(Editor's note: The Skinny is back and ready for some handicapping this fall. First, though, he wants a little Skin time with Homerism's audience to get some stuff off his chest.)
It's that time of year again. The time you realize how little you care about baseball, the World Cup, LeBron James or any other "big" sports headline from the summer.
Who cares about the AL East when you have breaking news about Tampa's back-up tight end battle? (Thank you, fantasy football!) Sure, the World Cup was great in June, but in August a bunch of chauncies prancing around a field in "shin guards" seems better suited for Perez Hilton than ESPN.
It's the time of year when a text message from your buddy reading "DeJuan Miller has really filled out... looks great in pads" is perfectly acceptable. America is jonesing for its football fix, and, for better or worse, The Skinny is back for another season.
In a couple days, my brother and I will release our week one picks. But before we release the best free picks you can find on the internet, I have a few observations and comments on this summer and the upcoming season.
1. Lay off LeBron James.
I won't deny that King James made a royal PR mistake by making his announcement to leave Cleveland in a primetime ESPN special. It was a cold way to leave Cleveland, but doesn't he deserve the right to play basketball with whomever and for whomever he wants? I understand Cleveland's frustration, but if James had been a bust in the NBA, would the Cavs' organization and fans have been loyal to James?
For the most part, James is the antithesis of the brash, poorly behaved Gen-Y athlete that our society loathes. James should be applauded for the maturity with which he has conducted himself, despite his youth and impoverished upbringing. Outside of this incident, James "gets it." His abilities on the court give him the opportunity to do something special beyond basketball. Becoming a media and business mogul may not be the most altruistic endeavor, but he is setting an example rarely seen from superstar athletes. We need more role models that have big aspirations beyond the arena.
It bothers me that many in the media have criticized James for wanting to play along side Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh. Now LeBron is weak because "he doesn't want the challenge of carrying a team to a championship?" These are the same people who insistently complain about "me-first" athletes who don't sacrifice everything for the almighty team!
2. If you want an athlete to hate, I recommend Brett Favre.
He's a man! He's 40! I am starting believe that everything we believe – and love – about Favre as this big kid who is the game's ultimate competitor is all an act from an attention-starved man.
3. Oversigning is awful.
Gregg Doyel of CBSSports.com knocked my next topic out the park. It is the biggest story in college football that no one, except Doyel, seems to be talking about: oversigning.
Yes, it is perfectly legal, but it is a despicable practice that is becoming all too common on college campuses. (Not surprisingly, the SEC schools are the worst offenders).
Beyond the impact on student-athletes who unfairly get the boot, oversigning provides a significant competitive advantage. Nick Saban at Alabama has signed 111 recruits in the past four recruiting classes. Keep in mind the NCAA allows each school 85 scholarships per season. By way of contrast, Oklahoma's Bob Stoops has signed 94 prospects in that span.
In fairness, every incoming class is going to suffer attrition over four years due to grade casualties, transfers, injuries, etc., so you are going to sign more than 85 kids. But 111 recruits is absurd and a huge advantage! Saban got 17 recruiting mulligans beyond Stoops. That's 17 opportunities to replace non-contributors or recruiting misses with highly touted prospects. Is Saban a great coach or just very adept at gaming the system?
4. Speaking of Stoops...
Is it me, or does Bob Stoops bare a striking resemblance to actor Thomas Lennon, best known – at least to me – for his outrageously funny role in 17 Again?
(Editor's note: It is just you.)
5. Conference realignment actually made the offseason interesting.
The conference realignment news made this offseason one of the more palatable in recent memory.
In retrospect, we really should have seen this coming. In the mid-1990s, it appeared this conference had the potential to the premiere league in college football. Yes, better than SEC.
At that time Nebraska, Texas A&M and Kansas State were top 10 teams. Colorado was capable of putting together national championship-caliber teams, and Texas and Oklahoma were sleeping giants.
But the conference never really took flight. Texas and OU woke up, and no one else proved capable of providing anything resembling a consistent threat to the Red River combatants. Supremacy in the Big 12 turned out to be a zero-sum game, with OU and Texas as the big winners. The rising tide only lifted two boats, and the result was a fragmented conference with a few bruised egos.
But that's only a small part of the equation.
Geography and demographics killed the Big 12 and will ultimately kill the Big 12-2. Outside of Texas, the Big 12 footprint is sparsely populated. Denver, St. Louis, Kansas City – those are nice markets, but they don't exactly entice media execs. The only way to solve the problem is expansion, but there isn't a university that is a natural fit for the Big 12 that brings any heat. Colorado State, TCU, Houston, etc. are fine programs, but not the shot in the arm the Big 12 needs. LSU, Arkansas and Iowa are the kind of brands the conference needs, but why leave a stronger league with better leadership and revenue streams for the Big 12? Conference mergers and expansion will come eventually, and it won't be pretty for the conference.
I also want to address a common notion spread by many in media that through this expansion debacle it has become apparent that OU is no more than the University of Texas' lapdog.
OU isn't Texas or Notre Dame. Yet, by any measure – tradition, merchandise, TV sets – OU is a premier brand in college football. The idea that OU doesn't have options away from UT is ridiculous. Texas may be seen as the Big 12's savior, but without OU, the conference wouldn't have survived. The Lone Star State wasn't enough to carry a BCS conference. And while Texas was out flirting with every girl at the dance, OU president David Boren and athletic director Joe Castiglione were the first to come out in favor of preserving the Big 12.
Sure, OU needed Texas. But Texas also needed OU.