The NCAAF Conference Division Structure Debate Verdict

September 17, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Bleacher Fan and Loyal Homer.

Today I have been tasked with deciding whether or not the Big Ten did the right thing during the recent realignment by putting Michigan and Ohio State in different divisions. Of course, I was hoping to be the judge for the “Should a conference with 11 (soon to be 12) teams be called the Big Ten?” debate, but I’ve been told that we’ll be waiting on that debate until we start I believe that would be an easier verdict to write, but I’ll play the hand that I’ve been dealt and decide whether or not the Big Ten made the right decision.

As both writers alluded to, rivalries are an integral part of the college sports experience and they are very important to fans at all levels of athletics. Given that, I don’t think there is any way Big Ten leadership could have made a decision that would have pleased all the Michigan fans and/or all the Ohio State fans, let alone college football fans around the country that look forward to the Michigan-Ohio State tilt every season. However, my verdict is not allowed to say “They were hosed either way, so officials did the best they could.”

Bleacher Fan makes some interesting arguments as to why the Big Ten’s decision to put Michigan and Ohio State in separate divisions was the wrong one. He thinks the Big XII’s model, to put its historic rivals in the same division, is the way to go. His best point brings up the possibility that Ohio State and Michigan could meet in the last week of the regular season in a completely meaningless, vanilla game because they know they’ll be matched up against each other the following week in a meaningful conference championship game. While any big-time, historic rivalry will probably always have a bit of fire in it, several consecutive years of back-to-back Ohio State-Michigan games would wear on the teams, fan bases, pundits, and recruits.

However, Bleacher Fan loses me when he writes about “an Ohio State-Michigan game for all the marbles.” Perhaps it would be for all marbles in the eyes of Ohio State and Michigan fans, but nationally it would probably, over time, devolve into a division championship game. Also, in the conference’s thinking, an Ohio State-Michigan “divisional championship” game might take the luster off the cash cow they hope the conference championship game will be for them. Bleacher Fan definitely made compelling arguments for and against his position.

Loyal Homer, true to his character, believes the Big Ten made the right decision in splitting its major rivals across divisions. He is a fan of the SEC model where care seems to have been taken to split nationally significant rivalries across divisions. He confirms the point inadvertently made by Bleacher Fan that putting your rivals in the same division can lead to a lackluster conference championship game, at least from a national standpoint. While this may seem like an insignificant issue to the fan bases of the two rival teams, in the grand scheme of conference alignment it may be the most important issue. He correctly points out that the Big XII championship game, in the eyes of many, is played in October between Texas and Oklahoma rather than in December.

This is a tough verdict. Honestly, I am not sure I like a lot of the consequences of conference realignment and I see and understand both arguments here. However, Loyal Homer wins the argument because history has dictated Ohio State and Michigan are often the two best teams in the Big Ten. If they can eliminate each other before the championship game, is there really any point to having a championship game at all? Congrats, Loyal Homer, and enjoy your prize – a pair of Denard Robinson’s shoelaces!

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The Toughest NCAAF Conference Debate… Big Ten Competition

August 25, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Optimist Prime and Loyal Homer.

It is a knee jerk reaction. It is so easy. If the question is about college football, the answer must be “SEC,” right? If ESPN is right (and why wouldn’t ESPN be correct?), then the SEC is always the toughest. Always. It has the last few national champions within the conference. It owns a path to the Downtown Athletic Club, with many SEC players taking home the coveted trophy.

But, let’s pretend that the SEC isn’t the greatest thing ever. Just for a moment. Alabama is rebuilding a defense. Florida is rebuilding an offense, a defense, and the absence of a superstar. Tennessee and Vanderbilt are changing coaches. Georgia has struggled and that was before replacing the starting quarterback and half of the defense. Auburn’s Gene Chizik has proven to be a good recruiter, but the jury is still out on his coaching. Arkansas’ Ryan Mallet is an early Heisman candidate, but that does not mean the team is good. And Les Miles… well Les Miles better get the Tigers moving in the right direction again or he’ll wish the Michigan job was still open. Right now, the SEC is just another conference with good teams – and a lot that needs to be improved.

Not to mention the problem with players getting arrested, head coach turnover, and pesky but warranted NCAA investigations.

The message is clear – the SEC is a good football conference, but it is not infallible. In fact, it’s not even the toughest conference this season. There is a conference that is currently stacked with potentially great teams at the top and plenty of depth.

We all know Ohio State is an excellent team turning most of its top players, including key defenders and a potentially amazing quarterback in Terrelle Pryor. The overlooked element in the entire Big Ten right now is the return of a large percentage of defenders who stopped a speedy spread offense from Oregon last season.

Iowa, like Ohio State, is also returning several excellent defenders while Wisconsin is returning the guts of an offense that has the ability to control the line of scrimmage. All three teams play system football, reload every season, and are coming off of a 2009 campaign where each team won ten or more games.

The Big Ten clearly has three premier teams heading in to 2010, and that is before drawing attention to Penn State, and a Michigan State team that boasts a great recruiting class and potentially the number one defender in the conference in linebacker Greg Jones.

The conference also has strong teams that fall somewhere in between elite and mediocre. Northwestern finished with eight wins a season ago after a heart breaking 38-35 loss to Auburn in one of the more exciting bowl games in recent memory.

Of course the Big Ten has bottom feeders, but what conference doesn’t? Indiana, Illinois, and Minnesota are not going to turn any heads. But, Michigan and Purdue are both very unpredictable teams at this point. Both teams could take big steps forward this season. Neither has high expectations, which means a big win or two just makes the overall conference picture even more impressive.

The conference as a whole is playing an excellent non-conference schedule this season as well. Win or lose, the conference is proving that each team is willing to take on a major challenge and strike at the opportunity for greatness. Ohio State takes on Miami, Penn State plays at Alabama, Michigan State takes on Notre Dame, and even Minnesota is taking on a challenge against Southern Cal. The years of predominantly soft scheduling appear to be over in the Big Ten.

The Big Ten also has momentum on its side. After great bowl season last season the conference is adding yet another good team next season in Nebraska.

Not every team in the Big Ten poses a major threat. It’s doubtful that Illinois is going to dominate the league this season. But the combination of talent, strong teams, and stout non-conference schedules will lead to an impressive showing for the Big Ten in 2010. The SEC, most of all, must beware. The Big Ten has a serious case for the toughest conference. No matter what ESPN says.

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The 2010 NCAAB Tournament Selection Surprise Debate – I Guess it is Better to be Lucky than Good!

March 15, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Sports Geek and Loyal Homer.

ESPN Radio’s SportsCenter anchor, Bob Picozzi, hit the nail on the head when he referred to the day after Selection Sunday as “National Whining Day.”

Now that the March Madness field of 65 teams has been announced, pundits and analysts from around the country now get the opportunity to scrutinize every choice made by the Selection Committee.

Obviously, the players and fans of teams that made it in feel they were justifiable selections, while those that did not are left to dwell on the bitter sting of rejection. As for me, I think the Selection Committee did a pretty good job this time around of getting it right (at least, this was a better result than in years past).

In fact, of the three schools which are even ATTEMPTING to use the word “snub” this year to describe their non-selection, only Illinois has a legitimate beef.

More specifically, Illinois has a right to feel snubbed primarily because it was passed over by the Selection Committee in favor of conference rivals, the lesser-deserving Minnesota Golden Gophers.

Minnesota was selected over Illinois for one reason – timing. Simply put, Minnesota is playing in the National Championship Tournament because Illinois lost to Ohio State first.

Let’s compare the teams’ Big Ten Tournament runs, shall we?

First Round – Minnesota vs. Penn State; Illinois earned a bye

Before entering the Big Ten Tournament, Illinois held a slight edge over Minnesota in the standings. Both teams had 18 total wins, and Illinois had a better in-conference record, so the mere fact that Minnesota even played in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament was a nod to Illinois being the better team. Additionally, Minnesota drew the weakest team in the conference, the hapless Penn State Nittany Lions, for the first-round matchup.

It was a cupcake game for Minnesota, giving them a token “W” that Illinois did not have the chance to match because they FINISHED WITH BETTER RESULTS in the regular season and earned a subsequent bye.

Although the first round tipped the scales towards Minnesota in terms of records, I still give the edge to Illinois… since the team earned it all season long.

Second Round – Minnesota vs. #11 Michigan State; Illinois vs. #18 Wisconsin

This round brought the only QUALITY tournament wins for both teams. Both had to pull off upset victories over ranked teams (that had surely already earned March Madness invites), and both did so in impressive fashion.

Although Wisconsin is a very talented team with a lot of postseason potential, I have to admit that a win over Michigan State is SLIGHTLY more impressive an accomplishment, and so I give the slight edge for this round to Minnesota.

Third Round – Minnesota vs. #5 Purdue; Illinois vs. #7 Ohio State

Based on name and ranking alone, these are equally difficult assignments to face. Both Purdue and Ohio State rolled through the regular season, and both had positioned themselves for very high seeding in the national tournament.

There is, however, one key difference between those two teams. Ohio State was at full strength, led by the “should-be” 2010 Player of the Year (Evan Turner), while Purdue was not at full strength, having been hobbled since the loss of their star forward Robbie Hummel (who suffered a torn ACL during their regular season matchup against Minnesota).

As was expected, considering the circumstances surrounding those two semifinal matchups, Minnesota breezed past the reeling Boilermakers while Illinois lost at the hands of the Buckeyes.

It is very important to note that Illinois took Ohio State all the way into double-overtime before finally succumbing to Turner and his cohorts. Minnesota was the fortunate beneficiary of a weaker matchup against a team whose current state placed it at a lesser caliber than their on-paper pedigree would have you believe.

Championship Round – Minnesota vs. #7 Ohio State

The reason it is so important to note Illinois’ performance against the Buckeyes is because Minnesota played them the very next day, in the Big Ten Championship.

After having been taken to the brink of elimination by Illinois one day prior, Ohio State came out and absolutely DOMINATED Minnesota, eventually winning the game by a score of 91-60. It was not even close! Ohio State manhandled Minnesota from tipoff all the way to 00:00.

What does that tell us?

Illinois had the better regular season, faced a MUCH tougher road in the Big Ten Tournament, and played MUCH better against the top team in the conference. The only thing they did wrong was that they had to play Ohio State on Saturday, instead of Sunday.

Because Minnesota had the sheer dumb luck to not have to face Ohio State until Sunday afternoon, they were rewarded an at-large Bid OVER Illinois, and will get to play for the National Championship, rather than the NIT.

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The 2010 NCAAB Player of the Year Debate – The Naismith Award Belongs to the Buckeyes’ Head-Turner

March 12, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Sports Geek and Loyal Homer.

The Naismith Award equals the NCAA Basketball Player of the Year award.

The NCAA Basketball Player of the Year equals the best player in college basketball for 2010.

The best player in college basketball for 2010 equals Evan Turner.

Statistically speaking, the 21-year old guard from Ohio State is the total package. Evan Turner, who is practically a walking double-double, averages 19.5 points and 9.4 rebounds per game (both of which are FAR superior averages when compared to Turner’s toughest competition for the Naismith Award, John Wall). In addition to his Big Ten leading point and rebound average, Turner also provides 5.8 assists per game (putting him at second in the Big Ten in that category).

On both offense and defense, Turner’s presence on the court demands full and constant attention from his opponents. He possesses surprising speed for his size, 6-feet 7-inches and 210 lbs, which allows him to be successful at nearly every position on the court.

While Turner’s statistics make an extremely strong case for him as the Player of the Year, it was actually his time OFF the court which demonstrated just how important and impactful Evan Turner has become.

After suffering several broken vertebrae during a game in early December, Turner was forced to miss six games before he could return to the court. At the point when Turner suffered that injury, the Buckeyes were sitting at 7-1, but during the six-game period where Turner was unavailable, they played to a disappointing 3-3 record with losses coming against Wisconsin, Michigan, and Butler. The Buckeyes fell to 0-2 in the Big Ten, and 10-4 overall.

Upon his return, the Buckeyes found themselves once again rolling through their competition, as they would go on to win 14 of their last 17 games and finish on top of the Big Ten with a conference record of 14-4.

As good as Turner’s supporting cast of John Diebler, David Lighty, Dallas Lauderdale, and William Buford are, their performance without Turner on the floor was very telling. During their loss against Butler, they were out-rebounded by the Bulldogs 45-32 (Turner’s 10 rebound average would have surely made a difference). Two weeks later in their loss to Wisconsin, the Buckeyes went 14 of 43 from the field, and tallied only 43 total points in the game (Turner’s 20 points per game would have made a HUGE difference in that performance). Finally, when they lost to Michigan four days after their game against the Badgers, Ohio State once again turned in a terrible second-half performance, shooting only 28 percent from the floor during the final twenty minutes of play (they were only 36.9 percent shooting overall that night).

Simply put, the Buckeyes would be a middle-of-the-pack team without Evan Turner, who is like the little Dutch boy plugging leaks in the dyke. His versatility allows him to fill any role that is needed on the court at any time, whether that position is point guard, shooting guard, forward, or anything else that may be required at a moment’s notice.

Had he not been able to return to play for Ohio State, they would have entered the Big Ten conference tournament with a bubble-team’s hope for reaching March Madness, and an NIT berth as a more realistic expectation. Instead, Evan Turner has almost single-handedly propelled the 24-7 Buckeyes into very serious consideration for a top seed in the national tournament (a case helped even more by the Syracuse loss in the early rounds of the Big East tournament).

There is simply not another player in the country as effective offensively AND defensively as Turner, who possesses the best all-around skills in the game today. It doesn’t matter what it is called – best player, player of the year, most valuable player – Evan Turner is the only logical choice for the Naismith Award in 2010.

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The 2010 NCAA Basketball Best Conference Tournament Debate – Expect Big Things from the Big Ten

March 5, 2010

Read the debates by Sports Geek and Loyal Homer.

What do you call it when you combine the front-runner for Player of the Year, one of the best tournament coaches in the NCAA, a team that has only been ranked OUTSIDE of the top-10 for a total of one week, and four of the top fifteen teams in the country?

I don’t know about you, but I call it the setting for the best Conference Tournament in College Basketball!

Where can you find such a marvel as this? I’ll give you a hint –Not even the Big East, Big XII, SEC, or ACC can lay claim to that combination of talent, strength, and depth. That’s right, you can only find it in one place – the Big Ten!

Player of the Year – Evan Turner

This conversation begins with two players, Kentucky’s John Wall and Ohio State’s Evan Turner. Assuming both leave college early for the NBA Draft at the end of the season, they will certainly be chosen as the top-two picks overall, and their projections are absolutely deserved! However, in the conversation of who has been better between the two this season, the conversation ENDS with only one – Evan Turner.

Turner’s Big Ten-leading production surpasses that of Wall’s with 19.5 points per game (as opposed to Wall’s 17), and rebounds (9.4 for Turner to 4.1 for Wall). As impressive as those statistics are, though, they are not the sole reason why Turner is more deserving of the Naismith Award. Simply put, the 6’7” guard from Chicago plays one of the best all-around games seen in the NCAA in many years, and his combination of speed, shooting accuracy, and play-making ability on both offense AND defense have helped turn an otherwise NIT-bound Buckeye squad into possible Final Four contenders.

Best Tournament Coach in the NCAA

With the exception, perhaps, of North Carolina’s Roy Williams, no coach has been more successful in tournament play over the last 10 years than Tom Izzo of the Michigan State Spartans. Having earned a National Tournament berth in every NCAA tournament since 1998, Izzo has racked up five Final Four appearances, including two trips to the National Championship and one National Title (2000). Izzo finds a way to win.

Once again in 2010, Izzo and the Spartans find themselves in the thick of both the Big Ten and the National hunt.

If not for three consecutive losses (due primarily to the ankle injury and subsequent loss of their leading scorer and 2009 Big Ten Player of the Year, Kalin Lucas) early in February, the Spartans would undoubtedly be ranked among the top-ten teams. Instead, they sit just outside that group at #11. However, with the seemingly invincible Tom Izzo at the helm and a healthy Kalin Lucas on the court, this Michigan State team is every bit as dangerous as the higher ranked Ohio State Buckeyes and Purdue Boilermakers.

Permanent Top-Ten Residents

Speaking of those Boilermakers – They have been a dominant presence in the NCAA all year long. After earning a preseason ranking of #7, Purdue has maintained a steady top-ten performance all year long, falling no lower than #13 in the national rankings (and only staying there for one week before climbing back into the top-ten). As owners of one of the top records in the nation, the 24-4 Boilermakers have already claimed impressive top-ten victories over the likes of Tennessee and West Virginia. They finished their non-conference schedule with a perfect record, and of their four Big Ten losses on the year, three have come against top-fifteen teams (Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Michigan State).

While the recent loss of their star forward, Robbie Hummel, may prove to be a major setback for the Boilermakers as they prepare for their postseason, teammates and fellow standouts E’Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson both appear ready to pick up the extra load and help carry the Boilermakers into March Madness.

Rounding Out the Pack

Although Ohio State, Michigan State, and Purdue seem to be likely contenders for the Big Ten crown, a great deal of attention must be paid all the way down the Conference lineup.

Headlining the “rest of the pack” are the Wisconsin Badgers, who sit ranked at a lowly #15 in the national AP Poll (not bad for the fourth place team in the Conference). The Badgers have proven just as talented as their higher-ranked counterparts, having already defeated all three of them each once this season.

Behind the Badgers, you have Illinois, Minnesota, Northwestern, and Michigan, all of whom have also notched victories against the top teams within the Conference. Why, even the last place Nittany Lions of Penn State proved last night that they could hang with the big boys of the Big Ten, as Michigan State needed to rely on last minute free throws just to pull out a two-point win in East Lansing!

Time and again, the Big Ten has proven that any team within their conference can win on any night. Throughout the entire 2009-2010 season, the best Conference in college basketball has proven to be the most competitive, a trait that will surely translate into the best Conference Tournament!

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The NCAA Toughest Basketball Conference Debate – Big Questions in the Big Ten

January 25, 2010

Read opposing arguments from Loyal Homer and Sports Geek about which college basketball conferences they believe are the toughest to win this season.

Congratulations to the New Orleans Saints and Indianapolis Colts, both of which earned their way into Super Bowl XLIV yesterday in two of the most exciting games of the entire NFL postseason.

Unfortunately, though, the AFC and NFC Championship games signify the time when we can start closing the books on yet another season of football. With only one football question left to be answered (and we will not get that answer for another two weeks), the time has come where almost everyone begins to shift focus onto men’s basketball.

In case you are one of those people who does not really care about men’s basketball until February, and need brought up to speed on the goings-on in the basketball world, here is what you’ve missed:


  1. The Cavs and the Lakers are the top two teams in the NBA
  2. The New Jersey Nets STINK
  3. Gilbert Arenas thinks guns are funny


  1. John Wall is THAT good
  2. North Carolina is NOT that good (and Roy Williams thinks you should cheer for the Tar Heels)
  3. The Big XII MIGHT be the strongest overall conference in the nation

Congratulations, you have officially learned everything relevant about men’s professional and collegiate basketball to this point in the season!

Speaking of conference evaluations in the NCAA, is it just me or are there no CLEAR conference favorites (other than perhaps Kentucky) in ANY of the major conferences this season? Either Texas OR Kansas could win the Big XII, the Big East is a toss-up right now, and the ACC looks like it is upside down (with the aforementioned Tarheels virtually tied at the BOTTOM of the conference)!

The conference with the MOST questions right now – and the toughest competition – is actually the Big Ten. The Big Ten started the season off with more than half of its teams ranked in the top 25, and those same teams have taken turns beating on each other to such a point that no clear favorite has emerged.

Preseason favorites, the Michigan State Spartans, have only lost three games this season and are currently undefeated in the Big Ten. However, their three losses came against some of the top-ranked teams in the nation, and with the exception of a single, seven-point victory over Wisconsin, they have not played any of the Big Ten’s top programs. If the pattern holds, and they continue only to beat those middle-of-the pack teams, they could seriously struggle as the season wears on because they must still face Michigan and Purdue twice, and they also still have one game each against Ohio State and Wisconsin to get through.

The Purdue Boilermakers started out the season in very impressive fashion, winning the first 14 games (including a HUGE victory over then top-ten ranked West Virginia), but then lost three of their first four Big Ten games.

Then we have teams like Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio State. All three of those teams have demonstrated the potential to win against “big” teams (by the way, Ohio State WITH Evan Turner is a MUCH better team than Ohio State WITHOUT Evan Turner), but none have shown enough consistency to really stake a claim as the “best” team in the conference. See if you can figure out a clear favorite from these outcomes – Wisconsin and Ohio State have both beaten Purdue, Wisconsin beat Michigan, Michigan beat Ohio State, Ohio State SPLIT two games with Wisconsin. Any luck?!

The Big Ten, more than any other conference, is COMPLETELY up for grabs. That can be frustrating if you are a fan from one of those schools, but it will make for some VERY exciting basketball in the coming weeks!

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The Most Impressive BCS Team Debate – Iowa Caps a Magical Big Ten Bowl Season

January 8, 2010

Read the arguments from Loyal Homer and Babe Ruthless about which BCS teams they believe were the most impressive from this BCS bowl season.

When I flipped on the BCS National Championship on last night (a little late thanks to recording it on my DVR since Mrs. Sports Geek and I were finishing up watching an old episode of House… also on the DVR) I was expecting to see a great game, and wondering if I would regret selecting Iowa for the focus of my “Most Impressive BCS Team” argument today. (Note to Longhorn quarterback of the future, Garrett Gilbert: situations like the one you found yourself in last night are why backup quarterbacks study hard and remain vigilant. Hit the film room before next season starts, kid.) Needless to say, I’m glad I stuck with my first instinct that no team would deliver a more impressive performance in a BCS bowl game than the Iowa Hawkeyes did with a win over the vaunted triple option running attack of Georgia Tech.

I will not touch on all of the various parts of the Big Ten’s impressive performance during the 2009-2010 bowl season (I will leave that to Bleacher Fan next week, actually). However, Iowa’s performance in a BCS bowl game was significant because it capped their league’s bowl season with an emphatic victory, and showcased the toughness and grit that Big Ten football is all about (in a good way, this time).

Part of the reason Iowa’s performance was great is that expectations coming in were low. Georgia Tech had the gadget, intimidating offense while Iowa had the error prone quarterback, and the reliance on luck that was sure to run out sooner or later. Iowa defied many critics and the odds to win a big game for the school and the conference.

Quarterback Ricky Stanzi’s triumphant return to the field made this game, and Iowa’s performance, even better. While the master of the pick six did fulfill his contractual obligation to throw a touchdown to the OTHER team, he is also a seasoned leader who showed poise and smarts in the fourth quarter to orchestrate the touchdown drive that ultimately put Tech away. After suffering an ankle injury that required surgery and prematurely ended his regular season, Stanzi showed grit and toughness to work hard during his rehab and be prepared to play well in a big time BCS matchup. No, he did not play a perfect game. But his steady performance and clock management was exactly what the Hawkeyes needed to win.

Iowa showed off the moxie it developed this season by winning in spite of its usual mistakes. Stanzi’s pick six, zero for two on fourth down attempts, four stupid penalties, and a key fumble lost are not exactly the blueprint for a win – unless the team in question is Iowa. Iowa routinely overcame a host of mistakes and close calls to win 11 games in 2009 and will finish as a top ten team.

Iowa also proved the importance of defense in late season games. Beating a multi-faceted, complex option running attack like the one featured at Georgia Tech is no small task. It requires very athletic players along the defensive line and very disciplined defenders all the way around. The quarterback reads what the defense ends do in order to decide how to execute the play. The defensive cannot crash down on the quarterback or dive play too quickly, and cannot swing too widely and allow the quarterback to cut the play up on the inside. Iowa’s defensive ends were up the challenge, and the entire team defense played well against Tech’s offense, which was one of the top running offenses in all of college football.

Perhaps expectations for Iowa’s performance were too low, or Georgia Tech’s prowess was overblown, or the Big Ten isn’t really terrible and college football really IS cyclical. Maybe one or all of those reasons explain why Iowa’s performance was the best by any TEAM in the BCS this college football postseason.

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