There were many eyebrows raised at the most recent edition of conference expansion in college football — this time involving Jim Delany’s Big Ten, Maryland, Rutgers , cable companies and television sets — but why? Why are we surprised? Because of the teams or the conference, the timing or the pace?
If there’s one thing past and current generations of college sports fans can loosen their grasp of, it is tradition. Feel free to express your shock of the expansion’s choices — Maryland and Rutgers do not invoke thoughts of athletic prowess — but do not express shock over financially driven decisions by the NCAA or its members. This is the world you live in, where athletic programs are often seen as television markets.
In the Big Ten’s estimation (pipe dream), it just added 15 million TV sets, not Terrapins or Scarlet Knights. In all likelihood, it won’t smell quite as rosy in the end. The Lakers are struggling to get on cable TV in Los Angeles, and you think Brooklyn wants to pay extra for Rutgers-Illinois football? All the same,cash rules everything, and there is an expected profit, especially for schools leaving the ACC and Big East for greener pastures.
The backlash to the expansion news was swift and violent, but, in many ways, surrounded all the wrong reasons. A quick breakdown of the vitriol:
“These schools dilute the Big Ten product”: The Big Ten product was something to be concerned about 10 years ago, by now it’s just a slow-plodding joke . If you think College Gameday viewers are sticking around for those noon Iowa-Northwestern games (you know the ones), stop kidding yourself. There are five teams worth watching in the Big Ten this season, and it’s a good bet most haven’t watched three of them. Adding two more also-rans won’t hurt. The only difference is the potential for millions more to ignore it.
“Tradition is dying”: It’s strange to hear the outpouring of hatred for Maryland, an ACC charter member, from a conference that just took in two other programs from the Big East. Syracuse was a charter member of the Big East. Funny how things look from the other side. Is it disappointing that rivalries die during expansion? Sure. But be honest, overall, the Terrapins and their complaints of “ Carolina bias” won’t really be missed, especially if a more intriguing athletic program like Louisville is their replacement. This is not the death of Kansas-Missouri or Texas-Texas A&M. Rutgers doesn’t even have a true rival. Be careful what you say, ACC fans, because your school would jump to the SEC in a heartbeat.
“It’s all about money, not the kids”: While this sentiment is based in truth, it’s likely being spewed out by the same folks who make Scam Newton jokes and advocate amateurism in collegiate athletes. The true crime is that two athletic programs strapped with debt due to incompetent leadership are being rewarded an annual bonus of (possibly) an additional $17 million, and none of it will go to the young men that earn it. Oh sure, you can restart some smaller sports teams, but the money is coming in for football and if even one of those players is caught trading his own property for cash he’s suspended.
You’re right, it’s not really about the kids. But that’s nothing new.
So take a deep breath, because more shifts toward monetary gains are on the horizon. Get used to it.
STIFF ARM SUSPECTS
The Suspects does not acknowledge name recognition, positional bias, team affiliation or media favorites for its weekly Heisman update. Players earn a spot based on production – and production alone – against quality opponents. This week sees a freshman on the verge of history.
Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M, QB: A freshman is the Heisman frontrunner. Read that again. A freshman is one dynamic performance (against Mizzou, so chalk up 300 yards and three touchdowns) from heading to the clubhouse on the Suspects’ leaderboard after leading the country in totaloffense while facing SEC competition. Next game: Missouri
Manti Te’o, Notre Dame, LB: Defensive players are usually at a disadvantage, but of the top candidates, Te’o and USC receiver Marqise Lee will play on the biggest stage Saturday. While Manziel puts up numbers in obscurity, the Irish’s elite linebacker will be able to stamp his resume in front of millions. The plane ticket to New York is already booked. But with six interceptions (tied second nationally) and 98 tackles (top-50), could he pull off the upset? Next game: USC
Collin Klein, Kansas State, QB: Other candidates needed Klein to stumble last week, and he did, in a big way, while losing to Baylor. He’s still a Suspect based purely on his previous performances against Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Texas Tech and West Virginia. He’s still top-10 nationally in total touchdowns, but let’s face it: Now Klein’s the one needing help. Next game: Texas
Raising Suspicion: Marqise Lee (USC); Tajh Boyd (Clemson); Braxton Miller (Ohio State); Jarvis Jones (Georgia);Ka’Deem Carey (Arizona); Damontre Moore (Texas A&M); Kenjon Barner (Oregon); Terrance Williams (Baylor)
THE FIFTH WATCH
The Watch is your weekly slate of top games, plus one highly-ranked team that needs to be on high alert. This week sees the national championship picture get a little clearer.
Notre Dame at USC: Notre Dame is one win away from the BCS title game (and no, you’re not just simulating through NCAA ’13) and only Lane Kiffin can stop it. The Irish have won in thrilling fashion, but their defense is no laughing matter — rock steady and tied with Alabama for least points allowed per game (10.09). Kiffin has to turn to a redshirt freshman with Matt Barkleyinjured. Pick: Notre Dame
Auburn at Alabama: No bold predictions. No wild upsets. Just chalk. Alabama is better in every phase of the game — blame Nick Saban’s “process” — and, withoutGus Malzahn manning his offense, Gene Chizik just is not an effective head coach. Crimson Tide fans even made T-shirts to prove it. Auburn might keep it below the spread, but will Chizik keep his job in the aftermath? Pick: Alabama
Florida State at Florida: This game, too, could decide a spot in the BCS title game — and it has all the makings of a defensive battle. The Gators defense is playing lights out, allowing just about 13 points per game, but the offense has been a roller coaster ride. That’s good news for the high-pressure Seminoles (2.55 sacks per game). And Florida still doesn’t know if Jeff Driskel is 100 percent. It’s tough to pick the ACC over the SEC, but that’s the move. Pick: Florida State
Stanford at UCLA: Just last week, Oregon had the inside track to the national title. And now, if Stanford beats UCLA, the Ducks might be held out of their own conference championship. UCLA’s Brett Hundley has been a tribute to the redshirt freshman quarterback movement (3,255 yards, 33 touchdowns), but Stanford’s Kevin Hogan is joining the club after knocking off Oregon. Pick: Stanford
ON WATCH: The Georgia Bulldogs are two wins away from the BCS Championship game, so, as an alumnus, it’s my journalistic duty to ensure they don’t overlook a weak Georgia Tech team this weekend. The Yellow Jackets are playing for the ACC crown ( by default), but at 6-5, it’s hard to see them making any headway versus Aaron Murray & Co., especially defensively. The Bulldogs should win handily, and try to avoid injuries defending that triple option.
THIS IS WHY…
If you’re going to live in Arkansas, move out of your parent’s house, at least.
In yet another tear-inducing rendition of musical expressionism to filter out of The Natural State’s borders — and no, there’s nothing natural about this — three Arkansas fans decided it would be a good idea to lock themselves in a overly-decorated bedroom and sing a tribute song to convince John Gruden to coach their football team. Yes, that’s exactly how it happened. They oh-so-cleverly covered The Beatles’ “Hey Jude” — “ HEY GRUUUUDE…” — to do it, too.
Perhaps it was the full-Monty Razorbacks bedspread, the Woo Pig Sooie throw pillow or the custom-made Fathead helmet, but something feels off here. Or, maybe it was just hearing a real-life human call Gruden the “Head Hog.”
Whatever transpired that made this seem like a suitable idea during a school’s head coaching search … don’t let it happen at your school. Don’t let the guy wearing sunglasses indoors with a misunderstanding of the backup-singer concept be the face of your fan base. Why do you keep letting this happen Arkansas?
This is why we can fully expect, within the next few months, an over-the-top, politically-based cover song to leak out of Little Rock. Search YouTube for Bill Clinton-N’SYNC covers, and “I Want You Back,” will surely be lingering on the interwebs.
It’s just getting out of hand, especially when three people simultaneously sing Nick Saban’s name, which, according to Saban Law, is a felony in SEC country.
This is why, for all his moral deficiencies , Bobby Petrino was useful in Arkansas: He kept these folks quiet.