Build a Better Offseason: Recommendations for the Week of March 11

Kicking Us Off This Week: Shmaltz Brewing Company's He'Brew Funky Jewbelation

Kicking Us Off This Week: Shmaltz Brewing Company’s He’Brew Funky Jewbelation

College football’s offseason is two months old already, but that means there’s still a little under six months until the 2013 season. It’s an eternity for any college football fan, and while many of us indulge in watching other sports, it just can’t compare to fall Saturdays.

With that in mind, we bring you the latest installment of our weekly feature, “Build a Better Offseason.” Every seven days or so, we’ll provide recommendations on what to do with all your free time now that you’re not all-consumed by college football, specifically focusing on beers, books, movies and sporting events. There’s also “this week in shame,” which you can view at the bottom of each piece.

Beer

He’Brew Funky Jewbelation, by Shmaltz Brewing Company in Saratoga Springs, NY (American Strong Ale, 9.8% ABV)

Pricey, and certainly not something you’d try more than a few times, He’Brew Funky Jewbelation is an interesting brew from Shmaltz. For those in the Syracuse area, it’s made just a couple hours away, but I’ve only had it here in Southern California (found both on tap and at BevMo in 22 oz. bottles). From a flavor standpoint, Funky Jewbelation is a dark pour that reeks of the rye whiskey and bourbon barrels it’s been aged in (in the best way). Warm and rich, it’s a dark pour that provides conflicting tastes of the aforementioned bourbon, along with brown sugar and some fruity notes as well. I’d recommend splitting this one with a friend, since it can feel like a meal.

Book

Loose Balls,” by Terry Pluto (1991)

The American Basketball Association was one of the most colorful, fascinating (and bankrupt) sports organizations to ever exist. And it’s also created much of what we love about today’s NBA game (for those of us who are avid fans, anyway). Pluto’s accounts — from what is probably a few hundred first-person sources — gives the most in-depth and fun look at the league that’s ever been written. Whether you’re a fan of one of the four surviving ABA teams (Nets, Spurs, Nuggets, Pacers) or not, after reading “Loose Balls,” you find yourself rooting for them and the league, despite the latter’s demise many years ago.

Movie

Children of Men (2006)

Regardless of your thoughts on Clive Owen, Children of Men still manages to be a powerful film that firmly examines humanity’s strengths and weaknesses, while hitting on the all the key points we’d look for in a movie about an apocalyptic not-so-distance future. From faith (religious and otherwise) to trust and our response in the face of dire circumstances, it morphs back and forth from societal commentary to psychological thriller (and then, action movie) in a way that’s both deeply thoughtful and navigable at the same time.

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UMass to the Big East: Why Hasn’t This Happened Yet?! (An Objective Analysis by an Objective Man)

Could the Big East take a look at UMass if/when they realign again?

With the Big East being raided yet again, and the ACC having a lot to do with this, the Big East could still be looking for new blood.  They’ve invited some pretty random schools (Boise State?!), yet a pretty obvious possibility has been overlooked: UMass.  Sure, they just lost in the NIT Final Four, and their basketball program hasn’t been a serious power since the Clinton Administration, but stay with me here, folks.

As far as enrollment goes, UMass boasts an undergraduate enrollment of 21,373, comparable to several member institutions.  Despite what I said earlier regarding their basketball program, it does have some history of success, including being the alma mater of Rick Pitino, Julius “Dr. J.” Erving, Al Skinner and Marcus Camby; several NCAA Tournament appearances, reaching the Final Four in 1996, and reaching the NIT Finals in 2008.  It’s also where current big-time head coaches John Calipari and Travis Ford got their starts.  Moving to a major conference would help the Minutemen acquire better recruits and potentially recapture the glory years of the mid-90s and become a solid contender.

In addition to this, they’ve also developed quite a successful Division I-AA program, with National Championship appearances in 1978 and 2006, and National Title in 1998.  This season, they begin their competition in the Mid-Major I-A Mid-American Conference.  One issue that many detractors have is their current stadium.  Warren McGuirk Alumni Stadium only holds 17,000 people, meaning that UMass must play its home games in Gillette Stadium (also known as the House Brady Built, no one denies this).  However, plans are in place to renovate the stadium and bring it up to I-A regulations.  UConn football was a I-AA joke in the 1990s, but the school invested in the program, and it has seen success since its move to I-A in 2002, and to the Big East in 2005.  Granted, UConn Basketball was a founding member of the Big East. Continue reading

Big East Expansion: Temple Membership Vote on Wednesday?

The Big East and Temple Have Still Yet to Come To Terms For the Owls' Potential Membership in 2012

The Temple Owls still haven’t joined the Big East for all sports (but most importantly, football), and apparently that move’s not necessarily in the bag yet, either. According to reports, the league’s members are set to vote Wednesday (what has taken so long?) and then Temple will have to quickly negotiate their way out of both the MAC and Atlantic 10. At this point, it’s also assumed the Big East will be putting its West Virginia exit money to good use, and help the Owls pay their way out of both leagues.

What’s crazy is how we got to this point. How does a league go from kicking a school out less than a decade ago, to now basically depending on its re-admittance in order to keep things running smoothly (all relative, really) on the football side? Well, the main answer came today from the New York Times’ Will Rhoden, who very aptly described the early decisions that have caused the league’s current state of decline. Former Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese, in 1989:

“I said, ‘We will all rue the day about this decision.’ I understood how big football was. I didn’t understand how big it was going to become. At that point, the Big East had so much success in the ’80s, everybody sort of forgot about it.  But I felt looking back on the history of the Big East, that was probably the biggest mistake we made.”

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Big East Expansion: Who’s Looking to Start a New Basketball Conference?

Could Georgetown Be Stirring Up Another Big East Exodus?

Apologizing for the slight divergence from our regularly scheduled programming (football) in advance:

In what has become a weekly saga around these parts, we take a look at our (and by our, I mean Syracuse‘s) former stomping grounds (the Big East), which look more like a graveyard most days. While addition has been on everyone’s mind lately, it appears that some more future defections could lead to subtraction in the future (shockingly?). Says the Chronicle of Higher Education: “…two Big East members (that) have had conversations about leaving the conference to start a new league built around traditional basketball powers.” This is, of course, of no surprise to anyone who’s ever been on the inside of the hulking, slow behemoth known as the Big East. But the bigger questions still loom — who are the two Benedict Arnolds, soon to be the “new Pitt and Syracuse?” and if these schools were to form a basketball superconference, who else would be on board?

Obviously, the additions of schools like SMU, Houston and UCF to the basketball league do nothing for the overall quality but provide additional punching bags for the likes of Georgetown and Louisville. Since most of the Big East currently pads their out of conference schedule in advance of what’s usually a brutal 18-game league schedule, these additional bottom-feeders really don’t help. We can surmise that multiple basketball schools are unhappy about this, but which ones are so unhappy they’d consider defection? Keep in mind that candidates will almost definitely be of the league’s old guard, and won’t have a football program (or much of one to speak of). They also won’t be Providence, because John Marinatto and the school hold joint ownership of the conference (metaphorically). Which leads us to Georgetown and St. John’s. Why them, but not say Seton Hall or Marquette? Simple: TV revenue.

Once again, we know that schools are unhappy with this setup, but you have to look at which ones possess enough value to attract other big basketball schools away from their respective conferences and into the “Roundball League” (or whatever probably horrendous name it adopts). Since the Hoyas and Red Storm deliver parts of the New York and D.C. markets, these are your best options. We avoid Villanova since not only do they fail to be the hottest game in town, but their football program is looking to move up in the world (not possible in a basketball-only league). With these two main players set, the following Big East teams probably jump at the chance to join up: Marquette, Seton Hall, DePaul. Assuming they aim for 12, who else do they grab?

In this scenario, we assume Memphis and Temple are pushed by the Big East failing to extend an invite (highly plausible). Recognizing the sinking ship they’d remain a part of, ‘Nova would finally jump to this league, as would Providence. For the final two spots (and to keep it semi-regional), I’d encourage George Mason and VCU. What you’re left with is a 16-team basketball superconference, whose weak link would probably still be DePaul (surely the Demon Deacons don’t find this as entertaining as I do). To be honest, they’d probably get just as many bids as the ACC for the NCAA Tournament every year (if not more). A frightening thought, but far too important to ignore.

If this all comes to fruition (we’re far from that right now), who’d you like to see in this basketball-only superleague? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Big East Expansion: “Now What?” Edition

When the Big East Expands Again, This Guy's Definitely Still Interested

When we last left our more beleaguered East Coast football brethren (former rivals, for the five defectors among us), they were busy expanding to a four timezones format, extending its reach over 3,000 miles from its original locale of Providence, to the shores of San Diego. Since then, Air Force has made it awkward, and no longer wants a seat with the USSR of college football, while fellow service academy Navy is officially locked into independent status until 2014 (at least). So at this juncture, as we’ve asked several times before: now what?

We’ve mentioned most of these at one point or another, but worth noting all of the current candidates again, with odds and explanations attached. The following schools are listed from most likely to garner an invite to least likely. Also keep in mind that a) all schools are pretty much on the table at this point, and b)the conference has not necessarily said it will stop at 12 teams for football.

Temple Owls (Odds — 2:1): Already members of the Big East once, Temple fits the league’s original profile (good at basketball, eastern location), and this time brings a more formidable football program (they’d hope). The biggest barrier to their admittance has always been Villanova, but unless the Wildcats want to play basketball in the Atlantic 10, that stance will probably be changing soon.

Memphis Tigers (Odds — 8:1): Another all-sports addition, Memphis could contend immediately in basketball, but would likely be the new Temple of the league (while Temple would become the Rutgers of the new Big East?). Losing 10 games this past year won’t help them out much, but another defection (not unlikely) would.

ECU Pirates (Odds — 10:1): We’ve mentioned this several times before, but the Pirates have already applied to join the Big East! That was easy. A school that regularly draws 50-60K for football would normally be a big attraction, except that they’re the fifth-best game in town down in North Carolina, and provide little in terms of TV revenue. Ceiling in the new iteration of the league would likely be an 8-4 record.

Villanova Wildcats (Odds — 15:1): Given they’re already a member in all other sports, adding Villanova would be an easy fix. And at this point, the soonest they’d join is 2014, which as luck would have it, could coincide with Navy’s entry date. On the other hand, they play home games in a soccer stadium and usually play less compelling football than (at the very least) Penn and Temple.

Southern Miss Golden Eagles (Odds — 25:1): And to be honest, if they were in an even marginally larger media market, this would be a slam dunk already. The reigning Conference USA champs would love to continue rivalries with UCF, SMU and Houston, and raise their own national profile (they’re the San Diego State of the Gulf Coast, really). Even better than all of this: They’d be an immediate contender in a budding Western division.

Tulsa Golden Hurricane (Odds — 35:1): If you’ve already got two teams in Texas, why not add an Oklahoma team, too? Tulsa’s always been decent at football, especially with the whole not-playing-defense thing which seems to work so well for C-USA teams. The drawback — most eyes in Tulsa are likely on the other two big football teams in the state, plus it would be difficult to finish higher than fourth in that Western division.

Toledo Rockets/Colorado State Rams/UNLV Rebels (Odds — 100:1 each): And this is just a sampling of the schools the Big East could consider. Hell, might even throw Hawaii in there while they’re at it. If they’re going for eyeballs and institutional cache, then they’re going for UNLV or to be honeset, Hawaii (have been to a BCS game). Logically, the pick’s Toledo — probably as good as half of the league this year and a natural rival for Cincinnati. Colorado State’s more tossed in there to represent any mountain-type team in that general region of the country.

If we’re stopping at just one additional school (to pair with Navy), Temple would appear to be the pick. However, to avoid pushing too many teams out West (and further toward leaving the conference), they may go with another choice left of the original conference footprint. If that’s the choice, I’d give Southern Miss the call first. In the case of more than just one invite though, no blog post can truly capture the amount of teams on the table. Might as well include every team currently in the MAC, Mountain West, WAC and C-USA. And that’s just for starters.