Monthly Archives: May 2013

The First Amendment is alive and well in the Southeastern Conference.

There’s some Mike Slive wisdom that’s about to be put to the test.

Finebaum: Robert from Iowa is probably as well known as any caller we have. We have Darryl from Georgia. We have a guy in Ohio. . . .

Someone asked me the other day: “The first week (back on the air) are you going to have (Nick) Saban and Mark Richt and Kevin Sumlin?” And my thinking was, “No.”

It will then be five, six months since we have spoken to callers and I hope the first five callers are Robert, Legend, Tammy, Jim from Tuscaloosa and I-Man. To me, that’s what I’m looking forward to getting back to — not to listening to a coach say little about the upcoming football season. We’ll get plenty of that.

Can’t say I blame him for that.  It’s what’s buttered his bread, so to speak.  But it will be amusing to see what happens if heads butt over the show’s content.

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2012 SEC SDPI still thinks the world of Mike Bobo.

Matt Melton’s back with his annual analysis of the strength of conference teams.  (If you need an SDPI refresher, take a look at last year’s post on the subject.)

Here’s how things shape up:

The West was stronger than the East, but not so much because of the teams at the top, which broke pretty evenly.  It’s the suckitude at the bottom of the East that’s the difference there.

A few other observations:

  • The top of the conference wasn’t as dominant in 2012 as it was in 2011.  You have to get all the way down to sixth before you see an SDPI figure that’s an improvement.  Is that a reflection of expansion or overall quality?  Beats me.
  • Boy, Auburn really sucked last year.  Loeffler being worse than Malzahn isn’t a surprise but VanGorder being a bigger flop than Roof is.  No wonder he’s just a position coach in the NFL now.
  • Hugh Freeze did a fine job in his first year at Ole Miss.
  • The header is a little tongue in cheek.  Georgia didn’t slide in the offensive rankings, but its SDPI figure did – ever so slightly more than Grantham’s group did, in fact.  (Bobo wasn’t juggling suspensions over the first third of the season, either.)
  • LSU slid big time in one season.  Of course, Les chalks that up to the cross-divisional rivalries.  Unfair!
  • More and more, Vanderbilt looks like a program that has its bearings.  The numbers show an impressive consistency that’s solid.
  • Mississippi State’s consistent, too.  But in the Bulldogs’ case, that’s not really a compliment.
  • If TAMU gets a defense, look out, world.

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Filed under SEC Football, Stats Geek!

Coaches corner: conference scheduling

To what should be nobody’s surprise, the SEC will soldier on with an eight-game conference schedule for the time being.  (Mike Slive’s “the First Amendment is alive and well” schtick is code for “I’m not ready to make a decision”.)

What is a little surprising is how much thought the conference’s coaches have put into the matter of how many times they should face each other in a regular season.  (It’s a lot more than I suspect they put into voting in the Coaches Poll.)  At one end of the spectrum, you’ve got Nick Saban, who thinks that a nine-game schedule is both smart and inevitable.

Hugh Freeze objects.

“For me, when you add a ninth game, that’s seven more losses for our conference,” Freeze said. “We want to fill all of our bowl slots, we want our kids to represent our conference. When you play that extra ninth game, I know it’ll probably create some more revenue, but it also is seven more losses for us.”

(Did I miss a reference to what the fans might want in there?  Hmm… I guess not.)

James Franklin strongly objects.  This has to be the most over the top comment of the week.

“We’ll go to nine and people will say, ‘We don’t have enough sexy out-of-conference games anymore so you’re going to have to play nine and another,’” Franklin said. “When’s it going to stop? Two years from now they’re going to say, ‘You know, we probably ought to schedule an NFL team. You’re probably going to have to play the Jets. You’re going to have to play the Falcons.’ Now we’re going to play nine games and and an NFL team. When’s it going to end?”

Dayum.  Now that is some Olympic-class whiny-ass bitching there.  And I’m not sure how that squares with Franklin’s declaration that “…the Commodores will push for some of the toughest nonconferences schedules in the country in future years.”  Except that one way or the other, he’s full of shit, that is.  If you’re going to commit to playing a tough ninth game against any school, it’s likely going to be on a home and home basis, so what’s Franklin’s beef here?

As a counter, tune in and listen to the mellow sounds of Mark Richt, traditionalist.

“The one thing I will say I would vote on is to continue to have a rivalry game with Auburn,” Richt said. “Does that involve an eight-game, a nine-game? I don’t know. If (the Auburn game) goes away, then does an eight-game change in my mind compared to nine? I think one of the keys to this whole thing is whether the rivalry games stand. That can change how people think about the big picture.”

I think we know how Slive gets Georgia to vote in favor of a nine-game slate, if that time comes.

There are even some helpful suggestions put forward on the broadcasting front.

Franklin and Bielema also have a solution they believe would satisfy the league’s television partners. “You don’t have to go to nine games to make sure we have more really good games,” Franklin said. “What you do is you force everybody to spread their out-of-conference games out. You can’t open the season with three out-of-conference games and then hold one for late. There have to be three SEC vs. SEC games Week 1. There have to be three SEC vs. SEC games Week 2. And do that the whole year. Now, that’s going to allow the SEC Network or ESPN to make sure there are great games the entire year.” Bielema agrees completely. He said he suggested the same thing to the Big Ten three years ago while he was the head coach at Wisconsin. “I told them I’d gladly play Ohio State the first week of the year,” Bielema said, “just to get that wow factor.”

That may put asses on the couches, but I’m not sure it does much to answer one of Saban’s concerns.

“I’m absolutely in the minority. No question about it, but everybody’s got their reasons,” Saban said. “The biggest thing we all need to do in some of these decisions that we’re making about who we’re playing and what we do is, ‘What about the fans?’ because one of these days they’re going to quit coming to the games because they’re going to stay home and watch it on TV.

“Then everybody’s going to say, ‘Why aren’t you coming to the games? Well, if you play somebody good we’d come to the game.’ That should be the first consideration. Nobody’s considering them. They’re just thinking about, ‘how many games can I win, can I get bowl-qualified, how tough a teams do I have to play?’”

That last paragraph really does sum things up nicely, except for how much money the conference wants to make.  Which, let’s face it, will be the deciding factor in the end.  This issue really does have much of the same feel as the change in the recruiting rules that were taken up in Destin a couple of years ago.  Slive gave the coaches their head for a while and then told them what was going to be done.  I expect we’ll see much the same result this time as well once all the information is in on the criteria to be used by the playoff selection committee and the final price tags from CBS and ESPN for expanding the conference schedule.

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Profiles in stupidity

If you wonder why I can’t wait for the door to finally close on the Michael Adams era in Athens, let me take you back to the man’s reminiscence of the Harrick hire.

“I said to coach Dooley, ‘Would you like for me to get Jim Harrick in the pool,” Adams said. “He said, ‘Yes. I think the better the pool, the better.’ We interviewed three finalists. Coach Dooley made a recommendation to me for whatever reasons. I think, and still think, that he and coach Harrick got along very well.”

Dooley’s first choice was then Delaware coach Mike Brey, who turned down the chance and eventually landed at Notre Dame. Harrick won the national title at UCLA in 1995 but was fired the next year over expense reports from a recruiting dinner that violated NCAA rules.

“Ultimately on decisions on the head basketball coach and the football coach, I make the decision only from the standpoint of that was my recommendation to the president,” Dooley said.

Adams said Dooley recommended Harrick twice, the second time after Harrick decided he wanted to stay at Rhode Island before changing his mind.

“I think the AD was involved in the hiring, he played the lead role in hiring Jim Harrick, not once but twice,” Adams said. “I think that I can document all that.”

Adams still calls Harrick “one of the best final-two-minute coaches that I’ve ever seen, and I know enough about basketball to know the difference. I regret what happened to him, but he made mistakes here at a level that would have made it impossible to stay whether I was making that decision or coach Dooley was making that decision. It was just obvious to both of us.”

That wasn’t the only obvious decision Adams and Dooley made about Harrick.

Now keep in mind that Harrick’s career wasn’t exactly a mystery at that time.  He’d already been canned at UCLA -  after winning a national title -  for falsifying expense reports and asking others to lie about that and at Rhode Island managed to raise a few eyebrows by letting Lamar Odom on to the team after Odom’s departure from UNLV.  But nobody at Georgia thought it was wise to pick up the phone and make a couple of calls to get some more background on the guy.

That’s basically how you wind up a few years later with an academic fraud scandal on your hands.  Too bad nobody judged Adams by the same standard he judged Harrick.

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New blog motto?

Man, I’m tempted to steal this.

I don’t know what kind of coach Butch Jones will turn out to be, but I will say that based on their tweets, I’d sure rather go out and have a drink or two with him than Bret Bielema.

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‘Hey, I’m an Alabama fan, but that game y’all played against us was the greatest game I’ve ever seen in my life.’

Make sure you read this great Ivan Maisel piece about how Georgia’s staff and players cope with last year’s SECCG heartbreaking ending.

You think Aaron Murray was dialed in on the game’s last play?  Put it this way – he didn’t learn how the ball wound up in Conley’s hands until he watched the tape the next day.

And Richt’s quote at the end will just tear at you.

“Sometimes,” Richt said, “the farther away I get from that type of thing, and the more time that I might have to reflect — my life slows down a little bit — yeah, we were just so close, so close to being able to play for a championship. Win an SEC, obviously, and play for a national championship, which we’ve not been able to do at Georgia since I’ve been here.”

The tone of his voice softened, and he dug out a small piece of the hurt.

“It was just, tough,” he said. “It was tough.”

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What’s fair got to do with it?

I’m starting to get very tired of this.

LSU coach Les Miles doesn’t have a problem playing eight SEC opponents every season.

Miles also realizes the Tigers could play nine SEC games in the very near future.

Miles just doesn’t think it’s fair that LSU has to play Florida every season, while other teams in the SEC West don’t.

Cry me a river.  When did life in the SEC become fair?

I don’t mean that rhetorically, either.  This is the same conference that prohibited Mark Richt from running his no-huddle offense ten years ago simply because the officials and other coaches were too damned lazy to keep pace.

“Mark Richt would eat their lunch,” he said. “He would go straight to the ball and snap it. He’d get in 100 plays. We have about half the coaches who think we go too fast and about half who think we go too slow so we must be in about the right spot.”

Cut to 2013, when the SEC began experimenting with an 8-man officiating crew… to keep up with no-huddle offenses.

There’s been no rules change in the interim.  Just a change in what’s perceived as fair.

So if Les Miles is appointing himself SEC Director of Fairness, by all means let’s hear what else he’s got on his to-do list.  Otherwise, it’s time to quit whining and play the hand he’s dealt.  Listen to the new guy, dude.

“There’s never going to be a fair way,” said Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin, whose Aggies drew Missouri as a permanent crossover opponent. “If you look back seven or eight years ago, you would have said the SEC East was the strongest division. You can’t say what’s fair, because things change in this league…”

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The official start of the offseason

It’s violation of team rules time again!

There is a chance Georgia will without starting safety Josh Harvey Clemons when the Bulldogs open the season against Clemson on Aug. 31.

At least there was no sign of Mudcat’s car being involved.

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UPDATE:  JHC’s suspension for Clemson is official.

Georgia coach Mark Richt confirmed to the AJC that Harvey-Clemons would indeed be suspended for the nationally-televised opener when asked about it before the SEC Meetings in Destin on Tuesday. He declined further comment.

That’s probably wise, since I can’t imagine that anything else Richt might say about it would be suitable for a family publication.

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UPDATE #2:  Seth Emerson has some advice for Butts-Mehre.

By the way, if Georgia is going to keep its drug policy, and there’s no evidence it won’t, then it would probably be a good idea to stop scheduling Clemson and Boise State to start the season. Just a thought.

Word.

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More Lesmentum

There’s something inherent in the argument that the SEC needs to ditch its permanent cross-division rivalry games that leaves me shaking my head.  It’s the presumption that some conference games will always be inferior.  Take this:

College athletics is nothing without its traditions. But there is such a thing as clinging to your traditions too hard.

What would anyone say about a conference that for the sake of keeping a couple of football rivalries going (really one) gerrymanders its divisions and sets up a scheduling plan that keeps schools from playing each other for years and forces competitive imbalances on most of its members? Any logical person would be hard-pressed to think that conference would be as successful and proactive as the SEC.

But that is exactly what the SEC has become. For the sake of Alabama-Tennessee and Auburn-Georgia (but really just Alabama-Tennessee) the conference has forced permanent opponents down everyone else’s throats.

That’s the LSU beat writer parroting the company line.  It’s a violation of Marketing 101 – you never crap on your own product.  Besides that, if you’re really convinced of the inequity of the situation, how do you turn around and in the same breath crow to the selection committee about how tough your conference is to get that extra team in the playoff field?

And it’s not just the local guy drinking his AD’s Kool-Aid.  Here’s the usually sensible Bruce Feldman on the subject:

The issue to me is at what cost should the league go to try to preserve a few big rivalries? Keeping in mind, Bama’s arch-rival is Auburn, not the Vols, and where would the Tigers rank on the Bulldogs’ list of rivals? I know the latter two have played seemingly forever, but the game for UGA fans probably ranks behind the rivalry with Georgia Tech and the one with the Gators. And we know South Carolina’s arch-rival is Clemson, not Arkansas.

Oy.

Some of this argument is fueled by a misperception Miles has been happy to trumpet that these games have been lopsided series that have worked against LSU’s interests.

Les Miles made the case to CBS this week that the current SEC scheduling gives certain teams “unintended and unearned advantages” in the pursuit of a conference title. He said he would like to see the end of the permanent crossover rivalry game, allowing more rotation in the cross-division matchups.

How does facing Florida work out for the Tigers (and vice versa)? In the past 10 years, both teams have been ranked in the Top 25 nine times. Compare that to Arkansas-South Carolina (a combined one time both were ranked in 10 meetings); Bama-Tennessee (one time); Vandy-Ole Miss (zero) or Miss State-UK (zero).

In reality, things haven’t played out that way over the last ten years.  No SEC team has won more than seven games in one of these series.  And one of those series – Georgia/Auburn – has seen the Dawgs’ seven wins forge a tie in the overall win-loss record between the two schools.  I can’t think of a better example about how all of this is nothing more than the natural ebb and flow between rival schools in a tough football conference.  Too bad Miles can’t see that.

Then again, that’s not his agenda here.  This isn’t about fairness.  If it were, then Miles shouldn’t have a problem with the conference adding a ninth game to the schedule.  But he’s opposed to that out of concern that it would make LSU’s path to the postseason a more difficult one.  And, again, he’s a coach, so I understand why he’s taken the stance he has.  There’s a lot at stake for him with scheduling.  What’s everybody else’s excuse?

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SEC football is fan-tastic.

It turns out the SEC has created something it calls the Working Group on Fan Experience and charged it with coming up with recommendations to keep us bringing our wallets on Saturdays.

The problem is they seem to be going about their business bass-ackwards.

“Every industry that depends on people showing up for your events has to worry about this one,” said Stricklin. “One of the biggest challenges we have to deal with is how good the product has become on TV. And we have to make the in-stadium experience as good or better than watching it at home on TV.”

If you’re making TV watching your benchmark, you’re already losing.  Look at some of the issues they’re exploring – wi-fi, replay, the secondary ticket market.  None of those are about enhancing the quality of the live product.  They’re just hole plugging, trying to keep up.  Now the last item Barnhart mentions, game quality, does help, but it doesn’t make it less easy to stay home (since you could see such games on the tube, anyway) and in any event, there are plenty of coaches and ADs who aren’t thrilled with the idea because it doesn’t suit their agendas.

But the conference is worried about this, to its credit.  Or at least it says it is.

The SEC is going to invest some real money into high-level market research to discover what fundamental changes have to occur that will allow the conference to at least hold on to the attendance it currently enjoys.

“What is the real attitude of our fan bases?” said Strickland. “We know about all these issues, but what are the real world solutions? Soft attendance is something we’ve been dealing with a few years. We have to get a handle on this now.”

If it helps, I’ll save you some money with a few suggestions.

  1. Tailgating.  Some places, like Ole Miss, get how big a deal this is.  Saturday in the Grove is an amazing experience, one that can’t be duplicated at home in your backyard.  But there are also places like Athens, where the administration seems to have been if not outright hostile to making the tailgate an enjoyable experience, at least indifferent to it.
  2. The in-stadium assault on the senses.  The constant commercialization inside Sanford Stadium grows ever more relentless.  Ads run constantly on crawls.  The scoreboard has its fair share of them, too, and you hear their blare on the PA system.  You can’t get away from them.  At least when I’m at home and the ads show up I can either mute the TV, hit the head or go grab a beer.  If the athletic department really needs the money that much, throw a couple more Jason Aldeen concerts to cover it.  And while we’re on the twin subjects of blare and music, is it really necessary to play as much inane pop music as loudly as possible as is done?  I could go to any number of professional venues for that.  (Which is one reason I don’t.)  In Athens, it seems particularly silly given the presence of a school band throughout the game, but what do I know?
  3. Traffic and parking.  When I first got season tickets back in the 80′s, getting into town and parking was a relatively easy and inexpensive experience.  Now it’s a bitch, and if you want to park anywhere within shouting distance of the stadium, it’ll cost you pretty good.  Some of that’s the result of on-campus improvements and some of that’s what you get when you expand stadium capacity, but if you’re going to take in the extra money all that generates, it seems the least you can do is spend a little of the extra jack to make traffic control both before and after the game efficient.

I keep saying it, but college football is a unique experience.  The SEC should be looking at ways to preserve and enhance that.  Do that, and we will come.  Trying to entice a student population that doesn’t seem particularly interested in showing up by giving it another venue to tweet and text doesn’t strike me as exactly what the doctor is ordering here.

I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on this.

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