Around the Horn, Oct. 4, 2019

Around The Horn” is a resurrection of a column from the early days of RamNation.com. We take readers around the college athletics world, as it relates to Colorado State and the Mountain West Conference. This one is brought to you by Ginger and Baker, which has live, local music on the Rooftop every Friday and Saturday in October during happy hour from 4-6pm! 

Bobo Projecting a Bowl Appearance? During his radio show Wednesday night, Colorado State head coach Mike Bobo and host Brian Roth were talking about how it’s imperative to enjoy each and every day of the football season, because it flies right by and then it’s over. Roth pointed out that “you only get 12 (games)”, to which Bobo responded, “We’re going to get more than 12, I promise, we’re going to get more than 12.” 

“I know we have something special with our football team. I know things are judged with wins and losses. I know that. That’s what we do. You compete to win — that’s what sports is about. The old saying, ‘The agony of defeat’, we’re living that right now. But we’re not sulking or hanging our heads in defeat. We’re not blaming somebody else, we’re not looking for an excuse. We’re going to work and trying to look in the mirror and answer it ourselves. That’s how you go about things in life and football, and I can’t wait to get on the field Saturday.”

The Rams are currently 1-4 and would have to finish the season 5-2 to make a bowl game a possibility. It’s a tall order considering that to count the Rams’ last five wins you have to look all the way back to Nov. 18, 2017. It has taken the Rams 19 games to get those five wins, so to get five in the next seven games, that would be a tremendous turnaround. 

Barring a such a turnaround, CSU will face the decision of parting ways with Bobo and staff or continue to see attendance decline. Due to a contract extension Athletic Director Joe Parker gave to Bobo nearly two year ago, CSU would owe Bobo $5.5 million if they fire him prior to January 1, 2020 (a figure that drops to $3 million starting New Year’s Day and then to $2 million on Jan. 1, 2021). The contract extension has been a major point of contention for Ram fans as the football team has gone 1-9 in the last 10 games and has won just four games in the last 17. 

But Parker told the Denver Post last week, “I’m not going to second-guess that decision. I think (the extension) was in the best interest of creating stability and accountability for our program. Obviously, we don’t know the ultimate outcome (given) where we’re at (in the season) right now.” 

Misery Loves Company. Bobo isn’t the only one facing heat in the Mountain West Conference. UNLV AD Reed-Francois has been hearing displeasure from fans on coach Tony Sanchez early on this season also after the Rebels’ 1-3 start. Sanchez, who is under contract through 2021, went 16-32 in his first four seasons. He reportedly was given a mandate that the Rebels must reach a bowl game this season to retain his job. Reed-Francois’s responses to reporters after last Saturday’s loss at Wyoming indicate an in-season firing of the football coach is not likely to happen. 

“Come on, it’s our first conference game,” she snapped in the post-game. “We’ve got a lot of football left to play. We’re going to keep supporting this football team.”

Meanwhile, on the other end of the firing philosophies, Rutgers decided Sunday that it couldn’t afford to wait till the end of its season to fire head coach Chris Ash and offensive coordinator John McNulty following a 1-3 record this season and an 8-32 record since taking the job. Athletic Director Pat Hobbs said in a statement, “Despite progress in other areas, progress on the field was not realized, and it is time for a change.”

The Scarlet Knights are on the hook for $9.385  million in buyouts for the two firings. Meanwhile, the Scarlet Knights named tight ends coach Nunzio Campanile as the interim head coach. His only other head coaching experience was for Bergen Catholic High School in Oradell,  NJ two years ago.  In fact, he’s only been coaching college football for two seasons. He will also serve as offensive coordinator.  

Piling on. In Yahoo Sports’ latest installment of the Forde Yard Dash, author Pat Forde breaks down recent coaching hires gone right, wrong, and somewhere in between. He places Bobo in the “Cookie Cutter Hires Gone Wrong” category, along with UConn’s Randy Edsall. Forde wrote, “Bobo was hired to be Jim McElwain 2.0 — an SEC offensive coordinator who could continue Mac’s 32-17 run from 2012-14. It hasn’t happened. After three straight 7-6 seasons, the Rams slipped to 3-9 as Bobo dealt with health issues. This season has started no better — CSU is 1-4, with the lone victory over FCS Western Illinois. With a two-year-old stadium to fill, there seems to be a high likelihood of change coming to Fort Collins.” 

Forde’s list also includes:

  • Good hires gone wrong: Virginia Tech’s Justin Fuentes (27-17 record) and South Florida’s Charlie Strong (18-11)
  • Unimaginative hires gone wrong: USC’s Clay Helton (35-19), South Carolina’s Will Muschamp (24-20), and BYU’s Kalani Sitake (22-22)
  • Questionable hires gone right: Virginia’s Bronco Mendenhall (20-23), LSU’s Ed Orgeron (29-9), and Baylor’s Matt Rhule (12-17)

Family dissention. It’s not a good sign when CSU players’ parents are starting to sound off on social media. Kate McBride, mother to Ram defensive lineman Toby McBride and tight end Trey McBride, tweeted the following after Saturday’s loss at Utah State. 

New NCAA Trend? It doesn’t seem like this was the true intention of the new NCAA rule allowing players to take a redshirt if they’ve played in up to four games, allowing them to not count that season towards their eligiblity, but University of Houston senior star quarterback D’Eriq King and senior receiver Keith Corbin decided after the team’s 1-3 start last week that they would both redshirt the rest of the season. They didn’t like the way this season was going, and this allows them to return for one more season next year to try to get off to a better start.  First-year Houston coach Dana Holgorsen was on board with the decision, despite the fact that King has thrown for 663 yards, six touchdowns and two interceptions while rushing for 312 yards and six touchdowns on the ground in the first four games of the year.

This seems like a waving of the white flag, indicating the season is already down the drain, which you would think might not sit well with the rest of the team. However, the Cougars did come out and whip North Texas 45-26 last Saturday in their first game without the two players. We’ll see if this type of manipulating of the rule becomes a trend in the NCAA.

Pay to Play Armageddon: Speaking of trends in the NCAA, California just signed into law the new SB 206 “Fair Pay to Play Act”, allowing college athletes to hire agents and be paid for the use of their name, image or likeness starting Jan. 1, 2023. It would also prohibit universities and the NCAA from banning athletes who take the money. The new law threatens the very fabric of the NCAA’s amateurism model, and already many opponents to the movement are speaking out. Several schools have said they will not be adding California-based teams to their future schedules. 

TCU Athletic Director Jeremiah Donati was one of them, and expressed why he believes this new law is going to cause major issues as it spreads across the country. 

“It’s not going to be a situation where Adidas tries to sign any of our players,” Donati told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, referencing TCU’s long-standing relationship with Nike. “It’s going to be social media. What I mean by that is these guys are social media rock stars. The local businesses will say, ‘Hey, Player X, let us host your birthday party at Bar Y. We’ll promote it and it’ll be Desmond Bane’s 21st birthday.’ And they’ll pay him money to do this.

“Some big pocket donors can say, ‘We’re going to pay our players $100,000 to promote Joe’s Taco Shack. Then we’re back in the funny business again. I’m really nervous about this. I don’t know how you regulate this. This could potentially destroy everything we know and love about college sports. I am absolutely a huge opponent of it.”

“I understand the free market concept and I understand the country we live in is exceptionally prideful and that’s part of our freedom,” Donati said. “But I also think there’s a tremendous amount of monetary value in place on these kid’s educations. That’s a tremendous investment we’re making investing into this amateur model.

San Diego State athletic director JD Wicker, whose student athletes stand to potentially benefit from this new law, also opposes SB 206. 

“They’ve gone out and created a law that puts us in direct conflict with the NCAA and its rules, which stands to impact our student-athletes negatively,” he told the San Diego Union Tribune. “While California can beat the drum that they’re making the NCAA do something, let’s hope they haven’t done something that now impacts us negatively come Jan. 1, 2023.”

Aztec quarterback Ryan Agnew was asked at a recent press conference if he thought he should be paid for his image currently being on a SDSU billboard, to which he responded:

“When you look at that, you’re so happy to have that recognition to be up there representing San Diego State. They give us so much as it is. We get meals. Wet get to fly on planes to games. We get to play on national TV. We get to go to school for free. There’s a lot that comes with it.”

Colorado and others next? According to the Denver Post, Colorado could soon join California in allowing college athletes to profit off their names and likenesses. Republican state Sen. Owen Hill said he and Democratic state Sen. Jeff Bridges plan to introduce a bill next year, as is Alec Garnett, the House majority leader.

The potential Colorado bill, Hill said, would give athletes the right to sue if the NCAA if it were to push back on such benefits for players. 

According to CBS Sports, numerous other states may also follow suit, including Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Minnesota, Nevada, New York, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Washington, Maryland, Connecticut, and others. 

Kickoff (Bed) Times. CSU plays its second 8 p.m. home kickoff game Saturday vs. San Diego State. The late times have kept many fans away, and sent others to the exits early. CSU is not alone in this issue. Late kickoffs will continue to fill vacant TV timeslots and conferences/universities will continue to put up with it due to contracts that pay millions of dollars and provide national exposure. But CSU A.D. Joe Parker told the Fort Collins Coloradoan recently that he’d be willing to give up some of the $1.1 million CSU receives from the MW’s national TV deals to play games like this weekend’s Homecoming game in the afternoon rather than 8 p.m.  

The MW is currently in negotiations for a new TV contract and Commissioner Craig Thompson told the Coloradoan, “We’re knee-deep in negotiations with everybody and anybody, and one thing is perfectly clear: The later we kick and the more frequently we play on Thursdays and Fridays, the more rights fees they will pay us.”

Schools in the MW aren’t alone in the problem. Arizona is suffering from attendance lag due to continual late-night kickoffs. The Wildcats drew fewer than 40,000 fans for the Texas Tech and UCLA games, which both kicked off after 7:30 p.m., marking the first time Arizona has had consecutive crowds under 40,000 since 1997.

Arizona A.D. Dave Heeke told the Arizona Daily Star, “We can’t change kickoff times, as much as we dislike them. I have real strong concerns about kickoff times. We have lots of conversations. Those won’t end. I’m very sympathetic to our fans.”

Meanwhile, Alabama head coach Nick Saban complained about playing early season afternoon games due to the heat, saying that TV and SEC officials should visit games to experience the heat and health problems it causes. 

“My hat’s off to [fans],” he said during a news conference last week. “We really appreciate what they do. I don’t think anybody really realizes how difficult it is for fans, how many issues we really have. I wish that some of the TV people and people from our conference would come at any stadium, in these kind of conditions, and know that it’s really difficult for the fans.

“This year it’s been a little hotter than normal and stayed hotter for longer. We’ve had unfortunately, all afternoon games so far, so it’s kind of unfortunate for the fans.”

Young’ens. With three true freshmen starters (wide receiver Dante Wright, offensive lineman Nouredin Nouili, and kicker Cayden Camper), CSU is starting more true freshmen than all but one team in the Mountain West (Fresno State). Seventeen true freshmen have been starters under Bobo’s five-year watch. Five true freshman appeared in the Utah State game. Meanwhile, the school with the most true freshmen starters? Alabama. 

Meals on wheels. It’s too bad the Rams don’t play at San Jose State this year. Other than the fact that the Spartans have accounted for two of the Rams last five wins dating back to 2017, they also are home to the world’s largest mobile kitchen, called the “Power House Kitchen”. Fans can enjoy this new mobile kitchen, which will be a focal point during pregame tailgating and is located in the Spartan Village Fan Zone. It not only features a variety of popular food, it also boasts a 16-foot retractable Jumbotron screen that can show live footage of food being prepared inside the kitchen, as well as highlights of SJSU athletic events, and more.  

Skeeter scare. This must be a first in college football. UConn moved the kickoff time for Saturday’s game against South Florida from 7 p.m. to noon ET as a safety precaution against the Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) virus — a mosquito-borne virus that killed two Connecticut residents and three other people in New England. The game was originally scheduled to air in prime time on CBS Sports Network, but will be forced to move to an online streaming platform. 

The time change was made based upon recommendations from the Connecticut Department of Public Health suggesting that the earlier start time will help minimize exposure to mosquitoes for both the fans and athletes as the pests are most active beginning at dusk each evening and through the night until dawn.

“Though the risk is low, as a precaution, we want to take any reasonable steps we can to help reduce the exposure of student-athletes, staff and the public to this illness,” UConn president Thomas Katsouleas said in a statement. 

RoboHokie. Many schools have cheerleaders and/or ROTC members who do pushups on the sidelines of games after scores. But did you know Virginia Tech has a pushup robot? Kinda cool. 

Eyebrow raising. Washington State head coach Mike Leach had some not-so-nice comments about his team following the Cougars’ 38-13 loss at Utah last Saturday night. During his postgame press conference, he called his players “fat, dumb, and happy and entitled.”

“It’s difficult to say how tough Utah is because they had token resistance on both sides of the ball for us,” Leach said. “And we’re a very soft team. We get a lot of good press. We like to read it a lot. We pat ourselves on the back. And if we get any resistance, we fold. And what’s amazing about this is that most of these guys were on the same team last year that was a tough team. Last year’s team was a tough team for us. And we got nearly the same guys. All of the sudden they’re not tough. They’re fat, dumb and happy and entitled.”

“Coaching-wise, we failed to get through to them. I didn’t see too much pouting among coaches, but collectively starting with me we failed to get through to them. We let them evolve into a soft team. And they are soft.”

Common practice. CSU used to be unique as one of the few universities that allowed beer sales at football games. Now, many schools have adopted the policy as a means to help attract and keep fans at games. Here’s an interesting breakdown of all Power 5 schools’ alcohol policies.

Title IX flashbacks. I suffered a little PTSD last week when reading a Louisville Courier Journal story about two students who are suing the University of Kentucky, claiming the school is violating federal law by failing to offer women enough opportunities in varsity athletics. The lawsuit claims UK must add about 183 women to its athletics programs to comply with Title IX — the civil rights law that prohibits sex discrimination in federally funded education programs.

As a member of the CSU baseball team, I’ll never forget getting the call during the summer of 1992 that CSU was dropping its Division I baseball program. At the time, it also dropped women’s softball, whose players soon after sued the university for failure to comply with Title IX. After an arduous legal effort, the women won in District Court, in the Court of Appeals, and ultimately in the Supreme Court to get the program re-instated. Unfortunately for about 35 baseball players, we were out of luck. 

CSU softball had its best season in history last year, with a 39-12 record and the first NCAA postseason appearance since 1997. A new softball facility is also on the horizon. 

Colorado State volleyball attendance rankingModel program. Speaking of successful women’s sports, CSU volleyball just moved into 10th place in the nation in average attendance. The Rams have drawn 2,614 fans/game so far this season — just 726 shy of what the men’s basketball team drew per game last year. The Ram volleyballers are ranked No. 16 in the AVCA polls with a 13-1 record that includes wins over Oklahoma, TCU, Florida State, Colorado (twice), Oregon State, and three MW teams so far. They are going for their 13th-consecutive NCAA tournament appearance and 16th regular season championship. Tom Hilbert’s program is the perfect example of what a good product can do for fan support and tradition.  

Hoops scrimmage. Ram fans can get a glimpse of the new-look men’s basketball team at 3 p.m. Saturday at Moby Arena where the team will be conducting an intrasquad scrimmage. It will be a great opportunity to catch some hoops before tailgating for the Homecoming football game. 

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 All previous Around the Horn columns can be found here. 

 

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