All That and a Bag of Mail: Ole Miss Tattoo Edition

Published on: November 23, 2012 | Written by: Clay Travis

Greetings from Mexico, where I'm on a family vacation over Thanksgiving weekend and into next week.

But have no fear, I'll continue to update the site throughout the vacation -- with the able assistance of Bullpen editor Lori -- such that I don't think it will make much of a difference to you guys.

Our beaver pelt trader of the week this week goes to the Tennessee administration, Dave Hart in particular. Finally, the Vols are deploying the Clay Travis dump truck theory. I've been highly critical of UT over the past four or five years because I think they got behind the curve in terms of the importance of spending for top coaches. But give the Vols credit, they're doing just about everything they can to get Jon Gruden. That doesn't mean Gruden is coming, but it does mean that it won't be for lack of Vol effort.

With that in mind let's dive into All That and a Bag of Mail:

Hundreds of you on Twitter this week:

"Clay, give us odds on Gruden to UT."

Okay, here's the deal, the ball is in Gruden's court. He's got to decide. Remember when I first started writing about Gruden to UT and everyone said it was a joke? Now those same people have realized that this is a legit pursuit, that the Vols have got Gruden, who likes the idea on some level, thinking hard about it, and that they've made a serious offer to him.

So in terms of assessing probability we know UT is making a big offer to Gruden so to me that means he has to be the odds-on favorite. Why? Because we're not absolutely certain of the UT coaching flow-chart. and we have no idea if anyone else ever gets an offer. If Gruden accepts, the search ends there.  

Put simply, you can't accept the job until it's offered to you.

So if I was setting percentage odds on UT's next coach, it would look something like this:

Jon Gruden: 30%

Jimbo Fisher: 15%

Charlie Strong: 13%

Gary Patterson: 12%

Al Golden: 10%

Dan Mullen: 10%

David Cutcliffe: 5%

Phil Fulmer: 5%

This would roughly correspond to what I think Dave Hart's flow chart would resemble. (Also, let me be clear, this is my guess at Dave Hart's list. Number two on my list would be Bobby Petrino. And I'd have James Franklin at number three. But all I care about is winning, nothing else.)

If some of you think Gruden at 30% is low, I would just say that every potential new coach begins with low odds. There are lots of things that can go wrong and Gruden may have a lot of NFL options. I'm always nervous in coaching searches that coaches want the offer so they can use it to negotiate for the next offer.

Diving back into my list, if Gruden says no I think Jimbo Fisher is next up on the offer list. Which is why Fisher would be the next most likely to be coach. (There are rumors out there of Bob Stoops to the Vols, but I don't buy those as evidenced by my flow chart.) If Fisher says no, it's Charlie Strong.

On down the list.

I've got Phil Fulmer as the floor now, as I think if he could bring John Chavis back to Knoxville, there would be a case to be made that he makes more sense than taking a flier on a relatively unproven coach not on this list of names. In fact, if you asked me straight up would I rather have Al Golden or Phil Fulmer back at UT with John Chavis, I'd take Fulmer.

After hiring two coaches with losing records and waiting on them to pan out, I'd be ready to go back to the guy who was 152-52 at UT. Fulmer won the east in five of his final 11 years of coaching the Vols. How many years from now do you think it will take the Vols to win the east five times? Plus, and this is really key, since Fulmer's firing John Chavis has demonstrated that he's the best defensive coordinator in the SEC. If Chavis was back at UT you could be very confident in that side of the ball. If Fulmer kept Jay Graham, grabbed Tee Martin and a few other dynamite younger recruiters, you could argue that the Vol program was a family, something unique in the SEC. 

I'm not saying it should happen, just that I think the potential there is less risky than some of these other options. 

Ask Bill Snyder.  

Justin W. writes:

"If Dave Hart called you and said he had just hired Jon Gruden and wanted you to be the one to break the news, how would you do it? There is no time limit and he will deny all claims until you have broken the story."

First of all, I'd enter into extreme silent pantomime celebration while on the phone with Hart. Probably sixty or seventy fist pumps Tiger Woods made putt fist pumps all while running in place and exulting. All while trying to stay completely calm on the phone and not making a sound.

I'd have to ask whether I can quote him directly. (99% of the time I tell you guys something the person who told me it won't let his or her name be used. That's how this works.)

If I can quote him directly then I'm coming straight to OKTC and writing the article. Then this would just be massive.

I'd do it immediately.

But if I can't quote Dave Hart directly, then I'd get nervous that I was being set up for some reason.

Ask anyone who has ever broken any story how terrifying it is to break a story when no one else has it and you'll see that most who do it don't go into it lightly.

Especially in a coaching search like this. Because you can be 100% correct at the time you break the story and then a coach can change his mind and make you 100% wrong. Malzahn accepted the Vandy job and then rescinded his acceptance. Vandy ended up much better off -- no way Malzahn has come in and had the impact James Franklin has -- but it's an example of how messy the process can be. Ask any athletic director involved in the process and they can tell you countless stories about near misses. Times when they believed they had their guy and then he switched at the last possible moment.

Recent case in point for OKTC, Peyton Manning to the Titans. If I told you the guys who I'd been talking with throughout that process -- and from how many different angles they were coming from -- you guys would be like, "Holy s---!" But I can't. And so when Peyton makes his mind up and it surprises everyone around him, you can be wrong despite having been right up to that point. And you're just left out there hanging in the breeze.   

I'd still write that Gruden was the next coach of the Vols, because you have to trust the athletic director, but if I turned out to be wrong then I'd get killed for being wrong and I'd just have to take it. 

Even though it would have come from someone that every single one of you would have trusted as well. 

Anyway, that's the behind the scenes angle on stories like these.  

Jon S. writes:

"Imagine this, Mike Tirico is doing the wrap for the postgame on Monday Night Football and says "Jon, there are lots of rumors about where you are going to be next year, and I hear you have made a decision." The camera cuts to Gruden sitting at a table in the MNF booth with a UT hat, Philadelphia Eagles hat, Carolina Panthers hat, a Dallas Cowboys hat and an ESPN hat. Gruden says "I've done a lot of thinking and talking with my family and decided to coach the next 4-6 years at... (hand moves down, hovering over each hat)

How intense would that moment be?!

Would people not be glued to the TV?! I think the ratings in that moment would sky rocket.. Twitter would blow up!"

This would be outstanding.

And it would get massive ratings.

But ESPN won't let anyone even talk about the possibility that their employees might leave. Witness the PTI editing recently.

I mean, how did ESPN not break Urban Meyer to Ohio State.

Think about how crazy that is, they employ Urban Meyer and someone else broke it. All ESPN ever did was trot out Meyer to issue awkward denial after awkward denial.

Keep in mind that Gruden is coming to Nashville for the final Monday Night Football game of the year on December 17th. (There's also a Saturday game the next week.) Can you imagine what would happen if Gruden put on a coonskin cap in the broadcast booth in Nashville?

The state would come undone.

If he hung around and waved a UT flag out the booth window?

Hell, even if he just put a UT hat on and addressed the camera in the final segment of the show.

It would be the biggest sports moment in the state of Tennessee since the Titans trip to the Super Bowl.

No doubt.

Claire C. writes:

"Sentencing the teabagger to two years behind bars is ridiculous- Don't you think a better/more appropriate punishment would be to let the "teabagee" film the teabagger buttchugging? His choice of alcohol, of course. (My suggestion: mad dog 20/20)"

Yes!

Perfect.

By the way, ESPN the magazine interviewed me for thirty minutes for their 8k word teabagger expose and didn't use a single quote of mine. (OKTC was mentioned as the initial site to have the video up online).

I think my quotes weren't because most of my quotes dealt with how ridiculous it was for him to get prison time for the act.

It didn't square with the tone of the article.

Rachel writes:

"Hi Clay!

I have a law question for you: I am a UT alum/fan and my husband of nine years is a Mississippi State alum/ diehard fan. He mentioned to me the other day that if UT hires away Dan Mullen- it could be grounds for divorce. I think he's kidding.

Thoughts? Any legal precedent behind this?"

Do you live in Mississippi?

If so, he could still divorce you and take away your right to vote. 

Be careful.  

These are both really good, smart questions. I'm printing them both in full.

Boose C. writes:

So the Big Ten are rewarding poorly run, economic disasters presided over by incompetent people who never win anything in a town where the school barely registers (Rutgers, Maryland) and punishing those schools with solid success across the board and an athletic department on strong financial ground with a great fan base in a town that loves college sports (Louisville). This is the opposite of how it should play out. And it all happens because of a TV model that will not last more than five years. Ten years ago, no one had DVR. Do these presidents think the TV landscape will be the exact same in 2017 when these projections start to blow up in their faces?

Mike writes:

Why do you believe that the revenue models for the B1G Network, the Pac-12 Network and a potential SEC Network will continue to grow? They are all based on an assumption that the current cable bundle packaging will not change and people who don't even watch sports networks will continue to be forced to pay for them as part of their cable package. (for example, if you have basic cable, you are paying ESPN $5+ a month regardless of whether you watch the channel or not.) With the rise of Roku and other internet content delivery systems, more and more people are dropping cable for cheaper alternatives. These days, the ONLY reason to have cable is for the live sports. If you don''t care about live sports, why would you keep your cable package? Those people dumping cable put a significant dent in the assumptions on the number cable households in a given area.
 
For example, in Washington DC, with Maryland and the B1G Network. The B1G assumes that Maryland delivers $2.4 million cable subscribers per month. At $1 per subscriber, that's $28.8 million per year from Maryland alone. However, as subscribers drop (and they will), B1G will have to charge more per subscriber -- driving up cable costs and potentially decreasing the subscriber base further -- to maintain its revenue. Eventually cable systems will push back and refuse to place the B1G on the basic package and move it to a sports tier.... further eroding the base. It's not a sustainable revenue model.
 
Eventually this power grab by the conferences is going to bite them in the ass because their brand is so eroded.
 
The future revenue models in college athletics are not going to be able selling large packages of crap games to people who aren't allowed not to pay for them (mandatory subscription fees from cable subscribers) But instead selling a product to people who CHOOSE to watch their game because they are interested.
 
I understand this is probably WAY too long for a mailbag question, but I think it is an important topic that NOBODY is considering in this revenue grab. If I am wrong, why am I wrong?

These are both excellent questions so let me dive into both. 
 
First, I think the Big Ten's addition of Maryland and Rutgers was an eye-opening moment for many -- not for OKTC readers who know I'd been forecasting Maryland and Rutgers as a Big Ten possibility for over a year -- because it was a naked money grab. 
 
With Nebraska to the Big Ten, Colorado and Utah to the Pac 12, Missouri and Texas A&M to the SEC, you could at least argue for why it all made sense.
 
The SEC with a big Texas brand made sense, and if you took A&M you needed to pair them with a 14th.
 
Colorado and Utah got the Pac 12 to 12 teams which meant they could play a titlte game.
 
Nebraska was a big-time brand that strengthened the Big Ten's brand.
 
But Maryland and Rutgers are not big-time brands. This was a complete cash grab predicated on new markets and subscriber revenue from a network. Basically, it removed the fig-leaf and proved that it really is just all about the money.   
 
The question you guys are really asking is this, will cable move to an a la carte system, thus destroying the subsidy that sports fans receive from non-sports fans?
 
Right now the vast majority of cable subscribers who pay for sports don't actually watch those sports. And sports channels are the most expensive out there. So your Aunt Myrtle who has never watched a sporting event in her life, is paying over $60 a year for ESPN. And her subsidy makes the sports cheaper for the rest of us.

What would ESPN cost if only sports fans bought it?
 
Triple the fees, $180 a year?
 
More?
 
But here's the deal, with cable bundles everyone is subsidizing the costs of someone else. Those without kids are paying for all the kids stations, those who aren't post-menopausal women are paying for Lifetime, your grandmother is paying for MTV, the list goes on and on, we all pay for vastly many more stations than we actually watch.
 
I've got something like 300 stations on my Comcast package and I probably watch ten cable stations. (ESPN's properties, NBC Sports Network, Showtime, HBO, MTV, Bravo, History, AMC). That's pretty much it.  
 
Chances are you're probably similar.
 
Which brings us back around this question, will a la carte cable ever exist?
 
That is, will you be able to pick twenty-five stations and pay for them individually? And if it did happen would it be cheaper for consumers or would it actually end up costing about the same? Or even more? I need to spend more time on this in the future -- and will -- but I wanted to get both of these questions in here because they're so smart and forward-thinking.
 
Let me take this from an SEC perspective, they're not going to ever sell individual games alone to maximize money. So citing the weakest game doesn't really matter.  
 
Even if the regional sports networks become a la carte, the SEC is going to make it the best deal for you to buy all the games.
 
What's it worth to an average SEC fan to get every SEC football game in HD?
 
I have no idea.
 
But on a regional sports network, at most, at the absolute most, the SEC Network would eventually cost $4 a month. That's just $48 a year, or less than many SEC fans pay for one crappy pay-per-view broadcast a year. (Those who live outside of the SEC footprint would pay a fraction of this cost.)
 
If I'm buying a la carte, I would easily pay $10 a month direct to the SEC.
 
Easily.
 
That's $120 a year for every basketball and football game in HD.
 
But that actually costs me more than I'd ever have to pay so long as the regional sports networks still exist.
 
So basically the conferences are gambling right now that a la carte cable isn't coming anytime soon. 
 
Are they right?
 
I'll dive into this more after the season is over.  
 
But the easy answer is no one knows
 
Lucas Buchanon writes:
 
Hey Clayford, get it, like gayford, cause your gay. Okay, so I keep reading your expansion articles and its always assumed that an SEC school would never leave. I agree. It would be stupid, more money and higher competition. But my question is, say the Big 10 wants in Nashville sooo bad that they offer Vandy like an ungodly sum of money to jump ship, a bigger piece of the B1G pie in essence. Do you think that tradition and loyalty holds our conference together more than the ACC or Big East for example? I tend to think so. I don't know, I just thought it was interesting and would be interested to here your take on it.

There's lots of talk about conference buyouts.

Do you know what the SEC's buyout is?

$0.

Nothing.

A team could leave at any moment without a cost.

The strongest bonds are those that aren't held in place by money.

First, the Big Ten would love to have Vandy and have inquired about the Commodore interest in the past. (That's why the ignorant SEC fan position of "Let's kick Vandy out!" is so stupid. The SEC needs Vandy's academics as much, or more, than Vandy needs the SEC). Second, Vandy would never go. Ever. The cultural tie to the South is too strong. Privately Vandy administrators have said as much to me.

Third, the Big Ten would never offer more than an equal share. 

And the SEC Network payout is going to dwarf the Big Ten Network's payout. 

...

Okay, I'm 32-16 on the season with the picks. 

Here are my final five picks of the regular season:

Vols -12.5 vs. Kentucky

Georgia -13 vs. Georgia Tech

Auburn +33.5 vs. Bama

LSU -12 vs. Arkansas

Mizzou +22.5 vs. Texas A&M