Updated: Nov 27, 2020
A few thoughts to jump start your Thanksgiving morning:
I feel so fortunate to have grown up with parents and grandparents who constantly reminded me that every day – not just the last Thursday of November – is a real Thanksgiving Day since I have been blessed to live in the United States. The older I get the more I realize just how special it is to live in a country where you can turn your dreams into reality.
As someone who has spent a huge chunk of my existence in press boxes or in front of a keyboard knocking out another story about a ball game or an athlete, I’ve come to realize the importance of sports in our society. If you think that sports are merely a diversion or just entertainment, then you have truly missed the mark. I would call you clueless but that would insult all the clueless people I’ve met in 69-plus years.
Sports is the one place where political, religious and racial differences can be set aside even if just for three hours on a Saturday afternoon at a football stadium or at a basketball arena or a baseball diamond. We leave our differences at home when we go to the venue to cheer for our team. That person sitting next to us wearing the same colors we wear is our brother and sister even if it’s only for a few hours. And so often something magical happens. Friendships are forged. Relationships are built. Year after year we come to the same place and we hug on that friend next to us when our team scores or wins. We’re sad when our team loses. We do it together because we love our team.
I would also argue that college sports have done far more than anything political to heal racial divisions in our society. Think about the millions of men and women for whom sports have been a springboard to an education. Only a small percentage of them go on to play their sport and make millions at the professional level, but a significant number of those who have earned a college degree go on to do so many extraordinary things, not the least of which is return to their communities to give back doing things like starting a business or offering a hand up to someone who needs it.
Wednesday afternoon I thought about Dallas Baker, the former Florida wide receiver and now assistant coach for Doc Holliday at Marshall. He was on the verge of flunking out of Florida when Urban Meyer had a come to Jesus talk with him and convinced him that he was capable of being so much more than the team clown. We remember Mick Hubert calling him “Dallas Baker, Touchdown Maker” but what I remember is Dallas telling me how he and his mom enjoyed a good cry when he called her up to tell her he had made a 97 on an economics exam. He went on to become a good student who earned his diploma. Now he’s a coach who helps young men – many of them from underprivileged backgrounds – to parlay their football skills into an education. Dallas has never forgotten what an education did for him and he uses his platform as a coach to let kids know that an education is a key that unlocks so many doors in life.
I think about things like that on Thanksgiving. I think about how fortunate I’ve been to write about great athletes and dramatic moments in sports, but I also think about the not so great athletes who got their education and who use it to enhance the lives of others. Sports does what nothing else in society can do.
Thanksgiving also reminds me to tell the people who are important to me that I love them, to call up a friend to simply say thanks for being there for me and to mend fences even if I’m not the one that caused the rift. Today, on this day when we say thanks, I hope you will be reminded that you live in the greatest country on earth and that you will take time to love, heal and forgive.
FLORIDA-KENTUCKY IS STILL ON … SORT OF
A little after 6 p.m. on Wednesday on his weekly radio show, Kentucky coach Mark Stoops noted the Wildcats are currently down 18 players and 10 staffers, some due to injury and some due to Covid-19, ahead of Saturday afternoon’s game with 6th-ranked Florida at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Kentucky was down a number of players last week when the Wildcats were blasted by Alabama 63-3. Some of those are expected back this week but just how many players Kentucky will have available is still unknown.
As of Wednesday night, Jason Higdon reported the Wildcats were above the 53-man SEC imposed minimum to play but the next 48 hours will tell us everything we need to know. Right now, the game is on … sort of.
EXPECT MORE SHUFFLING OF SEC SCHEDULES
Wednesday, WJOX in Birmingham, which has a rather strong record for accuracy when it comes to reporting the goings on in the Southeastern Conference, reported that SEC commissioner Greg Sankey is expected to further tweak schedules to avoid a logjam of makeup games on December 12.
Per the report, Alabama will travel to Baton Rouge to play LSU on December 5, which allows the original makeup date of LSU-Florida in Gainesville to take place on December 12. Alabama will finish its regular season on the road at Arkansas on December 12. The postponed Texas A&M at Tennessee game will be made up on December 12. LSU at Ole Miss, scheduled for December 5, reportedly will be played on December 19 as will last week’s postponed Tennessee at Vanderbilt game. No word in the WJOX report on who Arkansas will play on December 19.
By showing flexibility and willingness to change on the fly, Sankey has continued to show why he’s easily the best commissioner in all of college sports.
NO NICK FOR THE IRON BOWL We’ve all heard that old question “If a tree falls in the forest and there is nobody around to hear it, does it make a sound?” In some respects, that’s like Saturday’s Iron Bowl game when 22nd-ranked Auburn (5-2) travels to Tuscaloosa to face #1 Alabama (7-0). Nick Saban won’t be there because he’s got Covid-19, so if Auburn and Gus Malzahn win the game will there be an asterisk beside the Auburn win column?
Alabama people might think an asterisk will be deserved but Auburn folks will take a win over Alabama in any sport, anytime and anywhere. With or without Saban, Alabama has the personnel advantage and should win this game, but stranger things have happened. Alabama had superior personnel last year and that didn’t stop Auburn from winning the game.
I’m of the opinion that Alabama is a good two or three touchdowns better than Auburn this year with or without Nick Saban on the sideline. I’m also of the opinion that Auburn knows fully well that a win over Alabama quiets the fire Gus Malzahn crowd at least until next season. Last year Auburn had better personnel than this year plus the Tigers played with a sense of desperation. It will take desperation to beat Alabama this year plus Auburn is going to have to play like a team with its hair on fire to overcome Alabama’s advantages. I also believe that nobody on the Alabama team wants to face the wrath of Nick if they lose in Tuscaloosa with Nick unable to be there.
2020 MAKES IT CLEAR THE GROUP OF 5 NEED THEIR OWN PLAYOFF
Whether or not this is the final year the Power Five remains in the NCAA is debatable. What isn’t up for debate is that they will secede from the NCAA and abide by their own set of rules.
It is entirely possible there will be some expansion of the Power Five. The Big 12, for example, might add two or four teams. The Pac-12 may elect to expand to 14 teams like the SEC, ACC and Big Ten (Plus Four). You can bet the farm schools like UCF, Cincinnati, Houston, USF and San Diego State will lobby long and hard to be included in this money grab.
Yes, money grab. That’s what it is and in reality, can you blame them? All you have to do is look at things like budgets, the number of sponsored sports and the size of stadiums and arenas to see the gulf between the Power Five and the Group of Five.
Take a look at the budgets of Florida and UCF for example. In the 2018-19 fiscal year, USA Today reports that the University of Florida had an athletic budget of $159 million and change. That’s ninth nationally and fourth in the SEC. UCF had an athletic budget of $69.1 or so million. That’s the third highest of any Group of Five school. It is also $37 million less than Missouri, which has the lowest budget of any SEC school that is required to report revenues and expenditures (Vanderbilt is private and does not, but Vandy has a budget reportedly close to $100 million if not a little more).
Florida plays in 88,000-seat Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, one of college football’s iconic venues. UCF plays in the Bounce House, a recently constructed 46,000-seat that resembles an erector set. It more than meets UCF’s needs and is a better stadium than Vanderbilt, but neither Vandy nor UCF meet SEC standards when it comes to stadiums. At least UCF typically packs its stadium, something Vanderbilt only does when it plays a team that brings 10,000 or more fans.
It’s possible UCF, Cincinnati (budget $68 million), Houston ($75 million), USF ($55 million) and San Diego State ($54 million) could be part of expansion plans if the Big 12 and Pac-12 expand. It’s possible that BYU (budget unknown but very large) could be invited to the Power Five since every time the Cougars play football or any sport the BYU Network broadcasts the game to 20 million Mormons in the US and around the world.
But why join when there is a golden opportunity to follow the lead of the Power Five, break away from the NCAA to form their own association and abide by their own rules? Instead of begging to be a part of the College Football Playoff, the Group of Five could stage their own playoff and crown their own national champ.
Absurd to call a Group of Five champ a “national champion” you say? Do we not call the champs of D1AA, Division II and Division III national champs?
It is too late for a Group of Five playoff this year, which is too bad. Look at the number of quality teams. Cincinnati, BYU, Coastal Carolina, Marshall, Nevada and San Jose State are all unbeaten. Liberty’s only loss is to North Carolina State in Raleigh and the Flames have ACC wins over Syracuse and Virginia Tech. Louisiana-Lafayette is ranked with a single loss to Coastal. Tulsa has only one loss.
The Power Five have increased their bargaining power with the networks by banding together. The Group of Five will never have the same bargaining power but they could do far better financially if they formed their own organization and set up their own playoff. They would also be wise to set their own recruiting rules just as the Power Five will do once they break away.
It’s not a question of if but a matter of when the Power Five secede from the NCAA. It would be a good time for the Group of Five to follow that lead.
INTERVIEWS AT SOUTH CAROLINA Oklahoma assistant Shane Beamer will interview for the vacant South Carolina job today. Beamer, the son of former Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer, is a former Steve Spurrier assistant (at South Carolina), who has also worked in the past for Phil Fulmer, his dad, Mark Richt and Kirby Smart. He coaches tight ends at Oklahoma and is Lincoln Riley’s assistant head coach.
Already interviewed for the job are Louisiana-Lafayette coach Billy Napier and Coastal Carolina coach Jamey Chadwell. South Carolina let it be known immediately after Will Muschamp was fired that it had an interest in Hugh Freeze, but if Freeze is interested in leaving Liberty it doesn’t seem as if he’s all that interested in South Carolina.
Of those already interviewed, Napier is the one that makes more sense. He’s a former Furman quarterback who knows what it’s like to work in a big time program from his days as a Clemson and Alabama assistant. At Louisiana-Lafayette, he’s 25-11 in three years.
South Carolina fans seem incensed that school prez Robert Caslen, a retired Lt. General in the Army and the former superintendent at West Point, might hire Jeff Monken. Back in 2014, Caslen brought then Georgia Southern coach Monken to West Point where he is 47-38 as the head coach. Some South Carolina fans believe the fix has been in for Caslen even before Muschamp was fired.