NCF Nation: Big East

Pac-12 as NFL coaching pipeline

June, 4, 2013
6/04/13
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ESPN.com's Ivan Maisel looks at which conferences send head coaches to the NFL and makes a conclusion: "The shortest road for any FBS head coach to the NFL is through the Pac-12. In fact, no other conference even comes close."

He points out that Chip Kelly (Oregon to the Philadelphia Eagles) was the 15th Pac-12 coach to jump to the NFL since "Tommy Prothro moved crosstown from UCLA in 1971 to coach the Los Angeles Rams."

And during that span the SEC has sent three to the NFL. The Big Ten one.

Figuring out exactly why this is true is more of a challenge, particularly because folks in other regions will get mad hearing the real reason: Brains and sophistication.

[+] EnlargeChip Kelly
Matt Rourke/AP PhotoChip Kelly's offensive creativity helped him become the latest Pac-12 head coach to land an NFL head coaching gig.
Hey... take it easy. Just saying. And you Pac-12 folks need to behave.

Just look at the list: Dick Vermeil, Bill Walsh, John McKay, Mike Riley, Dennis Erickson and Chip Kelly. Those are some of the most innovative minds in football history, particularly offensive football.

Schematically, the Pac-12 -- historically and I think still at present -- is the nation's most sophisticated league. There's just more ... stuff. Playbooks are thicker. That, by the way, includes both sides of the football. The QBs are asked to do more. And that forces defenses to do more, too.

This, by the way, fits in with those who -- wrongly -- view the Pac-12 as a finesse league: A conference that is physically inferior has to use its wits to succeed.

But sophistication is about more than scheme. It's about psychology and managing people. There's more diversity on the West Coast. That complicates the job, so doing it well is meaningful. John McKay probably would have been successful coaching in Tuscaloosa. Not as sure the same could be said of Bear Bryant in Los Angeles.

Part of that is this: There's not as much "Yes, sir," "No, sir" on the West Coast as there is in other regions, particularly the Southeast and Texas, though that as a historical trend is likely narrowing. Going old school on an 18-to-23-year old from L.A. or Seattle probably won't work as well as it would on a kid from small town Alabama. The way a successful Pac-12 coach talks to and motivates his team is, in general, different. And, historically, it's probably closer to the NFL model, where the players are paid professionals and less willing to respond positively to a ranting coach.

Understand, there are plenty of exceptions to that. Frank Kush at Arizona State and Don James at Washington were as old school intimidating to their players as any of their contemporaries. Probably part of the reason neither made the NFL jump, either.

There's another level to that sophistication: Big cities. The NFL is a big-city league. So is the Pac-12. Maisel thinks this matters:
It could be that universities that share a market with NFL teams lose more coaches to the league. A school such as Boston College, clamoring for attention in a crowded market, might be more liable to hire a prominent NFL assistant coach such as Tom Coughlin, who left the Eagles for the Jacksonville Jaguars in 1994. That best explains why, even without counting Johnson or Erickson, the 22-year-old Big East has lost five head coaches to the NFL.

But there are other potential reasons:

  • Out of the box hires create fast-rising stars: Kelly, Jim Harbaugh and Pete Carroll each arrived in the Pac-12 in creative ways. Mike Bellotti made the inspired decision to hire Kelly away from New Hampshire. Harbaugh mostly generated head scratches when Stanford hired him away from San Diego. And Carroll was USC's 174th choice after a bumbling search. Heck, even Bill Walsh was a frustrated NFL assistant when he arrived at Stanford.
  • Previous NFL experience: Carroll had previous NFL coaching experience. So did Dick Vermeil, Bill Walsh and Dennis Erickson. Harbaugh was a longtime NFL QB. Several other guys on the list at least had a cup of coffee as an NFL assistant before taking over a Pac-8/10/12 team. You could conjecture that many of them viewed returning to the NFL as their ultimate ambition, unlike a college coaching lifer.
  • Recruiting rules in SEC: The most important skill for a head coach in the SEC is without question: Recruiting. The competition for recruits nationwide is brutal, but it's a blood sport in the Southeast. And that is not really a skill that translates in the NFL.
  • Money: Some conferences' pay scales are competitive with the NFL. The Pac-12's is not.

Oregon ends Pac-12 season on uptick

January, 4, 2013
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At least two people whispered the unthinkable to me after the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.

"That," they said, "was a boring game."

That, I realized after some pondering, is what happens when the superior team plays an outstanding game: 35-17 is what happens when Oregon plays well in all three phases against a good but less talented Kansas State team.

Boring, at least if you're an Oregon fan, is good. It means the guys who were supposed to make plays did.

[+] EnlargeKenjon Barner
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsRunning back Kenjon Barner and Oregon turned in a dominant performance against Kansas State.
All-American playmaker Kenjon Barner? He rushed for 120 of his 143 yards in the second half. Check.

First-team All-Pac-12 quarterback Marcus Mariota? He passed for two scores and ran for another, winning offensive MVP honors. Check.

Fancypants playmaker De'Anthony Thomas? He returned the opening kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown and turned in a brilliant 23-yard run for a score on a screen pass. Check.

Senior leader and All-Pac-12 linebacker Michael Clay? He led the Ducks with nine tackles, including two for a loss and a sack, winning defensive MVP honors.

And the one thing that folks in other college football regions have too often and ignorantly questioned about the Ducks -- defense -- showed up big-time, holding one of the nation's most potent offenses to 17 points and 283 yards.

Winning in all three phases, including special teams? Check.

If Chip Kelly opts to give the NFL a try, Ducks fans should simply tip their cap to him. He's earned that opportunity by taking a good program and making it great over the past four years.

Stanford, by the way, turned in a much different sort of show against Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl, but it also was effective. The Cardinal ran the ball and played good defense -- you know: Was all Stanford-y -- and thereby gave the Pac-12 two victories in BCS bowl games.

Those wins on the biggest stages for the conference were a bit of a salve for a mediocre, 4-4 bowl season.

Arizona needed a dramatic -- and really still unbelievable -- rally to nip Nevada. Arizona State was vastly superior to Navy. Both Oregon State and Washington blew games they led in the fourth quarter to Texas and Boise State, respectively. UCLA got bricked by Baylor on both sides of the ball. And USC turned in a humiliating performance against Georgia Tech, one that has Trojans fans lighting torches and marching to Heritage Hall, at least if my mailbag is any indication of sentiments.

The Pac-12 was favored in seven of the eight matchups, Boise State-Washington being the lone exception. So 7-1 was expected, 6-2 would have been solid, and 5-3 defensible. However, 4-4 is simply underwhelming.

The good news is the crowing from other AQ conferences should be muted.

The Big 12 is 4-4 pending the result of the AT&T Cotton Bowl between Oklahoma and Texas A&M on Friday night. The SEC is 3-3, with two of its top-10 teams going down in Florida and LSU. It's got the Cotton Bowl, BBVA Compass Bowl between Ole Miss and Pittsburgh on Saturday, and the national title game between Alabama and Notre Dame on Monday ahead.

If the SEC wins all three of those games, thereby securing a seventh national title, it will make a clear statement of superiority. But one or two slips, even with a national title victory, would nick the SEC's perception of dominant depth.

The funny thing about the bowl season, in fact, is the ACC and Big East roaring like angry puppies. The two most maligned AQ conferences over the past few years (well, other than the 2-5 Big Ten), are a combined 7-3. The ACC, at 4-2, beat LSU (Clemson) and USC (Georgia Tech) on the same day.

So the Pac-12 probably won't be an easy target for trolling. It finished 2-2 against the Big 12 this season -- 1-2 in bowl games, plus Arizona's regular season win against Oklahoma State -- so the potential argument for second best conference is mostly a moot point. The Pac-12 is clearly better at the top. The Big 12 is better at the bottom. And the middle probably goes to the Big 12 after it beat the Beavers and Bruins. Stagger all that however you wish.

More good news: The Pac-12 is well-positioned to take a step forward next year, perhaps even to challenge the SEC.

Oregon and Stanford will be preseason top-10 teams, likely top-five. You could make arguments for preseason rankings for Oregon State, UCLA, Washington, Arizona State and USC. The bottom of the conference also should be better as Colorado couldn't possibly be worse, and Washington State and California surely can find more than three wins in 2013.

Oregon State and UCLA figure to topple when the final rankings come out next week, while Oregon and Stanford will finish in the top-four. No other conference will have two teams ranked higher.

It was a solid season, if a bit top-heavy. It wasn't predictable, which can be viewed as a good thing. USC started the season as the biggest story in college football, and its fall from esteem became an epic tale of woe, inspiring national mockery.

As things set up for 2013, the Pac-12 appears poised to take another step forward in terms of depth.

But will a team rise to the fore and challenge for the national title?

Feel free to talk amongst yourselves on that one.

Video: Russell Athletic Bowl preview

December, 28, 2012
12/28/12
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Andrea Adelson previews the Russell Athletic Bowl between Rutgers and Virginia Tech.
Is Notre Dame for real? (Skip.) Is Notre Dame for real? (Skip.) Is Notre Dame for real? (Skip.)

Yes, the college football punditry and peanut gallery can sound like a broken record. The Fighting Irish are 5-0 and ranked seventh, and almost every sign suggests legitimacy, but, well, we've been down this road before. And not only with Notre Dame. It wasn't too long ago that everyone was blowing kisses at Florida State -- the Seminoles are finally back -- before it became a national punch line or cautionary tale, however you wish to view a loss at NC State.

Notre Dame plays host to No. 17 Stanford on Saturday. The Cardinal might present the Irish their toughest test yet. Stanford, after all, beat USC. Whipped the once-No. 2 Trojans at the line of scrimmage, no less.

Of course, Stanford also wilted against Washington, making a Huskies defense that would get decimated by Oregon look stout.

[+] EnlargeStepfan Taylor
George Nkitin/AP PhotoStepfan Taylor and Stanford can perhaps clear the national title picture a bit by toppling undefeated Notre Dame.
The gist here is there is still a lot of fog over the college football season. We all say stuff, perhaps even with a feigned certainty -- Alabama is unbeatable! -- but we don't really know. The season remains rife with variables and plot twists, even with the first BCS standings being released Sunday.

There are 14 undefeated teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision (Ohio State isn't eligible for the postseason due to NCAA sanctions). Some teams mostly feel -- fairly or unfairly -- like curiosities: three in the Big East (Cincinnati, Louisville and Rutgers), Ohio, Louisiana Tech, Oregon State and Mississippi State. Others own undeniable heft: Alabama, Oregon, South Carolina, Florida, West Virginia, Kansas State and, yes, Notre Dame.

Odd that this weekend's Red River Rivalry feels so far off the radar, although both Texas and Oklahoma could play roles in winnowing the contenders and pretenders. The Sooners still have dates with Notre Dame and West Virginia, while the Longhorns conclude the season against Kansas State.

The "what ifs" are rampant. Such as: What if Alabama, Notre Dame and Oregon all finish undefeated; who then plays for the title? Or switch out Oregon with West Virginia or Kansas State. There are the multiple unbeaten quandaries, and then there are all the best of the once-beaten comparisons, such as: Can USC get back into the national title hunt?

Again, so many variables in our penultimate season yoked by the lovely BCS system. It's difficult to predict how pollsters will react. And don't even start with the computers. With strength of schedule, it's not just what your team has accomplished, but what all its foes did. And all its foes' foes. Etc., etc.

What's also interesting is that the march toward clarity isn't always linear. At any moment, a couple of upsets can put a boot print in our consensus expectations. For example, what might have happened last season if LSU had been nipped in the SEC title game?

The good news is a page will turn next week. If Kansas State and West Virginia both survive tricky road games this weekend -- the Wildcats are at Iowa State, and the Mountaineers are at Texas Tech -- they meet in Morgantown on Oct. 20, so one of the Big 12's two unbeatens will fall.

Same goes for the SEC East. If No. 3 South Carolina manages to win at No. 9 LSU on Saturday, a visit to No. 4 Florida on Oct. 20 seems like the Rubicon for the division. Only one unbeaten will remain in the division, just as only one unbeaten -- Alabama or Mississippi State -- can emerge from the West.

And, if everyone then holds serve, we could have an epic No. 1 versus No. 2 matchup in the SEC title game.

But, alas, that's getting ahead of ourselves.

We started with the notion that Stanford will provide a nice test for Notre Dame's legitimacy. The Cardinal, after all, are riding a three-game winning streak in the series.

But we know past success doesn't guarantee future results. Just look at your 401K. Or the Fighting Irish's storied history.

Is Notre Dame for real? Heck, is anyone for real?

It's probably best to turn to one of history's great college football pundits at times like this. As Socrates once noted when his preseason picks imploded, "I know one thing, that I know nothing."

Or, more charitably, at least very little.
Big East fans shouldn’t sound any alarms just yet, even though Notre Dame’s departure to the ACC continues what seems like a never-ending cycle of losses for the Big East.

It may not be the devastating blow it seems.

“The appearance and the perception of the departure by other Big East and or potential Big East members are probably more damaging than the actual act,” said Tom Stultz, managing director of the media division of JMI Sports and former managing director of IMG College’s multimedia rights business.

(Read full post)

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In May 2011, the Big East turned down a TV broadcast rights deal from ESPN reportedly worth $11 million per school -- annually. Rights fees for conferences had been on the rise, and conference leaders were sure waiting for a better offer would pay off in a big way.

That was before the Big East lost Pitt and Syracuse to the ACC. Before TCU announced it was joining the Big 12 instead of officially becoming a Big East member. And before West Virginia left the conference to join TCU in the Big 12.

True, the Big East has since added Central Florida, Houston, Memphis and SMU as full members, along with football-only members Boise State, San Diego State and Navy. But safety isn’t in numbers -- it’s in the revenue provided by the most lucrative TV deal possible.

Today’s announcement that CBS executive vice president Mike Aresco will become the commissioner of the conference confirms the Big East is making television a priority. Aresco has led programming for CBS since 1996, handling such negotiations as the NCAA men’s basketball tournament and the 15-year SEC contract.

(Read full post)

Current non-automatic qualifying conferences might receive better access on the playing field under college football’s new playoff system, but it doesn’t sound as if they will have better access to the cash. Although there is expected to be more money to go around -- projected at anywhere from two to four times the current television revenue of $155 million per year -- how revenue would be distributed proportionately under the new system might not be all that different.

Under the current system, non-AQ conferences split approximately 18 percent of BCS revenue if one of their teams is selected for a BCS bowl game, and 9 percent if not. The AQs take home the rest.

“I think it’ll be adjusted modestly, but the five conferences are still going to get the lion’s share, it’s just how big of a lion are we talking about,” said Gary Ransdell, president of Western Kentucky University and a member of the Presidential Oversight Committee, which meets this week to finalize playoff plans.

(Read full post)

SEC and Big 12 folks have been tweaking the Big Ten and Pac-12's love of the Rose Bowl of late. That made me grin because the primary motivation for those tweaks was jealousy.

Don't buy that assessment? Well, then what do you make of this: The SEC and Big 12 champions, starting in 2014 after the current BCS contract expires and we presumably adopt a four-team playoff, will meet annually in a prime time New Year's Day "bowl" game.

[+] EnlargeMike Silve
Darrell Walker/Icon SMICommissioner Mike Slive and the SEC have a bowl agreement with the Big 12 that is nearly identical to the Rose Bowl model used by the Big Ten and Pac-12.

Unless, of course, the SEC and/or Big 12 champions are selected for the four-team playoff, which one is almost certain to be and both are likely to be.

But, if one or both is selected for the playoff, then, just like the Rose Bowl, a No. 2 team from both or either conference will be selected.

So the SEC and Big 12 have adopted the Rose Bowl model in its entirety. Other than the fact that they can't play in the Rose Bowl stadium as the sun goes down over the San Gabriel Mountains.

The location has not been set. The Sugar Bowl (SEC) and Fiesta Bowl (Big 12) already have a dog in this fight, but expect bids to come from Jerry Jones and his deluxe Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, as well as a play from Atlanta.

By the way, the Rose Bowl jealousy stuff is mostly good-natured ribbing while I'm gaping at another sudden shift in college football's tectonic plates.

Folks, this stuff is amazing, and there's a stunning plot twist seemingly on a weekly basis -- Florida State to the Big 12? Notre Dame back in play?

The main take-away: This is a step closer to four power conferences, with the ACC and Big East finding their footing suddenly precarious.

And, if you want to worry, Pac-12 fans, it looks like the SEC and Big 12 are being far more aggressive -- read: expansionist -- as college football remakes itself. Keep in mind that the Pac-12 could have ended the Big 12 last September and become the first 16-team super-conference if Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech had made a jump.

Pac-12 presidents might end up regretting their decision not to expand -- and giving Oklahoma, in particular, the shaft. Newly enriched by a mega-TV deal, they might have lost track of the big picture while they were counting their money.

Commissioner Larry Scott has long held that further consolidation at the top of college football was inevitable. This is another example of him proving right, though this time without a blockbuster deal for Pac-12 folks to celebrate.

This latest news is a reason to get nervous. Or to just marvel at how quickly the game has changed.
The Atlantic Coast Conference’s television contract extension with ESPN, announced Wednesday, is the first of three major conference deals expected to be finalized in the next few months.

The ACC contract was extended after the addition of new members Syracuse University and the University of Pittsburgh last September. The shifting of schools as part of conference realignment also led to changes in the Big 12 and Southeastern Conference that has those existing deals in play, too.

The ACC deal is worth $3.6 billion over the next 15 years, according to The Associated Press. That puts the ACC behind only the Big Ten and Pac-12 in terms of the average revenue per school, per year by one measure (viewing all current contracts divided between conferences’ 2012-13 membership.)

SportsBusiness Daily has reported the Big 12 has verbally agreed to a new contract with ESPN and FOX for its first-tier rights for $2.6 billion over 13 years. That would bring the per-year average for the Big 12 to $200 million and the per-school, per-year average to $20 million. The SEC is expected to reopen its contract talks with ESPN following the addition of Missouri and Texas A&M.

ESPN had no comment on any of the deals, which vary in what slate of rights are included, but a spokesman did say that the network is in regular contact with its business partners.

With all of the shuffling and extensions, it can be hard to keep up. Here’s a listing, according to information from The Associated Press, SportsBusiness Daily, SportsBusiness Journal and Adweek, of where things stand now. The Big 12 extension is not included because it has not been finalized. Also, per-year averages and per-school, per-year averages are straight averages and do not take into account actual variances by year as stipulated in individual contracts.

(Read full post)

The Atlantic Coast Conference’s television contract extension with ESPN, announced Wednesday, is the first of three major conference deals expected to be finalized in the next few months.

The ACC contract was extended after the addition of new members Syracuse University and the University of Pittsburgh last September. The shifting of schools as part of conference realignment also led to changes in the Big 12 and Southeastern Conference that has those existing deals in play, too.

The ACC deal is worth $3.6 billion over the next 15 years, according to The Associated Press. That puts the ACC behind only the Big Ten and Pac-12 in terms of the average revenue per school, per year by one measure (viewing all current contracts divided between conferences’ 2012-13 membership.)

SportsBusiness Daily has reported the Big 12 has verbally agreed to a new contract with ESPN and FOX for its first-tier rights for $2.6 billion over 13 years. That would bring the per-year average for the Big 12 to $200 million and the per-school, per-year average to $20 million. The SEC is expected to reopen its contract talks with ESPN following the addition of the University of Missouri and Texas A&M.

ESPN had no comment on any of the deals, which vary in what slate of rights are included, but a spokesman did say that the network is in regular contact with its business partners.

With all of the shuffling and extensions, it can be hard to keep up. Here’s a listing, according to information from The Associated Press, SportsBusiness Daily, SportsBusiness Journal and Adweek, of where things stand now. The Big 12 extension is not included because it has not been finalized. Also, per-year averages and per-school, per-year averages are straight averages and do not take into account actual variances by year as stipulated in individual contracts.

(Read full post)

Loss of games due to realignment costly

February, 20, 2012
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Conference realignment is coming along with short-term costs in the 2012 college football schedule.

Before it left the Big East, West Virginia canceled its game against non-conference opponent Florida State and paid a $500,000 cancellation fee. But Elliott Finebloom, an assistant athletic director at FSU, said the loss of the home game will cost the Seminoles far more than the program received in the cancellation fee.

“We’ll probably lose $2.5 million in ticket sales,” he said, and that’s not including a drop in season ticket sales resulting from the cancellation. It could cost FSU another $1 million to bring an opponent into town. Filling the WVU slot with an away game is not going to happen, said Finebloom.

“Seven home games is something every business in town counts on, from hotels to restaurants,” he said. “People think it’s about the athletic department wanting to make more money, but we have a responsibility to area businesses who count on seven home games.”

Texas A&M, which moves from the Big 12 to the SEC this year, has given up home games and has only five scheduled at Kyle Field for 2012. The school has had seven home games for the past six years.

Aggies Fan SEC
Patrick Green/Icon SMITexas A&M may only have five home games this season as a result of its move to the SEC.
For the 2010 season, Texas A&M’s average revenue from ticket sales, concessions, novelties, program sales and parking was $4.2 million per game, according to NCAA disclosures. With two fewer home games this year, the Aggies could be looking at an $8 million-plus loss.

Alan Cannon, an associate athletic director at Texas A&M, said the schedule still isn’t set in stone, though.

“It has been the desire of [athletic director] Bill Byrne to have six or seven home games, if at all possible,” he said. “The location of the Arkansas game is still not determined.”

Texas A&M and Arkansas agreed to play a neutral site game at Cowboys Stadium for 10 years. But with the Aggies’ move to the SEC, both sides are discussing whether the game will remain there.

There are short-term winners in the conference realignment story.

Smaller programs could see increased profits in 2012 as major programs are forced to pay guarantees to secure home games or travel to locales they normally wouldn’t consider.

One such school is Louisiana Tech. Although considered a home game, Louisiana Tech will play Texas A&M in Shreveport’s Independence Stadium, which gives Louisiana Tech the ability to bank big profits for the game and gain exposure.

“[Playing in Shreveport] helps us expand our market,” said Patrick Walsh, an associate director in the school’s athletic department. “Our goal is to be the premiere flagship university in Northern Louisiana. Playing occasional games in Shreveport and growing our fan base there is critical to our success.”

For a regular season home game against a conference opponent, Louisiana Tech makes approximately $30,000. The club seating area in Independence Stadium alone gives Louisiana Tech the chance to make more than twice that amount. A sellout would allow the school to bank more than $1.1 million in profit.
“We played Miami there in 2003 and had over 43,000 [people]. We had over 40,000 when A&M came to Shreveport in 1999,” said Walsh.

Schools in the Big East are unclear just how much WVU’s departure may cost them as they scramble to fill schedules. Big East schools also have to fill the TCU game, which came open before the school even joined the conference.

“I wish there was an easy strategy we could all employ to make it work,” said Bob Arkeilpane, Cincinnati’s deputy athletics director. “The truth is, it’s extremely difficult. You want to come up with a balanced schedule that will work financially and make the coach happy, make the fans happy, and the Big East happy.”

The solution? Arkeilpane thinks perhaps the conference will get involved, though not necessarily by giving schools some of the money it is receiving from the WVU departure payout.

“I’ve heard absolutely nothing like that, but it makes sense you would hear a lot of speculation,” he said.

Arkeilpane also worries about the bowl implications if Cincinnati has to play two FCS schools in order to fill out its schedule. If a team plays two FCS opponents, it must have seven wins -- instead of six -- to be bowl eligible. Cincinnati is already scheduled to open the season at home against FCS opponent Delaware State.

The Big East could petition the NCAA for an exemption to the FCS rule. Big East officials declined to comment on that possibility. Such an exemption has been sought before: In 2010, Arizona State asked for an exemption after San Jose State backed out of a game and the Sun Devils scheduled Portland State. The NCAA denied the request.

In the end, however, Arkeilpane is confident the conference will work things out, so for now, the Bearcats wait.

“This is a Big East issue and all the member institutions will have to work together to figure out what the solution is,” said Arkeilpane.
Has something seemed odd to you about the BCS bowls this year? Does it seem like ... oh wait, West Virginia just scored again.

Does it seem like ... wait, there goes De'Anthony Thomas. Don't think he'll get caught from behind.

Does it seem like ... wait, would somebody please tackle Justin Blackmon?

Does it seem like there have been a lot of points this bowl season?

It's not just you. There have been a lot of points. More points than ever before. And by huge quantities.

So far, BCS bowl teams have averaged a total of 77 points in the Rose, Fiesta, Orange and Sugar bowls. That, folks, is nearly 26 points more than last year (51.6). And it's nearly 11 points better than the previous high of 66.3 from 2001-02.

Perhaps pairing two SEC teams in the title game has created a black hole sucking all defensive stinginess into the LSU-Alabama rematch, which you might recall went 9-6 with no touchdowns in their first meeting. West Virginia scored 10 touchdowns -- 10! -- against Clemson. Alabama gave up 12 TDs all season.

Speaking of Clemson: ACC. Well, well, well.

After the Tigers ingloriously fell 70-33 to the Mountaineers, we got our second story from the BCS bowl season: The ACC's insistence on throwing up on itself in BCS bowl games.

The conference that was once expected to challenge the SEC is now 2-13 in BCS bowl games. That's hard to do. You'd think in 15 BCS bowls the conference could get lucky at least five or six times. But no, it insists on making ACC blogger Heather Dinich, a genuinely nice person, into some sort of Grim Reaper every bowl season.

Heck, the Big East has won seven BCS bowls -- second fewest among AQ conferences -- but it's 7-7.

Of course, this all ties together, and we're here to bring out a bow, but first a warning: If you don't want to read about how good the SEC is for the 56,314th time this year, then stop reading. I'd recommend an episode of "South Park" or perhaps a John le Carré thriller as an alternative for passing the time.

We can all agree the SEC plays great defense right? Alabama and LSU will play for the title Monday with the nation's top-two defenses. Do you think perhaps that it's not a coincidence that the conference that is 16-7 in BCS bowl games plays great defense?

The only other AQ conference with a winning record in BCS bowl games is the Pac-12, which is 11-7. The Pac-12 isn't known for defense, either, but USC was when it won the conference's last national title in 2004.

The only team to win a BCS national title without an elite defense was Auburn in 2010, but the Tigers' defense seemed to find itself late in the season. Since 1999, eight national champions had a top-10 defense. Other than Auburn, the lowest-rated defense to win a BCS national title was Ohio State in 2002. It ranked 23rd in the nation in total defense.

Three of the four BCS bowl games have been thrillers. Two went to overtime. We've seen big plays all over the field in the passing game and running game. Yet, if things go according to script in the title game, we'll see none of that. We might not see more than a couple of plays that go for more than 20 yards. We might not see any.

Some might call that boring. It might seem that both offenses are so paranoid of making a mistake that they are stuck in mud, both in game plan and execution.

But, snoozefest or not, when the clock strikes zero a team from the SEC will hoist the crystal football for a sixth consecutive time.

That might say something about playing better defense.

West Virginia lawsuit one worth watching

November, 1, 2011
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West Virginia University didn’t hand out a Halloween treat to the Big East when it filed a lawsuit against the conference in a Morgantown, W.Va.

Full of legal claims like “breach of contract” and “breach of fiduciary duty,” the lawsuit seeks to allow West Virginia to escape to the Big 12 without having to serve a 27-month mandatory waiting period required by the Big East’s bylaws. I’ve explained previously why the Big East might enforce this provision.

Here’s what West Virginia claims:

1. That the bylaws are void because of any one of the following reasons:
  • There has been a “material breach” of contract. WVU alleges that the Big East and its commissioner breached their fiduciary duties to the university by failing to keep the Big East a viable football conference.
  • WVU’s performance under the contract has become “impossible or unreasonably burdensome” because the university contends it has always valued the strength of the Big East as a significant football conference.
  • The principal purpose of WVU entering into an agreement with the Big East has become “substantially frustrated.” This means that although WVU could still perform under the contract, its purpose in entering into the contract has been destroyed.

2. That a new conference agreement was made between WVU and the Big East when the Big East accepted a $2.5 million payout from West Virginia when it told the conference it was leaving.

3. That the 27-month exit provision is an “unreasonable restraint on trade,” meaning WVU believes the provision isn’t necessary to protect the Big East’s interests.

Here are the counter-arguments the Big East could be expected to make:

With regard to the material breach claim, one factor courts will examine is whether WVU is deprived of the benefit it expected to receive from its Big East contract. To this end, WVU states in its lawsuit that the material breach is due to the commissioner’s “failure to maintain a ratio of football-to-non-football universities of eight-to-eight and maintaining and enhancing the level of competition in the Big East football conference.”

However, the Big East can be expected to argue that during the 27 months WVU will remain a member of the conference there will be eight football members, as other defectors Pitt and Syracuse will also be held in the conference through the 2013 season as part of the 27-month requirement. In addition, the BCS has confirmed that the Big East will remain an BCS football conference through the 2013 season.

WVU’s claim that performance under the bylaws has become “impossible or unreasonably burdensome” relies in part on the assertion that the Big East is “no longer a viable and competitive football conference.” Again, the Big East will likely argue that there will be no change during the seasons WVU will continue to compete as a conference member, and the conference will operate the same in 2012 and 2013 as it did in 2010 and 2011. The same argument will likely be used to oppose WVU’s claim that its purpose in entering into an agreement with the Big East has been “substantially frustrated.”

Another argument by WVU is that even if the bylaws are valid, a new agreement was struck with the Big East for immediate withdrawal upon payment of $2.5 million. WVU claims the Big East accepted the new agreement by accepting the payment. However, the Big East requires such a payment be made when a school notifies the conference of its plans to exit, with another $2.5 million to be paid by the time a school exits. Without additional evidence from WVU on the new agreement it claims was reached, it appears the Big East could argue WVU was only remitting payment as required.

West Virginia’s final argument is that the 27-month withdrawal period is an unreasonable restraint of trade, one that is unnecessary in order to protect the Big East’s interests. Here, attorneys likely will point out that the Big East has already waived its right to enforce the 27-month notice period because it allowed TCU out of its commitment; essentially, the conference can’t hold one school to the 27-month period and not another. Big East Associate Commissioner John Paquette said Tuesday afternoon that the Big East had a separate agreement with TCU that stated if it left before competing, it would not be subject to the 27-month provision.

Paquette said Monday evening that he could not reveal whether WVU voted in favor of the 27-month withdrawal period in the bylaws when it was added. But he did point out: “David Hardesty, the former WVU president, helped write the current withdrawal policies.” Expect the Big East to bring this up in its response to the lawsuit.

The case is important, because it will likely decide the Big East fates of Pitt and Syracuse, which are bound to stay through the 2013 season before heading to the ACC. Although each of those schools could file suit in their respective states, Washington, D.C. law (where the WVU suit will be heard) would govern, according to the Big East bylaws. So any decision in WVU’s case would create precedent for any case filed by Pitt or Syracuse.

Additionally, any decision rendered by a court in this case could impact future conference realignment involving any other conference. Although the decision wouldn’t have to be followed by courts in other jurisdictions, it could be persuasive. No doubt WVU is gambling on the Big East settling the case before a decision is rendered which could impact conference realignment for years to come.
My colleague, Joe Schad, is reporting that the Big 12 has told West Virginia it will be accepted into the conference pending formal approval, which could happen very soon.

While Texas A&M and TCU, which recently announced conference moves, will join their new conferences for the 2012 season, Schad notes the Big East could try to keep WVU, along with Pitt and Syracuse, in the conference for up to 27 months, per conference guidelines.

Why would the Big East play hardball with its defectors? Because more than $20 million per year is at stake given the Big East's automatic-BCS-qualifying status.

For the 2011-12 school year, BCS conferences will receive $22.3 million for their qualifying team and can earn another $6.1 million if another member receives an at-large berth. A non-automatic-qualifying conference team selected for a BCS game receives $26.4 million but must divide that revenue with the other four non-automatic-qualifying conferences.

If the Big East were to lose Pitt, Syracuse and West Virginia at the end of this school year, it could jeopardize the Big East’s BCS status. Here’s how it works:

Current BCS conferences were determined based on data from the 2004-07 football seasons. Data from the 2008-11 seasons will be reviewed following this season to determine if a seventh conference makes the cut to be an automatic-qualifier for the 2012 and 2013 BCS bowl seasons. In addition to that review, each current BCS conference is reviewed for annual qualification.

This is where it gets dicey for conferences losing teams.

Three sets of data are considered in the annual review: First, the average ranking of the highest-ranked team in the BCS standings over the four-year period; second, the average rank of all the conference’s teams based on rankings from each of the six BCS computers over the four-year period; and third, something called a conference’s Adjusted Top 25 Performance -- a calculation based on a conference’s number of teams in the Top 25 of BCS standings over the four-year period as a percentage of the top conference in this calculation, which would have been rated 100 percent.

The threshold for annual qualification requires each conference to be in the top six in the first two sets of data and in the top 50 percent in the third set of data. However, a waiver can be obtained from the BCS’ Presidential Oversight Committee if a conference is in the top six of the first two sets of data and top 33 percent of the third set, or top five of one of the first two sets and top seven in the other, along with top 33 percent of the third set.

When asked how conference realignment might affect these reviews, Maxey Parrish of the BCS said: “Since it's impossible to determine how a team would have played had they been a member of another conference, the rankings count for the conference schools [which] were members of [the conference] at that time. For example, TCU is not factored into the Big 12's status as an AQ until the 2012 season.”

What happens if a conference doesn’t meet the annual threshold? “Then there is the potential for them to be taken off the list of AQ conferences,” Parrish said. However, Big East Associate Commissioner John Paquette said the conference's BCS status is guaranteed through the 2013 season.

The Big East's 27-month waiting period for members exiting ensures the conference will have suitable time to find a replacement and that current members will be included in automatic-qualifying calculations following the 2013 season, which is when new BCS agreements would have to be put into place following the expiration of current ones.
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick likes the direction the Big East is heading. Now, it's time for the 14-team conference to act on its plans to expand, something its presidents voted unanimously to authorize commissioner John Marinatto to pursue after a meeting Sunday at Georgetown.

"It's great to make plans," Swarbrick said Wednesday at Notre Dame's new Compton Family Ice Arena, where its hockey team announced it would join Hockey East. "It's whether the people you might be interested in or the circumstances will allow you to achieve those plans, but certainly the way the conference is thinking and what it's trying to achieve are consistent of what I think it needs to do."

The Big East lost Pittsburgh and Syracuse to the ACC on Sept. 18, causing concern about the viability of the league in which 18 Notre Dame sports compete in, including its men's and women's basketball teams.

A weakened or nonexistent Big East would likely force Notre Dame to re-evaluate its status as a football independent, something it desires to maintain.

The Pac-12 announced it would not expand three days after Pitt's and Syracuse's moves to the ACC, seemingly quelling the realignment circus momentarily.

But Swarbrick, who in earlier interviews had said he was caught off-guard by Pitt's and Syracuse's moves, said Wednesday that he knows better than to think all is settled in the college sports landscape.

"You know I certainly have been taught enough times now not to claim there's any calmness emerging," Swarbick said. "Every time I declare it someone proves me wrong. So our assumption is it's not. Certainly the factors that have contributed to the larger conference realignment continue to exist and we're doing the same thing we've done throughout: monitoring it closely and hoping that the Big East stays a vibrant and successful partner for us."

Asked the odds of the Big East staying vibrant and successful, Swarbrick said: "I'm not placing any odds on anything these days."

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