Monty Python

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…

Hugh Freeze denies Ole Miss staffers knowingly broke NCAA recruiting rules

OXFORD, MS - SEPTEMBER 26:  Head coach Hugh Freeze of the Mississippi Rebels takes the field with his team prior to a game against the Vanderbilt Commodores at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium on September 26, 2015 in Oxford, Mississippi.  (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
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In a tweet that he surely regrets on a daily basis, Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze famously challenged anyone with information regarding any possible NCAA violations to come forward with them.

“If you have facts about a violation, send it to compliance@olemiss.edu. If not, please do not slander these young men or insult their family,” he posted in a since-deleted tweet on Feb. 1, 2013, the day Freeze inked his highly-touted, highly-controversial class headlined by Laremy TunsilRobert Nkemdiche and Laquon Treadwell.

Which, of course, the NCAA did.

The Rebels were hit with 28 total violations — nine of which the school confirmed originate from Freeze’s staff. And that’s not including the allegations regarding Tunsil that popped up on NFL Draft night.

Ole Miss has suspended unnamed assistants from recruiting in the wake of the NCAA’s Notice of Allegations, but Freeze has denied anyone under his employ knowingly broke rules.

“The first thing I would say is that I own it. That’s part of it when you’re the head coach. You take the good with the bad,” Freeze told ESPN’s Chris Low from the SEC spring meetings in Sandestin, Fla. “But there’s a big difference between making mistakes in recruiting and going out there with the intent to cheat. I don’t have any information that anybody on my staff has been involved in any illegal payments to players or offering any inducements to players, and if I did have that information, I would fire them.”

As for the text messages showing Tunsil asking off-the-field staff member John Miller for mone, which were not included in last week’s release?

“That’s something I can’t talk about right now because both sides are still looking into it, but I feel confident with the report we do have from the NCAA that our staff is not involved in any purposeful breaking of the rules,” Freeze said. “Have we made mistakes in recruiting? Yes, and we’ve taken steps to make sure we don’t make those same mistakes again. But to say me or anybody on my staff is out there cheating to gain advantage just isn’t true.”

To be fair, most of the allegations against the Rebels’ current regime are relatively minor in nature. A comped hotel room here, a loaner car there. Because of that, Freeze said he won’t fire anyone on his staff.

“We’re not going to terminate a guy who makes a mistake and didn’t have any intent to go out and cheat,” Freeze said. “There is no charge in these allegations of a staff member being involved in a payment or offering extra benefits. There’s none of that in there.”

However, there are major allegations against coaches wearing Ole Miss red and blue, as former defensive backs coach Chris Vaughn and operations assistant David Saunders are accused of running an ACT fraud scheme. Unfortunately for Freeze, the NCAA may take out the sins of Houston Nutt‘s staff on his own.

Baylor QB Jarrett Stidham confirms commitment to program

Jarrett Stidham
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Continuing a trend we have witnessed at Baylor over the past week, incoming and future players are looking elsewhere while players already in the program are preparing to stay put. In the past 24 hours, a lot has happened with the program with the resignation of athletics director Ian McCaw following the hiring of head coach Jim Grobe. While the school still works to gain control of the situation, Baylor quarterback Jarrett Stidham announced he intends to stand by the program.

“Can’t wait to get back on that grind [Tuesday] with my brothers,” Stidham said in an update posted on his Instagram account on Monday. “This year is going to be different than the rest in many ways, but either way we will make a statement to everyone. Excited for the opportunity God has presented this team with to overcome adversity and become even closer as a family. Stick with us Baylor nation, we got this.”

Stidham was a major addition to Baylor’s recruiting class in 2015. After initially pledging his commitment to Texas Tech, Stidham later flipped his commitment to Baylor. Although Baylor appears set to have a healthy Seth Russell (who also has been making statements on Instagram) leading the offense this fall, all signs point to Stidham being the starting quarterback in 2017 (if not sooner).

Baylor has managed to keep all current players on the roster in Waco, which is not too surprising. Unless the NCAA chimes in later and drops a hammer of the weight it slammed on Penn State four summers ago (which is perhaps not all that likely to happen for a number of reasons, and they have no comment at this time), there is likely no reason to expect a mass exodus from the current roster. The recruiting game, however, is a different story.

Some key pieces of Baylor’s Class of 2016 — including running back Kameron Martin, offensive lineman Patrick Hudson and offensive tackle J.P. Urquidez  — made the late decision not to enroll in summer courses this week, which means they may still land elsewhere before the start of the fall football season. The Class of 2017 has quickly been dismantled and reduced to just a small handful of players for now as well.

How much Grobe can keep the recruiting ship afloat will be fascinating to watch, especially if he is simply on a one-year deal with no real chance to be the long-term head coach.

Baylor AD Ian McCaw resigns

WACO, TX - AUGUST 31:  A general view of play between the Southern Methodist Mustangs and the Baylor Bears at McLane Stadium on August 31, 2014 in Waco, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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On the same day Baylor made the coaching hire of Jim Grobe official, athletics director Ian McCaw has announced his resignation.

“After much reflection and prayer, I have decided that a change in athletics department leadership is in Baylor University’s best interest in order to promote the unity, healing and restoration that must occur in order to move forward,” McCaw said in a released statement Monday evening.

The resignation of McCaw is not to be unexpected given the serious nature of the revelations surrounding the Baylor program in the last week. Art Briles already lost his job and president Ken Starr was reappointed to a different position within the university as it looks to regroup from some egregious violations of Title IX and a complete system meltdown in responding to sexual violence involving Baylor student-athletes. That he lasted this long is puzzling to some, and his resignation is very likely a forced one. McCaw was placed on probation by the university last week.

“We understand and accept this difficult decision by Ian McCaw to resign as Athletic Director and we are grateful for his service to Baylor University,” a statement from Baylor’s Board of Regents read. “We also appreciate Ian’s commitment and involvement in bringing a person of integrity such as Jim Grobe to the University before making this decision.”

It should be expected McCaw let Grobe know of the situation when making the quick coaching hire, although Grobe likely knows this is a short-term deal anyway.

McCaw joined the Baylor program in 2003.

NCAA has no comment on Baylor Title IX violations at this time

ARLINGTON, TX - APRIL 06:  NCAA President Mark Emmert speaks to the media during a press conference at AT&T Stadium on April 6, 2014 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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Last week when the Baylor board of regents released a handful of documents outlining Title IX violations, the university also acknowledged it had been in contact with the NCAA regarding various violations. It remains to be seen what, if anything, the NCAA will do in response to the Baylor situation that led to the dismissal of head coach Art Briles. For now, the NCAA has no comment, which is a pretty regular way of staying out of trouble on a sensitive subject.

It would be unwise for the NCAA to open its mouth and say anything regarding the Baylor situation at this point in time. Baylor is still sifting through the mess it has uncovered in Waco and looking to establish a sense of order moving forward. As far as football is concerned, that continued on Monday with the reported hire of former Wake Forest head coach Jim Grobe as an interim head coach for the upcoming season.

There are a handful of areas the NCAA could weigh on in the future (including lack of institutional control), but there is never a concrete timetable with anything the NCAA does, and the governing body has yet to open any formal investigation of its own. With a “no comment,” the NCAA is reserving judgement until a later time, which makes perfect sense. The NCAA is already keeping its distance as it wants to avoid overstepping its boundaries as it did in responding to the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State.

This does not mean Baylor will be left off the hook when it comes to the NCAA, because this is something that could drag on for a while.