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…

Auburn wide receiver Kyle Davis potentially out for spring

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Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn was optimistic about wide receiver Kyle Davis returning to the team at some point this spring, but the tune has changed regarding his future. Malzahn is now saying Davis may be out for the remainder of Auburn’s spring practices due to personal reasons.

“Kyle Davis is still taking care of some personal business,” Malzahn said, according to SEC Country. “I’m not for sure if he’s going to be back before the end of the spring. He will be back for the fall, just taking a little bit longer than we initially thought.”

It was just a few weeks ago Malzahn said Davis was going to be out for the start of spring practices, which are now close to half over. For now, the plan is simply to have him return over the summer in preparation for the fall.

In the meantime, Malzahn confirmed John Franklin III is working primarily as a wide receiver, which had previously been suspected to be the case.

Penn State announces three captains for 2017 season

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With Penn State just about to get started with spring football practices, head coach James Franklin wasted no time in naming his captains for the 2017 season. Quarterback Trace McSorley, linebacker Jason Cabinda, and safety Nick Scott have been voted captains by their peers on the team.

“These three young men have been leaders in our program, on and off the field,” Franklin said in a released statement. “They live our four core values and act with the program’s best interest in mind. Our team is in good hands with these guys!”

McSorley took over the offense as Penn State’s starting quarterback in 2016. A bit of a mystery to most entering the season after being the backup to Christian Hackenberg, McSorley ended his 2016 season with a Big Ten-leading 3,614 passing yards and 29 touchdown passes with eight interceptions and played a key role in guiding Penn State to a late run to a Big Ten championship and an appearance in the Rose Bowl. He enters the 2017 season as one of the top quarterbacks returning to the Big Ten, along with Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett.

Cabinda, an All-Big Ten third team player in 2016, was Penn State’s third-leading tackler last season with 81 tackles. He accumulated that many tackles despite missing five games due to injury. He is slated to be the leader in the middle of the Penn State defense with a starting role already locked down and will look to help guide some younger linebackers stepping into key roles in the defense this upcoming season, such as Manny Bowen and Koa Farmer.

Scott has been a special teams leader for Penn State and is expected to continue to lead the special teams effort once again this season.

New Arkansas house bill will allow some concealed guns at football games

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Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson has signed a bill regarding a person’s ability to carry a concealed handgun into various buildings at a public university or college into state law. However, House Bill 1249 will not allow all legal gun owners to carry a gun to a football game in the state of Arkansas.

Football games will be considered a “sensitive area,” which require enhanced training in order to be allowed to carry a gun into a football stadium. The law supposedly trumps any provisions already in place to prevent guns from being allowed on the premises.

“The enhanced level of training is very important, and I am convinced the public will be more safe,” Governor Hutchinson said. “This bill, in my view, reflects the view of the general assembly.”

The bill has received praise from Arkansas Republican state representative Charlie Collins and the NRA.

While the bill has now become an act in the state, it will not go into effect until January 2018, so guns will still not be allowed in football games where Arkansas, Arkansas State, Arkansas-Pine Bluff, or Central Arkansas during the 2017 season.

The news of the new Arkansas state law comes on the same day the SEC has just unveiled a new clear bag policy for football games in the 2017 season. How the SEC handles this latest state law within its footprint remains to be seen (as well as the Sun Belt Conference). The bigger question will be where the SEC stands on this law considered the law is designed to overrule any stadium policies. The way the law is written, the SEC may not be able to do much to stand in the way, but the conference has those clear bag policies hammered down, rest assured.

Kentucky hands Mark Stoops a two-year contract extension

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After guiding Kentucky through its best season in nearly a decade, Mark Stoops has been rewarded.

Kentucky announced Wednesday afternoon that Stoops’ contract has been extended by two years.  The head coach’s previous deal had been set to run through June 30, 2020; the extension pushes that date out to June 30, 2020.

Stoops will earn $3.5 million in 2017, with the new contract calling for annual $250,000 raises.  In the last year of the contract extension, and barring any additional tweaking, Stoops could earn $4.75 million.

Additionally, if the Wildcats win at least seven games but no more than nine in a season, the contract automatically extends by one year.  If the team wins 10-plus games, it extends by two years. “Stoops will continue to receive $250,000 for each win beginning with the seventh win of each season and $50,000 per semester in which the team grade-point average is 2.75 or higher,” the release stated.

Participation in an SEC-affiliated bowl will net Stoops a $100,000 bonus, provided the Wildcats win at least six games that season.  There’s also a $50,000 bonus for earning a spot in a non-SEC bowl game, with the same six-win threshold.  Last season, UK qualified for a bowl game for the first time under Stoops and the first time under anyone since 2010.

“The last four years have been a grind for Mark and his staff, but he has never wavered in his commitment to building Kentucky football into a consistent winner,” a statement from athletic director Mitch Barnhart began. “While the work isn’t close to finished, we believe Mark is the coach to take us there. We are thankful to Mark and Chantel for all they have done to this point and we look forward to our program’s bright future under his leadership.”

The Wildcats’ 7-6 record last season was the program’s best since hitting the same mark in the last season under Rich Brooks in 2009.  The first three seasons with Stoops in control, UK posted a 12-24 mark.

In SEC play, they are just 8-24 since 2013, although they were 4-4 in conference play this past season.  The Wildcats have finished seventh (2013), sixth (2014), tied-fourth (2015) and tied-second (2016) in league play with Stoops as head coach.

“I want to thank Dr. (Eli) Capilouto, Mitch Barnhart and the Board of Trustees for their continued support,” Stoops said. “When we came here, doing a rebuild in a challenging situation, I said that full support from everyone involved was imperative and we have always received that. We needed great commitment, we’ve had great commitment and we’re continuing to get great commitment.”

If Stoops is fired by UK, he’s entitled to receive 75 percent of the remaining guaranteed compensation on the contract.  If Stoops leaves of his own accord, he’d owe the university $1 million regardless of how many years are left on the deal.