“Big” Doings Around the “Pac”

As legendary Dodgers’ voice Vin Scully likes to say when a managerial move doesn’t pan out, “Ah, the best laid plans of mice and men.”

Pac-10, I mean, Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott must’ve uttered Scully’s lament a few times this week. His hopes for a 16-team super conference were foiled when the Texas Longhorns declined an invitation to leave the dwindling Big 12 for the Pac-10.

Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State followed the Longhorns’ lead and declined Scott’s invite to remain in the Big 12 keeping it afloat with 10 schools after losing Colorado to Scott’s Pac and Nebraska to the Big Ten.

Commissioner Scott was forced to go to “plan B” with his conference at eleven schools needing one more to qualify for a lucrative conference championship football game. An invite was given to the Mountain West Conferences Utah Utes who will, undoubtedly, accept giving Colorado a geographical rival and travel partner.

Meanwhile, Western Athletic Conference power-house Boise State accepted an invite to the afore-mentioned Mountain West replacing Utah as the ninth school in the MWC leaving the WAC with eight..

So, let’s summarize the “college conference shuffle.”

The Big 12 loses two schools making it a ten-team league which means no conference championship game . Nebraska heads to the Big Ten, which actually had eleven teams with Penn State before the Cornhuskers move, now making it a 12-team conference gaining a title game. The Pac-10 now becomes the Pac-12, also gaining a title game, with ex-Big 12 school Colorado and ex-Mountain West school Utah joining the party.  The Mountain West remains at nine schools after the Utes bolted because they’ve been replaced by Boise State which left the Western Athletic. So, the WAC is now an eight-school conference after losing the Broncos.

Got that?!?

All these moves were made with football in mind. Those six BCS conferences (Pac-12, Big 12 {now with ten teams}, Big Ten {now with 12 teams}, South Eastern, Conference USA and Big East) battle for the gridiron national championship and major bowl bids leaving the other non-BCS conference (e.g. Mountain West and WAC) schools “at-large” bids to the BCS bowls with, virtually, no shot at making the national championship game regardless of whether a school goes undefeated during the regular season.

The BCS is being investigated for anti-trust violations because of this. Both Utah and Boise State have gone undefeated twice, gaining “at-large” bowl berths and winning their respective bowl games. The investigation was ignited by Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff who was angered because, in all four instances, the Utes and Broncos were denied the opportunity to play for a national title because both resided in non-BCS conferences.

Working in Boise and covering the WAC for seven years, I suggested the winners of the WAC and MWC meet in a “Rocky Mountain Region Championship Game” giving the winner an automatic BCS bowl bid and a possible title game berth if the winner were undefeated. Makes sense creating a “pseudo super conference” and spreads the BCS wealth to the talented teams in both non-BCS leagues.

I think all these school movements are good and needed in the grand scheme of things because of the parity now enjoyed in college sports, especially in football and basketball. That means $$$ for the NCAA.

Anyway, all the conference re-shuffling will begin in 2011 and stay tuned for more schools, possibly, switching conference allegiances before then.

I’ll tackle USC‘s sanctions later.

NCAA Men’s Hoops Final: A Celebration of “Hoosiers”

Truly a classic men’s college championship basketball game in Indianapolis Monday night with top-seed Duke hanging on to beat five-seed Butler, 61-59. Came down to the final second as Butler’s Gordon Hayward’s half-court heave for the win bounced off the rim. Oh, so close!

Ratings for this Final Four, and the entire tournament in general, were the highest in five years easily topping last year’s Final Four which saw North Carolina beat Michigan State in Detroit for the championship. Why? Plenty of upsets by underdogs over favorites like Kansas, Kentucky and Syracuse making the tournament wide open.

According to the blog Sports Media Watch, Monday’s game was up 31% in ratings and 36% in viewership (24 million to last year’s 18 million)from last year. SMW goes on to say Butler/Duke drew a higher rating than every Major League Baseball game since ‘04 and every NBA game since ‘02. Excluding the NFL and the Olympics mind you, the game ranks as the third-most viewed sports telecast of 2010, behind only the BCS National Championship Game between Alabama and Texas and the Rose Bowl game between Ohio State and Oregon.

The game interest obviously had plenty to do with Mid-Major Butler. Certainly not a Cinderella when you consider entering the title game, the Horizon League Champion Bulldogs were riding a 25-game winning streak and had resided in the national top 25 for most of the year. Butler was certainly the underdog against mighty ACC Champion Duke and justifiably so considering the tradition of Blue Devils Basketball in the Atlantic Coast Conference under head coach Mike Krzyzewski.

What the ratings and viewership numbers for this game tell me is, to be cliché, America always roots for the underdog. And there’s nothing wrong with that. It helps that Butler’s campus is less than eight miles away from this year’s Final Four site, Lucas Oil Stadium. You can’t script this but, also, the Bulldogs home-gym is Hinkle Fieldhouse, the gym where the state high school championship game in the move “Hoosiers” was filmed. OH, COME ON! How fun is that!

So, for the life of me, I don’t understand why some sports radio hosts believed if Butler were to win the national championship, it would set the game back 50 years and that having a mid-major like Butler just playing in the title game would sound the death knell for CBS and its ratings.

I take it back. I know why these guys would publicize this. For exactly that. Publicity. So, here you go guys.

ESPN radio’s Colin Cowherd, host of the show The Herd, and, also, co-host of ESPN TV’s Sports Nation, said Butler winning the national title was bad for men’s college basketball and would set it back 50 years.

Meanwhile, FOX Sports Radio host and FOX Sports Nets Rumors Reporter, Ben Maller, said if Butler made it to the title game, ratings would be at an all time low for CBS. Now, I’m not bashing Big Ben because he’s my boy. We both have worked together on radio and TV and we’re pals. But, COME ON, BEN! Turns out my buddy was, obviously, wrong.

For Cowherd, it’s inconceivable to believe Butler winning the national title would be bad for college basketball. Of course, the Bulldogs came up just short in their quest. But, they proved they belonged with the big boys extending Duke to the final second.

For Cowherd to say Butler winning the national title would be bad for college basketball is similar to saying Texas-Western beating Kentucky for the 1966 national Championship with TW coach Don Haskins starting five African-American players, for the first time in the history of the game, against Adolph Rupp’s Wildcats was bad for the game. Haskins’ starting those five African-American players was exactly what the game needed at that particular time in our history.

Butler’s performance the other night against Duke is exactly what the game needed at this particular time in the sports history. It says those mid-major programs belong with the so-called “Big Six” programs. That alone peaks the interest of the vast majority of American Society who want to see the underdog have his day against the big boy.

Hence the big television numbers, Big Ben!

Congratulations to the Butler Bulldogs for showing the mid-majors belong and playing a terrific game. Much congratulations to Coach K and the Duke Blue Devils for another national title and playing a terrific game. Thanks to both schools for putting on a tremendous show for us to enjoy.

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