Stewart situation is a disappointing one

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Bill Stewart’s short tenure at West Virginia was marked by a lot of criticisms from the 60,000 head coaches sitting in the stands of Mountaineer Field on Saturdays.

Many didn’t think the man knew what he was doing, even though Stewart can lay claim to over 30 years of coaching experience at 12 different locations.

There were those who gnashed their teeth at then-offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen’s play calling, partially blaming Stewart in the process for not firing Mullen. But Stewart also deserved credit for keeping defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel and hiring several solid defensive assistants when he started his time as head coach.

Yes, there were plenty of criticisms of Stewart. Some were justified, others not so much. But Stewart’s saving grace has always been his character. No one could honestly say Stewart was a bad guy who didn’t care about his players.

He is a great family man, a good husband to his wife and father to both his son, Blaine, and the sons he coaches on the field.

Which is why the latest allegations that Stewart and/or his wife may have leaked information about Holgorsen are disappointing.

It would be more disappointing if they turned out to be true.

Such crookedness would go completely against what Stewart has stood for his entire life. Upon accepting the job at WVU, Stewart claimed he wanted his players to be great “fathers, husbands, men of faith and contributors to society.” He said his handshake was his word.

Normally, clichés such as those are scoffed at in this day and age, but there was something old-fashioned, and, yes, a bit cheesy, about Stewart that made those promises more believable.

Stewart and Jim Tressel’s situation at Ohio State are hardly similar, but they are nevertheless two individuals who have been known to be upstanding — and believable — guys. One has already crashed and burned mightily. If the words of former Pitsburgh Post-Gazette reporter Colin Dunlap are true, Stewart might not be far behind.

Stewart’s professional reputation would be tarnished as well. Stewart will never be regarded as one of the great WVU coaches, but if the Mountaineers achieved any kind of success this season, he would be remembered as the coach who successfully bridged the gap between Rich Rodriguez and Dana Holgorsen with little drop-off.

Instead, we have this situation.

To believe in the coach-in-waiting move wholly was probably naïve; a deeper look under the surface shows something insidious.

“In retrospect, we can all second guess.  Would I do it again? I don’t know,” said WVU athletic director Oliver Luck on a Pittsburgh’s 93.7  The Fan earlier today about his coach-in-waiting situation.

The melodrama of the past two weeks would suggest turning that phrase from “I don’t know” to simply “no”.

But there were opportunities to say “no” the first time. Stewart could have resigned at the end of the 2010 season as his “amended contract” gave him the option to do. Or, Luck simply could have fired Stewart without cause and paid a handsome buyout of about $2.5 million.

There was money involved, so it’s pretty obvious what the answer was going to be. Whether that answer was mutually agreed upon among Stewart, Holgorsen and Luck is still unclear.

Still, there’s a price for every decision. And not all of them amount to dollars and cents.

 

Sun Belt commissioner Karl Benson frowns upon Group of Five playoff idea

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The chances a team from the Group of Five ever gets selected to play in the College Football Playoff range from slim to none. As such, talk from within the Group of Five has kicked up from time to time, especially over the last year, about a possible Group of Five-only version of the College Football Playoff. The reactions to that idea has been mixed, but add Sun Belt Conference commissioner Karl Benson to the group of people who thinks that idea should be tossed aside.

While attending meetings for the College Football Playoff, Benson told reporters he would prefer to see conference champions from the Group of Five (American, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West, and Sun Belt) receive better bowl bids instead of playing in a minor version of the College Football Playoff.

It’s time to have a realistic conversation about creating a playoff for the Group of 5,” NIU athletic director Sean Frazier told Brett McMurphy, then of ESPN.com, back in December. “Why not?”

Well, there are a number of reasons. First, not everybody seems to be on board with playing the college football version equivalent of the NIT. Sure, it would be on TV and would get ratings, but the reward at the end of the JV playoff would mean little. Nobody would consider it a national championship. That’s what the FCS is for.

Benson is not alone in his anti-Group of Five playoff stance. MAC commissioner Jon Steinbrecher also has been on record saying he is not interested in such a plan, and he oversaw a member from his conference go undefeated last season and play in the Cotton Bowl (Western Michigan).

My initial reaction is that’s not something I’m interested in,” Steinbrecher said, according to MLive.com in December. “We’re part of the (College Football Playoff) system, and it’s done a lot of very good things for the Mid-American Conference.”

Without the support from two of the Group of Five commissioners (and you can almost be guaranteed you can add Mike Aresco of the American Athletic Conference to the list given the conference’s push to be considered a power conference), this idea is pretty much dead on arrival.

LSU’s Arden Key: I am not sitting out my junior year

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After taking a little time off from the LSU football program this spring, Arden Key calmed the nerves of Tigers fans on Wednesday with a simple message on his Twitter account.

Key announced to his Twitter followers he will be on the field for the Tigers this fall. Back in February, LSU released a statement saying Key would be stepping away from the program “for personal reasons.” What those personal reasons were is unknown, but he did so with the support of head coach Ed Orgeron and the entire football program at the time.

Key earned second-team All-SEC honors last season after leading LSU with 14.5 tackles for loss and 12 sacks, a school record. With news, he would be stepping away from the program and the age of top NFL Draft prospects opting out of bowl games, the mere thought that Key might become the first potential NFL Draft pick the following season sitting out the entire football season was difficult to completely ignore. Fortunately, especially for LSU and not so much for LSU’s opponents, Key is choosing not to break that barrier at this time.

Texas A&M removes WR Kirk Merritt from roster

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After being charged for allegedly exposing himself to tutors at Texas A&M, wide receiver Kirk Merritt is no longer an Aggie. Merritt has been removed from the Texas A&M football program, according to a report from The Eagle. Though there has been no official statement confirming such news, Merritt’s name has been wiped off the team’s online roster.

Merritt pleaded not guilty to a pair of indecent exposure charges against him stemming from an incident last October. Merritt allegedly exposed himself to female academic tutors. Merritt was suspended by Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin a few days after the alleged incidents. The suspension was expanded to indefinite status following Merritt’s arrest on November 8. The suspension has since been lifted after the university’s conduct process wrapped up in January.

It has been a bit of a bumpy year for Merritt. Merritt left Oregon for Texas A&M last summer due to family reasons. He participated in Texas A&M’s spring practices but did not play in the spring game.

Big 12 revenue eclipses $300 million mark

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When it comes to revenues, the SEC and Big Ten continue to set the pace and leave the rest of the competition in the dust. That said, the Big 12 saw a second straight sizable revenue bump, according to recent tax returns.

As reported by USA Today, the Big 12 recorded a revenue of $313 million for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2016 on its tax return. The figure is up roughly $40 million from last year’s revenue, and the conference has now doubled its revenue since the 2012 fiscal year amid conference realignment changes. As for the revenue shares for each Big 12 program, the numbers ranged from $28 million to West Virginia to $28.9 million for Oklahoma. This marked the first time West Virginia and TCU were eligible to receive their full conference revenue shares as Big 12 members.

The biggest reason for the big jump in revenue came from increased bowl revenue. The Big 12 pulled in $114.5 million in bowl revenue in 2016, which was just $74.5 million in 2015. The 2015 season, which was included in the fiscal year outlined by this tax return, saw Oklahoma advance to the College Football Playoff and Oklahoma State be selected to play in a New Years Six bowl game (Sugar Bowl), which led to a larger bowl game distribution for the Big 12. The previous year saw no Big 12 team in the College Football Playoff (TCU, Baylor).

The Big 12 still lags well behind the SEC. Most will, of course. The SEC announced a revenue of $584.2 million for the 2015-2016 fiscal year, with each SEC member receiving a revenue share of $40.4 million. The SEC and Big 12 are the only conference revenue numbers currently on record for the 2015-2016 fiscal year, but expect the Big Ten to be a solid second in the pecking order, with the ACC likely to come in front of the Big 12 and the Pac-12 to be toward the bottom of the pack.

Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby had a pay increase as well. Bowlsby reportedly earned a little more than $2.6 million in 2015, earning more than $70,000 than the previous year.