Archive for the ‘NCAA Football’ Category

When the college football season ended with two undefeated teams this year, it seemed as though there would at least be discussions about creating a Division I (FBS) playoff system.

Defenders of the BCS will claim that Auburn deserved to win the national title because they played a more difficult schedule than TCU.

Under the current system, Auburn absolutely earned their championship, but that doesn’t mean that they would have necessarily won if a playoff system existed.

It was reported this week that college football conferences will rake in $170 million from this year’s bowl games.  Even the non-automatic qualifying conferences made out well (earning $24.7 million) due in large part to TCU’s participation in the Rose Bowl.

BCS officials pointed to the new television contract with ESPN as the main reason that the revenues were so high.  This should come as no surprise since almost every bowl game was shown on ESPN.  The only games that appeared on other networks were the AT&T Cotton Bowl, Ticketcity Bowl, Hyundai Sun Bowl and the Outback Bowl.

Even though the Outback Bowl was shown on ABC, they and ESPN are both owned by The Walt Disney Company, so in actuality there were only three bowl games that didn’t fall under the ESPN umbrella.

Many ESPN sportscasters and college football experts expressed on-air that they are in favor of some kind of playoff system.  It seems a bit ironic that the money being paid out by their employer is actually making it easy for college athletic directors to stick with the status quo.

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban is in the exploratory stages of putting together a 12-16 team playoff system.

Under Cuban’s plan the bowl games would be able to run concurrently with the proposed playoffs.  Cuban has said that college athletic directors have shown interest in his proposal and that his next move is to approach school presidents.

Cuban is proposing to pay these schools an unspecified amount of money every five years in exchange for their promise to play in the newly-created playoffs if their school is selected.  It sounds good in theory, but it might be difficult to turn into a reality.

Whether a playoff system happens or not will all come down to money.  Based on the amount of money paid out for this year’s bowl games, it is going to take a lot of cash to inspire college athletic directors and presidents to agree to any changes.

Contrary to what BCS supporters may say, this is not a matter of what is best for the student athletes.  Simply put, playing in bowl games is the most lucrative option that is currently available to schools.

Anyone who believes otherwise should take note of the fact that college athletic directors and school presidents are in charge of both the football and basketball programs.

March Madness, by far the most exciting part of the college basketball season, takes place from March 15 – April 4, 2011.  College football could easily complete an eight-team playoff in the same exact time span.

Unfortunately, the powers that be now have 170 million reasons to continue under the current system, so it is doubtful that a college football playoff is going to happen any time in the near future.

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Remember when college football capped off its season with an exciting slate of games on New Year’s Day?  For the diehard college football fan, there was almost no time to even take a bathroom break as you flipped between the overlapping games.  The day started at around 11:00am and ended about 12 hours later when the clock struck zero in the nighttime games.  The bowl games were something to look forward to…and with good reason.  For the most part, only the top teams were afforded the opportunity to advance to a bowl game.

Nowadays, there are 35 bowl games, meaning that 70 of the 120 Division 1 schools finish their season with a bowl game.  Needless to say, the quality of the bowl games has been greatly diminished as mediocre teams are rewarded with the chance to play in them.  All it takes now to be eligible is a 6-6 record.  Ironically, the same record that makes schools bowl-eligible is also one that often times causes coaches to be fired, sometimes even before the bowl game takes place.

This past week, when Mark Cuban (owner of the Dallas Mavericks) proposed bankrolling a playoff system for college football, he was immediately dismissed by the head shill for the BCS, Bill Hancock.  According to Hancock… College football is so popular today, because we have a great regular season and because we have an important bowl tradition that provides a meaningful experience for the students and fans — all of which would be at risk if this concept were implemented.”

Hancock added…

“Given how much support our current system has among university presidents, athletics directors, coaches and athletes, I don’t think any amount of financial inducement will make people abandon the BCS.”

It’s hard to imagine how Hancock was able to keep a straight face while making these preposterous statements, since the bowl games and the BCS are nothing more than money-making opportunities.  How else do you explain 58% of all Division 1 schools ending their season with a bowl game?

Of the 70 teams invited to a bowl game this year, a good percentage of them finished the season with an unimpressive record:

  • 6 wins – 20%
  • 7 wins – 26%
  • 8 wins – 14%
  • 9 wins – 11%
  • 10+ wins – 29%

As I watch the bowl games this year with my 8-year old son, I will look back and long for the way that things used to be when I was his age.  That year, there were only 12 bowl games, and each one had meaning.  While there were a few records that were less than stellar, the percentages overwhelmingly show the difference in the quality of teams that were invited to bowl games:

  • 6 wins – 0%
  • 7 wins – 8%
  • 8 wins – 17%
  • 9 wins – 38%
  • 10+ wins – 38%

Anyone who thinks that the bowl games are driven by something other than money should take note of the names of each game:

  • 2 bowl games (New Mexico Bowl and Texas Bowl) have no sponsor
  • 21 bowl games feature the sponsor name in the title
  • 12 bowl games have no other name besides that of the sponsor

Bill Hancock of the BCS was either blatantly lying when he said… College football is so popular today because we have a great regular season and because we have an important bowl tradition that provides a meaningful experience for the students and fans” or he is so delusional that he believes his own rhetoric.

If bowl tradition actually meant something to the BCS or NCAA, then we wouldn’t be forced to suffer through watching mediocre teams play in bowl games that are designed more for sponsors to get their message across than for recognition of an outstanding season.

While few will argue that this year’s two most deserving teams to play in the championship game (under the current system) are facing each other, who knows if either one would be crowned champion if a playoff system existed?  I, for one, applaud Mark Cuban and his determination to fix a system that is badly broken.

When there were only 12 bowl games, we still may not have found a true champion, but at least college football fans ended the season with entertaining games featuring good teams, and the bowl games didn’t drag out until January 10th.

Sometimes, less is more.  In the case of college football bowl games, this is definitely the case.

Hopefully, Mark Cuban will dangle enough money in front of the NCAA to entice them into giving the people what they want…and do away with the endless array of meaningless, sponsor-driven bowl games.

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A career in sports is unlike that of any other profession.  Beyond the glamor of the limelight is the burning desire to compete.  This is true for players and coaches alike.  Why else would so many professional athletes hang on long after their bodies have begun to fail them?  Many players and coaches define themselves by their profession, sometimes to the detriment of their family lives.  But this is not always the case.

Today is an unusual day in the world of sports.

First, Keith Fitzhugh, a 24-year old train conductor passed on the opportunity to join the New York Jets.  The undrafted Mississippi State star safety signed with the Jets as a free agent after graduating in 2009.  Like many undrafted free agents, Fitzhugh was cut by the Jets – twice.  He also spent some time with the Baltimore Ravens, but was cut by them as well.  With no offers from other teams, Fitzhugh did what others in his position are forced to do…he got a job.

In September of this year, Fitzhugh took a job as a train conductor on the Norfolk Southern Railroad.  While it is not as glamorous as playing in the NFL, it is a job that he loves.  More importantly, it is a job that offers him a steady paycheck and a chance for long-term employment.  You would think that if ever there was a time in life to roll the dice, this would be it.  However, Fitzhugh does not have the same luxury that many other 24-year olds have.

Keith Fitzhugh lives at home with his parents in Georgia.  His father is disabled and cannot work.  Keith’s salary with the railroad is depended on by the family to make ends meet.  If he joined the Jets, he would certainly make more than enough money to support his family.  However, players at the bottom of NFL rosters are constantly being let go based on the needs of the team.  So, rather than pursue his lifelong dream of playing in the NFL, Keith Fitzhugh put the needs of his family ahead of taking a risk that could cost him a job that he needs.

The statement that Fitzhugh made to ABC News speaks volumes about him as a person… “People say – I may have had a chance to play in the Super Bowl, and I sit there and think, and I tell them – hey, you only got one mom and dad!”


Later on in the day, Urban Meyer, the head coach of the Florida Gators, decided to step down from his high-profile coaching job so that he could spend more time with his family.  This is a decision that he also made last year at around this time, but that decision was a knee-jerk reaction to a health scare brought on by chest pains, which were later revealed to be esophageal spasms, not a heart problem.

Leaving one of the most high profile, desirable jobs in college football is not an easy decision.  Just like playing professional sports, coaching is something that goes much deeper than a career choice.  Anyone who needs further proof of this need not look any further than the opposing sidelines during the upcoming Outback Bowl (Urban Meyer’s final game as the coach of the Florida Gators).  Florida will be facing a Penn State team coached by Joe Paterno, who turns 84 on December 21st.  He has been coaching the Nittany Lions for nearly as long as Urban Meyer has been alive.

Some may think that Urban Meyer is becoming the coaching version of Brett Favre with the annual retirement talks, but he sounded very sincere at his press conference, and his motives seem pure.

“At the end of the day, I’m very convinced that you’re going to be judged on how you are as a husband and as a father and not on how many bowl games we won,” Meyer said.  He further stated…“I’ve not seen my two girls play high school sports. They’re both very talented Division I-A volleyball players, so I missed those four years. I missed two already with one away at college. I can’t get that time back.”

Meyer is walking away from about $20million in guaranteed salary to be there for his family.  When it comes down to it, there is no amount of money in the world that can buy back the time that is spent away from family.  He may very well coach again in the future.  With his track record, there will always be a place for him whenever he is ready.  But for now, he is putting his family first and his career second.

Many people will question Urban Meyer for his decision to step down in his prime, and Keith Fitzhugh for his decision to pass on the opportunity to join the Jets for their playoff run.  I, for one, think that they should be commended for defying conventional wisdom, and making the decision to sacrifice for the good of their respective families.

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Puzzled by the NCAA

Posted: December 2, 2010 in NCAA Football
Tags: , , , , ,

In 2004 and 2005, Reggie Bush received “gifts” from a sports agent while playing at USC.  In November of 2007 – over a year-and-a-half after Reggie Bush was drafted by the Saints – he was sued by that sports agent for not repaying these gifts (valued at over $290,000).  In June of 2010, the NCAA announced the following major sanctions against USC for Reggie Bush’s actions:

  • Vacating the final two wins of the 2004 season (including the 2005 Orange Bowl national title game)
  • Four years of probation
  • Bowl game banishment in 2010 and 2011
  • Loss of 30 scholarships over the course of three years
  • Permanent disassociation of Reggie Bush and the university

It took the NCAA nearly three years to wrap up the investigation from the time that the lawsuit was made public.  The sanctions were imposed nearly five years after the rule infraction occurred, punishing those that were not even a part of the team when it happened.  Reggie Bush, meanwhile, was already earning a lot of money as an NFL player by the time that the NCAA concluded their very “un-CSI-like” investigation.

One can’t help but wonder how an organization that took so long to conclude the Reggie Bush investigation was able to clear Auburn’s, Cam Newton, in less than a day.  In fact, they cleared Cam Newton so quickly that even the 24/7 sports media was unaware that he had been declared ineligible by Auburn for the SEC title game against South Carolina this coming weekend.  While the NCAA hasn’t officially closed the investigation, their decision insures that any potential punishment in the future will be dealt (once again) long after the fact to people that had nothing to do with the investigation.

The case against Cam Newton differs from the case against Reggie Bush in a few ways.  First of all, it seems that no money ever changed hands.  The impropriety that Cam Newton is involved in stems from his father’s efforts to be compensated by Mississippi State to get Newton to choose Mississippi State over other schools, whereas Reggie Bush’s family did receive money while he was playing for USC.  More importantly, it seems as though Cam Newton was totally unaware of his father’s actions, giving him “plausible deniability.”

Reggie Bush got paid.  Cam Newton seemingly did not.  Either way, the NCAA rules against college athletes receiving money reeks of irony given that money is the engine that drives college sports.

TCU is going to the Big East so that they can automatically qualify for BCS Bowl games (which pay significantly more to its participants than non-BCS Bowl games).  They were invited to the Big East in part because of their successful program, but mostly to tap into a lucrative television market.  TCU wasn’t invited into the Big 12 (a perfect geographical fit) because their presence wouldn’t increase the value of the Big 12 television contract due to their proximity to existing schools in the conference.

There is no logical reason why NCAA football hasn’t instituted a playoff system to determine a national champion, other than to preserve the integrity of the revenue-generating bowl games.  As much as TCU (like any other university) would like to win a national championship, their move to the Big East is driven by their desire to get their piece of the revenue pie.

The bottom line is that NCAA sports (especially football and basketball) generate huge revenues for universities across the country.  Student athletes do benefit in the form of scholarships, but they are not allowed to accept so much as a sandwich without violating some archaic rule about eligibility.  And yet, somehow EA Sports was able to cut a deal with the NCAA to produce games featuring the likeness of student athletes as long as they don’t use their actual names.

I am not in favor of seeing people benefit from breaking rules, but I also think that it is extremely hypocritical of schools to use student athletes to pad their bottom line with no form of payment other than scholarships.

Clearly, the NCAA has proven that it is not capable of issuing swift justice to those that violate their rules, which means that others will usually suffer the consequences for violations that they had no part of.

We’ve seen Reggie Bush stripped of his Heisman Trophy, and his team stripped of their championship long after he violated NCAA policy.  Cam Newton is the odds-on favorite to win this year’s Heisman Trophy, and has an excellent chance to win the national championship.  This story is starting to feel all too familiar.

The worst part of this situation is that the NCAA seems to have opened a mile-wide loophole which has the potential to cause chaos in the future.  If the family of a student athlete is allowed to break the rules while the athlete is allowed to skate by due to “plausible deniability” (as long as they have no knowledge of the violation) there will be many more incidents like this in the future, and the NCAA will be powerless to stop it.

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By all rights, TCU should have been asked to join the Big 12 when Nebraska and Colorado announced that they were leaving, and the fate of the entire conference hung in the balance.  However, the Big 12 didn’t make the obvious move because adding TCU would not have increased their TV footprint.  Aside from the geographical logic, adding TCU to the Big 12 would have created instant rivalries with the other Texas teams, while strengthening the conference with an outstanding football program.  However, logic rarely prevails when it comes to greed, which is why TCU is headed to the Big East.  And though it may not seem like a good fit, I believe that this move will ultimately be better for TCU than joining the Big 12.

For better or worse, Texas is Longhorn country.  Burnt orange is everywhere, including the Dallas / Fort Worth area (which is TCU’s backyard).  Truth be told, TCU isn’t even a distant second in the area.  That honor belongs to Oklahoma.  Even though TCU has been atop the mystical BCS standings in recent years, the game that gets the most hype in the DFW area is the annual Red River Shootout (Texas vs.  Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl).  Tickets to the Red River Shootout do not come cheap or easy, yet tickets to see unbeaten TCU are relatively easy to come by.  Even if TCU were asked to join the Big 12, they would likely not rise above being the third favorite team in the conference (even in their own backyard).

Recruiting against Texas and Oklahoma is always going to present a challenge, which is understandable because of the rich traditions of each program.  With the impressive run that TCU has been on, recruiting against the other Texas schools should be fairly easy, but it isn’t because Mountain West Conference teams are never going to be seen by the masses as being able to play with the “big boys.”

Joining the Big 12 (if they were invited) would have taken away the BCS stumbling block, but would not have created the unique opportunity that TCU is going to have as a member of the Big East (at least where football is concerned).

The Big East is the most dominant conference in the country…for basketball.  But the football talent coming out of the areas where the Big East teams are located pales by comparison to the football talent that exists in Texas.  The bottom line is that football is a way of life in Texas, but it is not in other parts of the country.  This gives TCU a tremendous recruiting advantage over all of the other teams is their new conference.  When you take into account that TCU is already a far better football program than anything that the Big East has to offer, it isn’t a huge leap to say that they will be favored to win the conference for the foreseeable future.

Winning the Mountain West Conference is tantamount to being the 5th runner-up in the Miss America pageant.  Logic would say that winning the Big East in football would be tantamount to being 3rd runner-up in the same pageant, but logic does not exist when it comes to the BCS, as evidenced by the fact that UCONN (a Big East team with 4 losses) is likely to be invited to a BCS bowl game if they win their last game of the season due to the conference’s automatic qualifier status.

If they make it to a BCS bowl game, UCONN (with 4 losses) will receive approximately $17million, while powerhouse 1-loss teams will be playing for no more than a quarter of that total in their non-BCS bowl games.

History is on the side of TCU being able to represent the Big East in a BCS bowl on a regular basis.  The University of Miami represented the Big East in a major bowl game in six out of their twelve seasons in the conference.  Florida (like Texas) is a very fertile ground for recruiting top football talent.  Miami had the best recruiting classes in the Big East, which played a large part in their conference dominance.  It stands to reason that TCU will also have the best recruiting classes in the Big East going forward, which is a huge advantage, considering that they will likely be the best football team in the conference as soon as they officially join.

Undefeated Big East football teams are not shunned for their schedule the way that non-automatic-qualifier conferences are, and will always be in the running to play in the national championship game.  Going undefeated in the Big East is far more likely than going undefeated in the Big 12, which is why this move is ideal for TCU football (geographical challenges aside).   TCU can also take solace in the fact that they can still play in a BCS bowl even if they don’t go undefeated.

The more BCS bowl games that TCU can play in the more exposure they will get.  The more exposure they get, the easier it will be to recruit top talent in the future.  Better recruiting increases the likelihood of playing in more BCS bowl games, which will keep the cycle going.

Skeptics will point out the fact that a Texas team is playing in The Big East.  They will point out that TCU will have to travel long distances to play their conference road games.  However, they were already travelling extensively in the Mountain West Conference, so this is nothing new for them.  In fact, the closest geographical team to TCU in their current conference is 555 miles away (see below).

BIG EAST                                                                              MOUNTAIN WEST

Connecticut – 1723 miles                                              Utah – 1230 miles

Rutgers – 1560 miles                                                       San Diego State – 1144 miles

Syracuse – 1548 miles                                                    UNLV – 1038 miles

Pittsburgh – 1373 miles                                                 BYU – 948 miles

West Virginia – 1244 miles                                            Wyoming – 876 miles

South Florida – 1186 miles                                            Colorado State – 840 miles

Cincinnati – 971 miles                                                     Air Force – 720 miles

Louisville – 871 miles                                                      New Mexico – 555 miles

TCU will have to travel further to Big East road games than Mountain West road games, but it will be well worth it in the end, especially because the time zone difference is actually going to decrease for the most part.  As a TCU fan, I couldn’t be happier with their move, and look forward to the day when I see much more purple and much less burnt orange!

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