SCOTT: Big 10 criticized for SEC dominance

When one of your teams wins the national championship, three of your teams finish in the final top 10, six of your teams finish in the top 25 and seven of your teams work their way into various top-10 recruiting lists, it's easy to become a target.

That's what happened to the SEC when Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany recently posted an open letter on the Big Ten Web site defending his conference's football success and admissions policies.

 

Delaney's ire rose after the Chicago Sun-Times published a story under the headline "Big Ten needs to find new talent pool – fast." The story pointed out how the SEC dominated the Big Ten in recruiting this year, in part because Big Ten schools struggled to sign players out of the South, particularly in Florida.

 

As the Sun-Times' story pointed out, the top prospect in Michigan chose USC and the top player in Ohio went to Tennessee. LSU even signed defensive tackle Joseph Barksdale out of Detroit.

 

Delany responded by pointing out the Big Ten's 8-6 record against the SEC in bowl games over the past five years as well as the Big Ten's five Heisman Trophy winners to the SEC's one over the past 15 years. Of course, he failed to point out the lack of competitive balance in a conference that barely compares to the SEC top to bottom. He also conveniently ignored the beating Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith took against Florida's defense a month after winning the Heisman Trophy.

 

Delany didn't stop there, writing, "It seems premature for us to lower our admission standards or give up on the tremendous talent pool in the Midwest."

 

Then Delaney seemed to stop just short of blatant racism by writing, "I love speed, and the SEC has great speed, especially on the defensive line, but there are appropriate balances when mixing academics and athletics. Each school, as well as each conference, simply must do what fits their mission, regardless of what a recruiting service recommends. I wish we had six teams among the top-10 recruiting classes every year, but winning our way requires some discipline and restraint with the recruitment process."

 

Let it be known that of the 48 defensive linemen who started the final game of the 2006 season for their respective teams, 42 of those are African-American.

 

It would have been easy for SEC commissioner Mike Slive to point that out to Delany, but Slive wisely took the high road in public. Of course, it's easy to do that when you're on top.

 

In an e-mail to the Chicago Tribune, Slive wrote, "I can appreciate why the Big Ten wants to compare itself to the Southeastern Conference. This is a comparison we welcome in the spirit of wholesome intercollegiate athletic competition."

 

As for the Big Ten's superior academic standards, Slive wrote, "While academic missions may vary from institution to institution, there is one common goal that all conferences and institutions share ... for student-athletes to get a quality education, earn their degree, enjoy a positive athletic experience and become contributing members to society."

 

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While the Big Ten searches for ways to catch up to the SEC, three SEC schools will be searching for new athletic directors in the next year. LSU's Skip Bertman and Mississippi State's Larry Templeton will work through the 2007-08 fiscal years, while Arkansas' Frank Broyles will end his 50-year tenure at the school in December.

 

That gives all three institutions plenty of time to make critical hires. It also makes for a potentially awkward situation at Mississippi State and Arkansas.

 

What if Mississippi State's football program takes a significant step backwards this fall? Will Templeton be able to make a change and replace Sylvester Croom as head coach, or will that fall to university president Robert "Doc" Foglesong? Foglesong took over in April 2006 and, all semantics aside, forced Templeton out so he could bring in his own athletic director.

 

And what about Houston Nutt at Arkansas? Broyles has been one of Nutt's most important supporters, but the soap opera surrounding the program in recent months hasn't done much to endear Nutt to certain factions of Arkansas supporters. If the Razorbacks fall back into the pack this season, will Broyles make the call for a change or will that fall to university system president B. Alan Sugg?

 

Those questions just add further complications to the already complex situations that exist every day in every SEC athletic program.

     

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If the NCAA follows up on the recommendation of the NCAA Football Rules Committee to reverse last year's unpopular changes in the clock rule, SEC coaches will be among the first to applaud that reversal.

 

While Division I-A games ended up being 14 minutes shorter than in 2005, the games also included 14 fewer plays than the previous season. In the big picture, is 14 minutes an even trade for 14 plays?

 

Think about it: Jack Bauer needs an entire 24 hours to save the world. Gil Grissom and his team need most of an hour to solve a murder or two in Las Vegas. It takes Rachel Ray most of 30 minutes (minus a few commercials) to make meals. Yet, an entire game can change back and forth several times through 14 plays. For that matter, 14 plays can change an entire season.

 

"We never dreamed it would affect the number of plays that it did," said Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville, a member of the rules committee. "There was pretty much a majority of coaches in all levels of college football who felt it wasn't good."

 

In a statement released through the Florida sports information office, Florida coach Urban Meyer said, "As a coach and player, you practice and prepare to play the game. I'm pleased with the proposal because it will provide fans a chance to watch more football and give players and coaches more opportunities to play the game."

 

In addition to reversing the clock rules that came into effect last fall, the rules committee proposed the following changes:

 

-- Kicking off from the 30-yard line instead of the 35 to reduce touchbacks and raise the potential for big plays in the kicking game

 

-- Limiting the play clock to 15 seconds following television timeouts

 

-- Reducing team timeouts by 30 seconds

 

-- Placing a two-minute time limit on instant-replay reviews.

 

Instead of actually limiting the game itself, Tuberville said the new rule proposals should help to eliminate "a lot of standing-around time" during games. A good example is the proposal to give the teams 15 seconds to snap the ball after a television timeout.

 

"The teams have been standing out there for almost three minutes during a TV timeout," Tuberville said. "They don't need 25 more seconds to get to the line and run a play."

 

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Former Arkansas quarterback Mitch Mustain is still enrolled at Arkansas for the current semester, but in the meantime he's checking out his future possibilities. It was assumed by many that Mustain would end up at Tulsa after Gus Malzahn, his former high school coach and Arkansas offensive coordinator, left Arkansas for Tulsa in January.

 

Instead, Mustain is considering his options and recently visited USC. Mustain's former high school and Arkansas teammate, wide receiver Damian Williams, transferred to USC from Arkansas in December.

 

Both Mustain and Williams played as true freshmen at Arkansas, so they can use their redshirt seasons this fall and won't have to lose a year of eligibility.

 

Consider this: If Mustain ends up at USC, that will give the Trojans the past four Parade Magazine All-America Players of the Year – quarterback Mark Sanchez, offensive lineman Jeff Byers, Mustain, and tailback Joe McKnight (who shared the award with Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen).

 

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South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier did more than just deny reports that he or someone on his staff contacted Clemson defensive line coach Chris Rumph about a position on the South Carolina coaching staff.

 

Instead, Spurrier tossed out an accusation of his own.

 

"Someone in the Upstate is lying," Spurrier said.

 

This is how it supposedly went down: South Carolina defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix said Rumph called two weeks ago to inquire if South Carolina had any interest in recruiting a Clemson commitment (likely tailback Jo Jo Cox) that had been denied admission by Clemson.

 

In that same conversation, Nix said Rumph also asked about South Carolina's staff opening. Spurrier fired outside linebackers coach Dave Wommack in January and had yet to fill the job at that point. Since Rumph is a former Gamecocks' linebacker, Nix told Rumph to contact Spurrier if he was interested in the job.

 

While Spurrier did talk to Clemson offensive line coach and former South Carolina head coach Brad Scott about returning to the Gamecocks two years ago, Spurrier contends the only Clemson coach he ever offered a job to was running backs coach Burton Burns. Alabama coach Nick Saban hired Burns in January.

 

"Somebody up there has got their facts all wrong, or is purposefully trying to make it look like some Clemson coach is actually trying to stay there instead of getting out," Spurrier said. I didn't talk to Rumph. I didn't tell anybody to talk to Rumph. ...

 

"Somebody up there is trying to give a perception that we're trying to hire their guys and they'd rather be at Clemson. That's far from the truth."

 

Spurrier filled the opening by signing Shane Beamer away from Mississippi State to coach linebackers and serve as special teams co-coordinator with Fred Chatham.

 

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It appears more and more likely that tight end Brandon Warren will leave Florida State for Tennessee, but not out of any dissatisfaction with the Seminoles.

 

Warren, widely considered the top football prospect in Tennessee after the 2005 season, left Florida State in late January and returned to his home in Alcoa, Tenn., near Knoxville. Media reports claim Warren wants to be closer to his ill mother and will file a hardship appeal with the NCAA so he can play next season without having to sit out.

If Warren fails to win his appeal, he would lose a year of eligibility because he left Florida State without fulfilling the one-year obligation required by the national letter of intent.

 

The Tallahassee Democrat recently reported that FSU is unlikely to release Warren from his scholarship. If Warren's mother is truly sick and needs his assistance, that would represent yet another smear on Saint Bobby's once-cherished public persona.

Warren started nine games as a true freshman for Florida State and caught 28 passes for 301 yards and a touchdown.

 

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Richard Scott is a Birmingham-based sports writer, author and featured columnist in Tiger Rag. Reach him at rscottsec@yahoo.com.


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