Thoughts of the Day: July 27, 2020

A few thoughts to jump start your Monday morning:

Leave it to the NCAA to understand the value of taking quick, decisive action. When all fall sports but especially football hanging in the balance, awaiting a decision whether or not there will be any sports activities on college campuses this fall, the Board of Governors adjourned Friday without reaching any conclusions. Instead of doing the prudent thing, which would be to stay in session until decisions are made, the board members went their merry ways and agreed to meet again a week from Tuesday (August 4). This is exactly the kind of decisive action you expect from any organization led by Mark Emmert, a man so brilliant he could have prolonged the Great Depression by decades.

On August 4, if the Board of Governors so decides, the entire sports calendar could be canceled. As much as you feel for the kids who play soccer, volleyball and run cross country, they are irrelevant because their sports are a drain on athletic department budgets. What is relevant is football, at 90% of the schools that make up the Power 5 the sport that brings in the money to make all the other sports on campus possible. It won’t hurt to move all fall sports except football to the spring. Cancelling football even until the spring could be a blow the Power 5 schools, in particular, can’t afford.

Make no mistake about it, the Power 5 are the ones the NCAA better satisfy. If football is canceled, don’t expect the Power 5 to hit the panic button and wonder what the hell they’ll be doing. They already have contingency plans in place, one of which most likely includes a revolution that will not end well for the NCAA.

Perhaps the broadest hint that the Power 5 won’t agree to a stand down order from the NCAA came last week when it was reported that the University of Wisconsin will lose some $60-70 million this fall based on the Big Ten decision for a conference-only nine or 10-game schedule. If the entire schedule is lopped off, the report indicates Wisconsin would be hit with a loss in excess of $100 million.

Wisconsin is one of the healthiest athletic programs in the country and it would survive no football in the fall thanks to $190 million saved up through the years. But, Wisconsin AD Barry Alvarez has already taken austerity measures that have cut the budget substantially. He knows how many years it would take to recover from those kind of losses.

Very few of the Power 5 programs have very much in the way of surplus to fall back on. Therefore, could we see bankruptcies in the future of some athletic departments? Probably. Could we see wholesale trimming of sports programs such as the one Stanford recently undertook (11 sports dropped altogether)? More likely.

No one could have foreseen a pandemic like covid-19 coming. No one could have also foreseen the NCAA sitting on its hands and doing nothing. The NCAA has had practically four months to figure things out yet here we are a week away from a time when decisions have to be made and absolutely nothing of consequence has been done. Emmert wants to look like Washington in the lead boat crossing the Delaware but instead he looks like one of the clowns getting out of the tiny car at the circus. The NCAA’s bloated bureaucratic consortium is hanging by a thread and apparently Mark Emmert will be the last one to know.

What happened Friday is the NCAA backed the Power 5 into a corner. In all likelihood, the Power 5 were going to leave the NCAA anyway at some point in the not so distant future, but Friday might have been the point of no return. The presidents, commissioners and ADs from the Power 5 aren’t as brainless as Emmert. They know they can’t allow their financial rainmaker go bone dry because the brave and fearless leader is trying to navigate by the stars having never taken Astronomy 101.

Now the NCAA could announce that it will require conference-only schedules that crank up sometime in October or maybe even play half a season in the fall and half in the spring. Don’t expect the Southeastern, Atlantic Coast and Big 12 conferences to agree and go along with that kind of scheme. The three conferences are already in negotiations to play a shortened season that would allow preservation of inter-conference rivalry games (like Florida-Florida State) as well as some key intersectional games (like Texas-LSU). This would be a plus-1 model for the Big 12 which plays a 9-game round-robin conference schedule and a plus-2 for both the SEC and ACC which play eight conference games.

It is being reported that Notre Dame, which already has six ACC teams on its schedule, could join the league for one year and add a couple more ACC teams to the schedule. A 9-game conference schedule and a non-conference game for a 10-game slate would work for Notre Dame and the entire ACC. Such an idea would solve the Notre Dame problem, which is immense. The SEC could also add another conference game and go plus-1.

Would the Big Ten and Pac-12 stand by idly if the SEC, ACC, Big 12 and Notre Dame collaborated on a season-saving schedule? Both leagues have agreed to conference-only schedules and they’re trying to decide which works best, the current 9-game schedules or adding another conference game to have a 10-game slate. But, what would happen if the SEC, ACC, Big 12 and Notre Dame opt for 11 games? Would the Big Ten and Pac-12 stick with their current plans or would they cave?

The key figure here is SEC commissioner Greg Sankey, who has emerged as the single most important leader in the Power 5. Like Mike Slive before him, Sankey has figured out how to consolidate power and grow a consensus. He will be the one who determines just what the next move will be for the Power 5 and though there might be some disagreements, all five conferences and Notre Dame will stand behind Sankey when it is decision time. They will all play the same number of games and they will play in the fall.

Sankey has said the SEC will announce what it plans to do sometime between now and Friday. We shouldn’t expect him to delay a few days to wait for a decision by the NCAA nor should we expect him to give full disclosure of what the plans will be. He probably will hold a few cards in reserve such as a plan for secession since he won’t know for a few days what the NCAA will announce. Do not doubt, however, that Greg Sankey has a plan in place for college football to be played in the fall no matter what the NCAA announces on August 4. Whether that is a 10-or-11 game schedule remains to be seen, but he will have a contingency that has been discussed and agreed to by the rest of the Power 5.

FEELING PITHY

I had no plan to watch the WNBA this weekend or any at any point in the foreseeable future. I’m a basketball junkie who used to coach women’s basketball but the WNBA game just bores the hell out of me. The numerous folks who called or texted me this weekend regarding the WNBA won’t be watching anytime soon after both the Seattle and New York teams walked off the court during the playing of the National Anthem. As one friend told me, “Protest all you want on your own time, but if you expect me to watch you protest by walking out on the Star-Spangled Banner before one of your games then forget me ever watching again. Show some respect!” From the texts I read and the calls I listened to yet another nerve has been struck by pro athletes using their sport to make political statements. I get the feeling that the NFL, NBA, MLB and other professional sports are going to feel a serious pinch from fans who have had it with the politicization of the games by athletes who often make millions upon millions. Maybe the fans electing to fight back by not going to games or watching them on TV might be what it takes to bring the cost of attending a game with a family to the point that it’s affordable.

Former Gator pitcher Brady Singer was outstanding in his Major League Baseball debut against the Cleveland Indians Saturday night. Singer had a rough third inning when he gave up two runs, but otherwise was brilliant. He allowed three hits in five innings, struck out seven and walked two.

The faculty of the University of Kentucky’s African American and Africana Studies program want a name change for Rupp Arena. They claim that Rupp’s name “has come to stand for racism and exclusion” plus it alienates black students and fans. Rupp won 876 games and four NCAA championships as Kentucky’s head basketball coach. Rupp resisted integrating the UK basketball team until he signed Tom Payne in the summer of 1969. The 7-1 Payne was thought to be the second coming of Lew Alcindor but he only played one year of varsity basketball. He had a brief NBA career and then spent 40 years in prison for raping women in Georgia, Kentucky and California.

Michael Thompson, whose last win on the PGA Tour was in 2013, won the 3M Open in Minnesota with a 19-under score to beat Adam Long by two shots. Nine players tied for third three shots back. After seeing all these low scores by guys I’ve never heard of every single week I’m starting to wonder if these guys are really that good or are the courses set up for low scores to draw the crowds? I would much rather watch these guys struggle to make par and occasional birdies on a really great course than watch target golf where guys I never heard of are routinely scoring 65 or 66. A score that low used to be a sign of brilliance. Now it’s way too commonplace.

Andrew Nembhard has moved on to Gonzaga and while I don’t want to rag on a player who played hard and was always thoughtful and polite to the media, I have to believe the Gators are going to be a vastly superior team without him if and when college basketball cranks up again. In Tyree Applebee, Mike White has a point guard who excels in the open court game and can score without the ball being in his hands 90% of the time. Applebee is also a much quicker defender which will enable the Gators to run the pressing defenses that White wants but couldn’t with Nembhard on the court.

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