Because this site traffics in both sports talk and sports talk talk, the passing of one of the legendary sports talkers of our time merits note. This morning, Paul Finebaum posted a farewell message to Phyllis from Mulga, who is in the pantheon of sports-talk radio callers and the author of truly compelling rants, including a hall-of-fame composition back in 2013 that merited special mention in these pages. If you’re going to tell the truth, then you’ve got to tell the truth: there are no Cowturds in heaven, Phyllis.
Since then, things for the Commodores hardly could have gone better, at least relatively speaking. Two home conference games in magic Memorial Gym. Two wins.
To call the first a get-right game against middling Ole Miss obscures the depths from which the team necessarily climbed to claim that victory and falsely implies a level of predicate rightness that simply did not exist. Still, it’s like when you’re standing on the South Pole: any step you take in any direction is a step north.
The second was satisfying, affirming, and, for Stackhouse, likely job-saving:
It speaks for itself, as does Tennessee’s record as a top-ten ranked team in Nashville, where the Volunteers are winless in regulation.
There’s no firm basis to believe that these two wins constitute building blocks toward an imminent future of sustained success. It sure is better than losing, though.
Following the departure after the 2015-16 season of the longest-tenured coach in its program’s history, Kevin Stallings, Vanderbilt’s men’s basketball team turned for his replacement to a celebrated former player.
Earlier today, the State of Georgia enacted HB 617, which affirmatively permits college athletes attending schools in that state to receive financial compensation for use of their name, image, or likeness (“NIL”). The new law takes effect on July 1, 2021.
In a nationwide environment in which the NCAA broadly prohibits almost every form of direct financial compensation to so-called “student athletes,” emerging state laws like Georgia’s HB 617– other states joining in this initial wave include Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, and New Mexico– offer a commonsense middle ground on compensation that’s short of revenue sharing with school athletic departments and would seem to place schools in those states at a competitive recruiting advantage, at least in the short term.
The NCAA’s initial response to what appears to be a broadside attack on one of the governing body’s longstanding, core tenets was surprising. Jere Morehead, a member of the NCAA Board of Governors “said he would expect the NCAA would allow ‘accommodations,’ to be made for athletes in states with NIL rules.” Morehead also is the president of the University of Georgia, so this may not be the NCAA’s official position on state NIL laws. If the “accommodations” comment reflects in any way the thinking within NCAA leadership, though, it is extremely illuminating.
It’s easy to forget that athletics organizing entities, and especially in light of their popularity and rhetoric the NCAA, NFL, and MLB, do not act and regulate their respective sports with the force of actual law. (In fact, they in some sense operate outside the law thanks to formal and informal antitrust exemptions.) During baseball’s meltdown over Barry Bonds’ superhuman ascension in the early aughts, you could be forgiven if you weren’t sure whether steroids were illegal illegal or merely MLB “illegal.” The NFL also has done an effective job of coopting this officious language into its in-sport vernacular as well (e.g., “illegal touching” having quite different meanings on and off the field). All of these groups have “committees” that issue “rules” and “regulations” just like real government agencies!
For the degree to which these private sports administrative entities control the behavior of their subject players as well as the general public’s perception of the goings-ons in and around their games, it’s sort of amazing that states could just opt out of a major NCAA prohibition and the NCAA’s response is to roll over and take it. Not that passing legislation is easy, but is this all that was needed all along?
If the NCAA’s “accommodations” response proves real, it could carry widespread consequences for the enforceability of other NCAA rules. Suddenly, the implication is that the NCAA will yield wherever its policies conflict with state law. Does this mean an end to the NCAA’s punishment of athletes who use marijuana in states that have authorized its use? What about sports wagering? There of course are other actual legal factors at work with those two examples (the persistent federal marijuana prohibition and common legal provisions restricting wagering by contest participants), and it’s unclear whether an affirmative legalization is a prerequisite (e.g., was Todd Gurley prohibited from being paid for autographed helmets as a matter of Georgia law?) . Still, Morehead’s suggestion that the NCAA will quietly accede in this area implies that there actually may not be much brute behind the bluster out of Indianapolis. If that’s the case, it’s a welcome– if still annoyingly executed– development that should further hasten the loosening of the NCAA’s iron fist over those whose efforts generate millions of dollars in administrative salaries.
Sports fans have access to more information about teams, players, and coaches than ever before. Most of that information comes from the observation of on-field performance, the tracking, processing, and synthesizing of which is becoming increasingly sophisticated, and what off-field information teams, players, and coaches decide to make public, something they’re doing more often and to a greater degree thanks in part to tools like social media.
And now, thanks to pandemic-induced videoconferencing, we can step inside the world of top-tier amateur athletic recruiting, courtesy of this clip of a Nick Saban player pitch on behalf of the Alabama football program:
While obviously incomplete, there isn’t anything surprising here. Saban runs through the high points of his monumentally successful resume before addressing the counter-pitching refrains of his lesser rivals.
Plenty of the conversations about player recruiting in college athletics involve the subject of improper benefits, something Saban of course doesn’t mention in this clip. (If he had, you’d be hearing about this from someone other than me.) I have not been a Saban fan since his unceremonious departure from Michigan State, but his track record is undeniable. I think it’s plausible that programs like his don’t need to do much off the books to entice top players. Even within the SEC, bottom-feeder Tennessee probably needs to hand out McDonald’s bags full of cash to try to siphon prospects away from the conference elite. When it comes to Alabama, though, players might consider slipping Saban a few bills– or maybe an oatmeal cream pie— to improve their chances at a roster spot.
In what likely is the marquee matchup of the 2016 college football season’s opening week, no. 20 USC and #1 Alabama will face off in Jerryworld. The game is tomorrow at 8:00 on ABC. Southern Cal is searching for a post-Hollywood identity, while Alabama has yet to identify its starting quarterback.
For further analysis, this historical footage of the two schools’ 1980 tilt should prove illuminating:
Last night, for the first time in the 2015 season, the College Football Playoff Selection Committee released its rankings. The Committee ranks twenty-five teams, and their top ten teams are shown in the images below.
These initial rankings offer plenty to critique about the Committee’s decisions this week and its process in general. Continue reading →
I have to agree, because the man said what I’ve been saying for a week now: Michigan State looks like the best team in the country at this moment. Both teams in the Oregon-MSU game looked better than anything the SEC had to offer through the first two weeks of the season.
Week three saw the Spartans struggle against Air Force’s triple-option offense, but, one has reason to expect, that data point will have little meaning going forward. Meanwhile, Georgia dominated South Carolina in what easily was the Dawgs’ best game of the year, and Ole Miss made it two straight over Alabama.
The Black Bears’Rebels’ win certainly was exciting, and it’s led some to argue that they deserve the top AP spot. Their sixty-four points per game and undefeated record that includes a win in Tuscaloosa merit a top-tier ranking, but home wins over UT-Martin and Fresno State aren’t terribly revealing.
Terribly revealing? Missouri’s ugly win over UCONN is a strong indication that the two-time SEC East champions are unlikely to defend their consecutive division titles in Atlanta this December. Ohio State had a similarly weak victory over Northern Illinois, but those Huskies are better than the ones from New England, and the Buckeyes’ recent track record suggests they’ll be fine going forward.
Oregon meets Ohio State tonight in the inaugural College Football Playoff finale, and I’m most excited about the ESPN Megacast, which, in addition to the above, includes an ESPN Radio play-by-play broadcast as well. ESPN gets knocked around plenty for doing things like bowing to the will of “partners” like the NFL at the expense of its own journalistic integrity or hosting a platform for grey-matter destroyers like Skip Bayless, Stephen A. Smith, and Colin Cowherd, but there are times when they leverage their resources to make significant improvements to the fan experience. ESPN introduced the Megacast concept for the final BCS championship game one year ago, and it was such a success that it’s back again this year, bigger and better than ever. In the interim period, other networks have experimented with the concept, loosely defined, in other sports, and I believe this is the way we will enjoy all major sporting events in the near future.
As Sports Illustrated graphically illustrated in this week’s issue, Ohio State and Oregon actually were quite close to each other this year in statistical terms. Initially, there are two reasons to question that apparent parity, however: 1) Oregon plays in the stronger Pacific Twelve conference, while OSU spent much of the season feasting on relatively weaker conference opponents, and 2) Ohio State earned much of its production with quarterbacks not named and thought to be superior to Cardale Jones, the man who will be under center for the Buckeyes tonight. It is right to regard Oregon as the better team in this matchup.
Participating in the BCS is like paying your income taxes: there’s a lot of math and fine print involved, you probably can’t quite find all of the information you need to calculate the precisely correct result, and there’s that guy down the block who hollers that the thing’s unconstitutional, but you generally have a pretty good idea of your expected outcome.
On the other hand, the new playoff’s Selection Committee recalls the Supreme Court: members deliberate behind closed doors, apply any criteria of their choosing in reaching decisions, and announce those decisions under their own terms.
On Sunday, the Selection Committee spoke for the last time in its inaugural season to announce the four playoff participants: Alabama, Oregon, Florida State, and Ohio State. Two days later, everyone outside of Texas generally seems to agree that this is the right result.
The only reason the results were or remain controversial has to do with what the Selection Committee did prior to Sunday. Their flipping and flopping of TCU, with seemingly connected treatments of Baylor and Minnesota, was the genesis of the confusion, surprise, and, in Fort Worth and Waco, disappointment, that arrived with the final playoff announcement. On one hand, those confused, surprised, and disappointed feelings were unwarranted: the Committee reached the correct result. On the other hand, however, they were unnecessary and likely would not have arisen absent the lack of transparency that now characterizes the college football ranking process.
If the BCS could speak from the grave, what would it say about the CFP Selection Committee’s final result? The answer, Continue reading →