Bears

Money continues to fuel latest round of conference realignment

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Money continues to fuel latest round of conference realignment

So much for that peace and quiet.

When Notre Dame became the 14 12th member of the ACC in September, plenty figured the latest conference expansion and realignment cycle had finally reached an endgame. The dust had settled, with Nebraska, Colorado, Utah, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Texas A&M, Missouri, West Virginia, TCU and Notre Dame (in a limited fashion) joining up with new or different power conferences that didn't always fit geographically.

The Big 10 had 12 teams and the Big 12 had 10. The Pac 10 changed its name to the Pac 12. The ACC and SEC grew to 14 full members.

Make no mistake, money is driving these moves. That's easy to confuse with greed, but with TV contracts skyrocketing in payouts, schools began to look toward financial security instead of traditional rivalries and associations. That's why Texas won't play Texas A&M, Mizzou and Kansas are done and the same goes for Notre Dame and Michigan after 2014.

So when rumors began flying about the Big 10 adding Maryland and Rutgers on Saturday, one observer of -- and participant in -- realignment wasn't exactly taken aback.

"I guess we've all learned never to predict that," Notre Dame AD Jack Swarbrick said Saturday of stability in conference movement. "If this occurs, the timing is a surprise to me, sort of this happening when, not the fact of it but the timing of it is a little of a surprise."

For Maryland, the move was almost entirely financial -- that was overarching theme of Dr. Wallace Loh's press conference from College Park Monday. The cash-strapped athletic department in College Park needed a lifeline, with the Big Ten and its lucrative network providing just that (Sports Illustrated's Pete Thamel reported Maryland projects it'll earn 100 million more in the Big 10 though 2020). For the Big Ten, Maryland delivers the mid-Atlantic market for the Big Ten Network.

The same goes for Rutgers, which will be announced as the 14th member of the Big Ten Tuesday afternoon. The Piscataway, N.J.-based school is the closest FBS program to New York City, meaning the Big Ten Network will have serious pull on the nation's largest city.

"In this case, we were there at 12 quite happy, but change kept happening," Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany said Monday. "Conferences were outside their region over and over and over again. We thought given what had happen around the country, this was a natural response, and if they were interested in us, we were certainly interested in them."

It's about the money, too, for Rutgers -- most reports have the Big Ten's payout to its members at 24 million annually -- but it's also about keeping a program in a dying conference relevant. The Big East will be lumped with the Mountain West, MAC, Sun Belt and Conference USA in having one bid to one of college football's access bowls that'll be set up with the playoff format in 2014. The Big Ten provides far more stability for Rutgers than the Big East, which may wind up losing Boise State and San Diego State, too, according to a few reports Monday.

For the ACC, they'll need to add another member to avoid having the headache of an odd number of teams. Most likely, John Swofford & Co. will pick at the Big East carcass, with UConn and Louisville potentially being attractive options. The conference would love to get Notre Dame in as a full member, but given the school's deal with the Orange Bowl and NBC, that's unlikely.

And on the flip side, Notre Dame isn't regretting its decision to join the ACC, even if the conference is in flux for the immediate future.

"It doesn't have any impact," Swarbrick said of Maryland's then-rumored move. "It has absolutely zero impact, and it wouldn't change anything about our decision-making process. If we were going to engage in it today, it wouldn't change at all."

Lack of flags another reason why the Bears’ defense is the NFL’s best

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USA Today Sports Images

Lack of flags another reason why the Bears’ defense is the NFL’s best

A thought here after watching Thursday night’s Chargers-Chiefs tilt, which featured eight flags for either defensive pass interference or defensive holding...

As the NFL makes it harder for defensive players to play defense (and as TV ratings go up), the Bears are one of the cleanest teams when it comes to their opponents’ passing game. They rank second among teams with only eight combined defensive holding and defensive pass interference penalties: 

1. Dallas (5)
2. Chicago (8)
3. Oakland (10)
4. Tennessee, Los Angeles Chargers (11)
6. Arizona, Indianapolis (12)
8. Carolina, Cleveland, Green Bay, Jacksonville, Houston, Philadelphia (13)
14. Cincinnati, New York Jets, Seattle, Tampa Bay (14)
18. Baltimore, Pittsburgh (15)
20. Los Angeles Rams (16)
21. Buffalo, Minnesota, New England (17)
24. Denver, Detroit, New York Giants, San Francisco (18)
29. Atlanta, Miami (20)
31. New Orleans (23)
32. Kansas City (36)

The Chargers entered Thursday night’s game tied with the Bears with eight holding/pass interference penalties, but where whistled for three during the game — and not all were clear fouls, either. And that kind of stuff can be annoying for defensive players around the league to see. 

“100 percent,” Bears safety Eddie Jackson said. “.. .I’ve seen some things, I’m like come on, man. But there’s some things you can’t control. Control what you can control, and that’s go out there and play ball and to the best of your ability try not to hold or get a flag for pass interference called on you.”

Jackson credited four members of the coaching staff with the Bears’ ability to avoid holding/interference penalties: Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, defensive backs coach Ed Donatell, assistant defensive backs coach Roy Anderson and quality control assistant Sean Desai. From teaching proper technique for being told what to watch out for, this is a well-coached group. Only cornerback Prince Amukamara — who’s usually in press coverage, subjecting him to the most contact — has been whistled for multiple interference or holding flags this year (he actually has half the Bears’ total, with four). 

“It’s a combination of both (coaching and technique) I would say,” coach Matt Nagy said. “The players, technique-wise is a big part of it. You’ve got to be really disciplined in that area. And then I think the other part of it is with the coaching is making sure that they’re watching to make sure to see where they’re at with it. So far, to have that, you want that overall as a team to be the least penalized, specifically in that area, that’s always a good thing.”

Consider it another feather in the cap of the league’s best defense: Even when passing-oriented rule changes and tweaks supposedly make it harder to play defense, the Bears largely haven’t suffered for it. 

“It’s more difficult for the referees, too,” Nagy said. “It’s difficult for them. It’s difficult for the players. There’s some subjectiveness to it. But you gotta try to not be too grabby.”  

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Bulls engaging in Jabari Parker trade talks, according to a report

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USA TODAY

Bulls engaging in Jabari Parker trade talks, according to a report

Jabari Parker's time in a Bulls uniform could be coming to a close.

According to K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune, the Bulls are engaging in trade talks regarding Parker with several teams.

It should be no surprise if and when the Bulls ultimately move on from Parker. Following a report that the 23-year-old Chicago-native will be dropped from the Bulls' rotation, Parker played just four minutes Thursday against the Magic. In fact, he played just 19 minutes in the Bulls' previous game, Monday against the Kings.

"I think it's a matchup thing," coach Jim Boylen said after the game. "I also think that it's hard to play three fours. It's very difficult to do that. We played him some minutes at three and I didn't think that was the way to go the rest of the game."

However, Boylen's comments backup the fact that Parker was always a curious fit for the Bulls. At 6-foot-8, 245 pounds, Parker is best-suited to play power forward, though the Bulls tried to play him at small forward to start the season. 

Overall, Parker is ranked 414th out 451 NBA players on ESPN's Defensive Real Plus-Minus rankings. According to ESPN, RPM demonstrates the "net change in score (plus or minus) while each player is on the court." If his ranking did not make it obvious enough, Parker's DRPM of -1.65 leaves a lot to be desired. 

When it became apparent that Parker struggles to guard other small forwards, the Bulls moved him to the bench. At that point, Parker, the Bulls' highest-paid player, became a $20 million bench player. He returned to the starting lineup following injuries to Lauri Markkanen and Bobby Portis, but both players have since returned to game action for the Bulls. 

Even with Chandler Hutchinson (sick) out for the Bulls on Thursday, Parker did not see much action. Following the game, Boylen said that he likes Hutchinson, but there might be a chance to get Parker minutes at small forward.

"Him (Parker) playing four is difficult right now. Him playing three, there may be an opportunity there," Boylen said. "I like Hutch. Hutch was sick tonight so Jabari got some of those minutes at three in that situation."

Saturday is the first day that Parker is eligible to be traded. Defensive struggles aside, Parker could provide a team with an offensive boost. This season, he is averaging 18.2 points and 8.3 rebounds per 36 minutes, shooting 45.5 percent from the field.

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