Thursday, July 17, 2008

Joseph Yobo’s Brother Released by Kidnappers

About two weeks ago, I wrote a story about the kidnapping of Norum Yobo, the brother of Everton’s solid center back Joseph Yobo, and how incidents like that involving high-profile African players and their families have become too all-too-common in recent times. While the situation obviously didn’t look too good at the time, the good news was that more often than not, the situation was resolved peacefully — and that’s a relative term — as long as the ransom was paid.

I’m happy to report that Norum was released last night and is back safely with his family, all according to Joseph’s personal manager, John Ola Shittu. Shittu confirmed to that after spending 12 days in captivity, the majority of which were spent without the two friends who were taken at gunpoint as well, Norum is OK, at least physically. He declined to elaborate on the presumed ransom demand made by the kidnappers and how much of it was paid, but there was no reason for him to do so.

Shittu did, however, release a brief statement:

“On behalf of Joseph and the family, I want to say a big thank you to Everton Football Club. They were very supportive in every way possible, especially the chairman (Bill Kenwright), who was calling on a daily basis to find out how things were progressing.

Joseph is very happy to see (Norum), but he is still down emotionally, still shaken. Right now, he just wants to get himself emotionally ready enough to get set for pre-season training.”

At the end of the day, as much passion as we have for it and as much time as we dedicate to it, soccer is a game. There are more important things to worry about than Cristiano Ronaldo’s transfer gossip or whether Samuel Eto’O will play in Uzbekistan this season. When it comes down to it, those are really only trivial topics and aren’t worth as much publicity as they get. No one I know in the media spent much time at all talking about Norum Yobo and the problems that continue to plague Africa, and this was only one of many life-or-death situations that go on daily and monthly and yearly on that continent.

I’m glad that the Yobo family has now been reunited, and hopefully Joseph, Norum, and Albert (the older brother) can go on with their lives in as normal a fashion as possible. Like I said, this was just one crisis and it’s great that it was averted, and hopefully it can serve to illuminate the ugly underbelly of Africa that much more. We appreciate the terrific talent of African players in Europe, especially in the Premier League, but tend to ignore their backgrounds and the places in which they grew up, and we can’t continue to do that.

TV Schedule for 2008 Big Ten/ACC Challenge

On April 15, I posted the matchups for the 10th annual Big Ten/ACC Challenge, an event won by the ACC every year so far. Member schools from that conference have gone a combined 56-30 over that span, thoroughly dominating their brethren from the Big Ten en route to the Commissioner's Cup.

You can take a look at that post here ( for more information about the competition itself, but the complete TV schedule was announced today so I want to get that out there right now.

Once again, all 11 games will be televised -- 2 on ESPNU, 5 on ESPN2, and 4 on ESPN -- and they'll take place during the first three days of December.

As I'm sure you all know by now, I'm a huge Michigan Wolverines fan, and if you didn't know that, trust me, you'll be hearing a lot about them as we get closer to college basketball season. Michigan is a Big Ten school, all of which will be highlighted in bold. Like always, all tipoff times are Eastern.

Monday, Dec. 1
Wisconsin at Virginia Tech (7 PM, ESPN2)

Tuesday, Dec. 2
Ohio State at Miami (FL) (7 PM, ESPN)
Iowa at Boston College (7 PM, ESPNU)
Clemson at Illinois (7:30 PM, ESPN2)
Duke at Purdue (9 PM, ESPN)
Virginia at Minnesota (9:30 PM, ESPN2)

Wednesday, Dec. 3
Indiana at Wake Forest (7:15 PM, ESPN)
Penn State at Georgia Tech (7:30 PM, ESPN2)
**Michigan at Maryland (7:30 PM, ESPNU)**
North Carolina vs. Michigan State (from Ford Field in Detroit) (9:15 PM, ESPN)
Florida State at Northwestern (9:30 PM, ESPN2)

Once again, Michigan's been relegated to ESPNU, which is a relatively big insult in my opinion. Michigan-Maryland should be a much more compelling game than either Penn State-Georgia Tech or Virginia-Minnesota, not to mention Florida State-Northwestern, so frankly I'm a little bit surprised that the TV schedule worked out like this.

The most high-profile matchup is North Carolina-Michigan State, without question. It will be played at Ford Field, home of the NFL's Detroit Lions, but will still basically be as good as a home game for Tom Izzo's Spartans.

UNC will be the #1 ranked team to start the season; there will be no doubting that with the returns of Tyler Hansbrough, Ty Lawson, Danny Green, and Wayne Ellington, and the addition of two highly touted incoming freshman standouts, Tyler Zeller and Ed Davis. The Tar Heels are the clear favorite to win the NCAA Tournament next March, but Michigan State is always tough. This game will surely be a sight to see.

The other big game to keep your eye on is Duke-Purdue. If it was being played at Cameroon Indoor Stadium, the toughest place to play in all of American sports for visiting teams, Duke would likely come out on top, but it isn't. Coached by Matt Painter, Purdue is a team on the rise and will be a contender for the Big Ten title this season. They've been young and successful over the last two seasons, but they're expecting to make the jump to the next level and make a deep run in the Big Dance. Duke is Duke: they were young last year as well and with that season to gel, they'll be back at their usual perch at or near the top in the ACC.

I can't wait for this competition. I think this may just be the Big Ten's year to finally break through, and hopefully Michigan helps their conference pick up a win on the way.