Yesterday Mike DeCourcy named Oklahoma State freshman Marcus Smart as one of the young college basketball season’s “upside surprises.” Here are Mike’s comments on Smart, in full:
After watching Smart dominate yet another major opponent (South Florida) in yet another Cowboys victory, it felt like time to thumb through the Sporting News college basketball preview issue to double-check whether he’d been included on one of our three All-America teams. Alas, we missed on that, but he was one of the five players on our all-freshman team.
That still puts us far ahead of the person who, with a number of games passed, ranked Smart as the No. 14 freshman in the nation.
No. 14! Among freshmen!
People, Marcus Smart has been the best college player in the nation to this point.
We knew he was going to be great. We did not expect that. Smart ranks only third on the OK State team in scoring (13.4), but leads in rebounding (7.4) and assists (5.0). He’s had a completely transformative effect on a team that last season finished 15-18. It’s far too early to say who’ll be your Sporting News player of the year — UNLV’s Anthony Bennett is pushing for that, as well as freshman of the year — but Smart is in the conversation.
After coaching the FIBA U-18 team for the United States last summer, Billy Donovan told anyone who would listen that Marcus Smart was a special player, and Smart has certainly lived up to Donovan’s hype. The freshman’s already asserted himself as the third Cowboy — along with Le’Bryan Nash and Markel Brown — who’s on the floor more or less all game, every game. And continuing with our theme of big point guards, Smart is the biggest of the lot at 6-4 and 225 pounds. That size gives him the unique distinction of having not only a great assist rate but also a pretty decent (16.5) defensive rebound percentage. (Smart may also be the only point guard to rank among the nation’s top 400 players in block percentage.) His best contributions on offense by far have come from the aforementioned assists and at the free throw line, for he’s yet to show perimeter range and is shooting just 46 percent inside the arc.
But the funny thing about Smart is that his shots just have not gone in. That, in a narrow journalistic sense, is the really interesting story presented by Smart so far. I love him, you love him, Mike loves him, we all love him, and I’m convinced we’re right to feel as we do. But his shots just have not gone in.
Ordinarily when a player’s shots don’t go in, we can cite any one of a number of exculpatory circumstances on his behalf. He has to carry the offense, say, and so he’s attempting an insane number of shots. Or maybe he’s a point guard who has to not only run the offense but also do a lot of scoring.
Alas, those alibis don’t work so well with Smart.
Stats from KenPom, through Sunday, December 9.
Feast your eyes on 14 freshmen: Smart, plus the 13 players I ranked ahead of him, based on performance over a really short period of time. Compared to his peer freshmen, Smart is measurably horrible from the field, and his struggles can’t be written off on account of workload. Other freshmen, including freshmen at the same position, have done much better with the same or even larger workloads.
That graph can be made to look even worse for Smart by including the 11 freshmen I ranked under him. I rated Smart quite highly anyway because I like him in real time when I watch him (see above), his defense is incredible (steals plus defensive boards), he draws nearly six fouls per 40 minutes, and he shoots 79 percent at the line.
In other words, Mike and I like a lot of the same things about Smart. The fact that Mike drew a vastly different conclusion (”Marcus Smart has been the best college player in the nation to this point”) than I did (No. 14 freshman and all that) will be represented by dreary people as an eyes vs. numbers thing.
Oh, please. Mike watched Smart’s games, and so did I. Mike used three stats in his blurb on Smart, and so did I.
What I like most about the accurate performance measures that Mike did not use in this instance is that they free up a person in his position to make supra-performance arguments. Instead of rehashing flawed numbers that merely reflect a player getting a lot of minutes and shots, Mike could have said this:
So Marcus Smart is shooting 21 percent on his threes. So what? Thanks for the brilliant insight, John Gasaway. What you have to understand is that Travis Ford needed Smart to at least try those threes. This is not a perimeter-oriented team, and what you see as a flaw in Smart’s performance is actually statistical testimony in support of a ferocious competitor, one who was given an order and saluted smartly.
I could be won over by an argument like that, and I really do think No. 14 represents “the floor” with respect to where I’ll be ranking Smart as the season progresses. I look forward to proclaiming Marcus Smart as a true upside surprise. Accurately.
Demonstrating that Sunday night’s win at the Staples Center was no fluke, the Orlando Magic followed it up Monday by going to Golden State and beating the Warriors in the second half of a back-to-back set. The two wins followed a similar script. After hanging around for three and a half quarters, Orlando blew the game open with efficient scoring down the stretch.
It turns out this has quietly been going on for a while. The Magic’s finishing lineup–starters Jameer Nelson, Arron Afflalo, Glen Davis and Nikola Vucevic and sixth man J.J. Redick–has been one of the league’s most efficient fivesomes this season. Entering Monday night’s game, this lineup had played 67 minutes together, per NBA.com/Stats, outscoring opponents by 41 points. Their 121.2 Offensive Rating ranks fourth among lineups with at least 50 minutes. Both figures went up Monday night, when Orlando finished the game on a 23-15 run after Nelson returned to the game, scoring at a rate of 153.3 points per 100 possessions.
This would all be less surprising if they did not play for a 7-10 team with the NBA’s 28th-best offense. NBA.com/Stats shows two other Magic lineups that have outscored opponents by even 10 points on the season, and both are nothing more than Small Sample Size Theatre. For comparison’s sake, Orlando’s starting lineup–with rookie Maurice Harkless in place of Redick–is -12 in 62 minutes. The team’s other two most common lineups have been outscored by at least 20 points.
The perimeter trio of Afflalo, Nelson and Redick makes this lineup click. All three players are dangerous outside shooters and can handle the basketball, keeping defenses off balance. Davis and Vucevic have enough range that opposing defenses must respect them, and the Magic doesn’t give up much size at the other end of the court, making the lineup viable for extended minutes. Still, I wouldn’t expect to see it starting games. Orlando also needs Redick as the anchor of a second unit otherwise lacking in shot creators, though a healthy Al Harrington might offer more scoring punch off the bench at some point. For now, the Magic’s finishing lineup remains the NBA equivalent of a closer, to be deployed sparingly but to great effect.
In what was undoubtedly the most faithful and uncanny reenactment of a Keith Richardssong title that I’ve ever seen, Missouri guard Michael Dixon announced his intention to transfer out of the program last night. Dixon had been serving a suspension of indefinite duration all season while (we only just learned this week) university authorities looked into allegations that he committed one sexual assault in 2010 before allegedly committing another one this summer.
Assuming the charges leveled against him have been investigated and substantiated, Dixon, of course, had to lose his basketball playing privileges. Indeed for my part I find it hard to envision that even the most ambitious win-at-all-costs coach imaginable would be in any great hurry to sign Dixon as a transfer after reading this. But in terms of the impact that Dixon’s absence will have on an admittedly trivial and subsidiary front, Missouri’s performance as a basketball team, I think one further word is in order.
Andy Katzwrote this morning that the Tigers “are still a legit threat to finish in the top three in the SEC,” and that the team “will be fine on the court without [Dixon].” I’m ready to co-sign both statements: Missouri can absolutely finish in the top three in the SEC without Dixon, and that strikes me as a fair definition of doing “fine” in his absence.
But doing fine isn’t the same thing as getting the same level of production out of Dixon’s position as what was seen previously, and I think many observers have been prone to underestimate what Dixon accomplished last season. For example, his shooting from the floor (as captured by effective field goal percentage) placed him at No. 178 in Division I out of 3000 or so players who got on the floor often enough to have such things measured. Meaning, speaking purely in the abstract (and we’ll rejoin our good friend reality in a sec here, don’t you fret), Frank Haith could reach into a big bag labeled “D-I players” and have roughly a 47-in-50 probability of pulling out a player less accurate from the field than Dixon. Those are not very good odds.
So much for the abstract. Dixon had help in attaining those outstanding numbers, of course. He played alongside one of the nation’s top featured scorers in the person of Marcus Denmon (who, incredibly, was even more accurate from the field than Dixon). He also had the good fortune to be teamed with Phil Pressey, a point guard who turned enough heads to be named preseason SEC Player of the Year in October. Each of these guys helped his teammates record exemplary individual stats, and Missouri’s offense was superb as a result.
Yet even accounting for these atmospheric effects, Dixon’s performance was still aberrantly good. True, Oregon transfer Jabari Brown will become eligible after the fall semester, and obviously the Tigers are fortunate to be able to turn to a player who was so highly ranked coming out of high school (much more highly rated, it need hardly be added, than was Dixon as a recruit). But let’s be fair to Brown and peg his Dixon-level performance targets precisely. He’ll need to use 24 percent of Missouri’s possessions while playing 66 percent of the minutes. Brown will also need to hit 58 percent of his twos and 37 percent of his threes. Lastly he’ll be expected to shoot 88 percent at the line while drawing five fouls per 40 minutes.
It’s exceedingly likely that Brown will not hit those numbers. Maybe Dixon wouldn’t have either, but losing the guy that did all that is no small matter.
It says something about the tenure of David Stern as NBA commissioner that he makes me think of a Lyndon B. Johnson anecdote. When Johnson was president, the story–possibly apocryphal–goes that he was walking on an airport tarmac with a young Marine who told him, “Sir, your helicopter is over there.” “Son,” Johnson supposedly replied, “these are all my helicopters.”
In the same way, I tend to suspect that Stern thinks of all 30 teams in the NBA as “his” teams. That surely informed his statement Thursday night that the San Antonio Spurs would face “significant sanctions” for Gregg Popovich’s decision to send four key players (Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Daniel Green and Tony Parker) home in advance of the Spurs’ game at Miami. Stern called the move “an unacceptable decision” in apologizing to fans expecting a battle of two of the league’s top teams.
The public rebuke and possible punishment mark a change in tone from the league office. Popovich did something similar multiple times last season without any issue. In fact, Twitter quickly dug up comments from deputy commissioner Adam Silver to NBA.com last April condoning the practice. “The strategic resting of particular players on particular nights is within the discretion of the teams,” Silver said. “And Gregg Popovich in particular is probably the last coach that I would second-guess.”
Obviously, the difference here is that Popovich rested his players before a game that was a significant draw on TNT. But I see no reason the league should not be allowed to change its mind on the issue, especially in the wake of feedback–definitely from fans, and possibly from other teams. The criticism seems to stem mostly from a desire to discredit Stern, not unlike partisans accusing a politician from an opposing party of “flip-flopping.” And there is a precedent, if you go far enough back. In 1990, for example, Pat Riley was fined for resting healthy players at the end of the regular season.
So we should spend less time considering how the league has treated players resting in the past and more on whether the strategy is acceptable on its own merits. First, let’s be clear that what Popovich did is not tanking by the definition I established last season because the Spurs did not try to lose the game; they simply chose not to maximize their efforts to win. Of course, thanks to a terrific effort from their reserves, they almost pulled it out anyway.
Instead, Popovich is hoping to maximize his chances of winning a championship by getting players more rest, especially in advance of an in-division matchup with the Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday. It’s easy to argue that should be his right. I tend to lean toward letting coaches do what they want, but besides the fan angle I could construct a counterargument based on how Popovich’s decision also affects other teams. What if the win proves meaningful for the Miami Heat at the end of the season? What if it broke a tie for first in the East? While that seems unlikely in this particular case, such concerns have to be part of a full consideration of the issue.
Whatever the league decides, it should remain consistent going forward to be fair to the Spurs. To the extent the NBA can rethink the issue in the future, it ought to take place between seasons and be communicated accordingly to coaches ahead of time. That’s the biggest issue I have with the possibility of sanctions here–Popovich didn’t know he was doing anything wrong, which is why anything besides a warning seems excessive. Other coaches will know the rules before deciding whether to rest players heading into the playoffs. If that means players sit out due to “injuries,” so be it.
Honestly, I’m not sure taking this option out of Popovich’s playbook will hurt San Antonio much. I preface this by saying that Popovich knows far more about basketball than I ever will and understands his team and his players. Additional rest will surely help the Spurs on Saturday, but in the long run I don’t think it matters. We’re talking about a difference of about 30 minutes. That’s the equivalent of playing less than a half-minute fewer per game over the rest of the season. The way Popovich uses depth to manage his stars’ playing time on a nightly basis is a far bigger factor in how fresh the team will be come April and May.
In the realm of college basketball as a topic for discussion, there are two prevailing varieties of categorical abhorrence that I not only don’t share but frankly don’t understand. My fellow participants in the discussion can usually be relied upon to categorically abhor the spectacle of borderline draft prospects leaving school early, and to be likewise appalled by conference realignment.
The ACC’s addition of Louisville is a particularly succinct declaration of difference. The oh so snooty Big Ten would never open its door to an institution at Louisville’s level academically, but the ACC is wagering, no doubt correctly, that Keats will still be read and discussed with tolerable lucidity by freshmen in rarefied cloisters like Durham, Chapel Hill, and Charlottesville, even if Rick Pitino does come around once a year or so.
In the 439 days since the ACC announced that it was adding Syracuse and Pitt, an already strong basketball league has become ridiculously excellent. Conversely the Big East, to use a regionally appropriate metaphor, has done a pretty fair imitation of an MTA station in the path of Sandy.
Let’s measure the wages of realignment according to the number of NCAA tournament games that realigning teams have won since 2000. “Realignment” here means this latest two-year-and-counting shuffle, starting with Nebraska joining the Big Ten, Colorado fleeing to the Pac-12, etc., right up through yesterday’s news.
The Decline of the East
NCAA wins since 2000
Big Ten +17
Big 12 -4
Big East -49
To this point realignment’s been powered by teams extracted from the Big East in more or less the same way that industrialization was fueled by coal extracted from Appalachia. And today the Big East looks about the way coal country looks.
Of course realignment isn’t over, so I’ll keep this tally current as further events unfold.
The +4.1 in 1994 and +5.2 (!) in 1997 really jump off the page, as does that +2.4 career mark. But ASPM is only an estimate designed to emulate Regularized Adjusted Plus/Minus. How would he compare to modern players if we had real RAPM back in the 1990s?
One way to do this is to compute “Fake RAPM”, as Jerry Engelmann has done for the 90s at his site. (There, Blaylock’s fake RAPM is only +1.1.)
But another way to answer that question is to look at what kind of errors ASPM makes when predicting RAPM for current players.
Engelmann recently posted a 12-year, non-prior-informed RAPM dataset which can be used for that very purpose. I grabbed all players who played at least 11,900 minutes between 2001 and 2012, and looked at the distribution of the differences between their actual RAPM and the RAPM we’d predict from ASPM. It turns out that the distribution of the errors is approximately normal with a mean of 0.0 and a standard deviation of 1.7, meaning we can use a standard normal probability distribution to determine the odds that a given player’s career RAPM would have been a certain number based on his career ASPM (as long as he met the same playing-time requirements as the sample of modern players I started with, which Blaylock does).
With a +2.4 career mark, there’s a 91.7% probability that Blaylock’s career RAPM, if we were able to calculate it, would have been above average. His career PER of 16.8 roughly translates to a +0.7 ASPM, so there’s an 83.4% chance that PER is underselling Blaylock’s true contributions. In fact, there’s a 77.5% chance that Jerry’s “fake RAPM” is underrating Blaylock.
But here’s the real fun part. For players who started their careers since 2001, we know what their career RAPMs are (through last season). So let’s pick out the best point guards of that era, and compute the odds that Blaylock’s RAPM would have been better…
I’ll stop there. As you can see, Blaylock may not have been on Chris Paul’s level, but there’s a pretty good chance his RAPM would have been better than such luminaries as Deron Williams, Tony Parker, and Derrick Rose! (And that’s not even accounting for the fact that Blaylock’s +2.4 ASPM spans his entire career, including his twilight years in Golden State, while the current players are still in their primes.)
These days Blaylock is practically remembered as much for being Pearl Jam’s original namesake as for his playing career, but it bears mentioning just how good he (probably) would have been revealed to be in those days, if only we could have calculated the kinds of advanced plus/minus stats we keep now.
I had a couple of readers email me last week asking about an update to the SCHOENE fantasy projections, which is something our peers at Baseball Prospectus and Football Outsiders have historically done. The timing was ideal since I was already working on the in-season projections highlighted on the site this week. Updating SCHOENE was just a matter of copying those over and accounting for injuries, including players who have yet to play this season.
There are some quirks to these projections. Playing time is entirely based on the season so far, meaning that players at positions hit by injury (say Luke Ridnour) will have their future minutes per game overestimated. Still, the in-season projections can help you identify players who are undervalued or overvalued for trades, or give an idea of players who might be worth picking up from the waiver wire.
A while back I started referring to the ACC-Big Ten Challenge as the Iowa Caucuses of hoops. It comes way too early, and its results are given far too much importance by analysts eager to analyze, but it is still a genuinely compelling competitive spectacle.
Like presidential elections and Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game, the Challenge has proven itself to be remarkably susceptible to long multi-year reigns of domination by one side or the other. The ACC won the first one of these in 1999, and in the 13 Challenges since, “same winner as last year” repeated mindlessly and automatically would have been correct 92 percent of the time.
“Same winner as last year” looks good again this year. With three of its teams ranked in the top five in the country, the Big Ten enters the 2012 Challenge as the favorite. That being said, the Challenge is here not only for conference bragging rights (which, after all, ride just as heavily on Nebraska vs. Wake Forest as they do on Ohio State vs. Duke). It’s also here to bring us interesting games.
Tonight’s interesting game is North Carolina vs. Indiana, and my friend Ken gives the Tar Heels a 16 percent chance of winning on the home floor of the No. 1 team in the nation. That sounds like a small probability, but, to borrow a page from Ezra Klein, one can also see this glass as 16 percent full. If you tell me there’s a 16 percent chance that I’ll receive a check for a million dollars tomorrow, I’m not wrong to be somewhat excited today. With a shock-the-world win in Bloomington by the Tar Heels, this whole “same winner as last year” discussion could become much more interesting.
Still, it’s easy to see why Ken’s laptop is skeptical. With a UNC team that’s shooting 58 percent at the line and has made just 47 percent of its twos against six opponents wherein resurgent but not yet mighty Butler is the clear standout, we’re well within our rights to be on full 2009-10 alert. It could be the case that this group, like their predecessors three years ago, just don’t score much.
Roy Williams‘ offense has fallen by default to James Michael McAdoo, and the consensus of smart people is that he’s going to be one of the best players in the world before long. But we’ve seen cases where such players pass too quickly through the college ranks to help their team’s actual performance in a way that’s commensurate with their clear individual potential. In the here and now McAdoo appears to be on track this season to make 50 to 55 percent of his twos and draw fouls but also to commit a few too many turnovers and miss about one in three free throws. That, quite rightly, won’t negate anything the NBA is already thinking about McAdoo, but the well-worn paradox here is that within the narrow and remorselessly present-tense provinces of college hoops a markedly less sexy plodder like Tyler Zeller would have a more beneficial impact on the Heels’ offense.
BONUS “I am the Mayor of Lemmingville” note! I actually don’t see much consequence in debating Indiana vs. Duke for the No. 1 ranking, but, for the record, the “best resume” argument does strike me as odd. Rankings are about teams, not resumes, and if the Miami Heat were a D-I team that had happened to play a meh schedule up to this point, I would still vote them as No. 1, meh resume and all. But, again, it’s November, and who knows what we’ll find to debate about in three months or so. On the other hand, if the Hoosiers and Blue Devils stay exactly where they are and finish the season with us still parsing their differences, they’ll both be No. 1 seeds. Problem solved.
I was in Brooklyn last night for the debut of Shabazz Muhammad for UCLA (as well as an unexpectedly competitive game between No. 1 ranked Indiana and Georgia).
Speaking purely in terms of expectations, my heart goes out to any mega-star trying to make a splashy debut in the City That Doesn’t Sleep who’s not a point guard or a big guy in the post. Add in the fact that the other team (Georgetown, who by the way won the actual “game,” 78-70) is playing zone, and you can see the difficulties here: Muhammad could be said to have spent a good chunk of time “floating on the perimeter,” but that’s exactly what a player in his position should be doing when Kyle Anderson is setting up in the high post for feeds from Larry Drew.
So, sure, Muhammad was merely mortal on a night when the Hoyas’ Markel Starks, to take one example, was rather more feisty (23 points on 9-of-14 shooting along with four steals). But how important and/or unusual is it for a player projected to go at or very near the top of the draft to start his brief college career as merely mortal?
Kevin Durant vs. Alcorn State, Nov. 9, 2006
MIN FGM-A FTM-A REB AST PF PTS PPWS
Durant 22 8-13 1-2 6 1 2 20 1.43
(PPWS stands for points per weighted shot. If you weren’t reading along in 2004, you missed out on a national sensation, truly, but don’t worry. It’s a measure of efficiency, the higher the number the better.)
Day after: “Durant is the highest-rated recruit to come to the 40 Acres, but for Texas’ two exhibition games he played second fiddle to teammates A.J. Abrams and Damion James. But in the first official game of the season, there was no mistaking whom the star of this year’s Longhorn squad will be.”
Derrick Rose vs. UT-Martin, Nov. 5, 2007
MIN FGM-A FTM-A REB AST PF PTS PPWS
Rose 25 8-16 0-0 6 5 0 17 1.06
Day after: “Rose was 8-for-16 from the field and had four dunks, bringing the 16,555 fans at FedEx Forum to their feet cheering each time. He also had a block on a breakaway in the first half that sent Calipari out of his chair and invigorated the Tigers’ bench. But how does the freshman rate his first performance? ‘I’ll give it a C,’ Rose said. ‘I can do a lot better.’”
Michael Beasley vs. Sacramento State, Nov. 9, 2007
Day after: “There was Michael Beasley with the ball in his hands, at the free-throw line Friday, when a Kansas State student screamed through the silence, ‘Take it easy on them, Beasley!’ Beasley glanced at the students, sneer on his face. ‘No, sir,’ he said.”
Day after: “Wall-elujah: Thanks to inside dominance and a clutch shot by John Wall, UK won 72-70. Wall, belatedly making his highly anticipated UK debut, hit a 12-footer from the left side inside the final second to win the game.”
Day after: “On Tuesday night, with freshman point guard Kyrie Irving reeled to the bench early with foul trouble, Duke turned to its dominant depth and defensive intensity to steamroll Miami.”
Anthony Davis vs. Marist, Nov. 11, 2011
MIN FGM-A FTM-A REB AST PF PTS PPWS
Davis 23 10-13 3-3 10 3 2 23 1.59
Day after: “Anthony Davis started swatting shots. Kentucky made steals, got out on the break, lobbed for dunks, and extended a comfortable lead to cruise control.”
Shabazz Muhammad vs. Georgetown, Nov. 19, 2012
MIN FGM-A FTM-A REB AST PF PTS PPWS
Muhammad 25 5-10 3-4 1 2 2 15 1.26
Day after: “The college basketball world was buzzing about UCLA star freshman Shabazz Muhammad, who was making his collegiate debut. But unranked Georgetown put on a clinic instead, and put the kibosh on a much-anticipated Indiana-UCLA matchup in the championship game.”
BONUS Barclays Center review! The Garden will always be the Garden, but at least it now has some non-Newark-based competition. (Pound for pound the Prudential Center might actually be superior to the trendy newcomer in Brooklyn. But, again, Newark.) Barclays on the inside was correctly characterized by a colleague last night as “nondescript,” but it curtains half of its upper deck more discreetly than any venue I’ve seen, and the noise of a college crowd bounces and builds instead of dissipating into the vastness as on 33rd Street. I also like how the press entrance is close to but clearly and emphatically separate from the “VIP” entrance. We get it, Barclays, we get it….I arrived well after tipoff for Georgia-Indiana, and literally the first person I ran into in the hallway outside the press room was Dick Vitale. He was on tap for the nightcap, he’d just completed a long rush-hour journey involving planes and a driver, and I’d just completed a long rush-hour journey involving the rolling stock maintained by NJ Transit and the MTA. He was hungry, I was hungry, but he was characteristically gracious, pulling aside a preoccupied producer (redundant) and telling him, “This guy’s with Insider, I want you to meet John Gasaway.” I may not have seen Dickie V’s debut, but I can spot a mega-star.
It’s wrong to think of realignment as something that’s going to “shake out” into, say, four 16-team super-conferences and then go away. The incentives to a team in one of those super-conferences will be exactly the same as they are now. Most teams in most years will stay put, but of course that’s true now as well.
Granted, there was a time when realignment was sporadic and customarily traceable to a discrete occurrence. For example a decade ago the ACC decided it wanted to improve its football, and that had tremendous repercussions for the Big East (which was raided by the ACC) and Conference USA (subsequently raided by the Big East).
But it may turn out that realignment is now more systemic. Television dollars have been the mother’s milk of college sports for decades, but the creation of the Big Ten Network in 2007 ushered in a new fear of and sensitivity to revenue disparities across the major conferences. It is now the case that a major-conference program can markedly improve their balance sheet through the simple expedient of switching to a different major conference. Once that happens in one instance, realignment exerts its own perpetual motion, just like the coaching carousel does. Every conference wants an even number of teams, and every conference wants enough football programs to sit at the grown-ups’ table. One relocation made for reasons of revenue triggers other relocations made for reasons encompassing not only revenue but also simple housekeeping.
In terms of football and men’s basketball, college sports at the top of Division I is simply pro sports without the revenue sharing. What we’re seeing is exactly what we’d see if the NFC East could negotiate its own TV deal distinct from the AFC West. Denver would jump to the Giants’ division, and maybe the Cowboys would head to the AFC Central.
One way to subdue realignment would be for the top 64 or so athletic programs to mimic the professional leagues more explicitly — and particularly the NFL — and engage in cross-conference revenue sharing. Ironically this would return college football programs to where they were in the early 1980s before the NCAA lost in court, only this time the schools themselves would be running the show and doling out the revenues.