As the expansion dust clears, what’s next?

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So we’ve wasted all of that time, effort and angst — in the midst of a football season, no less — for… that?

After two months worth of daily speculation, rumor and innuendo, the Pac-12 put the kibosh on Expansionpalooza v2.0 very late last night, announcing, in essence, “never mind, we’re good” with their current 12-member makeup.  At least, we think the kibosh has been put on a seismic shift in the conference landscape; with Texas, Oklahoma and the rest of the Big 12 dealing with myriad issues that some feel can be “resolved” by the laughably short-sighted, delaying-the-inevitable notion of a five-year promise of peace, anything is and will continue to be possible.

Wife: You’re not happy, I’m not happy.  May be it’s time to go our separate ways.

Husband: Yeah, maybe you’re right.

Wife, realizing she still wears the only pair of pants in the family: Or, we could stay together for a few more years and see if things change.

Husband, remembering getting shot down by the hot chick at closing time: Yeah, what the hell.  Might as well give it a shot.

Many thought the Pac-12’s decision to eschew expansion at this time would result in some immediate conference clarity.  That’s far from the case for a situation even more fluid than it was just 24 hours ago, and with a plethora of additional questions as an added bonus.  Don’t believe me?  Read on as I attempt to wade through the mass of fact, fiction and most everything else in between.

What’s known…

  • In 2010, Texas’ unwillingness to bend on the issue of The Longhorn Network prevented the then-Pac-10 from expanding to 16 members.  In 2011, Texas’ unwillingness to bend on the issue of The Longhorn Network prevented the Pac-12 from expanding to 16 members.
  • Texas A&M will become the 13th member of the SEC, whether it’s in 2012 or 2013.  With the Big 12 “saved from extinction”, any incentive for Baylor et al to pursue legal means to prevent a move has vanished, meaning the Aggies should be free and clear to officially move to their new conference next summer.
  • In a pair of public statements, the SEC denied two reports regarding Missouri, that the an offer of membership is on the table and that and an informal agreement among presidents is in place to bring the school into the conference.
  • Pittsburgh and Syracuse will become the 13th and 14th members of the ACC, but probably not until the 2014 season as the Big East appears hellbent on abiding by the conference’s bylaws and forcing the two schools to wait the mandated 27 months before departing.  That, of course, could change pending any additions the Big East may make.
  • Following a meeting of the football-playing members Monday night in New York City, the Big East announced that “we are committed as a conference to recruit top-level BcS-caliber institutions with strong athletic and academic histories and traditions.”  Commissioner John Marinatto went on to confirm in the statement that his conference “has been approached by a number of institutions“, although he would not specify which schools.
  • Navy athletic director Chet Gladchuk confirmed publicly that he has spoken to conferences, specifically the Big East, regarding football-only membership.
  • Current Conference USA member East Carolina has applied for membership into the Big East.
  • Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson has confirmed that his conference and Conference USA have discussed a quasi-merger that would involve only the football programs.
  • The Big Ten has no desire to expand unless there’s a seismic shift in the conference makeup of college football — sorry, ACC; adding Pitt and ‘Cuse doesn’t count — or unless Notre Dame suddenly decides to shed their football independence.
  • Unbelievably, there are football games — college football games — that will be played this weekend.

What’s known to be rumored…

  • Let’s get this out of the way right off the bat: rebuffed by the Pac-12, Oklahoma, and by extension Oklahoma State, will turn their attention to the SEC even as they’re publicly stating they are willing to give the Big 12 another go, provided certain concessions are made.  At least, that’s the rumor.  Dating back to the first round of expansion apocalypse last May/June, it’s long been thought OU has little to no interest in moving to the SEC.  Given the change in circumstances, there’s a chance — a very, very slim chance from this vantage point — that OU could have a change of heart and look Southeast.
  • Missouri either has an offer on the table or the presidents/chancellors in the SEC have given an informal go-ahead for the school to join the conference.  As noted above, the SEC has publicly denied either of those have occurred.  Based on the leaks coming from Columbia, it appears MU either has an interest in the SEC or has — or had depending on their reaction to the Pac-12’s non-move last night — an interest in creating the impression that they had options other than the Big 12.
  • West Virginia has been rebuffed in recent days by both the SEC and ACC (Note to ‘Eers fans: remember the title of this little section).  School officials have vehemently denied that’s the case.  Regardless of the veracity of either rumor — or the semantics involved — the speculation from most observers centers around WVU being what’s described as a second-tier candidate — or fourth or fifth option, if you will — if the SEC ultimately decides to make a move to 14 or even 16 members.
  • Both UConn and Rutgers have inquired about potential membership in the ACC.  The latter school is also rumored to be double-dipping, batting their eyes at the Big Ten as well.  Both schools were represented at the Big East football meeting of the minds Monday night — UConn’s president and athletic director were represented by individuals from their offices — with RU athletic director Tim Pernetti stating that “[e]verybody is committed to going out and recruiting top-level institutions to enhance the future of the league.”  It’s believed both school’s “loyalty” to the Big East is tied directly to the ACC’s willingness to go beyond 14 members.
  • Air Force is one of the double-digit schools that has expressed interest in joining in the Big East, albeit as a football-only member.  Why the Falcons would willingly leave a Mountain West Conference that may or may not become an automatic BcS qualifier for an unstable Big East that may or may not keep their automatic BcS qualifying status is unknown.
  • UCF is considered a second-tier candidate for membership in the Big East.  With a rising football program and significant television market it would bring to the table, it’s unclear why they would be that “far” down the list for a conference that needs to add as many quality names as it can.  UCF would seem to meet the criteria on all of fronts except for one: their proximity to USF.
  • Somewhat below UCF on the Big East’s radar is Villanova and Temple; separately, Memphis has reportedly been dismissed missed as a potential candidate as has East Carolina, which we noted above has already applied for membership.

Questions that remain unanswered…

What concessions are Texas willing to make in order to ensure the viability, at least in the short-term, of the Big 12?
Per reports, Oklahoma’s demands are twofold: one, the removal of Dan Beebe as the conference’s commissioner and, two, a vastly revamped Longhorn Network.  The latter was an issue two years running in keeping UT out of the Pac-12, and it would appear the Austin school is now dealing from a position of strength now that their Red River rival’s West Coast bluff has been called.  Revenue sharing is the path of least resistance to conference stability (see: Big Ten, SEC); anyone who can’t see that is either not the sharpest knife in the chandelier or whose closet is littered with burnt orange clothing.  Will UT be willing to give up some of the power and money they’ve been allowed to grab in order to keep the Big 12 a viable conference?  That’s the $300 million question at this point in time.

Serve Beebe’s head on a platter to preserve the Big 12?
Or, more specifically, will Oklahoma back off the condition they leaked to the media Monday, that Beebe must step down as commissioner in order to preserve the conference?  Right or wrong, Beebe is perceived by current and former members of the Big 12 as being nothing but a puppet whose strings can only be pulled by Texas and that school’s whims.  We’re guessing that condition won’t be a significant stumbling block if still required, especially for a Texas school that reportedly didn’t want Beebe as commissioner in the first place.

Who the hell would want to join this Big 12 morass?
“We’re going to make this work and we’re going to be stronger coming out on the other end and blah blah blah…”  OK, whatever.  The fact remains that if Texas acquiesces… if Oklahoma decides it’s enough acquiescence… if Mizzou decides to turn its eyes away from the SEC, the Big 12 will be at nine schools once A&M officially leaves.  The consensus is the conference will have to get back to 10 teams to satisfy provisions of its new television deal, or maybe even maintain the desire to get back to 12; the question is, how will a conference with such bitter infighting and outward instability be able to attract one school let alone three?  The big incentives the conference has to dangle, of course, are a membership in a conference that would maintain its automatic BcS qualifying status as well as a TV deal that will pay each member in excess of $15 million annually, perhaps even more if UT agrees to equal revenue sharing.  That would certainly be attractive to schools like BYU, Houston and SMU (West Virginia?) if they can get past the instability.  Besides bodies, though, what would any combination of those schools, or any other schools for that matter, add to the Big 12?  At this point, as long as the Big 12 has UT and OU, everything else is merely necessary window dressing anyway.

How long will the SEC remain comfortable with a baker’s dozen?
The public face of the SEC is that they would be fine for the short-term with adding just A&M and sticking with 13 members in 2012.  The reality is a 13-team conference creates a scheduling nightmare, with the very real potential of schools in the seven-team division playing one more conference game than their six-team counterparts.  In a conference as competitive as the SEC, that should be unacceptable.  On the other hand, the SEC doesn’t want to add another school just to fill up a slot; it needs to be a fit that strengthens the long-term future of the league.  Such a scenario points directly at current members of the ACC and their newly-implemented $20 million exit fee being in play if the SEC decides to expand.  It’s become quite the conundrum for the SEC, thanks in large part to the events out west last night, although it’s nothing someone like commissioner Mike Slive can’t comfortably and successfully navigate.

Will the ACC stand pat?
Somewhat shockingly, the ACC over the weekend became the first BcS conference to go above 12 members, poaching the Big East (again) to get to 14 members.  Both UConn and Rutgers appear ready, willing and able to accept an invitation to the ACC; it remains a complete unknown whether that conference wants to be the first to create a “superconference” or, now that the Big 12 has been hauled out of the abyss (maybe) and the Pac-12 will seemingly remain at 12,  is comfortable with where they are membership-wise.

Will TCU honor its commitment and move to the Big East?
You have to somewhat feel for TCU.  In 2010, the school announced they were moving from the Mountain West to the Big East, with their eyes firmly affixed on the possible automatic bid attached to membership.  A year later, the conference they will call home beginning in 2012 is in utter disarray thanks to a second round of poaching by the ACC.  The Horned Frogs would appear to have two viable options: follow through and join the Big East or remain in the MWC, which would welcome the school back with open arms.  An expanded Big 12 might also be a possibility, although the Texas schools are said to not want to add any new members from their recruiting footprint.

Is the Pac-12 really done expanding?
This is one to keep an eye on, in tandem with the Big 12’s ability to compromise.  One of the current schools of thought is that the Pac-12’s decision to forego expansion this time around was merely a ploy to force Texas to come off their LHN stance and embrace equal revenue sharing on all levels.  By all appearances, and armed with a mega-TV deal that will go into effect next year, Larry Scott and his bosses appear perfectly comfortable standing pat at 12 members.  If UT decides it would be better to fold their network into the Pac-12’s regional model and share revenue equally instead of making the Big 12 work?  Hello Expansionpalooza v3.0.

Halle-freaking-lujah…

NC State board approves new deal for Dave Doeren

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In late November, after rejecting overtures from Tennessee in order to remain at North Carolina State, Dave Doeren agreed to a new contract with the university, pending the board rubber-stamping the agreement. This past week, that rubber met the stamp.

NC State confirmed that, on Thursday, the system’s Board of Trustees formally approved the new five-year deal for Doeren. The head coach’s new contract will now keep him with the Wolfpack through Dec. 31, 2022.

“We are on an exciting upward trajectory in football under the leadership of Coach Doeren,” said NC State athletic director Debbie Yow said in a statement. “He has assembled a terrifically talented coaching staff, as well, and that continuity and stability has been important to our current student-athletes and recruits.

“We are pleased that Dave will continue to lead NC State football, playing in one of the most challenging divisions in college football, the Atlantic Division of the ACC.”

In five seasons with the Wolfpack, the 46-year-old Doeren has compiled a 34-30 record, including a 15-25 mark in ACC play. The 2017 season was his best of the five, with a 9-4 overall mark that saw NC State finish in second place in the Atlantic after divisional finishes of seventh, fifth, fourth and tied-fourth the first four.

Under Doeren, the Wolfpack has played in a bowl game each of the last four seasons, posting a 3-1 mark in the postseason.

Nebraska clinches spring game attendance crown, Georgia pushes past Alabama

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Georgia got its revenge on Alabama on Saturday, I guess. Months after letting a lead slip away in the national championship game, Georgia wiggled past Alabama in the spring game attendance standings on Saturday but the Dawgs still had to settle for second place overall. A record crowd at Nebraska led to the Cornhusker faithful having the highest attendance for a spring game this season.

Nebraska set a school record on Saturday with 86,818 fans attending the spring game in Lincoln, the first under new head coach Scott Frost. It was the first time Nebraska recorded a crowd over 80,000 during the past five years. Nebraska surged to the top of the Big Ten spring attendance standings as well, and stayed comfortably ahead after Penn State recorded an estimated 71,000 fans at its spring game on Saturday. Ohio State had led the Big Ten the previous three years but stadium renovations limited Ohio State to 79,000 available seats this year at Ohio Stadium, and weather and schedule adjustments to the spring game resulted in a crowd of 47,803 for Ohio State’s spring game.

The SEC once again dominated spring game attendance numbers this year. With LSU and Mississippi State numbers still pending, the SEC has five schools in the top 10 in spring game attendance as of today; Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Florida, and Texas A&M. As a conference, the SEC eclipsed the 400,000-fan mark for the fourth time in the last five years. Although the Big Ten is typically the second best conference in cumulative spring game attendance, the conference’s number took a big dip this season thanks to weather issues across the conference. Still, the number pulled in by Nebraska, Penn State, and Ohio State helped keep the Big Ten in second place ahead of the ACC.

Keep in mind spring game attendance is treated differently by every school, and the numbers often include estimates so the accuracy can be questioned. Even though there are still a handful of spring games left, none will rival the numbers put up today.

The updated top 10 is listed below, and a full database of spring game attendance can be found here (complete with conference breakdowns and a five-year record of spring game attendance figures by school).

2018 Spring Game Attendance Top 10

  1. Nebraska – 86,818
  2. Georgia – 82,184
  3. Alabama – 74,732
  4. Penn State – 71,000
  5. Tennessee – 65,098
  6. Florida State – 60,934
  7. Clemson – 55,000
  8. Florida – 53,015
  9. Oklahoma – 52,102
  10. Texas A&M – 48,129

Jeremy Pruitt felt some Tennessee players ‘flat out quit’ in spring game

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New Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruit has a message to his players and Tennessee fans. If you are going to enter Neyland Stadium, you better be prepared to work.

Following Tennessee’s spring game in Knoxville, Pruitt reflected on his first spring game as head coach with the media and he was not about to let anyone off the hook for a mediocre performance in the spring game. One thing you never want to hear from a head coach is that some of his players seemingly quit. That was the case for Pruitt today, without naming any specific players.

Even fans received some gripes from the new head coach.

Tennessee estimated a total of 65,098 fans came out to watch the Tennessee spring game, which is an impressive total and right around the average Tennessee typically draws for the spring game. But the crowd buzz must not have impressed Pruitt, who could be setting the tone for the fans in the fall in hopes they turn things up a bit once the games actually matter.

The same message is now being sent to the entire team. Pruitt has a high standard in mind, which is to be expected after being an assistant at Alabama. Was Pruitt truly this displeased with his team’s effort in the spring game? Or was he simply trying to play things down in order to let his players know there will be no room for poor efforts?

Jalen Hurts speculation about to run wild after shaky spring game at Alabama

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If Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts was looking to build a case for taking the starting job for the Crimson Tide in 2018, he may have to rely on more than his performance in the spring game. Hurts turned in a sub-par performance in Alabama’s spring game on Saturday afternoon, leaving the door wide open for some speculation about his future as Alabama’s spring comes to a close.

Hurts completed 19 of his 37 pass attempts for 195 yards with no touchdowns and one interception. He also was sacked seven times. With Tua Tagovailoa out of action due to injury, Hurts was outperformed by redshirt freshman Mac Jones, who completed 23 of 35 passes for 289 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Jones was also intercepted once and was sacked six times. Of the two quarterbacks, Jones had the more inspiring performance.

Rumors speculating Hurts may end up looking to transfer will only continue to ignore following this spring, especially with Tagovailoa going into the offseason as the new hero in town after guiding Alabama back in the national championship game. It should be worth noting, however, a transfer for Hurts is not guaranteed to happen. That won’t stop fans and media from figuring out what will be next for Hurts.

Hurts’ dad recently suggested his son would be college football’s biggest free agent on the transfer market if he ended up losing the quarterback battle in Tuscaloosa. That may be a slight exaggeration, but there is no question Hurts would have plenty of potential and skill to offer any program he would potentially move to if he decides to leave Alabama. Alabama head coach Nick Saban tried to cool the tension by suggesting there is no reason to be concerned about the whole situation.

But this is Alabama we’re talking about. The Hurts watch is now in full force in Tuscaloosa, whether Saban likes it or not.