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NCAA–College Football’s Judge & Jury

College Football has a major problem–check that.  The NCAA has a major problem.  In the wake of several big investigations, including Oregon, North Carolina, Auburn, Ohio State and USC, Yahoo! Sports’ release of their story of the Miami Hurricanes and the cash, jewelry and other debauchery funded by convicted Ponzi Scheme artist Nevin Shapiro is the most recent problem the NCAA will have to review, and ultimately, impose sanctions.

Unfortunately, it is the college programs facing the heat, when the NCAA continues to make extremely questionable decisions.  Case in point, the NCAA’s handling of Auburn and Ohio State’s programs last season, and their ultimate decision to let Heisman quarterback Cam Newton play in the final games of the 2010 season, which included the lucrative BCS title game against Oregon.

What was even more disturbing was their decision to not impose the five-game suspensions on Ohio State’s athletes until this fall, allowing the suspended OSU players to play in last year’s Sugar Bowl.  A Sugar Bowl without Ohio State stars Terrelle Pryor, Dan Herron and DeVier Posey, among others would have resulted in a minimally hyped bowl game with less cash to collect.  The NCAA wanted to make sure that they and the game’s sponsors got to cash their checks before they hammered OSU and their program.

Make no mistake about it.  It all has to do with money, and the NCAA hauls in more than its share–they reported budgeted revenues of $757,000,000 in 2010, the majority of that revenue coming from college football.  The BCS games and fees the NCAA collects for using their logos on many items and games, including the ever-popular NCAA Football games produced by EA Sports have generated the machine that operates the NCAA.

The NCAA allows EA Sports to use their logo and players who have the same size, skill sets and jersey numbers as the actual football players from each school that is represented in the game.

Essentially, the NCAA’s message is loud and clear:  It is against the rules and there will stiff consequences for exploiting college athletes….unless the we ( the NCAA)are the ones making the money off playing the role of pimp for the student-athletes.

The real question we should be asking is where are the checks and balances here?  Who does the NCAA have to answer to?  If it is okay for the NCAA to push nearly $1 billion for exploiting these kids, then how are they any different from the boosters, agents and runners that have created so much damage to schools like USC?

College Football is in a different place, economically and culturally, than it was when many of the NCAA rules were written and instituted, and until there is a committee or governing body reviewing what the NCAA is doing, the playing field will not be balanced, and they will continue to be judge and jury.  If the NCAA is going to deposit the checks from the juggernaut that is college football, then they should have to answer some of the questions and more importantly, they should have to recognize that they must adapt with the changes and nuances that come with a billion-dollar-plus machine.

And if the last 18 months have shown anything, it is that the current system is not working.  Unless something changes, 18-22 year old athletes will continue to drive millions and millions of dollars to their respected schools and the NCAA, but the kids will be punished for reaping a fraction of the monetary benefits they generate.

Big 12…11…10…9…

The Big 12 Conference is looking more like a countdown for a space shuttle launch than it is a football conference these days.  The 2011 season will be the first year since the inception that, despite still being called the Big 12, the conference will only have ten teams.

Nebraska bolted for the Big Ten (which now has twelve teams) and Colorado moved to greener pastures and potentially more revenue with their move to the newly established Pac 12 Conference.

The Big 12 seems to be shrinking by the day these days (logo courtesy of Big 12 Conference)

Over the last few days, there are more and more rumblings of Texas A&M moving to the SEC, which would likely be straw to break the dwindling Big 12’s back.  But the move to college football’s most powerful conference won’t go through without the Big 12 Conference pulling out all stops to maintain the status quo (if there is one).

Regardless of what the Big 12 officials and the state of Texas choose to do, in the end, A&M would be crazy not to jump at this opportunity.  The SEC has long been the best conference in all of college football, and with their recent contract with ESPN, their recent dominance of the BCS National Championships (an SEC team has won the National Championship in each of the last five years), and recent talk of courting Florida State or Virginia Tech to create two, separate 7-team divisions, the SEC shows no signs of looking back.

When the dust settles, we take a quick peak at where the other teams in the conference could end up:

Texas: The Longhorns should be kicking themselves for not jumping at the opportunity to join Colorado when the Pac 10 came calling last year.  Instead, Utah jumped at the chance to get out of the BCS purgatory known as the Mountain West.  Look for the Pac 12 to become the Pac 14 in an attempt to rival the SEC 2.0 version in 2012 or 2013.

Oklahoma: Like their hated rivals, Texas, there was a lot of talk last year of the Sooners joining the Pac 12, despite the fact that Texas and Oklahoma are nowhere near the Pacific coast, which was the original geographic concept of the conference when they were the Pac 8.  You lost yet?  Anyway, look for the Sooners and Longhorns to continue their rivalry within the same conference, which will likely be the Pac 14.

Missouri: Like the Huskers, the Big Ten courted the Tigers last season, but Mizzou opted to stay, especially once it was confirmed that Texas was staying.  The Big Ten would love to bring on the Tigers and bring a great rivalry with Nebraska inside the conference.  This would make the Big Ten’s thirteenth team, and maybe at this point, they really should think about dropping the “Big Ten” name, even though they have retained that name despite having eleven teams since Penn State joined the conference in 1993.

Oklahoma State, Baylor, Texas Tech, Kansas, Kansas State, and Iowa State will have to scramble to find a home.  These programs have had flashes, but unlike Mizzou, Oklahoma and Texas, they haven’t quite been able to crack or stay in the Top 25 for more than a year or two at a time.  And that will hurt them and possibly leave them with no choice but to join a new version of the Mountain West, but for basketball, Kansas may have to pull a Notre Dame and go independent.  Confused yet?

Rumors and scenarios will run rampant in the coming months, but one thing is for sure.  The Big 12 was already on life support, and A&M’s likely departure will be the death of the conference.

Standing Tall

Rutgers football player Eric LeGrand stood up today.  While most college football players are lifting, running and preparing their bodies for the rigors of the dreaded August two-a-day practices, simply standing may not seem like much unless you know how far LeGrand has come and what massive odds he has defied to stand tall, just nine months after a hit paralyzed him from the neck down.

Eric LeGrand continues to motivate and inspire people far beyond the football field (google images)

LeGrand was given less than a 5% chance of experiencing much of what we take for granted–walking, getting out of bed and even breathing without a concentrated effort.  ESPN recently aired a story on how LeGrand has continued to defy the odds (and medical science) that were immensely stacked against him.  In that story, we were given a slight glimpse into the life of this young man.

It is easy to get caught up in the intense work and training that LeGrand is doing to regain some of what was lost last October, but even more amazing and inspiring is his will.  Throw the percentages out the window.  They don’t apply to him.  Although great strides aren’t made every day, he believes and he perseveres.

LeGrand insists that God has a plan for him, and it’s not to be in a wheel chair.  His tenacity, his belief and his determination to defy transcends far beyond sports and winning and losing.

Eric LeGrand stood up today.  He stood taller than anyone in his sport.

You can follow Eric LeGrand on twitter at @BigE52_RU

New Big Ten. New Favorite?

Wisconsin was already in good position to challenge for a Big Ten title this season, but one of many replacements head coach Bret Bielema had to contend with was the quarterback position, which had been vacated by Scott Tolzien.  As consistent as Tolzien was last season, the Badgers just upgraded this afternoon, when former NC State three-year starter Russell Wilson announced that he will be suiting up in Madison this fall.

Russell Wilson adds a new dimension to the Wisconsin offense (google images)

Wilson, who also plays professional baseball in the Colorado Rockies organization was released from NC State by head coach Tom O’Brien.  O’Brien wanted to have his team focused on the 2011 season, and he felt that Wilson’s baseball obligations hindered that focus.

This, despite overwhelming success in his three years as the Wolfpack’s starting signal-caller.  In his time in Raleigh, Wilson amassed over 8,500 passing yards and over 1,000 yards rushing, while throwing for 76 touchdowns, compared to just 26 Int’s.

His presence at Wisconsin should make a very immediate impact.  Unlike the spread offense at Auburn (which was reportedly the other finalist Wilson considered), Wisconsin is a more traditional offense, similar to the one he ran for three years when he starred at NC State.  The only difference is that Wilson never had a running game to rely on like the one he will join in August.

Although bruising tailback, John Clay is no longer there, the Badgers will once again boast one of the top rushing attacks in the nation, led by sophomore James White and junior Montee Ball.  Ball fell just four yards short of breaking the 1,000 yard mark, while White tallied 1,056 yards as a true freshman.  The tandem put up those numbers, despite splitting carries with Clay.

Cynics will point to the departure of both offensive tackles, including Gabe Carimi in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft, the Badgers will only reload in 2011 on a unit that has been a hot-bed for the NFL.  Expect senior guard Kevin Zeitler to be the next high draft pick to lead another smash-mouth running game this fall (and you can also expect to hear Zeitler’s name early in the 2012 NFL Draft…mark it down).

If the Wisconsin defense, led by safety Aaron Henry can hold up their end, Wilson and the Badger offense will be much more explosive than in year’s past.  Wilson is quite possibly at his best when the pocket breaks down–just ask Florida State, who gave up three rushing TDs to Wilson last season.

He adds escapability and play-making ability to an offense that only lost one game in the Big Ten last season.  Add talented wide out Nick Toon to the equation, and Bielema may just have the formula for a Big Ten title run and a shot at being a top 5 team.  Although one player doesn’t make a team, a smart, athletic quarterback who is a proven winner will only make Wisconsin better.  At the least, the Badgers will be favored by many to lock up the newly expanded Big Ten.

College FootBlog 2011 Preseason Top 25

With the conclusion of spring football for all major FBS programs, it is time to release this year’s College FootBlog Preseason poll.  We will count down to the top five teams in five separate posts over the next couple of weeks, so check back often to see what teams we feel are the best of the best, long before two-a-days begin in August.  In this edition, we’ll break down teams #21-#25.

25.  Mississippi State:  Many analysts have the Bulldogs higher, but the SEC West is absolutely stacked in 2011, and we feel that while head coach Dan Mullen will continue to bring MSU along, although they get Alabama, LSU and South Carolina at home, it’s hard to imagine the Bulldogs winning two of those games.  Tack on trips to Arkansas and Georgia, and Mississippi State will be doing a lot to finish 4-4 in conference play.  Still, with a very forgiving non-conference schedule, the Bulldogs should have a great shot at a nine-win season, which is saying a lot for the toughest division in the FBS.

Can Garrett Gilbert get the Longhorns back on track in 2011? (google images)

24.  Texas Head coach Mack Brown will try to get the Longhorns back on track after finishing 5-7 and failing to make a bowl game for the first time since Brown took the coaching job in 1998.  The defense will have to replace fiery defensive coordinator Will Muschamp, who left for the head coaching job at Florida, but the ‘Horns have a ton of talent on defense, and new defensive coordinator Manny Diaz showed a lot of promise with his work at Mississippi State–it will be interesting to see what Diaz can do with the talent pool at Texas.  The success and/or failure of this year’s Texas team will lie at the quarterback position.  As a sophomore, Garrett Gilbert was a major drop off from legends Colt McCoy and Vince Young .  Gilbert led the Big 12 last season with 17 interceptions, and posted a dismal TD/Int ratio of 6:16 in Big 12 play.  In order for Texas to take a step forward, Gilbert or one of the younger quarterbacks on the roster (Case McCoy and Connor Wood) will need a much improved offense in 2011.

23.   Auburn All the allegations and continued inquiries from the NCAA aside, it could be a tough year for Auburn.  Head coach Gene Chizik has talent coming back in 2011, led by explosive running back Michael Dyer.  Some polls have Auburn ranked higher, but we just can’t see a top 10-15 finish.  The Tigers must replace four starters on the offensive line, Nick Fairly, who was arguably the most dominant defensive player in the nation last season and the best player in the country last season, in Heisman Trophy winner and first overall NFL Draft selection Cam Newton.   Dyer and the offense will have success, but they will have a tough time with Bama and LSU this time around.

22.  Arizona State:  At first glance from the 2010 season, you might think ASU’s 6-6 record should not equal a preseason top 25 selection, but a deeper dive into the Sun Devils’ games show a lot of promise for 2011.  ASU was the only team in the country to challenge Oregon during the regular season, losing a heartbreaker at home 42-31.  The defense, which held Andrew Luck and Stanford to just 17 points last season, will once again be led by stud linebacker Vontaze Burfict.  More good news for the Devils is that quarterback Brock Osweiler was productive last season, after starter Steven Threet went down with a concussion.  ASU will need to get past Stanford and a sure-to-be improved USC team to stay in the top 25.

21.  West Virginia:  The Mountaineers lose electric running back Noel Devine, but they should roll through a weak Big East Conference in 2011.  The September 24th match up against LSU will be a tall order, but if WV can get past Pitt in Morgantown, the Big East should be theirs for the taking.  Quarterback Geno Smith was very effective last season, throwing for over 2700 yards and 24 touchdowns, and only 7 picks in his first full season as the starter.  Key to the success of WVU will be trips to Rutgers and South Florida.  If they can win one of those two games, they will be in great position to represent the Big East in a BCS bowl.

Why College SuperStars Are Bad for Their Teams and the NCAA

Why College SuperStars Are Bad for Their Teams and the NCAA–by Christian Hon/Contributor. 

What do the following players have in common?  Reggie Bush, Terelle Pryor, Mariuce Clarett, Peter WarrickMaurikce Pouncey, Cam Newton, Rhett Bomar, Lawrence Phillips and to make it interesting – O.J Mayo

Interestingly, they all have several things in common – they were all prized recruits – all, except Mayo, touched or have been within a win of the national championship trophy and all have or will leave their team in worse shape than when they arrived. 

I’m sure you expect this diatribe to steer towards the familiar road of “The Case For Paying College Players” but it won’t.  In fact, you can’t.  The nuances of college sports and what make them great is exactly what prevents you from doing so.  The fact remains however, a super star athlete, especially a superstar football player, at the college level is more often the fuse that ignites a negative PR bomb more than a “get over the hump to greatness” one.

Is USC better or worse off because of Reggie Bush? (google images)

I recently finished reading Tarnished Heisman – How Reggie Bush Turned His Last Year At USC to a Six Figure Job and got to thinking, do I really want my favorite team to get a player like that?  The quick answers is yes.  All college football fans are glued to their TV and computer for national signing day.   Short of our bowl game, it’s the biggest day of the year. 

What ranking we achieve by the recruitment review services is as much of a bragging point with our rivals as our record and/or bowl game finish.  With each star that our recruits receive, more hope springs for the following 4 years.  A thought out answer tells us a different story however. 

Are USC fans glad that Reggie Bush is considered a Trojan?  Will his number be retired?  When you thought of Auburn a year ago, what came to mind versus what you think of now? ( Crimson Tide fans please refrain from answering this one – you skew my point )  Is it coincidence that post Bush, USC have lost their dominance?  If so, what about Phillips at Nebraska?  What about Pouncey at Florida? Clarett at OSU? What about the glaring post Warrick years at FSU

Don’t get me wrong, there are several superstars that are never caught up in these media storms – Sam Bradford, Tim Tebow, etc.  But if you look at the averages, you can’t deny that the greatest teams are typified by a crescendo of winning years leading to utter dominance, then severe drop off. 

It’s not because the teams can’t replace the talent, it’s because of the shock wave felt once their gone, both from a media standpoint and a game plan standpoint.  You never wondered if Bush was going to get his yards every game but when Joe McNight took over the starting RB job ( McNight was also the #1 recruit in the nation when he came out of high school)

I doubt the other team had a defense, blitz package and spy designed specifically for him from the first play of the game.  Players like these draw attention from the opposing defensive coordinator just as much as they do from ESPN‘s Game Day.  The fact is, superstars make the other players around them better just as hitters benefit from batting behind Pujols, Cris Carter benefitted from the arrival of Randy Moss and (insert Jordan / Pippen, Kobe / Shaq, Magic / Jabbar reference here)

Adding to the headaches of departed stars are the pitfalls they often fall in to while at their university.  All the aforementioned players had significant stories of misconduct to explain away, some of which added to the challenge of replacing them because of the imposed NCAA sanctions. 

Replacing a star is hard enough, replacing a controversial star is impossible.  Without Bush, USC would likely have won their national championship behind Lendale White and the stable of running backs they enjoyed.  With Bush, they lost scholarships , the best recruiter in the pacific time zone,  a Heisman Trophy, a percentage of their fans and the respect of college fans across the country.  (They got Lane Kiffin back though!)

Lastly – We all know how much the NCAA hates cheaters…once their caught.  ( Pre-conviction, the NCAA is rather fond of the revenues brought in by top-tier teams that dominate)  Their unrelenting pursuit of improper benefits is second only to John Walsh of America’s Most Wanted in regards to “hunting down the bad guys.” 

The NCAA is this strict because anything less than severe punishment of any impropriety is a swing in the direction of college football being a business ( which it is) and they can’t have that.  By trumpeting the “passion of the game” and purity of college athletics” their coffers stay full while they 18-22 year olds kill each other in the weight room and on the field for the glorious payment of free tuition, room and board and food.  And for the really good teams, there are goodie bags of portable DVD players and sweatshirts at the bowl game but you better not sell them or you’ll be expelled!

I root for my favorite college team with true passion and live and die with the scoreboard on Saturdays in the fall.  I, as much as any fan, have my favorite players on the team and they are often the players scoring the most points, making the most tackles and featured in an expose by Erin Andrews

With that said, I fear the day that my team gets a true top-level player that can change the outcome of a game by himself.  The more media attention we receive, first place recruiting votes we garner and appearances at the Heisman ceremony we have, the closer we are to the dark days of “rebuilding.”  Can you hear me post Gino Toretta Miami fans?  Ok, ok…post Charles Woodson Michigan fans…no?  Post Peyton Manning Tennessee fans?

Too Much Fiesta…Not Enough Bowl

With the news of the overspending and overindulgence of former Fiesta Bowl CEO John Junker, the days of being a part of the BCS could be in the past.  Officials from the Fiesta Bowl were forced to plead their case to stay in the BCS coalition, but the BCS is holding final judgement until a later date and until they uncover any more abuse of expenses.

Junker allegedly spent over $350,000 of Fiesta Bowl funds in the last ten years on campaign contributions, automobiles, a $30,000 birthday party at Pebble Beach and trips to various strip clubs, while he ran the show. 

The results of the investigation could result in the Fiesta Bowl losing its place as a BCS, but Junker’s well-documented debauchery has also led to an investigation into the other three BCS bowls–the Sugar Bowl, the Orange Bowl and the Rose Bowl.

So far, it looks like the Rose Bowl is clean, but the rumors are swirling that the Orange and Sugar Bowls aren’t exactly squeaky clean.  The NCAA and BCS will continue to dig into these allegations, but with spring football in full-swing on most college campuses and summer right around the corner, look for a decision very soon as to whether or not there will be a BCS game in Glendale, Arizona next January.

Should the Fiesta lose its standing in the BCS, several cities, including Atlanta and Dallas have the venues and resources to host a BCS game.