The Warm Fire League 2008

Around the Nation Week 16
Pre-Bowl Post

Got that warm fire stoked yet?

Welcome to The Campus Game pre-bowl Around the Nation. Before the first post-season contests kickoff this weekend, schedules and predictions for all thirty-four college football bowls will be posted.

For now, throw on another log, pull the laptop close, and huddle up around that warm fire.

I originated the “warm fire league” phrase a few years ago in the Coach’s Corner column of Game Day Weekly as an homage to baseball’s hot stove league.

Back in the day (to steal a catchphrase from my current college students), baseball fans would gather around a hot stove during the off-season to talk about trades, prospects, and all sorts of topics to pass those cold winter months until the start of another season.

While hot stoves have gone the way of 8-track tapes and good defense in the Big 12, many of us still like to keep a warm fire going as we long for college football during the bleak months between the end of the season and the kickoff to spring football.

So, pull up a chair, warm your hands, and think about these topics over the off-season.

Coaching Changes: The salaries paid big-time college coaches continue to climb faster than Oprah’s weight. With that financial commitment comes great scrutiny and immediate expectations. For the past few seasons, the trend has been to give new coaches less time to establish themselves. This year, however, even firmly entrenched coaches are being run off unless they win championships. Does anyone really believe Tennessee and Auburn upgraded their coaching by replacing Phillip Fulmer and Tommy Tuberville with Lane Kiffin and Gene Chizik, respectively? These impatient programs (Presidents, ADs, and Boosters) may soon wish they’d taken a longer view.

Hiring Practices: A corollary to the coaching change issue is the way in which colleges make these new hires. Big-time programs like Texas and Florida State anointed coaches-in-waiting (Will Muschamp at Texas and Jimbo Fisher at FSU). The red flag in such scenarios is that the process is closed … how can an up-and comer get top jobs … good thing such a policy wasn’t in place when Ohio State hired Jim Tressel. Race is also an implication. When the number of black head coaches is lower than it was a decade or two ago, hackles will be raised and rightfully so. Making the issue more intense is a case like Auburn, where a head coach (Chizik) is hired who has lost ten games in a row and won only five in two seasons, while viable minority candidates like Turner Gill of Buffalo or Charlie Strong of Florida are passed over. You best believe that more will be heard on this topic … and from more credible sources than grandstanding windbags like Charles Barkley.

Playoffs vs. Bowls. Call me old-school on this one, but put me firmly in the bowl supporter category. Big-time college football does not set up well for a playoff (you’d run into the same arguments about who gets put in and left out whether it is a four-team, eight-team, or sixteen-team format), and the bowl system is too lucrative to weaken. ESPN takes over the BCS bowls in 2010 and existing contracts preclude a playoff until at least 2014. Talking about a playoff system is fun, but would any system generate more discussion, interest, and intrigue than the current setup? Doubtful. A better idea, in my opinion, is to loosen up conference affiliations with specific bowls to allow more freedom of matching top teams in the big bowls each season. I also like the comments of Todd Blackledge (my favorite television analyst) that we should make New Year’s Day a sacred one for college football once more.

Ok – there you go … three topics to get your warm fire league started. More will be posted all through the off-season, but we have plenty of bowl business to attend to first. Check back by the end of the week for Professor’s Picks for pre-Christmas bowls.

See you at kickoff!

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