Let’s just say we’re saddened, but not entirely surprised, by the news that Austin Cooley has been told he can’t return to Niagara University. Cooley has, by all accounts, physical attributes to his game that should have made him an All-Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference player. Instead, he struggled to get playing time with Alpha dogs like Bilal Benn and Tyrone Lewis in the lineup.
The situation is unfortunate, and leaves Niagara in a precarious spot, now counting heavily on the contributions of transfer Kevon Moore to handle the bulk of the playing time. By all accounts, Moore should capably step in and produce, but Cooley’s departure leaves Niagara — still reeling from what was supposed to be a magical run last season — with fewer options.
Having a question mark in the post is daunting enough. Having another on the wing makes this season even more difficult to predict. Cooley had the talent to play, but never seemed to have the desire. And if you can’t get motivated watching a guy like Benn practice and play, you can’t get motivated.
Bills, Power and Dineen
This sounds a little ridiculous, but we’re actually encouraged by the opening drive of the Bills preseason debut against Washington. Trent Edwards hit five passes and got the Bills deep into Redskins territory. Sure, it would have been better to see him finish the drive, but a field goal on the opening series was a start. After that, we’re convinced the team didn’t want to show too much, and understandably so. And if not for a holding penalty, Buffalo would have had the ball on the 1-yard-line and would have had a great chance to punch it in.
Baby steps, but still steps.
The problem comes in cheering for any success. While we thought the offensive line looked perhaps better than expected, we’re wondering if that’s a good thing. A decent offensive line might mean a decent offense, which could mean sniffing around 7-9 again. There’s nothing worse for this franchise than another season in which the team just misses the playoffs.
The best medicine — and something that a franchise with vision would have done years ago — is to take its lumps, play all younger players, and understand that 3-13 is better than a game below .500. The Bills reached the Super Bowl four straight times primarily because they swooned in the mid-80s. If the team would have undergone a similar dive five years ago, Buffalo might be ready to contend again today. Losing, as sad as it sounds, is winning.
Speaking of teams that can’t reach the playoffs, the Niagara Power insist a fifth season is all but set in stone. General manager Cal Kern said earlier this week the team will be back in the New York Collegiate Baseball League next season, and he’s even jumping on board a committee to help the wooden bat league improve its status.
Although Kern wouldn’t confirm anything, it’s a good bet that Batavia will soon join the rest of its former New York-Penn League friends in the collegiate league, and that will make Dwyer Stadium the crown jewel of the league. Batavia simply can’t keep staving off the bloodsucking hounds who keep pushing affiliated baseball out of small towns, and relocating them to expensive stadiums in the suburbs of major cities.
Where Niagara Falls, Batavia, Geneva, Watertown, Elmira and Oneonta all once housed Single-A franchises, those teams have moved on to places like Brooklyn and Staten Island. To be honest, it’s the best thing that’s happened to the small towns. Keeping up with Major League Baseball’s criteria for minor league parks is too taxing on small municipalities (literally and figuratively) and there’s still a chance you might see a future major leaguer if you take in an NYCBL game.
One thing we’d like to see, though, is a swing through the opposite division by each NYCBL franchise. In other words, Niagara didn’t play in Cooperstown this season, and only could have if the two teams would’ve reached the league championship series. One trip through such a storied village (and vice versa in the case of a trip to the Falls) would help the league recruit better players at each of the franchises. While Albany struggled to get any fan support, don’t be surprised to see Utica or Rome also added to the list of teams.
The Sabres got a nice reprieve when Portland coach Kevin Dineen and assistant Eric Weinrich signed on for another season. The duo are a good combination of offense and defense, giving Sabres prospects a chance to properly develop. It’s no coincidence that Buffalo won a division title the year after signing on with Portland. Dineen is certainly due for an NHL job soon, but he’ll help cement the future of players like T.J. Brennan, Corey Tropp and Luke Adam. And the way the Sabres count on their farm system, the team’s coach at the AHL level is nearly as important as the one in the NHL.