College football is facing an identity crisis

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If NCAA President Mark Emmert had to give a State of the Union address similar to United States President Barack Obama, I’m not sure Emmert would know what to say. There would probably a lot of awkward pauses, some throat-clearing and a few hesitant laughs as he gazed at the hundreds of blank stares comprised of university presidents, chancellors and athletic directors looking back at him.

Emmert would not be in an enviable position because, as it stands today, it’s hard to define exactly where the state of college football resides. The same goes for most revenue producing college athletics.

College football has an identity crisis. If it was an 18-year-old college freshman, its major would be “undeclared”. The truth is that the sport has no earthly clue what to call itself.

Is it still considered an amateur sport? Every single player across all university-sponsored sports is given the title “student-athlete”. The mantra of athletic scholarships has always stated that the sport is the means to receiving a college degree.

But today’s college game hardly lends itself to that commandment.

With each passing year, universities in BCS conferences get richer and more powerful. The Pac-12’s new, reported $2.7 billion television rights agreement will ensure that every member equally gets somewhere in the ballpark of $20 million in revenue annually over the next 12 years. Big Ten schools have been pulling in similar numbers from the revenue-rich Big Ten Network. The sport is a hefty business.

And the words “amateur” and “business” are rarely uttered in the same sentence.

College football knows what it wants to be. It wants to be the NFL, where there is an entertainment price tag placed on everything fan-related. From television coverage to high-scoring spread offenses and everything in between, the goal of collegiate football bigwigs is to keep the fans happy and keep them coming back. But, for whatever reason, college football won’t admit they want to be just like its big brother.

Even though they’ve already started acting like him.

Paying Players: Legitimate vs. Entitlement

This was a stark indicator that college football wanted to evolve and Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, of all people, got the conversation rolling. Should conferences that have the means to pay their players beyond what their athletic scholarship dishes out do so? Delany admitted that the proposal was not about creating a level playing field, but rather looking out for the best interest of the student-athlete in his conference.

Ironically, Delany argued that paying players more — a very non-amateur move — would help cover the total cost of being a college student – a very amateur ideal.

There are issues, to be sure. If universities begin paying athletes in revenue-producing sports such as football and men’s basketball, they will have to pay every student-athlete who participates in a university-sponsored sport. After all, and by Delany’s own logic, the purpose is to help with the total cost of college and the girls who play women’s tennis are no less a college student than the star player of the football team.

In some instances, they may be more so.

But where does the line between legitimate needs and entitlement get drawn?

When a football player signs a National Letter of Intent, they agree to forfeit a normal college experience and dedicate an astronomical amount of time to playing the game and going to school (or, just playing the game). Getting a job on the side, while not impossible, is practically unheard of. Many would argue that playing football is the athlete’s job. It certainly brings millions of dollars directly for the betterment of the university.

If a player wants a portion of that revenue, does that really make him an entitled person? I believe that’s a different question than asking “are there entitled football players?” to which the answer is unequivocally “yes”.

College football has already made several moves to de-amateurize the sport. While paying players extra money presents larger concerns, refusing to do so embraces an outdated philosophy in a new-age industry ruled by bottom line agendas.

(Im)proper benefits

Just about everything seems to be identified an impermissible benefit, and frankly, it’s getting old. That’s not to say the events at places like USC are acceptable  — they’re not — but punishing a kid for selling memorabilia that’s rightfully his is downright asinine.

The incidents involving Ohio State players receiving impermissible benefits have taken more twists and turns over the past year than all of M. Night Shyamalan’s movies put together. For Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor, it’s been especially turbulent. If rumors that Pryor banked upward of $40,000 for signing autographs turn out to be true, the NCAA rulebook might spontaneously combust. Pryor, as a result, appears to be getting the hell out of Dodge and moving on from Columbus.

And, no, we still haven’t forgotten about former Auburn quarterback Cam Newton. The NCAA’s investigation of Newton and his father, Cecil, was based around finding this unattainable “money trail” after Newton’s father reportedly admitted he solicited money from schools for his son’s talents. That solicitation alone would be a violation of NCAA Bylaws, but somehow, Cam’s eligibility remained intact because he was “unaware” that this whole deal was going on.

Yes, there are rules and they must be abided by. And that’s the problem. In no way am I condoning the allegations against Pryor or Newton, but the “do as I say, not as I do” attitude of college football is nauseating. The sport continues to make business decisions on a day-to-day basis, yet refuses to accept the idea that their players could do the same.

Memorabilia sales, alcohol sales and rising ticket prices — they’re all used to put a little more dough in the back pocket of athletic departments and schools like Texas, Penn State and Alabama do it better than anybody.

There are lots of financial benefits to college football. Who gets a portion of that pie is a selective process. I’m not sure paying players would stop players from receiving impermissible benefits, but removing the amateur title from them would.

This is the End

As a famous episode of “Seinfeld” once accused, “You just double-dipped your chip!”

College football double dips in amateurism and professionalism. More than it should. It acts like the NFL, but refuses to admit it. Like an adult, it does its best to get the most lucrative business deal available. Yet, like a child, it clamps on to the leg of amateurism, hoping that if they close their eyes and pretend real hard, the truth that sport is changing will go away.

Strangely enough, it’s the players who are affected the most from that immaturity.

There is no more “going to”. College football has changed, for better or for worse. If nothing else, the sport can’t go in reverse — it can’t get “more” amateur-ish. And when things change, those affected must evolve. For the sport, that may include paying players, or allowing them to make their own source of income.

But college football is dragging its feet. Why? I don’t know; the change has already come, and with every NCAA investigation or notice of allegations, the sport further self-inflicts wounds that prevent it from being what it really wants to be.

And you don’t have to know what you are to know what you want to be.

Art Briles named head football coach at Texas high school

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Still a pariah at the collegiate level — and the professional level in North America, for that matter — Art Briles has returned to his coaching roots in dipping his scandal-stained toes back into the profession’s pool.

Mount Vernon High School in Texas announced Friday evening that its Board of Trustees has approved a two-year contract for Briles to serve as the program’s head football coach.  Briles spent nearly three decades as a head coach in the state of Texas before, after a three-year stint as an assistant at Texas Tech, landing head jobs at Houston (2003-07) and, most infamously, Baylor (2008-15).

“High school football is a Texas institution.  As a coach, it’s my first love,” Briles said in a statement provided by his new employer. “You’ll make no bigger impact in this world than when you shape the lives of young people — one practice, one game, and one life at a time.

“I am excited to be coaching at Mount Vernon this fall.”

In its release, the school system noted “that Briles never incurred a single recruiting infraction during his time at the collegiate level, and previous supervisors and other references also provided strong recommendations.” It was further stated that the hiring was made because, “[a]fter a thorough due diligence process and several earnest conversations, we believe our students will benefit greatly from his skills and experience.”

Given Briles’ past, the school’s wordsmithing in announcing the decision is understandable considering the amount of heat and outside public pressure the system is set to endure.

Briles was fired by Baylor in May of 2016 amidst a sexual assault scandal involving his Bears football program.  In August of 2017, the disgraced coach was hired by a CFL team; a couple of hours later, after the hiring was denounced by fans and sponsors, the organization announced that Briles would no longer be joining the team.

In late January of 2017, damning details in one of the handfuls of lawsuits facing Baylor University emerged, with that suit alleging that 31 Bears football players had committed 52 acts of rape over a period of four years beginning in 2011.

Not long after, a legal filing connected to the libel lawsuit filed by a former BU football staffer produced emails and text messages that painted a picture of the former Bears head coach and/or his assistants as unrestrained rogue elements concerned with nothing more than the image of the football program off the field and its performance on it. The details in a damning document dump included allegations that Briles attempted to circumvent BU’s “judicial affairs folks” when it came to one player’s arrest… and on Briles asking, in response to one of his players brandishing a gun on a female, “she reporting [it] to authorities?”… and asking “she a stripper?” when told one of his players expected a little something extra from a female masseuse… and stating in a text “we need to know who [the] supervisor is and get him to alert us first” in response to a player who was arrested on a drug charge because the apartment superintendent called the police.

In reference to a woman who alleged she was gang-raped by several Bears football players, Briles allegedly responded, “those are some bad dudes. Why was she around those guys?

“Hindsight is a blessing and a curse. I’ve always been about trying to be fair and honest with everyone I came into contact with,” Briles said in July of last year on his unceremonious and controversial ouster from the Bears. “The thing that hurts me as much as anything [was] the culture at Baylor at the time; I don’t think victims, I know they didn’t feel comfortable going to report assaults that took place. I don’t think they were represented and taken care of with the level that needed to be handled with. That’s something that through all of this and as time goes will become more clear.

“Not only me but many of us felt betrayed because we were not privy to the information that was available in a way we wanted to respond. … With the way things are going, with some of the transparency starting to take place, I am confident the truth will come out. It’s not just important for me.”

In August of last year, Briles was named as the head coach of the Guelfi Firenze American Football team in Florence, Italy.  That was his first coaching job at any level since his ouster in Waco.

Brenda Tracy, a gang-rape survivor and victim’s advocate, is the most high-profile of many already publicly questioning the high school’s hiring of Briles.

ACC revenue reaches $465 million but distributions lag behind other power conferences

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Like most other power conferences, the ACC saw a boost in total revenue in the 2018 fiscal year. According to data acquired by USA Today, the ACC saw an increase of about 11% from the previous year, and each ACC member received a distribution of $29.5 million. The total amount of revenue reported by the ACC on its most recent tax filings came in just under $465 million, which is up from the $418.1 million reported a year ago.

Not that $29.5 million is chump change by any stretch of the imagination, but the ACC revenue share is more on par with the payments received by Pac-12 members than those received by members of the Big 12, Big Ten, and SEC. Notre Dame received $7.9 million from the ACC for their revenue share for being a partial member of the conference outside of football. Big Ten revenue totaled nearly $760 million with distribution shares of $54 million. SEC schools received payouts of $43.1 million from $627 million in revenue, and Big 12 schools received between $33.6 million and $36.6 million from the $373.9 million in revenue. The Pac-12 was the outlier with a decrease in revenue. With all of those figures in place, the 14-team ACC stands relatively low on the revenue ladder among power conferences.

It is worth a reminder the Big 12 is splitting its revenue distributions in uneven fashion among 10 members instead of 12 or 14 like the Pac-12 and ACC. The ACC could also be in for a bit of a windfall in the coming fiscal year with the recent national championship runs by Clemson’s football team and Virginia men’s basketball team. The upcoming launch of the ACC Network will eventually lead to some more potential revenue growth, although the impact of that will not be known for another two years once the tax return information for the 2019-2020 fiscal year are documented.

Naturally, revenue growth in a conference leads to salary growth for the commissioner. ACC commissioner John Swofford is no exception here with a compensation of $3.5 million for 2017, up from $3.3 million the previous year.

NHL Winter Classic forces First Responder Bowl to relocate in 2019

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The First Responder Bowl has been calling historic Cotton Bowl Stadium home since its debut in 2011 as the TicketCity Bowl. But for one year, the First Responder Bowl will take up residence in another stadium to make way for some professional hockey.

The NHL Winter Classic between the Dallas Stars and Nashville Predators will be played in the Cotton Bowl on Jan. 1, 2020. Because the historic venue will be setup to host some outdoor hockey, the First Responder Bowl will be held on SMU’s campus in Ford Stadium. The bowl game will return to the Cotton Bowl the following season.

“We are looking forward to the new venue and date as part of the celebration of the 10th year of this bowl game’s history,” executive director of the First Responder Bowl Brant Ringler said in a released statement. “In addition to those changes, we hope to grow the number of first responders who attend the game and find new ways to say thank you to them for their service in our communities.”

SMU’s football stadium previously hosted a bowl game in 2010 and 2011. The Armed Forces Bowl, which is typically played in TCU’s Amon G. Carter Stadium in Fort Worth, was played in SMU’s stadium in those two seasons because of stadium renovations at TCU.

Last year’s First Responder Bowl ended shortly after it began. The bowl matchup between Boise State and Boston College was called off due to inclement weather with Boston College leading the Broncos 7-0 in the first quarter. The game had been in a lightning delay for over an hour before the game was ruled a no contest.

Mario Cristobal reportedly working on extension with Oregon

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The Oregon Ducks appear to be in good hands under the leadership of head coach Mario Cristobal. After one nine-win season in 2018, Cristobal has Oregon gaining some offseason hype for the first time in a few years, and the school is reportedly looking to tack on some additional time to his current contract.

According to a report from The Oregonian, Oregon is working out a deal for a one-year contract extension for Cristobal. If worked out, the new contract would extend Cristobal’s contract with the Ducks through the end of the 2023 season. A one-year extension may not seem like a lot for a college football coach, but that would give Cristobal job security for the next few recruiting cycles, assuring incoming recruits Cristobal is under contract in Eugene for the foreseeable future. And if things continue to trend in the direction they could potentially are now, it will only be a matter of time before another long-term extension is on the table for discussion. But that can wait another few years at this point.

After taking over for a bowl game at the end of the 2017 season following the abrupt departure of Willie Taggart to Florida State, Cristobal returned to being a full-time head coach for the first time since 2012 at FIU by guiding the Ducks to a 9-4 record in 2018. Cristobal’s first season as head coach of Oregon resulted in a Redbox Bowl victory over Michigan State and saw the Ducks fly as high as No. 12 in the AP poll. The 2019 season is coming with some lofty expectations within the Pac-12 as Oregon is expected to compete for the conference championship with division foe Washington and other contenders such as Utah, Stanford, and Washington State.

Cristobal came to Oregon as an assistant coach under Taggart after previously being an assistant coach for Nick Saban at Alabama. Cristobal was the head coach of FIU from 2007 through 2012, accumulating a record of 27-47 that turned a 1-11 program into one with back-to-back winning seasons, but FIU moved on from Cristobal following a 3-9 season in 2012.