The College Coaches Banning NFL Scouts Debate

August 19, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Loyal Homer and Bleacher Fan.

It is plain to see that the NFL is creating quite a mess for college football programs these days. NCAA investigations into schools like Alabama, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina – for allegations of improper contact – reveal that the problem of outside interference on college campuses is both very broad and very real.

Alabama head Nick Saban is taking matters into his own hands. He is currently refusing to allow NFL scouts to even attend practices. Other coaches like Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly don’t view scouts as the problem. Kelly has stated that the Irish won’t ban scouts, but will instead attempt to address the situation by better educating student athletes about the issue.

It seems logical that colleges would take steps to keep agents out. But scouts? These guys are not the ones offering cars and houses under the table to amateur athletes. They are the ones with clipboards and stopwatches sweating in the stands trying to earn a living by discovering the next big thing. Scouts help make college dreams of NFL success possible. Are these guys really to blame as well?

Loyal Homer believes scouts do share blame. He will argue that programs are well within their right to ban NFL scouts to preserve their programs. Bleacher Fan, on the other hand, believes scouts should be left to do their job.

One argument will prevail while the other will be shut out faster than a scout with a roll of hundreds at a Crimson Tide practice. Who has the right idea?

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The Notre Dame Conference Affiliation Debate… Making A Big Move, Or Ten

May 31, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Loyal Homer and Bleacher Fan.

Another day, another Notre Dame joining the Big Ten rumor. Where there is smoke there is fire. Many are speculating that Notre Dame will join the Big Ten when the conference announces anticipated expansion plans this November. There are three main reasons why joining the Big Ten makes the most sense, and major reasons why joining the Big East, or remaining Independent, would be a big mistake.

Reason #1: Money Talks

It is no secret that a substantial influence on Notre Dame’s decision making process throughout the years has been financial gain. The Big Ten offers a very attractive package right now – more attractive than any other conference – given it currently pays each of its programs $22M per season. Even Indiana, the league patsy, gets its price.

Plus, the Big Ten Network is a huge success, especially financially, and any other schools that would join the Big Ten would only make its content more attractive, they would also inflate its dollar value. While the Big Ten may not have all of the hottest TV markets, each of its schools have massive amounts of loyal fans and some of the largest stadiums in the country. Sure, the conference is largely centered in the Midwest, but that does not make its draw too small or make the conference financially unviable. Perhaps in college football’s yesteryear, but no longer.

Reason #2: Great, Historical Rivalries

Joining the Big Ten would not force Notre Dame to give up on its greatest historical rivalries that draw millions of eyeballs every season. In other words, Notre Dame’s regular non-conference matchup with Southern Cal would be safely preserved and become a showcase Big Ten game. Ohio State and Michigan have their long distance, historically relevant games, and so does Notre Dame. Those rivalries are important for each school to draw crowds at home and on television and the Big Ten will preserve, endorse, and grow each important rivalry game.

Also, bear in mind that many of Notre Dame’s most storied and consistent rivalries take place against Big Ten teams like Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue, and Northwestern. I am referencing some GREAT rivalries. Take just one, for example, like Michigan State and Notre Dame. Besides just a few hours separating the two schools, 1966 wrote a memorable chapter in the rivalry. Both teams were undefeated and of course met in a game that would decide the national championship. Michigan State jumped out to an early lead only for the Fighting Irish to come fighting back to tie the game and controversially take the national title despite the teams’ identical 9-0-1 records to end the season.

Reason #3: Football Brand Matters

When Notre Dame dominated, its teams were nasty on defense and often featured a steady running attack that wore on opposing teams, allowing an efficient passing game to blow a game open. While speed is a bigger factor now in college football than, say, 20 years ago when Notre Dame’s name still carried an heir of dominance with it, the formula for winning in college football can still be: Dominant Defense + Strong Running Attack + Efficient Passing = Wins. That is the Big Ten’s pedigree, and that is the league where Notre Dame has the best opportunity to win a legitimately respected national power conference in football without comprising its identity.

Why the Big East Makes No Sense

Football is the college athletics cash cow. Period. All of the Big East’s great TV markets – like Philadelphia, New York, and others – do not matter much to Notre Dame’s football program. While the markets may be big, the audiences will not be since the quality of football is so poor. More, Notre Dame does not – ney, CANnot – associate itself with a poor brand of football that doesn’t suit its image. The disaster that is Big East football does not have an appealing brand that Notre Dame would care to be associated with… besides, are tickets really going to sell out for the big Notre Dame-Connecticut battle? Or Notre Dame-West Virginia? Without its history and storied rivalries, Notre Dame is just another football program struggling for notoriety. The Big East kills Notre Dame’s aura.

Why Remaining Independent Makes No Sense

When Notre Dame initially made the choice to become unaffiliated with any football conference it had massive financial incentives spurring the decision. Independence meant a multi-million dollar, exclusive TV contract Notre Dame did not have to share with any other school or conference. All of the money belonged to Notre Dame. It also allowed Notre Dame to have a free schedule where they could maintain a national recruiting presence by playing all over the country. The problem with the decision now is that as college football has evolved, it turns out conferences have plenty of money to go around. The Big Ten pays programs $22M per season, thanks in large part to the success of its own dedicated cable network. Exclusivity does not offer the same advantages it once did, and the need to maintain a national presence with games to fuel recruiting is null. Large institutions like Notre Dame have massive recruiting budgets – and the program would have that budget regardless of conference affiliation. In short, the reasons for becoming an independent have been rendered useless as college football has evolved.

Consider that travel expenses for the football team in the Big Ten may be dramatically reduced if Notre Dame were to join the Big Ten. Obviously that doesn’t matter much to a huge program with a huge budget, but it sure does matter for the school’s smaller sports that spend more time losing money than making it. While football is a major piece of this puzzle, the impact of a conference move will be felt through the athletics department and the entire department will participate in the decision.

It is time for Notre Dame to evolve and join the conference that best fits Notre Dame’s brand of football, its history, and financial needs. The Big Ten allows Notre Dame to adapt without changing its tradition.

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The Notre Dame Conference Affiliation Debate… Never Sacrifice Independence

May 31, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Sports Geek and Loyal Homer.

Notre Dame is a special program, and the world of college football exists to accommodate it. As a top-drawing independent school, Notre Dame has garnered unique privileges that are available to no other program in the United States. Those privileges, however, will hold only as long as Notre Dame REMAINS independent in status.

As one of the games most storied and beloved programs, Notre Dame is synonymous with college football. When the Fighting Irish are successful, so is college football. And, although success was lacking during most of the Weis era, the world of college football has ensured safeguards to help Notre Dame always return to relevance.

The first of those safeguards is an exclusive television contract with NBC. Through at least the 2015 football season, Notre Dame is guaranteed that every one of their home games will be broadcast on national television. This contract has brought the school more than $9M per year, and has generated more than $26M in financial aid and scholarships for students of the university. All of that would be gone, though, if Notre Dame joined a conference like the Big Ten or the Big East.

Notre Dame only gets to keep that television contract because they are not a part of a larger Conference of schools. Many of the major Conferences have either negotiated their own exclusive television contracts with networks, or have created their own network, and the Notre Dame contract would create a conflict of interest. While NBC would retain the rights to Notre Dame’s broadcast, the conference would also retain rights to broadcast the games of any schools within their organization. Unfortunately for Notre Dame and NBC, it would be the conference that wins out, as it would govern the organization for the school.

The second safeguard is a special BCS clause specific to Notre Dame.

Rules for determining an automatic BCS qualification state that only those schools which have won one of the six BCS conferences (the Big Ten, Big XII, SEC, ACC, Big East, and Pac-10) can be guaranteed a BCS invitation. For every other school in the country (including the remaining schools within those BCS conferences), they must hope for an invitation. Every school, that is, EXCEPT Notre Dame.

Within the BCS rules for automatic qualification is an exception EXCLUSIVELY reserved for Notre Dame as long as it remains an independent football program. This exception dictates that Notre Dame is eligible for an AUTOMATIC BCS bid if it finishes the regular season as one of the top eight teams in the BCS standings. No other school in the country (including members of the BCS conferences) has that guarantee.

In 2008, the Big XII’s Texas Tech finished the season ranked seventh in the final BCS standings, and held a record of 11-1 (with the only loss coming to the top-ranked team in the nation). But the Red Reaiders were excluded from the BCS. Likewise, in 2007 it was the Big XII’s Missouri that missed out despite being the top-ranked team entering conference championship week, and finishing the season ranked SIXTH in the BCS, while conference rival Kansas was invited to the Orange Bowl after finishing the season ranked two spots LOWER than Missouri.

Those are only the two most recent examples of what is an almost ANNUAL snub for at least one team in the top BCS standings. As long as Notre Dame remains an Independent program, though, it will never have to worry about a BCS snub. For the Fighting Irish, a top-eight finish EQUALS a conference championship.

The decision for Notre Dame is simple – remain independent and GUARANTEE a highly lucrative television contract and a special exemption within the BCS rules, or willingly throw those GIFTS away by joining a conference such as the Big East or Big Ten, where instead of having special privileges RESERVED for it, Notre Dame would have to COMPETE for them and risk the snub of losing that competition.

As long as those rights are reserved exclusively for the University of Notre Dame, it would be FOOLISH to willingly give them up in order to join conference play.

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The Notre Dame Conference Affiliation Debate… Big East Bound

May 31, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Sports Geek and Bleacher Fan.

Perhaps no program in college football is as polarizing as Notre Dame. There’s usually at least one team in every sport that fits that bill. MLB has the Yankees. The NBA has the Lakers. The NFL has the Cowboys. NCAA basketball has Duke. That’s just the way it is. With all of the talk surrounding expansion in college football, Notre Dame is right in the middle of every conversation. Should Notre Dame remain independent? Should it join the Big Ten and help it become a super conference? Should it join the Big East? We know what head coach Brian Kelly wants to do, but it will be interesting to see how this plays out in the coming months. As for my opinion, I believe Notre Dame should join the Big East.

If you go to the Big East’s Web site you will see a list of the programs that are members of the Big East at the top right of the page. There are 16 school logos listed, representing each of the Big East members. The very recognizable “ND” is the seventh one listed. The bottom line is that Notre Dame participates in every sport in the Big East… except football. The Fighting Irish just finished its baseball season as a Big East team. Remember the deep run the basketball team made in the Big East tournament back in March? Why not go ahead and join the Big East in football, just for simplification purposes? Sure, the Big East is a little down in football right now, but on the bright side, maybe it’d be easy to win a conference championship and play in a BCS game!

There is a lot of money involved for sure, though Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick has publicly said, “Questions of this nature are too fundamental to be about money.” In addition to the conference tie-in money Notre Dame would be allotted, I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least mention the NBC television contract, as Bleacher Fan has described in detail. Notre Dame also is in position to grab a BCS bid if it finishes in the top 12 of the BCS. That’s all well and good. But what happens if they finish outside the top 12? There is no pecking order for independents. If they finish the season 6-6, it’s not like they can be slotted into the Alamo Bowl. That’s the kind of record that gets you into the Hawaii Bowl, like it did in 2008. That’s also the kind of record that gets you fired, like it did for Charlie Weis at the end of last season.

Joining the Big Ten, as Sports Geek tries to explain, isn’t the answer, either. I’m not convinced by anything anyone has said from Notre Dame that they want to be involved in a super conference. That would mean pulling out of the Big East in all the other sports. I’m aware that college football is the driving force behind possible expansion, and with good reason, but the Irish has built rivalries up with other schools like Georgetown, Louisville, and UConn in college basketball. Join the Big Ten and Notre Dame would have to try to do that with the likes of Iowa and Northwestern.

Whatever happens is sure to create a wealth of discussion, and it’s something I’m sure The Sports Debates will revisit at the appropriate time. But for now, the best possible option is for Notre Dame to become part of the Big East in football!

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The Brian Kelly Coaching Decision Debate – Know Who Butters Your Bread!

December 18, 2009

Read the debate intro and arguments from Babe Ruthless and Loyal Homer about whether or not Brian Kelly should have coached the University of Cincinnati’s BCS bowl game.

It is not often that someone can win a debate by answering the debate question with another question. That is exactly what happened, and this time it worked in Babe Ruthless’ favor! Babe Ruthless posed the rhetorical question – “Would I drop everything at my current position if I was offered the job of my dreams?” My honest answer to that question is, “Yes, I would.” It is important to finish what you start… MOST of the time. Cincinnati’s former head coach, Brian Kelly, is not building a model airplane or remodeling his bathroom, though. Coaching Cincinnati was Brian Kelly’s job (note the past tense of that phrase). Kelly’s CURRENT job is to be the head coach of Notre Dame. As much as he may have been committed to seeing Cincinnati succeed (and I am sure he will be rooting for Cincinnati in the Sugar Bowl), his priority became the success of Notre Dame the moment that he signed his contract.

This is not an attempt to deny Bearcats players and fans their frustration, anger, or disappointment in Kelly’s decision. As Loyal Homer points out, it is a bitter pill to swallow when you have expected support from someone, then at the moment you perceive the greatest need for that person, they are either unable or unwilling to provide the promised support. The fact that they do not like his decision, though, does not mean it is the incorrect one.

Consider the implications had Kelly made the decision to coach Cincinnati in its bowl game. He would have been splitting his time between two universities, each with very different needs. As a result, he would be unable to fully commit himself to either. Notre Dame needs Kelly to focus on building a staff and recruiting to the university. How can he be expected to do that if he is studying film in Cincinnati? Likewise, how can he truly focus on preparing to take on the Florida Gators if his true employer is demanding his time elsewhere? It would be unfair to BOTH institutions if he were to try and split his focus between the two.

Kelly’s decision, although unpopular in the Queen’s City, was the right one to make. Notre Dame is his new home, and his new employer. Having contractually agreed to lead Notre Dame’s football program, he owes them 100% of his time and energy TODAY, not in one month after he coaches more for a school he no longer formally works for.

If it is any consolation to the Bearcat faithful, Rich Rodriguez’s absence on the sideline when the West Virginia Mountaineers took on Oklahoma in the 2008 Fiesta Bowl did not seem to have an impact at all, and Rodriguez has failed to even sniff a HOPE of playing in the BCS since leaving Morgantown. As fate has already seen fit to provide a little karmic payback for what Rodriguez did at West Virginia, perhaps the monkey’s paw has something similar in store for Kelly!

Cincinnati has been dealt a difficult blow, but the worst thing the team could do now is to wallow in self-pity. Instead, use the situation as motivation as they prepare for the Gators on January 1st!

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The Brian Kelly Timing Debate – It is a Question of Commitments

December 17, 2009

Read the arguments from Babe Ruthless and Loyal Homer about whether or not Brian Kelly should have coached the University of Cincinnati’s BCS bowl game.

It was viewed as the height of treachery.

On December 17th, 2007, despite repeated denials that he was not leaving West Virginia, Rich Rodriguez announced that he would be the new head coach of the Michigan Wolverines. While there were many factors within Rodriguez’s exit from Morgantown that led to his vilification, one of the biggest reasons for the ill-will was his seeming abandonment of the Mountaineers as they prepared for a BCS Bowl Game. Instead of sticking around and coaching West Virginia in the biggest game of the season, he took the Michigan job and left the Mountaineers without a coach when they arguably needed him most.

In 2009, the University of Cincinnati Bearcats played to a perfect 12-0 record, won a second Big East Conference championship, and are scheduled to take on the Florida Gators in the Allstate Sugar Bowl on New Year’s Day. Like the Mountaineers of two years ago, though, the Bearcats will be without the head coach that led them to a perfect season. Brian Kelly, who just wrapped up his third season as the head coach of the Cincinnati Bearcats, accepted the position of head coach at Notre Dame and will not be on the sidelines for the Bearcats as they play to close out their season in perfect fashion.

Understandably, many of the Bearcats players are upset by Kelly’s decision. Quotes like “I’m fairly disgusted with the situation” and “He went for the money” and “It’s like someone turned their back on us” have been heard throughout Cincinnati’s locker room. After having successfully navigated through the entire college football season, it makes sense that the players would feel betrayed, used, or abandoned because their coach has left them for greener pastures. For Kelly’s part, he has defended his decision by stating that his job is now to build a successful program at Notre Dame. While he loved his time spent in Cincinnati, he had to shift his focus to his new job, which meant that he could not coach Cincinnati in January.

Thus, today’s topic – Should Brian Kelly have stayed to coach the University of Cincinnati in the BCS bowl game?

This is a very complicated question. Brian Kelly was forced to choose between two conflicting loyalties. On one hand, Kelly had spent the past three years building a program in Cincinnati, and those years of hard work finally paid off. After building strong relationships with his players and implementing his plan on the field, Kelly had elevated the Bearcat program as close to the pinnacle of success as it has ever been. It only seems right that Kelly should stick around and finish what he started.

On the other hand, he is now a hired employee of Notre Dame. As such, he is paid by the university to make the football program successful.

In debating this issue, Babe Ruthless will argue that Kelly made the right decision by deciding not to coach Cincinnati, while Loyal Homer will argue that Kelly should have stuck around to finish what he started before moving on to his new responsibilities in South Bend.

Burned bridges may be a Bear(cat) to deal with, but does the luck of the (Fighting) Irish make it all worthwhile?

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The Brian Kelly Timing Debate – Just A Little Bit of History Repetition

December 17, 2009

Read the debate intro and the opposing argument from Loyal Homer.

Currently there seems to be a whole lot criticism of Brian Kelly for his decision to leave the head coaching job at Cincinnati for the head coaching job at Notre Dame before the big Sugar Bowl showdown with Florida. Sorry Cincinnati fans, but you are going to have to face the facts – Brian Kelly is gone and he had the right to leave.

Cincinnati needs to man up about the whole situation because I am starting to get a whole “woe is me” vibe from the Bearcats. That has no place in college football. (Crying?! There’s no crying in football!) In fact, Cincinnati fans should knock off the whole “he left us before our big game” act or else they are going to come off as hypocrites. Though it may seem like an eternity ago to Bearcat fans still riding the high of Cincinnati’s Kelly era success, just three years ago Kelly did the exact same thing to Central Michigan University, but I do not remember too many voices in Cincinnati questioning Kelly’s ethics then. What’s that Bearcats? Coach got your tongue? (Get it? They are cats… the Bearcats… whatever, you get my point.)

I am sure that many at Central Michigan felt equally “betrayed” and “abandoned” – if not more so – when the Chippewas lost the coach that brought the programs its first winning season in seven years for a bigger, flashier coaching gig. I am sure that many Chippewa players felt stabbed in the back when their beloved coach left them before their big game – the Motor City Bowl. But I do not remember too much sympathy coming from the Cincinnati fans. In my opinion, Kelly’s detractors can either admit that since Kelly left Central Michigan before their big game it is only fair that he leaves under similar circumstances or they can form a support group for hypocritical crybaby college football fans. I think they should choose the first option, though I find the latter far more interesting.

Kelly brought the Cincinnati program to the top of the Big East Conference. He brought them an undefeated regular season in 2009, and somehow he is the villain for using this success to get a promotion. All of Coach Kelly’s critics need to put themselves in his shoes. Sure, he might have made promises to the team that will now go unfulfilled. Yes, he is leaving them just before one of the biggest games in the school’s history, but would you really do anything differently? If you think Coach Kelly is selling out, ask yourself this question and really, really try to be honest about it: “Would I drop everything at my current position if I was offered the job of my dreams?”

Kelly has earned a promotion and, like anyone else, he has the right to accept it. If a Double A pitcher gets the call to move up to the majors during the minor league postseason, should he turn it down so he can stay with his teammates? No, that would be ludicrous because a shot at the big leagues is his ultimate goal. Similarly, Kelly’s ultimate goal should be to coach winning football at the highest level of competition possible. That is exactly what the job at Notre Dame offers him.

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