chattanooga are fodder to fill the schedule.
  • Tennessee: Tennessee-Martin (0), Oregon (3), UAB (0), at Memphis (0) — The Ducks are a legitimate contender, one that will start in the top-10 of most polls and might be the favorite to win the Pac-10 (provided the rest of the team does not get arrested this summer). Beyond that, you’re looking at an FCS school and two bottom feeders from the Conference USA.
  • Arkansas: Tennessee Tech (0), Louisiana-Monroe (0), vs. Texas A&M in Arlington, Texas (2), UTEP (1) — Playing the Aggies in a neutral site game is a boost to the non-conference schedule. Texas A&M is a distant third in the Big 12 South, although most teams would be when stacking up against Texas and Oklahoma. UTEP doesn’t seem like a 1-point team, having not had a winning season since 2005 but it can put up some points. The Sporting News even projects the Miners to make the Hawaii Bowl.
TIER 5 (2 points)
  • Mississippi State: Memphis (0), Alcorn State (0), at Houston (2), UAB (0) — A remarkably similar schedule to Tennessee, although the Bulldogs don’t have a team the caliber of Oregon as a highlight. Houston has Case Keenum and a high-powered offense, but it’s still not in the top-tier of college football. Memphis and UAB we’ve already covered.

TIER 6 (1 point)

  • Kentucky: At Louisville (1), Western Kentucky (0), Akron (0), Charleston Southern (0) — Rich Brooks might be gone, but his scheduling legacy lives on. The Cardinals, a border rival, slipped tremendously under Steve Kragthorpe, winning six, five and four games in his final three years. I doubt Charlie Strong turns things around in a year. Athlon ranks Western Kentucky and Akron in the 100s in overall FBS teams and Chuck South is an FCS squad. But hey, whatever it takes to get to the Music City Bowl, right?
  • Ole Miss: Jacksonville State (0), at Tulane (0), Fresno State (1), Louisiana-Lafayette (0) — The Rebels had two FCS teams on last year’s schedule, so this isn’t entirely surprising. Fresno seems to get up for big non-conference games, but the Bulldogs are a middle of the pack WAC team this year. I can’t give them more than a point on this one.

June 22, 2010

Former Auburn, Columbus High pitcher Ty Kelley learning the ropes after signing with Angels

It’s been a whirlwind week for former Auburn reliever Ty Kelley. The one-time Columbus High standout went from starting his summer league stint in Amsterdam, N.Y., to signing with the Anaheim Angels in the matter of days.

Now he’s in Tempe, Ariz., ready to embark on a professional career with the Angels’ Rookie league affiliate.

“It’s awesome,” Kelley said Tuesday. ” It’s going to be a great experience getting here and trying to meet everybody and figure everything out.”

Auburn fans might not be familiar with Kelley’s name. After making 11 appearances and starting three non-conference games in 2009, the 6-foot-4, right-hander pitched only four times last season, posting a 9.64 ERA in 4 2/3 innings. He would have been a fifth-year senior next season.

He joined the New York Collegiate League as a way to get some innings this summer and perhaps catch the eye of major league scouts. The Angels, who showed interest in him out of high school, signed him after he threw four scoreless innings in Amsterdam.

“It just kind of did catch me (by surprise),” Kelley said. “I kind of was hoping for something toward the end of the summer, but not that soon. And they called and then it just kind of caught me off guard and I kind of thought about it and weighed everything. I talked to a lot of different people. Everybody kind of felt like, they told me it was a great opportunity not to let it pass by.”

Here’s what else Kelley had to say:

(What are you feelings about signing with a major league organization?)
“It just kind of hit me yesterday when I was in the locker room and putting on the Angels jersey, it’s just being a part of a great tradition with a lot of people who have been through there and people who have played for the Angels, it’s awesome to be able to do that.”

(How hard was it not being able to get many opportunities to pitch this year for Auburn)
“You know, it was tough. After a year, last year I threw quite a bit. And this year it was real tough. Especially as much success as our team had. It was awesome. When you’re winning, you’re happy. But it was tough just not being able to throw as much as I’d like to and not getting as many opportunities as I wanted. But I guess you can’t really complain about that.”

(After an inactive season, is your arm in shape?)
“I was kind of worried about that. I threw those four innings within a few days and it felt great. And then the next day it was ready, and it wasn’t sore or anything. I think it’s pretty good. It’s not ready to be a starter and go five-plus, but it’s good enough to just work my way to that point. Plus, I just got here and they’re going to work with me in bullpens. I’ll be conditioning and they’ll get my arm strength back up. So I’ll be ready to throw when they need me.”

(What kind of role do you think you’ll have?)
“Right away it’ll probably be coming out of the bullpen, probably a short relief and then going into long relief. Maybe starter down the road.”

(What are you first impressions of how the Angels operate?)
“It’s kind of funny. I was thinking, we have a lot of rules, a lot of things you can do and can’t do, it’s a lot like playing for (Columbus) coach (Bobby) Howard. He gets you real prepared for the next level. A lot of the things we do here are a lot like that. Real instructional. It’s not really a big, big difference, it’s just a lot more work, because it’s a job now, so it’s a lot more work. You’re at the field for eight hours a day, in the heat practicing and trying to learn new things. It’s going to be a big step. The big thing now is the time difference, just trying to get used to everything for me. Everything else, it’s something I’ve always done. So it’s not new to me.”

June 21, 2010

Craig Stevens, Lee Ziemba named to watch lists

It’s officially less than a month until the SEC media days. And there will be plenty of preseason polls and watch lists coming out in that time, just like today.

Auburn seniors Craig Stevens and Lee Ziemba made a pair of watch lists for national awards, the National Football Writers Association announced.

Stevens, a linebacker, has been named too the Bronko Nagurski watch list. The award is given annually to the nation’s top defensive player. Stevens was Auburn’s co-defensive MVP last year, making 95 tackles (55 solo, 40 assists), eight tackles for loss and 2.5 quarterback sacks. He’s started 26 straight games and has 18 career tackles.

Ziemba made the Outland Trophy list. It’s given annually to to nation’s top lineman on offense or defense. He was a second-team All-SEC selection last year by the coaches and an honorable mention by the Associated Press. He had 67 knockdown blocks, second most on the team. He’s started all 38 games of his Auburn career and would break the Auburn school record if he starts every game in 2010.

While we were gone …

It was a refreshing week of vacation, but the blog is back for the next week and a half. Until, of course, another quick getaway, this time to Minnesota to see the folks. (Such is the life of a sportswriter, needing to cram all allotted vacation hours into amonthlong span).

ANYWAY, some things happened on the beat while I was gone. Let’s rattle through them quickly with some belated thoughts.

  1. It will cost $16 million and be privately funded. I don’t think Auburn will have any trouble getting donors to chip in.
  2. It’ll be 92,000 feet. Sounds big. More importantly, it puts the Tigers on par with all the other SEC schools that have indoor facilities. It’s always nice for a program to be on an equal footing with stuff like that, especially when it comes to impressing recruits.
  3. Auburn is sparing no expense with this new coaching staff in refreshing everything about the program. The athletic complex underwent renovations last year. The practice facility will be next. Makes you wonder when the next face lift for Jordan-Hare will take place?
  • The football team got a commitment from Mobile, Ala., defensive end JaBrian Niles last week, shortly after attending Auburn’s Senior Camp. Niles is a 6-foot-2, 270-pound three-star recruit, according to Rivals. He had offers from Alabama, Florida, Florida State, Ole Miss and Texas Tech. He’s the Tigers’ eighth commitment for 2011 and their second defensive lineman, joining Bear, Del., defensive tackle Angelo Blackson.
  • As expected, Auburn’s baseball stars are starting to sign major league contracts. First baseman Hunter Morris got a $217,800 bonus from the Brewers. Center fielder Trent Mummey got $252,000 from the Orioles. Catcher Ryan Jenkins (Royals) and closer Austin Hubbard (Rays) — both seniors — also signed.
  • That leaves quite a few unsigned players for Auburn. The most interesting to watch will be pitchers Cole Nelson (10th round, Tigers) and Grant Dayton (11th round, Marlins), Brian Fletcher (18th round, Royals) and Kevin Patterson (23rd round, Rays). Nelson and Dayton were both taken high enough that you’d figure they would sign, just to minimize the risk of dropping in the draft next year (and, as seniors, losing any signing leverage they might have). Fletcher and Patterson, both juniors, are in the same boat, although both went lower in this year’s draft than expected. Would that be enough for them to come back to Auburn for their senior year? I wouldn’t bet on it. But if the money’s not right, it could be a possibility. Non-senior college players have until Aug. 16 to sign.
  • I also have to point out a well done story on safety Zac Etheridge by fellow beat writer Andrew Gribble of the Opelika-Auburn News. Etheridge hasn’t put on pads since the scary hit that nearly paralyzed him last fall, but he’s worked on getting his strength back in the weight room. Key date: July 20. That’s when he’ll find out if he’s cleared medically to play his final season at Auburn.
  • And to close things out, here’s an artist’s rendering of what the inside of the indoor practice facility will look like:

June 13, 2010

Time for a little vacation

Now that baseball is over, summer, even if it’s not officially here, is here. And that for a sportswriter means a little down time before the SEC media days starts in — how long is it? — a little over a month. So the blog regrets to inform you that I’ll be on vacation this week.

What are my plans? Well, I don’t want to give away too much, but I’m planning a cross-country expedition to “Walley World” in my brand new Antarctic blue super-sports wagon, complete with a CB radio and optional rally fun pack. I haven’t checked the “Walley World” website lately, but I’m sure it’ll be open.
ANYWAY, short of the conference’s completely refiguring themselves and Auburn joining the Big Twelveten I won’t be posting much, if at all, next week. But I will be back after that, trying to scrap together some summer stories until football is back on everyone’s radar.

June 12, 2010

Auburn baseball hopes this year was just the start

I wrapped up the baseball season in an article for today’s newspaper. Here’s how it starts:

AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn’s baseball season had hardly been over for 15 minutes when head coach John Pawlowski started his post-game press conference by thanking his players.
“They worked so hard this year to come this far,” Pawlowski said, saving answers for the team’s season-ending NCAA regional loss to Clemson for later. “I look at the beginning of the season and where we were. I’m just really proud of this team.”
The Tigers’ postseason run might have ended sooner than they would have liked, but it doesn’t change the giant step forward the program made in Pawlowski’s second year.
Thanks to a strong class of juniors recruited by his predecessor, Tom Slater, Pawlowski led Auburn to 43 wins, the seventh most in school history. The Tigers ended a series of droughts, earning an NCAA berth for the first time since 2005, qualifying for the SEC tournament for the first time since 2003 and winning the SEC West for the first time since 1995.
“It means a lot to have the fans believe in Auburn baseball again,” shortstop Casey McElroy said.

June 11, 2010

Former Russell County standout and Auburn signee Bryce Lane signs with Houston Astros

It didn’t take long for one of Auburn’s signees to go pro. Former Russell County outfielder Bryce Lane, who spent the last two years at Gulf Coast Community College, signed a minor league contract with the Houston Astros, according to the team website.

Lane was a 41st round pick Wednesday in the Major League draft, going 1,233rd overall.

Lane, who signed with Auburn in April, led GCCC in batting (.431), hits (84), runs (79), home runs (26), RBIs (90) and slugging percentage (.981). He also went 2-1 with two saves and a 1.04 ERA in 17 1/3 innings.
Auburn had 11 players and five signees drafted this week.

Just had a chance to talk to Bryce on the phone. Here’s what he had to say:

(Why did you go pro?)
“I just wanted to play. I wanted to start my career off. Make my way to the big leagues. Start it now. And the money was right, right enough for me not to go to school and for me to start it. So we got it done. I signed the day I got drafted.”

(Who’d you talk to during the signing process?)
Matt Heath. He coached at Auburn last year, the hitting coach. And I was his first guy that he drafted. It was his first year in pro ball, being a pro scout, and I was the first guy that he drafted.”

(You went in the 41st round. Higher or lower than you thought?)
“I actually thought I was going to go earlier. I was projected to go 10th through 20th round and they had a bunch of guys that signed for $1,000, a bunch of senior signs that were done with college and didn’t have anything else to do, so they signed the cheaper guys. And then they got to the 41st round and they actually called me in the 20th round and told me they were going to draft me in the next four or five rounds. And then my name slipped because of some senior signs signed for cheaper money than I wanted. And they got to the 41st round and they needed a hitter to go to the New York-Penn League. So they asked if I was still signable and they kept their word with the money they were going to give me in the 20th round. So I actually signed way out of slot. I actually got 15th round money. The money, like I said, wasn’t an issue anyways. I wanted to go play. I’m not going to let money stop my dream.”

(Did having a good season at Gulf Coast make it easier to go pro?)
“I thought I was ready before the season started. I always have confidence in myself and I think I’m going to make it to the big leagues. I mean, I know I am, because I’ve got plenty of confidence in myself and I know I’m going to work hard and achieve it. of course, the type of season I had I think helps a lot. It put my name on the boards and put my name on the map and got it done.”

(Did you talk to Auburn coach John Pawlowski?)
“He sent me a text message saying that he was happy for me. Then I called coach Foxhall back and he was happy for me that I got drafted. He was disappointed that I signed because he wanted me to go there, but they were happy for me for the most part.”

(What’s next for you?)
“Actually I leave tomorrow at 11:45. I fly to Orlando and I have mini-camp for four days and then I leave Wednesday night or Thursday morning and I’ll be staying in Troy, N.Y., for the Tri-City ValleyCats. That’s where I signed my contract to go. It could change, but the chances are very slim. I’ve done some research and stuff. They play every night at 7 o’clock, 5 o’clock on Sundays. They average 4,000 people a game. It’s going to be a treat. Like 75 degrees for the most part, average every game. It’s going to be a treat. It’s going to be fun.”