by J.R. Lind
This Week's 'Drome is black and gold and read all over ...
Eight vs. Nine: This week, the hot topic at the SEC meetings — an annual excuse for coaches and ADs and media people to go to Destin in May — is football scheduling.
In a post-realignment world, a neutral observer would say nine games in conference makes far more sense than eight; indeed, a handful of power conferences are already playing nine (the Pac-Whatever has been playing nine for years, for example).
The difficulty with having just eight games is that it puts a strain on the annual cross-divisional rivalry games — think Tennessee-Alabama and ... um, Vanderbilt-Ole Miss? With seven teams in each division, six conference games are already locked in. If the league is committed to preserving the Georgia-Auburns and Florida-LSUs, that hacks off another game, leaving just one rotating cross-divisional game every year. That means, for example, Vandy would host Alabama once a decade or so.
A nine-game schedule would preserve the six intradivision games, allow for the permanent cross-division rival and rotate through the rest of the opposite division twice as quickly.
Alas, the coaches, save one — it seems likely it was Alabama's Nick Saban — voted overwhelmingly to preserve the eight-game slate.
Why? Vanderbilt coach James Franklin:
Franklin is among the staunches supporters for an 8-game SEC schedule. Without it, he says, "those sexy nonconference games would go away."
— Ryan Wood (@AUBlog) May 28, 2013
Vandy's non-conference slate next year: UMass, UAB, Wake Forest and Austin Peay.
Sure, that game against the Govs will be the sexiest of the year — far more valuable to the game of football than, say, playing LSU.
If it's time to have an honest conversation about expanding the slate, let's be honest about it. The marginal SEC teams — Vandy is a prime example — having four spots on the schedule to play Austin Peay makes it far more likely a team will become bowl eligible. And that's a perfectly valid consideration.
But don't sell us a bill of goods about needing the extra game for top-flight non-conference opponents when the best team on the list is Wake Forest.
The Week Behind
One For The Ages: Ahead of the SEC baseball title game between Vandy and LSU, someone out there compared it to Alabama and LSU squaring off as No. 1 and No. 2 in football.
They were not overselling it.
The extra-innings classic was decided by an 11th inning hit — the first LSU hit in 6 2/3 innings — and the 'Dores were shut down by tournament MVP and former walk-on, Tiger closer Chris Cotton.
It was the only meeting of the season between the two best teams in the conference — and two of the best in the country — and unlike so many other highly anticipated games, it lived up to the hype.
Meanwhile, Vandy's Tyler Beede — who finished the year 14-0, leading the nation in wins — was not only not selected as the conference's pitcher of the year, he was left off the All-SEC first team altogether.
The Battle of Nashville And How It Explains The Titans Third Down Strategy: With the full acknowledgement that my bread-and-butter is connecting seemingly disparate historical events with modern-day athletic contests — I have, at times, connected the Titans' woes with the Battle of Fredericksburg, the way our city treats sports teams with our country music legacy and NHL realignment with early medieval British history and wrestling — let me explain what the problem is with Bill Simmons.
Simmons, ESPN's most famous columnist and all-around hustler, went to Memphis for the Western Conference finals against the Spurs. Then on his podcast, he said this:
"I didn’t realize the effect [the MLK assassination] had on that city…I think from people we talk to and stuff we’ve read, the shooting kind of sets the tone with how the city thinks about stuff. We were at Game 3. Great crowd, they fall behind and the whole crowd got tense. They were like, ‘Oh no, something bad is going to happen.’ And it starts from that shooting.”
I live in Memphis. I know the history well. Obviously, no-one in FedExForum that night was thinking about the King assassination in the context of the game. But I can imagine what Simmons was probably told by someone in Memphis last week: That the King assassination had a profound impact on Memphis. That it left a stench that infected the whole city. That it all but destroyed downtown for a couple of decades. That it informed a fatalism that permeated other aspects of Memphis civic life. That, finally, the city decided to confront this history and turn it into something instructive rather than hide from it. That downtown was (mostly) back and the spirit in the city was renewed and that the enthusiasm for the Grizzlies is partly an expression of that. But that the old fatalism still nags at times.
And I agree with Herrington that sports-talk radio (or podcasting) is hard and sometimes you say things you immediately regret and there's no backspace key or editor there to fix it. I'm willing to concede that Simmons had a half-formed thought about Memphis' fatalism and he started to talk before he thought about how ridiculous it was.
The problem with what Simmons said is the problem Simmons — as well as his often great Grantland and, more broadly, ESPN — has in general: a complete blind spot regarding how to write and talk about how the flyover country thinks and feels. Simmons went to Memphis, he knew about the MLK assassination, and thus he related what he saw at FedEx Forum with that one thing he knew about the city. I've lived my life two hours from Memphis and I wouldn't pretend to be qualified to explain the psychology of Memphis; I'm hardly qualified to make such judgments about Nashville. Grantland's done this before. In a mostly excellent piece about youth hockey in Middle Tennessee, David Hill went on long-winded digressions about the Civil War.
I'm not saying that outsiders can't write about these things — Spencer Hall (who grew up in the Nashville suburbs, matriculated at Florida and now lives in Atlanta) wrote a sublime explanation of Memphis' connection with the Grizzlies — but they should do so armed with more information than a brochure they picked up from the CVB and a documentary they caught on PBS.
YASNI Will Forget About Memphis' NBA Team In October: YASNI submissions are open.
The Week Ahead
Step One: Vandy was awarded with the No. 2 overall seed in the NCAA baseball tournament and the regional at Hawkins Field opens tomorrow.
Being No. 2 did the 'Dores no favors. They are grouped with perennial appearer Georgia Tech, Illinois — which has the Big Ten's leading hitter and is undefeated all-time against Vandy (they played once ... in 1915) — and ETSU, led by pitcher Kerry Doane (13-1, 1.99), who is tops in the nation in complete games and innings pitched.
Nevertheless, Tim Corbin — the greatest coaching hire in Vandy history, in part because he is responsible for the only national-championship-winning coach in Vandy history — will have his charges ready.
You'd hope they'd come in with the momentum of having just won an SEC title, but perhaps that can serve as a wake-up call to jam the 'Dores into a deep run to the College World Series.
Hey A Neat Thing That Actually Should Come To Nashville! Talk from the SEC meetings is that the conference wants to settle on a long-term home for its men's basketball tournament.
And, rightly so, Nashville is at the forefront of these conversations.
The SEC clearly likes using Bridgestone Arena for the annual March invasion of the Bluebackers. Nashville is centrally located, for one thing. The folks down at Fifth & Broad have a good relationship with the conference, for another. Plus, inertia being a powerful force, it's always better to do what's worked already.
For all the pie-in-the-sky silliness people nominate Nashville for — from major league baseball to the NBA to the Olympics to the Super Bowl to the College Football Playoff (its actual name) — this one makes sense. The Big East (the old Big East) made Madison Square Garden its home for decades, and that lent a certain cachet to the tournament. Nashville isn't New York and Bridgestone isn't The Most Famous Arena In The World, but there's a sort of magic with having college sports' showpieces the same place year-in and year-out.
The SEC, being a money-making machine, might opt for a bigger market — especially now that they can claim St. Louis and Dallas as "SEC Country" — but those cities are still on the fringe of SEC country. The year the tournament was in similarly frontiered Tampa, it was an attendance disaster. Even without Kentucky in the final, a good crowd showed up Sunday this year.
Mike Slive and the SEC mucketies-muck know all this, of course, and given how college sports are, the decision may be a lot of, "OK, sure, but what have you done for me lately?" They may want to make a huge splash by setting the tournament in a wholly new city (the aforementioned Dallas or St. Louis).
But the right decision is to keep it here.
Emails to jrlind[at]nashvillescene[dot]com. Radio on Tuesdays at 6 PM on 102.5