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

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

March 26th, 2013 in Sports - Columns

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.

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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.

Tiger Woods

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

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.

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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.

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.

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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?

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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.