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With the September 2 season kickoff just around the corner, the College Football Report welcomes you to our two-part Preseason Special. Break out the books, sharpen your pencils and for godssakes wipe that barbecue sauce off your face. We're going to back to school!
First, we will take a look at the offseason - the stories, the coaching changes and the controversies that have kept college football in the news since January. In the second half of our kickoff coverage, we will offer up the Beachwood Sports predictions for the upcoming season. Should we be able to call him home from his summer mating grounds, we'll also welcome the return of the Beachwood Sports Seal.
In this issue: a head coach named Joker, the BCA, FBS, USC, the UAAA, the Big Ten Plus Two, Big Five-Sixths, Pac-(10*1.2), Correspondent Kardashian, the vindication of Al Davis, Coach Sark vs. Coach Smirk, hot coeds, a Golden Hurricane, a seventh BCS conference and a slew of NCAA investigations.
The (Slow) Increase in Minority Coaches
The 2010-11 season will kick off with three new black head coaches running programs at BCS schools. Joker Phillips took over for Rich Brooks at Kentucky and will be joined by first-timers Charlie Strong at Louisville and Mike London at Virginia. With Randy Shannon remaining at Miami (last year's only member of this all-too-exclusive club), the efforts of the Black Coaches & Administrators organization and many others seem to be paying off.
The "Football Hiring Report Card," published annually by the BCA since 2004, gives a sense of the glacial pace of this trend. According to the '08-09 Report Card, FBS schools (i.e. Division I-A; for some clarity about the FBS vs. FCS, etc. see the "housekeeping note" in last year's Report) have hired only 16 African-American coaches in the past 14 years, despite 221 vacancies. While the issue of minority hiring practices in college football is too complex (and too thorny) to explore here, we wish the newcomers at UL, UVA and UK all the best. Tracking their relationships with fans, boosters and the media, much less how their teams perform on the field, will be an interesting wrinkle to the upcoming season.
The Lane Kiffin Express and USC Trainwreck
Early last season, we expressed skepticism about Lane Kiffin. Better put, we doubted the Lane Kiffin PR machine. We compared him to another rising star: Steve Sarkisian at the University of Washington.
Let's review 2009-10: U-Dub scored upsets over two ranked teams (#3 USC and #19 Cal), but inconsistency and a shaky D left the Huskies at home for bowl season with a 5-7 record. Kid Smirk led the Vols to a winning (7-6) record but ended the season with a 37-14 stinker against Virginia Tech in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Shortly after, Kiffin fled Knoxville to return to the sunny beaches of Southern Cal.
Kiffin served as an assistant coach at USC under Pete Carroll from 2001-2006, including roles as offensive coordinator and (notably, given the below) recruiting coordinator in the '05 and '06 seasons. When Carroll resigned his position to accept the top job for the Seattle Seahawks, Kiffin bailed out of Tennessee after a mere 14 months on the job. Suffice it to say, the Volunteers were not amused.
Kiffin's Trojans come into the 2010 season ranked (AP #22), but the long-term may favor Sarkisian: the NCAA lowered the boom on USC in June for a "lack of institutional control" during the '04-'09 football seasons. The NCAA found a variety of violations involving the recruitment and treatment of Reggie Bush ("student-athlete 1") and O.J. Mayo ("student-athlete 2") during both players' one-and-done college careers at USC.
The NCAA's report on the infractions at USC offers a "window onto a landscape of elite college athletes" (and athletic programs, we'd argue) who " . . . disregard NCAA rules and regulations." Due to the number and severity of the rules violations, combined with USC's position as a repeat offender (having been called on the carpet in '01, '86 and '82), the NCAA handed down some stiff penalties, including:
* A ban on postseason play in 2010 and 2011;
* Four years of probation;
* A loss of 30 scholarships from 2010-2013, and;
* The dreaded "public reprimand and censure." (For shame, Southern Cal! For shame!)
Not for nothing, but the Trojans must also vacate all victories and titles from the '05 season . . . such as their National Championship over Oklahoma and some other minor banners, accolades and awards. Like Reggie Bush's 2005 Heisman Trophy. Or the school's replica of it, anyway.
For Reggie's side of the story, let's go to Beachwood Sports special correspondent Kim Kardashian. Kim? "He earned it!" And, there you have it.
Thus, while Kiffin muddles through until 2012, Sarkisian can look ahead to building a program. And although it might be unfair to punish the new guy while Carroll pulls down $33MM in the NFL, we can't find much sympathy for Kiffin. As it turns out, Al Davis may have been right all along.
Conference Realignment Roulette
All you need to know about the offseason chaos surrounding the future of most major (and some mid-major) NCAA football conferences is this: none of the changes go into effect this season.
At one point this summer, more than a dozen teams were rumored to be changing conferences. The Big 12 nearly collapsed, the Big Ten flirted with Notre Dame (again) along with a number of Big East teams and the Pac-10 almost enveloped most of the Plains.
But as with past shuffles (see 1996, 2005), all the action boiled down to a handful of changes: Colorado left the Big 12 to for the Pac-10; Boise State fled the WAC for the Mountain West; Nebraska flipped the Big 12 the bird to join the Big Ten, and; Utah upgraded to the Pac-10 from the Mountain West. Oh, and the new Pac-(10*1.2) will get a snappy new logo.
The Big Ten Plus Two and Big Five-Sixths
The Big Ten will welcome the University of Nebraska on July 1, 2011. The Big Ten has had 11 members since Penn State joined in 1990, so the conference has been "ten" in name only for some time. The Cornhuskers made up part of the original Big Eight Conference (1907-1996) until the merger with remnants of the Southwest Conference formed the Big 12. Yet Nebraska never meshed well with the Big 12 due to the dominant role of the Texas Longhorns. Revenue sharing, the Big 12 title game, the location of the league office, academic standards - name the issue and Nebraska (and AD Tom Osborne) has been on the other side from Texas.
Now the Huskers will join what will likely be the West Division of the Big Ten Plus Two Conference. Sadly, Nebraska will leave behind traditional conference rival Oklahoma. And just as tragically, the 'Huskers will swap aesthetically-pleasing Big 12 fans for these guys. Questionable choice.
The Big Ten Plus Two has yet to announce the date or venue for the inaugural conference championship game in 2011. Not that teams like Indiana, Purdue, Illinois, or Minnesota will care - the only issue at hand for league's bottom-dwellers is the revenue resulting from ticket sales, broadcast rights, merchandise, etc. Or more precisely, their cut.
The remaining 10 teams in the new Big 12 (or as we prefer, Big Five-Sixths) Conference will be forced to determine the conference champion in regular-season play: NCAA rules require conferences to have at least 12 members to host a championship game. Thus, Big Ten and Texas fans should celebrate. The long layoff for Big Ten teams (as many as 50 days, for the '06 Buckeyes) between the end of the regular season and the BCS has been partially blamed for the conference's disappointing performance (10-11 overall) in BCS games and the title game (1-2) in particular. The championship game should ensure that the league's top representative in the BCS has been battle-tested.
But the big winner here is Texas. The Longhorns single-handedly saved the Big Five-Sixths by agreeing to a TV deal that will reportedly net the school $25 million per year. Fox and ESPN will pay broadcast rights that, when split up using the conference's unbalanced revenue sharing, should pay UT, A&M, and Oklahoma at least $20 million annually, with the remaining schools seeing $14-17 million each. Tack on another $3-5 million in loose change from their Longhorn TV network, and Texas will hold sway at least until the 2015-16 expiration of the ESPN deal.
So, let's consider the future for last season's national championship runner-up: the Longhorns will play in a weakened conference, avoid a post-season conference championship game and rake in more cash than any of its competitors. Seems like a pretty good deal.
Utes and Broncos Find Greener Pastures
Boise State has dominated the Western Athletic Conference over the past four years. Under current head coach Chris Peterson (2006- ), the Broncos have lost just one conference game and earned the WAC title three times. Yet the WAC's "mid-major" status limits the post-season possibilities of member schools to one of only three mediocre bowl tie-ins. (Can't name them? Here's a hint - one of them was previously known as the Pineapple Bowl.)
Note: even mid-major conferences like the WAC (and the MWC, Conference USA, etc.) can send a team to a BCS game provided the BCS HAL 9000 deems it worthy. Or forgets to move the decimal and accidentally awards a random team, like the Tulsa Golden Hurricane, a BCS berth.
Boise officials felt that the Mountain West Conference offered more exposure, a higher level of competition and an advantageous travel schedule (i.e. no more flights to Hawaii). Plus, the top MWC team plays in the Maaco Bowl Las Vegas. So, they'll have that going for them. Which is nice.
Here's the thing: Boise's switch looks like only a half-step up. As the Broncos join the MWC in 2011, the Utah Utes depart for the Pac-10. Since '05, the Utes have appeared in five bowl games (with a 5-0 record) and finished 2008 undefeated (AP #2). To be fair, both BYU and Air Force have both produced good teams. But the MWC also boasts powerhouses such as New Mexico, UNLV and Colorado State (a collective 9-27 in 2010). Without the Utes, the Mountain West doesn't look as impressive.
That leaves TCU as the other major player. You may recall that TCU and Boise linked up in the least-satisfying BCS matchup last year: the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. Both teams survived the regular season with a perfect record, yet the BCS system forced a match-up between the two mid-majors rather than offering both a chance to test their mettle against a BCS big boy.
Joining their fellow BCS spoiler presumably improves Boise's post-season position. But Boise just appeared in two ('07, '10) BCS bowl games. Why not keep plugging away? You might argue that the move only served to eliminate a repeat of 2010.
And what will happen if TCU coach Gary Patterson bolts for a big-name school and a big-time payday? In the 20 years prior to Patterson's first full season (2001) TCU appeared in just four bowl games with only two ('98, '99) wins. There's no guarantee TCU will continue to excel, and thus even less reason to think Boise's campaign for the MWC as the seventh BCS conference will succeed.
As for Colorado, well . . . the Buffaloes haven't been relevant since the days of Eric Bieniemy and Kordell Stewart. We're already looking forward to taking USC and the points in their first Pac-12 matchup.
The NCAA Investigates Everyone
If you are a fan of any school in the Southeast, the chances are good that you will read about your team being investigated by the NCAA this season. As if trying to move the spotlight from the West Coast (see: Kiffin, Lane and Bush, Reggie), the NCAA is cracking down on everyone south of the 40th parallel plus some others besides.
* West Virginia may become the USC of the East if the charge of five major rule violations sticks. The NCAA investigation concerns the activities of non-coaching staff, but it could add up to a "culture of non-compliance." We don't know how that compares to "a lack of institutional control," but it doesn't sound good.
* In related news, former West Virginia head coach (2001-2007) Rich Rodriguez seems to have brought his look-the-other-way culture with him to Michigan. While racking up an 8-16 record over the past two seasons, his Wolverines routinely violated NCAA practice and workout rules. Coach, clear this up for us - your team allegedly practiced more than twice the allowed limit and still sucked?
* While Rodriguez and others try to wriggle off the hook, the Ol' Ballcoach has accepted the possibility of NCAA penalties. South Carolina TE Weslye Saunders traveled to South Beach in May on a trip allegedly funded by sports agents. Several players on the SC defense joined Saunders and the investigation has spawned inquiries at Alabama, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee. (What, nobody texted Jacory Harris and the boys? Did nobody have Luther Campbell's number? I don't understand how The U got left out of the party.)
* Tennessee, which owned up to a sketchy "recruiting hostess" program last December and at least six minor violations during Coach Smirk's brief reign, now expects to receive an official letter of inquiry from the NCAA for improper contact with recruits. No word yet on whether any contact occurred in the swimsuit area.
* Taking a page from the Ozzie Guillen playbook, 'Bama coach Nick Saban thinks we should blame the immoral middle-aged professional men involved in these recruiting issues . . . no, the other guys. The agents!
* Funny thing is . . . although Saban would have us believe that we need more rules and regulations, 39 states have adopted the 2003 Uniform Athletes Agents Act. Under the UAAA, schools have the legal right to sue agents who violate the rules for civil and criminal charges and suspend or revoke licenses. Yet few states can (or choose to) enforce the law. Thus, the fingerpointing.
What have we learned from all this mess? Let's try to reduce it to a few simple rules:
1. 6-foot-6, 270-pound senior tight ends stand a better chance than anyone you know of getting a complimentary trip to South Beach;
2. Tennessee should consider more subtle job titles such as "Prospective Student Entertainment Facilitators," and;
3. Rich Rodriguez blows at cheating.
Next week in the College Football Report Preseason Special: Part II (Somewhat Like Part I Only Shorter and with More Sea Mammal)
Topics to possibly include: teams we would like to see do well (but won't), teams we would like to see suck (and will), shamelessly biased postseason predictions and titillating advice on wagering - who to avoid, who to date casually, and who to take home to mama.
Pay attention, there will be a quiz.
Mike "Dr. Dude" Luce brings you The College Football Report in this space twice a week, with the generous assistance of the Beachwood Sports Seal. They both welcome your comments.More from Beachwood Sports »