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The Big XII, WVU Marriage Already Providing Some Expansion Lessons

wedding-cakeWhat we already know:  The college sports landscape has been shifting and quaking for three years and there’s little reason to believe things will solidify in the future.

What we already know:  Schools and conferences are marrying for the money.  Cash rules the day and travel and rivalries mean little.

What we already know:  Athletics are taking a back seat to cable households.  Wins and losses have been trumped by television reach.

What we don’t know:  How the many moves made in recent months will play out over the next five, 10 or 20 years.

While final results are far from in, the recent marriage of West Virginia to the Big XII can already be viewed as a canary in the coal mine, appropriately enough.  It’s a case study for the potential buyer’s remorse that may set in for several leagues and several schools in the future.

 

In the fall of 2011, West Virginia University let the ACC and the SEC know of its interest in league-hopping.  The Big East was collapsing — think of just how much that conference has changed in 18 months — and the Mountaineers didn’t want to get caught without a chair when the music stopped.

The ACC had already added Pittsburgh and Syracuse from the Big East.  That league passed on the Mountaineers.

The SEC had already invited Texas A&M and was already playing footsie with Missouri.  WVU tried flirt its way into the mix, but its advances were met with a “thanks, but no thanks.”

At that point, West Virginia began chatting with the Big XII, a league that was then down to nine schools.  TCU had already been picked to replace the departing Aggies.  The Mountaineers appeared to be the top choice to replace the Tigers.

But just when it looked like the Mountaineers were a lock for the Big XII, Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell and University of Oklahoma president David Boren tried to sneak Louisville through the door ahead of West Virginia.  They were unsuccessful in their efforts.  Ultimately, WVU joined the Big XII and Louisville wound up cutting a deal to replace Maryland in the ACC when the Terrapins leave for the Big Ten.

Follow all that?

Well just one season into the WVU/Big XII partnership, some are already saying the league missed the boat by not going ahead and adding the Cardinals, too.  Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman wrote the following over the weekend:

 

“Louisville was a no-risk addition. Adding Louisville didn’t mean the Big 12 had to commit to a 12-school format, but it would have positioned the conference to more easily expand, if that became the goal. Maybe best of all, Louisville would have been a morale boost to a beleaguered conference.

Yes, each Big 12 school would have taken a slightly lower television payout. Whatever value the ‘Ville added would have been a little low to offset the extra mouth to feed. But think of the pragmatic benefits Louisville would have provided.

Especially this time of year. Another heavyweight in March Madness. Kansas’ shoulders are getting tired, carrying the rest of the conference the way the Jayhawks have in recent years.”

 

Make no mistake, Louisville has become a big-time all-around program.  Its football and men’s basketball coaches are among the highest-paid in the nation.  Its athletic revenue ranks in the nation’s top 20.  In fact, the case can be made that Louisville might have been a better overall fit than West Virginia if the Big XII had truly capped its membership at 10.  It’s not a long walk to get from “should have invited them too” to “should have invited them instead.”

Certainly, Louisville would have been closer to the existing Big XII footprint than West Virginia.  And travel is an issue that WVU officials were already bringing up less than a year after joining the league.  According to The Times West Virginian in late-February:

 

“’We have asked that when reasonable they give us a two-game stay over on the road,’” (WVU athletic director Oliver) Luck revealed.

Twice this past season WVU was scheduled to go out on the road, play a Saturday game, fly home on Sunday, practice Monday and fly out again on Tuesday for a Wednesday game.

League rules do not allow them to stay on the road during that time, so they use up most of two days traveling.

Rather than doing that, they would prefer to play a Saturday-Big Monday on the road with a Sunday stay over, which would cut back on taking the long trip to and from Morgantown.”

 

West Virginia officials knew that travel would be a concern in their new home.  But faced with the prospect of finding themselves homeless, Luck and company eagerly accepted the Big XII’s invitation despite the long trips to spots like Manhattan, Kansas and Lubbock, Texas.  How could they not?

But how long will it take for West Virginia to tire of the travel issues and look once more for a new conference home?  How many travel concessions will the Big XII make for WVU before other member schools start suggesting — for example — that any school traveling more than X miles be allowed to spend an extra night on the road?

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March Madness And The Games That Defined It

Did you know?  What started as a term applied to Illinois high school basketball back in the 1930′s wasn’t applied to college basketball until the 1950′s.  Read on to see the history of the term –  ”March Madness” - courtesy of Ticket City.

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From Eight to 68 – How March And Madness Came To Be

The NCAA Tournament tips off tonight with two play-in games.  This year marks the 75th anniversary of the tournament.  How did something that started in 1939 with eight teams grow into the 68-team behemoth it is today?  This bit of NCAA Tournament history comes courtesy of Ticket City.

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A Full Slate Of SEC Games Tomorrow, Here’s Why They Matter

gfx - by the numbersA quick look at this weekend’s SEC basketball action through the lens of the RPI…

 

Auburn (8-12, 2-5, RPI 221) at Missouri (15-5, 4-3, RPI 29), 1:30pm ET – A Missouri loss could seriously damage it’s RPI.  Just playing a team in the 200s will hurt Mizzou’s strength of schedule.

Georgia (9-11, 3-4, RPI 145) at South Carolina (12-8, 2-5, RPI 186), 1:30pm ET – Nothing to see here with regards to March Madness.  But will one of these teams score 50 on the other one?

Tennessee (11-8, 3-4, RPI 75) at Arkansas (12-8, 3-4, RPI 104), 4:00pm ET – The Razorbacks are in the deeper RPI hole, but both teams’ NCAA hopes are on life support.  The loser of this game will likely have its plug pulled.

Alabama (12-7, 5-2, RPI 60) at Vanderbilt (8-11, 2-5, RPI 139), 4:00pm ET – Barely on the NCAA Tourney bubble at the moment, Bama can’t afford to fall under the spell of “Memorial Magic” tomorrow.

LSU (11-8, 2-5, RPI 126) at Mississippi State (7-12, 2-5, RPI 231), 5:30pm ET – There are no NCAA hopes to discuss in this one.

Kentucky (14-6, 5-2, RPI 49) at Texas A&M (13-7, 3-4, RPI 77), 6:00pm ET– A win could provide UK some much needed momentum over the final month-and-a-half of the regular season.  A&M needs every win it can get to get back onto the NCAA bubble.

Ole Miss (17-3, 6-1, RPI 45) at Florida (17-2, 7-0, RPI 5), 7:00pm ET – An Ole Miss upset would provide a huge RPI boost.  The Gators’ hopes of a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament could take a hit with a loss.

 

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Donovan’s Reinvented Gators Face Marquette Tonight

When Will Yeguete went down with a season-ending foot injury it appeared that with him went Florida’s frontcourt game, its defense and its chances at a prolonged NCAA Tournament run.  Losing four of their last five entering the tourney, those prognostications of doom looked pretty darn accurate.

Two blowout wins over Virginia and Norfolk State later, the Gators are heading to a 10:15pm ET game with Marquette tonight (on TNT).  So what changed?

Yeguete says the team simply got “used to me not playing” and “we’ve been really good on defense.”  Head coach Billy Donovan says his players simply realized “things that they needed to do” in Yeguete’s absence.

Kenny Boynton agrees with his coach: “The main concern was who was gonna rebound?  Who was going to do the small stuff he did on the court?  I think the answer to that was basically the whole team.  It takes a whole team to equal that out.”

Freshman Bradley Beal has also emerged, averaging 14 points and 10 rebounds through two tourney games.  For the season he averaged 6.7 boards per game.  His added toughness will be needed tonight against a Marquette squad that’s a #3 seed and by far the best team UF has seen in this year’s March Madness.

For their part, Golden Eagles’ coach Buzz Williams — I still slip and call them the Warriors on occasion — says Florida may be the most dangerous offensive team his club has faced all year.

“There’s very few teams — everybody knows that they lead the country in three-point field goal makes, but there’s very few teams that have that offensive rebounding percentage that at the same time have those offensive efficiency type numbers,” Williams told the press yesterday.  “So it’s as potent an offensive team as I’ve studied this year.  And that speaks to Coach Donovan and his staff and the guys that they’ve recruited.  But it also speaks to their development of those guys and then their style of play and how it enhances their talent.”

Win and Donovan — complete with a team that reinvented itself late in the season — will reach his fifth Elite Eight in 16 years at Florida and his second in a row.  Considering how his team looked in the immediate aftermath of Yeguete’s injury, that’d be a helluva job well done.

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UT-MTSU A Friday NIT Game?

Last night, it was reported that Tennessee’s second-round NIT matchup with Middle Tennessee State would be played either tomorrow night or — get this — Sunday morning at 11am ET.

Would not the buckle of the Bible Belt would blow completely off with such a start time?

For much of the day, the NCAA’s official website had listed the UT-MTSU game on its Thursday rundown of games with a time to be determined.  Now it’s listing the game as a Friday affair, but the tip time is still a mystery.

Whether the game remains a Friday game, moves back to Thursday — a little late for that it would seem — or is pushed to the weekend remains to be seen.  But a basketball game played at 11am on a Sunday morning?  Talk about March Madness.

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Stallings Gets Emotional After Vandy’s Tourney Title

When the 2013 SEC Tournament begins next year in Nashville — with 14 teams — expect to see that image at left over and over and over again in television opens and in “this is what the tourney means” montage pieces produced by ESPN/ABC.

Kevin Stallings’ surprising show of emotion prompted David Climer of The Tennessean to write: “… we saw a coach who cares very, very deeply about his players, his program, his university.  And the feeling is mutual.”

Indeed, back in 2009 Stallings’ turned down a $100,000 salary bump that was due him so Vanderbilt could use that cash for an offseason basketball tour of Australia for his team instead.  The guys cares about his players and his program.

As for his emotions on Sunday, Stallings said:

“When you invest a lot, you care a lot.  What I’m most proud of is the investment that’s occurred by this group of young men in our program.  To see those guys get to experience what they experienced, that was a great feeling for me.”

Stallings also had to be feeling a bit of relief.

In 12 seasons at VU, the coach has led the Commodores to five NCAA Tournaments.  Twice they made the Sweet Sixteen.  Three times — including the last two seasons — they’d gone one-and-done in March Madness.

Vandy fans wanted more from a veteran squad that was projected as a Top 10 team in the preseason.  Throughout the regular season, they failed to live up to expectations.  But yesterday in New Orleans, Stallings and his players showed their potential.

We have no doubts that Stallings wept for his players’ joy.  But finally experiencing a “breakthrough” tourney moment of his own had to play some role in his emotional display as well.

Congrats to him and to Vanderbilt for their upset and their SEC Tournament crown.

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Tressel’s Timing Better Than Pearl’s

Watching the SEC Tournament last evening and hearing once again a discussion of Bruce Pearl’s issues, something popped to mind — Jim Tressel has better timing than Pearl.

Ohio State’s football coach has found himself in NCAA hot water a full five months before the start of football season.  Once the season kicks off, you can expect to see timelines and speculation about his job security.  But now?  It’s basketball season.

Pearl’s troubles came to light in September, just one month before basketball season tipped off.  Each time Tennessee has hit the basketball court since then, Pearl’s woes have been recounted.  Since the story broke, there has been no let-up in the coverage.

Tressel, on the other hand, will likely fall to the backburner — after the initial calls for his head die down — for much of the summer. 

In today’s media world, it’s not just about getting caught… it’s about when you get caught.  And Tressel got caught as the world focuses in on March Madness.

Heck, Oregon’s Chip Kelly has got better timing than Pearl or Tressel.

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LSU’s Alleva To Serve On NCAA Tourney Selection Committee

LSU athletic director Joe Alleva will begin a five-year tour of duty on the NCAA Tournament selection committee beginning in September.  The actual title of the committee is the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Committee, but they’re best known for their annual work on the March Madness brackets.

“I’m honored to be on it and to represent LSU and the SEC,” Alleva said.  “I think it’s one of the most prestigious, if not the most prestigious, committees the NCAA has, especially when you consider 95 percent of the NCAA’s revenue comes from men’s basketball.”

So what does this mean for the SEC?  Only that for the next five years, Alleva will have to leave the room when an SEC team comes up for discussion.  One study last year suggested that having a representative from a conference on the committee might help land more bids for that league… but it certainly didn’t aid the SEC when commissioner Mike Slive chaired the committee two years ago.  The league received just three bids to the 2009 tourney.

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Preseason NCAA Tourney Forecast: 6 SEC Teams Get Bids

SI.com’s Andy Glockner has done the ridiculous — he’s tried to forecast the entire NCAA Tournament field before the regular season even begins.  That doesn’t mean that Glockner is ridiculous, mind you, because he’s far from the only one to attempt this ridiculous feat.  He’s just the latest.  Which is why we link you to his ridiculousness.

In Glockner’s view, the following six SEC teams will gain entry into the March Madness field:

Florida — 3rd seed, East Regional, vs Wofford

Kentucky — 3rd seed, West Regional vs Princeton

Tennessee — 4th seed, Southwest Regional vs Western Kentucky

Mississippi State — 8th seed, East Regional, vs Wisconsin

Georgia  — 11th seed, Southwest Regional vs Baylor

Vanderbilt — 9th seed, West Regional, vs Minnesota

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