No Bowl Ban for Oregon Football

By Aubrey Wieber

Published by Emerald Media Group on 6/26/13

The Ducks will be bowl-eligible this fall.

The NCAA has announced that there will be no bowl ban for Oregon as a result of its violations of NCAA recruiting rules. The football program will lose one scholarship for two years and endure a three year probationary period, which was imposed because of Oregon’s repeat violator status. In addition, the football program will also receive a ban on recruiting services during probation.

After Oregon and the NCAA agreed in December that Oregon was guilty of seven major violations, Oregon proposed a similar punishment: two years probation and a loss of a scholarship for three years. The NCAA denied the proposal.

The punishment will likely not have a drastic effect on the football program. For the past four years, Oregon has only used 83 of its 85 available scholarships. The loss of scholarships was imposed by the University during its appeals with the NCAA.

Chip Kelly, the head coach who led the Ducks to four BCS bowls during the time, has received a show-cause penalty from the NCAA, which means he can’t coach college football for 18-months. The penalty for Kelly, along with Oregon’s soft punishment, is evidence that the NCAA largely found Kelly at fault.

“The committee noted that it is the head coach’s responsibility to know the rules and ensure that every coach and staff member complies with those rules,” said Gregory Sankey, associate commissioner of the SEC and NCAA Committee on Infractions spokesperson. “There was certainly knowledge that the departure (of Kelly) had occurred  but we have certain resources like the show-cause penalty, which has been applied.”

It is unclear if the 18-month show-cause penalty handed to Kelly will have any impact, it is up to the NFL if they want to take action, but Kelly issued a statement released by the Philadelphia Eagles apologizing for any involvement he had on the infractions.

“Now that the NCAA has concluded their investigation and penalized the University of Oregon and its football program, I want to apologize to the University of Oregon, all of its current and former players and their fans,” Kelly said. “I accept my share of responsibility for the actions that led to the penalties.”

Overall, the athletic administration and Duck fans are likely pleased with the decision. After the investigation was drawn out for 27 months and the NCAA denying Oregon’s self-proposed penalty, loss of a scholarship and three years probation is minor when compared to sanctions inflicted on other programs.

When asked if the final verdict was a slap on the wrist for the Oregon football program, Sankey said, ”This was a multi-year investigation. No institution wants to go through this.”

The committee feels it has doled out adequate punishments for the football program.

“I have not met an institution that wants to go through the infractions and enforcement process,” said Sankey. “This was a multi-year effort that certainly existed and there are penalties that effect the program. The committee made their decision based on the information presented to it, not on other speculation and evaluation.”

Oregon’s investigation, and the soft punishment, will affect schools nationwide. In the future, the NCAA Committee on Infractions claims that it will run investigations differently, possibly changing the nature of penalties.

“There is an understanding that as we move forward, the penalty and violation structure will be changing,” said Sankey. “But that’s not the evaluation that occurred in this case.”

In a press release from the University of Oregon, the athletic administration echoed the Committee on Infractions, claiming that they were indeed guilty of infractions and agree with the committee’s penalty.

“The Committee on Infractions has issued its findings which were substantially consistent with recommendations by the University of Oregon,” said the University in its press release.

The athletic department has declined to comment further and have scheduled a press conference for 2p.m. when athletic director Rob Mullens will address the media.

The sanctions came in the wake of seven NCAA infractions committed by Oregon. The infractions were made public in a report requested by Portland news outlet KATU.

1) Willie Lyles deemed a booster.

Lyles, a Texas-based scout, was known for having close relationships to some of the nations top recruits. He ran Complete Scouting Services, a company that sold recruit contact information and highlight reels to football programs around the country.

Oregon purchased Lyles’ services and eventually recruited a running back, Lache Seastrunk, who had close ties to Lyles. The NCAA deemed Lyles a booster and claimed that his influence on Seastrunks’ decision to sign with Oregon was illegal.

Lyles has been connected to other scandals including allegedly promising to deliver star cornerback recruit Patrick Peterson to Texas A&M for $80,000.

2) Oregon paid for recruiting services deemed illegal by the NCAA.

Oregon paid Lyles for $35,000 for multiple recruiting services between 2008-11 that the NCAA found to be improper.

3) Redacted portion.

The third violation was so heavily redacted from the report that it is unclear what the infraction is. A portion less redacted shows that it is considered a “major violation” by the NCAA.

4) Impermissible calls.

Between 2007-11, the NCAA has found that Oregon is guilty of making 730 impermissible phone calls to recruits and their high school coaches.

5) Too many coaches.

Between 2009-11, the NCAA found Oregon to be guilty of having one too many coaches involved in recruiting.

6) No “atmosphere of compliance.”

While the NCAA did not say that Oregon “lacked institutional control,” it did claim that they did not promote an atmosphere of compliance. This was likely caused by the impermissible phone calls and the extra coach involved in recruiting.

7) Oregon failed to recruit by the book.

The NCAA found Oregon guilty of several recruiting practices, such as giving out apparel to recruits and calling high school players and coaches.

While college football programs disobeying NCAA rules and regulations have become somewhat commonplace, Oregon had one thing going for it. Every program that was severely hindered by sanctions lied to the NCAA during investigations. In the report from the NCAA, it was clearly stated that Oregon has been honest and compliant during the investigation.

“The committee was appreciative of the former head coach and the former director of football operations participating in the hearing,” said Sankey.

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Born to Close

By Aubrey Wieber

Published by Emerald Media Group on 5/23/13

Oregon was looking for its eighth straight victory, this one a home game with 1,329 fans looking on. Headed into the ninth inning, the Ducks nursed a 4-1 lead. Horton called up his most trusted arm: Jimmie Sherfy. He ran out from the pen, “Wild Thing” blaring from the speakers, as fans took to their feet, raucously cheering their beloved closer.

The first batter, Cory Lebrun, went down swinging. Next up was Marco Gonzalez, a pitcher projected to go number one overall in the 2013 draft. He knocked a single off the pitch. Caleb Wood, the next up, fell victim to Sherfy’s famous, and filthy, slider as he struck out swinging. Sherfy then got Clayton Eslick to pop up to right field, making easy work for Scott Heineman. Sherfy got his nation-leading 19th save to tie the Oregon school record he set his sophomore season.

Sherfy’s success during his two seasons at Oregon is unprecedented. In his first year playing for the Ducks (his sophomore year), he won second team All-American honors despite struggling with control over his pitches. This season he has surpassed the saves record from his sophomore year, leading the nation with 20 saves with three more regular season games to play. He has also corrected his only flaw from the previous season; this year, Sherfy throws nothing but strikes.

Sherfy has excelled as a closer at Oregon, which is surprising because he never had that role until the 2012 season. He was a starting pitcher all four years of high school. When he came to Oregon, Sherfy was in a battle throughout his freshman year trying to earn a spot in the starting rotation. Headed into his sophomore season, coach George Horton took him aside and informed him that he would be throwing out of the pen. Sherfy was crushed.

“I think initially he was pretty disappointed that he didn’t start,” said Brad Sherfy, Jimmie’s father. “I think they realized that and they were really supportive of him and said, ‘Hey look, we really need a big arm at the back-end and that’s where you’re going to help us the most.”

Sherfy admits that it was tough at first, but the transition was quick. Once he got his first opportunity to close during the season opening series in Hawaii, he never looked back and whole-heartedly embraced the intensity of the crowd and the pressure of being watched by everyone.

“I fell in love with closing, absolutely fell in love with it,” said Sherfy. “I never want to do anything else.”

His fit as a closer is ironic; in high school he was a slow starter, doing his best work in the final innings. Sherfy claims that it’s the pressure that gets him going right away.

“I love (the pressure),” said Sherfy. “I love it. If I go in with a four- or five-run lead, it’s iffy. Once it’s one or two runs I’m most dialed in. When the pressure is on, I love it.”

Coincidentally, one of Sherfy’s most prolific games came during his sophomore year of high school in a rare stint as a reliever on an April day in the Las Vegas desert.

Newbury Park High School had some how made it through the Bishop Gorman Easter Classic Tournament and were facing Bishop Gorman, host of the tournament and then No. 1 team in the nation. The problem was, after four and a third innings, they were down 7-1. With nothing left to lose, they threw in the 5-foot-7, 120-pound Sherfy.

He made light work of the MLB-bound hitters stepping to the plate for Bishop Gorman. It was one of the only days in his career that he had a great change-up, and he used it nearly every other pitch, dropping opposing batters like flies. In the final four and two-thirds innings, Sherfy threw one-hit baseball and Newbury Park came back to win 8-7.

“They just couldn’t score on him,” said Matt Goldfield, Newbury Park’s head baseball coach. “They couldn’t believe it — this little kid out there on the mound against these giants and he beat them.”

Sherfy’s family and former coaching staff, who are quick to bring it up when asked about his high school days, have immortalized the game against Bishop Gorman. Sherfy himself refers to the game as one of the best outings of his career. Maxpreps.com has it listed as the worst loss in Bishop Gorman history.

“It felt really good,” Sherfy said. “That was one of the highest (achievements) of my career. It was a great day.”

The David versus Goliath-like scene might have been jarring to the Bishop Gorman squad, the fans and probably even Sherfy himself, but not to Brad and Jenny Sherfy, Jimmie’s parents. Years of seeing Sherfy’s attraction to baseball morph into an obsession had prepared them for such an incredible game.

Ever since he started walking as an eight-month-old toddler, Sherfy enjoyed ball sports. As a young kid, he amazed his father with his natural athleticism and persistence as the two played ball in the front yard.

“We’d make up games,” said Brad Sherfy, fondly reminiscing. “We had a game where I’m throwing balls up against the fence and he’s diving for them and avoiding bushes and trees, we’d play that for hours.”

When his dad wasn’t available, Sherfy wasn’t deterred. He would take to the front yard himself and hit rocks across the street with a plastic bat. He would stay out there all day until it was dark and his parents had to force him to come inside.

“He just loved it,” said Jenny Sherfy. “We never pushed him. All he ever wanted to do was play baseball.”

Once at Oregon, Sherfy struggled with his command in his sophomore year. He hit 13 batters, walked 34 and threw four wild pitches that year, prompting the nickname “Wild Thing,” a reference to Ricky Vaughn from Major League.

Oddly enough, the lack of control that year was an anomaly; throughout his baseball career, Sherfy always displayed impeccable accuracy.

“Looking back at his pitching since he was six or seven, he’s always had good control,” said Brad Sherfy. “That’s the crazy thing. When he came out last year, he didn’t have the control, and it was really kind of out of character.”

He has since settled down. This season, Sherfy’s command of his pitches is nothing short of amazing. He leads the nation in saves (20) and strikeouts per nine innings (13.05). He has a 1.00 ERA and so far this season has only walked 13 batters and hit two, both coming in an out-of-character performance against Oregon State. The impressive season has put him on the watch list for four of the most prestigious awards in college baseball.

While he appreciates the awards, the most important thing for Sherfy is winning. Last season, the Ducks were two outs shy of a trip to Omaha when Sherfy dealt a ball that Kent State short stop Jimmy Rider popped up. It seemed like a routine out until it got lost in the sun and ended Oregon’s season. Sherfy isn’t to blame, but the trip to Omaha is still something that pushes him and something Brad Sherfy says he talks about often.

“Absolutely (he talks about it). The focus is going deep into the playoffs. Last year was a great year, it just came up a little short.”

Sherfy has come a long way since that day in Las Vegas. His 95 mph fastball and the “slider you can’t touch,” as fellow Oregon pitcher Christian Jones once put it, have made their mark on top-tier batters up and down the West Coast. However, behind all the hype, awards and nicknames is just a shy kid itching to get a shot at Omaha.

With the MLB Calling, Ryon Healy Faces a Tough Decision

By Aubrey Wieber

Published by Emerald Media Group on 6/3/13

Ryon Healy was easily the best player for the Oregon baseball program during their 2013 season and the main reason the No. 9 team got a national seed. Ripping the cover off the ball in a conference like the Pac-12 brings attention. Big league attention. With the season now over, Healy faces a big decision: another season at Oregon or sign with a team after the MLB draft.

“I’ve got a lot of emotions going through me right now,” Healy said. “I don’t know what my future is going to hold right now. The next week will determine it.”

Healy, a player who is rarely able to hide his emotions, was visibly sad and overwhelmed. His career at Oregon has been incredible. This season, he grew immensely as hitter and carried a poor offensive Oregon team through a brutal 60-game schedule.

His passion was never doubted. When Healy came up short in big moments, his helmet, bat and gloves often went flying as he buried his face in his hands on long walks back to the dugout.

But it wasn’t just on-field moments that shaped who Healy has become.

“Quite frankly I feel like I have learned more about life throughout these three years than I have about baseball,” Healy said. “That’s how special this program has been to my life. I’m not walking out of here with my head hanging. I’m proud to be a Duck.”

Healy has likely built strong relationships with the Oregon players and coaches and relishes his time under the tutelage of coach George Horton, but the call of the majors can be quite alluring. Especially for a junior who had a monster season.

That call was not lost on Coach Horton or Tyler Baumgartner, who openly spoke as if Healy had already signed with a team when speaking of next season.

“It’s obviously going to be tough losing Ryon and all of the other guys who are seniors or going in the draft,” Baumgartner said. “Coach (Wasikowski) and Uhlman do a good job of preparing us. We’ll be ready for next year.”

If Healy does go, the loss will take its toll off the field as well as on. Coach Horton has developed a lasting relationship with Healy he doesn’t want to see end.

“I don’t get involved in all of the recruitment,” Horton said. “But I did happen to go into his home. I fell in love with him and his family. I think besides the baseball development, he went from being a youngster to a real man and a leader and essentially carried the club offensively this year.”

If he does decide to depart for the pros, Healy claims that his time spent at Oregon has prepared him for what comes next and that he will always remember his collegiate career fondly.

“The University of Oregon was by far the best thing that has ever happened to my life and baseball career,” Healy said. “I can’t say enough thank you’s to the coaching staff and the university for really changing my life for the better.”

Tunneling for Truth

By Aubrey Wieber

Published by Flux Stories on 4/5/13

Relying heavily on a cane adorned with a silver dragon’s head, a hunched over Michael Jones leads a group of tourists through Portland’s “Chinatown” district. Jones, a historian, has spent his life trying to uncover the hidden past of Portland’s North End. He stops outside of Hobo’s Restaurant and Bar and pulls a steel cover-up from the sidewalk to expose a claustrophobia-inducing staircase leading to the damp underground. He descends below street level with a tour of twenty people in tow, crouching down in an effort to not hit his head on the shallow tunnel. The group follows Jones to a place that many have never heard of, but for Jones it’s home: underground Portland.

As of 2013, Jones has spent fifty years underground in what are called the shanghai tunnels. He discovered them as a seven-year-old boy sauntering around the Lenox Hotel in downtown Portland, where his stepfather, Dewey Kirkpatrick, often stayed. Jones hung out in the lobby looking for elderly patrons to question about the tunnels. He hungered to know what they had seen over the years in hopes of uncovering dark secrets of Portland’s past.

“I loved history,” says Jones. “It really captivated me.”

Jones spent years exploring the tunnels alone but it wasn’t until he started teaching a class for instructors at Portland State University through its Continuing Education program that he eventually started taking his students through the tunnels, even going so far as to create a class that studied them.

Word of the tours got out and eventually Jones started commercial tours. Now, Jones gives one to two tours per day. He explains to his visitors that the shanghai tunnels were built for the transportation of drugged men from bars down to the waterfront, where they would be sold to captains as slaves. The “shanghaied” men, as they were called, would serve three to five years aboard a ship in the ocean before being returned to Portland. Jones claims that the tunnels also served as a way to transport prostitutes and drink alcohol during prohibition.

Above ground, Jones appears as a sincere and dedicated historian, but during his tours he seems more like a guide for a roadside attraction—occupied with myths and legends rather than the facts. Though his tours include historical information, ghost stories are the prevailing theme.

“Things are happening there that I can never explain,” Jones says. “It always catches me off-guard and it definitely catches people on the tour. People do sight apparitions (ghosts)—there’s no getting around it.”

People peer into a crate of discarded boots taken from former victims of the Shanghai tunnels. Those unfortunate enough to find themselves drugged and taken into the Shanghai underworld would awaken to find their shoes had been taken, which, combined with  floors laden with broken glass, prevented captives from escaping.

(Michael Arellano/FLUX)

Jones says his primary job has been uncovering the “real” history of human trafficking in Portland, but his belief in the supernatural has lost him credibility amongst his peers. Portland historians agree that the city has a dark past and that “shanghaiing” did happen in Portland, but the vast majority do not believe that it actually took place in the tunnels.

“The secret passages of Chinatown were created by Chinese businessmen, mostly the owners of gambling establishments,” says Barney Blalock, member of the Oregon Historical Society. “When the city tried to make secret passages illegal in 1914, the law was opposed by the Chinese as discrimination against them, and them only—a violation of the Bill of Rights injunction against unreasonable search and seizure.”

Articles published between 1904 and 1935 also support Blalock’s claims. These articles, most from The Oregonian, describe underground systems like the shanghai tunnels being found in Portland, Seattle, San Francisco, and Vancouver, British Colombia, but never reference the practice of “shanghaiing.” The tunnels were generally in the news for being used for Chinese gambling houses and opium dens.

Blalock says that Jones is not the first person to claim that “shanghaiing” took place underground, but rather the latest.

“Today’s center of the shanghai tunnel story is Hobo’s Restaurant and Bar,” Blalock says. “[Here], Mike Jones gives the naïve and gullible a taste of old Portland ‘shanghaiing’ in the dark recesses of the basement.”

Blalock wrote in his recent book, Portland’s Lost Waterfront: Tall ships, Steam Mills, and Sailor’s Boardinghouses, that “shanghaiing” took place above ground. According to Blalock, drunkards would commonly be coerced into signing a chunk of their lives away to ship captains, who would take the drunkards to sea as slaves. Blalock claims this was common knowledge and lack of law enforcement made it unnecessary to take the crooked behavior underground.

“Most serious historians of Portland history think that the myth of the Shanghai Tunnels is simply that: a myth,” says Geoff Wexler, library director of the Oregon Historical Society.

(Michael Arellano/FLUX)

To combat these skeptics, Jones is working on a series of books containing first-hand accounts that he says support his claims. He hopes the books will be enough to silence critics, at least momentarily. Until then, he’ll continue to pull up the steel cover in front of Hobo’s every day, searching for what he believes to be the truth.

“One of the things that the Oregon Historical Society has done is they’ve made people afraid to talk,” Jones says. “Because then they will be ridiculed. That to me is wrong. That to me is almost like censorship . . . I have had people on our tours tell me ‘We don’t want the Oregon Historical Society to ridicule my relative and say it didn’t happen.’”

Skeptics like Blalock will continue to refute Jones’ claims, but Jones won’t be deterred from his mission. Fifty years of his life have gone toward exploring the tunnels. As long as he is physically able, he will continue to dig for clues. Regardless of what history tells us, the shanghai tunnels will ultimately be what its visitors want them to be: a haunted shelter for criminals and kidnappers, the site of a First Amendment legal battle, a lie, a childhood dream.

Oregon Baseball dominates Rice, Wins 11-0

By Aubrey Wieber

Published by Emerald Media Group on 6/2/13

When Ryon Healy blasted his 11th home run of the season, a sigh of relief was heard among the sparse crowd at PK Park. The Ducks were on the board, something they failed to do in their first match up with Rice. Little did they know, that was just a sneak peek of the offensive outburst that was to come.

For the second straight game, Oregon’s bats came alive as they pummeled Rice 11-0, wiping their tough, 1-0 loss to the same team Saturday night from memory.

“11 to nothing … If that’s not momentum, I don’t know what is,” Wayne Graham Rice head coach said.

Oregon’s offense was ignited by Ryon Healy who went 4-4 from the plate with a single, two doubles, and a home run with four RBI. What’s more impressive, he did it while battling injuries.

“Healy felt good,” Horton said. “Certainly when you hit a home run early it makes your back feel better. He had a huge day and a courageous effort, obviously, by him.”

But it wasn’t just Healy’s career game, or Tyler Baumgartner who went 2-4, or Scott Heineman who came back after injury to hit 2-3 with 3 RBI. The whole team fed of momentum, multiple times sending hits down the baseline that willed themselves fair and coming alive with runners in scoring position.

“I have no idea were all of the offensive production came from,” Horton said. “My instincts tell me that a little bit of the edge was off, there was a little excitement. They still had the desire to be successful but they weren’t trying too hard.”

They posted innings with one, two, three and four runs scored on 15 hits. Each time they seemed to be hitting at will. Nothing, especially not the five pitchers Rice threw at them, could stop the Ducks.

“I think we had a lot more fight in us,” Baumgartner said. “Everyone realized what happened the last couple nights, the burden of last night and not being able to get it done offensively. Hitting’s contagious, too.”

From a pitching standpoint, Oregon looked like they could be in trouble headed into the game. Their bullpen and weekday starters had been roughed up down the stretch of the season with guys trying to play through injury.

It wasn’t an issue. Jeff Gold got the start and went five innings while giving up two hits, no runs and striking out four. His curve ball was seemingly unhittable no matter when he used it. When he didn’t throw his curve, the fastball was nearly just as dependable.

“My mentality was that I didn’t want to lose,” Gold said. “I didn’t want the season to be over for all these guys. I just went out and executed coach’s game plan. Shaun (Chase) caught the crap out it, so, that was really all it was. I didn’t want to lose.”

Darrell Hunter, the first recruit to the program that was reinstated in 2009, came in and threw three perfect innings.

Jordan Spencer came on to finish off the Owls in the ninth. With Cole Irvin throwing a complete game in game three and the Oregon bullpen locking it down in game four, Horton got to rest the Vulture (Garrett Cleavinger) and the Wild Thing (Jimmie Sherfy) for what could be a much closer game five.

The final facet of the game, defense, did what they always do: make highlight plays to hold opposing offense at bay.

An overall captain of the game came in the form of catcher Shaun Chase. Saturday night Horton had said that Josh Graham would be catching Sunday, but Graham was bumped from the game after he showed up late.

“When a catcher is managing the game for 18 innings like that, it’s fun to work together,” Horton said. “You saw him running out to the mound if Goldy or Darrel were getting off track, I thought he kept those guys spot on.”

With the win, Oregon and Rice will now play a third and final game to decide who advances to super regionals. The game will be at 6 p.m. Monday at PK Park. Neither coach has decided on a starting pitcher. Television coverage can be found on ESPN3.

Rebounding Keeps Oregon Basketball in the Game

By Aubrey Wieber

Published by Emerald Media Group on 2/9/13

In a sloppy game that consisted of long bouts of poor shooting, offensive fouls and turnovers, one thing was consistent: rebounding. Oregon out rebounded Utah 41-19 Saturday night at Matthew Knight Arena, leading to a 73-64 victory.

At halftime, Oregon had out rebounded Utah 22-6, despite the Ducks shooting a lowly 30.8 percent, leading to Oregon trailing 30-22 at the break. Without strong rebounding, Oregon would have been buried in a hole so deep half way through the game that climbing out of it to win the game would have been unfathomable. Perhaps more surprising than the 16 rebound surplus that they had was that they were even able to pull 22 boards down with Utah shooting 57 percent and the Ducks committing 11 first half turnovers.

“We were rebounding the heck out of it in the first half,” coach Dana Altman said. “We just didn’t get anything back in the goal. To beat someone in second chance points 24-6 was huge for us. That was a big stat.”

But rebounding is what Oregon does. They lead the Pac-12 with 38.4 rebounds per game and have out-rebounded their opponent 641-498 on the year. 143 more rebounds over 25 games is pretty impressive. Their plus 7.7 rebounding per game margin also leads the league.

Aside from their gaudy numbers being impressive and league-best, they are also vital to the success they have seen. In their five losses, they were out rebounded in three of them. The two where they lost despite out-rebounding the opposing team came against Cal and Colorado. Oregon out-rebounded Cal by one and Colorado by five. In both games, Oregon was missing their starting point guard, Dominic Artis.

Arsalan Kazemi, who leads the team with 9.4 boards per game, knows how important his rebounding, and the team rebounding as a whole, is to the outcome of games.

“If feels really good,” Kazemi said of the rebounding advantage. “I still have a vision of the rebounds that I missed (against Cal and Colorado). It’s really tough but I’m glad I got most of the rebounds tonight that I could have gotten. That’s the way that I can help my team and I’m going to keep on doing it.”

A dominant rebounding performance like this couldn’t have come at a better time. Oregon’s offense has looked chaotic to say the least, in the five games without Artis. They have fallen from a top ten team to a team that will most likely be unranked come Monday.

The Ducks struggles in the first 25 minutes of play were brashly apparent and the surplus on the boards was easily the difference between a win and a fourth straight loss. A come-from-behind win like this could be just what the Ducks need to spark them into playing the way they did their first 20 games, especially with the return of Artis seemingly in the near future.