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John L. Pitts "could have been an actor, but I wound up here," as Sports Editor at the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal | Djournal.com

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SEC LogoBy John L. Pitts

Daily Journal

MetroCast Communications, a TV provider for some households in Oxford, Starkville, Baldwyn, New Albany and other Northeast Mississippi towns, says it plans to offer the SEC Network.

But there are details yet to be worked out.

A MetroCast spokesman told the Daily Journal on Monday that his company expects to add the SEC Network to the expanded basic package in time for its Aug. 14 launch.

“We are working toward an agreement now with the expectation that we will launch on August 14,” Andy Walton said in an e-mail.

The Journal reported last week that MetroCast had not yet reached an agreement with the SEC Network.

It will be in at least 46 million households after the nation’s largest cable provider, Comcast, got on board last week. Time-Warner Cable and a major satellite provider, DirecTV, are the biggest holdouts. Both are expected to sign up before the launch.

A big draw for regional viewers – the SEC Network will broadcast at least 45 football games this season, including Mississippi State’s season-opener at home against Southern Miss on Saturday, Aug. 30. The first football broadcast will be Texas A&M at South Carolina on Thursday, Aug. 28.

All 14 league football teams will be featured within the first four weeks of the season. Ole Miss will appear on Sept. 13, in its home opener against Louisiana-Lafayette.

Pennsylvania-based Harron Communications recently agreed to sell its MetroCast holdings – more than 60,000 households in north Mississippi and Alabama – to Ohio-based Block Communications. Service to area markets is not likely to be affected.

SEC LogoBy John L. Pitts

Daily Journal

Comcast Cable customers are now assured of getting the SEC Network when it launches on Aug. 14, yet there are viewers in Oxford and Starkville who could be left in the dark.

Metrocast Communications, a cable provider in both of those SEC towns, has yet to reach an agreement with ESPN to provide the SEC Network. Comcast joined the fold officially on Friday, bringing to a total of 46 million households that will broadcast the SEC Network.

Major providers including Dish Network, Cox Communications and AT&T U-Verse were already on board. It’s thought that Time-Warner Cable and another major satellite provider, DirecTV, will get on board soon.

The SEC is aiming to be in 75 million households by the time football season begins. By contrast, the Big Ten Network launched in 2007 in 16 million homes and now is in about 90 million homes in the U.S. and Canada.

With cable systems paying handsomely to carry the network and the potential for an eventual windfall from advertisers, there’s speculation the network could generate $500 million annually for ESPN – which retained ownership of the network – and the league.

Each member school got about $20.9 million in revenue distribution from the league office in 2014. That’s a figure that might eventually double with a boost from the new league network.

The SEC Network will broadcast at least 45 football games this season, including Mississippi State’s season-opener at home against Southern Miss on Saturday, Aug. 30. The first football broadcast will be Texas A&M at South Carolina on Thursday, Aug. 28.

All 14 league football teams will be seen within the first four weeks of the season. Ole Miss appears on Sept. 13, in its home opener against Louisiana-Lafayette.

Beyond football, the network is promising to show more than 1,000 live events – many of those online.

Comcast, the nation’s largest cable system with more than 22 million subscribers, began with the purchase of a small cable system in Tupelo in 1969.

john.pitts@journalinc.com

JOHN L. PITTS

JOHN L. PITTS

TUPELO

Here’s a confession – I’m turning into a boxing fan.

Blame “Cinderella Man.” That Ron Howard movie, about the improbable career of boxer James J. Braddock, is so delightful I’ve watched it again a couple of times lately, and it left me in the mood to watch some real fisticuffs.

Between HBO, Showtime, ESPN and the relatively new Fox Sports 1, there’s quite a bit of boxing on TV right now. Not bad for a sport that’s seen better days.

Pro boxing is a mess, of course. There are more guys running around with “world championship” belts than there were pro wrestlers with “regional championship” belts when I was a kid watching the Fairgrounds card on TV in Nashville.

There are four major sanctioning bodies for boxing – the WBA, WBC, IBF and WBO. I’m sure the EPA and NSA would get involved, too, if they could figure out how to squeeze a penny or two out of the deal.

The heavyweight division has been dominated in recent years by the Klitschko brothers – Ukranians who refuse to fight each other. The showcase division of boxing, the one that the general public most identifies with, has mainly been a hash since Buster Douglas knocked out the unbeatable Mike Tyson. And that was in 1990.

The biggest fight that could be put in the ring today will apparently never happen. It’s estimated that a showdown between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao might bring in $300 million or more – but the fighters can’t agree on how to split up all that cash. Winner-take-all is out of the question, of course.

Like vinyl records and cigars, boxing has settled into a niche. It’s never going to have another Golden Age, but it keeps plugging along.

And here’s why – it makes for a good show.

When I’ve got an hour or so to kill and I’ve already seen all the Law & Order repeats on the other channels, boxing is perfect. No extra innings, no penalty kicks, no rain delays. Just boom boom boom.

And the sport is just crooked enough that you can never be sure who’s going to win, no matter how badly one guy thrashes another. After all, the name of the game is to get me to tune in again. And I probably will.

Random thoughts

• The paperwork has passed across my desk, so it’s official – our high school football preview publishes on Sunday, Aug. 17 and the college preview on Sunday, Aug. 24. So, yeah, our summer is over already.

• Many strong opinions in our office and on my Facebook account about the importance of putting salt on watermelon. Not everyone is a fan; I am, because that’s the way my grandpa taught me to eat it.

• One problem with American soccer, highlighted at the World Cup – we don’t have a good song to sing in the stands. “Born in the USA,” a fine song, is actually kinda depressing.

John L. Pitts (john.pitts@journalinc.com) is sports editor at the Journal. He shares more random thoughts on Twitter @JohnLPitts

8TB6_MSU_primary_logo.jpgBy Logan Lowery

Daily Journal

Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen will take his turn at the podium Tuesday at SEC Media Days in Hoover, Ala. Here are five questions he will likely have to address.

Dak Attack

Mullen will certainly field his share of questions concerning quarterback Dak Prescott.

After all, the junior was a big part in Mississippi State’s success last season, splitting time with Tyler Russell and Damian Williams behind center. Prescott appeared in 11 games and made seven starts amassing 2,822 yards of offense and 25 touchdowns.

Prescott will be handed the full reins of the offense this season, but will his physical running style put him on the shelf as it did for portions of four games last season? An elbow injury kept him out of the Arkansas and Alabama games and this time there isn’t a fifth-year senior on the sideline to turn to.

The Bulldogs’ offense is at its best when Prescott is on the field and the team rallies behind him – as evidenced by the fourth quarter and overtime of last year’s Egg Bowl. Protecting Prescott and keeping him healthy should be MSU’s top priority.

Kicking woes

The Bulldogs made just 10 of 21 on field goal tries in 2013 which ranked 122nd nationally.

Judging by the spring, there does not appear to be a drastic improvement. Devon Bell, who was 6-of-14 last season, has been taken off placekicking duties entirely leaving walk-ons Evan Sobiesk, Westin Graves, Courtland Daws and J.J. McGrath to battle it out.

Sobiesk was just 3 of 6 last season and inconsistent in Mississippi State’s three spring scrimmages, making only four of his 10 tries. Graves was not much better connecting on 2 of 4 field goals this spring.

McGrath might be the Bulldogs’ best hope, having transferred from Michigan. The left-footer redshirted for the Wolverines last season as a freshman and is eligible to play immediately.

Offensive Change

Mullen will be void of offensive coordinator Les Koenning for the first time since their arrival in 2009.

Koenning left to take the wide receivers job at his alma mater Texas in the offseason leaving Mullen to appoint John Hevesy as the running game coordinator and Billy Gonzales as the passing game coordinator.

Mullen has been heavily involved in the play calling all along during the past five years and will be even more so this fall.
Brian Johnson, the former Utah quarterback and offensive coordinator, was hired to replace Koenning as a quarterbacks coach. Johnson was recruited to the Utes by Mullen and spent one season playing for him there.

O-line Holes

MSU appears to have its answers for the loss of Russell at quarterback and LaDarius Perkins at running back in the offseason. But the departures of Gabe Jackson and left guard and Charles Siddoway at right tackle are not as cut and dry.

Rising sophomore Jamaal Clayborn took most of the reps at left guard in the spring with junior Justin Malone still recovering from a season-ending foot fracture sustained in the opener against Oklahoma State.

Clayborn, Malone and senior Ben Beckwith, who started the final 12 games for Malone, will be battling for the two guard spots.

Fifth-year senior Damien Robinson will get his last chance to land a starting spot at right tackle.

The former four-star recruit from Olive Branch has been a back-up for the past three seasons. At 6-foot-8, 320-pounds, Robinson certainly has the makeup of a top tier tackle.

Bowl Streak

Mullen’s three bowl wins are already the most by any coach in school history.

Last year the Bulldogs reached a fourth consecutive bowl game for the first time ever already putting the program in uncharted territory.

This fall a favorable non-conference slate lends itself to four wins for State but with SEC road trips to Alabama and LSU on the schedule, State can ill-afford to have a slip up against an inferior opponent.

logan.lowery@journalinc.com

BY BRANDON SPECK
DAILY JOURNAL
More details have emerged about the Mississippi High School Activities Association’s plan to move its football championships from Jackson to the state’s major college venues, beginning this December.
On Thursday, a source involved in the decision told the Daily Journal the rotation has been decided.
The six state championship games will take place this season in Starkville at Mississippi State’s Davis Wade Stadium. And for the next six years, the championship site will apparently rotate between Mississippi State and Ole Miss.
“I think a lot of us have the team motto of ‘Make it to Jackson,’ but that mindset could change,” Starkville coach Jamie Mitchell said when asked about the potential move earlier in the week.
Where Southern Miss fits into a future rotation remained unclear, but it might not be until after the initial six years of playing at the state’s two SEC schools.
But Southern isn’t being left out of the high school football business. The Hattiesburg school will host the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Classic in 2015 and 2017. The longtime Alabama event will remain in Montgomery in 2014 and 2016. Plus, the coast already is home to the in-state Bernard Blackwell Classic all-star game, also played in December.
The state of Alabama is going into its sixth year of having its high school football championships played in the stadiums at Alabama and Auburn, its two SEC members.
“It’s been great,” said Ron Ingram, the director of communications for the Alabama High School Athletic Association. “We needed a jolt. Sometimes you do. I think it will be great for Mississippi, too.”
Barring a postponement, an official announcement could come during next week’s MAC coaches meetings.
The MHSAA championships have been held at Jackson’s Veterans Memorial Stadium since 1992.
“My coaching buddies from Alabama have said they love playing at Alabama and Auburn,” Mitchell said. “I think a move is a win for us. At the end of the day, all we’re trying to do is win a state championship … no matter where it’s played.”
brandon.speck@journalinc.com

By David Wheeler
Special to the Journal
TUPELO – The Booneville senior American Legion baseball team has been a bit under the radar this summer.
Perhaps the Tupelo 49ers Invitational is just the setting for the Banditos to make a little noise.
Following its game-plan of offensive small-ball and solid pitching, Booneville scratched its way to a 7-0 victory over the Mississippi Braves in the first game of the four-day tournament at Golden Wave Field.
“Our pitching and our defense was solid, and we started late with the bats,” said Booneville head coach Caleb Reno, whose club is now 13-3 for the summer. “But we’re not an offensive team, so it usually goes our way when we have pitching and defense.”
This contest was going the way of a pitchers duel through the first three innings, including Booneville starter Cody Bo Dillard of East Union and Northeast Community College, who faced the minimum over that span.
Booneville loaded the bases in the top of the third on walks, but failed to push across a run.
Scoring begins
Then in the fourth, a leadoff single by Miciah Heard was followed by two stolen bases, with the North Pontotoc graduate scoring on a wild pitch to break the ice.
Booneville also added a run in the frame on a sacrifice fly by Dillard for a 2-0 lead.
The Banditos added a run in the fifth on an error and a wild pitch, before salting the contest away in the sixth. That inning produced four runs as the first six Booneville batters reached base, which included an RBI hit by Tyler Moore from Alcorn Central.
That was more than enough for Dillard, who threw five innings, facing only one batter over the minimum while allowing just one hit.
“We’ve got a lot of kids who are pretty good pitchers,” Reno said. “The main thing is, we throw strikes.
“Dillard was able to throw his fast ball either side of the plate. He didn’t throw many off-speed pitches.”
The Braves, a BEST (Baseball Elite Summer Team) with players basically from schools along Hwy. 82, dropped to 17-8.
Booneville returns to action today in the tournament, facing area rival the Pontotoc Red Sox at 10 a.m.

BY BRANDON SPECK
DAILY JOURNAL
TUPELO – Blake Hawkins is in the same position he was in 13 months ago, standing in the Mississippi heat in a white and blue uniform at Tupelo’s Ballard Park, leading his team in the National Select 7-on-7 Qualifier.
Only Thursday, it was in Florence, Ala., colors, instead of those for Tishomingo County.
Last June, he was also starting to build some personal momentum. Colleges were starting to take notice of the 6-foot-5, 210-pound pro-style passer. So he was trying to show what he could do, too. His team has changed. That hasn’t changed. But the move has drastically changed, and improved, his situation.
“It was for football reasons, and my father working in North Alabama, it was just an easy move,” Hawkins said. “It’s been a good transition. I’m enjoying it.”
He doesn’t yet have an offer, but that may soon change. Hawkins is hearing from Mississippi State, Louisiana-Lafayette, Middle Tennessee and UAB – all programs where he attended camps.
Hawkins moved in the spring. Last fall, he threw for 1,330 yards, 16 touchdowns and six picks in nine game for Tishomingo. But the Braves went 2-9 in Class 4A, winless in the division. Scouts are watching that.
Moving to 6A
He’s now quarterbacking 6A Florence, which went 9-4 last season, losing by a point in the third round of the playoffs to eventual champion and nationally-ranked Hoover. The Falcons finished the season ranked No. 14 in the state by MaxPreps.
Hawkins takes over for Ole Miss signee Kendrick Doss. His new team features two major Division I defenders in safety Dee Smith and Alabama linebacker commit Keaton Anderson.
“The competition is a lot better, which I enjoy it,” Hawkins said, “just because of the simple fact the college coaches like it. And the atmosphere is just so much better.”
So more eyes will be on Hawkins. He says his offseason focus has been to get faster and to improve his mechanics. Thursday, he looked the part, placing the ball in the right spots and making good decisions.
His decision to transfer has been good for him and for Florence. Falcons coach J.B. Wallace said he needs to fix some little things, mechanically and reading progression.
“That’s coming along fine,” Wallace said. “He brings athleticism. He can run it and throw it, very smart.”
Florence opens its season Aug. 22 at Shades Valley in Birmingham. The Falcons will entertain Starkville on Sept. 19.
brandon.speck@journalinc.com

CORINTH
On Monday, a caller asked where she could find the football schedules for Ole Miss and Mississippi State.
It’s the first sign of fall.
This time next week, we’ll be into the fourth and final day of SEC Football Media Days in Hoover, Ala.
And college football can again replace futbol as the focus of our attention.
For now, even fans whose teams were dumpster fires last season – I’m looking at you, Arkansas – can be filled with optimism.
I’ve spent most of the spring thinking that this might be the year that Ole Miss or Mississippi State could shock the world and win an SEC Western Division title.
Bear with me, I haven’t been out in the sun too long.
Alabama is on a two-game losing streak, will have a new quarterback and is still suffering from an Iron Bowl hangover.
Auburn had just about every break go its way last season, and that’s unlikely to happen two years in a row.
LSU has turned into the SEC’s Clemson, a marvelously talented team that’s always good for at least one befuddling loss.
Texas A&M lost Johnny Football and two other first-round NFL Draft picks.
And there’s Arkansas. I bet they’ll win a Big Ten title one of these years.
Ole Miss is a trendy pick to have a breakout season for Hugh Freeze and we keep hearing that this should be Dan Mullen’s best team in Starkville.
Still, we’re talking about two teams that combined for 11 losses last season. Neither has finished better than .500 in league play in a while – Ole Miss in 2008 and MSU in 1999.
And with just one trip to the league title game between them.
But when it looked like the Rebels and Bulldogs might have a chance to play in June with a trip to the College World Series at stake, I wondered out loud how crazy the fan bases would get if a Battle for the Golden Egg came with a trip to the SEC title game as the grand prize.
For the first time in my decade-plus in Mississippi, that’s not an entirely absurd question.
Random thoughts
• Let me tell you how the Ed O’Bannon case against the NCAA ends up – every four-year college athlete is going to get, upon graduation, a check for $47.
• Next time somebody says there’s more scoring in football than soccer, remind them of this: Auburn 3, Mississippi State 2.
• Mowing our yard takes just slightly longer that a four-tire NASCAR pit stop.
• U.S. senators lecturing the NCAA should be broadcast on Comedy Central, not CSPAN.
John L. Pitts (john.pitts@journalinc.com) is sports editor of the Daily Journal. He shares more random thoughts on Twitter @JohnLPitts

By John L. Pitts
Daily Journal
Six SEC football teams will bring their quarterbacks to next week’s Football Media Days gathering in Hoover, Ala., including Ole Miss and Mississippi State.
MSU coach Dan Mullen meets with reporters on Tuesday morning, and he’ll be accompanied by junior QB Dak Prescott, senior safety Jay Hughes and junior linebacker Benardrick McKinney.
Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze is part of Thursday’s morning session, and he’ll be joined by senior QB Bo Wallace, junior defensive end C.J. Johnson and senior safety Cody Prewitt.
Marquee teams that won’t bring quarterbacks to Hoover include Alabama, Georgia and LSU.
Six quarterbacks will be in attendance. Prescott and Wallace will be joined by Auburn’s Nick Marshall, Florida’s Jeff Driskel, Missouri’s Maty Mauk and South Carolina’s Dylan Thompson.
Marshall is the first Auburn QB to attend the preseason event since Brandon Cox in 2007.
Of the 36 players slated to attend, 21 are from the defensive side. One team will bring a special teamer – Texas A&M punter Drew Kaser.
The four-day event at the Wynfrey Hotel begins Monday morning with defending league champion Auburn and remarks from SEC commissioner Mike Slive.
There will be one new coach in Hoover, Vanderbilt’s Derek Mason.
Last year, there were a record 1,239 registered media representatives in attendance.
john.pitts@journalinc.com

By David Wheeler
Special to the Journal
Golden Wave Field was closed to all baseball last summer for planning and later renovations.
Today through Sunday marks the return of traditional summer baseball as the senior American Legion team hosts the Tupelo 49ers Invitational 2014.
“It is good to have some home games,” Tupelo head coach Kirk Presley said. “Home games and tournaments are a lot of work, but you don’t mind.
“We get to sleep in our own beds.”
Eight teams will each play three games, with six teams then guaranteed at least one game Sunday.
The championship game is scheduled for 5:30 p.m.
Booneville and Pontotoc will swing their bats today, with Booneville in action against the Mississippi Braves at 5:30 p.m., and the Braves playing Pontotoc at 8 p.m. Five games are set for Friday and Saturday, with the 49ers not seeing action until 8 p.m. Friday against the Mississippi Blues.
“Four out of the eight teams have participated in American Legion regional play on a regular basis,” Presley said.
“All eight teams are solid, and it will be a good tournament.”
The 49ers, the defending state champions, are 13-8, including a tournament win in June at the University of North Alabama.
“I’ve been real pleased the last couple of weeks with all phases of our game,” Presley said.
The Pontotoc Red Sox, who will host the senior American Legion State Tournament July 25-27, have also been playing well throughout the South, sporting a 19-7 mark.
Pontotoc made it to the championship game of a recent tournament in Columbia (Tenn.)