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Random Saturday Morning Thoughts

Detroit Lions fans, I don’t want to hear about the bad call against you during the Thanksgiving day game. You had numerous chances to win. If you want to see a real screw job, go back to Green Bay vs. Seattle… ///

 

What’s going on in the state of Indiana? It’s like it’s the late 70s there. Indiana ranked number one in the nation in basketball. Notre Dame sits alone at the top of college football’s rankings and remains the only undefeated tem left in the nation ///

 

The New York Jets may not have the worst record in the NFL, but they just might be the worst team. Mark Sanchez, how do you run directly into your own player and fumble the ball? He was right in front of you. Big offensive lineman, can’t miss him. The Patriots are a good team, yes, but the Jets had some pretty embarrassing turnovers in the game ///

 

I’m over Oregon. Good recruits, TONS of money coming into the school (they probably should call themselves the University of Oregon, paid for by Nike), yet they can’t get over the hump. I think we’re looking at a school that plays in a slightly sub-par conference (we’re seeing over the year that it’s not as good as a number of the other big conferences) and beats up on those opponents (most, anyway…), yet when they run into good, well coached teams, fall flat. It goes to show that substance still matters more than flash ///

 

Too bad Ohio State isn’t eligible this year (and as a Penn State fan, I never thought I’d say that). I’d much rather see Notre Dame play Ohio State in the national championship this year than see a one loss SEC team sneak in. I’m tired of seeing the SEC and I’m not even sure they’re the best conference in the nation. Rankings released every pre-season have about five SEC teams ranked, so each season starts with the notion that the SEC reigns supreme. Then they spend the season playing each other and small directional colleges, some of whom aren’t even division one ///

 

Seems that every year in the NFL, teams that start out hot tend to lose steam by the end of the year. Look at the Falcons and Texans as proof. Each only has one loss, but they’re struggling to beat sub-par teams now. In contrast, look at teams like the Broncos, Packers and Patriots. They struggled some at the beginning of the year, but now they’re on hot streaks. Did those three get hot too early though? Or will we see others end the year on hot streaks to enter the playoffs? ///

 

By Kevin York
Follow Kevin on Twitter at @kevin_york

Random Saturday Morning Thoughts

Since the San Francisco Giants rode Sergio Romo to the World Series title, do they need Brian Wilson anymore? Should they think of trading the pirate-bearded former closer coming off his second Tommy John surgery? ///

 

If we look at history for a hint at the future, I think Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles, likely starting for the first time this Sunday for an injured Michael Vick, is in for a big payday eventually, either in Philadelphia or elsewhere. Want proof? The other quarterbacks that have followed Michael Vick – Matt Schaub, Matt Ryan and Kevin Kolb ///

 

If both Alex Smith and Jay Cutler don’t play in Sunday’s Bears-Niners game due to the concussions they suffered last week, could the game be decided by which defense scores the most points? ///

 

Where would “The” Ohio State University fall in the BCS standings right now if they were bowl eligible? ///

 

Was Mitt Romney never asked about his favorite sports teams during election campaigning? I never heard anything about it and usually that comes out at some point in campaigning. My guess? When campaigning in Ohio, his team is the Browns; in Florida, the Dolphins; in Colorado, the Broncos ///

 

Hopefully Johnny Manziel gets the proper consideration from Heisman voters this winter and the word ‘freshman’ following redshirt in his eligibility status doesn’t cloud judgement. Remember, Johnny Football is the same age Tim Tebow was when he won the Heisman ///

 

John Farrell leaves Toronto to become manager of the Red Sox. Toronto then brings in a serious haul of players (Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, , Mark Buehrle, Melky Cabrera) that should put them in real contention next year for the AL East. Think Farrell is still happy with his decision to leave the Blue Jays? The first time Boston heads to Toronto next year will be interesting ///

What Happened to the Big Ten?

This was supposed to be the Big Ten’s year. Or the B1G as some are now referring to it. The conference was supposed to have a number of teams fighting not only for the conference crown, but also a birth in the BCS title game. Wisconsin, Michigan State, Michigan and Nebraska were all supposed to be viable contenders for the national championship. Ohio State was also thought to be very good, but ineligible for the conference championship and national title due to penalties stemming from Tattoo-gate.

Fast forward to today…

Wisconsin: 3-1
The Badgers suffered a loss to at-the-time unranked Oregon State in the season opener. Of course, after Oregon State also beat ranked UCLA, the Beavers might be better than we all expected, but I suspect we won’t see them ranked at the end of the year. What may be worse than the Oregon State loss are the three close wins over the likes of Northern Iowa, Utah State and UTEP.

Michigan State: 3-1
Sparty lost to Notre Dame. No shame in that since the Golden Domers look pretty good this year. The boys from East Lansing also struggled against Eastern Michigan though, winning a closer than it appears 23-7 contest.

Michigan: 2-2
The Wolverines got their ass handed to them in the season opener against Alabama, a game many were expecting to be a marquee match-up. Three weeks later, Michigan lost to Notre Dame and QB Denard Robinson, a Heisman candidate in week one, now looks like he doesn’t belong on a FBS field. In between the two losses were a close win over Air Force and a blowout of UMass. Are the Minutemen even a FBS program? Seriously, I think they’re FCS…

Nebraska: 3-1
The ‘Huskers lost to at-the-time #22 UCLA in week two. They also blew out Southern Miss, Arkansas State and Idaho State. Apparently Nebraska AD Tom Osborne decided this would be the year to really test his football team by building a killer out-of-conference schedule consisting of a middle of the pack Pac 12 team, teams from such powerful conferences as Conference USA and the Sun Belt, and a FCS team.

Let’s also not forget that Iowa lost to Central Michigan and struggled to beat Northern Illinois and Northern Iowa, while Ohio State struggled with winless UAB this past weekend and Cal the weekend prior.

Over the last few years many have viewed the Big Ten as one of the best conferences. The SEC trumped all, of course, followed by the Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac 12, in some order. They were definitely viewed more positively than the ACC, Big East and yes, MAC. This year, however, I would put all of those conferences (minus the Big East….they’re still a complete mess) above the Big Ten. Ok, not the MAC either, but they’ve made that call somewhat difficult to make.

Looking back, I’d put the Big Ten as one of the two strongest over the past 15 years or so. Want proof? Since 1999, when the BCS format was rolled out, only twice has the Big Ten not had two teams playing in BCS bowls (2002 and 2005). That’s 12 of 14 years, including the last seven straight. Pretty impressive. No other conference has that kind of track record.

Looking at the other major conferences (minus the Big East), I don’t see that streak continuing this year. I see at least two teams from each of the other power conferences that seem better than all the Big Ten teams. The SEC has Bama, LSU, Georgia and South Carolina. The ACC has Florida State and Clemson. The Big 12 has Kansas State, West Virginia and Texas (and maybe Oklahoma). The Pac 12 has Oregon, Stanford and USC. You also have to factor in Notre Dame, who looks like it could be on its way to a BCS bowl birth.

So what’s different with the Big Ten this year?

Initially I thought lack of speed was finally catching up with the Big Ten. People have talked about this issue quite a bit the past few years – really since 2002 when the Big Ten last won a national title. Big Ten players just haven’t had the speed of SEC or Pac 12 teams. People have speculated that Big Ten programs don’t know how to recruit speed. I tend to agree. They’re still looking in the midwest for speed, where, for the most part, it doesn’t exist. Certainly not to the degree it does in the south or west where high school kids can play football year round. Teams in the SEC, Pac 12, even Big 12 and ACC, have total team speed. They know how and where to find it. It’s not just receivers, it’s all over the field.

As I thought about it more though, I realized it’s not total team speed that’s giving the Big Ten problems this year. MAC teams, who they’ve struggled with, are recruiting in the same areas where Big Ten teams are, and they’re taking players that generally are leftovers the Big Ten didn’t want. But here’s how some of those MAC teams can compete. A team wouldn’t necessarily need to have total team speed to give a Big Ten team problems. They’d just need it at certain positions. For example, while the Big Ten turns out a number of top tier NFL-ready offensive line talents year after year (look at the past few years: Joe Thomas, Jake Long, Bryan Bulaga, Nick Mangold, etc.), teams also utilize a number of plodders along the O-line that struggle with speed. Many midwestern high schools still utilize a run heavy offense, meaning a lot of the guys being recruited by the Big Ten schools to play O-line are only used to run blocking. They aren’t used to facing a quick upfield rush. Quick defense ends and outside linebackers could especially give many of these plodding lineman problems. On the other side of the ball, quick receivers and tight ends could do the same because Big Ten defenses typically haven’t been built to stop that kind of offensive attack – quick, short passes OR strong downfield passing. They’re more of a stout front seven type that can withstand a power running game.

Slowly, but surely, the Big Ten has become vulnerable to speed. We’ve seen it when they play the SEC and now I think we’re starting to see it when they play others. Sure, other factors are contributing to the conference’s struggles this season, but I think speed is common across the board.

So how does the Big Ten overcome this speed problem?

They need to evolve. Adjust to the times. It’s not 1965 anymore. It’s time to update your offenses AND defenses. Some have tried to implement new offensive schemes. Most recently, Michigan went to a spread offense with a running QB. I don’t think they’ve had the other personnel to match that though. Penn State used a modified version when they had Michael Robinson and Daryll Clark at QB. They too, didn’t really have the other personnel needed. Quickness is needed all over the offense, perhaps most importantly, on the offensive line.

Odd as it may sound, the team best positioned for the future may be Penn State (yes, I am a Penn State fan, trying to stay unbiased here). While they’re going to be slammed with depth issues, they’re now running the New England Patriots offense. The offensive shift was clearly visible in the first game of the season. It’s the exact offense new head coach Bill O’Brien was running in New England as offensive coordinator. They’re actually throwing the ball…downfield. They’re using their tight ends…as receivers. They’re creating match-up advantages. They’re running a balanced offense. These things sound crazy to Big Ten teams. Big Ten teams rarely are balanced on offense. They’re heavy run or heavy pass (Purdue under Joe Tiller), not a combination. O’Brien is actually utilizing the strengths of the team he walked into. Sure, he brought his own ideas of what the offense would be, but he’s utilizing people where they’ll make the most impact – not forcing people into positions. That means he’s changing the positions some people play. The offense is one that could be difficult for Big Ten teams to prepare for. Actually, it could be difficult for many teams to prepare for. How many teams that the SEC plays have an offense that includes a decent running game, quick short passes and the potential for a downfield home run? Not too many.

Innovation is needed – and not ‘innovating’ by following what others are doing with a spread or a triple option or lining up some RB at QB, but real innovation. Do something other teams aren’t really doing. That’s where you get your advantages.

Here’s hoping more Big Ten coaches look at what O’Brien’s doing and learn from it.

By Kevin York
Follow Kevin on Twitter at @kevin_york

A Good Move: Notre Dame to the ACC

I grew up in Elkhart, Indiana, which is about 15 minutes from the campus of Notre Dame. While I’m not a Notre Dame fan (the homer media in the area and their overly optimistic pandering to the university turned me off as did the “real” view you get of Notre Dame and its athletics program from living that close to campus), I do hold a special place in my heart for the school having been so inundated with it throughout my childhood and early adult years.

When I heard that Notre Dame will be moving all non-football sports, and what amounts to nearly half of its football program, to the ACC, I actually liked the move. And this is coming from someone that’s been critical of that football program for year. Yet, for all my criticism of Notre Dame (which I won’t get into here), I do have to say, I respect the way they schedule. Year in and year out they have a tough schedule and aren’t putting cupcakes on it like many other D1 schools (looking at you, SEC and Big 12, as your schools complement conference schedules with the School of the Blind, the School of the Death and Community College of Northwest Ohio at Lima). This move is consistent with their tough scheduling.

Notre Dame appreciates the history of their football program. For years they’ve played the likes of Michigan State, Michigan, Purdue, Stanford, USC, Army, Navy and Air Force pretty consistently. People are worried that by joining the ACC they’ll lose these yearly matchups. They won’t. They still have 7 games per year to play against those schools. Now they also have 5 games against ACC schools – schools like Florida State, Miami, Boston College as well as Syracuse and Pitt when those schools join the conference in the next couple years. Historically speaking, I recall Notre Dame playing some good games against those teams when I was younger. Now also add potential games against Virginia Tech, Clemson and North Carolina State? I like it as a fan of college football. I’ll watch those games.

I think the move is good for Notre Dame, the ACC and college football.

The Hypocrisy of the NCAA and a Missed Opportunity for Change

Yesterday I wrote about my feelings on the NCAA’s position to lay sanctions on Penn State stemming from the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse. I’m following up with that post today now that the NCAA penalties have been announced.

The Hypocrisy of the NCAA

I’m not going to spend a lot of words detailing my feelings on the actual sanctions. This post isn’t about that. It’s about the hypocritical manner in which the NCAA operated with its decision. A group of men at Penn State abused their positions of power. One of those men did so directly with children, luring them into trusting him and them using their trust against them to sexually assault them and rape them. The others abused their power by turning their heads and allowing the actions of the man first mentioned to continue. Ironically, a group in the NCAA, president Mark Emmert and the executive committee, abused their powers in an attempt to punish those responsible for these heinous crimes.

Emmert and the executive committee doled out punishments without going through the procedures and processes that are set for them to handle disciplinary actions. As Emmert stated, this scenario was far beyond anything the NCAA has seen, warranting special circumstances for him and the executive committee to act out of normal process. But keep in mind, the NCAA cannot address criminal or civil violations, they are responsible for addressing athletic violations. What they were essentially addressing was a cover up to protect a sports program. They actually have dealt with that before. A few times actually. The action being covered up has never approached this disgusting scenario. Covering up a tattoo in exchange for football merchandise ring in no way nears allowing a pedophile to run around campus freely. I’m not saying they weren’t warranted in bringing some kind of penalties. I’m saying follow your own processes so you can’t receive this type of criticism. You can’t look to past instances for how to handle the disciplinary action, but you can look to it for following the procedures. Don’t give people any opportunity to criticize your actions.

Furthermore, Emmert made comments about the NCAA no longer allowing sports programs to be above the education of young people and the protection of their well being. The tone has to be set that football is not the most important thing. His exact statement was, “Football will never be put ahead of educating, protecting and nurturing young people.” Um, ironically I think you just put football ahead of everything else with these sanctions. The sanctions were aimed nearly entirely at football. If you wanted to set the tone that football isn’t everything, I think you missed. You punished a bunch of kids and their fans by killing their football program. A bunch of 18-22 year olds will now have their college experience extremely altered. Some will play out their athletic careers playing for nothing. Others will transfer, affecting their educational, athletic and social lives. Yes, Sandusky’s actions altered the lives of a number of victims. But is the proper response to go after innocent students? This went beyond football and the punishment shouldn’t have focused just on football if a statement truly wanted to be made.

A Missed Opportunity for Change

Mark Emmert made several comments when announcing the sanctions against Penn State about not allowing something like this to happen again. I hope that the sanctions against Penn State actually have that affect, but I don’t think they will. I heard someone, either Colin Cowherd or Jay Bilas, mention this morning that punishing Tom doesn’t make Bob change. And I think that’s completely true in this Penn State instance. I think what will actually happen is that Bob (other schools) will exploit Tom’s (Penn State) punishment by pilfering Tom’s recruits and current players. Tom will learn from it, Bob will not.

Alabama. Auburn. Texas. Oklahoma. Notre Dame. Oregon. Ohio State. Michigan. Georgia. Florida State. Texas A&M. Florida. Tennessee. Texas Tech. West Virginia. All of these schools have a football first mentality. The football program rules all. Do the sanctions against Penn State do anything to change the athletic cultures at these schools and others like them? What actions are being taken against these schools? No, there wasn’t a child rapist running amuck at the previously mentioned education institutions, and I’m not insinuating anything along those lines is happening at any of them, but the atmosphere is ripe for cover ups to protect the football program. I grew up less than twenty miles from Notre Dame and I know of special circumstances that were afforded to that program and the players within it. This football first mentality exists far beyond State College, PA.

Mark Emmert and the NCAA had the opportunity to make sweeping changes that would affect the broad college football landscape. Instead, they acted in a rushed, short sighted manner in order to gain some short term PR benefits. Will these sanctions prevent future abuse of power? I think not. These sanctions against Penn State won’t result in true change. They issued deep and harsh punishment. The only aspect of the sanctions that is proactive in nature and can make a positive impact is the $60 million dollar fine. Everything else was reactionary.

Another aspect of the sanctions is an “Athletics Integrity Monitor” that will be placed in the Penn State athletic program. (Side note – I’m not against this, but it doesn’t make sense. Every NCAA school currently has a compliance officer, designed to ensure all NCAA rules are followed. By Emmert’s logic, since it was in his authority to address Penn State’s ethics issues, shouldn’t the compliance officer already be handling the job of this Athletics Integrity Monitor? Why wasn’t Penn State’s compliance officer just fired and replaced?) Aside from my tactical questions about the position, I actually think it’s a good move, but why wasn’t it decided that every school have one of these Athletics Integrity Monitors? Bleacher Report’s Daniel Krem posed this same question.

There were many options for addressing Penn State in a way that could spur positive change. To truly make change, far reaching and progressive change is required. To do that, the NCAA would’ve had to admit some fault in its administration of all schools though. I don’t believe Emmert or the executive committee was willing to do that.

I have a few ideas for some of these changes and sanctions against Penn State. I wonder, were any of these considered?

  • A higher monetary fine. I think I would’ve slapped a higher fine on the school without taking scholarships from the football team. Utilize the team as an advantage for something positive. Keep the $60 million dollar fine and add to that all ticket sales revenue from the football program for the next three years and 50% of all football team merchandise revenue.
  • Athletics Integrity Monitors at all NCAA schools. I covered the rationale for that earlier.
  • Limits on annual alumni donations to athletic departments. Large alumni donations lead to football programs becoming powerful. Look at Oregon as an example. That program struggled through much of the 80s and 90s. Then Nike’s Phil Knight decided he wanted to invest in his alma mater’s football program. He made large, large donations. Where do you think the money comes from for the 37 new jersey designs they unveil every year? Now Oregon has a good football team and a powerful one. I’m not saying Oregon has had any improprieties near the extent Penn State has, but the point is the atmosphere is ripe for the abuse of power.
  • Annual volunteer hours. The Penn State football team could’ve had a minimum number of annual volunteer hours they must serve for the next five years. These hours could’ve been mandated to go toward groups that benefit the victims of child abuse.

There are many more ideas like this that could’ve been considered, but were sanctions like this considered? Sanctions that actually result in changed behavior and positive steps toward changing the culture of college athletics? Probably not, but maybe I’m wrong…

Is the NCAA Abusing its Power with Penn State Sanctions?

I’ll start this post off by saying I have been a fan of the Penn State football program for years. I’m disgusted at what has come out about what went on at that school involving Jerry Sandusky and the sexual abuse of children. The leaders of the school betrayed their students, alumni and fans. However, this post is not written as a fan of the football team. My personal feelings about the school or its football team did not play into my opinions included in this blog post.

Reports started coming out today that on Monday the NCAA will announce penalties against Penn State resulting from the Jerry Sandusky crimes. It’s expected that these penalties will be unprecedented and include a large number of lost scholarships and a loss of multiple bowl games. Rumors were flying over the past week that the NCAA may impose the crippling death penalty against the university’s football program. The death penalty has only been used five times previously by the NCAA and only once against a football program. The most publicized of those previous instances, of course, was the SMU football program in 1987 and 1988.

Based on sources from inside the NCAA, some are saying this morning that the death penalty may be preferable than the penalties coming to Penn State, which is pretty shocking. These penalties must include an enormous amount of scholarships lost.

The question I have is, should the NCAA be bringing penalties against Penn State at all?

This isn’t a question of if those responsible at Penn State should be punished. They should. No question about it. However, they should be punished by legal officials, not the NCAA. Jerry Sandusky was already convicted. The others directly involved in the child sexual abuse and cover-up stand to face the legal system as well, with the exception of former head coach Joe Paterno who passed away in January of lung cancer.

But should others be punished? Should the student athletes who were recruited to play at Penn State and had no involvement in this tragedy be punished? Should the general student population lose part of their college experience, a college experience that led many of them to choose to attend Penn State? Should new coach Bill O’Brien, who was no where near the situation, be punished? What good does punishing those people do? These are questions many are asking. Alabama coach Nick Saban said earlier this week that addressing the problem should be done in a positive manner rather than a negative one. He said that instead of laying negative penalties on the school, the school should use proceeds from its athletic tickets sales to go toward victims of child abuse. Some criticized the idea (and Saban immediately said he probably shouldn’t have thrown out the idea), and it could potentially use some tweaks, but I think his take is along the right lines. Get some kind of positive out of this horror instead of just negativity.

So back to the question I initially asked – should the NCAA bring penalties against Penn State? The answer is, no. It sets a bad, dangerous precedent for the NCAA.

The purpose of the NCAA is to make sure all schools are participating in sports from an even, level playing field. They address issues around recruiting and scholarships to make sure everything is fair and equal. The NCAA has NEVER punished a school for criminal violations. Look back. Ohio State’s tattoo issue was based around improper financial benefits going to players. Even looking back at the sanctions issued against Baylor basketball in the early 2000s, those sanctions were brought because of illegal payments to players and recruiting violations. There was a murder involved, but that was addressed in criminal courts, not by the NCAA.

The NCAA has to be using its ‘lack of institutional control’ rule in this instance (no other violations applies), but the NCAA is going against its own process to bring these penalties. There is no Infractions Committee hearing planned, which is standard operating procedure in cases involving lack of institutional control. (By the way, is this really a lack of control? I heard ESPN’s Colin Cowherd once make a comment along the lines of, ‘this actually seems like too much institutional control.’ I think he’s right. There was definitely no lack here…) NCAA president Mark Emmert and its executive board are using the report by former FBI Director Louis Freeh as its basis of bringing a charge instead of commissioning an Infractions Committee investigation and hearing. That Freeh report, by the way, was sanctioned by Penn State’s Board of Trustees. Something like this has never been done.

Emmert, it seems, wants to be Roger Goodell. While past NCAA presidents and executive board members have stated they are not supposed to, and have no desire to, act unanimously, similar in fashion to a professional sports league commissioner, it appears this is exactly what Emmert wants to do. Roger Goodell took some flack for his heavy handed handling of the New Orleans Saints bounty situation, but he was well within his rights as the NFL commissioner. Emmert is no Roger Goodell. He doesn’t have the authority to bring sanctions and penalties against Penn State, and he certainly doesn’t have the authority to do so outside the normal lines of processes that universities are supposed to receive.

The actions here by Emmert and the NCAA executive board set a terrible precedent. This new power would allow them to make decisions and take actions far beyond their past responsibilities. Will university presidents stand up and object to this? Or will they sit back and let it happen? If they sit back, I think they will regret their passive silence at some point in the future.

The NCAA should not be involved in punishing a school for criminal behavior. Let the legal system address that. The Jerry Sandusky situation went far outside the football program. And based on the Freeh report, involved two people inside the football program – Joe Paterno and witness and assistant coach Mike McQueary. The others involved were in administration. Penn State is a public university, funded by the state of Pennsylvania. In my mind, because of that, it actually makes more sense for the state of Pennsylvania to look into penalties rather than the NCAA. This is more than a subject of an equal playing level on the football field. In fact, it has nothing to do with that. The string of actions that have come out did not  in any way give Penn State advantages over Ohio State, Michigan or Illinois on Saturday afternoons. Those in administration (former President Graham Spanier, former Vice President Gary Schultz and former Athletic Director Tim Curley) have already been removed from their positions and face criminal charges. The state of Pennsylvania should also look at forcing each and every person on the Board of Trustees to vacate their roles. Completely new leadership is needed everywhere. Those at the top of the organizational structure at the school deserve punishment. The entire school does not. Let this be sorted out in a legal courtroom. Punish the individuals at fault, not an entire group of people. And, Emmert, if you do want to try and play the ‘lack of institutional control’ card against the school, make sure you follow correct procedures.

Rivalry Week

This week, The Couchletes will be focusing on rivalries in sports. Baseball, football, basketball, hockey, college sports. We’ll cover them all. Why did we choose this week and not align with one of ESPN’s rivalry weeks during college football season. Well, we’re not ESPN for one. And two, it’s a fairly slow week in sports. Wimbledon and MLB’s All Star game, that’s about it. So why not create some sports discussions of our own?

To start the week off, we want to hear from you. What do you think are the best rivalries in sports? Head over to our Facebook page and vote on the polls we’ve posted over there about the best rivalries in sports. Then throughout the week, we’ll publish some of our thoughts here about sports rivalries.