Category Archives: It's Not Easy Being A Mid-Major

“Certainly, now is not the time to start pointing fingers and looking at external factors.”

You think Georgia has issues?  Troy blew not one, but two fourteen-point leads and lost at home to a Football Championship Subdivision team.

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Parity, where is thy sting?

This is why you shouldn’t read too much into week one poundings of mid-major programs:

Did you see what happened in Week 1? Games matching the Power 5 against the so-called “Group of 5″ were about as competitive as insects against windshields. In 20 matchups on opening weekend, only three teams from the so-called “Group of Five” were able to win and just three others were competitive. The average scoring margin was 20.7 points — three touchdowns — and even teams that have been recent standard-bearers for small conference success such as Boise State, Rice and Utah State got stomped.

“That’s not a spot we’ve been in very often,” Utah State coach Matt Wells said Sunday night following a 38-7 loss at Tennessee that might have been the most revealing result of the weekend in terms of the gap that currently exists between the Power 5 and everyone else.

On paper, this was a classic opportunity for a program that plays in a 25,000-seat stadium and has to recruit two-star players almost exclusively to come into one of the sport’s historic venues and embarrass the crown jewel of an athletic department that spent $86 million more on sports than Utah State did last year.

Though nobody would have argued before the game that Utah State is more talented, Tennessee is in the midst of a rebuilding process as Butch Jones tries to clean up the mess from three disastrous years of Derek Dooley. With dynamic senior quarterback Chuckie Keeton, whose national reputation had been formed in close losses to brand-name programs each of the last three years, it stood to reason that Utah State might be able to take advantage of a Tennessee roster with no proven quarterback and 21 true freshmen who will play some role this season. Even Las Vegas expected it to be close, with the point spread bet down to 4.5 points by kickoff.

But after the game was a few minutes old and the vast differences in size and speed became evident, it was obvious the Aggies would need to play virtually mistake-free just to have a chance going into the fourth quarter. They were overmatched even by a Tennessee team that will likely struggle to finish .500 this season…

All that doesn’t bode well for Vanderbilt, of course, but the bigger implication is that throwing the “Group of 5″ a bone in the form of a spot in one of the major bowls is largely a waste from a competitive standpoint (although it’s really being done to send a little of the postseason revenue the mid-majors’ way).  And don’t get me started on mandating a guaranteed mid-major berth in an expanded playoff.

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Friday morning buffet

Tidbits to sample at week’s end…

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Filed under Gators, Gators..., Georgia Football, It's Not Easy Being A Mid-Major, It's Just Bidness, SEC Football, Strategery And Mechanics, The Evil Genius

Is Cinderella dead?

Let me just say that if it were so, that’s a feature, not a bug, of the new postseason format.

But I fear the true answer is that she’s merely in a coma, waiting to waken once the field expands sufficiently.

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Filed under BCS/Playoffs, It's Not Easy Being A Mid-Major

Autonomy brings out the stupid.

I’ve never had much use for June Jones.  He was less than impressive as the Falcons’ head coach; his inability to control Jeff George was sadly pathetic.  On the college level, his claim to fame was lifting a Hawaii program from sheer mediocrity to being the most mediocre undefeated team to crash the BCS.  I can’t deny some people take him seriously.  I just don’t understand why.

Take his latest brilliant suggestion in response to the Power Five conferences largely getting their way on NCAA governance.  What came was inevitable, because the big boys hold most of the cards, but at least it sounds like the mid-majors were able to keep the transfer rules from being subject to the new voting protocols.  In any event, at least they retain some level of impact and some remaining relationship.  Jones wants to ditch that, too.

“I think the have-nots should go ahead and move to the spring just like the USFL did. I think that there’s an opportunity to do a complete other side of that division, and I think that if we don’t think that way as a group of have-nots, we’re going to get left behind…”

This may be the first time I’ve seen anyone refer to the USFL as a successful business model.   (Remember, this is the pro league that successfully won a plaintiff’s verdict against the NFL in an antitrust suit, only to be awarded a whopping $3 in damages.)

On the college level, what makes this particularly questionable is that it would be the end of mid-majors scheduling paycheck games against power conference teams.  For some schools, that’s mucho dinero you’re talking about.  Now maybe June believes there’s so much demand for spring football that ESPN and Fox would be falling all over themselves to throw money at the middies that it would more than make up for it.  But if that were the case, you kinda wonder why nobody’s thought of it before Jones.

Then, again, he may simply be pulling it out of his ass, like this:

“I can see in five-to-seven years, possibly, the public would demand to have the two leagues play, just like I think the USFL had in mind, originally, of the winner of the USFL playing the winner of the National Football League.”

For once, I’d love to hear a Jim Delany response to something.

The only positive development I can see out of this for the smaller fry is that it would make things considerably more difficult for programs to move to conferences operating football in a different season and probably do something similar in the case of player transfers.  I doubt that’s anywhere near close enough to make this an attractive option, but what do I know?  I’m one of the dumbasses who would happily watch college football in the spring.

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UPDATE:  The early reviews are in.  Let’s just say the critics aren’t raving.

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Competitive balance, my arse

If Emmert’s testimony yesterday about player compensation was little more than a combination of sanctimonious wishful thinking and denial, his defense of competitive balance in college football was downright dishonest.

Emmert said amateurism is essential to competitive balance in college sports. While he has supported reforms such as cost-of-attendance increases — though he wouldn’t call them stipends — he added that requiring further compensation to athletes would result in some schools having to drop other sports programs or drop out of Division I altogether, which require schools to offer 16 sports in order to qualify.

He even went to the extent of citing Alabama’s loss to Louisiana-Monroe and Michigan’s loss to Appalachian State in support of that.  (Nevermind that losses like those are so rare that it’s easy to remember them by name.)

But this is where my bullshit detector’s needle broke:

“To convert college sports into professional sports would be tantamount to converting it into minor league sports,” Emmert said. “And we know that in the U.S. minor league sports aren’t very successful either for fan support or for the fan experience.”

Professional minor leagues aren’t the minor leagues because their players are paid.  They’re minor leagues because their teams are under the control of parties who don’t have a stake in the outcome of their seasons.

Back in the 1930’s Branch Rickey came up with a revolutionary innovation, the baseball farm system.  Twice, Commissioner Landis freed a number of players in Rickey’s system from their contracts because he opposed turning the minor leagues into vassal states of major league teams.  Read this exchange between the two to understand what the real issue is with minor league play and fan interest.  Landis’ final observation - “I think it is as big as the universe.  This is just as important in the Three-I League as it would be in the National or American Leagues.” – is the crux of what defines being a minor league.

It’s not about pay.  It’s about independence.  Until the NFL can dictate to Mark Richt during the week before the Georgia Tech game that Todd Gurley is being brought up to play for one of its teams, Emmert is completely off base with his analogy.

But skip past that.  If you want something in the here and now that exposes the phoniness of Emmert’s concern about competitive balance, check out one of the impending fruits of the Big Five’s push for autonomy, a proposed change to the transfer rules.

The wealthiest college football conferences (Big 12, Big Ten, Atlantic Conference, Pac-12, Southeastern Conference) are willing to work with all of Division I to come up with a solution, but they also want the power to make their own transfer rules if need be as part of an autonomy structure the NCAA is moving toward.

If you think this is making mid-major schools nervous, give yourself a nickel.

That worries the schools outside those powerful leagues, concerned they’ll be in danger of losing their best players to the Big Five.

Most of the areas in which the Big Five conferences are seeking autonomy are related to how schools spend money on athletes. Transfer regulations are seen more as purely competitive-balance issues.

”I still haven’t gotten a good answer as to why transfer rules have been included in the autonomy bucket,” said SMU athletic director Rick Hart, whose school plays in the American Athletic Conference, one of the other five leagues in the top tier of college football knows as FBS.

I wouldn’t hold my breath on that one, Rick.  Besides, I think you already know the answer, even if it isn’t what you’d call a good one.  Or the one the Big Five commissioners – or Emmert, for that matter – will give when they enact their own version.

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UPDATE:  More thoughts on competitive balance here.

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Filed under College Football, It's Not Easy Being A Mid-Major, The NCAA