Sunday, September 13, 2020

2020 Houston Cougar Football: Revised Schedule and Season Preview

I hesitate to spend too much time writing this, because I'm still skeptical that there's going to be a whole lot of college football this fall in the midst of the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic. To be sure, the 2020 season is now well underway (Louisiana-Lafayette's upset of #23 Iowa State being my favorite highlight so far), but as players test positive, outbreaks occur on college campuses, and more and more games get canceled, I am still expecting the entire season to grind to a halt at some point.

In fact, with so many schools and conferences not currently playing, with so many individual players opting the season out, and with redshirt and eligibility rules suspended, the 2020 college football season is going to have a humongous asterisk next to it regardless of what happens. Nobody will consider this year's CFP champion or Heisman Trophy winner to be truly "legitimate." While I love college football, I can't help but wonder why programs are even bothering to play.

All that being said: the UH Athletics Department is among those who are bothering to play football this fall; hence, this preview.

The Current Schedule: Throw the old schedule away, as there have been changes. Last week's opener against Rice was officially postponed, but I don't expect it to be rescheduled. The trip to Washington State, likewise, was canceled due to the Pac-12's decision not to play this fall. Houston's game against BYU on Friday October 16 has been moved from Provo to Houston. And yesterday we discovered that the Cougars would be traveling to Baylor, rather than Memphis, for their season opener next weekend. 
So this is the schedule as it looks today; The AP rankings are current as of this morning:

     Sat Sep 18      at Baylor
     Sat Sep 26      North Texas
     Sat Oct 3        (off)
     Thu Oct 8       Tulane
     Fri Oct 16       #21 BYU
     Sat Oct 24      at Navy
     Sat Oct 31      #14 Central Florida
     Sat Nov 7       at #13 Cincinnati
     Sat Nov 14     South Florida
     Sat Nov 21     at SMU
     Sat Nov 28     Tulsa
     Pending:         at #16 Memphis

Looking Back: There was optimism that the Cougars, led by new head coach Dana Holgorsen and dynamic quarterback D'Eriq King, were going to have a successful, division-winning season. However, after enduring a brutal start to the season that included demoralizing losses to Washington State and Tulane, a host of players (including King) decided to redshirt. The Cougars ended the season with a 4-8 record - their worst campaign since 2004 - and King elected to transfer to Miami.

The Big Story for 2020: Playing through a pandemic. It's going to be a whole different football game in 2020, with players quarantined, stadium crowds limited, and schedules changing on a constant basis. I'm still blown away that the Cougars were able to replace next week's Memphis game with Baylor - a team the Cougars haven't played since the end of the Southwest Conference - on six days' notice!

Reasons for Optimism: Something like 35 players redshirted last season. Some of them (like King) left for other schools, but most return. A handful of transfers should be available to play this fall as well. One would therefore expect a team that is deeper and more experienced than last years, and that alone should result in more wins.  

The schedule is also easier than last year's - there's no stretch of four games in 19 days to start the season this time! - and the most recent changes have worked in UH 's favor. With the Washington State game being canceled and the BYU being moved, The Cougars will only travel outside of Texas twice (three times if the Memphis game is rescheduled) this fall. 

Quarterback Clayton Tune found himself in a tough spot last year, having to take over duties for King five games into the season, and ended the fall with 1,533 yards, 11 TDs and 9 interceptions. With experience, he should be better this season. He also has experienced running backs - Mulbah Carr and Kyle Porter - to hand the ball off to, as well as his prime receiving target from last year, Marquez Stevenson, who is probably the team's best offensive playmaker.

Senior linebacker Grant Stuard, who led the team with 97 tackles last season, heads a defense that is returning a large number of players who - hopefully- learned through adversity last season. Cornerback Damarion Williams was a bright spot in the secondary last year; hopefully he gets some help back there this fall.

Reasons for Pessimism: Just because a team has a bunch of players returning doesn't mean that the team is going to be better, especially if those players contributed to truly atrocious performances on the defense or offensive line last season. Last year's defense allowed 468 yards and 34 points per game, while Ryan Monceaux wonders about an O-line that allowed 95 tackles for loss and 35 sacks last season. While Clayton Tune needs to show improvement, he also needs better protection.

The Cougars had a habit of starting games strong but wilting in the second half last season. That's something that needs to be corrected this fall.

And about that schedule: while it's easier than the one the Coogs played in 2019, it's still tough. Three of Houston's currently-scheduled opponents are ranked, and Baylor is sitting right outside the top 25. The Cougars have to play every team that beat them at home last season on the road this season. 

What the Humans Think: CBS Sports ranks the Cougars 35th (out of 76* FBS teams currently planning to play this fall), and their sportswriters expect the Coogs to finish anywhere between third and eighth in what is now (thanks to UConn's departure) an 11-team AAC. Athlon had the Coogs ranked 70th (out of the full 130 teams) to start the season (they've since re-ranked them to be #45 out of 76*), and sees them as the sixth-best team in the AAC. The conference itself seems to think the same way; its preseason poll placed the Coogs seventh. Pete Fiutak at college Football News foresees a six-win regular season for Houston.

What the Computers Think: As of today, ESPN's FPI gives the Cougars a 50% or greater chance of winning seven out of their currently-scheduled ten games. Massey, on the other hand, currently only gives the Coogs a 50% or greater chance of winning four games. Congrove had the Cougars pegged at #50 (out of 77* teams) to start the season and expected the team to finish the season with a 4-6 record. As of this morning Sagarin puts the Cougars at #66 (out of all 257 Division I football programs); their rating of 69.57 implies a 5-5 record when the ratings of opponents and the home field advantage are taken into account (and a 5-6 record if the Memphis game is rescheduled). 

What I Think: On one hand, I would expect that Dana Holgorsen's Adventures in Redshirting from last fall would pay dividends in the form of a team that is deeper, more experienced and better-conditioned this fall. That would suggest improvement in 2020. On the other hand, we're still talking about a team that has a record of 5-12 over its last 17 games, has one of the worst defenses in the nation over the last two years (#119 in 2018 and #113 in 2019), and is led by a quarterback who had almost as many interceptions as touchdowns last year. "Improvement" might be a relative term.

I foresee a regular season record of 5-5 this fall (5-6 if the Memphis game is rescheduled). While I think the Cougars will be a better team overall, I still don't think they're where they need to be in order to beat anybody other than North Texas, Tulane, South Florida, Tulsa and Navy. 

This projection, of course, assumes that the Cougars play enough games to even make it to five wins before Coronavirus forces the plug to be pulled on the 2020 college football season. Right now, I will treat every game the Cougars actually play this fall as an unexpected and enjoyable gift, win or lose.

*Air Force is scheduled to play only two games this fall, so some sites include the Falcons in their rankings while others don't.

Henry Robert Hermis, Jr 1953 - 2020

The news of Henry's death came as a shock to me when I heard about it a week ago. Henry gave me my first job out of college, at his architectural consulting firm. Although I worked there full-time for less than a year before I moved on to graduate school, Henry still gave me part-time work during the summers and holidays while I was in grad school, and I continued to keep up with him and some of the other co-workers I met there long afterward. 

I would also occasionally bump into Henry at UH football games; in addition to being a fellow UH College of Architecture alum, he was also a fellow Cougar fan. 

I'm glad I got to know Henry. He will be missed.

On Wednesday, September 2, 2020 Henry Robert Hermis, Jr. passed away at the age of 67.  Henry was born to Henry (Sr.) and Rita (Barta) Hermis in Hallettsville, Texas on June 6, 1953.  He was raised in Houston, Texas at his family home on Reinerman Street, with frequent visits back to the family farms in Ammannsville and Schulenburg, Texas with his mom, dad, brother, sister, aunts and uncles, and many cousins.  Henry cherished his Czech Heritage.

Henry graduated from the University of Houston in 1976 with a degree in architecture.  While attending university he met his future wife Barbie and they were married on May 17, 1975.  Together they raised two wonderful sons, Kevin and Brian.

Henry is preceded in death by his father Henry Hermis, Sr. and mother Rita Barta Hermis.  He is survived by his wife Barbara Kahanek Hermis and son Kevin Hermis and wife Megan Womack Hermis and granddaughters Olivia, Eliza, and Emilia and son Brian McCann-Hermis and wife Ashley McCann-Hermis and granddaughter Hana.  Henry was a loving and dedicated husband, father, and grandfather that cared about his family and friends tremendously and everybody will miss him dearly.

A private Catholic mass will be held at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Plantersville, Texas, which will also be his final resting place.

Henry was a kind and generous man that showed compassion for all those around him and we believe he would appreciate donations to the Salvation Army, or The Czech Center Museum of Houston, or a charity of one's choice.

Tuesday, September 08, 2020

Will Ecuatoriana arise from the dead?

If some Ecuadorean investors have their way, Latin America's most colorful airline will fly again:
The name sounds familiar, but it has nothing to do with one of South America’s best-known carriers, Ecuatoriana de Aviácion, Ecuador’s largest aviation company until it stopped flying in 2006.
An initiative of the country’s entrepreneurs, Ecuatoriana Airlines was registered with the National Civil Aviation Council (CNAC) of the South American country in late August and intends to launch services from the Mariscal Sucre International Airport, in Quito.
According to the application sent to CNAC, the new airline plans to serve the cities of Coca, Cuenca, Esmeraldas, Guayaquil, Loja, Macas, Manta, Quito, Santa Rosa and Tulcán. The fleet of the new Ecuatoriana is not defined, but the company is evaluating the ATR 42-500 and Dash 8-Q200 turboprops and the Airbus A319 and A220 jets and its competitor, the Boeing 737 in the 300, 400 or 500 variants.
Ecuatoriana’s share capital, however, is only $ 16,000, 99% of which belongs to a foreign investor, the Ecuadorian press revealed – the company’s partners are Eduardo Delgado and Ann Martillo.
A few thoughts here: 
  • The airline's proposed destination list indicates that the new Ecuatoriana will be entirely domestic and, interestingly, will not fly any routes to the Galápagos Islands, even though they are popular with tourists and are financially lucrative. 
  • $16,000 in share capital isn't going to buy a lot of airplanes, but that may be a typo. This article (in Spanish) claims that the airline has lined up $15.84 billion in foreign capital and $160 million in domestic capital. 
This filing comes amidst an unsettled civil aviation situation in Ecuador:
The Ecuador market is up for grabs. In May, the Ecuador government put TAME Ecuador, the former State carrier, in liquidation. Two of the other airlines that operate in the country, LATAM and Avianca, started reorganization processes under Chapter 11 in the US. Therefore, there could be a void left by these carriers, and a new airline could develop it in the post-COVID world.
State-run TAME had been struggling for awhile; the Coronavirus pandemic was the 58-year old airline's death knell. This left Ecuador without a true a flag carrier, as Avianca Ecuador and LATAM Ecuador are both subsidiaries of parent airlines based in Colombia and Chile, respectively, and face uncertainty of their own. So it certainly makes sense to set up a new airline - if only on paper for now - to fill the gap left by TAME and to take potentially take advantage of problems at Avianca and LATAM.

Obviously, the new Ecuatoriana won't begin flying anytime soon; even if it were possible to do so, it would be foolish to start operating a new airline in the middle of the pandemic. And, it goes without saying that in order for the new Ecuatoriana to be successful, it will need to be run much better than its infamously unreliable state-owned predecessor.

But if Ecuatoriana 2.0 does ever (literally) get off the ground, they could do worse than to bring back the old color scheme.

Monday, September 07, 2020

The End of the New Orleans Insectarium

This makes me sad:

The brutal chill that the coronavirus put on New Orleans tourism has claimed one of the city's top attractions for children.

The Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium, closed since March due to city-mandated shutdowns and a sharp drop in visitors, won't be reopening its current location at the U.S. Custom House on Canal Street, officials from the Audubon Nature Institute said.

Audubon Chief Executive Ron Forman said the closure was necessary as part of a broader cost-saving initiative aimed at keeping the non-profit financially sound.

The current plan is to eventually relocate many of the insectarium's exhibits, including the Japanese-style indoor butterfly garden, into a renovated space in the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas at the foot of Canal Street — a move Forman expects will save roughly $1 million a year in lease payments.

The Insectarium was located in the impressive 1881 U.S. Customs House at the corner of Canal and North Peters. Its opening was a positive indicator of New Orleans' on-going post-Katrina recovery. But New Orleans, along with the rest of the world, now finds itself in the midst of another catastrophe

The insectarium now appears to be among the casualties of the economic downturn after more than a decade in operation. The 23,000-square-foot interactive exhibit opened in 2008 at a cost $25 million and quickly made it onto the top-ten lists of family-friendly tourist attractions in a city more often known as an adult playground.

It took up half the ground floor of the 19th Century landmark Custom House building, and was touted as the largest freestanding museum in North America devoted to insects.

With thousands of beetles, butterflies, cockroaches and other crawling, flying creatures, it was a kid-friendly detour with petting stations, termite hills and insect shows. And its butterfly garden allowed visitors to walk through a room brimming with hundreds of monarchs, common sergeants, tailed jays and other fluttering lepidoptera.

I first visited in 2009 and re-visited many times, owing to to the museum's uniqueness as well as its closeness to our timeshare. One of the museum's highlights was the "Bug Appétit" kitchen, featuring insect-based foods such as mealworm salsa and cinnamon-flavored crickets. The Japanese-themed butterfly garden was also enjoyable.

Normally, while walking along Canal or North Peters Street, you'd be able to peer into the windows of the Insectarium and see the butterflies in the garden resting on the Insectarium's windows. But the last time I walked past the Insectarium, a couple of nights before my wedding, I looked into those saw windows and saw no butterflies fluttering about. I felt sad.

The Audubon Nature Institute plans to move some of the Insectarium's exhibits, including the butterfly garden, into the Aquarium space it already owns. But the enjoyable uniqueness of the Insectarium itself is, alas, likely gone forever.

Sunday, August 30, 2020

RIP Gerald Hines

I would venture to say that no single person has impacted Houston's skyline more than Gerald D. Hines. The legendary developer passed away last weekend at the age of 95:
Hines, who launched his property company as a one-man shop in Houston in 1957, developed billions of dollars’ worth of real estate across the globe, influencing generations of builders and leaving a lasting mark on the world’s top cities. 
The founder and chairman of the Hines firm was one of the first developers to hire sought-after architects, proving that tenants would flock to top-quality buildings, even in a down market. He raised the bar for commercial real estate by showing that quality and financial success could be mutually attainable. 
“Gerald Hines was one of the great patrons of American architecture of the 20th century,” said architectural historian Stephen Fox, putting him in a category with John and Dominique de Menil, Ima Hogg and her brother William, and Edgar Odell Lovett, the first president of Rice University. 
“He put Houston on the map in terms of architecture by his imaginativeness and his business discipline in understanding how he could work with the best architects of the world within the economic constraints of real estate development and construction,” said Fox, a lecturer at the architecture schools at Rice and University of Houston.
Hines and his development firm were responsible for many of Houston's most iconic buildings, including One Shell Plaza, Pennzoil Place, the TC Energy (originally RepublicBank) Center, the JP Morgan Chase (formerly Texas Commerce) Tower, the Transco (now Williams) Tower, and the Galleria. The JP Morgan Chase Tower, built in 1982, remains Texas's tallest building, while the Williams Tower, opened in 1983, remains the tallest building in the United States located outside of a central business district. In addition to his Houston developments, Hines was responsible for notable buildings in places such as New York, San Francisco, Chicago, and Dallas.
Downtown’s Pennzoil Place represented a breakthrough for Hines from a design and development standpoint. The twin 36-story trapezoidal towers of darkly tinted glass was named “Building of the Decade” when it was completed in 1975 by the late New York Times architecture critic Ada Louise Huxtable. 
Hines collaborated on the project with architects Philip Johnson and John Burgee who turned away from the boxy modern design of the era exemplified in One Shell Plaza just up the street. 
“In so doing they demonstrated that if you make a building that is distinctive there are tenants that will pay extra to have their offices there,” Fox said. “That was kind of the Hines breakthrough — to understand and respect the power of architecture to create structures potential clients would want to identify with.” 
Hines worked with Johnson and Burgee on multiple projects, including the so-called “Lipstick Building” at 53rd at Third in midtown Manhattan, a 34-story elliptical-shaped office tower completed in 1986; and San Francisco’s 101 California, completed in 1982, a cylindrical 48-story tower of glass and granite and glass, featuring a seven-story, glass-enclosed lobby. 
Hines developed friendships with many of the architects who designed his buildings. For his 90th birthday, he was joined by seven of them to discuss design and development in a public architecture forum at Houston’s Hobby Center. Hines sat alongside Burgee, A. Eugene Kohn, Henry Cobb, Cesar Pelli, Robert A.M. Stern, Jon Pickard and Art Gensler who talked of Hines’ outsize influence on commercial real estate. The event drew an audience of more than 2,000. 
“Our best work was for Gerry Hines,” Burgee, who, along with the late Philip Johnson designed several buildings for Hines, said at the forum.
Given his patronage of some of the era's most notable architects, perhaps it is only natural that Hines also lent his support the next generation as well:
Hines’ philanthropic contributions included a $7 million donation in 1997 to the University of Houston’s architecture school that now bears his name. 
When he spoke to students, Dean Patricia Belton Oliver said, there was an immediate connection and mutual respect. 
“I never saw him light up quite the way he did when he was surrounded by students,” she said. “For someone who made his career in such a tough business, it was so gratifying to see the joy he experienced when he had the opportunity to share his legacy.”
Discussions about Hines' contribution to the UH College of Architecture occurred towards the end of my time as a student there, and I remember it being controversial at the time. Some students were miffed that the college "sold out" to a developer, rather than an actual architect. Never mind the fact that, without developers, architects wouldn't have any business at all!

I never got to meet Hines in person, although I was among a group of UH architecture students who was invited for a luncheon at his River Oaks mansion, which was rather impressive.

Hines' firm continues to operate under the direction of his son, Jeffery. A tribute to Hines on the company's website is worth a read. The UH College of Architecture has put up a tribute as well.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Hurricane Laura

So, half of the "one-two punch" from the tropics didn't really materialize - Marco fizzled out as it reached the Louisiana coast - but the other half, Laura, is about to make life miserable for a lot of people.

For a while it looked like the Houston region was in danger of a direct hit, but the latest models are coming into agreement that the storm will hit to the east of here:

Unless this track shifts back towards the west in the next several hours Houston itself is probably only going to see mild effects - gusty winds and some rain - from this storm. That's good news for us, although communities along the bay and coast (such as the City of Galveston, which is under a mandatory evacuation) could experience problems related to storm surge.

Of course, this is most certainly not good news for folks in Port Arthur, Beaumont and Lake Charles.

The last days of Braniff

I recently came across this on YouTube and found it fascinating. It's an episode of Enterprise, a business documentary program shown on PBS in the early 1980s and hosted by the legendary Eric Severeid. This particular episode from 1983, entitled "Tailspin," documents the last days of Braniff International Airways, which, in spite of existing since 1930 and being the nation's eighth-largest carrier at the time, became the first major airline in the history of United States commercial aviation to declare bankruptcy in 1982. 

Prior to 1979, the US commercial airline industry was heavily regulated; the government determined which carriers could fly which routes and how much they could charge. Once deregulation occurred, many airlines, including Dallas-based Braniff, saw an opportunity to grow their business in ways previously unimaginable. The airline's leadership liberally added new routes and borrowed heavily to finance its expansion.

The results were disastrous, especially once the US economy entered recession. In late 1981, the over-leveraged, debt-laden, money-hemorrhaging airline hired Howard Putnam away from Southwest Airlines to try to rescue the company.

Putnam attempted to cut costs, soothe creditors and streamline operations, but Braniff's many internal problems, as well as fierce competition from larger, deeper-pocketed rivals such as American Airlines, made his job difficult. Attempts to attract more passengers, such as gimmicky fare promotions, cost Braniff the goodwill of travel agents (who issued most airline tickets back in those days and relied on commissions, as a percentage of fares, for revenue). An attempt to maintain liquidity by selling Braniff's Latin American network to Pan Am was briefly held up by the Civil Aeronautics Board (the network would eventually be acquired by Eastern), and proved to be too little, too late for the airline to survive. Braniff ceased operations at midnight on May 13, 1982. 

Seriously: if you have half an hour to spare, watch the whole thing. Film crews were given access to Putnam and Braniff's upper management as it struggled to stay afloat during its final days, which makes it especially fascinating.

As the documentary explains, Braniff was trying to survive in an environment when the US commercial aviation industry as a whole had too many seats and too few passengers. By the time he arrived, there was probably nothing Putnam could have done to save the company.

Braniff's demise would be the first of many airline bankruptcies, mergers and acquisitions, as deregulation completely transformed the US commercial aviation industry. Today, two-thirds of all domestic passengers are carried by just four airlines: America, Delta, Southwest and United. 

Cool fact: Braniff, was along with Eastern, one of the two original airlines serving Houston's first purpose-built air terminal.

Will the pandemic spark a new round of conference realignment?

Probably not, but ESPN's Ivan Maisel explores how the coronavirus pandemic has exposed the geographic absurdity of college football's conference alignments:
Hey, here's a great idea during a pandemic: Let's have West Virginia fly 1,400 miles to play a Big 12 game at Texas Tech on Oct. 24, but let's not allow West Virginia to play Pittsburgh. After all, the Panthers, 75 miles away, are in the ACC. 
Before the Pac-12 broke the emergency glass on its 2020 season, the conference approved of Colorado flying 1,300 miles to play at Washington but thought it too risky for the Buffaloes to drive 100 miles to play at Colorado State. 
And there's Nebraska, which a decade ago sued for divorce from the Big 12 (née Big Eight), dissolving a marriage consummated in 1928 to grab the money and security and money and money offered by the Big Ten. Last week the Big Ten told Nebraska it couldn't play football this fall, which went over in the Cornhusker State like, oh, I don't know, stalk rot.
For much of the sport's existence, college football was highly geographic in nature, with major conferences adhering to specific regions of the nation: the midwest (Big 10), the great plains (Big 8), the southeast (SEC), the south central (SWC), and the east (ACC) and west (PAC-10) coasts.

Over the last few decades, with air travel becoming cheaper and television money becoming the dominant factor in making such decisions, conferences have merged, split and realigned such that geography is no longer a major consideration. Conferences have become far-flung and messy, and in the process many of the natural regional rivalries that make college football so great - Oklahoma-Nebraska, Texas-Texas A&M, Pittsburgh-West Virginia, Kansas-Missouri - have been abandoned.
We have become numb to the consequences of the periodic spasms of conference realignment in intercollegiate athletics over the past three decades. It's about a regional sport turning national, about the conferences increasing their geographic footprint to grab more television market share (including ESPN). 
In other words, about money.
I appreciate Maisel acknowledging the role his employer and its money has played in the current state of the sport. I would appreciate it even more if he also acknowledged the role his employer and its money has played in the ever-increasing disparity between the "have" conferences (i.e. the Power Five) and the "have-not" conferences (i.e. the Group of Five), but that's a post for a different day.
It has been several years since West Virginia leapt to the Big 12, and Missouri and Texas A&M to the SEC, and Colorado and Utah to the Pac-12. Colorado is about as close to the Pacific Coast as Morgantown, West Virginia, is to Lubbock, Texas, and Missouri set aside a 120-year Border War rivalry against Kansas to play in a division with Georgia and Florida. 
You want to send your student-athletes halfway across the country for a conference game? It's your money. Only now it's about more than your money. It's about their health. During this coronavirus pandemic, when the epidemiologists are saying don't leave home without a mask, it's time to reconsider conference realignment. The geographic inanity of Utah booting its annual rivalry against BYU worked out well in the best of times. We are no longer in the best of times.
Maisel thinks that college football's solution to the COVID-19 pandemic is to reduce cross-country interaction (and cross-contamination) between players by staying close to home. The sport should return to its regional roots, if only for the 2020 season, and play schools in close proximity to one another. He even suggests that all 12 Texas FBS schools play each other this season.
Football should be no different from the rest of America. The pandemic has given us the power to reconsider the basic architecture of our day-to-day lives. Maybe we don't have to go to the office in order to do our jobs. Maybe we shouldn't move for our work. Maybe our work should move for us. Maybe our lives would be better served by living where we wanted to be all along.
Sports Illustrated's Pat Forde agrees. He even takes this concept further, by imagining what these regional conferences might look like.
Ten years ago this month, the last great spasm of realignment began shaking the college sports world. When it finally subsided in 2014, the landscape had changed dramatically. For the richer, but not necessarily for the better. 
The Big Ten wound up with 14 teams, stretching from Nebraska to New Jersey. The Southeastern Conference expanded into Texas and Missouri. The Atlantic Coast Conference wandered nearly 1,000 miles inland. The Pac-12 annexed the Rocky Mountains. The Big 12, pushed to the brink of collapse, steadied itself by adding a school 1,200 miles to the northeast of the league office. Lesser conferences followed suit, scrambling for financial viability. 
A decade later, it’s time to blow up what was done and start over. The COVID-19 pandemic’s effects have been profoundly felt in a realm where, for 10 years, money was no object and the map made no sense. Slapped in the face by a new fiscal reality, maybe we’re due to both rein in and reach out—to contract geographically into more regional conferences, while expanding the scope of the revenue gusher that is the College Football Playoff.
Forde pares the Football Bowl Subdivision down to 120 members and creates ten 12-team regionally-focused conferences where every school plays each other in a round-robin schedule, with a twelfth game against a semi-permanent out-of-conference rival. All ten conference champions, plus a pair of at-large teams, would advance to a 12-team, four-weekend-long College Football Playoff. Here are his ten conferences:
Pat Forde/Sports Illustrated
In Forde's scheme, all the Texas and Oklahoma schools (except for UTEP, UTSA and Texas State, which Forde relegates to FCS) are grouped into a new Southwest Conference. With the exception of Arkansas, Houston would face all its old SWC rivals once again.

Forde explains the benefits of his scheme:
What college football would gain from this realignment: uniformity; conference championships that truly matter; increased access to a more lucrative playoff; a more level playing field for the little guys; renewed regional identity; cherished rivalries preserved, restored—and, in some cases, forced into permanent existence. The advantages are abundant. 
The complaints about conference schedules would disappear. Everyone would play 11 league games, taking on every opponent within the conference every season. There would be no unbalanced scheduling, beyond six home games vs. five, and that would be flipped every season. Without divisions, there is no luck of the draw in cross-divisional opponents. And the endless carping from conferences that play more league games than others would be silenced. 
Having automatic playoff bids tied to conference championships—and having enough room in the playoff for every conference champion—would remove another chronic complaint. Win your league, get a shot at the national title. It’s just that simple. It works for the NCAA basketball tournament, and it would work for the new FBS.
In addition to expanding playoff access and encouraging competitive equality between "have" and "have-not" schools, Forde's scheme would return college football to is geographic roots:
As for regional identity: This isn’t solely about making travel easier and safer for athletes and more affordable for athletic directors, although both factors are more significant now than at any time this century. It’s also an opportunity to rebuild a neighborhood with sensible boundaries that create common ground among people who already live and work together. There is not a lot of office or barber shop banter in, say, Orlando between Florida and Missouri fans when the Gators and Tigers play; there sure would be when the Gators play Central Florida. And the fans can pretty easily drive to many of these games.
Is any of this going to happen? Of course not. Power Five schools would never deign to consider their Group of Five brethren to be their equals, to share revenue and exposure, to risk being upset by schools they've always considered inferior or unworthy. Television networks would be unlikely to be happy with this hyper-regional conference structure, as well, because it limits matchups of truly national interest. But then again, maybe that's the whole point of Forde's exercise: college football is in this mess precisely because they've put so much focus on expanding television exposure.

The coronavirus pandemic is devastating college football just as it has devastated every other aspect of American life; I still don't expect many, if any, games to actually be played this fall. But the pandemic does expose the absurdity that is college football in 2020, not just with respect to geography but also the economic disparity between its participants. I'm glad sportswriters such as Maisel and Forde are acknowledging that there is a problem.

Saturday, August 22, 2020

A one-two punch from the tropics

Because it just wouldn't be 2020 without two hurricanes in the Gulf at the same time...
Travis Herzog/KTRK
Fortunately, since this graphic was produced earlier today, the forecast has changed somewhat such that Marco no longer appears to be a major threat to Houston. Laura's track is less certain and could still pose a threat to the region. Corinne and I are pretty well stocked up and are secure in our brick-and-concrete mid-rise apartment, so there's nothing to do but keep our eye on the weather while we go about our business.

The more immediate concern is that, as of this evening, both storms are tracking towards the same general location in southeastern Louisiana: a potential one-two punch that New Orleans most certainly does not need.

The coming week, incidentally, will mark the third anniversary of Harvey's landfall, and the fifteenth anniversary of Katrina's landfall.

Saturday, August 15, 2020

RIP Bill Yeoman

The legendary University of Houston football coach has passed away.
Bill Yeoman, a standout lineman and teammate of Heisman Trophy winners Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis at Army, who would go on to shepherd the University of Houston into the top tier of college football as the Cougars' coach for 25 years, died Wednesday at age 92. 
His son, Bill Jr., said Yeoman died of pneumonia and kidney failure.
Yeoman had been hospitalized with COVID-19, and things looked hopeful after he was released from the hospital at the beginning of the month. Unfortunately, he simply couldn't recover from the ravages of the disease.
Yeoman took over as coach at Houston, then an independent, in 1962. He invented the veer offense, a triple-option attack similar to the wishbone. The ESPN College Football Encyclopedia quoted Yeoman as saying, "We stumbled upon it, really. Almost by accident." 
Yeoman dared to recruit Black athletes before any major program in Texas, signing back Warren McVea to a scholarship in 1964. Between his recruiting and his offense, Yeoman created an offensive machine. The Cougars famously defeated Tulsa 100-6 in 1968, the first season they finished in the top 20 (18th). 
"Coach Yeoman was a leader and visionary in our game," current Houston coach Dana Holgorsen said in a statement. "Not only was he a Hall of Fame coach, but also he brought our program to national prominence during his tenure. His legacy will live on in our program and will stand the test of time. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family, former players and coaches." 
Houston's success under Yeoman created a path to membership in the Southwest Conference. Houston won the SWC in its first season (1976), finishing 10-2 with a No. 4 national ranking. The Cougars won three more SWC championships (1978-79, 1984) under Yeoman. 
He retired in 1986 with a record of 160-108-8. The College Football Hall of Fame enshrined Yeoman in 2001.
In addition to the aforementioned 1976 season, the Cougars also finished the season in the AP top ten in 1973 (#9) and 1980 (#5). Between the 1969 and 1980 seasons, in fact, the Cougars ended the season with a national ranking nine times - the best such stretch in program history. Yeoman's teams were also 6-4-1 in bowl games. For many UH fans, especially the older ones, Yeoman's tenure represents the "glory days" of UH football; looking at the program's record since then, it's hard to argue with that. He put the program on the map.

I met Coach Yeoman on several occasions: at alumni luncheons, at events for season ticketholders, and at the games themselves. In addition to being very friendly and fun to listen to - he had no shortage of stories to tell - he also retained his passion for UH football, encouraging people to buy tickets and keep the faith.

Thank you, Coach Yeoman, and rest in peace. Ryan Monceaux has more.