May 28, 2009

A Notre Dame-Wisconsin series on the horizon??

Big scheduling news this week out of ND with a long term series signed with Army and a possible series in the works with Wisconsin. I was a little disappointed about things early in the week, but now I'm feeling encouraged about the direction Jack Swarbrick in which might be taking these future schedules. When the news of the Army deal came out, I have to admit that I was a bit bummed about the whole thing. A multiple game contract with Army?? Really?? Was that really a high priority at this point when so many other programs are expressing interest in playing us?? Army is barely even a Division I program anymore. They have gone a combined 20-85 this decade. It's not exactly the kind of game that is going to turn some heads in the world of college football.

I know, I know, ND-Army have history together, but does anyone really care that much about a game with Army?? I mean, come on. So Army was a big deal in 1913. You know what else was a big deal in 1913?? World War I and the Model T!! Army hasn't been relevant as a football program in about 40 years. It's a cool idea in theory if we were just putting the finishing touches on an already high-quality schedule, but the reality is that no one outside of a few old school ND alums care that much about playing Army. Army is not a marquee game. When they announced this series early in the week, I was bummed out. It seemed like another sign that the athletic department was avoiding the kind of bold thinking that we need to get back to if we want to restore the image of this football program.

But then rumors started to swirl later in the week that there are discussions between Notre Dame and Wisconsin on a series between 2012 and 2015. Whoa! Now we're talking!

I'd love to add Wisconsin to the schedule someday, especially since it appears that Wisconsin would replace Purdue in those years. This blurb is encouraging.

According to Alvarez, Notre Dame officials are revamping their annual series with Big Ten Conference member and longtime rival Purdue. Instead of facing the Boilermakers every season, Notre Dame would like to face Purdue every other season.

It's about time we start pushing back on Purdue. There is absolutely no reason that we should be using one of our valuable home and home spots on Purdue every year, and it makes it even worse that Purdue insists on playing the game within the first month of the season. Why have we let Purdue dictate the terms on this "rivalry" for all these years?? They're lucky they even get to play us at all. Does Purdue sell out any nonconference games besides ND?? If we told them to take a hike, they'd be drawing 35,000 for Eastern Kentucky or whoever they ended up scheduling. Purdue needs us much more than we need tehm.

I'm really glad that Swarbrick has figured all this out within the first year on the job. This is the kind of thinking and leadership that I want to see out of the ND AD. A smart guy who is always looking for ways to make the product better. That's what the AD is paid to do.

Again, I ask this question. Kevin White was the AD at ND for a decade. How did he not figure this stuff out in all that time when it took Swarbrick less than a year to do the same?? This stuff really isn't all that complicated, and yet White never seemed to have any type of imagination for creating flexibility in the schedule. The guy couldn't wait to load up the schedule with as many boring games and boring "long term partnerships" as possible. Didn't he realize that all those bad contracts would create a bunch of boring schedules someday?? Could Kevin White have possibly wasted his tenure any more than he did?? It was like the lost decade for Notre Dame football. Ugh, I digress.

The 7-4-1 scheduling model gets a lot of heat, but it can actually work if we are very careful about who we use for those home and home spots. The 7-4-1 basically means that you're going to have 8 home and homes ever year and 4 "one off" games where you play teams at home or neutral site and don't promise a return game. If you're only going to have eight true home and homes on a twelve game schedule, you better make sure those home and homes are good ones. Using up one of those spots on Purdue every year is foolish. If we move Purdue to an "occasional" opponent rather than an annual opponent, it immediately opens up their spot for other home and homes like Wisconsin. We could also eventually use it on an SEC team if that worked for our schedule.

I actually think ND could go even farther by insisting that Purdue give us two or even three home games for every road game we play down there. It would be nice to have some decent "one off' games, and Purdue would be a good option if they would agree to it. I don't mind using those spots for a Utah/Nevada type team that is up and coming and just wants to get some exposure, but I also think Purdue would be a great fit if they would agree to it. We could also add some incentive by agreeing to occasionally play them at Ross-Ade Stadium. If I was Swarbrick, I would tell Purdue that we want to open the schedule with Purdue every couple years (4-5 times a decade) with a road game there about once a decade.

Back to Wisconsin though. On my criteria of things that I'm looking for in a home and home opponent, Wisconsin pretty much meets everything I'm looking for.

1) Great Road Venue -- I've never had the privilege to head up Madison for a game weekend, but I've heard some great things about the whole experience. Great town, fun stuff to do, great atmosphere, Camp Randall is fun and unique, etc. Every time I watch a Wisconsin game on tv, it looks like a fun place to be. If I had to make a list of places that I want to go for a game, UW would probably be somewhere in my top five or so. I'd love to see the students "Jump Around" and tailgate and hit up the town in Madison someday. Seems like a potentially great trip, and it's within driving distance. Certainly a better trip than West Lafayette again.

Plus, Wisky is a football school. It's nice to go to places for football games where football is a big deal. Places like Nebraska and Tennessee. I had a great time down at North Carolina last year, but North Carolina fans aren't really football people. It's basketball country down there, and you could feel it in the atmosphere.

2) Good fanbase -- When I think of Wisconsin fans, I think of nice Midwestern folks with big red sweatshirts who love to cook brats and drink American beer. That's my kind of fanbase! I'm picturing some great encounters with a few mustachioed "Behhhhdger" fans over a couple Miller products and some Polish sausage.

3) Good tradition -- Wisconsin isn't Michigan or Ohio State or anything, but they have enough football tradition to make them a quality opponent on any schedule. They might never hit their Barry Alvarez peak again where they're winning three Rose Bowls in a decade, but you pretty much can guarantee at least 7-8 wins out of Wisconsin and some good hardnosed Midwest football. They run the ball, and they hit you. Put it this way. I don't care what their record is in a particular season. If you come out of Camp Randall with a win, it's a big win.

4) Good base of ND fans -- ND fans are pretty much everywhere, but I like the idea of going to new places where there are strong pockets of ND fans who don't get to see ND play in their backyard all that much. I don't know what the percentages are, but it seems like there were a ton of ND people who were from Wisconsin when I was there. Seems like Milwaukee is a big ND town, and I think we would have great representation in a series with Wisconsin. I like the idea of playing games near cities like Milwaukee and Minneapolis and Pittsburgh that have strong ND fanbases that don't necessarily get a chance to go to the Bend all that much for a home game.

That's another reason why Purdue every year makes no sense to me. We already play our home games in the state of Indiana! If you live in Indiana, you can shoot up to South Bend for a home game. No reason to also play road games in state when we already play seven home games in the Bend.

5) Possible great neutral site venue in Lambeau --If this 7-4-1 model lasts, it would be nice to use that neutral site spot to play in some historic venues. Could there possibly be a better neutral site venue than Lambeau Field?? Goosebumps! How great would a 1-1-1 series with Wisconsin be with one game at ND, one game at Wisky, and one game at Lambeau?? That way we'd get 3 games with Wisky instead of two, and we'd be using our neutral site game in one of the best stadiums in all of sports. Just imagine that atmosphere at Lambeau for a college game. I've never been there before. I'd love to take the pilgrimmage up to Green Bay and see the Packers Hall of Fame and all of that. Sounds like a phenomenal road trip.

That's how I'd like to use the Yankee Stadium idea as well. Forget Army. Let's play a 1-1-1 with Miami with the neutral game at Yankee Stadium.

Anyway, Wisconsin brings all those things to the table. It's a no-brainer, especially as a replacement for Purdue. Now we have to wait and see if it gets done.

May 21, 2009

Nevada media talking some trash about the Notre Dame-Nevada game??

How about this Nevada writer calling us out about ND-Nevada game in September??

Since we are on the subject of meaningless TV and radio interviews, Regis Philbin reminded everyone this week on ESPN that Notre Dame’s football schedule this year is “softer.” Philbin, who probably knows more about college football than Beano Cook, said Notre Dame could win all of its games this year except the USC game. “Why can’t they win 11 of 12 and go to a BCS bowl?” Kelly Ripa’s sidekick said. The Wolf Pack, by the way, plays Notre Dame on Sept. 5. Expect Philbin to return to ESPN on Monday morning Sept. 7 to cry about how Notre Dame’s BCS dreams are crushed.
. . .

It is obvious that the national media will consider the Wolf Pack football team’s victory over Notre Dame on Sept. 5 something along the lines of Appalachian State beating Michigan. We — those of us west of Elko, north of Tonopah, east of Auburn and south of the Black Rock Desert — know better. The Wolf Pack will be the better football team with the better coach on Sept. 5. A Pack victory is almost a sure thing. What we don’t know is how many people in South Bend will mistake Chris Ault for Lou Holtz.

Whoa!! I'm trying to decide whether to laugh or take this talk seriously. If I was Weis, I'd be taping this up to the lockers of every guy on our roster.

Is it possible that we could lose to Nevada?? Yeah, I guess anything is possible after last year's debacle against San Diego State, but it's freaking Nevada. I honestly didn't even know Nevada had a Division I team until last year.

Isn't Nevada winless against BCS schools?? They lost to the same Hawaii team last year that we ran off the field. I was impressed with their offense and their quarterback in the bowl game against Maryland last year, but they have Conference USA type talent.

I don't want ND to take them lightly or anything, but I can't say I'm worried about that game. If I have to sit here and worry about Nevada, we got big problems. I know they'll probably be sky high to play in South Bend, but we also have a lot to prove and hopefully will be looking to make a statement in the opener. As long as we come out ready to play like we did against Hawaii, we should put up points at will on their defense.

I'm already fired up for September!

May 20, 2009

The Charlie Weis bio "flap" -- Much Ado About Nothing

While nothing surprises me anymore when it comes to gaffes from John Heisler and the boys, this whole resume bio flap in the media guide is dumb. Give Heisler a break. When the article came out that Weis' bio was missing the 3-9 ND season and all other losing seasons from his career, I thought we were talking about a complete whitewash of his bio. I pictured a listing of his season by season records with 2007 completely missing in there. If that was the case, I could understand why the athletic department would have egg on its face. It would only reaffirm the "whistling past the graveyard" Disneyworld act that has been permeating the athletic department for the last 15 years.

But after looking at the media guide to see what all the fuss was about, I don't see what the big deal is!! They list the 2007 season, and there's a game by game listing of his record on the next page. How is that hiding from Weis' record?? His record is right there if you want to look at it. The media made this bio out to be like it's from the Iraqi Ministry of Information or something. That's not the case.

What exactly do you want ND to do here?? Write five paragraphs about how awful we were in 2007 and go into great detail about how we started out 0-5 and 1-9 and how we lost back to back home games to Navy and Air Force?? Do you want Weis to break down his decision to go to the spread option offense two weeks before the season started even though we hadn't worked on it all offseason?? What other school would do that to their head coach??

This controversy is silly. It's a media guide. If you're doing Charlie Weis' bio, you're going to write about his accomplishments at ND and in the NFL. He's the head coach of the team and an employee of the school. You're not going to bash him in his freaking bio. I don't see what they could have possibly written about the 2007 season that would be appropriate for a bio. There wasn't one positive to discuss from the whole season.

When I go to a legal seminar, the person introducing the speaker doesn't spend ten minutes talking about all the big cases that the guy lost. They talk about his/her accomplishments and successes in the legal field. Why would it be any different for Charlie Weis?? He has had a rough time at ND, but he also has many career achievements in the NFL and at ND (recruiting, 2005 season, Hannah and Friends, etc) that are worthy of discussing in a bio.

I would love to take some time to look at other media guides from other schools. I'd be willing to bet that OSU's media guide doesn't have a big write up on Tressel getting blown out in back to back championship games. I'd be willing to bet that FSU's media guide doesn't talk much about Bobby Bowden's team being on probation for academic fraud. Does Penn State's media guide discuss all those crappy seasons Joe Pa had in a row a few years back?? Does the USC media guide go into great detail about Pete Carroll's first season when they went 6-6?? Does the Illinois media guide talk a bunch about how Ron Zook got run out of town in Gainesville?? No way. They list all the career records but focus on the positives in the bio section.

As for people calling ND out as hypocrites because of George O'Leary getting fired for a resume flap, give me a break. How are these situations remotely similar?? O'Leary lied on his resume. ND isn't lying about Weis' record. They have it listed right there in the media guide. And besides, what does Weis have to do with the media guide?? It's not like Weis submitted this bio to ND with all these glowing accomplishments while omitting the negatives. Weis didn't write the bio. He had nothing to do with it.

People should get off Heisler's back on this one. There's plenty of stuff to criticize him about on his stewardship of the ND brand and schedule, but this bio thing is piling on.

--As for the Barack Obama comments about ND football not being something he can fix in four years, lighten up for godsakes! People are actually bothered by this?? What is wrong with our society?? It's a joke!! I can't believe there are actually people who are offended by this and threatening not to vote for him and other nonsense. Put down your pens now before you actually write that ridiculous letter to President Obama about how well Weis is recruiting and about how Ty left us with no offensive linemen in his last two recruiting classes and how he's going to take us to a BCS bowl this year.

Get a grip, people. It was actually a pretty good line. The best way to make people stop joking about our football program is to actually play some good football.

Why I'm Rooting for Michael Vick

I was never a big Michael Vick guy even before all his troubles. Even with all the hype surrounding him and all the hyperbole early in his career (I believe Joe Theismann said he would revolutionize the sport or something like that), I never liked him, never had him on a fantasy football team, never thought much of him as a quarterback, and even occasionally just plain disliked him. Vick was the ultimate "ESPN The Magazine" star. A household name who get tons of hype and attention but never did anything to warrant it. The media constantly shoved this guy down our throat like he was a superstar, but what did his teams ever do? When he struggled, the media seemed to make more excuses for him than any other player in the league. It was never Mike Vick's fault. It was always "bad receivers" or "dropped balls" or some other nonsense.

Meanwhile, if you actually watched the guy play, you saw an athlete trying to play quarterback. Vick would go back to pass and immediately look to run. He made poor decisions, he left receivers out to dry with bad throws, and failed to hit them in stride. He was also immature and didn't seem dedicated to the game even though he had signed a $130 million contract. Mike Vick was everything that you didn't want in an NFL quarterback, and yet no one had the guts to call him out on it. As the losses piled up and it became more and more obvious that Mike Vick was the problem and not his teammates, he started to develop a real surly demeanor and started acting recklessly off the field. The marijuana incident at the airport, flipping off the fans, throwing teammates under the bus left and right. It was everything you wouldn't want in a leader. Not only was Mike Vick not an elite quarterback, it was becoming obvious that he wasn't even an adequate quarterback. Why was there still so much attention being paid to a mediocre/bad NFL quarterback??

So I will say that I had some level of satisfaction to see Atlanta thrive last year under Matt Ryan. The same guys who weren't giving Vick any help suddenly were playing great with a quarterback who made good decisions and put the football in the right place at the right time. The great myth of Michael Vick had been debunked, and he had become a first ballot Ewing Theory Hall of Famer.

But as Mike Vick's legal troubles started to unfold in 2007, I didn't really like what I was seeing. I felt sympathy for him. Everyone in the media was so determined to burn him at the stake, and yet I found myself pulling in the opposite direction. Legal analysts started throwing out numbers for prison time and started talking about YEARS. Maybe it's the contrarian in me, but I became uncomfortable with the witch hunt.

I started to think that PETA was using him as a posterchild for dog fighting, and that this judge was using the case to make a statement. I actually started to think of Michael Vick as somewhat of a victim. He was a celebrity, and the government was determined to let everyone know that Michael Vick, the football star, was not going to get off lightly.

I am not going to sit here and condone dog fighting since I know it can be brutal, but we're talking about DOGS!!! Dogfighting is a low level felony. In many parts of the south, it's a cultural thing that has been going on for decades. The guy was loosely involved with the killing of some dogs on his property. Was he there?? Yes. Did he probably place some bets?? Probably. But was he the mastermind of this operation?? No way. Come on. The guy is an NFL football player making millions of dollars with tons of commitments to his time. He's not up there in Virginia training those dogs seven days a week. These prosecutors pinned this whole thing on Vick when the reality is that he probably had very little to do with it. Did Vick make the mistake of entrusting his friends with his property up in Virginia?? Absolutely. But did he commit some heinous act that demanded that he be put away from society?? No, not at all.

When it became more and more likely that Vick was going to plea out to these charges, I was shocked at the number of months that were being discussed. Twenty three months?? Are you kidding me?? 23 months in a federal prison for a guy with NO CRIMINAL RECORD who happened to own the property where some dogs got killed?? That's what we're spending our taxpayer dollars on?? DOGFIGHTING?? That's insane!! Two years of his life down the drain when you VERY EASILY could have given him strict probation with some very stringent terms (no dog ownership, huge fines, mandatory counseling, etc). And people wonder where our tax dollars go. At the risk of sounding like some bleeding heart liberal (which I am most certainly not), the whole thing was a grave injustice to him as a person.

And now that he's about to get out of prison, I'm GENUINELY rooting for him. I find him to be a much more compelling story now than he ever was as a player. What was prison like for him?? How has he changed as a man?? Has he matured?? If he ever gives a sit down with some ESPN anchor, I will be watching that without question. Five years ago when you couldn't go five minutes without hearing a Mike Vick story on Sportscenter, I couldn't care less about him. Now I'm intrigued and pulling for him.

I'm also furious that there are people saying he shouldn't be allowed back in the NFL or that he should be required to give his whole salary to the Humane Society and all this other stuff.

What a bunch of nonsense. The man has paid his debt to society. He has done everything asked of him, he is going to work with the Humane Society in his free time, and I'd be willing to bet that he will never commit a crime again for the rest of his life. You don't spend two years in prison away from your friends and family and your career without coming out a changed man. If Tony Dungy is willing to vouch for you, that's good enough for me. To take away the man's livelihood because of some politically correct nonsense or some pressure from PETA would be a pathetic move by the NFL.

The NFL has employed far worse people than Michael Vick. Leonard Little KILLED A PERSON (read that again) in a drunk driving incident and then picked up another DUI six years later. He's still in the NFL. Ray Lewis may or may not have had someone killed in Miami, and he's still in the NFL. Chris Henry and Pacman Jones are two of the biggest degenerates in the league with a litany of arrests and bad behavior, and both of those guys are still in the NFL. And yet people are saying that Michael Vick shouldn't be reinstated because of some dogfighting from two years ago??

If Roger Goodell holds up Michael Vick's comeback, then he is a coward. The right thing to do is to reinstate him. He has been out of the league for two years. That is more than enough punishment for Vick. I'm so tired of Roger Goodell's phony tough guy act. Get off your high horse.

As for his career, I will be interested to see what he looks like when he does get reinstated. Will he take his career more seriously and put in the film work and the practice work to become a better pocket passer?? What kind of guy is he going to be?? Is he going to take his work with the Humane Society seriously and work in the community or is he going to blow that off and go back to his old ways?? Is he coming back just for the money to pay back creditors or is he more serious about the game than that?

As for his playing career, I think someone will give him a shot to be their starter, but I also think he could be the most dangerous backup QB/slash player in the league. Wouldn't he at least be an intriguing option for a Wildcat attack even if he never made it back as a fulltime QB?? Vick would be the kinda guy that I'd want as my backup quarterback since he could not only be your backup QB but also could get some meaningful snaps during the game in a different role. The backup and 3rd string QBs are practically a waste of a roster spot when your starter is healthy, so it would be nice to have a guy like Vick who could come in and do some Wildcat stuff and maybe even play a little receiver or running back. You could actually play Vick in the game alongside your regular starter.

Seems like an NFL team would have nothing to lose by bringing in Vick. I could definitely see him in Jacksonville with a chance to compete for the starting job, but I also could see him in a place like Houston or Carolina as a backup. Heck, I would be THRILLED if the Bengals signed Mike Vick as a backup. Our current backup is JT O'Sullivan. In other words, if Carson goes down, the Bengals are going 2-14. If you had Mike Vick, he can at least win you some games with his legs alone. And if Carson stays healthy, Vick adds the Wildcat element.

Can't imagine the ESPN hype if/when Michael Vick steps on the field again. If that happens, I'll be rooting for him.

May 19, 2009

John Wall to Kentucky

Big news out of Lexington today with John Wall committing to play for Kentucky next season. And by next season, I mean that literally since it's about 99% likely that he's a one and done type guy. Check out this recruiting class that Calipari has put together this year at Kentucky.

John Wall - Five star, #1 pg recruit, #1 overall recruit
Demarcus Cousins - Five star, #1 power forward, #2 overall recruit
Daniel Orton - Five star, #4 center, #22 overall recruit
Eric Bledsoe - Five star, #3 point guard, #23 overall recruit
Jon Hood - Four star, #11 shooting guard, #40 overall recruit
Darnell Dodson - Four star small forward

My god! Where does that rank among the all-time great recruiting classes?? Four five stars?? I need to look back and see if any school has ever recruited four five stars in one year. Gillespie deserves credit for originally landing Orton and Hood, but Calipari has added three five star players to the fold, including the #1 and #2 overall recruits.

On paper, Kentucky looks like they will have as much talent as anyone in America. Patrick Patterson will be back next year, and I'd imagine that Jodie Meeks will be back as well. Between Wall, Patterson, Meeks, Cousins, and Orton, they are trotting out NBA type talent at every position on the floor. You need at least 1-2 lottery pick type talents on your roster to win a title, and UK has it along with a slew of of other talented guys. Guess it will be interesting to see how they come together and what their chemistry is like. Very unusual situation for a first year coach to have a team this loaded. How much of a transition will there be for Calipari to get comfortable in the new environment??

Anyway, I'm interested to see what Kentucky looks like next year. A lot of college basketball people are already saying that Kentucky will be preseason #1 next year. I still think Kansas has the best and most experienced team coming back plus a big time recruiting class, but the talent in Lexington is going to be formidable. If they start to put it together before March, look out. I don't think anyone will have that much raw talent.

One mild concern about all these "one and dones" though. If they all leave after next year, then UK could be headed for a major rebuild in 2010. I've seen how that can kill a program up at Ohio State, so Calipari is probably going to want to make sure he builds some depth on his roster with some 3-4 year guys. That was a nice move to land Eric Bledsoe as a point guard to replace John Wall after next year. The other thing is that Calipari will probably be in on the best one and dones in 2010, so he can always replenish the roster next year.

What a great hire by Kentucky to get Calipari. This is what happens when you hire John Calipari. He gets things done. It's amazing how quickly he has already made them a major contender. Kentucky SHOULD have a coach like John Calipari. A guy who can get out there and recruit the very best talent, sell the program nationally, and deliver big wins and exciting teams. Kentucky has been pining for a rock star coach ever since Pitino left the Celtics, and now they have that guy. If he can sell Memphis to the top players in America, think about what he's going to do at a place like Kentucky that could conceivably be on national tv every weekend next year. Bottom line, Calipari is just getting started, and he is about to turn UK into a recruiting monster.

I'm also happy for the Kentucky fans. They have taken a ton of grief from the national commentators and Dick Vitales of the world for running Tubby Smith out of town (the racial undertones were also completely unfair...sound familiar??), and yet they were 100% right!! Kentucky fans understood the value of their program, and they knew that Tubby Smith wasn't taking advantage of all the brand name and all the resources available at Kentucky to get the best talent in America. When Tubby is out there bringing in two stars and projects, fans aren't going to put up with it.

What these commentators don't understand is that fans of big time programs sometimes feel a responsibility for their programs. When you are a fan of a historic program like ND football and UK basketball and UNC basketball, sometimes you have to act as a steward to protect the legacy of that program. Believe it or not, fans are not as dumb as administrators and commentators make them out to be. Many fans know as much about their programs as the people running them. I think that's why I am such a hawk about football scheduling. ND created its legacy on scheduling the best in the land, and I want to help protect that legacy for many years into the future. If you are a Kentucky fan who sees all those banners in the rafters and the seven national titles, you feel a responsibility to protect UK's legacy for basketball excellence. It's not about "being unrealistic" or being an "internet crazy" to quote John Heisler. It's about speaking up when you think the program has gotten off track. That's part of the reason why programs like UK and ND have been so successful for so many years. The fans demand accountability.

Kentucky fans knew that the program could be better, and that's why they wanted Tubby out. They aren't racists. They don't have "unrealistic expectations." That's a bunch of nonsense. And yet they got killed by the Dick Vitales of the world for "forcing Tubby out." Tubby put in 10 good years at Kentucky, but he had worn out his welcome. Tubby Smith is a good coach, but he's not a superstar coach. UK fans wanted a superstar coach. Kentucky fans thought they could do better, and they were right.

Now what do I see from Dick Vitale on his site on An article singing the praises of John Calipari. Vitale is now saying what a great hire Calipari was and how he's going to brink that program back to championship basketball. Are you kidding me?? I thought Vitale was ranting and raving for the last five years about how Kentucky fans were unrealistic and how Tubby was doing as good of a job as any coach in America could have done?? I thought Kentucky fans were "unrealistic"?? But now you're back on the bandwagon when you were proven wrong that Kentucky could do better and that they could recruit MUCH better players than Tubby was pulling in?? Give me a break. Vitale said UK was wrong for forcing Tubby out, UK lands Calipari, and now he's saying what a great hire it was?? That makes absolutely no sense. If getting rid of Tubby was such a bad move, then how is he proclaiming now that Calipari will "bring Kentucky back" when it was Tubby who ran them into the ground??

I hope UK fans continue to boo the living daylights out of Vitale when he comes back there next year for a game or College Gameday. If I was a UK fan, Vitale would be dead to me for all the UK bashing he has done in the last 4-5 years. The equivalent of John Saunders for ND fans.

May 14, 2009

Tim Tebow update, Florida Gators update, Spurrier being Spurrier, and why these Urban Meyer to Notre Dame rumors won't die

I love Tim Tebow. Maybe not like Thom Brennaman loves him, but I'm a big fan. How could anyone NOT love Tim Tebow?? There isn't a more genuinely good guy out there in any sport, and he's one of the best competitors I've ever had the privilege to watch. Not only is he one of the best college football players of all time (maybe the BEST of all time when it's all said and done), he seems like an even better person. I can't think of a better role model in all of sports than Tim Tebow.

Anyway, as is typically the case with #15, he's having an eventful offseason.

---First, Tebow got a chance to play a practice round at the Players Championship last week with Phil Mickelson. Is this really true that he was bombing some drives 350 yards?? I'd have to see it to believe it. Is he a lefty?? I'd love to find out what his handicap is.

Could there be two more different personalities than Tim Tebow and Phil Mickelson?? Mickelson loves to portray himself as a good guy, but there are enough stories out there about him that clearly paint a different picture. Meanwhile, Tebow is probably about as genuine as any athlete in America.

We've had some great pro-am pairings lately. Tiger and Peyton Manning, and now Phil and Tim Tebow. Even though I'd love to watch that Tebow-Mickelson round, I would have been fascinated to watch Tiger and Manning on the course together.

---Governor Crist also has appointed Tim Tebow to his Council of Physical Fitness. Is there any doubt that Tim Tebow is going into politics someday?? If he ever ran for office, the fundies would be handing out "Tebow for Governor" literature in every church in the state. It would be the biggest event for the evangelical Christian movement since JC was born. I'm going to go ahead and predict that we'll see Tim Tebow holding court in the US Senate someday representing the state of Florida.

---Interesting to see that Urban Meyer is promising the toughest offseason in the history of Florida football. I know these coaches say a lot of nonsense to the media, but that's probably the right mindset to take with such a loaded team. A lot of these guys have already won two national titles!! At this point, the only fear is that they've already done everything in college football and won't be as hungry heading into this season.

As crazy as it sounds, I gotta think that anything less than a national title for the Gators would be a mild disappointment. They have a shot at a dynasty here, so I can see why Urban Meyer would want to keep them grounded heading into the season .

---How about this story about Mark Richt wanting to move the site of the Florida-Georgia game out of Jacksonville possibly to Atlanta or even Charlotte??

Here's his quote to a booster club:

“When people ask me the question, ‘Do you really think [Jacksonville] is a neutral site?’, I say, ‘No, it’s not neutral,’ ” Richt said. “When you play in the state of Florida every year — we fly, they drive; it’s hotter for us, it’s cooler for them. It’s played in a stadium that [used to be called] the Gator Bowl,” Richt continued. “I wouldn’t feel bad having a ‘neutral site’ game in Georgia — in the Georgia Dome.”

I know he's gotta do what he's gotta do to give his team an edge here, but these reasons are absurd. The travel thing is nonsense. It probably takes the Georgia team less time to fly to Florida than it does for Florida to drive there. The stadium is 50% Florida fans and 50% Georgia fans, so I don't see how there is an advantage in terms of the fans.

As for this heat thing, come on Richt! That's a load of garbage. Half of your roster is from Florida. And it's Jacksonville!! Is there really that much of a difference weather wise between Jacksonville and Athens, Georgia?? Jacksonville is barely even in Florida. They play this game in October. The weather is probably in the 60s and 70s range for this game every year. Arguing that it's "too hot" in Jacksonville for the Georgia players is absurd.

With that said, I can understand why he would want to move this game to Atlanta for part of the time. His team would probably play with more confidence in the home state with a lot of supportive Georgia fans in the vicinity. It's just better karma. When there's a good vibe in the whole city, your players are going to feel better. Maybe the Georgia players get psyched out down in Jacksonville and feel like they are in hostile territory.

Georgia is 3-16 against the Gators since 1990, so it makes sense that Richt wants to take a look at the setup for this game and see if he can do something to shake up the rivalry. They seem to be spooked about playing in Jacksonville. Moving the game to Atlanta every once in awhile might give them an edge.

As for moving the game to Charlotte, I wouldn't understand that one. You're going to move the Georgia-Florida game to Charlotte??? ACC Country?? Why?? You're going to completely inconvenience your fans just to get the game out of Jacksonville? It's a conference game! It's not like this is some intersectional game or something. The Georgia-Florida game should be played somewhere in SEC country. That would be a bizarre move.

If this neutral site thing isn't working out, why not just turn it into a home and home like every other conference game?? Then Georgia could play Florida in Athens and have the homefield advantage working for them. If you want to change up the rivalry, just request to scrap the whole idea and play the games on campus. I prefer to see games on campus anyway.

---I've always enjoyed Steve Spurrier's antics through the years, but this latest stunt of spreading rumors that Urban Meyer is going to Notre Dame after this season strikes me as petty jealousy stuff out of the Ole Ball Coach. I know he loves to stir the pot, but why would he say something like that about the head coach of his alma mater and a school that he supposedly loves?? He singlehandedly created uncertainty around the Florida football program. With friends like that, who needs enemies?? It would be the equivalent of Lou Holtz saying on air that Charlie Weis should be fired.

My guess is that Spurrier is starting to worry that Urban Meyer will stay at Florida for another decade and surpass him as the greatest coach in the history of Florida football. Even though he's been gone for years, I still think of Spurrier when I think of Florida football. He's the Ole Ball Coach!! And he put them on the map. He also was a legendary player there. I still think he casts a large shadow over Florida to this day. Heck, Tim Tebow is the most famous person associated with Florida football these days. He's significantly more recognizable than Urban Meyer.

But now that Urban Meyer has built this program into a juggernaut again, at what point could he distance himself from Spurrier and start to get some historical consideration of his own?? If Urban Meyer ends up winning 4-5 titles at Florida (let's be honest, that very well could happen), he would dwarf Spurrier's accomplishments at Florida. If Spurrier is the guy who built Florida football into a powerhouse, Meyer would be the guy who made them the premier program in America.

I think that makes Spurrier a little jealous. I think he loves being Mr. Florida Gator, and now Florida has this hotshot coach who is threatening to win a 3rd national title in four years.

Why else would he have said what he said?? These coaches aren't stupid. They know that everything they say in the media is going to be blown out of proportion, and Spurrier talking about Urban Meyer going to ND like he has some inside information is obviously going to generate some headlines. Spurrier didn't say this stuff by accident. It was a deliberate plant. Part of it is that he's a rival head coach in the SEC who just loves to needle people, but I'd bet an equal part of it is that he's worried Urban Meyer will take the mantle from him as the face of Florida football (and the SEC for that matter).

This quote from Spurrier to explain himself is laughable.

"I already talked to Urban about it," said Spurrier, who is in Baltimore to attend today's Preakness. "I told him not to worry about all that crap. I didn't worry about it when I was there.

Are you kidding me?? You told him not to worry "about all that crap"??? YOU PLANTED THE RUMOR!! Spurrier is acting like the media is making stuff up about Meyer when Spurrier was the one who said it!! Meyer wouldn't be dealing with "all that crap" if Spurrier hadn't thrown him under the bus like that. If Spurrier hadn't said that, no one would be talking about these rumors again.

---As for Urban Meyer and the Notre Dame rumors, I'll start by saying that it's strange to hear people openly discussing this rumor when we already have a head coach!! Last time I checked, Charlie Weis is the head coach of this team and has this team on track to win 9-10 games next year. In order for Urban Meyer to be the head coach at ND in 2010, wouldn't Charlie Weis have to be fired?? Weis is not going to get fired if he wins 9-10 games next year. Heck, I'd say he'll stick around for 2010 if he goes 8-4. In my mind, Charlie Weis is probably going to be the head coach at ND for a number of years.

Second, even though he's made some statements about his love for ND, I haven't seen even one hint that Urban Meyer is seriously interested in the ND job any time in the near future. Look at the recruits he's already bringing in for 2010. He's already got 12 commits with one five star and 9 four stars coming in. The Gators are well on their way to the #1 overall class in the country. All he has to do to pull in a top 10 class is head over to I-75 and start driving around the state. In terms of winning national titles, he's got everything he could possibly need.

He's also got a pretty young family that doesn't seem to be in any hurry to leave Gainesville. When you look closely at his situation, there aren't any signs that realistically point to Urban Meyer becoming the head coach at Notre Dame in the next five years.

There are a couple things that give me pause and make me wonder though. The first is cultural. Even though Urban Meyer is probably admired among the Gator Nation, he's not a southerner!! Does he really fit in down there?? REALLY???? With all those hillbillies and rednecks?? When I think of SEC country, I think of good ole boys like Spurrier and Bowden and Mark Richt. Guys with the big twang who understand that culture. Urban Meyer is just there to win football games. He's not a mercenary or anything (he could probably coach at Florida for life if he wanted to), but it's always been a business move for him more than a dream job. He went to Florida because he knew he could win there. He had no ties to Florida or the south for that matter until he got there. A lot different situation than Jim Tressel at Ohio State or even a guy like Bob Stoops ending up at Oklahoma (he had all kinds of heartland ties as an Iowa alum and a former Kansas State assistant).

I guess you could say that there are other examples of coaches who are hired guns. Nick Saban is an Ohioan just like Urban Meyer, and yet he's now working at his second SEC job and probably will be at Alabama for the rest of his career. Mack Brown had no ties to the Big 12 or Texas, and he's now an institution at Texas. Rich Rodriguez is in Ann Arbor of all places. Not exactly the best cultural fit.

But with Urban Meyer, I do get the impression that he would love to end up back in the Midwest someday. He may end up retiring at Florida, but I don't think that's how he sees his career playing out. Deep down, I think Urban Meyer probably still holds onto this dream of coming back to the Midwest and becoming the head coach at Notre Dame. He's got the Catholic ties, the Midwestern ties, and all those ties as a former assistant. How many times do we have to hear stories from Urban about how much he loves ND and how many ND type things he has incorporated into the Florida program?? Now that his reputation in college football is secure, is he ever going to want to scratch that itch to come up to South Bend and resurrect this program??

In terms of fit, you couldn't ask for a better fit than Urban Meyer. He's Ara Parseghian 2.0. A guy who has won everywhere and coaches his teams with such precision and intensity that it's almost impossible to keep up with their pace. When I watch Florida play, I'm astounded by how relentless they are. If you don't come out ready to play against them, you'll be down 21-0 in the blink of an eye. Isn't that how Lou Holtz's ND teams used to play?? ND would destroy these lesser teams and rise to the occasion in the big games. Look at what they did to teams last year!! They beat Kentucky by 58, beat LSU by 30, beat Florida State by 30, beat Georgia by 38, and beat South Carolina by 50. That's absurd! I'd turn on the CBS telecast after the ND game, and Florida would already be up 28-3. Bottom line, he's an elite coach and a mortal lock to be successful wherever he goes.

The other thing is the "legend" thing. This might come off as "typical ND arrogance," but there's a difference between a Florida legend and a Notre Dame legend. If you're a legend at Florda, your status is pretty much limited to the state of Florida. Urban Meyer could win 5 national titles at Florida and never have to buy another meal in the state of Florida. But even with those accomplishments, he still wouldn't even be as widely recognizable as Charlie Weis (who may never win even one national title). The only way a guy like Urban Meyer could ever become a national icon at Florida is if he pulled a Joe Pa or Bobby Bowden and stayed as the head coach for another 25-30 years. Everyone knows those two because of their longetivity. If Joe Pa wasn't 80 years old and working on his 50th year or whatever at Penn State, he'd be a regional figure. That's your ceiling at a place like Florida.

Look at Lou Holtz for example. He won ONE national title at Notre Dame, but he's a college football icon for eternity. Everyone in America knows Lou Holtz, and he'll be remembered forever for winning a national title at Notre Dame. Meanwhile, Urban Meyer has already won TWO NATIONAL TITLES, and he's not even the most famous person associated with Florida football these days.

As a Lou Holtz disciple and a former ND assistant, Urban Meyer knows that as well as anyone. He might want to shoot for that fame of the Notre Dame job.

So I do see why these rumors don't seem to go away. The question now is whether Urban Meyer actually thinks he can win big at Notre Dame. We already blew our shot at him one time four years ago, and it didn't help that we had hacks on NDNation bashing his offense and saying that they didn't think Urban Meyer was an elite coach (if there was ever a reason to be wary of the opinions on NDNation, that's probably about as good an example as any). I have no doubt that he turned down ND in 2005 because he knew that the issues with the football program went much higher than the head coach. The AD was a mess, the admissions were a problem, the academic culture holds things back, and there are too many sideshows and distractions in the program. At Florida, the only thing that matters is winning games. Go get whatever players you want, and focus on football. That's the job in a nutshell. At ND, winning games is important but only after you've taken care of all the non-football stuff. That's part of the reason why ND has become a graveyard for coaches in recent years. The reward can be extremely high (legendary status in college football), but the risk might be ever higher.

Until Charlie Weis gains a more secure footing at ND, we'll probably continue to hear these "Urban to ND" rumors. Stay tuned.

---This has nothing to do with college football or Florida, but I stumbled on this Youtube clip the other day of the end of the 1990 Indiana High School championship game at the Hoosier Dome. Aka The Damon Bailey game. How incredible is this crowd?? 41,000 fans going absolutely nuts. It's a high school game!! Absolutely amazing. If I was Damon Bailey, I would probably watch this clip every morning just to get fired up for the day.

NFL games in London

It seems like Roger Goodell is bent on getting some NFL games in London, and now we might be looking at two games in London and the Super Bowl.

My feeling on this "NFL in London" thing is that the NFL is taking a huge risk that NFL fans are just going to go along with it. You never know what might end up alienating your fans. The global strategy is fine, but you better make sure your American fanbase (which is your bread and butter) is strong. The NBA made this mistake several years ago. They went all-in on this Europe/Asia and "inner city America" strategy, and it alienated the rest of America. Now the NBA is loaded with great young players and exciting talent, but their tv ratings still stink and half the teams in the league are bankrupt. Yea, people in China are geeked about the NBA, but the vast majority of American sports fans don't watch the NBA until the playoffs (if they even watch it at all). The NHL has made mistakes as well with their expansion plans. They got so carried away with new markets in the south and west that they forgot about their core brand in the north and in Canada. They are still recovering from those mistakes and may never recover.

It will be interesting to see how far the NFL takes this strategy. I'll say this, if NFL franchises are suddenly owned by a bunch of Saudis and Euros, the league is going to dry up in the US like a prune. It would be a HUGE mistake. Part of the reason why people love the NFL is because it is the ultimate American game. Every single player in the NFL is an American, and football is virtually 100% American from high school to college to pro. It's the one "pure" sport in terms of nationality. No Euros, no Dominicans, no Asians, etc.

Why is the NFL so determined to expand the game to Europe anyway?? Do Europeans care about American football at all? Are NFL games even on tv over there?? Do they know any players?? Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, etc?? How can Europeans get into the NFL if they have no access to the games other than that one game in London?? The NFL Europe didn't work at all, so I don't see where this perceived demand for NFL football comes from.

Is it really going to expand the brand that much to have a game in Europe?? Why aren't any of the European sports bringing their game over here if that was the case?? Is the English Premier League planning to hold its title game in New York City any time soon?? Not that I hear.

Another thing about these regular season games in Europe is that you are taking away a home game from one of the teams!! Isn't that a major competitive disadvantage?? The Bucs are only going to play seven home games while the rest of the NFL plays eight. That game in London isn't exactly going to be a home game for Tampa Bay.

Plus, isn't this move a killer for the Tampa Bay fans?? Imagine if you were a Tampa Bay season ticketholder and the biggest game of the year against New England is being moved to London?

Before the NFL moves on to Europe, why not make an effort to expand the game more in the good ole US of A?? If you're going to move football games to other cities, how about Los Angeles?? The second biggest media market in the country hasn't hosted an NFL regular season game this decade! How are they going to play a game in London when they aren't even playing games in Los Angeles?? At least people in Los Angeles understand the league and the game. Couldn't the Chargers or Cardinals or Raiders play a game in LA to drum up support for the league?? I don't understand that logic.

Or how about a college city like Austin or Columbus?? Columbus is a pretty big NFL town, and they have a 100,000 seat stadium just waiting to be used. It seems like there are opportunities to promote the game in the US if you wanted to do it.

Personally, I'd rather just forget the neutral site thing. The Euros don't seem to care about it, so no sense in shoving it down their throat at the expense of your American season ticketholders who are missing home games.

As far as the Super Bowl in London goes, I don't care if you do it. I'd prefer to keep the Super Bowl in the US, but it doesn't bother me as much to do the Super Bowl there as it does taking a regular season game out of a city. The Super Bowl is a corporate event and a tourist event. It's not like typical American NFL fans are going to the Super Bowl anyway, so do it in London if you want. Maybe the spectacle of the game in a foreign country would be a huge ratings thing for the NFL even if people over there don't care about football.

The only downside that I can see is that the Super Bowl is a huge economic engine for some of these American cities. These coastal US cities make BILLIONS of dollars on the Super Bowl and all the hoopla surrounding it. Moving the Super Bowl to London takes away a possible huge moneymaker for a city like San Diego or Miami or New Orleans or Phoenix. Wouldn't it be a nice gesture to do a Super Bowl again in New Orleans instead of London?

Plus, London is cold!! It's going to be 40 degrees and cold in January in London, and it's an outdoor stadium. It would be the equivalent of hosting the Super Bowl in New York City. Are players and fans going to be happy about the Super Bowl in cold weather when they could have easily played the game in 75 degree weather in San Diego??

Anyway, I don't care enough about the NFL to boycott the league or something if they move a bunch of games to Europe, but I do think the NFL is walking a thin line here. Overexpanding doesn't always work if you get outside of your core constituency. We've seen these mistakes in other leagues. If Americans start feeling neglected by the NFL and that the league has become "too Euro", they are going to find something else to do with their Sunday afternoons. Plenty of yardwork to be done in the fall on Sundays. Or they might just turn their attention to college football, which would be fine with me.

I'll end with a bold prediction. I know the ratings are probably still through the roof, but I think interest in the NFL has peaked. I think the league is SLIGHTLY on the decline, and I'm not sure Goodell realizes it. Goodell is a bold guy and he is still running this league like it's on a never-ending spiral upward, but I think they would benefit from some defensive moves to solidify their base of fans. I am an admitted sports junkie, but my interest in the NFL was NBA-esque in 2008. I barely watched any NFL action until the playoffs (which admittedly are always phenomenal). If the goal is to keep people like myself interested in the NFL for the next 40-50 years, I think the league might want to think about a different approach than "expand globally" and "start franchises in Europe." How about focusing on making your product more compelling before you get into all that??

May 12, 2009

Changes to the College Football Coaches Poll on the horizon?

Interesting news out of the college football meetings last weekend. The coaches association is considering some changes to the coaches poll. Let's take a closer look at some of the proposed changes.

1) The coaches' final regular-season ballots and the identity of the voters would be secret.

I don't know how long the open ballot has been in place, but the final regular season ballot has recently been made available to the public. It has become tradition in early December to scrutinize these ballots. Who wouldn't want to know how Mack Brown voted or Joe Pa or Steve Spurrier?? I enjoy the publication of the votes. I like looking through the ballots to see who voted for who and whether conference coaches stayed loyal to each other.

I have to think about whether I would be ok with changing to the secret ballot for the final regular season vote. On the one hand, I think it's ridiculous that the coaches in the COACHES POLL are trying to hide from being accountable for their vote. The whole thing just seems shady. If you want to have a say in who goes to the BCS title game, then man up and tell us who you voted for. The coaches poll is already a joke as it is. Most of these coaches don't watch that many games outside of their conference. Why add another element of anonymity to make this process even more secretive and shady?? I don't want to see coaches using their anonymity to knock other teams down ten spots lower in the rankings than they should be. Some of these coaches have an axe to grind about other schools and use their vote to achieve that. The last thing I want to see is Spurrier or Rich Rodriguez knocking ND out of the BCS by voting us #21 or something like that.

On the other hand, is it possible that anonymity would actually allow the coaches to vote their minds instead of just doing the politically correct thing or voting for conference affiliates?? A lot of these coaches vote with the knowledge that everyone is going to be scrutinizing their vote the next day. That has to have an effect on their ballot. I think it's lame that coaches vote their conference brethren higher. Just vote the teams that you think are actually the best. If coaches could actually be candid with their votes, then I could maybe get behind the idea of secret ballots.

2) Whether or not 25 is the right number of teams for the poll.

Interesting idea, but I'm curious about something. Why is this idea even being discussed?? Is there something wrong with a top 25 that I'm not aware of?? Did the coaches protest about having to come up with 25 teams to rank?? Or was it the opposite and they wanted more teams to rank so that teams can feel better about themselves?? Is this just something so that Jim Leavitt can go to his fanbase and say "hey, we finished #28!! We were ranked!!"??? Did the mid-majors complain about not getting enough teams ranked, and now we can have Southern Miss and Central Michigan sneaking into the rankings in the late 20s??

I need to find out the reasoning behind this one. The top 25 is tradition. I don't see it as a pressing issue that needs to change, but maybe I need to think about it more.

One reason I could think for having a top 20 instead of a top 25 is that it might affect the BCS standings in some capacity. If coaches aren't able to properly evaluate those last five teams in the top 25, it might affect the BCS standings for the top 5 that probably beat one or two of those teams at the bottom of the top 25. These BCS computer rankings are usually tight, so ranking a team 21 vs. 24 might actually make a difference. Maybe these coaches don't feel comfortable ranking anyone beyond the top 20.

The only other reason out there to reduce the top 25 is that these coaches just don't think 25 teams deserve to be ranked. I'll go ahead and say that there's a 0% chance that's the reasoning. These college coaches will do anything to trumpet their records. Heck, Jim Boeheim has been foolishly advocating an expansion of the NCAA Tournament in basketball for years. Coaches want to be able to go to their fans and point to some benchmarks that the team accomplished. NCAA Tournament, bowl game, top 25 finish, etc. No coaching association is going to voluntarily reduce the top 25 by five spots because that's five less schools that can tell their fans that they finished in the top 25.

Now that I think more about it, I think it would be kinda cool to only have a top 15 or something like that. As a Notre Dame fan, I could care less about finishing #19 or #23 in the poll. That's considered a mediocre/bad year at Notre Dame under historical terms. Finishing in the top 15 is probably a good barometer for being a really good team. Anyone below that is just filling out the rest of the poll. A lot of these teams at the bottom of the top 25 are like 8-4 type teams. If the coaches wanted to just rank the top 15 as the teams worthy of being ranked and everyone else was lumped in with the rest, sign me up.

Anyway, I personally think the change to the top 25 would be an expansion to 30 or even 40, so discussing the merits of a top 15 are probably a waste of time. While I'm not going to jump up and down if there's an expansion to 30 teams being ranked, I also cringe at the thought of watering down this traditional benchmark. The last thing I want to see out of Charlie Weis (or Mike Brey for that matter if this also happens in basketball) is this "well, we finished #29, so anytime you finish ranked it's a good season!" talk. No thanks. Finishing #29 in football is no great shakes.

3) Elimination of the preseason poll

Here's an interesting idea that I've heard for years from college football writers and message board types. No preseason poll, and maybe no polls at all until the first few games are underway. The theory behind this idea is that you take the preseason bias out of the picture. The coaches won't be obliged to keep a team ranked high in the standings if they don't look impressive early on, and it might also reward teams that come out of nowhere and play great. A team like Alabama last year came out of nowhere (although college football fans could see that coming from a mile away before the season started) and shot up the polls like a rocket. If they hadn't had a preseason poll, Bama would have been ranked #1 by the end of September when the first poll was released. Instead, they had to inch their way up until they eventually reached #1.

I could get behind this idea, but I do have one fear here. My fear is that some of these mid-majors will get ranked too high out of the start and snake their way into the BCS title game. NO. I don't want that at all. I don't want Utah to get off to a 4-0 start and then suddenly be in the top 2 when the first poll is released because they are one of 2-3 undefeated teams. Call me biased or whatever, but I want my heavyweights in the top 5.

Elimination of the preseason poll is not the biggest problem with the ranking system. The biggest problem with the polls is that these clown pollsters put too much weight on how many losses you have. They don't seem to understand the concept of strength of schedule. An undefeated West Virginia team that had played NO ONE was ranked #1 two years ago while there were better teams with 1 or even 2 losses behind them. The SEC champ with one loss or even two losses is better than some undefeated Big 10 team, and yet these SEC teams always have to wait on some crappy Big Ten team like Penn State to lose before they can get into the title game. I don't care about your total losses. I care about how good you are and who played and who you have beaten. A one loss team is not necessarily better than a two loss team, and an undefeated team is not necessarily better than a one loss team if the one loss team played a brutal schedule. Look at who has won the title the last three years!!! SEC teams with multiple losses. It's not some coincidence.

To me, that is the biggest issue in college football. I want coaches to start to understand that the level of play in the SEC and at USC is at a different level than the level of play elsewhere even if the loss totals don't match up. We are long past due for an SEC champ-USC title game. Heck, that should be the title game EVERY YEAR, and yet we keep missing that because these pollsters keep voting in these teams with fewer losses than USC.

Anyway, should be interesting to see if any of these changes take place. The only one that would probably have any major impact on the regular season would be the preseason poll issue, so we'll have to see if that one shows up some time in the next couple seasons.

May 09, 2009

Big Ten Expansion: A Guide for a Possible 12th team

With the news that Joe Paterno wants a 12th team added to the Big Ten and the creation of a championship game, I figured I’d break down the list of possible candidates and who we might see as that 12th team someday if it happens.

First, I think it’s a good idea for the Big 10 to add another team and get up to twelve. The Big Ten is badly in need of some credibility. Don’t they sort of have to do something to change the game for the Big Ten to get some respect back?? Look at what’s going on in that league right now. They don’t have a championship game, they haven’t matched the Pac 10 by playing a 9th league game, and almost every team in the league opens the season by playing 3 MAC teams and a I-AA team!! It’s like a pupu platter of lousy scheduling.

Not only that, the Big Ten has been getting run off the field time and time again in big games and bowl games. Why not add a 12th team and a championship game to get the league playing games in December so that it’s closer to the bowl games in January?? And while you’re at it, why not man up and add a 9th league game?? Wouldn’t that immediately add some credibility to the league??

For those reasons, I think the Big Ten should make some serious inquiries about adding a 12th team to the league. My criteria for this list would the following:

1) Would they come?? - Obviously there are certain schools that the Big Ten would probably love to have (ND immediately comes to mind), but it’s not realistically going to happen
2) Is it a good fit for the league?? - This category comes down to media markets, geographical fit, academic fit, and also school enrollment fit.
3) What do they add to the league in football and basketball?? - At the end of the day, the Big Ten is a football league and football is going to get first consideration, but I think a strong basketball program certainly would be a good addition to the league

By the way, what would happen to the league name if the Big Ten added another team?? How could they still call themselves the Big Ten if they added a 12th team?? Wouldn’t that be even more silly than it already is with eleven teams?? I think a league name would have to come with the expansion. My nomination would be The Great Lakes Conference or maybe the Midwest Conference or something like that.

Without further adieu, a list of teams in order that I’d go after if I was the Big Ten. Since any Big Ten expansion would be a marriage of sorts, I've broken these categories down into a list from "no way" to "she's the one!!"

"She won't even talk to me, man"

19. Texas

While I have no idea if this is actually true, I have heard from time to time that the Big 10 would love to talk to Texas as a possibility. Even though the geographical fit makes zero sense, there are some in Big Ten camps who think that Texas would be such a perfect fit academically and athletically and that the geography problem would be worth it. Texas is such a high-profile school with elite athletics and big time grad programs and research dollars. They are basically the dream school for what the Big 10 would want. A monster school with tons of money and great sports and great media markets.

The problem is that Texas is probably the dream school for every conference. The SEC, the Pac 10, and of course the Big 12. And Texas knows it. I have heard that they are not in love with their situation in the Big 12 for money reasons, but why would they be interested in the Big 10?? What is the nexus between schools like Illinois and Texas?? It's way too unwieldy to even think about.

Texas has become the heart of Big 12 country, and they are the king pin of the entire Southwest region. I really can't see them ever leaving the Big 12. Heck, the only move I could see Texas making would be a move toward independence like Notre Dame. The Big 10 is most likely never going to be on their radar.

"Quick, change the phone number before they call us again"

18. Memphis

Please. No way Memphis is even on the radar. It’s a bad geographical fit, it’s a bad school academically, and their football program is a mid-major with no tradition. Even the basketball program is going to take a major step back without Calipari. Memphis would probably join the Big Ten in a heartbeat, but there’s no way the Big Ten would ever reciprocate.

17. Iowa State --

Ummm, no thanks. I've heard their name mentioned a few times, but what would be the point of adding Iowa State?? So that Iowa has a rival?? Who cares if Iowa has a rival in the Big 10?? It's Iowa. Iowa is LUCKY to have one team in the Big 10 as far as I'm concerned. The Big 10 doesn't need to be doing any favors to the state of Iowa.

Iowa State has barely been on the radar in the sports world in the last decade. It's freaking Iowa State. They're maybe the worst sports program in the Big 12 right now. And it's in Ames, Iowa!! Unless the Big 10 is trying to corner those huge Iowa media markets of Davenport and Des Moines, there's no point in adding them to the league.

If the Big 10 waits all this time to expand and then adds Iowa State and trumpets that as a major move to increase the competitiveness of the league, the league will be an even bigger laughingstock than it already is. That's like the Pittsburgh Pirates trading for Matt Morris last year and then trying to sell it like it was a significant move.

The Big 10 only gets one shot to expand here. If they use their chip on Iowa State, it would be a disaster.

"Intriguing at first, but way too crazy"

16. Rutgers –

I’ve heard Rutgers trotted out there as a “sleeper” team a few times, but this one makes no sense to me. I’ve heard that the Big Ten is intrigued by Rutgers because of the proximity to the New York media market, but I don’t buy that. Since when has Rutgers, a school in NEW JERSEY, ever captivated the New York media market?? Get real. Who cares about freaking Rutgers in New York City?? NYC is a pro town, and the only college football teams that anyone probably even remotely pays attention to in New York City are Notre Dame and Michigan. If the Big Ten added Rutgers with an expectation that they would suddenly be able to corner the NYC market, they’re out of their minds.

Rutgers is not a good fit. It’s an east coast school with a small fanbase that isn’t going to appeal to anyone in the Midwest. If you live in the Midwest, you’ve probably met someone who is a fan of just about every school in the Big 10. When would you ever come into contact with a Rutgers fan?? Are there Rutgers fans??

If the Big Ten added Rutgers, I think it would be a huge mistake. It would be similar to the NHL abandoning Canada and adding all those Sun Belt teams. On paper, it makes sense to go for the bigger markets and attractive areas, but it’s not a good fit. Stick to the parts of the country that know Big Ten sports. Rutgers would make the league this hybrid East coast/Midwest league. That’s not the Big Ten, and it would dilute the product. The Big Ten probably needs to keep its focus in the Midwest.

15. Boise State --

Believe it or not, I've actually heard a rumbling or two about Boise State as a candidate for the Big 10. Boise State is begging to get into a BCS conference. The only way they are ever going to take the next step as a football program is if they get themselves into a BCS conference. The two leagues that are the most logical fit for Boise State (the Big 12 and the Pac 10) don't really have room for them right now or aren't interested or both.

As crazy as it sounds, I think there are some intriguing aspects to Boise State. First, Boise State is COMMITTED to having a big time football program. They have pumped considerable money into the program, they are pounding the recruiting trail, and it seems like they have galvanized that region of the country into Broncos Nation. As we've said here on this blog a few times, that Mountain region is growing in terms of population, and it seems like football is really getting popular out there with an explosion in high school programs. Between Utah, Boise, and BYU, there are some programs really on the rise out there. For all we know, Boise State could be a powerhouse someday. I honestly would not be shocked by that. The way these west coast governments are going with their spending and taxes and debt, people are going to be fleeing California and the coastal states for the Utahs and Idahos of the Mountain region.

Second, adding Boise State to the league would be the kind of bold move that you NEVER see out of the Big 10. When has the Big 10 ever done something bold like that to really shake things up in the league and sort of get people intrigued about the league?? Imagine the reaction if they made that announcement.

"WHOA! Boise State in the Big 10?? That's a bold move!!"

I think about it this way. SOMEBODY is going to add Boise State someday. Maybe the Big 12. Maybe the Pac 10. Maybe a new Mountain West Conference chips off a couple teams from the Big 12 and WAC and gets BCS status. If Boise keeps this up and the program continues to gain a higher profile, they'll be attractive to someone.

Why not the Big 10?? Why not at least look into it?? If Boise State has the potential to become a perennial top 15 team, wouldn't they be a potentially great addition to a league that badly needs some new blood??

With air travel and things like that, having a team in Boise is not completely unreasonable either in terms of geography. It wouldn't be quite as convenient, but a lot of leagues are spread all over these days. Look at the ACC right now. At the end of the day, a flight is a flight. They could make that work.

The problem is that Boise is a bit of a cowboy school, and I have no idea how they fit in academically with the Big 10 schools. They may also have shoddy Olympic sports for all I know, so it's definitely something that the Big 10 would have to look at from all angles. They might not be a realistic candidate right now, but they have to be on the radar. If the Big 10 still hasn't expanded in 5-6 years and Boise is still surging and growing, they might become a legitimate option.

"Has a 'great personality'"

14. Navy -

As strange as this one would sound, Navy would actually be an intriguing option someday if they ever changed the military service requirement laws for USNA students. I don't know if that is something they would ever do, but I have heard rumors before that they have considered it.

If Navy ever reversed that stance and made a commitment to have better athletic programs, I could see them turning into a really solid football program that could compete in major college football. Isn't there something attractive about the Navy and the education that you would get?? Obviously not every big time football player would be interested, but I think at least some people would be attracted to what Navy has to offer. If you didn't have that five year service commitment hanging over your head and could go to Navy with a goal to play professional football, Navy could really pick up in recruiting. Couldn't they build a new stadium with some federal dollars and join the arms race??

In terms of the prestige of adding the Naval Academy to your conference and their overall academic profile, I think they'd be an interesting addition. As it stands though, it would never happen. Navy doesn't have the appeal from an athletic standpoint that the Big Ten is looking for. Adding Navy right now would be the equivalent of adding a MAC team, and they don't even have their own stadium. Adding Navy would be purely an academic prestige move, and that's not enough reason to expand.

13. Vanderbilt -

Another school that has a lot of things going for it, but they don't really the big time athletics that the Big 10 probably wants to add. I think Vandy would be a good fit culturally and academically in the Big 10. How are they in the SEC anyway?? The SEC has turned into an NFL minor league, and then there's Vandy trotting out mid-major talent and boosting up the league's graduation rate. It's sort of a strange fit. In the Big 10, Vandy could have a fighting chance to hang around in the middle of the league with the Northwesterns and Minnesotas of the league.

I know Vandy is a southern school, but I feel like there a ton of people from Cincy and Ohio and the Midwest who end up going down there. It's got a southern flavor with some of the fraternity stuff, but it'd probably fit in just fine in the Midwest as well.

Anyway, Vandy would not be a realistic candidate unless they really changed their mindset on sports. As of right now, I don't even think they have a full athletic department. Their sports are decent, but how would it be a good thing for the Big 10 if they added the worst football program in the SEC to the league?? That would be sort of laughable.

"Doesn't get along with the family"

12. Syracuse --

The next category of schools don't really fit the Big Ten profile academically or in terms of size and regional appeal, but they do have some positives going for them and are much more realistic options than some of the other entrenched schools. This category also could be known as the "city schools that are known for basketball and don't really add a ton of cache to the league" grouping.

Syracuse isn’t a natural fit on paper, but at least Syracuse is a college town. A place like Syracuse that lives and dies with Syracuse sports probably has a lot of similarities to places like Madison and Lansing and even Columbus for that matter. That whole upstate New York region is Syracuse country, so there’s sort of a regional appeal to Syracuse that you see at a lot of these Big Ten schools. It’s different from these city schools like Pitt and Cincy that are in pro towns and have limited regional appeal.

My question would be how interested Syracuse would be in joining the Big Ten. At the end of the day, Syracuse is a basketball school. That’s where their bread is buttered, and I assume that they generate big revenue for hoops with that huge stadium. Syracuse IS the Big East. When I think of the Big East in hoops, I think of Syracuse basketball. Along with Georgetown, they’ve been the flagship program of the league for the last 30 years. I couldn’t even imagine Syracuse not playing Big East basketball. If the Big East breaks up someday, I still think that Syracuse will find a way to make sure they are still associated with Georgetown and UConn in some capacity.

Syracuse probably wouldn’t be a viable candidate unless there was a Big East implosion, but I could see them as an attractive backup plan if some other big names declined.

11. Louisville –

In terms of geography, Louisville would have to be a candidate, and there's no denying that Louisville has a GREAT fanbase. Louisville fans are probably the most underrated fanbase in terms of travel in the country. Those folks will go on the road to support their Cards. Plus, you'd be getting the Louisville basketball program. Big coup right there. Louisville is also a fun city, so that would be a good addition. I could see them hosting a Big 10 basketball tournament someday.

I’ll say this right now though. The Big Ten is not going to add a “basketball school” to the league. If they add a 12th team to the league, it’s for the purposes of a championship game and beefing up the football part of the league. Having a good basketball program is not going to hurt, but the Big 10 wants to step up its football product. If they can’t get a heavyweight, they at least want to get someone who is going to hold their own and be a reliable program. Louisville is not a reliable football program. There’s just not enough talent in their part of the country to support a top notch college football program, and a lot of the best players in that area are going elsewhere (Kentucky, other SEC schools, ND, Ohio State, etc).

Louisville is a basketball school, and it's a "local" school. Louisville is second rate in its own state and doesn't have much of a presence outside the city of Louisville. It's not a great fit academically for the Big 10 either. I think they'll be on the radar, but I think they are down a notch or two.

10. Cincinnati –

While UC is a Midwestern school that fits in geographically, UC in the Big Ten would never happen. Ohio State would never allow it. The impression that Paterno gave in his talk about Big Ten expansion is that there are “certain people” who are basically running the league. My guess there is that the people he’s referring to are the Ohio State and Michigan presidents and the Ohio State and Michigan athletic directors. The Big Ten today is the same that it’s been for fifty years. OSU and Michigan running the show and everyone else getting in line behind them. If Ohio State doesn’t want a team in the league, that team is not getting into the league.

There is no chance that Ohio State will let Cincinnati in the Big Ten. They don’t want any threat of an in-state rival to eat into the Ohio high school talent pool. If UC is in the Big Ten, suddenly they can sell that to recruits. “Hey, no need to go to Ohio State when you can come to Cincinnati and play Big Ten football just like them.” For kids growing up in the Midwest/Ohio, playing in the Big Ten is a big deal. If UC can offer that, suddenly they might be able to at least compete with Ohio State for players. As it stands now, any kid that is considering UC and Ohio State is going to end up at Ohio State. I don’t think UC has ever won one of those battles. Heck, they are barely even in those recruiting battles.

Honestly, I don’t think UC is really a good fit for the Big Ten anyway. UC is a city school. The Big Ten is full of big land grant schools on huge spread out campuses. I don’t think of UC as a Big Ten type school. Plus, the Cincinnati market isn’t going to become more of a “Big Ten” market by adding UC to the league. Cincy is sort of a divided college town as it is. You have Ohio State fans, Notre Dame fans, UC fans, Xavier fans who won’t root for UC in anything even though Xavier doesn’t have a football team, Kentucky fans, and even some hints of West Virginia and Louisville fans. Cincy is a pro town with pockets of allegiance to college teams. Adding UC to the Big Ten is only going to convert the UC fans to the Big Ten, and that’s not that big of a percentage.

I like UC in the Big East. It’s a good fit. City schools, basketball schools, good east coast presence. The Big Ten with their stodgy ways and sweater vests wouldn’t be a good fit for UC.

9. Pitt –

Pitt is an interesting candidate, and I’d definitely put them somewhere in the second tier candidates. They aren’t an A-list candidate, but they’d be a good addition to the league in many ways. They are also one of the more realistic options as a Big East team that happens to be close to the Midwest.

For starters, Pitt gives Penn State an immediate rival in the league and adds a little spice to the east coast flank of the Big Ten. I feel like Penn State is a little bit disillusioned in the Big Ten right now. It seems like their fanbase has never really warmed up to the Big Ten thing, and a lot of the Penn State people still feel more of a tie to East coast football than the Midwest brand that you see in the Big Ten. For recruiting purposes, Penn State likes to get out into Jersey and Maryland and New York for some recruits to bolster their Pennsylvania players. None of those regions have any sort of presence in the Big Ten.

Let’s face it, the Big Ten is a Midwestern league. Penn State is an elite football program in an elite state for high school talent, but they haven’t really blended smoothly into the league even to this day. Penn State people don’t care about places like Minneapolis and Des Moines and Champaign. They have no ties to those parts of the country. Culturally, it’s still a strange fit.

Plus, Penn State has no rival right now. They can’t really claim Ohio State or Michigan. That’s silliness. There isn’t one Ohio State or Michigan fan in the country who considers Penn State their biggest rival. Especially the Michigan fans. The Big Ten has been trotting out Michigan State as a rival for Penn State, but come on. It’s forced at best. Sparty has one rival: Michigan. Adding Pitt to the league would give Penn State a legitimate rival, and at least Pitt is within the geographical range of the Big Ten. The city of Pittsburgh has already gotten used to Big Ten sports with Penn State in the league, so there’s already a tie that makes sense.

Plus, Pitt has turned into a great basketball school that would really give a shot of life to the Big Ten in hoops. They have a great arena, great coach, good fans, good recruiting pipeline in New York City. They would give the Big Ten a little bit of east coast exposure that the Big Ten sorely needs in basketball. They sort of play an east coast brand of basketball mixed in with a hardnosed Big Ten style, so it would even be a good fit from that standpoint.

The only thing holding me back from embracing Pitt as a viable candidate is the football program. Are we really sure that Pitt is headed in the right direction in football?? Are they really a legitimate football program?? I can’t say at this point. They’ve made some strides in the last decade or so, but it’s just not that great of a program. It just feels like they are hanging by a string at all times. If Wannstedt lost control a little bit, they could very easily swirl down the drain again. What do they really add from a football standpoint?? Plus, would Pitt be the only team in the Big Ten that doesn’t have its own stadium on campus?? Now that Minnesota has their own on campus stadium, I think everyone in the league has their own stadium. Pitt plays in the Steelers Stadium, and their crowds are really nothing special.

The other thing is that I wonder how much Pitt would actually fit into the Big East. Again, it’s more of an eastern school, and it’s a city school. A school like Pitt and a school like Wisconsin or Illinois couldn’t be more different. Are we sure Pitt would even go running to the Big Ten?? I guess the money that the Big Ten brings in for football would be tough to turn down.

I don’t know. Pitt gets brought up a lot for the Big Ten. I don’t think it would be a bad choice, but there are better choices out there.

"Already dating someone else"

8. Boston College –

This one is probably very unlikely to happen, but I can’t quite rule it out for some reason. I could at least see a scenario where these two parties have a discussion on the possibility someday.

The reason why I’m putting BC down here is that I still can’t take them seriously in the ACC. Even though they say they are perfectly happy, is BC really benefiting from the ACC?? They’re attendance still stinks, they’re on an island up there in Boston, they don’t really recruit any players down in the Carolinas, and it seems like the league goes out of its way to stick BC in the worst bowl games possible. The ACC is a southern league. BC is an afterthought with no leverage. In terms of importance to the league, they’re probably at or near the bottom.

Now, would that possibly be the case as well in the Big Ten with all these big land grant schools running the show?? Potentially, but I think there’s much more of a connection in the Midwest with BC. First, the Catholic population in the Midwest is pretty high, and there are always quite a few kids from the Midwest who end up going to BC. The BC-ND connection is strong, so a lot of people know about BC from watching BC-ND games over the years. BC also seems to recruit a lot of players from Ohio and Indiana and Illinois. There’s always a handful of Cincy kids on the BC roster just about every year. Even though it’s an eastern school, the Catholic thing has given BC a presence in the Midwest that you don’t see from schools like Syracuse and certainly not from Rutgers or even Pitt for that matter. Put it this way. I can’t remember one Cincy high school kid who has ever gone to Syracuse or Rutgers to play football. But BC?? They are almost always on the radar with the Catholic high school kids in Cleveland and Cincy and other schools.

BC is not a national school by any means, but it’s also not a local school either and certainly not a southern school. There’s at least somewhat of a fit between the Big Ten and BC. It would actually help their recruiting to be affiliated with the Big Ten because it would enhance their profile with Midwest Catholics who want to go to college in a big city. And it’s a good school, so they might steal away some of the guys who would ordinarily consider a place like Northwestern.

For the Big Ten, I think they would benefit from BC in the league. BC is sort of a poor man’s Notre Dame, and the Big Ten covets Notre Dame. So maybe BC would be the next best thing for the league. They’d get a Catholic presence, it’s a good school, and they at least have some appeal in the Midwest. They wouldn’t be a heavyweight to add to the league, but they’d probably fit in somewhere in the middle class of the Big Ten depending on who their coach is and who they have on the roster. They could do a lot worse than adding BC.

BC says they’re happy in the ACC, so I do have to take them at their word. But if they reach a point in 5-10 years where they don’t like their relationship with the ACC and don’t feel like they are fitting in, they might start looking around. The Big East is probably going to be broken up by then, and they might not want BC anyway after getting burned by them. So the Big Ten could get into the mix for them someday.

7. Notre Dame

The only reason I even have Notre Dame on this list is that I have no doubt that the Big 10 will make a play for Notre Dame again if they ever commit to expansion. Before they start looking at the Missouris and Pitts and Syracuses of the world, Jim Delaney is going to make that phone call up to South Bend to talk to Jack Swarbrick and see if he can work something out to entice ND to the Big 10. If ND ever had interest, they are always at the top of the list. Say what you want about ND's sports programs, but ND puts butts in the seats and money in the coffers. In terms of getting national exposure and adding a high profile program, there is no bigger name than ND. The Big 10 wants the New York market?? Forget Rutgers or Syracuse. Go get ND. The Big 10 wants a mid-Atlantic presence?? Forget Pitt or Maryland. ND dwarfs both of them combined. The Big 10 wants St. Louis?? Missouri would be great, but ND gives you plenty of people in St. Louis but also throws in the rest of the country.

Plus, you couldn't ask for a better geographical fit. ND is basically right in the heart of Big Ten country within a 2-3 hour drive of West Lafayette, Bloomington, Ann Arbor, East Lansing, Champaign, and Chicago. South Bend is practically the epicenter of the Big Ten. For an ND fan living in the Midwest, every road trip would be within driving distance.

With that said, there is a 0% chance that ND is joining the Big 10, and I don't want ND to join the Big 10. From ND's perspective, the Big 10 is not a good fit at all. We'd be boxing ourselves into the Midwest even though we have all sorts of pipelines and connections to the west coast and the east and even the south. There is no reason to join the Big 10 from a financial or academic or athletic perspective.

I think ND will always remain an independent, and I prefer it that way. The only conference affiliation that I could conceivably support would be a revamped Big East conference where a bunch of long time ND opponents got together to form a new league. Maybe something like this:

Penn State
Miami (FL)

I think that would be an interesting league. ND could play 8 league games, traditional games with Navy and USC, someone out of the MSU/Purdue/Michigan group, and maybe one "flex" game that depends on the circumstances of the schedule (Stanford, "buy game", occasional big time home and home). That would be a very interesting schedule year in and year out for ND, and we'd get a pretty wide variety of games throughout the country. 3-4 heavyweights, tons of mid-level teams, and a handful of easier games that should be wins.

6. Maryland --

Believe it or not, I've heard Maryland's name come up before in the past about the Big 10. If there was actually some legitimate interest on their end, I think they would be a very exciting addition to the league. In terms of a "wow" move, that one would be right near the top of the list.

The question is whether Maryland would actually be interested. I know they are pretty entrenched down in the ACC, but I've always felt like some of those non-Carolina teams feel left out in the ACC. Maryland has kind of gotten lost in the shuffle a little bit in football and basketball. Maybe the Big 10 could give them a breath of fresh air.

Geographically, it's not as strange of a fit as one would presume. The state of Maryland bumps up against Pennsylvania and West Virginia. It's not like it's a southern state that would make no sense. The other thing is that Maryland has a little more statewide/regional appeal than a place like Pitt or Louisville.

For the record, I don't consider Maryland all that realistic of an option. They are a long time ACC school with long time rivalries. I can't see Maryland fans being excited about giving up Duke and UNC games for Ohio State and Purdue. I'd put this one down as a bit of a pipe dream, but I wouldn't completely rule it out.

5. Kentucky -

I have absolutely no idea if Kentucky would even listen, but UK would be a big time addition on a number of fronts. It would give the Big 10 a unique culture, a great new city in Lexington, a southern element that still has connections to the north, great basketball, the flagship football program in the state of Kentucky, great fans, good fit geographically, and a pretty good school with good graduate programs. If the Big 10 wants to add a fanbase that will bring 30,000 people to the freaking Champs Sports Bowl, UK is the school they want.

UK would be more of a well-rounded addition than a football addition. Not that there's anything wrong with that. I'd rather have Kentucky in the Big 10 than Iowa or Minnesota or even Purdue.

In terms of basketball, you're getting one of the premier programs in the country. And it's only a couple hours from Ohio State and IU and Illinois for that matter. UK would fit right into the league in basketball, and I actually think it would help their recruiting to go to the Big 10. They don't really seem to recruit a lot of players in the deep south, so the SEC does them no favors in terms of recruiting. Plus, the SEC is so football-obsessed that UK is sort of out on an island anyway. UK almost has to apologize to recruits for playing in the SEC. That shouldn't be the case. They might actually like the change to the Big 10 for their hoops program, and it would be a huge gain for Big 10 basketball.

Even for football, UK would be a good addition. As it stands now, they have a 0% chance of ever getting to an SEC championship game with Florida and Georgia and Tennessee in their division. If they got the right draw in the Big 10, I could see it happening. Kentucky is not a great football program, but they are competitive. And their football games are fun and draw good crowds. I think the Big 10 would be attractive for football to UK.

The only problem here. Would they be interested?? As soon as you cross the Ohio River into the Commonwealth of Kentucky, it's like entering a different country. Lexington is 70 miles from Cincinnati, but it's a southern city in every way. Completely different culturally than Ann Arbor or Minneapolis or Bloomington. Lexington is one of the nicest little cities around, but the suits from the Big 10 might not adjust well to being called "honey" when they walk into a gas station. Kentucky fans and alums are more likely to identify with Georgia and Tennessee fans than Illinois and Michigan State fans even if the proximity to both is about the same.

If UK was interested, I'd probably bump them up a few spots here, maybe even as high as #2. As it stands, they are a long time SEC member with southern ties galore, so it would probably take some pretty extensive salesmanship to get them to leave.

4. Virginia Tech --

I've mentioned a few ACC schools now, and none of them really seem like realistic options. And while BC and Maryland would both be fine additions to the Big 10, neither of them would be the type of impact school that really shook up the balance of power in the league. Virginia Tech would be a major addition to the Big 10 though.

Would they be interested?? Probably not if you really think about it. They've been dying to get into the ACC for years, so I can't see them leaving now that they've joined that club. They have the in-state rivalry in place with Virginia, and their geography makes sense in the ACC.

But is it possible that the Big 10 would be a better fit for a football school like Virginia Tech?? The ACC in its current form is sort of floundering in football. The two divisions don't have any method to their structure, the big names are down, they aren't really getting much tv exposure, and the ACC Championship game is drawing high school size crowds these days. There's not a lot of enthusiasm about ACC football these days.

Could the Big 10 go to Virginia Tech and really sell them on taking their program to higher levels of exposure by playing in the Big 10?? Say what you want about the Big 10's quality of play, but the Big 10 teams/games get good ratings on ABC. It doesn't matter who Penn State and Michigan are playing. It's going to have good ratings. People have been watching these programs for decades. In the ACC, the only time they are getting any type of large tv audience across the country is for a Florida State-Miami game.

Even though VT has become a consistent top 10-15 program, most people do not watch Virginia Tech all season until their bowl game. Heck, the only guys that most people know from VT's program in the last 10 years are the Vick brothers. If they were playing more of those "national tv" Virginia Tech-Michigan type games in the Big 10 at 3:30pm EST on ABC, would their profile grow a little more??

For the Big 10, the appeal of the Hokies would be obvious. They'd be getting a program that has had great fan support and great success for the last 10-15 years, and they have the crediblity as a "football school" that the Big 10 desires. If they added VT to Penn State, Michigan, and Ohio State, they'd have quite a bit of heavyweight firepower in the league. They would be a school that came in right away looking to win Big Ten championships. Suddenly, the league would be deeper and more competitive in bowl games. Putting Virginia Tech in the Capital One bowl instead of Michigan State would be a big upgrade.

This one would probably come down to whether VT thought they could make their football program better by moving leagues. Recruiting would also be a factor here. I don't know where VT gets their players, but they probably aren't going to think about joining the Big 10 if most of their recruiting terrain is in the Virginia and southern areas. The guys who grew up watching ACC football are not going to want to play at Virginia Tech if they are in the Big 10. Then again, people probably said the same thing about Penn State in the early 1990s when they were about to join the Big 10, and they seem to be doing just fine in recruiting.

"Backup Plan"

3. West Virginia

In terms of value and availability, would there be a better option than West Virginia?? West Virginia isn't flashy or glamourous, but look at what their sports programs have accomplished!! Two BCS bowl wins in the last four years, a steady stream of 8+ wins in the last two decades, a rabid fanbase, a statewide passion for the program, and a reputation for overachieving. And that's just the football program. The basketball program has been to the Sweet 16 three times in the last five years as well.

How many other sports programs have accomplished what the Mountaineers have in the last five or so years??? There are probably a handful of schools at best.

The other thing about West Virginia is that they would probably move heaven and earth to get into the Big 10. The Big East has been good to WVU, but the Big 10 would be a step up in prestige and a safe landing spot in case the Big East implodes for football. West Virginia is probably the strongest all around program in the league these days, and their momentum would be crushed if the Big East went into the tank for football. Instead of playing the Cincys and UConns of the world and having to defend themselves against people bashing their schedule and legitimacy (rightfully so), they'd be in a safe, established league that at least has more credibility than the Big East. Plus, it would give the school a pretty sizeable boost on the academic front.

In terms of rivalries, I think we'd be seeing an Ohio State-West Virginia rivalry spark up immediately. Call it the "Battle for the Burnt Couch" or something like that. There are a lot of WVU fans in Ohio, and I could see that one getting heated.

If the Big Ten is not able to expand its flank to the west, there might be an option in the near east in Morgantown that would work out very well for the league.

"Marriage Material"

2. Missouri

Now we're getting to the two sports programs that I would term as "home runs" for the Big 10. The first one I'd list is Missouri. While Missouri doesn't quite have the tradition rich, championship-level football program that the Big 10 might be looking for, it's such a natural fit that the Big 10 would be crazy not to at least try to engage them about the possibility.

For starters, it's one of those big land grant, Midwestern schools with 30,000 students in a nice, progressive college town. It's the type of academic fit that the Big Ten wants with big research dollars and facilities. It's a good fit geographically that would balance out the Big Ten to the west a little bit.

In terms of media markets, Missouri would really open up the St. Louis market to the Big Ten and maybe even shoot out towards Kansas City. They already have a rivalry going with Illinois, so that would probably heat up if they ever joined the league.

The only question is whether Missouri would be interested. I know they have a rivalry with Kansas and a ton of history in the Big 8 with Nebraska and others in that league, so they might not be interested at all. If I was a fan of Missouri, would I be interested in joining the Big 10?? Probably not. You've spent all these years with these other programs that are in your region. Why switch?? Plus, it's not like the Big 10 is some step up athletically for Mizzou sports. The Big 10 has stunk in football and basketball for years while the Big 12 has emerged as a power conference.

I have read that the school would be interested though. The Big 10 has a strong academic pull and probably has the dollars to chase after Mizzou.

If the Big Ten ever gets serious about expanding and comes to terms with the fact that Notre Dame is not joining the league, I'd be going hard after Missouri.

1. Nebraska

For my #1 choice for Big Ten expansion, let's go to Lincoln, Nebraska. If the Big 10 is looking for football tradition and a big time atmosphere and big time fanbase, there's really nothing like Nebraska football. Their fans are right up there with the best in the nation, and the passion for Husker football in the whole state is unmatched. If the Big 10 was looking for a powerhouse program to anchor a "Western Division," I don't know how they wouldn't at least inquire about Nebraska. Suddenly, the league would have four heavyweights with great tradition and huge fanbases. For the Big 10, the benefits of adding a program like Nebraska would be obvious. They are a no-brainer.

Here's how I would sell Nebraska on the Big 10. Even though I consider Nebraska to still be an elite program, they have sort of been marginalized in the Big 12. The Big 12 has turned into a Texas-oriented league these days. Texas is running the show, and OU is right there with a roster full of Texans. Plus, you have Texas Tech and A&M with huge pull down there. If you want to win in the Big 12, you have to be hitting the Texas area hard for players.

Plus, the Big 12 headquarters are based in Dallas. The marquee game of the year is no longer OU-Nebraska. They don't even play every year any more. Now, it's OU-Texas. That is THE Big 12 game, and the other Texas rivalries are close behind. It is plainly obvious that the focus of the league has shifted to the Big 12 South with the Big 12 North fighting for scraps. For Nebraska, they are now sort of an afterthought in the Big 12 mixed in there with Kansas and Missouri even though they have as much tradition as anyone in the conference. I don't know if that has hurt their recruiting in the Midwest, but maybe players are reaching the point where a Nebraska offer is no different than an offer from Missouri and Kansas. Nebraska doesn't seem to have the same profile right now that they have traditionally had in the league.

Would that change in the Big 10?? Honestly, I think it could be a great move for Nebraska's football program. The Big 10 programs are sort of the old school, traditional programs that remind me of Nebraska. It's Midwestern football instead of southern football. Cold weather, leaves changing colors, hard nosed Midwestern players, fans with Midwestern accents who wear corny sweaters to games. Isn't that basically Nebraska?? Wouldn't they fit in better with Iowa fans and Illinois fans and Wisconsin fans than Texas Tech and A&M fans??

I think a school like Nebraska could get into Illinois and Ohio and Indiana for players while also mining their region and nabbing some kids out of Texas. Bo Pelini is an Ohio guy who could probably make an attractive pitch to kids from this part of the country. Nebraska isn't really on the radar in Ohio, but it would be if they were in the Big 10.

I think they'd be a great cultural fit for the league. Maybe Nebraska doesn't have a bunch of media markets, but there are Husker fans all over. And I guarantee that the Big 10 Network would be getting record ratings on a nightly basis in Lincoln and Omaha if Nebraska joined the league. Those folks follow Nebraska football with a religious fervor.

To me, Nebraska is a grand slam. The expansion is about football. If you are looking for football, go get Nebraska. For Big 10 fans, going out to Lincoln for a game would be a must-do road trip almost immediately. They'd give the league a perfect partner for a 12th team, and they'd be the marquee name that would really accelerate the process for a Big 10 championship game.