Opening the mailbag: Anger, outrage, a nine-game schedule

Howdy folks. Lots of Cam Newton outrage from you guys -- particularly USC fans -- but we take it from another angle in the mailbag.

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Aba from Berkeley, Calif., writes: Before the Pac10 became the Pac12 it justified its 9 game conference schedule as a necessity in order to implement a round robin system so that a true league champion may be crowned. Well that is no longer the case as the champion is now decided by the championship game between the two division winners. So why does the conference decided to continue playing 9 games, instead of 8 such as the SEC, thereby guaranteeing the league 6 extra losses? How are we going to help ourselves financially, not to mention the perception of the leagues' strength as viewed by others, by cannibalizing each other out of bowl games and national rankings?

Ted Miller: The nine-game conference schedule has been a hot topic in the Pac-10 in the past, and it will be an even hotter topic in the Pac-12.

As you noted, the biggest reason for it in the past was crowning a "true" Pac-10 champion. With 12 teams and two divisions starting in 2011, that's no longer true. So now the less feel-good reason comes to the fore: It's easier on athletic directors trying to fill out their schedules in a way that attracts fans. While fans -- and the Pac-10 blog -- often talk about the advantages of playing four nonconference games, particularly how it helps pad won-loss records, athletic administrators would counter that the Pac-10 doesn't operate like the Big Ten or SEC: It's not loaded with 90,000-plus-seat venues that can offer big payouts for teams willing to take a whipping.

And if, say, UCLA schedules the Northwest Tech Slimy Slugs, Bruins fans likely will opt to chill in the park and enjoy the beautiful Southern California weather instead of going to the game. LSU, Alabama or Ohio State fans would show up to watch their team make toast.

As of now, the Pac-12 appears committed to the nine-game conference schedule. Just this week, Sports Illustrated's Stewart Mandell wrote about the Pac-10's odd, apparently top-heavy season, and he asked commissioner Larry Scott about the nine-game conference schedule.

"We really had a chance this past year to shine a light on [scheduling] with expansion issues," said Scott. "Our discussions revalidated the importance of keeping the competition within the conference, not padding the schedule or buying wins, even though the way the system is set up, there are some potentially negative consequences."

Scott says this now, but count on the issue being revisited, particularly if the other BCS conferences continue to play eight-game schedules. More than a few Pac-10 coaches have been grumbling about it of late, too.

The Big 12 -- with 10 teams -- will start playing a nine-game schedule in 2011. The Big Ten has talked about playing a nine-game schedule in the future, though that might not be for a few years. The SEC and ACC don't appear to be eager to change from an eight-game schedule.

The nine-game schedule in the new Pac-12 means six extra losses in the conference and then the championship game will add a seventh. It will be interesting to see what effect that has going forward.

Michael from Auburn writes: Wow....you are an idiot. You want to compare the USC case vs the Auburn case? Maybe that's why there is such thing as the "I'm not a rocket scientist" saying because damn you don't have the slightest clue how to think. How does someone who was paid, there is proof, under the schools knowledge compare to someone who was not paid and zero evidence suggests he even knew about it. How? The beautiful thing about this country is the innocent until proven guilty rule and as a rocket scientist in your military I would like to tell you, without hesitation, that you are an absolute disgrace to everything my uniform represents. Everything. It is a damn shame everything you take for granted and I dearly hope one day that reality punches you straight in the face. Until then, I really wish people like you did not live in this country. Learn to think.

Ted Miller: Without hesitation? Really?

There is, er, so much here, starting with Michael, who claims to be a military rocket scientist, questioning my rights to citizenship: I am "an absolute disgrace to everything my uniform represents. Everything. It is a damn shame everything you take for granted and I dearly hope one day that reality punches you straight in the face. Until then, I really wish people like you did not live in this country."


This is my story on the NCAA ruling Wednesday on the Cam Newton-Auburn case that Michael believes should get me deported. He does not point out any specific passages that so offend him. He only notes that I introduced the USC-Reggie Bush case and for that he is outraged: "How does someone who was paid, there is proof, under the schools knowledge compare to someone who was not paid and zero evidence suggests [Newton] even knew about it."

You mean other than NCAA rules violations involving star players taking place in both cases?

But before I take on the specifics here, let's go big picture just for a moment. How come when you disagree with someone these days, they instantaneously become, well, just about evil? And how come we are willing to whip ourselves into an absolute frenzy over issues due to our unquestioned loyalty to an entity, no matter the facts of the matter or the facts of what a perceived foe is saying? Michael, is the foundation for your most colorful outrage your perception that I have violated "the innocent until proven guilty rule" or is it that you are an Auburn fan?

First, to cool things down. I want to point out a couple of my sentences.

  • "...the parallels between Bush and Newton are not exact."

  • "It’s critical to understand a couple of things: 1. To this point, there is no evidence that Auburn has done anything wrong."

That said, your "zero evidence" is not completely true, even now. And the investigation has only really begun. Further, please, don't pretend there are no grounds for being suspicious of Newton. Beyond what has been reported thus far, he has not demonstrated high character during his college career -- see here and here.

So why did I introduce the Bush-USC case? Well, because USC athletic director Pat Haden thought the ruling was worth talking about. And Haden's point made to the LA Times is relevant and valid:

“I was always told the parent is the child,” Haden said. “That’s what we’ve been telling our kids. If the parent does something inappropriate the child suffers the consequences.”

As many, many folks noted, splitting the responsibility -- guilt and innocence -- of a parent (or relative) and an recruit is a massively dangerous loophole in college sports. That was the basis of my introductory portion. It wasn't about Newton. It was about the ruling, which even the NCAA admitted is controversial.

As of today, the NCAA has found that no money changed hands and that the solicitation was not part of Newton's recruitment at Auburn. Ergo, the NCAA's impossible position.

But Michael, if you cool down for a moment, you might want to check in with some USC fans. No one ever disputed that Bush and his family took money from agents -- Trojans fans would interrupt here to note to SEC fans that we're talking about a player getting paid to leave his school as opposed to attend it -- it's always been about USC's institutional knowledge.

And the NCAA's evidence on that was always scant and ambiguous. If you'd like to read about it, there are several stories here to consider.

But, you reply, the NCAA found USC culpable. Exactly. Which is why Auburn should be worried about a long-term investigation. The NCAA didn't prove assistant coach Todd McNair knew of Bush's dealings with agents. The evidence it used against McNair would never hold up in court. But the NCAA opted to believe the McNair knew AND that USC should have known.

The issue, for me, has never been that USC wasn't guilty of NCAA violations and shouldn't have been sanctioned. It was always that the football program didn't merit the most severe sanctions in decades, particularly when pay-for-plays schemes do far more damage to the sport than star players accepting gifts from individuals who want them to turn pro.

Introducing the Bush case after the Newton ruling is relevant because USC expects to appear before the NCAA’s Infractions Appeals Committee next month, and the USC AD thought it was relevant to their case.

Michael, I feel like I think pretty clearly, though I'm certainly no rocket scientist.

Tony from Austin, Texas, writes: As a Stanford grad/fan and a Pac-10 supporter, I really liked your post "Why Stanford is Better Than Your Team."Inspired by that and frequent discussions with NCAA football fans here in Texas, who constantly emphasize on how much better the SEC and other conferences are than the Pac-10, especially on defense, I decided to do some analysis of the numbers. Essentially, I wanted to see how conferences as a whole performed against out-of-conference AQ teams in their matchups, the assumption being that this would be a worthwhile indicator of the relative overall strength of each conference.Interestingly, the Pac-10 has by far the greatest success on average vs. out-of-conference AQ opponents in 2010, with an average margin of victory of 10.4. The next closest is the SEC with an average margin of victory against out-of-conference AQ teams of 4.7. In my analysis, I ranked all conferences. There's a lot to it, but I really thought you might like to take a look at the numbers.

Ted Miller: What! Do you think I'm a rocket scientist? Is there a rocket scientist in the house? Oh, never mind.

Good stuff.

Kevin from Portland writes: I keep seeing references to USC's lack of depth (e.g. your chat today was another reference). They got 20 kids for the 2010 recruiting season which is in line with past years for them. With that in mind, can you explain the so-called lack of depth? Is it that given they've been signing fewer kids it's catching up with them?Lots of commentators and ESPN pundits keep talking about it. Yet the talent (if you believe recruiting rankings) is top notch (or 2nd to Florida) over the past 5 recruiting seasons.Is it really a lack of depth or the combination of poor coaching and the fact that few teams get put on probation and keep it together like Auburn once did?

Ted Miller: Yes, it is fair to say depth is an issue for USC. It's been an issue since fall camp, when coach Lane Kiffin adopted a "no tackle" policy because of injury concerns.

USC presently has about 70 scholarship players, 15 below the NCAA limit even before it begins scholarship sanctions, which dock the Trojans 30 scholarships over the next three years.

Kiffin, in an effort to keep as many bodies around as he can over the next couple of years, is trying to redshirt 11 players. So that means he has 59 available players each weekend. Toss in a few injuries, and you see how depth can get hit. Kiffin told reporters the Trojans only played 41 scholarship players vs. Oregon.

The Trojans will be limited to 15 scholarships in this recruiting class. To slightly offset this, Kiffin is trying to offset that by signing as many January enrollees as he can: nine. But count on depth being a major issue for the Trojans over the next three or four years.

Benjamin from Spokane, Wash., writes: Have you come across this video entitled "Oregon State Fan Experience." It is really quite good and professionally made.

Ted Miller: Well-done. I'll be there Saturday to measure its verisimilitude.