The Southeastern Conference spring meetings convene Tuesday in Destin, Florida. Three days of school presidents, athletic directors and coaches discussing and deciding a variety of issues.
Including this. Whether the SEC, for OU and Texas, will be as entertaining and competitive as it’s billed to be. Or not.
The SEC is expected to decide on a scheduling format, eight conference games or nine, and with that, keeping the scheduling requirement of at least one non-conference game against a Power Five opponent, if the league goes from eight to nine games.
Massaging the schedule has worked wonders for the SEC. Most teams for decades have had at least three virtual-exhibitions in non-conference, guaranteed victories that when combined with games against Vanderbilt give many SEC teams a favorable schedule despite the league’s vaunted reputation.
The SEC appears split. The more powerful programs, including Alabama and Georgia, want to play nine conference games. That’s certainly the desire of ESPN, which would love to trade in an Alabama-Western Kentucky game for Alabama-Florida. Trade in a Georgia-Massachusetts game for Georgia-Texas A&M.
But the less-statured programs prefer eight conference games. Fewer games against Louisiana State and Tennessee is good for the won-loss ledger and helps teams maintain bowl eligibility.
A compromise might be a nine-game schedule, but with removal of the non-conference requirement.
Some schools would continue to play a quality opponent in non-conference. Several have in-state rivalries that are historic and quite popular – Florida-Florida State, Georgia-Georgia Tech, Kentucky-Louisville, South Carolina-Clemson.
That’s a tradition that OU and Texas apparently won’t adopt. No Bedlam. No UT-Texas Tech/Baylor/Texas Christian.
The question is, if the SEC drops its non-conference requirement, would OU even continue its practice of one prominent non-conference opponent.
In recent seasons, the Sooners have played series against the likes of Ohio State, Notre Dame, Florida State, Miami and Nebraska.
But OU has winnowed down its list of future non-conference opponents. Michigan in 2025-26. Nebraska in 2029-30. Clemson in 2035-36.
The move to the SEC and the Sooners’ plunge to a 6-7 record in 2022 seemed to give OU pause on scheduling. The Sooners might take advantage of SEC politics and schedule itself three automatic victories.
Wouldn’t that be ironic? One of the major benefits of joining the SEC is the enhanced home schedule. Alabama and Georgia and LSU coming to Owen Field each once every four years. With Auburn, Tennessee and Ole Miss doing the same.
And that’s still a boon to ticket-holders.
In terms of prowess, Auburn has nothing on OSU, Texas A&M has nothing on TCU, Florida has nothing on Baylor, Tennessee has nothing on Kansas State.
But those SEC teams are at least fresh and new and more marketable, plus you’ve got the trio of Bama, Georgia and LSU that has no Big 12 equivalent.
However, if you water down the non-conference, part of that scheduling enhancement is reduced. Not wiped out, but reduced.
The best solution for the SEC is a nine-game conference schedule, with the Power Five non-conference requirement. The league fancies itself, properly, as the nation’s best.
So act like it. Don’t run scared. Don’t build artificial success.
Auburn in 2023 plays UMass, Samford and New Mexico State (plus California). That’s embarrassing. Texas A&M plays New Mexico, Louisiana-Monroe and Abilene Christian (plus Miami). That’s embarrassing.
OU plays Arkansas State, Southern Methodist and Tulsa, which is not quite as embarrassing, except the Sooners don’t play a Miami or Cal, so it’s back to embarrassing.
The 2023 SEC meetings are a chance for a proud conference to stand on its merit. The scheduling vote will tell us how much these schools truly believe in their football mastery and just how much OU fans will enjoy the SEC experience.
Marcus Smart ignites Celtics
On the first possession of the game Thursday night, the Miami Heat’s Bam Adebayo drove against Boston’s Al Horford, and the Celtics’ Marcus Smart made a decision that seemed problematic.
Smart left his assignment, Miami star Jimmy Butler, alone on the perimeter to dig down into the lane. Smart knocked the ball loose from Adebayo, then dove to the floor to give Boston possession. Smart, from the ground, flipped the ball to Jayson Tatum for a fast-break basket that gave the Celtics a 2-0 lead.
Welcome to Marcus Smart basketball. Welcome to potential history.
The Celtics never trailed, beating Miami 110-97 to cut the Heat’s advantage to 3-2 in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference Finals.
Can Boston become the first NBA team to recover from a 3-0 playoff deficit? Odds still are against it. But they are at least possible, especially if Smart (five steals) and the Celtics defend like they defended Thursday night.
Miami shot well – 51.3% – but committed 16 turnovers and Boston rarely fouled. The Heat got just 10 foul shots.
Boston has been one of the NBA’s elite defensive teams in recent years, but that status has taken a major hit in this series, with Jimmy Butler and friends carving up the Celtics.
But Boston routed Miami in Game 4 Tuesday night, then the tone was set early in Game 5.
“Obviously, I think it started in that first quarter,” Celtic star Jayson Tatum said. “First, playing with defense, Smart diving on the floor, getting out in transition, that was contagious. Smart played his ass off tonight. Everybody did.”
Smart was good on the offensive end, too. The former OSU star can be sporadic offensively, but he had 23 points on 7-of-12 shooting in Game 5, including 4-of-6 from deep.
In Smart’s 30 minutes of playing time, Boston outscored Miami by 20 points.
“He’s just an emotional key for us,” Boston coach Joe Mazzulla said of Smart. “When he’s locked in and playing both sides of the ball at a different pace, it kind of gives us our identity and our life.
“I mean, it’s been that way all year. When he plays at a high level and brings a certain pace and physicality, it’s contagious, and he sets the tone for our guys. When he plays like that, it’s big for us.”
It’s been that way for most of Smart’s nine years in the league. He’s a Boston favorite, because of his all-in court demeanor.
And suddenly, the Celtics are back in business.
Each NBA playoff series has a pressure rhythm. In Game 1, the pressure always is on the home team, to keep homecourt advantage. In Game 2, the pressure always is on whoever lost Game 1. In Game 3, the pressure is on the home team if the series is tied 1-1, otherwise it’s on the team that is down 0-2. And on and on.
The Celtic-Heat series has been interesting, because the pressure has been on Boston literally every game. The Celtics already had an emotional burden, because they were the heavy favorites. But losing the first two games, both in Boston, meant their pressure increased exponentially.
But now, the pressure shifts to Miami. The Heat go back home needing to win to avoid a Game 7 in Boston. Making dubious history definitely is part of the possible Miami script now.
And Marcus Smart is on the prowl, bringing contagious defense back to Boston.
Colorado football’s Folsom Field rocking again
The largest crowd in Folsom Filed history came on May 1, 1977. No, it was not a Colorado spring football game. It was a concert featuring Fleetwood Mac, Bob Seger, Firefall and John Sebastian.
The latter was riding his biggest hit, “Welcome Back,” from the sitcom “Welcome Back, Kotter.” Fitting.
Sebastian’s anthem — “welcome back, to that same old place that you laughed about” — should ring through the Flatirons this autumn. Folsom Field will be rocking again.
Colorado football announced Thursday it had sold 11,273 single-game tickets, a single-day school record, as the frenzy around the Buffaloes and new coach Deion Sanders continues.
Colorado already drew 47,277 fans for a cold-weather spring game in April, and the Buffs have sold their entire season-ticket allotment for the first time since 1996.
The Boulder Camera reported that Colorado sold out its season-ticket allotment in 1972 (the year after Eddie Crowder’s team finished No. 3 in the nation) and every year from 1990-96 (the Buffaloes were national champions in 1990; the Bill McCartney heyday was 1989-94).
Folsom Field’s listed capacity is 50,183, but CU attendance has dipped considerably in recent years. Colorado had produced just one winning season since 2005, Gary Barnett’s final year as head coach.
CU’s average attendance fell into the 30,000s from 2013-15. Interest in the program revived some under coach Mike MacIntyre, and Folsom occasionally has bubbled with enthusiasm, but only 33,474 fans were listed for the 2022 season finale against Utah, and the crowd looked much smaller than that.
Sanders has changed everything. The school increased student-ticket allotment to 12,000, trying to meet demand, and a 2024 waiting list has been created for season tickets.
Colorado has been mentioned as a prominent candidate to jump from the Pac-12 back to the Big 12, and fans at OSU, the Kansas schools and Iowa State can well-remember the glory days of Buffalo football.
Crowder, Bill Mallory, McCartney and Barnett produced rousing teams. The latter three won conference titles in either the Big Eight or the Big 12.
Folsom Field is a glorious setting, with its vintage architecture sitting in the Rocky Mountains. Now the fans are fired up again.
Will the Buffs jump to the Big 12? Will Sanders be along for the ride if they do? Nobody knows. But in 2023, it’s Welcome Back, Colorado. CU football has returned to the big stage, and Folsom Field is rocking again.
The List: Nickname changes
George Washington University has changed the nickname of its athletic teams from Colonials to Revolutionaries. Colonials has a negative connotation for some, over the U.S. history of colonizing.
Some will be upset by the name change,
Others will disagree, of course, but remember this, almost every school has changed its moniker at some point in time. OSU was the Aggies. OU was the RoughRiders. Oklahoma City University was the Goldbugs, then the Chiefs, now the Stars.
Kudos to George Washington for coming up with a unique nickname – I know of no other Revolutionaries.
Here are the 10 best nickname changes in college sports history:
1. Arkansas: Arkansas was the Cardinals from 1894-1909. But football coach Hugo Bezdek gave a speech in which he compared his team to a bunch of Razorback hogs, and a movement began. Soon enough, Arkansas was the Razorbacks, a glorious name that’s synonymous with the school.
2. Arizona State: Known as the Bulldogs from 1922 to 1946, ASU switched to the Sun Devils. Now we can’t imagine Arizona State as anything else.
3. Oregon: Originally known as the Webfoots, the name persisted even as the public migrated to Ducks in the 1940s. Finally, in 1978, Oregon made it official.
4. Army: Known as the Cadets for more than a century – and still, to some degree – Army’s football team was described by some 1930s newspaper accounts as the “Black Knights of the Hudson.” The unofficial nickname became official in 1999, when Black Knights was adopted.
5. San Diego State: In 1925, Aztecs, a fabulous name, replaced Staters and Professors.
6. Massachusetts: Known as the Redmen and Redwomen until 1972, the school insisted those names weren’t tied to Native Americans, but to the color of the athletic uniforms. Whatever boats your float. But UMass adopted Minutemen, which is an excellent name.
7. Rutgers: The state university of New Jersey was the Queensmen until 1955, when it adopted the Scarlet Knights. Queensmen has a certain flair to it, but Scarlet Knights is better.
8. Kent State: The Golden Flashes give Kent State a unique NCAA nickname. But until 1927, Kent State was known as the Silver Foxes. Definitions and phrases change over time. Silver Foxes probably wouldn’t hold up today.
9. Louisiana-Lafayette: Known as the Bulldogs until the 1960s, the school adopted Raging Cajuns (the second g later was dropped for an apostrophe), which has become one of the more descriptive names in college sports. Besides, Bulldogs is the name of a ULL rival, Louisiana Tech.
10. Oral Roberts: Not all name changes are motivated by political correctness. Sometimes it’s religious correctness. ORU switched from Titans to Golden Eagles in 1993. A Christian university with a Greek mythology nickname always seemed squishy.
Mailbag: Big 12 westward expansion
Big 12 commissioner Brett Yormark’s eternal quest for westward expansion has some readers confused.
Chris: Yormark wants four new Pac-12 schools to get the Pacific Coast time zone. Only the two Arizona schools are in the Pacific time zone. Utah is not, Colorado is not. Uh, watching the Arizona schools play every weekend in that time slot (9:30 p.m. Oklahoma time) would get tiresome.”
Tramel: Actually, the Arizona schools are on West Coast time only during daylight savings time. Arizona doesn’t change its clocks, so from November into March, Arizona is only one hour difference from the Central Time Zone.
But it’s irrelevant in the television discussion. Mountain Time Zone teams work for the late-night TV window. Games at 8:30 p.m. in Provo, Utah, or Boulder, Colorado, or Salt Lake City work just fine for the final broadcast window.
Those schools don’t want 8:30 p.m. kickoffs every home game. But once or twice a year would be acceptable.
And Chris is right. Networks don’t want to air the same teams week after week in the same timeslot. But put five teams in that rotation, and the variety is much better. Iowa State at BYU. OSU at Arizona. Baylor at Utah. Kansas State at Arizona State. Texas Tech at Colorado. Those are viable matchups that won’t knock Alabama-Tennessee of its perch on Saturday afternoon but will draw eyeballs as people wind down late Saturday night.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at email@example.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. Support his work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.