From July 4:
Happy Independence Day!
The Bulldogs' season opener against Boise State is still 61 days away and, although it is hardly football weather here in Hampton, Ga., it won't be football weather in Sanford Stadium on Sept. 3, either . . . as the Broncos are going to find out the hard way. (In Idaho during football season, "humidity" is a synonym for "snow." They have no idea what Labor Day weekend in Athens is going to be like.)
Since kickoff will be here before you know it (did I mention that the season opener was 61 days away?) and since there has been much to discuss this offseason, I have decided to commence my regular college football postings slightly in advance of the start of the season. Many of you have been asking me questions during the lengthy lull since the new year dawned, with regard to the sport, to the S.E.C., and to the 'Dawgs. Over the next several weeks, I will attempt to address these questions, including the question posed below, in order to offer my take on the issues confronting college football, the Southeastern Conference, and the University of Georgia as we head into the 2005 campaign.
Before we get to this week's question, though, I thought I should provide everyone with an update, since many of you may not be current on all the news from our neck of the woods. Susan, Thomas, and I moved in mid-May. Although we no longer reside within the city limits, we continue to have a Hampton mailing address and, according to Mapquest.com, we are just over three miles from our old house. Thomas celebrated his second birthday on March 19 and he is enjoying the summer immensely. (Earlier today, in commemoration of the Fourth of July, he insisted that Susan make cupcakes and that we sing "Happy Birthday, America.") Since the first of the year, I have become the treasurer of the Henry County Bar Association and gone through the training process to become a local church lay speaker at the Hampton United Methodist Church.
The big news for you football fans, though, is that "The Dawg Show" has been placed on what is known in the T.V. industry as "hiatus." As you are aware, my co-host, Travis Rice, and his wife, Jeannie, welcomed the arrival of a new baby, Drew, into their home last October. Drew is Travis's and Jeannie's third child, joining older brother David, who turned three in May, and older sister Kate, who turned 13 in May. Add to that the fact that Travis also began a new career (teaching) last year and will be starting a new job (at Luella High School) in the fall and it is easy to see why a seventh season of "The Dawg Show" was not a practical possibility for him for 2005.
Truthfully, though, the decision not to do the show again this year was a mutual one, as both Travis and I have gotten a little "burned out" by the responsibility of doing a weekly T.V. show from just before Labor Day until just after New Year's Day, as we have done for the last six years. When we first started doing the show, in 1999, Travis and Jeannie had a seven-year-old daughter and Susan and I had not yet started a family. The sacrifice involved in devoting an entire evening during the week to taping the show was not as great then.
Although the show remains a great deal of fun to make, it is more difficult now, when remaining on the air means that, for three and a half months, there will be one day every week on which neither of us sees our sons awake. "The Dawg Show" is not dead, but, for now, while there are small children in each of our households, we are taking a break to recharge our creative batteries and focus on more pressing concerns in our households and in our careers.
Nevertheless, even though "The Dawg Show" will not be appearing on local cable access in Henry County, Ga., this year, you will still be receiving your regular college football-related e-mails from me throughout the 2005 season. We commence, therefore, with the first of several offseason questions in need of answering as we prepare for another autumn in the Empire State of the South.
Here is this week's question:
Can you help me keep up with conference realignment?
No, I can't.
Seven of the eleven Division I-A college football conferences will feature a new look in 2005. Eighteen teams will be playing in different leagues this year from the ones in which they were playing in 2004. To top it all off, only one of those eighteen teams is joining a conference I care about in the slightest and neither that team (Boston College) nor that conference (A.C.C.) rates highly on my list of priorities.
So, no, as a matter of fact, I cannot help you keep up with conference realignment, which is every bit as convoluted and difficult to follow as the continuity problems between the first three "Star Wars" movies and the last three "Star Wars" movies (or is that between the last three "Star Wars" movies and the first three "Star Wars" movies?). There seems to be neither rhyme nor reason to many of these moves, unless, of course, it is all part of the N.C.A.A.'s secret plan to have every Division I-A conference include at least one team from Louisiana by 2011.
Then again, I'm already this far into the e-mail. Oh, all right, what the heck, I'll give it a shot.
We all know that, last year, Miami and Virginia Tech bolted for the A.C.C., which officially welcomes Boston College this season. This gives the league a twelfth team and allows the conference to split into two divisions, imaginatively named the Atlantic Division and the Coastal Division. (I shouldn't criticize, since I grew up following a sport that is divided into the American and National Leagues.) The addition of B.C. to a league that already included Duke, Georgia Tech, Maryland, Virginia, and all those schools from North Carolina establishes beyond doubt that the A.C.C. is second only to the Ivy League as the nation's snootiest college football conference. Fortunately, the A.C.C. also counts Clemson, Florida State, Miami, and Virginia Tech among its member institutions, so the conference is redeemed by the inclusion of a handful of schools that lack an overinflated sense of their own academic merit and, therefore, are able to concentrate on playing quality football.
The Eagles' departure for greener pastures, coupled with Temple's temporary return to independent status (before officially joining the Mid-American Conference in 2007, which will be an embarrassment both for the M.A.C. and for the Owls), means the Big East has lost four founding members in a two-year span, obligating the weakest B.C.S. league to saddle up the horses and go on a late-night raid like Woodrow Call, Gus McCrae, Josh Deets, Pea Eye Parker, and Jake Spoon at the start of "Lonesome Dove." Rather than crossing into Mexico in search of stolen horses, though, the Big East poached some of the top teams in Conference U.S.A., snaring Cincinnati, Louisville, and South Florida.
Conference U.S.A. was hit hardest by conference realignment, not only losing the Bulls, the Bearcats, and the defending champion Cardinals to the Big East but also seeing Army declare its independence and Texas Christian make the jump to the Mountain West, which will be the Horned Frogs' fourth conference in a decade.
To their credit, the founders of Conference U.S.A. had the forethought to choose an all-encompassing moniker which enables the league to bring in new members without being embarrassed by geography (as when Arkansas, a Southwest Conference school, suddenly qualified for Southeastern Conference membership) or by mathematics (as when Penn State became the eleventh member of what was still called the Big Ten). Barring a second attempt at Southern secession (which seems unlikely on this, the 142nd anniversary of the fall of Vicksburg), any football team north of the Rio Grande that plays on a field marked off in yards rather than in meters could qualify for admission. Conference U.S.A.'s five departing members were replaced by six incoming institutions: Central Florida and Marshall from the M.A.C. and Rice, Southern Methodist, Texas-El Paso, and Tulsa from the W.A.C.
These latest defections caused the next domino in the line to fall, necessitating that the Western Athletic Conference find replacements for the teams it was losing. Looking further down the college football food chain, the increasingly marginalized W.A.C. snagged Idaho, New Mexico State, and Utah State from the Sun Belt Conference, which hitherto had existed largely for the purpose of providing non-conference schedule fodder for the S.E.C.
Left with nowhere else to look, the Sun Belt (a/k/a "The League That North Texas Built") opted to admit Florida Atlantic and Florida International, both newly arrived from Division I-AA. What, you may wonder, is the difference between F.A.U. and F.I.U.? The short answer is: a vowel. The long answer is: students at the former university go to Waffle House, whereas matriculants at the latter institution prefer I.H.O.P.
Confused? You won't be after this week's episode of "Soap" . . . or after you've reviewed the attached guide. We may be thankful that the Big Ten, the Big Twelve, the Pac-10, and the S.E.C. all stood pat, so it isn't complete anarchy in the world of sport, but your retooled 2005 conferences look like this:
Atlantic Coast Conference:
* Eight other teams, including Notre Dame, are members of the Big East in other sports, so half of the teams in the league don't play football as members of the league, even though some of them play football. If you think that makes sense, you probably also think Sandra Day O'Connor's replacement isn't going to be asked what he thinks about Roe v. Wade.
Central FloridaEast Carolina
Mountain West Conference:
San Diego State
Sun Belt Conference:
Western Athletic Conference:
New Mexico State
San Jose State
Now, do you think you have all of that straight? Me, neither, but we'll have to do the best we can as the season gets underway.
If it's any consolation, most of these games won't matter, anyway, and, if you're like me, you're going to watch the A.C.C. and Conference U.S.A. championship games, no matter how indifferent you are to the outcome, because, hey, college football is better than not college football.
I'll be addressing another offseason inquiry next week. In the meantime, I hope all of you have had a happy Independence Day weekend.