The Silliest Of Seasons

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard | 11.29.2017


This time of year (mid to late November) is known as the ‘silly season’ in college football. It’s silly because of several reasons. First, the money spent to remove coaches and hire new ones. Second, the search process which as some schools have shown can be an absolute disaster. Football is a game and if you remove yourself and look at the big picture, what has occurred over the last few weeks or so is absolute nonsense.

Full disclosure, I am a graduate of the University of Tennessee and a very proud alumni.

Over the past few weeks universities (or major boosters) have paid out a minimum of $55 million to remove head coaches. That’s right. $55 million to pay coaches to leave. Meanwhile people in this country, who love these football programs and struggle to make ends meet, have to sit back and watch a coach like Butch Jones will get $205k a month for the next 40 months to not work. The best deal, how bout former Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin. Sumlin will get some $10+ million in the next 60 days to not coach football. Texas A&M doesn’t even get a deal on the payout if Sumlin takes another job. How bout that for an exit package!

Why are these buyouts so high? Well partially because the whole industry has gone off of the deep end. Arkansas head coach Brett Bielema was fired shortly after the teams last game of the season. In fact the media got the PR release immediately after the game which may have occurred before Bielema got the news.

Speaking of deep end, let’s talk about Tennessee and the fiasco that is still occurring there. Athletic Director John Currie fired head coach Butch Jones and was very frank and professional in the press conference following the firing. He gave off an air of professionalism and the expectation that Currie was planning far ahead and a new head coach would be in place soon. Several weeks later Currie tried to hire former Rutgers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Greg Schiano. That outraged the Tennessee fanbase, media, alumni, boosters and even politicians to the point of protests on campus. It was so bad that Currie had to (from what we know) withdraw the offer and go back to the drawing board. That drawing board saw him get turned down by Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy and apparently be overruled on bringing in Purdue’s Jeff Brohm.

But back to the Schiano debacle. The pulling back from Schiano showed a few things; first that social media and boosters can stop a hiring if they don’t like it. Second that people associate anyone with the Penn State at the time of the Jerry Sandusky abuses as tainted goods and finally, the expectations at a Power 5 school like Tennessee is to have a “splash hire” and someone who can put their team back in the running for national championships. For some at Tennessee that means former Tampa Bay and Oakland head coach Jon Gruden. A coach who hasn’t roamed the sidelines of a football game in a decade and hasn’t coached at the collegiate level in almost 30 years.

Let’s be honest, all this is beyond the pale. This is college football where the players are not paid yet millions of dollars are being shelled out to fire coaches and hire new ones all the while the universities that the players represent saddle students with enough loan debt to make an economist have an extra shot of tequila. Social media turns into the digital equivalent of a forrest fire and fans get so fired up that they protest or confront coaches who might leave as one did at Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher’s weekly radio show.

Athletic Directors are beholden to big money donors who bless or curse hires. Coaches change jobs and receive millions of dollars while the players they recruited are stuck and can only transfer to schools in a lower division or sit out a season. They do not get to share in the riches  of revenue but put their bodies on the line for 12 games a year and then some. It’s time for this industry to look in the mirror and say that enough is enough.

College football is a wonderful sport but it is officially out of control. While the passionate fans found in Knoxville, Gainesville, College Station, Lincoln and Fayetteville among others deserve a quality program for the support they give, at the end of the day it’s still just a game being played by unpaid participants. The amount of money, time and attention being paid to firing and hiring coaches could and should be spent elsewhere. It doesn’t appear that this will change any time soon so do what you can do enjoy the fiery spectacle.

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Diary of a Sports Cord Cutter: Sling vs Fubo vs Hulu

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard | 10.15.2017

Being a sports fan and a cord cutter has it’s advantages but it also has it’s downsides. One of those downsides is that you may have to have more than one service in order to get all of the channels required to watch the games you’d want to watch (depending on the sport and your fan level). While that sounds simple enough, switching between the two apps is not exactly quick or simple and there is still the issue of user experience and that whole buffering thing. But if you get tired of the service, dropping it and signing up for another one takes a whole five minutes.

I have been a Sling TV user for about two years now. After a slow start and the occasional reboot, I have found the service a solid investment. The only knock on Sling from my perspective is that it doesn’t have CBS Sports Network or the Big Ten Network. To that end, I subscribed to another service, Fubo TV, in late summer.

Fubo TV touts itself as the ‘sports fan’ service. Or at least that’s the feeling I get from their ad’s and imagery. Fubo was going well, they had some of the channels I was missing with Sling and more of the financial channels like CNBC and Fox Business. Their interface lacked a lot. Want to go between channels, you have to completely exit that channel, scroll for the next one, and then click on two different screens.

 

Fubo TV’s downfall for me came during two weeks earlier this year. First, I was doing everything I could to stay awake for the end of the Texas vs USC matchup and on USC’s final drive in regulation, the feed went out. Fubo TV allows the user, at least in the Denver metro area, to get the local CBS and Fox affiliate. I was laying in bed when the feed went out and dragged myself out of bed and to the couch to watch overtime on the over-the-ar signal.

The next weekend during the afternoon, the service went out all together. A tweet confirmed the outage and also confirmed my switching over to Hulu.

Hulu is one of the relatively newer OTT services. While the interface is more stylistic than Fubo TV’s, it’s confusing and you still cannot watch a channel and look for another show without completely exiting the channel. Sling TV’s interface allows you to do this and to this point, I find it far superior to Fubo TV or Hulu’s.

Hulu’s service to this point I have found stable and reliable. It is geared more towards the non-sport fan but you can at least set your own channel listing. Drawbacks include when you click on a game, if the TV listing says it’s over and it’s not, you have to go to the channel directly instead of the game itself. Another is you have to dig for the beta live TV service to watch live TV on a web browser and if you’re OTT device is an Apple TV….we’ll that’s not going to end well.

Another drawback is that when you first start Hulu, after a few moments of viewing, I regularly encounter a buffer screen.

It’s annoying and in the middle of a play, soul crushing, but nothing outside of the realm of fixability.

To go a little Bill O’Reily on you, here’s the bottom line:

Sling TV is thus far the best service as far as reliability and user experiencE are concerned. It’s drawbacks are the amount of people who can watch at one time, time shifting (backing up a play so you can see that amazing catch one more time) and the lack of the Big Ten Network, CBS Sports Network and local channels.

Fubo TV lacks in stability, user interface and the lack of ESPN channels. The first two were so bad that I went to another service.

Hulu has a slick interface that was designed by someone who clearly wants to show off their design skills. It has local channels and just about every sports channel you’d want except PAC 12 Network and NFL RedZone.

If you are going to go with one service, Hulu might be it but it’s hard to push Sling TV aside especially if user experience is important to you.

The good news is that if you want to change services, it takes about 15 minutes.

Diary of a Sports Cord Cutter: Coming True

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard | 8.7.2017

In a post back in May I pointed out how the little guys were primed for big things when it came to over-the-top (OTT) services. I thought this might be six months off but I was wrong. Two months later The Big Sky Conference signed a deal to have all of their football and basketball games shown on Pluto TV which can be found on just about every OTT device (Roku, Amazon Fire, etc). It’s a trend that will continue and the time for your own private sports channel is finally worth doing.

While the Big Sky Conference isn’t going to bring huge numbers to Pluto TV, it is a niche group. The alumni from Eastern Washington who now lives in Austin,Texas can see their Eagles square off against Portland State. The Montana State Bobcat alum who lives in Sacramento, doesn’t have to make the trek to Bozeman to see them take on Montana in November. It may not seem all that impressive but it’s giving consumers what they want which means they will probably stick around longer which means you can sell more ads and generate more revenue.

The National Lacrosse League (NLL) is showing how to make your own network by using the right combination of platforms to reach your audience. As a recent Bloomberg article pointed out that the NLL is able to charge customers a $35 subscription to watch the league’s OTT channel but it also gives fans a game a week live on Twitter for free.

People are starting to see not just the economic benefit that moving to a straight OTT platform can provide but also the indirect revenue that it can generate.

Mountain West Championship 2016

One of the major topics of discussion that this years Mountain West Conference media days was the possible move away from traditional broadcast partners and to their own OTT channel. Why? Well one of the biggest complaints coming out of the conference the last few years has been the kick off times. Boise State currently has five games scheduled for kick off 8pm or later and three games on week nights. When you get into October and November, it’s not exactly getting any warmer in the mountains when the sun goes down and fans are starting to stay home. That means less revenue from tickets, concessions, parking, etc. Fans have been complaining about this for a few years now and by the sound of it, Commissioner Craig Thompson is listening.

Each conference and league looks at cord cutting a different way but in the end it’s all about one thing, money. Whether it’s about holding on to revenue or if it’s about generating more, each league and conference needs to come up with their own acceptance criteria of what’s best for them. The good news is that there are plenty of platforms and plenty of combinations to try to find out which one is going to suit them the best.

What They Should Do Now

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard | 7.26.2017

In case you haven’t noticed, there is a lack of the written word on FoxSports.com recently. As you know Fox Sports has to go all in on video on their website. Vice recently followed suit this past week. And of course Sports Illustrated and ESPN have laid off a large portion of their writers over the not to distant past. Whether you agree or disagree with the decisions, direction of the sites, etc, one things is certain, there are a lot of quality sports writers out there wondering what to do next. Well, I have an idea.

There are a lot of reasons why a company lays off it’s employees. A lot of times the employees did nothing wrong, it’s strictly a numbers game and that includes what they are paying said employee in salary and of course the ever rising cost of health insurance.

The main reason for the layoffs is that the media landscape continues to shift beneath the feet of journalists, commentators, execs, teams, conferences, and fans. So it’s time to start executing a different plan instead of trying to jump from one media ship to the next.

What is this new plan? For arguments sake I am going to focus on college football. Several top notch college football reporters were laid off recently including ESPN’s Brett McMurphy and Fox Sports Stewart Mandel. Both have over 100k twitter followers, have great contacts in the sport, written books and are some of the go to people when it comes to breaking news and analysis in the sport. People like this need to come together and form their own sports centric wire service.

Mandel recently became the Editor-In-Chief of College Football for TheAtheletic.com which is a new website based on a yearly subscription model. McMurphy and others should take a similar approach except in their case build a web site that acts, in part, as a college football wire service. Be those boots on the ground reporter that takes advantage of all their contacts and years of experience. They can then sell these to outlets that have cut back that kind of reporting and maybe even have pieces commissioned by these former employers. Outlets like ESPN, Bleacher Report, and even places like Yahoo Sports, the New York Times and others.

This is not game recaps but something deeper. An angle on a player, coach, situation, etc. Because in the not too distant future, there should be an artificial intelligence able to create game recaps for a reasonable price that they can capitalize on.

Let’s be clear, this is a hard core hustle move but it’s a hustle that they can do. It’s a process that capitalizes on their years of experience, contacts and access that they have spent a career building. I understand that this is not comforting news to the older, married, lifers of the industry. But it’s reality. They have the toolset but that toolset is not desired by their former employers. Of so those employers think.

22 It

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard | 6.25.2017


The Canadian Football League (CFL) kicked off its 2017 season with a game between the Saskatchewan Roughriders and the Montreal Alouettes this past Thursday. Unless you are a football fanatic like myself or a Canadian with a vested interest in the two teams on the field, you probably didn’t ever know the game was going on. My hope is that someone at the NFL office or at one of the NFL TV partners was watching so that they could be reminded about an angle that they are missing during their broadcasts. The wide angle or as they call it in America, the ’22’ angle.

Roughriders at Al’s CFL 2017 Opener.

For the uninitiated, the CFL has 3 downs, 12 men aside and unlimited motion. Which means that at least three of the receivers get a head start on their routes before the ball is ever snapped. This requires the TV cameramen to get a wider shot of the field because you don’t know where these guys are going. It’s not a genuine ’22’ angle but you have a better view of what the receivers are doing and how the defense is lined up to defend them.

Why would the NFL or college football widen out the camera shot and show more of the field? Well it could be a source of revenue. Most of us, believe it or not, don’t care about the close up of Tom Brady or the coach on the sideline. We care about how the formation and who is on the field.

The down side is that you may reveal a bunch of empty seats at the stadium caused in no small part by a teams performance and high ticket prices. The upside is that nerdy football fans like myself would pay a fee to get just this angle.

ESPN Megacast during the 2014 National Championship game

The reason why a portion of us would pay for this is that we want to see for ourselves how the defense is lining up, who is coming in and out of the game and have a visual representation of where our team is on the field which let’s guess what our team should or should not do. We don’t want an analyst telling us after the fact or being burden by replays when a team goes without a huddle and we miss the beginning of the next play.

Eventually, having graphics overlay that one could turn on and off would be nice as well. I don’t mean your stats of total yards, etc but a marker on a player so that while viewing the ’22’ angle, a mark or flag can pop up over a player as they come on and off the field which is turned on and off automatically by when they cross the sidelines into the field of play.

While there is a lot of talk about how to improve the in-game experience for fans (none of this talk includes lowering ticket prices or beer mind you), very little is talked about improving the home viewing experience. These are two things could improve the viewing experience immediately. While the graphics overlay may take some doing, it’s hard to believe that having a camera zoom out would be much of a technological feat. Extra costs, I think I pointed out earlier that there are plenty of us who would give you money for this.

More Mouse Davis Than Bill Walsh

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard | 1.10.2017

Over the years we’ve written quite a bit about Chip Kelly. We’ve written how he wasn’t right for the NFL and we’ve written that he could be the next Bill Walsh. With many things, the truth falls somewhere in between.

Chip Kelly 49ersChip Kelly was fired from two NFL jobs in little over a year. The second wasn’t his fault as he was dealt an absolute oil spill but the first was his fault. More importantly there has been some talk out there that Kelly wasn’t able to adjust to the NFL. He didn’t disguise his looks and become, in a word, predictable.

NFL defenses may have figured out a way to stop Kelly’s ‘blur’ offense but the NFL also adopted some of his ideas and methods.

While at Oregon, Kelly made trips to New England to talk about the hurry-up offense with Bill Belichick and his staff. Belichick and Kelly have become good friends and there is a possibility, however remote, that Kelly could slide into the OC spot if current Patriots OC Josh McDaniels gets another head coaching gig with, ironically enough, the San Francisco 49ers.

The fact is that a lot of teams, college and pro, use some of Kelly’s principals in their offenses. It’s a lot like how every one criticized Mouse Davis’s Run’N’Shoot offense when it debuted in the NFL way back in 1989.

Many criticized the offense and in it’s purest form wasn’t very successful at the NFL level. However aspects of the offense have made it into just about every current NFL offense. Using the pass to set up the run, single back sets and having wide receivers read the coverage along with the quarterback.

Kelly’s offense and training methods are seeing a similar bubbling up across the league. Kelly embraced sports science and employed a ‘sport science coordinator’ while with the Eagles. Other NFL teams have begun to embrace the idea of maximizing athletes performance after Kelly blazed the way.

Teams have also incorporated some zone read plays, allowed their quarterback to run more often, and of course using the hurry-up or no huddle offense throughout the game instead of just at end of a half.

While Kelly may not have revolutionized the game like the late Bill Walsh did so many years ago, he did influence it significantly like Mouse Davis did back in the late 80’s/early 90’s. Kelly’s NFL career will be judged by wins and losses but he has contributed much more than that.

 

SF 49ers: Digging To The Bottom of the NFL

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard | 1.3.2016

The San Francisco 49ers will be on their fourth head coach in as many years and the first team in almost 40 years to fire coaches in back-to-back years after just one season. The Cleveland Browns haven’t even done that. Add to it that the owner, Jed York, said in his press conference on Monday, ‘I own this football team. You don’t dismiss owners.‘ The 49ers were once the envy of every North American sports organization. Now, they are a laughing stock and paying millions of dollars to their former coaches with little hope for a winning team anytime soon.

Jed YorkIt’s almost scary what’s happening to the 49ers. They seemed to be on the right track when Jed York and then GM Trent Baalke convinced Jim Harbaugh to take over as head coach. He had immediate success and was within an inch of winning a Super Bowl. But Harbaugh and Baalke clashed and York, essentially, sided with Baalke which led to the dismissal of Harbaugh after an 8-8 season.

The 49ers have yet to win 8 games total since letting Harbaugh go.

To add insult to injury, the organization is going to have to pay between $30 million to $70 million to former coaches to not coach. This includes having to pay the next three years of former head coach Chip Kelly’s deal. Kelly never had a chance with the hand he was dealt but no matter, he’ll get paid handsomely for his one year with the team.

The fact is that Jed York should be fired. Can you imagine running a company where you have fired the leadership over the last years and will lose at least $30 million to pay former employees to not do their job?

It would be nice to say that there is some hope for the 49er faithful. The fact is that there isn’t. They have had multiple terrible drafts, lost potential hall of fame players to retirement or injury and have arguably the worse roster in the league. It will take several solid drafts, free agent signings and a lot of luck for the 49ers to make the playoffs again. So strap in 49er faithful, this is a long term plan.

3 Star = Pro Bowl

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard | 12.22.2016

The 2017 Pro Bowl roster was announced this week and while the game is becoming increasingly meaningless, a few outlets point out how there are more former 3-Star college recruits and lower than anyone else on the roster. Proving again that the recruiting star system is also increasingly irrelevant.

Recruiting stars are no guarantee of NFL success or collegiate success for that matter. There are many more three, two, one and no star recruits than there ever are five and four star recruits but most people presume that five or four star players are significantly better than three and below.

While the star rankings do not give the best indicator to future success, it does show that three and lower are just as good if not better than the four and five players if put in the right situation and coached up.

If you look at the no star recruits coming out of high school and now in the 2017 Pro Bowl, two of those players, Antonio Brown and Tom Brady, are arguably the best at their position. Brady is a lock for the Hall of Fame and Brown is probably the most feared receiver in the NFL over the last two seasons. Brown was a sixth round pick out of Central Michigan. He didn’t ‘fit’ the ‘typical’ NFL wide receiver. All he does now is make plays and score touchdowns and has become an indispensable part of the Pittsburgh Steelers offense.

As college football teams go into the final recruiting push early next year, it’s important for those three star and lower kids to recognize that the coaches and so-called ‘experts’ may not know talent when they see it. Proving them wrong is better than any star from.

 

 

The Battle Ground State

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard | 12.14.2016

Charlie Strong, Lane Kiffin and Butch Davis. These are a few of the folks who will be new head coaches in college football next season in the state of Florida. Add in the three big schools in the state, Florida, Florida State and Miami, and you have a fierce recruiting battle in the Sunshine State.

Florida is a little different than most places when it comes to recruiting. According to a CBSSports.com article, one in 99 players in Florida sign to an FBS scholarship out of high school. That’s an extraordinarily high rate and one that shows that there is enough talent to go around between all of these FBS schools and then some. Year after year the likes of Ohio State, Michigan, Tennessee, Alabama, Nebraska and just about everyone else comes down south and snatches up players.

Lane Kiffin FAUNow the head coaches in state may, how are already great recruiters, just need to convince a 17 year old to stay closer to home. Jimbo Fisher at Florida State, Mark Richt at Miami and Jim McElwain at Florida are all top notch recruiters and coaches. Their skills will be put to the test as Strong, Kiffin and Davis recruit from the same talent pool.

These new guys have NFL experience, run Power 5 programs, developed players for the next level and have the rings to show for it. The question now becomes, who can recruit a one or two star player and coach him up. Gut feeling on that is Charlie Strong now at South Florida.

Charlie StrongWhile Kiffin, Davis, Fisher, Richt and McElwain all have selling points about their programs, Strong is the only African American FBS head coach in this state. Along with his strong moral character and strong ties to the state (he coached at Florida on three different occasions), I see him winning out in the long haul. It may take him a year or two but he’s the only one of the three new coaches who has some talent leftover from the previous regime to work with.

Every college football season is a good college football season but this stretch run recruiting season maybe the start of something crazy. Something so crazy that it will probably end up as series on Netflix. Fisher, McElwain, Richt, Kiffin, Davis and Strong competing for the state’s best talent, let the games begin!

Football On A Cold Wyoming Night

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard | 12.6.2016

Computer rankings, that I am sure San Diego State, the Mountain West brass and ESPN television crew cursed repeatedly in the bitter cold night, decided that the 2016 Mountain West Conference Championship game between San Diego State and Wyoming was to be held in Laramie, Wyoming…in December. While not ideal conditions, it was ‘football’ weather and it could have been much worse. The freezing weather and 20 mph wind gusts didn’t deter fans who were treated to a back and forth battle that saw San Diego State win their second conference championship in a row.

Laramie is a solid two hour drive from downtown Denver and could seem like light years away to the urban dwellers of Colorado’s biggest city. Laramie does have it’s charm and the friendliest people you’ll ever meet.

Before the game, you can watch the Cowboys walk right by on their way to War Memorial Stadium. It’s also important to hang out in the indoor practice facility where for $10 you can get food and all the beer you can drink until they run out (try finding that at a Power 5 school). Even if you don’t drink, it’s still warm and their is plenty of stuff for the kids to do.

Closer to game time you are either still in the indoor practice facility or you went back to your car for warm up one final time. At some point though you have to commit to mother nature, trust the four layers you have on and head to your seats.

Mountain West Championship 2016
Mountain West Championship 2016

Jonah Field at War Memorial Stadium isn’t big for the SEC or PAC-12 but it’s big enough for the rockies. It holds almost 30,000 which is just about the population of Laramie. It’s no frills but there isn’t a bad seat in the house and the ticket price is a heck of a lot more reasonable than tickets elsewhere.

San Diego State must not have liked this place since the lost to Wyoming 34-33 a few weeks earlier. The Championship game was like returning to the scene of the crime only this time it was significantly colder.

San Diego State would get revenge on this night though but it wasn’t easy. It was an extra effort here, a missed block there and in the end, the team from sunny southern California  had a 27-24 victory. While the game didn’t decide a who would be in the College Football Playoff or who would win the Heisman Trophy, it did provide one of the most trilling conference championship games of the day.

Yes Wyoming fans went home disappointed but there was solace to be found in a fast working car heater and the fact that their team went from 2-10 a year ago to 8-5 and within three points of winning the conference.

Wyoming head coach Craig Bohl has done it the right way. While no one knows what next year will bring, it’s safe to say that Wyoming fans would welcome another cold December night if it went that their team was playing for another conference championship.