(Hopefully) good sports essays and observations for good sports by a guy who tries (and can sometimes fail) to be a good sport.


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Sunday, November 28, 2010

Miami, Seeking to Get its Mojo Back, Fires Randy Shannon

The U is capital "U" Upset. Apparently, head football coach Randy Shannon wasn't cutting it, so the U fired him yesterday after a 7-5 season. It's been a down year for college football in Florida all around, as none of Miami, Florida or Florida State made even a small dent in the BCS conversation this year. And, if you're a Hurricanes' diehard, you have to be asking yourself the following question: "Boise State? TCU? Oregon? Auburn? What have they got on the U?"

It's a good question, and those who study change and the history of it can offer many theories why many of the traditional powers are not on the scene this year. Texas has had a frightful year. Pac-10 teams were licking their chops at the chance to play USC, whose strategy of being a step ahead of the regulators finally failed. Penn State, Notre Dame and Michigan aren't dominating the national conversation either and the first two haven't for quite some time. Oklahoma has been at the tail end of the BCS conversation, as have Ohio State and Nebraska, but all told those who have been in conversation regarding national championships (going back to possible splits between the UPI and AP polls) aren't dominating. Among those not dominating -- the U.

I haven't studied this carefully if at all, but will offer some suggestions based upon my reading of the sports pages and listening to the pundits:

1. The 85 Scholarship Limit Causes Parity. No longer can the big-time schools recruit outstanding players with as much as a motive to make sure rivals don't get them as to ensure their own excellence. True, having 100+ blue chips makes for a wicked type of meritocracy, ensuring that only the cream rises to the top. But with "only" 85 scholarships, it's tougher for the "name" schools to maintain their perches at the top (there are other reasons that I'll get to). Players don't pan out, they get hurt, they quit or transfer, and then you have to go the junior college route or transfer route to fill in gaps. Put differently, your team's core is smaller, and you have less room for error when recruiting.

2. Those Kids and Parents Today, They've Figured It Out. While there is some trafficking in human capital going on (translated: the SEC scandal within the past 10 years demonstrated that boosters have paid those with influence over a player to steer that player to the booster's school), many parents and kids get over the aura of the guy sitting in the living room and try to get a sense of the school's commitment to their kid. Does the school really want the kid, or are they settling, and, if they're settling, what does it mean in upcoming recruiting classes? What this means is that the kid who might normally say, "Wow, Nick Saban's in the house. . . my house," might also say, "Well, gee, he's also in the house of the remainder of the top 4 linebackers in the country, so I have to be careful." Now, Saban is Saban and almost in a league by himself as a recruiter, but that recruit with more frequency might say, "Hey, Gene Chizik has contacted me more personally than anyone else, and Auburn has a hot hand, they're not recruiting those other three guys, so maybe I ought to go there." Or Iowa, or Boise, or Missouri, somewhere. And the kids are making those decisions, too. Sure, there will be walk-ons whose dream is to play for the state school, but the difference makers are being more selective. This is an interesting change (and I'm speculating that it's taken place), because the kid in my hypothetical has a big ego, wants to play for the best, is a great player because he doesn't doubt himself, so it may be that he takes the bait and goes and excels, or he takes the bait and goes and then gets caught in a numbers game. It just strikes me that more and more players are looking past the coaches who recruit them to the demographics of the entire program. Those who have not done so might be well advised to do so. Still, in the end, some type of shift like this must have taken place to cause the rise of programs like Oregon, Boise State, TCU.

3. Other Schools Are Putting Big Bucks Into Their Programs. Again, Oregon has a huge benefactor in Nike founder Phil Knight, and oilman T. Boone Pickens threw huge bucks at Oklahoma State. The nicer the facilities and support, the more of a lure for great players, who already have a sense of entitlement and want the best of everything. And they can get it at places other than Texas, Oklahoma, the U, Michigan.

Is this all good for college football? Yes, across the board. Schools like Boise State and TCU don't have to be perennial fodder for the big-name schools (heck, they're big-name themselves right now). These schools also offer more opportunities for excellent players to shine, as opposed to be fourth-string in Norman, Austin, Tuscaloosa or Coral Gables. Whether the trend holds in the long-run remains to be seen, because it could be right at this moment that innovations are taking place at other schools that could push the Boises and TCUs out of the national conversation in the next five years.


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