Sunday, July 7, 2013

How to Count to 60 (...schools in Contract Conferences); Part 1- the Big Ten moves...

Today I am going to write a bit of an exercise.

On December 5th, 2012, Ohio State president E. Gordon Gee met with the Ohio State Athletic Council.  Gee reported that expansion discussions in the Big 10 were "ongoing" and that he “believes there is movement towards three or four super conferences that are made up of 16-20 teams.”

"THREE to Four superconferences"...is the the interesting bit.

The idea of the better FBS programs settling into four 16 team superconferences is familiar (if despised) idea to most college football fans at this point.

To hear the number three is disturbingly unfamiliar.  To hear a key member of the Big 10 braintrust say it and mention 20 team conferences, even more so.

The Big 10 conference owns their own TV network.  They seem able and willing to take on any number of schools and make it work in their business model.  They also seem to be able to squeeze more value out of their schools.  Unlike other conferences, they seem less consumed by debates of  the merits of "x additional schools vs. profit" arguments.  They can really add who they want. 

Gee went on to say that for the Big 10 “there are opportunities to move further south in the east and possibly a couple of Midwest universities.”

It seemed like the Big Ten was preparing to eat the best parts of the ACC.

Now since then ESPN has essentially bumped up the ACC's per team payouts by what looks like about $7 Million per school to start (if you include the ACC channel money).  That was enough motivation to convince the ACC schools to sign a "grant of rights" agreement to the ACC (...which means to ESPN as the media company has a contract for most of the ACC schools' first, second, and third tier media rights).

So disaster averted, right?   No UNC in the Big 10, no FSU in the SEC and no Clemson in the Big 12.

But it still raises the question, "What exactly was Gee talking about in saying three 20 team super
conferences?" It is difficult for a fan to imagine, but Gee was talking about it as a legitimate possibility. So how could it happen?

This is my best shot to answer the question.

Realignment starts at the top.

The SEC, Big 10, and PAC-12 are not going anywhere.  If you want to talk about three contract conferences, those are the three.

The most lucrative and prestigious FBS conference is the Big 10.   They have the biggest TV deal as half owners of their own network.  Their academic reputations are only rivaled by the ACC among FBS conferences and their annual research money totals blow away all other FBS conferences.  (Annual research dollars can dwarf the top athletic budgets. As FBS conferences go, The Pac-12's and ACC's research totals are quite a bit ahead of the rest of the pack too.)

Every school in the Big 10 besides Nebraska is a member of the prestigious 62 member Association of American Universities.   This fraternity of elite, heavy research schools are major power brokers in academic circles.

The past expansion of the Big 10 seems based on fighting to retain their position of influence.  The Big 10 is based in states where populations are shrinking and money is leaving or has left the state.  These states will continue to lose congressional seats and legislative power as their populations move to other states.  These factors could erode the size and quality of their student bodies and over time damage the perceptions of their schools.

While it is great for the Big 10 that they landed schools that give them access to New York City and Washington DC, population growth is occurring in the sunbelt. States like Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, and Florida would bring large, growing populations and access to more politicians and top students.

The eviction of Nebraska from the AAU also has to have the Big 10 concerned. There are a lot of top research schools that would be welcomed by many AAU members, but there is also a large faction in the AAU that believes part of the appeal of the AAU is it's selectivity.  This could mean further trimming of members to "create space".  Indiana is a school considered a bit of a bubble school in the AAU.

The Big 10 draws a lot of their prestige from the fact that all of their members were AAU members.  Now one of their members is no longer a member and further is the only AAU member to ever be voted out.  And now the Big 10 may be looking at potentially another eviction coming soon.   Such an action could do a lot to paint this as a correction --- a removal of undeserving Big 10 schools.  That narrative is one that could take a life of it's own and become very damaging to the Big 10 schools.

With that in mind it makes a lot of sense of the Big 10's myopia for AAU members only among their candidate schools.

It takes a 2/3's vote to evict a school from the AAU.  Nebraska was voted out by 44 of the AAU's 62 members.  Nebraska needed 21 votes to block their dismissal. They had 18 votes.  Aside from Nebraska, the Big 10 at the time had 12 AAU votes (including The University of Chicago).

The new Big 10 with Rutgers, Maryland, and associate Big 10 member The Johns Hopkins University seems to have possible access to 3 more AAU votes.  But on the flip side, such a coalition may look to the other AAU members like the Big 10 is cornering the vote --- in that instance the Big 10 may need to get 20 to 21 votes on their own.

So let's think about how they may have thought to get from 14 to 20.

Adding AAU ACC schools Virginia, North Carolina, Duke, and Georgia Tech to get to 18 could have answered a lot of these problems for the Big Ten.  The Big 10 appeared to be targeting FSU as their preferred Florida candidate. (In my opinion, Miami would be a better Big Ten candidate than FSU, but probably were downgraded due to the spectre lingering over that program due to pending NCAA infractions.  Miami is also considered a school on the cusp of AAU invitation, they are northeastern in character fitting in much better with the Big Ten, and would offer both a  nationally recognized sports brand and access to Florida's large population of students and athletes.)

The assumption may have been that the last spot would be for UT or ND, but I think the last spot may have been earmarked for a more local school.

With the Big Ten owning a major stake in the elite academic schools in the south and the main market in SEC territory (Atlanta = Georgia Tech), the addition of Vanderbilt may have been possible.

Tradition is huge in the SEC, but Vanderbilt has always been ridiculed for not seeing football as a win at all cost sport.  Additionally as an AAU school, they would understand the benefits of Big 10 enrollment.  They are a much better school than the other options. 

If Vandy held to tradition and stayed in the SEC, AAU Pitt, AAU Missouri or non-AAU Miami or non-AAU Oklahoma could have fit the bill nicely.  If the goal was to get every power conference to 20, the best choice instead of Vanderbilt would probably be Miami.

(I should note that Oklahoma and UT were strongly considered by the Big Ten and the conference has always wanted to have Notre Dame in their conference.  UT is not likely joining any conference where they cannot bring a number of votes with them.  I think the Big Ten's actions suggest they thought it was preferrable to bring in UNC, Duke, Virginia, and Georgia Tech instead of UT, OU, and a friend or two. 

I think the predatory stance against the ACC suggests that the Big Ten has moved to an anti-ND position.)

I think there is enough out there suggesting that the Big Ten was probably receptive to the idea of 3 superconferences as, for a number of reasons, it makes sense for the Big Ten to go to 20 members.

Why would they not want the SEC and Pac-12 to do the same?   In theory that would gave the power conferences much greater control over the playoffs and that revenue.   In part 2, I will follow up on the actions the other two power conferences may have taken if the ACC had not finally agreed to grant their rights to the ACC (re:ESPN).




Saturday, July 6, 2013

The Cowboys had a great off-season? Yep. Will they be signifcantly better? Dunno.

I truly believe that for once almost all of the decisions made by the Jerry Jones concerning the direction of his team this off-season were the right ones.

So if that's right the Cowboys should be significantly better this year, right?

No.  While the decisions sound right to me, they were -almost without exception- made in exactly the wrong way.

I'll be a little more forthcoming on my private thoughts than I normally am. 

This off-season has made me question if Jerry Jones is going senile.  Al Davis senile.

It is like someone gave Jerry a really good plan for success and Jerry just couldn't execute it.  Any of it.

That to me is new for Jerry Jones.

In the past Jones may have had some poorly thought out plans, but they were executed in a mostly professional manner by Jones. This off-season was striking in just how lacking in finesse Jones appeared to be.

Who didn't he piss off in his organization?

I am reminded of my Grandmother.  At a point in her life she lost all tact and would say hurtful things to everyone.  It wasn't intentional --- it is just how things came out when she became "old".

Is that where Jerry Jones is today with all of his "glory hole" talk and his careless trampling of his staff?

Lets walk through it.

Jason Garrett struggled to be the head coach and the play caller over the last couple years.  He had several meltdowns at key, stressful moments.

There is a reason almost all NFL teams have their offensive coordinators call the plays.

Head coaches do not need added stress.

Jerry Jones was a staunch believer that his head coach had to not only run the team, but also be a coordinator.   It failed after a couple of years with Wade Phillips and has not worked all that well with Jason Garrett.

Suddenly Jerry Jones was all about getting someone other than Jason Garrett calling the plays.  Clearly someone talked some sense into Jerry Jones.

Sadly, rather than laying out the benefits privately to Garrett and selling him on the value of that change, Jones took it to the media and pantsed his coach.

(Division foes understand the cadence of Garrett's play calling.  After 6 years, no offensive play caller is a mystery to division opponents.  A change can be quite beneficial from time to time.)

The same thing happened on defense.  Jones appears to have decided after consultation with (probably) Larry Lacewell that Rob Ryan was too far up his own butt.  It is one thing to know everything about every defense, but a smart coordinator makes his defense digestible for his players.

There was a lot to the thought that Ryan's defense was so complex that players were thinking rather than playing.

Garrett may not have been involved with this thought process.  Garrett publicly praised Ryan and implied the  defensive coordinator's job was not in jeopardy.  Garrett showed loyalty to Ryan.  A couple weeks later Jones fired Ryan, pantsing Garrett again.  Jones replaced Ryan with longtime NFL coordinator Monte Kiffin.

Jerry confidante Larry Lacewell used to be Barry Switzer's defensive coordinator at Oklahoma in the 1970's.   Nebraska coach Tom Osborne's defensive coordinator in the 1970's was a young superstar by the name of Monte Kiffen.

In a way Jones was doing Garrett a favor. Last off-season Garrett loudly questioned whether the team should go to the 4-3 --- a defense with which Garrett has has more experience and that suited the personnel better.

Last off-season it appeared that Jones and Ryan were against moving out of the 3-4 as the team's base set.

This year Jones brought in two of the best 4-3 defensive coordinators in the league.  Great idea, just done in the worst possible way.

Rather than instructing Garrett to fire Ryan and having Garrett hire Kiffin (after "consulting" with Jones), Jones emasculated Garrett in front of his players and the fans.

The firing of Garrett's brother John Garrett also appears to have been a needed step. If Jason Garrett was going to be forced to hire an offensive coordinator, John Garrett, the passing game coordinator and tight ends coach might have been at the top of Garrett's list.  Now John Garrett might have been a great offensive coordinator if given the chance, but it is tough to argue that the position would have been earned.

His lack of success developing Martellus Bennett (2nd round 2008) and Anthony Fasano (2nd round 2006) would have been a good reason to fire any tight end coach.  Especially damning was the fact both players went on to have success after leaving Dallas.

Jason Garrett was not likely to fire his brother, so Jerry Jones rightly felt a need to do so to protect his coach.

Plus promoting John Garrett would have likely cost the team offensive line coach Bill Callahan.  Jones needs Bill Callahan to upgrade the offensive line --- a glaring trouble spot in Dallas.

(It should be noted that Garrett did hire one of "his guys" in new WR coach Derek Dooley.  Dooley coached with Garrett in Miami.)

It seems like a lot of the right decisions were made this way but in a ham-fisted way that had Jones's fingerprints on every move instead of Garrett's.

And that doesn't even account for free agency and the draft.  More on those in a few days.

On Mark Cuban --- Let the criticisms begin

I was prepared to write one of two stories today. Either a congratulations to Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban for bucking the odds and signing LA Lakers center Dwight Howard, or another condemnation for Cuban not learning from the mistakes of last year and playing the odds this time.

When you go all in on a long shot and you lose, you invite criticism.  Mark Cuban has done it two years in a row.

Mark Cuban made the decision to implode a championship team out from under his superstar player Dirk Nowitzki by not resigning Center Tyson Chandler and others following the 2010-11 season. 

Instead Cuban chose to adopt a policy of trying to beg young players of note to sign with Dallas.

For the last few years, Mavs faithful have seen Cuban pass on good players in order to "keep their powder dry" --- ie. retain enough space under the cap to make pushes for higher profile young, "star" players.

For the second year in a row, plan powder is a total bust and it is once more up to GM Donnie Nelson to rebuild the team after a Cuban gross miscalculation.

(For those who do not recall, Donnie Nelson had accurately pinned down the value of a cooked Jason Kidd a few years ago and had drawn a line in the sand as to what the Mavericks would offer New Jersey.  Cuban stepped in right before the trade deadline and wiped out that line, personally overpaying for his man crush and dropping the talent level in Dallas to that of a playoff pretender. 

The Dallas title window appeared closed until Nelson was able to secure a very unbalanced trade with Washington that rebuilt the talent level to contender status. 

Do not forget in the title year, it was a free agent signed by Nelson, Corey Brewer, who almost single-handedly turned around the key Los Angeles series by leading a 20-6 run in game 1.  Dallas had regularly struggled vs. the Kobe Bryant-led Lakers in the playoffs.   Key roles were also played by guys like Brian Cardinal and DeShawn Stevenson in the title series.  Those two guys in particular were considered outright "scrubs" signed off the trash heap. 

Don't forget the damage control acquisitions of OJ Mayo and Darren Collison last season when Cuban didn't close the sale with local guy Deron Williams.

I am starting to see Mark Cuban in much the same light as I see Jerry Jones.  The big difference is that Cuban has one of the top 5 GMs in the NBA to clean up his miscalculations.)

The problems with powder

I think there are three big problems with the powder plan.

1) Dallas/Fort Worth is not that appealing to the players being targeted. It's a tough sell vs. all of their other options.  Most NBA players are black and Cuban is targeting young guys.

Is a young black guy going to take life in DFW over LA? NY? Chicago? Washington? Boston? Philadelphia?

Look across all sports.  Has any star in their prime ever taken just fair deal to come to Dallas?  I cannot think of any.

Deion Sanders and Alex Rodriguez are the biggest gets in recent Dallas history. They signed huge, bloated deals to come here.

The Mavs can't do that.  In the NBA, every team playing this powder game is offering basically the same contract.

So it comes down to metro area vs. metro area.  That's a stacked deck.

It's like Cuban is getting a hand dealt from a deck with no picture cards or Aces. He's confidently carrying a hand with 3 tens, but someone needs to run an intervention for Cuban on his "gambling problem".

Dallas/Forth Worth is a southwestern metro area that offers (some) high culture and is a decent place to raise kids.

Houston is on the other hand is Texas's sweaty, steamy sex capital.  It is actually well known for strip joints and the amount of silicon breast augmentations.  Culturally Houston and East Texas are not southwestern like the rest of Texas.  The region has more in common with the deep south than the southwest.  It is not that dissimilar in those ways to Atlanta, where Howard is from.

Williams was from DFW.  Even he didn't want to come here as a young "star", preferring to go with the Nets to Brooklyn. New York offers a lot more excitement than Dallas.

DFW is not a bad place to live at all, but it isn't exciting like NY, LA, or Miami.  It doesn't have basketball history like Philadelphia or Boston.  Last year Dallas competed with Brooklyn.  This year Dallas competed with LA, Houston, and Atlanta.  Next year, Dallas would potentially be competing with Boston.

Dallas is a solid home to 28-34 year olds with their young families, not so much for rich 22-26 year olds who like the bar scene.  Good luck luring in young ballers.

2) Young NBA stars appear for the most part to be knuckleheads with little vision. These targeted NBA "stars" are for the most part children --- basically teenagers --- given pallets of money after little to no college education. How does that not stunt a young man's development?

Having a boatload of money to throw at your mistakes is not a pathway to quick maturity.

Getting a college education requires commitment and hard work in subjects you often don't care about or actually hate.  In other words, as our fathers would say, "it builds character".

The odds of getting a new standup, mature face of your franchise who hasn't had years of college grunt work are long indeed.  And yet, that is the mystical unicorn Cuban is trying to capture to protect the long term value of his franchise.

The guys Dallas has targeted seem to lack some character.  They want things handed to them and in the case of Howard and Williams turned on their coaches and executed messy departures in Orlando and Utah respectively.  Those failures make a fan question if these are guys who offer the stability to ever win anything.

Cuban's sales pitches are probably full of things like --- "We have won a title recently, we have a strong basketball culture, and we have tough as nails winning coach."

Is that really going to appeal to a young NBA player who thinks they have arrived?

The "stars" think in much more basic terms.  "Who else is going to do the heavy lifting so the pressure is not on me?  How many years do they have left?"

Those are not questions that favor the Mavericks.

Phil Jackson is retired and there are not any other coaches that will entice a young player more than playing with another young "star".

The players have their view of reality.  A coach they can run out. Signing with a team with another young player or two of note is, in their mind, much more important.

Dallas doesn't have a young "star".

3) Mark Cuban is deluding himself and grossly mismanaging his assets in playing the powder game.

I am going to go to where many would consider a dark place.  Mark Cuban is filthy rich because he sold his company, Broadcast.com, to a bunch of execs.  It is probably not a stretch to say that most of them were probably business minded-white guys --- just like Mark Cuban.

I wonder if Mark Cuban thinks he can sell anyone anything.  That belief is probably hardwired into him at this point. Today should be a moment of humility for him that, if he is honest with himself, can be a moment of growth.

There is no evidence that Mark Cuban can connect with young, mostly immature black "stars" entering the prime of their careers enough to get one of them to lace them up in Dallas for the Mavs. 

At the risk of offending some, perhaps Cuban should take a path of less resistance and consider signing promising white players to rebuild his team --- given that his team is based in a metro area that is less appealing to black players?  (Minnesota free agent center Nikola Pekovic, for example, would be a nice fit in Dallas. Indiana PF Tyler Hansbrough could provide very good minutes.)

Despite Cuban's infamous "Money is no Object" proclamation early in his run as team owner, Dallas hasn't signed a single black "star" of note in the Cuban era. 

On the surface one could conclude that no "star"player on other teams seem to want his money. It appears that until players get here as older vets via a trade, they don't acknowledge that playing for the Mavs is a pretty sweet deal.

Then there is the asset utilization aspect of powder play.

The powder strategy makes Mark Cuban the key player in the Mavs organization instead of GM Donnie Nelson. Anytime an owner is reducing the importance of his or her full-time personnel professional for the owner's own part-time contribution, it seems a questionable policy.

It is even more glaring in this instance, as Nelson is one of the best GMs in the NBA.  He has a knack for finding players and finding good trade partners.

Consider Dallas just turned their last two first round picks (one of which was #13) into a single, money saving player, Shane Larkin, in order to play the powder game.  Larkin is a sophomore eligible prospect who is likely to be something between a much lesser Ty Lawson and JJ Berea --- if Larkin makes it in the NBA at all.

Dallas potentially landed a serviceable backup.

You cannot minimize assets that way.

Which is why Dallas should go back to doing what they do best...

It is time to let the powder get wet.  It is time to get back to what built the two Mavs teams that made it to the title games --- Donnie Nelson finding the talent and Mark Cuban signing the checks for good, not great players. The Mavs also need to get back to trusting in Dirk as a superstar.

It is time to get back to signing and trading for vets on the decline side of their primes. Trade picks for vets Rick Carlisle will actually play.

Dirk maybe has another 2-3 years.  As San Antonio's run this year proves, you don't have to be young to have a real chance to beat Miami for the title.  You just need a closer (Dirk), a solid veteran team, a good coach, and a little luck.

Dirk has taken the Mavs to two title games and won one.  He has in many ways had a better career than Charles Barkley or Karl Malone.  And yet everyone still sees skin color and talks about how Dirk needs to be the second best player on the Mavs. No one ever said that about Malone or Barkley and yet they have said it about Dirk for his entire career.  It's stupid.

It is time to rebuild the Mavs into a team that will be good enough to keep games close.  That would give Dirk a shot to carry this team to titles.

It is time for Cuban to stop waiting for Godot.  It is time for Cuban to stop prematurely shutting Dirk's championship window for a future player that may never sign.

Nelson has already taken a decent first step in the gentrification of the now run down Mavs in negotiating the signing of PG Jose Calderon. If Carlisle will play Calderon (and not screw him to the bench for playing mediocre defense), Calderon can do a lot of the things Jason Kidd did for the Mavericks --- including lead a team, execute an efficient end of game offense, and hit open 3 pointers.

Dallas is reportedly looking at Andrew Bynum. I think he has made his money and has a lot of dog in him.  To me, the pursuit of Bynum reminds me of teams chasing Stanley Roberts and Eddy Curry.  I think it isn't worth doing if it precludes the acquisition of another center.

There are lots of solid options out there.  In addition to Pekovic and Hansbrough, it would be worth considering a re-acquisition of Houston PG Jeremy Lin (who may be significantly better another year down the road from his injury). Re-signing Anthony Morrow and Brandan Wright makes sense.

I'd say Dallas would be smart to consider re-signing Corey Brewer as a backup swingman and defensive stopper (if Carlisle has come around on him now).  I think they need to acquire a competent veteran center who can play some good defense like Houston's Omer Asik, Pheonix's Marcin Gortat, or Washington's Emeka Okafor.  Something like that that gets the Mavs at least 7-8 deep and would make them a chippy but solid underdog --- exactly what they need to be to be a playoff threat again.