Dabo the Salesman

Monday was the deadline to declare for the NFL draft. Everyone expected that Clemson would lose three of their four defensive linemen to the draft. (The other is only a sophomore.). Instead all three are coming back.

To say this is rare is an understatement. It’s not unusual for sought after players to come back for their senior year, but typically the higher the projected draft pick, the lesser the chances the player returns. Also typically a player or two may come back for reasons unique to him. To have this many come back is unusual.

It has to be that Dabo is a good salesman, right? He is good at recruiting high school kids. Clearly that talent translates to recruiting college juniors. The question is, what did he sell them on? Was it loyalty to school? Loyalty to teammates? Unfinished business? The players had been to 3 playoffs and won one. Was it something different for each of them? I don’t know. It certainly is interesting though.

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SEC may still expand

Tony Barnhart has an article up at GridironNow where he argues that this week’s events will effectively shut the door on SEC expansion.  Those two events are the Big 12’s decision to expand, and the ACC’s launch of a network and extension of their grant of rights.  Barnhart:

If you’re reading this and an SEC fan, right about now you’re asking, “Why should I care?”

Here’s why: Both stories have a direct impact on the SEC. In short, these moves effectively close the door on expansion in the SEC.

With all due respect to the estimable Mr. Barnhart, neither of these moves is complete, and even when they are they may not deter SEC Expansion.

We know that if the ACC expands it’s not going to be to add Houston or Cincinnati.  Expansion will involve some big name universities with new television markets, like Texas A&M and Missouri.  Those teams will almost certainly have to come from the ACC or the Big 12.

If the teams are to come from the ACC, the grant of rights is the big obstacle.  The ACC Network may make good money; it may not, but it will only be an incentive for a team to stay, not an obstacle for it leaving.  The grant of rights is the issue.  For some reason everyone wants to assume that it is ironclad and no one will ever get out of it.  Maryland managed to get out of it with a settlement.  What’s to say another school wouldn’t be able to do something similar.

It’s just a contract.  Even if perfectly enforceable, it can be breached.  If the cost of breach is less than the benefit of moving to another league, then that kind of move remains very viable.  That’s not to say that it’s likely, but it’s far from dead in the water.

The Big12, on the other hand, remains ripe for the picking, should the SEC want to do that.  Look at the candidates the Big 12 hopes to stabilize its conference with.  Or better yet, read Barking Carnival‘s take.  Spoiler: there aren’t a lot of good schools out there that aren’t in major conferences.  The upshot?  The Big 12 may not expand, and even if it does stability is not guaranteed.  

So is SEC expansion imminent?  I don’t think so.  There is too much uncertainty.  It’s unclear what cord cutting is going to do.  It’s unclear how cable company consolidation and the FCC may impact the broadcasting of the games.  It’s unclear what the ACC newt work is going to do.  The SEC may never expand, but I wouldn’t be so quick to say it’s certain because of this week’s events.

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SEC (and everyone else) needs to keep divisions

Over at SB Nation, Bill Connelly and Jason Kirk put forth a proposal to do away with divisions within the SEC.  They argue it will be better and offer four reasons.  I disagree.

1.  Every major SEC rivalry will be protected.

Well, yes, so long as you define major rivalry as the ones that are actually protected.  In particular, the plan keeps Tennessee-Alabama, Alabama-Auburn and Auburn-Georgia.  Those three are important and are the sticking point with some plans, notably moving Auburn to the East.  However, the plan ignores one particular long standing rivalry, Auburn-Florida.  That rivalry was arguably the biggest casualty of the 12 team conference.  I’d argue that’s a pretty big rivalry, and if we are protecting “every major rivalry” you need to make allowances for that.

A better plan would be to move Auburn to the East, Missouri to the west, go to 9 conference games and have two permanent rivalry games.  Then you really could protect all rivals.

2.  Every SEC team would play every other every two years.

This is admittedly a nice feature.  The way the SB Nation proposal accomplishes it is that teams don’t play home and home series each year.  Rather if a team plays another in 2016, they may not play in 2017.  This is nice, but it isn’t so important that I’d want to see divisions scrapped.

3.  The schedules are really balanced.

They are … now.  We can assume year in year out that Alabama will be good, so long as Saban is there.  We can assume Vanderbilt’s great years will be few and far between, but we can’t set up a schedule matrix that will remain balanced in the long term.  It’s the nature of sports for one team to get better and others to regress.  Nebraska and Miami were once undisputed national powers.  Ohio State had a losing season within recent memory.  Things change.  Trying to schedule for parity with today’s strength is a fool’s errand.

4.  Without Divisions the SEC championship would pair the best two teams.

This is my biggest objection.  Without divisions the SEC Championship would be a farce.  It would only make sense in years when two teams, and only two teams, tied for first and didn’t play each other.  If more than two tied, you’re leaving someone out.  If only one team wins, they have nothing to gain from having to win again.  You could even have the nightmare scenario where say, LSU beats Alabama to go 8-0 in conference.  Alabama then finished 7-1.  Alabama gets another shot at LSU in the title game.  That’s not fair to LSU or wise.

Also, although the schedules look to be pretty balanced now, they may not be in practice this season or any season.  Without divisions you exacerbate that possibility.  At least with divisions a champion has played all the teams on that side.

This is a solution in search of a problem.  But, it’s the off-season.  We should be talking about this stuff.  Bill Connelly and Jason Kirk write great stuff, but I disagree with them here.

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Colleges Want More Paycheck Games

Last week amid a release of run of the mill information, South Carolina athletic director Ray Tanner announced the school would be paying $1.5 million to UMass to come play the Gamecocks in football this fall.

Why, in the era of strength of schedule, is a major college making a record payout to get a team to come play?  Apparently because more teams are trying to get more paycheck games.  Administrators are trying to schedule more one time home games, and the increased demand is driving up the price.  UMass wouldn’t be able to command this much money if there weren’t several suitors for them.

In fact, UMass is going to play three SEC teams this year (South Carolina, Florida and Mississippi State).  This is bad news for college football fans who want to see better games.  School administrators continue to see declining attendance at games, yet they schedule more of this?  Who wants to bet South Carolina gets 80% of its stadium filled for this game?

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The Terrible Mess in Baylor

Baylor’s mess is as bad as it gets, I hope.  The worse scandals in college sports all revolve around the same thing: winning becomes more important than it should be.  I agree it is important, but I don’t think it’s bigger than rules.  I don’t think it’s bigger than laws, and it clearly can never be bigger than innocent people’s lives.  Make no mistake about what has happened here.  The pursuit of Baylor football wins have ruined people’s lives.  Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports:

Baylor got hooked on winning.

It stopped caring about the corrosive side effects of recruiting many questionable characters who could ball out on fall Saturdays. It averted its gaze from violent players who raped women, who beat women, who beat other students. It failed to take significant action against those players – sometimes with the help of the local police. It allowed a criminal subculture to exist within a part of its football program. It left their victims feeling helpless and used, collateral damage in the quest for gridiron glory.

You can read the whole article or many others, but the story is the same.  Baylor, as an institution, ran roughshod over anything that threatened its football success.

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Big XII needs something different

If you’ve been paying attention to the Big XII this week, you’ll see that they are still struggling with what to do about the Longhorn Network, a possible conference network and expansion.  So far, things don’t look very good.  The conference is treading water, but it has yet to lock down long term stability.  For better or worse the SEC, Big Ten, Pac-12 and even the ACC have secured long term futures for themselves, one way or another.  The Big XII hasn’t.

Most of the solutions being floated won’t work.  Other conferences found stability in expansion to lucrative markets with high profile schools.  That option won’t work for the Big XII because there are no schools that fit that need.  Other conferences have raked in revenue with the creation of their own TV networks.  That won’t work for the Big XII either.  As of the LHN isn’t a big enough problem by itself (and it is) the economics of conference networks are changing.  Cord cutting and declining cable subscriptions are making that path less certain.

All is not lost though.  For one, there is no immediate threat to the conference.  They should be fine for a few years, but if they want to provide long term prosperity for their members, they will have to do something different.  The old playbook a won’t work.  Bill Connelly has an idea that would be fantastic to watch: a super conference with promotion and relegation.

Under his plan, the conference would add every team that has been suggested for expansion to get the conference to 24 teams.  They’d then divide between two divisions and have the better teams move up and the worse ones move down.  This would be fantastic to watch.  Essentially every year in every sport you would have the strongest 12 teams from a pool of 24. That would be a very strong conference.  They could arguably be the strongest in any given sport in any given year.

It’s a fascinating idea, but it’s probably not one that will gain much traction.  If the Big XII doesn’t adopt it, they should look for something like it: a different path to give themselves a competitive advantage.  With that advantage they could secure their long term prosperity.

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NCAA’s Proxy War

NCAA_primarycYou can go mad trying to make sense of the NCAA.  If you look for logic in what they do and how they treat students, you’ll rarely find any.  Research infractions and you’ll see a history of punishments that looks more random than throwing darts at a map.  Perhaps the reason none of their actions make sense is because there is one thing we’re not thinking about.  Perhaps there is one string that ties it all together.  I call it the academics theory.

Look at the issue of paying players.  The NCAA has consistently taken the stance that players should not be paid.  They resisted cost of attendance for years.  Then they opposed the O’cannon case for use of likeness.  They certainly won’t be allowing any sort of endorsements anytime soon.  Their rationale: these are amateur student-athletes, and if they get any money it will ruin that.

Most fans are fine with college players being student athletes.  They are fine with the players being enrolled and having to have a minimum GPA.  They are fine with requirements on the progress toward a degree.  An increasing number no longer care if they players receive some money, in some restricted ways.  An increasing number think a student can also get paid.

Why the disconnect between the NCAA governing body and the fans?  Why won’t the NCAA adopt a model where the important part of the being a student-athlete is being a student?  Why do they focus on amateurism instead?  It’s because they can’t control what being a student is.  Knowing that, they instead wage a proxy war to try to make sure everyone is an amateur instead of making sure everyone is a student.

The NCAA can stop all overt attempts to compensate players and most covert attempts to significantly compensate players.  It’s what their punishment system is designed to investigate and find.  Why did SMU get the death penalty? Paying players.  Why was Southern Cal hit hard? Compensation to players.  What’s the deal with the latest Laremy Tunsil allegations?  Paying players.  That’s where the NCAA stands.  They oppose money going to the players.

It’s so ingrained in the way we view college sports that it is only recently that people have openly stated that a student-athlete can also receive some money.  Other students get money for their activities, and they are still students.  It’s not the poverty of the student athlete that makes them a college representative, it’s the student part.  Are they actually getting an education?  Are they going to class and passing on their own?  That’s the proper question, but the NCAA isn’t good at that.

The NCAA isn’t good at making sure academic institutions are actually educating their athletes.  To be certain, it’s a hard job.  It’s incredibly difficult to find out what a player has learned and to find out how many of his classes are legitimate.  It’s probably so hard, the NCAA doesn’t really even try.  They rely on the academic integrity of the institutions themselves to do the bulk of the enforcing.

Look at the North Carolina situation.  How are decades of no show classes and systematic, institutionalized academic fraud not the kind of thing the NCAA cares about most?  How is it that this isn’t as important as a player receiving rent money or pocket cash?  It doesn’t make sense, unless the NCAA is completely unable to police the academics.

The NCAA, an organization whose main purpose is to administer competitions for student athletes, cannot police the student part.  Everything they do makes more sense if you begin with the premise that they cannot do what they are supposed to.  Why does the NCAA care more about money?  Because they can’t enforce the important part.  Why doesn’t the NCAA come down hard on the academic fraud?  Because then they would have to take on a task they can’t possibly hope to complete.

It’s just a theory, but perhaps the NCAA is unable to do the very thing it should be doing, ensuring that student athletes are students.  They go after money as a proxy for the real enforcement they should be doing.  They punish payments hard and look the other way on academic issues.  It makes sense from that perspective.

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Laremy Tunsil got paid, sorta

Former Ole Miss tackle Laremy Tunsil had his twitter and instagram accounts hacked before or during last night’s NFL draft.  “My account was hacked” is the standard excuse for doing something stupid on social media, but Tunsil may actually be the victim of the hacking.  It defies logic to think that he would knowingly and purposefully put out pictures of himself smoking weed on draft night.  No one would think that would be a good idea, even a college kid in the midst of a lapse of judgment.

The weed wasn’t the big story.  Tunsil answered some questions from the media.  In answering those questions he confirmed the validity of some texts that also appeared on his social media.  Those texts implied he as getting paid during college by some assistants. He then confirmed.  Here is the video from A2Dradio.com:

Some quick thoughts on this.

  1.  See, everyone gets paid.  There are some people who are convinced that the entire college football system is corrupt.  They will take last night’s admission that Tunsil received cash as proof that the whole system is corrupt.  I’m not sure you can infer all of that, but I don’t think any of us are surprised.  Things like this happen and not just at your rival’s school.  They happen everywhere.  I refer you back to Steven Godfrey’s piece on how recruits get paid.  Which brings me to my second point…
  2. This is sad.  Did you see what he was getting money for?  Here’s part of the exchange:


Tunsil wants money to pay his mother’s bills.  We can parse this if we want and ask if all of that $305 was needed for the bills or if $305 is too much for a power bill.  We can question whether it was just one month or multiple months.  We can wonder how many times this happened.  We may not get the answers to those questions.  Whatever we may think of Ole Miss, the SEC, paying players, cheating and the rest.  Holding those considerations aside, here is what we just saw.

We saw a mother who couldn’t pay her power bill.  We saw a son who couldn’t pay either and was asking for money to help.  Forget everything else about major college football and what we all want to happen on Saturdays.  This is real life.  These are real people with real problems.  Adjudge it anyway you want, but remember there appears to be real issues here, much bigger than a game.

3.  The Tunsil family is in the clear now.  This story has a happy ending.  Laramy Tunsil now has enough money to pay for his family’s power bills forever if he does it right.  Things like this will, hopefully, only be part of the past.  Things are getting better for them.  On the other hand…

4. It’s been a bad week for Ole Miss.  Three first round draft picks are the makings of a good day.  This weeks should have been a celebration for the Rebels, instead its been bad and worse news.  First satellite camps were ok’ed by the NCAA meaning more competition for recruits.  Then the Tunsil news came out, and while we can look compassionately on the individuals involved, there is no doubt this is clearly impermissible under NCAA rules. Ole Miss was already dealing with an NCAA investigation.  I’m guessing this won’t help.

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More please

Florida_Gators_logo.svgMiami and Florida have agreed to play in the Citrus Bowl to open the 2019 season.  This is good news for those of us who want to see good football every weekend.  I’ve reached the point where I’m not interested in paying to see paycheck teams come to town, and I don’t think I’m alone.

For years the economics of major college football has dictated that the more home games the better.  Sometimes scheduling has been couched in competitive terms.  You know that argument, “we play such a hard SEC/Big Ten/ACC schedule that we simply cannot take on major conference opponents every week.”  Whatever the merits, or lack thereof in that argument, money will always trump all other concerns.  If there was more money to be made from playing a power five school every week, teams would do it.  Since they don’t think there is, they don’t.

But this economic calculus may not be a simple as some administrators think.  It seems like a logical contention, more home games equals more revenue.  However fans aren’t coming to games as much as they used to.  Many point to the rise of HD tv and desire to stay home as driving factors, but schedule matters too.  Even good teams having good seasons can see some of their games be so poorly attended it looks like no one announced the kickoff time.  Games against inferior opponents are a poor product.  Of course the fans will demand less of a poor product.

Good for Miami and Florida for giving their fans another reason to come to the stadium on Saturday and for giving the rest of us a reason to tune in.  More of this from everyone, please.

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Stand Up Defensive Fronts

Writing about Charlie Strong, Kevin Flaherty discusses the Psycho front Strong used at Louisville.  The Psycho front is Strong’s name for the package he uses where the defensive linemen stand up and walk around, jumping from place to place before the snap without taking a stance.  Louisville used it well against Miami in the 2013 Russell Athletic Bowl.

Flaherty’s thesis is essentially, look at this success at Louisville; it might be something for Strong to try at Texas.  He explains the front and how it worked using the Miami game as an example.  It’s an interesting article.

Pyscho Front; Screen Grab ESPN/YouTube

Pyscho Front; Screen Grab ESPN/YouTube








To piggy back on what he is talking about, the point of these stand up fronts is to sow confusion among the offensive line.  Then, the more sophisticated schemes combine the stand up front with a traditional pass rush technique.  Sometimes that means at the snap the pass rush overloads one side of the offense with more rushers than blockers.  Other times it may mean having a fast player come around the edge.

This front doesn’t always work, and sometimes it can be downright problematic.  Flaherty notes:

Why? For a couple reasons. The first, as mentioned above, is the spread. Not every team in the Big 12 runs the spread (it only seems that way), and not every league team’s spread is created equal. But even with a safe pressure of sending four players, it can become difficult at times for a player showing blitz to rally back to his assignment.

The second, and potentially bigger reason? Some Big 12 teams like to go for it on fourth down.

I’d add another reason.  Defensive lineman get in stances for a reason.  The reason is that at contact, the low man almost always wins.  If you don’t start low, you have to get low.  Stand up fronts sacrifice this advantage in hopes of creating a different advantage, but that other ‘advantage’ disappears if the offensive line is coherent and undistracted.

Most of these fronts are going to be run against pass protections on passing downs.  Pass protections are based on rules, and if the players are following their rules rather than watching the shiny object across from them, they’ll usually be in the correct position.  If the particular pass protection scheme doesn’t work, then they can change it.  A pass protection that works well against the defense is slide protection, which is sorta like zone blocking for passes.

The keys to success are not running the front too often.  If you’re predictable the pass protection will usually beat you.  It must be run in such a way that once the ball snaps, you’re not reliant solely on confusion.  There must also be a coherent strategy to employ.

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