Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The ACC Needs to Make Texas its Notre Dame Offer

The University of Texas is too big for the Big 12.

texas longhorns football
During the first round of conference realignment, any Big 12 school of value took the first train out of town. Missouri, Nebraska, Colorado and Texas A&M all gladly rid itself of Texas, to varying degrees of success.

The conference survived because the only other school in the vicinity of Texas played nice. That alliance ended in January when Oklahoma president David Boren aimed his sights on the Longhorn Network.

“The Big 12 is disadvantaged when compared to the other conferences in three ways,” Boren told NewsOK.com. “We do not have at least 12 members, we do not have a conference network and we do not have a championship game.”

Of those three disadvantages, two are very easy to fix – the Big 12 could add any combination of Houston, BYU, UConn and Cincinnati tomorrow. The elephant in the room is the Longhorn Network, which prevents the creation of a Big 12 network.

On Monday, it was reported the Big 12 would soon discuss expansion candidates. It doesn’t matter. The Big 12 will die. The only question left is “When?”

Texas will do everything in its power to keep the Big 12 together because it works out so well for them, as they get $20 million per year from ESPN in addition to their cut of Big 12 payouts. The system is rigged in their favor. At some point, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State are going to cut and run, either to the Pac-12 or SEC.

Why prolong the agony and delay the inevitable? Texas needs to be an independent. Texas needs to be like Notre Dame. In fact, Texas needs to be exactly like Notre Dame.

acc football logo
The ACC, like the Big 12, remains in a perilous position. The Big Ten and SEC could swoop in to pluck whatever they want. Sure, North Carolina is happy in the ACC now, but what happens in five years when their annual TV payout is $25 million less than Maryland or South Carolina?

Still, the ACC’s outlook for the future is dramatically better than the Big 12’s due to the presence of Notre Dame. For all the mocking the ACC’s “lopsided” deal with Notre Dame took at the time, it has been a boon to the conference. In the first two years of the playoff, its champion has used big wins over Notre Dame in front of massive TV audiences to springboard to the Final Four.

Here’s the bottom line: the ACC needs to offer Texas a similar deal and reap the rewards.

For the ACC, the rewards are endless. As with Notre Dame’s annual football games, adding Texas gives the league an additional five games that will instantly sell out stadiums and be shown on national television. Let’s not forgot what the added value of Texas would bring in terms of bowl tie-ins, which were dramatically improved due to Notre Dame’s addition.

As Notre Dame’s basketball team did, Texas adds yet another NCAA Tournament contender to the league. Perhaps more importantly, Texas would give the league an even number of teams for easier scheduling.

For Texas, a move to the ACC would provide the independence it has been seeking for decades. By only having 5 games on the schedule every year, it allows Texas to continue playing Oklahoma, continue playing several in-state schools, continue playing big-name intersectional teams like Ohio State and potentially revisit a rivalry with Texas A&M.

In fact, if Texas and Notre Dame were both independents, they could schedule an annual game the first weekend in December to create a “championship game” for playoff purposes. How much do you think ESPN would pay for an annual Texas/Notre Dame game? Maybe Jerry Jones could host it. Insert “printing money” emoji.

Do you know who would really, really like this partnership? ESPN, aka the company losing money hand over fist on the Longhorn Network and currently splitting Big 12 TV rights with Fox. If Texas went solo, ESPN could immediately swoop in with a deal to make that network actually provided value.

I know you’re asking what happens to the rest of the Big 12 and, well, we already saw this story with the Big East’s disintegration. The Big 12 pieces worth something – OU & OSU, KU & KSU – will find homes somewhere, either in the Pac-12 or SEC. Maybe the Big Ten would take Kansas. The schools without TV value (sorry Texas Tech & Iowa State) would likely end up merging with the AAC, which was going to happen with the Big 12 leftovers and old Big East pieces in 2011.

Here’s the million-dollar question to any good idea; Would anyone say No? Would Texas? Would the ACC?

In my humble opinion, both would say “Yes!” in a heartbeat. Now the real million-dollar question is, “Will either side ask the question?”

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Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Texting and Driving Should Get You a Night in Jail

The biggest threat to my personal safety is not guns, or terrorists, or criminals. It’s people texting and driving. And I’m fed up.

Every single day, I drive on the GW Parkway to and from work. Every single day, at least one person will be swerving in between lanes. Every single day, that one person is texting.

texting driving badOver the holidays, I did far too much driving. From DC to Connecticut. From Connecticut to Long Island and back. From Connecticut to DC. Hours upon hours spent in the car, and hours upon hours screaming at people trying to text and drive.

For all the bluster around distracted driving, the punishments are simply not strict enough. Especially in light of evidence that people who are texting on the smartphone literally cannot multi-task. If you are texting, your brain cannot support another function.

While texting and driving – commonly referred to as ‘distracted driving’ – is banned in nearly every state, that has only nominally affected the rate of accidents. According to the CDC, 9 people die every day in accidents caused by distracted driving. In 2013, 341,000 motor vehicle accidents involved texting.

These are mind-blowing numbers, yet the issue is given little more than lip services. Yes, texting and driving is bad, and yes it is illegal. But if you get caught, it’s just a fine. Did that last speeding ticket keep you from speeding? Why would a texting ticket keep you from texting?

When I got my license 18 years ago, my biggest concern was driving at night and avoiding drunk drivers. But it is usually pretty easy to spot and avoid a drunk driver. They don’t do a very good job of hiding their intoxication, as their car would swerve absurdly, and you can make a plan in your head in advance of how to pass the car.

Texting and driving is potentially more dangerous because there are no warning signs. You’re following a car going 65 in the left lane and suddenly, they’re going 40. Or the car in the middle lane will inexplicably cross over to the right lane without a signal, because the driver doesn’t even know a lane change has happened.

Even worse, and what I deal with too frequently, are distracted drivers going too slow and causing issues behind them. There is an average of one fender-bender I pass on a daily basis and I would love to know how much is caused by smartphone use. Because on a two-lane highway, a car going too slow in the left lane during a busy rush hour can back up traffic for a mile.

Texting and driving has been an issue for years but the addition of emailing and driving thanks to smartphones has taken distracted driving to a whole new level. The vast majority of people that cause problems on my daily commute are adults, not teens. They are my age or older and clearly trying to get work done. The work cannot be that important. If it is, pull off the road.

For many years, drunk driving carried little punishment. Once the issue became a public safety issue, the punishments were made stiffer, jail time started to be doled out and the rate of drunk driving deaths has been cut in half over the past 25 years.

Why don’t we treat texting and driving the same way? Aren’t those 9 lives lost per day worth it?

My proposal is simple: if you’re caught texting and driving, you spend the night in jail. We have lumped all cell phone usage together while driving and that’s not right. Quickly glancing to see who is calling you, as a driver can safely look away from the road for 2 seconds, or answering a call with eyes on the road is different than staring down at a screen as you type a message.

If you got a ticket for distracted driving, you would be ticked off, but it would not deter you from doing it again.

If you spent a night in jail for distracted driving, you would be ticked off and you would never, ever, ever text and drive again.

For most crimes, jail time is not an effective deterrent. This is an exception. There’s no reason why people should needlessly die when we can eradicate the problem.

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Monday, January 11, 2016

What Happened to UConn’s Hungry Huskies?

There are many words I would use to describe the 2015-16 UConn men’s basketball team. Hungry is not one of them.

After UConn shocked the college basketball world in April 2014, Shabazz Napier took the microphone and dropped a bomb on the NCAA: “Ladies and gentlemen, you’re looking at the hungry Huskies, this is what happens when you ban us, last year, two years, we worked so hard for it, two years –”

uconn men lost
In one sentence, Napier succinctly captured UConn’s frustration with the NCAA’s punishment over APR scores. That national title run, along with Napier’s proclamation, led to a lot of chest-thumping from UConn, both inside and outside of the program. No school had lost more during conference realignment than UConn. It was time for the Huskies to let everyone know they weren’t going anywhere.

Unfortunately, the momentum for the men’s program never carried on from Cowboys Stadium. UConn didn’t make the NCAA Tournament to defend their title. Through the first part of this season, UConn has played well at times but lacks that indefinable will to win that has defined UConn for 25 years.

This past week, UConn lost on a last-second shot to Temple and scuffled with a mediocre Memphis team  Earlier in the year, they lost one-possession games to Syracuse and Gonzaga. Last year, it seemed to be an endless string of painful, nail-biting, gut-punching losses.

In Ollie’s first two years, it was the opposite. UConn finished many games, particularly during the 2014 title run, in spectacular fashion.

On one level, it appears UConn is in Year 2 of a Championship hangover. Sure, it’s only January and much can change in the next two months. Let’s hope it does, because the alternative is not good news for UConn.

The alternative is that Kevin Ollie is meant to be an NBA coach.

As UConn marched through the 2014 NCAA Tournament, I examined how Ollie tactically destroyed the competition. He was expertly massaging matchups, creating unique substation patterns and developing winning game plans against the very best. He outcoached, in succession, Fred Hoiberg, Tom Izzo, Billy Donovan and John Calipari.

There was one piece of the puzzle that Ollie did not have to focus on, and that was motivation. Many times, college coaches must motivate their players. As evidenced by Napier’s comment, UConn had been given all the motivation in the world from the NCAA. At no point during those two seasons did Ollie have to pump up his team as, win or lose, those Huskies played their asses off.

It was similar, in a way, to the role of an NBA coach. In the NBA, you don’t need to motivate your players. They are either motivated or they are not. The role of an NBA coach is to call players and tactically position them to succeed.

Post-title, UConn has frequently looked like a team lacking urgency. They can give off the vibe, particularly in the last-second loss to Temple, of an NBA team playing through the middle of a long road trip. It’s not a winning formula for college basketball.

Last year was dismissed as the usual year-after doldrums. There were no worries, as everyone saw the influx of talent coming to Storrs in 2015. Yet, as we enter conference play, UConn doesn’t feel like a team poised to make a deep March run.

When UConn played Maryland at Madison Square Garden, the place was rocking and it felt like a NCAA Tournament game. Except only Maryland showed up, and they ran UConn right off the floor. Maryland is a Final Four-quality team, but in terms of talent, they are not 20 points better than UConn – only a frantic late comeback made the final score look better for the Huskies. 

The more I watch UConn under Kevin Ollie, the more I’m worried he is meant to coach an NBA team. This isn’t a knock – as a Wizards fan in DC, Ollie coaching Kevin Durant is a fairy tale. We all know he is a tremendous recruiter. But motivation is clearly lacking from his post-Napier teams and that starts at the top.

If the hungry Huskies don’t reappear before March, it may signal that Kevin Ollie is meant for brighter lights and richer players.

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Friday, January 8, 2016

I Was Wrong: College Football’s Four-Team Playoff is Perfect

The four-team college football playoff has saved my favorite sport and I could not be happier to admit my folly.

As the playoff approached, I predicted doom. There was no way this compromise was going to work. I believed we were on our way to a 16-team playoff. I thought the four-team playoff would ruin the bowls, diminish the regular season and create even more controversy. Wrong, wrong, and wrong again.

odd nick saban picture
While many foolishly credited the BCS with making college football a less regional sport, the four-team playoff cemented the sport’s place on the national landscape.

The problem for the BCS and college football for a quarter-century was that most seasons ended with three deserving teams battling for two spots in a championship game. Many fans can list the aggrieved parties from memory: Miami in 2000, Oregon in 2001, USC in 2003, Auburn in 2004, etc. etc.

I assumed this would similarly be a problem for the college football playoff, except there would be more teams complaining about getting left out. But the beauty of four teams is that the fifth team has no one but themselves to blame. Think about BCS fiascoes, as Miami in 2000 beat a Florida State playing for the title, Auburn in 2004 didn’t lose a game and Oklahoma State in 2011 never got a chance so Alabama could have a second.

In 2014, TCU and Baylor were both left out but there was a clear sense the committee ultimately got it right. Neither team challenged itself out of conference. TCU blew a huge lead to Baylor. Baylor laid an egg on the road to West Virginia. And if Ohio State had been the odd team out, we would have said, “They should’ve beat Virginia Tech.”

The 2015 season went so smoothly that college football fans had to find new things to complain about, which was delivered in spades thanks to the insane decision to air the playoff games on New Year’s Eve. Let’s hope they fix that, and soon.

But there was no complaining about the four teams involved. There are no complaints about Alabama and Clemson playing for the championship. Everything has been proven on the field.

Most importantly, the four-team playoff pulled off the magic trick of improving college football’s regular season, already the best in sports. The last four weeks of the college football season has turned into a high stakes game of demolition derby. Who will survive?

The BCS era presented a false notion that every game mattered. The Playoff era presents a true belief that every game matters.

On Championship Saturday in 2012, only one game mattered: the Alabama/Georgia game to determine who would play Notre Dame in the title game.

On Championship Saturday in 2015, each major conference’s title game had playoff implications. Alabama and Clemson locked up spots. North Carolina did not. Michigan State and Iowa played a quarterfinal game. Stanford made a statement if someone slipped up. Throw in Houston playing Temple for a Peach Bowl spot and it was a truly insanely, ridiculously awesome day of football.

That is why the four-team playoff has been a revelation. The possibilities feel endless, because they are. Did anyone peg Ohio State as the national champion in October 2014? Was anyone betting on Oklahoma to make the playoffs after Texas smoked them?

Even the notion that the bowls would be diminished feels misguided. I mean, there are 40 of them now. While TV ratings were destroyed by poor scheduling, attendance at the big bowls has been greatly helped. One thing noticeably missing from this year’s New Year’s Six was empty seats as only the Peach Bowl, which drew 70,000+, was not an official sellout. There were no 20,000 empty seats, which had become par for the course for mid-week Orange Bowl games and uninteresting Sugar Bowls.

Of course, college football fans can never be happy, so there has been grumblings about the creation of an 8-team playoff. For years, I have been pushing a 16-team playoff* to give the Group of Five teams a chance.

I was wrong about the four-team playoff before, so let me be right now: the playoff needs to stay at four teams for the foreseeable future.

For the first time in my life, I know college football will crown an undisputed national champion before the year starts. I cannot properly express how great it feels to know that.

For years, college football and its media peddled the ridiculous idea that “controversy sells” and that’s what made the sport so special. I cannot properly express how great it feels to know that bullshit has been exposed.

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*If the playoff expands, it has to go to 16, as I laid out for the 2013 and 2014 seasons. For fun, here’s what the bracket would have looked like in 2015 with all 10 conferences getting an automatic bid:

#16 Arkansas State at #1 Clemson
#9 Florida State at #8 Notre Dame
I wonder if anyone would watch an FSU/Notre Dame playoff game from Notre Dame Stadium In December?

#13 Western Kentucky at #4 Oklahoma
#12 Houston at #5 Iowa
I’m pretty sure Houston would be a semifinal team

#14 San Diego State at #3 Michigan State
#11 TCU at #6 Stanford
With Boykin playing, TCU/Stanford would be insane

#15 Bowling Green at #2 Alabama
#10 North Carolina at #7 Ohio State
If Ohio State had to travel to Alabama for a playoff game, ESPN would set a new cable ratings record. Assuming it’s not played on New Year’s Eve.

Monday, January 4, 2016

How the Calendar Could Save the New Year’s Six

College football played a losing hand on New Year’s Eve and lost.

clemson orange bowl
Anyone with a brain and a working knowledge of New Year’s Eve in this country knew that the college football playoffs would get slaughtered in the ratings. Yet the most remarkable aspect of this failure was the presence of a clear solution.

On Saturday, January 2, there was no NFL. There was an entire day for a nation to watch college football. They did, but they watched the Alamo Bowl* instead of the Orange Bowl. ESPN knew – they practically begged the college football leaders to move the playoffs back to Jan. 2 to no avail. The decision was stupid, but the rationale was stupider.

*How good were TV ratings on January 2?? The Gator Bowl had more viewers than the Peach Bowl. 

New Year’s Eve fell on a Thursday this year. Moving the semifinals to Saturday, Jan. 2, had been described as a “quirk” in the calendar. It is not a quirk. Thursday is a day of the week and New Year’s Eve has to fall on a day of the week. New Year’s Eve on a Thursday happens roughly every 6 years – how is that a quirk?

You see, by simply following the calendar – and not set cycles – the New Year’s Six bowls can maximize attention, keep the Rose and Sugar Bowls happy and stay true to current contracts. In fact, the New Year’s Six can play out the next TEN years and only play once on a non-holiday New Year’s Eve. I swear!

How? Let’s begin by going through the days of the week and what should happen:

The Set-Up

New Year’s Eve on Thursday (2020)
Play semifinals on Saturday, Jan. 2

This is the scenario we just lived through and let’s hope we never have to live through it again. Saturday, January 2, will be there and open by the time New Year’s Eve cycles back to a Thursday.

New Year’s Eve on Friday (2021)
Play semifinals on Friday, Dec. 31

Thanks to 2016 being a leap year, New Year’s Eve won’t fall on a Friday until the 2021 season. This is a disappointment since this is the only scenario where New Year’s Eve is an actual federal holiday.

New Year’s Eve on Saturday (2016, 2022)
Play semifinals on Saturday, Dec. 31

This happens for the 2016 season and it is not a problem. In fact, the only issue might be whether ESPN schedules the bigger game in the afternoon slot for maximum exposure. The night game will go against New Year’s parties on the East Coast, but is far less of an issue on a Saturday.

New Year’s Eve on Sunday (2017, 2023)
Play semifinals on Saturday, Dec. 30

This is the dream scenario! The NFL takes on New Year’s Eve, leaving Saturday, Dec. 30, wide open as a perfect day for the semifinals and no issue with leaving the other games on New Year’s Day.

Of course, since college football leaders are not smart, the 2017 season is one where the Rose and Sugar are slated to host the playoffs. Let me repeat – in a year where college football cannot play games on New Year’s Eve, the semifinals are scheduled for New Year’s Day. Changing the games for this date solves just about everything.

New Year’s Eve on Monday (2018)
Play semifinal on Monday, Dec. 31

Of all the weekday New Year’s Eve possibilities, Monday is the least objectionable since most will make it a four-day weekend. Still, it is not a legal holiday and would best to avoid if possible in the future.

New Year’s Eve on Tuesday (2019, 2024) or Wednesday (2025)
Play semifinals on Jan. 1

Simply put, this cannot happen. You think the ratings were bad this year? Wait until a playoff game starts at 4pm on a Tuesday. The same applies for a New Year’s Eve on a Wednesday. 
The Solution

College football has 10 years left on the current New Year’s Six contract and, despite the bad ratings in 2015, I can’t see anything changing until these 12 years are up. Sorry, folks, who want a 16-team playoff.

new years six 2017
To recap, the New Year’s Six schedule must keep the Rose & Sugar Bowls on New Year’s Day while giving every bowl 3 semifinal matchups in the next 9 years after 2016. As long as we skip the preset order of giving the Rose/Sugar matchups every three years, the schedule becomes much, much more palatable.

Here’s the new schedule, as 2016 does not change, with semifinal games in bold.

2017
Saturday, Dec. 30: Peach, Orange, Cotton
Monday, Jan. 1: Fiesta, Rose, Sugar

2018
Monday, Dec. 31: Cotton, Peach, Fiesta
Tuesday, Jan. 1: Orange, Rose, Sugar

2019
Tuesday, Dec. 31: Cotton, Fiesta, Orange
Wednesday, Jan. 1: Peach, Rose, Sugar

2020
Friday, Jan. 1: Peach, Rose, Sugar
Saturday, Jan. 2: Fiesta, Orange, Cotton

2021
Friday, Dec. 31: Orange, Peach, Fiesta
Saturday, Jan 1: Cotton, Rose, Sugar

2022
Saturday, Dec. 31: Fiesta, Orange, Cotton
Monday, Jan. 2: Peach, Rose, Sugar

2023
Saturday, Dec. 30: Cotton, Peach, Fiesta
Monday, Jan. 1: Orange, Rose, Sugar

2024
Monday, Dec. 31: Peach, Fiesta, Orange
Tuesday, Jan. 1: Cotton, Rose, Sugar

2025
Tuesday, Dec. 31: Peach, Orange, Cotton
Wednesday, Jan. 1: Fiesta, Rose, Sugar

The Recap

With this schedule, the college football semifinals are played a grand total of one time on a non-holiday New Year’s Eve, in 2018.

Instead, the semifinals are played three times on New Year’s Day, three times on regular Saturdays (Dec. 30 or Jan. 2) and three times on holiday New Year’s Eve (Friday or Saturday).

In a perfect world, college football moves the semifinals to New Year’s Day permanently. But we do not live in a perfect world, so this is the next best thing.

Will those who run college football cut fans a break?

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