Hogs Triumphant!

February 6, 2013

In a remarkably exciting upset, The Arkansas Razorbacks crushed the #2 Florida Gators last night in basketball at the Bud Walton Arena (“The Basketball Palace of Mid-America,” as the announcer likes to say).  My experience last night re-affirmed my confidence in the theory that school sporting events increase social capital, as I argued in yesterday’s post.  When the Spirit Squad forms their pyramid with the backdrop of a giant Arkansas flag, as pictured above, I have to admit that I get a little misty-eyed.  Sports make me feel more connected to Arkansas and my university, as I’m sure they do for others.

We were even graced with an appearance last night by Bubba Hog, whose dance enhances social capital with a good belly laugh in addition to the flag- pyramid’s tear to the eye.

Lastly, everyone should keep their eye on Michael Qualls, a freshman who jumped so high last night that I believe his head bumped the hanging scoreboard.  Here’s a highlight reel for Qualls from earlier games:

The Second College Football Missile Crisis

September 8, 2011

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

We interrupt your regularly scheduled education policy wonk nerdapalooza to bring you this update on college football!

A few years ago the Big 10 conference succeeded in pulling in a lot of money with a Big 10 Network, and then announced that they would add a 12th member (they had operated with 11 members since Penn State joined the fold in the early 1990s).

This set off the first College Football Missile Crisis. The Big 10 has long yearned for Notre Dame, and also dreamed of adding the 24 million television sets in Texas. Rejected by Notre Dame and Texas, the Big 10 added Nebraska.

During this first College Football Missile Crisis, the Pac-10 made a huge play for Texas as well, offering to add the Colorado, Texas, Texas Tech, Texas A&M, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State to form the first 16 team super conference.

Larry Scott, the PAC-10 commissioner, crafted a shrewd offer for the University of Texas. The inclusion of Texas Tech would lessen political issues, and constituted a sweetener that the Big 10 would be unwilling to match (all Big 10 schools were AAU members until Nebraska got the boot last year- quelle horreur!)

Furthermore, by including a bunch of neighboring schools of Big 12 and the Arizona schools, Texas and Oklahoma would basically have their own mini-conference to minimize travel. One trip to the West Coast per year (So-Cal, No-Cal, Oregon or Washington) plus a trip to Arizona every year (bring your golf clubs) and then a bunch of places you are already familiar with. Scott’s plans brought in major media markets in Texas and Colorado for the PAC 16 network to exploit, and gave the network a supply of games in the Central Time Zone (the East Coast tends to be asleep by the time a Pac-10 night game hits the air).

Three problems arose with this plan. First, Baylor summoned up the blood in an attempt to get the Texas legislature to quash it. Second, the Aggies decided that they didn’t want to join the PAC-X, and began to make noises about joining the Southeastern Conference. Finally, Texas decided that the same reason that the PAC 10 wanted them was the same reason they didn’t want to go: they would contribute more than took out. Instead, Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds extracted an agreement to allow individual schools to create their own networks and sell their 3rd tier rights from the Big 12. Sensibly, Scott decided not to match this offer.

Colorado, not taking any chances with Baylor’s political machinations, quickly accepted an offer from the PAC 10, the PAC 10 also brought on The University of Utah to create the PAC 12. Fox and ESPN actually increased the total amount of money going to the Big 12 despite having lost Colorado and Nebraska (fragmentation of the television market has networks paying a heavy premium for live sporting events these days) and the College Football Missile Crisis drew to a close well short of Armageddon.

…or so it seemed last year.

ESPN partnered with the University of Texas to create the Longhorn Network, pledging a minimum of $300 million dollars over a long period of time for what amounts to 3rd tier rights (out of conference road kill football game, basketball games the networks don’t want, and Olympic sports). Despite the fact that the average payout to Big 12 teams had just doubled, the wailing and gnashing of teeth began. It all reminds me of this:

Now, this is the part of the story where the Aggies dive off the deep end. During the First College Football Missile Crisis, elements of the Texas A&M Board of Regents, including an a former University of Alabama football coach (seriously) banged on pots for the Aggies to join the SEC. This ignited a fan rebellion which was only put down with difficulty, and which was reignited by envy of the Longhorn Network.

So shortly after signing long-term agreements with Fox and ESPN, the Aggie brain trust started pounding on the door of the SEC, which just so happens to be entirely tolerant of members selling their 3rd tier rights. In fact, six out of the top 10 schools in generating 3rd tier rights revenue are….wait for it…..SEC schools. I’m willing to bet that they are all chomping at the bit to benchmark their inventory against the Longhorn Network as soon as their current contracts expire. If they aren’t, they need to fire their athletic directors.

Last week or so A&M sent a letter to the Big 12 announcing an exit date contingent upon their acceptance in another conference. Yesterday, the SEC Presidents met in Atlanta and unanimously voted to accept A&M’s application to join the SEC, contingent upon each of the Big 12 schools signing a waiver of any right to sue the SEC conference.

Imagine a state legislature passing a voucher law contingent upon the teacher unions signing a legal document pledging not to file suit against it in court. Some of the universities have contingency plans, and some do not. Most notably, Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas and Kansas state face an uncertain future if the Big 12 expires. You may remember the current President of Baylor University:

Yes, that Ken Starr! The possibility of Starr going on a fishing expedition discovery process seems to have deterred the SEC. Say what you will about the Whitewater fiasco, but there can be little doubt regarding Starr’s ability to exact vindictive revenge if provoked. Sure, the SEC wants A&M, but only if A&M falls into their lap. It reminds me of how Fred Thompson “wanted” the Presidency: he’ll take it as long as he doesn’t have to work for it. Otherwise they are good with being a movie star with a stunning young wife the most successful athletic conference in the country.

Facing a conference abyss, rumor has it tonight that Baylor and some of the other smaller Big 12 schools aren’t going to sign a waiver unless the University of Oklahoma decides to stick with the Big 12 conference. Oklahoma, quite understandably, still seems interested in joining the PAC-1X conference. No one really seems to care whether the Aggies take their inferiority complex/delusions of grandeur over to the SEC for a weekly dose of gridiron humiliation: put some popcorn in the microwave and pull up a chair! The schools without good options just don’t want the conference to implode.

I will say this in defense of the Aggies: the Pac 1X would be an odd fit for them:

As a Texas fan, my main concern with the Aggies going to the SEC is the exposure the other teams will get as they turn A&M into their doormat, and begin some of those extra special SEC style recruiting tactics, like showing up with a dufflebag stuffed with $200,000 cash money. Given that the Big 10 has a research consortium that seems to bring in an extra $200m-$300m a year in research dollars, much of which is agriculture related, the obsession on the Texas A&M board of regents with joining the SEC tells us what we need to know about them: they are making decisions like t-shirt wearing football fans rather than as regents.

The Texas athletic department has been trying very hard to have their cake and eat it too. They want their network, and to be a part of a conference. They have also revealed some control freak tendencies. An astute Longhorns sports blogger noted that college football is supposed to be about fun and the Big 12-2 or 3 and counting is simply not much fun. Personally, I’ll be hoping that Texas joins a PAC 16- that would be the most fun. If I were a regent charged with enhancing the academic prestige of my university, I would favor the Big 10. Longhorn fan would much rather be sitting on the beach in So-Cal than freezing in the snow in Ann Arbor, but tooooo bad. The Big 10 research consortium would exceed the loss of the Longhorn Network many times over.

What they have actually been trying to do is to keep something called the Big 12 together: its local and allows them to operate their own network. Texas operates as an independent with a conference, getting the best of both worlds. It looks to be a bridge too far. Dodds wonders why the maples can’t be happy in his shade, but it sure looks like they can’t. Another possibility is an alliance of independents. Texas scheduled both Notre Dame and BYU (a new independent) and they scheduled each other last year. Hmmmmm.

If the Texas third tier rights are worth $300m, the bean counters in the Texas athletic department are surely curious about what their 1st and 2nd teach rights would fetch. Whatever decision they make, I hope they will make it enjoyable for the fans and wildly profitable for the university, in that order.

Let’s see what happens next…

You Mess with the Bull, You Get the Horns!

May 31, 2011

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Last year, college athletics went through a bit of realignment. The Big 10 conference announced its intention to expand, setting off a tidal wave of intrigue and speculation. The PAC-10 made a big play to become the PAC-16 by adding Texas, A&M, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Colorado. Colorado bolted to the Pac-10 before Baylor could take their spot, the rest of the prospective PAC-16 members stayed in the Big 12, now properly known as the Big 12 minus 2. Nebraska also left the Big 12 to join the Big 10 after the Big 10 was unable to secure either Texas or Notre Dame.

The Big 10 is the only conference to have a research consortium (along with the University of Chicago) and a big issue in the expansion was membership in the American Association of Universities- a private club of major research universities. At the time of expansion, all 12 members of the Big 10 (don’t ask) were members, but recently the AAU took the unprecedented step of booting the University of Nebraska-Lincoln out of the club, which required a 2/3 vote of the member institutions. UNL became the first member of the AAU in the 111 history of the organization to face ejection.

During the time when the Big 12 had 12 members, Nebraska and Texas were often at odds. The Texas side of the story, which is the only one I have heard, is that there was a knock-down dispute over admission requirements for athletes at the conference inception. Nebraska wanted them low, Texas wanted them higher. Texas had the vast majority of tv sets in the conference, Texas won. Resentment festered among the Children of the Corn.

So…it just so happens that two former Presidents of the University of Texas at Austin are now high-ranking officials at the AAU, leading the Omaha World Herald to report on conspiracy theories that the AAU boot was payback. 

Personally, I doubt that athletics had much to do with this decision. It is more fun, however, to believe that it did.

College Football Chaos

February 12, 2010

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Frank the Tank, an Illini attorney and sports blogger, lays out an index of expansion targets for the Big 10.

The Big 10, which has had 11 teams since the inclusion of Penn State, has started a cable network and is seeking to expand. Frank does an admirable job of looking at the real issues in such an expansion (mainly money, followed by academics as a distant second). Frank ranks the teams on the Big 10 hit list: Texas first, Notre Dame second. Everyone else ranks as a “meh” addition.

The PAC-10 has announced an interest in expanding as well. Currently, however, the Pac 10’s television contract is weaker than the Big 12 contract. Possible PAC-10 targets include Utah and Colorado. Colorado and Texas came close to joining the PAC 10 in the 1990s.

The Big 12 has been good to Texas. Texas generates more athletic revenue than any other school and has established itself as a national power in all the major sports. The status-quo isn’t bad. Having graduated in 1990, I still remember getting our heads handed to us by teams like Baylor and the University of Houston on a regular basis.

Texas must compete with the SEC and Big 10 schools, however, and currently receives less than half the Big 10 television take. If there are going to be super conferences (Big 10, SEC) then Texas must consider an invitation to join. What they cannot allow is for Colorado and Mizzou to bolt with the largest only tv markets in the Big-12 North to other conferences and languish in a diminished leftover conference.

Quite frankly, Notre Dame must either get a much more lucrative tv contract from someone, or they would be crazy not to join. Despite the deal with NBC, Notre Dame currently ranks third in the state of Indiana behind U of I and Perdue in tv revenue. If the Big 10 schools can’t figure out how to use $10 million in additional revenue per year for each school to leave the Domers behind from a competitive standpoint, ummm, let’s just say there would be some athletic directors who need to be fired. Notre Dame enjoys a unique national following, but no brand can endure the beating of losing indefinitely. Notre Dame may be able to keep their status as an independent, but it will not be by getting paid $9m per year by NBC. 

Speculation is already running rampant. Let the games begin…

New Year’s Resolutions

December 16, 2009

(Guest post by Jonathan Butcher)

As I look forward to the New Year, a year in which I will celebrate my 18th birthday for the 14th time, I resolve once again to pursue a long-held dream: to play quarterback for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.  I know, I know, 18 is a young age to expect to play QB for such a competitive program, but their starter from this season is leaving for the NFL—so they have an opening.  Plus, they just hired a new coach who ran a successful program at the University of Cincinnati (Brian Kelly), so things are looking up.

Irish wins are little scarcer than in the late ‘80’s, when they regularly competed for the top ranking in the AP poll…actually, they’re a lot scarcer.  ND hasn’t competed for a national championship since the early ‘90’s, when Clinton was president and the public hadn’t been introduced to Monica Lewinsky and an “iPod” was a plot element rumored for Alien 3.  With expectations set so high, it has been a painful new millennium of average Irish teams, for the most part.

ESPN.com’s Tuesday Morning Quarterback gave me something to be proud of as an Irish fan yesterday, though, confirming a suspicion I’ve held as a badge of honor taken out and polished every fall for the past several years to console myself after Michigan and USC thrash the Irish once again: ND requires their players to be students, as well as athletes.  Most major programs do not, contends TMQ’s Gregg Easterbrook.

Maybe the sports artificial universe won’t face the uncomfortable reality that the NCAA system uses football and men’s basketball players to generate revenue and great games — then tosses way too many of these players aside uneducated. It’s a lot more fun to talk about winning and losing than to talk about education.

He goes on:

In the past two decades, there’s been a race to the bottom, in which many football-factory schools have lowered academic standards for football and men’s basketball, dropping any pretense of education in pursuit of wins.

Today, between 70% and 80% of the players on major college football teams—programs that regularly compete for the national championship like Oklahoma, Miami, and Ohio State—will never play a down in the NFL.  In fact, 90 percent of the players in all of Division I college football will not play in the NFL.  Easterbrook writes, “Take into account that some of the NFL rookies are Division II, Division III or NAIA players, and it’s closer to 95 percent… If they don’t study and don’t go to class, they walk away from college football practically empty-handed.”

This is a shame not only because the college athletes are being used by adults they have trusted with their future, but also because there is evidence that schools can have high recruiting and educational standards.  TMQ notes that many schools with strong academic reputations such as Georgia Tech, the University of California, the US Naval Academy and Northwestern are headed to bowl games this year.  TMQ also points to a study forthcoming in the Review of Economics and Statistics linking high academic and athletic achievement among females.

Unfortunately, between reading the TMQ article yesterday and sitting down to write today, the punch line to my post has mysteriously vanished.  After praising ND for holding out against the trend among major programs to lower academic standards for their football team, Easterbrook wrote, “Rumor has it Brian Kelly’s deal to replace [former ND coach Charlie] Weis includes Notre Dame’s agreeing to lower its academic standards for top football recruits. If so, this is a sad, sad day for Notre Dame, and for college football.”  Interestingly, this line was gone from the article when I read it this morning (though a quick search finds the sentence, verbatim, in at least one person’s Twitter feed).  Now, my illusion of a perfect college football institution can remain intact, thanks to ND athletic director Jack Swarbrick, who appears to have replaced Tiger Woods as sovereign supreme over the sports media.

Pipe dreams and conspiracy theories aside, the NCAA and participating athletic programs should be forced to answer for what is happening at, say, Florida State, where “a suspiciously high percentage of football players have been classified as learning disabled, which creates exemptions from already lax academic requirements.”  Maybe committing itself to a remedy can be the NCAA’s New Year’s resolution, but with the amount of money generated in college sports, it’s more likely that I’ll be wearing a gold helmet next September.  Go Irish!

No Instant Replay

October 26, 2009

It’s a bad call.  No doubt about it.   Of course, I mean introducing instant replay into baseball as well as the call in the Angels-Yankees game. 

Yes, the ump should have called both Yankee players out rather than just one because neither had a foot on the bag when tagged.  But to introduce instant replay to fix this or other errors in baseball officiating would make things worse than the problem it is meant to correct.

Officials are human and will make mistakes.  In the absence of corruption or bias (and there is no reason to assume that the men in blue are generally corrupt or biased), errors will be distributed randomly.  In the long run, they should even themselves out and no team should have a particular advantage.

It’s true that a particular call made at a particular moment will seem to alter the outcome of a game, series, or championship.  But the truth is that every call in every game has some minute effect on the outcome of that game and potentially a series or championship.  If any call went a different way, players and coaches could make different decisions about pitches to throw, ways to swing, players to substitute, etc…  Life is a string of choices; changing any one — no matter how small — might change all subsequent ones — including big ones.  In general, the best we can hope for is that errors in officiating are rare and unbiased.

Introducing instant replay might correct some errors, but it certainly wouldn’t be practical to try to use it to review all potential errors in officiating.  And since any call — even the one not at what seems like the pivotal moment — can alter the outcome of the game, the outcome can still be altered by errors unless all calls are reviewed.  And even if they are reviewed, there can be errors in the review.  In short, there is no way to remove errors from officiating.

Even if we tried to reduce error by reviewing certain calls, we couldn’t always know which calls really would influence the outcome of the game.  What’s more, instant replay reviews significantly slow down a sporting event and interfere with the play and enjoyment of that sport. 

People need some perspective.  It’s a game.  It’s meant as entertainment.  We should no sooner have instant replay reviews of baseball calls than judges’ votes in So You Think You Can Dance.  Let’s just assume that officials are acting in good faith and errors are a matter of chance, just as chance can influence whether the ball hits a seam and bounces in a strange direction.

But I suspect that discomfort with chance in life is part of the demand for instant replay.  To many people randomness feels like injustice — especially when that randomness goes against their interests.  There are no accidents in this view of the world, someone is responsible for everything that happens, and all wrongs must be righted.  An unwillingness to accept the reality of chance can lead to a headlong pursuit of justice that causes much more injustice.

Somewhat Disappointed Aggie Fan

January 27, 2009

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)


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