published Tuesday, March 26th, 2013

5-at-10: SoCon's uncertain future, great day in Orlando, NASCAR intensity and Battle of the Network Stars

Gang, remember Friday's mailbag and try to do a random act of kindness today — it's good for the soul.

Realignment hits the 423

There are reports surfacing that Georgia Southern and Appalachian State will leave the Southern Conference, and that the announcement could come as early as Wednesday. We discussed this some on Monday in this space. We'll discuss it more here.

GSU and App are expected to join the Sun Belt, becoming full members in 2015 and members in every other sport other than football in 2014. It's a move that would leave them as lame ducks in the Southern Conference in football the next two seasons.

Let's look at the swirling issues this presents:

• The Southern Conference will have to expand. Kennesaw State, ETSU and others will be interested.

• This will change the face and the perception of the SoCon, which has long been viewed as the SEC of the FCS. If the SEC lost Alabama and Florida — football powers comparable to what App and GSU have been over the last 20-plus years — the entire league would take a sharp shot to the solar plexus (copyrighted by Gordon Solie). Plus, the future additions would be bottom feeders in the football world for the foreseeable future.

• UTC has to examine its current status and wonder what else is out there. Although this proposition — not unlike speculating who may be the next UTC basketball coach — is complete guesswork until a new AD is picked.

What do we know about this move? We know App State and GSU better have some deep pockets to participate in all sports in a Sun Belt that comprises the great circle around Tennessee. The new-look Sun Belt, which lost North Texas, Florida Atlantic and MTSU to Conference USA, will stretch from Statesboro, Ga. (Georgia Southern) north to Boone, N.C. (App State), across to Bowling Green, Ky. (Western Kentucky) to Jonesboro, Ark. (Arkansas State) dip to San Marcos, Texas (Texas State) the turn back east to the heart of Louisiana (La.-Monroe and La.-LaFayette) to south Alabama (Troy and South Alabama). Plus, there are late reports that Idaho and New Mexico State could also be invited to the Sun Belt. Not sure how many fans are going to make the road trip from Statesboro or Boone to Moscow, Idaho for a Thursday night game on ESPN Ocho. And that volleyball trip to Carlsbad, N.M., may get kind of pricey, too.

The re-alignments for all the non-power leagues are attempts to better position athletic programs for one of two things. Smaller schools (be it enrollment or profile) have to find ways to tap into the TV revenue stream. Is this a move that could do that? Who knows. But the Southern Conference, despite its success in and skill-level of football, has not been able to land TV deals either.

The other roll of the dice of making a move to the FBS-level is the unknown future of the college football playoff structure. What happens when the playoffs expand, because they will expand sooner rather than later? How many conferences can angle their way into sharing a drink from the unending firehose of greenbacks that will be an eight- or even a 16-team college football playoff system.

We can see a real future that includes two types of football — teams playing for the FBS/BCS (whatever letters they toss out there) title and teams playing non-scholarship football. (This will be 100 percent the case if/when student-athletes start getting paid because the teams/conferences that have enough revenue stream from TV, donors, etc., will be even more reluctant to share or open the gates for new schools/conferences.)

It seems that basketball — with the 340-plus Division I teams all in the same pot, even the FGCU Eagles, who are the talk of the tournament as we speak — gives smaller schools a better chance to compete both in sports, in prestige and in the financial gains of athletics.

It's an unsure time for the future of college sports that leaves several questions and untold numbers of possibilities, each with positives and negatives.

We do know this: We'll miss seeing the Eagles and the Mountaineers on those Saturdays at Finley when the weather was nice and the crowd was bigger and more energetic than normal.

Not sure what the move means for those schools, but it sure feels like the Southern Conference lost with the decision.

—————

Greatness in central Florida

OK, someone get to the Google and see if we can find out if there's been an epicenter of excellence converge on one city like Orlando had Monday.

We know the Mouse lives there, and having seen him first-hand last month and his affect on children (and on a parent's pocketbook), there's is no debating the extreme level of genius and craftsmanship that Mickey, Donald, Goofy, Perry the Platypus, Lightning McQueen, Buzz Lightyear and the rest of the Disney entourage have created. It's next level to all levels and that's playing at another level. Sorry, no more levels, Kramer.

Across town at Arnie's course, Tiger Woods was walking back to his rightful spot atop the game of golf. Somewhere, the rest of the world's professional golfers are likely planning a sock party for Steve Stricker, who gave Tiger a putting tip that has fixed whatever was ailing his touch around the green. Thanks, Steve. As Maggie says in Caddyshack, "Tanks fer nuttin'."

The Braves offense was again putting up numbers, although not to the level of the rest of the others on this list, we still wanted to give them a mention since we're a week from opening day. Hats off to Frank Wren and Co. who have put together a very impressive lineup 1-through-7 with Dan Uggla taped to the back. Wheeeeeee.

And for the final feather in the Orlando hat of Holy Cow that was a lot of greatness in one area code, Mr. LeBron James and the Heatles were in the O-rena extending their winning streak to 27-consecutive games.

Sure, beating the Magic is not as difficult as it once was, but the Heatles are getting everyone's best shot as they try to march toward the record 33-game winning streak. And everyone's best shot is not enough against LeBron.

Check this: Dwyane Wade was again in street clothes, so James was forced to be the lead dog and the side kick. Wearing Batman's suit and Robin's shoes did not faze James. Late in the third quarter, the game was tied at 68 and the Magic had a little momentum building. James stopped it quicker than the finger snap of that scary elementary-school teacher we all had. The following four possessions in the next 60 seconds went LeBron transition dunk, LeBron old-fashioned three-point play, LeBron drive and dish for a Ray Allen 3, Orlando timeout and Miami up 76-68. Ball game.

Side note: With Wade out of action the last two nights, James has 56 points, 21 assists and 19 rebounds in roughly 28 hours.

—————

NASCAR gets testy

Forget speed trials and tire checks, this is about get real. Sunday was the planting of the seeds of a NASCAR rivalry that is about to change gears and run wide open to the point of being red-lined.

Tony Stewart is irked and he wants some of Joey Logano, who wrecked Denny Hamlin and said Hamlin got what he deserved as NASCAR officials were taking Hamlin to the hospital. Hamlin has a L1 compression something or other (which is the doctor-version of crew chief car talk that means he hurt is back pretty bad) and since NASCAR has this weekend off, it's uncertain whether he'll miss a race or not.

What is pretty clear is the ethical dilemma NASCAR now faces.

  • photo
    Tony Stewart holds up six-shooters after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas, Sunday, Nov. 6, 2011. (AP Photo/Larry Papke)

On one fist, a heated Tony Stewart, who vowed revenge and read Logano the riot act, driving with a purpose is good for the sport. So is the intrigue of "this guy doesn't like that guy" and "this team is rivals with that team" scenarios that are starting to take shape. It's something that truly has been missing for much of the last decade of NASCAR, a time when the sport's meteoric rise suddenly stopped and reversed course.

It's that heated passion that has seemingly evaporated, a lifting haze of money and political correctness and sponsor name-dropping. (We'd like to take this time to thank all the hard-wroking folks that really had the TFP 5-at-10, Bud Light, Titleist No. 22 Ford Expedition running on all cylinders today. We had a good truck, it just wasn't meant to be. It was one of those racing deals, you know?)

Emotion is good. Carnage, however, is not.

What happens if at 200 mph, Stewart and Logano lock horns and someone ends up really hurt? What if that someone is a fan? We have always contended that this side of Dale Earnhardt Sr., Tony Stewart is the best pure race car driver we've ever seen. But even the best can't control 200 mph automobiles after they collide.

The intensity can generate interest. The aftermath could be tragic.

—————

This and that

— Congrats to the Lady Vols who keep right on rolling and advanced into the Sweet 16 last night. Side question: When do we start looking at Holly Warlick as the front-runner for coach of the year? And if that award is not named the Pat Summitt Award, then someone in the NCAA office needs a kick in the shin.

— Tubby Smith got fired by Minnesota after losing in the second round of the NCAA tournament. Say what? You're Minnesota, not Duke. The Gophers' first-round win over UCLA was the program's first NCAA tournament win since the Gophers went to the Final Four in 1997, and Tubby got run for it? As ace columnist Mark Wiedmer tells us here, it's a sign of the times. Whether those signs are fair is another story.

— Hide the keys and lock the town. On the Twitter this weekend Johnny Football Manziel and Marshall Henderson connected and discussed possibly hanging out in the near future. Yep, two of the more, shall we say, flamboyant college stars of recent memory, kicking it around College Station, Texas. Couple guys probably headed to the library and made to the snack bar for a couple Co-Colas, huh?

—————

Today's question

Last night we got sucked into a Battle of the Network Stars. It was glorious. And yes, if there's a 1980s-90s SEC football game, a countdown show, a draft special (we love the draft; you know this) or an old Battle of the Network Stars on the TV, we're in. Locked and loaded and put down the remote.

Last night was no exception. It was glorious. Tom Wopat (Luke Duke) was one of the stars for CBS; Mark Harmon (some show called Flamingo Road) was one of the NBC stars (and since he played football at UCLA, forget Bo Duke, Harmon was more Bo Jackson in this competition); William Shatner (TJ Hooker) was the team captain for ABC. Good times. NBC won when Debbie Allen (Fame) won the obstacle course against ABC's Telma Hopkins (Bosom Buddies, a show that featured a young Tom Hanks and Donna Dixon), and Allen took a victory lap chanting "NBC! NBC! NBC!"

Could you in a million years see this happen now? No we can't either but our question is why not? Why in this age when celebs have shows sitting in their homes doing nothing (yes we're looking at you Kardashians) or celebs have competition shows ranging from everything like dancing, diving and climbing into a glass case of emotion (and roaches)?

Why is there not a Battle of the Network Stars today? With all the extra channels, you could even have an eight- or 16-channel bracket. It would be awesome.

And because we are who we are, let's say this did happen, who would be the Mark Harmon-level dominator? (Remember, this is TV, so unless the Rock is on a TV show we're not aware of, he's not in the pool.)

Discuss.

16
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chas9 said...

In other Orlando news, Orlando Smith has been pink slipped.

Yesterday's question was should UCLA have fired Howland. Today's is: How could Minnesota have released Tubby?

Jay and Mark are right on, and in today's Herald-Leader, Mark Story hits the key points.

First, Tubby's as nice & normal a guy as you'll find in coaching. Maybe normal guys can't survive in the jungle.

Second, the Golden Gophers were beset by a string of key injuries to players. There are no excuses, we know, but they had more than their fair share.

Third, it's Minne-frigging-sota. Middle of the TOUGH Big Integer Conference is all they're gonna get. They won 20 games, beat #1 IU, made The Dance and beat UCLA by 20.

I'm one of the Big Blue Nation who hated to see UK let the classy guy go. Though he'd not likely have won the way Coach Cal has.

I expect Shaka is too Smart to settle for the frozen north school. Maybe Minnesota will hire Howland and Orlando Smith will decide Chattanooga's the kind of pleasant place he and Donna can wind down a proud career. I hope Mack has his phone number.

Speaking of former Wildcats, the Dougie-teaching John Wall scored 47 yesterday.

March 26, 2013 at 10:18 a.m.
JonathanMCook said...

Ten-Ring:

We'll start with this:

"Why is there not a Battle of the Network Stars today? With all the extra channels, you could even have an eight- or 16-channel bracket. It would be awesome."

Because most the TV stars today are not exactly in athletic shape (with the sole exception of History's Vikings). Most of Comedy Central's stars are so messed-up on drugs and booze it's amazing they get anything produced. Also, most channels on fixated with contests this, that, and the other(especially food network). A&E's biggest stars won't do anything unless it involves skeet shooting, and finally, ALL the really good scripted shows are usually not on any basic cable network but premium channels such as HBO or access through Netflix.

I was on the phone with my mom last night and basically addressed the same issue as Spy and everyone else: If there were ever two schools in the country who somehow actually believe that making the move to FBS will somehow make them the next Nebraska, Georgia, LSU, or Florida, they are in for the MOTHER of all rude awakenings (second only to what that "kid" who wrote "Killer" on his shirt once he enters "general population").

How this will bold for UTC football, I cannot predict. I know this for a fact: non-scholarship football is not an option. Period.

Speaking of UTC Jay, you left out the Sun Belt's UTC (University of Texas left on Cooper). They enter the same year as San Marcos. They haven't had football since 1982 but would like to see it returned. However, their B-Ball program is very respectable (think Mac McCarthy era, the first 3-4 years).

March 26, 2013 at 10:50 a.m.
ordinaryguy said...

The world is in order again as Tiger is #1.

App St and GSU leaving, in effect destroys the SoCon as far as football is concerned. The remaining three members that actually draw fans (Mocs, Citadel, and Furman) can't depend on the remainder of the conference. Basketball is already suffering as the SoCon is slowly but surely dropping in RPI each and every year, they went from 18th to 23rd and now 27th meaning that it is the fifth worst conference in college basketball. Perhaps we need not worry so much about the SoCon, as we should Chattanooga. It might now be time to run away from them, and find a new home and not really sure if the OVC is the place but it sure would be for football.

JG we must get you away from that Rock man crush. The greatest NON WORKER since Hogan LOL

March 26, 2013 at 11:59 a.m.
JonathanMCook said...

I agree with OG, based on strength of schedule and geographic allignment, the OVC would be a logical move. The SoCon of old is going the way of the Ottoman Empire and if UTC wants to maintain their edge, they need to move to a conference of equal stature.

March 26, 2013 at 12:19 p.m.
Stewwie said...

In regard to Appy St. and GSU leaving the SoCon, there's no reason why UTC can't now be a perennial favorite to win the conference and get the automatic bid to the playoffs. With the 2 top dogs leaving, winning the conference becomes somewhat of a watered-down achievement, but it's winning the conference nonetheless. And simply making the playoffs now will be easier since it will now have 24 teams.

Not sure yet how I feel about UTC leaving the SoCon. Staying doesn't seem too bad so long as we poach other schools to fill in the gaps, but conference football will be weaker for at least a few years. But that can be to our advantage if we can dominate over that period of time. Leaving for the OVC may work too since we're familiar with some of those teams already. I'm not in favor of us moving to the FBS at all. However, if Appy St., GSU, and GA St. surprisingly make a nice transition, the discussion may heat up in a few years for the Mocs to follow suit.

The Heat continue to impress but I still think the Spurs will stop the streak on Sunday. The Heat need not overlook the Bulls tomorrow either. A bad first half won't be as easy to overcome against those guys.

March 26, 2013 at 1:25 p.m.
jomo11 said...

My feeling is, If as expected ETSU, Mercer and Kennesaw all 3 join the Southern I would rather stay in the SoCon. Mercer and Kennasaw are starting football as is ETSU. From a football standpoint UTC gets more players from the state of Georgia and South Carolina, less from Tennessee and none from Kentucky and Missouri or Illinois. with Wofford, Furman, Citadel and Elon and then the addition of Kennasaw ( a school that is now bigger than almost every OVC school ) the football conference is better and healthier. Many of the OVC schools are in a lot of trouble financially. OVC facilities for other sports are much worse in the OVC than the SoCon. Women's basketball and softball much lower RPI. No wrestling and not very good golf. On a men's basketball standpoint is about a wash. UTC SHOULD be as good as Murray State ( though not lately ) Davidson is better than Belmont. With ETSU coming back in the Socon a better natural, from history standpoint rival with UTC. With the exception of Nashville the rest of the OVC is in small towns. SoCon has Chattanooga, Greeneville, Charleston , Charlotte , Greensboro and soon Atlanta with Kennesaw all markets better for TV, recruitment of athletes, travel , etc. All better markets than Cookeville, Morehead, Ky, Martin, Tn and Jacksonville, Ala. and Murray, Ky

The only better thing is fans being able to travel to road games easier, but not much of a game changer. On the football side attendence AT OVC games MUCH lower than SoCon schools even without Appy and Ga. Southern. UTC, Citadel ( which draws 15,000 a game, I know hard to beleive ) Furman and Wofford all draw better football crowds than everyone except maybe Jax St.

March 26, 2013 at 1:56 p.m.
JonathanMCook said...

Neither Furman nor Wofford bring in football crowds, at least not in the 10,000-15,000 range. They also don't travel well. The reason (which is obvious) that Citadel draws 15,000 is because their corps are required to attend.

I can tell these are all very well thought out arguments and why I love this forum when compared to Clay's Coloring Book and the Robin Smith School of Darwinism. That said, everything in reality is really up in the air. Until the transition is complete, we may not see the long term effects until a good 5-6 years. Right now, UTC's main objectives are continual advancement on rebuilding the football program, hiring an AD that can make it rain like Bounty Hunter Bloods member at a backroom strip show inside an East 23rd speakeasy (say that three times fast), have said AD bring in a basketball coach that can train a ragtag group of misfits to take on Dukes and Kentuckys, and bring balance to the Force.

Bugs Bunny holding a sign: Pretty tall order an't it. :P

March 26, 2013 at 2:48 p.m.
BIspy4 said...

Georgia Southern joining the Sun Belt is going to cripple two things - SoCon football and Georgia Southern football.

There are no deep pockets for Southern. Even the guy who founded Zaxby's, in Statesboro, now lives in Athens. There's also guff about big money boosters ready to give as soon as Southern announces a move to FBS? Well, why haven't they stepped up previously to put down any seed money for this?

For the next two years, Southern will play a schedule that may as well be scrimmages. And that's been the beauty of FCS - the regular season means something because there are playoffs, there is the specter of playing three or four or more games after the regular season. Now, at least for two seasons, it's thanks for playing once late November rolls around.

Southern will get bigger payouts, much bigger payouts, from BCS teams as a FBS school, as opposed to being FCS, about three times as much. But to bolster the bottom line, that's two to three BCS games per year. That means starting off each year knowing you're going to be 0-2 or 0-3.

For every Boise State, there is at least one cautionary tale on the other side. I'm looking at you, UMass. And the number of Sun Belt teams in bowls this year was artifically enhanced. How often are 12-0 Ohio State, 10-2 Penn State, and Miami and North Carolina going to be bowl eligible in wins but not be bowl eligible because they've been naughty? And the Sun Belt got another bowl opening because it's conference runner-up, Middle Tennessee, had announced it was going to Conference USA and the Sun Belt decided it didn't want to give one of its slots to somebody who was leaving the fold.

I hate to tell my Georgia Southern brethren this, but I smell a disaster coming on a Van Gorder scale.

March 26, 2013 at 3:22 p.m.
JonathanMCook said...

Something harry must going on back home. Ten Ring has never gone this long without commiting.

March 26, 2013 at 3:23 p.m.
GratefulDawg said...

Battle of the Network Stars...Man, that's a blast from the past. While it wasn't the network stars, the one thing I will always remember from those battle shows of the 1970's is Joe Frazier's near-death swim meet. Smokin' Joe had three epic battles with Ali, survived two beatdowns at the hands of Foreman, picked up impressive victories in brawls with Oscar Bonavena, and beat Jerry Quarry twice. However, a race in a swimming pool against a pole vaulter and a French racecar driver almost did him in.

ABC's Wide World of Sports was must see viewing when I was a pup. One minute you would be watching roller derby from Sacramento and then with no transition whatsoever they would cut to scenes of a bunch of Russians racing motorcycles on ice. Good times.

For what its worth, I just had a show idea. A couple of networks have rolled out shows featuring celebrities diving and ABC has a show called "Shark Tank" in which rich people make deals with aspiring entrepreneurs. So how about a show in which reality show stars dive into an actual shark tank? It is a bit macabre, but I know there's a market for such a vehicle.

March 26, 2013 at 3:46 p.m.
jomo11 said...

Furman avr attendence at 11,500 and this was a down year, Citadel avr attenddence at 14,000 and they only have 2200 cadets . . .that being said only Jax st. avr over 10,000 in all of the OVC some OVC schools football attendence was less than 5,000 . . .no matter how you cut it even without Appy and Ga So , SoCon football is better tha OVC, it has been 7 years since an OVC team won even ONE game in the playoffs

March 26, 2013 at 4 p.m.
BIspy4 said...

If you're going for Battle of Network Stars, do you throw in reality show folks? I don't want to get in Troy Landry's way, or NeNe's. Oh no. I mean, who wants to take on the guys from Pawn Wars?

And didn't MTV do this with Road Rules vs. Real World?

March 26, 2013 at 4:05 p.m.
JonathanMCook said...

"Furman avr attendence at 11,500"

ESPN3 must have done one HECK of a great optical illusion then. I was impressed.

March 26, 2013 at 4:08 p.m.
JonathanMCook said...

Spy,

See my post from earlier. But you kinda went the direction I was going in. The actors (and that one really hot actress) on Vikings would more than chew up the competition representing the History Channel in their camp. However, History's no. 1 "stars" are too busy (Insert Jay Greeson burn/slam involving subject + buffet + Golden Correl here) and filling out paperwork. Chumley is the only person I ever read about who is high-level handicap and thanks to that show actually owns a Rolls with TVs in the back (source: TMZ via AOL/Huffington Post by default).

Why would they want to injure themselves doing Network Stars and damage the gravy boat?

March 26, 2013 at 4:29 p.m.
jgreeson said...

Great commentary back and forth.

JMC —

Have been supremely covered up here at the ranch. Sometimes it works like that, plus you guys were carrying the mail.

Side note: Hope the Monday night mic thing went to your liking.

Jomo —

We can see you points, and we kind of lean that way. A need for rivalries is huge for languishing that is going on within the Mocs' attendance struggles. No. 1 is winning; no. 2 is passion. The first one calls for being good, the second calls for heated rivals.

ETSU could be that guy. So could KSU in truth (And yes, KSU is HUGE, and only growing. They hired Georgia Tech's QB coach Brian Bohannon to be the first football coach.)

Spy —

We're afraid you're right in your assessment. We applaud the effort because the small schools and conferences are going to have to start making moves, but this one feels wrong for a lot of reasons.

Maybe it's a quick knockout rather than the slow bleed that could be coming for a slew of small athletic programs.

But we know you are seriously upset when we see a BVG reference.

OG —

The OVC feels like moving the deck chairs a little bit to us. If you're going to move, move up, not sideways.

Dawg —

The Battle of the Network Stars and its sports cousin "The Superstars" were must-watches at the Greeson Compound growing up. Good times.

Stew —

That's an interesting point — see how the Eagles and the Mountaineers fare and either follow suit or hunker down.

It's safe to say this AD hire is fairly GI-normous for the Mocs, huh?

March 26, 2013 at 5:04 p.m.
JonathanMCook said...

Jay-

The Monday open mic is beginning to fizzle and fizzle badly. It was bad enough they changed recipe (and size to heart-attack grill portions) of the pepperjack cheese sticks which I really liked, but really no one is showing up. Last night was the second Monday in a row only nine comics (counting me were there). Bryan wanted to turn it into a "feedback" session for new material. I would have been okay with that but you have understand one thing about Dallas comics. Most of them are heathens who wouldn't know how to issue correct feedback if it was taught to them. Hence, I felt a disturbance in the Force which made me decide to go downstairs and pay my tab and leave. Bryan completely understood.

I probably won't be back until it either picks-up or whatever.

Luckily, there are a few other opportunities to try the material out before next Friday. But thank you for asking.

::Devil's Advocate:: It's not the matter of who would make an ideal rivalry as much as how to sell it to both 1) the established fanbase and 2) Joe and Jane Nooga fickle-fan.

ETSU would be perfect. But in reality, how can anyone really hate ETSU? They are not Alabama. Marriages will not crumble, fights will not breakout in parking lots, trees get poisoned or people doing perverted stuff to rival fans at the nearby Krystal because someone roots for ETSU. KSU would also be ideal. But they're not Georgia.

Maybe I'm over the top or just consider what I just listed to "the new norm"*

*Although in reality, given some of the stories I've heard down here of what Dallas was like in the 70s during Texas-OU week (i.e. flaming mattresses out of hotel rooms), what I described maybe a tad mellow.

March 26, 2013 at 5:34 p.m.
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