Today in sports: the long knives are out for Boston Red Sox manager Terry Francona, Kobe Bryant moves closer to playing in Italy, and the state of Nebraska has invaded Madison, Wisconsin. 
  • In 2004, Terry Francona managed the Boston Red Sox to their first title World Series in 86 years, then won it all again for good measure in 2007, but it looks like he'll be the fall guy for the team's historic September collapse. The Boston Globe is reporting that after a meeting between the manager and the team's ownership, Francona is out, though nothing has been confirmed officially yet. The thinking goes that Francona's easygoing style led to sloppy play, injuries, and a culture of complacency. A data point: Lots of teams stock the clubhouse with beer for postgame meals, but the Boston Herald noted yesterday that on this year's team, "more than one pitcher drank beer in the clubhouse during games on the days he didn’t pitch." [Boston Globe]
  • Lakers star Kobe Bryant has a deal in place to join Italian pro basketball club Virtus Bologna as the NBA lockout drags on. Team president Claudio Sabatini tells the Associated Press that the contract will run somewhere between 35 to 40 days, and pay Bryant $3 million for ten games service. Sabatini says he's "confident" the deal will go through, even though other clubs have raised objections to the team's request that it be allowed change its schedule so it can have five of its first ten games at home. Business Week, citing a source involved in the talks, says Bryant will sign his contract and join the team October 5.  [Associated Press via USA Today]
  • Speaking of the NBA lockout: the optimism earlier in the week that this weekend's round of talks would produce a breakthrough has given way to fear about what will happen if there isn't progress. It's really all a matter of perspective. Sports Illustrated NBA writer Ian Thomen characterizes the next two days as "the most promising weekend of the lockout." But if it doesn't lead to anything, commissioner David Stern has already promised there will be "enormous consequences" if the two sides fail to hammer out a deal during the meetings in New York. [Sports Illustrated]
  • The University of Nebraska plays its first conference football game as a member of the Big 10 tomorrow night against Wisconsin in Madison. It's a technically a road game for Nebraska, but Wisconsin athletic director says the school is anticipating 30,000 Nebraska backers to attend the camp at Camp Randall stadium, which has a maximum capacity of just over 80,000. The invasion will also be taking place in the press box: Nebraska news media outlets have been issued 95 credentials to cover the game. [Kansas City Star]
  • When the University of Maryland nudged popular head football coach Ralph Friedgen, an alumnus of the school, into retirement after 10 good-but-not-great seasons on the job, it seemed inevitable that he would eventually return to the athletic in some honorary capacity. Such a scenario seems less likely following Friedgen's announcement on Baltimore radio station WNST yesterday that he burned his Maryland diploma and now flies a Georgia Tech flag over his house. "They talk Maryland pride," grumbled Friedgen, "but they didn't show me any Maryland." Which may be true, but if he really wanted to wound the school, he would be flying a University of Virginia flag. [WNST via The Washington Post]