Checking the e-mails while waiting for preseason mags

As the players dissolve in a pool of sweat during their "voluntary" summer workouts, and the coaches pad their retirement accounts and their recruiting lists by holding summer camps, what are the rest of us doing? We're standing at the newsstand, tapping our collective feet and waiting for the preview magazines to come out.

Every newsstand, grocery store, bookstore and airport that I pass through, I stop and look for the magazines. I feel like I did when I was 12 years old, riding my bike to 7-Eleven every day for a Slurpee and a pack of baseball cards. I couldn't wait to see the new series of cards. I couldn't wait to see if there were new Slurpee cups with drawings of major-leaguers on them. They gave out 60 that summer, and, dental health notwithstanding, I got all 60 of them.

Still have them, too, much to my wife's chagrin. She doesn't mind the baseball cards, the Olympic pins, the programs from various national championship games, the media guides from various national championship teams, the press credentials I've saved, the 400 sports books I've collected, letters, etc. It's the Slurpee cups that bother her.

Athlon, traditionally the first to appear, is out, and the others won't be far behind. I have my favorites, and I'm sure you have yours. Meet me at the airport. I'll be the one with the eyes darting furiously through the magazine rack.

I am a huge Notre Dame fan, and even I wouldn't support your comments coming
from anyone concerning FSU's quarterback Wyatt Sexton. You write "Rooting for
Wyatt," but as always, you are a negative, smartass ("You just hope he bought
a round-trip ticket."). Cut the kid a break, and write something to really
support his family and him during this time.

Kevin Grugan
Teacher, Coach
New Trier High School
Winnetka, Ill.

I hope that he recovers, which is why I used the analogy of a round trip.
What he did was disturbing, and my hope coincides with yours, that he recovers.
I will plead guilty to being a smartass. But not in this case.

Dear Ivan the Negligible,
The majority of people in Birmingham (Ala.) would love to see a new dome built, but for a variety of reasons other than UAB football, which by the way is a fledgling program, building support every year. (Go look up Darrell Hackney and Roddy White). As you pointed out, Legion Field, the former home of the SEC football championship, remains in disrepair, while our civic center, the BJCC (former home to SEC and NCAA tournament action) also grows rapidly obsolete. In order to compete with Atlanta, Nashville (Tenn.), and other sites for SEC and NCAA competitions, we desperately need new facilities. With a new dome, the million and a half people in Birmingham might get their beloved UAT back for a couple games a year.

Also, as you failed to point out, Birmingham serves as home to one of America's most prolific hospital industries, performing groundbreaking transplants every day, as well as fixing up the guys who earn your salary. Have you ever heard of Dr. James Andrews? Birmingham currently owns no top-notch facilities to host the plethora of medical conventions lining up to come here. A dome would certainly remedy that. Then there's UAB football, in need of a new home, with scrawny sportmuckers (a variation of the word muckraker for the uninformed) ridiculing them. Put your acerbic wit back in your pocket protector, lament the fact you never got in the game, and leave the football to those of us who really know it. Have you received your Hearst award for journalism yet? 'Cuz I know you ain't got a Pulitzer.

Warren K. Riddle

That was funny, Warren. Ivan the Negligible, the Pulitzer, the pocket protector. All funny. Warren had another, more personal insult in there, but he wrote back and apologized, so I deleted it, which is too bad, because I had already written an acerbic, witty, pocket-protector-ready response to it.

UAB's program has improved. Watson Brown has done remarkable things with the cards in his hand. But no one who isn't wearing green-and-gold Blazer jammies to the breakfast table every morning says something like UAT. No matter how much the UAB program grows, it will always have the third, identifying initial. Some schools get over that without feeling inferior. Perhaps, Warren, you've heard of UCLA.

Second, Birmingham's rise in the medical industry is something to be proud of, but does that call for building a domed stadium? The NFL isn't coming. Build a bigger, better convention center with a 25,000-seat arena to get the NCAA to come back. Take the rest of the money that you would have spent on the stadium and build some schools, or some roads that will keep Highway 280 from being a long parking lot.

Four of the last five NCAA football national championship head coaches share a unique fact about their Div. I head coaching records. Who are these four coaches, and what is the unique fact they all share? For bonus points, name the nemeses (without looking them up).

In addition to each having won a national championship, Bob Stoops, Larry Coker, Jim Tressel, and Pete Carroll share the unique distinction of having lost to only one other Div. I head coach more than once.

Bob Stoops – Les Miles, while at Oklahoma State (2001 & 2002)
Larry Coker – Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech (2003 & 2004)
Jim Tressel – Barry Alvarez, Wisconsin (2001, 2003, & 2004)
Pete Carroll – Bill Snyder, Kansas State (2001 & 2002)

Just thought you'd find that mildly interesting.

Thanks for your work and insights.

Jason R. Laipply
Columbus, Ohio

Jason writes to me, when he should be trying to stump the Schwab.

Dear, Ivan:

I apologize for e-mailing you out of the blue like this, but I had to get this off my chest and I was hoping for some kind of reaction from ESPN on this matter. And when I think of ESPN and college football, you immediately come to mind. So I figured you would have some opinion on recent events, and that you would discuss it eventually in a mailbag or regular article.

Now, I've heard no follow up from anyone in any of the reputable sports sites regarding the ramifications of all of this. But I have to admit this strikes me as incredibly bad news for the BCS.

(Please note: I'm not a BCS basher. The system has its flaws, but makes a great effort to be fair to everyone. And I have always given them credit for trying something so ambitious with such good intentions).

As you well know, they've already lost the AP, which as a long time college football fan, meant a great deal to me. I've always respected the AP poll and it has served us well for several generations. For the longest time, AP awarded National Championships, though "mythical" still meant you were the top team in the nation. No one argued that. Its inclusion into the BCS immediately brought credibility to this grand project. And then they left. The BCS was left staggering, but they still had valuable contracts in place and the ESPN/USA Today coaches poll to fall back on.

Now that, too, has been shaken up somewhat. I don't want to go on and on, so I'll just ask a few questions and you may answer them if you wish.

1. The BCS contract runs through the end of this decade, so they aren't going to go away immediately, but with the AP and ESPN – two huge media outlets – jumping ship, is the BCS really sinking?

2. Will ESPN still have some stake in some poll? I was under the impression they were only a sponsor, and didn't physically go out and collect votes, but the ESPN name made a positive impression on me when you folks joined on in 1997, so your absence from this poll will be noticed.

3. Is the coaches poll on its way out? Cracks were formed in its structure last year after the Cal/Texas fiasco, and the voting/accountability debate more recently, but losing ESPN must be viewed as a shatter point.

4. Finally, if the BCS is abandoned, what the heck happens next? Do we go back to the way it was? Can a system truly be devised that eliminates the arguments about how/what teams are ranked and who deserves to play for championships year in and year out?

Thanks for your time, Ivan. You do great work!

Peter L. Falzarano
Raleigh, N.C.

Peter, the BCS will survive, because the powers that be aren't going to pull the plug on it. The BCS needs AP's credibility, and I think that loss is greater than the loss of ESPN, which was merely as a naming sponsor. We didn't operate the poll. The greater issue is the credibility of the coaches poll.

Historically, the coaches have not taken the voting seriously. If they took it seriously, they would not hide behind secrecy. I take it as a good sign that the American Football Coaches Association has agreed to make the final votes public, but the coaches had to be threatened with excommunication from the BCS process in order to agree to that.

That was too little too late for my bosses, who pulled ESPN's name off the poll.
The public wouldn't stand for returning to the pre-BCS system without a national championship game. As long as there's a No. 1 vs. No. 2 game, there will be controversy over how to choose the participants. I still think that the BCS should appoint a committee, as the NCAA does in every other Division I sport, to select the teams. Then we could do away with the clunky BCS formula. But that will never be implemented. It's too logical.

Jeff Tedford is an interesting coach to me. While most coaches in Division I-A would be trying to figure out why their team gave up 45 points to a team that tied for third in the Big 12, Tedford is trying to figure out why his team didn't make it to a BCS bowl, and who he can crucify. Perhaps he should look at his team's performance. Although Cal was a bear (no pun intended) in the regular season statistically, finishing second only to USC in the Pac-10 for points scored and allowed, the bowls on the national stage are what the average person that doesn't live in California can look at. And the fact remains that Cal, a team that didn't give up more than 27 points in a game in the regular season, gave up 45 to an 8-4 team who had only one other time this season scored that many points. Perhaps the coaches saw Cal for what they were, a team who had lost to the only real team they played this season.

David L. Wenndt
Mequon, Wis.

David, you can't underestimate the Bears' disappointment in missing the Rose Bowl. I think they found it hard to take Texas Tech seriously, and they paid a price for it. But I maintain that if they had gotten to the Rose Bowl, they would have played a Rose Bowl-worthy game. Think back a year ago. The same thing happened to Texas. The 'Horns were disappointed to be in the Holiday Bowl, and they played poorly, losing to Washington State.

I am very unfamiliar with Bay Area college football and The Big Game, but I am curious about it's connection with Vince Ferragamo mentioned in you last mailbag. What's the connection?

Kevin Keeley
Omaha, Neb.

How could you miss ridiculing Rick who gave the piece below about Cal football … Vince Ferragamo? Played for Nebraska! What does he have to do with Cal football tradition?

Rob Bartholet
Charlottesville, Va.

These were the two nicest of the letters I received mocking me for allowing a reader to say that Vince Ferragamo played for Cal. While I am tempted to gloat in my knowledge – Ferragamo played for Cal, where he led the Bears to a dramatic victory over Stanford, before transferring to Nebraska – instead the letters just made me feel like an old fart. For one thing, I am old enough to remember that Vince Ferragamo played for Cal and Nebraska. For another, I am old enough to remember Vince Ferragamo.

As a former Air Force player who played for DeBerry, I take exception to your suggestion that we in a "military environment" are less likely to think for ourselves. I come from a Catholic background which is probably about as foreign to Fisher as Zen Buddhism, and I got out of that program with my theology unaffected by Fisher's faith.

What he did do which stuck with me was encourage us to call our parents every Sunday and let them know we love them. He taught us to treat women with respect. Yes, he encouraged us to find a place to worship on Sundays, but he never specified a certain religion. And most of all, he guided a bunch of marginal Division I players to a lot of wins. Trust me, there are a lot of coaches out there influencing their players in ways that should concern us a lot more. Go pick on those guys.

Joe Lombardi
Erie, Pa.

My mention of Fisher DeBerry and the controversy regarding Christian proselytizing at the Air Force Academy generated e-mail with opinions across the spectrum. To my surprise, the majority of e-mail agreed with me. In fact, the new commandant of the Academy agrees with me, too. He has said that the atmosphere at the school needs to be more open, and that it will take years to affect change.

I just read your mailbag regarding Coach DeBerry's proselytizing. While I don't know the whole story, I have a suggestion for you. For any of your fans who write you and say that the coach should be allowed to keep his banner up in the locker room, ask them if their feelings would change if the banner read something to the effect of "Join Team Allah" or "Join Team Buddah" I'm curious how many people, while claiming to be such staunch supporters of the coach's freedom of speech, would not take offense to that.

Trip Finnegan

P.S. – Because of the current atmosphere of this country (which is reminiscent of 1950 McCarthy-ism and 1640 Salem rather than that of tolerance and acceptance) I feel I should point out that this is not an anti-Muslim or anti-Buddist e-mail, but rather a pro-separation-of-church-and-state e-mail.

As an agnostic, I could personally testify to the strange looks and "oh, I see" comments I receive upon informing others, especially students and colleagues at the Catholic Marianist university I attend, of my beliefs (or non-beliefs as it may be). While I don't deny that there are plenty of open-minded religious people in every walk of life, even one person of rigid faith or someone who tends to get preachy could seriously compromise the team atmosphere that is necessary to run a successful college football program. Being a non-Christian, the absolute last thing I want to hear from a Christian is that I should join up, and I'm sure I'm not the only one.

Beyond that, DeBerry is dividing his team further than is necessary. First team, second team, offense, defense are natural divisions that usually inspire constructive competition on the practice and playing field. Establishing a "Team Jesus Christ" does nothing to push athletes on the field; it more than likely degrades the team's cohesiveness. Religion has absolutely nothing to do with football. Nothing. DeBerry should concentrate on recruiting for his team, not his congregation.

Andy Keller
Dayton, Ohio

Religion has nothing to do with football? Reminds me of the old joke about the football coach in trouble with his fans. What did Billy Graham and (insert coach's name here) have in common? Both of them could make 85,000 people stand up and say, "Jesus Christ Almighty!" in unison.

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Send your question/comments to Ivan at ivan.maisel@espn3.com. Your e-mail could be answered in a future Maisel E-mails.