Until It Secures a TV Deal, Reserve Your Judgment on the New Big East

Until It Secures a TV Deal, Reserve Your Judgment on the New Big East

Bill Bradshaw is seeing green, even if plenty of others can't see past the Green Wave.

The Big East has faced a firestorm of criticism since it announced on Tuesday the additions of Tulane and East Carolina to the conference. Those adds came one week after it lost Rutgers to the Big Ten and one day before it lost Louisville to the ACC.

But Bradshaw, Temple University's athletic director, seemed as confident as ever in a halftime interview with 1210 AM during Wednesday night's Temple-Buffalo basketball game. Rather than speak in generalities about the bright future ahead as the Big East continues to replace more recognizable programs with those of lesser prestige and name value, Bradshaw took a bold, honest approach. These quotes come courtesy Joey Cranney of the Temple News:

“If anyone’s confused and frustrated, just know one thing: It’s the color green,” Bradshaw said. “Think of the color green, and that answers all of your questions.”

“I think it’s going to be very lucrative, particularly with the markets being brought into the Big East, such as San Diego, Houston, Dallas, New Orleans, Tampa Bay, Orlando, and certainly Philadelphia,” Bradshaw said. “All those markets are going to mean more eyeballs, more exposure and hopefully more revenue.”

Bradshaw's open admission that his new conference is angling for a pay day points to an overlooked reality. The message seems to have permeated discussions about the BCS conferences, but stayed separate from the debates about the future of the Big East.

It's beyond time to recognize that realignment has absolutely nothing to do with athletics, traditions or rivalries. The only thing that matters is geography, insofar as it can be turned into money, a lot of it. Maryland and Rutgers don't scream "Big Ten," but those two programs provide that conference with TV markets in which it was not previously a presence.

So why not take that exercise, exploit it to its fullest extent, and recognize the new Big East?

As things currently stand, Big East football will be contested between these 13 schools in 2015: Temple, SMU, Navy, Houston, South Florida, Central Florida, San Diego State, UConn, Cincinnati, Memphis, Tulane, Boise State, East Carolina.

For reasons related to quality of competition and the implausibility of a West-Coast school joining a (by name) eastern entity, that assortment of schools has been relentlessly mocked by the conference's critics — of which there are plenty.

But here's that list retyped: Philadelphia (4), Dallas (5), Washington D.C. (8), Houston (10), Tampa Bay (13), Orlando (19), San Diego (28), Hartford (30), Cincinnati (34), Memphis (48), New Orleans (52), Greenville (99), Boise (112).

The numbers in the parentheses represent that city's place in Nielsen's list of the country's largest television markets. Boise and East Carolina do not extend immediately extend to major metropolitan areas, but do provide the conference a presence in two additional regions. Excluded from the list above are non-football members St. John's (New York, 1), Villanova (Philadelphia, 4), DePaul (Chicago, 3), Providence (53), Seton Hall (North Jersey/New York City, 1), Marquette (Milwaukee, 34) and Georgetown (Washington, D.C., 8), who will also factor into the negotiations. 

Here's what Big East commissioner Mike Aresco, formerly the executive vice president of programming at CBS Sports, is banking on: The markets mentioned above will provide the conference leverage as it negotiates its new TV deal. Better yet, those markets are the Big East's leverage. Realignment is a cash grab, and what the Big East has lost in traditional athletic prestige, its attempted to add in national scope.

You can criticize the conference as mid-major, and, according to the new BCS bowl format set to kick in in 2014, you would be right. You can mock it for being the new Conference USA, and, considering that nine of the 13 schools mentioned above came from C-USA, you would again be right.

But there's little denying these schools stand to make more money as a group in a makeshift Big East than they would in their former conferences — C-USA, MAC, MWC, Independent (Navy).

This is the only way to write it any clearer than Bradshaw said it Wednesday night: It's about money.

By no means do I aim to argue that the Big East is guaranteed success. It is very possible the conference will soon face the realization that having programs in and around major TV markets does not equate to a meaningful number of individual televisions in those markets.

But until Aresco comes back with a deal in hand, and until its clear just how much money each member school will receive, reserve judgment on the Big East. The jokes have been told and re-told, and the moral indignation has been tweeted and retweeted, and its all become played out.

The Big East has taken one hit after another over the last decade. It's lost 10 members since 2003 (assuming you count TCU, who left before it even arrived). It's lost seven to the ACC alone. It's proven as reactionary as could be in a time when programs, presidents and commissioners needed to be the most proactive. No one should weep for what's happened to the Big East.

But the conference is due at least some credit for having survived this long given all its losses, for somehow figuring out a way to expand beyond the number of teams it ever had at one time for football, for trying something inventive for the first time in a long time.

The Big East, very late in the proceedings, has staked itself a unique place in the conference landscape. It's lost its status as an automatic qualifier but positioned itself to potentially prove the best of the rest.

A few months from now, its last-ditch effort to expand its reach across the country could prove too little, too late. Then the criticisms will have proven valid. But if it succeeds, and if the Big East lands a lucrative TV contract, then it will have done so in the face of every argument about how sub-standard its additions have been.

For now, Bill Bradshaw is right, even if the majority of onlookers can't warm to the idea of adding programs they admittedly know little about.

Best of MLB: Stephen Strasburg wins 14th as Nationals down Indians

Best of MLB: Stephen Strasburg wins 14th as Nationals down Indians

CLEVELAND -- Stephen Strasburg shut down Cleveland for seven innings and bounced back from his only loss this season, leading the Washington Nationals to a 4-1 win over the Indians on Wednesday.

Strasburg (14-1) began the season with 13 straight wins before he was beaten by the Los Angeles Dodgers on July 21. The powerful right-hander shook off that blemish, holding the Indians to only three hits as the Nationals recovered after blowing a two-run lead in the ninth and losing on Tuesday night.

Washington rookie Trea Turner drove in three runs and Daniel Murphy hit his 20th homer off Carlos Carrasco (7-4), who nearly matched Strasburg but was done in by one bad inning.

Nationals reliever Blake Treinen stopped Cleveland's threat in the ninth, getting a game-ending double play for his major league save.

Strasburg walked one and struck out seven (see full recap)

Cardinals snap Familia's saves streak, rally past Mets 5-4
NEW YORK -- Yadier Molina and pinch-hitter Kolten Wong each stroked an RBI double in the ninth inning, and the St. Louis Cardinals ended Jeurys Familia's streak of 52 straight saves in rallying past the New York Mets 5-4 on Wednesday night.

Yoenis Cespedes hit a go-ahead homer off Adam Wainwright to cap a three-run comeback in the seventh that gave the Mets a 4-3 lead. But then Familia, who hadn't blown a regular-season save opportunity since July 30 last year, finally faltered.

Jedd Gyorko drew a one-out walk in the ninth and was replaced by pinch-runner Randal Grichuk. Molina hit the next pitch to deep center field, and Grichuk scored standing up to tie it.

Molina was thrown out at third by Familia (2-2) on pinch-hitter Jeremy Hazelbaker's comebacker, but Hazelbaker stole second and scored when Wong lined a double just inside the left-field line.

Familia's franchise-record saves streak was the third-longest in major league history behind Tom Gordon (54) and Eric Gagne (84).

Jonathan Broxton (3-2) tossed a scoreless eighth and Seung Hwan Oh got three quick outs for his sixth save (see full recap)

Padres hit 3 HRs to extend streak, beat Blue Jays 8-4
TORONTO -- Adam Rosales hit a two-run home run, Alex Dickerson and Brett Wallace each hit solo shots and the San Diego Padres beat the Toronto Blue Jays 8-4 on Wednesday, avoiding a three-game sweep.

San Diego extended its club-record streak of games with at least one home run to 25. It's the longest run since the 2002 Texas Rangers set a major league record by homering in 27 straight.

Luis Perdomo (5-4) allowed four runs and six hits in 5 2-3 innings to win back-to-back starts.

Wallace reached base three times. He was hit by a pitch and scored on Rosales' homer in the third, connected off R.A. Dickey in the fifth and hit an RBI single off Joe Biagini in the sixth.

Dickerson homered for the fourth time in four games when he connected off Franklin Morales in the eighth. He is first Padres rookie to homer in four straight games.

Dickey (7-12) allowed seven runs, six earned, and four hits in 5 2-3 innings. The knuckleballer is winless in three starts and has allowed six home runs in that span (see full recap).

Eric Rowe explains 'hiccups,' ready for fresh start in pads

Eric Rowe explains 'hiccups,' ready for fresh start in pads

Earlier this week, Doug Pederson admitted cornerback Eric Rowe had some “hiccups” during the spring, and seemed to indicate they stemmed from learning a new defense. 

Rowe says that wasn’t the problem at all.

“It wasn’t the new defense that was giving me whatever hiccups [Pederson] was talking about,” Rowe said on Wednesday as he reported for his second training camp (see Day 3 observations). “It was just, I was having trouble breaking on top of the routes, specifically the curl routes. But fade ball, deep post, digs, I didn’t have any trouble there. It was just curl routes. I just knew I had to work on it after the OTAs.”

Rowe, 23, said the problem was technical; he just needed to get his feet down quicker.

Whatever the problem, whatever the hiccups, it seems as though Rowe’s standing within the organization and on the depth chart isn’t what it once was.

Many thought he would be a starter in 2016, like he was at the end of 2015, but that wasn’t the way things were in the spring. Instead, Leodis McKelvin and Ron Brooks took those positions, and it looks like Nolan Carroll, returning from an injury, and rookie Jalen Mills, who hasn’t yet practiced in pads, are vying for playing time, too.

In back-to-back days earlier this week, Pederson and defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz failed to mention Rowe’s name while listing players at the cornerback spot. Coincidental omissions or a vocalized unofficial depth chart?

Rowe could possibly go from starter to deep bench player, but that’s not what he’s planning on.

“I know I had a little ups and downs in OTAs, but now the pads are coming on,” Rowe said. “I feel like it’s a fresh start for me and I’m just ready to get out here.”

Pads go on Saturday.

“Right now, I think I still stand in a good position (with the team),” Rowe said. “Football is about the game with pads on. Now we’re really about to see in a couple days when we put the pads on.”

Small in stature, Wendell Smallwood likes to play big

Small in stature, Wendell Smallwood likes to play big

He looks like a small back. He's built like a small back. He wants to play like a big back.

Wendell Smallwood, trying to make the Eagles as a reserve tailback, stands 5-foot-10, 208 pounds, but he said he’s got a surprise for defenders that think he’s one of those itty-bitty backs that dances around looking pretty … until they get hit.

“I think that’s what most people expect,” he said Tuesday. “But when I actually put my head down and fight for those extra yards and get under guys, guys start to say, ‘Hey!’ They start to feel me a little bit.

“So I definitely think that started to show my last year in college, and I started becoming more of an inside zone type of runner instead of an outside runner.”

None of this should be a surprise considering Smallwood’s position coach is Duce Staley, who during his 10-year NFL career was much more interested in running over people than around them.

Smallwood is nowhere near as big as Staley, who played at about 235 to 240. But that’s the kind of back he wants to be.

“It’s definitely important to me and it’s definitely what Duce wants me to do,” Smallwood said. “He wants me to hit the holes and hit ‘em hard and that’s the reason he got me here.

“Duce, he doesn’t like small backs. He doesn’t. I don’t think he believes in those guys. He was a big boy. Running dudes over left and right. That’s what he wants.”

Smallwood played sparingly as a freshman at West Virginia, shared time with Rushel Shell as a sophomore, then took over last year when he led the Big 12 with 1,519 rushing yards and added nine touchdowns, 26 catches and a 6.4 rushing average.

The Eagles plucked him out of Morgantown in the fifth round, and in an uncertain running back picture, he’s got a realistic chance to not just make the team but also play a role.

Just don’t expect him to play like a typical guy his size.

“I don’t consider myself a small back anymore,” he said. “People have always said that and I kind of started to agree, but then I looked at some of the guys who are around and I’m not a small back at all.

“I’m not little and the running style I like to do is suited for a big back, and my catching kind of throws people off. I definitely think I’m a mixture of both.”

Smallwood ranked 13th in Division I in rushing yards last year, and his 6.4 average was tied for ninth among backs with at least 200 carries.

He said a lot of defenders expect him to be a finesse back, a guy who likes to juke safeties and linebackers instead of bowling them over.

“Get me going downhill and I’ll get you what I can get you,” he said. “A lot of [defenders] kind of take the easy route and think it’s going to be easy and then the rest of the game they’re going low and trying to take my legs out.”

Look at the Eagles’ running back picture.

The starter is Ryan Mathews, who is talented but injury-prone. The backup right now probably is Kenjon Barner, who has 34 career carries. Then there’s Darren Sproles, whose 3.8 average last year was his lowest since 2009 and second lowest of his 11-year career.

With a strong camp, there’s no reason Smallwood can’t work himself into that picture.

The last frontier for the Northern Delaware native is blitz pickup. Something he was never asked to do at WVU.

“I don’t think I did basically any in college,” he said. “They didn’t ask me to block at all. I was mainly running routes.

“But as soon as I got here, Duce emphasized, ‘If you want to get on the field, you’re going to block. If you’re not going to block, you’re not going to play.'”

Staley’s No. 22 wasn’t available, but Smallwood is happy to wear the jersey number of another one of his favorite backs growing up, Correll Buckhalter’s No. 28, who he seems quite similar to.

It’s not fair to compare Smallwood to Staley, Buckhalter, Brian Westbrook or any other former Eagles back until the pads go on and we see what he’s really made of.

But Smallwood said he’s thrilled Staley is his coach and said there’s nobody he’d rather be playing for.

“I think he’s a great fit for me as a coach,” Smallwood said. “I need a kind of guy who drives me, tough guy, who’s not going to let up, who’s going to keep his foot on my back. I definitely need that kind of coaching.

“Just being around him growing up and seeing what he did when he was here and how he runs and him being one of my favorite backs, I was kind of star-struck to be around him, and now he’s my coach. It’s definitely a great situation for me.”