Future fortunes for Florida's Big Three; more mail (cont.)
I read your article on Cam Newton's speech, and I liked it, but I still find fault with it. Like many of your fellow sports journalists, you still seem to take Cam Newton's side just because of his play. DOES ANYBODY CARE ABOUT THE RULES? So what, the NCAA cleared him to play. They only did so because they couldn't establish enough evidence to keep him from playing. What is wrong with America? In continuing to praise Cam Newton even in light of this alleged scandal, it sends a message that grown adults merely value an individual human's ability to play a GAME over anything else.
-- Rob, Columbus, Ohio
It's been interesting to follow the arc of reaction to the Newton saga. The one recurring theme is that at every stop along the way, someone's been angry about something. Prior to the NCAA's decision, it was mostly Auburn fans angry over the perceived persecution of their beloved star. When the NCAA cleared him, the rest of the country turned its ire toward the organization for letting a seemingly egregious violation by Newton's father go unpunished. And then when it came time for the Heisman, some people were angry at the voters who chose to make a statement and leave Newton off the ballot, and others (like Rob) were angry at those of us who did vote for Newton.
While I understand the latter sentiment, it seems entirely misdirected. As Rob said, the NCAA "couldn't establish enough evidence to keep him from playing." So you're saying that the media should step in and do what the NCAA didn't despite the same lack of evidence? How would you feel if I (or any other objective journalist) treated all stories that way? Example: I have no hard proof of any wrongdoing by Coach X, but the word on the street is he cheats, so I'm going to write a story saying so. That's National Enquirer stuff. So while I have the same suspicions as everyone else regarding Newton's situation, you'll have to forgive me if I'm unwilling to hang the guy based solely on suspicions.
I completely understand your view that Cam Newton should address the issues surrounding his father. However, I do not understand how specifics would help clarify the situation. Maybe Cam knew, maybe he didn't, but him divulging anymore information about his recruitment by Mississippi State or Auburn would, in my opinion, only provide more fodder for dissection and scrutiny. Call me naive, but I think "no comment" is the best option for himself and Auburn University.
-- Matt Connor, Montgomery, Ala.
Obviously, "no comment" is the safe route toward avoiding any further scrutiny. But in terms of public perception, Newton's not doing himself any favors by continuing to proceed as if nothing happened. We know something happened. We know his father asked Mississippi State for $180,000. Both Auburn and the NCAA agreed to this as fact. It is no longer allegation or innuendo. Yet in Newton's world, it's just a little nuisance from his past that he's choosing to dance around even after he's been cleared of any wrongdoing himself.
I went both to an informal press gathering with Newton the day before the ceremony (him sitting at a table with about 15 reporters around him) and his press conference afterward, and while he was perfectly pleasant and engaging, it all still felt ... disingenuous. I didn't expect him to sit down and spill the beans for all to hear, and I realize it's not entirely fair for him to have to answer questions about his father's actions. All I was looking for was a simple acknowledgment of and remorse over the incident. Something as simple as: "My family made some mistakes during my recruitment, I feel terrible about it, and I'm grateful to the NCAA for the way they handled my case." That's it. He'd immediately be more sympathetic.
Instead, he just keeps flashing that smile, hamming it up on David Letterman and continuing to play the role of victim. Sorry, Cam, not buying it. Most of the public sees you as someone who was party to an egregious rules violation and got away with it. Just because you're in the clear doesn't mean you can't be remorseful.
USC was able to somewhat withstand the current of NCAA sanctions through the hiring of Lane Kiffin, and it looks like they may be able to stay moderately respectable until the sanctions are lifted. How is Texas going rebound from a disastrous season when they have to replace half of the coaching staff at the same time?
-- Thomas, Stamford, Conn.
I'm not sure the two situations are comparable. USC went 8-5 this year with a relatively full roster. Over the next three years, it's going to lose 30 scholarships. The Trojans may have a slightly better record next season before the sanctions fully kick in, but make no mistake, their worst years are still ahead. Meanwhile, Texas hit bottom this year, and while it wasn't pretty, at least there are no restrictions getting in the way of its rebuilding process.
Mack Brown's program is about to undergo a complete overhaul in its coaching staff, which is no small chore. But it's a task made much more manageable by the fact that it's still Texas. Brown has the luxury of choosing pretty much anyone he wants. Money is not an issue. And recruits (particularly in-state) are going to want to play there regardless of the staff. That appeal that carried Brown and the Longhorns to all those recruiting titles and 10-win seasons didn't wear off in three months' time. I don't know how long it will take for Brown to get his team back to the top 10, but I'm a lot more confident in his abilities to get there than I am in USC's abilities to overcome crippling blows to its talent level and depth.
Stewart, three out of the four Heisman finalists that went to New York were West Coast guys, and half of the top 10 vote recipients are from the West Coast (Stanford with two, then one from Oregon, Boise State, Nevada). Is this one of the strongest years for West Coast players and the Heisman?
-- Tim, Portland, Ore.
Without question. In 2004, the winner (Matt Leinart) and two finalists (Reggie Bush and Alex Smith) were Westerners. In 1988, Pac-10 quarterbacks came in second (USC's Rodney Peete), third (UCLA's Troy Aikman) and seventh (Washington State's Timm Rosenbach). In 1979 and '81, USC players (Charles White and Marcus Allen, respectively) won, BYU quarterbacks (Marc Wilson and Jim McMahon) finished third and Pac-10 players (USC's Paul McDonald and Stanford's Darrin Nelson) finished sixth. That's as close as I could find in the course of my admittedly rushed research.
Obviously, chalk it up to an abundance of good players and good teams in the Pacific and Mountain time zones this year, but also look at it as the definitive sign that the long-held East Coast Heisman bias is dead. It was once very real, even within the last 10 years. There's a reason Oregon felt the need to put up that New York billboard for Joey Harrington in 2001. Nobody outside the Pac-10 knew who he was. But the sport is truly national today, thanks to the explosion of televised games and national coverage. Certainly, the SEC still gets more national coverage, but that's not why Newton won the Heisman. If he'd thrown four interceptions in the Iron Bowl, I have no doubt Andrew Luck or LaMichael James would have overtaken him.
The current bowl system is bloated -- 70 bowl teams. From what I understand some schools even lose money taking a bowl trip. Some of the matchups are HORRIBLE (Troy and Ohio). I know the NCAA cannot just automatically tell a bowl to take a hike, so I propose a solution to trimming the fat from the college football post season: Why doesn't the NCAA raise the requirements to get into a bowl game? How about seven wins instead of six? Or how about you must have seven wins AND be at least .500 in conference play?
-- Josh, Oklahoma City, Okla.
I would be all for that, but the NCAA is not. Over the past decade, its bowl licensing committee has adopted a hands-off, free-market philosophy: If you've got a stadium, a sponsor and a conference partner or two, you can stage a bowl, so long as there will still be enough eligible teams. This year the committee even granted four-year licenses for the first time rather than requiring recertification every year. Obviously, the eligibility requirements go hand in hand with that. If the committee were to adopt the criteria you suggest, it would fall well short of 70 eligible teams, some games would be forced to shut down and there'd be lawsuits galore.
It's hard to believe that in 1997, a year before the BCS started, there were just 20 bowls. Since teams played 11 games, they had to finish above .500. In most cases six wins still wasn't enough. But that's before ESPN became so heavily invested in the bowl business (it owns and operates seven of the games and airs all but three of them). Bowls are great programming. Even the most insignificant ones deliver solid ratings during an otherwise lackluster time of year for networks. As long as you've got ESPN and a sponsor subsidizing your game, it doesn't matter if the teams are 6-6 or there are only 20,000 people in the stands. You can still afford the modest payouts. Meanwhile, BCS money shared by the conferences helps offset team expenses. The players get their bowl gifts, the coaches get their extra practices, and you have something to watch on a Tuesday night in late December.
Or, as the case may be, this Saturday at 2 p.m., when BYU-UTEP kicks off the bowl slate. It's as if the season never ended.
The Mailbag is taking a week off for the holidays but will return Dec. 29.
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