Big Ten hellbent on taking $tupidity and greed to the next level

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The drumbeat started low and slow, with hardly anyone at the time putting much stock in the insane ramblings coming out of the normally lucid and coherent Sweater Vest.

“There’s always going to be change,” Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel said at the Big Ten’s media days back in early August when asked about expansion changing the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry. “I don’t think — I can’t imagine that there would ever be a change from the fact that Ohio State and Michigan are going to square off and it’s going to be exciting and meaningful and all the rest.

“How it will be done exactly and where within the year and all those things, I’m sure if we look back in our history, most recently it’s been in the last regular season game. Prior to that, it wasn’t.

While Tressel’s quotes caused a more-than-minor ripple, Michigan athletic director David Brandon shed all pretense and cannonballed into the discussion of moving the UM-OSU game from the end of the season — where it’s been for 70-plus years — to earlier in the season and allowing for the possibility that the two long-time and hated rivals could meet twice in a given season — once in the regular season, once in a conference title game.

I think there’s a distinct possibility that game will be a later game in the season but not necessarily the last game of the season,” Brandon said. “That’s simply because I don’t think the coaches or the players or the fans or the networks or anyone would appreciate that matchup twice within a seven-day period.”

Brandon’s counterpart at Ohio State, Gene Smith, was a little more demure, but no less using a public forum to brace fans for what seems like the inevitable, when he said “we may end up playing the last game of the year, or not. I just don’t know that yet.”

The latest to chime in on this potential abomination is Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany.  And, just like Tressel, Brandon and Smith before him, Delany hinted strongly that the die has already been cast, and one of the greatest rivalries in all of sports is about to be devalued by moving up on the calendar when the conference announces its divisional alignments.

“I would put Michigan-Ohio State among the top five events in all of sports for rivalry,” Delany said. “It’ll get played. Now the question is, how best to play it? Are they in the same divisions or are they not? Do they play in the last game, the second-to-last game, the third-to-last game? How to do that is still under discussion. …

“You could make a good argument that Michigan and Ohio State should never really be playing for a divisional crown. If they’re going to play, play for the right to go to the Rose Bowl. When Tennessee and Florida play, when Auburn and Alabama play, only one of those teams is going to go to the championship game because they’re in the same division.”

How exactly has the Iron Bowl suffered by the two schools being in the same division, as Delany intimates?  Last time we checked, ‘Bama-Auburn in many parts of this country is viewed as the greatest, most heated rivalry in all of college football, and they’ve somehow found a way to keep that hatred alive and well for nearly twenty years while residing in the same division.

And what’s to say that the two schools intertwined in a decades-long conference rivalry have to have the opportunity to face each other in a title game, anyway?  There’s no sound logic or any semblance of a good argument in Delany’s attempt at justifying a move by shifting the attention to conference title match-ups.  How much more would be on the line if a shot at the Big Ten title game hung in the balance that weekend after Thanksgiving?  Certainly a whole helluva lot more than if The Game were the meat in a Indiana/Illinois or Northwestern/Minnesota October sandwich.  

What happens to the 2006 game or the 1969 game or the myriad other classics if they were played at any time before the end of the regular season?  Here’s a hint: they fade into oblivion and become a footnote to the rest of the regular season most years, with a slight chance that one could avenge the prior midseason loss in the conference title game.  And the reason they’d fade?  They’d be lost amongst what happened in the two or three or four games after The Game Lite was contested.

When those games were played had as much to do with the memories as how the games were played or ended.  There was something on the line, either a Rose Bowl/BcS berth or the opportunity to ruin the other’s season; move The Game from the end of the regular season, and you lose that something being played for every single year on the off-chance that they meet up, what, once every four, five years with something on the line?

This is not the era of the Ten-Year War.  There were no Penn State’s, Wisconsin’s, Iowa’s or Nebraska’s to speak of back in the days of Woody and Bo, at least not consistently.  This is a more balanced Big Ten, rife with top-shelf programs that would make the conference’s seemingly desired target of a twice-a-year grudge match between its two flagship schools much less likely than the league’s officials would care to admit or consider.

Be warned, Big Ten: you move The Game, you will rip the heart and suck the soul out of the single greatest property the conference owns.  And for what, a few more advertising dollars every few years when they do happen to stumble into a title showdown?  One that will, incidentally, likely be contested in a sterile, domed, neutral location as opposed to yet another reason that The Game is what it is — The Big House and The Shoe.

The shame in all of this is not the fact that it’s nearly a done deal; the shame is the fact that it’s being considered at all.

Virginia adds graduate transfer from Oklahoma State, too

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA - SEPTEMBER 25: A Virginia Cavaliers fan reacts to the Cavaliers being charged with a safety in the second quarter against the Boise State Broncos at Scott Stadium on September 25, 2015 in Charlottesville, Virginia.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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A graduate transfer from Notre Dame is not the only Power Five addition Bronco Mendenhall made to his Virginia roster Tuesday.

According to the Cavaliers in a press release, Brandon Pertile will enroll in classes at the university and play football for the Cavaliers this fall.  The offensive lineman will be graduating from Oklahoma State this spring, making him eligible immediately to play during the 2017 season.

This upcoming year will be Pertile’s final season of eligibility.

Pertile began his collegiate career at Georgia State, appearing in six games for the Panthers in 2013 before transferring to an Arizona junior college for the 2014 season.  He then transferred to Oklahoma State, where he played in three games the past two seasons.

Pertile and John Montelus, the former Notre Dame lineman whose addition to the roster was confirmed today as well, are actually the third and fourth Power Five transfers added to the team in less than a month.  One of Montelus’ former teammates, fellow offensive lineman Colin McGovern, transferred to UVa. late last month, and was followed a week later by Missouri quarterback Marvin Zanders.

McGovern is coming to Charlottesville as a graduate transfer, while Zanders will have to sit out the 2017 season and leave him with one year of eligibility that he can use in 2018.

Former East Carolina WR Jason Nichols returns to alma mater as RBs coach

GREENVILLE, NC - OCTOBER 04:  Justin Hardy #2 and Anthony Scott #3 of the East Carolina Pirates celebrate after Scott's touchdown against the Southern Methodist Mustangs during their game at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium on October 4, 2014 in Greenville, North Carolina. East Carolina won 45-24. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
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Once upon a time, Jason Nichols was a school-record holding receiver at East Carolina. On Tuesday, he officially returned to campus — as running backs coach.

“Not only does Jason bring a wealth of coaching experience to East Carolina, he knows first-hand of the special bond that exists between Pirate Nation and our program,” head coach Scottie Montgomery said in a statement. “To have the opportunity to impact young men on the same campus and playing field where he earned his degree and competed is immeasurable. From a recruiting standpoint, I’m not sure if there’s anyone else who could tell a more compelling story of what it means to be a Pirate.”

After leaving East Carolina in 1998, Nichols deposited a couple years in the CFL and Arena Football League before returning to campus as a graduate assistant in 2001.

From there, Nichols went on to coach wide receivers at Sacred Heart, Appalachian State, Toledo, Louisiana-Monroe and, in 2016, at Western Carolina.

Nichols takes over a running game that finished 110th nationally at 132.4 yards per game and 101st in FBS at 3.93 yards per carry. The Pirates’ leading returning rusher stands as rising senior Anthony Scott, who carried 79 times for 384 yards and two touchdowns in eight appearances.

Virginia AD Craig Littlepage returns to work full-time for first time in four months

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA - NOVEMBER 26:  Kris Burd (R) #18 of the Virginia Cavaliers is greeted by Craig Littlepage (L), director of athletics for the University of Virginia, during Senior Day festivities prior to the Cavaliers' game against the Virginia Tech Hokies at Scott Stadium on November 26, 2011 in Charlottesville, Virginia. (Photo by Geoff Burke/Getty Images)
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Virginia athletics director Craig Littlepage has been on a quasi-sabbatical for the past four months, but that period is now over.

Littlepage announced in late October he would work on an “adjusted” schedule through Jan. 2 to attend to personal matters involving a family member. January eventually turned into February, but the school announced Monday Littlepage is now back at work on a full-time basis.

Executive associate AD Jon Oliver served as the Cavs’ acting AD during Littlepage’s absence.

“I would like to thank the University administration, our student-athletes, coaches, staff and especially Jon Oliver for their support and hard work while I was away,” Littlepage said in a statement. “It’s great to be back and I look forward to a successful and productive spring semester for Virginia Athletics.”

Nick Saban hosts meeting with Mark Zuckerberg

MENLO PARK, CA - APRIL 04:  Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks during an event at Facebook headquarters on April 4, 2013 in Menlo Park, California. Zuckerberg announced a new product for Android called Facebook Home.  (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
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Mark Zuckerberg is in the midst of a self-guided tour of America, and on Tuesday his travels took him to Tuscaloosa. And when you’re Mark Zuckerberg visiting Tuscaloosa, you have to go see The King.

Nick Saban hosted the Facebook founder and his wife, Priscilla Chan, at the Mal M. Moore Athletic Facility for a chat on leadership, Saban said. “I just met with Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook guy,” Saban told a luncheon in nearby Hoover, Ala., according to AL.com. “He wanted to know about leadership, and what do you do to affect people.

“It was kind of interesting that he saw the spirit that we have in this state relative to supporting athletics as something that is very special, very unique, and very wholesome in terms of people having the opportunity to create hope whether it’s in competition, or something they believe in or a spirit.”

Wrote Zuckerberg:

We stopped by the University of Alabama and sat down with Coach Saban. We talked about what it takes to build a world class football organization. Many of the same things go into building a good company and a winning football program — a focus on recruiting, developing talent and setting high expectations.

We also got lunch with some of the Alabama Football players who come from all over the country to be part of this program. We talked about about the pressures of being a student athlete — not only the personal pressure of achieving their goals of making it to the NFL, but also having the hopes of their community ride of their success.

We all need to be part of something bigger than ourselves. Communities can form around all kinds of things — churches, schools, teams — and it’s clear that for a lot of folks in Alabama, college football is an important part of their community.

It’s hard to imagine a meeting of two people with a greater mastery of their respective fields that have absolutely zero knowledge in the other’s field. But it does create an interesting hypothetical prop bet: Who could give a longer seminar: Saban on the mechanics of coding, or Zuckerberg on the basic tenants of the 3-4?