Sunday, March 13, 2011

I feel sick

No, this is not an Asuka Langley Soryu tribute, though I could use a little Evangelion to clear my palate after today's news. This day — Selection Sunday — should be a day to celebrate, but I just can't.

Anyone who knows me or has taken a cursory glance through this blog knows how I feel about Japan. It has its shortcomings and its fair share of puzzling beliefs, but in spite of all that, I love the place. It's hard to put into words what it's like, but it just feels like a place I should be. Odd, I know, but consider the source.

As such, watching everything that's happened there since the massive earthquake that struck near Sendai has been heartbreaking. Being here and only able to watch the scenes of seemingly endless scenes of devastation is frustrating. I'm not a control freak, but I hate feeling so powerless. It's not as though I can ditch the job, fly to Japan, slap on a hazmat suit and lend a hand, so like so many others, all I can do is lend my financial and moral support. If you've happened across this blog, you want room 12A, just along the corridor I would strongly encourage you to do likewise.

Thankfully, despite the ongoing nuclear crisis, the news out of Japan isn't all bad. The LA Times offers up this slightly more light-hearted take on events, and this special report from Reuters pokes a hole in fears that Japan's debt-ridden economy may not recover from the disaster.
Researchers who have studied similar disasters in rich countries reach a reassuring conclusion: human resilience and resourcefulness, allied to an ability to draw down accumulated wealth, enable economies to rebound quickly from what seem at first to be unbearable inflictions - be it the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York or Friday's 8.9-magnitude earthquake, the worst in Japan's history.
Japan itself provides Exhibit No. 1 in foretelling the arc of recovery. A 6.8-magnitude temblor struck the western city of Kobe on January 17, 1995, killing 6,400 people and causing damage estimated at 10 trillion yen, or 2 percent of Japan's gross domestic product.
The importance of Kobe's container port, then the world's sixth-largest, and the city's location between Osaka and western Japan made it more significant for the economy than the more sparsely populated region where the latest quake and tsunami struck. Extensive disruption ensued, yet Japan's industrial production, after falling 2.6 percent in January 1995, rose 2.2 percent that February and another 1.0 percent in March. GDP for the whole of the first quarter of 1995 rose at an annualized rate of 3.4 percent.
It's a bit of a daunting read, but worth your time if you care about this issue. After the break, more esoteric and less pressing news that's still a bummer to me.

My checkered career in higher education includes a few years at the University of Nebraska-Omaha — which my high school classmates dubbed "the University of No Opportunity." Ah, teenage humor. I covered sports for the student newspaper, the UNO Gateway, while I was there and had the chance to get to know most of the coaches. Don Klosterman and the women's soccer crew were a joy to work with, but I also covered volleyball, men's and women's basketball, baseball, softball and wrestling.

Without question, two of the classiest and most approachable coaches I dealt with were Pat Behrns (football) and Mike Denney (wrestling). Not only were both men gracious and willing to talk with a cub reporter, but they were both excellent coaches — so much so in Denney's case that his wrestlers just walked away with their third straight NCAA Division II national championship.

That's partly why I was so gobsmacked when I read the news that part of UNO's plan to move to Division I would involve it dropping football and wrestling. Going Division I was always a topic of discussion when I was there, just as Northern Colorado and North Dakota State began the exodus of North Central Conference schools to the top tier, but dropping programs was never mentioned. It sounds as though all the talking is done, though — the Summit League extended an invitation on Friday, and UNO just completed a press conference to announce the move. Athletic director Trev Alberts (yes, that Trev Alberts) said it didn't make financial sense to take UNO football to I-AA with all the unknowns and shifting conference alignments. Wrestling, I can only assume, also had to make way for Title IX considerations. It certainly wouldn't be because of cost or lack of success.

Like Omaha columnist Tom Shatel, I understand the move, but at the same time I can't help but be saddened by it. I feel sick for the many coaches and 150 players whose lives have suddenly been turned upside down. UNO has pledged to honor its existing scholarships and help those who want to leave find new schools, showing the school's administration is nowhere near as tone-deaf as its predecessors. In football and wrestling's place come men's soccer and golf, so the school has that going for it, which is nice. Football and wrestling helped set UNO athletics apart from Creighton, though, and I just can't shake the feeling that this move leaves UNO looking like Creighton but with icing on top.

The more I learn about college sports — recruiting, AAU, rising salaries, player benefits, the facilities arms race, boosters, conference realignment, etc., etc., ad nauseam — the less palatable the sausage becomes. Good on the NCAA for holding fast to the Corinthian ideals of amateur athletics, but that fight gets more one-sided by the day.

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