Saturday, June 30, 2007

Turning Over A New League

Yesterday, the NFL announced that, after $30 million per year in losses, NFL Europa is folding. I had no idea until about three weeks ago that the league formerly known as the World League of American Football and NFL Europe was now known as NFL Europa. But, no more. The league ended with five teams in Germany and a team in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. They developed a small fan base, but not one that would be mistaken for that of European soccer. So, the great experiment with overseas American football moves to the import of regular season NFL games, beginning this fall in London with a game between the Miami Dolphins and the New York Giants.

But, there is a new league on the way. And, it's not the Mark Cuban league. This is the All-American Football League. The league is conducting an open tryout on July 3 at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando. They plan to begin play in the spring of 2008.

The league is led by a group of former college athletic administrators, including former NCAA executive director Cedric Dempsey. They plan to play at least part of their games on college campuses. The league is targeting markets where college football is king. They already have stadium deals in Birmingham, AL, and Gainesville, FL. The league is planning to push a version of college alumni football. These won't be teams made up of purely alumni of one school (for example, Florida). However, the league is attempting to create a college atmosphere, and to appeal to fans of college football by giving college players the chance to play in the backyard of their alma mater. They are not going to attempt to pretend to be like the NFL, but to be a professional version of college football.

One interesting component: the league is requiring its players to have four-year degrees. This is to be expected from a league run by former college administrators.

There are a lot of guys that were good Division I-A players, that are a step too slow or a couple of inches too short for the NFL. These guys would be good prospects for the AAFL. It won't be hard to find players for this league.

If they can come reasonably close to replicating college football, this league has a chance. I'd love to see it get off the ground.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Football Magazine Season

Football season now ends in February. A lot of us need a football fix that only a magazine can bring. Therefore, football season previews now appear on newsstands as early as the third week of May. We now have a full-blown football magazine season, which lasts almost as long as football season itself.

Most magazines regionalize themselves, at least with the cover. A national magazine may have Texas players on the cover in Texas, and have USC players on the cover of the same magazine in California, for example. There are also magazines (Lindy's, Athlon, etc.) that publish regional editions, in addition to their national edition. If you want to spring for it, you can also order all their regional editions from their websites. With the advent of the Internet, there's no need to buy eight magazines at once.

I look for magazines on the shelves beginning in May, but rarely buy one until June. I don't want to buy a magazine merely because it's first on the shelf (Lindy's and Athlon are out). I want quality and quantity, and I don't want something rushed to press just to be first on the shelves.

Every year, I make sure to buy Dave Campbell's Texas Football. It is sold on newsstands only in Texas (could they sell many of them anywhere else?). DCTF gives good previews of all Big XII South teams and other Texas major college teams. It gives a couple of pages of lip service to the Big XII North, and a couple of pages to national college football. There are also sections devoted to small colleges and the two Texas NFL teams. The magazine is best known, though, for its exhaustive preview of high school football, with previews of every school, public and private, 11-man and six-man. There are over 1100 football-playing schools in Texas, and DCTF touches all of them.

Tonight, for the first time, I picked up Phil Steele's College Football Preview. This is a football geek's dream. It contains 328 pages of full-color, small-print information. It is full of more statistics and point spreads than anyone could ever use. The magazine is short on aesthetics, but is chock full of information. And, it doesn't just cater to gamblers, but appeals to fans as well. I plan to put it to good use.

I love football magazine season. I'm ready for the action on the field, though.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Big XII Rumblings, Part 4

Continuing the speculation on Big 12 membership, we now turn to the Big XII South Division.

Once again, I'm not advocating the breakup of the Big 12. These schools are better off with each other than without. But, each school has to explore its own options, in case the Big 12 heads for disaster.

Here are my thoughts on the Texas and Oklahoma schools:

2006 Average Football Attendance: 37,080
TV Market: Waco/Temple/Bryan (95) Significant alumni presence in Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, and San Antonio.
Where could they go? Nowhere they would want to go willingly.
What do they have to offer? Honestly? Nothing. They have been competitive in non-revenue sports, including a national championship in women’s basketball in 2005. But, the revenue sports of football and men’s basketball drive the bus.
What’s the holdup? None. This is a very fortunate school. If Baylor alum Ann Richards had not been governor, and Baylor Law alum Bob Bullock had not have been lieutenant governor at the time of the breakup of the old Southwest Conference, Baylor would have most likely been out in the cold during the conference shuffle of the 90’s, and would now be playing football games against Rice before crowds of maybe 10,000. Political pull is all that got Baylor into the conference in the first place. Waco as a market is nothing to write home about, and the school is not nearly as large as its state school brethren. Baylor is glad and lucky to be in the Big 12.

2006 Average Football Attendance: 84,561
TV Market: Oklahoma City (45) (also brings Tulsa)
Where could they go? SEC
What do they have to offer? One of the top five football programs in the history of college football, now generating more money than ever. Football money drives the success of the rest of the athletic department. OU is a football-crazy school, just like most of the SEC.
What’s the holdup? OU is a charter member of the Southwest Conference, the Big Six/Seven/Eight, and the Big 12. They’ll think twice before they jump. Also, the Oklahoma legislature will keep them from moving unless such a move also benefits Oklahoma State. Finally, as good as OU’s football program is, Oklahoma is still not that big of a state, with only 3 ½ million people, and the #45 and #61 TV markets. Still, they would fit very well with the SEC, if forced to make a move there.

Oklahoma State
2006 Average Football Attendance: 40,954
TV Market: Oklahoma City (45) (also brings Tulsa)
Where could they go? Nowhere, unless the Oklahoma legislature intervenes
What do they have to offer? Nothing, except for T. Boone Pickens’ $165 million donation to improve the stadium and other facilities.
What’s the holdup? Remote location, small state, small markets. They offer nothing Oklahoma doesn’t already offer, without the advantages of a nationally recognized football program. Praying the Big 12 stays together.

2006 Average Football Attendance: 88,505
TV Market: Austin (52) (also brings the entire state of Texas, including Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, and San Antonio)
Where could they go? Anywhere they want, except independent status. Were unofficially offered membership in the Pac-10 in the 90’s. The SEC and Big 10 would love to have them, also.
What do they have to offer? Everything. Third-largest enrollment in the nation, huge alumni base, more money than Fort Knox. Largest school in second-largest state in the U.S. Exceptional all-around athletic program. Strong academic reputation.
What’s the holdup? They control the Big 12 politically, just as they did the SWC before it. They’re the biggest and baddest out there, and they throw their weight around accordingly. They wouldn’t be able to carry as much weight in another conference, and everyone knows that.

Texas A&M
2006 Average Football Attendance: 80,532
TV Market: Waco/Temple/Bryan (95) (also brings the entire state of Texas, including Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, and San Antonio)
Where could they go? The SEC would love them, and almost had them when the SWC broke up.
What do they have to offer? Almost as much as UT. Large enrollment, large alumni base, almost as much money as UT. The Ags have also built a strong all-around athletic program, and have scoreboard on Texas this past school year in most sports. Strong academic reputation.
What’s the holdup? Political pressure from the Texas Legislature sent them into the Big 12, and it will keep them there, unless UT wants to make a move.

Texas Tech
2006 Average Football Attendance: 50,874
TV Market: Lubbock (147) (also brings west Texas markets of Amarillo, Abilene, Midland/Odessa, Wichita Falls, and a significant presence in Dallas-Fort Worth)
Where could they go? Nowhere they would want to go willingly.
What do they have to offer? If West Texas were its own state, Tech would be its university. But, West Texas is sparsely populated, and is not its own state. Significantly improved facilities, and, for now, the winningest coach in college basketball history.
What’s the holdup? Geography, and limited perceived academic reputation. Third banana in state of Texas, behind UT and A&M. Large institution, but unable to deliver the entire state of Texas to a conference by itself. Praying the Big 12 stays together.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Big XII Rumblings, Part 3

The Big XII is a young conference, moving into its twelfth year. It does not have the tradition of conferences such as the Big Ten or SEC. Eight of the schools were together in the Big Eight, while the four Texas schools were together in the Southwest Conference. It was a marriage of convenience and survival, and has been rocky at times.

Issues such as revenue sharing raise their ugly head, and the schools have to consider their options, if they are not happy with the direction of the conference. This blog post is purely speculation. I’m just a guy in Texas with a computer and an internet connection. I have no inside information, just analysis.

I will preface this with two statements: 1) As an OU fan, I miss the days of the old Big 8. Native Texans miss the Southwest Conference. But, those days aren’t coming back. The two sides need each other. Which leads to my second statement: 2) Any talk of a conference breakup is preposterous. These schools are better off together than apart.

However, it is fun to speculate. Each school has something to offer. Some have more to offer than others. Where could they go? Would they go?

In this, the 21st century, conference affiliation is determined by the ability to generate revenue, and institutional fit.

The two biggest indicators of revenue-generating ability are football attendance (ticket sales), and TV market size (to add value to TV contracts). I will keep those in mind as I evaluate the possibilities for each school.

Institutional fit describes similarity with other institutions. The Big Ten is both an athletic conference and an academic consortium, made up of large flagship state universities and Northwestern, the lone private school. The conference values perceived academic reputation as much as they do butts in seats for football games. The Pac-10 has similar institutional values, with USC and Stanford serving as the lone private schools. The SEC, on the other hand, values academics, but does not have the culture of academic elitism. It is made up of Southern state flagship schools and Vanderbilt, the most prestigious private school in the South.

Attendance figures are taken from the NCAA website. My first analysis will be of Big XII North schools. The South will be discussed in a later post.

Pros and cons for each member:

2006 Average Football Attendance: 46,048
TV Market: Denver (18)
Where could they go? Pac-10
What do they have to offer? Similar culture to western schools. Could partner with Utah to make the Pac-10 a 12-team conference, opening up the possibility of a football championship game. Have already unofficially been offered membership in the 90’s.
What’s the holdup? Competes with four major professional sports franchises in Denver market. Fan base is not as large as size of school or state would suggest. Facilities are behind the rest of their current conference-example: no indoor practice facility for football.

Iowa State
2006 Average Football Attendance: 46,171
TV Market: Des Moines (73) (also offers Cedar Rapids, Sioux City, and Omaha markets)
Where could they go? Big Ten (based on geography)
What do they have to offer? Membership in prestigious Association of American Universities (AAU), as all other Big Ten schools are. Proximity to Iowa and Minnesota.
What’s the holdup? Smallest athletic budget in Big XII, would also have smallest budget in Big Ten. Does not add TV markets, as Iowa already brings Iowa TV markets to the Big Ten, though all of those markets are small.

2006 Average Football Attendance: 44,137
TV Market: Kansas City (31) (also offers Wichita and Topeka markets)
Where could they go? Big Ten (only as a package deal with Missouri and/or Nebraska)
What do they have to offer? Traditionally strong men’s basketball program, in top 5 all time. Key part of Kansas City TV market. School is a member of AAU-important to Big Ten.
What’s the holdup? The Big Ten would look at four or five other schools before looking at KU. Kansas legislature would frown on any deal that would not also benefit Kansas State. Traditionally mediocre football program.

Kansas State
2006 Average Football Attendance: 46,693
TV Market: Topeka (138) (also offers Kansas City and Wichita markets)
Where could they go? Nowhere, really.
What to they have to offer? Recently strong football program.
What’s the holdup? Everything. Remote location, smallest state with two BCS programs, small TV markets. In tough position, having too large a program for a smaller conference, but having the second-smallest budget in the Big XII.

2006 Average Football Attendance: 55,918
TV Market: Columbia-Jefferson City (139) (also offers St. Louis, Kansas City, Springfield, Joplin, and Cape Girardeau)
Where could they go? Big Ten
What do they have to offer? Location bordering Illinois and Iowa. St. Louis (21st) and Kansas City (31st) TV markets. Member of AAU, like Big Ten schools.
What’s the holdup? The Big Ten is waiting on Notre Dame. If they decide to expand without Notre Dame, Mizzou is a leading candidate. But, Mizzou is really an underachiever, as the only Division I-A school in a state with over 5 million people.

2006 Average Football Attendance: 85,044
TV Market: Lincoln (104) (also offers Omaha, Sioux City, and the rest of Nebraska)
Where could they go? Big Ten
What do they have to offer? Historical Top 10 football program, with fanatical following and national recognition. Money generated by football supports strong all-around athletic program. Borders Big Ten state of Iowa. Member of AAU.
What’s the holdup? Big Ten has a line of more convenient options. However, Nebraska brings a lot to the table, and is considering options in case they become unhappy with Big XII revenue sharing/generation.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

The Taco Bowl

In the good old days of the Big 8 Conference, Oklahoma and Nebraska normally met yearly at the end of the season for the conference championship, and a trip to the Orange Bowl in Miami. 1980 was no exception. The two teams met in Lincoln, Nebraska, with the winner going to the Orange Bowl. The Sun Bowl in El Paso cut a deal with the two teams to take the loser.

Nebraska athletic director and ex-football coach Bob Devaney taped a weekly television show on Friday nights at a Lincoln TV station. He was taping the show at the same time that OU coach Barry Switzer was doing a live interview at the station for the 10:00 news on Channel 4 in Oklahoma City. Devaney had a pineapple on stage, as a consolation prize for Switzer and his imminent trip to El Paso. Switzer decided to play a trick. He sent someone to a nearby Mexican restaurant to pick up a sack of tacos. While Devaney was taping his show, Switzer walked onto the set, handed him the sack of tacos, and wished him well on his upcoming trip to El Paso.

The Sooners won the next day, earning a Big 8 championship and a trip to Miami. The Huskers got to spend the holidays in the west Texas town of El Paso.

This was great stuff when I watched it on the 10:00 news with my parents 27 years ago, and it's good stuff now. Enjoy...

(special thanks to Jim's Oklahoma Sports Page, and YouTube)