As he searched for work with major college football programs after being fired as North Carolina’s head coach in 2011, Butch Davis discovered he was virtually unemployable.
It didn’t matter that he wasn’t implicated in the NCAA violations that occurred in Chapel Hill. It left him with baggage that, in spite of his enormous talent, made him damaged goods for most big-time schools.
But his ill fortune likely will turn out to be a huge boost for Conference USA. Davis announced last week that he left his job as an ESPN2 analyst to become the coach at Florida International. Davis has vowed to build FIU into a mid-major power, akin to Houston and Boise State.
“There’s no reason why we can’t one day play in a New Year’s Day bowl,” he said.
He’ll certainly be paid well – $1 million per year, or nearly twice the salary of Old Dominion’s Bobby Wilder.
Davis won’t officially take over as FIU’s coach until after the Panthers have played their regular-season finale Saturday at ODU. But he’s already had an impact, as the Panthers are finding recruiting doors once closed to them suddenly ajar.
Davis was 63-43 leading Miami and UNC, where he was 5-2 in bowls. He won two Super Bowls as an NFL assistant and was head coach of the Cleveland Browns.
He brings enormous star power to FIU, a swagger and gravitas that a league with a poor football image sorely needs.
Conference USA needs FIU and FAU to excel
The conference took a gamble inviting Florida International and Florida Atlantic to leave the Sun Belt and join the league a few years ago.
Neither has distinguished football resumes, and many in the Sun Belt, including Arkansas State and Louisiana-Lafayette, offered better football programs.
But FIU (No. 16 Miami-Fort Lauderdale) and FAU (No. 38 West Palm Beach) are in TV markets with a combined 2.5 million TV homes. C-USA hoped the South Florida universities, located about 60 miles apart, would develop into strong programs and TV networks would be wowed.
So far, the gamble has failed. FIU has not had a winning record in five seasons and FAU hasn’t had one in eight. In an area dominated by the Dolphins, Marlins and Heat, the University of Miami and Florida Gators, FIU and FAU are an afterthought.
Certainly, that was the case this weekend. FAU drew 5,843 for its final home game against ODU. FIU drew an announced crowd of 15,054 for its final home game against Marshall, but photos I saw looked like they drew a crowd a third that size.
Even so, there’s enormous potential at both schools. FIU has 54,000 students in one of the nation’s fastest-growing markets. FAU, located in upscale Boca Raton, has 30,000 students and an opulent 29,000-seat football stadium, and is preparing to build a $40 million football training center.
C-USA needs both programs to excel.
Conference USA TV must improve quality
C-USA TV is a new service this season that allows the league to stream every football game not otherwise on TV to laptops, computers, smart phones, etc.
On the plus side, it ensures that every C-USA game is available to fans. But there have also been many minuses. Like the fee: $6.95 per game, $10.95 for a month and $99.95 for a year, which would be acceptable if the quality of broadcasts was exceptional.
C-USA TV broadcasts have often been of poor quality, however. The league runs the streaming service, but games are produced by the schools. The quality of production varies, in part depending on the resources each school sinks into the broadcast. It’s pretty good at ODU, but at some other schools, it’s mediocre.
ODU fans have complained about picture freezes, even with broadcasts from Norfolk. The camera work is often poor. When ODU played at UTEP, a Miners logo circulated on the screen for seconds or sometimes minutes when play resumed after a timeout.
The truth is, when it comes to quality and convenience, C-USA now has the worst TV exposure among the 10 FBS leagues. The Sun Belt and Mid-American Conference don’t have as many games televised over traditional TV, but every game not otherwise televised is on ESPN3. And ESPN has quality standards that many C-USA broadcasts don’t meet.
The league says its goal is for every football game to be televised with ESPN-quality production. But until that happens, I’d suggest a moratorium on fees.
ODU’s 42-24 victory over FAU on Saturday night was televised on Campus Insiders, and I heard rave Twitter reviews of the broadcast, which was free.
Said one ODU fan via Twitter message: “Campus Insiders TV was WAY better than C-USA TV.”
Source: The Virginian Pilot