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It’s Time For The SEC To Hire A Hoops Czar

Basketball-CrownThe Southeastern Conference has suffered a serious decline in its men’s basketball reputation over the past decade.  Despite producing three recent tourney champs (Florida twice, Kentucky once), the league is perceived to be a lightweight.  And the computers used to rank teams aren’t helping.  This past year the league ranked #8 in overall conference RPI for much of the season.  A weak reputation amplified by several poor non-conference slates left the SEC as a three-bid conference when the NCAA Tournament bracket was unveiled in March.

A couple of months later, Mike Slive brought former NCAA Tournament executive Greg Shaheen to the SEC meetings in Destin to try and explain to the league’s coaches just how the selection committee’s strength of schedule tool works.  In short, it’s not just your opponents, it’s also your opponents’ opponents who count.

At the time, South Carolina’s Frank Martin had this to say:

 

“Our non-conference strength of schedule last year was (ranked) 336.  That’s unacceptable.  That impacts every team in our league in a negative way.  For example, Tennessee, Alabama and Kentucky got left out of the NCAA Tournament.  They had decent RPIs.  If my non-conference strength of schedule would have been 230 instead of 330, then their RPIs are in the 40s and now I think maybe two of the three of them get in.”

 

We praised Martin for his honesty.  We also applauded the league’s Destin decision to require coaches and ADs to run their schools’ upcoming non-conference schedules through the SEC office for approval.

That decision didn’t sit so well with Martin or Vanderbilt’s Kevin Stallings, however.

“I’m not a kindergartner anymore,” Martin said this week.  “I think I can take care of my responsibilities.”  That’s quite a change from his comments of a month ago, no?

Stallings said he’s “not a huge fan” of the league taking a role in scheduling, either.  He also said the creation of a non-conference schedule is “a little more difficult than people who don’t do it think it is.”

If that’s the case, then Stallings should welcome some help.  And the SEC should give him that help in the person of someone with a hoops background, someone who has cut schedules.

It’s time for the Southeastern Conference to call in a specialist on the basketball front.  Former Mississippi State AD Larry Templeton has become the league’s de facto in-conference scheduling guru and we believe it’s time the league paid someone to take over as its basketball head.

What would such a job entail?  Well, obviously, non-conference scheduling.  A former basketball coach or AD would have an idea of what current coaches are up against on the scheduling front.  That might make the league’s advice on scheduling a bit easier for today’s coaches to swallow.  While Slive and his associate commissioners could focus on big-picture issues — the new SEC Network, bowl affiliations, the College Football Playoff, television contracts, etc — a new hoops czar could act as the actual judge on SEC squads’ non-conference plans.

The new head of hoops could also handle any complaints regarding officiating.  The league made a change at the top of its officiating chain of command this offseason and neither the league nor Gerald Boudreaux has explained why he departed.  One must assume that — barring some type of shady dealings — the league’s officials came under a bit more fire this year than usual.  Road wins were tougher to come by inside the SEC and sources tell MrSEC.com there was a feeling amongst coaches that the league’s refs paid a bit too much attention to the hometown crowds.  If true, consider that another reason why the league faired so poorly on Selection Sunday.  It’s best teams weren’t able to collect many road victories.  A new basketball czar who’s stood on the sidelines and barked at officials could serve as a knowledgeable, been-there-done-that type of buffer between the coaches and the new head of basketball officials, Jake Bell.

Finally, a new hoops guru would need to promote the conference’s basketball brand.  Be that in the media or via his cell phone and Rolodex, an SEC basketball czar could work year-round to improve the national perception of the conference’s on-court product.  That would require not only a person who’s been in the coaching world, but someone who has numerous connections and is respected by his peers.

So who fits that description?

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UGA’s Richt Talks 16th Team, 9th Game

gfx - they said itMark Richt was asked at the Touchdown Club of Athens about the possibility of the SEC expanding its in-league slate to nine games.  In answering, he brought up expansion of another kind:

 

“I wouldn’t be shocked to see the teams go to 16 one day.  I’m not hearing any rumors.  Don’t start any kind of, ‘Coach Richt said this,’ but I wouldn’t be shocked to one day see us go to 16.  If we go to 16, I can’t imagine us not going to less than nine games.  I think we would have to go to nine…

These other schools (who have their biggest rivals inside the SEC) have nine but they’re not going to have that 10th game that is a team that is BCS-quality or ACC-quality or whatever you want to say.  I wouldn’t be shocked to see that happen.  I voted against it because if we have nine, plus (Georgia) Tech and then if we want to do something like Clemson like we did this year, you’re talking about 11 out of 12 games that are pretty stout.”

 

Georgia ends every season against Georgia Tech, just as South Carolina plays Clemson and Florida plays Florida State.  Kentucky also has an annual out-of-conference rivalry with Louisville.

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New Bama A.D. Battle Dishes On The Bear’s Coaching Style

bryant-battleBefore he became Alabama’s new athletic director… before he became a multi-millioniare businessman… before he became the youngest head coach in college football at Tennessee… Bill Battle was an Alabama football player for Paul “Bear” Bryant.

In an interesting profile of Battle at Al.com, Bama’s new AD opens up about the coaching style of his mentor.  The entire piece is well worth your time, but we’ll include a small portion of Dan Kausler’s article below.  It’s a short, fascinating glimpse into the coaching methods of an SEC legend.

According to Battle, Bryant was far more than a one-trick pony.  The ex-player suggests his coach knew exactly which buttons to push with his players and when to push them.  Any good manager knows that you can’t motivate everyone in the exact same way every single day.  And when it came to getting the most out of his workers, there weren’t many managers better than Bryant:

 

“‘Probably my favorite story is from my sophomore year,’ Battle said. ‘We were playing Mississippi State in Starkville, and we were winning 7-0 at halftime, but we weren’t playing very well. We were ahead. We weren’t too worried. We went in and sat down and they gave us Cokes and stuff.

‘Pat Trammell, who was probably his favorite player of all time, was sitting up front. Coach Bryant came in, and he was as mad as I’ve ever seen him. He grabbed Trammell and shook him and fussed at us and told us how sorry we were playing. We went out in the second half, and I don’t know if we did a lot better, but we won the game.’

The story is just beginning. Two weeks later, Alabama visited Georgia Tech.

‘They had a really good team,’ Battle said. ‘At the end of the half, we were down 15-0. In the old Georgia Tech visitors’ dressing room, it had risers and chairs going back, and the blackboard was down here. Well, everybody was scrambling to get in the back of the room so they wouldn’t be too close to that front seat.

‘We sat there and sat there and sat there, and he didn’t come in. Everybody was wondering, ‘Well, did he go home? What’s the deal?’ He came in, and like he did a lot of times when he was thinking, he was whistling and jingling the change in his pockets. …’

The players were ready for a tantrum.

‘He said, ‘They’re not as good as I thought they were,” Battle recalled. ‘We’ve got ‘em right where we want ‘em. We’re going to embarrass them right in front of their crowd. All we need to do is change two or three little things, and we’re going to be good.’

‘Well, that was not exactly what we were expecting. So sure enough, we went out and started playing better, and we score, and we get within where a field goal wins, and we get down and Richard O’Dell kicks a field goal as time expires, and we win 16-15. If he had come in and fussed at us, we’d have probably gotten beat 40-0.’

It was Bryant at his best.

‘He was smart enough to know how to lift you up,’ Battle said. ‘He was good at putting you down. He got people grounded. He was real good at that. But he could pick you up, too.’

 

In light of the Mike Rice scandal at Rutgers, one wonders if any coach could grab and shake a player in this day and age without someone getting tape of the act to ESPN.  But clearly, Bryant was a master of motivation in his own day and age.

Kudos to Battle and Kausler for sharing a couple more anecdotes about a man still worshipped in the Yellowhammer State… and still respected everywhere else.

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Don’t Like The Idea Of 20-Team Conferences? Don’t Worry, They Won’t Last Long

hello i am history cartoonWhen Ohio State president Gordon Gee admitted last month that there seems to be “movement towards three or four super-conferences that are made up of 16-20 teams,” he was stating what many already suspected.  While some may envision a sporting landscape that includes four conferences of 16 schools each, there’s absolutely no reason to believe leagues will stop growing when they hit that imaginary ceiling.  If a conference believes there’s more money to be made with 17, 18, 19, 20 or more schools, you can be sure that conference will expand accordingly.

Over the past three years, we’ve seen as much movement, as much shuffling as the college sports world has ever known.  A chart of this evolution would show a slow rise from ape to man from the early 1900s to the 2000s… and then a huge leap forward to a man with both gills and wings in the 2010s.  For the geeks out there, consider these the X-conferences.  And the mutants are taking over.

Here’s a look at what’s transpired since 2010:

 

* The ACC has lined up Pittsburgh, Syracuse and Louisville, but it’s lost Maryland.

* The Big Ten has added Nebraska and it’s scheduled to add Maryland and Rutgers.

* The Big XII has added TCU and West Virginia, but it’s lost Colorado, Nebraska, Texas A&M and Missouri.

* The Pac-12 has added Colorado and Utah.

* The SEC has added Texas A&M and Missouri

* The Big East, well, that list is too long to mention.  Ditto those poor, poor leagues smaller than the Big East.

 

With the exception of the Big XII and the revolving door that is the Big East, the biggest conferences have been getting even bigger.  Money is the obvious motivation.  Conferences are adding schools so they can make more television dollars off an increased amount of content (games).  Schools are switching conferences in order to find a better pay day.

But if history is a guide, don’t expect any super-conferences currently on the horizon to stick together for too long.  Contracts, grant-of-rights agreements, and exit fees be damned… those leagues expanding to 18, 20, or more schools will eventually splinter right back apart.

Here’s why:

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Big Ten Commissioner Talks Conference Expansion

gfx - they said itBig Ten commissioner Jim Delany started the expansion/realignment wheel spinning again with his league’s surprising grab of Maryland and Rutgers last November.  (The wheel never stopped spinning for smaller leagues, but all was once again quiet among the five power conferences when Delany struck.)  Now it’s rumored that the Big Ten wants to go from 14 to 16 schools.  Multiple sources from in and around the college athletics industry have told MrSEC.com that Big Ten representatives have spoken with representatives from Virginia and Georgia Tech.  No one has admitted that publicly, of course, but no one from Maryland or Rutgers acknowledged they were contemplating a move, either.

After adding the Scarlet Knights and Terrapins, Delany said his league was “inactive but alert” regarding future moves.  Last week he tried to explain just what “inactive but alert” really means:

 

“Someone said monitoring the landscape was a passive process, it wasn’t descriptive.  The fact of it is we were ‘inactive’ and ‘not alert’ for 22 years as we had 11 members then we announced we were going to (expand) and that was a circus for months and months and upset a lot of people.

We thought there was more risk in the status quo than in change, so we acted (adding Maryland and Rutgers).

The question is: Where are you?  We’re ‘inactive,’ but is ‘alert’ different than ‘monitoring the landscape?’ I don’t know, I can’t make a qualitative difference. We study it and keep our eyes and ears attuned to what’s happening in the real world. We’re focusing on other things (than expansion) right now — focusing on integrating Rutgers and Maryland into the league.”

 

Not sure about you, but to this writer it sounds like Delany’s got a plan and knows that eventually he’ll be putting that plan into place.  Whether that means Virginia, Georgia Tech, North Carolina, Duke or more enter the Big Ten is anyone’s guess.  But the league’s commissioner certainly isn’t closing the door on further expansion.

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With Seven Schools Exiting The Big East, Get Ready For The Big Bang

Earlier this week we told you that the revenue split coming from the new college football playoff would act as an accelerant for the drive to a new “super-division” of FBS-level heavyweights within the NCAA.  We also told you that we’d learned from a source inside the athletic supplier industry that at least one Pac-12 athletic director had already told all his coaches that the day of 16-school super-conferences is at hand.

Now toss in the word that seven non-FBS schools will be pulling out of the Big East — a conference that’s been plugging leaks for two straight years — and the chain reaction is clearly underway.  Whether NCAA presidents or conference commissioners want it or not, the countdown has begun and the race is on when it comes to landing new schools.  This is the Big Bang, folks.  With DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, St. John’s, Seton Hall, and Villanova planning their exit from the Big East, that league’s football roster is scheduled to look like this by 2015: Boise State, Cincinnati, Connecticut, East Carolina, Houston, Memphis, Navy, San Diego State, SMU, South Florida, Temple, Tulane, UCF.

Uh, yeah.

So the Big East — or whatever it will be called — will likely continue to lose schools before they even actually join.  That league will move forward as a new version of Conference USA at best.

It will be interesting to watch the ACC’s next move.  Will that league try to strengthen itself by adding Cincinnati or UConn, two schools that desperately want in?  Will Boston College finally drop its fight to keep UConn out if it feels it’s a matter of survival for the ACC?  And even if the ACC added those two schools, would it be enough to fend off raiding parties from elsewhere?  We’re looking at you, Big Ten (since you started this latest round of realignment by nabbing Maryland and Rutgers from the ACC and Big East, respectively).  We’re looking at you, Big XII.  And, yes, we’re looking at you, SEC.

While many believe we’ll end up with a nice, neat football universe consisting of four 16-school super-conferences — heck, that’s been talked about since the 1980s — there’s no guarantee that all leagues will balloon to 16 or that all conferences will stop growing at the point.

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WOW Headlines – 12/4/12

Arkansas hires Wisconsin coach Brent Bielema its new football coach
Auburn hires Gus Malzahn as its new head coach
Tennessee expeced to name its new head coach soon
Wednesday night SEC basketball scores
Missouri 81 – Southeast Missouri State 65
Mississippi State 53 – UT San Antonio 42
Arkansas 81 – Oklahoma 78
Georgia Tech 62 – Georgia 54
Kentucky 88 – Samford 56
Follow SEC News at MrSEC.com and on Twitter at Twitter.com/mrsec

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SEC Game RoundUp: Tide And Dawgs Set Up Semifinal Game, ACC Taken To The Woodshed

Here’s 2012′s final weekly breakdown of all the SEC action from the past weekend.  As is the norm, we provide one key stat as well our own MrSEC.com takeaway from each contest.

And as usual it’s done in no-huddle, up-tempo fashion.

Enjoy…

 

LSU 20, Arkansas 13 in Fayetteville – Video Highlights

Key Stat:  2 turnovers.  Arkansas rolled up 462 yards of offense on LSU’s once stout defense.  QB Tyler Wilson and WR Cobi Hamilton set career records as they helped the Hogs pass for 359 yards.  And Arkansas even outgained Les Miles’ club on the ground, 103 yards to 89.  But UA turned the ball over on its first two possessions of the game — a fumble at LSU’s two-yard line and an interception at its own 34 that led to a Tiger field goal.  Twelve Arkansas penalties for 111 yards didn’t help, but the Hogs gave away 10 points in the first quarter of a game they lost by seven.

Quick Takes:

*  LSU’s ground game is grinding to a halt.  In the Tigers’ first eight games this season they rushed for 1,667 yards (208 per contest) and averaged 4.9 yards per carry.  But in four November games, LSU has gained just 492 yards (123 yards per game) with an average per-carry rush of just 3.01 yards.  The Tigers will have a month of bowl preps to fix that two-yard-per-carry drop off.  Not good for a team that wants to run with power.

*  Fans weren’t happy with John L. Smith’s decision to kick a fourth-quarter field goal from the one-yard line.  The coach stood by his decision to eschew a fourth-down try trailing 17-10, but the Razorbacks never fully recovered.  Wilson’s final 18-yard heave toward WR Mekale McKay in the Tiger end zone fell incomplete on the game’s last play and Wilson’s career, the Smith era, and a bitterly disappointing Arkansas season all fizzled away.

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SEC Game Previews – 11/23/12

Here’s your weekly rundown of all the SEC action on tap for the final weekend of the regular season.  As always, you’ll find everything from TV listings to the betting lines to our own predictions.

Enjoy the games, be safe, and best of luck to your favorite school this weekend.

 

Georgia Tech at Georgia

12:00pm ET on ESPN

Opening Line:  UGA -14

Current Line:  UGA -14

Storylines:  Clean, old-fashioned hate.

Keys for Georgia:  Focus on the task at hand.  Georgia Tech’s got the triple-option offense and they’ve won three games in a row.  But since late September they’ve also been rolled by MTSU (49-28), Clemson (47-31), and BYU (41-17).  If Georgia’s focused on the Yellow Jackets and not next week’s SEC Championship Game with Atlanta and/or BCS title game hopes, the Dawgs should have enough offense to subdue the Insects from the Institute.  (The best “Leonard’s Losers” nickname ever.)

Pick:  Georgia 41, Georgia Tech 24

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Don’t Let Class Stop Johnny Manziel From Receiving Heisman

Evin Demirel

College football is the only major American team sport in which a first-year player hasn’t won the sport’s most prestigious award. Freshmen have been chosen as national players of the year in college basketball, baseball and hockey. Rookies have won MVP awards in the NBA, MLB, NHL and NFL.

And yet voters for college football’s Heisman Trophy have lagged behind. No freshmen has won the Heisman since freshmen started playing with upperclassmen, for good, in 1972. Since then, the three freshmen Heisman finalists – Herschel Walker, Michael Vick and Adrian Peterson – have all lost for various reasons. Some of that has been timing. As a freshman, Walker had one of his best games a day after ballots were due. The director of the club that hosted the award ceremony said Walker likely would have won the Heisman that year had his 205-yard, 3-TD performance against Georgia Tech been considered.

But the main reasons no freshman has yet won the Heisman are ignorance and bias. Unlike upperclassmen, freshmen don’t begin seasons as known commodities and that initial lack of familiarity among mostly sportswriter voters hurts their chances. As far as I know, no sports information department has launched an early-season Heisman campaign for a freshman, no matter how talented.

Pervasive technology has largely wiped away this knowledge barrier, though. A decade ago, Texas A&M likely would have waited for this upcoming offseason to launch a Heisman campaign for Manziel. Video would have been edited and DVDs would have been mailed out along with snazzy press packets extolling the fleet feet and field awareness of Johnny Football.

The Aggies may still go through the trouble of doing this, but nowadays the Heisman’s mostly sportswriter voters are more likely to pay attention to what’s coursing through their Tweetdeck feed than dropping into their mailbox.

Bias and muddled thinking persist, though.

By and large, voters expect freshmen to be even better as sophomores and juniors. Sure, this happens most of the time. But not always. Michael Vick, for instance, led the nation in passing efficiency as a freshman in 1999 while leading Virginia Tech to the national title game, but as a sophomore his numbers dipped. Wisconsin running back Ron Dayne had his best overall statistical season as a freshman in 1996, but five regular season losses squelched any Heisman talk.

That season would still help propel Dayne to an eventual Heisman as a senior, but he should have been awarded on the merit of a single season.

Some of the 928 voters may argue the Heisman Trophy – meant to recognize “the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity,” according to the Heisman Trust – should reflect sustained excellence over multiple years and not equate to an MVP award for a single fall. That a mere season’s worth of kicking ass with integrity isn’t enough to prove one’s chops. Voters want to be certain that a player isn’t “a one-year flash in the pan,” longtime Heisman voter Dave Campbell told the Dallas Morning News in 2004. “When you get right down to it, the voters are probably reluctant to vote for some freshman if you have some legitimate – and I underscore legitimate – juniors and seniors to consider.”

In 2010, Cam Newton destroyed any arguments that more than one season matters. The Auburn quarterback won the Heisman almost purely on the merit of single season’s worth of play. He was so good, it didn’t matter if he’d stolen a computer earlier in his college career, feigned ignorance that his father was pimping him out or that he was a crappy teammate.

Newton racked up 4,300 yards, and essentially secured the Heisman by squeaking out a  win against a top-ranked Alabama defense on the road.

Manziel now has that same signature, late-season win – against a defense that in the Arkansas blowout appeared to be one of the strongest in recent SEC history. Moreover, the freshman’s on track to surpass Newton’s numbers while dwarfing the stats of former frontrunner Collin Klein. Manziel has a couple hiccups on his resume – losses against Florida and LSU – but his overall impact is just as impressive as Newton’s. And, like Newton, he’s even had some fairly serious off-field issues. This past June, Manziel was jailed for getting involved in a fight and police said he produced a fake ID.

But, please, let’s not make too much of that whole “integrity” criterion. Because if we start looking too far down this rabbit hole, we may just end up toppling over. You see, the very coach after whom this award was named once insisted that a defunct football program be resurrected for a game just so he could beat the living daylight out of it to vindicate a previous loss. The result: Georgia Tech 222, Cumberland College 0.

If only on-field production is considered, then after the Alabama game Manziel deserved the Heisman. Still, he could very well lose it as other top contenders have the advantage of playing in more high-profile games before the Dec. 8 Heisman announcement. Kansas State’s Collin Klein or USC’s Marquis Lee could resurface to swipe the Heisman with boffo performances in wins against Texas or Notre Dame. That, coupled with an A&M loss to Missouri, would cost Manziel a place in history.

His class shouldn’t.

The typically Arko-centric author blogs about sports in the South at thesportsseer.com. Follow him on Twitter.

 

This column originally ran in Sync magazine.

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