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Friday Follies: The season can't come soon enough

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Texas A&M appears headed for the SEC, but what about Virginia Tech? (AP)  
Texas A&M appears headed for the SEC, but what about Virginia Tech? (AP)  

OK, it's our last Friday before the games start and we're still talking (and talking and talking) about the guys who won't play because of NCAA rules (real and alleged) and just overall shenanigans.

We're still talking about the adults (administrators) and their relentless pursuit to extract more and more money from the game. We're still talking about the students (players) who are obviously tired of everybody getting paid but them and the problems that come with that inequity.

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That's why college football is in a very strange place right now as we start the 2011 season. On the field, the game is in better shape than it has ever been. I would argue it has moved to No. 2 (behind the NFL) as the most popular sport in the United States.

Off the field, however, our game is a real mess. My CBS colleague Tim Brando says there has never been a bigger disconnect between the people who play the game and the coaches and administrators who are in charge of it. They aren't just living on totally different planets. They are in two completely different universes. He's right.

But take heart, dear readers. Even as some of the adults and some of the students are trying to kill college football, the game is stronger than all of us. Next Thursday it will be back and stronger than ever. And on that optimistic note let's start our Friday Follies:

1. Texas A&M to SEC now a matter of when, not if: Texas A&M formally told the Big 12 on Thursday that it is ready to explore its options when it comes to conference membership. You may not think that’s a big deal because the Aggies have been anything but subtle about their desire to join the SEC and finally get out of the shadow of Texas.

But I think it's a really big deal. Remember that the SEC presidents decided on Aug. 14 not to make any move when it came to expansion. That was the signal to Texas A&M to get its ducks in a row and to make sure there were no legal entanglements in its departure. Now President R. Bowen Loftin is taking all the baby steps necessary to find Texas A&M a new home.

Let’s just put it this way: Things could always change when it comes time to make a final decision and it’s pretty clear that the SEC is making sure that it doesn't have any liability of the Big 12 starts to break part. But if Texas A&M applies for membership in the SEC, I think that request would be received favorably.

But here's the pressing issue and one about which there is still a lot of disagreement. Would the SEC be willing to operate as a 13-team conference for the 2012-13 academic year or will it not take Texas A&M until a 14th team has been indentified? The problems that come with an odd number of teams are obvious. Commissioner Mike Slive may decide that the short-term pain will be offset by the long-term gain. If that's what Slive wants to do, he'll be able to convince enough SEC presidents to vote his way. He needs nine of 12 votes.

2. Why Virginia Tech won't be the SEC's 14th team: On paper it certainly looks like Virginia Tech would be a good addition if the SEC goes east for a 14th team. The Hokies have been one of college football's most stable programs for a couple of decades under Frank Beamer. Bringing in Virginia Tech would give the SEC access to the Tidewater, Va., recruiting area that is bursting with great players.

But there is a little matter of politics.

You have to remember how Virginia Tech got into the ACC back in 2003. The ACC originally wanted to add Miami, Syracuse, and Boston College to form its 12-team conference. Commissioner John Swofford needed seven votes from his current nine members to approve expansion. He had six. North Carolina and Duke were adamantly opposed.Virginia was undecided.

Virginia governor Mark Warner reached out to University of Virginia president John Casteen and delivered the following message: "You will not vote for any ACC expansion plan that does not include Virginia Tech."

So Virginia Tech got muscled into the ACC where the Hokies have more than earned their keep with four conference championships in seven seasons as a member.

Virginia Tech cannot turn around now and wave bye-bye to the ACC and say "Thanks, fellas. It's been fun but we have a better deal."

3. Don’t expect all eight ineligible Miami players to be back by Sept. 5: Last week's sizzling Yahoo Sports report included 12 current Miami players who received extra benefits from rogue booster Nevin Shapiro. Eight of those players have been declared ineligible by the school. The Miami Herald is reporting that among them are starting quarterback Jacory Harris and Sean Spence, a big-time linebacker.

The new reality of the NCAA is that if there is the slightest evidence that a player has violated the extra benefits rule, schools are wise to immediately declare the player ineligible and petition for his reinstatement.

Sometimes there is a quick resolution to the case. Last season when the allegations broke that Cam Newton’s father had solicited money for his son's services, the Auburn quarterback was declared ineligible only to be reinstated about 24 hours later.

Other cases take more time and don’t end well. Georgia declared A.J. Green ineligible after it learned Green had sold one of his jerseys. Green eventually served a four-game suspension from the NCAA.

But Miami had to take this action. Georgia Tech learned of an extra benefits case involving several key players in 2009. The school learned this just a few days before its big rivalry game with Georgia and decided not to declare the players ineligible. The NCAA was not pleased and eventually stripped Georgia Tech of its 2009 ACC championship.

Bottom line: I don't think all of the players get back in time for the Miami opener at Maryland on Monday, Sept. 5. Stephen Morris, who is locked into a quarterback competition with Harris, could win the job by default.

4. If Georgia beats Boise State, nobody care about uniforms: Georgia caused something of a stir this week when the Bulldogs revealed their new uniforms that they will wear one time only in the opener against Boise State.

Like most schools in the South, Georgia fans are big on tradition and don't like it when people mess with it. I remember when Jim Donnan took over as the Bulldogs coach in 1996 and he made a slight change in the uniform by changing the wide white stripe down the middle of the helmet to black with narrow white stripes on either side. Bulldog Nation went absolutely nuts.

Remember that Georgia's classic uniforms have been in place since 1964, when Vince Dooley was named head coach and completely redesigned them. Georgia's Nike Pro Combat uniforms look like something out of the Power Rangers, but Coach Mark Richt said the players like them. And ultimately, the game is for the players and it's supposed to be fun.

Besides, if Georgia beats Boise State at the Georgia Dome, even the oldest of the old guard Bulldogs won't care what they were wearing.

5. Prayers for Pat Summitt: This one has nothing to do with college football, but when you've done this a long time you recognize coaching greatness when you see it. Pat Summitt, Tennessee's legendary women's basketball coach, shocked the world this week when she announced that she has been diagnosed with early onset dementia, the Alzheimer's type. She said that she wants to coach three more years and emphasized that she would not allow her illness to turn into "a pity party."

The numbers speak for themselves: More than 1,000 wins and eight national championships. Most coaches aspire to average 20 wins per year. Summitt has averaged almost 29 wins over 36 seasons.

Here is the highest compliment I can pay coach Summitt. A few years ago Tennessee was looking for a men's basketball coach and I was in a room with a large group of sports writers. We can be a pretty crusty and cynical bunch sometimes.

But in that discussion somebody raised the issue that maybe Summitt could coach the men's team at Tennessee. Nobody -- and I mean nobody -- balked at the idea. She would be a helluva men's coach, but there was no way she would ever leave her beloved Lady Vols.

Summitt is one of the greatest coaches of my lifetime in any sport. She deserves to be mentioned in the same breath with Lombardi, Bryant, Paterno, Krzyzewski and Dean Smith.

The Tony Barnhart Show returns on Aug. 31 at 9 p.m. on The CBS Sports Network.


Tony Barnhart is in his fifth season as a contributor to CBSSports.com. He is a college football analyst for CBS Sports and The CBS Sports Network. Prior to joining CBS he was the national college football writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for 24 years. He has written five books on college football.
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