NCAA

Dear ESPN, Nebraska should NOT return to the Big XII

On Wednesday, Oklahoma’s president said the Big XII “should strive for” a 12-team league.  Since it is the end of June, when you’re more likely to see snowflakes than college football news*, several outlets pounced on the story and began speculation on who teams XI and XII might be.

*Or at least, college football news outside of recruiting and arrests.  Those two topics know no off-season.

One of those pieces came from ESPN’s Jake Trotter, who broke down 12 possible additions from most likely (BYU, Memphis, Boise State, Cincinnati, etc.), less likely (Florida State and Clemson, or other defectors from a Power 5 conference), down to the least likely:  Nebraska.

You’re reading that correctly:  somebody at the Worldwide Leader made a case for Nebraska going back to the Big XII.

Now, before I rip his rationale to shreds, it is worth mentioning in Trotter’s defense that he considers North Dakota State* – a current member of the FCS – a much more likely addition than Nebraska.  Whether or not this improves Trotter’s credibility is up to you.

*Be sure to give Trotter credit for this spectacular factoid about the Bison:  “They actually have as many wins against the Big 12 as Kansas does in the last five years.”  

But let’s face it:  at best, suggesting Nebraska as a “new” member of the Big XII is an ignorant pipe dream.  At worst, it’s click-bait trolling.

So where is Trotter wrong in his assessment?  Let’s go line by line.  Trotter’s words are in bold.  My responses are not.

*   *   *

Put a truth serum in many Nebraska fans, and they would probably admit their realignment to the Big Ten hasn’t been what they hoped it would be.

Okay – so Trotter actually comes out of the gate with an ugly truth.  I think there are many of us who expected an easier time than a combined 22-10 conference (counting the 2012 championship game) in football and expected dominance in other sports (i.e. baseball) has not materialized.  There are lots are reasons for this, but that is an entirely separate discussion.  But four seasons is a little quick for buyer’s remorse.

Also, it’s worth remembering that in my “State of the Husker Nation” poll last November, 58% of the nearly 6,000 respondents said the decision to join the Big Ten was not a mistake.  Only 18.5% said it was a mistake.

The Huskers have fallen into second-tier status in the Big Ten.

 

Agree to disagree here.  Yes, the NU brand is not as shiny as it was in the inaugural Big Ten season of 2011 (again, an entirely separate discussion).  But to say NU is second-tier is ludicrous.

B1G tiers off the top of my head:

Top-Tier

  1. Ohio State.  The class of the conference.
  2. Michigan.  Even after Rich Rod and Hoke, the Wolverines are a top-tier program.  Period.
  3. Michigan State.  If you got that truth serum back out, how many Husker fans probably would trade straight up for MSU’s roster, coaches, and especially their recent success?
  4. Nebraska.  Yes, Wisconsin has owned Nebraska, but I cannot (will not?) say the Badgers are the better program.
  5. Wisconsin.  A top-tier program in any Power 5 conference.

Second-Tier

  1. Penn State.  If not for the sanctions (and the tarnish to Paterno’s legacy), they are securely in the top-tier – and they may get back there soon.
  2. Iowa.  The case could be made that Nebraska joining the Big Ten helped to knock the Hawkeyes to second-tier status.
  3. Minnesota.  They’ve crept out of the dregs.
  4. Northwestern.  At serious risk of falling out of the second-tier.

Bottom of the Barrel

  1. Maryland.  Need to prove something to earn a promotion to second-tier, but they’re close.
  2. Illinois.  Like Missouri in the 1980s and 90s – the potential is there.  The plan is not.
  3. Indiana.  Is it basketball season yet?
  4. Purdue.  Look!  We have a big drum!
  5. Rutgers.  Still a head-scratching decision by Jim Delany.  You know you would mock to the Big XII if they took a school of Rutgers’ caliber.

They’re in the division opposite Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State, which reduces their number of marquee games.

Two things here:  1) Before the additional of Maryland and Rutgers, Nebraska was in the same division as Michigan and played an annual crossover game with Penn State.  Yes, the new geographic divisions have the marquee schools in the East, but remember:  2) In the old Big XII North, the marquee teams (Oklahoma, Texas, A&M) were in the opposite division.

Nebraska once played one of college football’s most storied rivalry games against Oklahoma. Today, Nebraska’s big rival is Iowa, which barely moves the needle in Lincoln, much less the rest of the country.

“Once” is the key word here.  For me, the NU-OU rivalry officially ended in the second year of the Big XII play – 1997 – when the two storied programs played their final annual contest before moving to the “play two years, take two years off” format that all North and South schools shared.  Had NU-OU remained an annual game (which was something OU did not want, by the way), I firmly believe it is much more difficult for NU to leave the XII in the first place.

As for Iowa, Trotter is correct that the game barely moves the needle in Lincoln.  But, surely Trotter would agree that it takes more than four seasons to build a strong rivalry (even if it does come with a generic, nondescript trophy sponsored by a grocery store).  Give the Iowa series a little more time before we declare it a dud – even if I believe that the Wisconsin game will likely surpass Iowa as NU’s hated rival.

Nebraska left the Big 12 primarily over its frustrations with the leadership at Texas.

That is a very oversimplified (if not completely inaccurate) statement.

If you were to ask me why NU left, Texas’s leadership doesn’t make the top three:

  1. Nebraska needed stability, and Texas (among others) were not looking to commit to the Big XII.  Back in 2010 the conference was a sinking ship and every school was racing for the lifeboats.  Texas had a life yacht, but had not interest in sharing it with others.
  2. The Big XII lacked leadership.  Dan Beebe was a bad commissioner who did little to strengthen the league or build unity.  (A cynic might note that the new leadership at Texas is a veiled reference to new conference commissioner Bob Bowlsby).
  3. Money.  Nebraska had the opportunity to make more money in the Big Ten than the Big XII.

But since Nebraska’s exit, the Longhorns have hired a president, a new athletic director and a new football coach.

So?  That pompous jerk  you hated in high school may have a new wife, a new job, and a new house, but the odds say he’s still a ______ that you don’t want to associate with.  Is the implication here that since Nebraska struggled to beat Mack Brown teams, they should come back and take a shot at Charlie Strong’s squads?

If the Huskers completely soured on their Big Ten experience, maybe they would be open to reconciliation.

What would have to happen for NU to “completely sour” on the Big Ten?

Let’s say Jim Delaney retires and is replaced by Dan Beebe 2.0.  Ohio State assumes the role of Texas, leading coalitions to block any idea, policy, or rule that Nebraska supports.  The rest of the Big Ten West starts giving Nebraska the same beat downs as Wisconsin.  All Husker games are locked into an 11 am kickoff on BTN.  Would that be enough to make NU look elsewhere?

Personally, I think that even if NU’s B1G adventure went to hell, Nebraska would stick it out for two reasons:  1) Pride, and 2) the check Big Ten schools will get from the next TV rights deal.

One thing is for sure: The Big 12 would welcome them back with open arms.

Oh Jake.  Remember how you started strong?  You could not be more wrong here.

Intentionally or not, Nebraska (and Husker fans) burned a lot of bridges on their way out the door in 2010.  Do you think it is a coincidence that no Big XII team has scheduled Nebraska in football or basketball since NU left?  I can’t find a link, but I remember reading that Nebraska has called Big XII schools looking for basketball games, and has been refused by all.

You could make an argument that the only folks in the Big XII land who would truly welcome Nebraska back would be the hoteliers, restaurant owners, and barkeeps in Ames, Manhattan, Lawrence, and other Big XII towns.

Otherwise?  The only open arms Nebraska might see would be from a spurned rival preparing to put a “kick me” sign on NU’s back during a feigned embrace.

 

Is There A Hidden Message in Nebraska’s New Helmet?

Nebraska and adidas released the alternate uniform the Huskers will wear against Illinois in 2014.  While I have some strong opinions on the overall uniform, let’s focus on the helmet.  I’m calling it the Anarchy Helmet.

The Husker’s new “Anarchy Helmet”

 

Why?  Looking at the initial pictures, the unique color scheme (red and black, separated by a diagonal line) looked familiar to me.  I felt like I had seen it somewhere before.  On a flag, maybe?  A quick Google search revealed that the red and black flag is a symbol for anarchy*

*More specifically, anarcho-syndicalism which Wikipedia describes as “a theory of anarchism which views revolutionary industrial unionism or syndicalism as a method for workers in capitalist society to gain control of an economy and, with that control, influence broader society.”  

A red and black flag used as anarchy symbol. T...

A red and black flag used as anarchy symbol. The flag is associated with a branch of Anarchism closely associated with labor organizations. The red portion of the flag represents labor; the black, anarchism. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hmm…anybody see a correlation between that definition and the plight of college athletes in 2014?  How about if we follow that up with another quote from that Wikipedia article:

“The end goal of anarcho-syndicalism is to abolish the wage system, regarding it as wage slavery. Anarcho-syndicalist theory therefore generally focuses on the labour movement.”

Are the Nebraska Cornhuskers agents of anarchy?  Are Kenny Bell, Ameer Abdullah, and others seeking to overthrow a system that makes millions of dollars off of their efforts, but leaves them hungry at night?

Now, I’m guessing the designers at adidas did not intentionally set out to offer a symbolic commentary on NCAA reform, paying student-athletes, or the efforts at Northwestern to unionize college athletes.  And I’ll guarantee Nebraska A.D. Shawn Eichorst, Coach Bo Pelini, or anybody else connected to the University of Nebraska did not endorse any message about anarchism.  Feel free to chalk it up to a random coincidence pointed out by a fan blogger reading way too much into a football helmet design.

Of course, there is one other nugget from the Nebraska/adidas release.  All of the tweets, releases, and social media offerings from Nebraska and adidas have used the hashtag #RedRising.  Using the color symbolism from the flag above, that hashtag says labor is rising.  That sounds like a very apt metaphor for the position of the NCAA student athlete in 2014.

Industrial unionism aside, the Anarchy Helmet is pretty sweet.  I like the matte red with the traditional sans-serif “N” in black.  The black wedge on the bottom makes an interesting visual offset.  It is easily the best component of the 2014 Nebraska alternates, and the best alternate helmet the Huskers have worn to date – even if there is an undertone of anarchy.

 

NCAA Pay for Play (P)

If you follow college sports – especially football or men’s basketball – there is one topic that continues to come up:  The notion of somehow compensating the athletes for the revenue they are bringing into their schools, their conferences, the NCAA, and all of the other entities who make a profit off of amateur athletics.

This compensation, be it in the form of stipends, income from the sale of their name/likeness, an actual “salary” from the schools, or anything else, would be in addition to the items student-athletes already receive (namely, a free education, room, board, and a healthy collection of athletic apparel).

I’ll be the first to admit there is a lot of hypocrisy in the current system.  I recently bought my daughter a replica Nebraska jersey with the number 80 on it.  Why number 80?  Let’s be honest:  it’s not because of Billy Haafke, Jamie Williams, Santino Panico, or any of the dozens of Huskers to have worn #80 over the past 125 years.  It’s because of the current #80, wide receiver Kenny Bell.  I like Bell as an athlete, and respect him as a person.  Plus, my daughter’s hair can do a spot-on impersonation of Bell’s glorious Afro.

That jersey cost me $24.99 at a store owned and operated by the University of Nebraska, located right across the street from Memorial Stadium.  That store had racks of #80 jerseys in home red, road white, and the black alternates from 2013 in every size from 12 months to 3XL.

This fall, I suspect there will be hundreds of fans in #80 jerseys at every home game.  I’m guessing very few of them will be wearing #80 to honor Husker greats Todd Frain, Jeff Jamrog, or Jermaine Bell.  They will wear those #80 jerseys because of Kenny Bell.

And as you probably already know:  Kenny Bell will not see a single penny from the sale of #80 jerseys.  That is just one example of a broken system.

*   *   *

Recently, one day before his University of Connecticut Huskies won the NCAA Basketball Tournament, guard Shabazz Napier told reports that “some nights I go to bed starving” because they don’t have enough money to buy food (and NCAA rules and the demands of in-season competition mean they cannot work) and they are unable to get extra meals from their school’s cafeteria/training table.

Yes, just last week the NCAA announced that all student-athletes, even walk-ons, will have access to unlimited meals and snacks, but Napier’s comments give credence to the notion that a “full-ride” scholarship may not cover things you and I consider basic.  For some, this is incredibly galling considering the NCAA Tournament brings in close to a billion (with a “B”) dollars in revenue, not including the billion (with another “B”) dollar TV contract with CBS.  Mark Emmert, the head of the NCAA, makes over a million dollars a year defending a system that – depending on your perspective – is either flawed or blatantly takes advantage of athletes under the guise of “amateurism”.

So should we give scholarship players a bigger slice of the pie, right?

*   *   *

Sure, it would be great if we could get some money for athletes, especially if we knew players were having to decide between paying the rent or eating dinner tonight.

But here’s the thing – and there really is no way of getting around it – for the majority of people, college is a time of poverty.  Tolerating a bunch of loud, obnoxious, dirty roommates so you can afford a place to sleep.  Subsisting on peanut butter sandwiches and ramen noodles.  Taking out hefty loans with horrible interest rates.  Busting your ass at a low paying, dead-end job.  And on and on.  Financially, the college years are brutal for most kids – especially those whose parents are unable to help out.

So why can’t we get some more money in the hands of the players – especially the ones who are creating the excitement and interest that helps the college sports machine print money for schools and coaches?  Forget the antiquated notion of “amateurism” or the Utopian ideal of the “student-athlete”.  The main reason schools cannot pay players is there is absolutely no way to do it fairly, evenly, and without opening up a Pandora’s Box of corruption.  Heck, the reason the NCAA rules are so bizarrely strict – where eating too much pasta is a potential violation – is largely to avoid improper benefits to players.  When you open the door to paying players, schools – and more appropriately, their boosters – will likely exploit whatever system gets put in place as they seek to pay the best players to come to College Town, USA.

Don’t believe me?  Let’s look at the popular suggestions for how we can supposedly better compensate players:

A flat stipend.  Every player at Big Football Tech gets X dollars per year in addition to their scholarship to cover the “full cost of attendance”.  The biggest question here is “How much?”, which spawns a list of follow-up questions:

  • Does everybody get the same amount?  Clearly, a star player like Johnny Manziel can have a pronounced financial impact on his school (even if the exact number is debatable).  So does Manziel get more than his fellow starting QBs in the SEC?  What about his teammates who helped Manziel earn those awards – the receivers who caught his passes, the linemen who blocked for him, the scout team defenders who helped prepare him for games?  Should they get the same amount?  And if not, how do you distinguish the levels/tiers?
  • Is there a cost of living adjustment?  Being a college student costs more in Los Angeles (UCLA, USC), Chicago (Northwestern), or the Bay Area (Stanford, Cal) than it does in Lincoln, Nebraska; Tuscaloosa, Alabama; or Waco, Texas.  Every wanna-be Trojan knows that $3,000 goes a lot farther in Troy, Alabama than it does in LA.
  • Does this essentially create a free agent system for incoming freshmen, where traditional recruiting is replaced by bidding wars?
  • What about athletes in other sports?  At schools like Duke and Kansas, the basketball team is more successful and can bring in more money than the football program.  Should those players get a cut?  What about the athletes competing in non-revenue Olympic sports, or teams like baseball where the equivalency of 11.7 scholarships are divided among a 27 man roster?  Surely those athletes face the same financial shortcomings as the football players.
  • How is it administered?  Does the NCAA dole out the cash?  Do the schools hand it out?  Or do we cut to the chase and let the stereotypical shady booster hand out envelopes full of unmarked bills?
  • Would this system make it harder or easier for additional under the table payments by “bag men“?

Own and sell yourself.  Next up, we give players the ability to market their name/image on jerseys, participate in paid autograph sessions, and promote products and local businesses while still a student-athlete.

In theory this makes sense – if somebody wants to pay $20 for Johnny Manziel’s autograph, buy their kid a #80 Husker jersey because they like Kenny Bell, or trade a tattoo for a Terrelle Pryor jersey, those players should get a cut, right?  But the potential for corruption abounds.

  • The defensive starters attend booster dinners where they sign autographs – at $100 a pop.
  • During recruiting, a coach promises Johnny Five-Star that if he comes to Football University, he’ll make $50,000 from jersey sales in his first two years.  If Johnny Five-Star is a bust, the citizens of some third world country will be wearing his jersey for the next decade.
  • Every car dealer in College Town USA has an endorsement deal with a star player who drives around campus in a new SUV for appearing in a couple of TV spots.

Make athletes paid “employees”.  Northwestern University players are attempting to organize a union that would make players “employees” of their schools, and make them eligible for medical coverage, four-year scholarships, and possibly compensation in addition to their scholarships.

Aside from the uncertainty over how this would impact public schools, the possibility for strikes/lock out, if the scholarship and other benefits would need to be taxed as income, and just what happens if a football player doesn’t want to be in a union, there is the minor hurdle of a prolonged legal battle before any college football union would ever truly start up.  Let’s circle back on this one in five to ten years.

 *   *   *

Where do I stand on all of this?

I don’t have a ton of sympathy for the Shabazz Napiers and others who bemoan how athletes are being taken advantage of and can barely afford to eat.

For tens of thousands of college students, college is a time of poverty, of working full-time while attending classes, of going to bed hungry, and waking up knowing that the things you do that day put more money in somebody else’s pocket than in your own.

But can we please stop with the notion that these guys are being taken advantage of?

First off, there are the things that scholarship athletes get that the general student population does not:  free education, books, housing, food, and clothing.  You can discount those things all you want, but they all have a very real financial benefit.

Secondly, there is the notion that guys are going hungry.  What is the real reason guys are going hungry?  Is it because they are being limited in the amount of food they can consume at the dining hall / training table?  Or that the cafeteria is closed when they’re done with practice, meetings, and study sessions?  Or is it because they’re not spending their money wisely*?  Regardless of the reason, all of those are things that can (and should) be corrected without the need to issue scholarship athletes a stipend.

*Yes, I am suggesting that some guys may be going to bed hungry because they are managing their money poorly.  Since I have no tangible proof, I won’t imply that players are blowing their food money on stereotypical extravagances (cars, tattoos, jewelry, designer clothes, etc.), but I will suggest that if players were better at managing and budgeting their money, they might have a full tummy at bedtime – even while recognizing that a 300 pound defensive tackle has greater caloric needs than the average college student struggling to make ends meet.

At the extreme risk of being hypocritical, I’ll concede that being financially responsible and fiscally conservative is a rare trait in most college aged kid – regardless of if they can dribble a basketball – but considering the laundry list of professional athletes who have blown through million dollar contracts and signing bonuses, maybe athletic departments should to do a better job of helping their athletes create and stick to a budget that allows them to eat and pay the rent.

The other thing that rubs me the wrong way about the paying players debate is the often alluded to notion that the athletes are indentured servants who are being taken advantage of by rich (white) men who sit in ivory towers unaware of the real struggles being faced.

While I am a (decidedly not rich) white man who may very well be out of touch, there is one that I’m pretty sure of:

Nobody is coercing these guys to go to college and deal with these harsh conditions.  I may not be familiar with the recruiting pitches being done by college football and basketball coaches, but I’m pretty sure none of them are forcing players to go to college against their will, or to remain at Big Time State University, starving, while their coach makes $4 million a year and the school’s TV deal brings in another 20 million.

For a basketball star like Shabazz Napier, there are ways to get to the NBA without ever stepping foot on a college campus.  Sure, it would be tough (if not impossible) for a guy to get to the NFL without spending a couple of years in college, but considering that most NCAA student-athletes go pro in something other than sports, the guys with NFL/NBA talent are the exception and not the rule.  The players with the next-level ability have to decide:  do they use college athletics as an unpaid stepping stone to becoming a high draft pick?  Is the potential for a big day pay worth putting up with a year or three of poverty?

For those of us who were not student-athletes, we likely faced a similar decision.  Do I work an unpaid internship over the summer, knowing that the experience and skills I gain should help land a better/higher paying job upon graduation?  Or do I work a paying job outside of my career field where the only benefit is a paycheck that allows me to buy name brand peanut butter?  The only differences between the athlete and the average student is the student’s internship likely will not lead to a six figure salary and it definitely didn’t come with your tuition paid for.

*   *   *

So where does all of this leave us?  What can the universities do to ensure their student-athletes aren’t going hungry or living in a cardboard box behind the stadium?  And what can the players do to help ensure they have enough spending money to put some gas in the tank, go on a date, or not have to live in a run-down dump with five other guys?  Here’s what I’d like to see:

  • Mandatory budgeting classes for all student-athletes.  You can argue that these are things high school graduates should know, but where is the harm in ensuring these kids know how to manage their money?
  • Make all athletic scholarships good for five years.  Many fans are familiar with the story:  Johnny Five-Star signs with big time SEC school, but after disappointing freshman and sophomore seasons, the coach decides to free up a scholarship by forcing Johnny to quit, transfer, or declare a bogus injury.  I propose that when a kid signs a letter of intent to play ball for your school, they are guaranteed five years of academic benefits, even if Coach decides that their athletic scholarship would best be used by another kid.  This stays in place even if the guy goes pro early and wants to come back to school after he washes out of the pros.
  • Provide full medical coverage for the full life of the scholarship.  Similar to honoring the “student” part of a student-athlete scholarship, allow  players to have access to team doctors and trainers while their five year academic calendar is ticking.  This would not be applicable for guys who have medical care from a professional league’s union.
  • Stop selling replica jerseys and shirts with the numbers of active players.  There is no plausible excuse for why school (and the NCAA) should make money off the uniform number of a current star player when the player doesn’t see a dime.  Instead, sell jerseys of guys who have exhausted their eligibility.  If I paid $24.99 for a #80 jersey with no name on the back this year, the odds are good that I would probably pay $29.99 for a #80 jersey that says “BELL” on it next year (Bell is entering into his senior season), especially if that extra five bucks is going to a guy who represented my school with talent and class.

 

 

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While you’re here, I’d appreciate a quick vote in my poll to see which Incomplete post I should finish next:  Vote here.

(Author’s note:  Wondering why there is a random letter in parentheses in the title of this post?  Not sure how this post corresponds to the daily letter in the April A to Z Challenge?  Like clicking on links?  These questions are all answered here.)

March Madness – Beyond the Brackets

 

With the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament starting this week, people all across the country are filling out their brackets, picking upsets, and trying to predict the Final Four.

Filling out brackets has become a rite of spring.  Pools are formed in offices, schools, in families, and online amongst complete strangers.

But a traditional bracket pool isn’t for everyone.  Some like to show off their hoops knowledge, and some are looking for a way to stay engaged after the tournament’s first weekend.  Others may be bored with brackets and are looking different challenges.

Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to have some fun and exciting competition* against your friends, relatives, and co-workers without having to antagonize over which 7 – 10 upset to pick.

*This is where I should insert a friendly (yet legally binding) disclaimer about how the suggestions in this post are solely for entertainment purposes, and are not condoned or endorsed as a form of gambling (unless, of course, your employer, state, or country allows such things). 

Any reference to “entries”, “pay-out”, “win” or the like obviously refers to non-monetary items of limited value, which will not draw the attention of state and federal agents. 

In other words, if your participation in one of the following pools gets you arrested, fired, divorced, beaten up, sued, or bankrupted, that is your problem, not mine.  Thank you.

For each alternative, I’ll list the effort required by the lifeguard (i.e. the person running the pool) as well as for those who will be diving in.  From easiest to most complex:

B1G Changes Ahead?

English: Big Ten Conference logo since 2010.

Changes on the horizon? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The athletic directors from the Big Ten schools recently met in Chicago, discussing several key items that will likely shape the future of the conference.  Among the topics being discussed:

Increasing the number of conference games from eight to nine or ten.

From everything I have read and heard, the days of an eight game Big Ten conference schedule are done.  The question is will they do nine or ten games?  There are pros and cons for each, but I think the debate comes down to one big question:

Is the Big Ten more concerned with having a team qualify for the four team playoff or with having enough attractive matchups to get a bigger TV contract?

If they want the TV dollars, a ten game conference slate makes sense.  ABC/ESPN (or whomever buys the TV rights) will gladly trade an extra conference game (likely featuring at least one matchup of ranked teams and/or involving one of the marque name schools) over a Saturday featuring the “Big Ten vs. the MAC” showcase.

But if the concern is with qualifying a team for the playoff, they should stick with nine conference games.  As parity continues to spread across college football, winning nine conference games will be a huge challenge.  Winning ten would be damn near impossible.  So given the low perception of the league, why end up with a bunch of 7-3 teams that have no chance at the playoff when you could have one 8-1 or 7-2 team with a legitimate shot?

No more games against FCS schools.

If this goes through, the days of picking up an easy win (or an embarrassing loss) against the lower tier of college football would be over.  This proposal is all about raising the prestige of the league, and increasing the level of competition.  As a season ticket holder, I’d much rather watch a game against an FBS team – even one from the WAC or Sun Belt – over Northern No Name State from the FCS.

The cynic in me also notes that this proposal is also about making the league’s non-conference games more attractive to TV bidders, as well as protecting the integrity of the league by eliminating potentially embarrassing losses (i.e. Appalachian State, 2007).

Yet, I’m not in favor of this change.  Yes, a part of me loves to see a good old-fashioned 70-3 whoopin’, but I also understand the economics of the situation.  Athletic departments make their money from football.  Football programs typically make money off of home games, so most programs want to play six or seven home games every year.

The problem is it is pretty tough to find teams that want to come play at your stadium without paying them an arm and a leg.  In 2012, Nebraska paid $1 million for Arkansas State to come to Lincoln.  While Nebraska still made money on the game, they made more money the following week when they paid Idaho State of the FCS $600,000 to come to Lincoln.

With FCS teams off the scheduling table, the lower FBS teams (MAC, WAC, Sun Belt, C-USA, etc.) would be able to charge much more for games, or require home and home games or two-for-one trades, all of which takes home game revenue away from schools.  Long story short, if your school has fewer home games, they’ll need to either make up that revenue through higher ticket prices or cut the money that goes to other sports.

Night games in November will be allowed.

While not explicitly banned, the Big Ten has for some reason discouraged its teams from playing in night games after October 31.  As far as I can tell, the practice is about protecting fans from the chilly late-autumn nights.  That’s all well and good, but I can assume Jim Delaney of two things:  1) On most Big Ten campuses in November, there isn’t a big temperature differential between 11 am and 7 pm, and 2) Folks in Big Ten country are capable of dressing in layers to withstand four hours in 20 degree weather.

This change allows Big Ten schools to claim the marque primetime matchup (and the College GameDay appearance that usually comes with it) instead of being one of a dozen televised games at 11 or 2:30.  It also gives Johnny Five-Star plenty of time to make it to Happy Valley, East Lansing, or Lincoln for his official visit.  Bottom line:  greater exposure for the league is a good thing.  File this change under “Why didn’t they do this 10 years ago?”

Taking a unified stance against many of the recruiting rules changes going into effect this year.

The NCAA has greatly relaxed (or completely dropped) many of the rules regarding contact to prospective student-athletes.  Coaches can call or message kids (via text, Facebook, Twitter, smoke signal, pony express, or anything else) 24/7, and schools can hire an unlimited staff to assist in burying kids in messages and handwritten letters.

I respect the Big Ten leadership for being (rightfully) concerned about how these changes will impact high school students and their families.  However, I question if they will be able to do anything about it.  Regardless of how this turns out, I would strongly urge the Big Ten schools to get out in front of these changes, and try to use the new rules to their advantage – because I can guarantee that the SEC schools are already plotting their course of action.

Realigning the divisions to add new members Maryland and Rugters.

With Maryland and Rutgers set to join the Big Ten in 2014, they need to be added into the football divisional structure.  While a simple proposal to put one new school into each of the current divisions exists, it seems more likely that the divisions will be realigned.  The Big Ten floated some potential ideas a month or so ago, but it seems likely that changes will be based upon geography.

Assuming this happens (and I have not seen many valid reasons why it would not), it would be beneficial towards developing annual rivalries (Nebraska-Wisconsin, Penn State and one of the new east coast teams) that will strengthen the league.

Replacing the “Leaders” and “Legends” names with something less pretentious.

Is there anybody not named Jim Delaney who likes the Legends and Leaders names?  No?  I didn’t think so.  Those names have been rightfully mocked and ridiculed by media and fans, and it is time to switch to something that does not make the B1G sound like a bunch of pompous asses.  My hunch is that Delaney will let Leaders and Legends die a merciful death, but he’ll try to come up with something else like Great Lakes and Heartland.  Here’s hoping Jim utilizes the K.I.S.S. method and goes with East and West.

Thoughts on the Penn State sanctions

On Monday, the NCAA has spelled out the sanctions and punishments for Penn State in the wake of sexual abuse scandal and cover-up.  While the penalties were more severe than what I called for originally, I think the NCAA did a surprisingly good and thorough job in making sure the penalties were appropriate.  In short, I think president Mark Emmert and the NCAA did an excellent job of crafting penalties that fit the crimes, punished the school with minimal impact to student-athletes and the community, and most importantly – allow something good to come out of this horrible situation.

Here are the penalties along with my reactions:

1.  A $60 million penalty, which the PSU will pay into an endowment for “external programs preventing child sexual abuse or assisting victims.”  The NCAA came up with the $60 million figure as an approximate annual revenue for the Penn State football program.

This made me very, very happy.  In my proposal, I had called for PSU to forfeit TV revenue from football (which is around $20 million a year), so essentially the NCAA followed my recommendation.  I’m hopeful the endowment can provide serious results and become a positive legacy to this ugly period.

2.  A four-year football postseason ban – from bowl games and the playoffs that will begin in 2014.  The Big Ten conference later imposed a ban on participation in the Big Ten Championship game as well.

I have mixed feelings on this.  Sure, the university and program probably does not deserve the perks that come with a bowl game (the prestige, payouts, and extra practices among them), but this is something that impacts current players who were not involved in the school’s cover-up.  It also (somewhat) impacts the other schools in the Big Ten conference  who receive an equal share of bowl game revenues from all members.  And frankly, between the scholarship reductions hurting PSU’s talent and depth and the negativity surrounding the program, I’m not sure how many bowl invites Penn State would have received in the next four years anyway.

3.  All Penn State wins, dating to 1998, are vacated.  Joe Paterno’s career record will reflect the loss of 111 wins.

With one huge exception, this is a symbolic gesture.  Regardless of the updated 1-0 final score, I know that Penn State thoroughly whooped my Cornhuskers 40 – 7.  I hope PSU alumni and fans feel the same way.  However, this was the NCAA’s very targeted punishment (revenge?) against JoePa for his role (or lack thereof) in letting Sandusky continue his horrible crimes for so long.  Paterno cared deeply about being the “all time winningest coach”.  It seems fitting that the day after Penn State removes the Paterno statue outside Beaver Stadium, the NCAA takes a wrecking ball to his biggest claim to fame.

4.  A reduction of football scholarships (10 initial and 20 total each year for a four-year period).

A lot of people are saying this will cripple the program and set it back for a good decade.  On the surface, I tend to agree – it is very hard to compete in a high-level conference like the Big Ten as it is (see also, Indiana, Purdue, Illinois) without having 10-20 fewer scholarship players than everyone else.  And yet, I look at Southern Cal, who is in the middle of a 10 scholarship per year penalty, and has ample amounts of high-level talent due to their recruiting successes.  I know that USC and PSU are not an apples-to-apples comparison on a number of fronts, but it is worth noting that when the Freeh Report came out, Penn State’s 2013 recruiting class was ranked in the top 15 in the country.

My other thought on the scholarship reduction is a slight disappointment that there are now 10-20 fewer opportunities for a kid to earn a free college education than there were a week ago.  I know somebody who would have been recruited by PSU will trickle down and get a scholarship at another school, but when you hear about people who owe their success – if not their life – to receiving a scholarship, I hate to see those opportunities lost.

5.  Current PSU players may transfer to another school and play immediately.

This is one that could really hurt Penn State in the short-term.  I’m guessing that pretty much every freshman, sophomore, and scholarship backup has already been approached by another school about how they can come to their school, play this year, and go to a bowl game.  So far, I haven’t heard of anybody jumping ship, but it wouldn’t surprise me at all if several players did leave.  The one benefit for Penn State is the penalties came out this late in the summer, so players only have a couple of weeks before fall camp starts and this window closes.

6.  The Penn State athletic department is on probation for five years, and must work with an NCAA-appointed liaison to ensure the athletic culture is in line with university (and NCAA) by-laws.

There isn’t much here that interests me.  The liaison sounds like a feel-good position designed to churn out quarterly reports on how this will never happen again.  The probation is (currently) no big deal, as PSU has bigger concerns.  But it does lay the groundwork for a “death penalty” if new wrongdoings are discovered.

*   *   *

Ah yes, the “death penalty”.  Ever since the Freeh Report came out, national columnists, television pundits, regular fans, and everyone in between have called for the Penn State football program to be shut down for a year or more.  I’m quite pleased that the NCAA did not opt to “kill” the Penn State program.

Why?  Because of the severe impact it would have on hundreds, possibly thousands, of people who had zero involvement with the Sandusky abuse and cover-up.

Since football provides the funds for most of Penn State’s other intercollegiate sports teams, the loss of the football team would likely mean the end for several of the 28 other intercollegiate teams at PSU.  How would justice have been served if the wrestling or women’s gymnastics team was cut?

But really, the biggest impact of a Penn State death penalty would have been to the local economy in State College, PA.  I’ve never been to State College, but living in a college town home to a popular college football team (Lincoln, NE) I know how important the home team (and their six, seven, or eight home games each year) is to the local economy.

I came across a report created by the University of Nebraska that measured the economic impact of the Nebraska Athletic Department (including the football team).  The numbers* were bigger than I expected:

“The Nebraska football program alone had an economic impact on the Lincoln area of:

  • $87.1 million in output (including $35.4 million from fan spending)
  • $31.2 million in worker income
  • 2,130 jobs (one-third being concession or event worker jobs)
  • $498,000 in direct sales tax revenue for the City of Lincoln.”

*These numbers are from the 2004-2005 fiscal year, a highly disappointing season in which Nebraska went 5-6.  It should also be noted that Penn State’s Beaver Stadium seats 25,000 more people than Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium, while State College’s population is 200,000 less than Lincoln, NE.

In other words, if you own a hotel, restaurant, bar, gas station, or retail store in State College, PA you are breathing a huge sigh of relief, because a death penalty for Penn State football likely would have been a death penalty for your business.

I know that if you are not familiar with what a college town like Lincoln or State College looks like on a Football Saturday then you might think I’m being overly dramatic.  But I’m not.  It is quite common to have every hotel charging double (or triple) rates and still being sold out, bars and restaurants being packed from open until close, shops being flooded with pre and post game traffic, people stocking up for the tailgate or house party at the local grocery store, all the way down to neighborhood kids selling parking in their front lawn for $10 a car.  Like it or not, the football program can be – and often is – a driving factor in the local economy.

To be clear, I am not saying the death penalty should never be used.  I simply believe that there is a way to hit Penn State where it hurts, send a clear message to other schools, but limit the punishment’s fallout as much as possible.  I believe the NCAA did an excellent job accomplishing these goals.

Penn State Punishment

Yesterday, the Freeh Report was released on the actions of Penn State University related to the child sexual abuse committed by former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky.  The independent report’s findings (starting on page 14) offer a sickening view of the apathy, ignorance, and blatant disregard for the safety and welfare of children.  The main priority of “four of the most powerful people at The Pennsylvania State University” (President Graham Spanier, SVP Gary Schultz, AD Timothy Curley, and Head Coach Joe Paterno) was protecting the reputation of PSU, the football program, and/or their own skin.

Absolutely sickening.  All of it.

In the 17 pages of recommendations for campus leadership, the Board of Trustees, the Athletic Department and others (starting on page 117), nothing is mentioned about penalties for the football program.

Not to worry, as pundits and columnists everywhere are lining up to dish out an “appropriate” punishment to Penn State’s legendary football program.  I would not be surprised to see an investigation from the NCAA and/or the Big Ten Conference which leads to sanctions of some kind.

Proposed punishments include loss of athletic scholarships, bans on TV appearances and bowl games, a complete “death penalty” – shuttering the program for a year or more, to being kicked out of the prestigious Big Ten Conference entirely.

And I think all of these suggestions are wrong.

Don’t get me wrong – I sincerely believe that Penn State should be punished.  Call it what you want – cover-up, conspiracy, abuse of power, absence of a conscience – very bad things were allowed to happen to innocent children because people who knew better did nothing.  I’m no lawyer, but with the release of the Freeh report, the university is going to have to pay out tens of millions of dollars in settlements to Sandusky’s victims, which PSU should.  But that still does not appropriately punish the school for their enabling and protecting a monster to prey on children.

But here’s the thing – the punishments listed above miss their target in two ways:  1) they punish the wrong people, and 2) little is done to aid and benefit victims, bring awareness, and prevent future Sanduskys from leaving such a wide wake of destruction.  Look – I know that since actions of Paterno and PSU senior leadership were done – in full or in part – to protect the prestige and reputation of Penn State Football, the football program should pay a price.  But I think there is a better way to punish PSU than to deny scholarships to student-athletes, hurt the revenue of the schools PSU would play in televised games, or kill all intercollegiate athletics at PSU (which is essentially what a death penalty would do).  No Penn State student has been implicated in the cover up, so punishing the student-athletes is unfair.  There is a better way.

Here is my plan:

1.  Penn State can have all of their football games broadcast on which ever network (ABC/ESPN, BTN, etc) chooses to air the game.  However, for a set period of time (I’m proposing four years) 100% of Penn State’s television and bowl revenue is donated to charities and funds that work to protect children, heal victims, and prevent sexual predators like Sandusky from harming a child*.  This way Penn State’s opponent still receives their full share of TV revenue, it gives the announcers a platform to discuss Penn State’s punishment, and provides a wealth of funds (Big Ten schools get around $20 million a year in TV revenue from all sports).

*I am proposing this as a separate revenue source from the one PSU will use to pay settlements to those victimized by Sandusky.  The Freeh Report all but guarantees very big paydays for Sandusky’s victims, and Penn State should find that money in-house, and not on the backs of their student-athletes.

Yes, this is a significant loss of revenue, and since football feeds the rest of the athletic department, it will very likely have a negative impact on the Olympic and non-revenue producing sports that Penn State offers.  But there is no way around it.

2.  Penn State has an iconic football look:  the dark blue jerseys, the plain white helmet with the single blue stripe down the middle.  That helmet is timeless, classic, and the ideal spot for one of these:

Prevent Child Abuse ribbon

Penn State’s new helmet logo

I propose placing a blue Prevent Child Abuse awareness ribbon each side of Penn State’s football helmet.  Permanently.

I can understand that some would find it hypocritical that Penn State would use the blue child abuse awareness ribbon on their helmets after doing nothing to prevent child abuse for well over a decade.  But the days of Paterno and senior leadership covering for the football program and the university are over.

Like it or not, Penn State football will forever be associated with child abuse.  PSU can either hide from their stained legacy, sweep it under the rug, and pretend it never happened (much like Paterno and company did)…or…Penn State can be a leader, on the field and in the classroom, and make child abuse prevention their mission.  Embracing that mission is one of the precious few ways that Penn State can begin to atone for what was allowed to occur, and have any chance of turning an extremely negative time into a positive outcome.  And having a graphical icon of that mission – in the form of the awareness ribbon – on Penn State’s football helmets will remind students, alumni, staff, fans, and the nation of responsibility we all bear to report any suspected abuse to authorities until action is taken.

PSU Helmet w Ribbon

Don’t Let Penn State Forget

The faith of the students, alumni, and general public in all things Penn State (the university, its senior leadership, and its athletic teams and coaches) has been rightfully erased.  It will take years and years for Penn State to regain it.  The best way to regain that trust is to acknowledge and own past failures and make giant steps to provide retribution for those who are impacted – directly and indirectly.  I feel my plan does this.

Penn State, the ball is in your court.

Building the Perfect Playoff

It seems inevitable that a college football playoff is coming.  As somebody who has long opposed playoffs, this frightens me – mostly because the odds are very, very low that the powers that be create something that isn’t worse than what we have now*.

*Yes, that is very much a possibility.  This playoff will likely be built by the same folks who brought you the much-maligned BCS.  Chew on that for a while.

So with that in mind, I want to offer some much-needed advice to make a college football playoff work:

College Football Playoffs – Blow it all up

I am not a proponent of a playoff in college football.

I feel this way for a number of different reasons, but my key reason is this:  Playoff proponents hate the BCS and the bowls because they are “unfair”, yet there has never been a playoff proposal that is “fair”.  They are subjective on who gets in and who gets left out, they do not always reward conference championships, providing equal footing for all teams.

So I decided to find a fair way to do a playoff – one that addresses some of the core feelings of the playoff and anti-playoff crowds.  Namely:

  • The regular season and results on the field, need to matter
  • You cannot play for the championship if you do not win your conference.
  • All teams need to have a clear path to a championship – no haves and have-nots

Accomplishing these goals is not an easy task.  But I have done it.  That is the good news.

The bad news?  Well, that really depends on your point of view.  Let’s just say that creating a “fair” system meant blowing up almost everything that is in place today.  And I mean everything.  Quite frankly, that is both good and bad.

A Volley Against Tape Delays

On Saturday, Nebraska hosted Illinois in women’s volleyball.  For most people, this was a non-event, “must-see TV” that ranked up there with C-SPAN reruns and that weird guy on the cable access channel.

But for some folks, this was one of the most anticipated volleyball matches of the season.  Illinois came into the match as the #1 team in the country.  Nebraska came in ranked 4th.  After 16 dominating seasons in the Big XII, Nebraska is in their first season in the Big 10 – a very strong volleyball conference.  The match was a clash of volleyball powers and would give the winner an inside track to the Big 10 title.

Those who wanted to watch this clash had few options.  While Nebraska’s home arena (the fabled Coliseum) seats over 4,000 fans, Nebraska fans have sold out over 150 straight matches.  When Nebraska was in the Big XII, most of their home matches were televised in-state by Nebraska Educational Television.  Many of those telecasts would be simulcasted nationally by CBS College Sports.

One of the big selling points for Nebraska joining the Big Ten was the Big Ten Network (BTN).  Yes, BTN is mostly known for showing the football games of Big Ten schools, but they broadcast events from all sports.  So it simply made sense that Saturday’s premier Big Ten volleyball showdown would air on BTN – which it did….on Sunday.

That’s right, BTN aired the match on tape-delay:  at 8 am and 5 pm on Sunday.  At 7 pm on Saturday, BTN aired a football highlights show.

Now don’t get me wrong:  I get that football is the pilot, co-pilot, and first officer of college athletics.  For better and for worse, it is the 800 pound gorilla that gets (and deserves) plenty of air time.  I completely understand that the majority of BTN’s viewers would rather watch highlights of the Indiana-Iowa football game than a clash of college volleyball powerhouses.  I am in no way suggesting that the Big Ten or BTN should set football aside to air volleyball live.

What I am suggesting is the Big Ten should move the volleyball matches so they are not going up against football.

Look:  Volleyball is a niche sport, but it is a niche sport with the potential to be a solid performer on TV.  First and foremost, there are some incredible athletes on these teams – quick, powerful, able to leap out of the gym, and drive a ball at 70 mph.  The game is both easy to pick up (no more than 3 hits per side, when the ball hits the floor or goes out somebody gets a point, play to 25 points and win by 2) and complex in terms of strategy, defense, and numerous other factors.  And yes, there is definitely a demographic who watches for the athletic young women in bun-hugger shorts (why do you think NBC puts beach volleyball in primetime during the Olympics?)  Bottom line:  with the proper exposure and promotion, the sport could be a respectable draw on TV. 

Unfortunately, that is simply not going to happen when it is going head to head with college football and the World Series.  Ideally, the NCAA would shift the volleyball season to the spring when fewer marquee sports are playing and cable sports channels are looking for something to bridge the gap between the NCAA tournament and the College World Series. 

Until that happens, the Big Ten and the Big Ten Network need to schedule volleyball matches during the week when they can be televised.  Yes, it could mean increased time away from campus for teams on the road, but other college teams (notably men’s and women’s basketball) are playing mid-week games for increased TV exposure.  If other sports can gain exposure by playing their games on TV – live, not tape delayed – then why can’t volleyball?

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