With Nebraska's addition the next question is how to split the Big Ten into equitable divisions. Most people are interpreting Delany's ordered list of priorities…
“First priority’s competitive fairness to me,” Delany said last week. “Second priority is maintenance of rivalries, some of them are very important. They’re part of who we are and they’re not treated lightly. And then I think the third is what factor, if any, does geography play?”
…that mentions geography only to explicitly dismiss it, as evidence that the Big Ten will run an end-around on the ugly geographical reality that would see Michigan, Ohio State, and Penn State in the same division. Doc Sat's interpretation of the Big Ten's priorities, for instance:
1. Splitting up Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan, the three programs responsible for eight straight conference championships/automatic BCS berths and four of seven at-large BCS bids since 2002; and
2. Preserving the prominence of the Ohio State-Michigan game in the regular-season finale.
IE: Old-school-NHL-style division names or a complicated twelve-team pod system that I'm surprised I didn't dream up or divisions based on various alphabetical orderings. Cutting the conference along an axis is apparently not an option.
Most take a look at the rivalries and arrive at the conclusion that the Michigan-Michigan State-Ohio State triplet has to stay together and that the Nebraska addition to the Iowa-Wisconsin-Minnesota triumvirate of hate is natural. Then you throw Indiana and Purdue in with the west, and all you're left with is a decision about where to put Penn State and, if you dump them in the "east" which Illinois school to lift. It doesn't really matter for football. For basketball, you've got OSU, MSU, IU, and Purdue in the same division… so take Northwestern in a (futile) effort to balance things out. End result with 20 and 10 year records added in for color:
|Historical Record||Historical Record|
|Bo||20 year||Rank||10 year||Rank||Woody||20 year||Rank||10 year||Rank|
This is just about equitable according to the numbers, but the Woody division is undeniably top-heavy. Four of the top six schools in the conference are in the Bo division; Woody is Michigan, OSU, and a bunch of teams that think "Alamo Bowl? Awesome!"
Weirdly, The Only Colors stares down the Michigan-OSU-PSU division and says "sign me up." They average the Sagarin ratings for the last decade in an effort to show that shoving Penn State out of the west doesn't do much to help balance the divisions. I think the focus on average rating is the wrong approach when we're talking about picking two teams for a championship game. Since we don't have any idea how divisions would actually play out we'll use the Sagarin Ratings TOC assembled as proxies and pick the best team in each division for a hypothetical championship game:
|Year||Team 1||Team 2||Sagarin||Team 1||Team 2||Sagarin|
|2002||Ohio State||Iowa||---||Ohio State||Iowa||--|
|2005||Ohio State||Wisconsin||3+14||Ohio State||Penn State||3+4|
|2006||Ohio State||Wisconsin||--||Ohio State||Wisconsin||--|
|2007||Ohio State||Illinois||11+30||Ohio State||Penn State||11+26|
|2008||Penn State||Iowa||8+22||Ohio State||Penn State||8+14|
|2009||Ohio State||Iowa||--||Ohio State||Iowa||--|
Most of the time the change wouldn't have had an impact, but three times in the last decade having Penn State in a division opposite from Ohio State would have made for a better championship game. TOC argues that past results do not guarantee future performance, but since the cost of the switch is a very slightly increased travel I think it's worth it from the perspective of the league. Since Penn State suffered its post-Paterno swoon in the middle of the decade, the competitive balance effect on (on the championship game only) is more likely to be understated than overstated by the last decade.
If you want to go straight geography for non-revenue sports, fine by me, but in football I think the Big Ten will align things in a a way likely to avoid the Big 12 problem, and putting Michigan/Ohio State opposite Nebraska/Wisconsin/Iowa/Penn State is the most likely way to get sexy championship games.
I put up a Sporting Blog post on the latest in conference reconfiguration that covers the main news of the day, which is that the awkward moment in nomenclature we're experiencing where the Big 12 has ten teams and the Big Ten has twelve is a surprisingly stable college football isotope.
Whether its half-life is two days, two years, or two decades we don't know yet, but reports that the Big 12 lives have spread beyond Chip Brown, who is by this point basically the earthly avatar of DeLoss Dodds, to Joe Schad and Pete Thamel, and have reached the point the Nebraska rumors did last week where the sheer quantity of independent confirmation outweighs everyone's natural skepticism towards anything Anonymous Athletic Director would like to leak. The Big… er… Twelve lives.
Why? Because if they're going to rename it they might as well dub it The Texas Conference. The major sticking point with Texas's move to the Big Ten was not distance or tradition or even money but the Longhorn's refusal to share and share alike, which is fine as far as it goes. Anyone who approaches college football from an angle other than realpolitik is willfully naive. Expecting Texas to sign off on a change where they go from the king of everything to just another shiny happy Big Ten (or Pac-10) school was extremely wishful thinking in retrospect.
This is despite a ton of huge advantages moving would bring. For one, I don't believe Brown for a second when he claims Texas "stands to make between $20 mil and $25 mil per yr under a proposed new TV pkg presented by Dan Beebe" before we even get to the coming Longhorn Network. Allow myself to quote myself:
Big Ten teams are currently raking in 15 million per year with a fully-functional network spread across eight states with a ton of people. The Big 12 Texas's entire conference distribution was 10 million in 2007 and as of May 31st conference distributions were ranging between "7 and 12 million" according to the KC Star; Big Ten teams each brought in 20 million. The Big 12's current television contract with ABC goes to the 2015 season and the conference has just lost its third most attractive television draw (Nebraska) and third biggest media market (Denver). The average value of the Big Twelve's TV inventory has gone down considerably this summer.
Texas would make more money moving to the Big Ten. They'd get to join the CIC. They'd have a more competitive environment than one game against Oklahoma every year. Iowa State would no longer be on the schedule. In all absolute ways, moving makes sense. Relatively? Not so much. Now that the Big 10 door is swinging shut—Missouri's scrabbling at the lock but can't get in—and the Pac-10 seems set on adding Utah and calling it a day, the Big 12 leftovers desperately need Texas and will sign up for any lopsided revenue sharing plan they have to as long as they don't have to consider whether they should join the Mountain West or Conference USA. If Texas won't enter as an equal partner, the Big Ten won't take them, and that's as it should be.
But no one should mistake the reason the Big 12 has shed two of its best schools: it's because of Texas. If the Big 12 does end up imploding, it will be because of Texas. Realpolitik has its costs.
The Big Ten's Next Move
This guy on the message board has a bunch of scuttlebutt about Texas that reflects the above and suggests where the Big Ten will look next: the ACC. Take it for what it's worth—not much given how fast these things change—but I've gotten a couple notes that suggest the same thing. The current plan appears to be wait to see what happens with Notre Dame and the rumored get-in-or-get-out ultimatum from the Big East and then possibly look to move to 14. 16 is not regarded as a viable setup without a compelling reason.
One man's guess as to the future direction of the conference, listed from most probable to least:
- The Big Ten sticks at 12 teams.
- ND gets the boot from the Big East, sucks it up, and joins the Big Ten sometime around when their NBC contract expires. The league would then look for a 14th team (Maryland, BC, GT, Rutgers, Syracuse the most commonly mentioned targets) at that point.
- ND stays in the Big East as they are now and the Big Ten picks off a couple of the above-mentioned targets to go to 14.
- Some crazy thing happens and the league goes to 16.
If I had to guess, the Big Ten will stand pat until such time as Notre Dame gets the boot from the Big East, which may or may not ever actually happen.
6'4, 285 lbs.
Elliott has started to see his recruitment take off. With around 14 offers so far, he is hoping for and expecting a few more offers to roll in. James was offered by Michigan this past Tuesday, and was very excited that the Wolverines have chosen him for a scholarship offer. He told me that Michigan is in his top five even if he gets those offers that he's hoping for.
He will most likely have to use an official visit to come see Ann Arbor since it's an expensive trip from Florida. Elliott has a very close relationship with his offensive line coach, and it just so happens that Elliott's line coach played at FSU with Michigan offensive line coach Greg Frey. They have that instant connection and trust that's needed during recruiting, so we'll see how this plays out. Distance won't be a factor for Elliot.
5'10, 165 lbs.
Cape Coral, Florida
Holloway is an interesting prospect who only holds a few offers from Indiana, Michigan, West Virginia, and Western Kentucky. Although the local schools haven't offered they've had their eye on Holloway, and at least one of them should jump into the mix soon.
Holloway told me that Michigan is in his top two with West Virginia. He said that even if one of the local schools does offer, Michigan will still be up there in the top group. Just because they're a local school doesn't mean he would pick them. He's looking for the right fit, and the right school for him. Holloway doesn't know the exact date yet but he will be visiting Michigan sometime either this month, or next.
One complicating factor for Holloway and Michigan is that, like his former teammate Spencer Boyd, Holloway has a child. Boyd recently transferred from Notre Dame to be closer to his family. You have to think that would have an effect on Prince, too.
A look at Prince's spring game this year:
6'3, 210 lbs.
Matthews, North Carolina
Kris Frost will be in Ann Arbor this coming weekend for camp with his family. This is a huge visit for Michigan, as it will be the first time his family will be seeing Michigan. Frost recently took an impromptu visit to Auburn and enjoyed himself. He's been to Auburn quite a few times now, and the proximity to his home is a plus in the eyes of his mom and dad.
Michigan needs to roll out the red carpet for his family. If Michigan can impress them, then it would be safe to say that Michigan will be the clear front-runner. I sent Kris a text the other day, and said, "You're still coming up to Michigan for camp right?" His reply was, "THAAATTTT'SSS RIIIIIIGGGHHTT!!!!!!!!" So… he's a little excited.
[Editor's note: Camp will be critical in Frost's recruitment. The frequent visits to Auburn have Tiger fans feeling optimistic; Michigan's main chance to sway him back will be this weekend.]
6'4, 215 lbs.
Ed was offered by Michigan this past weekend. I spoke with him afterwards, and he said he's going to get together with his family and talk about what's next. "What's next" could be an quick commitment. I'm expecting that Ed's commitment will come sooner rather than later, once he has all of his questions answered. He said he will be ready to make his decision once he feels right about a school.
Michigan is in good shape here.
- There was an article brought to my attention in which Andre Yruretagoyena (I don't even need to look that up anymore) said he didn't think it was fair that USC's new coaches were being punished for what the old staff did. The sanctions against USC are coming from 2004, and you have to remember, Andre was only 10 or 11 years old at that time. He didn't know that Lane Kiffin was part of that staff. He does now, and he doesn't feel as strongly about it. Yruretagoyena said he "want[s] to say it doesn't affect me, but it does."
- MD ATH Brandon Phelps has a Michigan offer, plans a visit, and lists Michigan in a list of five schools that are recruiting him hard.
- OH LB Sean Duggan's visit to Michigan was "awesome" and Michigan is now solidly in his top three.
Result. A point from the first match is fantastic, especially since the Slovenia-Algeria game was a crime against soccer. If the US wins against Slovenia, which they should, they are basically through. A tie is probably good enough going into a final game against a shambolic(!) and likely eliminated Algeria squad.
Timmah! Was where he needed to be, made the saves he could make, and did not spill a harmless ball into the net. He was fortunate that a number of English shots were directly at him, but he saved a couple sledgehammers without offering up a rebound that Rooney could have poached.
Steve Cherundolo. Essentially shut down the right side of the English attack and, as a bonus, drew two dangerous fouls on Milner, forcing Capello to take him off just a half-hour in. He coped with the speed of Wright-Phillips and Cole for most of the game; given Spector's recent troubles it's easy to envision the US conceding another goal or two if Cherundolo isn't on the field.
Dempsey & Donovan. Neither had a spectacular game. Both were still the USA's best and most dangerous players. Donovan set up most of the USA's dangerous chances and provided his usual quality set piece service; Dempsey obviously scored. Even if it was a howler by the goalie, score == good.
Jozy Altidore. Par for the course: one brilliant piece of individual skill and not a whole lot else. Created a golden opportunity that Green and the post conspired to deny. Also whiffed on Donovan's dangerous
Robbie Findley. Josh Wolff 2.0. Took some long balls down well and helped with possession. Still wasteful when he does get the ball in a dangerous position; even got caught on his breakaway because of sloppy footwork with the ball.
Michael Bradley. I'm not really sure. I'm just putting him here because I don't recall much good or bad from Bradley.
Central defense. Onyewu did get pulled out of position on the quick Gerrard goal but since as the game wore on it became clear that the game plan for dealing with Rooney was to have the central defense immediately step out on him no matter where he was, he can hardly be blamed for following the gameplan. Zonal Marking has a bunch of stills showing the various ways in which this strategy exposed various parts of the field to be exploited. Here's Onyewu stepping out on Rooney, getting beaten, sucking Bocanegra in, and setting up Lennon for a dangerous cross:
ZM sees this as Onyewu repeatedly committing errors, but from my perspective the US decided that Rooney would not beat them and they'd take their chances with Heskey and others, especially since the absence of Barry forced the ineffective deployment of Milner/SWP and the Nats' tucked in attacking midfielders largely neutralized the England fullbacks. The focus on Rooney put Heskey in for England's best chance of the second half. His shot went directly at Howard.
For the rest of the game, the central D pairing kept England out. Demerit was especially good at harrying Rooney, who had a minimal impact until late when everyone got tired and England finally started attempting to exploit the still-awkward Onyewu in some one-on-one situations.
The downside for the central D: both Heskey and Crouch had their way aerially, with Heskey knocking down ball after ball for his teammates and Crouch having some scary moments in the box. That's somewhat unavoidable—Heskey is a beast and Crouch is 6'7"—but a fully healthy Onyewu may have competed better.
Carlos Bocanegra. This was definitely going to happen, but it did: Aaron Lennon was too much for Bocanegra, providing most of the England offense in the second half. He'll cope better against less blazing wingers.
Ricardo Clark. The writing was on the wall when Clark went 90 against Australia, but why a guy with two appearances for his club since the end of the last MLS season got the nod over a comparable player with a lot more recent playing time under his belt (Edu) is still unclear. Clark let Gerrard loose less than five minutes into the game, and that's especially egregious since it was obvious that center-backs stepping out was part of the gameplan and that Clark is supposed to be the most defensive-minded player on the pitch other than Onyewu and Demerit.
I haven't reviewed the game yet but the first serious rewatch posts are rolling in and Clark does not do well in them:
There is one camera angle on ESPN3 and I caught at least four other opportunities to the early gaffe by Clark of ball watching–or clipping his nails–or whatever he was doing rather than getting on the play. (19, 25, 34, 84 minutes)
Defensive awareness is about the only thing Clark is supposed to bring to a game, and he's not really doing that after missing six months injured.
I'm with the rest of the internet: I expect we'll see Torres the next two matches as the US adopts a more aggressive posture based on possession.
Also South Africa. Vuvuzelas, incredible swathes of empty seats—I'm watching Japan-Cameroon and it looks like Crisler when Michigan plays Arkansas Pine-Bluff—a bunch of money spent on sports in an area of the world that has serious problems… way to go FIFA.
With the draw against England, I'm with Braves and Birds:
The weekend's results create a new goal for the Nats. Coming into the tournament, we all wanted them to make it out of the group my any means necessary. Now, with a draw against England and Germany looking like the best team in the tournament, there should be motivation for the Nats to do their best to win the group to avoid the Germans in the round of sixteen.
If the US and England both win on Friday, the final matchday will be a race to avoid Germany. Big if, though, against a Slovenia side that rarely concedes goals.
The Run of Play on the game.
Late this morning, Nebraska officials contacted the Big Ten office, informing the league of the decision. Nebraska will become the 12th member of the Big Ten.
Meanwhile, University of Texas regents will meet next week to decide whether the Longhorns will remain in the Big 12 or switch to another conference.
Big 12 D-Day is Tuesday.
UPDATE: MSU AD Mark Hollis is tweeting it, so that's basically official. No more "anonymous sources."
UPDATE II: Showing the backbone we associate with true leadership, Hollis has deleted that tweet.
UPDATE III: From the Michigan AD:
Statement from Athletic Director Dave Brandon
I can confirm that Nebraska has applied to the Big Ten Conference for membership. I can also confirm that the Big Ten has done its due diligence as it relates to Nebraska. I expect that an announcement will be forthcoming from the Big Ten in regard to Nebraska’s membership very soon.
Here's a hint as to the outcome: The BTN is going to televise Nebraska's 6PM EST press conference.
Look: the World Cup comes once every four years and, unlike that other quadrennial mega sporting event, never takes time out to talk to you about polar bears. When someone cries it's not because that's just what you do after you dismount but rather because they are experiencing a life-rending moment. I'm going to blog about the USMNT on the front page. If this annoys you, I cannot help it.
Extremely Tentative Starters
JOZY ALTIDORE, PEACE BE UPON HIM
The mantle of First Great American Field Player* was passed from Freddy Adu to Altidore sometime a couple years ago when he fetched an MLS-record transfer fee and Adu was unable to get playing time at a second-division Portuguese club. Altidore is now the It Kid. It's too bad his first season in a top-flight league was marked with the usual pitfalls whenever a hyped American hops the pond—erratic playing time and lack of production. Altidore threw in a headbutt that drew a three-game suspension for good measure, though he was very apologetic about it on Twitter afterwards.
Enjoy your starting position, especially in the absence of Brian Ching, the only semi-plausible player in the US pool who could have displaced him in a single-striker formation. Despite an ankle sprain that momentarily scared everyone pantsless when he was "hospitalized" and forced him out of the Australia game, Bradley says Altidore will start against England.
Alitdore's strength, speed, and ability to run at players is world-class but his first touch, passing, and activity are lacking. He's not a hold-up forward, and if the US is forced to go over the top with regularity they'll be giving the ball away most of the time. Of late he's been a nonfactor save for the one or two spectacular moves a game that promise a hellacious 2014 World Cup. A couple of examples from the Netherlands game:
He also provided the one bright spot in the USA's ugly first half against Turkey when he WOOPed his way through three defenders and crossed mere inches in front of Clint Dempsey's foot. He did score later in that game, but he had the simple task of not putting the ball over the net from two feet after Robbie Findley and Landon Donovan unlocked the Turkey defense.
*(Giuseppe Rossi is Italian. This will brook no discussion.)
Apparently. Buddle put in a productive 45 minutes against the Czechs, sat out the Turkey game, and put in ' target=_blank>two against the Aussies. He's fit, scoring loads of goals, and starting regularly at striker—something literally no one else on the 30-man roster, let alone the 23 who are in South Africa, can say. Welcome to the US forward pool.
Buddle is active and athletic, somewhere between Findley and Altidore in terms of speed and strength. He's been a teammate of Landon Donovan for years and should work well with the most important US player, and when given opportunities he's put them in the net. The goals he's been scoring are of a higher quality than those Herculez Gomez is putting in—more on that later—since they often involve shots from outside the box, volleys, excellent headers, and the occasional deft touch or two:
Also, a number of Buddle's goals involve runs from one Landon Donovan that Buddle calmly finishes. He's much more of an aerial threat than Findley—he can plausibly act as a target forward for Altidore to play off of—and is actually, you know, scoring. He's the man, man.
Potentially Useful Men, Perhaps Possibly (Probably Not)
HERCULEZ GOMEZ THE STRIKEZ
Form over career part II. Herculez Gomez was an MLS afterthought for years, a consistent starter in Los Angeles and Colorado but never a guy you'd single out as one of the better strikers in a pedestrian league. A move to Kansas City was a total disaster that saw Gomez score once, one time (once), in 34 appearances. After 2009 he became a free agent, signing with Mexican side Puebla in January of this year.
So of course he moves to a much tougher league and pours in ten goals to tie for the Golden Boot, the first time an American has ever done that in a foreign league*. Wha? Double wha: Puebla was not very good, finishing with a goal differential of –3. They were last in their six-team division and 13th in the league overall. Gomez was not the recipient of a ton of service he mostly flubbed. In fact, he's not the recipient of a ton of anything:
Used mainly as a second-half substitute in his 13 appearances this campaign, he is averaging a goal for every 75 minutes played. That's the kind of contribution that could be valuable if carried over to the international level.
You can judge the quality of his rampage for yourself. Here's with every goal Gomez put in for Puebla this year:
Honestly… eh. A lot of defensive mistakes and simple finishes. Some nice runs off the ball, a couple of shots from somewhat tight angles. The free kick should have been saved, though he gets points for making Mexico's goalie look like a fool. There's not a whole lot to overrule the rest of his career. Against teams that will actually mark him the smart bet is a return to the average MLS striker he's been for most of his career. At least he's finishing his chances, though, which makes him a step up from most of Eddie Johnson's career. If the two guys are indistinguishable, at least go with the guy who seems on form.
Gomez put in a goal against Australia on a finish that was tougher than it looked (but not that tough) and figures to be a guy the US calls on if they're looking for a late spark. He might have a tough time getting off the bench since Bradley has the option of moving Dempsey up top and bringing one of the USA's many plausible midfielders (Beasley, Holden, Feilhaber, Torres) in. His best bet might be a game in which Dempsey starts up top.
*(Mexico's Premiere division is the most confusing sporting setup I've ever tried to comprehend, and I once played with a Ukranian team in Football Manager. They actually play two seasons per year, the "Apertura" and "Clausura," following those with an eight-team playoff.)
Robbie Findley is very fast. He made a great pass to Landon Donovan to create Altidore's goal against Turkey, and pressured an Aussie defender into the turnover that Buddle converted into the USA's first goal on Saturday. Given Altidore's mandatory place in the 11 and the hot form of Buddle and Gomez for both club and country, he would be the obvious fourth forward and a late substitution at best except for the Charlie Davies theory. That theory, which is being pushed by several people with more soccer knowledge than I have, suggests that Findley's blistering speed is required for the US to play an effective game, that he opens up space for Donovan, Dempsey, Altidore, and others.
My counterpoint to that is Buddle isn't exactly Ching and has performed much better over the past eight months. Once England defenders tire, bringing Findley in as a shock to the system is a move with a potential payoff. But he's just Josh Wolff 2.0.