Thursday, November 29, 2012

little shuffle, big shuffle

I picked a good day, yesterday, to leave my Twitter feed running.  I don't do that usually, but occasionally do, and stuff kept coming across it and I just couldn't help myself.  We'll just consider this morning's Louisville news an extension of a very busy Tuesday, and go from there.

The smaller news was the beginning of the coaching staff shuffle.  Running backs coach Mike Faragalli's departure, it's fair to call that unexpected.  RB coach is a pretty benign position.  It's hard to have a lot of effect, positive or negative, on a team's fortunes.  You usually put a recruiter there.  Michigan's got this guy who's been there 21 years and survived three separate coaching changes.  Mike London portrayed the move as stemming from disappointment in the running game, and if Faragalli was the guy who turned Perry Jones into a dancer when he used to be a lot more decisive, then I can see that.  Otherwise I think most of us blamed the O-line for the lack of a run game; that and the occasional bizarre attempt to use Jones as a short-yardage hammer.

After that, I don't know exactly where we go.  Marques Hagans probably stays on as Faragalli's replacement, but in what capacity I don't know.  He and Shawn Moore will take on some combination of the skill positions, except for quarterback which I would guess is likely to stay with Bill Lazor.  I'd like to see Hagans take the receivers off of Lazor's plate so he can focus more on OC duties.

There's still the matter of the O-line, and nothing has been forthcoming from the official camp, but you'd have a hard time finding anyone who thinks Scott Wachenheim's job is secure.  I once again register this blog's endorsement of Jim Bollman.


Now, the news you were waiting for.  In more circles than you might guess, people are wondering if the ACC didn't just accidentally become a stronger conference by trading Maryland for Louisville.  Certainly it depends on how you look at it.  Maryland is a much better school, academical-wise.  If you think TV markets are all that matters, we lost out there too, but then again, perhaps not; UVA and VT still provide a presence in the DC market, after all.  Louisville has a better football and basketball program than Maryland (and baseball, too, for what that matters), with the caveat that much of their football success will be up in the air if and when Charlie Strong leaves.  (That said, Randy Edsall is still employed at Maryland.)  Can the marginally better attractiveness of Louisville's athletic programs outweigh the reduced TV presence in a very large market?

At least there's this: The more I think about it, the more I prefer Louisville to the other finalist, UConn.  To start with, Louisville isn't coastal, no, but it is southern, the latter of which is just as important to the ACC's traditional identity as the former.  It's also more important to the schools that have a lot of weight these days, namely Florida State and Clemson.  And let's face it.  I don't know if the rumor is true that FSU, Clemson, and maybe others, insisted on Louisville while the Tobacco Road schools (at least initially) wanted Connecticut.  But I've read it in enough different and reasonably credible places that I buy it.  And it would have been stupidity of epic proportions to continue to northernize the league when the schools you depend on for the league's strength are telling you not to do that.

So I like it about as well as I can muster liking anything in the stupid world of realignment.  It does require a little bit of rationalization, of course.  I'm under no illusions about what the ACC is doing here, which is to say, dropping a long-held standard, which must have pained a few presidents.  Namely, academics.  One of the most unfair things I've heard about Louisville is, "But it's a commuter school!"  Nonsense; it's not like it's a community college.  It does have a commuter aspect to it, and nevertheless has an endowment 98% the size of Maryland's despite being 15,000 students smaller.  But yes, it instantly becomes the "worst" academic school in the ACC, and probably not of the quality the ACC would have chosen without its backs against the wall.  (However, it's also one of the oldest.  Third-oldest, in fact; only Pitt and UNC are older.)

We're pretty much beyond caring about that, though.  The ACC can't afford to.  It's still in a position of strength, but must maintain a careful balancing act.  The next thing the FSUs of the conference might look for is divisional realignment.  They didn't want UConn because they didn't want a whole bunch of traveling north, and the football quality wasn't up to snuff.  Now they've got the football and they'll probably want less travel.  I'm OK with that.  UVA should nudge the conference in the direction of realignment as well, otherwise they'll just slot Louisville into Maryland's slot and that'll be our new permanent buddy.  Not that I don't want to play Louisville, but I do want to play the traditional ACC teams as often as possible.  (And if there's a magical way to do that without being in FSU's division, that'd be sweet too.  And a pony.  Don't forget the pony.)

Admittedly, now, we are seeing a Big Eastifying of the ACC.  Admittedly also, the Big Ten is a money-making dynamo, as is the SEC, and the ACC will not approach that for the foreseeable future.  This has a lot of people thinking we should be "proactive" and court Big Ten membership right now, supposedly before the bus leaves or the ship sinks or whatever.  Enough rumors flew around this past week that both UVA and UNC had to put out statements categorically denying any kind of interaction with the B1G.

However, our place is the ACC.  People assume we should chase the money, too, but we have zero need to do that.  UVA sits, financially, near the top of the ACC.  We have a head start on our competition that way.  In the B1G, with their schools that are three times as big as ours, colossal stadiums, enormous donor bases, we would be up against a lot of schools that can generate a lot of cash much better than we can.  We'd be near the bottom of the ladder.

UVA's best course of action is to work their asses off to preserve the ACC.  With one extra step: our president, whether that's Teresa Sullivan now or someone else in five or however many years, should be right in the hip pocket of UNC's chancellor, and vice versa.  We need to attach ourselves at the hip to UNC.  Why?  Because UNC and UVA are two of the nation's elite public schools, and closer collaboration with them is something no university president would turn down.  The idea that the B1G bus will leave without UVA if we're not next onboard is silly.  It's based on the idea that 16 teams is a magic number, above which no conference will ever dare tread.

Ask yourself this: What is the magical gravitational pull toward 16 teams?  What force in the universe decrees that a conference must get to 16 teams and stay there?  This is entirely a creation of message board imagination; it's a nice round number, people like nice round numbers, and so they imagine themselves a world where that happens.  Somehow they imagine for themselves perfect harmony, cohesion, and symmetry in a world (that of NCAA realignment) that couldn't be more chaotic and entropic if it tried.  Just as there is no magic force pushing conferences to get to 16 teams, there is no magic force that demands they stay there if they do get there.  We live in a world where there are 68 teams in the March Madness tourney, not 64.  The MAC seems to exist, somehow, with 13 teams.  The B1G had 11 for almost twenty years.  The ACC, if left alone, will sit on 15 for quite some time.

Now ask yourself this: Suppose the ACC fell apart in the way that everyone is foreboding for it.  FSU and Clemson go to the Big 12, NC State and VT go to the SEC.  UVA is left apparently adrift in a sinking conference; in that event, I'd probably have a lot of trouble clinging to the idea that the ACC is still the best place for our school.  Reluctantly, B1G membership appears to be the necessary lifeboat.  But wait; the "bus has left the station," because the B1G added two more schools in the interim.  Now suppose UVA, tied at the hip, as you'll recall, with UNC, knocks on the B1G's door.  Do you honestly believe that ACC presidents would say no to the chance to add two elite flagship schools, with a presence in large and growing TV markets, just because they already have 16 teams?

A silly thought.  UVA can afford to wait.  Or, if not "wait" exactly, it can afford to put its chips in with the success of the ACC.  There are too many good schools and good programs in the ACC for it to fail entirely, and UVA is too good a school for university presidents to snub, particularly if UNC is a companion school in whatever potential future changes there are.


-- So we won at bastyball today.  Yay for that!  More reaction later, but the very quick cliffnotes are that the poise the team played with, on the road in a tough place to win, was extremely impressive, and of course, you have to like the effect it could have on our tournament hopes.  In fact I'll tell you what right now: go 9-9 in the conference, and we're in.  Also, I will have highlights tomorrow.

-- Just as I talk about coaching shuffles, here comes more news down the pipeline: Bill Lazor interviewing for the head coaching job at Georgia State.  GSU will make the jump to the Sun Belt Conference in the not-too-distant future, so it's not a head-scratching move.  If Lazor leaves, Jim Bollman has extensive OC experience.  JUST SAYIN

-- News that Malcolm Brogdon will redshirt the season is not exactly exciting, but it does offer some welcome closure to that situation.  Losing Brogdon for the year takes away a potential future scoring option, but it settles the rotation some and cements Teven Jones (who looked very veteran-y tonight against Wisconsin) as the backup point guard (or starter until Bub is ready for all the minutes.)  The rotation looks as though it's set on nine, with Taylor Barnette the odd man out for now.

-- This article about the gross mismanagement of Maryland's finances is a must-read.  NC State fans might want to be worried about having Debbie Yow for an AD, and one must wonder that, even if the Big Ten offers a clean slate, how many of the issues Maryland had - and has - will be fixed so that they don't run themselves right back into debt.  And how many might be exacerbated.

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