April 27th

NCAA all about the numbers …

It was just another week of making perfect sense at NCAA headquarters. The same week the NCAA announced its new television contract for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, expanding the field from 65 to 68 (and not to 96, as had been widely speculated), the NCAA also announced that it had sanctioned 35 bowl games for the upcoming football season.

So, for those of you scoring at home, that would be the NCAA telling its fans that it is inappropriate for more than 27% of eligible teams to play in the NCAA tournament (96 of the 347 teams competing for a spot in March Madness), but it is just fine that 58% (70 out of 120 Division 1-A teams) will be eligible this fall to participate in bowl games.

I, for one, had no problem with the NCAA expanding the field to 96 teams. True, many teams would be quickly eliminated in lopsided losses, and it would become a major headache to fill out your brackets come tournament time, but I have more selfish reasons for wanting more teams being eligible to participate …

… maybe my teams would get to play.

Colorado has been invited to play in the NCAA tournament a grand total of ten times. The last time the Buffs suited up for March Madness was 2003; the last time CU won a tournament game was in 1997. Want more? The last time Colorado played in consecutive NCAA tournaments? Try 1962-63.

You get the picture. More teams, better the chances of the Buffs getting to participate. Pure and simple. Let’s get Tad Boyle off to a good start.

There is a similar story of woe for my adopted basketball team, the Montana State University Bobcats. While my loyalties to the Colorado football team know no equal, I have made time for spending some winter nights cheering for the Bobcats in the Brick Breeden Fieldhouse in Bozeman (my first game there was over 40 years ago). The problem for the Big Sky Conference, as is true for the other “minor” conferences, is that only the conference champion is invited to the NCAA tournament. Montana State has gone three times, most recently in 1996. If the field of participants were to be expanded to 96 teams, regular season champions, as well as other teams with exceptional resumes, could be invited even without a conference title. This would give basketball fans throughout the country more reason to attend games – and pay attention to college basketball – well into March.

True, if the field were expanded to 96 teams instead of 68, the field would be diluted, as would be the honor of participating. Recall, however, that the same argument was made by purists when, in the 1970’s, the tournament expanded to include more than just the conference champions.

Somehow, we got over it …

Football up to 35 sanctioned bowl games

“The committee is pleased to maximize the number of bowl opportunities for student-athletes at the conclusion of each regular season,” said Nick Carparelli, Jr., senior associate commissioner at the Big East Conference and chair of the Football Issues Committee. “Overall attendance and television ratings have never been higher. The bowl system and college football in general have never been healthier.”

[I’ll pause for a moment to allow you to re-read the above, and insert the same language in defense of expanding the basketball tournament to 96 teams. Go ahead, I’ll wait …]

Of interest to Big 12 fans in general, and Colorado fans in particular, are the two new bowl games which have been approved. One is the new Pinstripe Bowl, which will pit the No. 3 team from the Big East against the No. 6 team from the Big 12. That game will be played in the new Yankee Stadium on December 30th. The other game, which has yet to attract a sponsor (the Pinstripe Bowl is officially the New Era Pinstripe Bowl), is the Dallas Football Classic, which will pit the No. 7 Big 12 team against a representative from the Big Ten. The Dallas Football Classic will be played in the Cotton Bowl, on either New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day. The Cotton Bowl game itself will be moving to the new Dallas Cowboys stadium in Arlington.

There were a grand total of 71 bowl eligible teams in 2009, so the NCAA is playing with fire when it comes to having bowl games for 70 teams. (It is important to note that the Division I Legislative Council defined a “deserving team”, for purposes of bowl selection, as a team which has at least a .500 record against FBS teams (translation: a 6-6 Kansas State team, with one of its wins coming over a FCS team (Division 1-AA), would not qualify).

For the purists, you can take heart that the NCAA did deny bowl applications from the Cure Bowl in Orlando and the Christmas Bowl in Los Angeles.

You have to draw the line somewhere …

April 23rd

First round shows Big 12 talent

Colorado fans don’t need to be reminded …

The Big 12 is loaded with good players.

Five of the first six draft picks of the 2010 NFL draft, including number one overall pick Sam Bradford of Oklahoma, were from the Big 12. In all, nine players from the Big 12 were selected in the first round, though only two, defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh of Nebraska and linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, played in the North Division. The SEC was second behind the Big 12, with seven first round picks.

Oklahoma was the big winner on the first day of the draft, with four players selected, including three of the first four players overall. The run on Sooners marked the first time in the history of the common draft that one team had three players selected out of the top four picks.

[A footnote on the “common draft” language. This harkens back to the 1960’s, when the long-standing NFL agreed to merge with the upstart AFL. Before the merger – and the “common draft” – there were some major battles for players between the two leagues. One story I enjoy involves my all-time favorite NFL star, Otis Taylor. A wide receiver prospect out of Prairie View, Taylor was sought after by the Kansas City Chiefs of the AFL and the Dallas Cowboys of the NFL. It was the fall of 1964.

Kansas City had been wooing Taylor for some time, but after the collegiate season ended for Prairie View (with a second consecutive national championship) the Cowboys asked Taylor to come up to Dallas the day before Thanksgiving … to visit. The Cowboys plan was simple – keep Taylor and several other players “hidden” until after the AFL draft that Saturday (yes, the AFL draft in 1964 took place the weekend of Thanksgiving). Lloyd Wells, who had scouted Taylor for the Chiefs, scoured Dallas looking for Taylor, but the Cowboys kept moving the players they were “baby-sitting”. Finally, Wells found Taylor in a hotel in Richardson, Texas, outside of Dallas. Wells convinced Taylor to come with him to Kansas City, and, at 3:30 in the morning, Otis Taylor, who would go on to play in three Pro Bowls and two Super Bowls (scoring a touchdown in the 23-7 Chiefs’ victory over the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl IV), snuck out via a motel room window.

Taylor was thereafter quickly – and quietly – ushered to Kansas City, where he was drafted and signed the next day by the Chiefs. Taylor’s contract, as a first round pick? $15,000 salary; $15,000 signing bonus; and a new Thunderbird … Kansas City Chief red, of course.]

April 21st

“There are no announcements here”

This past weekend, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany went into a self-described “silent phase”, fueling speculation that the Big Ten was accelerating its expansion plans.

On Wednesday, Delany broke his silence.

And he did not provide any new insights …

“There are no announcements here (at the BCS meetings in Phoenix)”, Delany said, “and there are no notifications here.” Delany said that the Big Ten’s timetable of 12 to 18 months, announced in December, remains unchanged. Delany refuted a Chicago Tribune report that a financial firm had been hired to vett potential expansion candidates. “To be honest, the function that they’ve done is create some evaluative tools to help us understand our own value.”

Delany did not deny that programs were being evaluated, just that the time was not yet ripe for notifications of conferences and schools to be made. “I didn’t say we were at that phase,” Delany said. “I said we are not at the phase of any need to provide notice to an institution, that we were in formal discussions with an institution.”

For his part, Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott seems content to allow the focus to be upon the Big Ten, even though Scott said earlier this year that the Pac-10 would be looking into expansion prior to the signing of new television contracts for the 2012-13 seasons and beyond. “Play out for me a scenario where it harms us,” challenged Scott when asked about the shuffling of teams across the nation. “No one has given me any kind of compelling explanation of how it impacts us … So far, I don’t see any compelling rationale that just because one conference might expand, it puts pressure on us to expand.”

In one sense, Scott is correct. In all of the different scenarios being played out across the internet … Big Ten expanding into 14 or 16 teams, raiding the Big East and/or Big 12 to do so; the SEC following suit, with the Big 12 and/or Big East disbanding; followed by the trickle down effects on Conference USA; the Mountain West Conference; the WAC … none of those scenarios affects the Pac-10. No one is suggesting that any team from the Pac-10 is going anywhere, so Scott can stand pat.

Or can he?

Expansion still remains the issue of dollars. The Big Ten is already awash in television revenue compared to other conferences (see April 20th write-up, below), and expansion would only generate more revenue for Big Ten members. Expansion of the Pac-10 to the Pac-12 (or 14 or 16?) could conceivably generate considerably more dollars for Pac-10 members. Television contracts are up at the end of the 2012 academic year, and that is what Scott and the Pac-10 are focusing their attention upon. Scott did acknowledge this week that the Pac-10 will appoint a “TV consultant” in May to explore the conference’s media options, which could include a Pac-10 network. (As an aside, Scott did not rule out a potential Pac-10 championship game being played at a home field site, rather than a neutral site).

Dead issue or smoke screen?

Time will tell …

April 20th

The latest on Big Ten Expansion talk

Big Ten officials met in Washington this past weekend, as part of the three day meeting of  the Association of American Universities. All 11 Big Ten schools are members, as are potential expansion targets Pittsburgh, Rutgers, Missouri, Syracuse, Nebraska and Texas. Other schools who are potential targets of Big Ten expansion who are not members of the AAU are Boston College, Connecticut, and the most important player of all, Notre Dame. The Chicago Tribune reported this past weekend that expansion was being discussed, also reporting that the Big Ten had a Chicago-based investment firm analyze the financial viability of five schools – Missouri, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, Syracuse, and Notre Dame.

The meetings are significant, as this week, the BCS annual meetings will take place in Phoenix. Jim Delaney, the Big Ten commissioner was in Washington, and, if he received the green light to expand, Delany could notify his fellow commissioners at the conferences this week. The Big Ten would then formally contact the schools of interest.

Interest in how talks are going are has peaked due to the calendar. The fact is that while the calendar may still say April, the 1st of July is just around the corner. If expansion is to take place by the start of the 2012 season, its time for schools to start taking steps. The recent speculation is that the Big Ten, if it cannot lure Notre Dame into the fold to create a 12-team conference (This past weekend, Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick told the Irish alumni senate, “Our highest priority is maintaining football independence”), that the Big Ten may go even bigger, expanding to 14 or even 16 teams.

This brings into play several Big East teams, including Rutgers Syracuse, Connecticut and Pittsburgh, which is significant.  All Big East teams, including the aforementioned, are bound by the Big East “loyalty clause”, instituted after the ACC raided the Big East, taking Miami, Virginia Tech, and Boston College back in the last round of conference realignments. The loyalty clause not only calls for the departing school to pay a $5 million fee, but that they give the conference a 27-month notice.

For those of us counting on our fingers and toes, that means that any defecting team from the Big East, if they wanted to play fall sports in the Big Ten in 2012, will have to give their former league notice by June 1st.

If – and it remains a big “if” – expansion is in the air (and all signs are seemingly pointing that way), the next step could come this weekend, when the Big Ten names its favorites. Thereafter, the Big Ten coaches and athletic directors will meet in Chicago in mid-May, and the Council of Presidents/Chancellors meet, also in Chicago, the first week of June.

Assuming the Big Ten expands …

… and Notre Dame is not interested, then the dominoes will start to fall. If Missouri and/or Nebraska is asked to join the Big Ten as part of a 14- or 16-team league, the door will be opened for Colorado, if invited, to join the expanded Pac-10. Missouri coach Gary Pinkel, for one, believes that expansion is in the air. Missouri’s official position is that it is a proud member of the Big 12, but that it would consider other opportunities. “I love the Big 12,” Pinkel said last week. “But there are issues, no question. The TV package (wherein the Big 12 institutes a weighted distribution, but the Big Ten treats all of its teams equally), that is staggering … It’s the right thing to do; it makes your league stronger. And, for some reason, there are people in our league who can’t figure that out. And so that’s a problem.”

Pinkel went on to point out that the Big Ten pays each school $22 million a year, while the Big 12 plays between $7 million and $12 million, based on television appearances. Pinkel noted that the Tigers open this fall against Illinois, but not on a level playing field. “With their TV package, they’ll get $11 million more dollars this year than Missouri does in the Big 12, so the value is what it is,” Pinkel said. “We’ve got four years of this contract, so Illinois, as they’re building their athletic department, that’s $44 million more … For the life of me, I don’t understand (why the Big 12 has the contracts it has)”.

Sounds like Missouri – at least it’s head coach – is ready to start playing Iowa instead of Iowa State …

If the Big Ten expands, especially if it is into a super-conference of 14 or 16 teams, the Pac-10 may not be able to survive – financially – without expansion. Due to geography, the Pac-10’s options are more limited. In a perfect world, the Pac-10 would like Texas, even if that meant taking Texas A&M along for the ride. If the Texas schools balk, or choose to align instead with an expanded SEC, Colorado and Utah may be the next best option for the Pac-10.

One factor in Colorado’s favor: Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott was hired a year ago, in large part because of his experience in dealing with expansion and television contracts. The inside bets are that Scott would not sit idly by and watch other conferences expand. Colorado is at the forefront of every discussion concerning Pac-10 expansion, so all of the above bodes well for Buff fans.

Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe, for his part, indicated that he has received no official notice from the Big Ten of any expansion plans. “I expect that Jim (Delany, Big Ten commissioner), who I have known for many, many years and trust implicitly, that he said he’ll do what he said he’s going to do (wait 12-to-18 months before announcing any expansion),” said Beebe. “If and when the time comes that they’re going to do anything – and that includes any institutions in the Big 12 – he’ll let me know first.”

Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, who has been in “silent phase” since traveling to Washington last weekend, will speak to the media Wednesday …

Stay tuned … it could be an interesting, and perhaps historic, next few weeks …

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