It’s Friday! That means Ten Big stories in 10 little bites. We hit Tiger Woods and Bubba Starling, Ndamukong Suh and Julie Hermann and conference races in college baseball. But first, the head-scratching new Big Ten schedules.
In case you missed it, Nebraska doesn’t play Ohio State or Michigan in 2014 or ‘15. Neither does Wisconsin. Neither does Iowa.
Why would the Big Ten build a conference schedule whose biggest interdivisional matchup is Michigan vs. Northwestern? Good question.
Theory 1: All this talk about schedule strength as a critical factor for playoff selection is overblown and the Big Ten knows it. Yes, it’s going to be important to strengthen non-conference schedules. But the best way to assure yourself a spot — or two — is to have a 13-0 or a 12-1 team. And you don’t do that by having Ohio State and Nebraska beat on each other. Everybody says they respect parity, but look at the SEC, which had six great teams in 2012, five pretty stinky ones and only three in the middle. Nobody wants a league with seven teams at 9-3.
Theory 2: Jim Delany wanted to protect the Big Ten West. If you expose Wisconsin and Nebraska to Michigan and Ohio State in the regular season, you risk them getting beat, perhaps badly. Moreover, you raise the chances of a rematch in the Big Ten championship game. That’s not an easy sell. The past two years, ticket sales were disappointing even after Wisconsin-Michigan State and Wisconsin-Nebraska played knee-knockers in the regular season. Best to save the climax for the end.
Theory 3: In order to build the East Coast market, Delany needed to make Rutgers’ and Maryland’s schedules as enticing as possible. Rutgers faces both Nebraska and Wisconsin. Maryland faces the next-best combination, Wisconsin and Iowa. If you’re going to make the 14-team league work financially, a fan base must develop in New York and D.C. You don’t achieve that by sending Purdue to Piscataway. Yes, it would’ve been nice to build high-profile matchups. But with just two interdivisional games, the Big Ten was hamstrung.
My take is it’s a little bit of everything, but primarily reason No. 3. One more factor to consider: In 2016, the Big Ten goes to nine league games and will adopt parity-based scheduling, which means matching the big boys against each other as much as possible. So 2014-15 are the final opportunities to spread the wealth. Ohio State can’t avoid Minnesota and Illinois forever.
All that said, I still think it’s a mistake by the Big Ten. And not just because Millard North’s 2014 home conference schedule might be more interesting than Nebraska’s (Illinois, Rutgers, Purdue, Minnesota). If this were 2022 and the league was more stable, I could understand a couple years with a boring slate.
But c’mon, your conference is in a competitive crisis. You’re fighting an uphill battle to stay relevant nationally. You’re a laughingstock in the South. Rather than fight for eyeballs, you’re laying the obstacle course in front of Rutgers and Minnesota? Really?
We’ll see how it turns out. If Ohio State and Wisconsin are both 12-0 the first Saturday of December 2014, Commissioner Delany may look like a genius. But right now, he reminds me of the coach who calls timeout a millisecond before the opposing kicker attempts the game-winning field goal… then watches the kick sail wide as officials blow the play dead.
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>> More scheduling observations from the Big Ten bloggers.
>> Last fall, I suggested Nebraska dump the scheduled 2014 season opener — Carl Pelini’s Florida Atlantic Owls — and go find a big-time non-conference opponent, even if it’s away from Memorial Stadium. I have no idea what Shawn Eichorst and Bo Pelini think, but I have to imagine the odds of a substitute increased after the Big Ten schedule release. I don’t care if you are breaking in a new quarterback. There’s simply not enough oomph in 2014.
>> Every time it looks like Husker baseball has gained momentum, they give it back. Back-to-back Ohio State losses broke a hot streak in early April. Three straight losses at the TD Ameritrade Classic broke another hot streak in late April.
The Huskers, on the heels of a series win at Minnesota and a win over Creighton, had a golden opportunity Thursday night to grab a share of the Big Ten lead. Didn’t happen. It just feels like one of those years where Nebraska can’t quite figure it out. Its Big Ten hopes aren’t over yet. But it needs to finish 2-0. It also needs Ohio State and Indiana to split its last two games.
>> What does Ndamukong Suh need to do to get back on track? Stop listening to his critics, says Mean Joe Greene.
>> For baseball junkies: a long, thorough examination of the art of framing pitches — and which catchers are best and worst. You’ll be surprised how much it matters.
>> Alex Gordon gets some attention from The Sporting News.
>> Bubba Starling, who turns 21 in August, is hitting .213/.286/.354 in low A-ball. Could his eyes be the problem? Bubba was scheduled this week for LASIK surgery. Maybe it’ll help, maybe it won’t.
But as Rany Jazayerli noted, “Eric Hosmer hit .241/.334/.361 in A-ball in 2009, then ended his season a few days early to get LASIK. The next year, he hit .338/.406/.571 and finished the year with six home runs in the Texas League playoffs.” The Royals, after struggling with draft picks the past, oh, 20 years, desperately need Bubba to pan out.
>> How the Memphis Grizzlies overcame the odds and became a great team without a superstar.
>> ESPN’s Jeremy Crabtree examines where NFL draft picks come from.
>> Which college football programs are ready to break out? Sports on Earth’s Matt Brown makes a few predictions — he likes Oklahoma State.
>> I’m not crazy about the first half of this Tiger Woods column. But these few graphs are right on:
“We’re back, and I mean all the way back, to dividing the PGA Tour into two groups: events with Tiger, and events without Tiger. Events without Tiger don’t matter. They’re not majors — when he’s healthy, he doesn’t miss majors — and since they’re not a major and since he isn’t playing, it’s almost like it didn’t happen. This weekend the HP Byron Nelson Championship is the tree falling in the empty forest. No sound. No Tiger. Nobody cares.
We’re back, see. We’re all the way back. And some of you — not all of you; you know who you are — are back in the most irritating way possible: You’re riding the Tiger bandwagon so hard that you literally can’t see anything else.
Tiger and Sergio have a spat? Sergio’s fault. Why? Two reasons. One, we don’t like Sergio. Two, it’s Tiger. And since we’ve moved past our “we hate Tiger phase” and back into “we love Tiger” mode, Tiger’s right. He’s always right.
Tiger makes a bad drop at the Masters, and you tell us to leave him alone, Mr. Media Man. He’s Tiger and you’re not. You’re jealous.
Tiger probably makes another bad drop Sunday at the Tournament Players Championship — lamely agreeing with his playing partner, the intimidated Casey Wittenberg, that his shot actually carried the water hazard 250 yards away before curling into the same damn pond … and you leave him alone, Mr. Media Man! He’s Tiger. You’re not. Casey Wittenberg, whoever that is, said his drop was OK. And the Tour said his drop was OK. And we say his drop was OK, because he’s Tiger — and now that we love him again, everything Tiger does is OK.
And you thought Tiger was shallow?
Then he started to win.”
>> Vanity Fair takes a close look at the Oscar Pistorius murder case.
>> The tall task facing former Husker Julie Hermann as Rutgers’ new AD.
>> Dan Wetzel on the legalization of online sports gambling in Nevada and perhaps eventually America.
>> Deadspin looks deep into how North Dakota athletics found itself amid controversy after its play-by-play announcer was suspended for saying the men’s basketball team choked.
>> Finally, one year ago UNO baseball played seven games in the state of Washington, seven in Florida, six in Indiana and 23 more in places other than Nebraska. The Mavs played only five in their home state, including two at their home field at Boys Town.
No wonder they went 12-36 (1-10 in the Summit). No wonder they were picked to finish last this season, their first year with a full Summit schedule.
What happened? Bob Herold’s team, after starting 6-15, clinched a share of the league title Thursday, beating South Dakota State at Boys Town. It is UNO’s first conference championship as a Division I program in any sport.
Trev Alberts told me Thursday that not long ago “we were just trying to create a belief that we could actually do this.”
But over the last few months, men’s basketball finished strong. Women’s basketball went 17-11. Women’s track and field finished second at conference. Swimming and diving took third. Softball was 36-7, second in the league. All great stuff.
But baseball? Who woulda thought?
“It’s a big shot in the arm for the entire department,” Alberts said.
Herold’s team won’t be able to qualify for the NCAA tournament — it’s only year two of the four-year championship ban. Still, Thursday was a nice piece of school history. It’d be fitting if — after the rigors of 2012 — the Mavs hung their championship banner on the side of their bus.
>> Thanks for reading. Have a great weekend.