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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.

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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.

College athlete union could spell the doom for college sports

The Final Four came to an end and crowned a champion in North Texas. I could make this column about how I loved the fact that Arlington got the shaft in that, but that’s for another time – maybe.

The point is this: We may want to appreciate another enthralling NCAA Tournament, whether it concluded in our backyard or not. Because there is that chance this type of excitement could be gone for good, if a very, very small handful of athletes get their way.

Recently, the college sports world was stunned by a decision from the National Labor Relations Board that a number of football players from Northwestern University did have the right to organize a union of college athletes. This is, of course, the latest attempt by athletes in claiming that a full scholarship to the college of there choice while thousands of other students go into eternal debt for a degree is not enough, and that they should be paid for the right to play intercollegiate athletics.

This was escalated further by UConn basketball guard and NBA prospect Shabazz Napier, who, in an interview before the title game against Kentucky, claimed that he sometimes goes to bed “starving” despite meal plans being included in athletic scholarships. After UConn won the national championship, Napier tried to steal the spotlight by claiming the NCAA had no right to ban the Huskies from tournament play for poor academic performance. Because, you know, who cares about academics in college?

Now, anyone who follows me on social media, especially Facebook, knows that my political and social opinions do lean to the left. So it may surprise many to hear my position on this. Why would I be against such a progressive movement?

Because this is an example of the demands of the few imperiling the needs of the many.

To hear all the sanctimonious people in the media, one would think that the athletics department at every single Division I university is a money printing machine, churning out millions of dollars to help fund the gluttonous salaries of the coaches and other administrators.

This is as far from the truth as can be. Despite the huge numbers ESPN and other networks put up on how much money the NCAA makes (most of it paid out by organizations like ESPN), the number of colleges making millions of dollars remains in the great minority. For every Texas or Ohio State or Kentucky, there are a dozen UTAs out there that struggle to just make their athletic budgets. They don’t pack the house every night. They don’t have some huge TV deal. And might actually – horror of horrors – have athletes that actually GO TO CLASS.

Many of these colleges benefit greatly from the NCAA’s revenue, and the student athletes benefit most of all. The NCAA states that 96 percent of its annual revenue goes back to its member schools – 60 percent of it to Division I participants.

And if athletes like these Northwestern members succeed in forcing universities to pay their athletes, all these other universities will be forced to completely shut down all their athletic programs. The line in the sand will be drawn” If you can’t afford to fully pay all your athletes like employees, you don’t deserve to have athletics at all.

For now, the Northwestern athletes are claiming they are not out to demand that athletes be paid full salaries/stipends, just improved benefits. Of course they are going to say this – they’re avoiding the one most polarizing aspect and trying to look like the little guy fighting the good fight until they successfully get their feet dug in, and THEN they make the big demands. Note that included in their demands is the option to be able to demand pay at some time later.

There seems little doubt that demanding some form of full salary or stipend for all athletes will be coming down the line. Note that while the Northwestern athletes are currently saying they still view themselves as students and not employees, the NLRB though the opposite in making its approval of a union.

And if they ultimately want all athletes to be fully compensated, there is really only one way they can ultimately do that: All “unionized” teams will refuse to play against schools that don’t have union athletes – the “scabs,” though they may try to find a more PC term for them – forcing the hand of the coaches as to who they get to schedule. Therein will lie the key to driving the programs that can’t pay their athletes out of operation.

This of course, is a worst-case doomsday scenario I am presenting. But the best-case scenario would still be the breakup of Division I into schools that can afford to pay athletes and those that can’t. If that happens, you can still kiss things like the NCAA Tournament in its current form goodbye. No more seeing the likes of Butler or Virginia Commonwealth or George Mason making an improbable run to the Final Four, since they will all be booted down to a lesser subdivision, unable to compete in the same tournament as Florida or Duke or UCLA. The schools that actually want STUDENT-athletes will be kicked to the curb in D1.

And that should also eventually lead to the downfall of those programs, because the chance of playing in the big tournament is often the one motivation the alumni base and other boosters have to support their programs. Take that away, and you’ll be lucky to get support better than a Division II program.

Nothing is set in stone here. The NCAA is appealing this decision, and appeals will likely take years. Even still, one of the keys to the NLRB’s decision was that Northwestern is a private college, meaning state universities are a whole other situation.

But those who love college sports can only hope that in the years this fight will take, cooler heads will ultimately prevail.

Most college student athletes in the more than 320 Division I schools are good people. They go to class. They have aspirations that go beyond playing professionally, as more than 99 percent of them will not be doing so.

And now their opportunities to use their athletic talents to get an education and develop as people is under serious threat.

All because a bunch of spoiled, greedy athletes are putting their own short-term self interests ahead of so many others.

TCU, A&M are Having to Learn Some Hard Lessons

We still have a month to go before the meaningful college basketball games get started, so I guess if I’m going to talk about college sports, I gotta talk about football.

Not that there’s much to talk about that’s very good all of a sudden. Three years ago, absolutely. But now, one of the “little programs that could” suddenly isn’t now that it’s with the big boys.

Geographically speaking, TCU belongs in the Big 12, and it was a move they should have been able to make long ago. But fitting in regionally is still one thing; whether or not they can compete regularly sadly still remains to be seen.

After six 10+ win seasons in the previous seven years, the Frogs’ inaugural Big 12 season saw them finish 7-6 and not win a conference game at home. The next year did not get better, finishing 4-8.

Injuries and inexperience may have played a big part, especially given that more than half their conference losses were by a field goal’s margin. But the one that really stung had to be that Saturday night on Oct. 26. With the mighty but supposedly fallen Texas Longhorns coming to Amon Carter for the first time since 1994, Frog fans were prepared to kick the Horns while they were down. Instead, they got a three-hour storm delay and a 30-7 whooping after that.

The last game couldn’t have been much better, losing at home – to Baylor. The school that for years had supposedly been proving the conference made the wrong decision in picking them, now standing tall as being one of the best in the country. The first two years had so far proven that little private schools like the one in Fort Worth perhaps couldn’t compete with the big boys after all – except that the little private school in Waco was now doing so.

Still, I’m sure TCU believes joining the Big 12 was the right decision, and I do respect their reasons. While other schools keep bolting conferences to whichever one can get them more TV money, with TCU, I’ve always had the feeling the desire to be in the Big 12 lied in getting back to more regional matchups and renewing rivalries with old Southwest Conference foes. (And I’m sure that desire also remains with SMU and other former SWC schools that have not been as lucky).

That can’t be said for the school down in College Station. And while Texas A&M may not have had as bad a season as TCU, the disappointment there has to be greater – and is more deserved for its arrogance.

Following their fast-track entry into the Southeastern Conference that saw them beat Alabama and ESPN loverboy Johnny Manziel, the Aggies were beyond certain that this year would prove they made the right decision in telling every other school in Texas to eff off and their fans to get excited for playing the likes of Auburn and Ole Miss. They were going to prove that moving to the SEC was no big deal after having to settle for being UT’s lapdog so many years in the Big 12, and now they were among the best.

That came crashing down quickly with a 3-3 second half that included losing their last two games. Instead of playing the Longhorns on Thanksgiving like they’re supposed to do, two days after Turkey Day the Aggies got beat by fellow Big 12 mutineer Missouri to finish the regular season a pedestrian 8-4 and a .500 record in the SEC.

Chew on this, Aggies. You finished with the same record as North Texas. Rice is going to play for a conference championship, and you’re not.

The wake-up call was loud and clear. By being the new guys, Texas A&M has a target on its back by the conference who’s consecutive national titles I’ve lost count of. And they’re probably going to have to do a lot more if they’re going to move up the SEC rankings (including a few things I can’t mention without libel accusations).

Don’t expect either of these schools or their supporters to be backpedaling, though.

Gary Patterson insists he knew preparing for the increased competition in the Big 12 would take time. His program is hoping the likes of DeSoto’s Desmon White or All Saints’ Foster Sawyer will solve their quarterback issues.

Texas A&M, meanwhile, appears to still have confidence in where they’re going, giving Kevin Sumlin a six-year contract extension. No one’s expecting Johnny Wonderboy, or whatever his name of the week currently is, to be wearing maroon next year, so now it’s really put-up-or-shut-up to see if the Aggies can bring in recruiting classes they’ll need in the SEC.

It remains to be seen if the local guys in Fort Worth will bounce back quicker than the ones in College Station. But so far, this hasn’t been what either school has hoped for with their new digs.

English Soccer Revels in Rivalries America is Losing

The British are coming! The British are coming! And they’re coming to play their game – or something like that.

While so many in this country are gleefully awaiting the start of American football season this weekend, the truth is that, across the Atlantic “football” season already began three weeks ago. And bad news for a lot of soccer-hating ugly Americans: More and more people are getting into it.

Yeah yeah, I know this is something we keep saying year after year. But there’s a new twist this year – in the form of a $250 million deal from NBC to broadcast the entire English Premier League season to the States, mainly via the NBC Sports Network. And given that the opening weekend of their coverage resulted in 67 percent better ratings than their competitors at Fox and ESPN broadcast last year, for now it looks like money well spent.

No, I’m not saying we’re on the verge of seeing the majority of this country prefer the game where you actually use your foot with the ball. There are still a number of obstacles toward getting more people used to “the beautiful game.” Games starting at five in the morning definitely aren’t going to help.

But there are a number of benefits a game like EPL soccer has that could explain just why that number id growing with each passing year.

First of all, this, like most soccer leagues outside this country, is a league that makes certain all teams play for success throughout the year. You finish at the bottom of the EPL, you don’t get first pick at the best amateur talent; you get kicked out, your entire franchise bounced down to the minor league. No “Team Tank” or “Suck For Luck” here. Just 20 teams forced to keep some level of integrity to their ticket-buying public.

Second is the excitement that these teams are just playing for their national league championship. In addition to the EPL, there is also the UEFA Champions League, with four English clubs (Arsenal, Manchester United, Chelsea and Manchester City) set to begin group play in three weeks. For the closest U.S. comparison, imagine what college basketball has with the conference season, conference tournament and NCAA Tournament. Now, instead of cramming those in succession over just three months, imaging them being played side by side over nine!

And that comparison proves the best segue into the biggest thing that makes the EPL – and most other pro leagues across the ocean – so exciting. Something that is sadly disappearing in our country.

Rivalries steeped in local ties are still alive and well.

This Saturday, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur will face off in the first game of what’s called the North London Derby between two clubs less than four miles from one another. And those are just two of six clubs within London’s area. And then there’s Aston VIlla and West Bromwich (3.5 miles), Newcastle vs Sunderland (10 miles) and Manchester United vs Manchester City (5.2 miles). And all 20 clubs within one country roughly the size of Georgia.

No wonder English soccer fans have such a reputation for insanity. Familiarity really does breed contempt.

But it’s still refreshing to see compared to what’s happening here in the USA, where regional rivalries, especially in college sports, are being destroyed for money and TV exposure. Dallas-Fort Worth has seen that as painfully as anyone, as SMU hasn’t played in a Texas conference since 1995 and TCU waited more than 15 years to get back to one. How tough must it be for Mustang fans to see this year’s games against Texas A&M and Texas Tech as “non-conference” matches?

Yeah, conference jumping like that will never happen in the case with the EPL. True, the league was created in 1992 by clubs who wanted to break away from  The Football League at the time. But you’ll never see Manchester United move into the German Bundesliga or Liverpool decide to go to the Italian Serie A, while over hear SMU’s athletics department tries to sell its fan base that playing the likes of Cincinnati and Rutgers will be worth watching.

I’m probably not going to convince anyone just from this article. A number of you are already dead set in your ways still.

Go ahead and get ready for TCU against LSU in a game that won’t affect any conference championship at all.

Me, I’m getting ready to see what this London Derby has to offer. Arsenal’s been on a tear with eight goals in three games, so Tottenham could be in real trouble.