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COLUMN: Dawg Days (two-a-days) have come again

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By Bob Watkins

Hazy, hot and, you know. Must be time for college football players to report for fall practice. Dawg days.
A look around the landscape — league expansions and contractions. A decade ago it was folly to think of Texas A&M in the SEC, Nebraska in the Big Ten, Pittsburgh in the ACC.
We grind inexorably on toward super conferences, expanded football playoffs and college hoops sold out to television, too. Survival-minded basketball coaches today shrug at what fans want and are more concentrated on personal celebrity, marketing, winning, more money and power.
What future then for vibrant if more modest have not college athletic programs and conferences? “What future for Western Kentucky University?” a reader and Sun Belt Conference critic asked last week.
“Except its natural rivalry with Middle Tennessee, Hilltopper sports have nothing in common with the spread-out Sun Belt,” he said. “What are alternatives?”
Hard economic times call for think-out-of-the-box ideas. I have one. A few years ago Western flirted with moving to the MAC Conference. Brings to mind an economically sensible regional conference idea that could flower into an under-the-super league-radar dynamic and cost-savings attraction for television.
For basketball and/or football and lesser revenue-producer sports, a 10-team conference:
NORTH. Marshall, Dayton, Ohio University, Miami of Ohio and St. Louis.
SOUTH. Middle Tennessee, Memphis, Murray State, Western Kentucky and Eastern Kentucky.
Competitive, rich in geo-rival possibilities, and all within driving distances for fans.
Before “never happen” rolls off your lips, think Big 12: Texas, Kansas Iowa State ... and West Virginia.

SCHOLAR SANITY DEPARTMENT
University of Louisville athletics earned a news cycle news break last week, unveiling its $8 million Academic Center for student-athletes.
“... What we need for our student-athletes to be successful academically,” chirped Director of Athletics Tom Jurich.
Think campus visit. First stop for mom, dad and hot prospect? The academic center.
We can be sure Jurich and coaches will emphasize staying around long enough to use it.

DIS ‘N DATA
• Kobe Bryant said last week Team USA 2012 could beat the 2002 Dream Team.
With Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Charles Barkley and the rest, in their prime, Mike Krzyzewski’s 2012 team would get a good whuppin’ and ask “best two out of three?”
• When you’re asked “what single word” has had the biggest impact on sports the last three years, the answer is — Twitter. How? Sexism, racism, criticism, and most of all, gossip.
This little tell-tale toy has gotten more coaches, athletes and media-types in trouble since the day politicians discovered emails leave a trail.
• UniBrow Meter. Latest on teenager Anthony Davis: At 19, he’s a $16 million man, three seasons guaranteed and getting a hug from the First Lady. Life is good.
• NBA star Kevin Love told USA Today, “... (Davis) listens, works hard and he works on things that are his weaknesses as well, to make them his strengths. He’s gonna be a problem in the NBA.”

CHEERS
1. To the Memphis Grizzlies — signed Iranian center Hamed Haddadi to a contract extension last week...the dollar amount was not disclosed.
2. To University of Louisville — extended women’s basketball coach Jeff Walz’s contract by two years, “financial details were not disclosed.”
COMMENT: Media herd is oblivious to the obvious. A coach or professional player’s pay is none of our business and many of us don’t care anyway.

COMING SOON: 42
A new motion picture on life and times of Jackie Robinson is in production and on its way to you. 42 is set for release mid-April.
Oscar winning screenwriter Brian Helgeland (L.A. Confidential) wrote the script and is directing the film.
Robinson will be played by Chadwick Boseman (The Express) with Christopher Meloni (Law And Order Special Victims Unit) as manager Leo Durocher, Harrison Ford (Star Wars) as Branch Rickey who signed Robinson. And, flinty John C. McGinley plays play-by-play Hall of Famer Red Barber
COMMENT. Much as a social issues film featuring Adolph Rupp would have done, I hope Helgeland and cast make a movie worth our time. In preparation maybe Helgeland took a look at how to blow it on a biopic. That would be Glory Road. A great story made ordinary. A flop.

HAIR STYLIN’
Affirming that we are near the Dawg Days, the Internet’s Bleacher Report issued a college Sickest Hair Styles list recently.
Top 10 includes two Commonwealth-linked players.
• Nerlens Noel rivals Wisconsin’s Ryan Evans for best high top fade, the report says. Cosmetologists are giddy at the prospect of a Wildcats-Badgers square-off in the NCAA tournament.
• Ed Daniel, Murray State forward with the best afro since Magic was a kid, has become a celebrity all its own. His afro has a Twitter account, @Ed_Hair. The creator of the Twitter for Daniel’s hair is Kyser Lough, marketing specialist at Murray-Calloway County Hospital.
Daniel’s reaction? “I really never thought my hair would be this fascinating.”
For him and 563 twitter followers, Daniel is @Ed_Hair.

SIGN OF THE TIMES
Mississippi State basketball signee Craig Sword was arrested last week and charged with misdemeanor possession of a firearm.
Coach Rick Ray told the Clarion Ledger, “I am aware of the situation involving Craig bringing a BB gun into the dorm. Craig did not point it at anyone or toward anyone. Craig realizes the severity of his actions, is extremely remorseful and fully understands that he must be held accountable. There will be disciplinary action carried out once I have all the facts and details.”
A BB gun?
America, I still love this place.
And so it goes.