August 5, 2011

Mailbag: Texas-sized tiff over network

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Back in the 1950s marketers trying to influence movie theatre audiences to buy more food and drink began flashing quick subliminal messages on cinema screens.

Those subliminal messages became a source of great controversy. But they're nothing compared to the controversy the University of Texas' Longhorn Network is causing.

The network won't launch until later this month, but Texas' Big 12 rivals are already crying foul and the commissioner has already moved to rein in the network's programming plans.

Texas had plans of airing high school events, which would likely draw high school-aged viewers. Many of them might be great athletes who Texas and other schools would be recruiting.

Rival programs fear the Longhorn Network will influence prospects to attend Texas. The Longhorns already have a long list of recruiting advantages - proximity, great facilities, a storied history and tradition, good weather ... now they've got their own TV station?

Aggies and Sooners wouldn't put it past the crafty Longhorns to flash subliminal messages like "Go to Texas" or "Sign with Mack" across the screen.

That wouldn't be fair.

But as we see in this week's mailbag, fairness and college football don't always go hand-in-hand.

Longhorn Network angst

I keep hearing these Big 12 coaches/fans/administrators complaining about the Longhorn Network and how it creates an unfair advantage for Texas. To me, it is embarrassing for schools like Oklahoma and Texas A&M to whine about this. When has college football ever been 'fair?' Don't they think their luxurious facilities create "unfair" advantages over those that don't have them? How is the Longhorn Network different?
Andrew
Houston

You've got a point.

Is it fair that Texas A&M has palatial Kyle Field, but Iowa State's Jack Trice Stadium is rather modest? You don't think recruits notice that?

Is it fair that Florida has a home recruiting base that annually produces many more talented prospects than, say, the state of Tennessee?

Is it fair that Wisconsin is in the conference that automatically qualifies its champion for a BCS game, but TCU (at least for now) is not?

Certainly, there are a number of factors in college athletics that make for an uneven playing field. Heck, it's bad enough that Iowa State has a smaller stadium than its Big 12 brethren and doesn't have as many prospects in its home state, but the Cyclones also have to recruit against the weather. Texas teams are in located in a warm, sunny climate. Iowa State is not. Is that fair?

But most of the disadvantages are accepted. Some may even be self-imposed. After all, Vanderbilt chooses to have higher academic entrance requirements for athletes than its SEC rivals. Also, a program can always raise money to improve its facilities. And if said program cannot raise enough funds maybe it's just not that important to the alums and boosters.

Still, the Longhorn Network is going too far.

Texas is the Gordon Gekko of college football, seemingly with the philosophy that "greed is good." The Longhorns already make more money than any other NCAA athletic department and get a bigger share of Big 12 revenue than some other conference programs. But that's not enough. They want more.

Texas is determined to maximize its earning power. But isn't that what big businesses do? And college athletics is big business.

But putting high school games on the Longhorn Network is an unfair advantage that cannot be accepted. If a prospect knows he can see himself play on the Longhorn Network (TiVo) that may be just one more edge for the Longhorns. Don't they have enough edges already?

The Big 12 has blocked Texas from showing high school content for a year. No doubt, the long-term plan is to prohibit all high school content from appearing on similar networks.

However, it's odd that Texas' Big 12 rivals are now upset over the Longhorn Network. Remember, the summer of 2010 when the Big 12 was on the verge of collapsing? The conference needed Texas to remain a member in order to stay afloat and agreed to allow the Longhorns to launch their own network.

Now, they're upset? Perhaps the other programs should just launch their own networks. Oklahoma and Texas A&M are looking into it. Other programs may not have the means to launch a network, but that's just another example of the uneven playing field in college sports.


In defense of Gamecocks

Why is there so much hype about Alabama's and LSU's defenses in the SEC and almost none on South Carolina's? All I hear is that South Carolina is the favorite of a weak East Division with no chance at beating one of the big dogs from the West. I know they were middle of the pack last season, but bring almost everyone back. The secondary should be improved, and they had decent numbers when it came to sacks and tackles for loss. They also add (No. 1 rated recruit) Jadeveon Clowney. Could you give me your opinion on this?
Henry
Sumter, S.C.

South Carolina had a solid defense in 2010 and could be better this season.

Ellis Johnson is a brilliant defensive coach, but hasn't always had a lot of talent and depth with which to work. The Gamecocks are getting better in both categories.

Major improvement is needed in pass defense. The Gamecocks were 97th in the nation while allowing more than 240 yards per game last season.

They will be better. Three starters return in the secondary, most notably junior CB Stephon Gilmore, a potential All-American. The return of DE Devin Taylor and the addition of Clowney will boost the pass rush, too.

Yet, it's hard to forget how inept the Gamecocks defense appeared while giving up 589 yards in a 59-17 loss to Auburn in last year's SEC championship game.

Of course, that was a loss to the eventual national champion and Heisman Trophy recipient Cameron Newton, so we'll give the Gamecocks a break.

Still, when discussing SEC defenses the attention is rightly going to be on Alabama and LSU.

Star linebacker Dont'a Hightower heads a group of 10 returning starters on an Alabama defense that ranked fifth in the nation last year and held nine opponents to one touchdown or less.

Meanwhile, LSU brings back seven starters from a unit that ranked 12th in the country.

South Carolina has a lot of work to do before it can be viewed as being on par with those defenses.


Impact of no Big 12 title game?

How will Big 12 teams' chances of making the BCS title game be diminished by not having a conference championship game?
Kevin
Norman

That will depend on the circumstances of each individual season. In some years, it won't be an issue. In fact, in the 13 years of the BCS championship game there have been 13 participating teams that did not play in a conference championship game and 13 that did.

However, USC fans can certainly attest that the lack of a conference championship game can be costly.

A conference title game allows one last chance to impress BCS voters with a game against a successful opponent. Back in 2008, Florida had one. USC did not. The Gators ultimately played in the title game and won the national championship.

The Trojans and Gators were both 11-1 in the regular season that year. USC had beaten four teams that had won at least eight games (Ohio State, Oregon, Arizona and Cal), while Florida had beaten three (LSU, Georgia and Florida State.)

USC's lone loss was on the road in September against Oregon State, which finished 9-4. Florida lost at home in September to Ole Miss, which also finished 9-4.

In the BCS system, which basically judges teams on the resume they compile during the season, a strong case could've been made that USC deserved to be chosen ahead for Florida for the BCS game (which would eventually be against Oklahoma).

But that was before Dec. 6. On that day, USC closed its season with a 28-7 victory over UCLA, which finished 4-8. Meanwhile, Florida posted a 31-20 victory over No. 1 ranked and previously undefeated Alabama in the SEC championship game. That gave Florida an undeniable advantage in the BCS standings.

Of course, the conference championship game is a double-edged sword. There are several instances in which teams were knocked out of a national championship contention because they lost in their conference title game.

In 2007 Missouri was ranked No. 1, but lost to Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game. That enabled Big Ten champion Ohio State, which was not involved a conference playoff, to go to the BCS game.

Yet, the craziest example was in 2001. Tennessee appeared destined to face Miami for the national title, but the Volunteers were upset by LSU, 31-20, in the SEC championship game.

Texas was then in position to reach the championship game. But later that same night the Longhorns were upset by Colorado in the Big 12 championship game.

That put Nebraska, which ironically did not even play for a conference title, in the BCS championship game.

A Big 12 team could again make the championship game without playing in a conference title game. But Big 12 teams should be aware they will often be at a disadvantage if their champions have virtually the same records as teams that won conference championship games.

Well, most years they would.

This year the conference championship games are scheduled for Dec. 3. That day, Oklahoma plays at Oklahoma State in what could be a matchup of top five teams.

In that case, it will be just like a conference championship game.


When will Buckeyes be back?

How many years will it take Ohio State to get back to a national powerhouse college football team?
Thomas
Bedford, Texas

Maybe the Buckeyes still are. Even with the firing/resignation of coach Jim Tressel, the departure of QB Terrelle Pryor and the five-game suspensions of RB Dan Herron, WR DeVier Posey, T Mike Adams and DE Solomon Thomas a lot of talent remains on that team.

Three of the Buckeyes' last four recruiting classes have been ranked among the nation's top 11 by Rivals.com. There are still dozens of talented players who come out of the state of Ohio who still want to play for the Buckeyes.

Ohio State will likely take a step back this season, but don't look for a total collapse. The Buckeyes will probably even win three or four of the games they play without the suspended players.

Ohio State might not be a top national championship contender until an effective quarterback emerges to replace Pryor, but incoming freshman Braxton Miller is an exciting prospect.

The Buckeyes' streak of dominance which included at least a share of six consecutive Big Ten championships seems to be coming to an end.

Nebraska has joined the conference. Wisconsin figures to continue its success. Michigan State now has to be taken seriously. Penn State and Iowa always were.

Also, Michigan's fast-start for the 2012 recruiting class, which currently includes five four-star rated prospects from Ohio, seems to foretell the Wolverines' return to prominence.

But don't look for Ohio State to fall from prominence. At least, not for very long.


West Coast bias

The SEC does not go west and face a real team like USC because they get beat down when they do. I'm sure you remember what USC did to all the SEC teams they have played?
John
Newport Beach, Calif.

When are West Coasters going to let go of this obsession with the SEC and its scheduling? Oh, that's right ... never.

That's a good thing. There's nothing like egging on an argument and keeping college football fans at each other's throats to pass the time until the season actually starts.

The point is taken. USC has won its last four games against SEC opponents, blowing out Arkansas 50-14 in '06 and 70-17 in '05 and beating Auburn 23-6 in '03 and 24-17 in '02.

But the original contention was that SEC teams won't travel west. Last time I checked the West includes more teams than USC.

LSU played at Washington in 2009. Georgia went to Arizona State in 2008? Tennessee played at Cal in 2007 and at UCLA in 2008. Ole Miss plays at Fresno State this year.

Don't those games count as going west?

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.
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