Thinking out loud … while wondering whatever happened to WPRO disc jockey Holland Cooke.
— Told ya so. The story that just won’t go away, like an oncoming tidal wave of inevitability, has returned to our shores. And no, it has nothing to do with air pressure in balls.
It has everything to do with balls, all right. Intercollegiate Armageddon (as I like to call it) began in the early 2000s and rose to a crescendo just a few short years ago (2013) when the old Big East disintegrated, thanks in part to the poaching abilities and inexorable greed from conference commissioners and school administrators in the current ACC, Big Ten, SEC, Pac-12 and, to a lesser extent, the Big 12. Football drives the economic bus on these schools’ campuses, and everyone was eager to pull up to the pump, ready for a fill-up.
For the most part, everyone got what they were hoping to get — especially when it came to their bank accounts. Perhaps except for Boston College, which received athletic irrelevancy and inadequacy in exchange for a big check. But forget the added expenses, forget the extra time spent for student-athletes away from their studies, forget the non-revenue sports thrown to the curb to cut expenses and lower budgets — this is life in the Power Five, or the Football Five. Their version of Collegiate Relevancy.
However, the Big 12 found itself reduced to just 10 schools, and while the conference boasted of being able to play everyone from within, it still was missing out on the Big Party. That soon could change, as a result of league meetings this week and the Big 12 presidents meeting at the end of this month.
The Big Party is the College Football Playoff. True, the Big 12 did have its first entrant in the four-team CFP this year (Oklahoma), but it missed out in Year 1 with two teams that arguably could have been factors (TCU and Baylor). Even though the NCAA has now said leagues with less than the previously mandated 12 teams can hold a conference title game (for more $$$, of course), the Big 12 has known for some time that to be a player in the current national championship chase every year, expanding back to 12 teams from 10 would need to be considered.
Why? Because new research (from CBSSports.com) says the Big 12 would have a 10-15 percent better chance (a chance, mind you) of reaching the CFP in a given year with 12 teams instead of 10. Well then. Drop everything for the almighty dollar, and get ‘er done. More power? More prestige? More money? The Big 12 finally is looking at expansion to get back to 12 teams, and it’s targeting the former members of the Big East currently residing in the American Athletic Conference — whose league office still remains in Providence.
Yes, Providence. The epicenter of Intercollegiate Armageddon then and now, with another earthquake about to shake down the landscape. As if having crime, political inadequacy and corruptness, and general business unfriendliness in Lil’ Rhody wasn’t enough.
The leading candidates for departure this time, according to multiple reports, are Cincinnati and BYU. The Bearcats are a given in this corner, because of school population size (nearly 50K), rebuilt and expanded athletic infrastructure, recent athletic success in football and basketball, and the need for a “regional” travel partner for West Virginia. When and if the Big 12 presidents vote, UC is as good as gone.
Brigham Young also is a relatively easy choice to make with one notable exception — the school still doesn’t want to play on Sundays. That could be a deal-breaker. We’ll see if money matters. Short of BYU’s inclusion, those queuing up to be next in line: Memphis, Houston, UCF and SMU. Each has its attributes, each has its shortcomings. But no mention — zero mention, actually — of UConn.
Why? Two things come to mind. One is the travel distance. That’s obvious. Two is even though UConn reached a BCS bowl in 2010 (the Fiesta Bowl), the football program could be swallowed whole by the behemoths in the Big 12, just two seasons removed from a 2-10 disaster. The Northeast is not a fertile recruiting ground for anyone in the Big 12, as opposed to, say, Ohio or Florida. Again, this has nothing to do with a men’s basketball program that has four national titles, or a women’s program that owns 11 such trophies.
This is the result of UConn’s deal with the devil, and jumping into the money pit that playing big-time college football has become. It’s what happens when you wannabe something you can’t possibly be. It’s what happens when bridges are burned, administrators are caught unprepared, or worse yet — when they’re caught with their hands in an empty cookie jar.
UConn hoops hasn’t been irreparably harmed (yet) thanks to its sterling track record and national rep over the past 17 years. Some great coaches and athletes are still there, too. But the day is coming when the basketball finally is deflated in Storrs, largely because football can’t get itself pumped up enough to play with the Big Boys. Make no mistake here, the Huskies’ basketball freight train is hitched to the football equivalent of a 1980s DeLorean.
Attendance is trending downward, and never has measured up to potential competitors in the Power/Football Five. Unless the Big 10 or the ACC ever decide to open their doors again, perhaps in search of total world domination, Armageddon has returned to UConn’s shores.
It is also entirely possible that nothing happens with expansion. The Big 12 ultimately might decide to stay at 10, if it can’t find the right additions. There remains the “rising tide fills all boats” scenario, and without a semi-national program like BYU in the mix, I can see the league standing pat. Or, if the CFP expands to eight teams, there’s little reason to think a Big 12 champ wouldn’t already be involved. Still, will there be other tremors, somewhere, forcing (or enticing) them to act?
— The NFL draft is such an incredible crapshoot. Sure, there are players who would appear to be sure-fire success stories for the NFL, and then we see guys like Ryan Leaf and JaMarcus Russell flame out faster than a matchstick in a wind tunnel. Some guys just aren’t cut out to be pro football players. The pro and college games are too different — the lifestyles are different, the coaches, teammates, fans and pressures of the sport are different.
There’s also no one around to constantly pat you on the back, tell you “you da man!” and fetch your stuff or do your homework, either. Time to grow up and be a big boy. Just sayin’.
Personally, I like to look at the first-round guys and pick the one (or ones) most likely to become busts. That’s a bigger challenge than predicting instant or eventual success. It’s one of the few times I let my pessimistic side overtake my positive self — for entertainment purposes, only.
— There are some interesting stories from within the Patriots’ draft picks we’re learning about. One, that Georgia receiver Malcolm Mitchell is an author. He wrote a children’s book, “The Magician’s Hat,” and even joined a book club to broaden his personal horizons. Not your typical jock, huh?
Second-round pick (the first by the Patriots) Cyrus Jones started his college career at Alabama as a receiver, volunteered to move to defensive back as a freshman, and never looked back. Sometimes, selflessness just works out. And sixth-round pick Ted Karras certainly has pro football in his bloodline, as a nephew of the late Pro Bowl tackle/actor/broadcaster Alex Karras.
But can any of these guys play? We’re getting ready to find out. And that’s part of the intrigue at this time of year in the world of pro football. See? It’s not all Deflategate nonsense.
— You want nonsense? How about Laremy Tunsil’s story? Forget the fact that the Ole Miss tackle had his gas mask bong for the world to see on Twitter, and that he and his agent both claim his account was hacked. What in the world made him decide it was a good idea to let someone videotape his, um, indulgence? Stupid is as stupid does.
You want more stupid? The Miami Dolphins actually picking this kid 13th in the first round. Not only does he make poor social media decisions, but he also admits he accepted impermissible benefits from coaches at school. Tunsil was suspended for part of the 2015 season for taking things he shouldn’t have. Like cash from his coaches. Yeah, this is a stand-up guy who we can trust to protect our QB, right? Let’s invest a few million in him.
Not for nuthin’, but Ryan Tannehill should be very, very concerned.
Such is life when you’re always playing catch-up in the AFC East to New England. Kinda like a gambler who loses at the craps table, and then knows the big win to pull out of the hole always rides on the next play. Yeah, sure it does. Maybe the Dolphins get lucky? Maybe. But the odds aren’t in their favor.
— The power of the NFL still reigns supreme. Despite New Englanders’ current distaste and distrust for the powers-that-be, draft TV ratings were slightly higher this year overall than last. Look at it this way, Pats fans. A lot of people got to see Kevin Faulk’s defense of TB12 when the former running back wore Brady’s jersey to announce a New England pick — even if the lovefest means little in the end.
— I get the need to edit for time, because it frequently happens in the TV biz. But the fool at ESPN who sliced Curt Schilling’s bloody sock game from the channel’s presentation of its “Four Days in October” documentary last week either was instructed to do that or is too ignorant to be working at a sports network. Just because ESPN fired Schilling the week prior doesn’t mean he should be erased from history. Good grief, that takes idiocy and pettiness to a new level — IF someone instructed them to make the edit.
— And you know how I love a good conspiracy.
— How about another one? Pablo Sandoval’s shoulder injury. Who knew about that? He sure seemed OK when he reported for spring training. Of course, with the exception of his girth. Was there ever any problem with him throwing a ball? Why am I seeing Rodney Dangerfield in Caddyshack — “Oh! My arm! I think it’s broken!”
Whether legit or not, we’ve learned that Sandoval’s contract wasn’t insured by the Red Sox. It’s telling that John Henry doesn’t typically take out policies on players, having had a bad time trying to collect on one when he owned the Florida Marlins, according to our friend Nick Cafardo at The Boston Globe. Henry’s GM at that time? Dave Dombrowski. What goes around, comes around.
But it isn’t really Dombrowski’s fault, either. No, the approximately $19 million Panda will earn for six hitless at-bats this season lies at the feet, or hands, of former GM Ben Cherington. Emphasis on the word “former.” Hey, you win some, you lose some. Expensive lesson, though.
— The Red Sox’ winning streak — prior to dropping one to the White Sox in Chicago — was impressive in that it happened largely without David Price or Craig Kimbrel dominating. I tend to believe that’s a good sign for a team (and a region/legion of fans) that simply needs to be relevant during the dog days of summer this season.
— Was that an actual Clay Buchholz sighting in Chicago Wednesday night? Or a mere blip on the radar screen? The next start, or two, will be telling.
— Bryant baseball beat an ACC team (Boston College) and took three of four from its closest competitor in the NEC last week. As a result, the Bulldogs find themselves nationally ranked this week at No. 20, the highest in program history. At 33-8 overall, they’ve already surpassed last year’s win total, and the Bulldogs are the only team in the country that has yet to lose back-to-back games this season. That qualifies as a “whoa.”
Bryant plays at LIU Brooklyn this weekend before wrapping up its home schedule next weekend against Central Connecticut. Just in case you want to check these guys out. They’ve got the look of an NCAA tournament-bound team.
— Another tourney-bound local team — CCRI’s softball squad. After claiming the NJCAA Region 21 title last weekend, the Knights play in the district tourney this weekend. If successful, they’ll advance to the national tournament in Mississippi in two weeks. Former Davies standout Madison Cooper is one of the nation’s leading hitters in NJCAA Division 2, and pitcher Courtney Sheridan set a school record for strikeouts in a season.
— Second-ranked Brown set a school record for lacrosse wins in a season, winning at Virginia 19-11 last weekend in Georgia. The Bears are 14-1 on the year and hold the No. 1 seed in the Ivy League tourney this weekend at Brown’s Stevenson-Pincince Field. Junior All-America attackman Dylan Malloy continues to lead the country in goals, assists and points.
The only loss this season for Brown lax? To Bryant. And the 20th-ranked Bulldogs are in the NEC tournament this weekend with a great shot of their own at the NCAAs.
— Who knew Rhode Island spring sports teams were so nationally relevant this year? Seems like every time I turn around, someone in this state is grabbing the headlines by blowing a budget, creating a controversy or being engaged in a criminal or corrupt activity. And that’s just at the State House. Over and over again.
— I must be doing something wrong. How come I can’t get a legislative grant? Everyone else is getting one.
— I have the perfect motto for Lil’ Rhody: “the Insanity State.” Or “the Ocean State Asylum.” How about “Dumb and Dumber To,” if the Farrelly Brothers will part with it? It might not cost you $400K, either.
— My buddy Statbeast sez he overheard two nuns debating whether or not to buy some beer at the corner store recently. Concerned with how their purchase might look to others, one told the other she’d handle it. When they paid at the counter, the nun said, “We use beer for washing our hair. At the convent, we call it a Catholic shampoo.” Without blinking an eye, the cashier pulled out a bag of large pretzel sticks, handed it to the nuns and said, “Here. The curlers are on the house.”
— Congrats to longtime Providence College associate athletic director, coach and former basketball referee Carl LaBranche, for his induction into the Rhode Island Aquatic Hall of Fame this weekend. If anyone can swim with the fishes in this state — and survive — Carl can.
— It’s no real surprise that freshman forward Quadree Smith has decided to transfer from the Friars basketball program. Q is a good kid, but he wasn’t going to get the playing time he’s looking for next season, whether Ben Bentil stays in school or not.
— Good news for the defending national champs at Villanova, bad news for their competition in the Big East. NCAA title game hero Kris Jenkins is returning to school for his senior season, withdrawing his name from the NBA draft this week.
— The Big East and Big Ten have officially released next season’s Gavitt Games schedule, and the Friars are traveling to Columbus, Ohio, to face Ohio State on Nov. 17. You’ll recall, of course, PC played in Columbus a little over a year ago — losing to Dayton in the NCAA Tournament. This will be the first time (and just the second time ever) for the Friars to play the Buckeyes since the 1990 NCAAs in Salt Lake City, Utah.
— Brown plays in the Naismith Hall of Fame tourney held at Mohegan Sun next season, along with URI. The Bears will play at Cincinnati to open on Nov. 11 and at Rhody on Nov. 16, then in the Springfield Bracket in Uncasville against Marist on Nov. 19 and against Albany the following day. The Rams will have Brown and Marist at the Ryan Center, then face the Bearcats in the Naismith Bracket on the 19th, and either Duke (a preseason No. 1?) or Penn State on the 20th.
— The International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, Rhode Island, is hosting a benefit doubles tournament next Saturday at 4 p.m. Cancer, You’ve Met Your Match includes a clinic conducted by the Hall of Fame pros, followed by a round-robin doubles tournament and beer and wine tasting. The event also will feature raffles and a silent auction. All proceeds will benefit the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society of Rhode Island.
— Next Thursday, the Rhode Island Radio Hall of Fame inducts the Class of 2016 at Twin River in Lincoln with proceeds to benefit Special Olympics of Rhode Island. Long time Celtics voice on CSNNE — and former sports guy on WPRO for the one-and-only Salty Brine — Mike Gorman is an honoree, and it’s a long time coming. Gorman also was a predecessor of mine at WPRI-TV and as a Big East voice, and has been calling Celtics games for 35 years. He was inducted into the New England Basketball Hall of Fame in 2004.
— Holland Cooke also is in the Class of 2016 for the RIRHOF. Cooke now runs Holland Cooke Media as a news/talk/sports radio industry consultant, and has advised TV and radio stations in the U.S., Canada and New Zealand. He helped create USA Today Sky Radio heard on airline flights, and the technology eventually developed into what is now Sirius XM satellite radio. Cooke got his start here in 1974 as a jock on WPRO-AM, working with Gary DeGraide, Larry Kruger, Jimmy Gray and several other HOF-worthy talents. Come join us Thursday night, starting at 5:30. Further information and tickets can be found at www.rirhof.org.
— Dan in Upper Arlington, Ohio, posted this week on possible Big 12 expansion, taking Cincinnati and Memphis or Houston: IMHO, Memphis would make the Big 12 the strongest basketball conference in the country. UC and Memphis also add two additional medium-sized markets outside of the state of Texas. Dan: Agreed. But this isn’t about basketball in the slightest way. If BYU moves off of its no-sports Sundays, it’s a no-brainer. The Cougars have a national football title pedigree (1984) and the state of Utah behind them — not to mention Mormon Nation. UC rates over Memphis and Houston for school size and overall program strength. Personally, if any moves are made I’d like to see Houston and SMU in the Big 12, to rekindle some old SWC rivalries. But this is about football first, and market size next. If it’s picking, the Big 12 is liable to select Ohio (a fertile recruiting ground) over another Texas school.
— Interested in having your questions on local Rhode Island sports (and yes, that includes the Patriots, Red Sox, Bruins and Celtics) answered in a somewhat timely fashion? Send ’em to me! It’s your chance to “think out loud,” so send your questions, comments and local stories to firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll share mailbag comments/Facebook posts/tweets right here! Follow me on Twitter, @JRbroadcaster, and on Facebook, www.facebook.com/john.rooke.
— Don’t forget to tune in to Providence’s 103.7 FM every Saturday from 7-9 a.m. for Southern New England Sports Saturday! Call in at 401-737-1287 or text us at 37937.