First and 10: Alliance? The SEC ain't worried about no stinkin' alliance
1. I don’t want to get on a soapbox, but …
I’ve had just about enough of this crap.
If Texas and Oklahoma had come to the Big Ten, ACC or Pac-12 and asked to be considered for conference affiliation, any of the three would’ve had the identical response of the SEC:
Is this a trick question?
If Notre Dame suddenly decides it wants to join a conference and asks for affiliation with the ACC, will the Big Ten and Pac-12 suddenly eliminate the ACC from their triple-secret “alliance?”
Or if USC realizes that they, and only they, are the reason the Pac-12 can demand a significant media rights deal – and then decides to take that weighty status to the Big Ten, what then happens to the conference of Legends, Leaders and “spring football?”
Been nice knowing you, ACC and Pac-12. Lose our number.
But because the big, bad SEC said yes to Texas and Oklahoma, because the SEC had the vision to see where college football is headed – we all know damn well you can’t have a billion (or more)-a-year Playoff and not pay players — the remaining Autonomy 5 conferences are going to take their ball and stomp their feet until mean ol’ Greg Sankey says he’s sorry.
Or something like that.
Have we all gone completely mad?
Let me try to explain this in the simplest possible terms: The SEC doesn’t give two farts about an “alliance.”
Or, as one SEC athletic director told me: “Good luck with that thing.”
Translation: no matter the move, the SEC feels it’s covered.
You want to change the dynamics of the College Football Playoff? Great, you’re only financially hurting yourself.
You want to eliminate scheduling nonconference games against us? Great, we’ll increase conference games, play a couple of Group of 5 games and still have a better product.
You want to throw out the idea of Ohio State vs. Clemson in the regular season once every blue moon? Great, we’ve got 8 bluebloods that television loves (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, LSU, Auburn, Texas A&M, Texas, Oklahoma), and we’ll work it so they play each other most every season.
Or as the great sage Mike Tyson once said, “everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.”
Think about this. The Big Ten, Pac-12 and ACC are trying to band together and pull a power play on the SEC while:
— College sports was nearly crushed by the pandemic, which still currently rages throughout the country and will still impact attendance and the ability to generate revenue.
— The college sports amateur model was crushed by the United States Supreme Court, spurning the mouthpiece of the NCAA (see: president Mark Emmert) to declare laissez-faire with respect to a player’s earning ability and rules enforcement – and thereby deferring to individual schools and conferences.
— The name, image and likeness free-for-all has left universities competing against their own players for advertising dollars.
— The Big 12 has been gutted, the remaining 8 universities with a media rights earning power of about one-third of its previous deal of $30 million a year per school – leaving the 2021 NCAA basketball champion (Baylor) and a blueblood hoops school (Kansas) without a Power 5 conference home.
But there are the Big Ten, Pac-12 and ACC, moving full speed ahead, damn the torpedoes – instead of figuring a way to form four conferences from five.
Let’s band together and do everything we can to not schedule games against the SEC, and use a voting block within the College Football Playoff to limit the number of SEC teams and prevent the SEC from controlling the sport!
My god, we’re are literally dealing with children.
Or as another SEC athletic director told me, “You’re building an alliance to limit the number of CFP games … out of spite? Brilliant.”
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Spiteful Three.
The idea of a “voting block” to “slow down” expansion of the CFP is utterly laughable.
If you limit the size and scope of the CFP, you’re limiting the ability of Autonomous 5 conferences (see: the Power 5) to make money off the CFP – thereby limiting the Spiteful Three’s ability to keep their athletic departments afloat in case another uncontrollable catastrophe arrives.
That is fundamental economics, everyone.
But wait, there’s more.
There’s also this notion that the Spiteful Three can ram through a CFP bylaw (because it has 3 votes to the SEC’s 1) that caps the number of teams per conference at 3. That’s if the previous tantrum of limiting the size or implementation of the new 12-team CFP format doesn’t work.
In this iteration, the SEC will never have more than 3 teams in the 12-team tournament. The Big Ten, Pac-12 and ACC, meanwhile, could conceivably combine for 9.
I’m not exactly sure what this means, because there’s not enough Playoff money in the CFP (after everyone in FBS and FCS gets paid, and after players get paid) to help the Pac-12 and ACC get that much closer to the SEC and Big Ten in annual revenue.
That move will, however, leave a stain of illegitimacy on the Playoff if 1 or 2 more deserving SEC teams are passed over — because we need to find a way to get Arizona State in the damn thing (no offense, Sparky).
Best I can tell is the Big Ten is using the Pac-12 and the ACC to help slow down the SEC’s takeover of all things college football. If that’s the case – and if the Big Ten isn’t sharing revenue with the rest of the Spiteful Three (nor should it) – this is the most clever and calculating move Kevin Warren has made as commissioner of the Big Ten.
He has gone from pitching the idiocy of spring football, to using two desperate conferences to strengthen one of the two strongest A5 conferences – without having to add two more mouths to feed.
Now that’s brilliant.
2. Three is the magic number
Let’s break down the one area where the Spiteful Three believe they have an advantage: the scope of the CFP.
“There’s a chance for us to earn some headway there,” one Big Ten athletic director told me.
Full disclosure: When I told the AD I would call the three conferences the Spiteful Three, the response was a quick chuckle, followed by, “We’re all protecting our backsides.”
So here’s the pitch from the Big Ten, ACC and Pac-12: By limiting the SEC to 3 teams in the 12-team Playoff, the Spiteful Three believe they can limit the SEC’s impact on the most important 6 weeks of college football.
Remember, these are the same university presidents and athletic directors who had to sit through a 4-hour national television SEC recruiting pitch during the Alabama vs. LSU BCS National Championship Game in 2011 – the moment that led to the formation of the CFP.
These are the same folks that have had to sit through Alabama (and the SEC) getting every possible benefit of the doubt in BCS and CFP voting because of its reputation, and not being able to combat it on any level. Don’t kid yourself; this has significant recruiting ramifications.
Now the Spiteful Three have an opening (perceived or not), and they’re not about to let it pass – no matter the consequences.
But ramming through a 3-team conference limit not only calls into questions legitimacy of the Playoff, it also – and here’s the key — eliminates the possibility of the Big Ten getting 4 teams in the Playoff, too.
Last I checked, the Big Ten makes more money than the SEC, and isn’t that far behind on the field.
Why in the world would the Big Ten agree to this, you ask?
In a word, leadership. But that’s another story for another time.
By limiting the scope of the CFP, it further diminishes the regular season — especially with the reality that one or more undeserving teams will make the Playoff because it’s already baked into the Playoff recipe.
And what of the Group of 5 schools? If the 3 per conference rule is passed, the 12-team tournament will most certainly be all at-large bids because the Spiteful Three need those nine bids (or maybe eight) to keep pace with the big, bad wolf — potentially eliminating Group of 5 access to the postseason.
Now who looks like the heavy?
3. The shaky coalition
The Big Ten and Pac-12 are natural allies. They’ve been tied at the hip for decades.
The odd man out is the ACC, where new commissioner Jim Phillips has made the decision to detach from the conference the ACC has walked in lockstep with since Mike Slive and John Swofford were running things at the SEC and ACC, respectively.
This is understandable since Phillips is the former athletic director at Northwestern, and undoubtedly trusts those in his former conference. But at what cost?
At play are the four critical rivalry games — Florida-Florida State, Georgia-Georgia Tech, Clemson-South Carolina, Kentucky-Louisville — that are part of the DNA of ACC football, where the outmanned conference can prove on any given Rivalry Weekend that it can compete with Goliath.
I asked ADs on both sides of the aisle, and got near-identical responses.
SEC AD: “I’d be surprised if they did that. Would probably mean less gate and less TV revenue to eliminate those SEC games in favor of playing other conferences.”
ACC AD: “It would be a difficult sell to our fan base. We’re not playing (the rivalry game), but we’re going to play Michigan State? That’s a tough one.”
There is, however, the possibility that the Spiteful Three play the SEC/ACC rivalry games, and focus on playing each other in all other nonconference games.
But that would again be to the detriment of the Big Ten, Pac-12 and ACC. Not everyone in the ACC will have an opportunity to play USC or Ohio State or Michigan. And Clemson surely won’t play more than one of those elite games a season.
More than anything, SEC vs. Pac-12, Big Ten and ACC regular-season games have been strong for television ratings, and are significant selling points in new media rights contract negotiations for the Spiteful Three. Those elite nonconference games are attractive bonuses to media rights companies.
4. The ESPN conundrum
You’d be foolish to think there isn’t a role for ESPN in the now public spat between the Power 5 conferences.
That’s not to say ESPN played a role in Texas and Oklahoma moving to the SEC. The more important point moving forward: Does the ACC, and to a lesser extent, the Big Ten, really want to cause strife between themselves and the largest media rights provider of college football?
The ACC Network is co-owned by ESPN, and ESPN’s media rights deal with the ACC is through 2035-36 season. The Big Ten’s media rights deal is split between Fox and ESPN, and a future potential deal with ESPN could be impacted by a coalition of the three conferences aimed at slowing down the SEC, which ESPN has an all-in investment with beginning in 2024.
Would the Big Ten move away from ESPN and toward CBS (which loses the SEC after the 2023 season)? Remember this: CBS opted out of bidding against ESPN for the SEC when the numbers got too high.
CBS is also desperate to keep the NFL, where its rights expire after the 2022 season.
5. The Weekly Five
Five steps to secure the A5 structure with as little damage as possible:
1. Iowa State and Kansas (both members of the Association of American Universities) join the Big Ten.
2. West Virginia to the ACC (natural rivals with Pitt, Virginia).
3. Texas Tech and Oklahoma State to the Pac-12 (a move into the central time zone eliminates “East Coast Bias” problem).
4. The CFP management council passes a bylaw stating no team can participate in the playoff without conference affiliation.
5. Notre Dame joins the ACC.
6. Your tape is your résumé
An NFL scout breaks down a draft-eligible SEC player. This week: Alabama S Jordan Battle.
“This has been the position where those Alabama guys have really transitioned well to the NFL. Not surprising because (Alabama coach) Nick (Saban) is a former DB coach, and he gets his hands dirty coaching those guys to this day. Battle has the potential to be more like the elite of Alabama safeties like Minkah Fitzpatrick and Landon Collins, and less like Ronnie Harrison. (Battle) has a really good feel for the position, and he’s very fluid. A big hitter, and a guy that loves sticking his nose in the pile. What separates him is his size and his ability to run. He’s solid in coverage, too. One of those rare explosive-type defensive players.”
7. Powered Up
This week’s Power Poll – and the greatest chance to be upset during the season:
1. Georgia: Missouri, Nov. 6. A week after a heavyweight slugfest with Florida – and staring at a potential cakewalk over the final month of the season.
2. Alabama: at Florida, Sept. 18. The first true road game for new QB Bryce Young and revamped receiving corps.
3. Texas A&M: at Ole Miss, Nov. 13. Was postponed and then canceled in 2020, and we never got to see Matt Corral vs. the A&M defense.
4. Florida: at Missouri, Nov. 20. An 11 a.m. local kick, a cold November day and nothing to play for after losing to Georgia and getting eliminated from the East Division race.
5. LSU: at UCLA, Sept. 4. Bruins were playing well at the end of 2020, and QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson is a dynamic threat and the most underrated player in the game.
6. Ole Miss: at Auburn, Oct. 30. Tough road spot against a physical defense one week after an emotional game against LSU.
7. Missouri: at Boston College, Sept. 25. This is where Mizzou coach Eliah Drinkwitz makes his mark. Is this a Missouri team that loses a non-con game it shouldn’t on the road (see: WVU, Wyoming), or a Missouri team that wins games it should win?
8. Auburn: at Arkansas, Oct. 16. Natural letdown sandwich game between home games against Georgia and Ole Miss.
9. Kentucky: at South Carolina, Sept. 25. New offense, new quarterback, start the season with 3 wins and … it’s just how this crazy competitive league works.
10. Arkansas: Georgia Southern, Sept. 18. A week after back-to-back wins over Rice and rival Texas, along comes sneaky good Georgia Southern and a natural letdown.
11. Mississippi State: at Memphis, Sept. 18. After back-to-back winnable games to begin the season (Louisiana Tech, NC State), a trip to Memphis and could finish with each offense in the 40s.
12. Tennessee: South Carolina, Oct. 9. A home game against the struggling Gamecocks -– after back-to-back likely road losses to Florida and Missouri.
13. South Carolina: ECU, Sept. 11. After a feel-good win over Eastern Illinois, the reality of the situation sets in: This isn’t a very good South Carolina team playing on the road for the first time.
13. Vanderbilt: UConn, Oct. 2: Huskies haven’t played since the 2019 season, but the game fits awkwardly between East Division heavyweight punches from Georgia and Florida.
8. Ask and you shall receive
Matt: I keep hearing about how we should be excited by Kentucky. They just named a starting quarterback who couldn’t win the job at the last school he played at. This is supposed to make me excited about the season?
Kevin: While it’s true Will Levis couldn’t win the starting job at Penn State (he held it briefly last year), he was better than most of what UK had on its roster heading into spring practice – then beat out the one player (Beau Allen) who could’ve won the job.
The excitement at Kentucky revolves more around the idea that new OC Liam Coen will bring the offense into the 21st century. Schematically, UK will have more ability in the passing game than any time in the Mark Stoops era.
The sport has moved to a quarterback-centric, downfield passing attack. UK simply couldn’t stay with its plodding, safe, run-first style and hope to play strong defense and win close games.
That all changes this season.
3rd down. Why is this an important year for Auburn QB Bo Nix? In the past 2 seasons, the critical numbers a quarterback must master have been strikingly average to bad for Nix: a 28-13 TD-INT ratio, a paltry 6.7 yards per attempt, and a completion rate of 58%.
It only gets worse on 3rd down: 7 INTs, 5.79 yards per attempt and a completion rate of 53%.
If Nix – who some NFL scouts believe was “square-pegged into a round hole” under former coach Gus Malzahn — doesn’t change under the tutelage of new head coach and highly-regarded QB coach Bryan Harsin, he won’t be around for Year 4.
10. Quote to note
Vanderbilt coach Clark Lea: “It’s important to recognize the fact that in this first iteration of Vanderbilt football, what we affectionately call in our building Team One, the overwhelming majority of players were recruited to a program that no longer exists. We are connected by chance, not so much by choice. So necessarily, there’s a need for process to alignment.”