Big Trouble in Little Storrs

Fresh off the latest example that the BCS doesn’t work — and Auburn should appreciate that as much as anyone, considering it’s been in the same boat as TCU — comes another example of how, when college football muckety-mucks say everything’s fine within the sport, that they’re full of it.

University of Connecticut donor Robert Burton doesn’t like the Huskies’ new choice for head coach, so he wants his money and name back from the school. Burton made a $3 million donation a few years ago for UConn’s new football complex — you know, the Burton Family Football Complex.

UConns Burton Family Football Complex

One wonders what recourse Mr. Burton feels he has with his name having been on the building for half a decade, and whether he thinks the school will just zip off a check and get maintenance out there with a pair of pliers or something. He says he had a right to be consulted on the hiring and wasn’t, while the school says he was kept in the loop and knew what was coming.

According to the story, his choice for coach was former Florida offensive coordinator Steve Addazio. Apparently it didn’t matter to Burton that Addazio had just been hired to become Temple’s new coach; UConn should have stolen him out from under the Owls. Maybe he figures that the Owls were booted from the Big East, and thus the Huskies got first dibs.

New UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni

Even more intriguing is that the coach UConn AD Jeff Hathaway and company did hire, ex-Syracuse coach Paul Pasqualoni, coached Burton’s son with the Orange ands apparently the coach and dad didn’t exactly get along.

But the biggest question remains: Can Burton actually get a refund on his donation? And if so, what does this mean for the future of college football?

If the school doesn’t cough up the $3 million — only $2.5 million of which was for the naming rights of the complex, by the way; what a bargain! — does Burton then look for another route, including lawsuit, to get the money back? Then a court could be deciding for colleges just how much input in decisions cash like that buys a donor.

A loss for UConn could put a real damper on colleges seeking donations from any eager fan and lead to possibly a screening process in which schools try to find out just how pushy a donor might become when it comes to his or her beloved team.

In the case of UConn, which isn’t exactly Alabama or Florida or Texas, donors like Burton are probably much fewer and further between. Losing a donor of his stature could hurt the program far more than it would in a more established program with a deeper pool of big-walleted fans.

But will it lead to any fundamental changes in the way college football does business? If the repeated proof of the failure of the BCS doesn’t give the powers that be any incentive to change that system, why would this cause them to rethink things any more? Because it’s even more fundamentally about money, and the health and future of the sport.

But the NCAA isn’t known for doing the best things for the sport, so I wouldn’t hold my breath.


Is there a draft?

The good news for Major League Soccer: ESPN, the sports television empire that has made the NFL Draft a three-day extravaganza of media overload, is airing the MLS SuperDraft live on ESPN2 today as I type this.

The bad news: It’s airing live at noon on a Thursday, and is scheduled to last just an hour according to the cable TV guide.

But you’ve got to start somewhere.

It makes sense for ESPN to want to try and build more interest in the league with the broadcasting rights it’s paid good money for, but whether or not this will work remains to be seen. ESPN is the right place for it, since with everything they’ve done to pummel viewers with information during the interminably long NFL Draft they have the ability to simply scale it back and easily adapt it to MLS.

The draft is being held in Baltimore at the NSCAA Convention, probably not quite as ideal a place for fan interaction as Madison Square Garden has become for the NFL. Yet many fans still made the trip there, including a Philadelphia Union contingency that includes a certain SoB I know. (For those unfamiliar with the Union, their devoted fans are called the Sons of Ben, as in Franklin. I’m not insulting the gentleman in question … as far as he knows.)

The commentators obviously know what they’re talking about, but they seem uncomfortable being on camera so long talking live which they are not used to doing as part of a simple game broadcast. They know their stuff (I’m assuming, since I really don’t), but can they keep viewers who aren’t already devoted fans interested? I wonder.

The touch I do like is giving the players who come up to the podium after they’re selected a scarf of their new team instead of a jersey, giving people a taste of what makes soccer different than other sports.

As I type, the hour set for the show is up, yet there’s no sign of them leaving the coverage. So soccer is at least important enough to warrant extending the coverage, perhaps through the end of the first round which is not quite two-thirds done.

How much more of the three rounds will be broadcast? (Turns out it went off at 2 p.m., early in the second round.) And will it help the MLS broaden its fan base? Who knows? But every little bit helps.

NFL out of Luck for now

So Andrew Luck bucked the conventional wisdom and opted to return for another year at Stanford instead of cashing in as the likely No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft.

Stanford redshirt sophomore Andrew Luck has decided to come back and finish his junior year to get his degree instead of taking a massive payday as the likely No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft.

Apart from the Carolina Panthers, no one else should have a problem with this. Yet apparently radio talk show hosts, bloggers and columnists around the country have been ripping Luck for not getting out while the getting is good.

It’s one thing to voice an opinion that his is not the decision you would make, and maybe you can say it’s the wrong decision in the long run. The biggest arguments against are the fact that Jim Harbaugh very well may not be back to coach the Cardinal next year, Luck won’t have much of the offensive line that protected him this year, and the potential of a new NFL salary structure for rookies could mean he’s leaving tens of millions of dollars on the table.

You also get the horror stories of quarterbacks who went back for another year. Ask Jake Locker in May if he wishes he’d come out early. There’s Matt Leinart, or Jevan Snead — the list goes on.

That doesn’t even include players like Sam Bradford, though his can hardly be considered an unhappy ending since despite missing almost all his senior season he still went No. 1 overall in the draft and nearly led the St. Louis Rams to the playoffs.

His dad is a former NFL quarterback, so it’s not that Luck is speaking or making a decision due to a lack of experience. This honestly, genuinely seems to be what he wants. Who are any of us to deny him that, or ridicule him for not wanting someone to show him the money now?

When he finishes next year, one thing is guaranteed: He will have a degree in architecture from Stanford University. If that’s the worst thing that happens to him, I think he’ll still be OK. Just because many of us wish we could play football for a living doesn’t mean he has to right now.

…On the other hand, carpe diem.

Big Blew and the not-so-Big Ten

Stunning it was to discover that Rich Rodriguez wasn’t the solution that Michigan football needed to turn things around. Well actually, he did start a turnaround with the Wolverines. The team’s record improved each year he was there, but Big Blue had just six conference wins in three years and was 0-6 against Ohio State and Michigan State, and the NCAA investigations into his practice habits and other things probably helped him out the door Wednesday.

I think far more damning was the seemingly increasing problems the Wolverines had stopping … well, anybody. Crunching the numbers reveals that the Michigan defense gave up more than 35 points a game this season, which might be OK if you’re Oregon and score 49 points a game but not if you’re supposed to be one of the historic programs of the Big Ten.

A season-best performance in the opener against Connecticut Sept. 4 in a 30-10 victory sparked a 5-0 start, but that included a 42-37 win over Massachusetts and a last-second 42-35 win over Indiana. Three straight losses to the Spartans, Iowa and Penn State followed, but it was the next game against Illinois that perhaps best symbolized both the better win total but also the overall drop in the prestige of the program.

It took a late fourth-quarter TD for the Wolverines to tie things at 39-all, and only a stop of a forced two-point conversion in the third overtime gave them a 67-65 win in the highest-scoring game in the history of the Big Ten. The previous record for highest-scoring conference game? A Michigan win over what would later be known as Michigan State in 1902, 119-0.

Sure, winning a game by 119 points doesn’t happen any more, but apparently neither does needing less than 50 points to win a game. And the 52-14 loss to Mississippi State in the Gator Bowl was the last straw. It also helped exemplify just how far the Big Ten as a whole has fallen.

The SEC was 3-0 against the conference on New Year’s Day with a 31-point average margin of victory, but non-automatic qualifier TCU’s 21-19 win over Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl was just as damaging to the Big Ten. Ohio State held off a late charge by Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl, but the only other wins for the Big Ten in bowl season came against Missouri — likely a paper tiger, pardon the pun — and an average Baylor squad.

The top talent in the country is going to the SEC, with a lesser amount going to conferences like the ACC, Pac-10 and Big 12. That’s what makes a player like Denard Robinson or Terrelle Pryor stand out so much in the Big Ten. Their talent level is probably suited more for a conference with more speed and overall ability across the board, but their features are a rarity in a conference better known for size and strength, three yards and a cloud of dust.

The additi0n of Nebraska, which lost three of its last four and had its own special bowl disaster against a .500 Washington team it had beaten by 35 earlier in the year, won’t change things much. Until the Big Ten can start attracting more top-level talent — and unless global warming kicks in and keeps the winters from being, well, what it is right now, I don’t think it will happen soon — the conference will continue to play second fiddle.

I’m baaaaaaack!

I once said last year I wasn’t going to wait around for big posts and would post more often. I made exactly two more posts after that the rest of the year (not including space-filling polls), the last of which came about five months ago.

It’s time to get back into the swing of things, live up to that and actually commit some words to the Intarweebs on a regular basis. That’s my New Year’s resolution, and I hope I can live up to it. I’ll have a post going up later today on Michigan’s firing of Rich Rodriguez and the Big Ten’s current inability to compete on a national stage as a conference, and should post a couple more things this week … if I’m serious.

We shall see.