Category Archives: College Football

Getting together for a little spring ball

At the start of Chip Towers’ piece about how he’s looking forward to watching the quarterback battle on G-Day — hey, at least he didn’t mention QBRs — he also says this:

Generally, I’m not a big fan of spring games. I’ve always thought it’d be great if they did like the NFL in preseason camps and allowed regional teams that don’t play each other in the regular season to get together for a “friendly” in April. How awesome would a little spring tilt between Clemson and Georgia be? Coaches could have an agreement about how much they play the first, second and third units; schools could sell tickets and concessions and donate proceeds to worthy charities; and fans would flock to watch.

But that’s La-La Land. Not going to happen.

Yes, it would be awesome.  The weird thing is that it turns out not to be as uncommon as you might think.

I’ve been reading Bill Connelly’s excellent book, The 50 Best* College Football Teams of All-Time.  In the chapter about the 1970 Dartmouth team (you’ll have to trust Bill on this), he mentions that Dartmouth played a preseason warmup game/scrimmage against Boston College, almost as an aside.  I was intrigued about that, to say the least, so I started doing a little digging and found this:

This team’s potential was revealed in a preseason scrimmage with Boston College. Rated New England’s top team, the Eagles were stunned, 42-6, unveiling a combination of explosive offensive and grudging defense that Blackman conceded, “… was beyond my wildest expectations.”

So, apparently, preseason scrimmages between D-1 programs were once a real thing.  Which led to my next question: what happened?

That’s been a lot harder to determine, but I did find this AP article from several years ago that added some more background.

NCAA rules allow Division I college football teams to play 12 contests, including scrimmages against other teams. Since no school is about to give up a regular-season game to play a game that doesn’t count, the first step would be a rule change.

NCAA spokesman Erik Christianson said in an e-mail that “there have not been any proposals from member schools or conferences to change the rule on scrimmages or exhibition football games.”

But maybe one might be coming.

Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez is a proponent of playing a preseason tuneup and apparently he’s turned his new boss, athletic director David Brandon, on to the idea.

“Our coaches and I believe this is something worth considering,” Brandon said. “We need to look at all of the issues carefully, and get input from other coaches and programs. However, it could be beneficial to provide a scrimmage opportunity versus another team during the preseason practice period to better prepare the team for competition. This would be for the same reasons that basketball, hockey, and other sports do the same thing.”

At the lower levels of college football, it’s not uncommon for teams to work in preseason intersquad scrimmages.

“We’re probably one of the only levels of football that doesn’t have preseason games,” said Rodriguez, whose first college head coaching job was at Division II Glenville State.

Indiana coach Bill Lynch also coached in Division II.

“We’d find another school that was close, so it was relatively inexpensive and I thought it was really good. We used to really kind of make a day of it and it was really a practice against each other broken down into individual drills as well as 11 on 11.

“Whether that would work at this level, I’m not sure. I’m sure there would be finances that would get involved and probably try to make it a money maker. But in terms of getting your team ready, it would be great.”

At some point, then, even D-1 squads arranged preseason football scrimmages, but the practice came to a halt because of an NCAA regulation that isn’t even applied to lower levels of the sport.  What the impetus for that regulation was, I haven’t been able to determine, but before you go with increased injury threat, remember that yesterday I linked to a brutal targeting hit that ended Mississippi State’s spring game prematurely.  Shit happens, even on an intrasquad basis.

Does anyone out there have any information that would shed some more light on the relevant history here?  Inquiring minds (well, at least my mind) want to know.



Filed under College Football, The NCAA

Is football bad for basketball?

If you’re a mid-major program, Matt Melton makes an argument that it sure is.

Why have mid-major teams been squeezed out of the tournament over the past few seasons? You can blame football, and more specifically conference expansion. It began with a small ripple in the middle of the aughts when the ACC grabbed Boston College, Miami, and Virginia Tech from the Big East. The Big East responded by raiding Conference USA, Conference USA took some teams from the WAC and the MAC, the WAC stole some teams from the Sun Belt, and the MAC and Sun Belt pretty much stood pat. This is an abbreviated retelling, but that’s most of the important stuff. Aside from a few teams joining FBS, things were quiet for about five seasons, but then there was a seismic shift.

Beginning with the 2011 season, the Big 10, Pac-10, and SEC brought the Big 12 to the brink of extinction. The Big 10 added Nebraska, the Pac-10 added Colorado and also called up Utah from the Mountain West to get to twelve teams, and the SEC poached Missouri and Texas A&M. To survive, the Big 12 added West Virginia from the Big East and called up TCU from the Mountain West. Elsewhere in the major conference landscape, the Big 10 eventually added Maryland from the ACC and Rutgers from the Big East, while the ACC further depleted the Big East by adding Louisville, Pittsburgh, and Syracuse. The Big East again bolstered their membership by grabbing school further down the food chain from Conference USA. The Big East eventually ceased to exist after the 2012 season, but was rechristened as the American Athletic Conference. Conference USA again seized teams from the Sun Belt, the Sun Belt acquired teams from the WAC, as did the Mountain West who also lost BYU to independence. With no pipeline to replenish their lost members, the WAC went extinct and exists solely as a basketball conference now.

While these changes were driven by football, they also had and continue to have a profound impact on college basketball. When football teams change conferences, the basketball programs often move as well. While college football only has ten conferences (formerly eleven when expansion began) at the FBS level, college basketball has 32 leagues in its ecosystem. Changes at the top trickle down to the mid and low-major conferences. For some teams, this has been beneficial as they have been called up or graduated to major conferences and seen their profile expand. However, one needn’t ask Kirk Cameron what life is like for those left behind.

When programs graduate to better leagues, it makes it even harder for the remaining mid-majors to garner at large bids.

Eat or be eaten.

I suspect we’ll look back in another decade or two and realize we severely underestimated the effect of conference realignment as it went through.


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

“That’s the fun of football.”

Those of you who object to a spring game between two schools because of the (perceived) increased injury risk, how do you feel about spring practice in general?

You know who spring practice isn’t particularly good for? For veteran, established upperclassmen who have already been through two or three of these things. Like they say about that other sport that’s going on this time of year, for the guys who already know the playbook, are physically and mentally fit and have proven themselves in real games that actually count, you just want them to survive and advance through spring football.

Georgia has several players who fall into that category this year. Tailbacks Nick Chubb and Sony Michel come to mind immediately. So do outside linebackers Davin Bellamy and Lorenzo Carter and safety Dominick Sanders. These are just a few of the players who probably could do just as well lifting weights and running regularly and reviewing their playbooks and game video a couple times a week.

How to get the most out of star players such as those guys without the undue risk of injury is one of the great balancing acts coaches all over the country will be trying to manage this spring.

“I think as a coach you’re always worried about that,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said of protecting star players from injuries during the spring. “I know some coaches in college football who have the philosophy that if you’ve played 1,000 snaps in your career — which, let’s be honest, we’ve got a couple guys that have done that — is spring (practice) going to get them better.”

You may think I’m being snarky, but I’m really posing this based on statistics.

It has been a while now, but the NCAA did a study back in 2007 in which it determined that spring football had the highest injury rate of all sports – 9.6 injuries per 1,000 participants. The second-highest rate was women’s gymnastics (6.1), followed by men’s wrestling (5.7) and men’s soccer (4.3). The next was men’s football in the fall, with a 3.8 injury rate per thousand, or one-third of spring football.

That considerable drop in injury rate was thought to be because fall practices were generally less physical than in the spring. Coaches feel like they can risk it with no games to worry about every week in March and April. And, of course, players have the rest of spring and summer to recover.

Not coincidentally, spring practice durations were cut back to a maximum of 15 per year shortly after that study was published. And only a limited number of those can be of the full-pads, full-contact variety.  [Emphasis added.]

That’s not a perceived injury risk, that’s a real injury risk.  So, what about spring practice?

Personally, some of this reminds me of the people who opposed Todd Gurley running back kickoffs because he might get hurt, despite the fact that he was the most prolific returner on the team (and like he couldn’t get hurt as a running back — which he did).

Perhaps we should leave it up to the noted philosopher Lorenzo Carter.

But you know what else? These guys like to practice and to hit. They enjoy what they’ll be doing out on Woodruff Practice Fields the next month a lot more than the agonizing off-season, strength-and-conditioning training they’ve been put through since late January.

“I mean, I kind of want that,” Carter, the rising senior outside linebacker said of going through full-contact drills. “That’s the fun of football.”

Fun of football — is that even allowed anymore?


Filed under College Football

All that money’s gotta go somewhere.

When you don’t have to pay the hired help a market wage, the rising tide will just have to lift somebody else’s boat.

In 2006, former Kentucky coach Tubby Smith made $2.6 million. In the decade that followed, as Kentucky athletics earnings climbed from $68 million to $132 million, pay for the leader of its flagship team skyrocketed. In 2016, John Calipari made $8.6 million, an amount Kentucky officials justify as fair market value for a coach whose team will generate tens of millions of dollars.

But as more money has surged into Kentucky athletics, records show, Calipari isn’t the only coach cashing in, as the athletes remain amateurs. From 2006 to 2016, pay for Kentucky’s track and field coach climbed from $108,000 to $429,000; men’s tennis coach pay jumped from $122,000 to $230,000; and gymnastics coach pay rose from $112,000 to $252,000. Every coach made more than the school’s average full professor’s salary. In a phenomenon playing out across the country, salaries are soaring for coaches of lower-profile college sports largely subsidized by lucrative football and men’s basketball, whose annual national tournament opens Tuesday.

At the University of Kansas, men’s golf coach pay jumped from $84,000 to $201,000 over the past decade. At the University of Virginia, pay for the women’s volleyball coach rose from $94,000 to $221,000. And at West Virginia University, men’s soccer coach pay jumped from $66,000 to $188,000.

(All 2006 figures in this story have been adjusted for inflation.)

Not bad work if you can get it.

“I certainly don’t think anyone’s overpaid; I think the salary has risen for that position,” said Sam Seemes, chief executive of the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association. “If these schools weren’t bringing in the revenue that they are, the coaches wouldn’t be making as much money. . . . In the United States, the companies that do the best pay more. It’s just fundamental.”

For some, anyway.

The debate over whether the men’s basketball and football players who fuel all this spending and earning should be able to make some money for themselves — either through paychecks or endorsements — remains the subject of litigation that threatens to overturn the economic structure of college sports.

“It’s a system that takes money that should be rightfully going to athletes, many of whom are minorities from underprivileged backgrounds, and reallocates it to coaches and athletic directors, many of whom are middle-aged white men. . . . How can you call that just?” said Andy Schwarz, an economist who has consulted for several lawsuits against the NCAA and college conferences.

Kentucky Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart, whose salary rose from $480,000 to $695,000 in a decade, said the raises he has paid out reflect the market for good coaches in each of those sports. Kentucky athletics is one of the few self-sufficient departments in the country, and recently did something that may be unprecedented in American higher education: paid for a building that will not benefit athletics in any way. Kentucky athletics contributed $65 million for a new $112 million science building on campus.

“I get a bit disheartened when I find people who keep trying to find the bad in what we do,” said Barnhart. “I’m not a lawyer, I’m not an economist, I don’t know all of those pieces, but I know that what we do is good.”

In his heart, he knows he’s right.  What else matters?


Filed under College Football, It's Just Bidness, The NCAA

“But yes, we need to cut some plays out of the game.”

Steve Shaw has his own version of the Process, it seems.

Inside the SEC office this winter in Birmingham, Alabama, three SEC employees are going through the mind-numbing task of retiming several college football games as if different playing rules applied.

How many plays might be lost and how much actual time could be saved if the game clock kept running after first downs? What if the clock started after incompletions on the ready-for-play signal? These questions are now getting asked as the average Football Bowl Subdivision game steadily grows longer, having reached three hours and 24 minutes in 2016 — up 12 minutes from 2010.

The work by SEC officiating coordinator Steve Shaw, director of video operations Cole Cunningham and video assistant Robert Milligan is not an inexact science. Through side-by-side cut-ups of video from coaches film and television broadcasts, they are analyzing different kinds of games — such as those with lots of incompletions and others without many passes — to come up with ballpark numbers on saved time.

“The offense right now completely controls the tempo of the game,” Shaw said. “But if you change the rules, you can change the behavior of a team. You may see ball-control teams that, on an incomplete pass, literally slow down and let that whole time run. You could have up-tempo teams speed up and be ready to snap because there’s more urgency with the clock moving. What would those rules mean as it looks today? I don’t think anybody has the answer to that.”

The SEC plans to provide its results for the Division I Football Competition Committee and NCAA Football Rules Committee meetings in late February and early March. The ACC did a similar study by examining eight games and found a “few minutes” would be saved with a running clock after first downs or if the clock started after incompletions, ACC officiating coordinator Dennis Hennigan said.

No major actions on game lengths are expected in 2017 since this is an off year for rules changes unrelated to player safety. But there’s a multi-faceted, big-picture conversation starting to occur again related to game lengths that involve fan enjoyment, player safety and competitive balance. They’re all intertwined to these central questions: Has college football shifted too much to offense, and if so, is there a desire to swing the pendulum back?

Everybody’s using analysts these days.

Yeah, the Competition Committee is a new thing.  It’s what organizations that don’t know what to do do best — form committees to scratch their collective asses and make proposals so others can have something over which to stroke their chins and ponder.

In the meantime, we’re back to the same old, same old.  College football looks for a way to rob a few minutes here and there to keep the ESPN train on schedule.  (Although it’ll be dressed up in concerns about the fans and player safety robes, to be sure.)

“There’s a growing sense on the administrator side we need to make sure we’re keeping an eye on length of game,” said NCAA associate director Ty Halpin, the liaison for the football rules committee. “Certainly, the television partners are part of that. But there’s also a factor of how attractive it is to spend your entire Saturday at a game. Plenty of people want to continue to do that, but we have to make sure the next generation of fans also want to be a part of that.”

Is there some sort of swelling fan movement complaining about the time spent on Saturdays at football games I’ve missed?  The only bitching I’ve consistently noticed is over the seemingly interminable television time outs as Buicks are hocked to a public that’s usually scrambling for the restrooms while the paying customers are stuck watching the time out official stand around waiting to signal the game back in.

Unless you’re American Football Coaches Association executive director Todd Berry, I guess.

“I went to eight or nine games this year, and by midway through the third quarter, I was getting tired,” Berry said. “I never recognized it as a coach because you have so many things you’re thinking about. But for the spectator, you can only watch the entertainment on the field during breaks so many times before it gets really old.”

Todd sounds like the kind of guy who tells the people in front of him to quit standing up so much during the game.

You can read the rest of Solomon’s article, if you so choose, but all it boils down to is a lot of nibbling at rules changes without really knowing much about what kind of effect they’d have on the game, and, of course, nary a word about there being too many commercial breaks during games.  It’s almost as if these people are bound and determined to screw up a good thing.


Filed under College Football

SEC officiating — NEW! IMPROVED!

Steve Shaw takes a victory lap.

The SEC improved officiating accuracy by nearly 8 percent in 2016 thanks to having more eyes on the replays, SEC officiating coordinator Steve Shaw told CBS Sports.

Eight per cent!  That’s awesome.  And just how did Shaw come up with the math for that?

Last season was the first in which the NCAA let conferences use people other than the stadium replay official to assist on reviews. The SEC had three replay officials at a command center in Birmingham, Alabama, to help the stadium replay official for all reviews. Shaw said he determined that collaboration helped 18 of the 226 reviews produce a correct outcome. The SEC declined to specify Shaw’s methodology for how he evaluated that a correct outcome was due to collaboration.

Greg Sankey could tell you, but then he’d have to kill you.

Mockery aside, if collaboration is really that great from an accuracy standpoint, shouldn’t somebody be insisting on a nationwide application?  I mean, who could be against getting more calls correct?

The Pac-12 experimented with a command center in 2016 to monitor replays only for Oregon and California conference games. No decision has been made yet on whether the Pac-12 will use collaborative replay full-time in 2017, league officiating coordinator David Coleman said.

“It was a good experience for us,” Coleman said. “It gave us an opportunity to advise and consult and make sure our replay staff in those two locations was considering everything they needed to get a call right. We see the possibility of it growing in the future. Obviously, there are costs involved. That has to be considered.”

Yeah, we all know that times are tight in P5 conferences.

There are other reasons why centralizing reviews makes sense:  consistency and a reduction in bias, as the Big Ten’s officiating coordinator explains.

But Carollo expressed concerns that command centers located in conference offices create conflicts of interest.

“I don’t like the structure of a collaborative center down the hallway from the commissioner because the conference may have something to gain if a certain team wins or loses – money-wise, playoff-wise, bowl-wise,” Carollo said. “Of course the conference wants certain teams to win. Conferences don’t make calls, but there is some pressure. That’s why we separate our officials away from the conference office. I want neutrality. That’s what the coaches want.”

“Of course the conference wants certain teams to win.”?  I bet that gets a memo from Jim Delany.  Carollo may be the most honest person in college football.  A somewhat low bar, I know.  But he’s right, and the best way to remove that pressure is to take reviewing out of the hands of conference officials entirely.  It would also save money.  Man, you’d think that’s about as win-win as things get for CFB.


Filed under College Football, SEC Football

Penn Wagers does not approve of this message.

I am legitimately surprised by this.

Swinney was hardly alone in 2016, the first season in which the NCAA explicitly stated coaches are automatically ejected for two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties in a game. Pockets of coaches kept treating the playing field like their personal sanctuary to act like multi-million-dollar mad men.

Not a single coach got ejected at the FBS or FCS level in 2016, according to the NCAA. One officiating coordinator, who asked to remain anonymous, put it this way: “Nobody wants to be the first to do it. It will be huge news. I’ve told our guys, ‘If a coach makes you do that, then you’ve just got to do it.’”

Seriously, between prima donna refs and excitable guys like Boom, how did that not happen even once?


Filed under College Football