Thoughts of the Day: July 20, 2020

A few thoughts to jump start your Monday morning:

1. Reports of my demise are greatly exaggerated. After writing a column five days a week plus covering ball games almost non-stop for years, I needed a break so I took it. The batteries in the brain aren’t completely recharged but I’m in a far better place today than I was a couple of months ago. The time away has been good as I’ve been doing a lot of reading both about sports and other things, plus I’ve worn out Amazon and Netflix. The reading is the most important. I tend to write better when I read a lot. Most of the good writers I’ve known throughout the years have been uniform in their belief that the more you read the better you write. I highly recommend the Greg Iles Mississippi trilogy that begins with “Natchez Burning” as well as his latest book “Cemetery Road.” I also re-read (for the first time in 30 years) Eudora Welty’s Pulitzer Prize short novel “The Optimist’s Daughter” and Flannery O’Connor’s 1952 novel “Wise Blood.”

2. College football is at a crossroads and it’s not getting any input whatsoever from NCAA president Mark Emmert. I’ve been convinced for years he’s completely worthless but his lack of direction since April has taken incompetence to heretofore unseen levels. It’s at the point that even Paul Finebaum has had it with him. Speaking on ESPN, Finebaum said after listening to Emmert make a statement about college football last week, “It was nice of Mark Emmert to come out of the witness protection program yesterday to let us know what we should all know about the college football season. He is the president of the NCAA today. He makes 3-1/2 million dollars a year and him telling us there’s a problem is like a meteorologist telling us during a hurricane that it’s raining outside … He is a complete abject failure at leadership. He’s been derelict in his duty and quite frankly I think he should be fired.”

3. Emmert’s lack of leadership has led me to conclude the following: (a) It is time for the football schools to re-organize and break away from the NCAA; and (b) Southeastern Conference commissioner Greg Sankey is the guy who should be in charge of the re-organization and probably college football’s first commissioner. I’ve long questioned why the NCAA has any say in what happens with Division I college football since it doesn’t conduct a national championship, isn’t in charge of the playoff or the bowls and yet it writes the rules for recruiting and helps itself to some serious dollars. The NCAA in charge of college football is like giving the scalpel for life or death brain surgery to a tire changer down at Goodyear without at least giving him a copy of “Brain Surgery for Dummies.” It’s time for football schools to write their own set of rules and operate without any assistance from the NCAA. The last thing they need is help from the bumbling bureaucrats in Indianapolis and having non-football ADs and presidents from the lower divisions voting on football issues. As for Sankey, we are seeing why Mike Slive hand-picked him to be his successor. Sankey is smart, resourceful and capable of building consensus. He is the one conference commissioner the others look to for guidance and in light of Emmert’s center stage concerto of ineptitude, it’s time for Sankey to lead the pack in giving the NCAA the finger and setting up a new organization. People I know and trust tell me there will be a college football season in the fall – most likely a 10-game schedule by all of the power conferences and Notre Dame – that Sankey is the guy who will be able to get the Big 12, Pac-12 and Big Ten to agree to playing one out-of-conference game while the ACC and SEC play two non-conference foes.

4. If and when college football becomes its own autonomous entity, free from the constraints of the clueless NCAA, it needs to do two things above all else: (a) Make the recruiting rulebook so uncomplicated that a couple of compliance people are all you need and only one of them needs to be a lawyer; and (b) eliminate the minimum SAT/ACT score. A Division I head coach told me once that it’s next to impossible to go a week without several close encounters with an NCAA violation, most of them for rules that are beyond silly. Eliminate the silly and cut several hundred pages of regulations immediately. As for the SAT/ACT, I’ll use the city of Baltimore as the perfect example. The schools in Baltimore are so bad that not a single graduating senior in 2019 was proficient in mathematics. There are probably hundreds of kids in Baltimore – many of them athletes – who could do well in math if they had a better school and better teachers. There has to be a better way to determine if a kid is capable of doing college work than a standardized test that is weighted heavily in favor of kids who live in districts with competent schools.

5. Since reorganization won’t take place overnight, here’s an idea I’ve tossed out back in April that I think whose time has come to accommodate 2020: (a) The Power 5 Conference schools should play a 10-game schedule in the fall; and (b) the Group of 5, plus all the lower divisions should play a spring schedule. Despite the Big 12, Pac-12 and Big Ten declaring a conference-only schedule, don’t think for a second that is set in stone and the reason has everything to do with Notre Dame, which is the elephant in the room. Notre Dame already plays six ACC teams plus they have Wisconsin (Big Ten), Arkansas (SEC) and Southern Cal and Stanford (both Pac-12) on the schedule. That’s 10 games and it preserves rivalry games like Southern Cal and Stanford. The Pac-12 also wants to preserve Ohio State-Oregon, Washington-Michigan, Oregon State-Oklahoma State, California-TCU and Colorado-Texas A&M among others so it won’t take a lot of persuasion to get the league to go to a plus-1 (they play nine Pac-12 games) format. The Big 12 doesn’t want to lose Texas-LSU, Baylor-Ole Miss, Texas-Oklahoma, West Virginia-Florida State and Vanderbilt-Kansas State so there is incentive for the Big 12, Pac-12 and Big Ten to go plus-1. As for the SEC and ACC, going plus-2 might involve some creativity with a school like Alabama, which will lose its game with USC (Given the choice between Alabama and Notre Dame, it’s a no-brainer for USC to pick Notre Dame), needing two opponents for a 10-game schedule. But, it’s all very do-able and could possibly include playing SEC opponents as non-conference games.

6. In The Athletic this past weekend, there was discussion about the Group of 5 moving all their games to the spring. I talked about that back in April and I’m glad to read that it’s an idea that is starting to gain some traction. The Group of 5 teams can’t compete with the Power 5 for TV audiences in the fall, but in the spring? No offense to the non-revenue sports, but which would you rather watch: a college football game between perhaps UCF and Houston or a college baseball game between Nebraska and Iowa or a softball matchup between Kentucky and Ole Miss? College football would win that battle and the audience might be surprisingly strong, certainly stronger than any of the spring professional football leagues that we’ve seen. Playing in the spring would also give the Group of 5 an opportunity to stage their own playoff and declare a national champion. We don’t dispute D1AA or DII or DIII national champs. We call them national champions when they win their playoffs so why would we dispute a Group of 5 national champion?

7. The current College Football Playoff television contract runs through the 2025 season and what we’ve already seen is there is no intention whatsoever to include a Cinderella from the Group of 5 in the mix, not now, not ever. The playoff had two opportunities to add the ultimate underdog when UCF ran the table in 2017 and when it won its first 13 games (regular season and American Athletic Conference Championship Game) in 2018. By ignoring a UCF team that showed by beating Auburn in the Peach Bowl in 2017 and giving LSU all it could handle in the Fiesta Bowl in 2018, the CFP made it clear that there is no room for a non-Power 5 team in the playoff, no matter how good the team from the Group of 5. So why doesn’t the Group of 5 have its own playoff through 2025? Run it in the spring this year and then move it to the fall in 2021, unless, of course, the Group of 5 thinks better to keep playing football in the spring. That’s doubtful, but the competition for television dollars makes anything possible.

8. At the conclusion of the 2025 season, the College Football Playoff contract with ABC/ESPN expires and there will be all sorts of pressure to expand to eight teams. This would be the perfect time for the Group of 5 to elbow its way in for a couple of seats at the table if it has had a successful run with its own championship playoffs. Of course, by that time, the Group of 5 teams might be perfectly content with their own national championship playoff and decide they don’t need to be part of the CFP.

9. I remain convinced that a program that can’t fill up a 30,000-seat stadium has no business playing in Division I. I also am tired of paycheck games between said teams that can’t fill their stadiums and Power 5 teams that are looking for an easy win to help with bowl eligibility. I wouldn’t be opposed to the Power 5 expanding to add the AAC and Mountain West although those two leagues might be happy competing for national championships if the Group of 5 decides it can hold its own playoffs. I definitely think it’s time to put an end to games with D1AA teams. Play those teams in the spring instead of a glorified scrimmage to give the D1AA teams their paycheck game. Losing to a D1AA in the spring might cause the boosters to scream for a coach’s head, but it’s far better to lose in the spring when it doesn’t count than in the fall when it does.

10. I am completely dismayed by ABC/ESPN’s monopoly of college sports. It is absolutely ridiculous that one organization so dominates the sport. I am bothered by one network calling all the shots for game times and having the same voices essentially saying the same thing as if they are toeing a party line that is pre-determined by the higher-ups. I don’t know what it will take to break up the current monopoly but something needs to be done that will encourage competition to broadcast collegiate sports. I hope it is not too late for CBS to get back into the bidding for the SEC contract or for Fox Sports to counter the ABC/ESPN bid.

PARTING SHOT: I have to wonder what happens to NFL attendance and ratings when Colin Kaepernick gets an NFL contract. I’ve talked to an awful lot of people who say they have no intention of watching an NFL game if Kaepernick plays again. Of course, folks might be so sports starved by the fall that they won’t care who’s playing as long as it’s football on Sundays.

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