We just completed our next-to-last weekend before the season starts. So what did we learn?
1. SEC, ACC are the deepest conferences: We can argue all day about who has the best conference in college football. Is it the SEC with six teams in the Top 25 and two in the Top 10? Or is it the Big 12 with three teams in the Top 10 but with nobody else ranked? There is no winner in that argument.
What I like to do is use the polls (in this case the AP poll) to break down the conferences by depth. How many teams were ranked plus how many teams actually got votes?
SEC (8): Six ranked (Alabama, Florida, Arkansas, LSU, Auburn, Georgia). Two more got votes (South Carolina, Ole Miss.)
ACC (7): Five ranked (Virginia Tech, Miami, Georgia Tech, UNC, FSU). Two more got votes (Clemson, BC).
Big 12 (7): Three ranked (Texas, OU, Nebraska). Four more got votes (Missouri, Texas Tech, Texas A&M), Oklahoma State).
Pac-10 (6): Three ranked (Oregon, USC, Oregon State). Three more got votes (Stanford, Arizona, Washington).
Big Ten (4): Four ranked (Ohio State, Wisconsin, Iowa, Penn State). No others got votes.
Big East (4): Two ranked (Pittsburgh, West Virginia). Two others go votes (Cincinnati, Connecticut).
2. Tennessee really had no choice on UNC game: Tennessee athletics director Mike Hamilton is getting hammered by his fans for trying to buy out a two-game series with North Carolina in 2011 and 2012 and replacing the Tar Heels with Buffalo. It’s easy to understand why the fans are mad. Such a decision makes it look like the Vols are ducking North Carolina (which they are) and it gives opponents, like Steve Spurrier, a free shot (which he gleefully took).
But when your program is down–and Tennessee’s is way down thanks to 14 months under the Boy Wonder–you have to make some tough, unpopular decisions. You can pretend that nothing is wrong and still keep the same schedule. Or you can swallow your pride and modify the non-conference schedule in the short term to give Derek Dooley a chance to rebuild the program.
And let’s face it. Hamilton is fighting for his professional life as well. He needs for Dooley to have some success sooner rather than later. It was a tough decision but the right decision. And the right decisions are not always popular.
3. The WAC is in trouble as a Division I football conference: I spoke to WAC Commissioner Karl Benson on Thursday. He is not having a good summer. Back in June Boise State, the flagship football program of the WAC, announced it was headed to the Mountain West Conference in 2011. On Thursday the Mountain West took two more of Benson’s schools, Fresno State and Nevada. And this was right after he met with the presidents of the league, who all agreed to the idea that each school must pay $5 million penalty to leave the conference. Then the MWC picked up the phone when BYU threatened to leave. Nevada and Fresno will pay the $5 million. They want to go in 2011. Benson will fight to keep them until 2012.
Bottom line: The WAC had better hope that Boise State has another magical run this season. Because its long-term future as a football conference at this level does not look good.
Just asking: If you’re WAC member Louisiana Tech, shouldn’t you be on the phone begging to get into Conference USA or the Sun Belt?
4. I hope Scott Stricklin has an extra $130,000 in the bank: Stricklin is Mississippi State’s new athletics director and back in the spring helped forge a compromise that will allow Bulldog fans to bring their beloved cowbells to home games in Starkville. But there is one stipulation: Fans cannot ring the bells at inappropriate times like, for example, when the visiting team is trying to run a play. Strickland and his staff have launched an education program hoping to get their fans to buy in and follow the rules of when to ring–and more importantly–when not to ring.
If they don’t, the conference rules that apply to artificial or electronically generated sound kick in: The first violation is a $5,000 fine. The second is $25,000. Every violation after that costs a cool $50,000.
Four SEC home games in Starkville. You do the math. Stricklin will probably have to write a check or have $130,000 deducted from Mississippi State’s revenue check next spring. Fans can’t help it. That is why they are fans. And that’s why we love them.
5. The NCAA Clearinghouse is broken: I understand that the NCAA Academic Clearinghouse is understaffed and overworked. I also understand that these situations are always more complicated than they appear. But there is something fundamentally wrong about a freshman who has gone through training camp being told in mid-to-late August that he is not academically eligible to play. Such was the case late last week when Alfy Hill, an Alabama signee from Shallotte, N.C., was suddenly declared ineligible. The Clearinghouse ruled that a couple of online courses Hill took would not be counted towards his eligibility. So suddenly the kid is ripped out of Tuscaloosa and will apparently enroll at East Carolina instead. He’ll have to sit out this year and cannot be on scholarship.
Maybe these online courses raised a red flag. Maybe they should raise a red flag. Maybe this is part of what seems to be a larger NCAA crackdown on just about everything from agents to living quarters. Whatever. Either the kid is eligible or he’s not. But he shouldn’t find out this late in the game.
Is it any wonder that kids take stuff from agents and others? They know the system is stacked against them. If the school signs too many players, they can get their scholarship yanked two weeks before class begins. Sorry kid. It’s a numbers game.
And what if the Clearinghouse drags its feet or is too understaffed to process the cases in a timely fashion? That’s just too bad for you, young man. Now you have to pack up and go home. I guess it’s tough being you right now.
Bottom line: All Clearinghouse cases involving football players must be resolved by August 1. No exceptions. Hire the staff. Other than rules enforcement and conducting championships, what does the NCAA do that is more important than this?
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