Category Archives: 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

A rock and a hard play, indeed

Mike Slive, master of subtlety:

SEC Commissioner Mike Slive said if the Power Five conferences — which also include the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Big 12, the Big Ten and the Pac-12 — don’t get the flexibility needed to create their own bylaws, the next step would be to move to “Division IV.”

“It’s not something we want to do,” Slive said on the final day of the SEC meetings. “We want the ability to have autonomy in areas that has a nexus to the well-being of student athletes. I am somewhat optimistic it will pass, but if it doesn’t, our league would certainly want to move to a Division IV. My colleagues, I can’t speak for anybody else, but I’d be surprised if they didn’t feel the same way.”

You don’t say things like that if the move towards autonomy is going smoothly.  You probably don’t get all grandiose about your ambitions, either.

“We hope everyone realizes we are moving into a new era and this is the way to retain your collegiate model. It would be a disappointment, and in my view a mistake, not to adapt the model. This is a historic moment. If we don’t seize the moment, we’ll make a mistake.”

Who’s this “we” you’re talking about, Commish?  Let University of Florida President Bernie Machen explain.

“We’re in a squeeze here,” Machen said. “There are now six lawsuits that name our conference in them that specifically have to do with the whole cost of attendance and stuff like that. We would like to make changes, but we can’t because the NCAA doesn’t allow us to. We’re really caught between a rock and a hard play. We desperately would like some flexibility.”

Problem is, the little guys are worried about the hard play, too.  Just ask ‘em.

Like several other commissioners outside the Power 5, however, Aresco has questions about whether some of the areas initially included under the autonomy banner instead belong to all 32 conferences in Division I.

And one of those issues in particular — transfer rules — could very well be a fulcrum for how much power the SEC, ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12 are allowed to grab.

Last week, when Pac-12 presidents outlined their plan for reform in a letter to the other 53 presidents of power conference schools, one of the 10 bullet points was to “liberalize the current rules limiting the ability of student-athletes to transfer between institutions.”

What that liberalization encompasses, however, was left vague — perhaps intentionally. Even the power conference schools themselves aren’t sure how far to take it.

But the proverbial line in the sand could be drawn if the Power 5 want to loosen the rules so much that athletes wouldn’t have to sit out a year if they transfer.

Schools in the American or Mountain West see the possibility of de facto free agency as a major threat, where an Alabama or Texas could theoretically try to fill a hole on their roster by simply poaching a player who excelled in a less prestigious conference.

Now free agency would cut both ways.  As I mentioned before, there would be nothing stopping a Sun Belt school from trying to entice a kid warming the bench at Alabama to jump ship.  But if this sort of recruiting turns into an ongoing venture, who’s better equipped to manage it?  To put it another way, how many advisors do you think Nick Saban would bring on board to handle mid-majors recruiting?

So it’s understandable if the middies are reluctant to sign on to something they worry they’ll get steamrolled over.  But Slive’s message is that it’s a futile concern, because one way or another, the Big Five are going to get what’s coming to them.  And if that’s not clear enough,

… Machen envisions rough waters ahead if things don’t change.

“The whole thing could go up in smoke if the lawsuits come down or with the unionization rule,” he said. “So the whole intercollegiate model is at risk if we don’t do something. If they don’t want to do this, it seems to me it’s incumbent upon them to come up with something else that will help us get out us this box.”

My bet is they throw in the towel in August when the NCAA board of directors votes on the steering committee’s proposal.  Really, what choice do they have?

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Sunday morning buffet

You still get hungry on a long holiday weekend, so here you go.

  • I guess Georgia’s bad luck with offensive linemen follows some of them even after they leave.  Hope he recovers.
  • If I didn’t know any better, I’d suspect Kansas State was deliberately trying to provoke a challenge to the transfer rules by the way it’s handled Leticia Romero’s transfer request.  A union would be worse for her, though.
  • Can the early signing day for football proposal be saved?
  • Now the sharks are really beginning to circle around the antitrust litigation.
  • Fresno State’s Pat Hill knew what was coming a decade ago:  For Fresno State to make the cut, Hill said, the university would have to grow its fan base and invest in infrastructure (i.e. a 70,000-seat stadium) so the big boys could literally not afford to leave the Bulldogs behind.
  • At Georgia, athletics spokesman Claude Felton told the Times-Union the school is against selling alcohol at Jacksonville’s EverBank Field when the Bulldogs play Florida and “would not be in favor of alcohol sales in Sanford Stadium at this time.’’  So you’re saying there’s a chance?
  • This pretty much sums things up:  The NCAA is a product of its own membership. Then again, LSU doesn’t want non-football playing Marquette to have the same voting rights when it comes to deciding how it does business.
  • Thirty-six teams will be banned from the 2014-15 postseason because of sub-par scores on the newest Academic Progress Rate, which was released Wednesday. Not one of them comes from a power conference.”

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Filed under Academics? Academics., Georgia Football, It's Not Easy Being A Mid-Major, It's Just Bidness, Recruiting, The Body Is A Temple, The NCAA

“This isn’t something that rolled off the presidents’ desk. The presidents are clueless.”

Bob Kustra certainly knows from where he speaks on that.  How else do you argue with a straight face that nobody forces student-athletes to take the deal schools currently offer on the one hand and then rail against the shit you believe you’re forced to take by choosing to be a participant in Division I athletics?

First class buffoonery from a guy who thinks he can create leverage to make Delany and Slive act against their own interests.  They wouldn’t even take your phone calls, Bob.

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Bob Kustra’s neverending rage against the machine

Boy, give a guy a blue turf and a bowl win over Big Game Bob – like that’s so freakin’ unusual – and the next thing you know he wants to dictate terms to the rest of college athletics.

You may remember these classic hits from Boise State President Bob Kustra:

  • “The BCS is a fundamentally flawed system that is unfair in its access, governance and revenue distribution…”
  • “We want to propose to the NCAA a mandated home-and-home scheduling arrangement for I-A non-conference football games. Why should Boise State go to Georgia, but more than likely they’re not going to return it?”
  • “… Nowhere is the inequality of the BCS system more evident than in revenue distribution.”
  • “There is considerable irony in the fact that in the highest temple of political correctness, American higher education, the BCS worships the false idols of monopoly, inequity and greed at the expense of the virtues of fairness, access and competition.”

Then again, you may not, because, quite frankly, nobody outside of Kustra’s family really cares what’s bothering him.  That’s not slowing him down, though.  There’s always a new issue du jour to rage against, and today it’s big conference autonomy.  Kustra has submitted an op-ed to USA Today, but since that isn’t the same thing as getting it printed there, he’s turned it over to local media, too.  It’s a real call to arms.

To assure the largesse that intercollegiate athletics needs to feed itself and to perpetuate the dominance of a few, for years now the NCAA leadership has carefully controlled the decision-making structure at the Division 1 level. In the past, the BCS structure guaranteed monopoly control, but the so-called “high resource” five conferences seem to pull the strings these days, with two of the conferences taking the lead in calling the shots for the others. It seems they are never satisfied with their bloated athletic budgets, especially when threatened in recent years by upstart, so-called mid-major programs that steal recruits, oftentimes beat the big boys, “mess with” the national rankings and sometimes take postseason bowl games and revenue away from the anointed few. If they have the resources to outspend their Division 1 colleagues with fewer resources, then why not fix the NCAA rules to do so.

The latest round of NCAA reforms proposes a new governance structure that President Harris Pastides of the University of South Carolina described in a New York Times op-ed piece as allowing universities “to independently determine at what level they can provide resources to benefit students.” Now there’s a sure-fire way to kick off a race for larger athletics budgets. At the very least, they are to be commended for their honesty.

Of course, this grab for money and power is couched in the noblest of terms – it’s all about the student-athletes and paying them beyond the scholarship because they generate revenue for the programs.

Now this shit might be taken seriously, except that Kustra’s had his hand out for some of the loot the big boys keep to themselves for so long that it comes off as little more than comic relief.  And, yeah, more than a little hypocritical.

It is sometimes hard to believe that our finest universities and their presidents are behind this effort to fuel what the former NCAA President Myles Brand termed the “arms race” in Division 1 athletic budgets. You would think that the primacy of the academic mission and the long-held principles of amateur athletics would trump the drive toward commercialism and professionalism in the athletic department. You would think that university presidents would be up in arms at the way the NFL and the NBA use the universities’ athletic departments as training camps and minor league clubs for professional sports.

Kustra would be more than happy to have Boise State take part in the arms race.  It’s just that the Jim Delanys of the world won’t cut him in on the deal.

In related news, Boise State just sold the naming rights to its stadium for $625,000 per year for the next fifteen years.  No doubt that’s to insure that the academic mission retains its primacy.  Wait, what?

With unlimited meals already approved and cost-of-attendance stipends fast approaching on the horizon, the cost of competing in big-time college football is set to increase substantially in the coming years. To his credit, athletic director Mark Coyle wasn’t shy in connecting those developments to today’s.

“There’s a lot of things that are coming down the pipe line,” Coyle said. “A lot of those things need to be defined, but these are things that will help our program to provide for our student-athletes in every way we can.

“We talk about providing a first-class experience to our student-athletes and when we are able to secure a partnership like this with Albertsons, that’s a difference maker for our program to help us address some of those concerns that are coming up in the future.”

Yes, it’s hard to believe.

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The rising cost of cupcakes

So how expensive are those appearance fees getting?  Pricey enough that the ACC is seriously considering this:

Some Atlantic Coast Conference schools are considering scheduling future nonconference games against — ironically — other ACC schools, league athletic directors and coaches told ESPN.com…

Because of the eight-game league schedule, non-primary crossover rivals in the Atlantic and Coastal divisions may only play each other once in an 11-year span. This prompted discussion at the ACC spring meetings about playing other ACC teams as nonconference opponents in future seasons.

Sucks for you, mid-majors.

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UPDATE:  And before you ask…

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Cindy, you’re gonna need a nicer slipper.

Playoff-busting is going to be a much higher mountain to climb than BCS-busting ever was.

At least until the next time the playoffs expand.

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Tuesday morning buffet

Hungry?

  • It’s the details that make the Jameis Winston arrest story special:  “A Leon County Sheriff’s Office deputy said Winston ordered three pounds of steamed crab legs with Old Bay seasoning and one pound of steamed crawfish with Cajun seasoning and then left the store, according to the incident report released this afternoon.”
  • Oklahoma plans a stadium expansion that will cost between $350-400 million.  Because, the kids.
  • Mike Leach thinks Mike Leach would be crazy to leave Wazzou.
  • I have no idea what this column is supposed to show.
  • As much crap as we throw the genius’ way, he deserves credit for this.
  • Here’s a recruiting loophole I bet gets closed in a hurry.  And let Georgia State’s head coach explain competitive balance to you:  “We’re not going to recruit the same person, you know? There’s no way. The Sun Belt doesn’t recruit against Penn State. Let’s face it: I’m not competing for kids against Penn State, or Georgia and Alabama. I’m just not. Nor will we ever. It is what it is.”  Gee, I’d hate to see player compensation get in the way of that.
  • Mark Schlabach’s post-spring top 25 makes me wonder if Florida is the new Notre Dame, conventional wisdom-wise.  And TAMU at fourteen?  Hmmm…

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Making do with less

Something crossed my mind as I read this Jeremy Fowler piece on how the mid-majors will cope with the looming issue of more autonomy for the power conferences.  How much of a game changer could Jeffery Kessler’s antitrust suit be if he won, not for student-athletes, but for mid-major schools?

No, if the Wild West comes to college athletics, Boise State isn’t suddenly going to have as much money to spend as Ohio State.  But it doesn’t have the enormously expensive infrastructure Ohio State maintains, either.  So what if the more nimble Broncos did a little outside-the-box thinking and decided to put most of their resources into player payment?  Might that not serve to level the playing field somewhat?

I get that there are some places, like Alabama and Texas, that simply wouldn’t allow themselves to be outspent, and that there are schools at the other end of the spectrum that simply don’t have enough coming in to make a meaningful effort in that way.  But that still leaves a lot of programs in the middle.  You’d have to think there are enough talented kids out there who would prefer the cash being paid directly to them than being put into facilities or administrative salaries whom a smartly run program could sign in an open market that it could make some mid-major schools, or even bottom feeders in the bigger conferences, more competitive.  (Especially since you’d have to figure there would be a bunch of ADs out there ill-equipped to operate in such a world.)

Anybody think that might work?

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