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Tramel's ScissorTales: ACC plans to mimic Big 12 and scrap divisions; will the SEC follow?

Berry Tramel
Oklahoman

The 14-team Atlantic Coast Conference is considering scrapping divisional play for football, going to a scheduling model with three annual opponents. 

The 3-5-5 model would include five games a year against non-annual opponents, with the other five ACC opponents on the schedule the following season. 

Such a scheduling model immediately made me think of two things: 

Further endorsement of the Big 12’s decision to stage a conference championship game without divisional play. The Big 12 has been without divisions since the 2011 departures of Colorado and Nebraska, and the conference revived the title game in 2017, matching the top two teams in the standings. 

► Both the Southeastern Conference and the Big 12 could consider something similar when both expand in the coming years. OU and Texas are headed for the SEC, which will have 16 members. And Cincinnati, Brigham Young, Central Florida and Houston are headed to the Big 12, probably for the 2023 season. 

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A view of the ACC logo on the field prior to the game between the Clemson Tigers and the Miami Hurricanes.

The original NCAA rule required that conferences needed at least 12 teams and two divisions to stage a conference title game. But the Big 12 received an exemption, and earlier this week, the NCAA Football Oversight Committee recommended eliminating the rule requiring divisions. The Division I Council is expected to approve the measure. 

“The two, I think, drivers to this: One, is the opportunity for our student-athletes to play every school in the ACC over a four-year period of time," commissioner Jim Phillips said during the league meetings in Amelia Island, Florida, according to ESPN. “That's just not the case right now. 

“The other piece of it is, I've always felt that was a local decision about how you handle your conference. You're seeing that across multiple conferences that they'd like to dictate what their championship structure looks like, and which will lead into eventually an expanded football playoff.” 

The gist of the latter? Get the top two teams in the league into the league championship game. 

"You want your two best teams to have a chance to play at the end of the year for a lot of reasons,” Phillips said. “So that's why it's taken us ... you may think it's a little bit longer, but it really isn't. We're really very much on track. But again, want to make sure we've talked to everybody to see, are we missing something here?" 

The Big Ten also has discussed dissolving divisions. And the Big 12 provides an excellent case study. 

In the five Big 12 Championship Games played under the no-division format, two have produced top-10 matchups (OU-Baylor in 2019, OSU-Baylor in 2021). In the final nine Big 12 title games staged after a divisional format, only one produced a top-10 matchup (OU-Missouri 2007). 

However, five of those years, a top-10 Big 12 team missed the championship game. And three times, the Big 12 title game included a team outside the top 25 (Colorado 2005, Colorado 2004, Texas 1996); in two of those years, a top-10 Big 12 team placed second in a division. 

Miami’s Dan Radakovich, who has been an ACC athletic director since 2006, said ESPN will have some input but that he believes the conference is nearing an affirmative decision. 

“We need to talk a little bit to our TV partners and see what they think and run it through the car wash one more time," Radakovich said. "It's not urgent to get it done right now because even if we decide to move this forward for 2023, there's time to get it done.” 

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Of course, the biggest sticking point could be the distribution of permanent opponents. While some rivals are natural – for example, the four North Carolina schools (UNC, Duke, Wake Forest and North Carolina State) could all play annually – the others are not so obvious. 

Clemson as an annual rival means a much tougher schedule. It also likely helps ticket sales. So there are a variety of variables. 

Big 12 sources said divisional play is preferred, but could the Big 12 adopt the model it helped pioneer? 

SEC scheduling models have included both divisions and four-team pods, which is a variation of the ACC plan. Could the SEC go with a 3-6-6 model and forego divisional play? 

In the Big 12, among the issues would be how to treat the four Texas schools. Would they be grouped together as annual rivals? The other 10 schools ostensibly would then play two Texas schools a year, making one trip annually into the Lone Star State. 

Is that enough? Several schools have voiced a desire to have as much state-of-Texas presence as possible. 

OSU has natural rivalries with Kansas State, Iowa State and Kansas, going back to old Big Eight days, but I don’t know that the Cowboys would embrace such annual assignments. OSU would prefer more Texas ties and perhaps a higher profile with newcomers Cincinnati, BYU and UCF. 

As the ACC well knows, the politics of scheduling is a major thorn. 

SEC sources already somewhat laid out the proposed annual rivalries – OU, Texas, Arkansas and Missouri in one pod; Texas A&M, Louisiana State and the Mississippi schools in another; the Alabama and Tennessee schools in a third; and South Carolina, Georgia, Kentucky and Florida in a fourth. 

Of course, that prevents annual games like A&M-Texas, Ole Miss-Alabama and Auburn-Georgia. The ACC plan would let the SEC adjust the pods to fit tradition. 

For instance, Texas’ three annual rivals could be OU, A&M and Arkansas. OU’s three annual rivals could be A&M, Missouri and Texas. Missouri’s three annual rivals could be OU, Arkansas and Kentucky. Arkansas’ three annual rivals could be A&M, Texas and LSU. Alabama’s three natural rivals could be Auburn, Tennessee and Ole Miss. 

You get the idea. 

One problem with non-divisional play is potential tiebreakers to reach the title game. The Big 12’s chief concern is a three-way tie in which each of the three teams went 1-1 against the other tied teams. That happened twice in divisional play and was determined by Bowl Championship Series (BCS) rankings.  

But two-team ties could be a problem without divisional play, since it’s more likely any two random teams did not meet. And using the College Football Playoff rankings is problematic, since that committee’s weekly meeting does not convene until Monday on that particular week. The BCS rankings were revealed on Sundays. 

But the ACC’s proposal is intriguing. It makes the Big 12 and SEC at least consider the model, while also lauding the Big 12’s foresight that divisions are not necessary. 

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How will OSU & OU basketball newcomers fare? 

The college basketball transfer portal tends to be delayed satisfaction for some Big 12 teams, including OSU and OU. 

When the Sooners or Cowboys lose a player, it’s often to a fellow Power 6 Conference school or a potent mid-major. Umoja Gibson to Baylor. Isaac Likekele to Ohio State. Matthew Alexander-Moncrieffe to Georgia. Elijah Harkless to Nevada-Las Vegas. 

When OSU or OU gets a player, it’s often from a low- or mid-major, so the hype isn’t much. Sort of like Texas Tech getting Bryson Williams from Texas-El Paso, Kevin Obanor from Oral Roberts, Davion Warren from Hampton and Adonis Arms from Winthrop. Nobody cared until they saw the Red Raiders play. 

So far in the portal, OSU has gotten three guards – John-Michael Wright from High Point, Caleb Asberry from Texas State and Russell Harrison from Louisiana-Monroe. OU has gotten wing Joe Bamisile from George Washington and Sam Godwin from Wofford. Not exactly Duke, Kentucky, North Carolina, Kansas and UCLA, if you know what I mean. 

Sometimes it’s difficult to project how a transfer climbing the ladder might fare in the rigors of the Big 12. So I like to look at how the players fared against better competition. Power 6 and stout mid-major leagues like the American, Atlantic-10 and Mountain West. 

Here’s what I found. 

John-Michael Wright 

In 86 career games at High Point of the Big South Conference, Wright averaged 17.4 points, 2.9 assists and shot 34.6 percent from 3-point range. 

Wright played eight games against high-level competition, including the likes of Texas, Notre Dame, Michigan State and Kentucky. In those eight games, Wright averaged 16.3 points, shot 38.8 percent from 3-point range and totaled 28 assists and 28 turnovers. Not bad. 

Wright had 29 points against Davidson of the A-10 and 23 points against Northwestern of the Big Ten. 

Caleb Asberry 

Asberry played 83 games at Texas State of the Sun Belt Conference; he started most of the last two seasons. Asberry averaged 11.1 points and shot 36.1 percent from 3-point range. He averaged 2.1 assists and 2.1 turnovers per game. 

Asberry played eight games against elite competition: Baylor, Houston twice, Texas, Louisiana State, Mississippi State, Vanderbilt and UNLV. In those eight games, he averaged 7.5 points and had more turnovers (11) than assists (nine). He made just eight of 29 3-point shots. 

But part of that was a scoreless game in seven minutes against Houston as a freshman; the Cougars can suck the life out of even veteran players. Asberry had 12 points against Baylor in his second college game and also reached double-digit scoring vs. LSU, Vanderbilt and Mississippi State. 

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Russell Harrison 

Harrison, who graduated high school in 2016, played 55 games at Louisiana-Monroe of the Sun Belt, starting 53. He averaged 12.8 points and 34.7 percent from 3-point range. 

Harrison played only three games against high-level competition – LSU, Auburn and Southern Methodist. In those three games, he averaged 5.3 points and 4.8 rebounds; he made just one of nine 3-point shots. 

Joe Bamisile 

Bamisile transferred to George Washington from Virginia Tech, where he played in 2020-21. So that’s two years in the Atlantic-10 or the ACC. Bamisile overall averaged 12.4 points and 4.0 rebounds; he shot 34.2 percent from 3-point range and 44.9 percent overall. 

Bamisile played 14 games against lower-level competition. So that’s 29 games against equal or higher competition, which is a lot. In those 29 games, Bamisile averaged 13.2 points and 3.6 rebounds, while shooting 45.3 percent from the field and 35.7 percent from 3-point range. That’s quality performance. 

Sam Godwin 

Godwin transferred from Wofford of the Southern Conference, where he started 17 of 52 games played. Godwin is coming to OU sans scholarship, befitting a player who averaged 6.3 points and 3.4 rebounds at Wofford. 

Godwin, from Southmoore High School, played seven games against high competition, averaging 4.9 points and 3.9 rebounds. But the 6-foot-8 forward did have 14 points against Richmond and nine rebounds in a different game against the Spiders. 

Using the high-level games as a guide, my best guess is that Wright and Asberry can help OSU, while Bamisile can help the Sooners. 

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Could Sidney Crosby have been OKC’s? 

Sidney Crosby’s name flashed onto my screen Thursday. Something about an upper-body injury as his Pittsburgh Penguins prepare for Game 6 of their National Hockey League playoff series against the New York Rangers. 

And for a second, I thought about what might have been

Fifteen years ago, the Penguins were growing increasingly frustrated at their aging arena in Pittsburgh, and new owner Mario Lemieux, a Penguin star player, was dangling the franchise for potential relocation. 

The Penguin brass visited Kansas City and Las Vegas, as well as had discussions with Oklahoma City and Houston. 

In the end, Express Sports, the Oklahoma City company that pursued the Penguins, decided the timeline wasn’t fitting and pulled out of the talks. The Penguins reached a deal for a new arena, which opened in 2010 and now is called PPG Paints Arena. 

In January 2007, the NBA Hornets were in their second season of playing in Oklahoma City but clearly were headed back to New Orleans. In Year 1, a return to New Orleans wasn’t automatic, but in summer 2006, Clay Bennett’s ownership group bought the Seattle SuperSonics, and it was clear that OKC’s best bet for a permanent NBA franchise was in luring the Sonics. 

But the Sonics weren’t assured, and the fervor over the Hornets led some to rally interest in major-league hockey. OKC had been a finalist for an NHL expansion franchise in the 1990s, and the success of the Hornets only intensified the desire of Oklahoma Citians to retain big-league status. 

And the carrot was Crosby. He was 19 years old at the time, a budding star for Pittsburgh in his second NHL season. The first overall pick in the 2005 hockey draft, Crosby was living up to all the hype. 

As an 18-year-old rookie, Crosby had 39 goals and 63 assists. And Crosby was having a monster second season, 2006-07, when the Penguins’ future was in flux. He finished that season with 36 goals and 84 assists, for a league-high 120 points. 

Any city getting the Penguins had a ready-made superstar. 

Kansas City was the frontrunner, with its new arena. But OKC was an intriguing candidate, because it didn’t have the Chiefs or Royals and could lavish all its resources on a solo franchise. 

Lemieux over the years has downgraded the possibility of the Penguins leaving Pittsburgh, and 15 years later, it indeed seems unlikely. The Pens have won three Stanley Cups during that time and become a landmark NHL franchise. The city of Pittsburgh is gaga over the Penguins. 

“It wasn't a possibility," Lemieux said during a 2008 groundbreaking ceremony for the new arena. “We had to do a few things to put pressure on the city and the state, but our goal was to remain here in Pittsburgh all the way. Those trips to Kansas City and Vegas and other cities was just to go and have a nice dinner, and come back." 

But Andrew Conte’s Breakaway: The Inside Story of the Pittsburgh Penguins' Rebirth, clearly shows a variety of sources that detail the seriousness of the Penguins’ threatened exit. 

In the end, Pittsburgh did what Seattle didn’t — Pittsburgh produced a deal for a new arena. The Penguins stayed in Pittsburgh. The Sonics came to OKC and became the Thunder. 

Oklahomans got Kevin Durant instead of Sidney Crosby. That was a win for OKC. But Crosby would have been fabulous, too. 

Crosby is a three-time Stanley Cup champion and two-time Hart Trophy winner, given to the league’s most valuable player. Crosby is tied for 17th all-time in NHL playoff goals, with 71, and is 39th in all-time regular-season goals, with 517. In assists, Crosby is tied for fifth in the playoffs (129) and is 21st in the regular season (892). 

And Crosby is still climbing, at age 34. In these playoffs, he is tied for third in points with nine in five games. 

Crosby is one of the greatest hockey players of all time. An equal to the greatness of Durant. And for awhile, Oklahoma City was in the running to have him. 

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Mailbag: Sam Presti’s inner circle 

The Draft Lottery is next week, the draft arrives in June and the Thunder’s future will continue to take shape. Readers are interested in how the sausage is made. 

Keith: “As the lottery and then NBA Draft continue to dominate the thinking of Thunder fans, I have been pondering something. What is the dialogue or process between Sam Presti and his coaches (and other staff)? Do I assume right that Presti doesn’t sit in a bubble and decide on trades and draft choices on his own? Do you have any idea how much and how often Presti discusses player progress, what type of player the Thunder needs, what type of team the Thunder should be? Daily? Weekly? With whom? Does Sam do his own player evaluation in addition to the scouts and coaches? I’m just curious if anyone really knows how that works in practice. Does he have an ‘inner circle’ for instance? Just curious if anyone knows.” 

Tramel: Does anyone REALLY know? Probably not. But there are lots of clues that Presti does indeed have an inner circle that seems not all that small.  

First off, yes, Presti does his own scouting, but he also is incessantly talking collaboration within the organization, and I know that some of that inner circle includes some people you wouldn’t automatically think of. 

Presti and his staff discuss all these things daily, I believe, and Mark Daigneault is involved daily. I have no idea about Daigneault's assistants. But Sam's tent is fairly wide. Lots of people from different walks. Assistant GMs. Analytic guys. Scouts. Coaches. Even people outside the on-court realm, like media relations.  

Presti talks collaboration, and I see no reason not to believe him. 

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The List: Athletes whose popularity crashed 

Some athletes lose massive fame because their games slip or they just age out of the competitive stage. But some fall from grace with missteps that cost then lost respect and reputation. Hayley Shapley of americangambler.com lists the top 10 shocking falls from grace among athletes: 

1. Lance Armstrong, cycling: Armstrong won seven straight Tour de France titles, 1999-2005, after he was diagnosed with metastatic testicular cancer. The Livestrong Foundation, with its yellow wristbands, became a national phenomenon. But in 2012, the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) announced that Armstrong had used performance-enhancing drugs over the course of his career, and Armstrong eventually admitted his guilt. 

2. Michael Vick, football: The star quarterback, at one time the highest-paid player in the National Football League, was discovered to be part of a dog-fighting operation. Vick served an 18-month federal prison sentence. 

3. Tonya Harding, figure skating: The blue-collar Harding was a Cinderella story – until her main rival in the 1994 Winter Olympics, fellow American Nancy Kerrigan, was attacked the day before the U.S. Championships. The assailant revealed he had been hired by Harding’s ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, and her bodyguard, Shawn Eckardt. Both Kerrigan and Harding eventually made the Olympics, with Kerrigan winning the silver medal and Harding placing eighth. Harding later pled guilty to conspiracy to hinder prosecution. 

4. Mike Tyson, boxing: One of the greatest heavyweights in history, Tyson was accused of domestic abuse by then-wife Robin Givens, then in 1991 was was arrested and eventually convicted for rape of an 18-year-old beauty pageant contestant. Even when he got out of prison, Tyson swam in controversy; in a 1997 fight against Evander Holyfield, Tyson twice bit Holyfield’s ear. Tyson’s legal problems have continued. 

5. Ryan Lochte, swimmer: Lochte won a medal in the 2016 Olympics, but before he left Rio de Janeiro, Lochte and a few teammates claimed they had been robbed at a gas station, complete with a gun put to his head. But security footage and witnesses revealed that the swimmers had urinated on an exterior poster, armed security guards tried to stop the group from leaving and demanded payment for ripping the sign. Lochte later admitted he was drunk at the time. 

6. Tiger Woods, golf: The world’s greatest golfer crashed his Cadillac SUV into a fire hydrant outside his home in 2009, and soon enough came the story that he had been chased out of his house by his wife. Reports flooded in of Woods’ infidelity, and Woods issued a national apology. He remains popular, but nothing like the days before 2009. 

7. Hope Solo, soccer: The U.S. national team goalie had 102 international career shutouts but has lived in controversy, from alleged domestic assaults to insensitive remarks about the Zika virus and the Swedish national team, to an arrest for driving while intoxicated. 

8. Henry Ruggs III, football: The Las Vegas Raiders receiver was arrested in November 2021, charged with felony driving under the influence, resulting in death, after his Corvette, going 150 mph at one point, rear-ended a car in the streets of Las Vegas, resulting in the death of the other driver. 

9. Oscar Pistorius, track: Pistorius made history as the first double amputee to compete at the Olympic Games, running the 400 meters in 2012. But less than a year later, Pistorius shot to death his girlfriend. He claimed he thought she was an intruder, but prosecutors argued that they had been having a domestic dispute. He was convicted of culpable homicide, which was later replaced with a murder conviction. 

10. Latrell Sprewell, basketball: The NBA star choked Warriors coach P.J. Carlesimo during a practice confrontation, left the court, returned and reportedly punched Carlesimo in the face. Sprewell was suspended for 68 games and his contract terminated. Sprewell continued to play in the NBA but burned bridges in both New York and Minnesota. 

Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at btramel@oklahoman.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. Support his work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.