Monday, August 01, 2005

Alvarez fine-tunes Wisconsin

For far too long, Wisconsin was a school whose fight song, "On Wisconsin," fit too well its football program. For years, opponents ran and passed on the Badgers with abandon, and more often than not the red jerseys found themselves at or near the bottom of the Big Ten. Then Barry Alvarez arrived, bringing some Notre Dame and Hayden Fry swagger with him.Under Alvarez, who announced Thursday he's stepping down as the Badgers' coach to concentrate on his duties as athletic director, Wisconsin locked up the state's best talent and started stealing star players from Chicago and other prep strongholds.


"Barry did it the right way," said Fry, under whom Alvarez learned more than a few tricks while at Iowa. "Recruiting is the life blood. You bring in great players -- or players who can be great -- and you make them bigger and stronger and faster. He built it the right way."Well, there is a bit of history that shows the Badgers on NCAA probation for a major rules violation in 2000. More than two dozen players were suspended for receiving large (and unadvertised) discounts from a Madison, Wis., shoe store.But generally, Fry's right. Alvarez's reputation is intact. If he chooses to follow the path of former Nebraska coach Tom Osborne and run for Congress, he'd likely get elected. He's that popular. (And unlike Osborne, Alvarez has an engaging personality.)In 15 seasons, he is 108-70-4, including a 7-3 record in bowl games and three Rose Bowl victories. Before Alvarez, the Badgers hadn't been to the Rose Bowl since 1963. His decision leaves only one Division I-A coach who is also an athletic director: UAB's Watson Brown.So here's a question to ponder after Alvarez coaches his final game this season: Is replacement Bret Beilema, his defensive coordinator, really ready? Or will he fall into the category of fellow legend-replacements Ray Perkins (for Bear Bryant), Ray Goff (for Vince Dooley), Frank Solich (for Osborne) and Ron Zook (for Steve Spurrier), all of whom were shoved out the door?Time will tell. But one thing's for sure. The fight song Bielema hears won't be the same one Alvarez heard when he was hired.To the pollsNow we get why a dozen or so former college coaches said no to participating in the new Harris poll, the latest ingredient in the Bowl Championship Series' standings formula. That's because coaches had already agreed to participate in the Master Coaches Survey -- for a fee.Atlanta attorney Andrew Curtin, who pitched the idea to the BCS earlier this year before going ahead anyway, proposed to ESPN a $60,000 fee for each participating coach. That's big money to some of these coaches (Bo Schembechler, Pat Dye, Frank Kush, Dick MacPherson, Bill Mallory and Don James). They got out of coaching before salaries went through the roof.Meanwhile in the newspaper business, an ethical debate about participating in the Harris poll is under way. The Los Angeles Times has banned all its reporters from taking part in any polls, including television and movie awards, the Heisman Trophy and NFL and Major League Baseball awards.Other papers allow such participation, but some media members have told the Harris folks, through conference representatives, no: Mark Blaudschun of the Boston Globe, Dennis Dodd of CBS Sportsline, The Daily Oklahoman's John Rohde and The Oregonian's Ken Goe. Ted Lewis of the New Orleans Times-Picayune and Ray Mellick of the Birmingham Post-Herald have said they'd vote if asked.Still bowlingBowl deals for 2006-09 seasons are nearly complete, but there are still some mini-dramas playing out. Locally, Florida Citrus Sports is still haggling with both the ACC (Champs Sports) and the SEC (Capital One) about contractual language regarding championship game losers. Both leagues are trying to protect free-falls by the losers, while FCSports is trying to protect its ticket-sales interest.Conference USA still hasn't sewn up the Liberty Bowl as a place to send a top team, and the bowl is still courting the SEC. It already has agreed to host a Big East team in its next game. C-USA will keep its slot in the Hawaii Bowl, however.There are fears that the Houston Bowl will fold up in disgust after this season. Organizers thought for sure they'd wow the Big 12 and SEC with proposed pay hikes so they could move up in the picking order for both leagues. But they were rebuffed by both sides.Finally, ACC talks with the Peach and Gator bowls are ongoing and sticky. The Peach is hardly willing to keep its payday at least $500,000 higher than the Gator and have to settle for picking after the Gator. Unfortunately for the Peach, Gator President Rick Catlett is a master politician. Plus, he has become a confidante of ACC Commissioner John Swofford.UCF-USF setKickoff for the first UCF-USF football game on Sept. 17 is 7 p.m., Bulls officials confirmed. ESPN Regional is exploring television interest.Free Throws
Bidding for 2009 and 2010 NCAA Tournament subregionals begins in December, and Orlando will bid. The Central Florida Sports Commission has had discussions with three-time host Stetson about another bid, and CFSC's John Saboor and UCF Athletic Director Steve Orsini have had preliminary discussions about the Golden Knights hosting. (UCF is already hosting other NCAA events with the commission's help.) Winning bids will be decided next summer.
ACC fans and league referees won't have Fred Barakat to kick around any more. Barakat has retired, and the league has hired veteran referee John Clougherty as its new coordinator of men's basketball officials. Clougherty worked 12 Final Fours and 26 NCAA Tournaments and was one of the SEC's best regarded whistle-blowers. Though highly respected, Barakat raised eyebrows among young officials who quickly learned they needed to work at his offseason camps if they had aspirations of working many ACC games during the season. It was an ethical dilemma the ACC struggled to solve.
The Division I Men's Basketball Committee has altered the NCAA Tournament bracketing rules. Now teams from the same conference can meet as soon as the second round of the 65-team tournament.A Final Thought: With one court decision, Ronnie Cottrell became America's richest high school football coach.Mike Huguenin is taking a break. Alan Schmadtke can be reached at aschmadtke@orlandosentinel.com.

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