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Does C-USA get its final Liberty? For sure?

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- AS MARSHALL enters its ninth Conference USA season, consider that it is the final time the league will send a team (presumably the league champion) to the Dec. 31 Liberty Bowl at Memphis.Or so we are led to believe.Conference USA's weekly notes begin the league's bowl synopsis thusly: "Conference USA has guaranteed spots in six games during the 2013 season. The AutoZone Liberty Bowl has the top selection of C-USA teams and the league also will send teams to ..."C-USA declares its opponent in the Liberty to be an "SEC or American selection," the latter referring to the American Athletic Conference (I jokingly call it the "Ack!")The "Ack's" release goes through its bowl situation, declaring, "The American also has longstanding deals with the BBVA Compass Bowl in Birmingham, Ala., and the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl in St. Petersburg, Fla."And ... "The conference additionally has an agreement with the AutoZone Liberty Bowl in Memphis, Tenn. The American will send teams to two of those three games in the 2013 season."Two paragraphs later: "If an American team is chosen for the AutoZone Liberty Bowl, the conference's representative would face either the Conference USA champion or an opponent from the Southeastern Conference."Well, isn't that special?So what sayeth the SEC, who has about 23 bowl berths to juggle? In its large, sideways chart of all bowls, it lists the Liberty as "C-USA/American vs. SEC."Uh, oh. The ghost of 2011 is running in my mind. That's the year a beyond-bizarre format was concocted to boot the C-USA champ - with both finalists in the top 25, mind you - to the curb.Remember this? If the SEC had eight eligible bowl teams, the Liberty would be C-USA vs. Big East. If the SEC had nine, SEC vs. Big East. If the SEC had 10, SEC vs. C-USA.Instead of league champion Southern Mississippi taking its rightful spot at Memphis, we were treated to Cincinnati vs. Vanderzzzzzz ...(Gosh, that bowl was so much better when the C-USA champ played the Mountain West champ, wasn't it?)For the love of the few things that are holy in college football, please tell me there is no repeat. I didn't get the straightest answer Friday afternoon out of Memphis.Ron Higgins, the bowl's media liaison, assured me the bowl's relationship with Conference USA would remain intact this season, but was unfamiliar with the 2011 scenario. He referred me to associated executive director Harold Graeter, who did not return my call. In Huntington, athletic director Mike Hamrick said, "I am under the impression that whoever is the champion of Conference USA will be playing in the Liberty Bowl. That's my impression."
He's seen crazier things happen, though.Marshall has to win me over, but the Herd is favored by some to win the league. Wouldn't it be just that program's luck to do so in the last year of C-USA's "relationship" with Liberty Bowl, only to get jobbed?Next year, this won't be an issue, as the New Bowl Order begins and the Liberty Bowl tells Conference USA to go pound sand. I guess C-USA will do so, in Boca Raton or the Bahamas.Herd fans can adapt, right?
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  • During Marshall's off week, coach Doc Holliday talked about the trials and  tribulations of recruiting today's athletes.
    As you know, Holliday has specialized in recruiting south Florida, but the following statement applies anywhere in the country.
    "It's hard to be a kid today," he said last week. "You just look out there at what's going on at these college campuses, I mean it just makes me sick - with the drugs and the alcohol, all the things that are going on that are just tearing this country apart."As coaches, at times we get these daggone kids, we're the first discipline these guys have ever had. They don't get it at home anymore. They don't get it in schools. They don't get it anywhere except on that athletic field."There's probably 70 percent of our kids that are from single-family homes. They grow up with grandma raising them, or somebody raising them. First time they're told when to go to bed, when to get up, when they get to class is when they turn 18 years old and come to college."It's a challenge that we're not only dealing with as a coaching staff of a football team, but everybody in the country is."As you can imagine, the big, big boys of college football are better equipped to deal with this, at least as far as size of support staff goes - Holliday figures that the Alabamas of the world have four or five people on the staff who do nothing but tend to those issues.Then again, less might be more. The staff in the Shewey Athletic Building is smaller, but players have better access to coaches, right up to Holliday. Over the years, a few players have cited such an atmosphere as a reason they came to Marshall."We've got us as coaches, and I'm glad," Holliday said. "That's what I love about coaching, being able to take those kids and get them to where they're supposed to be and get them living right and making great decisions, and winning football games. So it's all good."  
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  • This does not mean I am joining the chorus begging schools to pay football players a "stipend," which sounds harmless but will inevitably spiral out of control.Those kids are getting paid, and are paid pretty well. They get tuition, housing, books, a meal plan, medical care, a well-supervised conditioning program, first dibs on class registration, the adulation of the community (if everything goes right) and, if they are blessed enough, training for a professional football career.Have I forgotten anything else?But here is where my free-market leanings kick in: By what authority does the NCAA - more precisely, its member schools - have to impede its players' making a buck on the side?Then again, I realize what a circus the college football world would really, really be if Johnny Manziel's autograph-for-dollars sessions were fully open.As the "Power Five" conferences prepare to seize college athletics over the world and top-level athletes attempt to band together, who knows what will happen?
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  • And finally, a golf note:Last week, Phil Mickelson told Yahoo! Sports he was going cut down on his schedule, which has included the last three editions of the Greenbrier Classic (or half of them, as we painfully know)."I think that I'm going to have to factor that into some of my scheduling and maybe cut out 25 percent of my events in an effort to play at a high level when I do play, because I know that I'm not able to do it 25 weeks a year," Mickelson said. "Maybe I can do it 18 or 20, though."The Greenbrier Classic remains in its Fourth of July place, three weeks after the U.S. Open and two weeks before the British Open. Good spot, I've always thought, but here's the kicker: Mickelson not only won the British, but the Scottish Open the week before. I'm sure he has a soft spot for the Scots these days.  So does Mickelson play three weeks in a row? I doubt it.I'm betting we've seen the last of "Lefty" in our dear state.Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, or follow him at
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