Friday, September 24, 2010

Fixing the BCS: Is Tax Law the Trick?

As many college football fans know - this writer among them - the Bowl Championship Series ("BCS") is not without flaws. Since the inception of the BCS during the 1998 football season, the powers that be have tweaked the Series many times in an effort to address these shortcomings.

Yesterday, however, a group known as PlayoffPAC filed a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service in an effort to spur further change. What makes PlayoffPAC unique is not that it's an outside organization seeking change through the legal system - many challenges have been attempted against the BCS on antitrust grounds - but rather that they are attempting to change the BCS by way of tax law. In effect, PlayoffPAC is saying that the BCS has abused its status as a tax-exempt organization to "(i) pay excessive compensation to their executives, (ii) make undisclosed lobbyist contributions, (iii) intervene in political campaigns, and (iv) provide substantial private benefit to insiders."

How the IRS will come down on the issue remains to be seen, but, as this writer knows (and will be posting frequently on this topic thanks to his law review note), college football and basketball programs are pushing, and perhaps crossing over, the limits of what their tax-exempt charters allow.

While there are some deficiencies in PlayoffPAC's complaint, it will be interesting to see if tax law, rather than the outcry of many a college football fan, is what ultimately changes the BCS.

For further reading, check out this post by a very well regarded tax scholar. In his post he links to many popular press articles regarding PlayoffPAC's complaint.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Three, It's A Magic Number

AP Photo/Darron Cummings

A third consecutive weekend has passed where the Irish squared off against a familiar rival, failing again for the second game in a row to earn a victory.

Earn is the operative word at this junction in the season and course of the program under its new Head Coach, Brian Kelly. Manti T'eo addressed the 'E' word earlier this year when he said that Coach Kelly changed the mentality of the team from Notre Dame owing them to them owing Notre Dame.

A sense of entitlement suffocated the program in the previous five years under Charlie Weis, who was most concerned with his offensive guys and getting them to the NFL rather than preparing the entire team in a succint and coherent manner.

Make no mistake about it, Coach Kelly is still in the early stages of transforming his program into the mindset of wanting to earn respect, rather than expecting it. Putting pen to paper is not as easy as it sounds, though.

As the Irish sit at 1-2 through the first quarter of their season it is clear that there is much work left to be done. Reckless turnovers, an inconsistent offensive attack, and a secondary unit still mostly out of position are among the most glaring deficiencies.

But where this team differs from recent years past is in its heart and, more importantly, its lack of entitlement. While the culture is still being adjusted the attitudes of players have already started to change (for the better).
No, I knew what I was going to get from them after the game. Look, you can't
fake losing, okay. You can't fake hurt after a game. So when I looked through
the locker room, I could tell who the phonies are, and I know the guys that it
really hurts, and those are the guys that play for me, because if it really
hurts, they want to change the way they feel about it. If it doesn't hurt, it
doesn't matter what you say to them anyway. You can say anything and it doesn't
really matter to them. This group, it hurts. They want to win, and that's why
for me we just kind of stick with
what we've been talking about since day
one, and that's stay together.
What Kelly was trying to explain is that it is not that his team lacks the will or desire to win, it is that they just have not learned how to yet.

Does this remind anyone of legendary Irish coach Lou Holtz? He is famous for explaining the path his Irish team undertook from when he first took over the program in 1986 to winning a national title three years later. Transposition cannot do it justice so have a listen to the speech below.

Are Kelly's Irish going to replicate what Holtz's Irish accomplished? While it is impossible at this juncture in the Kelly era to confirm he follow the same path one thing is for certain: Brian Kelly is not Lou Holtz.

Make no mistake about it, Kelly is no Holtz clone, nor would he want to be, yet Kelly has been tasked with restoring the Irish program to heights last experienced in the Holtz era. He employs a different attack and schemes than Holtz did but there is, however, one basic characteristic both coaches share in common: attention to detail.
In the successful organization, no detail is too small to escape close attention.
Lou Holtz may be the author of that quote but Brian Kelly is certainly a student of it. You have likely heard the stories of how he changed the culture in the players' locker room by diagramming precisely where each article belonged or how hats and jewelry are prohibited there.

To Coach Kelly there are no items too minute to warrant his scrutiny. Every detail is important. Our players are learning that, too, but they are currently stuck in the 'wanting to win' stage instead of 'knowing how to win' stage.

Hold your breath a little while longer while Kelly provides his players with the tools they need to not only know how to win, but to actually go out on the field every day and do it.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Michigan Recap and Look Ahead to Michigan State

AP Photo/Michael Conroy

Much has been said about the first loss, 28-24, suffered by Coach Kelly's men last weekend at the hands of (primarily) Denard Robinson and the Michigan Wolverines.

Some people think the sky is falling. Others think it is just a blip on the radar and the Irish still have a legitimate shot at a BCS bowl game.

Here's the truth: neither of those presumptions are correct because, well, they're just presumptions. The Irish have a long road ahead of them if they want to even think about a BCS game. A bowl game is still in sight, just not necessarily one played in January.

Nobody knows for sure what the future will hold but there are a few insights that can be gleaned from the performance last weekend.
  1. Dayne Crist is, without a doubt, the leader of the offense and entire Irish team. It speaks volumes that in his first year as a starter he has earned the respect of his teammates and coaches. Despite his hiatus in the first half after leading the Irish on a 71-yard scoring drive Crist rose to the occasion in the second as he led the comeback from 14 points down to within seconds of a win. He did so albeit with blurred vision. Sure, he made a few errant passes including the potential winner at the end of the game - a rocket thrown through the end zone into the stands - but without him in the second half the Irish would have lost by double digits.
  2. Notre Dame does not have a capable backup quarterback. Tommy Rees filled in immediately following Crist's absence and threw an INT on a late throw off of a flea flicker. Rees is a true freshman and clearly has a ways to go until he is comfortable firing passes into coverage, let alone putting enough zip on a late pass to sneak by the secondary. With Rees' confidence shaken Coach Kelly turned to Nate Montana, son of former Irish (and NFL) legend Joe Montana. Nate was able to navigate the remainder of the first half after Rees' mishap but proved equally ineffective. Coach Kelly agreed that the onus is on him to better prepare his backups, but the bottom line is this team does not have a viable replacement if Dayne Crist is out of the lineup.
  3. Stopping Denard Robinson will be a problem for any team on the Wolverines' schedule. Perhaps this comment offers not enough criticism of an Irish defense that allowed 502 total yards by the Michigan QB (a school record) but make no mistake about it, Robinson poses a threat to any defensive scheme he encounters. His ability to outrun cornerbacks and, in all likelihood, his entire track team couples with adequate passing skills to cause headaches for opposing defensive coordinators.
Now that the fog has lifted from the disappointing loss last weekend here is a look ahead to what is in store for the Irish this weekend.

As the Irish prepare for Saturday night's matchup at Michigan State the Spartans and their defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi must be licking his chops.

If he saw any of the Irish performance from last weekend he would certainly instruct his players to be as aggressive as possible with Crist. Without the Crist the Irish really stand no chance against any of their remaining BCS conference opponents nor even a couple non-BCS conference foes like Navy and Utah.

Game plans for the Irish this week will include providing sufficient protection for their fragile signal-caller and optimizing the run game. Don't expect to see Crist dropping back in the pocket or tucking the ball and taking off down the field too often. While Coach Kelly insists that the quarterback read option play is crucial to his offense it is safe to assume that play will be stowed away for a select few situations from this point forward.

The Spartans always seem to play the Irish tough and not only is this a rivalry game it is also a night game, which means tensions will be high amongst a hostile crowd.

Even though the Irish have won 15 of the last 19 meetings in East Lansing the Spartans will create too much chaos in the Irish backfield for Crist to remain effective and, potentially, healthy.

Spartans get the edge in this one as Kelly will have some explaining to do. A loss would not put him on the hot seat but it would implicate the restoration period will take longer than his proclaimed "five-minute plan."

Auto-Tune the News

Somehow I had never heard of Auto-Tune the News, but it appears to be required viewing.

This particular song came to my attention because it features Weezer but the real stars are congressman Charles Rangel (D-NY) and the big guy President Obama. I legitimately think Barack has Lil' Wayne writing his speeches from jail.

I should point out that the President has a really brilliant bit towards the end where he implies democrats are moving forward while republicans are going in reverse utilizing a car metaphor.

Hats off Mr. Wayne.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Virginia Tech Football: Welcome To 1998?

Six days, two Hokie losses.

If your brain can’t fully wrap itself around that, fear not, you aren’t alone.

In less than a week, the Hokies went from being a team many saw as a legitimate national championship contender to not receiving any votes in the Associated Press Top 25 Poll after heartbreaking 33-30 loss to Boise State last Monday, and a head-scratching upset loss at home to James Madison 21-16 Saturday.

An elaborate ploy to ruin Boise State’s strength of schedule? Perhaps.

More likely, this Hokie team is young on defense and left searching for answers.

Tech now sits at 0-2 for the first time since 1995, a season that ended in a Sugar Bowl victory over Texas.

While few saw that turnaround coming, it’s hard to find any optimism in Blacksburg these days.

The Hokies have played roughly three quarters of good offense through two games and a whole bunch of mediocre defense.

Tech fans knew this defense had to replace seven of the starters. They would be a young unit, but Bud Foster always gets the most out of his group right?

The Hokies were thin up the middle to start, with depth issues at linebacker and all along the defensive line. Add a season-ending injury to defensive tackle Kwamaine Battle and things get even thinner.

An inexperienced defense is one thing, but Tech can’t even tackle consistently right now as evidenced on a 77-yard touchdown pass Saturday.

“What adjective you want me to use? Pathetic? Unacceptable?” Foster said Monday.

To me, it’s inexcusable. And we’re going to get that correct. If not, we’re going to find guys that want to get out here and play, and play the way we’ve done it.”

Tying this back to the title, the loss to JMU marks almost certainly the worst loss in Tech history. The only comparable game was No. 10 Virginia Tech’s 1998 loss to the lowly Temple Owls 28-24 in Lane Stadium.

Up until this weekend, any mention of that game brought blank stares and pure denial about the existence of such a game.

That Tech team vaulted high in the rankings after starting 5-0 but they struggled to finish games down the stretch, losing heartbreakers to Syracuse and Virginia following the Temple debacle.
1998 was a largely forgettable season, especially in light of the following year’s run to the national championship game.

So will 2010 be like ’95 or ’98?

The ACC doesn’t appear to be particularly strong this season so a BCS bowl berth is still amazingly a possibility.

At this point however, it’s fair to say Tech could win or lose every game remaining on the schedule starting with East Carolina Saturday.

The Pirates are 2-0 under new coach Ruffin McNeill who brought Mike Leach’s “Air Raid” offense with him from Texas Tech. ECU has averaged 50 points per game in their two outings and rank 18th in the nation in total offense.

Needless to say, 2010 is going to be an interesting year.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Boiler(s) Down, Wolverines Up Next For Irish

Brian Kelly, Notre Dame's latest chosen one charged with restoring the program to prominence, had never seen a game inside Notre Dame Stadium until last Saturday. Many middle-aged people wait that long to catch their first glimpse of the Irish, but rarely, if ever, has that opportunity been paired with head coaching duties.

In his first game, both inside the stadium and coaching, Brian Kelly pulled back only some of the curtains behind the new-look, spread offense-minded Irish.

Redshirt Sophomore Quarterback Dayne Crist eased into his new starting role while putting up impressive numbers and displaying accuracy in short yardage situations. He went 19-26 passing for 295 yards, 1 TD, and 0 INTs as the Irish handled Purdue 23-12.

The Irish win marked the seventh time in eight tries the Boilers fell in a season opener to ND.

Armando Allen Jr., a senior running back, was a prime beneficiary of the spread offense as he rushed for 93 yards and the game's first score. Fellow running back Cierre Wood provided necessary breathers for Allen and a nice change of pace to the running game by adding 58 yards on seven carries.

Michael Floyd had an opportunity to seal the game's fate early in the third quarter but he fumbled a bullet from Dayne Crist inside the Purdue 5 yard-line, ultimately allowing the Boilermakers to make things interesting.

It was the Notre Dame defense that perhaps showed the most promise last Saturday, though, as they locked down on the Boilermakers allowing just 322 yards of total offense while playing in a new defensive formation.

Notre Dame's tackling ability showed marked improvement over last year's team. Rather than whiffing on ball carriers in the open field the Irish defenders collapsed quickly and rarely allowed Boilermaker skill position players to create havoc.

In fact, the longest play allowed from scrimmage by the Irish was a 23-yard touchdown run by new Boilermaker quarterback and University of Miami (Fl) transfer Robert Marve. That was really the only play where the defense underachieved as both the outside and middle linebackers on the strong side of the field bit on Marve's fake up the middle.

This weekend the Irish will face much stiffer competition in the Michigan Wolverines. Lead by first time start Denard Robinson the Wolverines cruised to a 30-10 victory over Connecticut thanks largely in part to Robinson's productivity.

Robinson set Michigan school records for total offense (383) and rushing yards (197) by a quarterback.

The key to the game will be Notre Dame's ability to stop Robinson. Defensive Coordinator Bob Diaco will rely heavily on the defensive line's push against the Wolverine's offensive line to allow the linebackers to drop back in coverage or supply pressure up the middle. Defensive ends Ethan Johnson and Kapron Lewis-Moore will need to spend the majority of their time in the Wolverine's backfield if the Irish want to throw Robinson off his game. If the Irish can force Robinson out of his comfort zone by forcing him into obvious passing situations it could be a long day for Wolverine fans.

Speaking of passing games, the Wolverines only have four remaining members of its now depleted secondary. With inexperience and lack of depth in the secondary look for Dayne Crist to take aim down field often. Michael Floyd, Duval Kamara, Theo Riddick, and Tailer Jones could post career days on Saturday.

Regardless, this will be a high scoring contest with plenty of hard hitting and flashy plays.

Tune in to NBC at 3:30pm EST this Saturday to see for yourself.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Virginia Tech Has High Hopes

Virginia Tech’s talent level this season is as high as it’s ever been in Blacksburg.

The speed and athleticism across the board is very impressive and for once, the abundance of weapons are on the offensive side of the ball.

The backfield alone has a staggering amount of star power, starting with Tyrod Taylor.

The senior quarterback is coming off a season in which he showed significant progress as a passer.

Taylor threw for 2,311 yards with 13 touchdowns and five interceptions.

The biggest concern for some is are there enough carries to go around in the backfield.

Redshirt sophomore Ryan Williams returns after his record-setting freshman campaign when he rushed for 1,655 yards and 21 touchdowns on 293 carries.

This season, Williams will be sharing the carries with Darren Evans and David Wilson.

Evans is coming off a torn ACL that derailed his 2009 season. In 2008, he set the freshman rushing record eclipsed a season later by Williams.

Evans rushed 287 times for 1,265 yards and 11 touchdowns that year, creating a dynamic one-two punch.

Adding Wilson to the mix brings yet another explosive element to the scene.

Wilson averaged 5.7 yards per carry last season and 19.1 yards per kickoff return.

Wilson runs a 4.29 40-yard dash and is also a member of Virginia Tech’s track and field team. Tech head coach Frank Beamer has compared him to Reggie Bush.

“He brings another element back there,” Beamer said.

He can help this football team be successful and he wants to do it. I think you need to try to get your best players on the field, and he’s one of them.”

Expect Wilson and Williams to an extent split out into passing formations while Evans stays in the backfield.

Hopefully we see some formations utilizing all three backs at the same time. Regardless, expect to see plenty of creative formations from the Hokies.

The receiving corps features Jarrett Boykin, Danny Coale and Dyrell Roberts along with pushes from young wideouts like sophomore Marcus Davis.

The offense is as stacked as it’s ever been for the Hokies. The only question is can this group live up to the high expectations?

The defense is more of a question mark. Bud Foster’s group has to replace several key starters and appears to lack depth up the middle.

Defensive tackle and captain John Graves looks like he will hold down the line while Rashad Carmichael looks to join Tech’s fine lineage of shutdown corners.

A number of players have a chance to step up and contribute significant time. While it’s a concern, always trust in Bud Foster.

I won’t say that my bias as an alumnus doesn’t have an impact, but honestly, my analyst side tells me that the Hokies will be hard-pressed to lose this season.

I don’t think Tech will go undefeated, but they are one of a handful of teams that stand an excellent shot to do so.

Also, we’re wearing black uniforms Monday. More to follow from the road.


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