As for the football: Last week's Mailbag ended with a plea from reader Brad in Charlotte, N.C., to try to shift our focus back to the games on the field and away from all the controversy surrounding it. The best I could do was pledge to maintain balance. And then the latest Jim Tressel news dropped.
I'm sure the USC faithful are clogging your e-mail queue demanding that Ohio State get similar, if not greater, sanctions for the Tressel mess. Which is why I ask: Do the high-profile sanctions at other big-time programs influence the severity of NCAA discipline on similar programs? Does the NCAA have the stones to take down the Big Ten's flagship program?-- Tom Vasich, Costa Mesa, Calif.
There are a lot of NCAA conspiracy theorists out there, and the bizarre decision last December to let Ohio State's Tattoo 5 suit up for the Sugar Bowl certainly did nothing to quell them. But it's important to remember that the NCAA staffers who make the real-time decisions to withhold or reinstate a player's eligibility are entirely different people than the university administrators who serve on the Infractions Committee and who ultimately hand out sanctions in cases like Ohio State's or USC's. The perception that committee members are afraid to go after big-name schools is pretty baseless. Over the years, we've seen them hand down severe sanctions to numerous high-profile programs -- USC, Alabama, Miami, Oklahoma -- that were contending for national titles and contributing heavily to the visibility of the sport.
But committee members do not live in a bubble, and a case involving one school might affect their thinking regarding another. In fact, that's one reason I believe USC's pending appeal over the Reggie Bush sanctions (which has now dragged on well beyond the usual timetable) may be successful. From the day the punishment was announced, the sanctions seemed unnecessarily harsh, considering they involved the indiscretions of a single player and rogue parties with no ties to the school. It seemed the Committee was making an example out of the Trojans because of the case's high-profile nature (as evidenced by Chairman Paul Dee's "high profile players demand high profile compliance" line). Since then, we've seen numerous other cases involving "high profile players" (Cam Newton, Terrelle Pryor) in which the school paid little or no price, and that could be in the back of the minds of those on the Appeals Committee.
But USC fans will be disappointed if they think Ohio State is about to suffer a similarly harsh fate. The Bush ruling was an indictment of USC's entire athletic culture, particularly in regard to compliance, which the NCAA obviously felt was lacking. The school has since beefed up those areas considerably under AD Pat Haden. Conversely, Ohio State's case was arguably a model of compliance. The school itself uncovered the infamous e-mails incriminating Jim Tressel and reported them accordingly. The Notice of Allegations revealed Monday targeted no one in the athletic department outside of Tressel, who conducted a one-man cover-up to protect his players' eligibility. Those players have been punished, and Tressel will be too, but I don't see mass scholarship cuts or a bowl ban in OSU's future.
Do you see any validity in Beano Cook's recent prophecy that Jim Tressel will get fired/resign and then Ohio State will hire Urban Meyer? To me it seems an ideal and perfect fit for Ohio State. Maybe too perfect though...-- Nick, Des Moines, Iowa
Beano's hardly alone on this one. There was a time in March when I was getting calls and e-mails daily from people who supposedly "knew someone" in Columbus who had told them that Tressel was about to step down and Meyer was already buying a house in Upper Arlington. Apparently Meyer's daughter has been hearing much the same thing. Obviously neither is true -- yet.
If we do get that far, Meyer, an Ohio native and former Buckeyes assistant, would be everyone's presumed front-runner, provided he's ready to get back into coaching after just one year away. But how often do these "perfect fit" fantasies actually come true? If they did, Jim Harbaugh or Les Miles would currently be coaching Michigan, and Florida would have hired Bob Stoops about five times by now.
Stewart, it feels like Florida is trying to mold its offense around John Brantley with its conversion to a pro-style offense. The Gators earned a lot of wins and hardware with the spread and captured most of their offensive recruits with that allure. I understand new coaches are in charge, but does it seem crazy to do this when you have the recruiting prowess to get nearly any QB to fir your offensive scheme?-- Bart Prorok, Auburn
Brantley only has one year of eligibility left, so Will Muschamp isn't doing this for him. Having worked for a national championship coach (Nick Saban) who runs a pro-style offense, and being perhaps a bit scarred from Texas' inability to produce a running game while he was there, Muschamp has decided that the vision for his program involves an NFL offense, and he's brought in a renowned NFL coordinator (Charlie Weis) to run it. That's certainly his prerogative, and it may well pay dividends down the road. But it's going to make for a rough transition.
Meyer recruited to the spread, and as a result, Florida isn't swimming with big running backs or NFL-caliber tight ends. The offensive line was a mess in the spring game, though that isn't a new development. The fact that Florida is coming off a season in which it struggled offensively is a big reason Gator fans are willing to embrace such a radical change. But last year notwithstanding, Meyer was wildly successful with the spread -- and now Muschamp is scrapping it for something totally different. To me, it feels similar to when Bill Callahan installed the West Coast at Nebraska or Rich Rodriguez tried to switch Michigan from pro-style to spread. Even with Weis' acumen and Florida's recruiting prowess, this transition year could be ugly.
Congratulations on your upcoming marriage. For one piece of advice, this was told to me by my father-in-law: No matter the question, always answer, "Yes, dear."
I am watching with great interest possible Big East expansion. For the Big East to court Villanova, it seems like a television market move and has little interest in producing a better football product. However, opening up the league to UCF seems to be a smart football move. Orlando has a passionate college football following and to introduce a new yearly rivalry with USF and UCF seems like a great way to generate interest in a downtrodden league. What are your thoughts and where do you see the possible expansion of the Big East heading?-- Jon, Orlando
Jon: I will do my best to adhere to your advice, but without turning my marriage into a caricature of a network sitcom.
I am part-fascinated, part-perplexed by the Big East-Villanova situation. While some questioned the geographical sense of it, adding TCU last year was a smart move for a conference that's currently lacking in nationally relevant programs. But the strategy behind potentially adding Villanova isn't much of a strategy at all; it's mostly a case of loyalty. Villanova has been a member since 1980, 11 years before the Big East even sponsored football. If the school wants to move up to the FBS, the league wants to give it that opportunity. From a business standpoint, however, adding a program that might not be competitive for years and would be playing its games in an 18,500-seat soccer stadium (that might be expanded to 30,000) does almost nothing for the Big East.
A few of Villanova's conference peers must have realized this, because apparently an outcry by a few of the league's football-playing members put a screeching halt to the proceedings earlier this month, exposing a rift in an already clunky 17-team conglomerate that, at its core, is still a basketball conference. I visited UCF for the first time last month and if I were commissioner John Marinatto, I'd be all over that school. It's got an on-campus stadium, strong fan support, pristine new facilities and, of course, another foothold in the state of Florida. The question is, who's making the conference's football decisions, Pittsburgh or Seton Hall?
Marital advice: Get used to the Mailbag being the only place where your opinion matters.-- Craig, Ottawa
Yeah, that was pretty apparent during the wedding planning process. I booked the band, tasted the food and otherwise nodded a lot.
Your column on Jim Tressel is way off base. If Tressel had broken some real law, I could see the fans of OSU saying goodbye. But facts are, this is so minor, his five-game suspension and fine is more than enough. Look around the NCAA. You see all those athletes with tattoos? I'm sure tons of 'em have done the same thing -- and continue to do so. Tattoos aren't cheap! Look into it.-- Chris Lund, Seattle
One step ahead of you, Chris: Sports Illustrated already decided for it's next big investigative project to send an army of reporters out to the nation's tattoo parlors and ask them to open their books.
But seriously, this case is no longer about tattoos. It's about a coach flouting his professional responsibilities. No, he did not break the law, but if the NCAA enforcement process were in fact a courtroom, Tressel would have just gotten indicted on a charge of obstruction of justice.
Iowa seems to play its best when it's been a little bit under the radar, and this year will definitely qualify for that category. Do you think the Hawkeyes can effectively replace the starters they lost from last year, especially on the defensive line and at quarterback, and contend for the Legends Division and Big Ten title this year?-- Nick, Coralville, Iowa
It's certainly one of the more puzzling phenomena in college football. Without fail, Kirk Ferentz's teams do exactly the opposite of whatever the preseason magazines predict every year. But last year's disappointing 8-5 season sets the table for Iowa to go into the 2011 season in its more comfortable role as sleeper. The prognosticators will look at the slew of departed veteran standouts -- quarterback Ricky Stanzi, running back Adam Robinson, defensive end Adrian Clayborn, safety Tyler Sash -- and write off Iowa as a rebuilding team. The Hawkeyes may not even get a vote in the preseason polls.
But look a little closer and it's clear Iowa still has plenty of pieces. Stanzi's replacement, junior James Vandenberg, nearly pulled off an upset win at Ohio State two years ago, gaining valuable experience in the process. Sophomore running back Marcus Coker looked like a future star in the Hawkeyes' Insight Bowl win over Missouri, and he'll be running behind an experienced offensive line. And while the defense definitely took some hits, defensive linemen Mike Daniels and Broderick Binns and cornerbacks Shaun Prater and Micah Hyde are proven commodities. Nebraska is the presumptive favorite in Iowa's division (I'm holding off using the actual names as long as possible), but the Huskers have their own share of questions. Perhaps the teams' Thanksgiving weekend clash will be for a trip to Indianapolis.
Stewart: A new idea for the Mailbag would be to include all the great college food opportunities you encounter as you travel from stadium to stadium or campus to campus. One thing college football fans love as much as football is food.-- Geoff, Jasper, Ind.
I don't want to tread too much on Andy Staples' turf. He's already established himself as college football's leading barbecue authority. But as listeners of my podcast know, I'm far more obsessed with sandwiches than smokehouses. I'm not ashamed to admit I eat some sort of grilled-chicken sandwich for lunch roughly 250 days a year. However, during a recent trip to Tuscaloosa, someone took me to Mama Goldberg's, where I enjoyed an outstanding $4.95 Reuben. (The original location is in Auburn.) Feel free to submit nominees for the best sandwich on your favorite campus.
For years there has been lots of discussion about the Big 12's high-octane offenses. Now that Dana Holgorsen is bringing his offense to WVU this year, how do you think it will play out in the Big East, a conference that plays a more traditional style of offense and with more of an emphasis on defense?-- Chris Arrington, Charleston, W. Va.
Hang on there, Chris. Your characterization of the Big East offenses and defenses seems to date back to about 2009. When Rich Rodriguez was still at West Virginia, Bobby Petrino at Louisville or Brian Kelly at Cincinnati, the Big East did not look all that different from the Big 12. But yes, last year, there seemed to be a whole lot of 13-6 games. It was not pretty.
Because of that, Holgorsen certainly has a chance to have a big impact right off the bat, because the Mountaineers have a talented quarterback (Geno Smith) and some nice pieces around him. They'll be facing some formidable defenses, but none that the average fan would confuse for Alabama's. The big question continues to be how Holgorsen will coexist with Bill Stewart, the lame-duck head coach he's replacing. It would make for an incredible reality show.
Sorry Stewart, but the Ohio State faithful will keep our Jim Tressel, thank you very much! Undoubtedly you would prefer to see the Buckeye Nation to ship him off so that the other teams in the Big Ten might have a chance for a title. Sorry again Stewart, you just fail to see how Jim Tressel really is because you're not a Columbusite. You don't have the opportunity to see how the man really is, but rather just base your perspective on what you think he MUST be because of your interpretation of language from the NCAA. -- Jay Rhyan, Columbus, Ohio
The NCAA language says Tressel "failed to deport himself in accordance with the honesty and integrity normally associated with the conduct and administration of intercollegiate athletics."
My interpretation is that he failed to deport himself in accordance with the honesty and integrity normally associated with the conduct and administration of intercollegiate athletics.
Did the NCAA send a different version to Columbus?
No question here, just marital advice: "Don't Do It."-- Patrick, Headland, Ala.
C'mon. Is your name really Patrick, or is this actually an e-mail from Harvey Updyke?
Stewart, Congrats on the engagement. I think it only fitting that you make your bride-to-be an honorary "Mailbag Crush for the Month."-- Joseph, Newark, Del.
Not to be a total cornball, but I consider her the Mailbag Crush for Life. But that reminds me: I've yet to deliver the news to Jordana, Jenna or the other Crushes of years past. I hope they're not too devastated.