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This week we are again making my column available Friday instead of each Saturday as we had originally planned.
A number of you have told me that you don’t look forward to reading the column on your computer screen. That’s not necessary if you have a printer. Print out the column and take it with you to the breakfast table or wherever else you choose to read printed material. (You can also call up past columns in case you missed them.)
And, if you haven’t already done so, let us know your e-mail address so that we can send you a Friday reminder that a new column is available.
November 16, 2007
Regular readers of my column may recall that I said one of the advantages of moving to electronic delivery is the fact that I can offer more comments and an occasional picture because of no space limitations. Today an example of what I was talking about.
I had dictated a shorter column, but then the Nebraska Cornhuskers thrashed the favored Kansas State Wildcats, 73-31, last Saturday. I couldn’t resist the temptation to comment on the startled reaction of two self-anointed “expert” sports commentators - - two among the most outspoken in kneeing and gouging Husker Coach Bill Callahan and his staff.
Driving home from Memorial Stadium Saturday afternoon, I listened for over an hour to one of the duo - - a radio talk show host who said that he wouldn’t have to join in a “lynching” of Callahan because “I’m going to get what I want in two weeks” that is, the firing of Callahan. A caller had accused the talk show host of sounding like “you want a lynching. You’re ballistic.”
To my surprise and, I must add, to my considerable amusement, I found that a common note in the talk show host’s rantings and the in-print observations of the second sports commentator was criticism of Callahan’s decision not to call for a punt when the Huskers, leading 52-17, had the ball on the Kansas State 46 with fourth down and 20 yards to go for a first down.
The print commentator mentioned the fourth-and-20 call twice. He said Callahan and the team were enjoying “giving someone else the business for a change” but Callahan “pushed it over the top” when he went for a first down on fourth-and-20.
The talk show host must have criticized the fourth-and-20 call at least six times, saying it was a “classless” way to run up the score - - an “ego trip” for Callahan. “With fourth-and-20 in mid-field, you punt,” said the coach/commentator. He also said that on another fourth-and-20 situation within the 20, the Huskers should have settled for a field goal rather than go for a touchdown.
Totally overlooked in the remarks of either of the coach/commentators were two basic facts: Another coach/commentator wrote that the fourth-and-20 call on the Kansas State 46 was “a ridiculous play that should never work out but does.” That comment recognizes that the odds were heavily against a Husker first down and that Callahan was more properly subject to criticism for taking such a long shot gamble on a play that was much less likely to wind up with a first down than in a turnover to Kansas State near mid-field. (Fortunately for the Huskers, quarterback Joe Ganz beat the long odds and scrambled for a first down.)
Also overlooked by the commentators was the fact that Kansas State Coach Ron Prince had no criticism of Callahan’s offensive calls. Prince said of Callahan’s coaching performance: “His job is to coach his team as hard as he can, and my job is to try to stop him and coach mine.”
Neither coach/commentator acknowledged that he had expected Kansas State to win and end any chance for a six-six season and a bowl bid for the Huskers. Both continued to suggest that Tom Osborne should fire Callahan no matter what happens at Boulder, Colorado November 23. The coach/print commentator suggested if the Huskers finish six-six and are invited to a bowl game, Callahan could still be fired and offensive coordinator Shawn Watson be appointed bowl game coach.
Perhaps the Huskers will lose at Boulder Friday, November 23. Colorado will be playing for high stakes like the Huskers - - a six-six season and a bowl bid.
But I wonder how Nebraska-based sports commentators, after a morale-lifting blowout victory which opens the door to the possibility of a six-six season and a bowl appearance, can justify offering comments that can certainly be interpreted as raising the question of whether they would be less than dismayed by a Husker loss at Boulder, anticipating that this would make certain that they and crybaby Husker fans would win an objective larger than another Husker victory; i.e., their obsessive desire to see that Callahan be sacked no matter what.
* * *
Let’s try to cut through the emotion and consider the basic starting point of any decision in regard to Omaha baseball stadiums and the College World Series. The basic starting point will be:
· The National Collegiate Athletic Association owns the College World Series.
If the NCAA insists - - as diplomatically worded as their insistence may be - - that the only way to keep the College World Series in Omaha for an extended period - - up to 20 years has been mentioned - - is to provide a downtown ballpark which meets the NCAA’s requirements, Omaha can either find a site and raise the money to build a downtown ballpark or lose the College World Series. It’s that simple.
Let’s not forget that the CWS is a civic asset which, like Warren Buffett and his annual Berkshire Hathaway stockholders’ meeting, have given our city remarkable favorable national and even international attention.
The NCAA has extended the deadline for Omaha to come up with a proposal for continuation of the CWS in Omaha. An outstanding eight-member committee has taken on the assignment of developing a number of options - - among them renovation or replacement of Rosenblatt or a new ballpark downtown at one of several possible locations.
I’m sure the “Save the Rosenblatt” viewpoint will be given fair consideration, including the reality that a good deal of money - - perhaps as much or more than building downtown - - would be required to keep the CWS on the historic Rosenblatt site on South 13th Street.
I wish a number of the parties involved - - including City Council members and citizens who don’t care how we keep the College World Series as long as it doesn’t cost them anything - - would face up to the fact that CWS is a civic asset which justifies the expenditure of public funds on its retention.
Mayor Fahey’s proposed 2% “entertainment tax” has met with much opposition. But some way should be found - - must be found - - to get the majority of Omahans to bear part of the cost of keeping in Omaha a civic asset which, in my opinion, benefits the great majority of Omahans, whether they attend CWS games or not.
One City Council member has expressed a peculiar view of financing of the improvements needed to retain the CWS. He argues that those people who would pay the entertainment tax are not necessarily the same people who attend CWS games. By that reasoning, a citizen would not be asked to pay a tax unless he can be shown that the revenue would be of direct beneficial interest to him personally.
A few people have said that the estimated $40 million to be sought from “the private sector” - - which means Omaha corporations, wealthy individuals and foundations - - isn’t of enough help in meeting a new stadium cost which would be well over $100 million. One “Save the Rosenblatt” advocate has suggested that all the money come from private donations.
Does anyone at City Hall have the political guts to suggest that the public’s proper share of the costs could be met by a very slight increase in the city’s property tax levy?
There, I’ve said it, and I’m glad. I actually publicly proposed that the City Council consider a slight increase in taxes to serve a public purpose.
I’m not suggesting that the private sector - - including individuals and corporations who pay a lot of taxes and would pay slightly more under my suggestion - - would be trying to carry a smaller load than the $40 million currently estimated.
It’s just that I’m weary of seeing City Hall turn so quickly to a “pass the tin cup” method of meeting public needs. It seems to have become an almost automatic reaction: “Let’s start with how much we can get from the private sector.”
Back to the basic point: If we want to keep the College World Series in Omaha, we have to be ready to propose an option which is sufficiently attractive to the NCAA. And we have to pay for it.
* * *
Governor Dave Heineman was squarely on target, it seems to me, when he suggested that Nebraskans interested in new highway construction show some patience before concluding that federal funds for state highway work will drop drastically in 2009. There have been predictions that the Federal Highway Trust Fund will face a $4 billion deficit by 2009.
It is estimated that this could translate into a $70 million to $80 million reduction in Nebraska’s $341 million annual road construction budget.
This possibility led to expressions of serious concern from some Nebraskans. Legislative Speaker Mike Flood of Norfolk, for example, said he considers road funding to be “the number one” issue facing the Legislature in 2008. A lobbyist for the road construction industry said Nebraska faces “a crisis situation,” with prospects for lost construction jobs and construction companies possibly going out of business.
To build a 2008 legislative strategy on what might happen in 2009 is certainly of questionable merit, it seems to me. And even if the federal road construction aid does drop significantly, I question whether highway funding should ever be “the number one issue” facing the Nebraska legislature.
There are concerns more closely affecting people - - concerns like adequate funding for the public schools and for the state welfare system including the care of foster children - - that surely are more important than continued expansion of Nebraska’s expressway system - - a program which Senator Flood said his district needs.
Senator Flood said he is willing to consider using general funds for road construction. This seems to me to raise three possibilities: (1) there is a surplus in the general fund or (2) money would be diverted from meeting other needs to finance highway construction including an expressway system or (3) Senator Flood and other legislators would be willing to increase state sales and/or income taxes, which are the principal source of the state’s general revenues.
Governor Heineman showed sound judgment when he said: “Everybody’s jumping the gun a little bit and assuming federal funding will be significantly less. But in my experience with the federal government and federal-elected officials, they’re not going to want to reduce funding for road projects in all 50 states.”
* * *
So Omahan Chad Carr, with a staff of five, now considers himself a ticket broker rather than a ticket scalper, as indicated in a recent World-Herald story.
I’m reminded of the Shakespearian line that “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
And ticket scalping by any other name smells as bad.
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