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September 29, 2012 / busmasterjones

College Football Uniform Madness

bout the same time that Oregon put itself on the college football sports map, it was coming out with all sorts of wacky uniforms.  They looked like lots of other teams.  Were we watching…

 

Iowa?  No, that is the Ducks.           Ah, is it Baylor?  Nope, Oregon again.

 

I know this one, it is Rice!  No, it’s the Ducks again.

A different look for every week.  It was a novelty.  Before their play caught up to their flashy outfits, everyone knew that it was just Oregon’s bit to wear odd unis.  It certainly grabbed attention, but it wasn’t all bad.  It gave rise to some pretty interesting looks.  Helmets had never looked better:

 

It wasn’t just the national media that took notice (in a “what is Oregon wearing this weekend” Entertainment Tonight sort of way), recruits starting thinking that the unique looks were pretty slick, although I’m absolutely certain that none of them described their fascination in those terms. If recruits think you are “cool” then you have a potential recruiting advantage, and any advantage is a good advantage in the cutthroat world of recruiting.

Soon, the phenomenon spread.  First with BCS buster teams looking for anyway to generate press.  There was Boise State…

 

And then TCU…

 

It wasn’t enough to have a new uniform; the new look had to have deep meaning.  TCU was traditionally purple and white with no red to be found, but the red on the TCU helmet was for the unique ability for a horned toad to shoot blood from its eyes when threatened.  Of course, that makes perfect sense.  The deep soul-searching meaning just added to the cool factor for Nike, maker of these Pro Combat line of uniforms.  Honor the troops, Virginia Tech and Ohio State (1942 troops in their case):

 

 

Then teams that had good, clean, traditional looks started to shake things up a bit.  Michigan abandoned its classic maize and blue look for Ronald McDonald shoulders and flash card sleeves.  (Stick with your old look, Wolverines.)

 

 

The uniform crazy really got out of hand.  Maryland decided that Batman’s foe TwoFace would be a great role model for their uniforms:

 

 

Not to be outdone, Addidas and Notre Dame teamed up to go from the most classic look in college football and go with a cartoon helmet

 

From this clean golden helmet look to

 

 

 

Not a fan of some of the new uniforms. I felt like I was watching the Electric Company as the Nebraska/Wisconsin game was brought to you by the letters W and N.

 

 

Maryland

 

 

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May 10, 2012 / busmasterjones

Bill Byrne: Athletic Directing Done Right

After ten years as the Athletic Director at Texas A&M University, Bill Byrne is retiring.  In his farewell speech he mentioned being tired and that it was time.  He took his share of shots over the years for raising ticket prices and failing to rebuild the Aggie football program to the heights it acheived in the late 80’s and early 90’s, but let’s take a balanced look back on the time Bill Byrne spent in Aggieland to make sure that we truly understand what Byrne left behind in College Station.

Bill Byrne brought a new level of visibility and professionalism to the position of Athletic Director.  There are many familiar names on the list of past Athletic Directors at Texas A&M — Bear Bryant, Jackie Sherrill, and John David Crow — but it wasn’t until Bill Byrne took over as the eighth AD in the history of the school that A&M really started to reach stride as an athletic program.

For anyone who follows college athletics — not just football, but the entire college athletic scene — the rise of A&M to prominence in almost every sport is tied very directly to the hire of Bill Byrne.  When Dr. Robert Gates (A&M’s president at the time) hired Byrne, he wanted to change the way A&M approached athletics.  No longer content to just be compeitive in football, Gates found the premiere AD in college athletics and hired him away from the Nebraska.  It was a bold move that would finally awaken the sleeping giant in College Station.

It was apparent that something was different from day one.  For followers of Aggie athletics, there was suddenly a peak behind the curtain.  The good ole boy network image where the AD’s office was apparently being run by chummy men in their 50’s and 60’s from a room filled with cigar smoke was instantly gone.  Byne started his Wednesday Weekly column as a communication forum to those who followed the program.  It was unprecedented openness from an office that had been run from a distance in the past.  Byrne covered every topic imaginable from dealing with bats and their guano under Kyle Field to the financial realities of college athletics.  He talked about the difficulty in replacing coaches and drummed up student support for sports other than football.  He even laid out his blueprint for success for those who paid attention.

Byrne’s time as the great communicator of college sports began before his time at A&M.  His A&M communcation was patterned after a similar outlet that he used while at Nebraska to cimmunicate with the rabid fans there.  Instead of deling with rumors, Byrne wisely established a regular and open line of communication directly to the fan base.  This gave him a voice outside of media spin that he could use to get his message to the public.  And for fans of the team, you no longer had to be a high dollar contributor to learn about what was going on in the world of Aggie sports.  It was a great move that helped when high profile situations arose and raised awareness of a number of sports at A&M.

Another day one change that came in with Byrne was increased expectations.  The bar was raised, and raised high for A&M coaches.  You would be committed to Building Champions or you would be shown the door.  When coaches did leave the program, Byrne replaced them with some of the best coaches in the country who were also a cultural fit for A&M.  Pat Henry had won 27 National Championships while at LSU and was hired away to come rebuild an A&M track program that was at the bottom of the conference. Gary Blair was hired away from Arkansas after turning their losing women’s basketball program into a regular NCAA tournament team that reached the Final Four on one occasion.  Up and coming men’s basketball coach Billy Gillispie was brought in to help a lagging men’s basketball team.

With his coaches of the future in place, Byrne set expectations for everyone.  Byrne conducted an annual coaches retreat where coaches could share ideas about recuriting, practice, and balancing education and athletics.  Coaches were not siloed by sport, but instead were encouraged to share and support one another.

As AD, Byrne also provided a new level of support for his coaches.  He gave the coaches and their sports exposure thorugh his weekly column on the athletics website.  Byrne regularly trumpted successes in all sports and reminded people about upcoming games and events.  He also encouraged student participation through a rewards program that could net an avid fan a jersey at the end of the season for going to a high number of sporting events.

He campaigned for and got new facilities to arm coaches with a recruiting advantage.  Over $100 million of improvements to athletic facilities was done under Byrne including upgrades to virtually every sports venue.  The improved facilities allowed A&M to get on the short list for NCAA tournaments giving the Aggies home field, court, or pool advantage when playing at the highest level.

Byrne’s formula for success paid off over his ten years at A&M.  Prior to Byrne A&M claimed only six national titles in any sport [football (1), softball (3), and equestrian (2)].  Under Bill Byrne’s administration, A&M won its first championship in men’s golf, men’s outdoor track & field, women’s outdoor track & field, and women’s basketball.  They also continued their run with 7 equestiran – western national titles in a non-NCAA sport and won an overall equestrian title in 2012.  Both men’s and women’s track have repeated their national championships from 2009 – 2011.  The Aggies also won 45 Big 12 conference championships in 13 sports since he took over in 2002.  In fact, once the momentum was built, Texas A&M won 37 conference championships from 2006 – 2012 which is more than any other team in the conference including their “friends from the state capital.”

Byrne did have a few negatives that dogged him during his tenure.  The football program could never quite hit stride.  One good season full of promise wold yield to a mediocre campaign the next year.  Byrne is on his third coach going into the 2012 football season in an effort to recapture glory from 20-30 years ago.  Heading to the Southeastern Conference will not make matters any easier.

Byrne was often blasted for raising ticket prices.  Public tickets in Kyle Field were $35 in 2002.  Today they may run double that or more.  When you take into account that tickets to the neutral site A&M/Arkansas game start at around $100 each, it is clear that Aggie football tickets were priced well undermarket for years.  Byrne should not be faulted for bumping prices closer to market value.  A&M football games are still a good buy for a sporting event in Texas.  Tickets compare favorably with other college venues in price.

Byrne will be blasted for some for the lack of success of the football program in the last 10 years.  For those that have the perspective to see outside of a single sport — and not everyone does in Texas — A&M has truly made remarkable strides.  Using the Learfield Sports Director’s Cup as a measuring stick, A&M’s final position has risen to a consistently high level.

2008-09    13th (2nd in Big 12)

2009-10     6th (1st in Big 12)

2010-11     8th (1st in Big 12)

2011-12     12th currently with some strong sports for A&M yet to come

Byrne has done an outstanding job at A&M raising the level of competitiveness across the board.  Rather than inhabiting the basement in many sports, A&M is competing — and winning — on a national level.  The increased exposure and excitement helped position A&M for a move to the SEC and continues to feed the recruiting machine that is so necessary for future success.

Bill Byrne not only has built champions at Texas A&M, he is a champion.

 

April 29, 2012 / busmasterjones

Will the Big XII Miss Texas A&M?

If you attend a Big XII school, you are likely saying “of course not” to answer the question posed in the title.  However, the question wasn’t “Will Baylor (or fill in your school name here) miss Texas A&M?” but rather will the Big XII — the conference as a whole — miss Texas A&M.

To miss a school, that school should have made a contribution to the whole.  Did A&M pull its weight in the Big XII athletic conference?  Let’s take a look…

Conference Championships

Baseball  1998, 1999, 2007, 2008, 2010*, 2011

Women’s Basketball 2007, 2008, 2010

Equestrian 2011

Football 1997, 1998, 2010

Women’s Golf 1998, 2006, 2007, 2010

Men’s Golf 2012

Women’s Soccer 1997*, 2001, 2002, 2004*, 2005*, 2006, 2007, 2010, 2011

Softball 2005, 2008*

Women’s Swimming & Diving 2007, 2008, 2010, 2012

Men’s Tennis 2000, 2001*, 2011

Womn’s Tennis 2003, 2004

Men’s Indoor Track & Field  2011, 2012

Women’s Indoor Track & Field 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2012

Men’s Outdoor Track & Field 2001, 2011

Women’s Outdoor Track & Field 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011

National Exposure

Men’s Basketball  6 NCAA tournament appearances

Women’s Basketball  2011 National Champions

Equestrian 2012 Western National Champions

Equestrian 2012 Overall National Champions

Men’s Golf 2009 National Champions

Men’s Outdoor Track 2009, 2010, 2011 National Champions

Women’s Outdoor Track 2009, 2010, 2011 National Champions

In fact, Texas A&M has 10 National Championships since 2009.  All other Big XII schools have 5 combined national titles in the same time period, so the Aggies beat the other teams in the conference 2 to 1.

Yes, Texas A&M will be missed.  To think otherwise ignores the facts.

December 30, 2011 / busmasterjones

Aggie Sports Pessimist

I can’t help it.  It must be an innate response to some cosmic sports mojo, but I never like my team being favored in a big game.  I just don’t.  I have seen too many bad things happen in my sports life to have confidence in a 10 point line in favor od my team.  That alone was enough to make me nervous.  Pile that on top of a season where Murphy (of Murphy’s Law fame) decided to take up residence in College Station and follow a team full of promise in its quest to break the heart of each and every Aggie fan.  A single-point loss to a good Oklahoma State team that the Aggies led much of the game was just the start.  A 35-17 halftime lead over Arkansas turned into a 4 point loss.  Sigh.

Again, it was just the beginning.  An overtime loss to Missouri let an 11-point halftime lead melt into a drop from the national rankings.  That set the stage for a 4OT loss to Kansas State when the Aggies had a win in hand after the 3rd OT when the Aggies’ leading receiver dropped a rocketed pass in the end zone for the win.  Sigh.

After the 2011 season was to be the year of the Aggie breakout, color me skeptical when I read that A&M is a 10 point favorite over Northwestern.  Things align well for the Aggies.  A&M is favored.  Northwestern is also 6-6 this season.  The game is in the Aggies’ back yard in Houston for goodness sake.  How could things set up more perfectly?  Wait, there is more.  The Aggies have a substitute head coach, so now they have the “win one for the outgoing coach” theme going for them.  And A&M had an offensive lineman pass away in a tragic car accident over the holiday break, so they have his memory to play for, too.

Then, I learned that Northwestern hasn’t won a bowl game since the 1948 Rose Bowl.  That’s right, they are 1-8 in bowl appearances.  They took Missouri to OT in 2009 and took Auburn to OT in 2010 before losing both games by a single score.  Last year they almost came back after a slow start before falling to a Texas Tech team that is 7-2 in bowl game since 2002.

Now I have gone from concerned to outright worried.  The Aggies should win this going away.  Like the Alamo Bowl they should have won over Penn State after jumping out to a 14-0 lead.  Like the Independence Bowl over Mississippi State that the Aggies managed to lose by 2 points in the snow.  Like the 1993 and 1997 Cotton Bowls.  Oh, yes, I have a list.  I have lived many a disappointment when my team has been favored.  Give me the underdog status any day.  Give me a 65-14 romp over a favored and overconfident BYU team in the 1990 Holiday Bowl.  Give me the great 1985 Cotton Bowl win over Bo Jackson’s Auburn team.  I love the underdog label.  Once expectations catch up to past reality…look out!  Things get a little messy and a lot of heartache is possible.

Now that I know that Northwestern can exorcise 63-year old demons by beating a 10 point favorite on essentially their home turf…well, I think the underdog mojo will be wearing a deep shade of purple and will be as ornery as possible come game day.  So “good luck to dear old Texas Aggies.”  I’m going to yell and support you with everything I can, but I fear your 10 year bowl victory drought pales in comparison to that of your opponent, so you will be fighting an uphill battle on the Houston Bowl on New Year’s Eve.  I hope for the best, but I am bracing my sports heart for the worst.

October 17, 2011 / busmasterjones

Quick Hits

Not “Year of the Peyton” in the NFL

Peyton Manning is out for the year with an injury.  He is a QB and that can happen, but now Saints coach Sean Peyton is run into on the sidelines resulting in a broken leg.  Ouch!

Don’t Mess with Texas…A&M

With the 55-28 thumping of Baylor on Saturday, A&M is 8-1 against teams from the state of Texas in the last three seasons with the lone defeat coming at the hands of a school from Austin that was on its way to a national championship game loss to mighty Alabama.

Overrated

Last week’s overrated teams were Illinois (folding to Ohio State), Georgia Tech (losing to Virginia), texas (losing to Oklahoma State), and Michigan (bested by Michigan State).  This week I’m not sure Clemson loses to North Carolina, but I’m just not convinced that Clemson is a top 10 team.  I have been a Boise State defender for years, but they need to play three top 25 non-conference games to make up for a weak, weak conference schedule, so I am getting off the bus even if they run the table.  I don’t think Michigan State survives Wisconsin and Nebraska in back-to-back weeks, but I do think their ranking in the mid teens is appropriate.  I expect Virginia Tech to stumble late, not because of the schedule, but because there seems to be one or two hiccup games a year from the Hokies and they only have one loss to date.  Michigan will get back up this week, but they still have Illinois, Nebraska, and Ohio State to face and they will do well to win two of those games.  Congrats to Washington for climbing back in to the polls.  Your hard-fought climb is about to end as you get Stanford on the road and two weeks later get Oregon.

We’ve Only Just Begun…to Take Our Licks

A few teams who just tasted defeat for the first time who might want to get used to the taste:

Michigan — is a team that should be in the top 25, but in the lower half of the lower half.  They lost a lot of respect with those uniforms and lost to Michigan State, too.  They should expect some tough sledding in November with Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska, and Ohio State on the schedule.

Illinois — after a great start, batten down the hatches.  Penn State, Wisconsin, and Michigan want to ruin your season.

Helmet Stickers

Michigan State seniors — Spartan seniors have swept Michigan for four straight seasons.  Their last lost to the Wolverines was a nail biter in 2007.  Nice job, Spartans.  (Ohio State seniors for the past 4 years are shrugging saying “What’s the big deal?” having not lost to Michigan since 2003.

Oregon Ducks — despite the uniforms and an opening loss to LSU, the Ducks are rolling.  Only a road game against Stanford lies between the Ducks and a BCS game.

College Football’s Top 10  — LSU, Alabama, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Oklahoma State, Stanford, and Oregon are all for real.  Arkansas, Boise State, and Clemson I have doubts about, but when was the last time a top 10 was this solid?

Where’s the Love?

Penn State is 6-1 atop their half of the Big 10…and they are unranked.  Their sole loss is to Alabama (get used to hearing that as Arkansas knows that tune and LSU may learn it in November).  They don’t score many points, but they given up 11.6 point per game.  They have a murder’s row yet to face with the Illini, Cornhuskers, Buckeyes, and Badgers yet to come , but rankings should be based on what has been done, not what might not be done.  One-loss Arkansas is #10 and one-loss Penn State is unranked.  Both lost to Alabama.  Go figure.  Penn State’s games are tight, but they deserve a ranking this week.

Conference Calls

Some conferences have a single game that will determine the champion.  It is never that simple, but who can understate the importance of:

Nov 5 — LSU @ Alabama [SEC]

Nov 12 — Oregon @ Stanford [PAC-12]

Dec. 8 — Oklahoma @ Oklahoma State [Big 12]

The Big 10 heavyweights are in opposite divisions (Wisconsin vs either Michigan State or Nebraska).

Easy Street

With no ranked teams left on their schedule, West Virginia has a clear path to a BCS bowl, yet I contend they would lose to well over half of the teams in the Top 25.  The Big East should have their BCS punch card revoked.

October 5, 2011 / busmasterjones

Texas A&M v. Baylor

Baylor President Ken Starr lamented the distruction of century old rivalries as A&M was looking to join the SEC.  He missed three key points.  Schools do not have to exist in the same conference to maintain a rivalry.  Florida and Florida State, Georgia and Georgia Tech, and for many years Oklahoma and Texas have all done quite well generating national interest with non-conference rivalries.  Second, Ken Starr’s actions only served to alienate the two schools.  A&M became bitter that Baylor was blockading the door for them to leave the Big 12.  Behind Starr, Baylor fans were convinced that A&M was being selfish and was ruining their athletic program.  Students and professors there claimed that A&M leaving the Big 12 would cause an increase in student fees.  A&M fans funded a billboard lampooning Baylor’s legal threats in light of their faith-based school roots.  That is not behavior conducive to keeping sporting contests on the schedule, although it does increase the intensity of the “rivalry.”

The final thing Ken Starr missed is that rivals should go both ways.  A one-way domination of one school over the other is not generally considered a rivalry.  In football, A&M holds a decided advantage over Baylor at 67-31-9 all-time over the Bears.  “Hold on!” you say, “What about A&M caliming to be rivals with Texas?”  A&M is in the hole against their rivals from Austin 37-75-5, a winning percentage similar to that of Baylor against the Aggies.  There are two key differences.  First, A&M and tu are the two biggest state institutions by nearly every measure.  This produces a “natural” rivalry that many states have between the dominant state schools.  This is evidenced by the rivalries I mentioned in Florida and Georgia and you can layer on many more like North Carolina and North Carolina State, Auburn and Alabama, Michigan and Michigan State, USC and UCLA, etc.  It is not uncommon for these rivalries to produce upsets because of the intensity of the effort and emotion going into the game.  A second difference is recent results compared to older results.  In the last 25 years, the Aggies have the upper hand over tu 13-12.  By contrast, A&M is 22-2-1 against Baylor since 1986.  For the Aggies and Bears, what was once a stout rivalry (the Battle of the Brazos) has been diminished by Baylor’s lack of competitiveness.  With the Aggies beating Texas over half the time as of late, the fires are stoked on both sides as tu wants to regain the upper hand and the Aggies want to keep things rolling and make a bigger dent in the all-time record.

To be fair, I don’t want to dismiss Baylor out of distate for them.  Let’s see over the final Big 12 season for the Aggies how things play out on the field, court, track, pool, and arena.  I will track the results of A&M and Baylor contests to see if this is a rivalry across the board.  If Baylor can prove their worth on the field, then perhaps they can claim rival status, at least this season.  Without further ado, here are the contests between the Aggies and Bears with the results:

 

Aggies v. Baylor 2011/2012
9/1 Cross Country (M) Waco W 25-40
9/1 Cross Country (W) Waco L 17-82
9/16 Soccer College Station W 2-1
9/17 Cross Country (M)  Waco W 15-51
9/17 Cross Country (W)  Waco W 18-79
9/28 Volleyball College Station W 3-2
10/15 Football College Station W 55-28
11/9 Volleyball Waco W 3-1
11/18 Equestrian Waco W 12-11
1/1/2012 Basketball (M) Waco  L  
2/1 Basketball (M) Bryan  L  
2/11 Basketball (W) Waco  L  
2/27 Basketball (W) College Station  L  
3/10 Equestrian Bryan  W  
3/28 Softball College Station  W  
4/10 Softball Waco  W  
4/20 Baseball College Station  L  
4/21 Baseball Waco  L  
4/22 Baseball Waco  L  
4/24 Softball College Station  W  
September 20, 2011 / busmasterjones

The Best of Conference Realignment

There has been so much said about college football conference realignment that it is time to hand out some superlatives.

Worst Use of Limited Funds

Ken Starr reportedly took a trip to Washington, D.C. to lobby Kay Bailey Hutchison for her support in stopping this conference realignment madness.  On the heals of that trip, Syracuse and Pittsburgh leave the Big East to punctuate the fact that this is bigger than anything Baylor can stop.  For a school that is scrambling to not be left without a seat when the music stops, that was not a good use of money.

Best Billboard

This one goes to Aggie fans who are justifiably irritated by the attempted legal power play of Ken Starr and Baylor.  The sign is visible from I-35 in Waco, TX and the closest cross street is  the main exit for Baylor’s football stadium.  The image says it all:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Best View From the Catbird Seat

Despite starting all of this mess, Texas remains the school with the most viable options.  Pac-12, Big 10, ACC, independent.  It looks like the Longhorns will consider anything other than the SEC.  I’m not sure if that is because it is too competitive, if they won’t be the obvious controlling school, or because they don’t want to follow A&M.  Whatever the reason, it appears that, as one writer put it, Texas is Scared of the SEC.

Best Side Effect

We may be rid of the Big East and its automatic qualifier.  After the decline of Syracuse on the field and the departure of Miami and Virginia Tech for the ACC following the 2004 season, the Big East has not been a legitimate player on the national BCS scene.  Boise State and TCU deserved a BCS berth more than Cincinnati or Connecticut.  The Big East champion has lost by an average of 22 points in their BCS bowl in the last three years.

Best Creative Twist to Conference Realignment

Kudos to Chadd Scott and Kristi Dosh for their lighthearted and pretty thoughtful consideration of as many options as possible.  It is a great what if scenario tester called Conference Realignment – Choose Your Own Adventure Style.

Best Zingers

Best Legal Landmine Navigation

If it ever comes to pass, Texas A&M President Bowen Loftin and SEC Mike Slive have played the perfect diplomatic game in public, denying interest, asking for procedures and even for permission before formally talking.  Despite the great care and diplomacy, nothing can stop a bear bent on a frivolous self-protecting lawsuit.

Right Place, Wrong Time

Texas A&M is making the right move in heading to the SEC, but by being the first to jump — or try to jump — they took the slings and arrows.  Ironically, they may be one of the last schools to officially move even though they were the first to start the process.

 Wrong Place, Wrong Time

TCU wanted to make it into an automatic qualifier (AQ) conference in the worst way.  They ended up making the move in the worst way.  Back in November of 2010, TCU declared for the Big East starting with the 2012 season.  The only problem is that the landscape has changed so much that the conference they pledged to join may be a shadow of its former self if it exists at all.

Best Move

Not all of the votes are counted yet, but anyone leaving the Big 12 or Big East for higher ground is a candidate.

Best Original Work

 Geography of College Football Fans from the NY Times blog

Conference Realignment – Choose Your Own Adventure Style

Texas A&M and Oklahoma Declare Independence from Texas – tells it very bluntly

 Good legal explanation of Baylor vs. SEC from The Business of College Sports

Good cultural cross-pollination between SEC and the Aggies

Straight talk on A&M to SEC financial impact  to counter the Perryman Report

Aggie/SEC ties from the past