Posted: Wednesday July 18, 2012 1:16PM ; Updated: Wednesday July 18, 2012 1:16PM
Stewart Mandel
Stewart Mandel>COLLEGE FOOTBALL MAILBAG

Penn State fallout, more mail (cont.)

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Brian Kelly's Notre Dame team remains a top-tier program for now despite mediocre on-field results.
Brian Kelly's Notre Dame team remains a top-tier program for now despite mediocre on-field results.
AP

Stewart, I'm sure you'll get a million of these, but I'm curious as to how you justify your ranking of Notre Dame in the Kings category, even after what has been basically two decades of irrelevancy?
-- William, Naperville, Ill.

This, not surprisingly, was the No. 1 complaint with the list. While the Irish have rarely been Kings on the field since 1993, remember that these categories are based on perception, not reality. Despite its struggles, Notre Dame is the only program in the country that enters the season knowing at least 11 of its 12 games will be on NBC, ABC or ESPN (I'm counting the Oklahoma game even though it hasn't been announced). Its athletic director is one of the 12 people who devised and will oversee the coming playoff. One of the six most important bowl games going forward is actively discussing a deal with the school. The marketplace is still treating Notre Dame as a King, and given that, I'd hardly call the program irrelevant.

It's fair to ask, however, how long it can still maintain that level of cachet if it keeps hovering around 8-4. Of the 13 schools in the Kings category, Notre Dame is the only one I have trouble envisioning eventually returning to national championship contention. Notre Dame has managed to mostly maintain its aura despite being so far removed from its last stint as a true contender, but we'll see whether that remains the case in the sport's new playoff era.

Stewart, with the Big Ten-Pac 12 scheduling agreement falling through, I was wondering what you thought the chances of the Big Ten going to a nine-game conference schedule are? I am an SEC fan myself, and I personally would like the SEC to adopt a nine-game conference schedule also. If the Big Ten, Pac 12, ACC, and Big 12 all go to nine-game conference schedules, then what are the chances of the SEC following suit?
-- Jon O, Palatka, Fla.

The Big Ten will definitely revisit going to nine conference games. Remember, the league originally decided last summer to do so starting in 2017, only to scrap the idea after reaching the scheduling agreement with the Pac-12 (which it now seems the Pac-12 never fully agreed to internally). If anything the Big Ten should only be further incentivized now with the forthcoming playoff, which intends to reward strength of schedule. Jim Delany has been very outspoken in his belief that teams both in his league and others have unduly watered down their schedules since going to 12 games. Adding a ninth conference game not only helps reverse that, it presumably creates more appealing games for the league's television network. He'll be pushing for it.

But I don't necessarily see the SEC following suit. Besides Nick Saban, there haven't been many SEC proponents of the nine-game conference slate. Schools that already play a traditional rival out of conference (Florida vs. Florida State, Georgia vs. Georgia Tech) or simply want to get to six wins (here's looking at you, Kentucky) have reason to oppose it. Two factors that could change things going forward: the impending creation of an SEC network, and the possibility that only playing eight teams in a 14-team league could create some serious scheduling inequities. And of course, if ever the day comes when an SEC team gets left out of the playoff due to a weak nonconference schedule ... well, you can imagine.

Which of the Kings right now is closest to getting moved to Baron status when you do this again in five years, and which of the Barons is closest to moving up? My guess would be Miami as far as moving down if the Hurricanes continue their Tennessee-like slide.
-- Ward, Birmingham

I was surprised by how many people felt this way about Miami. It's undoubtedly been a rough eight years for the program, and it might get worse with pending sanctions. But this is still a program that's won five national titles the past 30 years, more than any other program. You don't think recruits still hold a reverence for The U and all the NFL stars it's produced? You don't think that program will eventually thrive again with one of the richest talent pools in the country in its backyard? May I remind Ward that his beloved Tide had an even longer dry spell between their 1999 SEC championship and 2009 SEC and national titles and also faced crippling sanctions, but still sat among my Kings in 2007? A team that wins that many national titles doesn't lose its luster overnight.

As I wrote last week, Penn State seems the most likely to fall, for obvious reasons. The program most likely to move up is Oregon, though the Ducks probably need to win a national title to make that ascension. They came awfully close two years ago, and as long as Chip Kelly is there it will remain a possibility. Though as we saw last winter, it's no certainty Kelly will be there for long.

The fact Reuben Foster switched from my Tide to Auburn bothers me greatly, but it's not the fact that he did it, but how he did it. How does a kid go from being "100-percent committed," as he said he was the day before, to spitting venom at Alabama like he did last Thursday?
-- Greg, Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Well, that's easy: He's 17.

You must be a masochist, given your desire to produce another Program Pecking Order column, because people like me remember the original column, and your follow-up the week after, in which you said the one change you would make is switching Arkansas and Clemson. In the past five years, in spite of the Petrino scandal, it would be mind boggling to think that you would still keep Clemson ahead of Arkansas in this pecking order. Care to explain?
-- Nick, Seattle

Embarrassingly, I must admit that you have a better memory than I did. I can tell you, however, that even without remembering that, I came incredibly close to moving Arkansas up to Barons last week but hesitated only because I wondered whether I was putting too much stock in the last two seasons. But apparently I was already thinking this way five years earlier, so let's just go ahead and make it official: Arkansas, you are a Baron. I promise I won't forget next time.

Clemson can stay where it is.

Stewart, I am confused by the NCAA's eligibility rules when it comes to baseball players. Mark Appel declared for the June MLB draft, seemingly hired an agent, got drafted, negotiated with the Pirates, then decided not to play pro ball and return to Stanford. How is this allowed? If a collegiate football or basketball player is even in the same room with an agent, he loses his eligibility. Why are the baseball eligibility rules different?
-- Eric Goolsby, Manhattan, Kan.

That's a great question, one I had to do some research to properly answer.

First of all, Major League Baseball is different from the NFL because players don't declare for the draft. Teams can choose any eligible player, either out of high school or after his junior or senior years of college. Since Appel never formally declared his intent to turn pro, he never relinquished his eligibility. Secondly, in any sport, the NCAA makes a distinction between an agent and an advisor. Players are allowed to consult with someone (presumably an agent) regarding their likely draft status, potential monetary value, etc. Football players do this all the time when deciding whether to come out early. However, they can't sign a contract with that person, and that person cannot directly negotiate with a team on their behalf. And that's where it gets really gray and sticky with baseball players.

By all accounts, the reason Appel came back was that the Pirates wouldn't offer a signing bonus commensurate with agent Scott Boras' demands. But Boras would insist that he only advised Appel as to how much he was worth, and that Appel negotiated the deal himself (as he's allowed to). It's a largely unenforceable distinction, one the NCAA has been wrestling with for years. A few years ago, former Oklahoma State pitcher Andrew Oliver sued the organization for declaring him ineligible for the 2008 NCAA tournament after it found he used an agent to negotiate his deal with the Twins. He won, which could have forced the NCAA to change its rule, but the eventual $750,000 settlement between the parties dismissed the ruling. It's been suggested that the NCAA ought to just let players in all sports sign with agents, thus allowing them to make more informed decisions, but it hasn't gotten very far. In the meantime, players will just have to settle for incredibly high-profile, well-connected advisors.

Stewart, you have Ole Miss a Knight, yet Mississippi State at Peasant. MSU has beaten Ole Miss the past three years and finished with better records. You need to do your homework.
-- Al Fava, Collierville, Tenn.

I did some homework and found out that neither team has finished in the top 10 since 1969, and Mississippi State since 1940. The Mannings may be the only thing keeping both schools from the bottom rung. But congratulations on the win streak.

CINCINNATI A PEASANT?? You're kidding me, correct? The Bearcats have had 10-win seasons in four of their last five seasons. Less than 10 teams in the country can lay claim to that. They have won the BIG EAST three of the past four years, each year doing it while battling through countless injuries. If you are too lazy to do research for a simple article, don't do it. Ridiculous.
-- Dan, Cincinnati

Aw, that's cute.

Why Notre Dame is a King I will never know. I thought better of you than the sort to romanticize a has-been from the 1950s. If a huge following merits this, then I assume Lady Gaga is a musical genius?
-- Chip, Richmond, Ky.

Terrible analogy. If Notre Dame could find a quarterback with an eighth the talent of Lady Gaga, we wouldn't even be having this conversation. Maybe Katy Perry?

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