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2006
12
Jan

Turning the Page

It is time to move on. It is over and done. Enough has been written and said. The whole thing has been analyzed, scrutinized, probed and studied at great length. There is nothing more that can be added. Let’s all relegate it to history and get on with things. I am referring, of course, to the 2005 football season.

The season ended with that stirring Rose Bowl, the one where Mack Brown proved he can to win a big one just as long as he has an all-world quarterback. That was the culmination of four weeks of another outstanding season and two weeks of nearly non-stop bowl action. It came to a screeching halt nineteen seconds after Young scampered into the USC end zone.

There is still a bit more football to be played. I am reliably informed that the NFL still has six games to play before their season culminates in the Super Bowl, that self-indulgent exercise in hyperbolic overkill of a little football wrapped around a Rolling Stones show. I doubt many will care if Mick Jagger bares a nipple.

The NFL playoffs are slightly less tedious to watch than that league’s regular season. The players seem a bit more interested in the outcome than they too often seem during the regular season. Occasionally they actually score a touchdown or two, spicing things up from seventeen weeks worth of field goals. Plus, if you want to watch football, they are now the only game in town.

On the college front, things have shifted to basketball. They have been playing this basketball season for a while, it’s just that few people outside the state of North Carolina have noticed. With the Old North State ’s football teams compiling an overall record of 17-28, you can’t really blame them.

College basketball’s season began sometime back in November, around the time Tech was getting drilled at home by Miami . That season seems to start earlier and earlier. I’m assuming that in a couple of years the college basketball season will begin before the football one kicks off. That close to half the basketball season has been played before the football one ends seems a little screwy. Who notices outside of Dick Vitale and North Carolina sportswriters? It would seem a better situation if it were to move in the other direction, beginning play in January and culminating in May Madness. That would at least shave a couple of months off of the Dead Zone.

The college basketball regular season continues its march towards irrelevancy. It hasn’t quite gotten to the point of the NBA regular season, where the players no longer even attempt to hide their boredom at being forced to play the darned thing, but it is heading in that direction.

What does it do to the college football postseason if Bush does not shove Leinert across the goal line at Notre Dame back in October, or Texas does not defeat Ohio State back in the second week of the season? For that matter, what sort of turmoil is the college game thrown into if Tech does not lay eggs against the Florida teams? There are no regular season games in college basketball that have that much hinging on the outcome.

Over half of the NCAA tournament field was already established before conference play began. The formula for the top-tier teams is to schedule and win a couple of high-profile OOC match-ups to establish a decent SOS, then spend your conference season staying above .500 [although that is no longer a hard and fast rule] and fine-tuning your team for March. Winning the MNC requires excellence sustained throughout an entire grueling regular season rather than simply getting hot for six games in March.

The ACC’s football championship game meant the difference between playing in the big time of the BCS or the Gator Bowl. Getting to that game meant the difference between a shot at the BCS or spending the postseason in Charlotte , Nashville or Boise . There were huge stakes riding on every ACC football game not played by Duke. The time is coming when the ACC’s football championship game will carry national title implications. All that is ever on the line anymore in the ACC’s basketball tournament are seedings in the NCAA and bragging rights. There is a reason college basketball regular season ratings are rapidly declining while football ones explode to the point that the ACC had to go hunting for more football juice.

In the ACC, there is no regular season game that will draw the attention as did this year’s Miami-Virginia Tech football game. As all of those fine Tar Heels reading this snap to attention and exclaim, “what about sport’s greatest rivalry?” I will repeat that there is no ACC regular season game that will draw the attention as did this year’s Miami-Virginia Tech football game. It is true.

The Tech-Canes game carried huge implications. Tech’s MNC aspirations abruptly ended that night and it was thought their ACC championship ones had too, at least until Miami a couple of weeks later matched that Lane at night magic with a little Orange Bowl prime time invincibility. The Tar Heels and Blue Devils will play at least twice, maybe three times and if we’re very lucky, perhaps a fourth. Only the fourth would have riding on it the stakes for which Tech was playing. ESPN basically moved its entire operation lock, stock and barrel to Blacksburg for three days to cover Tech and the Canes. If the Cameron game between Duke and Carolina is carried on ESPN, we might see shots of Dick Vitale playing with the Crazies.

For better or worse, football has become king of the college sports world. In large part, that is so because of revenue distribution. The NCAA basketball extravaganza generates enormous revenues, but most of it is grabbed by the NCAA itself to feed its enormous bureaucracy and fund all of those astoundingly popular Division II and III championships. College football revenues stay in the hands of the conferences that are producing the teams and excitement. But there is another reason, too.

The NCAA basketball tournament is enormously popular, one of sport’s great shows. Much of its increasing popularity, however, has come at the expense of the regular season it is increasingly rendering moot. That can be chalked up to the Law of Unintended Consequences. There are calls for the NCAA to double its basketball field to 128 or, what the heck, simply invite everybody. This is heard mostly from coaches of bubble teams. Finishing the job on the regular season and eliminating any reason whatsoever to play it will certainly do wonders for ratings and future conference television rights’ fees.

College football, on the other hand, places an importance on its regular season that is far greater than any other sport. That translates into regular season games carrying a much bigger impact on the overall scheme of things than anything basketball can deliver. Those clamoring for a football playoff might do well to consider what has happened to basketball.

Nevertheless, the college basketball season has to be played before we can get to the ACC and NCAA tournaments. Around these parts, it still remains a fairly big deal. A few conference games have been played, enough to demonstrate that the pecking order hasn’t changed much. It might not be the pre-expansion days where you could simply flip the conference football standings to determine the basketball ones, but it hasn’t strayed too far, either.

The basketball blue bloods of Duke and Carolina remain the ACC’s basketball elite. That hasn’t changed much in the last forty years or so. Coach K has the senior horses as well as a couple of dynamic freshmen. Ol’ Roy has a bit tougher challenge with his baby blue youth, but despite the claims by the adoring NC media that nobody has ever been forced to play with this many freshmen in the history of basketball, Coach K has done it twice with good results and a few years ago Michigan made it to the Final Two starting five frosh. The Heels are fine.

The rest of the league contains a jumble of pretty good and below teams. Herb Sendek at NC State continues building his program one block at a time. He has not quite gotten it to the label of his intra-conference, state and MSA rivals yet, but he keeps inching closer, although not nearly at a pace fast enough to suit much of his fan base. When was the last time Herb was at or around .500 for two straight seasons, Pack backers?

Wake Forest has a pretty good team with the notable exception of point guard. The Deacons don’t have one, thanks to Chris Paul’s ballsy jump to the NBA. It is tough to win in the ACC, even at Clemson, without one.

A point guard seems to be notably lacking at Maryland , too. John Gilchrist is gone, but the damage he did to team unity remains. Those Tidewater head cases can cause problems in basketball, too. This is a veteran Terps team, but one that seems a long way from Gary Williams’ national championship days.

Fallback Dave continues to pick up the pieces in Hooville. Hoo AD Craig ‘What do you mean Tubby isn’t coming?’ Littlepage should be advised that there seem to be quite a few Kentucky fans that would now like to see Tubby at the place founded on Mr. Jefferson’s twin ideals of limited government and athletic success.

Boston College seems to have found the early going a little tough in its new conference. That’s what happens when you bring a team constructed for the hand-to-hand lane combat of the Big East into the finesse-oriented ACC, Fredo.

Georgia Tech, Clemson, Miami and Florida State all contain enough talent to beat most anybody else on a given night and not enough to keep from losing to anybody else, either. One does wonder how long Paul Hewitt is for Atlanta . Multi-Tech AD Dave Braine is retiring back to Blacksburg and the tale of Ol’ Roy teaches that sometimes the incumbent winning coach doesn’t get along well with his new boss and vice versa.

As for Virginia Tech, it has been a tough start. All of those close wins of a year ago seem to be averaging out. This is a team beset with injury and serious illness problems that have robbed it of the depth necessary to compete near the top of the ACC. Considering that Tech has very little, if any, of what is generally considered to be ‘ACC-level’ talent, a tough season might be in the offing. But, this is a scrappy bunch that plays strong defense and is only a few breaks away from being 3-0 in the league instead of the opposite. If Seth can continue to keep the team’s heads up and competing at a high level, chances are they will win a few on grit and determination alone.

Yes, football season is over. The next two months will bring us that time before the basketball tournaments known as the regular season. It is time to put football to bed and pay some attention to the other sport. Turn the page to basketball All things considered, it might not be a bad idea.

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