Friday, December 7, 2007

Coaches, Playoffs, Heismans (or is it Heismen?)

When in doubt, punt! ~ John Heisman

The story so far:

Coaching-go-round

Coaches are going every whichway, but the two stories that are most intriguing involve Michigan and Arkansas. These major programs are having surprising difficulties landing a new football coach. Apparently, Michigan won't pony up enough money while there's not enough money anywhere to interest anyone in the Arkansas gig.

Michigan looked to have Les Miles all locked up. They asked for and received permission to talk to Miles, normally a good sign that unofficial communications had gone on (translation: the coach's agent has been talking to people in a position to know what the university's deal would be). Miles, after crying great crocodile tears about his love of Michigan, promptly gets a new deal from LSU. Michigan's Athletic Director promptly goes sailing and is unavailable to react.

Up until that last sentence, it all made sense. It does make sense if you consider that maybe Michigan just wasn't willing to pay the kind of dough that SEC coaches are pulling down. The fact that Rutgers coach Greg Schiano turned the Wolverines down would seem to bear that out. No other explanation fits (unless Jim Tressel is that frightening) for a program that is as successful and loaded as Michigan to be having trouble filling Loyd Carr's coaching cap.

Meanwhile, Arkansas is offering millions and getting turned down by everyone (they haven't offered me the job yet; for $3 million bucks, I can do a mean Soooooooooeeeee Pig). Frank Broyles is supposed to be retiring December 31, so the problem of working with a school legend isn't there. Arkansas may not be the plum of all jobs, but it isn't chopped liver, for crying out loud. The problem could be boosters, or course. Houston Nutt may not have been the greatest coach, but he didn't do badly, yet Arkansas fans (and presumably some of the more notable contributors) evidently were tired of him.

On the other hand, anyone who coaches knows that the same boosters that loved him when they were winning titles will disavow him quicker than a captured Mission:Impossible team member. Unless said boosters are already issuing threats, it seems unlikely that this would be a sticking point. It makes one wonder if there is some sort of rumor of an NCAA investigation running around.

What's silly is that there are, no doubt, some very good Division I-AA and II coaches who would jump at the chance to go to either school. The big schools have a thing for trying to find coaches at their level who are willing to jump ship for a bucket of cash. For some reason, these same schools are surprised when such coaches jump ship yet again for a bigger bucket of cash. Hiring a lower division successful coach would seem to be a bright idea.

It certanly has worked out well for Ohio State.

The BCS Stinks Worse Than Ever

I am an Ohio State fan, and even I am sick of the silliness that is the BCS. Okay, it's been a goofy year where no one really wanted to be number 1 -- or 2, 3, 4, or 5, for that matter. Now we can argue about how the poll voters vote all day, but one thing is becoming obvious: The people who vote in the polls, which are currently the bulk of the BCS rating, are clueless. A loss early is forgiven while a loss late in the season is peanalized. OSU lost to Illinois fairly late and dropped to number 6 or 7. But they lost early enough. Beating Michigan and then not playing for two weeks moved them back to number 1.

LSU lost twice, yet they are number 2 ahead of a 1 loss team (Kansas) and an undefeated team (Hawaii). In fact, LSU had been in the top two twice during the season, yet the voters kept putting them back. The Tigers looked really ugly in beating Tennessee, too. In fact, had the Volunteer quarterback not thrown the two worst interceptions I've seen in ages, LSU isn't the champion of the SEC. In that event, Georgia, which lost to that same Tennessee team would have become number 2.

Meanwhile, Kansas is out because they play such a weak schedule. Well, everyone knew about that schedule all season. Well, LSU played out-of-conference powerhouses Middle Tennessee, Louisiana Tech, and Tulane. Ohio State played Kent State and Akron. So, now the Big 12 is a lousy conference? If that's the case, how did they have both the number 1 and 2 teams at one point? And how did Oklahoma vault to number 4 beating a weak sister like Missouri (who was ranked number 1 for beating the aforementioned Kansas team with the weak schedule).

There are only 11 conferences in all of Division I-A. You can't come up with a playoff system with only 11 division winners and an at-large invitee (so Notre Dame can get in whenever they get six wins)?

School presidents go on and on about how it would require so many extra games and that would be bad for the student athletes. Bull. The presidents certainly haven't minded going from 10 to 11 to 12 games, with a 13th for championship games. If a playoff system went in, they'd have to get rid of those cupcake games against Division II opponents that allow them to soak fans for more money for season ticket packages. A playoff would require them to cut back on the regular season, and they aren't about to give up those games. After all, they've got to come up with the money to pay those head coaches (both the ones they have and the ones they fired the year after giving 4 year extensions).

Until the NCAA can figure out a way for the schools to get as rich in a playoff scheme as they get by scheduling Punxatawney Tech, there will be no playoff system in Division I-A, allowing it to continue as the only major collegiate sport where the true champion is not decided by playing the game.

Heisman Ho-Ho's

I wonder if John Heisman would like what has been done with the award that bears his name. I don't think so. The man who once said to players, "Gentlemen, it is better to have died a small boy than to fumble this football," doesn't strike me as a man who would care for the fact that the award for the most outstanding player in college football has turned into a PR-driven joke.

Frankly, winning the Heisman is no guarantee of future success. It's also no curse. But, it doesn't really make much difference in where a guy gets drafted or how he does in the NFL (assuming he even gets there). But colleges want to have Heisman award-winners because it makes it easier for them to recruit and gives the school prestige Academics be damned; we've got Heisman winners!

It's not just PR, either. Teams will tailor their offenses (defensive players need not apply to be considered the best player in the land) to showcase a given player. Case in point: Tim Tebow. Now Mr. Tebow is, no doubt, a very good athlete, a running quarterback that can also through. But, when a quarterback scores 21 touchdowns on the ground, the offense is set up for him to score that way. Or consider, Hawaii's Colt Brennan. He plays in an offense that is guaranteed to generate mega-yards for any reasonably talented quarterback.

On the other hand, you have Darren McFadden of Arkansas (school motto: Will someone please come coach for us?). He is the offense because they don't have anything else. Because of that, if I were picking, I'd probably pick Mr. McFadden for the award. But the hype machine is picking Tim Tebow, which has some people's BVD's in a wad because he's a sophomore.

So what? With so many players leaving at the end of their junior year, sophomores are the new juniors. Besides, if a voter really thinks the guy is that outstanding, he or she should vote for him. I don't see the big fuss here.

Let's face it. Individual awards are nice, but football is a team sport. The greatest player on earth cannot win all the games for a team that's otherwise lousy. At least team laurels are earned on the field.

Well, except in Division I-A, where they're earned in the polls.

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