Mailbag: Darron Thomas and leadership

Happy Friday.

Anyone else eager to end the worst offseason in the history of college football and start talking about games again?

Thought so.

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To the notes.

Roger from Oregon writes: I am a high school student in Oregon. It has really been bothering me how many columnists are calling out Darron Thomas and his leadership. I know that he has been in the car on three separate occasions were citations, as well as marijuana were involved. How does this make him a bad leader? At my school, a high school not a university, smoking weed is commonplace. While I don't smoke, most of my friends and about 75% of male athletes do, yet they are still able to be leaders on the football field, basketball court, etc. Maybe weed is taboo for all these old journalists, but in my opinion Darron Thomas is a leader (have you seen him stay in the pocket and take a big hit). His toughness and incredible play make him a leader on the field, I honestly don't care how he spends his time off the field (as long as nobody gets hurt).

Ted Miller: Here's the chief problem with marijuana and high-profile people smoking it: It's against the law, so getting caught with it brings bad publicity.

For a sports team, that could mean said team loses a player to suspension, which would make the team worse than before the player passed the dutchie on the left hand side. So players on a team that smoke the wacky weed, put their team at risk of being less good. Some, including me, would call that selfish.

Does it makes sense that one can legally purchase grain alcohol but not marijuana? Do people lose arguments when they are asked to explain why marijuana is illegal? These are questions the Pac-12 blog will not answer because they lead us on tangents away from the football field.

But I will write on leadership. It's more than taking charge of the huddle. It's more than showing infectious poise when the pressure is on. Or popping up with a confident smirk after a hard hit. We've seen all that from Thomas and we surely will see more of it.

But let's imagine a couple of scenarios.

We are in a car with Thomas and safety Eddie Pleasant in 2008. Pleasant decides to race his car with someone. Instead of what actually happened, this happens.

Thomas: Slow down. This is stupid.

Pleasant: Don't be lame!

Thomas: Being lame is us getting arrested and letting our teammates, coaches and fans down. And racing a car on public roads is a stupid thing immature people do. It's low-rent. So cut the crap before I whup you.

Now we are watching Thomas as he's about to get into a car with cornerback Cliff Harris in June.

Thomas: Cliff. Cliff, look at me.

Harris: Whaaa?

Thomas: Cliff, you do a lot of stupid things. When I am with you, you will not do stupid things. I am not demented enough to think of all the potential stupid things you might do on our drive back to Eugene. But my singular task at this moment in time is to make sure you don't get us in trouble. That means: No speeding. That means: No substances that could get us in trouble will pass within 25 feet of this car.

Harris: Whaaa?

Thomas: Cliff. Cliff, look at me. I am not asking you. I am not presenting an opinion. I am telling you how this ride will be. Nothing means more to me than beating LSU and making Coach Kelly and the Duck nation proud. I particularly want to do more interviews with the Pac-12 blog.

Harris: Yeah, he's cool!

Thomas: Yes, he is. But focus Cliff. Focus. Do you hear me? Speed limit, no illicit substances. Right?

Harris: Gosh, good idea. I can't wait to pick off Jordan Jefferson.

Thomas: Yes, I can't believe Les Miles thought he would be a great quarterback but saw me as just an athlete. Going make that fool eat grass.

Harris: Yeah! By the way, I just finished "Gravity's Rainbow." You were right. It was Pynchon's densest novel, but very rewarding to a patient read.

Now, if Thomas, however he might have accomplished it, had convinced Harris not to drive 118 mph nor allowed anyone to smoke weed in that car, would Ducks fans be celebrating his leadership?

No, because they wouldn't know about it. This embarrassing story wouldn't exist.

And Oregon's chances of beating LSU and winning a national title would be better.

Nick from San Luis Obispo, Calif., writes: Whats your take on the whole players being paid idea? All the ex coaches were on today saying how its a wonderful idea to give players a cost of living expense of $3,000 to $4,000 depending on the school. They also said that this should only be for sports that bring in the money. (men's football and basketball)My reaction is how is this far? Not all schools can afford to give scholarship athletes extra $ giving the ones who can an unfair advantage in recruiting. Also what about all the other sports? Isn't the whole idea of giving extra money to a athlete is so they can live comfortably? (extra spending money for clothes and other food then the cafe) Why is it that only football and basketball players need extra money?

Ted Miller: I agree with a lot of athletic directors: Scholarships should cover full cost of attendance. And I also believe they should be given to every scholarship athlete. Why? Because you can't do it any other way and still be in compliance with Title IX.

You are correct, though. Most schools outside of AQ conferences would be hard-pressed to pay that added expense. That's an issue.

As for why football and men's basketball players believe they should be paid and other college athletes should not? Well, that reasoning is simple. Football and men's basketball make millions every year. And every other sport runs a deficit, many substantial deficits.

Pat from So. Cal writes: In my effort to get any type of response Teddy I've decided to ask you one question everyday until I make the mailbag. For my SECOND question, on this inaugural day of questioning: do you think the university presidents at the largest, most influential schools, across conferences, will get together at some point and begin the process of detaching themselves from the NCAA??? The system doesn't work and we can all yell until we're red in the face but the simple fact remains, there needs to be some sort of governance going on in college REVENUE PRODUCING SPORTS, and it's clear the NCAA has failed its member institutions and that they aren't the right organization.

Ted Miller: There is an undercurrent of feeling that the big football conferences might break away from the NCAA, particularly when we get further consolidation in "super-conferences," which seems inevitable.

That's one reason the NCAA is talking massive reform. We shall see.

What should the NCAA do? Here are a few ideas:

  • Full cost of attendance scholarships.

  • Assigning an NCAA staffer -- not a university employee -- to each school to act as a head of compliance. If something happens that doesn't cross his desk, it's a major violation.

  • A rule that the NCAA's marketing budget shall not exceed what it spends on enforcement. More investigators with good salaries, fewer "We're the NCAA and we're awesome!" commercials.

  • An outside team of legal experts -- unaffiliated with universities -- to man an Infractions Committee.

  • A streamlining of rules, eliminating many of the piddly, secondary violations.

  • An outline of specific consequences for breaking specific rules.

  • An understanding that relying on precedent is critical to fairness (that you can't just randomly, say, hammer USC because you're tired of reading about how dominant it is).

Ben from Salt Lake City writes: Can we think about a possible future for a minute? Let's pretend that Utah somehow goes undefeated this year and wins the BCS National Championship game. Then let's assume that next year, both Utah and TCU go undefeated and play each other in the BCS National Championship game. If that ridiculously crazy scenario were to happen, do you think that the media that clings to the idea that the "week in and week out of Non-AQ's is too weak to get them to the NC Game" would go out the window? Do you think it would validate other top Non-AQ teams that have proven themselves like Boise State or BYU? Or do you think that the 100+ year old bias of college football is protected no matter what happens?

Ted Miller: Are you asking if a pattern is established of non-AQ teams going undefeated and winning national championships, will that win over the media?


That said: This is Boise State's schedule. This is LSU's schedule.

Anyone saying that an unbeaten Boise State team in 2011 should play for the national championship over a once-beaten LSU team would -- and should -- get laughed out of the room.

Let's not give Boise State or TCU a free pass, either. Both programs are outstanding and worthy of elite rankings, but they also both work the angles to manufacture great records. Neither has adopted the old Bobby Bowden at Florida State "anywhere, anytime" scheduling philosophy.

If either said "we'll go anywhere to play and won't insist on a home-and-home series," we'd see them be able to schedule two or three high-quality games with AQ conferences foes every year.

And, I suspect, we'd see fewer undefeated seasons.

By the way, Utah is now a member of the Pac-12 family. It's in the club, drinking single malt in the beach-front penthouse with UCLA Oregon, Stanford and the rest of the gang.

Rob from San Jose writes: I am wondering how I missed your Post-spring Power Rankings. I thought for sure Cal would be ahead of UCLA; Cal beat UCLA in 2010 and it was not close. Cal has a proven defense (even with three good starters gone), but you think UCLA's defense "will arrive". Could you do a pre-season opener power rankings to see what has changed. ASU has had some bad luck with injuries and some schools have had academic ineligibility concerns. Since Cal's Maynard is QB, Sofele and Deboskie-Johnson have established 1-2 at RB; I am wondering where Cal would rank now?

Ted Miller: And UCLA beat Oregon State, which beat Cal 35-7. Those same Beavers also beat USC 36-7 and USC beat Cal 48-14.

So Cal gets crushed by UCLA if you selectively use the transitive property.

I got to watch UCLA practice this spring and came away impressed, at least with the defense. Cal had closed practices, so I didn't get to see the Bears. Further, most of what I read wasn't terribly good about the Bears in the spring -- injuries and poor execution.

You do make a good point: Cal fans should feel better today about quarterback and running back.

Still, I sort of have a hunch about the Bruins -- one that, if they lose at Houston to open the season, I will quickly disavow.

Peter from Salt Lake City writes: A little disappointed in your all pro pac-12 team to see an exclusion of Utes other than Jordan Gross. Steve Smith, Paul Soliai(franchise tag), Sean Smith, Eric Weddle(highest paid safety in the league), and Sione Pouha certainly could have been considered. However, Weddle and Soliai definitely should have been on the list.

Ted Miller: Peter, my honest answer is that I am not as familiar with Utah's past players as I am with the old Pac-10 guys.

Further, as I wrote: "... I racked my brain for exactly 17 minutes and came up with an All-Pac-12 NFL team (Pac-12 fans, I did this quickly, so feel free to chime in your opinions)."

I was being slack and didn't want to spend hours researching the "perfect" guy at every position. But you are correct: Weddle and Soliai would have been good names on the list.

Ben from Centerville, Utah writes: As a lifelong fan of the Utes, I have greatly enjoyed your blog and anticipate reading it from here on out. Question for you: I can't take the suspense. I anticipate that no Utes will make the top 25 list. Is that right? Are there REALLY no Utes in the top 25? I find it difficult to believe.

Ted Miller: No, no player from Utah nor Oregon State made the top-25. From Utah, I considered offensive tackle Tony Bergstrom, quarterback Jordan Wynn and linebacker Chaz Walker.

With 12 teams, a 25-player list is pretty select. My typical reply to a query like this -- and there are lots of them -- is not to ask who from Utah you believe should be on the list but who you would knock off.

And, yes, there probably is some bias against Utah due to playing a Mountain West schedule last season. Wynn's numbers are comparable to Washington State quarterback Jeff Tuel, but Tuel put up his numbers against a far tougher schedule (nonconference game with Oklahoma State, too). And the 6-foot-3, 220-pound Tuel is probably a better NFL prospect due to superior arm strength.

Put it this way: Pac-10 defensive freshman of the year Junior Onyeali is not on the list. Two players who had five interceptions last season, safeties Nate Fellner of Washington and John Boyett of Oregon, are not on the list. Colorado guard Ryan Miller, a potential first-round NFL draft pick, is not on the list.

A lot of really good players are not on the list. Just the way one person's opinion worked out.

And, by the way, the list almost certainly will be much different when we re-do it after the season.

Huy Tran from Eugene writes: If you ever compile a list of your favorite "pump-up" videos throughout the Pac-12 this season, please consider ours. I know there's a million out there, but we've worked long and tirelessly and thought you'd might enjoy it (from an unbiased view, of course).

Ted Miller: Does anyone at Oregon not make football videos?