• Blazers lay off executives: The Portland Trail Blazers have laid off three longtime executives. The Blazers announced the layoffs on Thursday, about a month after Chris McGowan became the new team president. Chief financial officer Gregg Olson had been with the Blazers for 10 years. Michele Daterman, who was the senior vice president of tickets and marketing, and Traci Reandeau, formerly the senior vice president of human resources, both had been with the team for some 18 years. Daterman helped develop Portland’s “New Team, New Dream" slogan. Chief operating officer Sarah Mensah resigned last week.
• Cal introduces new coach: At the urging of athletic director Sandy Barbour, Sonny Dykes pulled out a white California cap from underneath the podium and popped it on his head to accent his blue-and-gold tie and dark suit, drawing cheers from department staff who filled the Memorial Stadium room. On his first day as Cal’s coach, Dykes definitely looked the part. The Golden Bears just hope he can garner the same reaction on game days. Cal formally introduced Dykes as its football coach Thursday, replacing the fired Jeff Tedford after three years at Louisiana Tech. Dykes takes over a proud program with a refurbished stadium and training facilities, but also one that has failed to make a bowl in two of the past three seasons and has the lowest graduation rate (48 percent) in the Pac-12 Conference. “We will turn it around," Dykes said. “It’s going to be a long, arduous process. How many years is it going to take? I don’t know. Is it going to be next year? I don’t know. What’s the future hold? I can’t answer that question. But I do know that’s what’s going to drive us every day. Every single day we get in our car and come to work, our goal is going to be to get to the Rose Bowl."
• Strong staying as Louisville coach: Charlie Strong’s decision to stay at Louisville is the second major coup for the Cardinals in eight days. After reports linking Strong to several openings in the Southeastern Conference, he said Thursday that he wasn’t going anywhere. Keeping the coach had become a priority for Louisville after announcing last week it will join the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2014. “I knew this would be a big opportunity," Strong said during a press conference at the Cardinals’ football stadium. “It was the best decision to stay here, continue to build a program and fulfill our dreams on the football field and in the classroom." Strong turned down an offer from Tennessee on Tuesday night to replace Derek Dooley, who was fired on Nov. 18.
• Alvarez to coach Wisconsin in Rose Bowl: Wisconsin is going retro for the Rose Bowl. Left without a coach when Bret Bielema bolted for Arkansas, the Badgers asked former coach and current athletic director Barry Alvarez to lead them when they face No. 8 Stanford on New Year’s Day. “We wouldn’t want anyone else but coach Alvarez to coach us in this game," linebacker Mike Taylor said Thursday. “Kids like me, growing up in Wisconsin, you watched him on the sidelines and you always dreamed of playing for him." The return is for one game only, Alvarez said. He’s already started the search for a new coach and plans to begin interviewing candidates next week.
• NFL may help fund Oakland stadium: NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said Thursday the league is willing to contribute funding to help build a stadium in Oakland to keep the Raiders in town. Goodell said it is crucial that the Raiders improve their stadium situation. They currently play in the outdated Oakland Coliseum and have said they would like a more modern facility at the same location. There have been talks between the team and city officials, but nothing concrete has happened as of yet. The league already contributed $200 million to help fund a new stadium for the San Francisco 49ers in Santa Clara. Also Thursday, Goodell said the league’s competition committee would consider in the offseason replacing the kickoff. The league previously had moved the kickoff from the 30 to 35-yard line to cut down on violent collisions.
• Steelers’ Roethlisberger to start: The Pittsburgh Steelers aren’t taking any chances with their franchise quarterback’s sprained right shoulder and dislocated rib. Though the Steelers confirmed Ben Roethlisberger will return to the starting lineup on Sunday against San Diego after missing three weeks due to injury, Roethlisberger will take the field with a little extra protection. Roethlisberger will play with a custom fit rib/chest compression shirt and a layer of Kevlar-lined composite in his shoulder pads to help absorb hits to his clavicle and shoulder joint regions.
Mixed martial arts
• UFC to hold first women’s fight: Former Olympic judo bronze medalist and rising mixed-martial arts star Ronda Rousey will fight in the main event at UFC 157 on Feb. 23 in Anaheim, Calif., where she will face Liz Carmouche in the first women’s fight in UFC history. UFC President Dana White announced the fight on Thursday. Rousey signed with the UFC in November after winning the bantamweight championship with Strikeforce, and White presented her with a title belt as the UFC women’s 135-pound class champion.
• Feng in front: China’s Shanshan Feng opened a four-stroke lead in the Dubai Ladies Masters in United Arab Emirates, shooting a 7-under 65 in the second round Thursday. Feng, the LPGA Championship winner in June, had a 13-under 131 total at Emirates Golf Club. England’s Felicity Johnson was second after a 67, and American Cindy Lacrosse had a 69 to top the group at 8 under in the Ladies European Tour’s season-ending event. Defending champion Lexi Thompson was 7 under after a 68.
• Schwartzel leads in Thailand: South Africa’s Charl Schwartzel shot a 7-under 65 to take a one-stroke lead after the first round of the Thailand Golf Championship on Thursday. Winless since the 2011 Masters, Schwartzel had seven birdies in a bogey-free round at Amata Spring. Thailand’s Thitiphun Chuayprakong was second. Masters champion Bubba Watson opened with a 68, and defending champion Lee Westwood had a 70.
• Senden tops field in Sydney: Australia’s John Senden shot a 6-under 66 on Thursday in calm morning conditions at The Lakes to take a two-stroke lead in the Australian Open. Englishman Justin Rose was second along with Australians Kim Felton, Brendan Jones and Richard Green and New Zealand’s Gareth Paddison.
• South African event rained out: Rain washed out play Thursday in the inaugural Nelson Mandela Championship. The event opens the 2013 European Tour season and also is sanctioned by the Sunshine Tour.
— From wire reports