Friday, December 24, 2010

The NCAA and the Constanza Defense

Mr. Lippman: It's come to my attention that you and the cleaning woman have engaged in sexual intercourse on the desk in your office. Is that correct?
George Costanza: Who said that?
Mr. Lippman: She did.
George Costanza: [pause] Was that wrong? Should I not have done that? I tell you, I gotta plead ignorance on this thing, because if anyone had said anything to me at all when I first started here that that sort of thing is frowned upon... you know, cause I've worked in a lot of offices, and I tell you, people do that all the time.

In the case of NCAA v. George Costanza, the NCAA blinked.

WHO KNEW it was wrong for Terrelle Pryor and his Ohio State teammates to trade autographs for tattoos, and sell their uniforms, shoes and, in Pryor's case, his Big 10 Championship ring?

WHO KNEW Cecil Newton had painted a For Sale sign on the back of his son's jersey? Certainly not Cam . . . I mean, what kid these days concerns himself with the trifling decision over where he will attend school? Cecil: After much prayer, I've decided you're signing with Auburn. Let the record show -- and if anyone is listening in -- this decision has been solely between me and God, that you have had no role in it whatsoever. Cam, not looking up from his I-Phone: Whatever. Auburn Athletic Director John Jacobs (eyes glued to his Blackberry and gesturing at Cam): What he says.

This is a complex but essential point to grasp: Under the Costanzian Behavioral Theory -- which now becomes NCAA precedent -- if there's a chocolate bar missing and you have chocolate tracks on your fingerprints, DENY EVERYTHING. If you have chocolate smeared all over your face and the wrapper is in your back pocket, SWEAR you didn't know it was wrong to take it.

That appears to be the legal construct behind the NCAA ruling Thursday to suspend the Ohio State players for the first five games of next season, but allow them to play in the Sugar Bowl in 10 days. The bowl game is such a special treat, the suddenly doting uncle agency said, and, after all, kids will be kids, PARTICULARLY when they have not received the proper training to discern right from wrong. (In a shocking coincidence, the university's failings were compounded by a complete shutdown of the communications industry in central Ohio. Cut off from the media grid, Pryor and his buds never heard about the A.J. Green jersey scandal, the mass suspensions at North Carolina, or any of a dozen other investigations/suspensions focused on players receiving excessive benefits.) WHO KNEW?

At least the NCAA is being consistent. Another way of looking at it, of course, is that the agency had boxed itself in with its handling of the Newton case. Earlier this month, the agency declared that a violation had occurred in Cam's recruitment. But it ruled the star quarterback eligible for the SEC Championship game (and presumably the BCS showdown with Oregon next month) because it couldn't prove the player or Auburn knew of Cecil Newton's business plan. Again, WHO KNEW?

Other conferences guffawed, most notably The Big 10 and its commissioner, Jim Delaney. Funny, Delaney was strangely silent when Costanzian logic was applied to Ohio State.

The good thing is all this unpleasantness have been cleared up before Christmas and the New Year's parade of cash cows known as the BCS Bowl Games. It's an American tradition: The select few invited to the party get rich. WE KNOW it's not the time or place for moral ambiguities.

As Costanza puts it: Jerry, just remember, it's not a lie if you believe it.


Thursday, December 23, 2010

Exodus of Stars

The A.J. Green Watch, which is really no watch at all, has officially begun.

The superb Georgia receiver will sign a big NFL contract this summer, making it almost a certainty that he'll never again have to sell a jersey for spending money.
Dawg fans, whose optimism always extends beyond their rightful station in life, are praying for one last hurrah from their All-American end.

Instead, Green will lead the departure of perhaps the greatest junior class in SEC history. Consider the names of the prospective early departees:

Julio Jones, Mark Ingram and Marcel Dareus, all of Alabama.

Cam Newton and Nick Fairley, both of Auburn.

Ryan Mallett of Arkansas.

Patrick Peterson of LSU.

Derrick Locke of Kentucky.

If we look a little closer, we'll find that the list includes:

*The last two Heisman winners (Ingram and Newton).

The key players on what should be the last two National Champions (Alabama and Auburn).

The top two receivers (Green and Jones) in the next NFL draft.

The likely top defensive linemen (Fairley and Dareus) in said draft.

The top safety in college football (Peterson).

And one of the most versatile players (Locke) in the entire college game.

Everyone of them is an All-American, with the exception of Locke, and he should have been. Most of them were part of the 2008 recruiting class, one of the best of modern times, and have been terrorizing the league for three years. Fairley and Newton, who came out of junior college, are one-and-doners at Auburn, but what an impact they have had.

In the end, we are left with one conclusion: Talent gravitates to the SEC. The best league and the best TV slots and the best rivalries get the best players.

The conference schools are wrapping up what should be another bumper recruiting season, with Alabama, LSU, Florida and Georgia expecting Top 10 classes. But it will be a while, maybe a long while, before the SEC has another group to compare with what arrived in 2008, easily one of the best ever -- even for the top conference in the country.


Due to a Pryor engagement . . . TOSU star and teammates suspended for five games next year

An unfortunate tattoo is the least of the worries for Terrelle Pryor and The Ohio State University.

The NCAA today suspended the Buckeye quarterback and some of his teammates for receiving illegal benefits -- i.e. the sale of uniforms, shoes and other equipment.

The penalty: Pryor and the other Bucks must sit out the first five games of next year. The impact: Suddenly, TOSU needs a quarterback. Now that the NCAA has virtually cut his senior season in half, it's hard to imagine Pryor returning to Columbus.

Oddly enough, the players ARE eligible for the Sugar Bowl matchup with Arkansas -- not because the NCAA caved to lobbying by the Sugar Bowl or the networks, but because the NCAA says TOSU didn't adequately teach its players to know right from wrong. The school promises to do better. We know it will. After all, this is THE Ohio State.

Besides, given that the NCAA allowed Auburn's Cam Newton to play after his father tried to sell him to at least one school, we can understand the ethical confusion. Read more.


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Et Tat-too, Buck Eye?

In its endless pursuit of a bowl win against an SEC team, THE Ohio State University has often shot itself in THE foot, kicked itself in THE seat of THE pants, tied itself in knots . . . THE result: THE Ofer THE Ohio State wears against the likes of Alabama, LSU, Florida and South Carolina.

Appropriately, TOSU has NOW broken new ground in the annals of self-mutilation: It is THE first school to turn ''a shot in the arm" into a bad thing.

Many of THE team's best players, including quarterback Terrelle Pryor, are under investigation for possibly trading autographs for free tattoos and other favors. It's unclear at this point if they will be allowed to suit up for THE Sugar Bowl Game in New Orleans against Arkansas. THE Buckeyes are 0-9 against SEC teams in THE post-season -- including National Championship blowout losses to Florida and LSU, and THE ultimate ignominy of back-to-back losses to South Carolina (THE Cocks' only two bowl wins EVER).

In Arkansas, TOSU is facing one of THE country's hottest teams and one of college football's best quarterbacks, Ryan Mallett. And, of course, as most Buck fans are always happy to point out, THE Ohio State is playing a road game on an SEC field (on which they were pummeled by LSU). THE irony of it all.

THE lesson to all of this: Always insist on a clean needle AND always get a receipt.

Script Ohio, indeed.


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Speaking of 2011 ...

Given that Xmas music begins in the malls the instant the clock strikes 12 on Halloween night, maybe we shouldn't be surprised that the first poll of 2011 is upon us -- weeks before the National Championship game is played.

It's from a group called and, like all preseason polls, has little credibility beyond its stacking of SEC teams.
In this case, the poll has Alabama (2), LSU (3) and Auburn (5) at the top. Oklahoma, for the very little any of this is worth, is the No. 1 pick. Click here for the site, then click on the names of the schools for more details.

Early-bird EXPATS advice: Have your carton of Morton Salt ready.

In theory, Alabama will have close to 20 starters back from a team that was a handful of plays from a return to the BCS Championship game. But if there are any of you out there who believe the Tide's junior class -- which includes All-Americans Mark Ingram, Julio Jones, Marcel Dareus and Mark Barron -- returns intact, we have an important message: Tinkerbell needs you. Clap your hands really loud and repeat after me. "I do believe in faeries." Besides, the site makes the transition from qb Greg McElroy sound like Alabama is changing air filters. Wake me up after the new guy gets the team through Happy Valley and The Swamp next year.

Auburn at 5? Given the shadow a certain quarterback has spread across the program, it's easy to miss the talent Auburn has amassed. As with Alabama, though, the departure of top juniors -- in this case Cam Newton and Nick Fairley -- will leave massive holes. Suffice to say, the Tigers won't be getting anywhere near the same results from their next signal-caller. They also lose almost all of their offensive line. (And there is the little matter of the continued investigations surrounding the program.)

Which brings us to LSU. Since the normal rules of nature don't apply in the Les Miles Universe, any prediction of the Tigers' performance is beyond the limits of mere probabilities. Suffice to say LSU has talent. How the coach's bayou hoodoo affects it is anybody's guess.


Sunday, December 12, 2010

The maid in waiting becomes The Man in Gainesville

In the blur of Florida's quick selection of Will Muschamp to be its next coach, I don't know what's the bigger question:

Why has it taken this long for the former defensive coordinator at Auburn and Texas to be given the chance to run a program?

Or: Has Jeremy Foley lost his mind?

After Urban Meyer's second attempt at early retirement, most educated guesses had landed on the square that Foley, the Gator athletic director, would go with a proven commodity, that the Florida job would attract a long line of proven suitors, from Bob Stoops to Chris Peterson to emerging star Dan Mullen at Mississippi State. Besides, Florida had first-hand experience with Ron Zook, an able assistant and recruiter who won little more than half his games at Gainesville while sandwiched between Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer.

And yet, Foley chose Muschamp, not yet 40 but a lifelong assistant. In fact, Foley said Muschamp was his top target from the start. The former Georgia player certainly has the chops on his resume: stints at LSU with Nick Saban, plus highly successful and much publicized defensive coordinator gigs at Auburn and Texas. Schools with head coaches to find started circling him years ago, so much so that Texas gave him an enormous raise and put the Coach in Waiting brand on him, even though Longhorn head guy Mack Brown said he wasn't going anywhere.

So now Muschamp gets his shot, not at some mid-major or struggling program at the bottom of a power conference, but at what many believe is the best college football job in the country. It's not like he's a teenager being asked to parallel park the family's Mercedes. He has played and coached at iconic programs, worked for the fiery Saban and laid-back Brown and Tommy Tuberville. He, in following the advice of Bear Bryant, has surrounded himself with highly successful people.

And yet . . .

The biggest walk in sports is from trusted assistant to head guy in a successful football program. It's the ultimate application of the Peter Principal, and the mortality rate is great: Phil Bengston at Green Bay, Ray Goff at Georgia, Mike Dubose and Mike Shula at Alabama, Doug Barfield at Auburn, Mike Archer at LSU, Ed Orgeron at Ole Miss, and, of course, Zook. All were considered loyal servants to the program. All were chosen in hopes of smoothing over the jolts of changing eras. And each was a "(fill in the name of your school here) MAN." They knew the players. They knew how their schools did things. And yet all failed -- in some cases, preposterously so.

Goff was over his head. Orgeron had troubling completing sentences, much less winning games. Shula showed all his father's stubborness and very little of his vision during his disappointing return to Tuscaloosa.

But he looked like Knute Rockney compared to Dubose. When Gene Stallings walked away at Alabama, Dubose, a defensive coordinator like Muschamp, rode a staggering wave of fan support to the head job. Dubose's only qualification, it seemed, was one of royal lineage: He was one of "Bear's Boys." He is now the most notorious coach in Alabama history, having inherited one NCAA probation then very quickly going out and getting one of his own. He also lied to his bosses about an affair he had with his secretary, allowed open revolts among his assistants, and said after a loss to Tennessee that he was angry at Jesus for letting it happen.

At least Zook didn't cheat. He brought energy and good recruits to The Swamp. But almost a decade after his hiring at Florida, and his up-and-down performance at Illinois, it's still unclear if he knows what he's doing.

That is not to say that Muschamp is doomed to failure. Bryant was an assistant at one time. Georgia took a flyer on Auburn assistant Vince Dooley. Joe Paterno has done OK.

But all of them built their resumes a long, long time ago, in a universe far, far away. Muschamp faces an entirely different journey -- with a level of 24-hour-a-day scrutiny, comically high expectations and competition that long ago eclipsed cutthroat. Hell, Bryant never adjusted to sideline reporters. What would he have done with the Web?

For starters, Muschamp seems intent on surrounding himself with his mirror twins. Word out of Austin is Major Applewhite will be his offensive coordinator, and Muschamp apparently will go after Kirby Smart, a longtime friend and Saban's DC at Alabama, who now becomes college football's top maid in waiting.

Florida could have gone to "Jersey Shore" for a head coach and would still get great talent to Gainesville. But now Muschamp must deal with resurgent Florida State, where lifelong assistant Jimbo Fischer is finishing his first year as a head coach. In the SEC, Muschamp jumps into the deep end with the likes of Saban, Spurrier, Bobby Petrino, Les Miles and Gene Chizik, whose Auburn team seems destined to win the SEC's fifth national championship in a row.

Florida owns two of those jewels. But they belong to Meyer. Muschamp will be expected to add his name to the charm bracelet in a ridiculously short time. You might call it his "validation in waiting."


Friday, December 10, 2010

The latest from Gainesville

If you want to keep up with what's happening at the University of Florida (I'll wake up Tomlinson if the campus disappears into a swamp), here are some links to some pretty good reads.

Gainesville Sun sports columnist Pat Dooley puts the Meyer Era in perspective and says the coach stayed one year too long.

Recruitniks, click here for the status of some of Florida top high school targets, and which teams are circling the Gators' suddenly leaking boat.

On the coaching search, Dan Wolken of the Memphis Commercial Appeal says all parties involved are staying mum, but Mississippi State's Dan Mullen is a Dead Bulldog Walking.

Not so fast. A Gator writer has two other candidates in mind.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Cam: "I did it the right way."

ESPN has posted story based on Cam Newton's sitdown with the network's college football anchor Chris Fowler.

In it, he says he is innocent of any wrongdoing in his recruitment and that he chose Auburn not for money, but because it was the best fit.


Barnhart on the demise of Urban Meyer

Interesting eulogy from the AJC's Tony Barnhart on Urban Meyer, and not a series of verbal soft tosses by any means.

In short, Barnhart writes that the uber-successful Florida coach often cut corners for wins, from how he disciplined his players to how he filled moats and raised walls to establish a paranoid "us against them" air around his program.

In the end, though, Barnhart reaches the same conclusion of many of us. Meyer and Florida meant football excellence. His departure leaves a lesser SEC. Enjoy


Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A Heisman speech for the times . . .

There are only two teams left to play a meaningful game this season, and, with some time on his hands before the BCS championship, Austin Murphy of Sports Illustrated couldn't pass up the rather large sitting duck about to win college football's highest award.

Take it from there, Austin.

A look at the take-home pay of your football coach

Consider this fascinating piece of sports journalism from USA Today: a breakdown of the salaries of Division I football coaches.

The range is astounding: from the $300,000 paid Miami of Ohio's Mike Haywood to Nick Saban's $5.17 million.

Some of the figures may surprise you: For example, who's the best paid coach in the ACC (you get three guesses)? Who makes more: Steve Spurrier or Derek Dooley?

Rest assured, Urban Meyer will be riding off into supposed retirement on a large pot of gold. The soon-to-be former Gator coach gets $4 million. But he lost to Dan Mullen, a potential successor, who ONLY makes $1.2 million. He also lost to Jimbo Fisher at Florida State. He makes less than half Meyer's salary. (Of course, the same pay comparison can be made about the outcome of the Auburn-Alabama game. But we won't make it.)

Note: This is the university-paid salaries only. TV and endorsement deals and possible bonuses actually put Saban's salary closer to the $6 million mark. You can check the chart with the story for those incidental extras.

And if you want to know the difference between a football-first conference like the SEC vs. one that hopes to get there (Et tu, ACC?), notice the difference in what the top coaches from each conference make.

Push here for the entire USA Today package.

In the meantime, here are some highlights extrapolated by the Expats.

Top 5
1. Nick Saban, Alabama, $5.17 million.
2. Mack Brown, Texas, $5.1 million
3. Bob Stoops, Oklahoma, $4.275 million
4. Urban Meyer, Florida, $4 million
5. Les Miles, LSU, and Kirk Ferentz, Iowa, $3.8 million

1. Saban
2. Meyer
3. Miles
4. Mark Richt, Georgia, $2.8 million
5. Bobby Petrino, Arkansas, $2.7 million

1. Jim Grobe, Wake Forest (Ha, told you you'd never guess), $2.94 million
2. Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech, $2.3 million
3. Frank Beamer, Va. Tech, $2.04 million
4. Ralph Friedgen, Maryland, $2.04 million
5. Jimbo Fisher, Florida State, $1.8 million

National Championship game
Chip Kelly, Oregon, $2.4 million
Gene Chizik, Auburn, $2.1 million.

Biggest return on this year's investment:
1. Chizik.
2. Dan Mullen, Miss. State, $1.2 million
3. Tom O'Brien, NC State, $632,960 (No need to send donations -- his other compensation brings the total up to $1.52 million)
4. Gary Patterson, TCU, $1.6 million
5. Chris Ault, Nevada, $443,100.

Least return on this year's investment
1. Mac Brown, Texas, $5.1 million
2. Mark Richt, Georgia, $2.8 million
3. Houston Nutt, Ole Miss, and Rich Rodriguez, Michigan, $2.5 million
4. Urban Meyer, Florida, $4 million
5. Jim Grobe, Wake Forest, $2.9 million.

(Honorable mention: Saban. For his kind of dough, coaches can't blow 24-0 leads, at home, against your biggest rival.)

Urban Adieu Part II

Urban Meyer has UN-unretired at the University of Florida.

According to Gator Zone, a Florida fan site, the Florida head coach first spoke about his possible departure with his boss over the weekend and finalized the plan on Tuesday. Meyer has spoken to his team, and will hold a press conference at 5 this afternoon to discuss his decision.

The Gator Zone story quotes Meyer as citing the demands of the job over his 25-year career as the reason for his departure. Here's the link.

The Florida coach retired last year, citing health and family concerns, the day after his team got pounded by Alabama in the SEC Championship Game. Meyer unretired a day later. But this season, despite a load of returning starters and the consensus No. 1 recruiting class, the Gators again were deep-fried by The Tide. They were also beaten at home by LSU, Mississippi State and South Carolina, then pummeled by Florida State in the season finale.

In short, Meyer, who even for a football coach has an unnatural aversion to losing, has suffered more lopsided losses in one year than the rest of his distinguished head coaching career combined.

There's already speculation on what he'll do next, including some online chatter that he could be a candidate for the vacant Denver Broncos job, where he would be reunited with his former quarterback, Tim Tebow. With Tebow on the roster, Meyer and Florida won two national championships in three years.


Friday, December 3, 2010

Auburn vs. South Carolina -- who you got?

Mr. Gordon is still off wandering the wilderness, muttering to himself: "We had them 24 to nothing... We had them 24 to nothing..."

He's due back Monday. I'm sure we'll all hear from him them. In the meantime, there's an SEC championship game to play. Two quick notes before we get to the picks:

-- You know this already, but the SEC title game dwarfs the other conference championships. There are 20,000 people on the waiting list for tickets. Although I suspect a few Bama fans dropped off this week.

-- You also know this already, but I don't think Bear would have done it this way. At SEC football banquets, the inspirational music is generally Hank Jr., Slayer, or something Wu-Tang. Michigan players, come south and be men.

On to the picks.

Peter: The most remarkable thing about this Auburn team is its ability to overcome - tight first quarter play, Cam Newton questions, all of it. Now, for the first time in weeks, it's merely a big football game against a scary football team. Will the Tigers finally come out loose, now that the road to Glendale has been officially cleared for them by the NCAA? The Gamecocks are better than they were when they almost beat Auburn in Auburn back in September, but the Tigers also are a different team, with a more complete offense and a defense that can slow teams just enough. If Auburn starts well, it's hard to pick against a trip to Glendale. Auburn 34, South Carolina 31.

Tommy: Wouldn't it be funny if Auburn lost now? OK, if you're an Auburn fan, that doesn't fall anywhere in your definition of "funny." But this almost falls into the category of a trap game between the Alabama epic and an expected national title game. Two differences, though: One, Auburn has to win to make that title game, and two, South Carolina is really good. The Gamecocks had two big road games at the end of the season -- Florida for the SEC East, and Clemson for bragging rights -- and thumped both teams. They led Auburn in the fourth quarter back in September. And they beat Alabama worse than Auburn did. All that should add up to a close game in Atlanta. But you know what? I can't see it. Auburn's running downhill these days, and I don't think anybody -- including Oregon -- can keep up. Auburn, 44-24.

Gordon: Checking in from the edge of the Abyss, still wondering if Cam Newton can overcome his bruising treatment by the NCAA and his own school. All those minutes wondering if he would have a chance to live his dream . . .

Let's make something clear: The best team won the Iron Bowl and the best team now comes to Atlanta and hour away from a shot at a national championship. And yet there's this eerie feeling that the Tigers will have to fight like crazy to get to the Arizona. South Carolina can win this game if it tackles for 48 minutes and their quarterback keeps his inner Jeckyl in check until the post-game celebration. Auburn will win, and comfortably, if it figures out how to turn its second half against Alabama into four quarters of effort. Heck, three quarters will do. WDE: 34-24

R. Trentham: You know it's your year when the NCAA actually CLEARS you. Auburn 31, South Carolina 26.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

NCAA: Cam Newton is eligible

Breaking news - and good news for Auburn: The NCAA has ruled quarterback Cam Newton eligible to compete.

The NCAA ruled that Newton's father, Cecil, violated NCAA rules by soliciting money for his son to play football - but apparently that Cam Newton did not know of the pay-for-play scheme.

Newton and Auburn play South Carolina in the SEC Championship at the Georgia Dome on Saturday. If Auburn wins, the Tigers will compete for the BCS Championship.

From the NCAA's web site:

Auburn University football student-athlete Cam Newton is immediately eligible to compete, according to a decision today by the NCAA student-athlete reinstatement staff. The NCAA concluded on Monday that a violation of amateurism rules occurred, therefore Auburn University declared the student-athlete ineligible yesterday for violations of NCAA amateurism rules.

When a school discovers an NCAA rules violation has occurred, it must declare the student-athlete ineligible and may request the student-athlete’s eligibility be reinstated. Reinstatement decisions are made by the NCAA national office staff and can include conditions such as withholding from competition and repayment of extra benefits. Newton was reinstated without any conditions.

According to facts of the case agreed upon by Auburn University and the NCAA enforcement staff, the student-athlete’s father and an owner of a scouting service worked together to actively market the student-athlete as a part of a pay-for-play scenario in return for Newton’s commitment to attend college and play football. NCAA rules (Bylaw 12.3.3) do not allow individuals or entities to represent a prospective student-athlete for compensation to a school for an athletic scholarship.

In conjunction with the case, Auburn University has limited the access Newton’s father has to the athletics program and Mississippi State has disassociated the involved individual.

From the SEC:

"The conduct of Cam Newton's father and the involved individual is unacceptable and has no place in the SEC or in intercollegiate athletics," said Mike Slive, Southeastern Conference Commissioner. "The actions taken by Auburn University and Mississippi State University make it clear this behavior will not be tolerated in the SEC."
- Peter St. Onge