KERRY EGGERS ON SPORTS/Major League Football coming to Portland? Pilots planning to add track

COURTESY: GARY BECK - Nebraska football coach Mike Riley (front row, second from left) huddles with former Corvallis High football teammates and then-Spartans coach Chuck Solberg (back row, third from left) before last week's Cornhuskers game against Oregon.Knocking it about on a few sports subjects …

• ITEM: Mike Riley enjoys a reunion with a group of his former Corvallis High teammates at Valley River Inn on Friday night, hours before his Nebraska Cornhuskers lose 42-35 to Oregon at Autzen Stadium.

COMMENT: Ten of Riley's ex-high school football, basketball and baseball teammates were on hand along with Dean Fouquette, who quarterbacked Pendleton in a loss to Corvallis in the state semifinals during Riley's senior year, and Chuck Solberg, the Spartans' football coach during that time.

Riley also brought his wife, Dee; his daughter, Kate; her oldest child and 6-year-old grandson, Eli, to say hello to some familiar faces.

The 60-somethings — and Solberg — imbibed in adult beverages, then sat in a circle for an hour, exchanging old stories and paying homage to the coach who took them to the state championship that season.

"You taught us to believe in ourselves," said Gary Beck, who succeeded Solberg at CHS and also coached the Spartans to a state title. "And we did."

Riley recognized that Beck and Jerry Hackenbruck, along with himself, followed in Solberg's footsteps in the coaching profession.

"We all know what a privilege it is to be able to do this for a living," Riley said. "I don't take that lightly."

• ITEM: Major League Football makes another run, and says Portland is on its short list this time.

COMMENT: The developmental pro league tried to get off the ground last year, with a franchise proposed for Eugene (the Oregon Crash, with ex-Duck QB and current West Linn High coach Chris Miller as coach). The chief investor pulled out, and the idea was tabled for a year.

Now California businessman Jerry Craig has committed a major investment and will become majority shareholder and president/CEO of the league scheduled to debut with teams in eight non-NFL cities in spring 2018.

MLFB officials are now looking at Portland instead of Eugene, along with such cities as Salt Lake City, Memphis, Birmingham, Alabama, and Albuquerque, New Mexico.

It's a league designed for post-collegians who still harbor hopes of an NFL career.

"The quality of play would be good," says a MLFB official, who asks to remain unidentified. "The players would be one step away from the NFL."

There will be no affiliation with the NFL, "but the NFL people will like this," the MLFB official says.

At least a couple of former Nike executives have been involved in negotiations with the city of Portland about using Providence Park as a home field.

"Because (Craig) has invested this money, they're going forward with this league," the MLFB official says. "But a lot of things have to happen between now and the spring. They must reach agreement with city governments. They already have a lot of coaches and general managers lined up.

"I can't tell you for certain Portland is going to be one of the franchises, but there is much interest.

In the next few weeks, they'll be making announcements on the cities that will be involved."

• ITEM: PK 80 — the mega-college basketball tournament scheduled for Portland over Thanksgiving Weekend — has released its schedule of games.

COMMENT: It's the tournament being staged in honor of Phil Knight's 80th birthday — and surely the most impressive non-postseason college basketball event in history.

The 16 teams are all Nike schools, with traditional powers Duke, North Carolina and Connecticut — three of the last four NCAA champions — leading the way.

Also in the field are Michigan State, Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, Florida, Ohio State, Butler and DePaul, along with Northwest schools Oregon and Gonzaga, both Final Four teams last spring. Completing the bracket are Stanford, Portland and Portland State.

Games will be held at Moda Center and Memorial Coliseum and televised on ESPN, ESPN2 or ESPNU.

In first-round round action on Thursday, Nov. 23, the Pilots will take on North Carolina, Oregon will face UConn, and Portland State will vie with Duke. Gonzaga vs. Ohio State will be the day's feature game.

Semifinals and consolation play will take place Friday, Nov. 24, with final-round action Sunday.

• ITEM: The University of Portland is proceeding with fundraising and plans to build a 400-meter track as part of a move to place more of its athletic facilities along the Willamette River waterfront area.

COMMENT: If there's an under-the-radar outstanding coach in the state, it's probably Rob Conner, who in 29 years has built the Pilots' cross-country and distance-running programs into one of the best contingents on the West Coast.

Conner has done it without a track. I'd love to see what the Pilots can do with one.

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