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Saban “The Hillbilly” Still Pushing For A 9-Game SEC Schedule

gfx - they said itAlabama’s Nick Saban was a lonely fella when the SEC’s football coaches voted to stick with an eight-game league schedule.  Thirteen coaches voted to stay at eight.  Saban voted to go to nine.

Now, that vote meant absolutely nothing, as we pointed out yesterday.  It’ll be up to the presidents and chancellors to eventually add another game to the SEC slate each year and — as we’ve said since 2011 — they will do so within the next five years.  There’s too much money on the table and there are too many concerns about strength of schedule in the new College Football Playoff world.

But that isn’t stopping Saban from speaking his mind when asked for his views on the subject:

 

“It is a league, so how can it be a league if you don’t play teams in your league?  So if you have a bigger league, you have to play more games.  Look, I understand I’m the only vote.  I’m the hillbilly from West Virginia, so I’m not very smart and everybody recognizes that.  So I’m the only one who thinks like I think.

Strength of schedule is going to be one of the most important factors when we get into a four-team playoff.  If we’re going to get more than one team from the SEC in that, we’re going to have to play more than eight teams.  So we’re going to have to play nine — some of us already do (meaning BCS-level teams) — and even 10 what I’m going to say are BCS-quality opponents.  It’s hard to schedule these people and it’s difficult to do home-and-homes to make it work, so why not play nine conference games and make it work and then play one other game?”

 

One word: Ditto.

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Big Ten’s Delany On Realignment: “Schools On The Perimeter Haven’t Held Together”

us-mapWith the Big Ten holding meetings in Chicago this week, microphones and cameras have been thrust into the face of commissioner Jim Delany.  Matt Hayes of The Sporting News relates Delany’s reaction to the question of why it’s been important for the Big Ten to add schools located in contiguous states:

 

“You look at those on the outside (of conferences), and things don’t always hold together.  Schools on the perimeter haven’t held together.  Arkansas was on the perimeter in the Southwest Conference and eventually left for the SEC.  Nebraska was on the perimeter in the Big XII (away from multiple schools in Texas), Maryland was on the perimeter in the ACC (away from multiple schools in North Carolina).  It’s not a coincidence that these things happened.  But again, I don’t think anyone could have predicted what has happened.”

 

To quote Alice Cooper, these words he speaks are true.  Schools farther from the hub of a league — Nebraska, Missouri and Colorado were not adjacent to the six Big XII schools in Texas and Oklahoma, Maryland was not adjacent to the six ACC schools in the Carolinas and Georgia — are more likely to be lured away by other conferences.

Obviously, other factors are involved other than geography.  In Maryland’s case, the issue was money.  In Nebraska and Texas A&M’s case, weariness of Texas’ domination of league politics played a role.  League strength and wealth also matters as no schools in the Big Ten or SEC — periphery or not — have toyed with leaving their current homes.

At MrSEC.com, we are not believers in fly-over conferences.  If schools on conference borders are more likely to switch leagues, what does that tell you about schools located in states that share no borders with conference mates?  It brought down the expanded Big East and it will likely bring down the reconstituted American Athletic Conference as well (though smaller leagues have an easier time pulling it off because most big leagues aren’t after small schools).  But when it comes to West Virginia’s place in the Big XII?  Unless the Big XII expands, that marriage likely won’t last beyond the current grant of rights agreement.  This is also another reason we believe the Florida State administration was ultimately wise to gauge the SEC’s interest and then sign on to stay put.  Had FSU (or Clemson or Virginia Tech) jumped to the Big XII they’d be just as much of an outside as West Virginia.

As for the SEC schools on the periphery, you can stop worrying.  The SEC makes too much money, has too much strength, and its schools work together too well for Texas A&M, Arkansas, Missouri, Kentucky, or South Carolina to look elsewhere.

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UConn A.D. On Realignment: History Says There Will Be More Shifts Eventually

sad-guy-finalIf there were three successful athletic programs that came out of the most recent expansion/realignment quakes worse for the wear, they were all old Big East squads.  Cincinnati has traditionally been good in basketball and the Bearcats have recently played in a BCS bowl.  Connecticut has traditionally been great in basketball and the Huskies have recently played in a BCS bowl.  West Virginia has traditionally been good in basketball and the Mountaineers have recently played in a BCS bowl.

But none of that helped those schools on the realignment front.  Passed over by the ACC and SEC, West Virginia at least found money in the Big XII, if not nearby rivals or combatants with similar cultures.  Cincinnati and Connecticut were simply passed over, period.

Now having to smile and say nice things about the American Athletic Conference (the rebranded Big East), UConn athletic director Warde Manuel isn’t closing the door on future moves:

 

“Since the NCAA has been around, since formation of the NCAA, if you look at the history, there’s been realignment of conferences for different reasons.  I don’t proclaim to know if it will ever be done again.  History will tell me at some point there’s going to be shifts.”

 

Manuel is correct.  Eventually there will be more moves.  College athletic conferences have been in a state of evolution for decades (though the past five years have seemed like a jump straight from the primordial ooze to upright man).  The problem for UConn and Cincinnati, however, is that it doesn’t look like anyone’s going to be making more moves anytime soon.

While it’s possible the Big Ten might look at UConn — that league picked Rutgers and Maryland over the Huskies in November — it’s doubtful Ohio State would want Cincinnati climbing aboard.  It’s also possible that the ACC could decide to expand, but with 15 members in all sports but football, why add anyone else?  (Unless, of course, ESPN says it would help sales of a new ACC Network.)

Perhaps the best hope for the UCs would be a decision by the Big XII to expand.  But that league’s leaders have said the television networks have told them they really wouldn’t benefit by adding teams like Connecticut and Cincinnati.

Bearcat fans have already begun to pepper this website (East Carolina-style) with emails saying, “Hey, what about a UC/SEC marriage?”  Such a move would push the SEC Network into Ohio, perhaps, but Cincinnati just doesn’t fit the traditional mold of an SEC school — flagship school, the only game in town athletically, big football stadium, etc.  Most importantly, it’s doubtful the addition of Cincinnati would pay for itself.

There will be more realignment at some point — perhaps when a new super-division or rich schools is created, perhaps in five or 10 years when another spate of TV deals come up for renegotiation.  But by that time, will UConn and Cincinnati have fallen so far behind cash-wise as to be even less attractive to potential suitors?

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ACC Schools Were Wise To Stick Together And Not Jump To Big XII

MASH signNothing against the Big XII, but those ACC schools long-rumored to be considering a jump to the league made the right decision in staying put instead.  Oh, there might’ve been more potential for riches climbing on board Bob Bowlsby’s ship, but the likelihood of an eventual “abandon ship” call was far greater.

Last week, Big XII leaders took up the issue of West Virginia’s travel complaints regarding its new home.  On the positive side, the Big XII pledged to help WVU in any way possible.  That includes nixing a rule that prevented the Mountaineers from staying on the road last year when faced with back-to-back long road trips.  The obvious problem — WVU has nothing but long travel trips in its new Midwestern home.  The school’s nearest Big XII rival is nearly 900 miles away.

The road trips were long in football, but basketball is where West Virginia really felt the pinch.  On the men’s side, Bob Huggins’ squad several times had to play a Saturday game on the road, fly back to campus on Sunday, practice and go to class on Monday, and then fly back out on Tuesday for a Wednesday game.  Now the league’s athletic directors appear open to allowing WVU to fly from one road game directly to another.  Or to having the Mountaineers play their road games on Saturday-Monday or Saturday-Tuesday turnarounds.  That’s all well and good, but what of all the talk of “student-athletes” not missing class time?

Look across the remaining big five conferences — Big XII, Big Ten, ACC, Pac-12, SEC — and you’ll find that West Virginia is basically the only true fly-over member of a conference.  Leagues that have tried to create large collections of schools from all across the nation have been felled by the distances between the schools, not aided by the total number of television markets covered.  Ask folks in the old Big East.

The ACC has had Boston College as a distant relative since 2005, but that league has just added Pittsburgh and Syracuse to its roster of teams.  Even stretched from Massachusetts to Florida with a Western protrusion into Kentucky (with soon to join Louisville), the league’s states are still side by side by side by side.  With Maryland’s departure to the Big Ten, the only gap in the line is the short distance between Virginia and Pennsylvania.

Moving forward, every ACC school will have a rival or two within its area.  That goes for all the major conferences.  Except for Big XII and its new bride, West Virginia.  And as much as the Mountaineers were hoping/praying for Florida State or Clemson to join them, those schools would have just been closer distant relatives.  The folks at FSU and Clemson would also now be asking for travel breaks when it comes to visiting places like Kansas State and Texas Tech.

West Virginia was in a dying Big East and was passed over by the ACC and the SEC.  The school didn’t want to get caught without a chair when the music stopped so it jumped.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  But eventually the distance between Morgantown and its neighbors will become an issue that cannot be overcome.

Successful conferences, no matter how large they become, still provide schools with a few driving-distance rivals.  The Big XII flying over states to reach so far east?  That doesn’t fit the profile.  There’s a reason the SEC never seriously considered adding schools that weren’t connected to the existing SEC footprint.  And that reason is why the ACC schools that eyeballed the Big XII were wise to stay put.

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The Big XII, WVU Marriage Already Providing Some Expansion Lessons

wedding-cakeWhat we already know:  The college sports landscape has been shifting and quaking for three years and there’s little reason to believe things will solidify in the future.

What we already know:  Schools and conferences are marrying for the money.  Cash rules the day and travel and rivalries mean little.

What we already know:  Athletics are taking a back seat to cable households.  Wins and losses have been trumped by television reach.

What we don’t know:  How the many moves made in recent months will play out over the next five, 10 or 20 years.

While final results are far from in, the recent marriage of West Virginia to the Big XII can already be viewed as a canary in the coal mine, appropriately enough.  It’s a case study for the potential buyer’s remorse that may set in for several leagues and several schools in the future.

 

In the fall of 2011, West Virginia University let the ACC and the SEC know of its interest in league-hopping.  The Big East was collapsing — think of just how much that conference has changed in 18 months — and the Mountaineers didn’t want to get caught without a chair when the music stopped.

The ACC had already added Pittsburgh and Syracuse from the Big East.  That league passed on the Mountaineers.

The SEC had already invited Texas A&M and was already playing footsie with Missouri.  WVU tried flirt its way into the mix, but its advances were met with a “thanks, but no thanks.”

At that point, West Virginia began chatting with the Big XII, a league that was then down to nine schools.  TCU had already been picked to replace the departing Aggies.  The Mountaineers appeared to be the top choice to replace the Tigers.

But just when it looked like the Mountaineers were a lock for the Big XII, Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell and University of Oklahoma president David Boren tried to sneak Louisville through the door ahead of West Virginia.  They were unsuccessful in their efforts.  Ultimately, WVU joined the Big XII and Louisville wound up cutting a deal to replace Maryland in the ACC when the Terrapins leave for the Big Ten.

Follow all that?

Well just one season into the WVU/Big XII partnership, some are already saying the league missed the boat by not going ahead and adding the Cardinals, too.  Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman wrote the following over the weekend:

 

“Louisville was a no-risk addition. Adding Louisville didn’t mean the Big 12 had to commit to a 12-school format, but it would have positioned the conference to more easily expand, if that became the goal. Maybe best of all, Louisville would have been a morale boost to a beleaguered conference.

Yes, each Big 12 school would have taken a slightly lower television payout. Whatever value the ‘Ville added would have been a little low to offset the extra mouth to feed. But think of the pragmatic benefits Louisville would have provided.

Especially this time of year. Another heavyweight in March Madness. Kansas’ shoulders are getting tired, carrying the rest of the conference the way the Jayhawks have in recent years.”

 

Make no mistake, Louisville has become a big-time all-around program.  Its football and men’s basketball coaches are among the highest-paid in the nation.  Its athletic revenue ranks in the nation’s top 20.  In fact, the case can be made that Louisville might have been a better overall fit than West Virginia if the Big XII had truly capped its membership at 10.  It’s not a long walk to get from “should have invited them too” to “should have invited them instead.”

Certainly, Louisville would have been closer to the existing Big XII footprint than West Virginia.  And travel is an issue that WVU officials were already bringing up less than a year after joining the league.  According to The Times West Virginian in late-February:

 

“’We have asked that when reasonable they give us a two-game stay over on the road,’” (WVU athletic director Oliver) Luck revealed.

Twice this past season WVU was scheduled to go out on the road, play a Saturday game, fly home on Sunday, practice Monday and fly out again on Tuesday for a Wednesday game.

League rules do not allow them to stay on the road during that time, so they use up most of two days traveling.

Rather than doing that, they would prefer to play a Saturday-Big Monday on the road with a Sunday stay over, which would cut back on taking the long trip to and from Morgantown.”

 

West Virginia officials knew that travel would be a concern in their new home.  But faced with the prospect of finding themselves homeless, Luck and company eagerly accepted the Big XII’s invitation despite the long trips to spots like Manhattan, Kansas and Lubbock, Texas.  How could they not?

But how long will it take for West Virginia to tire of the travel issues and look once more for a new conference home?  How many travel concessions will the Big XII make for WVU before other member schools start suggesting — for example — that any school traveling more than X miles be allowed to spend an extra night on the road?

Read the rest of this entry »

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Tennessee Tries To Lure Georgia Assistant, Hires West Virginia Coach/Former Florida Player

Robert GillespieTennessee has a new running backs coach. Head coach Butch Jones announced Friday night that West Virginia running backs coach Robert Gillespie has been hired to replace Jay Graham, who departed for Florida State.

“Coach Gillespie brings a vast knowledge of the SEC, having been part of it as both a player and a coach,” Jones said. In addition to coaching at West Virginia, Gillespie has spent time at South Carolina and Oklahoma State.  Jay Graham replaced Gillespie at South Carolina when he left for Oklahoma State.  Gillespie played his college ball at Florida, rushing for more than 1,800 yards from 1998 to 2001.

In addition to Gillespie, Tennessee also interviewed Georgia assistant Tony Ball.  Georgia A.D. Greg McGarity confirmed Friday night that Ball interviewed with Tennessee but is staying with the Bulldogs.  Footballscoop.com reported Friday night that Ball had “accepted UGA’s counter.”  Current Tennessee assistant coaches John Jancek and Willie Martinez had spent time on the Georgia staff with Ball, who has coached the Bulldogs wide receivers the past four seasons.

 

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New A&M Assistant Won’t Rein In Johnny Football

gfx - they said itNew Texas A&M co-offensive coordinator Clarence McKinney made it clear yesterday that he has no intentions of hindering Heisman-winning quarterback Johnny Manziel:

 

“We’re going to let Johnny do what he does best.  We’re not going to try and control him.  We’re going to give him the system and let him play football…

I don’t see a reason to change much.  We’re going to add some things to get better, but our philosophy offensively is to take what the defense gives us.”

 

McKinney has been with Kevin Sumlin since serving as his running backs coach at Houston.  In other words, he knows the offense and he knows how Sumlin wants it run.

Listen closely and you can hear a deafening sigh of relief emanating from College Station.

 

(CORRECTION — An earlier version of this story said that McKinney came to A&M from West Virginia after serving on Sumlin’s Houston staff.  In fact, it was Jake Spavital — the other co-offensive coordinator — who was hired from Dana Holgorsen’s staff.  Apologies.)

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Kentucky In Final Three For JoJo Kemp

Running back JoJo Kemp from DeLand (Fla.) High School has narrowed his list to three schools: Kentucky, Pittsburgh and West Virginia.

Kemp’s decision will likely come down to the style of offense he prefers, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

“Kemp said Monday he needs to decide if he wants to play in a pro-style offense, like that at Pittsburgh, or in the spread, like that of the offensive attacks at West Virginia and Kentucky. The Wildcats may even have more of a passing attack than what Kemp is looking for with new offensive coordinator Neal Brown at the helm under former FSU defensive coordinator Mark Stoops, now the head coach.”

Kemp, who previously committed to South Florida, had also considered Tennessee, where his cousin, Marlin Lane, plays running back.

UPDATE: It appears two more teams should be included in Kemp’s list of finalists. He tweeted a message Tuesday afternoon that included hashtags for Tennessee and South Florida.

Kemp told Volquest.com earlier this week that he plans to visit Tennessee on Jan. 18. It looks like that visit is still on.

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Q&A With Hoops Prospect Deas

Our Joseph Thompson recently caught up with New York point guard prospect Alvin Deas as part of his ongoing series of Q&As with future SEC hoopsters. Deas has heard from a pair of league schools already.

 

Joseph Thompson: Who is interested in you?

Alvin Deas: Ohio State, Auburn, Rutgers, Iona, Pittsburgh, West Virginia, Nebraska, Memphis, Penn State, UNLV and LSU.

JT: Do you have any offers?

AD: I have three offers from Boston College, Utah and Marist University.

JT: What teams did you grow up watching?

AD: I grew up watching UCLA.

JT: Who would you compare your game to?

AD: I will compare my game to like Bradley Beal that got drafted to
the Washington Wizards.

JT: What are you looking for  in a NCAA program?

AD: I’m looking for in a NCAA problem where they will make me better on and off the court and a place where I can fit in quick an play.

JT: Do you have a dream school?

AD: My dream school is Kansas.

JT: Do you have any visits planned?

AD: I’m working on visiting West Virginia and Temple right now.

JT: Do you think New York basketball should be mentioned along with Florida and Texas basketball?

AD: Yes I think it should cause we have an lot of tough players I just think a lot of people forgot about New York.

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5 SEC Schools In The Top 20… Of Party Schools

Maybe the SEC should have extended an invitation to West Virginia after all.  According to The Princeton Review, WVU is the #1 best party school in the United States.  Alas, the SEC’s loss is the Big XII’s gain — if you choose to look at it that way.

Still the Southeastern Conference accounted for a fourth of the 20 schools on the list:

 

5.  Georgia

6.  Florida

14.  Ole Miss

17.  South Carolina

20.  Tennessee

 

In case you’re wondering, stodgy ol’ Jim Delany’s high-brow Big Ten had four schools make this year’s list (Iowa, Illinois, Penn State and Wisconsin).  No doubt the folks up north are scowling in response.

The Princeton Review surveyed people from 377 different American campuses.  The journal says: “Schools on the ‘Party Schools’ list are those at which surveyed students’ answers indicated a combination of: low personal daily study hours (outside of class), high usages of alcohol and drugs on campus and high popularity on campus for frats/sororities.”

Naturally, West Virginia tried to put a little PR spin on the fact that their school had been tabbed as this year’s version of Faber College: “The schools on this list are mostly large, public universities with strong academic and research profiles, as well as highly successful athletic programs.  But in the big picture, clearly this list has no real credibility.”

Well, if WVU fans respond to The Princeton Review in the same manner in which they responded to any mention on this site of the school’s perceived so-so academic reputation last year, the people at The Princeton Review are being inundated today with emails detailing Rhodes scholars and famous Mountaineers of the past.

Bottoms up.

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