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Tag Archives: Conference Realignment

Maximum Red Podcast, Episode 3

In this episode, why Nebraska fans should want Kansas State in the Big 10 instead of Kansas, implications of the Kenny Eggers article, top tweets, and a powerful article by Amelia Rayno.

Kickoff after Huskers had taken a 31-0 lead in the third quarter.

Shoes off

No Fading Here

No Fading Here

Why FCS Teams Are Really Being Scheduled by College Football’s Big Boys

The other day, Barry Alvarez told a sports radio station what college football pundits’ ears were itching to hear: the Big 10 would quit scheduling FCS teams. Amid the rejoicing over this news, journalist have forgotten to ask a couple critical questions: one, how is the Big 10 going to enforce this, and two, if the Big 10 isn’t going to schedule FCS teams, who exactly are they going to schedule?

I’m not saying that the Big 10 and all conferences shouldn’t try to get FCS teams off their schedules, but just judging by last year, it isn’t likely that all major conference teams will be able to go without games against FBS teams. The real culprits aren’t the major conference teams, but the lesser FBS teams who insist on playing major conference teams at their home stadiums, even though they hardly deserve it.

To understand this problem, let’s answer the question of where a school’s non-conference schedule comes from. The Big 5 Conferences (ACC, Big 10, Big 12, Pac 12, and SEC; sorry Big East) played 218 non-conference games, and 54 of those were against FCS teams, roughly one in four. Here’s the conference breakdown:

SEC: 15 FCS opponents (Texas A&M had two)

Big 12: 9 (everyone but Texas)

Big 10: 8 (everyone but Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan, and Michigan State)

ACC: 13 (Florida State had two)

Pac 12: 9 (everyone but Stanford, USC, and UCLA)

Ironically, the Big 10 did better than any other conference in keeping FCS teams off the schedule, considering they played four non-conference games and all their schools but Michigan and Indiana played seven home games. Nine conference games (what the Big 10 say it will go to) didn’t even keep FCS out of Big 12 or Pac 12 schedules

Fifty-two of sixty Big 5  programs played an FCS opponent, so not even a full conference could have gotten rid of such match-ups. In their defense, some of these match-ups resulted because of conference realignment. Texas A&M had to scramble to ad an extra game when they moved from the Big 12 to SEC, and Florida State had West Virginia cancel on their meeting with only seven month’s notice when the Mountaineers had to trim a game to move to the Big 12. With Savanna State, they got the worst possible matchup When I saw on Twitter that the third quarter of the FSU-Savanna State game was going to played with a running clock, I thought it was a joke. It wasn’t.

It’s games like that (and Nebraska’s 73-7 scrimmage against Idaho State) that have the Big 10 proclaiming, “No more FCS teams!” With the conference realignment dust settling, AD’s won’t be scrambling, and will have more time to setting their schedules for the long-term (Nebraska has its schedule set through 2016.)

But non-conference games have to come from someplace. Take the Big 10 last year. 22 of its 48 non-conference games were single home games, with no return to the opposing team. Again, eight of these were against FCS schools. However, it should be noted that, of the other 26 non-conference games, only 14 were against major conference schools, including the regular series games by Michigan, Michigan State, and Purdue against Notre Dame, and Iowa’s regular game with Iowa State. Twelve other games were part of some home-and-home series with programs from mid-level conferences, which I would argue are the real reason we’ve seen AD’s of major programs resulting to schedule FCS.

There were sixty-five programs outside of the Big 5 Conferences last year, including the Big East. The majority of these programs are now making one single game, road trip a year, as many big boys are playing at the likes of ULM and Tulane. All of the lower conference commissioners want to reduce the number of single-game road trips their members take. The mom-and-pops of the FBS hold out on major conference programs for return games, even when they’d make more money making the trip. The prime example being Southern Miss selling a home game of a 2-for-1 series to Nebraska to buyout their coach, receiving $2.1 million. Golden Eagles got $300,000 for this year’s game in Lincoln, and if they receive at least the same amount for their 2015 visit, they’ll pocket $900,000 for three visits to Lincoln, only $100,000 below the $1 million less-heralded Arkansas State made on a single game visit to Lincoln this fall. (It was only three years ago that Idaho received $800,000 for a single game in 2010.)

It is because major conference AD’s are bowing to these MAC, Conference USA, and Sun Belt teams that fans are winding up having to pay full ticket prices for games against FCS teams. Michigan State, who didn’t have any single-game visitors this year, has received three home games from Western Michigan, Eastern Michigan, and Central Michigan for making a road trip to each school. (In-state relationships undoubtedly are the cause of this, as they are in many of these non-competitive matchups, like Northern Iowa and the two FBS Iowa programs.)  But when teams who are easily among the worst in the FBS are receiving road games, including Wyoming (Nebraska), UNLV (from Wisconsin two years ago, Minnesota this year) and UMass (Indiana), something has to change. In addition, Purdue has had home-and-homes with Rice and Marshall. In future years, Illinois will be completing a two game series at Western Michigan, and worst of all, Minnesota will be playing a home-and-home series with New Mexico State, who can’t even get into a major conference. Don’t be shocked if Jerry Kill soon schedules a welding school.

While 2-for-1’s insure overall quality and ease long-term scheduling headaches, they keep fans from seeing multiple non-conference games against BCS competition. 2007 was the last year that Nebraska played two BCS conference foes in the same year, and since 2004, the Huskers have only twice played two BCS conference foes in the same season, in 2005 and 2007. In the Big 10, only Michigan and Northwestern played more than one BCS team in their non-conference schedule.

With all these obstacles, eliminating FCS teams from Big 10 schedules can only be done with incremental change. Nine conference games is a good start, but it would take financial penalties to get AD’s to stop scheduling the FCS teams, because FCS teams cost 50%-60% of what FBS teams cost. An official agreement with some of the lesser conferences could help the Big 10 accomplish that. And really, who cares if Indiana, Minnesota, and eventually Maryland, keep FCS schools on their schedules?

And even if such an agreement comes to fruition, there are still going to be situations where a coach and/or athletic directors get fired, and new ones come in and redo schedules, like Bill Synder did when he returned to Kansas State in 2009 and canceled tough series Ron Prince set-up. (Ironically, he swept the one series he couldn’t get rid of against Miami.) And some schools will renege on their verbal commitments to games, which is how Nebraska ended up playing Idaho State last year. What is a school suppose to do when it needs a game in a pinch? It goes back to the main problem of Barry Alvarez’s brash statement: a conference doesn’t have power over its members non-conference schedule. The schools do.

The only way for this to change is if heavy fines ($400,000-$500,000) are leveled against schools who do schedule an FCS program. Don’t be surprised if a scheduling agreement between the MAC and the Big 10 eventually comes into play. With how heavily involved ESPN and other TV networks are involved with college football (the Big 10 owns its own network), it’s no surprise people are talking about eliminating FCS cupcakes. If they can.

Yes, Run Away from the FCS Opponent…

BTN in New York, DC, and Baltimore: Why Jim Delany should have learned from the Longhorn Network’s shortcomings

In the summer, I spend 30-40 days on the road, mostly in the Midwest. At night I love to kick back in my hotel room and watch sports. If I’m lucky, BTN will have a classic football game from the previous fall on. In a way, I’m the ideal BTN viewer: a twenty-something male, plenty of disposable income who’ll watch any sports that are on. If only the twenty-something guys in New York and DC watched as many rerun sports as I did.

Jim Delany put his reputation as a brilliant commissioner on the line when he invited Rutgers and Maryland into the Big 10, the later coming without a great football program and backlash from its fans. Delany’s gamble is that he will be able to take his valuable network into DC, Baltimore, and Manhattan, and its value will go up exponentially, all the while upping the offer he will eventually make to Notre Dame. But pondering the subject, one has to ask: are there as many potential BTN viewers in the beltway as BTN gained when they expanded into Nebraska? It may sound absurd, but perhaps Delany should have learned a lesson from how two networks modeled after BTN have struggled.

Catch the Longhorn Network recently?

BTN’s markets made the network as profitable as soon as it did, and the respective markets of the Longhorn and Pac-12 Networks have kept those networks in check. Big 10 country is full of states where people have to stay in in the winter and thus watch a lot of sports, and not just football and basketball but fringe sports. Turn on local sports radio in Lincoln or Cedar Rapids in April, and the announcers are talking Husker or Hawkeye baseball and softball. Factor into that you’ve got a huge market like Chicago, where alumni of rural Big 10 who have migrated to better jobs turn in every night to catch some local flair on their favorite teams, and you’ve got the recipe for a successful network.

On the other hand, both Texas and most of the Pac-12 region are flush with year-round outdoor recreation, and transplants whose favorite teams are in the states they left. Who would want to stay in and watch Texas’ greatest 1980’s win over Oklahoma, a season preview of Utah volleyball, or another profile of Pac-12 legend John Elway when there’s another hike to go in or a a beautiful river to boat in?

So, with that in mind, let’s look at Maryland and New York. Granted, both regions have Penn State alumni, which should increase viewership, and New York has migrants from all over the Midwest. And Big 10 Football, while not the best in the country (certainly not this year), provides some of the greatest scenes in college football, AKA the Big House and the Horseshoe. Remember, we are talking about sports programming, stuff you can put on at least one TV in every bar in the corner.  And the region does like quality basketball, so that should do well as long as the Big 10 succeeds in this arena.

But here’s the fundamental problem: the number one thing that the Big 10 sells is football. As we’ve seen in the case of LHN and the Pac-12 Network, you can’t sell a region something it doesn’t want. With all the entertainment options in New York and DC, people aren’t going to want to watch Indiana-Wisconsin games and other third tier games that BTN broadcasts. Yes, occasionally BTN will get an Iowa-Penn State game that interesting, but that’s the exception.

DC and New York may have transplants, but Baltimore is as parochial and unchanging as Boston. (Read an Anne Tyler novel.) Of course, this means they’ll be calling their cable providers to make sure they get Terrapins basketball, but don’t count on them tuning in for every practice report. Whether the region gets excited as a whole about Big 10 basketball remains to be seen. Outside of Indiana and Michigan State, there aren’t a lot of Big 10 schools that are organically passionate about basketball. Michigan and OSU have good programs, but those have piggy backed off of their football revenue.

Yes, there’s an argument that the local profiles of teams will help elevate the Big 10’s profile in the region. It will be easier for Big 10 programs to steal New Jersey, Maryland, and DC area recruits when they can sell them that all their games will be on networks everyone gets.With Syracuse moving to the ACC, travel won’t necessarily be any greater for a New Jersey player deciding between Syracuse, Rutgers, and BC. But while it will help recruiting-wise, it won’t help the rich young adults of DC and New York (AKA, the demo advertisers crave), buy BTN add time.

But maybe Delany realizes that getting into New York and DC won’t automatically increase the payouts he’s making to all of his schools…yet. Maybe he just had to get on in those markets so he could make a bigger offer to Notre Dame. That is what all college football realignment about in theory, landing either Texas or the Fighting Irish, the later who has eluded Delany for years. Maybe now Delany can finally say to Jack Swarbrick, “When you join are league, we’ll be able to triple our ad rates in New York and DC.”

(More Realignment Speculation)

Maryland-Big 10: What Happened to Consensus? A Nebraska Perspective

Can this guy jump higher?

Can this guy jump higher?

When I first heard about the Big 10 adding Maryland and Rutgers, I didn’t pay much attention. (In my defense, it was a football Saturday.) I didn’t honestly think the Big 10 was that serious about expanding, not after they added Nebraska based largely on fit, a high-profile football program, and an icon at the helm of the athletic department. It took a couple of tweet from reporters Saturday night to figure out the Big 10 really was serious about expansion. A move by Notre Dame makes, and suddenly the careful Big 10 is jumping.

The Big 10 is paying its price for passing on Missouri before the Tigers opted to the SEC last fall. I knew then, and affirm now, that the Big 10 had to add Mizzou, as the number of quality schools available was going down. Other than the Irish, Missouri was the last complete culture fit for the Big 10. Notre Dame’s partial membership to the ACC, combined with the Irish emphasizing the importance of keeping series with USC, Stanford, and Navy (not Michigan, Michigan State, and Purdue), finally made Jim Delany realize that he can’t add his white whale without leverage, in the form of pecking at the Irish’s new haven conference

Unlike a number of conference realignment moves, this one doesn’t involve fear of being left behind in the arms race or direct disgust over another school’s politicking or TV network. (Although Maryland has had healthy disagreements with the Carolinas.) This move is solely about a school in debt and a league gaining leverage and TV markets. Which begs the question, whatever happened to the Big 10’s quest to build consensus among its members and not moving too fast? Right now, Maryland’s leadership, its president and AD, aren’t Maryland lifers, and see this as a business move. What happens when the Terrapins big-shots who opposed the move (a poll on the Washington Post website showed 70% of fans don’t like it), get control of the program, which they will eventually will, chanting, “We’ll bring back the Maryland fans have always love!”

I don’t this is going to turn into a political mess, the way Texas broke off Oklahoma from the rest of the former Big 8 programs. I’m not looking for a fight here, but Maryland is bringing internal issues into the Big 10. Maryland is east coast urban, unlike the Big 10, which is mostly rural. More likely, the result will be something like Arkansas in the SEC: the Razorbacks have warmed to SEC, even though the rivalries aren’t as great as they were in the SWAC (although that could change with the addition of Texas A&M and Missouri). Razorback fans would have loved to see Arkansas move to the Big 12, but it’s never going to happen. Of course, they forget they were outliers in the SWAC, the lone non-Texas school in that conference. Maryland seems to be on the same path: stranger in its old conference, outlier-to-be in its new one.

As a Nebraska fan, it doesn’t make that much difference to me personally who the conference adds. I’ve been two the campus of Maryland twice when I was in middle school. It has an early American, classic feel, but it’s much more urban than Penn State, Michigan, or Ohio State. Byrd Stadium has a gothic, dug-into-the-ground feeling that’s a little like Jack Trice Stadium. It could be rocking joint if they could fill it. Whoever came into the Big 10, it would probably be an eastern school (not Kansas or any other Big 12 school), and at least Maryland’s campus is easy to get to for traveling Nebraska fans. (Lots of airport options, lots of mass transit.) Given the state of Maryland’s cash-strapped athletic department, it isn’t outside of the realm of possibility that the Terps could be selling a few home games to the Huskers. Or the Buckeyes. Or the Wolverines.

Different red headed for these stands.

Let me say this to you, Maryland. I don’t expect you to be excited when you see cornfields in the cut-ins ABC shows of Nebraska games. Culturally, you’re not like Husker fans, Hawkeye fans, or even Nittany Lion fans. We’re farmers and mechanics, and you live faster, more urban life, and that is what it is. But your basketball program, which is your pride and gem, is going to be the rock tour in the Big 10. When Maryland basketball comes to Champagne, West Lafayette, or Lincoln, it will sell out the arenas and be the show.

I’m not going to blame you for wanting to play the best in the ACC, but it’s unlikely you would every be the face and center of that conference or pass Duke and UNC. For the record, you’re not as big national brand in basketball as you think you are: you’re more like Auburn football than Florida football. A good program, a recent national title, but your success isn’t as grand stacked up against great contemporary programs.

There are talented people who leave the best companies to be the face of a growing, solid organization (Doug Gottlieb comes to mind.) You’re not going to SEC where basketball is an afterthought. There’s only two traditional powers in the Big 10: Indiana is very rural, and Michigan State has such problems recruiting Tom Izzo thought seriously about taking the Cavaliers job when Lebron was there. You can be the best here, if your commitment to basketball stays the same, and I’m guessing you like the sound of that.

Irregardless of that, this is going to be a real test of Jim Delany’s leadership. His new school has a different background than his other schools, and it’s going to take a lot of work to get them on the same page.

(Why Terp fans failed to get on Friedgen)

State of Too Much Prosperity: Will Oklahoma be the Epicenter the Next Realignment Earthquake?

It is admirable how they’ve stuck together. Or more precisely, how Oklahoma has stuck next to Oklahoma State. Throughout all the conference realignment poker, the Sooner Schooner and Pistol Pete have endeavored to stay together. Even though Oklahoma probably could have gone to the SEC with Texas A&M, the political leadership in the state of Oklahoma has kept the schools together.

But can the commitment between OU and OSU withstand further realignment storms?

Will the Pokes bolt their in-state rival?

Over the off-season, I’ve been pondering about what could be the catalyst for the next round of conference realignment. In the summer of 2010, it was the threat of Texas taking half the Big 12 west to form the Pac 16, pushing Nebraska and Colorado to bolt for more secure futures. Last year, the shifts that began with Texas A&M going to the SEC again centered around Austin, this time over the reach of the Longhorn Network. While the split between the Aggies and Longhorns may seem more obvious in retrospect, A&M’s bolt wasn’t as easily predicted as Nebraska’s was the year prior. Conference realignment is a huge game of liar’s poker, driven by the fear of successful regional programs being left out of the national mix, as half the Southwest Conference was twenty years ago.

Don’t confuse what I’m saying: I’m glad the Sooners and Cowboys have committed themselves to each other, at least publicly. Both teams  don’t need to go to other conferences. They’re not in danger of being left out of the realignment mix, at least not yet.  The Big 12 appears more stable now that it did at times over the last two years. But even with conferences forming their own networks and earning record numbers from TV, only so much financial growth can be sustained. Eventually, conferences will need to add schools to add revenue.

OK State has followed Oregon’s footsteps from good to great, and maybe the two haven’t seen the last of each other.

Consider that, with footprint in Oklahoma and Texas, Larry Scott can finally get Pac 12 games on TV at noon Eastern Standard Time, opening a new revenue window. Plus, the Pac 12 can finally have a shot in providing signature early game highlights for the rest of the day. What if, after a decade or more goes by, Scott decides not to wait on Texas and Oklahoma anymore and make an offer to Oklahoma State?

The Cowboys themselves could be a more prominent program by then. Like Oregon, OSU is turning to snazzy uniform combos to go with their funky offense. Mike Gundy is the perfect CEO for his Alma mater:  an innovative offensive mind, who, unlike Jimmie Johnson and Les Miles before him, could stay in Stillwater for twenty years. Coming off an outright Big 12 title, how many more will OSU win until they say “We don’t want to play in our little brother’s shadow. We aren’t just the program of Boone Pickens’ millions and Gundy’s post-game rant. We are a big name in our own right.”

New Battle of the Big Reds and Border War? Could the Arkansas River Rivalry come to replace the Red River Rivalry?

That is, after all, the logic which Texas A&M is taking into the SEC, and could be the logic that take either Oklahoma program to the nation’s premiere conference. With the SEC’s stranglehold on the National Title, it’s hard to imagine any other conference winning thee National Title any time soon. As fans keep demanding crystal balls, winning them may require playing an impossible eight conference games every year. If Texas A&M and Missouri eventually starts winning in the SEC (and Arkansas continues to win) and the SEC draw the best players in the state of Texas to their schools, Sooner and Cowboys fans will be tweeting to go the SEC.

Taking down Georgia in 2009 earned Okie State serious credibility; will they join the SEC to get more of it?

As a college football fan, I am sadden to write this, because I hate to see another good rivalry end. And this may be premature: at the moment, the Big 12 maybe in better position than the Big East to survive. But, after these next TV contracts run their course into the 2020’s, the conference realignment winds will swirl and the Oklahoma-Oklahoma State relationship will be challenged. And who knows how much jealousy Oklahoma State’s success could bread.

(More Conference Realignment)

Which one of these men will lead his school on a new path?

Florida State-Big 12: A Match Made in Wonderland

Pointing West?

I’m sure if Tom Osborne had known that Florida State, the school of his old coaching pal, would eventually come to the Big 12, he never would have moved Husker nation to the Big 10. Seriously though: there is no good reason for Florida State to go to the Big 12, even if DeLoss Dodds shares the profits from the Longhorn Network. Even if the money is better, conference sustainability trumps dollar signs. What’s most remarkable about this potential realignment is that the ACC, the basketball league that established $25 million exit fees (which have kept Virginia Tech from seriously considering the SEC) and looked like it would swallow the Big East, looks like it could be headed for turmoil itself.


Old war foes almost conference foes?

Alas, if only Larry Scott had allowed Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, and Texas Tech to come into the Pac 12 last fall, and the rest of the Big 12 could have gone to the Big East, and this mess would be mostly over.

To Tomahawk Nation: even if the money in the Big 12 is better, that conference’s future can never be certain because of the Longhorn Network. In that conference, everyone else will be looking to leave, and Texas can always got to the Pac 12 because of the way the Pac 12 Network will be set up. Yes, there were thirteen years of hearing “Why do we need Florida State in this conference?” at the basketball coach’s meetings, but the ACC is not what the Big 12 was pre-2010 blow-up, Nebraska and Colorado, boom, outta here. You’ve got a good commissioner, now you just have to get him to work toward a conference network.

There is one scenario that Florida State moving to the Big 12 would make some sense: if there were five other institutions on board coming to the Big 12 with the Seminoles, thus forming the Big 16 and its own conference network. Imagine it: Florida State, Miami, Georgia Tech, Clemson, Rutgers, and UConn expand the Big 12’s reach into the east. Who cares if Iowa State’s closest division game is now in Morgantown, West Virginia? They always did their best when they recruited Florida. (Sorry, this is where the conference realignment post get as fanciful as Lord of the Rings.)

Future annual rivals?

This is just what happens in the long college football offseason: we get pointless stories like this. Let’s thank Chip Brown, and don’t forget Florida State: you have it good in the ACC. If you hire an elite coach (and eventually, you will), you’ll have an easy path to the national title game through Wake, North Carolina State, and eventually Syracuse, much easier than in the Big 12. Don’t get greedy like Texas A&M did.

Husker Losses’ Un-Definition: Conference Realignment’s Aftermath

We all knew there were going to be certain causalities when Nebraska moved from the Big 12 to the Big 10. The long series with Big 8 rivals all ended, and new schools, schools to the east of Lincoln, will now dot Nebraska’s conference schedule. Granted, this is the way major college sports has to move, from small regional conferences to larger ones that merit more TV revenue. The unfortunate part is that now, when you loose to a school like Northwestern, there’s this sense of un-definition that comes with the displeasure of loosing.

I was at Nebraska’s 9 home loss to Iowa State back in 2009 that featured eight turnovers, four inside the five yard line. I felt so horrid about the loss, when Nebraska beat Iowa State the next year 31-30, I left Jack Trice Stadium fumed over the fact that Nebraska hadn’t beat Iowa State worse than they did. That’s what you get out of the regional series. Contrast those two games to Nebraska’s home loss to Northwestern this past year, and you see what fans loose in conference realignment. While I still burnt on the Iowa State loss after a year, the Northwestern was just a loss. Maybe I jst assumed they were a pasty going, maybe it was the lack of history between Northwestern and Nebraska, or maybe I knew Nebraska was primed for a let down that week. Either way, the ghost of another formerly forlorn program in purple nicknamed “wildcats” was there to leave my heart empty that day; it’s just this program was from Chicago, not rural Kansas.

For Northwestern, it almost isn’t fair: the best coach in college football not named Nick Saban, Urban Meyer, Mack Brown, or Les Miles just happens to be a Northwestern alum. Without Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern is likely struggling to get a conference win in the new, tighter Big 10. With him,  Northwestern walked into Memorial Stadium and completely worked Nebraska for four quarters, making plays the second the Huskers let their guard down. The Big 10 schools should all chip and help Arkansas (or another big-time school) offer Fitzgerald $8 million a year, and another $5 million a year to pay his assistants.

And in their own city, Northwestern alumni rank tenth or eleventh among Big 10 alumni in the city. Michigan and Michigan State probably wanted to be in the same division as the Wildcats so that they each get a fifth-conference home game every other year. Northwestern alumi care more about the Cubs, the Bears, the Bulls, and the Blackhawks over their football team. Plus, drum up the fact that Northwestern alumni Mike Wilbon and Mike Greenburg just happen to be major ESPN personalities, and the Wildcats’ success becomes particularly annoying the more it gets pumped. Consider all this, and I guess I have some reason to get pumped about playing Northwestern next year, even if the school is 531 miles and another culture from Lincoln.

The Northwestern loss showed Nebraska the realities of the Big 10 and of the super-conference: you have to win multiple big games in a row in order to play for the conference title or have a shot at an at-large BCS berth. In 2010, Nebraska had to win one big game, against Missouri at home, in order to get to the Big 12 Title Game. The next week, they went to Iowa State, played a so-so game, and were able to escape with a win. Michigan State was thought would be the de facto Legends Division title game, and given the special defense Bo Pelini designed for that game, he apparently thought the same. But the next week, Nebraska arguably played a game at home no worse than the game they played in Ames a year ago, yet got worked. Of the six teams that Nebraska will play every year in the Big 10, Northwestern’s program right now is fourth or fifth. In the Big 12 North, the fourth best program of the dissolving division were the Colorado Buffaloes, fresh off the Dan Hawkins-disaster.

So here we are in the new era of college football, the Nebraska-Northwestern series. Could this be an interesting series? Maybe; Iowa has drummed up some passion against Northwestern after Fitzgerald handed the Hawkeyes their first loss after a 9-0 start in 2009, so anything’s possible. There is something of a culture class: uppity, city academics, versus a rural farm school. But maybe this is just wistful thinking, a sign that Nebraska may end up as Arkansas has in the SEC (until Texas A&M and Missouri joined). At least Nebraska’s capable of putting 20,000 red shirts in Ryan Field every other year (did it at Minnesota), not that Wildcat Nation will find that embarrassing.

Could it be a sea of red?

A Nebraska Fan on the Arkansas Situation

I have to confess something; as college football fan, and specifically, a Nebraska fan, I feel bad for Arkansas. Maybe it’s because both of us have been the mutual object of the scorn of Texas, and both Arkansas and Nebraska are small states without major cities. And because of their small population, both programs had to make hard choices to leave their historic conferences and move on to super-leagues.
In an odd twist of fate, it was the man who replaced and was succeeded by Steve Pedersen (Nebraska’s prodigal son) at Pittsburgh , the athletic director who had to make the tough call on Bobby Petrino. In a small state like Arkansas, a major football program isn’t just the state’s identity; it’s one of the few major business. Los Angeles has the Lakers, film industry, and countless others to go along with it. In Arkansas, it’s football and that’s it.

Petrino’s firing just represents the futility that surrounds the rural program who hasn’t lived up to the expectation of the past. After twenty years, Arkansas’ football program had finally surpassed Texas and become elite again. On top of which, the Razorbacks no longer had to listen to the Longhorn’s mocking that they had deserted their SWAC rivals; with Texas A&M and Missouri joining the SEC, the Hogs could now boast to Austin that they were ahead of the expansion curb, in the place where it matters most: the homes of Texas high school players.

But to get there, they had to take a chance on a questionable coach. Jeff Long hired Bobby Petrino because, after the school had a decade of Houston Nutt, an average coach who wasn’t bad enough to get himself fired quickly. Ultimately, Bobby Petrino may just be a more successful version of Mark Mangino; a successful coach whose issues got hi relegated to a rural job, although Petrino’s was much better than Mangino’s.

So now Arkansas is open again; at least now it’s a better job than it was when Petrino took over. Oddly enough, Nebraska’s Pelini is rumored to be on Long’s list. Not surprising the two states have the same taste in coaches.

Nebraska vs. Texas-the Closing Thoughts

(The following is an e-mail I wrote to Brian Christopherson of the Lincoln Journal-Star in 2010, before the final Big 12 Nebraska-Texas. The paper had requested that fans send in their recollections of the series with Texas, so I answered, and, while my thoughts were never published, here I decided I might as well share them with you.)

In response to your question of what this game means to me, the fan, I can’t begin to put into words what this game means to me. I’m twenty-seven and the first games that I can remember where in 1994 and 1995. This game against Texas might be the most significance game I’ve seen since either 1995 Orange Bowl or the 1996 Fiesta Bowl , due to both the on-field and off-field frustration against the Longhorns.

The two most memorable games I’ve been to at Memorial Stadium have both been against Texas. The first time, on an icky, sub-40 degree day in 1998, I, the eager fifteen year-old, wanted to go to the Texas game because of how they humiliated us two years prior. At the time, all I had known was Nebraska dominance, and I couldn’t remember a Nebraska home loss .The lose, shuttling out of the stadium with other fans while Texas ran out the clock, all of it shocked me. As watched young players make mistakes (the offensive line, the turnover after Ralph Brown’s interception, Tracey Wistrom’s drop that could have given Nebraska a 20-13 lead), the Huskers looked  vulnerable to me for the first time.

In 2006, I went to the Nebraska-Texas game, and once again the weather was cold and icy (sidebar-how odd is that Nebraska has gotten inclement weather for two of three October games with Teas). The game was a game of rhythms. The first half was Texas-slanting, and at half-time, I thought that Nebraska, down nine points, was lucky to even be in the game with Texas’ missed field goals.

But in the second half, the game gradually became to tilt Nebraska’s way, as if it were actually being played on a flat plane that was slowly shifting toward the Huskers. Gradually, Nebraska became to rise, starting with Brandon Jackson touchdown. (Dane Todd’s helicopter block might be the best Husker block I’ve ever seen live.) When we got the ball back, I’ll never forgot those three plays. First, there was the double reverse for a first down, the 21-yard pass to Maurice Purify. Like magic, we were finally moving the ball. Then Callahan called for the halfback pass that he used the previous year against Oklahoma. When I saw that Marlon Lucky was going to throw the ball, I thought, oh great. They’ll remember the play and have it covered. I think I saw Nate Swift catch the ball, but I didn’t believe he’d actually caught it until I heard the stadium go wild.

The stadium’s roar felt silent. I could feel that little piece of beating Texas, a piece I would feel later on when I would see Colt McCoy sacked and Texas forced to punt, then Brandon Jackson gain seven yards on two carries, then again for a split second when Terrence Nunn caught Zac Taylor’s pass. I it was a piece that said, “We’re better than those arrogant, evenly tanned, Orange-faced losers.” It felt so good, it almost couldn’t last

Nunn's fumble

As we all know, a lot can happen in four year. One disastrous season, a new (old) AD and coach, to rebuilding year, another chapter of Nebraska-Texas in the Big 12 title game, and an off-field fight that led Nebraska down the path to a new conference.

So, after all that, what does this game mean to me? Beyond the on-field frustrations, save the 1999 Big 12 Title game, this game is about putting down a titan with too much power. Since the Big 12’s inception, Texas has pursued its own agenda ahead of good of the league. Texas’ greed ultimately forced Nebraska have to look elsewhere. But wouldn’t fate have it that, on its way out the door, Nebraska has the team give Texas one reminder of what they will be missing: a top-notch football program, the kind that could help keep their league get a huge paycheck for years to come.

(Of course, the game didn’t turn out the way I was hoping for.)

Kansas-Big 10? Coud We Get Notre Dame on the Line?

Early this year, I cracked Missouri for their move the SEC and needed two posts to do so. But now that’s been over, my thoughts have turned back to the seemingly inevitable Big 10 expansion to sixteen, and I’ve wondered, now that Missouri is officially off the table, is Kansas in play to move to the Big 10? At first, I thought for sure it was not, but then I considered: Missouri coming into the Big 10 would have only meant one new media market, Kansas City (if you consider St. Louis to already be part of the Big 10). Would Kansas  be an able addition to the Big 10?

The Jayhawks seem to be the hardest team to figure in the conference realignment shuffle-they have a definitive top-10 basketball program, but their football program is as bad as an AQ program can be. Yes, many think that Kansas basketball can’t be allowed to rot in the Mountain West-Conference USA hybrid, a factor that likely influenced the Big 12 staying together in the summer of 2010. Certainly, a Big 10 Tournament Championship Game between Michigan State and Kansas would be a college basketball lover’s dream.

But is a top 10 basketball program enough to compensate for Kansas’ abysmal football program? Yes, the Jayhawks were viable under Mark Mangino, but that was with an easy non-conference schedule; Mangino was 23-41 in conference play, against a soft Big 12 North. It’s not just that Kansas has had only eight winning season since 1980; the Jayhawks are reluctant to even spend money on football, whining when Mangino told them they needed new facilities and dropping a luxury suite project two years ago, as soon as the program started loosing. It would be different if it were Duke, who admits they don’t care about football. Turner Gill, after getting his team to try hard the last month of the season, got fired after only two years, while the Kansas media ignored their teams more difficult schedule. Then they replaced him with a coach who only looked great: Charlie Weis, and the big promises that come with him.

So can the Big 10 accept Kansas football and their entitlement to go .500 with no bad players every year? On the surface no, but it may depend on who else the Big 10 can entice. The Big 10 most certainly will invite Rutgers or UConn, if not both, so as not to loose ground on the eastern seaboard. But should the Big 10 be able to land Oklahoma, Texas, or West Virginia (unlikely-WVU’s fans fit the SEC’s profile), or their grand prize of Notre Dame, adding Kansas would be more palatable.

And make no mistake: while Kansas isn’t going to add much to the Big 10 from a rivalries perspective in football, the Big 10 coaches need more recruiting ground and would love to nab Kansas City recruits away from football apathetic Kansas. With seven all-in football programs already in the conference, if at least two or three more are admitted, the case for Kansas would be easier among the coaches.

So, Nebraska versus Kansas as the rousing Big 10 season finale? Nope, but as a Nebraska fan, it would be nice to play at least one old Big 8 team every year. I’d rather see Iowa State come into the Big 10 than Kansas, but in this era of college football, you have to take your regional rivalries where you can get them.

Grading Conference Realignment: Nebraska and Colorado

(I actually wrote this piece a while ago, and looking around, I found buried in a file and thought, you might as well enjoy it.)

Since the summer of 2011, college football, my favorite, has been embroiled in a storm of conference realignment. My favorite team, the Nebraska Cornhuskers, was at the center of these moves last summer, I have a particular interest in these moves, so I have decided to some grading of these moves, starting with Nebraska and Colorado. Considerations: rivalries lost, rivalries gained, geographic and cultural fit, and is the league better with or without a school.


This is the move that is that is closest to me. Ironically, Nebraska prides itself in its traditions as much as any school in the country, but almost all Nebraska fans wanted to leave the Big 12 for the Big 10. Nebraska’s primary Big 8/Big 12 rival was with Oklahoma, and that had diminished over the years with the two schools not playing every year. Oklahoma found more importance in their rivalry with Texas, as Nebraska failed to live up to past glory. Also, with Colorado’s sharp decline and now their move to the Pac 12, Husker Nation was without a good primary rival in their last Big 12 years, and now with Iowa, at least Husker fans can have a series whose program they respect and whose fans they regularly interact with. Penn State, with whom Nebraska played several notable games in the late seventies and early eighties, might also develop into a competive series for Nebraska, certainly more competitive than any Big 12 series Nebraska played on an annual basis. Nebraska is also of their messy political disputes with Texas. The only downside might be a slip in southern/Texas recruiting, but it’s still early to judge that. Also, the move does stretch the geography of Big 10 even further; personally as a fan, if Nebraska is going to play an easy conference game in mid-October, I would rather it be against Kansas than Indiana Early Grade: -A


Colorado’s move to the now-Pac 12 had been first considered back in the mid-nineties, when the Big 12 had formed, and finally came to fruition last summer. From a rivalry perspective, CU’s main rivalry with Colorado State was always a non-conference game, so that’s unaffected. As said before, the Nebraska-Colorado game, while contentious and shown in a prominent spot on the day after Thanksgiving, had diminished in importance as CU’s program struggled, so loosing it isn’t a big deal. On the flip side, Colorado has a new border war with Utah, a school it had played nearly fifty times.

Ultimately, Colorado’s move had as much to do with culture as it did money or stability. Unlike Big 12 schools that wanted to build huge facilities, Colorado wanted to follow the Pac 12 model of selling its ideal campus environment to recruits, with a more laid back attitude toward sports in general. Colorado is more interested in recruiting California over Texas, and with a huge southern California alumni base, the Buffs fit right in.

Early Grade: A


Boeheim’s PTI Gripping: College Basketball getting dragged along in Conference

Earlier this year, Jim Boeheim interviewed on PTI, wasting a Five Good Minutes segment during football season to express his mild dissent on Syracuse’s move from the Big East to the ACC. This is not the first that PTI has allowed Boeheim to go on a personal crusade in their interview segment: a few years ago when Syracuse was one of the last teams to left out of the NCAA tournament, Boeheim was allowed on the post-selction Monday to whrine about his team missing out on a thirteen seed. All those Syracuse connections at ESPN sure pay off, don’t they? So Boeheim went on ESPN’s most visible platform and whined about football and money driving the college athleic bus, loosing rivals like Georgetown and St. John, and how he’s only okay with Syracuse’s leaving the Big East because they are going to a basketball-first conference.

This is the attitude of college basketball, or at least some of it: let’s just begrudgingly go along with conference realignment because we have to. It is a network of good ‘ole boys, where even Bob Knight, whose boorish behavior got him fired at the school where he was a legend, could still get an under-the-radar, major conference job at Texas Tech. And every Friday after NCAA selections, the coaches of the last five teams out blame the selection committee for changing this criteria or that criteria. Meanwhile, you never hear a peep of college football teams who go .500 and don’t get invited to bowls. Even current Miami football coach Al Golden didn’t make a scene when his 8-4 Temple Owls didn’t get a bowl invite last year

But back to college basketball: Bill Self and Jim Boeheim both have the same point of view, and to a degree, it’s valid: they don’t like being the top athletic figure at their respective schools and then being dragged into conferences in moves that aren’t driven by their sport. But this is the way college athletics are these days: football schools and basketball schools aren’t equal. And while Boeheim acknowledges that the moves are about “football and money”, he doesn’t go into how an unsuccessful football program can burden an athletic department. If an athletic department has a bad basketball program, no one cares because it’s not a financial drain. But a bad football program is, and even a successful basketball coach like Boeheim can’t make that difference up.

In many ways, Boeheim’s like a guy who works at a farm seed company and sells forages. No matter how much alfalfa and red clover he sells, he’s never going to make as much as the guy who sells money-making crops like corn or soybeans, and thus he won’t be as influential in the future direction of the company. Is that the best thing? Perhaps not, but it is what it is. At least Boeheim was able to go to a conference that cares about basketball first, and he should learn something from the ACC’s approach: it is a basketball conference whose leadership told its members they had to care about football. The ACC added Florida State into the ACC in the early ninet. John Feinstein wrote in book A March to Madness that all of the basketball coaches in ACC questioned why the league needed Florida State, even though privately they knew why. Because the ACC continued to care about football, they now have a lucrative football championship game, a secure TV contract, and most importantly, a $20 million exit fee. Hence, secure future.

And as a Nebraska fan though, I should thank Boeheim for not encouraging Syracuse to seek membership in the Big 10. With Syracuse’s position in New York, ties to Penn State as a rival and to ESPN, they could have been a more enticing fit for the Big 10 if Boeheim had pushed for it. Indeed, Syracuse was the leaked list of five teams that the Big 10 originally wanted for a sixteen team conference, and I wonder how Tom Izzo, Thad Matta, and Bo Ryan would feel if Jim Boeheim came out and said point blank that he didn’t feel Big 10 basketball was up to Syracuse’s standard.

In the final assessment, I do feel bad for college basketball in some regards. Conference realignment is solely football-driven, and it may not be the best thing for major universities and conferences to have all their eggs in one sports basket (see the Big East). But ultimately, football has to drive now the bus because of its cost, and no matter how great Jim Boeheim has been for Syracuse, he can’t be the one making the decision of which conference Syracuse plays in., something he openly admits.  And when that decision is made, I would look better if he came out more fully supportive in the way his university is going because it will be around long after he’s gone.


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