It has been a disappointing baseball season to say the least in Los Angeles. On opening day, a fan leaving Dodger Stadium was brutally beaten, and still remains in a coma.

For the baseball season to begin in that fashion, set the stage for a brutal 2011 season. Unfortunately, that was not the only setback the Dodgers organization encountered.

Dodger Owner Frank McCourt began seeing red, instead of true blue. The financial situation of one of the most historic baseball clubs of all-time couldn’t pay their bills.

It would be easy to understand an organizations shortcomings in Florida or Kansas City, where more seats are unoccupied than not. But, this is L.A., we support our team, through and through.

All the optimism that existed within Chavez Ravine instantly evaporated into L.A.’s smog. The stadium soon looked like Sun Life Stadium in Miami. Home run balls were hit to the outfield pavilion. Unfortunately, no one was there to catch it.

There is little to be happy about with the Dodgers. Although the roster is youthful and talented, the team is still in the cellar of the National League West.

Then again, it can’t be easy to suit up and play for a no-good owner. The players don’t even have the security of a paycheck, since their next one might turn to rubber.

The one constant about the Dodgers, through thick and thin, has been Vin Scully, the famous play-by-play announcer.

Amid a dark rain cloud in sunny Southern California, each broadcast Scully is a part of; he sheds light on gloomy franchise.

However, even Scully can’t turn this debacle into dessert with his vocal illustrations.

Published on July 30, 2011

“Kris Francis On Sports”

As one of the few football fans that actually attended a professional football game in Los Angeles, the talk of a professional team is enticing. Yet, no physical stadium is present for a team to call home.

Getting excited for a possibility is unwise. Honestly, how long has there been “discussion” and rumors about an organization leaving their current city for the idea of playing under Hollywood’s bright lights?

Let’s just say, none of us have enough fingers and toes to count. Nonetheless, the fans in Southern California are starving for professional football.

USC has been hit with sanctions, as their home attendance has scaled back. Across town, UCLA is lucky to draw 50,000 fans against any of their opponents, not nicknamed the Trojans.

Mediocre to slightly interesting college football is nice, but Los Angeles was built off of entertainment. Professional football in Los Angeles would nourish the empty stomachs of millions.

Heck, fans in Los Angeles would even take the Rams back if they came knocking again. Obviously, having the return of the Raiders would be ideal. However, the only one who knows what Raiders owner Al Davis will do is the man himself.

Still, the obstacle in place is an actual, physical structure called a stadium.

Due to the downward spiraling economy in the state of California, the professional football stadiums, and college for that matter, are outdated, rundown, and unsuitable for NFL standards.

All three professional football teams in the “Golden State” are in desperate need of either major renovations or an entirely new complex. Luckily, the San Francisco 49ers will be travelling a short drive down Interstate-5 to Santa Clara in 2012.

That leaves the options wide open for the aforementioned Raiders, who are continually looking to escape Oakland Coliseum, and the San Diego Chargers currently occupying Qualcomm Stadium.

Fans in L.A. would welcome either club to town in a heartbeat. Many fans in Southern California are already Raider or Charger fans. The transition would be seamless.

Although, fans in San Diego might be just a little bitter about losing their beloved “Bolts”.

The worst scenario would include the Jacksonville Jaguars picking up and leaving Florida, or looking up and seeing the Vikings purple uniforms. But even then, fans wouldn’t mind. Remember, the natives need feeding.

City Council in Los Angeles need to find a way to build the newest establishment in the country’s best restaurant chain: the NFL.

Build it, and they will come.

Published on July 25, 2011

“Kris Francis On Sports”

The National Football League has been in “lockout” mode since March 11th at 11:59pm. Once the collective bargaining agreement expired, and a new agreement was not reached, it has been “doomsday” for fans, players and owners alike.

And, that will be the last mention of the CBA (collective bargaining agreement) from me. As a fan, it is easy to understand that none of us care about the deal. Collectively, each team’s fan base wants football.

The details are details. In fact, the details are in the neighborhood of $9 Billion. So, it is a little bit more than crossing the Ts and dotting the Is.

Since the lockout began, players have been unable to receive the proper treatment to rehabilitate serious injuries, communicate with new staff members, and even enter their respective team’s facility.

We all love the game. No one wants to see a daily update of no football, minimal communication and disgruntled millionaires banter.

At some point an agreement will be made. That day will be a mini-holiday for all the fans that have been holding their breath since March 11th. The gamblers will soon have their bet back. The tailgate savvy fan will once again roll out the Kingsford charcoal and ice chest filled with adult beverages.

More importantly, the players will be able to play the game they love, once again. But until that day, don’t mention the words “collective bargaining agreement,” please!

Published on July 10, 2011

“Kris Francis On Sports”

Thumbing through the Arizona Republic this past week, the headline “ASU Coaches Named Staff of the Year” sparked some interest with many fans. Although, upon further review, the Sun Devil softball coaches were being honored following Arizona State’s 60-6 season, while securing the softball program’s second national championship in four seasons.

It would have been silly to think Dennis Erickson and his staff would receive an honor, especially after a 6-6 season. But many awards issued during the summer are simply talking points and hold no merit.

The football staff did not receive an award this past week. Instead, the entire Sun Devils athletic department was blindsided by a former player.

Former football standout and 2010 leading receiver Kerry Taylor volunteered his opinion on the state of Sun Devil football and the experiences during his four-year stint in Tempe.

Taylor gave a preview to Sunday’s AZ3 TV interview via a June 26 tweet: “I want ASU to win Pac-12 championships, all us ASU fans do. But in order for that to happen we need a new Head Coach. That’s all I’m saying.”

Granted, Kerry Taylor was recruited by former Sun Devil coach Dirk Koetter, but maintained his verbal commitment to the ASU football program. Although Koetter was not the coach, Taylor saw action in all 13 of ASU’s games en route to a Pac-10 championship under then-first-year head coach Dennis Erickson.

Throughout Taylor’s entire career in the maroon and gold, he was neither the scapegoat nor the star. Taylor is certainly accustomed to stardom, coming from a pedigree of NFL greatness. Kerry’s father, Keith Taylor, and uncle, John Taylor, both had extensive careers on the ultimate level of the game.

To date, Kerry Taylor is still hoping for a shot at the NFL, or an auxiliary football forum. After totaling 111 catches for 1,416 yards and seven touchdowns, his statistics did not overwhelm scouts, and his game film followed suit.

After all, Taylor never separated himself from the rest of the pack in college, why would scouts believe he would blossom at the highest level of competition?

Before Taylor’s senior season in Tempe, he only had two games in which he hauled in five or more passes. And prior to his “contract year,” Taylor never eclipsed the century mark for receiving yards.

At one point during the TV interview, Taylor made light of Erickson’s abilities to form a staff, mentioning that the coach is “helping out [Erickson’s] buddies.”

“We all know this is Erickson’s last stint in coaching. He is just trying to get some of his buddies one last paycheck,” he said.

Maybe Taylor does not understand how staff chemistry impacts the job, success and planning of an entire football program. Sure, Erickson hired “buddies,” but for the most part, these were the same assistants that have toed the line with Erickson since his coaching days in the Northwest and at the University of Miami.

Certainly, Taylor is aware of Erickson’s accolades and historical success, Erickson sports one of his two championship rings with regularity, both in the football facility and on the field.

One of the biggest blunders of Erickson’s tenure might have been the drawn out allegiance to former offensive coordinator and quarterback coach, Rich Olson. Fans that believed 2007’s success would breed new life into the Sun Devil program were sorely mistaken.

The system under Olson never meshed with the offensive roster, including Taylor.

Olson’s vanilla offense, lack of excitement inside the stadium, and lack of success on the scoreboard ultimately ended the Olson saga in Tempe. Olson was not the only faulty piece in ASU’s “Championship Puzzle.” ASU was also in the midst of juggling quarterbacks to replace Rudy Carpenter, who started 43 games as a Sun Devil.

Sure, Olson and Erickson had to find a suitable replacement at the most pivotal position, but if there is no viable solution, where do you turn?

Rightfully so, Erickson rebuilt the defense with astute and energetic defensive coordinator Craig Bray. Yes, Bray is a longtime “buddy” of Erickson, but he is a master of his craft.  Taylor failed to mention Craig Bray’s son, current linebackers coach, Trent Bray, as hires that flaunt Erickson’s nepotism.

Then again, Trent Bray was a ferocious linebacker at Oregon State in his own right. Bray’s honors in Corvallis extended much like a grocery list, rather than a player’s bio.

In Kerry Taylor’s case, Erickson had a former “buddy” coach the Chandler Hamilton standout for all four seasons.

Eric Yarber, former ASU wide receivers coach, was discovered at Los Angeles Valley College by Dennis Erickson in 1983. The former Crenshaw High School star signed his national letter of intent to play for the Idaho Vandals and Erickson later that year.

Yarber then had a brief stint in the NFL with the Washington Redskins as a return specialist. Yes, Yarber was a friend, but his coaching credentials were second to none.

If Taylor objects to that, he can call the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and ask how their new wide receivers coach is holding up.

Erickson’s son, Bryce, even received some backlash from Taylor. Taylor specifically mentioned both Bryce Erickson and Jamie Christian, Erickson’s son-in-law, while exploring perceived nepotism by Erickson.

Bryce had coaching experience before he arrived in Tempe, as did Jamie Christian. Both coaches have even flourished in their roles. Bryce has upgraded recruiting locally, as well as mentoring two running backs to rush for over 500 yards each.

Christian has spearheaded the special teams game, which had a couple hick-ups, but more highlight reel touchdown plays than gaffes. Take a look at any number of the long-distance kick returns Christian’s unit returned last fall.

Taylor obviously feels slighted, in some shape or fashion. At this moment, Taylor is not in the NFL. Any athlete who signs a letter of intent for a football program has aspirations of making it to the league. Taylor did not reach that goal, yet.

Taylor is doing his best to steer his brother into the best possible path to reach that same goal, but it will not be at Arizona State.

The entire interview was not supposed to be about Kerry or ASU, but his younger brother’s recruitment. Kerry’s younger brother Kendyl, pledged to play for the University of Washington under Steve Sarkisian, not the local Sun Devils.

Erickson extended an offer to Kendyl Taylor, but the recruiting for Taylor was done in-house.

By the end of Kerry Taylor’s rant, it was clear his Sun Devil career was a sham, at least at this very moment.

Last November, Taylor reflected on his ASU career prior to his final game, but no signs of disgust or frustration lingered. “I don’t regret anything that happened at ASU,” Taylor told Devils Digest. “Everything happens for a reason, so I’m glad I got to play even though a couple of the years haven’t been as good as I would have liked. I’m still glad that it happened.”

Erickson and Taylor both reminisced about potentially redshirting the wide receiver in 2007.

“He is really developed,” Erickson said. “You look at him now and you almost regret not redshirting him but at that time we didn’t have very much depth and one thing about Kerry is that he was a very polished receiver coming out of high school.”

“Looking back at it now (Nov. 2010), redshirting would have been great but I’m still glad that I didn’t,” Taylor said. “I still got the opportunity to play in every game my freshman year, learned a lot and had a great experience. I think it was a good stepping stone into my sophomore year.”

And indeed it was a good move at the time, for both Taylor and the program. Now, the feelings have changed quite a bit.

Now, Taylor believes that ASU will not win a Pac-12 championship with Erickson as the head coach. Whether it is because of the “buddy system” taking over the football staff, unsupported mentions of recruiting letdowns on the local front, or the treatment of players while in the football program, Taylor has voiced his displeasure.

It is easy to see the frustration through three-straight non-winning seasons, especially, now, that Erickson’s 2011 squad is on the brink of competing for the inaugural Pac-12 championship, without Taylor.

This all could be a case of sour grapes, or as the season unfolds, perhaps Taylor’s bashing will hold merit?

Only time will tell.

Published July 6, 2011

“Kris Francis On Sports”

The Oregon Ducks are reigning Pac-10 Champions, and favorites to take home the inaugural Pac-12 Conference crown by many media publications. Off the field, their offseason has been more reminiscent of a Looney Tunes cartoon, than a finely tuned football program.

Recruiting infractions have been alleged through multiple reports since 2011 commenced. Now, the water for Duck Soup begins to boil as more reports and stories break, potentially tarnishing Oregon’s success under coach Chip Kelly.

Willie Lyles, the owner of the “bogus Complete Scouting Services,” according to Jason Whitlock of Fox Sports, has thrown Oregon’s football program under the bus.

Before Lyles drove over the Ducks, he accepted a $25,000 payment Oregon authorized in February of 2010.

Kelly, LaMichael James—a favorite to take home this year’s Heisman Trophy—and a redshirt freshman yet to take a snap in Eugene, Lache Seastrunk, are the main points of emphasis for the NCAA, aside from Lyles.

Yahoo Sports later revealed the allegations in a March 3rd report, and things have only gotten worse.

John Canzano, Ducks’ beat writer for The Oregonian, summed up Oregon’s issues on JT The Brick’s Fox Sports radio show.

“The documents are all there,” Canzano said. “The phone records, the emails, the hand-written letters from Kelly to Lyles.”

Sounds awfully like a recent NCAA investigation in Columbus, OH. Once the writing was clearly bolded on the walls, fan favorite and Buckeye legend—now for more reasons than one—Jim Tressel resigned this past Memorial Day.

It is unclear how soon, or if, the NCAA imposes sanctions, scholarship reductions or even loss of bowl eligibility for the Ducks, as in the case with the USC Trojans.

Oregon has been perceived to be a leg up on USC since Pete Carroll bolted for the Seattle Seahawks job, and then the subsequent hammer the NCAA infractions committee dropped on Troy.

As Canzano said, “This is problematic for Oregon because they wrote Lyles a $25,000 check, then made [Lyles] look like a scouting service, going as far as including paperwork with a now deceased player.”

None of that sounds good for the “Quack Attack.”

Coaches across the conference will sure use these allegations, and potential recruiting violations as fuel on the recruiting trail.

Oregon’s focus will somehow have to remain fully entrenched in remaining a BCS National Championship contender. How Chip Kelly manages that, is still yet to be seen.

If these distractions are clear as day on Saturday’s, then the Pac-12 will be in for one intense fight for the title in its inception season.

With Kelly and the Ducks under fire, the door is open for Stanford and their own Heisman Trophy candidate, Andrew Luck, to wear the crown as the conference’s elite. Under first-year head coach David Shaw, the Cardinal would be everyone’s next squad in line to represent the Pac-12 North in the conference championship game.

In the South, the opportunity for Utah to burst onto the automatic-qualifying conference stage would be even more satisfying with an appearance in the conference championship game, as a shot to go to the Rose Bowl weighs in the balance.

With a healthy Jordan Wynn at quarterback, and the infamous Norm Chow calling plays, nothing is out of reach for the Utes.

Even the Arizona State Sun Devils could force their way into a BCS bowl appearance as smoke—potentially—turns to fire “Deep in the Woods.” The Sun Devils have been a trendy pick to win the Pac-12 South, and face off against the Ducks with BCS implications on the line.

ESPN’s Mark Schlabach tabbed ASU at No. 23 in his “Way-Too-Early Top 25 for 2011 Poll.” Perhaps his title speaks for itself; it is way too early to predict national champions.

Heck, a game hasn’t even been played yet, and one coach has already resigned under intense scrutiny. Now, Oregon is the latest program being hunted by the NCAA. The Ducks remain firm they committed “no wrong doing.”

“Chip Kelly is a guy who likes to get out front and talk a lot,” Canzano expressed. “He has been silent on this one.”

Silence will eventually turn into chaos, both for the Ducks and the Pac-12 title race.

Published on July 5, 2011

“Kris Francis On Sports”

Few times in sports, fans get what they want. Saturday night at the Rose Bowl, soccer fans are in for a treat.

In the CONCACAF Gold Cup, the United States will play host to “El Tri Colores” the Mexican national team at the Rose Bowl.

Following last year’s World Cup letdown for both countries, the importance of this match is accelerated to another level. This game is more than supremacy between bitter, border rivals. A spot in 2013 Confederation’s Cup in Brazil is on the line.

Looking back on USA’s trip to the Confederation’s Cup in 2009, the experience—and more importantly, the victories—appeared to catapult the Yanks in the final stages of qualifying and invigorated confidence into the side on African soil.

Although that confidence playing in South Africa was short-lived and fizzed out by Ghana, yet again, the Americans brought a country together in hope of reaching uncharted territories.

Winning the Gold Cup wouldn’t be anything new, but beating Mexico to do so would sweeten the pot. Since 2002, Mexico and the United States have been the only winners of the Gold Cup.

The level of intensity between these two countries has increased over the last decade in direct relation to the U.S. team improving their quality of play tenfold. For years, Mexico was the dominant team in CONCACAF, and a win over their neighbors to the north was expected by Mexicans and fans across the world.

A rivalry on the field between the teams might carry over to the seats in the venue as well. The gamesmanship over the years has been as much of the rivalry as the action on the field.

This game might be listed as a neutral-site game, but the venue is in Pasadena, California. There is no doubt the Rose Bowl crowd will be filled to the brim with fans from both sides.

Despite the major-market Los Angeles teams, both college and pro, the Gold Cup final match is the hottest ticket in town. After all, the Los Angeles Lakers failed to capture a three-peat victory in the NBA and the United States is looking to accomplish a similar feat in the CONCACAF Gold Cup after securing victories in 2005 and 2007. The US national team is looking to secure Gold Cup victories in three of the last four competitions.

As if the rivalry between Mexico and the USA needed any more, it is only fitting that the most famous outdoor arena in the country hosts the biggest soccer event of the year.

It’s not the World Cup, but for the supporters in the bleachers and the players on the pitch, it is just as important.

Published June 23, 2011

“Kris Francis On Sports”

Arizona State is in a new situation. The Sun Devils are tabbed as preseason favorites in the Pac-12 South, with that carries a burden of expectations. There are certain Pacific 10, now Pac-12 conference teams that have performed well under great expectations.

Of course, the USC Trojans come to mind on more than one occasion, as well as the great Washington Husky squads of the early 90s under Don James, and even the UCLA Bruins‘ brief stint of optimism following the 1997 postseason Cotton Bowl victory, while contending for a national championship the following year.

Each team lived up to heightened expectations for their upcoming season, after triumphant previous seasons.

Arizona State is in a completely different scenario than a typical “rise to power” plot line.

The Sun Devils did not win a hotly contested bowl game, nor share the conference title crown with another program. Dennis Erickson’s squad was not permitted to play in a postseason bowl because ASU beat four, only four, bowl-subdivision teams.

Yet, ESPN, Fox Sports, and virtually every preseason magazine or online publication, has the Sun Devils in the top 25. Recently, this is a foreign territory for the Devils.

Playing as the favorite is normally reserved for early-season games vs. San Jose State, Louisiana-Monroe, Washington State and Nevada-Las Vegas, and the latter ASU managed to choke away in overtime.

Even just last fall, the Sun Devils hoped to come away with victories on the road at Wisconsin, against Oregon, and at the L.A. Coliseum vs. USC. That is hoped, not a “take it to the bank guarantee.”

After all, it has been a while since good old Sparky has been ranked. In fact, since the debacle that the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels laid on ASU in 2008, Erickson’s men have yet to sniff the polls.

But that was back then. Now, everyone is taking note of the Sun Devils, without a touchdown to be made, or a game to be decided.

Moreover, digital gaming kingpin Electronic Arts NCAA Football 12 rates ASU in the top 25. Credibility in the digital age matters, and the Sun Devils are accepting of the gracious “preseason honors.”

Fans in the desert can now play the game with their beloved Sun Devils as they always envisioned, an elite top 25 program.

The end result on the field is what counts, and the results last fall were encouraging, but still far from desirable. A 6-6 record is never ideal, especially when the previous two seasons ended with losing records.

Still, the aspirations of reaching a BCS bowl game emerge from the players. Before any plans are made for a Pac-12 championship game in the Valley of the Sun, fans must recognize that ASU still needs to learn how to win.

Sure, the Sun Devils ended the 2010 season in style with two wins against UCLA and hated rival Arizona, but those two contests are a small sample size of ASU’s success.

Those two wins were carried over through winter workouts and spring ball, and built a sense of confidence within the locker room. How much confidence is yet to be seen.

Playing with confidence helps, but if the players are thinking about all the kudos and preseason predictions on the field, another pedestrian performance will be scripted in 2011. Never has a team won a championship in a preseason magazine.

On the other hand, the desire to live up to expectations, and in a sense, prove the critics wrong is a motivating tactic. Long has Arizona State been considered a “sleeping giant” for more reasons than one, but has never sustained the fully-functioning, albeit frightening giant of the college football world. 

Sure, the Frank Kush days in Tempe were nothing but sunshine, conference titles, and beating the best from the Midwest every chance he got, but no one then knew what an iPod was, or ever would be, let alone an iPhone.

The times have changed, and so too has the philosophy at Arizona State. The old guard, or at the very least the old garb, has been tossed aside for a new style.

This fall, ASU will don new home and away uniforms, complete with a new helmet logo.

With the new uniforms, a new identity can be born. The past is the past, and will always be remembered. In the world of athletics, it is all about “what have you done for me lately?”

Lately, the Sun Devils have been all the talk. The only problem is, the score will not count until September. By then, all these preseason rankings and predictions will hold the weight of a penny.

Arizona State’s mentality in the 2011 season opener will be very telling. Sure, the opponent is only UC-Davis, but the Sun Devils should not worry about the opponent. After all, Sun Devil nation witnessed far too many games fumbled away by “user error” on the part of the maroon and gold.

The losses were not in dominating fashion, as the constant reminder of four losses by 10 points, and a fifth loss by 11 points to national runner-up Oregon, complete with seven Sun Devil giveaways.

The look might have changed at Arizona State, but that can only fool a few. The rankings certainly have respect for the Sun Devils, but has it been earned yet? No matter what, come Sept. 1, respect will be earned, not handed out.

Published on June 19, 2011

“Kris Francis On Sports”