Saturday, March 20, 2010

March madness in Duckville

For some reason, the University of Oregon wants to stay in the limelight for all the wrong reasons.

Aside from the heroics in track and field -- world record for Bend's Ashton Eaton and first place for Oregon women -- it's been fairly negative for the Fighting Ducks.

The football program showed it couldn't handle success very well. Off-field problems resulted in a series of suspensions including the starting quarterback and running back.

The basketball team, despite having talent and potential, underperformed yet again and the best coach in school history had to be let go.

Now, athletic director and former all-time football winning coach Mike Bellotti jumps ship for an announcer's job at ESPN. They say he missed football too much and directing too little.

He should be a natural in his new job. He's always been cool, calm and collected. Also, he gives Oregon a big boost in national profile at a prime position on the premier sports network.

It does, though, leave basketball with a question mark. Outsiders claim it's all up to Phil Knight and Nike to decide this anyway. That may be true to some extent. But, I imagine the school has a good idea already who the next coach will be because the news $200 million basketball arena is going to need a big-time coach.

Also, the next athletic director will likely be working with the new Pac-10 commissioner to forge the next step forward for the conference. Whoever it is, he or she will have to be media savvy. It's all about TV exposure because that's where the money is.

As for football, all is in good hands with Chip Kelly. Despite all the off-field problems this winter, he is the real deal. Yes, he won't have the steady hand of Bellotti at his back, but he'll be able to call the program all his own now. He'll do great.

And, I predict a trip to the National Championship game next season. Why not? Bellotti bailed coaching before the Ducks made it to the Rose Bowl and now he leaves altogether before the Ducks' greatest achievement. Kelly's goal along has been a national championship. With all the problems the team is experiencing right now, no one expects great things from the Ducks. And, that suits Nike U just fine.

Change is always nerve-wracking as all these changes will be. In spite of perennially cloudy skies in Eugene, the future looks bright.

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