Yesterday, the four commissioners of the NCAA (National Conglomerate of Athlon Authorities) conferences selected their first four programs of 16 in our realignment draft. Today, we'll continue with rounds No. 5 through No. 8.
Powers like Texas, Alabama, Florida, Ohio State, Michigan, Notre Dame and USC are off the board, but plenty of prizes remain in the field. Where our commissioners -- Mitch Light, Steven Lassan, Braden Gall and David Fox -- often selected the best available programs on Day One of the draft, some of their plans for the structure and values of their leagues are starting to take shape on Day Two.
A refresher on our ground rules of this four-team, 16-round draft: Each commissioner drafts the entire package -- the program’s history, current performance and personnel and long-term potential. Each commissioner will take on an entire athletic program, from football to men’s basketball to lacrosse and gymnastics, the program’s academic reputation, and any NCAA baggage.
Previous rounds: Rounds 1-4
Light selected Penn State with the final pick of the fourth round, so he’ll start on the turn of the fifth round:
17. Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch): Michigan State
Conference so far: Georgia, Oklahoma, Penn State, Texas
This was my first pick in which a sport other than football played a role. The Spartans have been an elite basketball program for the past decade and show no signs of slowing down. And the football program is seemingly on the verge of accomplishing something that has eluded Michigan State for decades — consistency.
18. Braden Gall (@BradenGall): North Carolina
Conference so far: Alabama, LSU, Nebraska, Notre Dame
With a strong foothold in the Deep South and the Midwest, I wanted to extend my league to the eastern seaboard so I took what I think is the most powerful East Coast athletic department in college sports. Arguably the top hoops brand in the nation, a quality baseball team and a football program with loads of upside made the Tar Heels a perfect fit. There is no excuse for North Carolina football not to be highly competitive every year. All it takes is a quality coach — something UNC fans believe they have in Larry Fedora.
19. Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven): Texas A&M
Conference so far: Florida, Florida State, UCLA, USC
After my first four picks, I wanted to branch out and add some teams in the Midwest. Texas A&M (almost similar to UCLA and Florida State) has underachieved recently, but the pieces are in place to win big. The Aggies have a terrific recruiting base, and the facilities are getting a facelift. Also, it certainly doesn’t hurt to have a team in the second-largest state. Although relations between Texas and Texas A&M are frosty, I plan on calling Commissioner Light to schedule a non-conference game with his league's Longhorns as soon as possible.
20. David Fox (@DavidFox615): Wisconsin
Conference so far: Michigan, Ohio State, Oregon, Washington
I briefly considered dipping into the South with Auburn, South Carolina or Clemson, but I’m going to stick with my East-West strategy. The competition for Southern programs is going to be tough, and the Light and Gall conferences have shown little interest in the West. Even with Nebraska, Penn State and Michigan State gone, the Midwest still has some major programs with big followings available starting with Wisconsin.
21. Fox: West Virginia
I’m starting to stray on my plan a bit here, but I couldn’t pass up the Mountaineers. Several accomplished programs remain on the board, but West Virginia could end up a better geographic fit for my league rather than Miami, Clemson or a handful of quality SEC schools. Like Wisconsin, West Virginia is consistently competitive in both football and basketball with occasional flashes of greatness.
22. Lassan: Oklahoma State
The Aggies needed a partner, and the Cowboys were the top remaining program in the Midwest on the board. Oklahoma State has emerged as a football power in recent years and came within one victory of playing for the national title in 2011.
23. Gall: Tennessee
Since the Midwest and South both had two strong members, I stayed in the “East” by grabbing the powerful, yet undervalued, Tennessee Vols. The football program is underachieving today but won’t be down for long. The basketball program has reached new heights in the last half decade, and the school as a whole has sparkling new facilities across the board. The stadium duo of Neyland and Thompson-Bowling alone provided enough value with this pick. Packaged with North Carolina, the Vols further strengthen my hold over the Southeast TV markets.
24. Light: Miami
This was all about potential. Getting a program that has the ability to compete for national championships with the final pick in the sixth round could end up being a steal. It is also advantageous to have a program located in one of the most fertile recruiting areas in the nation. My league now has teams in Texas, Georgia and South Florida. The Canes also bring a top-flight baseball program to my league, with an amazing 23 trips to the College World Series.
25. Light: Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech has yet to break through and win a national title under Frank Beamer, but the Hokies have been remarkably consistent, winning at least 10 games in eight straight seasons. And while Virginia is making strides under Mike London, Virginia Tech is still the flagship program in a state with over eight million people. The Hokies, however, don’t offer much in any of the other major sports. The basketball program has been to the NCAA Tournament only once since 1996.
26. Gall: Auburn
I may have valued the Auburn Tigers more than my fellow commissioners, but I was fine with that in order to have the Iron Bowl under my control every year. The football program is really all you get with this pick, but that is some serious football clout for a program that has as committed a fan base as there is in the nation. How many schools taken this late have true national championship potential?
27. Lassan: Clemson
In the same mold of Texas A&M and UCLA, Clemson is a team that has underachieved at times but there’s also a lot of potential. The Tigers don’t add much in the way of a television market, but there’s a good fanbase and another solid Southeast program to add with Florida and Florida State.
28. Fox: Iowa
In this round, I was still considering a branch of my league in the South. With Auburn, Clemson and Virginia Tech gone, I’ve all but abandoned the idea. I’m not particularly excited about this pick in the seventh round, but it makes sense for my league with a rival to pair with Wisconsin. I don’t need the Hawkeyes to be spectacular, but I can live with 10 bowl games in the last 11 seasons.
29. Fox: Pittsburgh
With Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin and West Virginia, I have my share of passionate fanbases who won’t struggle to sell tickets. Pitt is not in that group. Pittsburgh’s a pro town and lukewarm to the Panthers, not that Pitt has given the Steel City many reasons to get excited over the last decades. Still, West Virginia is no longer on an island as the Eastern-most team in my league. Pitt brings a rivalry game to my league and some untapped potential. That said, I’ve probably overreached on the Midwest/East portion of my conference. I need to address the West in the next two rounds or so.
30. Lassan: South Carolina
Just like I did with Florida/Florida State and USC/UCLA, I had to grab South Carolina to pair with Clemson. The Gamecocks are coming off the best two-year stretch on the gridiron, while the baseball team has College World Series titles in 2010 and 2011.
31. Gall: Missouri
I love the upside of the Mizzou athletic department. Football is achieving at unprecedented levels under Gary Pinkel and is set up for long-term success. The basketball program is one of the nation’s most historical and the baseball team is always strong. Geography also played a key role here, offering not only a centrally located heartland campus but additionally the big TV markets of Kansas City and St. Louis.
32. Light: Illinois
Illinois has had its moments on the gridiron — the Fighting Illini played in the Rose Bowl as recently as Jan. 1, 2008 — but this pick was about two things: eyeballs and basketball. Illinois is home to 12.9 million people, fifth-most in the nation, and Champaign-Urbana is 140 miles from Chicago, the third-largest TV market in the United States. The basketball program has been to the NCAA Tournament 21 times since the field expanded to 64 teams in 1985.
Coming tomorrow: Our commissioners move into the second half of the conference alignment draft, where they'll start to look closer at basketball-centric powers and teams on the West Coast.
National Conglomerate of Athlon Authorities Conference Alignment Draft Recap
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