With less than a month to go until football season begins, an odds-on look at Week 0 and Week 1

Please note: the information contained in this post is for entertainment purposes only. Use of this information in violation of any city, county, state, federal, international, interplanetary, or interdimensional laws is prohibited.

I’m basically going to do three things in this post: take a look at the sizable number of “lopsided” early-season contests; compare Massey Ratings projected game scores with early lines for various games of interest; and make a list of the best opening weekend (and pre-opening weekend) matchups.

Why am I doing this? Well, why not?

Lines are courtesy of an offshore site to be named later.

There are 136 contests in Weeks 0 and 1 that feature at least one Division I team. Among them are 44 FBS vs. FBS games; of those, 11 are games between Power-5 conference teams, 9 are Group of 5 matchups, and 24 are games in which a P5 team is playing a G5 opponent.

There are also 48 FBS vs. FCS matchups, 26 FCS vs. FCS contests, and 18 games in which FCS teams face non-D1 opposition.

Of those 136 games, 36 have an early-line spread of 30 points or more.

The breakdown of those 36 matchups:

  • FBS vs. FBS: 6
  • FBS vs. FCS: 18
  • FCS vs. FCS: 4
  • FCS vs. non-D1: 8

It’s not great that more than 26% of the D-1 games which take place prior to and through the Labor Day weekend are projected to be that one-sided. Of course, it could be argued that this is the best time for these matchups, given that the general football-loving public is starved for live gridiron action of any kind, no matter the blowout potential.

As of August 1, the largest point spread for any D-1 game in this time period is the Florida A&M-Arkansas contest on August 31, a Thursday night affair in Little Rock. The Razorbacks are favored by 51.5 points. Two games have 51-point spreads, Bethune-Cookman vs. Miami (the homestanding Hurricanes are favored, just to state the obvious) and an all-FCS matchup, Mississippi Valley State vs. North Dakota State (with the host Bison expected to prevail).

The biggest road favorite is Washington, favored by 30.5 points at Rutgers. Stanford plays Rice at a neutral site (Sydney, Australia); the Cardinal are 31.5-point favorites.

The other four FBS vs. FBS matchups with a spread of 30+ points: UTEP-Oklahoma (44 points, the largest spread in an all-FBS game), Kent State-Clemson (38.5 points), Georgia Southern-Auburn (35 points), and Akron-Penn State (33 points). To the surprise of no one, the home teams are all favored.

The other three FCS vs. FCS games with 30+ point spreads: Butler-Illinois State (36 points), Valparaiso-Montana (34 points; apologies to Adam Amin), and Delaware State-Delaware (33 points). Again, home teams are the favorites.

In the table below, I’ve included every FBS/FCS game in Week 0 (eight games played on August 26, and one on August 27), and a sampling of contests from Week 1 (August 31 through September 4). Just to reiterate, not every D-1 game from Week 1 is listed.

The first nine games in the table are from Week 0.

Favorite Underdog Line Massey Differential
Colorado State Oregon State 3.5 34-31 0.5
BYU Portland State 32.5 44-13 1.5
Florida A&M Texas Southern 1.5 26-24 -0.5
Jacksonville State Chattanooga 6.5 28-26 4.5
Cal Poly Colgate 7 35-31 3
USF San Jose State 20 41-31 10
Stanford Rice 31.5 38-7 0.5
Sam Houston State Richmond 6.5 38-34 2.5
Hawai’i Massachusetts 1 33-31 -1
Wake Forest Presbyterian 39 35-0 4
Toledo Elon 37.5 43-7 1.5
Georgia State Tennessee State 18 38-17 -3
Arkansas Florida A&M 51.5 52-3 2.5
Mercer Jacksonville 21 42-21 0
Samford Kennesaw State 7.5 38-30 -0.5
Towson Morgan State 28 35-7 0
Oklahoma State Tulsa 17 42-33 8
Ohio State Indiana 20.5 31-17 6.5
Army Fordham 15.5 40-24 -0.5
Eastern Michigan Charlotte 12.5 35-27 4.5
Navy Florida Atlantic 13.5 42-28 -0.5
Colorado Colorado State 7 35-28 0
Clemson Kent State 38.5 44-3 -2.5
Texas Maryland 16.5 34-27 9.5
Oklahoma UTEP 44 49-13 8
North Carolina California 12.5 42-32 2.5
Villanova Lehigh 6.5 28-22 0.5
Pittsburgh Youngstown State 14 40-24 -2
North Carolina State South Carolina 5.5 28-17 -5.5
Notre Dame Temple 15 28-24 11
Georgia Appalachian State 14.5 21-18 11.5
Michigan Florida 4 24-20 0
Virginia William and Mary 19.5 33-14 0.5
North Dakota State Mississippi Valley State 51 52-0 -1
Texas Tech Eastern Washington 16.5 45-38 9.5
Mississippi State Charleston Southern 18.5 38-21 1.5
The Citadel Newberry 30 37-7 0
Wofford Furman 13.5 26-14 1.5
Gardner-Webb North Carolina A&T 7 28-21 0
Baylor Liberty 30 42-14 2
East Tennessee State Limestone 28.5 35-7 0.5
Auburn Georgia Southern 35 34-13 14
Air Force VMI 31.5 41-10 0.5
Alabama Florida State 7.5 33-21 -4.5
LSU BYU 13 21-7 -1
Southern South Carolina State 2.5 27-24 -0.5
Virginia Tech West Virginia 4 29-26 1
UCLA Texas A&M 3.5 25-28 6.5
Tennessee Georgia Tech 3.5 31-32 4.5

Odds (hey, a pun!) and ends:

  • Not listed: James Madison-East Carolina, which does not have a line at present for some reason. However, Massey projects FCS defending champ JMU to win the game 38-31.
  • Western Carolina’s season opener at Hawai’i also does not have a line (at least, not one that I could find), possibly because the Rainbow Warriors play a game at Massachusetts the week before.
  • The same is true for Coastal Carolina, which opens by hosting the aforementioned Minutemen.
  • Two teams in the table that are favorites (UCLA and Tennessee) are projected to lose by the Massey Ratings.
  • Massey projects several games to be considerably closer than the current lines, notably Appalachian State-Georgia, Maryland-Texas, Eastern Washington-Texas Tech, Temple-Notre Dame, and Tulsa-Oklahoma State.
  • On the other hand, Massey likes North Carolina State and Alabama even more than the offshore folks do.

On his college basketball ratings website, Ken Pomeroy has something called ‘FanMatch’, in which “games are rated for competitiveness and level of play with a lean towards higher-scoring games”. It is a somewhat whimsical way to rate the potential watchability of individual games on a given night.

I’m going to do the same thing here. However, I am purposely not going to rate Newberry-The Citadel, which from my vantage point is the most watchable game of the Labor Day weekend.

Below is a listing of the Week 0/1 games that I consider to be the twenty best in terms of quality/competitiveness. I’ve created a secret formula to produce these game ratings; it is called “Tingle Factor”, or TF. The higher the TF, the better.

Road Team Home Team Gametime (ET) TV/Streaming TF
Alabama Florida State 9/2, 8:00 pm ABC/ESPN3 86.73
North Carolina State South Carolina 9/2, 3:00 pm ESPN 84.20
Tennessee Georgia Tech 9/4, 8:00 pm ESPN 83.90
Virginia Tech West Virginia 9/3, 7:30 pm ABC/ESPN3 83.55
Richmond Sam Houston State 8/27, 7:00 pm ESPNU 80.11
Tulsa Oklahoma State 8/31, 7:30 pm FS1/FS-Go 79.68
Chattanooga Jacksonville State 8/26, 6:30 pm ESPN 75.41
Colorado State Colorado 9/1, 8:00 pm Pac-12 Network 72.15
Oregon State Colorado State 8/26, 2:30 pm CBS Sports Net 72.00
James Madison East Carolina 9/2, 6:00 pm ESPN3 68.44
Temple Notre Dame 9/2, 3:30 pm NBC 67.18
Kennesaw State Samford 8/31, 7:00 pm ESPN3 66.95
Texas A&M UCLA 9/3, 7:30 pm FOX/FS-Go 65.60
Hawai’i Massachusetts 8/26, 6:00 pm TBA 65.47
Maryland Texas 9/2, 12:00 pm FS1/FS-Go 64.19
Eastern Washington Texas Tech 9/2, 4:00 pm FS Nets/FS-Go 64.03
South Carolina St. Southern 9/3, 2:30 pm ESPN2 63.88
Navy Florida Atlantic 9/2, 8:00 pm ESPNU 63.79
Villanova Lehigh 9/2, 12:30 pm Patriot League DN 63.58
Colgate Cal Poly 8/26, 7:00 pm ESPNU 63.56

Notes:

  • Alabama-Florida State will be played in Atlanta, GA
  • Georgia Tech-Tennessee will also be played in Atlanta, GA
  • North Carolina State-South Carolina will be played in Charlotte, NC
  • Colorado State-Colorado will be played in Denver, CO
  • Chattanooga-Jacksonville State will be played in Montgomery, AL
  • Virginia Tech-West Virginia will be played in Landover, MD

The season is getting closer…and closer…

Gridiron countdown: preseason ratings, featuring The Citadel (and the rest of the SoCon)

Also part of the “Gridiron Countdown” series:

What teams will the Bulldogs’ opponents play before facing The Citadel?

The Citadel competes to win games — and fans

Independence Day has come and gone, which means the home stretch of the college football offseason is drawing closer. That first college football weekend can’t get here fast enough.

There is still time to kill, though. With that in mind, I decided to take a brief look at a preseason ratings system that was released this week, the Massey Ratings.

Ken Massey is a math professor at Carson-Newman whose ratings system was used (with several others) for fifteen years by the BCS. He has ratings for a wide variety of sports, but most of the attention surrounding his work has been focused on college football.

A quick introduction of the Massey Ratings, from its website:

The Massey Ratings are designed to measure past performance, not necessarily to predict future outcomes…overall team rating is a merit based quantity, and is the result of applying a Bayesian win-loss correction to the power rating.

…In contrast to the overall rating, the Power is a better measure of potential and is less concerned with actual wins-losses.

…A team’s Offense power rating essentially measures the ability to score points. This does not distinguish how points are scored, so good defensive play that leads to scoring will be reflected in the Offense rating. In general, the offensive rating can be interpretted as the number of points a team would be expected to score against an average defense.

Similarly, a team’s Defense power rating reflects the ability to prevent its opponent from scoring. An average defense will be rated at zero. Positive or negative defensive ratings would respectively lower or raise the opponent’s expected score accordingly.

…the Massey model will in some sense minimize the unexplained error (noise). Upsets will occur and it is impossible (and also counter-productive) to get an exact fit to the actual game outcomes. Hence, I publish an estimated standard deviation. About 68% of observed game results will fall within one standard deviation of the expected (“average”) result.

Preseason ratings are typically derived as a weighted average of previous years’ final ratings. As the current season progresses, their effect gets damped out completely. The only purpose preseason ratings serve is to provide a reasonable starting point for the computer. Mathematically, they guarantee a unique solution to the equations early in the season when not enough data is available yet.

So there you go. Basically, preseason ratings are almost meaningless, which makes them perfect for a blog post!

One of the interesting things about the Massey Ratings is that all college football teams are included — not just FBS and FCS squads, but D-2, D-3, NAIA, junior colleges, even Canadian schools. In all, there are preseason ratings for 924 colleges and universities.

The Citadel is #174 in the preseason ratings. How does that compare to the teams on the Bulldogs’ schedule?

  • Davidson — #584
  • Western Carolina — #168
  • Georgia Southern — #86
  • Charleston Southern — #162
  • Wofford — #182
  • Samford — #146
  • Chattanooga — #95
  • Furman — #205
  • Mercer — #267
  • VMI — #272
  • South Carolina — #28

As you can see, there isn’t a great deal of difference between The Citadel and most of the teams on its schedule.

Massey gives the Bulldogs a 1% chance of beating South Carolina. Of course, that is notably higher than the odds offered by The State newspaper when the two teams met in 1990 (the publication infamously opined that all the Gamecocks would have to do to win the game was “show up”; it didn’t quite work out that way).

Meanwhile, Davidson is listed as having a 0% chance of upsetting The Citadel, which is a function of the Wildcats having not beaten a legitimate team (no, College of Faith doesn’t qualify) since November 2012. The Wildcats are rated next-to-last among all FCS schools, ahead of only East Tennessee State, which relaunches its program this season and has a preseason rating of #651.

Another startup program, Kennesaw State, is actually rated ahead of Davidson (the Owls carry a #519 preseason rating). Kennesaw State begins its gridiron history with a Thursday night game at ETSU. It’s a shame they couldn’t work Davidson into a three-way round-robin.

Among all FCS schools, Chattanooga is rated 5th; Samford, 22nd; Charleston Southern, 33rd; Western Carolina, 36th; The Citadel, 38th; Wofford, 42nd; Furman, 56th; Mercer, 84th; VMI, 85th; and Davidson, 124th.

The highest-rated FCS team overall is (no surprise) four-time defending subdivision champ North Dakota State, rated #47 in all of D-1. Last year’s runner-up, Illinois State (#64 in D-1), is second among FCS squads.

A few other schools that may or may not be of interest:

  • Alabama — #1
  • Ohio State — #2
  • Oregon — #3
  • Georgia — #4
  • TCU — #5
  • Michigan State — #6
  • Baylor — #7
  • Arkansas — #8
  • Auburn — #9
  • Georgia Tech — #10
  • Stanford — #11
  • Clemson — #12
  • Florida State — #17
  • Notre Dame — #32
  • Duke — #41
  • North Carolina — #61
  • Navy — #73
  • Air Force — #80
  • Georgia Southern — #86
  • Coastal Carolina — #98 (#7 in FCS)
  • Appalachian State — #105
  • Old Dominion — #119
  • Liberty — #128 (#17 in FCS)
  • Army — #132
  • Colorado State-Pueblo — #134 (#1 in D-2)
  • James Madison — #147 (#23 in FCS)
  • Richmond — #148 (#24 in FCS)
  • Fordham — #150 (#26 in FCS)
  • William & Mary — 158 (#29 in FCS)
  • Harvard — #160 (#31 in FCS)
  • Georgia State — #178
  • Presbyterian — #188 (#48 in FCS)
  • Lenoir-Rhyne — #190 (#13 in D-2)
  • Delaware — #194 (#51 in FCS)
  • South Carolina State — #206 (#57 in FCS)
  • Charlotte — #226
  • Elon — #250 (#78 in FCS)
  • Gardner-Webb — #258 (#80 in FCS)

Sure, this is relatively light fare. Right now, though, it’s all we have.

Keep counting down the days…

Conference realignment, SoCon style: a look at the varsity sports portfolios of candidate schools

As a follow-up to my most recent post on conference realignment, including the SoCon, this is just a quick post on what sports various schools offer, etc…

The SoCon sponsors 19 sports (counting indoor and outdoor track separately). Ideally, a school joining the league would field teams in most of them. A rundown of the offerings for some of the schools that have been mentioned for membership:

Mercer

Mercer has teams in 14 of the SoCon’s 19 sports. The exceptions: football, men’s track and field (both indoor and outdoor), and wrestling.

It also has teams (or will soon have teams) in several sports not sponsored by the SoCon, including men’s and women’s lacrosse and sand volleyball. Mercer will begin playing football (non-scholarship) this year.

VMI

VMI has teams in 11 of the SoCon’s 19 sports. Exceptions: women’s hoops, softball, men’s and women’s tennis, women’s cross country, men’s and women’s golf, and women’s volleyball.

It also fields teams in men’s lacrosse, women’s water polo, men’s and women’s swimming, and rifle.

If VMI were to re-join the SoCon, it may have to add at least one women’s sport that is sponsored by the league.

East Tennessee State

ETSU has teams in 17 of the SoCon’s sponsored sports. It does not have teams in football and wrestling. Of course, ETSU is expected to re-start football in time for the 2015 season.

Kennesaw State

Kennesaw State fields teams in 16 of the SoCon’s 19 sports. There are no KSU teams in football, men’s soccer, and wrestling. Kennesaw State will begin playing football in 2015.

William & Mary

William & Mary has a fairly diverse sports portfolio. It fields teams in 17 SoCon-sponsored sports. W&M doesn’t have a softball team or wrestling squad. It does have men’s and women’s gymnastics, men’s and women’s swimming, women’s lacrosse, and women’s field hockey.

Belmont

I don’t really think Belmont is a serious candidate for the SoCon, but I decided to take a look at its offerings anyway. Belmont does not have a football team or a wrestling squad, but fields teams in every other SoCon-sponsored sport.

Coastal Carolina

Coastal Carolina competes in 18 of the 19 sports sponsored by the SoCon. The exception is wrestling. CCU also fields a women’s lacrosse team.

Richmond

Though I think Richmond is really only an SoCon option for football, I’ll include a rundown of its sports too. For the 2013-14 school year, it will compete in 13 of the 19 sports sponsored by the Southern Conference. Somewhat controversially, Richmond’s administration has decided to drop men’s soccer and men’s track and field while adding men’s lacrosse.

Besides men’s soccer and men’s track and field (indoor and outdoor), UR does not field teams in wrestling, softball, and women’s volleyball. In addition to men’s lacrosse, Richmond has or will have women’s lacrosse, men’s and women’s swimming, and women’s field hockey.

Delaware

Like Richmond, Delaware would almost certainly be a football-only candidate for the SoCon (and even that would be a longshot). It has teams in 15 SoCon-sponsored sports, not having teams for men’s track and field (indoor and outdoor), men’s cross-country, and wrestling. Delaware also fields squads in women’s field hockey, women’s rowing, men’s and women’s swimming, and men’s and women’s lacrosse.

James Madison

If JMU decides against a possible invitation to the Sun Belt Conference and remains in FCS, it may become a target for the SoCon. Like Delaware, James Madison competes in 15 of the 19 SoCon-sponsored sports. It does not have teams in men’s cross country, men’s track and field (indoor and outdoor), and wrestling. JMU has three women’s teams in sports not sponsored by the Southern Conference: field hockey, swimming, and lacrosse.

UNC-Wilmington

UNCW competes in every SoCon-sponsored sport except football and wrestling. It also has men’s and women’s swimming.

Jacksonville

JU fields teams in 13 of the SoCon’s 19 sports. It does not have men’s track and field (indoor and outdoor), men’s and women’s tennis, and wrestling, and its football team is non-scholarship. Jacksonville does have men’s and women’s rowing teams, men’s and women’s lacrosse, and also sponsors women’s sand volleyball (which is an “emerging” NCAA sport; in February, South Carolina became the 31st school to sponsor the sport at the varsity level).

Campbell

Campbell’s football team is non-scholarship. It competes in every other SoCon-sponsored sport, and also has women’s lacrosse and women’s swimming.

After reviewing these schools and a few others, I came to the conclusion that the Southern Conference is likely to sponsor at least two more sports in the not-too-distant future, namely men’s and women’s lacrosse. Some of the schools in the SoCon’s general geographic footprint that have or will soon have lacrosse for either men or women or both: Mercer, VMI, Kennesaw State, William & Mary, Richmond, James Madison, Furman, Elon, Presbyterian, Campbell, Jacksonville, Howard, Coastal Carolina, Stetson, Delaware, and Winthrop.

More realignment excitement will be coming our way soon, I’m sure…

Conference realignment, SoCon style: it is definitely nitty-gritty time now

On Wednesday, Georgia Southern and Appalachian State are expected to announce that they have each accepted an invitation to join the Sun Belt Conference. Both schools have been desperately trying to wangle an invite from an FBS league; it looks like it is finally going to happen.

I wrote about this possibility a few weeks ago. Now that it has come to pass, I want to revisit what it means for the Southern Conference and what schools are candidates to join the SoCon as replacements — and also what schools, if any, are candidates to leave the league.

Conference realignment analysis is complicated, to say the least. A move on one side of the country can cause repercussions on the other. No one really has a handle on the hopes and dreams of every single school out there. The difficulties in trying to see what leagues and schools will do can best be encapsulated by this quote from an AD at a Missouri Valley Conference school:

We’re just sitting here wondering if Creighton goes [to the Big East], which of the 26 schools in our footprint that make some sense should we be pursuing.

That’s right. To replace Creighton, there are more than two dozen reasonable candidates, and whichever one is chosen will set off a chain reaction all over the nation — but each different school may set off a different chain reaction. It makes long-range predictions more or less futile (as does the entire process of musical chairs in general).

Despite that, I’ll muddle through this post anyway…

With Appalachian State and Georgia Southern leaving, the SoCon will look like this:

The Citadel
Furman
Wofford
Elon
Western Carolina
Chattanooga
Samford
Davidson*
UNC-Greensboro*

* no scholarship football program

First, let’s discuss the current league schools rumored to be candidates to leave for another conference. That would be all of them.

Seriously, every school in the league has been the focus of various rumors, some with solid sourcing, some just made up. The internet is a wild and crazy place.

The most realistic contender to jump may be Davidson, which has a good hoops program with no scholarship football. If Davidson were a person, however, he would be a very cautious accountant who happens to love basketball (and not much else). This is a school that isn’t changing leagues unless it knows it’s the right decision. It’s not going to jump into a lake like the College of Charleston did and find out the level of the water has dropped eighteen feet overnight.

Elon is the league wild card, as I’ve noted before. At this point I would be surprised if it decided to move to the CAA, but who knows. Chattanooga has (somewhat curiously) been mentioned as a potential Sun Belt candidate, which I think even most of its fan base finds puzzling.

That is what the SoCon has right now. What is going on in the rest of the land that may impact the league? A brief review follows.

Big East (newly minted version)

The new league formerly known as the Catholic 7 is adding three schools. Butler and Xavier are joining from the A-10, and Creighton is moving from the Missouri Valley. For at least one year, the number of league schools will stay at 10. It is widely believed that the new Big East will add two more schools in time for the 2014-15 season, and that both additions are likely to come from the A-10. One will probably be St. Louis, and the other will come from a group that includes Dayton, Richmond, and VCU, with the Flyers being a slight favorite.

The MVC will replace Creighton, but that won’t affect the SoCon. The A-10, however, has already moved forward, will undoubtedly continue to do so, and those decisions will have a trickle-down effect that will be watched by SoCon observers.

Atlantic 10 (which actually had 16 schools this past season)

The A-10 was already losing two schools, Charlotte (which is starting a football program and moving to CUSA) and Temple.

The Owls are moving to the “old” Big East for all sports, and to avoid confusion I’m going to call that conference the Metro, which is surely a better league name than the “America 12”.

With Xavier and Butler gone (Butler having been in the league for about an hour), the A-10 decided 12 schools weren’t enough and added George Mason on Monday. It is quite possible the A-10 will add another school in the near future. Davidson has been mentioned as a candidate for this spot, but there is a catch, as there are reports that Davidson would like a fellow southern school to go with it for travel reasons. The school most often named as pairing up with Davidson is the College of Charleston.

However, Davidson is not the leading contender to be the next A-10 pickup, according to Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports. That would be Siena. Another school reportedly in the mix is Iona.

My fearless (and meaningless) prognostication: Siena joins the A-10, and Davidson becomes a more serious candidate when the A-10 loses St. Louis and one of the Dayton/Richmond/VCU trio next year.

Metro

Tulsa is expected to join this league any week now, leaving CUSA. This would lead to Western Kentucky leaving the Sun Belt and taking Tulsa’s place. Massachusetts may eventually wind up in this conference (though that is far from certain), which would presumably open up another spot in the A-10 in hoops (UMass currently competes in the MAC in football).

Sun Belt

League commissioner Karl Benson wants a conference championship game in football, and he is apparently going to get it. Georgia Southern and Appalachian State will become football members 9 and 10, so the conference needs two more schools to stage a title matchup. According to Dennis Dodd at CBS Sports, New Mexico State and Idaho are going to be added as football-only members.

Idaho has to get permission from its State Board of Education to make the move, which is probably a formality. Not everyone thinks adding New Mexico State and Idaho to the Sun Belt (even for just football) is a good idea.

However, if WKU leaves as expected, the Sun Belt would actually need one more football-playing school to get to 12, and would have to look further into the FCS ranks to find it. From the SoCon’s perspective, the most interesting candidate for that spot (other than longshot Chattanooga) is James Madison of the CAA, which has been left behind in that league by all of its fellow Virginia schools except William & Mary. Losing JMU would be a very tough blow for the CAA. Liberty is also a Sun Belt hopeful, as are a couple of Southland Conference schools (Lamar and Sam Houston State) and Jacksonville State.

CAA

Before delving into the CAA situation, I wanted to mention the press release issued by its commissioner after George Mason decided to join the A-10:

As a result of the George Mason University Board’s decision to withdraw from CAA membership…and in accordance with conference bylaws:

-George Mason’s teams in seven spring sports…will become ineligible for CAA spring 2013 championships.

-George Mason will forfeit its projected 2013 conference distribution of approximately $330,000 and future distributions (through 2017 totaling an additional $1.32 million). George Mason will also pay a minimum liquidated damages fee of at least $1,000,000. Total forfeited funds will be no less than $2.65 million…

…We are disappointed by George Mason’s decision to withdraw from the CAA after 30 years as a charter member.  We wish them well as they strive to achieve the same level of competitive success in a new conference. The CAA’s Council of Presidents will continue to aggressively pursue institutions committed to providing the finest academic and athletic opportunities for our student-athletes.

To me, that comes across as incredibly petty, especially considering GMU was (as stated) a charter member of the conference. As was the case for other schools that recently left the CAA, the athletes were punished for their (obviously huge) part in the crime of leaving the league. Imagine being a senior baseball or softball player and finding out halfway through the season that you wouldn’t be competing for the league title.

Here is the current CAA lineup (at least, as of this second):

Hofstra*
Northeastern*
Drexel*
Delaware
Towson
James Madison
William & Mary
UNC-Wilmington*
College of Charleston*
Richmond#
Rhode Island#
Stony Brook#
Albany#
Maine#
New Hampshire#
Villanova#

* no scholarship football program
# football-only member

Eleven schools for football, but only four of them are full-time members. Nine schools for basketball.

This league is a mess. In my opinion, it’s even more of a mess than the SoCon. It resembles two or three conferences unwillingly jammed into one. In addition, I think at least half of the schools in the basketball version of the league would gladly jump to the A-10 at a moment’s notice, given the opportunity. Heck, some might even consider the SoCon.

Would UNCW be able to resist an offer from the SoCon? It has “reaffirmed [its] commitment” to the CAA, but some think it needs to consider all of its options. Is the College of Charleston feeling buyer’s remorse? Supposedly not, though one suspects that any CofC return to the SoCon could only happen if the SoCon leadership were allowed to throw sharp objects at CofC AD Joe Hull.

Then there is William & Mary, which is going to be really out in the cold if JMU leaves. It would be hard for William & Mary or UNCW, though, to give up the significant amount of money currently on the table for the remaining CAA members.

I’ve written a couple of times about the possibilities for SoCon additions. A few things have changed since the last time I posted about this subject. My thoughts as of right now on a few of the schools in question, plus some off-the-wall ideas:

– Mercer is probably a lock, with the only issue being that the school has not yet committed to scholarship football. As I’ve said before, though, Mercer’s new facilities are not those of a non-scholarship program, or at least not those of one planning to stay non-scholarship. At any rate, Mercer can fill the spot left by the College of Charleston for the immediate future, with a hoops program at least as good and a fine baseball team as well.

– VMI, from a historical perspective, should be in the Southern Conference. Instinctively, VMI should be in the SoCon. However, VMI has issues, and I am not as confident in its chances of rejoining the league as I would have been a couple of months ago. A perceived lack of institutional commitment to varsity athletics may doom the hopes of those hoping to see the Keydets back in the SoCon. I’m not counting VMI out, though.

– William & Mary is possibly more of a sleeper candidate than it was before, thanks to the CAA’s crumbling edifice. I’m still not quite buying the Tribe to the SoCon, but I could be persuaded to rent.

– Richmond would be a football-only pick, and while I’m not crazy about a football-only SoCon member, the idea of grabbing UR for football in order to further attract William & Mary to join in all sports may have merit.

– If the SoCon wanted to be really aggressive and try to fully dismantle the CAA before the CAA tried to destroy the SoCon, it might consider approaching Delaware as a football-only member.

– If James Madison doesn’t wind up in the Sun Belt (or the MAC), the SoCon ought to seriously consider approaching the folks in Harrisburg, too. They might be willing to listen.

– Kennesaw State is starting a football program, and just hired its first coach. The Owls’ first season on the gridiron will be 2015. There has been marginally more chatter about KSU to the SoCon in recent weeks, although I am still a touch dubious about that. If Kennesaw State did join the league, it would help the SoCon maintain its quota of triple option teams, as new coach Brian Bohannon has worked for Paul Johnson at both Navy and Georgia Tech over the past 17 years, coaching quarterbacks and B-backs.

– East Tennessee State is also likely to start (or rather, re-start) its football program in 2015. ETSU may have to make a decision about what league it wants to join, if it has options (the OVC possibly being one of them). It won’t be in any league without a new football facility, though. (Nobody is going to play football at the Mini-Dome.)

It’s possible that ETSU may wind up in the SoCon at the expense of VMI. I wouldn’t be shocked if neither got in, though.

– Coastal Carolina, if anything, is less likely to wind up in the SoCon than before — and it wasn’t going to get in then, either. If I were in the CCU administration, I would fax an application to the CAA every day. It’s probably their best shot at moving out of the Big South.

– Campbell has been suggested as a potential candidate. Like Mercer, it’s one of several southeastern schools (including Jacksonville and Stetson) that have started or are about to start non-scholarship football programs. I’m not really sure what Campbell could bring to the table that the SoCon would want, though. Jacksonville and Stetson would add new markets but are not in the league’s geographic footprint, which I suspect will be a major factor in determining what schools are added.

– Other schools mentioned here and there that I don’t think are serious candidates for the SoCon (but you never know): Presbyterian, Winthrop, Tennessee Tech, Eastern Kentucky, North Alabama, West Georgia, Gardner-Webb, High Point, South Carolina State, and USC Upstate.

USC Upstate was suggested on Twitter by Gene Sapakoff, a columnist for The Post and Courier, who was throwing out the idea of a proposed Atlantic Sun-SoCon merger. Uh, no.

SoCon commissioner John Iamarino has preached patience and a waiting game. I haven’t had a major problem with that. It was inevitable that Appalachian State and Georgia Southern would leave, but there wasn’t anything wrong in letting a few other things shake out nationally before making a move. The league had time.

It doesn’t really have time now. Once Appalachian State and Georgia Southern are officially out, the SoCon has to act, and with decisiveness. I hope the conference has been preparing to do just that. I realize that Iamarino may be hamstrung a bit by a disparate membership, but he has to put together a consensus. He has to add new members that will improve the league.

It’s nitty-gritty time.

Conference realignment, SoCon style: the College of Charleston is (probably) heading to the CAA

Update: Conference realignment, SoCon style: Is it nitty-gritty time?

I wrote about potential changes in Southern Conference membership over the summer. Now, something has actually happened…

After a somewhat contentious meeting, the College of Charleston’s Board of Trustees voted 12-5 “to begin negotiations with the Colonial Athletic Association”:

The board met for 90 minutes before passing a resolution to open official talks with the CAA. The resolution, which passed by a 12-5 vote, does not guarantee the Cougars will join the nine-member league. The College of Charleston has been in the Southern Conference since 1998.

The final vote is expected to come at the board’s next scheduled meeting in January, although a vote on the school’s athletic conference affiliation could come before the start of the new year, according to board members.

While it’s not guaranteed that the CofC is moving to the CAA, it’s all but assured, barring some unexpected problems in the negotiations.

The biggest immediate issue for those negotiations, it appears, is travel expenses. While some observers thought the estimate put forward by the school was too high, others within the college weren’t sure it was high enough.

I think the CofC’s move was “sold” to some of the BOT members as part of a larger migration from the SoCon to the CAA, a shift that would have created a “CAA South” division with Davidson and one or more of Appalachian State, Elon, and Furman.

When Davidson decided to stay in the Southern Conference, that scenario essentially ceased to be a possibility. As a result, the CofC had to recalibrate its travel expenses.

The move by the CofC, assuming it comes to pass, is being made almost exclusively for the benefit of the men’s basketball program, platitudes by the school’s president notwithstanding. For the school’s other varsity sports programs, it is basically a wash, with the notable exception of baseball, which will suffer greatly from the transition.

However, while none of those other programs really mattered in the decision, they did provide good drama. At the occasionally confusing BOT meeting, board member and baseball supporter Jeff Schilz had this to say:

This move is made assuming there’s more money in the CAA. This is a men’s basketball decision and they would have to reach goals they haven’t reached in a while.

Schilz wasn’t finished. He also opined that “our athletic programs have been ignored by the [CofC] administration” and questioned the stability of the CAA, at least as compared to the SoCon.

All of the above quotes came in the BOT meeting. The proceedings were “live-tweeted” by several different media members, a very 21st-century (and cool) development. One of the more interesting tweets came from WCIV-TV sportscaster Scott Eisberg:

Schilz says he knows 1 sport that will lose 4 recruits if they go. Audible to me,Natasha Adair says,’what abt teams that will gain recruits’

Adair is the new women’s basketball coach at the College of Charleston. I wouldn’t advise inviting her and Schilz to the same party.

I don’t know if the move will be a good one for the CofC. I tend to doubt it, but I could be wrong. At any rate, the school has every right to make a mistake. It’s the American way.

When you shake out all the pluses and minuses (exposure, travel, recruiting, etc.), it comes down to this: is the CAA really a multi-bid league? Because if it isn’t, the CofC leaving for basketball reasons but staying in a one-bid league is very hard to justify. I suspect that Davidson passed on joining the CAA at least partly because it wasn’t sure the CAA would regularly put two and three teams into the NCAA tournament.

Since 1987, there have only been three years in which the CAA received at-large bids: 2006, 2007, and 2011 (when it got two at-large bids). While that recent run does suggest upward mobility for the conference, two of the three schools largely responsible for that success have left (Virginia Commonwealth) or are leaving (Old Dominion) the league.

The other school that has carried most of the league’s water in hoops, George Mason, could easily bolt for the Atlantic 10 if that conference made an offer. (There have also been football-fueled rumors about James Madison and/or Delaware eventually leaving the CAA.)

Last season Drexel won the CAA regular season title (with a 16-2 conference record) and advanced to the league tourney final, but did not get an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, thanks in large part to an unbalanced league schedule and a poor non-conference slate. If a 16-2 CAA team can’t get an at-large berth in the NCAAs (and that was with VCU and ODU in the conference), then it seems unlikely the Colonial will be a multi-bid nirvana going forward.

 —

Okay, so the CofC is (probably) gone. It’s just as well, too, given Joe Hull’s comments about the Southern Conference earlier last month. As soon as the diplomacy-averse Hull made his remarks, I believe every fan and journalist affiliated in some way with the league pointed out that the school hasn’t won the “invisible” SoCon in hoops this century.

What does the College of Charleston leaving mean for the SoCon…and what does it mean for The Citadel?

The league has three options: A) do nothing, B) add one school to replace the CofC, or C) add three more schools to get to 14.

Moving to 14 schools would be a way to solidify the SoCon in the short-term while protecting the league from the eventual departures of Appalachian State and Georgia Southern, assuming those schools get an invite from an FBS league in the near future.

I want what is best for The Citadel. Is what is best for The Citadel also what is best for the league? Maybe.

At this time, I don’t see why the league has to expand to 14 schools, although there are indications that is a possibility. I also don’t think it’s absolutely vital to immediately find a twelfth member. The league can afford to wait.

Appalachian State and Georgia Southern don’t have their FBS tickets punched yet, and may still have to wait a while (particularly GSU). I think league decisions should be made based on the general idea that both schools will be around for at least another year, but will leave in the next five years or so.

The SoCon’s biggest membership issue is that it is made up of several different groups of schools which have competing interests — from the smaller schools, to the larger ones, to the universities west of the Carolinas, to the institutions that don’t have scholarship football programs.

The league has historically always been a mishmash of schools, of course. However, trying to get everyone to agree on potential “adds” for the conference could prove especially problematic right now.

It has been suggested in various places around the internet that a “compromise” could be in the works, one that would be agreeable to the smaller school bloc (most of the private schools, plus The Citadel) and the larger schools (App State, GSU, etc.). This would result in the league moving to 14 schools by adding one private and possibly two larger public schools, in an effort to appease the bigger schools and also the institutions west of the Carolinas (which want company on their side of the league).

I don’t think that would be in the best interests of The Citadel. Depending on the schools involved, it also would be close to anathema for Furman and Davidson. I find it hard to believe Davidson would have elected to remain in the SoCon knowing there was a good chance the conference would be adding multiple schools with significantly different institutional profiles.

As for the other schools in the league, I am less certain. For example, take the North Carolina universities. Elon is a bit of a wild card; I’m not going to even try to guess what its decision-makers may be thinking. UNCG is a non-football school with limited history in the league. Western Carolina is a smaller public school (as compared to Appalachian State and Georgia Southern) in a relatively remote location.

I’ve seen all kinds of schools mentioned as possible new SoCon members. Some of them may have little to no interest in joining the league; some of them would name all their incoming freshmen after John Iamarino in order to get in the club. Below are my comments, opinions, etc., about a few of these schools. Remember, I’m doing this with a bias. I want what is best for The Citadel.

Do I have insider knowledge on any of this? Nope. If you read something on the internet from someone who claims to have insider knowledge on any of this, should you believe that person? Nope.

Let’s start with the favorite to be the next school to join the SoCon.

– Mercer: mentioned by an actual media person, Adam Smith, who seems to have a decent handle on SoCon info. Would make sense on a lot of levels. Mercer is just starting its football program, which will begin as a non-scholarship entity. Still, a natural replacement for the football-free CofC.

Negatives: no scholarship football (yet). Could be blocked by larger schools that want the aforementioned compromise so as to jam two or three big public universities into the league.

After Mercer, there are no obvious picks.

– Virginia Military Institute: left the league a decade ago. Would probably like to come back. I could see all the privates plus The Citadel favoring VMI’s return.

Negatives: league currently has nine football schools, and a nine-game SoCon schedule could be tough to implement. The alternative is to not have a round-robin.

Another consideration is that VMI has been terrible in football for 30 years. That counts (and is why it left the league in the first place). I could see VMI making a return to the SoCon when App State and/or Georgia Southern depart. If the league went to 14, I am not sure VMI would be one of the three additions.

– Coastal Carolina: ah, here comes controversy…

This is the school many of the larger state schools want in the league (at least, their fans do). So which schools are not so crazy about CCU joining the SoCon? That would be Furman, The Citadel, and Davidson. I am not as sure about Wofford, although I would think it would be in the same group.

From the perspective of The Citadel and Furman, adding another, larger South Carolina school with a different mission and budget is a complete non-starter (and another Palmetto State school also may not sit well with Samford and Chattanooga). It doesn’t benefit either S.C. school. I also suspect longtime SoCon types look at Coastal Carolina and think “Marshall II”, and one Marshall was enough for a lot of people.  That may be unfair to CCU, but it’s reality.

Also, I don’t think Appalachian State’s and Georgia Southern’s wishes (in terms of new members) should even be considered by the other schools. App and GSU have stated they want to leave, and they eventually will, which is fine. However, why should the schools remaining in the conference make a decision on league membership for the benefit of schools that aren’t going to be in the SoCon much longer? That would be stupid.

– Kennesaw State: reportedly discussed in the league’s meeting in June. From an April article in the Marietta Daily Journal:

One of the big challenges for Kennesaw State’s athletic programs will be to find a conference before the football team kicks off its inaugural season since the Owls’ current conference, the Atlantic Sun, does not sponsor football. [New Kennesaw State AD Vaughn] Williams said he has had some preliminary conversations with representatives from the Southern Conference and the Ohio Valley Conference about joining their leagues in the future.

I could see Chattanooga and the other state schools in favor of Kennesaw State, which I suppose would be part of a three-school add-on, with Mercer and some other institution. KSU won’t start its football program until 2014. It would basically be like adding UNC Charlotte to the league.

Would adding such a school to the SoCon be in the best interests of The Citadel? Not really. Could it happen? Sure. Trying to get into the Atlanta market would be the major justification for inviting Kennesaw State.

– South Carolina State: allegedly was also discussed at the (surely infamous) June league meeting. It is hard to imagine the league seriously considering SCSU, which has a host of institutional problems, including serious financial issues. SC State has had more school presidents in the last five years than Western Carolina has had league victories in football.

I also have my doubts that it would be in South Carolina State’s best interests to leave the MEAC in the first place.

– Tennessee Tech: located in Cookeville, Tennessee. Public, but on the small side (around 10,000 undergraduate students). Would appeal to Western Carolina, Chattanooga, and probably Samford. Whether or not the conference wants to venture any further from its current geographic footprint is open to question.

As far as The Citadel is concerned, it is probably a more palatable option than any of the above-mentioned schools save Mercer and VMI. Tennessee Tech is in the OVC and I am not sure why it would want to leave that league.

– William & Mary: would be a great get, but is not happening unless the CAA implodes, and even then W&M’s first choice would likely be the Patriot League.

– Richmond: would only join the SoCon as a football-only member if the CAA dropped football sponsorship, as UR is happy to have its hoops program in the A-10.

I don’t see any school joining the SoCon as a football-only member. I saw a report suggesting Kennesaw State might be interested in this option. That should not happen, and I don’t think it will.

– Presbyterian: another Palmetto State school, which is PC’s biggest problem. Furman and Wofford aren’t interested in “elevating” the Blue Hose.

– Jacksonville: I wrote about JU in September of 2011, when I previewed The Citadel’s football season opener against the Dolphins that year. JU has potential (and a good market), but it’s another non-scholarship football program.

– Jacksonville State: wants to go FBS, like App and GSU. I don’t see the point of adding a member school like that. I doubt JSU does either.

– Liberty: see the entry for Jacksonville State.

– East Tennessee State: dropped football, dropped out of the SoCon. Now may want back in, though it still doesn’t have football. I’m not sure how serious a possibility ETSU is as things currently stand. Would not be the first choice for any of the current league members with the possible exception of Chattanooga.

A few other schools have been mentioned in passing, including Gardner-Webb, High Point, Murray State, Winthrop, Eastern Kentucky, North Alabama, and West Georgia. I don’t see any of them as realistic options for the SoCon (though I could be wrong).

A slightly different question: is the College of Charleston leaving the SoCon good or bad for The Citadel?

The real answer to that question is “to be determined”. Ultimately, though, it will depend on two things:

1) Which (if any) schools replace the CofC in the league

2) What (if anything) The Citadel does to take advantage of the CofC leaving

The Citadel has something to say about the first item, and everything to say about the second.

If the school(s) that replace the College of Charleston in the SoCon are from The Citadel’s perspective “like” institutions (smaller schools, good academics, etc.), then the CofC leaving will present the military college with an opportunity. That opportunity is greatly lessened if the new member schools do not fit that profile.

With the College of Charleston’s departure, The Citadel takes complete control of the Charleston market for the SoCon, and that’s a good thing. The Charleston area will, in my opinion, more easily identify with a football conference that has a long history, and that has “familiar” schools (like Furman and Wofford). The Palmetto State is, ultimately, a football state.

The Charleston market has also already proven over time to be supportive of SoCon baseball (with its long tenure as the league tourney host). That reminds me: it’s time for John Iamarino to step up and give the Low Country a long-term contract to host the tourney again.

Speaking of baseball, it’s possible that Monte Lee’s loss will be Fred Jordan’s gain in terms of recruiting for their respective programs.  I think Coastal Carolina may also benefit from the CofC joining a lower-tier baseball conference (and Charleston Southern will have something to say about it as well), but it won’t hurt The Citadel at all to pick up impact local recruits who want to play against quality opposition closer to home.

I also wouldn’t be surprised if a few other varsity sports at The Citadel benefit from the “only local school in the local league” phenomenon.

What The Citadel needs to do is get the message out to the local populace that the Bulldogs are the hometown team of choice, especially in a football-crazy state that also loves its baseball. It should be, to steal a term from college basketball officiating, a “point of emphasis”. I know that is already happening, but now more than ever it is a strategy that needs to be pushed.

I just named three sports in consecutive sentences. That means it is time to wrap this up…

The next few months are going to be very interesting for fans of the Southern Conference. Few other leagues have the potential for divisiveness quite like the SoCon, thanks to its disparate membership. For The Citadel, it is important that the school’s administration looks out for the school’s best interests, even if they are not in line with what league officials may propose.

This is not the time to “go along to get along”. Earlier, I mentioned three SoCon options. One of them was to do nothing and stay at eleven schools. There is nothing bad about that option right now. If the alternative is something that is not optimal for The Citadel, then the school should not be afraid to be intransigent.

We’re good at that.