Archive for March, 2013

Going back to my previous post, the conference realignment has caused a lot of disturbance in the college sports landscape. I talked about a complete scrapping of the current system and breaking it down into the four regional conferences. This would allow for a better football playoff system and even potentially readjust March Madness to fit the new format (though it would not be necessary). So how does that play out…

With four conferences and two divisions per conference, each division could host a team for the playoff. The current BCS could still be used to help identify the ranking between the divisional champions for seeding purposes. Each division would host a championship (like the current conference championships), allowing for each of the teams to be selected without the controversy of questioning the lack of appreciation for teams with perfect records that would arguably deserve more of a consideration for higher bowls games. The evened out talent also helps that cause. If the NCAA chose to, they could also simply do conference championships and a 4-team playoff system.

Time to break down the conferences into their divisions…

West: The most logical breakdown of this conference would allow for states bordering the water. The Pacific would boast some of the great Pac-12 teams, like Oregon, USC and Stanford. With the Mountain division, the Arizona schools and Boise State would be able to help create some great possible match-ups, even with greater presence of the MWC.

  • Pacific: California, Fresno State, Hawaii, Oregon, Oregon State, San Diego State, San Joe State, Stanford, UCLA, USC, Washington, Washington State
  • Mountain: Arizona, Arizona State, Air Force, Boise State, BYU, Colorado, Colorado State, Nevada, UNLV, Utah, Utah State, Wyoming

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South: With a Central division anchored by the states of Oklahoma, Kansas and Arkansas and a Gulf division dominated by Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, this conference has some truly great competition both within the division and the greater conference. The teams a essentially divided between a northern and southern group.

  • Central: Arkansas, Arkansas State, Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri, New Mexico, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas Christian, Texas Tech, Tulsa
  • Gulf: Alabama, Auburn, Baylor, Houston, Louisiana Tech, LSU, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, SMU, Southern Miss, Texas, Texas A&M

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East: The combination of ACC and SEC schools makes this a very entertaining conference, and also finally unites Florida and Florida State in the same division. The east coast has a strong combination of teams that may have a little more strength in the southern schools than the north, but still boasts some possible strong match-ups with Florida, Louisville, Clemson, South Carolina, Virginia Tech and Florida State in the mix.

  • Mid-Atlantic: Duke, East Carolina, Kentucky, Louisville, Maryland, Navy, NC State, UNC, Virginia, Virginia Tech, West Virginia
  • Coastal: Clemson, Florida, Florida State, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Miami, Middle Tennessee State, South Carolina, South Florida, Tennessee, UCF, Vanderbilt

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North: Anchored by the B1G, the dividing line for the divisions is the coastal schools plus Ohio and west of the Great Lakes. Both divisions boast some great talent: Ohio State & Penn State in the New England area and the Michigan schools, Indiana schools and Wisconsin in the Great Lakes division.

  • New England: Army, Ball State, Boston College, Cincinnati, Connecticut, Kent State, Ohio State, Penn State, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, Syracuse, Temple
  • Great Lakes: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Iowa State, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Northwestern, Notre Dame, Northern Illinois, Purdue, Wisconsin

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Even with these divisions (which do divide some of the more classic talents), there would still be opportunities for the teams to meet outside of their divisions. Ohio State-Michigan is still a yearly match-up and could be an additional meeting in the bowl season. Texas-Oklahoma could also meet up between the regular season and postseason. Army, Navy and Air Force could use their non-conference schedules to travel for yearly competition. Arizona might be a little left out with the Pac-12 mostly in the Pacific region but they get match-ups against the best of the MWC (Boise State, BYU, Colorado State and Utah State).

I focused on trying to keep the divisions divided by state (with the exception of Ball State joining the New England division), but there could be a little more separation of teams within states that are not traditional match-ups (like Florida State versus UCF or Tulsa versus Texas Tech).

Using this conference and divisional setup, the most recent year would have had a playoff system at the end of the regular season that ended up like this…

  • #1 v. #8: Notre Dame (BCS #1) v. Kent State (BCS #25)
  • #2 v. #7: Alabama (BCS #2) v. Louisville (BCS #21)
  • #3 v. #6: Florida (BCS #3) v. Boise State (BCS #19)
  • #4 v. #5: Oregon (BCS #4) v. Kansas State (BCS #5)

Keep in mind that Ohio State was on penalty (final BCS #3) and Penn State will also be able to rebuild after another few years. But here would be the re-imagined playoffs based off the actual final standings from this past season…

  • #1 v. #8: Alabama (BCS #1) v. Utah State (BCS #16)
  • #2 v. #7: Oregon (BCS #2) v. Louisville (BCS #13)
  • #3 v. #6: Ohio State (BCS #3) v. Kansas State (BCS #12)
  • #4 v. #5: Notre Dame (BCS #4) v. Georgia (BCS #5)

All of these possibilities are also not taking into account that the ranking would be different with a changed conference and divisional setup that would have also changed the schedules. I would be happy to take any thoughts about this new setup if anyone would like to comment.

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March Madness: 2013 Edition

Posted: March 18, 2013 in Basketball, College

The conference championships are over and the field is set. The tournament is not filled with as many automatics as in the past and there are a number of teams that could pull upsets. The numbers ones are fallible and the number twos have been beaten by teams that did not make the tournament, but that is the best thing about the competitive field.

Starting with the snubs, each of the teams that missed out were only a win or two away from making the field. Maryland had two big wins over Duke and a home win against NC State, but fell three times to UNC and had a very weak non-conference schedule. A win over Kentucky at the beginning of the season and an extra road win in conference would have been better. Virginia had a slightly better placement in the conference and a win over Duke, but their RPI and SOS were also too high. Tennessee may have had the closest argument but failed to get a strong enough record in a weak SEC. Alabama and Kentucky both missed key opportunities in their conference in both the top-50 representatives and early in the conference tournament. Southern Miss is just not in a great conference and lost to Memphis three times, missing a chance to at least take advantage of a power within the conference.

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Now onto the tournament…

314_largeMidwest: Anchoring this region is Louisville, the #1 team of the tournament. With a possible late matchup against Duke, there is a lot of talent in this group. The bulk of the teams in this region seem to be more from the Mid-Majors. Creighton can always be a dangerous team but Memphis is the team to watch out for. The easy prediction would be to say that Louisville can make it out of this region with little challenge. Duke will have to get past both of the Mid-Major powers but will likely not meet up in the region final. There are a number of teams that are vulnerable in this region for beating each other up before meeting with the top 2. Saint Louis and Michigan State are likely upsets early but could make a move if they get a little momentum. Look for Louisville to make the most of their last season in the Big East with more than a conference championship.

233_largeWest: Originally thought to be the outright #1 team, Gonzaga still made it to the big dance with a big position. As the only Mid-Major to get a spot in the top 3 of any region, their road is going to be tough, with possible match-ups with Pitt and Wisconsin before likely meeting Ohio State. Kansas State could be the buster of this region, though Wisconsin/Ole Miss will not be an easy out before meeting the Zags. Notre Dame and Arizona could also be dangerous if they get hot quickly. The top teams in this conference do not have much to worry about as the bottom half are easy outs overall. The strongest team to possibly pull an upset would be Ole Miss, but Gonzaga will likely match up with the Buckeyes or Wildcats as their biggest match-ups.

271_largeEast: Originally sitting at the #1 spot at the start of the season, Indiana is poised to make quite the run. Losing out in their conference semifinal, Zeller and company will be looking for redemption and will have to get passed a couple of teams that really show up come tournament time. Marquette, UNLV and Syracuse are not going to make things easy for Indiana or Miami. In particular, the Orange will look to avenge their conference championship loss with a strong run in the tournament. Probably surprised that they were skipped over for a #1 spot, Miami will be looking to make a statement with a fairly veteran lineup that has been very dangerous. NC State and Butler will also be looking to push against this group, but Indiana will probably rise to the occasion. It may be tempting to pick an upset with Montana and Davidson for their previous success but these are not the same teams.

287_largeSouth: Poised to be the toughest of the regions to get through, Kansas is likely to be in for a real test. After they get passed WKU, they will likely face UNC and have trouble with the 4-guard/shooter lineup. Michigan and VCU will likely make a push as well and face a tough Jayhawk team after a few days rest. On the other half of the region, Georgetown, Florida and UCLA are poised to avoid the early round upsets and meet up with either the Jayhawks, Tar Heels, Rams or Wolverines in the regional final. This is the most exciting region with possible match-ups including UNC-Villanova, Kansas-UNC, Georgetown-Florida, Michigan-VCU and VCU-anyone, if they can get some momentum.

Likely bracket busters include Creighton over Duke (#7 v. #2), New Mexico State over Saint Louis (#13 v. #4), Oregon over Oklahoma State (#12 v. #5), UNC over Kansas (#8 v. #1), Colorado over Illinois (#10 v. #7) and Ole Miss over Wisconsin (#12 v. #5).

The final four is really tough to predict this year, though it is the top half of each region that could fluctuate and all of the #1s and #2s are vulnerable to a tough slate of teams. The finals will probably be Indiana versus Louisville with the Hoosiers claiming their final place atop the college basketball landscape.

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As I have tried to predict and project in the past, most of my recommendations seem to be counter to what is currently happening with the athletics landscape. Rather than be more mindful of the effects by ever-expanding conferences, conference commissioners and their committees seem to be more focused on expanding media networks over supporting a landscape that has more organization and even consideration for a balanced and fair system.

Don’t we want a college football playoff that is fair and balanced and provides opportunities to a number of teams? What about the type of organization (rather than division) that squashes concerns for fair representation, reduced stress on programs financially, reduce pressure on program traveling and maintaining of exciting match-ups and possibilities?

To try to explore this, I have attempted to take the current system and make the pieces fit together by breaking up a specific conference or two and merging the remaining players together. This is actually what currently feels like is happening to the Big East (and possibility relatively soon to the ACC). The problem here is that the conferences feel like they are too overwhelming still and it is not an even distribution of talent or regional area. While it would be nice to consider this from a basketball standpoint as well, I think it is more meaningful to recognize that the market is driven by football and benefited by basketball.

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With this in mind, I will give a reorganization another shot…but, this time, start from scratch.

I first thought about regions. If you break down the country by time zones, the distribution is incredibly imbalanced (34-EST, 25-CST, 8-MDT, 15-PST). Still, this is a great starting point.

For consideration, I have decided to take only the “power” conferences, independents and MWC based on performance and recognition level. If you add up those teams, the final number is 82. An even split to allow for a playoff system would leave each “conference” with 20.5 teams. To get the final numbers to an even level (96 universities), an additional 14 schools would be invited to the final conferences. Also understanding that the team locations are a little imbalanced east versus west, the regions would be adjusted to take this imbalance into account.

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So what would the final conference arrangement look like?

West: Considering that this is the area with the smallest population, this is also the area that may be questionable in terms of expanded talent. Still, some great matchups would still be more than possible. Anchored by the Arizona, California, Colorado, Oregon and Washington schools, it would resemble the current Pac-12 and MWC.

Air Force, Arizona, Arizona State, Boise State, BYU, California, Colorado, Colorado State, Fresno State, Hawaii, Nevada, Oregon, Oregon State, San Diego State, San Jose State, Stanford, UCLA, UNLV, USC, Utah, Utah State, Washington, Washington State, Wyoming

South: Taking pieces of the Pac-12 and the Big 10, the south will mostly be anchored by a combination of the Texas and Arizona schools. Pulling in a little of the SEC, the conference would have a slight challenge with expanse from east to west but would be somewhat managed by a divisional setup.

Alabama, Arkansas, Arkansas State, Auburn, Baylor, Houston, Kansas, Kansas State, Louisiana Tech, LSU, Mississippi State, Missouri, New Mexico, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Ole Miss, SMU, Southern Mississipi, Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Christian, Texas Tech, Tulsa

East: If there is any conference that is typically talked above all others in football, it is the SEC. That is the group that would anchor this conference. Added to the mix would be the core pieces of the ACC, with schools like Miami, Florida State and Clemson to add to the competitiveness.

Clemson, Duke, East Carolina, Florida, Florida State, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Kentucky, Louisville, Maryland, Miami, Middle Tennessee State, Navy, NC State, South Carolina, South Florida, Tennessee, UCF, UNC, Vanderbilt, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest, West Virginia

North: Though not as successful in the past in championship games, a re-imagined combination of the Big East, ACC and B1G would make for quite the competitive conference. This is the area that has the greatest concentration of schools, so this would also be the conference that would include the most states in the smallest overall area.

Army, Ball State, Boston College, Cincinnati, Connecticut, Kent State, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Iowa State, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Notre Dame, Northern Illinois, Northwestern, Ohio State, Penn State, Pittsburgh, Purdue, Rutgers, Syracuse, Temple, Wisconsin

There would be a number of snubs from this list of schools, including Bowling Green, Memphis and Louisiana-Lafayette, the remaining schools have not been able to consistently compete against the stronger programs in Division I-A and cannot argue that they would deserve a spot over most of these other schools. They could make up the remaining conferences/divisions in Division I-A or a new conversation could come up about combining the remaining I-A schools with the I-AA schools.

This is obviously only the start of this format discussion. The next step would be to break down the conferences into divisions and sub-divisions, which would compete for the 8 spots in the playoff system. Look back for the next review of this possible new system.

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So much of my focus with the college realignment with the NCAA has been on the ACC and the B1G because of my connection with Maryland, but some significant news has been brewing for some time about the state of the Big East. Seven Catholic schools have had enough of the realignment and the continued dismantling of the Big East. West Virginia left for the Big 12. Pittsburgh and Syracuse are joining the ACC next season and Louisville is joining the following year. Rutgers is following Maryland to the B1G, while Notre Dame has decided to choose their partial alignment with the ACC. So what is left with the Big East?

That was the very question asked by the Catholic 7 (Georgetown, Depaul, Villanova, Marquette, Providence, Seton Hall and St. John’s). These are not major football schools, but their mission statements and athletic foci are in alignment. Seeing the writing on the wall, they connected and talked with the current commissioner about a division. The agreement is all but finished. It is inevitable. The Big East is…not dead?

The Catholic 7 are going to be their own conference and slowly add in similar colleges, including Xavier, Dayton, St. Louis, Butler and Creighton over the next two years. The poaching will continue, as they look to get their conference up to the 12 teams needed for a conference tournament champion that would arguably be competitive with the power conferences. Not only are the Catholic 7 getting the chance to leave so quickly, but they get 2 additional prizes…the Big East name and their conference tournament in Madison Square Garden. This leave the current remaining teams in the Big East without a name or consistent identity.

The remaining teams after all of the other transition (UConn, Cincinnati and South Florida) are looking to add a very wide array of teams to fill the gaps, including East Carolina, Houston, Memphis, SMU, Temple, Tulane and Central Florida. The get their numbers up to 12, they are also looking to add Tulsa and Navy. With less of a consistent identity than the other conferences (big institution type or region), the current name being tossed around is America 12. It is difficult to think that these teams are excited about the hodgepodge nature they have been thrown together and have to be concerned about other poaching or moves. UConn wanted desperately to move to the ACC but Louisville was taken instead. They could try to make another play, and there is always the possibility of the B1G to go after UVA and/or UNC, causing the ACC to poach other teams from the Big East/America 12.

The fate of the Big East/America 12 is still yet to be written, but there will be more moves and surprises within the next year to bring this question to light.

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Maryland’s decision to accept the invitation to the B1G was met with a lot of animosity. Duke and the ACC board have all but abandoned the Terps, claiming that the move lacks appreciation for the conference they helped develop. While that point cannot be argued, the Terps were put in a tough position. The major programs have not been performing at a level that demands the media and $$$ attention, leading to the dissolution of several smaller athletic programs. Support for the athletic program is there, but other conferences have been making moves to position themselves for more longevity through television contracts and other mergers. While I am not fully in support of leaving the ACC, I am starting to come back around on the excitement level for a few significant reasons:

State of College Basketball: It could be argued that leaving the ACC is a puzzling move, particularly with the slow dissolution of the Big East. On the other hand, the B1G has proven that they are able to compete and are currently one of the best conferences with the best chance of sending the most teams deep into March Madness. There are currently 6 teams that have at least 20 wins and 5 of them are ranked in the top 25. B1G teams are proving that they are competitive and Maryland could slide right in there and actually improve with a new recruiting base. Taking the fight to Indiana, Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin and others on a regular basis still also leaves the possibility for the Terps to get a bragging rights win against an ACC in the Challenge each year. That win could come at the expense of teams like UNC, Virginia or Duke.

Football OpportunitiesThe Terps will not compete within the first few years of the B1G. Their recruiting is not to the level of Ohio State or Michigan, but the ACC is not a powerhouse in football. With other conference realignments potentially going after teams like FSU, Clemson and UNC, the limited talent of the ACC could still be at risk. Louisville improved the ACC’s position slightly, but not much more than Maryland’s departure. It will all come down to two things: the short-term success of Randy Edsall to take advantage of his opportunity to turn the program around and the long-term opportunity for the school to live up to the reputation of B1G football.

Lacrosse Leaders: Maryland will be bringing a major change to B1G lacrosse. Currently, there are not enough teams in the conference to get recognized at a national level. There are strong teams that cannot get the same recognition without an established conference league. Not only is Maryland bringing the organization to the conference, but they will also be able to assert themselves as a frontrunner to lead the conference (at least during their initial installation in the conference).

Media $$$ and Growth: Assuming the school can get beyond the high price tag for leaving the ACC, Maryland has a chance to bring back a couple of the lost programs and eventually return all of them to the campus. In addition, the Terps could use the media contract to expand some of their current major programs to battle the problems of competitiveness.

Academic Boosts: The move to the B1G means joining the B1G consortium, meaning collaborations and research opportunities.

There are still some major hurdles for the Terps to get over (exit $$$, transition issues and encouraging the fan base), but this is a change we as Terp Nation will have to get used to.

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