NCF Nation: Dan Radakovich
Alabama coach Nick Saban agreed, sparking renewed debate about the place of FCS games in major college football, especially when strength of schedule will mean more in the playoff era.
But during the ACC spring meetings last month, there was no such debate. The ACC remains firm in its desire to play FCS opponents. There are a few reasons why. First, scheduling nonconference games has become more challenging than ever. Sometimes, an FCS team is needed to fill out the schedule. Second, there are many FCS teams in the South that are in close geographic proximity to ACC teams, and they always benefit greatly when they are scheduled to play.
These are not the most appealing games. Sometimes, upsets happen, which is probably why Muschamp does not want to go the FCS route anymore. But from the ACC perspective, the FCS games are not going anywhere anytime soon.
All 14 ACC teams have FCS teams on the schedule for 2014. Seven are in the same state as their ACC opponent. Nearly all the rest are located in bordering states. Miami, for one, plays Florida A&M this season and also has played in-state Bethune-Cookman in the past.
"Florida A&M and Bethune-Cookman are great games for us," Miami athletic director Blake James said during the ACC meetings. "Those are schools within the state, there’s a real benefit for them to be able to come down and have games in Miami where they have alumni. It’s a benefit for us. As of right now I would see us still scheduling Florida A&M and Bethune-Cookman and those types of schools. Those are the ones we have historically played and those are relationships we’d like to be able to continue."
Clemson athletic director Dan Radakovich, who also serves on the College Football Playoff committee, was asked how teams with FCS opponents on the schedule would be judged when it came time to make decisions. The Tigers, for example, have South Carolina State on the schedule this season and for 2016 and a game with Wofford set for 2015.
"You’re going to have to look at what FCS teams you play, if any, because there are some FCS teams that are more difficult to play than the lower-ranked Division I teams," Radakovich said. "It comes into the totality of the schedule."
Until further notice, the totality of the ACC schedule will include an FCS opponent.
Clemson athletic director Dan Radakovich, one of 13 members on the committee, said plainly, "It’s going to be the totality of the schedule. Being a conference champ is one of the top priorities as is winning the games, so there’s really not just one factor that is overwhelming the others. It’s the body of work associated with the program."
In the selection committee procedures, released earlier this month, there is a brief mention about how strength of schedule will be evaluated. The committee will be given data from SportSource Analytics, which will provide stats on every FBS team, along with opponent records and opponents' opponents' records. Unlike the basketball model, which relies heavily on RPI, the committee will not use just one data point.
That means much of this is left up to interpretation. The Pac-12, for example, finished second in the ESPN Stats & Information Conference Power rankings to end the 2014 season. The Pac-12 plays nine conference games. The ACC, on the other hand, finished fifth in the same set of power rankings. The league decided to stick with eight conference games. Does this automatically mean the Pac-12 gets a built-in advantage based on playing a conference schedule that is perceived to be more difficult?
Nobody really knows until we see the committee pick four teams based on on-field results.
What we do know is three conferences have opted for nine league games. That is a big reason why the ACC will require teams to play at least one power-five opponent in nonconference per year, beginning in 2017. Notre Dame is included in that group; BYU is not.
Will that be enough?
The Pac-12 already plays a tougher conference schedule, plus most of its teams play power-five opponents. Last season, only four teams did not have at least one power-five nonconference game. Four -- including Oregon and USC -- had two.
"It’s a wait and see," Miami athletic director Blake James said. "It will take some programs not making it to the final four and having the committee or someone come out and address that it was a scheduling issue that prevented them from being there. With that said, we all have to be cognizant of the fact that our schedules are going to be evaluated and you want to be one of the four teams. The challenge there is no one knows who is going to be the dominant program three, five, 10 years out, which is how we’re doing our schedules. You can schedule an elite program right now and by the time you play them, they might not be an elite program and vice versa. It’s a real challenge and it will be interesting to see how it plays out."
You saw examples of that throughout college football last year. Oregon had Virginia and Tennessee, power-five opponents, yes, but both teams finished with losing records. Ohio State scheduled Cal when the Bears were good, not knowing they would have a 1-11 season when the teams ended up playing. Perhaps more scheduling contracts will be broken in the playoff era, as teams jockey to get current elite teams on the slate.
"In Blacksburg, if we have Michigan and Notre Dame on the schedule, I think our fans would be fine with that," Virginia Tech athletic director Whit Babcock said.
Elite games like that are hard to find, because both parties have to be willing to play one another. That could make more scheduling challenges for everyone, especially since the Pac-12, Big 12 and Big Ten will have fewer nonconference spots open because they play more league games.
"The cost of guarantees continues to rise, too," James said. "You have three of the five conferences that are playing nine games so right away there are fewer games needed and geographically you want to try to stay within your area and schedule games that make sense for your fan base and alumni base. When you put all those things together it makes scheduling already challenging and I do think it will be more challenging in the future."
Given all the challenges and the uncertainty about strength of schedule during playoff evaluation time, ACC athletic directors left open the possibility that they could change their minds on scheduling. Like James said, it's wait-and-see.
"As we get through the first cycle of this new football playoff, I think it will be telling for us as to whether or not this decision is the right decision or whether we need to do something else," Florida State athletic director Stan Wilcox said. "I think we felt comfortable knowing we're not the lone conference out there, that we're comfortable being at eight."
AMELIA ISLAND, Fla. -- Up until Monday, there was a running joke whenever ACC administrators and athletic directors got together during meetings that went a little something like this: Scheduling on the agenda again? Better get used to it.
The joke can be retired now that the ACC has decided to stay at eight conference games. What ended up being the biggest surprise was not the choice to remain status quo, but how quickly the decision was made. Not only had the scheduling subject been going on for years, up until last week there was uncertainty about whether a vote would be taken here at all.
All that was solved in a matter of hours Monday.
So what changed in such short period of time? They simply could not wait any longer to take a vote, not when the other power five conferences had already made their scheduling decisions. They had gone over the scenarios enough and discussed the topic enough.
“I know we will always do what’s in the best interest of the ACC. It probably would have been harder if the other four leagues had gone to nine, but that didn’t dictate our decision,” Virginia Tech athletic director Whit Babcock said Tuesday. “But I think everybody realized, ‘Hey, we’ve talked about this for a long time, let’s go ahead and figure this out.’”
- Some schools that leaned toward nine games ultimately accepted eight because of the rule that now requires all league teams to play at least one tough nonconference opponent. Miami coach Al Golden, a proponent of nine league games, said, “As long as we’re using the same metrics -- that’s a little bit different than everybody doing their own thing. That’s all we want, uniformity within our league -- not just comparing our league to anther league, but within our league itself.”
- Notre Dame did play a large role in staying with eight, as well. One athletic director said having the scheduling agreement with the Irish is like having 8½ conference games. Clemson, Florida State, Georgia Tech and Louisville already have an SEC rival on the schedule, making the Notre Dame agreement loom much larger in their scheduling decisions.
- Home games. Many athletic directors want seven home games per year for a number of reasons, and staying at eight league games helps in that regard. Home-field advantage is obviously huge, but so is the revenue that is generated when you get to play at home.
- Unbalanced conference schedule. That brings us to the next point. Many athletic directors who voted to stay at eight league games did not want to play five road conference games every other year. Babcock, who spent time at Missouri when the Tigers were in the Big 12, pointed out that the fifth conference road game ended up costing both Oklahoma State and Kansas State a chance to play for the national championship. In 2011, the unbeaten Cowboys lost at Iowa State 37-31 in double overtime, setting up the LSU-Alabama rematch in the BCS national title game. In 2012, unbeaten Kansas State lost at Baylor 52-24.
The wild card, of course, is how the College Football Playoff committee will view strength of schedule for conferences that play eight league games vs. conferences that play nine league games. Clemson athletic director Dan Radakovich, who will serve on the playoff committee, said the totality of the schedule must be considered regardless of how many league games are played.
“The eight-game [schedule], plus the one out-of-conference game, works best for us right now,” he said. “Things could change down the road, four or five years from now after some experience with the College Football Playoff, but that’s where we need to be right now.”
The ACC opens its spring meetings today with critical decisions to be made about its future. And we are not just talking about scheduling.
Divisional structure, potential changes to the championship game and more discussion about a possible ACC Network are all on the table as league athletic directors, coaches and administrators gather in Amelia Island, Florida, for the next four days.
Each topic is carefully interlaced and fraught with its own complicated issues. No decision about one can be made without impacting another. Just as an example: Any new information on a possible ACC Network could end up determining whether the league stays with an eight-game or moves to a nine-game conference schedule. Then that decision could ultimately determine what the ACC does with its division and championship game format.
“It’s like dumping out a Lego set and trying to piece it all together and do it right,” Syracuse athletic director Daryl Gross said. “And it’s not as simple as red goes with red, yellow goes with yellow. It’s a little more complex. But all these things are such good, challenging things to look at. It’s exciting, the discussions are really exciting right now because there are so many creative things that can happen out of all this.”
While there does seem to be more movement toward a nine-game schedule among the athletic directors than there was last year, the league does not yet have a simple majority in favor of adding another conference game.
There also is very little traction for changing the division format or championship game setup -- even though the ACC petitioned the NCAA to be granted the flexibility to determine its title game participants.
In interviews ESPN.com conducted with all 14 athletic directors leading up to the meetings, none were in favor of rearranging divisions. Nine were opposed to getting rid of divisions entirely, four remain undecided and one had no preference. Clemson athletic director Dan Radakovich, in the undecided camp, wants an answer on league scheduling before moving forward to the division and championship game discussion.
He agrees, however, with the decision to petition the NCAA to change title game legislation.
“Depending upon where the conversation goes with the eight versus nine games, I think that the lineup, whether it is 1-14, whether it’s two seven-team divisions, whether the divisions are the same as they currently are, I think will be a totally separate discussion,” Radakovich said. “But first, we have to make that other decision on the eight or nine games.”
Getting rid of divisions altogether would relieve some of the headaches that go along with the current eight-game scheduling model, which features only one rotating crossover opponent. That has drawn criticism from both coaches and athletic directors who do not want to go as long as eight years between games against conference opponents.
Without divisions, teams could rotate through a cycle that would allow student-athletes to play every conference team at least once in their careers. But it could also mean getting rid of permanent crossover rivalries like Miami-Florida State, North Carolina-NC State and Duke-Wake Forest. And it could also mean chaos when it comes to determining who will play in the championship game.
Only two athletic directors are in favor of the top two teams in the league playing in the title game, while five remain undecided on the format. If the goal of the pending NCAA legislation is ultimately for the ACC to try to get its two top teams in the championship game to improve its stature and bump up strength of schedule, there are perils that go along with that, too.
“What’s the best way to make sure we have a team in that four-team playoff?” Georgia Tech athletic director Mike Bobinski said. “Obviously, multiple teams would be awesome, but if you really want them playing each other in that last week of the season, I’m not sure that’s the best setup for having teams advance into that playoff. It’s served us reasonably well.
“I would tell you that I’m OK with the flexibility and the possibility to rethink it in different ways, but I’m not sold sitting here today that we need to do it differently.”
Over the past several months, the ACC has sent so many scheduling and championship game models to athletic directors to study, there are literally too many to count. Newer athletic directors like Brad Bates at Boston College and Whit Babcock at Virginia Tech remain undecided about what is best not only for their programs but the ACC in general.
Therein lies some more of the complexities. How do all these athletic directors put aside self interests to vote for what is in the best interest of the league?
“You can make compelling arguments for a lot of different models,” Bates said. “Different institutions are going to look at the different models in ways that best impact each of us selfishly, but at the same time, we have to look at everything holistically and see how it best impacts the league. And I think that’s probably where the discussion rests right now.”
More discussion will follow over the next few days. But will it be enough to change minds?
“It’s not a real simple solution,” Babcock said. “That’s why there wasn’t anywhere near a unanimous thought process during our winter meetings, so it got pushed off. I’m not sure it will be any easier to solve in May than it was in January.”
Wake Forest athletic director Ron Wellman is ready for a vote -- again.
After years of flip-flopping between an eight- and nine-game league schedule, the topic is once again up for debate as the ACC athletic directors, coaches and administrators prepare for their annual spring meetings in Amelia Island, Fla., in two weeks. Given the SEC’s recent decision to stick with eight league games, all eyes have now focused on the ACC to see whether the league will come to any decision about its future schedules.
There’s no guarantee they will vote on anything, but many would like a resolution to a discussion that has dragged on for years.
“I think voting on the future conference football schedule is extremely important,” Wellman said. “I don’t know how much longer we can delay it.”
ESPN.com recently interviewed every athletic director in the ACC about scheduling preference, and there was no overwhelming majority. Half of the athletic directors -- including a surprising vote from Georgia Tech -- were in favor of a nine-game conference schedule. Three schools -- Boston College, Virginia Tech and North Carolina -- didn’t give a specific preference, and three schools -- Duke, Clemson and Florida State -- would prefer to stay at eight games. Louisville AD Tom Jurich, who is just happy to be a member of the ACC, might be the swing vote.
“I really don’t care either way,” Jurich said. “It doesn’t matter to me. Eight, nine, seven, 10 -- I don’t care. If they want us to play nine plus the game with Kentucky, I’ll do that too.”
Unlike the league’s winter meetings, the ACC coaches attend and will weigh in. They remain in favor of playing eight conference games, but the athletic directors have the final say. In May 2012, they approved a nine-game schedule despite opposition from the coaches only to revert to eight games after announcing a partnership with Notre Dame.
Unlike the last time a nine-game schedule was approved, the athletic directors are now tasked with putting together schedules that best position their programs for access to the new College Football Playoff. They also have to weigh in the five-game rotation with Notre Dame, and four schools -- Clemson, Georgia Tech, Louisville and Florida State -- already have built-in SEC rivalries. A few athletic directors, including North Carolina’s Bubba Cunningham, have indicated they would vote in favor of whatever schedule format is most likely to lend itself to an ACC channel. A nine-game format would increase the ACC’s league schedule from 56 to 63 games.
“I am in favor of getting a separate channel, and however we have to do that, I’m willing to consider,” Cunningham said. “I’m flexible because I think a channel is very important to us.”
Miami athletic director Blake James was less willing to bend.
“I’m a believer that the nine-game schedule would be a win for the conference, and I believe it would be a win for the University of Miami,” he said. “That’s where I’m at with it.”
FSU athletic director Stan Wilcox said the Seminoles’ built-in rivalry with Florida isn’t going to change. The bigger concern is keeping Clemson and Miami on the schedule every year -- a puzzle that could get tougher in a nine-game format.
“Also in the room, Miami and Clemson want the same,” Wilcox said. “It’ll be difficult. This is why you see that we haven’t; it’s a stalemate.”
“Because of the built-in regular-season finale against rival South Carolina, Clemson athletic director Dan Radakovich remains convinced sticking with eight games is the right thing for his program. He also pointed out that, under a nine-game format, there would be years when the Tigers can’t play seven home games, an economic loss for both the university and the region. Instead of adding another league game, Radakovich suggested other schools beef up their nonconference schedules.
I think the issue is, if we collectively agree that we're going to schedule up, we don't have to come up with a hard rule we have to go to nine games or everybody has to schedule one game against an SEC school. It's just a matter of getting everybody to agree to that.” -- FSU athletic director Stan Wilcox
“If they don’t have that rival at the end of the year, then they need to schedule a College Football Playoff equity conference game on a home-and-home basis,” he said. “If they don’t have that rival, they need to schedule two, but they can do that based on when Notre Dame rolls on and off their schedule.”
“I think the issue is, if we collectively agree that we’re going to schedule up, we don’t have to come up with a hard rule we have to go to nine games or everybody has to schedule one game against an SEC school,” he said. “It’s just a matter of getting everybody to agree to that.”
Good luck -- especially when Georgia Tech is one of the schools in favor of nine games.
Yellow Jackets athletic director Mike Bobinski said the years in which they have to play both Notre Dame and Georgia will be “a handful for sure,” but if a nine-game schedule is best for the conference, that’s what he’s in favor of.
“We’ve got a big conference now, and our collective destiny is important,” Bobinski said. “All of us will rise as the fortunes of our league rise from a football performance perspective, and while nine games will be problematic for us in some ways … I just think that, for the good of the brand of ACC football, to me a nine-game schedule feels better.”
One of the biggest criticisms of the current format is the crossover opponent scheduling. ACC teams will play all of their rotating crossover opponents twice during a 12-year rotation, but not consecutively. FSU played Pitt in the season opener last year but won’t be back until 2025 or later. As thrilled as Louisville is to be joining the ACC, the Cardinals don’t get to see Virginia Tech before 2025. Virginia and Clemson won’t see each other again until 2020.
“My position is the nine conference games would be preferable mainly because of the opportunity to clearly play more of our peers in the conference and expose our institutions to each other,” Virginia athletic director Craig Littlepage said. “It’s one game a year, but that initial game does help our conference in terms of the overall branding and building of relationships and rivalries among all of the institutions.”
Both sides have valid points. Now it’s time to put it to a vote -- again.
David M. Hale and Andrea Adelson contributed to this story.
“November will be a different month for me,” Radakovich said. “I’m really beginning to make some plans here as to how we’re going to make that happen, because we’ll meet Monday afternoons and Tuesday afternoons, so Monday will be a washout of a day and Tuesday for the most part, too, due to travel. My staff, occasionally, we might have to meet on a Saturday before a game just to get some business done.
“I’ve been blessed here with a really good staff of people, and that was one of the reasons why I was happy to take on the responsibility, because there’s a good group here that has done it for a long time. We have some new eyes to help make us better, but the organization is good, so that allows me to move forward with this challenge.”
The entire committee still has plenty of challenges to tackle before the season begins. At a meeting last month in Dallas, the group had preliminary discussions about a recusal policy, but there was no resolution. The committee has also discussed the possibility of having some sort of a practice session before the members have to choose the top four teams of the 2014 season. The next selection committee meeting is scheduled for April, and it will meet again in August before the season begins.
“I’m sure that somewhere down the road there will be some exercises that will include pulling together a real bracket,” Radakovich said. “It’s been really good to watch the group together, to be a part of the group, because it is truly 13 people looking for the same answer, and that is pulling the best four teams together for the semifinals and placing some really great matchups in the other games to keep college football at the forefront of people’s minds at that time of the year and create some great games and good memories for the coaching staffs and student-athletes.”
If they finish in the top 14 of Sunday's standings, and if the Seminoles are in the national title game, then the Discover Orange Bowl looks like a very real possibility for Clemson for the second time in three years. (Just check the Twitter accounts of athletic director Dan Radakovich and the Orange Bowl itself.)
Could things have been better for Clemson this season? Possibly. Here's how close the Tigers might have been to playing for it all.
Where it all started: Everything looked Roses for Clemson at the beginning of the season. The Tigers, riding high off consecutive 10-win seasons and an upset over LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl to close 2012, entered this fall as the preseason No. 8 team in the nation. ESPN's "College GameDay" was on the scene for the Tigers' opener, a tight win over No. 5 Georgia, and a 6-0 start had Clemson all the way up to No. 3 in the country by the time GameDay returned on Oct. 19, when No. 5 Florida State visited.
Where it went wrong: Did someone say Florida State? The Seminoles made their biggest national statement at Clemson, dominating from start to finish in a 51-14 win that, believe it or not, probably was not indicative of just how badly they outplayed the Tigers. The initial BCS standings were unveiled a day later, with Florida State up to No. 2 and Clemson falling to No. 9.
Where it got back on track: Clemson recovered nicely from the loss to the Seminoles, winning its next four games by double digits and eclipsing the 50-point total in three of those four contests. Tajh Boyd rewrote the ACC record books during the quarterback's farewell tour, and the Tigers climbed back up to No. 6 in the BCS standings heading into their regular-season finale at rival and 10th-ranked South Carolina, which then beat them 31-17 for the fifth straight time.
Here is the thing about that game, during which Clemson lost the turnover margin by a ridiculous 6-0: The Tigers may have still had a slim shot -- with an emphasis of the word slim -- at getting to Pasadena, Calif., going into this past weekend. It would have taken a lot to fall into their favor, but think about some of these possible scenarios had Clemson beaten the Gamecocks: then-No. 3 Ohio State loses (which it almost did to Michigan, and still could this weekend against Michigan State), then-No. 5 Missouri loses to then-No. 21 Texas A&M (close, but no cigar) and the South Carolina team that Clemson just beat then tops Auburn in the SEC title game.
The decision for which team plays Florida State in the BCS title game then may essentially have come down to Clemson and Alabama, an argument that the Crimson Tide probably would have won anyway -- especially since no one wants to see a rematch of a game that was decided by 37 points -- but it is worth pondering. (Georgia, after all, recovered from a 35-7 loss to rival South Carolina last year to come within five yards of playing for it all.)
Therefore, it should come as no surprise that athletic directors have seen their salaries grow as well.
USA Today, which annually compiles head coaching salaries, recently found FBS athletic directors make an average of $515,000. That is an increase of more than 14 percent since USA Today last reported on AD salaries in 2011.
The ACC beats that average. Of the available salaries compiled by USA Today, ACC athletic directors were set to make an average of $602,829 in 2013. All but two made more than $500,000 -- Kevin Anderson at Maryland ($499,490), and Randy Spetman at Florida State ($350,00).
That doesn't count incoming Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich, who makes a cool $1.4 million -- the highest paid athletic director at a public school. Only nine athletic directors make $1 million or more. The next highest paid public school AD is Dan Radakovich at Clemson, checking in at $725,000.
Boston College and Miami, two private schools, did not disclose figures.
While Spetman's salary has remained the same for the past several years, it still surprises me that the athletic director at one of the most high-profile football programs in the nation is the lowest paid in his league. And one of the lowest paid in the entire state of Florida. Florida AD Jeremy Foley makes more than $1 million; USF AD Doug Woolard makes nearly $500,000; Todd Stansbury at UCF makes just a smidge more ($375,000); and FIU AD Pete Garcia makes $441,832.
I know Spetman has faced his share of criticism, and the Noles have fought through some financial problems. They do pay Jimbo Fisher $2.75 million -- the highest paid coach in the ACC. But something seems off when the ADs at FIU, UCF and USF make more than the guy at Florida State.
Here are is the complete list of AD salaries in the ACC, thanks to USA Today.
- Tom Jurich, Louisville: $1.4 million*
- Kevin White, Duke, $906,536
- Dan Radakovich, Clemson: $725,000
- Ron Wellman, Wake Forest: $688,000
- Mike Bobinski, Georgia Tech: $625,000
- Jim Weaver, Virginia Tech: $621,529
- Steve Pederson, Pitt: $596,595
- Craig Littlepage, Virginia: $586,750
- Daryl Gross, Syracuse: $570,057
- Bubba Cunningham, North Carolina: $565,000
- Debbie Yow, NC State: $500,000
- Kevin Anderson, Maryland: $499,490**
- Randy Spetman, Florida State: $350,000
- Brad Bates, Boston College: NA
- Blake James, Miami: NA
*Louisville expected to join ACC in 2014
** Maryland will depart ACC in 2014
Georgia Tech’s recent NCAA troubles and the NCAA’s assertion that Georgia Tech officials attempted to “manipulate the information surrounding potential violations” makes Radakovich untouchable for a school that appeared before the Committee on Infractions just last month for major violations in both football and men’s basketball.
Tennessee should find out sometime next month what sanctions it will face for violations that occurred on the watch of former athletic director Mike Hamilton, who stepped down in June.
What’s most troublesome for Tennessee supporters is that the university forked out six figures to the Parker Executive Search firm to help identify candidates, gather information … and conduct background checks.
If that’s the case, how does a guy like Radakovich emerge as the front-runner when his own shop is about to get hit with NCAA penalties?
Given what Tennessee has gone through with the NCAA over the past year or so, the first directive Tennessee chancellor Jimmy Cheek gives to the Parker search firm is to make sure that any and all serious candidates don’t have even a trace of NCAA baggage.
Yet, until the news broke Thursday that Georgia Tech was being stripped of its 2009 ACC championship and going on NCAA probation, the feeling of many in and around the Tennessee athletic department was that Radakovich was clearly the guy to beat in the Vols’ search for a new athletic director.
Again, good thing they forked over all that money to the Parker search firm, which has collected nearly $300,000 of Tennessee’s money when you throw in the searches that led to the hiring of football coach Derek Dooley and basketball coach Cuonzo Martin.
And one more thing: Who is Cheek listening to?
Better yet, is he purposely trying to botch this one even worse than he did the Bruce Pearl situation?
Cheek openly supported Pearl after the former basketball coach admitted to lying to the NCAA and was adamant that Pearl was going to be the Vols’ coach. Cheek reiterated that support even after the SEC suspended Pearl for eight games. And then after allowing the whole thing to fester for a season and Tennessee to take a public relations bloodbath nationally, Cheek then decided it was time to pull the plug on Pearl.
Needless to say, his handling of the matter didn’t exactly inspire confidence among the Big Orange Nation.
He faces an even more important decision in this next hire, because if Tennessee football doesn’t get back to playing for and winning championships -- and doing it the right way -- Cheek might be the next one Tennessee is searching to replace.
No word yet on whether a search firm would be necessary.
As for the athletic director candidates remaining on Tennessee’s board, Tulsa’s Bubba Cunningham, Buffalo’s Warde Manuel and Cincinnati’s Mike Thomas appear to be at the top of the list.
From the day Hamilton stepped down, Cheek’s initiative was to attract an established athletic director from a bigger school, and he assured key people it would be somebody with a strong football background.
Tennessee took its shot at several so-called bigger names, but those candidates weren’t interested in making the move. It’s no secret that righting the Vols' ship is going to be a major undertaking for anybody.
Part of Tennessee’s problem in this whole search might be that it hasn’t looked closely enough within the family.
Senior associate athletic director David Blackburn is a candidate. Where he is in the pecking order at this point is anybody’s guess.
But if Cheek genuinely wants to get this one right, Blackburn ought to be at the very top.
He’s a Tennessee guy. He understands what’s important to the Tennessee people. He’s willing to fight for Tennessee, and he’s also willing to fight against those (coaches, boosters, anybody) who put Tennessee at risk.
It was Blackburn who saved Tennessee’s football program from a failure to monitor charge in the whole Lane Kiffin-NCAA mess. For that matter, Blackburn saved Tennessee football from much worse charges because of his diligence, his integrity and his willingness to stand up to people.
Simply, he’s the right fit at Tennessee, the kind of person and the kind of administrator the Vols’ athletic department desperately needs.
And it doesn’t take a $100,000 search firm to figure that out.
It wasn’t quite the introduction to Georgia Tech football he or any of the other freshmen were probably expecting:
- Four years probation.
- Vacate the 2009 ACC title game.
- $100,000 fine.
Following a 20-month investigation, which was kept quieter than the Duke library, Georgia Tech on Thursday was slapped with its second major violation in five years. The Yellow Jackets apologetically joined North Carolina, Tennessee, Boise State, USC, Auburn, Oregon and Ohio State on the NCAA’s naughty list. Long story short: What could have been a secondary violation for impermissible benefits and preferential treatment (a player received $312 worth of clothing from a friend of a sports agency employee) turned into a major violation and public relations nightmare because of a few poor decisions made along the way. Because there were no scholarship reductions, though, Georgia Tech will pay its hefty fine, cherish its memories of the 39-34 win over Clemson in the 2009 ACC title game and move on.
In Georgia Tech’s case, been there, done that.
“In 2005, when they had the issues, coach [Paul] Johnson came in in 2008, while we were still on probation, and it was not something we talked about each and every day,” said athletic director Dan Radakovich, who was in the team meeting Thursday afternoon. “Part of what we need to do going forward is to continue to have a positive air of compliance, and make sure that we’re doing the right things each and every day.
“They are very resilient,” he said of the players. “There were a number of people in that room today who watched that game on television like millions of others. The ones who were there certainly were disappointed, but the lesson moving forward is how the actions of a few can affect many. That’s something coach Johnson really stressed to that group. We need to utilize this not only with our football team and our men’s basketball team, but also all of our teams as a learning experience moving forward and how important it is to when you’re a part of a team, to put that team ahead of anything that comes your way and be up front and open with our compliance process.”
Part of the sanctions stemmed from a conversation Radakovich had with Johnson. Radakovich wanted to inform his coach that the NCAA wanted to interview one of his players, but the NCAA was operating under a need-to-know basis and thought the coach didn’t need to know (no wonder Butch Davis is safe). In retrospect, Radakovich said he should have contacted the NCAA directly and explained his rationale for informing Johnson.
The NCAA, though, should explain exactly how these sanctions are going to be a deterrent for other programs. If this can happen at Georgia Tech, it can happen anywhere. And it’s happening all over the country.
Dennis Thomas, the NCAA’s chair of the Committee on Infractions, insisted that the NCAA was not using Georgia Tech as an example to the rest of the college football world.
Georgia Tech officials insisted nobody did anything to intentionally mislead anyone along the way.
“I believe that we could have been more aggressive in our investigation,” president G.P. “Bud” Peterson said. “Had we known then what we know now, we might have acted differently. But given the information we had at the time, I believe we took reasonable, and appropriate steps to determine a proper course of action regarding the eligibility of the two student-athletes in question, and most importantly we acted in good faith. At no time prior to or since the 20-month long investigation do I believe anyone at Georgia Tech did anything or took any actions with the deliberate intent to hinder or impede this investigation.”
And the NCAA, save for some money and a trophy, hasn’t done anything to hinder Georgia Tech from moving on.
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
AMELIA ISLAND, Fla. -- Take a look at Michigan's team photo if you want an example of why ACC officials and football coaches are concerned.
In Michigan's team photo, there are 53 staff members wearing white polo shirts -- and 43 of them are not coaches.
In a sport where head coaches are only allowed nine assistants, ACC officials want to know exactly what all of those other people have been hired to do, and it's not just at Michigan. Alabama hired former Virginia offensive coordinator Mike Groh as a graduate assistant, and inflated staffs are popping up all over the country. And they've got every right to because there isn't any current NCAA legislation that limits the number of non-coaching personnel allowed on staff.
The ACC would like to see that change, if not at least monitored a little closer.
"They're really concerned about that," said associate commissioner/football Michael Kelly.
It's an issue the NCAA's recruiting cabinet has already decided it will look into, and Georgia Tech athletic director Dan Radakovich is the ACC's conference representative on that panel. The ACC would like to weigh in on how many coaches can actually be on the field, but officials didn't have enough information at this week's spring meetings to form a concrete proposal with their position. Radakovich will meet with the NCAA recruiting cabinet in June in San Diego.
"I'm sure this will be one of the major items that will be discussed at that meeting," he said. "It's a big issue, but it's really more sport specific. One of the things the NCAA is trying to do right now is pull it together under one umbrella -- the number of accountable coaches, the number of other personnel inside each sport. Hopefully what will come out of the meeting in June is that maybe we need to take a step back and look at sports on an individual basis rather than trying to deal with this issue on an all-encompassing basis."
Kelly said the ACC coaches have to go back and examine their own staff sizes to see how many they have, and what they think would be an appropriate limit for them in terms of being on the field.
"If people have the resources to do whatever they want with X-number of video guys and trainers and strength coaches that's fine," Kelly said. "More power to them. The biggest thing the NCAA is going to focus on and what we want to weigh in on is how many guys can be on the field. I don't think it's run rampant, but there obviously a few programs who have those types of resources to have huge staffs."
Radakovich cautioned it's a problem broader than just college football.
"There are issues in baseball, there are issues in basketball," he said. "I wouldn't look at this as a football-centric issue. These are more national issues."
It was a hot topic at this week's otherwise quiet ACC spring meetings.
"In some places it's really doubling the staff just about," said Wake Forest athletic director Ron Wellman. "We're labeling them one thing, but their activities certainly suggest they're doing other things. They're non-coaches who are coaching. We've got to find a way to address that issue, otherwise the playing field is not level at all. People are always looking for ways to maneuver and gain advantages and this is one of those loopholes that has been found that hopefully we'll be able to address."
NC State athletic director Lee Fowler said helping create legislation was something the ACC officials and coaches talked extensively about and "felt was very important."
"I think it's a concern because we're hearing that's the case at other schools, and they're using weight coaches to be skill trainers and that sort of stuff, which is against what the rules were made for," Fowler said. "We just want to make sure there's some legislation or whatever it takes to make sure everybody is under the same rules and regulations."
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
Everyone is concerned about their wallets in these struggling economic times, and St. Patrick's Day is the perfect time for a fiscal review of how the ACC is spending its green. Here are three good -- and three not-so-good -- ways of spending or saving the green:
1. Whip-ing Miami's offense into shape -- However much green was spent to bring in offensive coordinator Mark Whipple was worth it. Regardless of how Miami's offense fared on the field, clearly Patrick Nix and Randy Shannon weren't on the same page when it came to philosophy. Shannon and Whipple are.
2. Upgrade in Durham -- David Cutcliffe gave his football team a makeover, now it's time to do the same with the facilities. The practice field, which looked like it was used by the local parks and rec department, is getting an overhaul. The artificial turf field is being extended from about 75 yards to 120 yards, and the school is currently rebuilding the visiting locker room. In the stadium, two bathrooms and a concession stand are being renovated.
3. Robbing Peter to pay Paul -- While it might seem a little premature to make Paul Johnson one of the highest-paid coaches in the conference before he's even won a league title, the Yellow Jackets can't win the ACC crown unless they dish out the money to keep him. Kudos to athletic director Dan Radakovich for staying competitive with the SEC salaries.
4. The cost of offense in College Park -- In 2006, Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen bought a $240,000 Pro Simulator, a complex computer program designed to help the athletes learn the playbook and read defenses in real-time. Considering Maryland hasn't finished better than sixth in the ACC in scoring offense since then -- including ninth in 2008 -- they might want to stick with Madden.
5. Commonwealth Cup overfloweth in Charlottesville -- Virginia Tech can't let rival Virginia get away with paying Al Groh more. Not when Frank Beamer is winning a BCS bowl and Groh is home for the holidays. It's time for athletic director Jim Weaver to ante up.
6. Spread the wealth -- Is Miami really in such a financial hole it needs to bus to the in-state games this year? Other coaches are sure to use even that tiny detail against the school in recruiting because it doesn't project the image of a big-time program.
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer is trying to recruit some fans to the Orange Bowl, where ticket sales are struggling. Beamer even put up a video on the Hokies' Web site advertising the game. I know the economy is bad, really I do. But has anyone considered the fact that ticket sales might not be flying because it's not a thrilling matchup? I'm telling you, Papajohns.com Bowl ...
While Beamer is trying to recruit fans, Clemson is trying to recruit more than eight players.
Georgia Tech athletic director Dan Radakovich began to renegotiate Paul Johnson's contract this week. That's pretty impressive, considering Johnson's contract was seven years to begin with. Ah, what a win over Georgia can do for you.
Will Ralph Friedgen make good on his promise at the start of the season that quarterback Jordan Steffy "will come in and win a game for us before the season is over?" He's only got one game left to do it.
There is one huge difference between the coach-in-waiting scenario at Wisconsin, and the one Jimbo Fisher has at Florida State. At Wisconsin, Bret Bielema "knew when it was going to happen and how it was going to happen." FSU's situation has an added emphasis on the "waiting" part.
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
The ACC isn't ready for prime time. If there were more than 20,000 people at the ACC Championship Game, I'd be surprised. Once again, there were thousands of empty seats, and it came on a day where the SEC Championship Game couldn't have provided any more drama or entertainment. If the ACC wants to reach that level, two things need to happen: First, the conference needs to step up its play and have teams like Florida State and Miami contending for more than just an ACC title. And second, ACC officials need to move this game to Charlotte and keep it there. In an economic time where money is scarce, and families are forced to choose between a bowl game or a title game, the latter needs to be within driving distance. The ACC is fortunate enough to have a centrally-located fan base and should take advantage of it. The scene in Jacksonville last year was an embarrassment to the league, and this year in Tampa wasn't any better.
Don't doubt Frank Beamer. You can give Beamer your best shot, but he won't go down -- just ask Cory Holt, who almost accidentally took his coach out on the sideline Saturday when he was celebrating and whacked Beamer in his jaw. Even with his "bum knee," Beamer is tough, and he and his staff are the reason the Hokies survived this season in the face of criticism. He did it with the youngest roster he has ever had, and during a season in which playmakers were scarce on both sides of the ball. Beamer has given much of the credit to his senior leadership, but that is a reflection of the staff's attitudes. If they start to lose it, so do the players.
Virginia Tech has dominated the ACC. Even when it's not at its best, Virginia Tech can still beat the best. For the third time in five seasons, the Hokies won the title, and for the second straight year, they're going to the Orange Bowl. Since it joined the ACC, Virginia Tech has been the most consistent program in the league, and will continue to be its representative in the BCS until somebody proves otherwise on the field.
Defense wins championships, but so do quarterbacks. One of the main differences in the ACC championship game was quarterbacks. Boston College backup Dominique Davis was not ready for the big stage, but it's unfair to criticize him, considering it was only the second start of his career, and his first road game as starter. (Then again, the Eagles couldn't win the ACC title with Matt Ryan, either). Tyrod Taylor, on the other hand, showed his maturation against one of the toughest defenses in the country. Both of his rushing touchdowns were called pass plays, but when receivers weren't open, he was able to make plays with his feet.
Auburn has not contacted Jimbo Fisher, and Georgia Tech will try and do what it can to keep Paul Johnson in Atlanta. It's a good sign when your coaches are wanted, but it would only cause problems for their respective programs if either of these guys left. I spoke with Fisher Saturday night and he assured me Auburn has not contacted him or his agent, and that he has been out recruiting. With all of the coaching vacancies, Georgia Tech's Johnson SHOULD be a hot commodity. He has certainly proven any doubters of his offense wrong this season. He's expected to meet with AD Dan Radakovich this week.