It’s astonishing to me how college football, which operates under the NCAA umbrella and has done so gainfully and successfully for decades, can be so segmented during a time when conferences need to come together to find a way to play during the pandemic.
There’s no one to blame but NCAA leadership for that.
Instead of one voice tying all of these conferences and football programs together, it’s been up to the conference commissioners to take the lead, with athletic directors, coaches and even a handful of players having more to say than the powers that be at the NCAA.
Instead of one medical expert or team of doctors gathering and sharing data that can be used coast to coast to help make and shape decisions about playing college sports this fall, the individual conferences and universities have had to rely on their own medical experts to corral enough information to make informed decisions. Or at least to delay making them.
There’s nothing wrong with using those resources. Many universities, especially at the Power Five level, have elite medical schools that are more than capable of providing quality, cutting-edge research and data about COVID-19.
But the opinions of the medical professionals who work and teach there should be used as enhancements and validations of a bigger voice, not as the driving force behind a bunch of individualized plans.
After all, this is new territory for all of us. And trying to tackle it alone is not the advisable path.
There is strength in numbers and a strong national plan about how to attack the fall sports seasons would have been golden.
Instead, we’ve been left with colleges and conferences operating on some sort of lost battleground, with the Big Ten and Pac-12 saying one thing, the SEC and ACC saying another and the Big 12 biding its time and trying to wait until the last possible minute to make a monumental decision that carries a heavy financial burden with it.
In a very strange way, that reality has painted the picture of a group of conferences at odds with one another.
Real or perceived, what good does that do?
I get the big picture here. We’re in the middle of some scary times in college athletics and no one — at any level — wants to be the one to make the decision that leads to huge financial loss or, worse, to serious medical issues or even death.
But does that fear justify doing nothing? Not when your job is to govern college athletics and to help guide your members through issues of all kinds, from rule changes and realignment to a 100-year pandemic and everything in between.
The most recent update we've heard from NCAA president Mark Emmert came last Tuesday, when he pushed his update on the fall sports situation to Wednesday and then said very little.
I'm not saying Emmert and the rest of the officials in Indianapolis aren't working hard behind the scenes to try to help figure some of this out. I'm sure they are. But they're certainly not leading in any way.
The NCAA has failed its members in this area and the worst part of all is that we’ll probably never get even a decent answer as to why.
I’m sure they have their reasons. And some of them might even be valid. But if they’re valid enough to keep NCAA leaders quietly standing on the sidelines during one of the most critical moments in college sports history, doesn’t that lead you to wonder what good the NCAA is anyway?
I would’ve voted for Charles Woodson in 1997. I’ve always loved the idea of defensive players winning the Heisman.
I would’ve put Todd Reesing in my Top 3 in 2007. He might not have deserved to win the award, but he was every bit the factor as those who made it to New York City for the presentation.
And, as much as I’d like to think otherwise, I probably would’ve been caught up in the Heisman fever surrounding guys like Tim Tebow, Johnny Manziel, Baker Mayfield and others.
Now I get the chance.
After former Journal-World sports editor Tom Keegan left our paper for a job in Boston a little over a year ago, a spot came open in the Heisman voting in Kansas and I was invited to fill it.
I submitted my first Heisman ballot on Sunday — after Saturday’s conference championship games but well before the Monday evening deadline — and, per Heisman rules, I will have to keep my votes confidential until the winner is revealed on Saturday.
Monday night, LSU quarterback Joe Burrow, Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts, Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields and Ohio State defensive end Chase Young were announced as this year’s finalists and all four will be at this year’s announcement ceremony in New York this weekend.
I’ll be sure to follow-up here with a short blog about who I voted for and why after the results are announced (Benton Smith had a vote, too), but the mere fact that I was able to cast a vote was a cool, full-circle moment for me.
See, my grandfather’s company, Herff Jones, a yearbook and class ring company based in Indianapolis, always manufactured the Heisman, and back in the summer of 1989, on a family trip to Disney World, my grandpa and I made a stop at the Herff Jones plant in Gettysburg, Pa., to see the award.
With me being barely 11 years old at the time, he didn’t quite trust me to be able to securely hold up the 45-pound trophy like the winners do, but he was happy to get it out and put it on a table for me to stand behind and pose for a picture.
I can still visualize walking back into the area where they kept the award — along with a few others.
At the time, I probably still thought my future would include winning the award as opposed to writing about it, but I’m sure that didn’t last too much longer.
The name plate was blank that day and, if I recall correctly, my grandpa folded a piece of stationary in half and wrote “Matt Tait” on it for one of the photos. Too cool.
A few months later, Houston Cougars quarterback Andre Ware won that very same trophy that I got to hold. I always joked that I had more claim to it than Ware did, but now that I know better, I realize that his numbers that season were pretty incredible and he was certainly deserving.
Ware beat out Indiana tailback Anthony Thompson, West Virginia QB Major Harris (pre-Big 12) and Notre Dame’s Tony Rice to win the ’89 Heisman.
Ware’s lack of a professional career worth noting probably knocked a little of the shine off of his Heisman campaign — how many guys have we said that about? — but he did throw for 4,699 yards and 46 touchdowns that season.
For context, Baker Mayfield’s Heisman season included 4,627 passing yards and 43 touchdowns and Kyler Murray’s last season included 4,361 yards through the air and 42 TDs.
So, yeah, Ware was worthy.
And now, 30 years after having my photo taken with the trophy and after all of these years of following the Heisman races and thinking about who should or would win it, I get to have some small say in determining this year’s winner.
Life’s pretty cool sometimes.
All right, so the Kansas University football season is officially over and all of the attention around here seems to be on the coaching search that is heating up by the minute and figures to take a few wild twists and turns in the next 10 days or so.
But just because the Jayhawks are done playing football does not mean college football is over. Far from it, in fact. Even for the most die-hard KU fans.
After all, with this being championship weekend and so many different games having all kinds of playoff implications, it might be fun to sit back and watch a little football without having a dog in the fight.
The biggest game on the Big 12 radar, without question, is Kansas State at Baylor. The winner guarantees itself at least a share of the Big 12 title and could, with a TCU loss to Iowa State — however shocking that would be — win the title outright.
For Baylor, the game looms large because a strong victory over K-State could be the statement win the Bears need to convince the college football playoff committee that they should be included in college football's first ever final four instead of TCU, which has maintained a slight lead over BU in the standings despite having lost to Baylor earlier this season for the Horned Frogs' only loss.
That's as much at the center of the national conversation regarding college football as any other game this week and is a big reason that ESPN chose to go to Waco, Texas, for Gameday instead of going to one of the true championship games in the ACC (Georgia Tech vs. Florida State), Big Ten (Ohio State vs. Wisconsin), Pac-12 (Oregon vs. Arizona) or SEC (Alabama vs. Missouri).
Is there a way that both TCU and Baylor could get into that final four? Sure. It might be a bit of a long shot, but it would be one of the most incredible scenarios for the Big 12 Conference. Here's why:
Oregon (10-1) and Florida State (11-0) seem to be in pretty good shape and will both be in without question if they win their title tilts. Let's say that were to happen. The only way that Baylor and TCU then would both be able to get in would be for Alabama (10-1) to lose. And who would Alabama have to lose to? Yep, former Big 12 member Missouri, which sits at 9-2 entering the SEC title game.
Go figure. All of a sudden, after a couple of years of not worrying a lick about them, the Big 12 is suddenly rooting like mad for Missouri again. As much as it seems like that might sting the Big 12, it actually stands to hurt the Tigers more. See, if Missouri wins, that could conceivably keep the mighty SEC out of the playoff picture altogether, which not only would eliminate the conference's title hopes but also would cost each member of the SEC some money.
In that scenario, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi State and Missouri all would have two losses. Auburn and Ole Miss already each have three. Sure, the Tigers would be the champs of the SEC, but would the committee really put a two-loss Missouri team — with home losses to Indiana and Georgia, no less — in the final four ahead of a host of one-loss teams? Never say never, but the smart money is on no way.
With a win over Wisconsin, Ohio State could crash the party, but, with TCU already in and Baylor picking up momentum from a victory over a Top 10 opponent, the two Big 12 teams could stay ahead of the Buckeyes.
So there ya go. Plenty of reason to pay attention to college football this weekend, even though the Jayhawks are done playing.
I know how most of you KU fans work and I know it's tough to ask you to root for Missouri in anything. But if you're pro-Big 12 and would like to see two of the nine teams that beat Kansas stay alive for the national title — not to mention see a little more cash come to the KU athletic department — you'll do just that and do it with joy of knowing that even a Mizzou victory would actually wind up hurting the Tigers in the long run.
Good luck with your decision and enjoy what promises to be a great weekend of college football.