More Steps Forward

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard


The Big Sky Conference (that’s FBS for those of you playing at home) recently announced that Andrea Williams will become it’s new commissioner. She will be the 10th female commissioner at the Division 1 level and while that may seem like a lot it isn’t but it’s a start.

As “open minded” as college’s like to claim they are, they are some of the oldest institutions in America and some old habits die hard. While Williams has never set foot in Ogden, Greeley, Bozeman or Grand Forks she is incredibly qualified for the role of commissioner. She served as associate commissioner for the Big Ten conference for the last decade so her hiring makes sense on a lot of levels but it does beg the question, why are their not more female commissioners or athletic directors across the country?

MacLeodIt was only last year where a female was given the reins of a non-power five school (Judy MacLeod at Conference USA) and there are zero in charge of a power five conference. MacLeod is the only female commissioner at a conference where football brings in major dollars (although the Big Sky is nothing to shake a stick at). It took until 2015 for this to happen? Really?

The major football conferences (SEC, Big Ten, ACC, Big 12, PAC-12) may never have a female commissioner. In fact it would be a major coup for them to have an African-American as a commissioner. We’re not talking associate or assistant commissioners here, we’re talking about the big cheese who is in charge of the whole shebang.

Why?

These are some old school organizations and football is king. It is, let’s face it, a good ole boys club. With all due respect, this may be fine most of the time but it can also be a hinderance and lead to a lack of perspective.

Look at the overall picture of current issues facing athletic conferences. There is the issue of concussions in football which is the sport that brings in most of the revenue and paying of players. Wouldn’t a different perspective on these issues lead to solutions that we could all agree on?

Williams is a great choice for the role of commissioner of the underrated Big Sky Conference. She represents another step in getting more diverse leadership at the top of collegiate conferences.

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25 years of Friday Night Lights

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard

It’s been 25 years since H.G. Bissinger’s high school football classic Friday Night Lights‘ was published. It has since been turned into a movie, a TV series and has been named one of Sports Illustrated’s top sports books of all time. If you haven’t read it you should, it’s that good regardless of what you think of the author.

FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS

Bissinger was recently on NPR’s ‘Fresh Air’ to promote the 25 anniversary of the book.  While it is interesting to hear about how the book was written and what happened to some of the players like Boobie Miles all these years later, the interview came off more about Bissinger’s issues than anything else. He sounded like someone who never recovered from his hit book which was his first.

Taking Bissinger’s issues out of the equation, the book itself is truly great. It gave credence to the notion that ‘football is a religion in Texas’, especially when it comes to west Texas. You can drive for miles in the western part of the state and not come across a single sign of life. Then out of nowhere will appear a football stadium that can hold five thousand people and then some.

While the book did spawn a movie and a TV series, neither can compare to the book. The movie changed parts of the story and didn’t touch on the racist undertones. The TV series eventually figured it out and ended up being a pretty good show.

There are still a few weeks left before regular season starts for high school, college and the NFL. Plenty of time to read this book and have a better appreciation for the game of football.

What 15 Years Can Do

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard

Believe it or not, it has now been 15 years since ‘Varsity Blues’ made its theatrical debut. While it may not go down as the “greatest” football movie ever made it is in many peoples top 10. More importantly are how the football scenes reflected the times.

James Van Der Beek And The Cast Star In The New Movie Varsity Blues

The character Billy Bob (played by Ron Lester) suffered a concussion. There wasn’t exactly concussion protocol done on him. He played the next week when he shouldn’t have been and proceeded to get the star QB Lance Harbor (played by the late Paul Walker) hurt when he missed a block.

Then there is the illegal hits. From leading with the crown of the helmet to horse collar tackles to hits on defenseless receivers just to name a few. In the new age of football where it seems like every hit on a player can draw a penalty ‘Varsity Blues’ could be used as an example of what not to do.

On the other hand, it is still a fun movie to watch.

How The Mighty Have Fallen

By Brad Hubbard @bradhubbard

Texas, Nebraska and Tennessee have over 2,500 wins in their history. They have some 27 National Championships between them and they lost Saturday by a combined score of 144-58. The most telling stat of all is that the three teams gave up a combined 128 unanswered points.

THE FALL

These three universities have at one point or another been the program in college football at some point over the last 20 years. All three have big donors, the best facilities and a massive fan base. All that didn’t help them on Saturday as they were all embarrassed.

While all three loses were hard they were not all equal. Texas my have been the worse. With high hopes coming into the season they are now 1-2, fired their Defensive Coordinator a week ago and have given up 1,128 total yards in the last two weeks.

They’re in trouble and their Head Coach Mack Brown is firmly on the hot seat.

Nebraska was hoping for better results as well. They have a four year starting QB in Taylor Martinez but their legendary “Blackshirt” defense has been torched this season giving up almost 30 points a game on average. Yesterday was a complete meltdown in the 2nd half as they gave up 38 unanswered points to UCLA.

There may be some hope in Lincoln because they can score a lot of points with Martinez but their vaunted defense hasn’t struck fear into opponents since Ndaukong Suh was their.

Tennessee has been a beaten down program over the last 5 years. They haven’t beaten a Top 25 team since Halloween 2009 and Saturday saw the worse lost in Tennessee history. A program that knew it was in the rebuilding process were harshly reminded of it on Saturday afternoon.

Tennessee will be happy to be bowl eligable this season.

The great thing about College Football is, as Lou Holtz says, ‘You have a different team every week.’ These teams will march on the question is, will it be to victory?

The Economic Fall Off of Football

By Brad Hubbard @bradhubbard

With the NFL kicking off this weekend most people are focused on their favorite team or their fantasy team. It’s a big weekend for bars and restaurants too. It’s one of the bigger weekends of the year that’s not really talked about. It’s talked about in the service industry because there is money to be made.

Sunday’s mean different things to different people but for at least 17 days of the year they mean a full slate of NFL games. WIth that comes people flocking to bars and restaurants ordering food and drinks. This means big money to the establishments and more importantly, big money to bartenders and servers.

Some veteran service industry pro’s will work the Saturday night shift and then do the quick turnaround and work the Sunday early shift just to capitalize on the first week of NFL games. This can be an even shorter turn around on the West Coast where games start at 10am.

Obviously some areas of the country are busier than others but none the less, these Sunday’s, especially early in the season are vitally important to the service industry workers. So if you’re out on Sunday enjoying a game or two or three. Please remember to tip your bartenders and servers well.

Spy Game. NFL Style.

By Brad Hubbard @bradhubbard

This has been happening for years but it seems to have been kicked into overdrive this year. NFL players cut by one team then picked up by a rival team. Sometimes a division rival and other times by an early season opponent. While the new player may have been brought in for their skill, their insider knowledge is also high on the list of reasons they were signed.

Senaca Wallace is a perennial backup quarterback in the NFL. Having played with Seattle, Cleveland, San Francisco (about a week) and now Green Bay. Besides him, Green Bay also picked up QB Scott Tolzien. His former team, San Francisco.

SENACA WALLACE

Guess who Green Bay plays week 1, that’s right San Francisco.

While Wallace may be an actual solution to Green Bay’s problem of finding a second string QB, Tolzien is plain and simple an informant.

Tolzien spent all of last season as San Francisco’s third string QB. When he didn’t make the final roster Green Bay snatched him up.

Does he have things to share? Probably. Will he share them? Probably. There is no reason or rule that says he can’t.

The question now becomes, will this help Green Bay on Sunday? It might. It certainly can’t hurt. Let us not forget that San Francisco got the better of Green Bay twice last season and the second time was a thrashing in the playoffs.

This isn’t the first or last time something like this has happened. A few years ago New England picked up former New York Jets running back Danny Woodhead. He ended up having a pretty nice career with New England before signing with San Diego this offseason. People immediatly accused New England Head Coach Bill Belichick of picking up Woodhead soley to gain insider knowledge on the then up and coming Jets.

San Francisco is also guilty of grabbing a player from a divisional foe. They snagged wide receiver Chris Harper from the Seattle Seahawks. A team San Francisco will compete with for the NFC West title.

CHRIS HARPER

San Francisco can justify the pick up just like Green Bay can. They need help at WR with their star Michael Crabtree out for at least half of the season. It doesn’t hurt that he may know a little bit about Seattle’s 2013 offensive game plan though.

Canada’s Summer Football Gift

By Brad Hubbard @bradhubbard

July 1st marks the beginning of a slowdown of sorts in the US sports world. The NBA and NHL have finished their seasons off and the NFL is about 20 days away from the opening of their training camps. That leaves just MLB and MLS for your sports fix…and now the CFL.

The Canadian Football League has always been a fringe sport in America. It tried years ago to jump into the American football psyche with US based teams. That experiment failed and the CFL almost went under. Few people follow the legue and until recently it hasn’t been readily available on American television for sometime. That all changed a few years ago and now the CFL is available on not just ESPN 3 but also on ESPN 2 and the NBC Sports Network.

CFL

It shouldn’t seem like much of a surprise that the CFL is now on American television and online. What is a surprise is that it has taken so long. With so many national and regional sports channels hungry for content it is really surprising that the CFL hasn’t had more of an American footprint. Was there some other football league playing competitive games during the summer that we didn’t know about?

ESPN and NBC Sports Network have also figured out how to do this on the cheap. They are not paying for any of the production (that we know of). They are merely taking the TSN signal and then breaking off during commercials and at halftime. In this day and age of leaner media organizations you can see how this is a win-win.

America is a football nation but the NFL and college football only play 5 months out of the year (regular season and post season). This leaves a CFL sized field (110 years long and 65 yards wide) pretty open space to run around in.  Broadcasters seem to have figured out how to fill the void now the question remains will American fans tune in?

Gunner Kiel…the Next Mitch Mustain and Brent Schaeffer.

By Brad Hubbard @bradhubbard

We wrote some time ago on why recruiting rankings are nonsense. We’ll here’s another example, Gunner Kiel. Recently the former #1 quarterback (QB) recruit announced that he was transferring to the University of Cincinnati from Notre Dame. Should you care? No. Why is this news? Because ESPN.com felt the need to post it and Kiel was the former #1 QB coming out of high school according to Scout.com and Rivals.com.

The truth is that Gunner Kiel has done nothing on the collegiate level to deserve any kind of recognition. Kiel flirted with more schools than Kim Kardashian has boyfriends. He committed and then de-committed from 2 schools that we know of (Indiana and LSU) and now transferred to Cincy all the while gaining more media attention. Makes you wonder if he is doing it more for attention or for playing time.

Kiel isn’t the first player to playing musical university’s nor will he be the last. Kiel should pay attention to two previous examples though, Mitch Mustain and Brent Schaeffer.

Mustain was the #1 player in America coming out of high school in Arkansas. It’s a long story but he ended up transferring to USC after 1 year at Arkansas (in which he started 8 games going 8-0). He never started a game for USC and currently plays in the Arena Football League. Schaeffer was the 1st ever true freshman starting QB on opening day in SEC history. Schaeffer platooned with fellow freshman Erik Ainge for a year and then transferred to a junior college and eventually ended up at Ole Miss playing wide receiver. He is currently out of football.

What we learned from Mustain and Schaeffer is that, as Derrick Brooks has said, ‘everyone wants to go to heaven but no one wants to die to get there.’ Everyone wants to jump from good to great but good takes a long time. You don’t just jump to great. Kiel, and others, have yet to learn this and it’s hard to learn when ESPN and Rivals and Scout.com are telling you how great you are and how you should be starting and succeeding NOW! Well, that guy ahead of you on the depth chart and that guy behind you…they’re just like you Gunner. People with talent who have been told that they are great and should be starting.

If Mustain and Schaeffer would have been patient, developed, been a good teammate, and perserved then who knows what would have happened. They didn’t. Will Kiel settle in and be patient, develop, be a good teammate and perserve? Who knows but from what we’ve seen so far doesn’t lead us to believe that he ever will.

Signing Day Part 1: Why A Top Class Doesn’t Equal Wins

By Brad Hubbard @bradhubbard

Over the last decade the college football world has become consumed with National Signing Day. It’s the first day that a high school football player can sign a letter of intent with the University he wishes to play football at. Before this day it there can be only ‘verbal’ commitments.

Many moons ago National Signing Day wasn’t a big deal accept to the Universities and the players. Now it’s an all day special on ESPNU. There are supposed “experts” from San Antonio to Connecticut.  17 and 18 year old young men sit at tables with every member of their family behind them and try to keep every one guessing as to which school they will choose by having several hats laid out on a table. It’s the months, and sometimes years, of built up into a few fleeting moments for a young man and his family. All broadcast live on cable television and plastered online.

ESPN Homepage

(Above is a look at ESPN.com’s homepage during the frenzy known as signing day)

But what does all this spectacle actually mean? Does the team with the best recruiting ranking win? Do these highly touted players become superstars and difference makers at their schools? Do they do well in the NFL?

We went back and look at scout.com’s team rankings for the last 5 years (2008-2012) to see if recruiting rankings actually mean. (Please note that there are several recruiting sites out there. A list is at the bottom of this post.) At first glance one could say yes. Alabama is ranked in the Top 10 every year with their lowest ranking being 7th and they’ve proceded to win 3 out of the last 4 BCS National Championships.

Alabama’s cross state rivals at Auburn have been in the Top 10 the last 3 years. In that time they’ve won the BCS National Title game and this year fired their coach after a 3-8 season with no wins in the SEC. They’ve seen both sides of the pendulum.

UCLA has been in the Top 10 3 times in the last 5 years. During that time they have a 30-35 record, changed coaches, managed only 2 winning seasons, didn’t have a single player taken in last years NFL Draft and are 1-4 against cross town rivals USC.

Texas has been in the Top 10 in the last 4 years and was even ranked #1 last year. During this time they’ve played for a BCS National Title (they ended up losing to Alabama) and 3 other bowl games. The year after their loss to Alabama they finished 5-7.

The overall point here is that a top ranked recruiting class by ESPN, Rivals, Scout, or Tom Lemming does not guarantee a team anything except for maybe higher expectations. But if you go to Alabama, Texas or Auburn the expectations are pretty high as it is. A top ranked recruiting class does improve your chances to winning but how a staff takes these recruits and molds them into a team is what really wins games.

Recruiting Sites Scout.com, rivals.com, ESPN, CBSSports, MaxPreps    

FIFA Chief Bashes MLS

Follow us @sidelinesignals

Sepp Blatter is the head of FIFA which is the world governing body of football (or soccer). He recently laid the wood to MLS in a recent interview on Al Jazerra TV. While Blatter has been the head of FIFA since 1998 and no doubt has a tough job he obviously has no idea about how to do business in North America.

Sepp Blatter on Al Jazeera

In North America, the MLS competes with the following sports for attention, space and airtime; NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL (When they play), College Football, and Mixed Martial Arts. That’s a pretty good set of competition. No other country in the world has that much competition and in every other country, except a few, football is the 800 pound gorilla. Not so in North America. That title belongs to the NFL or football as it’s called here.

Blatter said that it’s been 18 years since the US hosted the World Cup and still does not have a strong professional league. In that time the MLS was formed and launched. It has expanded to 19 teams with 14 of those playing in their own soccer specific stadiums. Another team moving into it’s own stadium in the next year (San Jose) and the 2 others that share stadiums with professional football teams (Seattle and Vancouver). These last 2 teams also rank 1st and 6th in attendance respectively.

MLS Commissioner Don Garber is a very smart guy. He came from the NFL so he knows what MLS is up against. He knows that MLS could not survive if it went to the normal FIFA schedule which is from August-May and competed directly with the NFL, NBA, College Football and NHL. He also knows, and has said in interviews, no one is going to go to a New England Revolution game in Foxboro, MA in January or February. They barley go right now during the summer (they are also one of the teams without a soccer specific stadium). MLS’s best bet is to keep it’s current schedule, take on Major League Baseball during the summer and the occasional UFC event.

Blatter does not understand that. He has a one size fits all mentality. While he wants the game to succeed he does not understand how to do that in North America. Don Garber does. We can only hope that Blatter takes Garber up on his offer to go to an MLS match the opening weekend of the season. The word “hope” might be a stretch here too considering that Blatter has dismissed the use of goal line technology, replay and has been accused of corruption charges more times than…well probably anybody.

But we can always hope.