You know what they say: it’s never too early to start talking college football.
Yes, it is.
May is too early—at least for printed preseason magazines.
Update: (Even early June is too early. Ask the set-in-ink periodicals that will forever have Bob Stoops coaching Oklahoma in 2017. More on that in an update below).
I was shocked by two things this week strolling through my Barnes & Noble of Chino Hills.
Actually, three things.
The first was not seeing a display for LaVar Ball’s best-seller on the hard-scrabble raising of a basketball-family dynasty.
Shouldn’t he have a book by now?
--“The Time I beat Michael Jordan one-on-one (in my mind)”
--“How to Succeed in getting a walk-on coach fired after a 30-3 season (without really trying)”
--"Talk Radio and Me (How I duped an Industry by simply giving away my cell phone number)
--"Steve Alford Owes Me...BIG. (How I saved a UCLA coach's job and why that means he has to start LiAngelo)"
--“One for the money, $495 for the shoe”
(Updated: June 1. Former Lakers star Jerry West emphatically told "The Dan Patrick Show" he did not want to discuss Lonzo Ball's controversial father. And then West said "His dad, to me...I wouldn't want a father like that." Jerry West's father, for the record, was no picnic. This was a compliment, though, compared to what Nike exec George Raveling said about LaVar back in April: "The worst thing to happen in basketball in the last one hundred years.")
The second shock was a real-live book store being open anywhere in America. Amen to that, for now.
The third shock was seeing college football magazines already on the rack.
I traditionally wait until mid-July to pick up my college football previews, an annual rite of passage I anticipate like Christmas morning.
There is nothing like cracking open the glossy, freshly printed pages of a pigskin periodical. It gets your blood flowing and triggers an endorphin release that foretells the coming of another series of Notre Dame events in which some students will walk out on before it's over.
But, geez, if a newspaper is old news by the time it hits your driveway, what is a college football magazine hitting book stores in May?
It is very risky business printing, in spring, what you think will happen in the fall.
I purchased two magazines anyway—Athlon’s Sports 2017 preview and Street & Smith’s return after a 10-year hiatus. Welcome back, old friend!
It’s almost impossible, however, to put full faith and confidence in material so instantaneously dated.
(Update: Stop the presses. Oh, wait too late. Bob Stoops announced today--June 7- he is resigning after 18 mostly-wonderful seasons at Oklahoma, which included a national title in 2000. This is a shocker, folks, for a 56-year-old man in his prime. The good news is Stoops says he is not sick. "My health was not the deciding factor in this decision and I've had no incidents that would prevent me from coaching." So, gee, why do it? You have to pry a lot of these guys out of their towers (Joe Paterno, Bobby Bowden). Bill Snyder is 20 years than Stoops and still coaching at Kansas State. Some are asking: why? Stoops' legacy will stand the test of time at Oklahoma, even though we all thought he'd win more than one national title after he won his first in only his second season. "The Bible says, to every thing there is a season," Stoops said in his statement. The Bible also says to take an "eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth and a hand for a hand," so don't believe everything you read. Let's hope there is nothing sinister behind this. Maybe Stoops got tired of apologizing for his boorish president, David Boren, or for reputation stress caused by playing woman-beater Joe Mixon. What about the kids you think are squeaky-clean--Baker Mayfield--who end up busted flat in Baton Rouge, or off-season arrested in Fayetteville? Maybe Stoops is preparing for that long-anticipated voyage to the National Football League. Maybe he thinks the Big 12 is going to fold? This much is fact: Stoops was one of the best coaches of his generation. He went 190-48 at a school with impossible expectations. His "Big Game" Bob reputation came back to bite him after losing several national title games (and a Fiesta Bowl to Boise State.) But that's naysayer nit-picking. Stoops, who mentored under Snyder at Kansas State and came to prominence as Steve Spurrier's defensive coordinator coordinator at Florida, seemed a decent-enough citizen in this den of thieves. That ALL said, maybe this was a good time to leave. Maybe, for once, a coach is telling the God's-honest...truth. That would be a new one on me, but Stoops DID quote the Bible. He's also leaving his football house in order, with a quality team and, in Mayfield, a Heisman-candidate at quarterback. Stoops also gets to choose his successor, offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley, who appears ready to take this promotion. We wish Stoops lazy days on a hammock until he gets the itch to coach the New York Jets, or the UCLA Bruins if Jim Mora goes 4-8 again this year.)
More reasons you can't trust early-release magazines: Street & Smith’s went to print before the big news that USC was close to securing a new $70 million rights deal with United Airlines.
The Trojans’ page in the magazine (page 126), still lists its home venue as Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. That was SO 1923 through 2016.
According to various reports, however, the venerable edifice will soon share its name with an airline. Part of the deal requires the old name be incorporated into the branding.
At face, this sounds like a bad idea: United Airlines Memorial Stadium?
That’s like naming a bay in Alaska after the Exxon Valdez.
No way Street & Smith could have seen that coming.
Both magazines also took a gamble in listing “Baylor” as opening its home season on Sept. 2 against Liberty. There are some who wonder whether the scandal-plagued program will survive the summer as it fends off lawsuit after lawsuit pursuant to a catalog of sleazy, abhorrent student-athlete behavior.
My guess is Baylor will be around to play football in the fall, but will it have a league?
The Big 12 has been a house of cards since the Pac 10 tried to loosen it of six schools back in 2010. Prominent radio voice Paul Finebaum, the mouth of the south, has predicted the Big 12’s imminent doom. Finebaum said the league was “The Titanic and you can see the iceberg in sight.”
Finebaum has a right to his opinion, though I see the Big 12 more as the “Sloop John B,” or the “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.”
Truth is, the Big 12 might have a much different feel in September than the one the preview magazines are portraying in May.
Athlon is also taking a risk in naming Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield as its leading Heisman Trophy candidate.
Last time we saw Baker he was being chased down, and caught, by a Fayetteville, AK, police officer who should have been offered a scholarship on the spot.
This sort of thing, mind you, would have never happened under former Sooner coach Barry Switzer.
“They couldn’t have caught my quarterbacks!!” Switzer tweeted after the February incident.
Mayfield’s first team photo of the year ended up being a mugshot, but he took responsibility for his drunken actions and vowed to do everything in his power to earn the respect of his teammates.
That’s fine—I’m just not sure you should build a Heisman campaign around it.
(Updated: Oklahoma ignored all the distractions and won the national championship!...in men's golf.)
Magazines published in May have to hedge some of their bets. Athlon and Street & Smith’s both picked Alabama and Ohio State as preseason 1-2. That’s like picking the Yankees and Dodgers to win the pennant in the 1950s.
Street & Smith also lists Notre Dame as its most “overrated” team but also does not have the Irish ranked in its preseason top 25 (now that’s covering your bases).
The magazines both have potential impact transfer quarterback Malik Zaire, who left Notre Dame, as TBD. We have learned post-publication that Zaire has narrowed his choices to Texas and one other team.
(Updated June 5: "other" team now appears to be Florida after the Southeastern Conference's recent decision to relax its transfer rules. The league also announced a new sponsor: SEC-lax because, when you need transfer relax the most, "It just means more." )
Athlon has North Carolina playing in a bowl game next year not knowing if the Tar Heels will be bowl eligible as the NCAA ponders walloping the school for academic fraud.
To its credit, Athlon has North Carolina in the appropriate bowl for a program facing jail time: Pinstripe.
(Updated: Since the preseason magazines and this story went to press, North Carolina has formally submitted its response to the NCAA allegations as it prepares for a summer showdown with the Committee on Infractions: Andy Staples of Sports Illustrated wrote May 26 that North Carolina lawyers claim the NCAA has no applicable bylaw to deal with school-wide academic fraud. AND MIGHT BE RIGHT!? Note: the NCAA does have bylaws to deal with how much peanut butter a student-athlete can put on a bagel without the university receiving the Death Penalty. Anyway, NC thinks it has a strong defense for slipping the bonds of "lack of institutional control." NC attorneys are also blaming the media for fomenting this story because we don't like Roy Williams. My best guess on this NCAA outcome is that NC will get a wrist slap but USC will get two more years of probation.)
What else will change between now and September?
The magazines went to publishing bed before hearing Coach Brian Kelly's half-serious proclamation that Notre Dame would win the national title next year. They let the ink dry not knowing what key injuries, arrests and suspensions will impact the College Football Playoff chase. And God only knows what first-year Florida Atlantic Coach Lane Kiffin will do\say\tweet between now and Labor Day.
(Update: The mags also missed news that Penn State's former president and AD received jail sentences for their role in the handling of the Jerry Sandusky scandal. It was also reported Monday by "Variety" that HBO has "green lit" a movie on Penn State that will star Al Pacino as coach Joe Paterno. The movie is still looking for a title. "Godfather, Part IV" was nixed for possible copyright reasons. Other possibilities include "Paterno's Way," "The Panic in University Park" and "Nittany Lion Day Afternoon." )
In short, any college football magazine purchased before the Indianapolis 500 should be read under the yellow caution flag.
But go ahead and purchase, and read, if you must.
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