BYU's un-alignment, Masoli's waiver denial; more Mailbag
BYU's decision to go independent is conceptually sound, but not practical
Only thing surprising about NCAA's Masoli ruling is how long it took
Best reader submission for Jersey Shore/college football casting challenge
To most of us, the dawn of September marks the unofficial end of summer. On the last day of August, college football's Summer of Realignment reached a fitting and ironic end: with a football program choosing to un-align itself entirely.
In going independent, did BYU settle for less than it should have or did it get all that it wanted?
-- Shane Hale, Las Vegas
We won't be able to answer that question definitively until the contracts have been signed and the television dollars disclosed. Conceptually, I think BYU absolutely did the right thing for its school and its football program. Practically, I have quite a few concerns.
The school's decision was first and foremost about television -- specifically, escaping the shackles of the Mountain West's restrictive, low-rent contracts in search of more money and more exposure. I don't doubt the Cougars will achieve both. Some of the projected revenue numbers being tossed around -- as much as $10 million per year, up from a $1.5 million share in the Mountain West -- seem unrealistically high, but even just by getting four or five games a year on ESPN, the school will enjoy infinitely more exposure than it does currently. It also retains the ability to add live games to its own existing network, BYUtv. In theory, this is all a very good thing.
But now to the logistics -- most notably, who are the Cougars going to play? BYU's plan made a lot more sense back when it involved partnering with the WAC. That way, half its schedule would already be taken care of. While the Cougars could still land annual deals with natural rivals Utah, Utah State and Hawaii, they'll now be facing the daunting task of filling out those other nine or 10 games a year. The success of their new TV deals will depend on whether a network is singing up to show BYU vs. Michigan or BYU vs. Eastern Michigan. The school has already landed one notable home-and-home with Texas for 2013-14, but it's going to need three or four more like that, every year.
Which brings us to the other question: What becomes of the Cougars' BCS prospects? The biggest risk BYU is taking in all of this is that it's no longer guaranteed to see another dime from the BCS. As a Mountain West member, it collected several million dollars from Utah and TCU's appearances, and even in years when the league didn't qualify a team, it still garnered a small BCS handout. BYU also had a pretty good thing going with the Las Vegas Bowl, the league's top bowl partner, which selected the Cougars four straight years. Conference bowl contracts are locked in for the next four years, which means BYU could be playing for scraps from 2011-13.
Ultimately, though, the sport's postseason system will likely cause BYU to look wiser in the long run. The reality is, unless you're a school in one of the six BCS conferences, you're basically a handicapped FBS member. You're not privy to the roughly $20 million (and growing) each of those leagues gets to divvy up every year, and you're inherently stigmatized in the eyes of voters as a "non-BCS" team. For most schools, the only hope is to get "called up" to the bigs like Utah did. BYU, with its 60,000-seat stadium, its national championship and its Heisman, was arguably the one "non-BCS" school that had the cachet to take matters into its own hands.
If, five years from now, BYU is playing big games on big television networks at least four or five times a year, if it's playing the type of schedule that makes voters treat the Cougars no differently than they would most Pac-10 or Big 12 teams and if it's got postseason options beyond the New Mexico Bowl, then yes, it will have gotten everything it wanted. It's all possible, but there's a lot of details to be worked out.
Update: Since this column was published, BYU announced an eight-year deal with ESPN for all home games and a six-year series with Notre Dame. I'd say the Cougars are well on their way to achieving most of the aforementioned goals.
I have a lot riding on the Labor Day matchup of Boise State and Virginia Tech. My son picked Boise State to win the national championship in our annual college football wager, and my daughter is a faculty member at Virginia Tech. My question is, do the Hokies have a legitimate chance?
-- Neil, Fargo, N.D.
Of course they do. The game is an absolute toss-up, regardless of what the disparity in the teams' AP rankings might suggest. (Boise State is No. 3, Virginia Tech is No. 10.) All of the pressure is on Boise. Virginia Tech can still go on to have a fine season either way, but for the Broncos, it could mean the difference between the Jan. 10 BCS Championship Game and the Jan. 9 Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. This is also much more of a road game than a true neutral-site game (organizers are expecting 60,000 Hokies fans), and memories of Boise's disastrous trip east to Georgia in 2005 (a 48-13 annihilation) still linger.
From a purely football standpoint, however, we know a lot more about these Broncos than about the Hokies. They're almost the exact same team they were a year ago (20 returning starters), only older and wiser. The Hokies' high ranking is based more on potential. Their offense should be powerful, with quarterback Tyrod Taylor now a polished senior and Darren Evans returning to join Ryan Williams in the backfield -- but they did rank just 50th nationally last season. Bud Foster's defense should be stingy, because it almost always is, but he does have to replace seven starters from a year ago, including his top three sacks leaders.
These are actually two very similar programs. They both emphasize a physical, blue-collar mentality. They both want to run the ball down your throat. (For all of Kellen Moore's accolades, Boise actually ranked higher in rushing offense than passing offense last season.) They both feast on turnovers and special-teams play. It may sound simplistic, but the game will come down to which team is more physical. It's how Boise beat Oregon and TCU last year, and it's how Virginia Tech crushed Miami and Tennessee last season. I give a slight edge to the Broncos, but only because I'm more familiar with their personnel.
The NCAA has denied immediate eligibility to Jeremiah Masoli, apparently because his move to Ole Miss violates the spirit of the graduate transfer rule. Why did the NCAA let this play out for so long if it knew the whole time what would happen? Any thoughts on Masoli's chances on appeal?
-- Gabe Jones, Austin, Texas
I don't know why it took it so long, other than the fact that the NCAA's staff doesn't have some sort of Ole Miss quarterback hotline. It processes a lot of eligibility situations involving a lot of players in a lot of different sports at a lot of different schools. Unfortunately, had Masoli learned his fate earlier, he could have transferred down to an FCS school and played right away. I hope Ole Miss coaches or administrators didn't lead him to believe the waiver was a formality, and I hope he was made aware of all of his options.
Meanwhile, the NCAA -- which is often criticized for adhering so rigidly to its rulebook, oftentimes at the expense of common sense -- should be commended for taking the stance that it did. The graduate-transfer waiver that Masoli and Ole Miss were counting on was never intended as a free-agency option for someone who got kicked off his team. It's not a "rule," it's a "waiver" -- i.e., an exception, which, as the NCAA said in its statement, "... exists to provide relief to student-athletes who transfer for academic reasons to pursue graduate studies, not to avoid disciplinary measures at the previous university."
The Masoli situation made a lot of compliance officers and other college officials around the country queasy because of the precedent it might have created. I don't know what his chances are of winning an appeal, but based on the wording of the NCAA's statement, it would likely require some sort of convincing argument that he absolutely hopes to pursue a career in Parks and Recreation Management. While I'm sure Masoli is disappointed, he doesn't have much reasonable ground to complain. The NCAA isn't saying he can't play for Ole Miss. It flat out said he's entitled to a scholarship. It's just saying he has to wait a year to compete, like virtually every other FBS transfer.
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