Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The old college try

College athletics haven't made a great deal of sense in a couple of generations.

It sure looks like the situation is about to get worse before it gets better.

The marriage of athletics and academics has always been a shaky one in our universities. In the olden days there was something quaint about having a college team in a variety of sports, just like what took place in high school.

Then someone, someone figured out that there was money to be made. That led to big stadiums in some cases, national publicity, media attention. Better yet, the players didn't have to be paid, at least legally. The college picked up the costs of their education, period. Well, OK, there always have been problems with boosters and their $50 handshakes, but that was always tough to prevent. But for years and years, it wasn't a bad deal. The students would get an education, the university would essentially hire them to work 20-odd hours a week in return. That wasn't a great trade for the biggest stars, but for 99 percent of the student-athletes it worked out fine.

But the stakes seem to be increasing by the day. College sports seemed to start embracing marketing when Don Canham, he of the 100,000-seat stadium at Michigan, took over in the late Sixties. That's a lot of seats to sell ... so why not try to sell them, week in and week out. Other schools saw the cash involved and wanted to play too. They all got better at the process. Been in a college bookstore lately? Not many books.

And then the television coverage blew up. In the quaint old days, there were about two college football games on every Saturday. Now there are five games on at noon on Saturday, and often one on Tuesday nights. Tuesday night football? Kind of tough not to miss classes for that road trip, which by the way keep getting longer and longer.

Naturally, we all didn't stop to look at the big picture. As in, why are colleges in the athletics business, with nine-figure budgets? How far away is that from the mission statement of a university? At the big schools, we've entered a world where offensive coordinators can earn a million dollars a year. You may have realized that no one ever paid to see an offensive coordinator do anything.

Some of these colleges aren't too good at making the financial numbers work. My newspaper ran a series this week on the University at Buffalo, which would like to become a larger force in athletics. Revenues for UB in 2013 were listed at $28.7 million, while expenses were $28.6 million. That would seem to be close to breaking even, except that $22 million of revenues comes from subsidies from the university. Most schools lose money on athletics overall. Alabama, one of the major exceptions, made $34 million last year - more than UB's entire budget.

Most of the colleges believe that athletics is something like advertising for the institution, attracting students and connecting with alumni. Is it worth it? If the numbers keep adding up like this, someone might ask about that eventually. But that person probably won't be in the athletic department.

Meanwhile, the players have been fighting back a bit. They have seen the enormous revenues generated by their efforts. They've also seen their jerseys with their names sold at the bookstore and on line, and seen their image in video games. So athletes headed to court; some of them filed to form a union at Northwestern; others took part in a class action suit over the video games. The schools cling to the public line that some sort of system embracing the amateur concept is needed, even though amateurism was shown years ago to be a way of keeping money away from those who earned it.

After some frantic realignment, we've gotten down to five major conferences - especially in football. There could be more shifting in the future, as four 16-team conferences would be a neat package for football. But in the meantime, the big conferences already received permission from the NCAA to make up some of their own rules. Think it's tough for the UBs to compete now?

We're clearly headed toward something new. Maybe the big conferences will simply call student-athletes employees at some point, and treat them accordingly. Perhaps those schools will have their own playoff system in football and men's basketball, leaving the others out. (So long for those cute upsets at the start of "March Madness.") Maybe those other schools will go back to the relatively old model, forming a second tier where a college scholarship is enough incentive to attract some "second-level" players.

I'm sure it's going to be an ugly process along the way. We can only hope that the ends, in the form of a better system, justify the means.

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Friday, August 01, 2014

Every December 25

Kevin Chase and I practice for a 1975 performance.
Here's a long story about a friend of mine of more than 40 years who passed away this week. The odd part of the tale is that I generally went exactly one year between visits with her.

Way back in the fall of 1973, I was just starting college. One of my high school classmates sent me a note in December, wondering if I was going to collect a few of my friends and serenade her with Christmas carols back in our hometown of Clarence on Christmas night. When December 25 rolled around and family dinners were finished, most 18-year-olds want to go running into the night with their friends to blow off steam. So I collected a couple of them, and off we went to my classmate Colleen's house - dressed in "gay apparel" in the "Deck the Halls" sense - jackets, ties, hats from fathers' collections, etc.  We rang the door bell and started singing some simple song like "Jingle Bells."

We were prepared to do two or three songs, but Colleen's family quickly invited us in and handed us beer in order to prevent us from singing. It didn't take long for a light bulb to go on. Could this scheme work at other houses?

Indeed it could. We went to a couple of male friends' houses next, and it was a repeat performance - a few off-key notes, and a beverage. Food sometimes was thrown in as well.

It was getting a little late at that point, but we opted to make one last stop at the Cullinan residence. The Cullinans had a house full of children, and Mr. Cullinan was on the school board. Therefore, practically every kid in the school district had some sort of relationship with the family. The parents were both friendly, smart people who always took an interest in other kids' activities. That was a little unusual. I remember when I won a Letter of Commodation for PSAT scores (remember those?), Mrs. Cullinan congratulated me on it when she saw me at some school function. I was quite impressed that she noticed.

I was still a little nervous about a visit to relative strangers. But, sure enough, the formula worked quite well at that location. There was a little beer and a lot of laughter over the hour or so of our visit.

As you'd expect, none of our group forgot what had happened when December of 1974 rolled around. We made a few rounds on Christmas night, and ended the night at the Cullinans. We gave them all updates on our year, and laughed a lot along the way. It was the same story in 1975 and 1976. Our apparel became less formal, but no one noticed.

College eventually ended for our group of "singers," and we moved on with our lives. Still, we knew a good Christmas tradition when we saw one. We still showed up on Christmas Night when we could in some sort of combination, although distances and jobs sometimes got in the way. We dropped the other stops on the tour, but always made a big effort to visit the family homestead on Roxbury Drive. As friend Glenn said, could they even have Christmas without us? It got to the point where someone would just hand us a beer when appeared on the front step. Our singing days apparently were over, but we still turned out.

Our best stunt involved a letter to the newspaper editor from Mr. Cullinan. He was complaining about reactions to the Bhopal chemical disaster in 1984, a horrible industrial accident in the chemical business. Mr. Cullinan, a worker in that industry, wrote about the over-the-top reaction of "wooly-hatted liberals." Naturally, that Christmas we showed up wearing wooly hats. Mr. Cullinan roared.

In fact, there were two things we could count on during such visits. We'd laugh for a couple of hours straight over practically anything, not even recalling most the details later on. And if we brought a guest male visitor along, Mrs. Cullinan would try to match one of her daughters to him. My friend Mark, the Notre Dame graduate, barely escaped without Mrs. C. setting a date.

After a couple of decades, the Cullinans apparently started to wonder if we were coming back on a given year after such a long streak ... but we usually did.  There were all sorts of ups and downs handed out by life to all of us, but this was a nice constant. We celebrated the victories and mourned the losses. I'm not going to say this was the absolute only time of the year that I saw the Cullinans; sometimes we'd run into each other at some function like the Clarence Center Labor Day Fair. The Cullinans again were quick with a laugh and always interested in my activities.

Eventually, the visits wound down, due to moving or work or something else as the logistics turned daunting. Mr. Cullinan passed away some years ago, and Mrs. Cullinan eventually moved into an assisted living program as she lost a few miles per hour on her mental fastball. But I always sent a holiday letter to her, and made sure she got a copy of one of my books when they came out. Son Brendan told me how in her later years, Mrs. Cullinan still got a thrill of seeing my name in the paper. In fact, she loved the newspaper - if only because it reminded her of the date every morning.

When word came this week that Mrs. Cullinan had passed away, my thoughts immediately turned to those many December 25ths. Most warm Christmas memories are associated with Santa Claus and childhoods in some sort of combination. I was lucky - I didn't need a guy in a red suit saying "ho, ho, ho" to make me jolly at Christmas. I had the Cullinans. I'm sure I'll think of those good times on December 25 for the rest of my life.

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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Scanning the horizon

I had a thought about the Buffalo Bills' upcoming season in an odd place - the barber's chair.

Bear with me on this one for a moment.

As I sat in the chair for the monthly visit, it came up in conversation that I had been going to the same barber almost dating back to the time I moved to Buffalo. In other words, I've been having Sandy give me a trim for more than 40 years.

In other words, I made a decision back in 1971, and haven't looked back. That's in spite of the fact I've moved within the region a couple of times. I may have to drive a ways now, but I make an appointment, get it done, usually have lunch with a friend near his establishment in Clarence, and move on. That's one fewer thing I've had to worry about over the years.

Now let's put that in terms of building a football team.

The fewer decisions a football team has to make, the better off it is. No, teams don't pick players and expect them to be starters for 40 years, but 10 would be nice for high draft choices. Let's look back at the Bills' fairly recent history and see how they've done in that regard.

Let's go back to 2000, when the first-round pick was Eric Flowers. It took about two years to figure out he wasn't going to be a factor at defensive end. That meant they had to take Aaron Schobel in the second round the following year. Schobel was one of those good picks, but it meant they couldn't address another need. In the Flowers category was Aaron Maybin, a 2009 first-rounder. I won't go over the players who could have been Bills in that slot, as you'll become ill.

In 2001, the Bills had the fourth pick overall and took Mike Williams, a tackle from Texas. Everyone thought he was a can't-miss player, a future Pro Bowler. Well, he missed. His failure to produce meant the Bills had to bring in many other players to fill that gap, and they spent a lot of money while failing to do so for years. It looks like Cordy Glenn is that guy now, at least.

Running backs can be a little injury-prone, and it's tough to count on someone lasting a decade. Still, the Bills have gone through a few of them. Willis McGahee was a gamble from the start, but did last for quite a while in the NFL. Sadly, only three of those seasons were in Buffalo, as he wore out his welcome. When McGahee was traded, Marshawn Lynch was drafted to replace him. Lynch again may make it through a decade, but not here. He had issues in Buffalo, and the Bills drafted C.J. Spiller to replace him. (Fred Jackson's arrival also helped make Lynch expendable, although Lynch certainly has done well in Seattle.)

Sometimes you get lucky in the draft. In 2008,the Bills picked up Stevie Johnson in the seventh round after whiffing on James Hardy in the second. Similarly, Buffalo took Kyle Williams in the fifth round after trading up to the first round to acquire, gasp, John McCargo.

What's more, free agency certainly adds some odd angles to the equation. The Bills have had some successes in recent years in the draft or in the free-agent market - Andy Levitre, Paul Posluszny, Jairus Byrd, Jason Peters, Donte Whitner. All left for greener pastures. That's going to happen in some cases in an era of free agency, but it's difficult to see 10-year solutions walk away.

That brings us to today. EJ Manuel is the Bills' big hope at quarterback. Buffalo obviously liked him enough to take him in the first round more than a year ago. As a rookie, he didn't show us that he would be a 10-year answer at the position. But, he didn't show us that he couldn't be that 10-year answer. We'll have to wait and see, which makes this a key year for him and the team.

Meanwhile, there obviously is a decision to be make on Marcell Dareus, a first-round pick in 2011. He's obviously a good-sized talent, pardon the pun, making the Pro Bowl last season at nose tackle. But he's been adding personal baggage by the month lately. It's tough to know when a player like that has become more trouble than he's worth ... and he's worth a lot.

Naturally, the more you miss on players, the more losses you have ... which leads to coaching changes, and new football philosophies, and more player changes. The cycle of losing can be painful to watch.

The long-term theory also applies to other sports, although there are differences. It's very difficult to judge 18-year-old hockey players when they become available for the draft. You're asking scouts to say what someone will be like five years into the future. If they could predict the future, they'd be buying lottery tickets. Still, when you miss, it's painful. There's a lot riding on Sabres' top pick Sam Reinhart in the coming years. He has to replace such players as Ryan Miller and Thomas Vanek as the face of the franchise, although at least the Sabres got their 10 yearsor so  out of those two before they were traded just before free agency.

Fans want to win right away, and sometimes that can happen with skill and luck in roster-building. But usually the building blocks for such seasons have come with good, long-term decisions from the past that improve the odds.

Ask my barber about those.

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Friday, July 11, 2014

Building up memories

My former workplace, reduced to rubble.
Is it easy to feel nostalgic over the death of a building?

Of course it is.

I worked at WEBR Radio from 1978 to 1986, and then in 1993 or so. I made a lot of friends there. In other words, I'm probably never going to be able to forget the address of 23 North St. for the rest of my life.

This was back in the day when most of Buffalo's radio stations were in the same neighborhood, in Allentown. WGR/WGRQ and WYSL/WPHD were down Franklin, WKBW was just over on Delaware, and WBLK was around the corner. This is as opposed to today, when all of a city's radio stations are in the same building or two, thanks to giant companies that swallow up outlets with the zest that bears have for salmon. Our building was a classic three-story mansion between Linwood and Main St. While it had been remodeled a few times in certain ways, it must have been quite a place in its day.

Let's start with the main part of the structure during my days there. The first floor consisted of a switchboard area/lobby and the station manager's office at the front. My old friend, Hall of Famer Margaret Russ, was in a room just off the station manager's office, and across the hall from a big area the size of a fancy dining room. When a station (AM or FM) had a fundraising period scheduled, that's where the phones rang. I believe that was where Mike Collins passed along the news around 1993 that virtually everyone was being fired as the station was going to mostly National Public Radio programming with almost no local news. Sigh.

There were wide stairs leading up to the second floor, which contained studios, offices and a music library. That's where WNED-FM was located. The news group and the classical music types didn't mix too much. Longtime program director Peter Goldsmith bravely came into the news area once in a while to talk hockey with the sports guys. You can build up a lot of good will that way.

From there, stairs led up to a third floor. I think it took two years for me to get the courage to go up there. It was the official office furniture graveyard. You've never seen more broken tables, typewriters, etc. in a relatively small space. I never asked why the area wasn't cleaned out - it probably was because no one could figure out how to get the stuff out of there without using the window.

In the back of the main building was a stairway leading downward to the basement, the true mystery area of the place. Dave Kerner and I one day figured it was time to look around. It was pretty empty. The "find" of the tour was a tiny political button for Franklin Roosevelt, running on a minor party line for President. We asked engineer Don Lange when the last time the basement had been used. "Well, I've been here since 1937, and it's never been used in that time," he said. So maybe that button played a small role in FDR's win over Alf Landon in '36.

In the back of the main part of the building was a good-sized room, perhaps the kitchen once upon a time. There were a couple of rooms just off it, converted to office and supply space. The main area had a vending machine, copier and individual mailboxes, the latter of which was too frequently used to announce via memo that someone else - usually a friend - would be departing the station soon for parts near or far.

There was a door in the corner of that room that led to the major addition, which was the home of the AM radio news operation in my day. There was a long hallway on one side, bordering a couple of offices and the rest rooms (where one employee essentially had a nervous breakdown one night). When I first got to WEBR as an intern, Pete Weber handed me a baseball glove and told me to catch some slapshots as a goalie as he fired plastic pucks in the hall. ("So this is big time radio," I thought to myself.) By the way, the hallway also served as a soccer area, and when someone broke an exit sign with a shot, the station manager banned hockey from the hallways. Well, sports weren't his strong point.

On the other side of the hallway came studios, the main newsroom (the spot where Richard Simmons once yelled at me for eating a doughnut), and a "bullpen" for reporters' desk. The bullpen, by the way, was the scene of an arrest. One night someone broke into the front of the building, setting off a silent alarm in the AM control room. The Jazz in the Nighttime DJ was taught to call the police and leave the building, which Eulis Cathey did. When the policemen showed up, they asked the guy in the bullpen who he was. "I'm the burglar," he responded. Thus ended the fastest and most effective investigation in Buffalo police history.

The last big change to the building came when I was there. The garage had contained a variety of items beforehand. I seem to recall some sort of pedal-cart that WEBR had used once upon a time. It (the garage, not the cart) was turned into more studio space and offices. I spent quite a bit of time dubbing news features there. Just outside in the parking lot was a large tower, used at one time to send the signal to the transmitter in the Southtowns.

There were all sorts of characters in the building over the years, but I'll only bring up one of the most obscure: Nelson. Mark Hamrick certainly would remember him. We had some sort of cleaning service take care of the place, and Nelson came in around 6 p.m. to start the nightly process. He looked about 60, was actually over 80, and was the nicest guy you'd ever want to meet. I think Mark went over to his house for Thanksgiving one year. The problem was that Nelson wasn't particularly good at his job. He spent most of his time talking and little of his time cleaning. No one was too concerned, because he was such a good person. His manager showed up one night to look around, and was absolutely horrified by what he saw. We had a new cleaning person soon after that. But I've still got Nelson's voice on a fake broadcast that I created for Jonathan Aiken's goodbye party. (I was good at that stuff - much better than I was on the air. Which is partly why I work for a newspaper now.)

As some have heard, lightning struck the building, and I mean that literally. The construction crew came in and judged the place not worth saving. So demolition began. There had been plans to turn the place into a residential building, but they never got off the ground. On Facebook, there are pictures of an opening where a wall should be. Haven't felt like that over a building's demise since the Aud came down.

I used to drive by 23 North St. once in a great while. The building was sold when WEBR moved into the new public broadcasting headquarters close to the waterfront, and has been vacant for some time. It was rather depressing seeing the old place lately, so I didn't go often. 

But the day after I heard about the demolition, I went back to the grounds. The building was completely down, but the area hadn't been cleared yet. So ... I snapped a picture (see above) and took a brick home with me.

While I was there, I thought of my coworker, Bruce Allen Kolesnick. He passed away earlier this week, and I had attended his memorial ceremony earlier in the day. Bruce hosted a weekend show at WEBR among other duties. He was one of the most good-natured people in the building's history, always having a smile on his face and making the area a better place to work. When Dave Kerner and I needed a third voice for a spoof of a rap song we were doing, we knew Bruce would figure out what we wanted and go at it with enthusiasm and good humor. I believe Bruce and I left WEBR at the exact same time, sharing a goodbye party at Bullfeathers. I didn't see him enough after that, as he was at UB in a separate orbit. My loss.

I thought of some other friends who used to spend 40 hours per week on that piece of land - people like Dawn Hamilton and Mary Brady and Larry Hatzi and Brad Krohn and Steve Coryell and John Gill and Jerry Fedell and Peter Goldsmith, who aren't around any more, and the many others who are.

And then I smiled.

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Friday, July 04, 2014

The full story

You might have seen the advertisement for Heineken on television lately, featuring an Elvis Presley song that wasn't a number one hit.

You haven't seen the whole ad.

It's actually a two-minute story - too long for television, but not too long for YouTube. As you would expect, the 30-second edited version is far less interesting than the one four times as long. Good fun.

See for yourself.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Not baked in Alaska

We are back from 12 days of vacation in Alaska. The blog's title refers to the fact that the temperature never did get above 70 degrees at any point. (Well, it is Alaska, one of nature's refrigerators.) But it didn't rain when we were out and about, and we did have Baked Alaska for dessert along the way.

You probably will be preoccupied with the picture at right, taken from a floatplane in the middle of a lake in Misty Fiords National Monument, one of the most spectacular places I've seen. (Click on the photo to enlarge it.) When you are done gawking, read a few observations about the trip, which consisted of six days on land and six days on-and-off a cruise ship that toured the coast line, while they are fresh in my head:

* Alaska really is the Land of the Midnight Sun, or close to it, in early June. The first sign came while flying into Fairbanks at 10:24 p.m., and having the sun come through the window of the plane at a blinding angle. The sun set there at 12:15 a.m. or so, and rose at 3:45 a.m. (By the way, Alaska is always four hours behind Eastern time, no matter where you are in the state. And it's a big state - two-plus times the size of Texas.) It took us a week to be awake when it was dark out, an interesting sensation.

* This was our first "packaged" tour, in which people with the same itineraries are bunched together for the first part of the week. That was a little odd, since we are used to going on our own timetable while on vacation and there is a certain feeling of being cattle along the way. Clearly, though, it's necessary - and we did meet a lot of nice people along the way. (Along those lines, the most repeated question on a tour like this is "Where are you from?")

The first thing we noticed involved photography. There were lots of camera phones in use to take pictures, which didn't surprise me. But I was caught off-guard by people to brought tablets to shoot the scenery. It looked, um, awkward. Valuable tip: If you are going to take a huge vacation, get a good camera.

A special mention goes to the woman who took a selfie of herself with a statue of a dog. Maam, I would have taken a picture of the two of you had you asked.

* Want to make friends quickly in a group? Some sort of apparel identifying your location works nicely. I work a Syracuse sweatshirt over regular shirts most of the time, and it turned out to be a conversation starter. When I saw a guy with the Packers' hat, I mentioned I was a stockholder. And so it went.

* Need proof that cell phones have taken over? We were on a train between Denali National Park and Anchorage, surrounded by, well, nothing but trees. A woman on our coach somehow got a cell signal, and asked one of her grandchildren all about the day's adventures in a voice that could have been heard in the Lower 48. It was probably worse than hearing about someone else's fantasy football team, without the opportunity to leave the room.

* One of my biggest questions beforehand was whether I'd need hiking boots. I opted to stick to sneakers, since we had no excursions through the wilderness, and that turned out to be a good decision. It's not easy to pack for a two-week trip, and free cubic inches are crucial.

* While tips are automatically taken from your account on the ship, no such system is in place on land. There are frequent reminders of that. On a train, an assistant in our car reminded us upon arrival that the lead guide had done a great job and should be "rewarded." On a plane, a small note was taped over the window that said "Tips are appreciated." Who knew Alaska had that in common with New York City?

* While on the ship, it was easy to tell where the major profit centers for the cruise company were. There are all sorts of invitations for drink specials and casino competitions. The library wasn't nearly as well promoted. OK, that wasn't a surprise. It was still a nice library, though, and we won a pin there for answering questions about Alaska's history one day.

* Speaking of profits, the ship had a relatively large jewelry store right on board. Admittedly, I am clueless on this particular subject, and know little about pricing. Were there bargains to be had? Search me.

Still, that was expected. But every town that had cruise ship ports also featured a stunning amount of jewelry stores in the midst of the usual t-shirt shops and ice cream stands. It was an odd mix in such places as Skagway, which has some town blocks restored to look like the days of the Klondike Gold Rush. I was told that it's a similar story in the Caribbean (the jewelry store, not the Klondike streets).

Meanwhile, every single t-shirt shop in Alaska has $49.95 raincoats marked down to $19.95. Every one. And the same make and model. It was an amazing coincidence.

* It's hard not to overhear conversations when waiting in line at the ship's customer service desk. Such stays are instructive, as the lead the bystander to want to scream out, "READ THE INSTRUCTIONS THAT WERE PLACED IN YOUR ROOM!" Our society obviously needs to read more, and not just when it comes to newspapers or blogs.

* Running is never far from my mind, no matter what the location. There wasn't time to do any in the first week of the trip, as the schedule was packed. But I did hit the treadmill a few times on the ship. It was a new experience to try to run when the foundation is swaying just a bit. All of a sudden, I had to hang on to the railing for support. That happened once in a while on the boat in general. You'd be amazed how tiring it is to constantly take that extra step to get your balance.

* Speaking of running, while in Skagway I saw an advertisement for a marathon that it was coming up for a few days. Therefore, I went into the visitors center and said, "I have an odd request - how do I get a shirt from the upcoming marathon?" I was directed to a store which was handling the logistics of the race, and the staff was thrilled that I was interested - one person told me all about the Girls on the Run program they have there. I bought a year-old marathon shirt for $10, a bargain by any standard.

Then a few days later, it didn't seem like a Saturday without a race. Luckily, the boat sponsored a 5-kilometer walk around the deck to benefit cancer research. About 35 of us walked to a middle deck and did 12 laps around the boat, and were rewarded with cookies and water. (No beer and pizza?) Even got a spiffy shirt out of it.

* This was state number 49 for me, so there's one to go. I'll get it Sooner or later.

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Sunday, June 01, 2014

Here we go again

Every generation or so, a community that is lucky enough to have a National Football League franchise has to face a crushing reality: its team needs a new stadium.

While stadiums seem like they've been around forever at times, they do get old and wear out. That's particularly true in this day and age, when standards for such buildings seem to change by the hour.

Remember when the Cowboys' old stadium, the one with the hole in the roof, was the latest thing? Not many games are taking place there now. NFL owners love their suites for business reasons, the more the merrier. Dallas is playing somewhere else now.

That brings us to the situation in Buffalo and Western New York.

There was talk about how to renovate Ralph Wilson Stadium before the last lease was signed between the parties involved. Once that was settled, in the form of millions of dollars in renovations, the conversation immediately changed. There was no more discussion about how The Ralph was on its way to becoming Lambeau Field II in terms of history and tradition. Suddenly the clock started ticking on a facility that was headed for extinction, and what was needed to replace it.

To get to the point quickly, a new facility is not going to be cheap. It could cost something close to $1 billion, if everything associated with it (roads and other infrastructure, etc.) is added in. And the team is not going to pay for all of it.

The sides are already lining up here. The non-football fans can't understand why a penny of taxpayer money should be spent on a stadium. They don't know why such a huge subsidy for a private company is necessary. They see such areas as area schools and roads starving for financial support, while hundreds of millions may go to a football stadium used just a little more than 10 times a year. This is not an irrational position, especially for those who do something else on fall Sunday afternoons besides watch football.

The football fans know that National Football League franchises add much to the quality of life to their areas. What's more, you can't buy that sort of good publicity on a national baseis. That's Buffalo, linked with New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Miami, etc., on a weekly basis in the fall. And if Western New York doesn't want to cough up the money for a new stadium, well, there are plenty of other cities that will jump on it.

If that weren't enough to throw into the mix, there are a couple of other huge factors floating around on this issue. How about public opinion? Politicians think that supporting a stadium is a winner for them. Yet do you think they are likely to put the issue up for a referendum? Not likely. Any major expenditure has a very good chance of getting voted down if it comes to that. Heck, school budgets in the suburbs sometimes lose, and there's no argument about the value of that particular matter.

Then there's the matter of a new stadium's location. In Western New York's case, such locations as Batavia and Niagara Falls have come up in an effort to regionalize the market. But usually, when a stadium is put in the middle of two markets and the team loses, it's a case of out of sight/out of mind. Richfield, Ohio, home of the Cleveland Cavaliers, is a fine example of that. "Why should I drive an hour to Batavia to see the Bills lose again?"

The usual argument for building a stadium downtown somewhere is that the city can reap the benefits of some economic spin-offs. Supposedly, economic activity grows around it. On the other hand, the area around The Ralph isn't exactly Silicon Valley. The land around First Niagara Center downtown has seen some activity lately (finally!), but some of that is credited to a waterfront location - as Buffalo finally discovers that people like to hang out by the water when the weather is good.

One final thought for consideration - Buffalo actually was lucky with the timing of the old 15-year lease that expired a short time ago. If that lease was set to run out in 2015, the list of potential ownership candidates now might be populated with a bunch of rich guys who would want to buy the team in order to move it somewhere else. Thanks to a nicely written lease, that won't happen for several years.

Western New York got off easy in 1973 with Rich Stadium, which was something of a no-frills facility as these things go. It will be much tougher this time. I find it difficult to believe that a new stadium won't get built eventually, but the process is going to be complicated and perhaps a little ugly along the way.

As Van Miller used to say, fasten your seats. We've got years of a bumpy ride ahead.

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Monday, May 12, 2014

Fan Mail

I don't get much feedback on my newspaper stories from those who follow the Buffalo Bandits. But when I have, it's all been positive. My newspaper certainly goes into more depth than every other news source in town when it comes to the lacrosse team, a decision by the bosses to give the team plenty of space. (The Bandits do average 15,000 per game, after all.)

The fans notice that, and appreciate that. They seem happy that I will answer their questions when asked via social media and email. Here's one tweet that came in on Saturday:

Thanks for caring...no other local news person seems to....ever! Love your work by the way! LETS GO BANDITS!!!

Always nice to hear that, of course. Then came an unexpected email tonight.

     Far be it for me to criticize someone who makes $ 165,000 a year writing about games people play but...
     I searched the Bandits article for the crowd total. Not in the article, the notebook or the game summary.
     Notebook told me about unsung heros, play - off money, Vancouver fan average and since you must be getting paid by the word, stats from Buffalo/Rochester games from as far back as 1996, but no gate total from the game.
     It's a little thing to complain about but I am usually exposed to the four top sportswriters at the News, Jay, Mary Jo, Amy and sometimes Mark. Amy does a great job with the baseball when assigned but I'm sure any of them would be glad to help you with tips. Thanks.

He did sign his name, by the way. I wrote back to say that the attendance of Saturday's game was not on the scoresheet, as it had been for every other game. It was not announced at the game, as it was for every other game. When I checked nll.com for an update at 11:30 p.m. before my story was printed, the attendance was still not included.

Then about 24 hours after the game, I noticed that the attendance had been added to the official online scoresheet. So, I added the number to my online story, and also tweeted out the number for those interested. 

Think the guy will be satisfied? Me neither. But it leaves one obvious question.

How did he find out how much money I make at the newspaper?

(Epilogue - Our pal wrote back, saying he was just "busting my chops." It was a friendly letter. Still, don't you usually do that with someone you've actually met?)

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