Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Small Ball

Neal Mask
Ranked second in the nation as I write this, the University of Kansas basketball team is just one injury away from being a .500 team.  Kansas hasn't been this thin in the frontline since Neal Mask and Randy Canfield constituted what passed for big men.  Oh, that was the 1971-72 team that featured All-American Bud Stallworth scoring 25.3 points per game.

I can't quite get my head around this year's version of Jayhawk basketball.  K.U. hasn't played a seven man rotation in more than 25 years.  Yes, that will change assuming big man Billy Preston isn't damaged goods due to his choice of automobiles and with the addition of Sam Cunliffe at mid-season.  Then there's the promise of Silvio De Sousa who could also join the team at mid-season which would help bolster the roster of big men.  But we have to live with what Kansas is here and now.

It's all about the guards.  It's hard to believe that Kansas can lose an All-American guard in Frank Mason and look even better in the backcourt,  You could see how much Kansas missed Mason's physicality when the Jayhawks played Kentucky.  Mason could drive the lane and draw fouls with artful ease.  This year the Jayhawks will live by the three and die by the three.

Devonte Graham will surely be an All American this year as Mason was the year before.  He looks more comfortable running the point, not forced to defer to anyone this season.  Syl Mykhailiuk is finally showing what seemed so promising when he was a 17-year-old freshman.  Syl is shooting the ball from beyond the arc with authority and doing a decent job of driving the lane.  He still can't play defense to save himself.

Lagerald Vick continues to show amazing progress for such an unheralded recruit.  His length makes him a defensive marvel, he can shoot from the three ball with ease and he's amazingly competent ball handler.  Vick along with transfer Malik Newman makes for a lethal four guard Jayhawk line up.  Newman isn't the best shooter from the outside but I love his mid-range shooting ability.  The four guards of Graham, Mykhailiuk, Vick and Newman can run teams into the ground.

And then there's the surprise of this young season, freshman guard Marcus Garrett.  He can fit into any of the open spots vacated by the other four guards when they catch a breather on the bench.  Amazingly, he may be the best defender of the bunch.  Garrett has shown no ego when it comes to the offensive end, he only takes the shots that are given to him.  The selflessness is amazing.

Inside is where the Jayhawk's are ripe for exploitation.  The massive Udoka Azubuike can dunk and throw up a weak baby hook shot.  He has almost no offensive tools.  While he clogs the paint and can block shots, he doesn't appear to understand the concept of blocking out for rebounds.  Let's put it this way, he's no Greg Ostertag.

Mitch Lightfoot is Azubuike's lone back up for now.  At just 6'8" he reminds me of Dave Magley.  For those of you who are saying Dave who, Magley was a heralded recruit who became a star his senior season on a bad Kansas team in the early 80's.  Magley was a wing player and like Magley,  Lightfoot is better suited out on the floor but he's doing the dirty work that's being asked of him.

Adding transfer Sam Cunliffe at mid-season only means that Kansas will be able to run and run and run.  If DeSousa is allowed to graduate from high school and joins the Jayhawks then K.U. will get some much needed inside beef for what is sure to be a tough conference run.

Something tells me Billy Preston will never play for Kansas.  After the Cliff Alexander episode and with all of the fallout surrounding the Adidas scandal I think Preston could be gone by the end of this semester.  I hope I am wrong, because with Preston, the Jayhawks will be primed for another run to the Sweet 16 and dare I dream, a trip to the Final 4.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

The Sin of Sinclair

The death of local television news is coming.  And the Federal Communications Commission is doing all it can to help it along.  Just as the Internet has gutted local newspapers, the FCC is looking the other way as local stations, which use the public airwaves, are rapidly turned into cookie-cutter, profit centers, unconcerned about the communities they are pledged to serve.

I started working in television news in 1978.  The ownership rules limited groups to holding no more than seven stations.  Then President Reagan came along and those rules were loosened to 12 stations.  The FCC also began to look the other way when it came to the rules which forced television stations to share the various voices that made up its community.  Between the FCC and the surge of consultants and the crapola that too many of them offer, local TV news began a decades long slide.

I worked for a "cheap" group, Taft.  Long gone from the television landscape, Taft managed to run good news operations.  Taft was one of the first companies to take advantage of the looser ownership rules.  Flush with cash and great stations in growth markets, it became a target.  The result was a hostile takeover, a splintered group and new ownership left with a billion dollars in debt.

The bulk of the former Taft stations didn't recover from the 1988 financial bombing until FOX, yes Rupert Murdoch's FOX, purchased the group.  It was about this time that station groups run by accountants were swallowing up stations with abandon.  The FCC had further loosened ownership rules so along came Nexstar and Sinclair, buying TV stations at break neck speed.

By the mid-1990's there were only a handful of ownership groups worth a damn.  The stations owned and operated by the networks, Cox, Belo, Gannett, Hearst, and Meredith enjoyed reputations as good groups to be a journalist.  20 plus years later that list is shrinking.  The O and O's are still held in good regard as is Cox.  Hearst saved itself by buying out its shareholders and going private.

Gannett is now Tegna and has joined the race to the bottom with other big groups such as Nexstar and Sinclair.  Yet as bad as some of these groups are, none can compete in absolute awfulness with Sinclair.  The company holds an ultra-conservative bent that makes FOX look liberal.  It has been gobbling up stations for the past 25 years and wants to add even more stations by adding the Tribune group.

25 years ago television groups were limited to 12 stations.  Sinclair currently owns 173 stations in 80 of America's 210 television markets.  The Tribune deal would add 42 more stations to its massive groups.  The FCC stands ready to approve this deal but a handful of conservative groups are howling about the acquisition as are a murderers row of liberals.

The FCC may require Sinclair to sell off a handful of stations to get this deal through, but it will go through.  When that happens, I will wait for the other shoe to drop.  Sinclair is up to its eyeball in debt.  The company came dangerously close to bankruptcy in 2008 when the economy tanked.  The next hiccup in the economy will be Sinclair's undoing.  The viewers won't be the only ones getting screwed.  The stockholders will too.

Sinclair is marching toward centralized news.  They are shuttering local newsrooms and offering "local" news from other stations located miles and miles away from the communities they are mandated to serve.  Look at the ratings of these awful Sinclair owned stations and they without fail rank at the bottom.  The stations are poorly equipped.  The employees, save for upper management, is poorly compensated.  And yet the FCC looks the other way while Sinclair's competitors look and begin to wonder if this approach to "television news" is the way, the future.  It isn't, it's truly the vast wasteland.

But here's the final rub, my television home for 12 years, WDAF TV, is one of those Tribune stations about to be swallowed up by Sinclair.  I think of my work colleagues who have stayed on Signal Hill more than 10, 20, or 30 plus years.  Their world is about to implode.  The debacle of the Bass Brothers in 1988 will look like the good old days.  For those on the verge of retirement, this will be the final shove.  For those who have spent the better part of 20 years at FOX 4 and looked forward to making it their home for the entirety of their broadcast career, I share your heartache.  

Thursday, November 2, 2017


I am absolutely crushed this morning.  I just found out that Chuck Woodling has died.  His passing is like losing a piece of my childhood.  He was a cornerstone of my love of all things Jayhawk.  Strange to write a man who graduated from the University of Missouri.

Let me start at the beginning.  Chuck started as a byline to me.  My mother took a subscription to the Lawrence Journal-World when we lived in Abilene, Kansas.  By the late 60's I devoured the Journal-World sports section to keep up on all things regarding athletics at the University of Kansas.  There were Bill Mayer's opinion pieces but it was Chuck Woodling's stories about Kansas basketball that really warmed my heart.  It really helped stoke my love of sports and got me to thinking about a career that somehow involved sports.

Chuck made Jayhawk sports stars like John Riggins and Dave Robisch come alive for me.  He was a subtle homer, carrying the banner but if you read between the lines you could see the where the success and failings lie with any given individual or team.  I also enjoyed reading his columns.  They weren't as pointed as Mayer's or full of the down home humor of Topeka Capital-Journal legend Bob Hentzen, but he filled it with facts, facts that might have escaped the reader in the course of a week.

Fast-forward five years later and I'm a freshman at K.U.  My path began to cross Chuck's in the press box at football games.  He was really hard to read.  What at first appeared to be a standoff personality was really just a man who possessed an incredibly dry wit.  It took a few years to figure out that this was who Chuck really was.  So for those first two or three years, I was simply scared of him.

But I began to realize that Chuck shared a deep love of track and field, just as I did.  And our friendship began to form over that mutual love.  A moment that stands out for me was a simple act that happened after the 1977 Big 8 Indoor in Lincoln.  I had traveled to meet with the late Allen Quakenbush, who had left the Journal-World for the Capital-Journal.  Chuck was sitting in the parking lot stranded.  Allen and I helped Chuck out with a jump and got him back on the road.  The next week he gave us a subtle thank you in his weekly column.  It made me realize what a big heart he really had.

As my career progressed and I became a journalist I would always delight in seeing Chuck.  His humor was always there.  I hadn't seen him since 2006 when he was at the start of his retirement and I was trying to build a news operation in Topeka.  I didn't know he had been battling leukemia the last four years.  I simply enjoyed his snarky broadsides on Facebook, usually aimed at the Kansas football program.

I realized today that Chuck was one of the reasons that I became a journalist.  Reading him, listening to Jerry Bailey and Tom Hedrick broadcast Kansas sports, watching Bruce Rice and Len Dawson on television, all made me think about a career in sports journalism.  And then there were men like Rich Bailey who mentored me through college and helped me become a television journalist.  Thanks Chuck, thanks for all those stories.