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September 30, 2010
Again today, a heavy percentage of sports commentary. Here in the Heartland and in the nation generally there is a great deal of interesting sports activity to be commented on, especially in the field of football, collegiate as well as pro, now that Omaha is host to a professional football team. (And please don’t forget my credentials as former sports editor of the Omaha North High School Star newspaper.)
Since I don’t want to lose my credentials (?) as a political commentator, I’ll start with a couple of items involving the political process.
It was entirely predictable when Governor Heineman’s budget office asked state agencies what would be the results if they lost 10% of their state appropriations.
The answers, of course, tended to concentrate on program cuts which conceivably would create the most negative public reaction.
A prime example: The Department of Corrections said it would parole 1,000 inmates in two stages, which would ultimately require 10 more parole officers but eliminate 67 correction officers.
It would seem reasonable to speculate that the Corrections Department might have picked a spending-cut alternative most likely to cause concern among the public.
Another example: The University of Nebraska said cutting 10%, or $50 million, would be the equivalent of eliminating the College of Education at two campuses, the College of Engineering and the College of Nursing. No mention of the possibility of an across-the-board cut that would not close any college but would spread the cost cut across all colleges.
The Department of Education said a 10% cut would reduce state aid to local school districts to about $810 million for each of two budget years, down from $952 million this year.
In the Education Department case, a reduction in state aid to local school districts is inevitable without any “cut 10%” orders from the governor and the Legislature. This is because the governor, the Education Department and the Legislature made the mistake of spending federal “stimulus” aid dollars on current operating expenses.
The result was simply to put off a painful decision for two years, using a temporary federal-dollar stimulus to meet current expenses without any prospect of continuing federal aid or any plan for replacing the federal stimulus dollars when they disappear.
The dilemma facing all governments is a general public desire to cut public expenditures and reduce or surely not increase taxes. This formula for balancing public budgets sounds attractive but, as I see it, is a virtually unattainable goal.
When it comes to cutting government services, pressures to “get rid of all the waste” usually yields to the reality that there is an inherent minimum amount of waste in all government as there is in most other fields of human endeavor. There is the additional reality that one citizen’s idea of a wasteful government program is another citizen’s idea of an essential public service.
The pill that very few Americans are willing to swallow is a combination of spending cuts, even in some popular programs, and an increase in taxes, hopefully modest.
Try running for public office on that platform, making sure you are an honest candidate who spells out the specific programs you would vote to reduce or eliminate and the specific tax increases you would vote to levy.
Would you expect to win on such a campaign platform?
This brings to mind something that the late Senator Russell Long of Louisiana told a luncheon group in Omaha some years ago when the subject was federal taxes. (And isn’t that always a current topic of debate?)
Senator Long said most Americans’ tax philosophy could be summed up in this couplet:
“Don’t tax me, don’t tax thee.
“Tax that fellow behind that tree.”
* * *
The New York Times reported the other day that Democratic candidates across the country “are opening a fierce offensive of negative advertisements against Republicans, using lawsuits, tax filings, reports from the Better Business Bureau and even divorce proceedings to try to discredit their opponents and save their Congressional majority.”
So much for the principled path on which Barack Obama promised to lead the country during his presidency.
The Times story observed that “attack ads” are deployed in almost every election “but these biting ads are coming far earlier than ever before,” according to party strategists.
To their credit, Republican candidates are defending themselves but not “taking the bait by starting their own offensive” of attack ads, The Times said. Republican ads have been based largely if not nearly entirely on records of Democrats on health care, the economic stimulus package and for making Nancy Pelosi, the super-liberal from San Francisco, Speaker of the House. (Republicans might hope there were some way to get Pelosi’s name onto every ballot.)
I think it’s fair to comment that the temptation to use attack ads is much less for the Republicans than for the Democrats, because Republican strategy is to simply defeat the Democrats on the basis of what their record has been in the past two years when they have controlled the White House and the Congress.
* * *
Shifting now to some second-guessing of some second-guessing journalistic sports commentators:
I start from the premise that straight sports reporting—reporting the facts and letting the reader or viewer reach his own conclusions—is a rapidly disappearing way of informing the public as it is in much of the rest of American journalism. We are deep into the age of opinionated (some call it slanted) journalistic performance.
First today an example of sports commentary that was ludicrous but harmless, then three examples of comments which were egregiously unfair to those actively involved in the athletic competition rather than sitting above the conflict in the pampered atmosphere (free lunch anybody?) of the press box.
The ludicrous commentary followed the Nebraska Cornhuskers much-narrower-than-predicted victory over a fired-up South Dakota State University team. One commentator opined that after the way South Dakota State played the Nebraska Cornhuskers last Saturday, the last thing anyone connected with the Huskers wants to consider is the possibility of the University of Nebraska at Omaha Mavericks coming to Memorial Stadium and confronting the Huskers the way the South Dakota State Jackrabbits did.
“It was a big night for us UNO dreamers,” this commentator said, presumably referring to talk among some UNO boosters that the Mavericks should step up to Division I competition in all sports.
This was written the same evening that UNO had drawn 1,647 spectators to Caniglia Field on the UNO campus where the Mavericks raised their season record to 1-3 with a 41-10 victory over Missouri Southern. (The press account of that game praised the Mavericks for holding Missouri Southern’s offense to 312 yards. Not mentioned was the fact that this was four more yards than the Mavericks’ offense could generate.)
I would think that the thought furthest from the mind of the Cornhuskers, their coaches and their fans was UNO becoming a Division I threat 55 miles or so down the road from UNL’s Memorial Stadium.
As to the egregiously unfair comments, let’s start with the lead paragraph in a news story which dealt almost entirely with the storm of criticism which surrounds University of Texas Coach Mack Brown after his Longhorns suffered a humiliating 34-12 home field loss to 16-point underdog UCLA.
The lead paragraph written by an Omaha commentator offered the far-fetched suggestion that perhaps Nebraska Coach Bo Pelini and Texas Coach Mack Brown can compare notes “as they try to move past what were mind-boggling, lackluster performance by their football teams.”
One is tempted to say that the commentator apparently has a mind that is easily boggled when he suggests a comparison between a Husker victory by a smaller point margin than had been predicted and a Texas loss by 22 points after going into the game a 16-point favorite.
Then there was the Sunday story in which the same commentator questioned three calls by officials which, he suggested, may have been wrong and thus unfairly damaging to South Dakota State, possibly depriving the Jackrabbits of an upset victory. (The headline on the Sunday column read: “Hijacked by officials? SDSU doesn’t whine.”)
No, the Jackrabbits didn’t whine but somebody else did on their behalf.
Then there was this assertion from another commentator: “Any team has a chance to effectively run the football against these Blackshirts.”
Any team? A gratuitous insult, it seems to me. The fact is that the Jackrabbits ran for a total of 141 yards, scored three points and failed to put the ball in the end zone in three running plays from the Husker one-yard line.
All of this, of course, is not to suggest that the Huskers looked good Saturday. They most assuredly did not.
But a barrage of caustic comments from commentators sitting high above the battle reminds me of the old description of journalists as comparable to correspondents who watch a battle from the hills and when the battle ends, come down and shoot the wounded.
* * *
Does the director of operations for the newest football team in town, the professional Omaha Nighthawks, speak with forked tongue?
The question can be fairly asked when you compare what Don Igo clearly said in a televised interview on WOWT the other evening and what he told World-Herald columnist Tom Shatel earlier this week.
In that televised interview, Igo definitely said something to the effect—I wasn’t taking notes as to the exact quote—that it could be desirable to have a 50,000-seat stadium built on the old Chili Greens golf course property, now owned by the University of Nebraska. Such a stadium, Igo suggested, could be used by both the professional Nighthawks and by the UNO Mavericks.
Igo told his TV interviewer that for the long haul, the Nighthawks would prefer to play in a stadium built especially for football, not in a stadium built primarily for baseball (like the TD Ameritrade Park).
Igo told Tom Shatel that he never told anyone the Nighthawks had plans to build a stadium. A misleading truth, as I see it. The fact is that he mentioned the potential desirability of a 50,000-seat stadium, although he did not say the Nighthawks had plans to build one.
Igo went on to tell Shatel: “We are playing in TD Ameritrade Park, and that’s it. We can’t wait to play there.”
Shatel’s very appropriate reaction:
“The whole thing is absurd. Yes, the UFL has plans to expand. But can we at least wait until the league proves that it can outlast the new version of ‘Hawaii Five-0’ before we talk about a new stadium?”
Shatel said he is trying to figure out where such a football stadium would be placed on the Chili Greens site, where University of Nebraska Athletic Director Trev Alberts has indicated he would like to build a grand new home for the Mavericks hockey team, complete with skyboxes.
As I see it, Alberts’ talk of an expensive new home for the Mavericks hockey team (an on-campus site where, under present university regulations, beer could not be sold) is not as wildly unrealistic as talk of a 50,000-seat Chili Greens football stadium. But it’s a good many million dollars from reality, even if the question of on-campus beer sales could be resolved to the satisfaction of fans who believe that hockey games and beer are inseparable companions if you want large crowds.
* * *
In contrast to some of the Nebraska media bashing of the Huskers after last Saturday’s game, the nation’s print and broadcast sports reporters/commentators and the nation’s football coaches apparently didn’t find the Huskers’ 17-3 victory over South Dakota State “mind-boggling.”
In the Associated Press poll of sports reporter/commentators, the Huskers remained in sixth place. And in the USA Today poll of coaches, the Huskers moved up from seventh to sixth place. Texas, falling from fourth to sixteenth, made room for some other teams like Nebraska to move up one place in rankings.
By the way, the same commentator who said the Huskers’ 17-3 win over South Dakota State was “mind-boggling,” said later in the week that the Huskers don’t deserve to be ranked as high as sixth nationally.
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