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Pirate Notebook No. 335
Monday, January 28, 2008

By Denny O'Brien

SMU raising financial stakes

By Denny O'Brien
All Rights Reserved.

With his hiring of June Jones, Southern Methodist AD Steve Orsini upped the ante in Conference USA.

Sort of.

Though Jones’ hiring won’t completely swing the competitive pendulum in C-USA, it could certainly shift the financial dynamics. That’s what a five-year, $10 million response to a one-win season can do for a league that historically has bargained for its coaches.

If Jones flips SMU’s culture, it will send a clear message to league AD's that the price for success in C-USA has increased substantially. Or, if the Mustangs maintain their current existence in the C-USA cellar, it would provide more leverage for the league’s most successful coaches at the negotiating table.

Either way, one could argue that SMU has raised the monetary bar.

There is another side to this scenario, the one that questions the rationale in breaking the bank on a guy who hasn’t proved he’s worth a $10 million price tag. Though Jones did guide Hawai’i to a BCS bowl, he did it by running the table against a cream puff schedule in which Pac-10 doormat Washington was the Warriors’ most impressive win.

Sure, SMU wanted to make a major statement that it is serious about reclaiming its success from the Pony Express era. SMU already had the facilities to support that drive — Ford Stadium is the class of C-USA — it just needed the coach and success to accompany it.

Jones certainly provides the Mustangs with a guy who fits the league stereotype for high-scoring offenses and a refusal to play defense. From that angle, he’ll fit just fine.

But from a financial angle, Jones undeservedly sticks out. He’s making major BCS bucks without possessing the résumé or name recognition to truly support it.

Sure, J.J. with his Hawaiian garb was a rock star on the island, but will his name resonate in Texas like some of the giants in his profession? Maybe if he dons a ten-gallon lid and six-shooter on the SMU sidelines.

(And don’t fall for his NFL credentials. Most prep stars were barely walking when Jones was running the Falcons and Chargers into the ground.)

About the only guarantee the Mustangs scored with Jones is a major extension in the length of its games. More four-hour shootouts are the last thing that C-USA needs.

Especially at the price SMU is paying.

Mass exodus

C-USA was surprisingly heavy on star quality last season, but the conference could experience a talent drought in 2008, especially at running back.

Gone are Chris Johnson (East Carolina), Kevin Smith (Central Florida), Matt Forte (Tulane), and Anthony Alridge (Houston). Also gone is Tulsa quarterback Paul Smith and Houston receiver Donnie Avery, by far the best at their positions.

In a league that starves for media attention, that group proved a major attraction for television cameras and national publications.

Given the migration of several stars to the NFL there aren’t many proven weapons returning next season, which will make preseason prognostications a serious challenge. It also will make the backroom discussions interesting as TV execs decide which programs are featured most prominently in their lineup.

Three more years

C-USA’s current television contracts with ESPN and CSTV run through the 2010 football season. They won’t end soon enough.

While the CSTV deal has provided its fair share of desirable time slots, the ESPN gig has been a major letdown. But what did you expect with a deal that almost exclusively featured Tuesday and Wednesday night broadcasts?

When the current deal expires, C-USA should look elsewhere for its television home, focusing on networks that won’t exile the league to midweek programming. A return to Fox Sports Net would be a definite step up, while a young network like Versus is worth exploring.

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01/28/2008 12:58:35 AM

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