Thinking out loud … while wondering whatever happened to Burt Ward.
— As Gotham’s Dark Knight, Batman, once said, “Storm’s comin’.” The Big 12 football media days wrapped up this week in Dallas, and the final item on the agenda involved the dreaded “E” word — expansion. The league has all but decided that expanding back to 12 teams (from the present 10) is the way to go — and don’t be surprised if the conference eventually moves to 14 teams.
— Why? The Big 12 seemed relatively happy with the 10-team setup, and with newest partners West Virginia and TCU now cut in on full league shares (the pot o’ gold at the end of the rainbow), no school was eager to cut into their slice of the pie. Until mo’ money, mo’ money, mo’ money came into the picture. In clear color.
— That’s right. Several studies, one notably by CBSSports.com, have indicated mo’ money for all teams by raising membership and conducting a conference football championship game once again, which the league will reintroduce by 2017. And there’s another catch.
— Jimmy Burch of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports the lure of added TV money from the existing Big 12 media partners requiring the current carriers to pay league market value for each additional member is a big reason for potential expansion. The networks have to pay new schools like they pay everyone else. Now, the new schools could agree to partial shares (like TCU and West Virginia did) and work their way into full shares. In the interim, it’s a short-term money grab (there’s that word again) for everyone else.
— Big 12 members made more than $30 million each after disbursing revenue earned for this past year. Those are numbers that make schools like Brigham Young (an independent in football), UConn, Cincinnati, Houston, Memphis, Central Florida and South Florida all shake in their shoes. Presently, these schools earn in the range of $2 million-$4 million. Per year. The difference is palpable.
— The American Athletic Conference — the remnants of the former Big East, based in Providence — is under siege once again. Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby says he hopes a decision on expansion is reached prior to the 2017 football season kickoff. For my money, I’m taking BYU and Houston as the lead horses in this race, with Cincinnati in the lead pack of contenders.
— Now, there are rumors in the collegiate world that the Big 12 might try something radical — like raiding another “Football Five” league. Could Arizona and/or Arizona State be lured from the Pac-12 instead? Would UCLA depart to get out from under USC’s shadow, much like Texas A&M left for the SEC to rid itself of Texas? Could Colorado or Nebraska be convinced to return home from their current addresses? These are the scenarios that would allow the American to stay unscathed in another potential air raid of its programs.
— Timing, as they say, is everything. The Big 12 put expansion back on its agenda following the rather timely announcement from the Atlantic Coast Conference this week that it would, indeed, be launching a TV network of its own by 2019. Staying put at 10 schools, without a league “channel” puts the Big 12 at risk of being raided, or losing status (and money) in the next round of TV contracts. And as another saying goes, stay tuned.
— Is UConn in the mix for the Big 12? Yes, but only if other candidates falter. Best bet for the Huskies: Houston and Cincinnati come in as full members, while UConn and BYU enter as potential football-only partners. Jersey Guy Mark Blaudschun has pitched this idea, and it has some merit if 14 is the number the league ultimately wants to reach. This would leave UConn’s other sports — hoops, anyone? — homeless. Or maybe return-bound for the Big East?
— Memphis is making a big push, waving FedEx advertising dollars and influence at the Big 12. South Florida has all but shot itself in the foot, with the recent news of an academic scandal and the resignation of assistant basketball coach Oliver Antigua (head coach Orlando Antigua’s brother, and a one-time assistant at Seton Hall). And if Central Florida hadn’t gone 0-12 in football last year, the Knights would be a prime contender for a Big 12 entry into the Sunshine State. Remember, pigskin rules the day here, not roundball or anything else.
— Would Friars fans welcome a UConn rivalry returning to the Dunkin’ Donuts Center? How could they not? And the other sports on campus could benefit greatly from a close-by conference rival of national stature. It’s a long shot, but worth considering.
— How about this return? Former Friars basketball star John Linehan is back in Rhode Island. After 13 years playing overseas in France and Estonia — and another year traveling with the Harlem Globetrotters — Linehan has been added as an assistant to Mike Martin’s staff at Brown. The past couple of seasons Linehan has learned the coaching game from Fran Dunphy at Temple as a grad assistant, and this past year at Drexel as an operations assistant.
— Think the Bears might be defensive-minded in the future? Linehan not only was a two-time Big East Defensive Player of the Year for Providence, but also a four-time France Pro-A Defensive Player of the Year, and he won the same award in Estonia’s Pro A league as well. He is still the all-time NCAA career leader in steals, with 385.
— I’ve always loved this little tale: Ask Kobe Bryant who the best defender he ever faced was. He’ll tell you. It’s John Linehan, from Chester, Pennsylvania. That’s all I need to know. Just sayin’.
— The Brown athletics Hall of Fame has announced its new class of inductees, with 16 members and one team set to be honored in October. Included in the induction are former football standouts James Perry (Class of 2000) and Stephen Campbell (2001), basketball star Jason Forte (2005), current Texas Rangers broadcaster and Baseball Hall of Fame/Ford Frick winner Eric Nadel (1972) and the entire 1975-76 men’s hockey team that reached the Frozen Four.
— Did the ACC back out of its basketball challenge event with the Atlantic 10? The two conferences are a part of an officiating alliance that the Big East joined with for next year, and also had agreed to a three-year college basketball showcase to be played as a doubleheader at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn through 2017. Mysteriously, it’s disappeared from the Barclays calendar, and several school sources in the A-10 say the event has been scratched.
— The ACC, you’ll recall, has long wanted to horn in on the Big East’s postseason event at Madison Square Garden and thus far has been turned away. So, the ACC scheduled the Barclays Center for 2017 and 2018, effectively knocking the A-10 out of a contracted event of its own in ’17 and forcing the conference to move its tournament to Pittsburgh next March. A supposed condition of the scheduling conflict was the creation of the in-season doubleheader in Brooklyn. Now what?
— Kevin Dean is the new head coach of the Providence Bruins, and by all accounts seen and heard thus far, it’s a good move for the organization. Dean had been former coach Bruce Cassidy’s assistant for the past five years, and will be charged with grooming some of the B’s top prospects for an eventual move to Boston. This is a natural extension of Cassidy’s move to the NHL bench with Claude Julien, as Bruins GM Don Sweeney looks for continuity from within.
— Dean is a former NHL defenseman (New Jersey, Atlanta, Dallas, Chicago) and UNH product, and coached five years in the New Jersey Devils organization before starting in Providence five years ago.
— Not for nuthin’, but I’ll bet former Providence Journal reporter Paul Kenyon’s new book — “It’s About the People, not Just the Games” — will be a great read. PK covered just about everything from the kids to the pros in his 37 years at the ProJo and always told great stories to his newspaper following. Now he’ll tell his stories in book form. Catch a peek at paulkenyonbook.com.
— Got your sunscreen ready? Bug spray? It’s almost camp time at Gillette Stadium, with Patriots training camp opening for public consumption next Thursday. This year, leading up to both preseason home games will be week-long co-practice sessions with the New Orleans Saints and Chicago Bears. That should put a little bite in the dog days of summer, right?
— Of immediate concern — that is, in addition to some guy named Brady temporarily being usurped as the starter at QB — is the playing condition of RB Dion Lewis, who is recovering from an ACL injury last season. Expect the Patriots to take it slowly with Lewis, which probably will mean little on-field practice or playing time in the preseason.
— Injuries kept New England from another Super Bowl appearance last season as much as anything else did. Depth is the key word for 2016. Health is the other.
— You can expect Jimmy Garoppolo’s reps to stay about the same as TB12’s initially, primarily so the team can show it is “business as usual” in Foxboro. But as the regular season nears, Jimmy G. will be “the man.” Move along, kids, nothing to see here. The circus (for now) is over.
— Speaking of Deflategate — Was I speaking of that? — if you missed Sally Jenkins eviscerate NFL commissioner Roger Goodell this week in the Washington Post, you really missed out.
— Line of the Week I: “A seventh grader’s schoolboy experiment made fools of Goodell and his underlings in the league office.” But if that’s not good enough for you, Ms. Jenkins gotta lotta mo’.
— Line of the Week II: “The real consequences are for Goodell. Deflategate was his defining moment in history, and it firmly established him as a political bungler and a dunce.” Whoa.
— Nate Ebner’s Olympic experience is bound to be memorable. First off, he’s the only active NFL player who will be participating in the Rio Games next month, having been given permission by the Patriots to try out for the U.S. rugby team. Now that he’s made the rugby team, he gets the chance to live a dream and compete for a gold medal — while his NFL team gets the chance to improve its depth chart in the secondary and on special teams.
— Ebner will be on a reserve list until his return, and he won’t count against the Patriots’ roster total until he is activated and ready to play. But will he play? Remember, the Pats re-signed him as a free agent this past offseason. They like him.
— It seems like yesterday that teenage swimmer Elizabeth Beisel was trekking to her big stage and big Olympic moment when she competed in Beijing in 2008. Now the product of Saunderstown, Rhode Island, is literally the Grand Dame of U.S. Swimming, as this week she was named a captain of the U.S. Olympic women’s swim team for Rio. Beisel won a silver medal in the 400 IM and a bronze in the 200 backstroke at the London Games in 2012.
— Love the fact that the Red Sox took out the Giants twice this week, even though it’s not the same San Francisco team Boston might face should they meet in some random October Classic. Rick Porcello continues to amaze at Fenway Park, and if he doesn’t get the ball to lead off this potential Classic, John Farrell should be fired on the spot.
— Drew Pomeranz, however, had a forgettable debut. No matter, the bats bailed him out. We’ll cut him some slack, anything is better than Clay Buchholz.
— What are the biggest Sox questions for the long haul? From these eyes, they could use an arm up front (even with Pomeranz and/or Rodriguez) and at least another arm in the back with Koji Uehara’s sudden but not unexpected demise. Shoot, the guy is 41. Hard to blame anything but age.
— Speaking of age, my buddy “Big E” is recovering nicely from hip replacement surgery. He tells me he’s thankful for the ability to be able to walk without pain and discomfort again. He also tells me his investment in health insurance is finally paying off, and that his supply of brain cells is now at a manageable number. I told him to look at the bright side — in a hostage situation, he’s now more likely to be released first, and that no one will ever expect him to run — anywhere.
— Could it be the Red Sox simply miscalculated on David Price? His pitching problems, while not egregious, certainly leave much to be desired out of an alleged “ace.” But I will say this: If the Sox get into October and he can reverse his career trend of postseason decay, few will remember his regular-season shortcomings.
— Getting to the postseason still will be a tall task. Only one off day in August coming up, and 18 of 30 games on the schedule are on the road — with an extended trip to the West Coast included. It’s enough to derail any steamrolling freight train. Should the Sox stay within shooting distance of the Blue Jays (yes, Toronto) as Labor Day approaches, they’ll have their chance to play Fall Ball.
— We’ll see more stories like this, unfortunately. Former Patriots running back Cedric Cobbs narrowly avoided jail time this week, sentenced instead to three years of probation for a drug-related charge. He told the judge in the Arkansas case he’s undergoing treatment for a brain disease — CTE — which has been tied to repeated brain trauma.
— Cheers to the NBA for taking a stand with Charlotte, North Carolina, and taking away next year’s All-Star Game, due to state support of the law that limits anti-discrimination practices against LGBT citizens. Now if the NCAA would follow suit and remove the state from hosting basketball tournament games, you might actually see some folks in the Tar Heel state smarten up.
— I’ll say this for Gerry Callahan and Kirk Minihane in the mornings on WEEI. Having worked with both of them over the years, they still make me laugh. Their discussion this week on play-by-play announcers having the easiest job “in the world” was definitely laughable. Hey Callahan and Kirk! You have an open invitation to sit in for me, if you can even find the City of Providence, and come broadcast a Friars game. I’m happy to step aside so you can show your listeners just how easy it is, and just how good you really are. If it’s so easy, you’ll be great — right? Stupid is as stupid does.
— And the Melania Trump speech at the Republican Convention in Cleveland this week? Her supposed plagiarism was first discovered by an out-of-work 31-year-old reporter from California, potentially looking to make a name for himself. Uh-huh. Can’t say that I blame Jarrett Hill for what he did, but frankly, at 31 he’s too young to realize that just about every political speech ever given has had excerpts lifted from previous speeches.
— The 50-year anniversary of the “Batman” TV series last week got me to thinking about Adam West’s trusted sidekick, Robin (aka Dick Grayson), who was played by actor Burt Ward. Ward, who was born Bert Gervis Jr., actually performed many of his stunts that were required by the TV producers. Why? Because his costume was so revealing — he wore tights and a thin mask, remember? — there was no way to accurately use a stunt double. So kid, you want the part, you gotta do the dirty work. Ward got the Robin role at age 19 and allegedly saw the inside of a hospital emergency room several times in his acting career. He still appears at comic book conventions and shows and is very involved in animal charity work.
— I heard from dozens this week on Twitter and posting on Facebook, and here’s a sample, from @RowdieJon: John, love your column and love you as Friars voice. But Euro finals did not go to PKs, Portugal won 1-0 in extra time! Jon: I take full responsibility for the wording on that item last week. I watched Portugal and France, and remember thinking what a shame it would be to decide a game of that magnitude on PK’s — like deciding an NBA playoff game with a game of knockout at the free throw line. Watched it. Saw it. Knew it. Wrote it — poorly. Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.
— Interested in having your questions on local Rhode Island sports (and yes, that includes the Patriots, Red Sox, Bruins and Celtics) answered in a somewhat timely fashion? Send ’em to me! It’s your chance to “think out loud,” so send your questions, comments and local stories to firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll share mailbag comments/Facebook posts/tweets right here! Follow me on Twitter, @JRbroadcaster, and on Facebook, www.facebook.com/john.rooke.
— Don’t forget to tune in to Providence’s 103.7 FM every Saturday from 7-9 a.m. for Southern New England Sports Saturday! Call in at 401-737-1287 or text us at 37937.