Variety Pack: The NCAA’s Seven Sinners, Gonzo’s friend Duke Rice, and the Plant of the Week

It’s the long-awaited latest edition of the Variety Pack, the celebrated TSA series that debuted earlier this year.  The idea is to write briefly (I hope) on two or three different topics without being limited to 140 characters, like my Twitter tweets.

This is one of two holiday Variety Packs; in a week or two I’ll post the other one, which will (probably) feature The Citadel’s role in the modern-day proliferation of college football on television.

Both Variety Packs are inspired by Google Books.  What  I did, basically, is type in some search terms, and see what came up.

In 1948, the NCAA crafted a statute colloquially known as the “Sanity Code”.  The Sanity Code was an attempt to end the practice of awarding athletic scholarships, something many southern institutions had been doing since the early 1930s.

The Sanity Code allowed schools to award scholarships to prospective athletes, but only on a basis of need – and even then the scholarships were limited to tuition and incidental expenses.  Most scholarship athletes would either have to qualify for academic scholarships, or pay their own way, usually by holding down jobs while in school.

This was seen by a lot of the southern schools as an attempt by the “establishment” to keep itself on top of the college athletics pyramid.  The establishment consisted mainly of the Big 10 schools, largely aligned with the Ivy League and Pac-8.  To add fuel to the fire, in those days the Big 10 commissioner also oversaw the NCAA’s daily activities; Walter Byers, later executive director of the NCAA, split time between his NCAA duties and his primary job as the Big 10’s publicity director.

There were myriad problems with the Sanity Code.  It was basically unenforceable.  It was also seen as unfair.  The southern schools had no interest in dropping athletic scholarships, especially when at the same time wealthy Big 10 alums would be giving bogus jobs to football and basketball players with no penalty.

The school most often ridiculed by Sanity Code opponents was Ohio State.  Prior to the 1950 Rose Bowl, it was revealed that at least 16 Buckeye football players had cushy jobs with the state, including a running back on the payroll of the state’s transportation department as a tire inspector.

The Sanity Code was going to allow OSU to do that, but not let SEC or Southern Conference schools offer athletic scholarships.  It’s easy to see why people got upset.

Enter the “Seven Sinners”.  No, I’m not talking about the John Wayne-Marlene Dietrich movie.

In this case, the “Seven Sinners” were seven schools that refused to live a lie, and admitted that they were not adhering to the new statute enacted by the NCAA.  The seven happened to be a very difficult group for the establishment to criticize.  Only one, Maryland, was a major college football power offering a large number of athletic scholarships.  The others were Virginia, Virginia Tech, VMI, The Citadel, Boston College, and Villanova.

For The Citadel, the notion of having athletes work jobs while at the same time go to class, play a sport, and participate in military activities was a non-starter (the same was true for VMI, and to a certain extent Virginia Tech).  The school also questioned the amateur-but-not-really idea of the Sanity Code, with The Citadel’s faculty representative stating that “The Code defines the word amateur and then promptly authorizes students to participate…who do not meet the requirements of the definition.”

At the 1950 NCAA Convention, the association moved to expel the seven schools. That’s right, the NCAA wasn’t going to put them on probation, a concept not yet considered.  It was going to expel them.

UVA president Colgate Darden made a principled argument against the statute, and stated that his school had no intention of following the Code.  Maryland president (and former football coach) Curley Byrd worked the floor at the convention, making sure there weren’t enough votes to expel the seven schools, and using Ohio State’s situation (as an example of the NCAA’s hypocrisy) in order to convince some fence-sitters to support the Sinners’ position.

The Citadel, however, had already announced it was going to resign from the NCAA, stating it refused “to lie to stay in the association”.  For The Citadel, either the Sanity Code had to go, or The Citadel would go.  After all, it’s not like the school had a history of shying away from secession-related activities.

Since all seven of the “Seven Sinners” are still members of the NCAA, you can guess that they weren’t expelled.  Expulsion required a two-thirds majority, and that didn’t happen (although more than half of the NCAA members did vote against the Sinners). This prevented a complete fracture of the NCAA, as it is likely the southern schools would have left the association otherwise.

While most of the votes supporting the seven schools came from the south, there were schools in the other parts of the country which also voted against expelling the seven, a fact not unnoticed by the NCAA leadership.  The Sanity Code was repealed the following year.

In retrospect, it’s kind of funny that The Citadel was in the position of being an NCAA malefactor.  However, it should be pointed out that 111 schools did vote to expel the military college from the NCAA on that fateful day in 1950.  In fact, when the vote was taken, NCAA president Karl Lieb announced that the motion to expel had carried, before being corrected by assorted shouts from the convention floor.  He then said, “You’re right, the motion is not carried.”  Lieb had forgotten about that two-thirds majority rule for passage; the vote to expel The Citadel and the other six schools had fallen 25 votes short.

The echoes from the Sanity Code controversy still reverberate today.  There are still notable divisions between the Big 10 and Pac-10 schools and the other “major” conference schools like the SEC.  The Ivy League has basically withdrawn from the scene.  Even today, there is some distrust of the Big 10 and its closeness (real or perceived) with the NCAA.

Below are some links that touch on this topic.  They are mostly links from Google Books, so it may take a little bit of work to get to the referenced sections.

College Football:  History, Spectacle, Controversy (starting on page 213)

The 50-Year Seduction (starting on page 18)

Unsportsmanlike Conduct:  Exploiting College Athletes (starting on page 53)

College Athletes For Hire (starting on page 43)

Sport:  What Price Football? (column in Time magazine)

Egg In Your Beer (editorial from the January 21, 1950 edition of The Harvard Crimson)

While perusing Google Books, I read a passage from a book entitled Gonzo:  The Life of Hunter S. Thompson:  An Oral Biography:

[Thompson’s] best friend from his early days was probably Duke Rice.  He was a skinny kid and not all that tall, and suddenly he shot up to six-six or six-seven and got a basketball scholarship to The Citadel, where he was the only player of the time who was able to shut down Jerry West.

Now, this little blurb interested me, for a couple of reasons:

— Thompson’s friend was named Duke Rice.  With a name like that, he shouldn’t have gone to The Citadel; he should have gone to Vanderbilt or Northwestern.

— The “Blitz Kids” were a group of players recruited by Norm Sloan to The Citadel in the late 1950s and early 1960s (which is also the time period when Jerry West played for West Virginia).  That era was the pinnacle for basketball at The Citadel.  The stars of those teams were Art Musselman, Dick Wherry, Ray Graves, and Dick Jones (and later Gary Daniels)…but not anyone named Duke Rice.

The Blitz Kids never won the Southern Conference, mostly because West Virginia was in the league at that time, and Jerry West played for the Mountaineers.  He was, of course, a fantastic player.  Very few teams shut him down, and The Citadel certainly didn’t.  West played three games in his career against The Citadel.  WVU won all three games, by scores of 89-61, 85-66, and 98-76.

That 85-66 score came in the 1959 Southern Conference tournament championship game, the only time The Citadel has ever made the league final.  West scored 27 points in that contest.  I don’t know how many points he scored against the Bulldogs in the other two games, but since the Mountaineers put up 89 and 98 points in those matchups, I’m guessing he wasn’t exactly “shut down”.

Incidentally, that 98-76 game was played during the 1959-60 season at McAlister Field House, and was arguably the most anticipated contest ever played at the ancient armory (at least for those contests not involving Ric Flair).  West Virginia had lost in the NCAA championship game the year before (to California, 71-70), and West was the most celebrated college basketball player of his time.  People came out in droves to see West play.

West was so good, both in college and in the NBA, that he had no fewer than three great nicknames — “Zeke from Cabin Creek”, “The Logo”, and “Mr. Clutch”.  There are a lot of great athletes who would love to have just one cool nickname, and West had (at least) three of them.

Going back to the book, the person who stated that Duke Rice had played for The Citadel was another friend of Thompson’s named Gerald Tyrrell.  Now, I was sure Tyrrell didn’t make up that story.  After all, there wasn’t any reason for him to do so, and I suspected that part of it was true.  It’s just that it was rather obvious that The Citadel part of it wasn’t true.

No one with the last name “Rice” is listed as having lettered for The Citadel in the school’s media guide.  I briefly considered the possibility that the last name was incorrect (and that Duke was a childhood nickname), but Hunter S. Thompson grew up in Louisville, and none of the players for The Citadel during that era were from Louisville, at least from what I was able to determine.

As it happened, it didn’t take much effort (just some additional Googling) to come up with the answer.  Duke Rice had in fact played college basketball, and had played in the Southern Conference for a school with a military component…but the school in question was Virginia Tech.

Rice is mentioned in this interview of Chris Smith, who starred for the Hokies from 1957-61.  Smith described the 1960 Southern Conference championship game:

We had great athletes.  Bobby Ayersman, Louie Mills, and Bucky Keller were each outstanding high school football quarterbacks.  Dean Blake and Duke Rice did a great job  during the game as they took turns guarding Jerry West.  They held him to 14 points.  When Jerry fouled out in the third quarter, we were tied 49 to 49. Unfortunately, the rest of the WV team responded well and they scored on several long shots during the final 10 minutes of the game.

There he is!

What’s more, it appears that Tyrrell’s comment that Rice was “the only player of his time to shut down Jerry West” has some validity to it.  Maybe it’s an overstatement, but at least it’s rooted in fact.

In the end, the Duke Rice story doesn’t really have anything to do with The Citadel.  It’s more about a slightly blurry memory (which I suspect Thompson himself would have appreciated) and a lack of fact-checking by the book’s editors.  This particular book happens to be co-authored by Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner.

It also illustrates the inherent danger of taking oral histories at face value.  Anyone who follows baseball knows this all too well.  The success of Lawrence Ritter’s classic The Glory Of Their Times has led to a number of similar books, a lot of which are a little short in the truth-telling department.

It’s time for the Plant of the Week.  For this edition, the honoree is a canna lily, the Cleopatra canna, which when it comes to coloration basically has a mind of its own.

Warm weather can’t get here fast enough…

Review: Arizona

Well, it was about what I expected.

Arizona is probably a better-than-average Pac-10 team, possibly a contender in that league (although Oregon has to be the favorite).  The Wildcats did what top-25 FBS teams are supposed to do when playing an outmanned FCS squad.

I don’t believe in moral victories, but I do believe in looking at the positive side of things when it’s warranted.  Some points in The Citadel’s favor:

1.  It wasn’t a complete debacle.  I was worried that even if The Citadel were not completely overmatched, the nascent offensive system would turn the ball over repeatedly and give Arizona a bunch of easy points.  Other than a couple of mini-stretches late in the first half and early in the second, however, that didn’t happen.  52-6 may not look that great, but it’s a lot better than 82-6.

2.  Apparently the Bulldogs came out of the game relatively unscathed.  Kevin Higgins mentioned Alex Carr and Tolu Akindele had been banged up in his press conference, but he didn’t rule any player out for the game against Presbyterian.

Two players Higgins didn’t mention but who I wondered about (in terms of injuries) were Johnathan Glaspie and Tyler Starnes, both of whom took big hits during the game.  Glaspie actually re-entered the game after taking a shot earlier in the contest.  (Judging from his expression as he walked off the field, I wasn’t sure he knew if he was in Tucson or still playing for Spring Valley High School.)  Starnes got somersaulted on a carry near the end of the game; it’s a wonder he didn’t suffer a serious leg injury.

— Edit:  According to Jeff Hartsell, Higgins did mention Starnes in his Monday presser.

3.  The defensive line was solid.  The Bulldogs appear to have found a potential star in Derek Douglas, who was singled out for praise by Higgins, and deservedly so.  He wasn’t the only lineman to make a play or two in the game, though.  I particularly liked the lick Erik Clanton laid on one unsuspecting Wildcat running back.  Of course, it helps when nobody blocks you…

4.  Sam Martin did a nice job running the offense when he entered the game.  I went back and noted who was in the game for Arizona on defense when Martin began his first drive.  The Wildcats had nine of their eleven defensive starters in the game, plus two other players who were in their regular rotation on the line.  In other words, he wasn’t playing against walk-ons when he led The Citadel to its first score.

5.  Although he didn’t throw the ball real well and didn’t have much luck moving the team, Matt Thompson never seemed to panic and maintained his poise.

6.  I agree with Higgins that the tackling was better against Arizona.  However, I think it still needs improvement.

7.  Terrell Dallas showed flashes of what he’s capable of accomplishing in this offense, which is a lot.

8.  The Citadel got an encouraging performance from its special teams units.  Cass Couey had an excellent game.  I bet he enjoyed punting in the desert air.  Sam Keeler made both of his field goal attempts; I hope that will improve his confidence.  The coverage teams did a nice job, and freshman Terrance Martin established himself as The Citadel’s primary kick returner.

9.  The Bulldogs only committed two penalties for a total of nine yards, my favorite statistic from the game.  More of that, please.

Obviously, there were negatives unrelated to the competition that need to be addressed.  Some of those for the offense would be the center-QB exchange, the pitch techniques, and the dropped passes (hopefully an anomaly).  The defense must continue to concentrate on tackling, and the back seven must show more dynamism.

There are more observations to make about what will (or should) happen going forward, of course.  I’ll try to mention those in my preview of the Presbyterian game.

Why exactly is The Citadel playing Arizona in the first place?

I didn’t touch on this in my preview of the game between The Citadel and Arizona, but I figured I could make a quick post out of the question:  why exactly is The Citadel playing Arizona in football in the first place?  I’m sure fans of both schools are a little curious about that.

Well, for money, of course.  The Citadel has to play at least one football “guarantee” game every season to balance (or attempt to balance) its budget for athletics.  On the other hand, surely The Citadel could find an FBS opponent a little closer to home, an ACC or SEC team, or even a Big East squad.  After all, the Bulldogs have played teams from all those leagues in the last few seasons, along with a Big XII team (Texas A&M), a Big 10 outfit (Wisconsin)…oh, wait a second.  I see a pattern — a pattern created by none other than Les Robinson.

That’s right, The Citadel’s national tour of BCS conferences is a result of one of former AD Les Robinson’s grand ideas.  You can read about it here:  Link

The game against the Pac-10’s Arizona is the last of the “BCS series” for The Citadel, which in the past five years has traveled to play against the aforementioned Texas A&M and Wisconsin, along with Pittsburgh of the Big East, Florida of the SEC, and North Carolina and Clemson of the ACC.

Just prior to that five-year run the Bulldogs traveled to Oxford to play Mississippi and Tallahassee to tangle with Florida State.  The coach for all these games has been Kevin Higgins, so keep that in mind when evaluating his 25-32 record at The Citadel. I think there is a good chance Higgins is the only head coach in the country to have played teams from all six BCS conferences in the last five seasons.

After this game the Bulldogs will have completed the Robinson Quest, having played teams from all six BCS leagues.  Robinson even set up a “bonus” two-game series with Princeton of the Ivy League.  I am not sure current AD Larry Leckonby is crazy about scheduling the likes of Arizona or (to a lesser extent) Wisconsin, as the travel for those games eats into the guarantee.  It was also a significant issue for the game at Princeton.

I can certainly understand that, and in the future I expect most, if not all, of The Citadel’s football guarantee games to come against SEC/ACC schools.  However, I don’t think it hurts the school to travel out of its home region on occasion.  I agree with the comment Robinson made in the linked article about such games providing needed national exposure.  Another thing they provide is an opportunity for alums living outside the southeast to attend a game.

The Citadel brought a very good crowd to the Princeton game last year.  I can attest to the number of PA/NJ/NY alums in attendance, most of whom showed up with their families, and some with friends too.  We need to play games like that once in a while, if only for those fans.

The game against Arizona will give some of our alums on the west coast a chance to see their team in action.  Admittedly, a game against UCLA or Stanford might have been a better bet in terms of Bulldog supporters showing up — I’m not sure how many alums live in Arizona — but still, it’s in the general area.

Anyway, I hope the following gives a little insight into how this game came to be.  I don’t think we’ll be seeing any other matchups on the gridiron between The Citadel and Pac-10 teams in the near future, but you never know.

Football, Game 2: The Citadel vs. Arizona

Gametime:  10 pm ET, September 11.

Telecast:  KWBA, local channel 58 in Tucson, and on Fox College Sports Pacific (FCS-Pacific), joined in progress; announcers are Dave Sitton, John Fina, and sideline reporter Glenn Howell

There won’t be many schools this season who will face in consecutive weeks opponents as different as Chowan and Arizona.  Chowan is a small Division II school in North Carolina.  Arizona is a large Division I (FBS) school, the flagship university of a populous western state.  Chowan has about 1,100 undergraduate students. Arizona has 30,000.  Indeed, Arizona has more undergraduate and graduate students than The Citadel has living alumni.

The difference is reflected in the football teams as well, of course, and thus The Citadel’s football team has its work cut out for it this week as it ventures to Tucson, the longest trip in program history.  Since The Citadel has never played Arizona (or any Pac-10 school) before, let’s take a brief look at the history of the University of Arizona’s football team.

The Wildcats (originally just known as the “Varsity”) started playing football in 1899, 14 years after the school’s founding.  Keep in mind that Arizona didn’t become a state until 1912 (it was the 48th and last of the contiguous states).  It had been a recognized U.S. territory since 1862.

The first official coach of the football team was “Pop” McKale, for whom the McKale Center (UA’s basketball arena) is named.  McHale also coached the basketball team for a time and was the school’s longtime director of athletics.

McHale was also a central figure in the story of Arizona’s great tradition, its motto “Bear Down”.  In 1926, Arizona quarterback and student body president John “Button” Salmon was critically injured in a car accident after the first game of that season. McHale regularly visited Salmon in the hospital until Salmon’s death on October 18.

During the coach’s final visit, Salmon told McHale to “tell them…tell the team to bear down.”  McHale reportedly told the team just that, repeating Salmon’s words during a game against New Mexico State which the Wildcats managed to win, 7-0.  It’s a tale not unlike Knute Rockne’s “Win one for the Gipper” speech for Notre Dame.

Ever since, “Bear Down” has been the official slogan for all of the university’s athletic teams.

Salmon is one of two players to have his jersey retired at Arizona.  The other, running back Art Luppino, led the nation in rushing twice in 1954 and 1955.

Arizona first joined a conference in 1931, becoming a charter member of the Border Conference, and remaining in that league until it disbanded in 1961.  Other schools in the league included Texas Tech, UTEP, New Mexico, New Mexico State, and Arizona State.  They were joined at various times by Hardin-Simmons, Northern Arizona, and West Texas A&M.  The Wildcats won three league titles while in the Border Conference and played in one bowl game during that time, losing the 1949 Salad Bowl (yes, Salad Bowl) to Drake (yes, Drake).

Arizona then became a founding member of the Western Athletic Conference (WAC). That league was basically a merger of the Border and Skyline Conferences, except not every school in those leagues was invited (New Mexico State, for example).  Also in the original WAC:  Arizona State, BYU, Utah, New Mexico, and Wyoming.  Arizona won two league titles in the WAC and played in one bowl game, the 1968 Sun Bowl (losing to Auburn).

Arizona and Arizona State gradually outgrew the WAC, mostly because the state of Arizona was outgrowing (by percentage) most of the other states in and around the mountain time zone.  The development of air conditioning helped produce a population boom in the state, and the increase in population/resources trickled down to the state universities.  The two schools joined the Pac-8 (renamed the Pac-10) in 1978, and have remained in that conference since then.

The hallmark of the program in that time, much to the frustration of  Arizona’s fans, has been its inability to make a trip to the Rose Bowl.  Its rival, Arizona State, has been to the big game twice (winning once), but the Wildcats have never been.  Arizona has come close on two occasions, both times under the direction of Dick Tomey.

In 1993, Arizona shared the Pac-10 title with UCLA and Southern California, but lost a tiebreaker to UCLA for the Rose Bowl berth.  This is the only time the Wildcats have claimed even a piece of the Pac-10 crown.  Arizona had lost earlier in the season to UCLA, but as late as November 14 still had a shot at Pasadena after a UCLA loss. However, the Wildcats blew a 20-point lead and lost to California, 24-20, eliminating them from Rose Bowl consideration.

The Wildcats did rebound from that disappointment, beating their rivals in Tempe and then dominating Miami 29-0 in the Fiesta Bowl to finish the season 10-2, with the bowl game arguably being the pinnacle of Arizona’s “Desert Swarm” defense, which was the national identity of the program in the mid-1990s (and personified by Tedy Bruschi).

The Fiesta Bowl victory was a major reason why Sports Illustrated ranked Arizona No. 1 in its 1994 preseason issue, but after starting the campaign 4-0 the Wildcats were upset at home by Colorado State.  Arizona also suffered road losses to Oregon and Southern California and finished with a Freedom Bowl loss to Utah and a disappointing 8-4 season.

In 1998, Arizona finished 12-1, losing only to UCLA (albeit at home by four touchdowns).  However, the Wildcats were looking good for a Rose Bowl appearance anyway, as the Bruins completed their Pac-10 schedule undefeated and were poised to play for the mythical national title at the Fiesta Bowl.  That would have sent Arizona to the Rose Bowl.

Unfortunately for Arizona (and the Bruins, as it turned out), UCLA had to play a December game originally delayed by a hurricane against the Hurricanes — and lost to Miami, 49-45.  That result meant the Bruins took the berth in the Rose and the Wildcats had to settle for the Holiday Bowl (which they won, beating Nebraska).

When I was looking at Arizona’s football history, and wondering what was preventing Arizona, a big school in a BCS conference with success in a lot of sports other than football, from grabbing the brass ring, one thing stood out.  It must have stood out to Joe Tessitore and Rod Gilmore too, because while calling the Wildcats’ 41-2 dismantling of Toledo last Friday on ESPN, they mentioned (and marvelled at) the following factoid:

Arizona hasn’t had a quarterback drafted by the NFL since 1985.

Think about that.  There can’t be that many BCS programs who have gone that long between QB draft picks.  In fact, that QB (10th-round pick John Conner, who did not throw a pass in the NFL) is the only quarterback out of Arizona drafted since 1972 (when another Wildcat signal-caller who never played in the league, Brian Linstrom, was selected in the 16th round).  It’s not like Arizona’s been running the wishbone all this time, either.

Arizona’s football program has had three different quarterbacks make a total of 29 starts in the NFL, none since 1974.  So in all the time UA has been in the Pac-10, it’s never developed an NFL quarterback.

It’s hard to win big games, or even get to big games, without a pro-caliber quarterback.  Since 1975, only one Arizona alum has thrown a TD pass in the NFL — a punter, Josh Miller, who did it for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2003 (an 81-yard pass play, incidentally).  Here is a little chart comparing alums from Arizona, The Citadel, and a mystery school:

TD passes thrown in the NFL since 1975

Arizona — 1

The Citadel — 1

Mystery School — 0

If you’re wondering, the graduate of The Citadel with a touchdown pass is Stump Mitchell.  Now, that mystery school that hasn’t had a grad with a TD toss in the NFL in the last 35 years?  Well, it’s a school that has quite a bit in common with Arizona on the athletics front.  It’s a “basketball school” that has won multiple titles in other sports, but hasn’t been able to parlay its success in those sports into a nationally prominent football program.

Like Arizona, a good argument can be made that the reason for that has a lot to do with never having an “NFL ready” quarterback.  What school is that?  Why, it’s the BCS school The Citadel played last season.

North Carolina.

I wrote about UNC’s football history in my preview of The Citadel’s game against the Heels last year.  At the time, I noted that the overall QB rating for players from The Citadel to have thrown a pass in the NFL (which would be just two, Mitchell and Paul Maguire) was exactly 100 points better than their UNC counterparts (119.6-19.6). Arizona is a little better than North Carolina in this respect (47.7), but again the mighty Bulldogs prevail.

What will this mean on Saturday?  Not much, since it’s probable the Wildcats have finally found themselves an NFL prospect at QB in Nick Foles.  Foles is a native of Austin (went to the same high school as Drew Brees) who began his collegiate career at Michigan State before transferring to Arizona after one season.

He has NFL size (6’5″, 245 lbs.) and a good arm.  Last season he completed 63% of his passes for 19 TDs (9 interceptions).  His yards per attempt was not that high (just over 6 yards), but he was only sacked 13 times all season (so not a lot of negative plays).  His three 300-yard games included a 4-TD effort against league champion Oregon.

Foles isn’t the only impressive skill-position player on the Wildcat offense.  Nic Grigsby, when healthy, is an outstanding running back.  Grigsby averaged over seven yards per carry last season.  His problem was a bad shoulder that cost him three games and limited him in several others.  He appears to be healthy now.  Then there is Juron Criner, a rangy 6’4″ wideout who hauled in nine touchdowns last season.

Criner had a ridiculous game against Toledo on Friday, catching eleven passes for 187 yards and a touchdown.  Forty-five of those reception yards came on a one-handed, falling-down circus catch in the third quarter.  His TD grab was almost as good.

Arizona had to replace seven defensive starters from last season, but you would have never known it against Toledo, which did not score on the Wildcat defense (the Rockets’ only two points came on a safety called for offensive holding in the end zone).

Arizona is as good a bet as any team to make a run at the Pac-10 title.  Oregon, the defending champ (and coming off a 72-0 demolition of hapless New Mexico), probably has to be the favorite, but if the Ducks slip it’s possible the Wildcats could be the team to make the move to the top and claim the school’s first Rose Bowl trip.

Arizona was picked in the middle of the conference pack in most preseason polls, likely thanks to getting manhandled 33-0 in the Holiday Bowl by a certain Mr. Suh and Nebraska.  Its most recent impression among those who vote in pre-season polls was not a good one.  Otherwise, I think a team with the talent (particularly on offense) that Arizona has might have been nationally ranked to start the season.

Arizona’s coach is Mike Stoops, also known as “Bob Stoops’ brother”.  He has very slowly built the program since arriving in 2004 (wins per year:  3, 3, 6, 5, 8, 8).  Some Arizona supporters have become a bit impatient.  He needs to have a good year this year.  He’s probably going to have one, so I wouldn’t assign him “hot seat” status, but if the Wildcats were to tank this season, I think he would be out the door.

It could be a long night for The Citadel.  In fact, it would be surprising if it weren’t.  The problem is that the defense is going to have some matchup problems (particularly with Criner), and will not be likely to get much help from the offense.

Last season against BCS foe North Carolina the defense got no help from the offense either, but the UNC offense wasn’t dynamic enough to take full advantage of its field position and time of possession.  As a result, the Bulldogs lost, but only by a 40-6 score.  Arizona may not have as good a defense as UNC did, but The Citadel’s offense will be worse (as it is still in its embryonic stage in the triple option) and the Wildcat offense is considerably more talented than the Heels’ O was.

I wrote about some on-field things that concerned me in my review of the Chowan game.  I am hoping that the blocking improves, that the quarterbacks get more comfortable taking the snap and making the proper reads, and that the defense does a better job in assignments and tackling.   Against Arizona, I don’t really expect to see much visible progress from the offense, although I am willing to be pleasantly surprised.

I do think that the one player who might not be physically out of place in the game for The Citadel’s offense is Domonic Jones.  I could see him making a play or two.  First, of course, the QB has to get him the ball, or at least give him a chance to get the ball.

On the other hand, I do expect the defense, even against a squad as talented as the Wildcats, to avoid multiple mental errors and not miss tackles.  That should happen. If it doesn’t, things could get ugly.

I’ll be watching anyway…

Variety pack: Triple Option, The Citadel on TV, college baseball on the clock, Plant of the Week

This is going to be a grab-bag type of post, a variety pack if you will.  I may do this sort of thing periodically, as I really need to blog on a more regular basis.  I look at this as a way to make shorter comments on various issues, mostly about sports (including sports at The Citadel), with a few other odds and ends that catch my eye.  Think of them as Twitter entries that are longer than 140 characters.

Speaking of Twitter, my latest tweets can be seen on the left side of this page.  If anyone hasn’t noticed and is halfway interested in following me on Twitter, the location is http://twitter.com/SandlapperSpike (my tweets feature links/comments on a lot of stuff, including up-to-the-minute updates on Bulldog sports, baseball, football, and soccer, among other things).

As The Citadel counts down to kickoff against Chowan (as of today, T-41 days!), it’s time to focus on the Bulldogs’ new offense, which may be a little like an old offense, namely Charlie Taaffe’s wishbone attack.  However, it appears that Kevin Higgins may intend to run more of a “spread” triple option than Taaffe’s offense.

With that in mind, it might be a good idea to take a look at what the folks at Navy (and Georgia Tech, with Paul Johnson’s arrival in Atlanta) have been doing, particularly since Higgins apparently told one of our quarterback recruits (Ben Dupree) that The Citadel would be running a “Navy-style triple-option offense.”

Another reason to pay attention to the triple option is that Georgia Southern is also going to start running the offense this season, in a return to its roots.

For those interested in a breakdown of the nuts and bolts of the triple option, then, I cannot recommend highly enough a visit to The Birddog, the blog of choice for Navy football (and lacrosse).  The Birddog does a great, great job of illustrating (with video!) the intricacies of the triple option attack.

I’ve picked out four posts that I think serve as a good introductory primer for what the offense is all about.  (I hope I’ve chosen correctly.)  While reading these, just in case anyone gets confused, keep in mind that Paul Johnson is the former head coach at Navy (and Georgia Southern, of course) and is now at Georgia Tech.  The current Navy head coach is Ken Niumatalolo, and his offensive coordinator is Ivin Jasper.

Reading Is Fundamental

The Science and the Art

The Midline Option

Other People’s Rivalries And The Futility Of Defending Against the Wishbone

As of today, only one of The Citadel’s football games is scheduled to be televised (at Wofford on October 30).  There is always a chance that a local station (either in Charleston or another SoCon town) will elect to broadcast a game, although that is unlikely.  Other than that scenario, there are only two other games that could be televised.

It is possible (but doubtful) that SportSouth will pick up the November 20 game at Samford as part of its “SoCon Saturday” package, as the last two weekends of the regular season are “wild card” weekends — basically, the network will televise the most attractive matchup that week, based on the teams’ records to that point in the season.  Admittedly, very few prognosticators are going to bet that a game between Samford and The Citadel will have serious repercussions in the league standings, but you never know.

However, there is a decent chance that The Citadel’s game at Arizona on September 11 will be televised by Fox Sports Net Arizona (FSN-AZ), a regional sports network received by cable subscribers in Arizona (and I believe parts of California and New Mexico), and also available as part of DirecTV’s “Sports Pack”.  Arizona has asked the Pac-10 (and the league’s TV partners) for a waiver in order for the game to be broadcast.

The reason a waiver is needed is because there are already two Pac-10 games scheduled to be televised during the same time period, and that league’s national cable partners have television exclusivity rights for those games.  In other words, a local/regional broadcast can’t take place at the same time as a nationally televised league TV game.  If another Pac-10 school wants its game on television, it has to play in another time slot.

However, Arizona and Arizona State have been given waivers in the past because home game time slots for those schools are limited, especially early in the season. You just can’t play a football game in the desert in the midday heat.

(Matt Sarzyniak was nice enough to explain the Arizona/Arizona State waiver issue to me, which I appreciate.)

We’ll see what happens.  I am cautiously optimistic that the game will be televised.

The NCAA Baseball Rules Committee passed legislation that, if approved, will establish a time clock in college baseball.  The committee is basically incorporating the rules employed by the SEC for its 2010 conference tournament.

The 20-second rule for throwing a pitch was already on the books, but now it will be enforced with a timer, as will the amount of time allocated between innings.  I’ll be interested to see how the Southern Conference handles this; will it have a visible clock, with a timekeeper in the press box monitoring it?  Or will it just have an umpire carrying a watch?  I’m guessing the latter, for financial reasons.

The committee also modified the obstruction rule, which got a lot of notoriety in the Southern Conference tournament thanks to the second-round game/brawl between The Citadel and Elon.  That was the second-wildest fight I’ve ever seen at the SoCon tourney (nothing compares to the epic Raleigh/Piepenbrink donnybrook in 1990, though).

Not about sports:  you can be assured that I will never quote from or link to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.  Why, you ask?  This is why.

Link 1

Link 2

I sincerely hope that the Review-Journal goes bankrupt sooner rather than later.  Also, the photo of the CEO in the first link — doesn’t he look like a guy who hopes you throw something at him, so that he can sue you?

I have a great deal of respect for copyright law.  I think this guy and the Review-Journal (which is funding him) are abusing copyright law.

Not about sports:  I really enjoyed this article in The New Yorker on the identification and authentication of artworks.  It’s a long piece, but worthwhile.  I won’t spoil it, but there is a major twist halfway through.  The bottom line:  if P.T. Barnum had been more familiar with the art world, he would have said “there’s a sucker born every 15 seconds.”

Finally, a new feature, the Plant of the Week.  That’s right, plants.  As I’ve said elsewhere on the blog, I consider gardening a sport.  In honor of this being the first edition of the PotW, I will honor not one but two plants in my garden.  Both are crinums. Feast your eyes on a Powelii (Cecil Houdyshel) and a Herbertii (no common name).

Until next time…

College baseball bubble, 5/29

Just a quick update…for the breakdown prior to conference tournament play, see this post:  Link

The Saturday morning report, with changes noted from what I wrote in midweek:

– Locks (36):  Louisville, Connecticut, Virginia, Georgia Tech, Miami, Clemson, Florida State, Virginia Tech, Texas, Oklahoma, Texas A&M, Coastal Carolina, Cal State Fullerton, Rice, TCU, Arizona State, UCLA, Washington State, Oregon, Florida, South Carolina, Auburn, Arkansas, Vanderbilt, Mississippi, Alabama, LSU, College of Charleston, Florida Atlantic, Louisiana-Lafayette, Kansas State, UC Irvine, The Citadel, New Mexico, Stanford, Baylor

Change: Six teams that were not locks earlier in the week are now:  Kansas State, UC Irvine, The Citadel, New Mexico, Stanford, and Baylor.

– Champions from “one-bid” leagues:  15

Congratulations to Stony Brook and Rider for clinching automatic bids on Friday out of the America East and MAAC, respectively.

— Champions from leagues likely to get just one bid, but that do have bubble teams (but no locks):  4 (the leagues in question are the A-Sun, Big 10, MVC, and Southland)

Change: Florida Gulf Coast did lose in its tournament.

That means 55 spots are taken, with 9 still to go.

— Florida Gulf Coast University’s loss in the Atlantic Sun tournament will hurt, but it may still draw an at-large bid, making the A-Sun a two-bid league.  Could be close for the Eagles.

— The Big 10 is not likely to be a two-bid league.  Minnesota is in the driver’s seat for the auto bid.  I won’t completely discount this league getting a second team (Michigan), only because it’s the Big 10, and not because it deserves one.

— Wichita State is in the final of the MVC tournament and plays Illinois State for the title on Saturday.  The Shockers could lose today and still get in the NCAAs, but I tend to doubt it.

— Texas State is still alive in the bloodbath that has been the Southland tournament.  Could Texas State get an at-large bid, if needed?  Possibly.  Like FGCU, it would be a close call.

— The Big East has two locks and likely will get a third team in the field.  That team would have been Pittsburgh, but the Panthers went 1-2 in the tourney.  Also, St. John’s could steal a bid.  If the Johnnies win the tournament, is this a 4-bid league?

— Results in the Pac-10 on Friday broke almost perfectly for that league getting 8 teams in the field.  Stanford locked up a bid, and there were big wins for Oregon State and California.  Washington also won, but I think the Huskies are the ninth team and will not make it.  Oregon State and Cal both probably need one more win.  Arizona is still in good shape, but the Wildcats need to beat the Beavers at least once during the weekend to feel 100% secure.

— The Big XII is going to be a five-bid league.  It also has four completely meaningless games in its tournament today, thanks to the wonder that is pool play.

— The Southern Conference will be at least a three-bid league.  Elon should be that third team, despite losing a fight and a game on Thursday.  The Phoenix can still win the SoCon tourney, but if Elon doesn’t and either Western Carolina or Appalachian State does, I’m not sure the committee is taking four teams from this league.  The Citadel and the College of Charleston will be in the field of 64.

— Southern Mississippi plays Rice in the C-USA title game on Saturday, and the Golden Eagles probably have to win that game to get a bid.

— Liberty is still alive in the Big South tournament, but with more conference tourney upsets looming, it looks like the Flames must win that tourney to snatch a bid.  That will be a tall order, as Liberty will have to beat High Point once and Coastal Carolina twice.

— The Sun Belt could become a three-bid league if a team other than Florida Atlantic wins its tournament.  Either Arkansas State or Troy will be in the final, and FAU has to beat Florida International to get to the other side of the title matchup.  It would be interesting to see Garrett Wittels continue his hit streak in the NCAAs, but I think FIU has to win the SB tourney to make it.  Of course, they may just do that.

— Boston College is probably out of the mix for an at-large after going 1-2 in the ACC tourney (a result that helps North Carolina).  North Carolina State beat Clemson in its opener and probably needs one more win to feel good about its chances.  At this point, I think the Wolfpack might need that win only to further differentiate itself from BC.

— I still think the SEC will get 8 bids.  Kentucky is still in the mix, but I just don’t see it.  I wouldn’t be shocked if Kentucky’s name popped up on the selection show, though.

So, there are nine spots to fill.  As of Saturday morning, I think they might go like this:

Arizona, North Carolina, Oregon State, FGCU, Pittsburgh, North Carolina State, California, Elon, Liberty

Still alive:  Texas State (if needed), Southern Mississippi, Washington, Michigan, Boston College, Wichita State (if needed), Kentucky

Examining the college baseball “bubble” with one week to go

This will be a huge week in the college baseball world, obviously, with conference tournament action all over the country (along with some key regular season games in the Pac-10, which does not have a league tournament).  I decided to break down the potential field and see what teams are in, what teams are out, and what teams have work to do.  Admittedly, I’m not the only person who does this — you can read fine efforts from the folks at Baseball America and Yahoo! Sports, just to name two — but I’m the only person who will do it on this blog.  So there.

I’m going to approach this from the point of view of a fan of a “bubble” team who wants to know the ideal scenario by which his team can make the field, by the way.  The Citadel, while not a true “lock”, is probably safe at this point (and well it should be). However, I would like to see any potential roadblocks to the NCAAs removed.  In other words, I’m for the chalk.

RPI numbers mentioned below are as of May 23 and are from Boyd Nation’s website.  For the uninitiated, the regionals include 64 teams, 30 automatic qualifiers (by winning their respective league bids) and 34 at-large selections.  Three leagues do not hold post-season tournaments, so their regular season champs get the auto bid. Several smaller conferences have already held their post-season events and so we know what teams will be representing those leagues.

There are 15 leagues that will definitely only have one team in the field, the so-called “one-bid leagues”.  Dartmouth, Bethune-Cookman, Bucknell, and San Diego have already qualified from four of these conferences.  The other eleven leagues are the America East, Atlantic 10, CAA, Horizon, MAAC, MAC, NEC, OVC, SWAC, Summit, and WAC.  That leaves 49 spots for the other 15 leagues.

(There are also a few independents, along with the members of the Great West, a league that does not get an automatic bid, but none of those teams are serious candidates to make a regional.)

There are several leagues that will also be “one-bid” conferences, unless the regular season champion doesn’t win the conference tournament, and even then the favorite might not be good enough to get an at-large bid anyway.  Bubble teams should definitely be rooting for the top seed in these leagues, just to make sure no spots are “stolen”.  These leagues are as follows:

— Atlantic Sun – Florida Gulf Coast University dominated this conference.  With an RPI of 40, FGCU probably stands a decent (not great) shot at getting a bid even if it loses in the A-Sun tourney.  This is unfamiliar ground for the Eagles, as the A-Sun tourney will be their first post-season experience in Division I.

If you’re wondering why you have never heard of Florida Gulf Coast University, it’s because the school (located in Fort Myers) has only existed since 1997.  The baseball team has only been around since 2003, first as a D-2 program and now at D-1.  It’s an amazing story, really; there are a few more details to be found here.  It just goes to show you how many good baseball players there are in Florida, and for that matter how many young people there are in Florida (FGCU has an enrollment of over 11,000).

— Big 10 – Michigan has an RPI of 65, which isn’t really that great, and didn’t even win the regular season title (Minnesota, with a losing overall record, did).  It’s barely possible the selection committee will throw a bone to the all-powerful Big 10 and give a “snow bid” to a second team from the league, but I doubt it.   Incidentally, the Big 10 tournament will be held in Columbus, but Ohio State did not qualify for the event.

— Big South – Coastal Carolina will almost certainly be a national seed.  If the Chanticleers win the league tourney, the Big South is probably a one-bid league. Liberty has an RPI of 51 and has beaten no one of consequence.  Bubble teams should definitely root for CCU.

— Conference USA – Rice will be in the tournament.  The only other team with a shot at a potential at-large bid is Southern Mississippi, but with an RPI of 67, it’s likely the Eagles need to win the C-USA tourney.  Otherwise, it could be bad news for the Minnesota Vikings.

— Missouri Valley – Wichita State will be the top seed at the MVC tourney, tying for the regular season title with Illinois State but holding the tiebreaker.  If the Shockers (RPI of 56) don’t win the league tournament, they could get an at-large bid, but I don’t see it. Still, you have to watch out, given the tradition of Wichita State, that the committee doesn’t give a “legacy” bid.

— Southland – There are three teams (Texas State, Southeastern Louisiana, and Northwestern State) that are semi-viable at-large candidates, but I suspect all of them really need the auto bid.  Texas State won the regular season title, has an RPI of 50, and probably would be the one best positioned for an at-large spot, but I don’t think that would happen. Bubble teams should pull for Texas State anyway, just to make sure.  Southeastern Louisiana has an RPI of 48 but dropped all three games of its final regular season series to Northwestern State, at home, and thus finished third in the league.

Let’s look at the remaining “mid-majors”:

— Big East – Louisville should be a national seed.  Connecticut has had a great year and may wind up hosting (but as a 2 seed).  Pittsburgh doesn’t have a great RPI (53), but has a fine overall record, will get the benefit of the doubt for its power rating because it is a northern school, and is probably in good shape.  The Big East appears to be a three-bid league.  St. John’s has a good record but an RPI of 74.

— Big West – Cal State Fullerton will host and could be a national seed.  UC Irvine should also make it out of this league (which does not have a post-season tournament).  I don’t see anyone else getting in.  It’s a two-bid league.

— Mountain West – TCU will probably host a regional.  I think New Mexico (RPI of 42) is getting in, too, although an 0-2 MWC tourney could make the Lobos a little nervous.  The MWC should get two bids.

— Southern – The Citadel (RPI of 37) won the regular season by two full games, winning its last seven league games (and its last eight games overall).  It was the only school in the SoCon to not lose a home conference series, and went 8-4 against the schools that finished 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th in the league, with all of those games being played on the road.

What The Citadel was not good at was winning on Tuesday.  It was 0-7 on Tuesdays until winning at Winthrop in its final Tuesday matchup.  On days other than Tuesday, the Bulldogs were 37-13.

Regionals are not played on Tuesdays.  The selection committee is aware of this, and probably aware that The Citadel has a top-flight starting pitcher (potential first-round pick Asher Wojciechowski) and a very good Saturday starter (6’7″ left-hander Matt Talley) who pitch on Fridays and Saturdays.

That’s a lot of verbiage to say that, even if the Bulldogs go 0-2 in the SoCon tourney, I expect them to be in the NCAAs. They better be.

The College of Charleston should be in the NCAAs too, with an excellent record and RPI (24).  The only other team with a shot at an at-large bid out of the SoCon is Elon (RPI of 43), which tied for third in the league (but is the 4 seed in the conference tourney).  The Phoenix had a better record against the ACC (6-1) than in the SoCon (19-11).  The SoCon should get at least two bids, and possibly three.

— Sun Belt – Florida Atlantic and Louisiana-Lafayette will be in the NCAAs.  Then there is Western Kentucky, with an RPI of 36 and some nice non-conference wins (Texas A&M, Texas State, Baylor, Vanderbilt, Kentucky).  However, the Hilltoppers finished 16-14 in league play, tied for sixth, and will be the 8 seed at the Sun Belt tournament. Can an 8 seed out of the Sun Belt get an at-large bid?  I’m not sure about that.

That leaves the four leagues that will send the most teams.  The easiest of these to evaluate, in terms of at-large possibilities, is the SEC.  The other three are a bit more difficult to figure out.

— Southeastern – Alabama’s sweep of Tennessee in Knoxville locked up a berth in the SEC tourney (and the regionals) for the Tide and also knocked the Vols out of both events.  LSU took care of business against Mississippi State, and then got the benefit of Kentucky’s meltdown against cellar-dweller Georgia.  The Wildcats were eliminated from the SEC tourney (and likely the NCAAs) after a 20-0 loss in Athens on Friday night.  Ouch.  The SEC, which some were suggesting could send ten teams to the NCAAs, will send eight — the same eight teams playing in the league tournament.

— Atlantic Coast – Six teams are locks (Virginia, Clemson, Georgia Tech, Florida State, Miami, Virginia Tech).  Then there are the other two teams in the league tournament (Boston College and NC State) and one that isn’t (North Carolina).

I think it’s possible that two of those three get in, but not all three.  North Carolina didn’t even make the ACC tourney, but has a really good RPI (21) and just finished a sweep of Virginia Tech.  The Heels actually tied for 8th with BC, but the two teams did not meet during the regular season, and BC wound up prevailing in a tiebreaker, which was based on record against the top teams.  That’s also UNC’s biggest problem — it was swept by all three of the ACC heavyweights (Virginia, Georgia Tech, Miami).  It also lost a series to Duke, which is never a good idea.

On the other hand, UNC did beat NC State two out of three games (in Chapel Hill). The Wolfpack has an RPI of 49, not quite in UNC’s range, thanks to a strength of schedule of only 77 (per Warren Nolan).  By comparison, UNC has a SOS of 15 and BC 16, typical of most ACC teams (Miami has the #1 SOS in the nation; UVA is 9th, Clemson 11th).

The records for the two schools against the top 50 in the RPI are similar.  Both are better than Boston College (8-20 against the top 50).  BC, which is only 29-26 overall and has an RPI of 45, would be a marginal at-large candidate but for its quality schedule and, of course, its sweep of NC State in Raleigh.

What NC State does have to offer for its consideration is series wins against UVA and Georgia Tech.  That’s impressive, but it’s probably not enough to get the Pack an at-large berth on its own.

I suspect that UNC will get in, despite not making the ACC tournament, but it will be close.  BC and NC State both need to do some damage in the ACC tourney, which is a pool play event, meaning each team will play at least three games. The Eagles and Wolfpack each need to win at least twice.  UNC fans need to root against both of them, because even though at-large bids (supposedly) aren’t doled out by conference, a run to the ACC title game by either BC or NCSU probably would move them ahead of the Heels in the at-large pecking order.

— Big XII – Texas, Oklahoma, and Texas A&M are locks.  Kansas State (RPI of 35) is on the bubble but is in good shape.  Baylor (RPI of 41), Texas Tech (RPI of 54, and now with a .500 overall record), and Kansas (RPI of 52) are also in the running for an at-large bid, although the latter two schools hurt themselves over the weekend and are in now in serious trouble.  Both must have good runs in the Big XII tourney (which, like the ACC tournament, is a pool play event).

Baylor, Kansas, and Kansas State are all in the same “pod” for the Big XII tournament, so they may be able to separate themselves from each other (in a manner of speaking) during the tourney.  How that will affect the total number of bids for the Big XII is hard to say.  It wasn’t a banner year for the league, but I could see as many as six bids.  I think, barring some upsets in the league tournament, it’s going to be five.

— Pac-10 – Arizona State, UCLA, Washington State, and Oregon are locks.  Arizona (RPI of 19) probably is too, although the Wildcats would do well not to get swept next weekend at Oregon State.

There are nine teams in the conference still fighting to make the NCAAs.  In this league, there is only one punching bag — Southern California.  Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

Washington has the worst RPI of the contenders (55) and is only one game over .500 overall.  The Huskies play Southern Cal in their final series, which will probably help Washington’s record but may not help its NCAA case.  Oregon State, as mentioned, hosts Arizona and may need to win twice.  The Beavers (with a solid RPI of 32) did get a much-needed win on Sunday at Arizona State to improve their conference record to 10-14.

Stanford (RPI of 44) looks to be in good shape; the Cardinal host Arizona State next weekend and likely need to win just one of the three games (and may be able to withstand a sweep).  On the other side of the bay, however, things are not as promising, as California (RPI of 39) has lost seven straight and finishes the season at Oregon needing to show the selection committee a reason to believe.

At least seven teams from the Pac-10 are going to make the NCAAs, and possibly eight.  I don’t think all nine contenders are going to get the call, though.

Okay, now let’s break things down.  Just my opinion, of course.  Here we go:

— Locks (30):  Louisville, Connecticut, Virginia, Georgia Tech, Miami, Clemson, Florida State, Virginia Tech, Texas, Oklahoma, Texas A&M, Coastal Carolina, Cal State Fullerton, Rice, TCU, Arizona State, UCLA, Washington State, Oregon, Florida, South Carolina, Auburn, Arkansas, Vanderbilt, Mississippi, Alabama, LSU, College of Charleston, Florida Atlantic, Louisiana-Lafayette

— Champions from “one-bid” leagues:  15

— Champions from leagues likely to get just one bid, but that do have bubble teams (but no locks):  4 (the leagues in question are the A-Sun, Big 10, MVC, and Southland)

— Bubble teams that are in good shape (6):  Arizona, Kansas State, UC Irvine, New Mexico, The Citadel, Pittsburgh

That’s 55 teams in total.  If there are no upsets (hah!), then nine other bubble teams will make the NCAAs.  I’ve got them listed in two groups; the “decent chance” group, and the “need some help and/or no conference tourney upsets for an at-large” group.

Decent chance for an at-large:  Stanford, North Carolina, Baylor, FGCU (if needed), Oregon State, Elon, NC State

Need a lot of things to go right:  Boston College, Liberty, Wichita State, Western Kentucky, Michigan, Texas Tech, Kansas, California, Washington, Texas State, Southeastern Louisiana, Northwestern State, Southern Mississippi, Kentucky, Tennessee, St. John’s

That’s how I see things, as of Sunday night.  Most of the action this week begins on Wednesday.  Let the games begin…

Random bubble thoughts and theories, 3/8

I’m going to wait a few days before writing a post-mortem on The Citadel’s hoops season.  It was a little bit of an odd year.  Part of me is disappointed in the overall record (16-16, 9-9), but another part of me remembers that in the last two years the Bulldogs have won 24 SoCon games.  In the six previous years, The Citadel had won 15.  Total.

The past brings perspective.

Sometimes the past also helps when trying to evaluate bubble teams and seeding scenarios.  The membership of the selection committee has changed over time, of course, but that doesn’t mean you can’t look back and see what the committee did when presented with certain situations.

— Let’s face it, the Pac-10 is wretched this season.  California won the outright Pac-10 title.  Is that good enough to guarantee the Bears an at-large bid if they don’t win the Pac-10 tourney?

History says yes.  Exhibit A:  Air Force, 2004.  That season the Falcons were 22-5 during the regular season and won the Mountain West, but did almost nothing outside the league, managing to beat no one of consequence and losing games to UT-Pan American and Belmont.  However, Air Force was 12-2 in league play and won the MWC outright by two games.

Air Force lost in the quarterfinals of the MWC tournament to Colorado State (by 12 points).  Despite that, the Falcons still made the NCAAs.  When asked about it, selection committee chairman Bob Bowlsby noted AFA’s less-than-stellar profile, but pointed out that the Falcons had been the regular-season champion of a top-10 league — and that achievement, in the opinion of the committee, merited Air Force’s inclusion.

I can’t say I disagree with that argument.  (It’s certainly a better line of reasoning than the one Bowlsby’s successor as committee chair, Craig Littlepage, gave for the committee’s absurd decision to put Air Force in the field two years later.  I still have no idea how that was justified.)

If winning a top-10 league is good enough, then Cal is safe.  Admittedly, it’s not quite the same situation; Air Force won the MWC in 2004 by two games, while Cal edged Arizona State by just one game in the standings.  Also, 12-2 is better than 13-5.  Still, it’s a factor, as is the fact we’re talking about the Pac-10, and not one of the “mid-major” leagues (even if it isn’t as good as some of those leagues this season).  Cal better not lose in the Pac-10 quarterfinals, though.

Incidentally, the same argument would presumably work in the favor of Utah State.

— Could last-second seeding adjustments actually happen?

This season there will be four conference title games played on Selection Sunday.  The SEC, ACC, and Atlantic 10 title games will all tip at 1 pm ET, while the Big 10 final will start at 3:30 pm ET.

Let’s say that Duke and Ohio State are both in their respective conference finals. Would the committee wait until the end of the Big 10 game to finalize the seeding?

Someone asked Joe Lunardi about this in an ESPN “chat session” :

A lot of experts think that Ohio State has the best shot this side of Durham to collect the final 1-seed if they win the Big Ten tournament. Isn’t there a good chance though that they could get screwed by the schedule. The Big Ten final doesn’t start until 3:30 on Sunday and the ACC championship is at at 1:00 on Sunday. I know that the brackets take a long time to put together and the top seeds are placed first. If Duke lost in the Final and Ohio State won, is it possible that their fates would already be set before those games finish?

Joe Lunardi:  It has happened this way in the past…More recently, however, the Committee has built multiple brackets accounting for the various Sunday scenarios. I would be disappointed in this group if they bailed on the process and didn’t finish the job (and I do not expect they will).

Lunardi may be right, but I think most of those “various Sunday scenarios” have revolved around teams playing on Sunday who were “auto bid or bust” types — like Mississippi State last season, or Georgia the year before that.  I’m less than sure the committee is going to wait until the last moment (or prepare alternative brackets) for a question of one seeding line.  Besides, should one game really be the difference between a team getting a 1 or a 2?  What about the previous 30+ games?

This reminds me that in the past, there were occasionally conference tournaments still going on when the selections were announced.  The Big West did this several times (this was back when UNLV was in the league).  It invariably led to scenarios where the committee would have either/or bracket lines where a team would be in the field, unless the Big West had a surprise champ (in other words, if  Vegas didn’t win).

This finally ended after the committee basically decided to hose any at-large hopeful out of the Big West until it quit playing its tourney so late.  I recall Long Beach State being a bubble team that found out at halftime of the conference final that it had to win, or else.

Another league that at one time played its final after the pairings was the SWAC.  Now, with the SWAC there wasn’t any at-large issues; it was just a question of what team would advance.  However, it did pose a problem for the committee when trying to seed.  These days the SWAC is an easy 16 (if not play-in game) pick, but back then it wasn’t always the case.

One year the committee puzzled just about everyone by deciding the winner of the SWAC title game would get a 13 seed.  Nobody could believe the SWAC got so high a seed, especially because no one knew yet which team would be the league representative.

As it happened, Southern won the tournament final (televised immediately after the selection show), and the lucky 4 seed it drew as an opponent was ACC tournament champ Georgia Tech.  Well, maybe not so lucky.  Ben Jobe’s Jaguars shocked Bobby Cremins’ Yellow Jackets in the first round, 93-78.

— This season, there seem to be several “as long as they don’t lose to a really bad team, they should be okay” situations.  It’s all right if Virginia Tech loses to Wake Forest in the ACC tournament, but if Miami upsets the Demon Deacons and then beats the Hokies, VT is in trouble.  Washington might get an at-large bid if it loses to Cal in the Pac-10 final, but can’t afford to lose to another school — and it also would hurt the Huskies if their semifinal opponent wasn’t Arizona State.

As mentioned earlier, Cal can’t afford to lose in the Pac-10 quarters.  Utah State needs to avoid losing until it plays Nevada in the WAC final, because Nevada is hosting the event, and a loss then would be more acceptable.  However, Utah State couldn’t afford to lose to another school in the final, because then it would be a neutral-site loss.  Also in the same position, perhaps, is UTEP, which could face host Tulsa in the C-USA semifinals.

Conversely, Mississippi needs to beat Tennessee in the SEC quarterfinals — but it does the Rebels no good at all if the Vols are upset by LSU in the first round.  If that happened, then Mississippi would have to beat LSU and (presumably) Kentucky to get the needed big-win bounce.  Mississippi State is expected to play Florida in a “play-out” game in the SEC quarters, but if Auburn upends the Gators, then Mississippi State would have to beat the Tigers and Vanderbilt (if form holds) to reach the final — and it still would not have a strong enough at-large case.

Then there is Illinois, which is a good example of a team that would probably be better off not playing a game at all.  As it is, the Illini play Wisconsin for the second time in a week in the Big 10 quarterfinals — and for Illinois, it’s probably a win-you’re-in, lose-you’re-out situation.

— Memphis is starting to show up on some bubble watches.  I’m trying to figure out how a team that has not won a game this season against a prospective tournament team (unless Oakland wins the Summit League tourney) is a viable at-large candidate.

— If the tournament would have been expanded to 96 teams for this season, we would be discussing the bubble candidacies of North Carolina, South Carolina, Arizona, and St. John’s.  There is a good chance all four would have made the field of 96.

Expansion is such a dumb idea, it’s inevitable that it will happen…

Breaking down the broken: Pac-10 basketball

You’ve probably read or heard that Pac-10 basketball is not exactly top-of-the-line this season.  I was looking through some stats this morning and was struck by just how poor the league has really been on the hardwood.  It’s too much information for a Tweet, obviously, or even a regular post on a message board, so I figured I would stick it on the blog…

Last season the Pac-10 was 102-37 in non-conference play, a solid record of success that led to the conference receiving six bids to the NCAA tournament.  This season, however, the Pac-10 is only 75-44 out of conference (through 1/10/10), which is a very mediocre record for a power league. 

In fact, the Pac-10’s winning percentage out of league play is exceeded by both the Missouri Valley (71-32) and the Mountain West (79-38) and is roughly the same as that of the Atlantic 10 (113-70).  Indeed, the Pac-10 is currently 8th in conference RPI, behind the MWC and A-10 and just ahead of the MVC.

As a comparison, the cumulative records of the other BCS conferences:

ACC:  129-30
Big East:  152-37
Big 10:  94-38
Big XII:  136-30
SEC:  123-46

Incidentally, when the SEC was widely (and justifiably) mocked last year for not having the usual number of NCAA-quality teams for a major conference, its non-league record was 131-51.

The Pac-10 was 16-23 last season against the other power leagues, not great but not embarrassing.  This season, the league is 9-24, with none of those nine victories occurring in a “true” road game.  Only one school in the conference, Arizona, has more than one win against BCS opponents.

The Wildcats have two, a neutral-site win over habitual Big XII cellar-dweller Colorado (by four points) and a home victory over ACC bottom-feeder North Carolina State (by two).   Arizona has not been as successful against Mountain West squads, as it is 0-3 versus teams in that league, including a 17-point loss to San Diego State and a 30-point beatdown by BYU that was played at the McHale Center (as was a defeat at the hands of UNLV).

Losing at home by 30 is embarrassing for a proud program like Arizona, but it’s far from the worst loss this season by a Pac-10 club.  That honor probably has to go to Oregon State, which last week lost 99-48 to Seattle – and that game was played in Corvallis.  The Beavers have also lost to TAMU-Corpus Christi by 24 points and dropped a home game to Sacramento State.  All three of those opponents, by the way, have losing records.

Oregon State followed up that hideous loss to Seattle by beating Oregon – in Eugene, no less.  Oregon was 2-0 in the league following a road sweep of the Washington schools, but nobody should have been too shocked to see the Ducks blow their home opener in the league, since they had already lost at home to Montana (and have also lost to solid WCC outfits Portland and St. Mary’s, the latter setback yet another loss at McArthur Court).

Meanwhile, UCLA did the heretofore unthinkable, losing to Cal State Fullerton and Long Beach State in the same season (neither Big West club currently has a winning record).  Those two games were played in Anaheim, as was the Bruins’ 27-point loss to Portland.

Southern California may be the Pac-10 school that acquitted itself the best in non-conference play, having beaten Tennessee by 22 and winning a tournament in Hawaii (which included wins over St. Mary’s and UNLV).  In keeping with the rest of its conference brethren, the Trojans did manage to lose at home to Loyola-Marymount. 

Alas, the Trojans are now ineligible for postseason play thanks to the O.J. Mayo/Tim Floyd follies.

With all that, the Pac-10 will struggle to be a three-bid league.  It doesn’t help that the league appears on its way to not having a “tiered” group of contenders and non-contenders.  Despite no team playing more than three games so far in league play, every school has at least one win and won loss in conference action.  There could be a lot of 8-10, 9-9, 10-8 conference records, and that (along with Southern Cal’s self-imposed probation) could lead to the league’s worst-case scenario. 

Could the Pac-10 only have one team advance to the NCAA Tournament?  I doubt it, but it’s certainly not out of the question.  What isn’t out of the question is that leagues like the Mountain West and Atlantic 10 (and possibly the Missouri Valley) will expect – not hope, but expect — to receive more NCAA tourney bids than the Pac-10, and deservedly so.

How a second non-BCS team could sneak into the BCS bowls

As of now, it looks likely that at least one non-BCS school is going to make a BCS bowl.  There are still three undefeated non-BCS teams, Utah (#7 in the BCS standings), Boise State (#9), and Ball State (#14).  In addition, BYU is #17 and could conceivably crash the top 12 if the one-loss Cougars were to beat Utah on November 22.

The real question is, could two non-BCS teams grab a BCS berth?  Probably not.  The rules state that if there are multiple non-BCS teams in the top 12, only the highest-ranked of them is guaranteed a bid.  Any other non-BCS school would go into the at-large pool.

The top 14 teams in the standings are eligible to be selected for an at-large bid.  Now, it’s possible that one of them could be selected over a BCS school for an at-large berth, but it strikes me as extremely unlikely.  After all, this whole setup is designed for the BCS schools, and the non-BCS’ers only got their meager semi-invitation to the party thanks to Congress raising its collective eyebrows.

That doesn’t mean it’s impossible for one of the outsiders to grab a bid.  What needs to happen is that a BCS bowl has no option but to pick a non-BCS school for an at-large bid.  How that could happen for this particular season…

There are 5 BCS bowls, so there are 10 spots available.  6 are reserved for conference champions.  No more than two teams from one conference can get bids (this is key).  Right now the top 14 in the BCS standings, by conference, is as follows:  Big XII – 5, SEC – 3, Big 10 – 2, Pac-10 – 1, Mtn. West – 1, WAC – 1, MAC – 1

So three of those Big XII teams can’t be picked, and one of the SEC teams can’t either.  Assuming the Big XII and SEC each get two teams into the BCS, which is just about a lock at this point, you have six spots left to fill.  Four of those go to the other BCS conference champions, and two are at-large selections.  One of those at-larges, though, technically becomes an automatic bid if a non-BCS school breaks into the top 12, which will almost certainly happen.  That leaves one spot for a second Big 10 team, a second non-BCS team, or…a second Pac 10 team.

Yes, a second Pac-10 team — and that team would be Southern California.  That’s because right now Oregon State still has the edge for the automatic berth out of the Pac-10, with the same number of conference losses as the Trojans and the tiebreaker by virtue of its victory over Southern Cal earlier this season.  If the Beavers win their last three games, they would go to the Rose Bowl, and then Southern Cal would become a very desirable at-large candidate.  That would eliminate any possibility of a second non-BCS school getting a BCS bid.

The other scenario involves the Big 10, which has two schools in the top 14 plus Michigan State, which is sitting at #15 and has an opportunity to at least tie for the conference title with a victory over Penn State.  Ohio State has two games left, against Illinois and Michigan, as does Penn State (the Nittany Lions play Indiana this weekend before finishing with the Spartans).  For a second non-BCS school to grab a berth, two of those three teams need to finish outside the top 14.  If you’re a fan of Boise State or Ball State, you probably should be rooting for Penn State to beat Michigan State, because there is a chance the Nittany Lions could stay in the top 14 even with a loss to the Spartans.  I tend to doubt it, but it’s possible (especially given that other schools in the top 14 will be losing too, as some of them play each other, so there will be further movement).  A loss by Michigan State definitely takes the Spartans out of the mix.

That leaves Ohio State.  I don’t think there is any way a 10-2 Ohio State team isn’t picked for an at-large berth (at least when the options are the Buckeyes or one of Ball State/Boise State).  A loss by Ohio State in either of its last two games, though, might drop it out of the top 14 (especially if the loss is to Michigan), and even if the Buckeyes hang in the top 14, 9-3 might not get it done.  Being a bit of a cynic, though, I suspect a BCS bowl given the choice between a 3-loss Ohio State team and an undefeated Boise State squad is taking the Buckeyes (I don’t think Ball State would have a prayer of getting the nod in that situation).

So basically, if you want two non-BCS schools in BCS bowls, you are rooting against Oregon State and Ohio State, and for everything else to shake out in an normal fashion, or at least as normal a fashion as you can get in college football.  (And you want the non-BCS’ers to run the table, obviously.)