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.

Union transfer contract of Michael Lahoud to Miami FC

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Union transfer contract of Michael Lahoud to Miami FC

The Union have cashed in on Michael Lahoud.

After terminating his loan to the New York Cosmos on Tuesday, the Union recalled Lahoud and officially sold the 29-year-old midfielder to Miami FC of the NASL for an undisclosed amount.

“Mike always served the club in a professional manner during his time here,” said Union sporting director Earnie Stewart, who loaned Lahoud to the Cosmos this offseason. “We thank him for his service and want to wish him the best of luck in Miami and in his future endeavors.”

Lahoud, whose prorated $115,637.50 guaranteed salary comes off the Union’s salary cap, was acquired in 2012 in a trade with Chivas USA for defender Danny Califf. He made 58 appearances with the Union before being loaned out.

Eagles' left guard job is Allen Barbre's, but backups are pushing

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Eagles' left guard job is Allen Barbre's, but backups are pushing

Allen Barbre is the Eagles’ starting left guard.

For now.

The 31-year-old offensive lineman started all 16 games at left guard in 2015, and as of Tuesday at OTAs, he was still a starter for Doug Pederson’s new-look offense.

But that could change.

There are several players pushing for the left guard spot. Among them are Stefen Wisniewski, Malcolm Bunche, Isaac Seumalo and Andrew Gardner.

“I definitely am trying to start somewhere,” said Wisniewski, a free-agent signing. “I think I would be a good starting left guard.”

Wisniewski, 27, signed a one-year prove-it deal in early April to join the Eagles (see story). After being taken in the second round of the 2011 draft, Wisniewski has started 77 of 80 possible games in the NFL. He clearly views himself as a starter in the NFL.

For the last two weeks, he’s been working with the second team at guard and center.

“Yeah, it’s weird. It’s definitely weird,” Wisniewski said. “I haven’t spent much time with the twos in five years. Probably a week or two. So it’s definitely different, but I’m just looking at it as a temporary thing, though.”

This offseason, the Eagles added veteran Brandon Brooks to play right guard, taking over for Matt Tobin, but Barbre is still slotted on the left side. In fact, to hammer the point home, the starting offensive linemen have their lockers in a row in the deep corner of the locker room, from left to right: Jason Peters, Barbre, Jason Kelce, Brooks, Lane Johnson.

So, as of late May, Barbre is still the starter.

“I really like where we're at. I like the depth at that position right now,” Pederson said last week. “But yeah, Allen Barbre is my guy and he's our starter.”

Wisniewski is the most accomplished of the backups pushing for that starting left guard spot, but he’s not alone.

Bunche, who was on the Eagles’ practice squad in 2015 after going undrafted out of UCLA, has been working with the second team at left guard during practice. And the second-year player thinks he has a shot at the starting job too.

“Oh yes. But not just that one,” Bunche said. “Throughout the season, anything can happen. That’s one thing that [offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland], he talks about it a lot, you never know when you’re number is going to be called. You just gotta stay in tune with what’s being called, the play-calling, the different techniques going into certain games. I feel I have an opportunity to take that spot if I wanted to. My mindset it to come in and get better each and every day.”

Another possible starting left guard isn’t with the team right now. Third-round pick Seumalo, from Oregon State, is back at school because of the NFL graduation rule and Oregon State’s quarters system. He would be a logical choice to compete for that starting job, but he’s missing valuable time at OTAs.

Meanwhile, Barbre, who had started just eight total games in his seven-year career before 2015, is trying to stave off his competitors. The veteran knows the team brought in a bunch of new offensive linemen this offseason (they have 17 on the roster). He just doesn’t care.

“Honestly, I wasn’t really worried about that,” Barbre said Tuesday. “Honestly, I thought I played fairly decent (in 2015), if you studied the film and you understood what went on. There was a lot of stuff that was tough on the O-line, so it made it kind of tough on us.”

The criticism of the offensive line last season was loud, especially criticism of the guard positions, but Barbre did his best to avoid it.  

“I don’t even read it,” he said. “Honestly, I don’t even care. You guys got your jobs and I have my job. We all have different things we have to do.”

Right now, Barbre’s job is to hold onto that starting spot, while Wisniewski and the rest try to steal it away.

Jim Schwartz already gushing about Malcolm Jenkins, Rodney McLeod

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Jim Schwartz already gushing about Malcolm Jenkins, Rodney McLeod

Anyone who follows the NFL knows to avoid reading too much into spring workouts. You don't gain valuable insight into a player's game-day ability by observing his speed in shorts or run-stuffing technique when tackles aren't being made.

First-year Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz sidestepped several questions after Tuesday's OTA about how specific players are fitting into his defensive scheme, but he made an exception for one position group in particular: his starting safeties.

The Eagles this offseason spent $35 million apiece to extend Malcolm Jenkins and sign Rodney McLeod away from the Rams. Jenkins got $21 million guaranteed, McLeod got $17 million, and they rank fifth and ninth among NFL safeties, respectively, in annual average salary.

"That was money well spent," Schwartz said Tuesday. "I'm sort of violating my rule of judging too much into this time of year — saying linemen need the pads on before we can judge, rookies let's not judge yet — but both [Jenkins and McLeod] are veteran players. And you can see that right away that both are multi-dimensional. They communicate very well, cover a lot of ground. They can blitz, they can play man (coverage), they can play zone. I'd be very surprised as the year went along if they're not one of the better safety tandems in the NFL. They've been very impressive so far."

Jenkins, who has emerged as the Eagles' most vocal leader, is coming off two terrific seasons. He set career-highs last year in tackles (109) and forced fumbles (three), intercepted two passes and returned one 99 yards for a touchdown. He graded out as the best safety in the NFL by Pro Football Focus. 

McLeod ranked 10th, eight spots ahead of Walter Thurmond, Jenkins' partner last season.

"I think we all believe that," Jenkins said when asked about the safety duo's chances of being one of the NFL's best. "The way that practice has been going so far and just what Rodney adds to the secondary, I think we're real excited about that tandem and what we'll be able to do. Both of us are very versatile, both of us know the defense and can get guys lined up and can problem-solve. All the rest of it we can do, but when you have guys that can quarterback the defense and problem-solve, it gets you out of a lot of bad looks."

Jenkins had watched McLeod on tape so he knew the type of player the Eagles were adding. What stood out most to him was how "violent" McLeod played in St. Louis, how he played much bigger than his 5-10/195-pound frame. But what's impressed Jenkins most in OTAs with McLeod is how he sees the field and reads situations. Those instincts are what Jenkins thinks can make the pairing special.

"Now playing next to him, you really start to see the smarts and his football IQ, knowing different defenses, ways to adjust things, having the ability to use tools for different situations," Jenkins said of McLeod. "He's an extension of a coach on the field. Talk about a guy being able to quarterback your defense on the field, he's somebody who understands the totality of the defense and has that ability to communicate and get guys lined up. It's just good to have two guys back there now that can do that.

"I think from what he brings to the table and what I bring to the table from a football standpoint, I think our talent level can put us in that conversation (of the NFL's top safety tandems). But once we really get in tune with each other as far as calls, tools that we can use ... when you got two guys with high football IQs, you can really be special."

Jenkins and McLeod have been playing left and right safety interchangeably so far in practice. McLeod says that this voluntary workout period for the safeties has been about figuring out which of them does what better. He'll have a better idea of their specific roles once training camp comes.

Jenkins and McLeod were in constant communication on the sidelines after coming off the field for certain plays at Tuesday's practice. Jenkins was doing a lot of the talking and McLeod a lot of the listening. McLeod would explain what he saw and why he broke the way he did, and Jenkins would coach him up and advise him what to do next time they see a certain look. 

"Big competitor, man. Just from Day 1, offseason drills and things like that when we compete, even in the weight room you can just see how he gets after it," McLeod said of Jenkins. "It carries over into the field, big trash talker. He carries a swagger about him. Very smart and instinctive player.

"Me and Malcolm, I think we're gonna build something great here and you can see glimpses of it in practice now."