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Could Charlie Strong and Texas change football for the better?

Many of you are probably aware that I have been very critical of the game of football and the type of people/athletes that the game attracts. I’ve been pretty subtle about it, but yeah, it’s there.

I’ve never denied the possibility that football can be a game that encourages discipline, hard work and structure while being an enjoyable event. The problem is that it can be either that or a game of chaos and extreme brutality that encourages barbarism on and off the field, and recent years has shown much more of the latter occurring. Critics of mine can point out that bad eggs are present in all sports and walks of life, but that still can’t erase the fact that such individuals are coming out of the game of football much more frequently and with little to no outrage about it from the public.

But maybe, just maybe, that attitude could be on the verge of changing.

If there is a silver lining in seeing the horrific abuse that Ray Rice laid on Janay Palmer, it’s that it might have snapped enough people out of their state of denial and realized that abusive violence committed by football players (and yes, on a smaller scale, athletes in general) is a serious problem that not enough has been done about. Numerous other sports leagues like the NHL have cracked down on such actions, and done so without bungling it like Roger Goodell did with Rice.

But if there’s one event that might be a true sign of that, it would be standout Maryland high school quarterback Kai Locksley flipping his commitment at near the last moment and deciding to go to the University of Texas instead of Florida State.

The knock on Charlie Strong when Texas hired him was that he was too old-fashioned and hard. His tough, discipline-driven style could never win over kids in a world were recruits can get helicopter rides to campus from recruiters – add that to the list of complaints the spoiled boosters of the Whiny Orange have with Strong.

Well, so much for that theory. Texas signed a top 10 recruiting class last week, highlighted by linebackers Mailk Jefferson and Anthony Wheeler as well as the number one tight end according to ESPN, Devonaire Clarington.

But Locksley was the one Texas fans have to be jumping for joy over, seeing him as the solution the Horns need at quarterback after enduing the past season with Tyrone Swoopes. But it’s not just the fact that Strong landed this particular kid but where he poached him from where the change in football’s culture may lie.

I remember one of my Twitter followers saying that Strong’s best weapon in recruiting is “you win over the parent, you win the kid.” I think it’s safe to suggest that this was the case with Locksley, with Strong convincing his parents that Texas would be a much better place for their kid.

You can’t tell me that the horror stories coming out of Florida State, where not only was Jameis Winston accused of rape and stealing crab legs, but there has been a laundry list of incidents where FSU players committed heinous acts and the Tallahassee police simply looked the other way, started drawing concerns from the parents of talented but impressionable high school athletes.

Would you want to send your kid to an atmosphere like that?

It looks like Locksley’s parents did not. And when Strong came knocking on their door to offer a much different environment, the choice became obvious.

Texas was right there with Florida State for years, especially in the final years of Mack Brown’s term as coach. Players making headlines for the wrong reasons in the weeks leading up to bowl season were too common an occurrence for the program. Brown had always been known as someone who would coddle his players, but it was clear by the end that the inmates were running the asylum.

But things appear to be changing in Austin, with not just the new coach but a new athletics director and a new president on the way. If Steve Patterson will back his football coach and start telling the likes of Red McCombs to stay out of their business, the change could be complete.

It’s a new culture the Orangebloods should embrace. Brown’s practice of spoiling his players had to be a factor in his teams always underperforming for the talent they had. By contrast, Gary Patterson has built a tough winning program against the odds through strong discipline while still having the backs of his players. If Texas infuses that type of atmosphere in addition to the talent they can draw on the name alone, they could be the greatest force in college football.

There is how football could be used to make boys into better men – using the games intensity to focus them and learn the lessons of structure and boundaries, both on and off the field. It’s a practice that has been slipping away over the years in favor of a culture of chaos and unbridled brutality, and the results have been way too many stories on SportsCenter involving police reports.

Football needs such a shot in the arm, because with more and more stories like Rice and Winston and Aaron Hernandez along with a growing concern regarding concussions, more and more parents are showing concern over whether their kids should play that sport when there are plenty of other athletic options available. It’s a bigger problem than a lot of die-hard fans like Daniel Flynn want to admit, and something has to change if you want your beloved sport to endure.

Is it too soon to say things are definitely going to turn around? Perhaps.

But if the viewing public never forgets the horrors committed by people like Ray Race and are willing to embrace more people like Charlie Strong, maybe even this cranky, snarky sports fan and writer will find little to complain about regarding the game.


Social media making college recruiting even crazier

The internet has brought many benefits to society, but there have been detriments as well, especially in the realm of social media. People post and share anything, and it’s nigh impossible to figure out what among it is actually true. I actually began a new web show ridiculing fake news stories because of this.

This is very much the case in sports as well. Any and all rumors will get sprawled all over Facebook and Twitter, fact checking be damned.

That has proven apparent as National Signing Day has drawn closer, and it appears that recruits everywhere are taking to one of the most infamous online practices: Trolling.

There have likely been multiple types of issues, but perhaps the most infamous of late has been that of Allen’s Kyler Murray, the supposed commit to Texas A&M. That is, until a few weeks back when he posted on Twitter an image of a University of Texas jersey. This came just after his friend DaMarkus Lodge had done the same.

Naturally, everyone pounced on this and went into a frenzy. Aggies on fan forums began roasting the five-star Murray for betraying them, claiming how A&M was losing recruits because the athletes were too “weak” to handle the SEC.

And… it all pretty much amounted to nothing, as just a few days ago, Murray sent another Tweet reading “Following my heart… #GigEm.”

It should be noted that the allure of another college may not even be the greatest threat toward Murray’s chances of actually playing in College Station, as USA Today recently reported that many baseball scouts believe he may have an even brighter future in that sport; it may very well depend on how much money the pro baseball leagues are willing to throw at him.

And it looks like Texas didn’t come up empty-handed in this, as reports are now saying that four-star quarterback Kai Locksley has switched his commitment from Florida State to come to Austin.

But ultimately, this is what happened: Kyler Murray punk’d you all. Did what he did get you all talking about him? Mission accomplished, then. He never had to make such a change, but he got his name back in the headlines for a few more days, stroking his own ego.

All of this is why I have been reluctant to talk too much about recruiting in the past few days and make a huge fuss about who has announced where and what school and what player has reportedly flip flopped. This has always been a part of the recruiting season, but it’s only going to get worse thanks to social media. And it’s going to be another one of those lessons that people never learn.

More than ever, this is why it has to be re-affirmed that “commitments” to college are all unofficial until the moment the recruits sign that letter of intent, which will start happening today. Only then will we actually know who is going where.

In the meantime, the recruits, a lot more savvy with the Internet than many of the writers covering them, will find new ways with the technology to troll them. And the writers will fall for it and keep feeding the athletes’ egos.

Sprawled conferences haven’t been good for college sports

Last Monday night was the most fun I had at a game in a long time, watching Scott Cross’ UTA Mavericks take down Danny Kotter – sorry, Kaspar’s Texas State Bobcats. And it made me wonder why my adrenaline hasn’t been as high at College Park Center as it used to be? Was it because that was a much tighter contest after seeing a lot of blowouts recently? Was it because I’m just getting too old?

But I know the real reason. It was because the game was against Texas State, the only in-state rival the Mavs have any more. That game meant something extra, something I haven’t been able to get from them playing Georgia State or Troy. It’s something that used to be present in a lot more conference games that don’t exist any more.

Once upon a time, the UTA Mavericks played in the Southland Conference, which for years was mostly comprised of schools within the state of Texas and Louisiana. Now, the names Stephen F. Austin State and Sam Houston State and UT-San Antonio might not seem like big names to a lot of people, but to those of us who were loyal to the blue and white, those names meant everything. For me and my friends, piling into a car and making a simple three-to-four hour drive to be among the few fans daring to yell for our team in enemy territory and make it back home in a day made for some of the best of times.

Now, today’s UTA students definitely have it better than us in some regards; a big new place to watch games with an actual student section tops that list. But how often do they get a chance for the road trips we had? They could possibly travel to San Marcos or Monroe, LA – MAYBE to Lafayette. That’s about it. Let’s see college students manage to travel to Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina or some of the other places the Mavs go to now in the Sun Belt Conference.

The thing is, what UTA now deals with in conference play in bad travel and opponents fans can’t get fired up for is not unique in college sports today. Conferences are all over the map, quite literally. And it’s killing college athletics, especially for those that can’t immediately sell dreams of a national championship.

Once upon a time, as you can see from the first of the two diagrams provided below, college conferences were organized by regions. Everything was relatively compact and easy to understand, and the chance for your team to prove it was the best in the region led to excitement that programs could sell. Maybe you didn’t have a shot at the national championship this year, but you could brag to your colleagues from a nearby school that you beat them out for best in the region.

While I did have to go back 35-40 years for the exact alignment provided [EDIT: I have also since been informed that the Big East was not founded until 1979], it’s important to note that not that much changed over the next 20-30 years. Arizona and Arizona State did go to the Pac-10, the Big East and ACC expanded into Florida and most notably, the Southwest Conference dissolved to create the Big 12. But for the most part, things stayed regionalized.

Not anymore, as the second image proves. In the last decade, the idea that being spread out over the nation leads to more money and recognition has taken hold, and regional rivalries have suffered. Colleges have ditched the old system of proximity breeding passion and instead trying to sell recruits on being able to travel across the country for games while trying to tell their fans they can get just as excited for conference “rivals” 1500 miles away.

It isn’t working. TCU’s last game in 2014 at Amon Carter Stadium, against Iowa State, had a Big 12 conference championship to be won as a selling point – and they still couldn’t sell out the place.

But at least TCU is in somewhat of a good spot being in as close to the old SWC as possible in the Big 12. SMU is in no-man’s land playing in The American. Even with a shot at winning the conference, Larry Brown’s team is seeing empty seats at Moody again. The football team has to stockpile its non-conference schedule with old SWC rivals to generate any interest, because even when the Mustangs were making bowl games again, they couldn’t pack Ford Stadium for the likes of Memphis, Cincinnati and South Florida.

When UNT is in the best position by being with UT-San Antonio, Rice and UT-El Paso in Conference USA, that’s beyond not good.

What college fans in North Texas want more than anything else is to face each other for bragging rights. Instead, we have four Division I schools – three with football programs – that all play in different conferences now.

And the conferences are almost all the same. If anything, it’s what’s killed any chance of The American or Conference USA or the Sun Belt being a competitive power in Division I because they are all spread out over almost the same area. None of those conferences and member schools have anything special to offer over one another. No tight regional formations = no regional rivalries = no excitement among the fans = bad atmospheres for games = little incentive for top recruits to go there.

When I heard that UTA was leaving the Southland, the athletics department’s head of promotions at the time kept trying to tell me, “this is the best thing for us.”

So far, I’m not seeing it – for UTA, SMU or a lot of other programs across the country.

TCU: 2015 National Champions?

Part 4 in a series on the Big 12 and the College Football Playoff

The Big 12 did not get a team in the vaunted maiden voyage of the college football playoff. The few here who appreciate local college football grumbled at the reality that a certain team in DFW would not get the chance to play in the inaugural title game at JerryWorld this coming Monday.

Well, those people can take heart in knowing that, while next year’s title game won’t be in “North Texas” and likely won’t be again for a long time if ever (we’ll get to that another day), that certain team could very well be doing more than making an appearance.

Mark this prediction down: TCU will be national champions for 2015.

Yep, of all the crazy things I’ve said in the past, THAT’S probably the one that’s making you look for the straight jacket. No one wants to believe that little TCU could actually be a national championship team, particularly because the last time TCU football won a national championship, the country was mired in the Great Depression.

That’s the thing about a lot of people that follow sports: They hate the status quo being broken. They expect the Alabamas and the Ohio States to be the ones fighting for the top spot – not some little school from Fort Worth, TX. Some new kid is not supposed to break down the door of the elitist club of those that can win championships.

But go right ahead. Because Gary Patterson’s team doesn’t mind. They’ve heard it all before. And they thrive on it.

When Patterson took over for a departing Dennis Franchione, it was supposed to be the signal that TCU was an also-ran that could never go to the next level. TCU would never reach that lofty goal of going unbeaten for a season. OK, they then did that, but it’s not like they could go somewhere like the Rose Bowl and beat someone from a major conference like Wisconsin. OK, they managed to do that, but no way could they ever be accepted to the conference they really wanted – the Big 12. Well, the conference needed to take somebody, but TCU is definitely never going to contend for the Big 12 Championship.

They did it all, right in the face of everyone who said they couldn’t.

One of the reasons is, they are willing to evolve. Maybe the prediction that they would never compete in the Big 12 might have come true – if Patterson hadn’t decided sticking to the conservative offensive style that had driven them in the WAC, Conference USA and the Mountain West wouldn’t work here. Enter Sonny Cumbie and Doug Meacham, and now suddenly the Frogs can humiliate opponents by putting up 70-80 points in addition to playing the tough defense Patterson’s teams are known for.

Belief and intelligence are well enough, but then there’s the talent level. The Frogs could return up to 48 of 58 players from their two-deep roster, including quarterback Trevone Boykin, running back BJ Catalon, receivers Josh Doctson, Deante’ Gray and Kolby Listenbee and all but one offensive lineman.

And they have the right attitude as well. When TCU and Baylor were snubbed, Patterson didn’t take the whining approach like his counterpart Art Briles. Instead, he pointed out that his team could have taken care of business themselves but didn’t with that loss to the Bears – a loss he blamed himself for when it happened.

Expect that mindset to drive the Frogs even farther, along with a chip on their shoulders that they almost have to have even if they won’t publicly admit it.

But then again, TCU has always had to play with a chip on its shoulder. The Frogs have always been told they can’t, and they just use that to prove they can. Getting in and winning the playoff would simply be the next logical step.

When the Frogs proved their doubters wrong once again by destroying Ole Miss in the Peach Bowl, Boykin showed off with a championship belt.

He may need to get another one ready that says “National Champions” for 2015.

Big 12 could risk Big East destruction by expanding

Part 2 in a series on the Big 12 and the College Football Playoff

Larry Brown’s SMU Mustangs have a tough challenge playing in the American Athletic Conference, just like last season. Last year, for the most part, they lived up to the task. It is still wait and see, following a tough loss on Saturday with Memphis coming to Moody on Thursday and the likes of Louisville and UConn still to come, if the Mustangs will do so again.

That’s how it goes in one of the best basketball conferences in the nation. But the ironic thing is that the American, formerly known as the Big East, never wanted to be a good basketball conference. They wanted to be a great football conference, and they paid a big price in their vain efforts to do so.

The Big 12, meanwhile, is known a football conference, even with six Top 25 basketball teams in it. But for some, it still isn’t good enough, and it is because of that that the conference could be at risk of a similar implosion.

Having dodged such destruction once, the Big 12 continues to say it is satisfied with only having 10 schools for the monemt. But now they are having to hear pundits say they need to go back to at least 12, and maybe even more, if they are going to compete with the likes of the 14-team Big Ten and the SEC for spots in the College Football Playoff.

ESPN and others in the sports media have long predicted that college football will eventually be re-organized into four “superconferences” of 16 schools each. But it still hasn’t happened, and it likely never will to those who keep their eyes smaller than their stomachs.

Mark my words on this: The current glut of teams in the “BiG” and the SEC will not last, and it will likely end ugly.

The allure of the “superconference” is one of the biggest cases of people refusing to learn from history and thus dooming to repeat it. Even after the mess that the Big East became, other conferences continue to tell themselves, “Oh, that won’t happen HERE!”

Except eventually, it always happens. It happened in the WAC, and it happened in the Big East. Two conferences that wanted to get bigger and bigger solely because of football, and ultimately resulting in neither conference even playing football any more.

The Big East is just the most blatant example of how badly things can go wrong with a superconference. Long considered the bottom rung of the BCS conferences, the Big East decided the solution was to get bigger and thus get one of those purty conference championship games. Even as teams like Virginia Tech, Boston College and Miami departed, they kept bringing in the likes of Memphis, Cincinnati, Louisville, anyone from Florida…

No one bought that the Big East played big football, though. The defections kept occurring, as Syracuse, West Virginia and Pitt all left. That drove the Big East to recruit SMU, Houston, and even San Diego State and Boise State – to a conference known as the Big EAST.

That’s when the Big East schools that didn’t play football said, “Enough with this s***.” They packed up and left, leaving a little note that stated they had the right to take the conference’s name with them.

The end result? A new Big East that doesn’t even play football and the remnants of the old conference’s gluttony that is among the lowest rated of the “Group of Five” football conferences.

Chad Morris seems to be already doing the best job possible to recruit football players to SMU, but it is a challenge that, with the quality of that sport being played in the American, he can’t sell the chance of a national championship for his program like Brown can to basketball players.

The ACC is certainly the next to implode. After an embarrassing semifinal loss to a Florida State team that some claim didn’t even deserve a playoff spot, don’t be surprised if the ACC tries to get even bigger by perhaps luring more Conference USA or AAC schools. And eventually, the big basketball schools at North Carolina and Duke will certainly look at the gluttony and ask, “Is this worth it?”

But surely this wouldn’t happen in the Big 12, right? Not in a conference where there are so many established football powers that no schools there would dare break up the good thing they have, right?

Don’t count on that. Texas and Oklahoma are among the biggest opponents for a conference title game on the very claim that it puts a shot at the playoff at risk (which both schools have been on both sides of). And given those two schools almost led the charge at breaking up the Big 12 once until that huge TV deal satisfied them, what UT and OU say usually goes.

Bob Bowlsby did make a big mistake in not declaring a tiebreaker between TCU and Baylor for the championship. But making a knee-jerk response by just up and adding another two to four schools among whoever will come calling will be an even bigger one.

Because should that happen, Texas and Oklahoma will likely consider taking their ball and going elsewhere once again – just like the University of Texas did once before, leading to the destruction of one historic conference.

History can happen again, no matter how much media pundits choose to ignore it.