Archive for September, 2016

Best Plan for the Big 12: Dissolution

September 29, 2016

by John “The 228” Furgele

Next month, the Big 12 will meet to decide if the conference should expand. This has been an ongoing circus; something the Big 12 absolutely loves.   The conference from top-to-bottom is quite weak, but expansion talk is keeping it relevant off the field because the on-field product has been struggling.

There are many rumors and many stories as to what the Big 12 will do. At first, it looked like the conference was going to add two teams, then four. Recently, reports say that the conference will vote NOT to expand and others say that conference might even dissolve. If they do expand, who should be invited? It appears that Houston would be prudent, but the non-Texas schools are afraid that Texas high-schoolers will choose Houston over Oklahoma State or Oklahoma.   Playing in Houston is a lot more glamorous than playing in Waco, or worse, Lubbock.

BYU is rumored to be a front runner and football-wise, they would be the most competitive. They can beat Power 5 schools right now and even though it was 1984, the university does have a national championship on its mantle.   But, there are issues with their candidacy. They are a religious school, they don’t play athletic contests on Sundays and the school’s Honor Code is said to be discriminatory against the LBGT population.  Those are serious obstacles, but ones that can be overcome.

Cincinnati is dying to join and everybody trots out that the Bearcats would give West Virginia a travel partner even though schools have never had those. After these three, there are the directional Floridas and other suspects, but the best option might be the third one from above and that would be dissolution.

The Big 12 is an aforementioned Power 5 conference, but is it? They do have two marquee teams in Texas and Oklahoma. Those two would be coveted by the other four conferences.   The Longhorns and Sooners are historical teams and are very important to the current blueprint of college football.   The rest of the teams don’t bring much cache. In fact, Kansas and Iowa State are atrociously bad. Kansas might be the worst Power 5 team in the land, so how do they make the Big 12 viable? Yes, they are great in basketball, but this is about football, and the Jayhawks are very bad each and every year.

Iowa State is only slightly better. The Cyclones would be a mid-pack finisher in the Missouri Valley Conference of the Football Championship Subdivision, so why should they remain a Power 5 team?  This season, they lost to Northern Iowa and it wasn’t the first time the Panthers won in Ames.

As for Kansas State, once Bill Snyder leaves, the Wildcats will go back to irrelevance. Snyder did an amazing job building the program—it might be the greatest coaching job in the history of college sports—but when he retired the first time, the program languished. The university begged him to come back to restore order and he did so, but he can’t coach there forever.  There was a time when the Kansas-Kansas State was a battle to see which team would win one game.

Dissolving the Big 12 gets the football schools closer to their dream which is four 16-team conferences with eight total divisions.  Each would have a conference championship game and the winners would automatically qualify for the College Football Playoff.  By then, the CFP will have eight teams and the playoffs would be epic. Dissolving the Big 12 makes college football stronger.  The good teams would move to a Power 4 conference, while the KU’s and ISU’s would find a conference better suited for them to be competitive.  And, it would finally force Notre Dame to abandon its longstanding independence.  Financially, Notre Dame is flourishing as an independent, but it really isn’t fair to the other schools, and even less fair to the players.  How does Notre Dame recruit against schools that can tell a player that they play for conference championships AND national championships?  At 1-3, the Irish really are done in terms of playing high profile games at the end of the year.  They won’t make the CFP; they won’t play in a New Year’s Six bowl game and if they’re lucky, they’ll finish 7-5 and play in the Pinstripe Bowl.  The Big Ten conference is waiting for them and Texas to get them up to 16 schools.

The SEC would then scoop up the Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, one blueblood and one good program.  If the SEC can have Mississippi and Mississippi State, it certainly can handle the Oklahomas.

The ACC would need two schools and they would add Cincinnati (from the American) and would take West Virginia. Both are solid in football and basketball and would help the conference going forward.  There would be some old Big East nostalgia with Cincy, Louisville, Syracuse, West Virginia and Pittsburgh all back together, possibly forever.

The PAC 12 would have to become the PAC 16 (kudos to them for being the only conference to change its name to reflect the actual number of teams that it has).  They would have the toughest time, but they would want Houston and BYU.  Reluctantly, they would add Texas Tech and Baylor, but they also added Utah so it’s not as bad as it might seem.  BYU would definitely add some flavor to the Pac 16.  They have a hated rival in Utah and would also have private school brethren with Baylor and Stanford.

Kansas, Kansas State and Iowa State are going to be demoted, but hope is not lost.  All three will join the American Athletic Conference and the result would be a very solid league.  The American would lose Cincinnati and Houston, but with these three and Navy they would have 13 football schools and 12 schools for basketball.  They would hold their own in football and would be a serious player in basketball with Connecticut, Temple, Memphis, SMU and the others.  One would think adding Massachusetts (currently an independent) makes sense, giving the league 14 football schools and 13 for others.

Army would be the only independent left and given their unique characteristics, they should be able to survive as one.  Army has the toughest requirements and because of that, accommodations should be made.  The Knights tried Conference USA in the late 1990s and it didn’t go well.  Navy wanted to join the American and they have succeeded, much like Air Force has in the Mountain West.  But, Army is different.  They are an eastern school and many of their eastern foes play at the FCS level.  Let Army play two to three FCS schools each year and then schedule schools from the Power 4 and the Group of 5 as they see fit.  If they win seven games, put them into a bowl game and let them enjoy it.

There it is, the complete overhaul of college football.  64 schools in four power conferences.  The Big 12, like the Southwest Conference would be a lasting memory, but would no longer masquerade as a power football conference. They won’t be missed and college football would be better going forward.



The Massachusetts Minutemen: A Team to Love

September 13, 2016

by John Furgele (Always the 228)

One thing I love about college football is that personally, I really don’t have a favorite team.  In most games, I choose a side, but I am not a die-hard of one particular team.  That makes Saturdays easy for me as I can sit back and watch relatively stress-free.

That said there are some teams I would like to see do well.  I grew up in suburban Buffalo; so naturally, I would like to see the Buffalo Bulls succeed.  They play in the MAC and for the most part, go relatively unnoticed by sports fans in WNY.  Buffalo is a small city, a cozy city; a city than bonds behind its sports teams.  In Buffalo, that means the Bills and the NHL Sabres.  The Bulls play at 29,000 seat UB Stadium, a concrete jungle that is as far away from intimate as a stadium can get.  It’s functional, but WNY sports fans will continue to support the pro teams regardless of how well the Bulls perform.  There are some in WNY that feel that the University at Buffalo would be better served playing at the FCS level because fan support will never rise to the level that FBS teams need and require.

Another team I root for is the University at Albany.  Since 2001, I have lived in the Albany area and it has always been my belief that one should support the local teams.  You don’t have to be a die-hard, but you shouldn’t root against them unless you graduated from the school’s archrival.

I also root for Army for obvious reasons.  Their players love the United States more than they love football.  That’s commendable.  In most games, they are undersized compared to their opponents.  For some reason, they can’t beat Navy anymore (14 straight losses), but something tells me the streak will stop soon.  I don’t root against Navy, but for some reason, I don’t always root for them.  And, I always take Army in the Army-Navy game.

But, if there is one team that we all should root for it is the Massachusetts Minutemen or UMass as they are commonly called.  Why?

For one, they are the team without a country…in this case a conference.  Some of that is their doing, some of it is not.  UMass is playing 2016 and the foreseeable future as an independent, and while BYU, Notre Dame and Army have chosen to be independents, UMass has not.  They were members of the Mid American Conference but the MAC wanted UMass to be a member in all sports, something they didn’t want to do.  And, you can’t blame them.  They play basketball in the Atlantic 10, a very solid league that sends multiple teams to the NCAA tournament.  The MAC is a decent conference, but it is a one-bid only league.

The MAC kicked out the Minutemen, so here they are, scrambling to find 12 opponents each and every year.  One might think there would be benefits to being able to call your own shots, but the great thing about being in a conference is you get 8 or 9 automatics when it comes to your schedule.  It is much easier to schedule three or four nonconference games than 12.

UMass is not only is conference-less, they also have a stadium quandary.  When the Minutemen were one of the best FCS teams in the country, Alumni Stadium was more than satisfactory to play in.  With 17,000 seats everybody knew that games against Villanova, Delaware and New Hampshire would draw well, but 17,000?  No way.  Now that they’re members of the FBS, there are requirements and having a 17,000 seater is not in compliance.  As a result, UMass is playing three home games at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough with the other three in Amherst.  That sounds okay, right?  Wrong.  The distance between Amherst and Foxborough is 93 miles and while die-hard fans might make the drive, how many students want to get on a bus for a 186 mile round-trip to see a team that continues to struggle?  Students like to drink before games and often, they like to leave games early to start drinking again.  Waiting to game’s end and then riding on a bus for 93 miles is more than a buzzkill.

Another reason?  The faculty at UMass is against them.  If it were up to them, the Minutemen would go back to the FCS or drop football altogether.  How can you not root for this team?  They have no conference, no one place to play and no support from the professors and the faculty senate.  When I was young, I rooted for Northwestern because they had lost 34 straight games.  My dad said I should pursue politics because I root for the underdogs.  I think if my dad was alive today, he would be supportive of me rooting for UMass and would probably root for them as well.

The last and final reason to root for the Minutemen is their schedule.  Because 12 games isn’t enough torture, UMass gets a 13th in 2016 thanks to playing at Hawaii. They opened at Florida, hosted Boston College (both losses) and even though there are few “easier touches,” by and large, it is a tough slate of games.

9/17:                Florida International

9/24:                Mississippi State

10/1:                Tulane

10/8:                @Old Dominion

10/15:              Louisiana Tech

10/22:              @South Carolina

10/29:              Wagner (FCS school)

11/5:                @Troy

11/19               @BYU

11/26:              @Hawaii

UMass doesn’t even get their bye week until November 12 and by then the injuries will have piled up.  The Minutemen are playing schools from the ACC, Sun Belt, SEC, American, Northeast, a fellow independent and a Mountain West team. As Jim MacKay used to say, that is spanning the globe to find a constant variety of teams.

Hopefully, there will come a day when things get sorted out and UMass will find a conference to play football in.  Notre Dame doesn’t need a conference, Army and BYU are surviving without one, but conventional wisdom says that UMass would benefit from being on one.  Last spring, the Sun Belt kicked out Idaho and New Mexico State effective after the 2017 season.  Idaho decided to move down to the FCS and go back to the Big Sky conference while NMSU is still contemplating what to do.

I’m not sure what UMass will end up doing, but if you can’t root for the Minutemen then you really have no compassion as well as no heart.