ESPN Milwaukee Blogs - Jim McIlvaine
The hashtag I use on Twitter is #ConferenceChaos because I couldn't think of anything else that started with a "C" that describes what is going on in college sports right now. Even though Cincinnati, UConn & South Florida seemed to think they were "safe" because they have football at their schools, they now seem to be left swinging in the wind, wondering if any football conference that matters will open their doors to them.
When I read this Sporting News story that mentioned the possibility of those schools forming a new, nationwide conference, I noticed that Duke and Wake Forest were both cited as being "vulnerable" as the turbulent seas of college football continue to swirl. Is it so hard to believe that schools so iconically known for their association with the ACC could someday find themselves in such a tight spot and on the outside looking in? Ask the folks in Storrs, Connecticut.
When Wake Forest looks at itself as a university, what does it see in common with the other schools in the ACC or FBS? Does it have more in common with the Catholic 7 (or the "Big Priest" as I like to call it)?
Let's take a closer look at their football program. Douglas Clyde "Peahead" Walker was born in 1899. He played minor league baseball for 11 seasons, before taking a job as the manager of the Snow Hill Billies of the Class D Coastal Plains League in 1937. That same year, he was also hired to coach Wake Forest's football team. While it may seem like a stretch to have a former baseball player coaching a college football team, Peahead turned out to be a rockstar amongst Wake Forest football coaches.
In Peahead's 14 seasons with Wake Forest, he had an overall winning percentage of .597, making him the winningest football coach in Wake Forest history (77 wins) and the last football coach to leave with a winning record at Wake. He retired when Harry S. Truman was President of the United States in 1950.
In the 60+ years since Douglas Clyde retired, Wake has not managed to find a coach who could leave with a winning record, although current coach Jim Grobe, is knocking on the door at 73-74. Still, in 110 seasons, Wake Forest's football program has only managed to win 41.2% of it's games.
Arkansas State, Fresno State, Hawaii, Houston, Montana, Nevada-Reno, Toledo and Troy all have more former players on active NFL rosters than Wake Forest. Let's face it- football is not Wake Forest's bag, baby! It never has been and with the way things are shaping up in college football, it never will be. Is football still worth supporting at Wake Forest?
Ron Wellman is the longest-tenured athletic director in the ACC and he has been quoted as saying, "Our mission statement is to excel in everything we do, because we have the resources to embrace that." If that is the case, I'd be interested in knowing their definition of "excel" as it relates to their football program.
Sometimes what is not written on Wikipedia is as interesting as what is written. In the Athletics section for Wake Forest University, someone has decided to note that the school's basketball programs are, "generally regarded as a competitive program." The same was not said of the football program.
In fact, many of Wake Forest's other sports programs are actually very competitive. Former Wake Forest basketball coach, Skip Prosser, used to joke at press conferences that he was, "just trying to build a program our field hockey team can be proud of," noting the fact that Wake Forest at the time was best known for their field hockey team, which has won multiple national championships.
Their golf program has also won national championships and has a roster of former players that includes Arnold Palmer, Laddy Wadkins, and Curtis Strange and their men's and women's soccer teams are regulars in the NCAA tournament.
Wake's other sports line up fairly well with everyone in the Big East with three notable exceptions- baseball, women's field hockey and LaCrosse. I haven't verified, but if I had to guess, Women's Field hockey was likely added to balance out the scholarships between men's and women's sports under Title IX. Wake's program is storied and they'd probably like it to continue.
Looking at their schedule from last season, it appears as if they already play mostly schools outside the ACC, so it seems feasible that they continue doing that going forward. Dropping football might also allow them to add LaCrosse, which is a sport growing in popularity and would help with scheduling with the other seven schools. I view baseball very much like hockey, where the conference affiliation of the rest of the sports doesn't really matter.
But what about the tobacco road rivalry? In an honest moment, Wake Forest folks might admit they probably don't make the top-two rivals list of most folks at North Carolina, Duke or NC State. Still, the rivalry does exist, but I don't know that moving to a different conference would necessarily compromise that. Different conference affiliations has never hurt the rivalry amongst the Philadelphia schools, which is considered one of the best multi-school rivalries in all of college sports.
There are a couple of other really interesting reasons for Wake Forest to consider dropping football and joining the Big East Catholic schools-
Perhaps the most-interesting reading I've done in all of this are the comments made by Wake Forest's Athletic Director, Ron Wellman, about conference realignment. In answering the question about whether the ACC will survive, Wellman quotes the Athletic Directors from both North Carolina and Virginia, as well as the President of Georgia Tech.
All three of those quotes basically say the ACC rocks, we love the ACC and we're not going anywhere. The paragraph after those comments would've been the appropriate spot for Wellman to say something to the effect of, "ditto." That didn't happen.
While Wellman did think the ACC would be fine going forward, he didn't take the opportunity to say anything about Wake Forest being excited to be a part of the ACC's future or anything else of the sort. Does that mean Wellman is thinking the same things I am?
For many, Tulane's entrance into and Louisville's departure from the Big East signaled the proverbial shark jump for the conference. Some have said the writing has been on the wall for a while and they are right- it's been on the wall since Marquette joined the Big East. Everyone knew the football schools would make a break, it was just a question of when.
Now that it is all coming down, questions are flying around about how things will shake out when the dust settles. Homer and I took to the task of creating our own conference on the plane ride down to Gainsville, which I will share with you here. Before I get into that, let's take a look at the D1 Catholic basketball schools that should politely move to Division II status, based on the premise of the Homer 256 and their total lack of competitiveness at the D1 level-
Schools on notice that they need to shape up or ship out would include Fordham and Sacred Heart.
With that in mind, let's take a look at who is left to choose from, starting with the most-likely suspects. Marquette & DePaul are natural travel partner schools (ala Pac-10) and make sense for two slots. In that same line of thinking, the same can be said for St. Louis and Creighton, as well as Seton Hall and St. John's and Xavier and Dayton. That brings us to eight schools.
We'd obviously want to include Villanova, Providence and Georgetown as well, bringing us to 11 schools. This is where it gets trickier, as the trend seems to be heading toward larger conferences (will the Big Ten and ACC merge?). Butler is an obvious target to go to 12 schools, but if you go for more, which schools would be on the list?
Idealists would like to think that Notre Dame would stick with the other Catholic schools, but I don't think that will happen. I do think Richmond and George Mason are possibilities that could move to 14. Does adding schools like George Washington, Evansville or Valpo add any value to such a conference or is it better to look to the West?
There are a fair number of decent Catholic, basketball-only schools out West, but that is a haul to any of them, especially when you factor in non-revenue sports (basically everyone but men's basketball). Gonzaga is at the top of the heap in recent years, but has no nearby travel partner. Seattle & Portland are the closest, but they're a fair ways away.
It might be better for the schools out West to do their own thing, even if it means a smaller conference. The Catholic schools could include St. Mary's, Gonzaga, Portland, Loyola Marymount, Seattle, San Diego and San Francisco. While some might ask about Santa Clara, I think they should join Canisus and St. Peter's in DII. Aside from the Steve Nash years, they've been pretty awful for a long time. The West Coast basketball conference could always snag a few non-Catholic schools to round out their conference.
Maybe a 14-school conference is the right number for basketball-only? If it were, it could look something like this:
This obviously leaves out several Catholic schools, including Manhattan, St. Bonaventure, St. Francis (NY), St Joe's (PA), Holy Cross, LaSalle, Loyola (MD), Siena, Fairfield, Duquesne, Detroit, Iona and Niagara. Would you want to replace any of the 14 I've chosen with any of those 13? (check their RPIs, attendance numbers, market sizes, proximity to other schools and commitment to being competitive before answering). Throw in one of the really bad Catholic schools, like St. Peter's and those other schools could have their very own 14-team conference.
Would you like to poke holes in my analysis? Share them with me on my Facebook page.
A quick Google news search for "Duke Basketball" today reveals a ho-hum story about the team receiving iPads for the upcoming season and even some false claims that they were the first to do so. Marquette players received iPads in December of 2010 and if you saw the video of Coach Cal touring the new Kentucky
basketball general student dorms, you can imagine the Wildcats probably loaned their prototypes back to Steve Jobs for pre-production testing.
Was Duke's use of iPads really worth mentioning in the news? If you are Duke, it is absolutely critical for one very specific reason- Lance Thomas. If you haven't started following college basketball news yet, then you may have missed the story that surfaced a few weeks ago about Thomas, the former Duke Blue Devil, who allegedly purchased nearly $100,000 worth of jewelry while he was a student-athlete at Duke and somehow managed to scrape up enough per diem to drop a $30,000 down payment while playing for a team that would go on to win a national championship.
Thomas recently settled the lawsuit brought by the jeweler, who sued him for not paying the remaining amount owed, which allowed just about everyone in Duke nation to breathe a sigh of relief, as the settlement effectively slammed the door in the face of any NCAA investigation into the scandal that could've cost Duke a national title. However, that story still permeates search results and Duke needed to do something to start the burying process before the start of the basketball season.
What might seem like a feel-good story about student-athletes embracing new technology to enhance their educational and athletic experience could actually be an elaborate digital smoke screen, launched by Duke's PR machine to bury Lance Thomas-related stories in search engine results. If that is the case, everyone who picked up this story just got used by the Blue Devils.
I love me some bacon and I love road trips. That being the case, I'm quite envious of Josh Sankey, who has managed to combine two of my favorite things into one epic journey. Sankey somehow talked Oscar Mayer into giving him 3,000 bricks of their new Butcher Thick Cut bacon, which he will then use in trade, to travel from New York to Los Angeles. If it weren't for the cool road trip aspect of it, I'd probably just stay in New York until my arteries seized up.
So far, Sankey has managed to score two tickets to a Jets game for six bricks of bacon and he's since made his way down to Maryland. I've extended an offer to exchange fuel and/or a night's stay in Southeastern Wisconsin, if he wants to throw some bacon bricks my way. If anything comes of it, I'll be sure to post it here.
My blog gets kind of quiet in the summertime, doesn't it? It's certainly not because I'm lounging out in the sun, relaxing the days away. I'm typically up to my eyeballs in car stuff and this summer, more than many in the past, I will be spending a lot of time around NHRA drag races. My work with OPTIMA Batteries will send me to at least a half dozen of these events before the basketball season starts up again and I would definitely encourage everyone to add attending an NHRA race to their bucket list.
Even from the grandstands, the force these cars hit you with is unlike anything you could experience in any other form of racing. They literally slam your body with sound waves that feel like a small earthquake.
The Top Fuel cars (like the one pictured above) will consume nearly 15 gallons of nitromethane fuel (at about $35 per gallon) just to cover just 1,000 feet in less time than it took you to read this sentence. The races may happen in nearly a blink of an eye, but the science behind the sport is really fascinating.
Did you know Top Fuel dragsters have no transmission or radiator? Did you know a Top Fuel car's supercharger robs the car of more than 600 horsepower, but helps create more than 8,000? The way these machines are able to barely hold themselves together for less than four seconds is simply amazing and requires the entire engine to be re-built in between runs, which only takes about 40 minutes.
Recently, Car & Driver magazine and Popular Mechanics teamed up with David Grubnic and Kalitta Motorsports to explain how Top Fuel dragsters work and the subject of their YouTube video was the OPTIMA Batteries Top Fuel dragster. If you'd like to see a really informative, step-by-step explanation for what goes into these cars and what happens during a typical run, be sure to check out this fantastic video. It will give you a whole new appreciation for what goes into these races.
If someone went to the foul line and made 20 of 22 free throws, would it be a coincidence? Probably not. If someone shoots nearly 91% from the foul line, there is a good chance luck has little to do with their proficiency. However, that is exactly what David Stern and the NBA would like you to believe about the NBA playoffs. They want you to believe everyone who puts together a talented team and works hard has a chance to win an NBA championship and they do. What they don't mention, is that outside of the Bulls, Lakers and teams from tax-free states, everyone else only has a 9% chance of winning an NBA championship, including Kevin Durant's
Seattle Supersonics Oklahoma City Thunder.
As I've mentioned on this blog many times before, there are ten NBA teams with a competitive disadvantage over the other 20. Those teams are located in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Texas, Florida and Memphis. They have an advantage over the other 20 teams, because they offer either a major market or an income tax-free state for free agents on the move. How much of an advantage is it for these teams? Nine out of ten (90%) made the playoffs this year, with only Houston missing the cut, while only seven of the remaining 20 (35%) NBA teams were good enough to make the playoffs
Even though Miami was the only such team to make it past the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs, the odds were on their side. In the last 21 seasons, NBA championships have been won by the Lakers, Bulls or teams from Texas or Florida every year but two (Celtics and Pistons). With the Heat's win last night, the advantage moves to 20 for 22.
So what made the Thunder so good in a league dominated by teams that have a decided advantage in the free agent market? They drafted Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. OKC was lucky to sign extensions for both players, just as Cleveland was lucky to do the same with LeBron. However, I predict the end result will likely be the same. OKC will be very good, but they will have a very hard time winning a championship.
Eventually, their star players will see the same light every other great NBA player has seen in the last 25 years (except John Stockton) and they will head to one of the major markets or tax-free states to chase a championship.