Posted by: BE | September 18, 2014

Don’t Miss It – Be There!

Have you attended a college football game lately?

Notice the question is not whether you have “watched” a college football game lately, but whether you have been to one. If you get the chance to go to a game, don’t miss it … be there!

On Atlanta television stations back in the 1960s and 1970s, that “don’t miss it” line was the signature phrase of an announcer and sportscaster named Freddie Miller. He used it to promote live sporting events, primarily wrestling house shows, but his call for attendance certainly holds true for football games today.

The attractions of watching a game from home are many. You eliminate the hassles of travel, parking, and crowds for the convenience of time, leisure, and comfort. You avoid ballpark prices for concessions and lines for easy and free access to your fridge and your restroom facilities. You trade the confines of small seats, loud noise, and limited Wi-Fi coverage at one game for a remote with fresh batteries, a lineup of games from daylight to dark, and the ability to text, tweet, and talk on the phone as you watch your big screen, high definition television.

Still, you miss something by not going to games.

The smell of burgers grilling wafts across campus as you meander past tailgate parties on the way to the stadium. The sights and sounds of pretty co-eds and flask-toting frat boys provide entertainment that the camera never catches at home. The roar of a riled up crowd when the good guys rally, or the muffled tension as the home team falters, provide emotion that is not duplicated from your living room. The communal revelry at a local tavern after a big victory trumps the solitude of sitting home and celebrating alone.

So, if you get a chance to attend a college football game … don’t miss it. Be there!

Around the Nation

The season is at the end of the first quarter as we drive toward the first college football playoff. Here is a quick analysis of the leading contenders for the four playoff spots.

Florida State … the Seminoles have looked only decent so far, but it is tough to see them losing more than once (which should get them in unless you believe four teams will go unbeaten).

Oklahoma-Baylor Winner … these two teams can light up the scoreboard and in today’s offense driven game that might be enough to get the winner to the playoff. The teams meet on November 8th.

Oregon … the Ducks look unstoppable on offense right now, but must solve their Stanford dilemma.
Alabama-Auburn Winner … the SEC West is brutal, but it is not unreasonable to see these two squads come into the Iron Bowl with no more than one loss each. If that is the case, a playoff spot might be on the line (pending a win in the SEC title game obviously).

This week’s big games include Auburn at Kansas State (Thursday). Virginia Tech hosts Georgia Tech in a game that often determines the ACC Coastal. Florida visits Alabama in a huge SEC game. Finally, Miami travels to Nebraska. The two had storied post-season games in the 1980s and 1990s, but this is the first regular season meeting of the two schools since 1976.

Posted by: BE | September 8, 2014

Conference Cakewalk

Remember the old “cakewalk” contests played at carnivals and fairs and school festivals?

You pay a dollar or two to enter. Music starts playing, everybody walks around these numbered placards placed on the ground, and when the music stops one lucky number wins a cake or some other prize. Win or lose it is a fun game.

The conference realignments of the past couple of years remind me a bit of those old cakewalks, only with winners landing in lucrative conferences that pay out millions to members, and losers feeling left out when the music stops. The conference cakewalks have not been fun for everyone.

We are still a week away from full conference play in college football, but one matchup caught my eye this week and brought to mind the winners and losers of the conference cakewalk: West Virginia at Maryland at 12:00 ET on the Big Ten Network. In my mind, those two schools epitomize some of the silliness and surprise of conference realignment these past few years.

West Virginia was a solid member of the Big East, a decent football league and an excellent basketball conference. On the gridiron, the Mountaineers annually played traditional geographical foes like Pitt and Cincinnati, they faced opponents with historical significance such as Syracuse, and had developed a recently formed league rivalry with Louisville. The program perhaps did not rate top five or even top ten status, but the Mountaineers played solid big-time football and boasted a strong fan following.

So, when the conference cakewalk music stopped, West Virginia ended up in … the Big 12? Uh oh.

This season Mountaineer faithful might traverse the Lone Star state with trips to play Texas Tech in Lubbock and Texas in Austin. They can sojourn to Stillwater, Oklahoma the week of Halloween to watch the OK State Cowboys, and then finish up the season out in Ames, Iowa, for the Iowa State game on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Bundle up for that one. Oh, and have your 401K ready to cash in just to pay for the privilege.

The Big 12 is a fine football conference, and landing there was a pretty nice consolation for West Virginia; but there are no natural rivals to play and the travel is daunting from Morgantown to all those schools in Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. It is just not a good fit. Maryland in the Midwest-based Big Ten does not make much more sense.

But, Maryland was still luckier than the Mountaineers.

The Terps were a founding member of the ACC way back in 1953, but bolted for the big money of the Big Ten in 2014. Goodbye tradition, so long rivalries, see you later school heritage. Hello BTN (that’s Big Ten Network … and that is what the move was all about). The Big Ten schools will pull in around $31 million each this year, but Maryland will have to wait six years to get its full membership share. By that time, the league expects to be paying out more than $45 million annually to members.

Maryland gets a lot of money and stability from joining the Big Ten … but what does the Big Ten get from accepting the Terps into the fold? Not much other than the television sets along the Eastern seaboard and in the Washington, DC, market (that’s why Rutgers – and the NYC market – got the Big Ten call too). These conference television deals are all about getting the subscription fees from the conference footprint. The bigger and more populous the geographical footprint, the bigger the financial windfall (even if no right-thinking football fan in New York City or Washington, DC, watches Maryland play Rutgers on the same day of the Iron Bowl).

The Big Ten may not beat the other power conferences much on the football field these days, but the league is still the conference cakewalk champ.

Around the Nation

There are several intriguing intersectional games this week. Jim Mora has UCLA back in national contention as he takes the Bruins to the hill country of Austin to play Texas. First-year Longhorns coach Charlie Strong has been suspending people faster than you can keep count in establishing a tone of toughness and discipline. Another Big 12 teams hosts an out-of-conference opponent when Oklahoma welcomes Tennessee to Norman. The Volunteers are speedy but very young, while the Sooners are a popular pick to make the college football playoff. Arkansas plays at Texas Tech in another SEC-Big 12 pairing that might be worth a peek. The biggest conference game on the docket takes place in the SEC East, where South Carolina hopes to jump back into the division race against Georgia. The Bulldogs are coming off a bye week.

(Author’s Note – This article originally appeared in The Blitz weekly college football subscription newspaper … for information on The Blitz contact jimgumm.blitz@yahoo.com)

Posted by: BE | September 6, 2014

In A Hurry

In a Hurry

“I’m in a hurry to get things done; I rush and rush until life’s no fun”
I’m in a Hurry – Alabama 1992
 

Nick Saban coaches Alabama – the Crimson Tide not the old country music boys from Fort Payne – but you know he probably hums that tune on his way to the practice field.

A whole bunch of college football teams are hurrying to get things done on offense, and the no-huddle, up-tempo, NASCAR-fast attack is making life no fun for defensive wizards like Saban.  While casual fans might envision hurry up offenses as throwing the ball all over the field, the most successful such teams do like the song says.  They rush and rush (run the football!) until life is no fun for the defense.

The Ducks and the Tigers are poster teams for hurry up offenses.  After each play, they hustle to the line, read the defense, and snap.  Part of the strategy of the up-tempo attack is certainly to snap the ball quickly and often.  Doing so limits to an extent the amount of substitutions a defense can make (Saban, for instance, loves to substitute by situation), and it tires them out because it is difficult to simulate such pace in practice.

However, at its core the hurry up is based on perhaps the most old-fashioned principle in football – run the ball up the gut.  It is simply a numbers game.  The offense spreads the field by sending backs and receivers wide, forcing the defense to commit a certain number of players to “the box” (area near the line of scrimmage) and to the secondary.  If the number of defenders in the box is equal to or less than the number of offensive linemen (guards, tackles, and tight ends), expect a dive option up the middle.  If the box defenders flow toward the running back, the quarterback simply pulls the ball and runs wide.  Using that simple strategy last year, Auburn RB Tre Mason gashed opponents for more than 1800 yards and scored 23 touchdowns, while his QB Nick Marshall sprinted for over 1000 yards and ran for 12 TDs.

By the way, the Tigers beat the team coached by a fellow named Saban.
This week’s top game (see Game of the Week column) features a terrific matchup of hurry-up flash (Oregon) hosting slow-down smash (Michigan State).  Regardless of who wins that game, a lot of college football teams are in a hurry to get things done, and they are making life no fun for defenses.

Around the Nation

Friday night features a Big East … oh, wait a minute … an ACC pairing of Pitt at BC.

In Big Ten country, the Ohio State Buckeyes welcome Beamer’s Boys from Virginia Tech to the Horseshoe along the banks of the Olentangy.

That is worth a look, as is the last Michigan-Notre Dame game for a while.  The Wolverines travel to the Irish.

Out West, Saturday offers up PAC-12 contenders battling in Palo Alto when USC takes on Stanford in the first big test for new Trojan head coach Steve Sarkisian.

The premier tilt in the Southwest features BYU traveling to the Lone Star state to tangle with Texas.

Around the SEC

Conference pickings are mighty slim this week, but how about the debut of Kenny Hill for Texas A&M!  The Aggies shredded highly regarded South Carolina to open the season in the biggest conference game of Week 1.  The only other SEC school to lose on opening weekend was Vanderbilt, and the Commodores looked terrible against Temple in a 37-7 loss.

SEC GAMES FOR SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 6

Florida Atlantic (0-1) at Alabama (1-0, 0-0 SEC)
Series: UA leads, 1-0
11 a.m. CT • SEC Network
Tuscaloosa, Ala. • Bryant-Denny Stadium (101,821) Sirius: 93 • XM: 190

Arkansas State (1-0) at Tennessee (1-0, 0-0 SEC)
Series: UT leads, 1-0
Noon ET • SEC Network (Alternate Channel)
Knoxville, Tenn. • Neyland Stadium (102,455) Sirius: 112 • XM: 192

Missouri (1-0, 0-0 SEC) at Toledo (1-0)
Series: MIZ leads, 1-0
11 a.m. CT • ESPN
Toledo, Ohio • Glass Bowl (26,248) Sirius: 138 • XM: 191

UAB (1-0) at Mississippi State (1-0, 0-0 SEC)
Series: MSU leads, 1-0
1 p.m. CT • FSN
Starkville, Miss. • Davis Wade Stadium at Scott Field (61,337) Sirius: 146 • XM: 200

Ohio (1-0) at Kentucky (1-0, 0-0 SEC)
Series: UK leads, 3-2
3:30 p.m. ET • ESPNU
Lexington, Ky. • Commonwealth Stadium (62,093) Sirius: 138 • XM: 191

Eastern Michigan (1-0) at Florida (0-0, 0-0 SEC)
Series: UF leads, 1-0
4 p.m. ET • SEC Network
Gainesville, Fla. • Ben Hill Griffin Stadium at Florida Field (88,548) Sirius: 93 • XM: 190

Nicholls (0-1) at Arkansas (0-1, 0-1 SEC)
Series: First Meeting
3 p.m. CT • SEC Network (Alternate Channel)
Fayetteville, Ark. • Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium (72,000) Sirius: 137 • XM: 192

Ole Miss (1-0, 0-0 SEC) vs. Vanderbilt (0-1, 0-0 SEC)
Series: UM leads, 48-38-2
3:30 p.m. CT • ESPN Last Meeting: UM, 39-35 (2013 at Nashville)
Nashville, Tenn. • LP Field (69,143) Sirius: 134 • XM: 201

San Jose State (1-0) at Auburn
(1-0, 1-0 SEC) Series: First Meeting
6 p.m. CT • ESPN2
Auburn, Ala. • Jordan-Hare Stadium (87,451) Sirius: 138 • XM: 191

East Carolina (1-0) at South Carolina (0-1, 0-1 SEC)
Series: SC leads, 12-5
7 p.m. ET • ESPNU
Columbia, S.C. • Williams-Brice Stadium (80,250) Sirius: 119 • XM: 203

Sam Houston State (1-0) at LSU (1-0, 0-0 SEC)
Series: First Meeting
6:30 p.m. CT • SEC Network
Baton Rouge, La. • Tiger Stadium (102,321) Sirius: 93 • XM: 190

Lamar (1-0) at Texas A&M (1-0, 1-0 SEC)
Series: First Meeting
6:30 p.m. CT • SEC Network (Alternate Channel)
College Station, Texas • Kyle Field (106,000) Sirius: 137 • XM: 192

OPEN: Georgia (1-0, 0-0 SEC

See the full conference release at … http://a.espncdn.com/photo/2014/0902/Week%202%20Release%20(2014).pdf

NOTE: Portions of this column appears in The Blitz, a subscriber college football publication for which I will be writing a weekly feature this season.  If you are interested in The Blitz please contact jimgumm.blitz@yahoo.com

Posted by: BE | August 2, 2014

Everybody’s Leaving Town

There’s not a soul I know around
Everybody’s leaving town …

Good Time Charley’s Got the Blues
Danny O’Keefe 1971

Last Sunday was the most enjoyable day for this Atlanta Braves fan in quite a while.

Today gave me the blues.

Last Sunday, righty Greg Maddux, lefty Tom Glavine, and the skipper Bobby Cox headlined the Baseball Hall of Fame Class of 2014.  In the idyllic (if mythical) birthplace of baseball at Cooperstown, the trio made witty speeches, basked in the tributes of former teammates and coaches, and became the first Braves from the glory days squads of the 1990s to earn plaques at the Hall.

Today, Pete Van Wieren died.  “The Professor” formed one-third of an equally famous Braves triumvirate during his more than 30 years as an announcer with the franchise.  Joining colleagues Skip Caray and Ernie Johnson in 1976, those voices of the Braves … the avuncular, easy-going Ernie, the acerbic, funny, and sarcastic Skip, and the studious Van Wieren played a huge role in making the Braves “America’s Team” with their broadcasts of games on Ted Turner’s satellite superstation (known first as WTCG … now as TBS).

Both events – the passing of the professor and the Hall induction ceremony – evoke memories of vastly different eras in Braves baseball history.

Pete Van Wieren joined the Braves announcing team before the 1976 season.  For the decade prior (since the team arrived in Atlanta from Milwaukee in 1966), the Braves had hovered as a decent franchise.  They were not great certainly, but not terrible either.

Between 1966 and 1975 the team was a mere 20 games under .500 (795-815), averaging out to a seasonal record of 80-82.  The Braves won a West division title in 1969.  That was the first year the majors split the leagues into two divisions … and yes Atlanta was in the West.  The ’69 team lost the league championship to the Miracle Mets, eventual World Series winners.

Pete joined Skip and Ernie (all true Braves fans felt we were on a first-name basis with them) in 1976.  For the next 15 seasons we all got to watch a whole lot of bad baseball.  From 1976 to 1990, the Braves won 1043 games and lost 1322, a whopping 279 games below .500.  A typical season record was around 70-92.  Yikes.  The Braves did slip in a division championship in 1982, but fell to another team of soon-to-be World Series champions – the St. Louis Cardinals.

Baseball fans of a certain age probably knew the three Braves announcers better than most players from those 1976-1990 teams.  In 1977, Turner began beaming Braves games across the nation (and really the globe I suppose) and fans from that pre-ESPN era got their baseball fix by watching the Braves.  The only real competitor to their national popularity would have been the Cubs on WGN, but all those day games at Wrigley did not allow the working masses to tune in.  So, the Braves were the team everybody got to see … no matter how bad they were.

Finally in the 1990s, things turned for the franchise and the new Hall of Fame gang helped lead the change.

Bobby Cox was the first of the newly enshrined trio to make a mark with the Braves.

Having managed the team from 1978-1981 (at his firing, Ted Turner famously remarked something to the effect that if he hadn’t just fired Cox, he’d be the kind of guy Turner would be looking to hire), Cox returned as General Manager in 1985 and helped build a farm system (along with the estimable Paul Snyder) that would supply the talent for a record-breaking run of success from 1991-2004.

Cox fired Russ Nixon and moved back to the dugout in June of 1990, just in time to see the maturation of a young left-handed pitcher named Tom Glavine.  In the big leagues since 1987, but sporting a career record of only 33-41 at that time, Glavine won 20 games and the Cy Young Award in 1991.  He was the ace of a staff that helped the Braves jump from the worst team in the league in 1990 to National League champions in 1991.  The team lost a heart-breaking World Series in seven games to the Minnesota Twins, but the group started a streak of fourteen consecutive division championships (the 1994 season was never completed due to labor strife).  Glavine would go on to win 303 games in his career.

In 1993 the game’s best pitcher joined the franchise.  Greg Maddux cemented the Braves as a legitimate and perennial championship contender.  His signing also solidified Atlanta as a potential destination of choice for big-name free agents.  Maddux would go on to win 355 games in his career, four consecutive Cy Young Awards from 1992-1995, 18 Gold Glove awards, and become the premier control pitcher of his generation.  He, Glavine, and John Smoltz formed the “Big Three” of the Braves pitching rotation, one of the finest starting staffs in the game’s history.  Smoltz and third-baseman Chipper Jones will land in Cooperstown soon enough, giving the Braves of the 1990s and early 2000s five Hall of Famers.

When Glavine won the most important baseball game in Atlanta Braves history, pitching eight scoreless innings in a 1-0 Game Six victory over the fearsome lineup of the Cleveland Indians to clinch the 1995 World Series, the championship marked the seminal event for the Atlanta Braves and fans of the team.

Maddux, Glavine, Cox are gone to the Hall … Skip, Ernie, and Pete are gone but not forgotten.

They provided great memories, but now I feel like everybody’s leaving town.

Posted by: BE | June 30, 2014

Life Ain’t Easy

“Life ain’t easy for a boy named Sue.”
A Boy Named Sue – Johnny Cash 1969

The first thing I noticed was a cluster of women from Susan’s Sunday School class hovering around her on the steps of the church. From the truck where I sat waiting on her, she looked emotional and I could tell she had been crying, but then she had been that way earlier in the morning as we sat in the 9:15 service, and truth be told since her cancer diagnosis last fall … well, for either of us to be emotional or even teary-eyed at church was not so unusual. So, I was uneasy but not alarmed initially. Susan saw me and started to walk over, accompanied by a lady from class. By the time she opened the passenger door, I could tell something more was wrong.

“Stephen’s dead.”

“What?”

“Stephen’s dead.”

Life sure ain’t easy today.

John Stephen Sams was my wife Susan’s youngest brother, and he died in his sleep overnight on June 29, 2014. He was 36 years old. He leaves behind his wife Corinna, his mother and father Paulette and Melvin, his older siblings Mary, Susan, and Russell, his in-laws, and nine nieces and nephews.

He also leaves a hole in our lives and in our hearts.

Stephen was 10 or 11 years old when Susan and I started dating, and from the get-go he was the little brother I never had growing up (even though I was just old enough to have been his dad too). Driveway basketball games, shooting pool in the basement, getting crushed and humiliated in video games by the little Techmo Bowl wizard that he was, laughing over lines from The Simpsons, or lyrics from a song we found funny (one night when Susan and I lived in Carrollton, Stephen and I doubled over on the floor guffawing trying to recite the words to Johnny Cash’s classic A Boy Named Sue) … there might have been a time I was around Stephen and we didn’t laugh and have fun, but none come to mind easily.

Stephen was the baby of his family, seven years younger than his brother Russell, and the pet of sisters Mary, Susan, and everybody else in the family. Stephen was 20 or so when my son Luke Jackson was born (the first grandchild on Susan’s side of the family), and Stephen once playfully chided me, asking what took us so long because he was glad to get some of the attention off him. He meant it too.

Susan and I were working on academic degrees during most of Stephen’s teenage years. I was a graduate assistant teaching physical activity classes at Georgia and then at Tennessee, and the timing and setting could not have been better for a teenage boy. Stephen spent spring breaks with us on occasion, and visited other times too. He would tag along to my racquetball and bowling classes, and so enjoyed playing and competing with those college kids. After a couple of years, he never seemed to mind when I put him on a court with the prettiest girls in class either. At UT, we lived in a small married housing apartment near campus with an extra bedroom that Stephen bunked in on his visits. Susan worked from 9 to 5 at the university, but my schedule was really wide open because I was writing a dissertation on my own schedule and only teaching a couple of hours a day. Stephen and I would walk to my classes; when we finished he would be so sweaty he looked like he’d just come of out a steam room (from playing racquetball non-stop the whole time), we would go grab lunch with Susan or just the two of us, then he and I would spend the afternoon playing video games back at the apartment. Nearly every time he visited, we rented some game called Metal Marine; it was one of those military affairs where you had to build up your weaponry over time (literally hours and hours). We would spend all our efforts building an ICBM nuclear device … and then immediately detonate it to blow up all our enemies and start over.

As Stephen got older he developed into an elite level golfer. Susan and I graduated and started our professional and home life, so we didnt get to see Stephen as often.

Still, his parents rented a beach house in the panhandle of Florida nearly every summer, and Stephen, Russell, Mr. Sams, and I would often make a golf foursome. Stephen and I would team up against Russell (also an outstanding golfer) and his dad (a very good golfer) in scrambles matches. The matches were fun and they were close and competitive. Stephen could hit the ball farther than anybody I ever played with (by far), so I was getting to hit into Par-4 greens from 50 or 60 yards instead of 160 (and from the fairway instead of the woods). Man, he could hit a golf ball. In high school, he won the Georgia state championship in the state’s largest classification. We had a lot of fun on those golf outings over those precious summers.

Life goes on (too fast) and all our families settled into the routine of seeing each other mostly on holidays, birthdays, and at special occasions – whether happy (weddings) or sad (funerals). No matter the setting, for me time spent with Stephen was always time spent laughing, discussing life, and enjoying his kind-hearted nature.

Now, he is gone and he will be so sorely missed by so many.

Life ain’t easy.

 

L-R ... Russell, Mary, Susan, Stephen

L-R … Russell, Mary, Susan, Stephen

Posted by: BE | June 18, 2014

Leaders … or Cheer – Leaders

(This column was originally posted at the Sport+Fitness Network blog June 16, 2014)

Do the faculty at your institution act as leaders regarding athletics … or as cheerleaders?

Since the summer of 1852, when crews from Harvard and Yale rowed against one another on New Hampshire’s Lake Winnipesaukee in the first intercollegiate athletic competition, the place of sports on campus has been a topic of debate. By the early 1900s, issues including player eligibility, safety, finances, time, attention, and academic integrity created both a call for reform of college sports and a struggle for control of those reforms.

In his book Pay for Play: A History of Big-Time College Athletic Reform, Dr. Ronald A. Smith explains that five groups vied for control of college sports (and still maintain influence): students, faculty, college presidents, governing boards and agencies, and alumni. Add modern media entities to the mix and that roster has not changed much.

Although faculty joined the fray for a while, for more than a century the prevailing wisdom regarding college athletic reform has focused on the role of the college president. Smith cites various sources that all come to the same conclusion … significant reform must be driven from the presidents. Smith then rightfully points out that the prevailing wisdom is wrong.

Presidents have been mostly inept in enacting significant reform – especially reforms associated with academic integrity – and they’ve been at it since around 1905. Granted, it is a difficult challenge as presidents must answer to demanding constituencies who do not always put academic interests ahead of the numbers on a scoreboard. But far too many presidents fall into the cheerleader role in handling athletics … pouring money into facilities and coaching hires; measuring program success by wins and losses; allowing marginal students into the institution due to athletic prowess. It’s a much easier and more popular path to be a cheerleader than a leader.

So, if presidents have proven mostly inept at enacting reform, and the other invested groups are typically more interested in reforms focused on the sport instead of academics (competitive contests, player safety, money, etc.), what are faculty to do?

Here are five tips I would recommend to faculty who want to act as leaders with regard to college athletics:

Get Engaged with Athletics … Faculty stay plenty busy handling the trifecta of professorial duties – teaching, service, and scholarship. Still, learning about the school’s athletic programs would be useful to even the most accomplished academicians. Find out what teams the institution fields and the athletic conference to which the school belongs; know the Athletic Director and the head coaches (if not the assistant coaches when feasible); realize when contests and championships are being contested. All of this information is readily available on the websites of the most modest athletic program. Even if a professor has little interest in sports, staying engaged is demonstrating leadership.

Recognize the Significance of Athletics to the Students … As a professor, I may not like it but some students are at the university because of their sport. This holds true at all levels of competition. Going back to Ron Smith’s book, he notes that differences among the various levels of intercollegiate competition are of degree, not of kind. NCAA Division III and NAIA schools (typically smaller institutions) follow a very similar athletics model as the big-time giants like Alabama and Oklahoma. They have professional coaches, a significant conditioning regimen, and a demanding practice schedule. They recruit. They compete for championships. The list goes on. Even students not on athletic teams are much more likely to attend a football game than a campus play or concert. So, sports are significant to students. Accepting the reality is another act of faculty leadership.

: the Significance of Athletics to the Institution … We know that big-time college sports generate huge revenue. On May 30, 2014, the Southeastern Conference (SEC) announced revenue distribution of more than $309 million to the fourteen member schools. The Big 12 distributed $212 million to its ten members. The Big Ten is expected to divide over $320 million among fourteen institutions later this month. Revenue generation is not limited to the big schools. If you wonder why so many small colleges have added football teams in the past decade, simply calculate the math. A typical NAIA program may allot the equivalent 24 scholarships with a team enrollment goal of 100 players. Regardless of how the scholarship pool is divvied up, an equivalent of 76 students will be paying tuition. Ask any small college if an additional 76 students is significant. The answer is yes.

Hold Players Accountable … An easy test to determine whether a faculty member is a leader or a cheerleader is to assess whether they hold players to the same academic standards as every other student. We do not have to treat every student the same, but we should treat every student fairly. A baseball player should not get extra time to study for an exam because his team had a road game, a football player should not get to stroll into class ten minutes late because his touchdown was replayed on ESPN, an athlete should not be able to miss multiple class sessions without consequences because of “excused” absences for travel (which is a misnomer anyway). Expect good work from students, whether they are on an athletic team or not, and hold them accountable for academic performance. Doing so is the act of a leader.

Avoid Using Coach as a Crutch … If you are a faculty member, when is the last time the basketball coach called to ask you to help a post player with footwork on the block? Or, when has the football coach sent an email asking you to work with a safety on his backpedal and route recognition. How about the baseball coach calling to get you to work with the second baseman on a double-play pivot? My guess is none of those have ever happened. Yet, some faculty members are quick to contact a coach to help motivate a player to attend class or complete assignments more punctually. Yes, coaches have special relationships and influence with players, and yes most coaches would welcome such contact from a professor … but it is MY job as a faculty member to motivate students in the classroom, to get them to submit work on time, to interest them in our course content. A leader takes responsibility for what goes on with students; a cheerleader is quick to call the coach for help.

Academics should always take precedent on campus. Colleges and universities exist for that purpose after all. But, athletics are significant too – and the concerns associated with college sport are significant enough to warrant attention. Successfully addressing those concerns requires healthy communication between academics and athletics.

Higher education institutions benefit most when faculty act as leaders in the cause.

Posted by: BE | February 18, 2014

A Healthy Tension

Tension about the role of athletics on the college campus provides regular fodder for those interested in the scholarly study of intercollegiate sport.  Hardly a semester goes by, and certainly not a calendar year, without another controversy or scandal creeping into the public eye.

Most of the issues that garner attention are associated with big-time college sports.

To cite just a few …

  • Football players at Northwestern University announced plans this week to form a labor union with the purpose of representing the interests of college athletes.
  • The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill remains embroiled in an investigation of academic fraud involving the university’s Department of African and Afro-American Studies between 1997 and 2011.
  • Head football coaches at big-time institutions often make far more in salary and benefits than do their athletic directors and school presidents (nominally the bosses of those coaches).
  • Athletic conferences undertook major realignment the past couple of years with little to no regard for tradition, rivalry, or geographic common sense, but with an eye to the economic ledger and huge television rights payouts.

Such a list could go on and on and on.

However, potential problems concerning the role of athletics on campus are not limited to big-time schools – they certainly extend to smaller schools too.  The issues may be different, but are no less troublesome for trustees, administrators, faculty, athletic staff, and anyone interested in protecting the integrity of academics and athletics on campus.

Here are three factors leaders at small schools should consider with regard to the place and purpose of intercollegiate athletics on campus.

Mission: What is the true purpose of athletics on the campus?  Are the teams meant to promote the college name and “brand” by producing winning teams with an ultimate goal of attracting more students?  Or, is intercollegiate competition meant to develop character, leadership, integrity, sportsmanship, and other traits those of us involved in sport love to tout?

Every leader will answer this question the same way.  “We expect both.”

That’s admirable, but what do the actions of the leaders at a school demonstrate?  For example, is a coach more likely to get fired for having a few consecutive mediocre seasons (while fielding a squad of fine students who stay out of trouble and represent the institution well), … or for having outstanding won-loss records (while fielding a team of students who drift in and out of school, fail to take academics seriously, and create problems on campus)?

Enrollment-Driven Recruiting:  The economics of small-school college athletics are interesting.  While sports can generate revenue for the institution, those monies come mainly from enrollment dollars (tuition), and not from ticket sales, merchandise, concessions, licensing, and the like.

Let’s say the full cost of attending School A for a year is $25,000.

Every sports team at the school has an enrollment target.  For example, a basketball squad could be allotted the equivalent of six full scholarships to be divided as the coach sees fit.  That scholarship cost is $150,000 (6 x $25K = $150,000).  The squad’s enrollment target might be 18, meaning the team must have 18 students enrolled.  Those students would generate revenue of $450,000 (18 x 25K = $450,000).  When we subtract the cost of the six scholarships from the gross revenue of the eighteen students enrolled, the basketball squad generates a gross of $300,000.

Want to know why football is so attractive to small schools?  Use the same figures for a football team at School B with larger numbers involved in that sport.

If the scholarship allotment is 24, the cost to the institution is $600,000 (24 x $25K = $600K).  If the enrollment target is 100 (which is not uncommon for small schools), those students would generate $2.5 million (100 x $25K = $2.5M).  Using those numbers a football team would generate $1.9 million annually for the college.  Not bad money.

Those figures are a bit simplistic and do not take into account other expenses that increase as the number of athletic department teams and players grows (travel, lodging, facilities, staffing, etc).  But, any leader on campus should comprehend enrollment-driven recruiting.

Resource Allocation: Another pressure point involves resource allocation.  At many small schools, already low faculty and staff salaries have been relatively stagnant for years, classroom resources are typically limited, and research funding sometimes virtually nil.

Juxtapose those conditions with a very visible increase in the number of coaches hired, new or upgraded athletic facilities and equipment, and the attention given to sports on campus, and campus leaders are faced with managing a potentially volatile relationship between the school’s academic interests and athletic interests.

So, issues associated with college sport are not limited to big-time schools and conferences.

Leaders at smaller institutions must remain vigilant as to the place of athletics on campus.

Author’s Note: This article was originally published on the Sports and Fitness Network

Posted by: BE | October 8, 2013

Autumn Closing In

“Strange how the night moves,
with Autumn closing in.”

Night Moves (click to listen)
Bob Seger (1976)

How many times have you had your heart broken?

You’re not too old or jaded to remember the feeling, right? Can’t focus, can’t eat, can’t sleep … your thoughts flowing toward the object of your affection like a mountain stream moving downhill, sometimes rushing fast and other times just trickling along … but never ceasing and never really under control. Yeah, you remember.

I don’t know how many times my heart’s been broken, but I sure remember the first time.

I remember because an eight year old’s heart is a tender thing. But, damned if that gray-haired old Jim Northrup cared. Neither did big, fat Mickey Lolich, or the gambler Denny McClain, or moon-faced Bill Freehan, or any of the other dastardly Detroit Tigers of 1968. Forty-five years ago this week (October 10th, 1968, to be precise), my favorite boyhood baseball team – the glorious and unbeatable St. Louis Cardinals – were beaten by the inglorious Tigers. Boy, did I cry.

It all came down to Game 7.

My Cards, defending champs from 1967 (having disposed that year of the pompous Boston Red Sox and giving me bragging rights over some cousins and an uncle who should have known better than to pull for the Beantowners), looked like they’d cruise to another World Series championship. In Game 1, Bob Gibson – my favorite player, the best pitcher I’ve ever seen, he of the glowering, glistening, menacing countenance – struck out a Series record 17 (!) Tigers in a 4-0 shutout. Gibby came back in Game 4 and pitched another gem, yielding a single run (off a homer by Northrup) in a 10-1 victory. That the portly lefty Lolich kept winning games for the Tigers mattered little to me. Gibson would go in Game 7. Gibson would win Game 7. Gibson was the best.

The other Cards were good too. Fast Lou Brock in left, smooth Curt Flood in center, solid Roger Maris in right, baby bull Orlando “Cha-Cha” Cepeda at first (so good he needed two nicknames), light-hitting Julian Javier at second, non-hitting Dal Maxvill at short, stout Mike Shannon at third, athletic Tim McCarver catching … wake me up from a dead sleep any day of the year and I can name that roster for you. Of course Gibson would be perpetually on the mound for me. He set a modern day record in 1968 with an earned-run average of 1.12 and went 22-9. How the man lost 9 games is a mystery worthy of national security investigation.

On the day of Game 7, I had a problem. It was called third-grade.

Yes, all World Series games were played during the day in 1968. The first World Series night game wasn’t until 1971, and it would be 1987 before day World Series games would become wholly a remnant of the past. So, I found myself sitting in Ms. Nicholson’s class thinking of my team – of my first love – of my Cardinals. No radio, no television, no smart phones … just a fall Thursday that crept past minute by slow minute. Why my mama didn’t let me skip school that day baffles me. I should have been crafty enough to feign an illness. Finally, the bell rang, I dashed to the bus, leaped off at my stop, sprinted through our front yard, and burst into the house and turned on the television.

NO!

It was the 9th inning and the Tigers led Gibson 4-0.

NO!

Lolich had shut down the Cards yet again. The impeccable Flood had misplayed a 7th inning Northrup line-drive into a triple to break a scoreless tie (the god-like Gibson had only given up one hit going into the seventh). A Mike Shannon homer in the bottom of the ninth gave me a glimmer of hope (and made me realize the Cardinals would surely have won had I only the foresight to skip school and watch the whole game – after all they outscored the Tigers 1-0 while I was tuned in), but it was not to be.

The Cardinals lost. Bob Gibson got beat. My heart got broken for the first time.

Thankfully, an eight-year old heart heals fast. A few weeks later, a slouching quarterback wearing white shoes would lead the upstart New York Jets through the playoffs and eventually to a win over the stodgy Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III. I had a new team and a new hero – Joe Willie Namath and the Jets.

As Autumn closes in, seasonally in north Georgia during this beautiful October and metaphorically in my life, it is strange how the night moves. While I still like the Cardinals, the hometown Atlanta Braves became “my team” in the 1970s (when they were bad by the way). The Pittsburgh Steelers (when they got good) eclipsed the New York Jets the day Franco Harris caught the Immaculate Reception and remain my NFL team to this day. College football already had a grip on me by 1968, and soon the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Georgia Bulldogs would become my lasting sports passions.

Sports reflect life in so many ways … in both there have been a few heartbreaks along the way for all of us. I still remember my first one.

Boy, I don’t like the Tigers.

Posted by: BE | September 22, 2013

Johnny Football and Archie Who

In October of 1969, Ole Miss quarterback Archie Manning set the SEC record for total yards in a game. The record would not be broken for more than forty years.*

Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M has eclipsed that mark three times in the past calendar year.

Seems to me, Johnny Football deserves more credit than he is getting for breaking perhaps the most storied record of the nation’s most history-conscious conference.

Manziel first broke Manning’s record a year ago this week as a redshirt freshman. Accumulating 557 total yards, he passed for 453 yards, rushed for another 104, and accounted for four touchdowns (three passing and one rushing) in a 58-10 rout of Arkansas at College Station on September 29, 2012. It was only the fourth start of his college career and he was just getting warmed up.

Two weeks later (October 13, 2012) the Aggies traveled to Shreveport for a neutral site game with Louisiana Tech, and Manziel surpassed the total yardage mark again. In a wild 59-57 shootout (in regulation no less), Manziel upped his own record to 576 yards by shredding the Bulldogs for 181 yards on the ground and 395 more through the air. He tallied six touchdowns, spread evenly via run and pass. It was a scintillating performance and national attention started to simmer around the former schoolboy sensation from Kerrville, Texas.

That attention came to a boil a month later (November 10, 2012) when the legend of Johnny Football was truly born in a 29-24 upset victory over top-ranked and defending national champion Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Manziel accounted for a relatively modest 345 yards, but his weaving runs and scrambling play-making captured the nation’s attention and catapulted him to Heisman Trophy frontrunner (he would win the award in December, the first freshman to do so).

Alabama played the foil again in Manziel’s third and (to date) last assault on Archie’s old record.

On September 14 of this year, Manziel rolled up 562 yards against the Crimson Tide in a 49-42 loss at Kyle Field in College Station. Those totals include 464 yards passing, 98 rushing, and five touchdown passes. He still has over half of this season left, plus two more seasons of eligibility but in all likelihood he will be off to the NFL after this season (as a redshirt sophomore he is eligible to declare for the draft).

As great as Manziel has been, he may never reach the lofty status of Archie Manning among southern football fans.

Manning’s record stood for forty-three seasons and is one of the iconic moments in Southeastern Conference football history.

Manning set the standard of 540 yards on October 4, 1969, against Alabama and coach Paul “Bear” Bryant at Legion Field in Birmingham. The Rebels lost the game 33-32, but Manning won the night along with the hearts of football fans across the nation – and especially fans in the South. The leading character of the upcoming documentary Book of Manning passed for 436 yards and two touchdowns that Autumn evening, and added 104 rushing yards and another three touchdowns on the ground. 540 yards and 5 touchdowns. Those were myth-making numbers.

The novelty of that Ole Miss-Alabama game contributed to its enduring legacy and to Manning’s status as a favorite son of the South.

When the Rebs traveled to the heart of Dixie to face the Tide, the teams played only the second nationally televised prime-time college football game ever shown (Alabama and Miami had played the first in late 1968, a game that didn’t generate much attention). To contemporary fans, college football on television was in the dinosaur age back in the late 1960s. Now we can watch college football most days of the week from September to January, and games start whenever ESPN (still over a decade away from its origins that 1969 night) or other networks dictate. But, when Archie set the record the nation was only three months removed from Neil Armstrong’s moon walk, starting to learn of the Manson family murders of two months earlier, and just tuning in to a brand new show called The Brady Bunch. Saturdays featured one national college football game, and on some weekends bonus coverage of a regional contest.

Archie Manning’s play that evening ushered in the modern era of college football according to ESPN’s Ivan Maisel. I agree.

Manning’s antics were every bit as exciting as Manziel’s would be four decades later.

His scrambling and throwing supposedly caused Coach Bryant to fire defensive coordinator Ken Donahue three times during the game, and future Alabama AD Mal Moore (secondary coach that night) said “I’m glad I was in the press box or he’d have fired me too.” (For the record, Donahue must have been “rehired” during the game because he coached with Bryant through 1982).

The performance made Archie into a southern cult hero and even inspired a catchy (or kitschy) little tune called “The Ballad of Archie Who” by the Rebel Rousers (listen and note the song is set to the rhythm of Johnny Cash’s Folsom Prison Blues).

I don’t know whether Johnny Football will have songs named for him, or become the hero to Aggie fans that Archie Manning was to southerners of the late 1960s and early 1970s.

I do think he deserves more attention for the records he is setting.

(*LSU quarterback Rohan Davey tied Manning’s 540 yard total in 2001 in a 35-21 win over … you guessed it … Alabama. The LSU head coach that Saturday was current Alabama coach Nick Saban)

Posted by: BE | August 31, 2013

Georgia-Clemson … That’s What I See

“I think about all the good times that we had,
It makes me happy and it makes me sad.”

When I See This Bar (click to listen)
Kenny Chesney (2013)

It sounded like a small arms battle. Or, since I’ve never been in one, the way I figure a small arms battle must sound.

It was Labor Day afternoon 1982 in Athens, beautiful like a southern college campus tends to be on game day. Pretty Georgia girls and drunk Bulldog boys milled along the top end of Lumpkin Street, drinking and flirting and getting ready for that night’s game against Clemson. I believe the game was the first played at night in Sanford Stadium, and I know it featured the previous two national champions – Georgia having won the title in 1980, Clemson in 1981 – something that had not happened before in a season opener.

Of all the Georgia games I’ve been to, this one had the most exciting atmosphere.

That tension bubbled up about three hours before the game when two buses carrying Clemson’s football team to the stadium turned off Broad Street and started easing through the crowd.

As the Dog fans realized who was on the buses, they started flinging liquor bottles, beer cans, shoes, rocks, and anything they could launch. I mean it was a pelting of the first order. The buses sped up and got on past that strip of the street. I’ll never understand why Clemson coach Danny Ford had the buses take the route down Lumpkin, but it was something else. The Dogs were ready for the Tigers that night.

When I think of Georgia and Clemson, that’s what I see.

The Fridge

The most famous player on the Clemson squad in 1982 was William “The Refrigerator” Perry and for some reason I couldn’t stand him.

I drove a little silver Chevette with a hatchback at the time. The night before the game, so we wouldn’t have to worry about a parking space the next day, a couple of buddies picked me up after I parked in a lot at the corner of Baxter and Lumpkin – right across from Sanford Stadium and old Stegeman Hall (a few hundred yards from where the Tiger buses would get showered). We walked from our apartment and tailgated there on game day … for me, nothing but fried chicken and cold caffeine. I was too hyped for the game to drink anything but Coke (which didn’t really calm me down come to think of it).

After the bus pelting, a couple of us went into the stadium as soon as the gates opened. There couldn’t have been ten people in there yet. We hustled down behind the hedges and stood back of the Clemson sideline. A few minutes later Danny Ford brought his Tigers – still in dress clothes, not uniforms – out for a walk down the field.

As they got close to us, we started really giving it to Ford and Perry. No cussing or anything, just silly stuff like holding up a thumb and hollering about whether Herschel Walker would play that night (he had an injured thumb) [as an aside - typing this as a middle-aged man is pretty humbling; I rarely raise my voice at a game - any game - anymore, and haven't in a long, long time].

Ford and the Fridge were actually really cool. Ford laughed and shook his head at me when I asked where he parked his tractor. When I told Perry he was too fat to tackle Herschel he feinted like he was coming after me, and I scrambled up about 10 rows. I looked back and a bunch of the Tigers were doubled over laughing.

But, I just held up my thumb and laughed back. I’m from the Larry Munson school of Bulldog fandom (it’s bad for us and always about to get worse), but knew Georgia was going to win that game on that night.

Danny Ford and the Fridge.

When I think of Georgia and Clemson, that’s what I see.

“I see a kid, coming into his own
and I see a man, learning to move on.”

Herschel had a sore thumb.

The best college running back I ever saw – here he is – was the story leading up to the Labor Day opener. Herschel Walker should have won the Heisman Trophy as a freshman in 1980 and would win it at the end of the 1982 season, but nobody knew if he’d play in the game that Labor Day night because he had a broken thumb. The Clemson game was special for Bulldogs of that era, probably more for Herschel than most.

Clemson had recruited him hard. He waffled back and forth between the Tigers and the Dogs for a long time, and the process wasn’t always pretty. Herschel didn’t sign with Georgia until Easter time of his senior year in high school, months later than usual for a top player. His recruitment was a drawn out affair full of intrigue and rumors, a saga that probably signaled the modern era of recruiting in college football (best captured a few years later by Willie Morris’ great The Courting of Marcus Dupree).

Herschel immediately led Georgia to a national title as a freshman in 1980, a season that included a tough 20-16 home win over Clemson. Herschel wasn’t the star of that game though, as Dog defensive back Scott Woerner had two long returns – one of a punt and one of a late interception – to secure the win.

The next year, Herschel’s sophomore campaign, the Tigers would handle the Bulldogs 13-3 at Death Valley, handing Georgia its only regular season loss during the Walker era. That game saw a Dog offense with about three times more fumbles than points. Herschel was kept in check by a Clemson defense the included three future NFL first-round picks in Terry Kinard, Jeff Bryant, and of course my future friend the Fridge. The win over the Bulldogs set the Tigers on their way to a national championship in 1981.

As the ’82 game approached, Walker’s thumb injury provided Georgia coach Vince Dooley an opportunity for a little scheming.

To call Dooley a conservative a coach would be akin to calling Barry Goldwater a conservative politician, but Vince had his moments. The Kirby Moore to Pat Hodgson to Bob Taylor 73-yard flea-flicker to upset Alabama in the 1965 season opener. The 1975 80-yard end-around pass from Richard Appleby to Gene Washington to knock off Florida. The man could pick his moments and he had picked one for the Tigers.

Leading up to the game, Dooley more or less insisted Herschel Walker wouldn’t play because of the thumb. However, in the second quarter – after Clemson jumped to a 7-0 lead courtesy of a fumbled snap – here came Herschel. As big #34 jogged to the huddle, Sanford Stadium cranked up like a jet getting ready for takeoff. Georgia quarterback John Lastinger turned to give the ball to Walker on the sweep play everybody expected (especially the Clemson defense) but instead handed it to speedy freshman Tron (Electron) Jackson on a reverse that went for a 40-yard touchdown. Although the euphoria was brief – the play was called back on a motion penalty – the momentum had shifted.

Herschel eventually convinced Vince to use him as more than a decoy and he would play quite a bit in the second half (he scored a touchdown but it was called back on another penalty). The Dogs would gnaw their way to a 13-7 lead, and finally hang on for the win when the “Tifton Termite” Nate Taylor intercepted a Clemson pass late in the game.

The game was over, the Dogs had won, and all was right with the world.

When I think of Georgia and Clemson, that’s what I see.

It makes me happy and it makes me sad.

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