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Conference Realignment Gets Political: Time For Advanced Senator Stats

Jay Rockefeller is Stanford, Mitch McConnell is Oklahoma State and David Boren is the coach who should have hung it up a long time ago.

This time Wednesday, it seemed a slam dunk that West Virginia would be replacing Missouri in the Big 12 if the Tigers ever actually got all of their ducks in a row and departed for the SEC. I even wrote about the topic as if it were all but a foregone conclusion (knowing that I was initiating Jinx Sequence). By noon, however, the story had changed. Turns out, Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell, a Louisville alum, called his friend and former Senator David Boren on Tuesday. Boren, as you know, left politics behind to become president of the Univ. of Oklahoma; but do you ever really leave politics behind?

As one would expect, Boren -- who was never one to pass up an opportunity to reach across the aisle -- seems to have been behind the sudden, 180-degree turn in yesterday's news cycle.

But everything changed Tuesday evening, as the Big 12 backed off its assurances to West Virginia. Hard lobbying from another candidate from the Big East, Louisville, has created a heated race for the remaining slot in the Big 12 that Missouri is expected to vacate soon. [...]

A person with direct knowledge of the situation said it was "too close to call" between West Virginia and Louisville.

Two other people with direct knowledge said that the lobbying of the Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, had helped Louisville. His communication with Oklahoma’s president, David Boren, a former senator, and Texas Tech’s chancellor, Kent Hance, a former congressman, played a role in raising Louisville’s fortunes. Hance confirmed that McConnell called him to push Louisville.

This prompted a response from both West Virginia senators, Joe Manchin and Jay Rockefeller. Of course it did.

So this is what we have come to in conference realignment: congressmen lobbying to former congressmen to get their school permission to move from one soap opera of a conference and into the soap opera of a conference. Good times.

To help you navigate through the toxic waters that have formed in the area where the poisonous political basin met the not-so-pristine waters of conference realignment, let's go to the scorecard. Below, I will rate the senators involved using my favorite tool, F/+ ratings.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-West Virginia)

Offense: "The Big 12 picked WVU on the strength of its program -- period. Now the media reports that political games may upend that. That's just flat wrong. I am doing and will do whatever it takes to get us back to the merits." PERIOD! Rockefeller believes in an aggression and attitude, something Stanford brings to the table in droves. Granted, play-calling has been an issue in the past. +14.8%.

Defense: Rockefeller is definitely a 3-4 man. None of this 4-2-5, read-and-react style -- he wants to attack, and since he's serving his fifth term in the Senate, he must do it pretty well. +12.3%.

Rating: +27.1%, which would be good for sixth in this week's F/+ rankings. Like Stanford, he is a little old-school, but when he finds a rhythm, he can be brutally effective.

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky)

Offense: Like Oklahoma State, McConnell's general approach changes depending on the score. He railed against the BCS when his Louisville Cardinals were playing well but stuck in the Conference USA. Once UL got called up to the big leagues and won the 2007 Orange Bowl, he disappeared into the background. As OSU can tell you, this is an effective, if high-variability, attack. +13.3%.

Defense: His primary defense is passive aggression, a bend-don't-break approach, if you will. With such a high rank in Congress, he is not as worried about public proclamations, just some behind-the-scenes phone calls. It is less aesthetically pleasing, but it can clearly work. +4.6%.

Rating: +17.9%, which would be good for a solid 12th in the country. Like Oklahoma State, his defense is succeeding a little too well at the moment and could fall back to the pack; but never underestimate the power of experience and an efficient, frustrating offense.

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri)

Offense: She has been mostly quiet during this ordeal, only popping up to mourn the potential loss of a rivalry. But she deserves praise for her ability to avoid turnovers. Unlike her counterpart, Jay Nixon, in the governor's office, she can open her mouth and defend her school without offending 15 to 20 percent of her conference mates. Matriculate the ball down the field, avoid killer mistakes, win games. +6.9%

Defense: Efficient but lacking in star power. +1.3%

Rating: +8.2%. She is like a slightly better version of South Florida, a mid-30s team learning to stay out of its own way.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah)

Offense: Hatch is the original college football congressman. His offense is similar to that of his Utah Utes: clever and potentially explosive. Unfortunately, like his Utes, his offense seems to have completely disappeared since he got his way. Hatch was a major anti-BCS force until Utah got promoted to the Pac-12; he has been much quieter since then. Resting on your laurels leads to execution problems. -7.6%

Defense: As crafty an old senator as there is in the Senate, he can still pack a punch on the defensive side of the ball. As with his Utes, defense has certainly not been the issue. He just needs a few more playmakers, and a little less complacency, on the offensive side of the ball. +6.2%

Rating: -1.4%. He appears to have ceded the high ground now that he got his way, and that's never good. You have to raise your game with an increase in competition.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia)

Offense: "If these outrageous reports have any merit – and especially if a United States Senator has done anything inappropriate or unethical to interfere with a decision that the Big 12 had already made – then I believe that there should be an investigation in the U.S. Senate, and I will fight to get the truth. West Virginians and the American people deserve to know exactly what is going on and whether politics is interfering with our college sports." Like Rockefeller, Manchin wants to call an aggressive game, but he is a little less controlled in the way he goes about it. He is not as well-established or polished as Rockefeller, and it shows. A little wordy, a little off-topic. That suggests a lot of short, ineffective passing. Like UConn, he's got potential, but he lacks play-making ability. -4.6%.

Defense: Inserting "fight to get the truth" into what it basically a sports argument shows he can overthink his approach, and as we all know, a defense that thinks is not a defense that acts. Lack of instinct can leave you vulnerable to big plays. This has been the problem for UConn's defense this year as well. +0.3%.

Rating: -4.3%. Like UConn, it appears he will be finishing with a ranking in the 70s. Coming off of a big, successful season (UConn went to the Fiesta Bowl, Manchin won a special election to replace Robert Byrd), it is a bit of a retooling season for Manchin. He will learn the ropes, but we'll see if he has the play-making ability to succeed.

Former Sen. David Boren (D-Oklahoma)

Offense: Boren's most explosive days are behind him. He runs an old-school, straight-forward attack that doesn't have nearly the explosiveness he thought it had. Like Mack Brown's Texas Longhorns, he is learning that energy, vitality and some new tactics are important, and he is learning it the hard way. -2.7%

Defense: His congressional recruiting connections are still strong, and he puts plenty of talent on the field, but it is spinning away in the wrong defensive alignment right now. Oklahoma's spin after the Pac-12 decided not to expand was the equivalent of getting burned for an 80-yard touchdown while blitzing, then attempting to explain that you meant to do it because you wanted your offense to get the ball back. -6.9%

Rating: -9.6%, a Boston College-level rating, only with more play-making ability and more breakdowns. His influence on conference realignment helped to assure both that Missouri wanted to leave the Big 12 and that potential replacements are annoyed by the conference before they even walk in the door.