BENNER: Highs and lows, from Stanley Cup to College World Series

June 22, 2013

In sports, these are the best of times. And the worst of times.

The best of times because the National Hockey League’s Stanley Cup playoffs have been, as usual, captivating. I’ve found myself awake way past my usual bedtime watching games in which I have had no interest in the outcome, but riveted to the passion and effort on both sides.

The worst of times because the Stanley Cup Finals come as a conclusion to a truncated season, the result of the latest in a series of labor disputes to strike— pun intended—the major professional leagues with the same result each time: more money for athletes, higher prices for fans.

The best of times when a youngster like Texas A&M freshman Johnny Manziel can so abruptly rise to prominence and win the Heisman Trophy.

The worst of times when Manziel tweets that he can’t wait to leave A&M, and that he just wishes everyone had a feel for how difficult his life has become. Hey kid, are you kidding me?

The best of times as America’s Pastime settles into the essence of America’s summer. There are great races and performances everywhere and, yes, the occasional brawl to spice things up.

The worst of times as yet another performance-enhancing-drug scandal hits the sport. This will not end well for baseball, and fans are once again left to ask, just whom can you trust?

The best of times as the NCAA wraps up doing the best of what it does, which is producing exceptional championship experiences for its student-athletes.

The worst of times as the NCAA absorbs another huge media hit as Sports Illustrated excoriates the association’s enforcement division, using a dirtbag University of Miami booster and convicted felon as its star witness.

That said, the best of times when the NCAA tries to enforce the rules its membership has written.

And the worst of times when the NCAA tries to enforce the rules its membership has written, if you get my darned-if-they-do-darned-if-they-don’t drift.

The best of times when the NCAA announces that its academic success measurements among student-athletes have risen once again.

The worst of times when its critics seize upon the misspelling of a graphic element at the College World Series—a dugout banner displayed “Colllege”—to disparage the entire enterprise.

The best of times as IndyCar continues to put forth exciting racing.

The worst of times as not many outside of the hardcore fanatics—and I’m raising my hand here—tune in or buy tickets, and “the nation’s newspaper,” USA Today, shuffles coverage to the agate-type page.

The best of times when the Indiana Boys basketball All-Star team sweeps its Kentucky counterparts again (and on a side note, a well done to the Indy Star’s Kyle Neddenriep, who offered excellent historical background on the series).

The worst of times when not many, especially in Kentucky, seem to care. Only 1,500 fans attended the Kentucky half of the series in Louisville’s Freedom Hall.

The best of times as you watch a professional golfer and outstanding family man/person like Phil Mickelson chase an elusive U.S. Open championship.

The worst of times when, after finishing second for the sixth time in the Open, media routinely describe him as a “choker.”

The best of times when reading SI’s Peter King’s exceptional piece on former New Orleans Saints Steve Gleason and his battle against ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease).

The worst of times when three Atlanta sports talk show hosts use Gleason’s situation as a prop for a tasteless, reprehensible skit. (The hosts were fired the next day.)

The best of times when Indiana University can claim two national coach of the year designations (men’s soccer’s Todd Yeagley and baseball’s Tracy Smith) and at least a top-five national ranking as the best men’s overall sports program in Division I.

The worst of times in that the biggest takeaway from 2012-2013 for most Hoosier fans will be the men’s basketball loss to Syracuse University.

The best of times when I try to give a shout-out to the Indianapolis Indians for dominating the American Association.

The worst of times when team executive Bruce Schumacher emails me to point out that the Indians compete in the International League. Oops. My apologies, Bruce. At least I didn’t encourage fans to take in a game at Bush Stadium.

The best of times when a study reveals that, per capita, the state of Indiana has produced more NBA talent than any other over the years.

And I will leave it on that positive note, to which there is no downside.•


Benner is senior associate commissioner for external affairs for the Horizon League college athletic conference and a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at bbenner@ibj.com. He also has a blog, www.indyinsights.com.

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