Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Scheduling struggles

We’re just one day away from the start of fall football practice, but I thought I’d talk a little hoops today.

When I was at the academy Monday, I talked to Jerry Cross in the Air Force sports information office. Cross said new men’s basketball coach Jeff Reynolds and his staff STILL are trying to nail down the final two games of the Falcons’ 2007-08 schedule.

It’s hard to believe that programs wouldn’t want to play an Air Force team that graduated six seniors, four of whom were starters. But that seems to be the case.

It is in some ways a compliment to the program and to how hard it has become to win at Clune Arena. It also underscores the problems Air Force has had for years – teams do not want to play at altitude in an area that is not considered a hotbed for recruiting.

As of right now, the Falcons’ game against Colorado and former coach Jeff Bzdelik looks like the marquee game on the home schedule.

Monday, July 30, 2007

AF Mailbag: Climbing The Mtn.

Hello again,

Just more than 48 hours before the start of fall practice. To pass the time, I’m going to post the first installment of my “AF Mailbag.” Below is an e-mail I received from a fan. My response is below it.

Q: Is there any discussion of getting rid of this horrible TV deal the Mountain West has gotten into? I’m a Comcast subscriber in Washington, D.C., and I recently asked them if there was any way I could get The Mtn. (considering Comcast owns The Mtn.), and they told me no. My point is, while it may be inconvenient to play at 10 a.m. on ESPN, isn’t that better than playing to no audience? Is the Mountain West really big enough to justify a network?

A: As far as I can tell, the conference is full speed ahead behind The Mtn. and has no thoughts, as of right now, of bailing on the network.

Mountain West Conference commissioner Craig Thompson and a bunch of TV executives spoke at the conference media days last week to address the issue. They preached patience, noting that starting a new network — especially the first to cover one conference — takes time. “There’s no blueprint,” Thompson said.

They said they were encouraged by negotiations not just with satellite providers but with some cable providers — Thompson said they were in “near daily” negotiations with such providers.

And they asked, again, for the help of fans — stressing how important it is that they call their service providers and ask for The Mtn.

Here’s what I see as the main issues:

— Comcast is a cable provider, so as a part-owner of The Mtn. it’s essentially on both sides of the negotiating table. How can Comcast — a cable provider, the sworn enemy of satellite — sell the network to satellite providers? And if it’s owned by Comcast, why won’t Comcast put it on basic cable?
— As you pointed out — this is the Mountain West Conference. Does it really have the fan base to support an entire network? Will it ever reach places such as Washington, D.C. if it can’t even get to Fort Worth, Texas, home of the Mountain West Conference’s TCU?

— Will CSTV and Versus — which will carry 23 Mountain West games nationally this season — become “household names?” Lots of people have Versus and don’t even know it.
It boils down to this: Will short-term pain for fans provide long-term gain? Will the current struggles be worth it two, five, 10 years from now?
CSTV has grown enormously in the past few years — Tim Pernetti, the executive vice president for content for CSTV said the network was “a 2 million home launch on satellite. And we were in 2 million homes for a good bulk of the first year that we were on the air before we started to pick up steam. … It’s progressed dramatically to the point that we’re available now in north of 60 million homes and we’re actually in 22 million homes. So that’s four years ago, four years and a little bit of change ago.”
If The Mtn. can experience similar growth, then in the not-too-distant future, it could be the best thing ever to happen to the conference. But if it doesn’t, if 10 years from now the station still isn’t on satellite plans, still isn’t widely offered nationally on cable plans and still isn’t available in the areas where schools are located (such as Colorado Springs) except to those who want to pay for a more expensive cable plan — well, it clearly won’t have been worth it. Having 90 percent of your games televised — or 100 percent, for that matter — means nothing if nobody can watch them.
In the meantime, enjoy the TCU, Navy and Army games on CSTV, the New Mexico game on Versus and the Notre Dame game on NBC. And for the others ... read the Gazette’s coverage!

Friday, July 27, 2007

No ND?

After Air Force’s game at Notre Dame on Nov. 10, don't expect to see the Falcons and Fighting Irish play for at least nine years. And don't hold your breath about watching America's most storied program at the academy any time in the future.

According to Air Force sports information director Troy Garnhart, neither of Air Force’s two remaining open dates through 2016 (one in 2014 and one in 2016) match any of Notre Dame's open dates.

In addition, Garnhart said that during talks last winter about continuing the series, Notre Dame officials stated a desire to play seven to eight home games per year and schedule as many non-home games as possible at neutral sites.

Therefore, Garnhart said it’s unlikely Air Force will play Notre Dame “before the ’17-’18 range,” and that while Air Force would be interested in playing at a neutral site or at Notre Dame, the Fighting Irish “will not be coming to Falcon Stadium again.”

Lingering Thoughts from Vegas

Hello again. Before I get to post number two in the Air Force sports blog, I wanted to say thanks to everyone who took the time to read the first post and thanks to all those who left comments. I think blogs work best when they’re somewhat interactive, so please feel free to send along questions/comments/concerns, and I’ll try to address some from time to time in the blog. You can leave them in the "comments" section of the blog, or send them directly to my e-mail - jake.schaller@gazette.com.

I spent some time earlier this week in Las Vegas – actually, Henderson, just outside Vegas – for the Mountain West Conference football media gatherings. My notebook is filled to capacity with all sorts of stuff about the Falcons and other teams in the conference, so until practice starts, I’ll throw out some things that I thought were interesting.

-TCU is pretty much everyone’s team to beat. The Horned Frogs have nine of 11 starters back on defense, including preseason MWC Defensive Player of the Year Tommy Blake (DL), and an offense that features preseason MWC Offensive Player of the Year Aaron Brown (RB). They enter the season on an eight-game winning streak.

Said Air Force Coach Troy Calhoun: “Just an outstanding squad. … If you’re looking for weaknesses, you’re not going to find any.”

There probably never is a “good” time to play a team like this, but Air Force has the closest thing to it. The Falcons play host to TCU on Sept. 13 – a Thursday night game that comes less than a week after TCU plays at national powerhouse Texas. If the Frogs ever are going to be vulnerable, it will be that night.

-The sleeper pick in the conference this year seems to be Colorado State. Why? It’s in part because the Rams have most of their starters back from last season, but mostly because of the return of RB Kyle Bell. He rushed for 1,288 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2005 but missed all of last year with a knee injury. Without him, Colorado State rushed for just 918 yards COMBINED in 2006. The Rams’ leader? Gartrell Johnson with 305 yards. Yikes.

I’ll check back later today with some additional thoughts on the Falcons.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Air Force blog beginnings

We’re less than one week away from fall practices and the beginning of a new era of Air Force football. So this is as good a time as any to begin a new era of The Gazette’s coverage of the Falcons.

Welcome to the Air Force sports blog. This is the first entry in what I hope will be an informative and fun place for those following the Falcons to check on a daily basis. It will include quick updates from practices and games, notes that didn’t quite make the paper due to space limitations, and observations from fall camp, the press box and the road.

Like this: I just returned from a visit to Jack’s Valley, an area on the north side of the academy grounds where incoming freshmen spend the more physically grueling portion of basic training. The visit will provide much of the material for a story I will be writing for the paper, but I thought I’d pass along some observations about two incoming athletes I met.

One, Phillip Brown – who former men’s basketball coach Jeff Bzdelik called “a very big-time recruit” – most definitely passes the eye test. He’s all of 6-foot-6, has long arms and, judging by the way he went through the obstacle course at Jack’s Valley, is extremely athletic.

Two, Mike Martinovich should challenge for a spot on the football team’s travel roster. Though he is entering the academy directly without going to the prep school (like Brown), he already has the size – 6-4, 237. He too looked impressive on the course.