Category Archives: NCAA

Time to Give College Football Players the Same Leverage as their Coach

Kelly's headset was barely off before he was headed to Philly to discuss and NFL job.

Kelly’s headset was barely off before he was headed to Philly to discuss and NFL job.

Maybe it’s the timing that got under my skin. Had the jet carrying beaten and battered Notre Dame even touched down back in South Bend before Irish head coach Brian Kelly was straightening his tie and fussing with his hair awaiting a meeting with the Philadelphia Eagles to discuss their vacant head coach position?

It seems like he sneaked off to another gate and booked for the Northeast as his players continued to ice down and soothe their wounds from the beat-down they endured against national champion Alabama.

Just so we’re clear: I have absolutely no problem with college coaches striking while the confetti is still raining down on their shoulders and leverage their success for a fatter paycheck. No problem at all.

God Bless Penn State’s Bill O’Brien for doin’ the NFL Dance before “deciding” (wink) to $tay at Penn State earlier this week. Last fall, the man took perhaps the most toxic and unpredictable college gig in America and handled it with dignity and success, winning more games (eight) than anyone thought he would.

Oregon’s Chip Kelly was more like that guy on the dance floor who thinks he has some moves. His awkward twirl with Cleveland, Philadelphia and reportedly Buffalo was actually pathetic. He’s been dancing for a few seasons now and it seemed as if he was a goner for sure. And good for him. Like many coaches, it seemed like he wanted to someday coach at the highest level. But after all but calling for a U-Haul, he $suddenly decided go stay in Eugene, much to the shock of many and the delight of Duck faithful.

Now, here’s the other Kelly, the Irish savior–who three years ago was a relatively unknown Kelly at Cincinnati–standing at the precipice of Notre Dame lore. Dude was being sized-up for a pedestal that would stand alongside those hoisting Knute Rockne, Frank Leahy, Ara Parseghian, Dan Devine and Lou Holtz as Irish coaches who won national championships. (A coach name Elmer Layden won one there, as well (1938) but alas I don’t believe he stands atop a pedestal, at least not one in South Bend.

But before the Irish defense has stopped flinching at the thought of ‘Bama’s 6′-2″, 220-pound running back Eddie Lacy, Kelly was dancin’.

Okay, so the confetti was raining on Nick Saban, not him, but Kelly was leveraging a blowout like nobody’s business–as is his right. But the timing was a bit stinky to me.

Moreover, his players couldn’t execute such leverage. What if they could? What if, say, Johnny Football (aka Maisel), the freshman Heisman Trophy winner, could have walked into head coach Kevin Sumlin office the morning after arriving back in Texas from New York and said, “Coach, I may not be any hotter than this, I’m heading to the NFL!”

But he can’t. Unless his potential one-and-done buddies on the basketball team, Johnny Football and other college players aren’t eligible for the NFL draft until they’ve been out of high school for three years.

We could debate all night about the merits of one-and-done, and in an age when the strength and condition programs at top college rival those of the NFL, I’m not wholly buying the idea that football is more physical and therefore the players should stay in college. They should at least be able to earn a living during the few years their bodies (and, ahem, their brains) will tolerate the game.

They should at least be able to do what their millionaire coaches do and leverage their success for economic gain.

They should at least be able to dance.


Griffin a Victim of NFL’s “Win Now” Mentality

griffininpain1Robert Griffin III (I’m not calling him RGIII again until he’s healthy) had surgery today. According to various reports doctors repaired a torn LCL and examined at previously injured ACL. Rehabilitation is likely to take months.

Like millions, I watched in pain as Griffin limped through the final desperate minutes of Washington’s playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks. At one juncture, as he gamely–but with a clear gimp–tried to lead a Redskins comeback, I tweeted “Get RGIII outta there!” But Mike Shanahan didn’t pay me any mind. And soon thereafter the future–hopefully–of the franchise, and maybe the most popular man in the nation’s capital, was carted off the field.

My immediate reaction was that Shanahan’s fateful decision was to blame. And it is.

And despite the esteemed Redskins team physician Dr James Andrews’s public moonwalking, he was also on the sideline, too, as Griffin remained on the field like a hobbled doe in the sights of a hungry pride.

Yet, this is football. Check that, this is the NFL, where the lives and fortunes of so many rest on moments of success or failure, of grandeur or defeat, of desperation. It was easy for me to think about getting the young quarterback out of there, just as hindsight has prompted millions of others to say, Of course he shouldn’t have been in there!

But my job wasn’t on the line. Not my livelihood. Shanahan was in the moment and that “moment” said win now.

NFL moments are not about tomorrow.

And that may cost the Redskins the quarterback who would have saved the franchise.

Hey, SI, What are you waiting for?!

It was a different time, or maybe it wasn’t. In 1986, Sports Illustrated dispatched the talented Rick Reilly to chronicle the life and times of Joe Paterno, already an iconic figure in sports. Paterno was to be named Sportsman of the Year, one of the most prestigious honors in our industry and one help by a list of luminaries that is its own Hall of Fame of men and women who shaped and elevate our games.

It was a different time. Now, Paterno must be stricken from that list.

In fact, I’m curious why it’s taken so long for my former colleagues (I worked at SI 1978-81, ’89-’94 and ’03-’05) to do so.

What else do they need to know? In fact, it should have been done even before the Freeh report outlined the conspiracy of silence that allowed young boys to be molested by Jerry Sandusky long after Paterno (and others at the university) knew Sandusky was a sick and dangerous man.

On Monday, the NCAA all but put the Not-so-Nittany Lions into the ground with a package of sanctions that will tame that program for a decade–$60 million fine, significant loss of scholarships, four years probation and bowl ban and the vacating of every Paterno victory since 1998, the year she should have gone to law enforcement officials and told them about the sick bastard that was attacking victims in campus showers.

By the time, NCAA president Mark Emmert had finished reading the package of sanctions yesterday morning, Paterno should have no longer been recognized as a Sportsman of the Year.

The statue is gone.

Paterno’s name was removed from, of all places, a child care center on the Nike campus.

And Rick Reilly now recognizes that he was duped.

Yet Joe Paterno is still listed as the 1986 Sportsman of the Year.


The Syracuse Mess: Boeheim’s Mess Now


What did Jim Boeheim know and when did he know it?

That’s the essential question that must be answered in light of the firing of assistant coach Bernie Fine today, which was based on the release of a tape of Fine’s wife expressing her reservations about her husband’s proclivities for young boys.

We might not be so curious had not Boeheim, yet another iconic coach figure, so vehemently defended Fine just awhile ago when allegations afgaist Fine first became public. Today, he released the proverbial “statement”:

“The allegations that have come forth today are disturbing and deeply troubling. I am personally very shocked because I have never witnessed any of the activities that have been alleged. I believe the university took the appropriate step tonight. What is most important is that this matter be fully investigated and that anyone with information be supported to come forward so that the truth can be found.”

Them he added: “I deeply regret any statements I made that might have inhibited that from occurring or been insensitive to victims of abuse.”

Might have been?!

Really, coach?

Especially in the very recent light of what occurred at Penn State.

Apparently some coaches and administrators at “big-time sports” schools might have still that that it couldn’t happen here, and if it did I am still in control.


…are we all clear now?

Overseas Reality Check

The plethora of NBA stars considering taking their talents overseas to locals such as Turkey, Russia and Asia should the lockout slice into the 2011-12 regular season might want to reach out to fellow superstar Diana Taurasi for some been-there, done-that advice.
Taurasi, probably the best female basketball player on the planet, played for Turkish club Fenerbahce last winter (before a screwed-up positive drug test, of which she was quickly absolved, cut the season short). She previously played five years in Russia, and has signed to return to Turkey following the current WNBA season.
Her message to the Derons, Dwights, Kobes et al who are pondering playing on other shores? “It’s a culture shock, a different world,” she told me this week. “If you’re used to doing things one way, living a certain lifestyle and jumping on and off charters, you’ll be in for a shock. Sometimes you’ll take a three-hour flight then a three-hour bus ride to some of the smaller cities not because the teams are cheap but because it’s he only way to get there… You cannot [join an overseas team] and say, ‘This is how we do at, say, UConn or in the NBA.’ They don’t care.”
Some players will likely negotiate better-than-typical accomodations, but they’ll still be nothing like the Ritz or other five-star venues teams and the league typical use when traveling-domestic or especially internationally.
And if they think they’ll only have to sweat through one practice a day, as is done here, forget it. “There’s standard two-hour morning and afternoon practices. And that’s for women’s basketball, men’s basketball, volleyball, handball, whatever.. It’s just the European way of doing things, and there’s no [collective-bargaining agreement] to help.”
Earlier this month, Josh Childress of the Phoenix Suns, who played two seasons in Greece said his experience was no day on the beaches of Mykonos. “No, I wouldn’t,’ he told ESPN’s Rich Bucher when asked if he’d play overseas should games be cut by the lockout. “And I don’t know why guys would. I understand that guys really want to play. But you sometimes have to look at what you have and treat this as a business. The only way I could see it making sense is if you’re a player from a particular country going back. But for an American player with a good-sized guaranteed deal here, I can’t see why you’d do it.”
Taurasi says the difficulties and differences for Americans aren’t limited to life off the court. The former WNBA MVP and four-time scoring leader also led the Turkish league in scoring (24.6 points per game) but says the way the game is played overseas is different and requires outsiders to adjust. “They have a different mindset,” Taurasi said. “All their philosophies about offensive and defensive basketball are completely different. They have their own style of play, more team-oriented. The coaching style is different; they don’t want you to average 30. They want you to fit into their rotation and scheme. You have to adjust.”
Now, Taurasi wasn’t being discouraging, just offering a bounce-pass of advice. “First, really educate yourself about where you’re going to play. See what kind of resources they’ll have for you–like a translator, people who can help you off court. Check to see if there’s an American coach and a trainer that can work out with you separately.
“Most of all, keep an open mind and enjoy it.”
And yet: “They’re paying you the big bucks, so you just do what they say.”

Someone Must Die (So College Sports May Live)

Shutting down a vaunted program will send a much-needed message: No cheaters allowed!

I was heartened by what I heard coming out of last week’s annual gathering of athletic directors and rising star assistant coaches known as the Villa 7 conference at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Va. In an age when college sports is dissolving into a backwash of lies, cheating and other sordid scandals, the men and women who hope to be head coaches say they want no part of it and would like the NCAA to issue stiffer sanctions to those programs caught afoul of the rules.

VCU coach Shaka Smart’s vivid quote in The New York Times has been widely viewed as the kind of bold stance college sports’ next generation of coaches seems willing to embrace in order to avoid falling into the same mud hole that is swallowing so many of their predecessors:

“To me, there’s a way to dissuade people from violating the rules,” he said. “It’s to penalize more. In some cultures, if you steal, they cut your hand off. They probably have a lot less theft.”

Allow me to Shaka-it-up even more: In order to truly begin cleansing college sports, the NCAA must revive the death penalty.

More correctly, the organization must be willing to use it again.

The death penalty is, of course, the NCAA’s ultimate sanction: shutting down a program for at least an entire season. No more games. Cue the crickets.

It was most famously levied against SMU’s football program in 1986 when, while already on probation for major recruiting violations, the Mustangs were found to be paying players through an elaborate subterfuge aided and abetted by athletic department officials and an arrogant booster. (That’s redundant, I know.)

The NCAA shuttered the program for the 1987 and 1988 seasons. It was the first use of the new “repeat violator” rule, which allowed the NCAA to shut down a sport for one or two seasons if an institution committed a second major violation in five years.

Not surprisingly, the move devastated the Mustangs program, which had been widely respected and among the most successful in the nation. Hence the catchier “death penalty” moniker was born. Only just now, after nearly a quarter century, is SMU football beginning to hold its head high again.

The deep and sobering impact the death penalty had on SMU has seemed to make the NCAA skittish about levying it ever since.

But it has done so — sort of.

In 2003, the NCAA squashed historically black Morehouse College’s soccer team and banned it until 2006 after discovering recruiting violations involving two Nigerian players and a “lack of institutional control.” (Allegedly, some school officials didn’t even know the school had a soccer team!) Today, soccer at Morehouse is an intramural sport. Division III MacMurray College lost its 2006 and 2007 seasons after the school was found to have provided scholarships to 10 international players. The violation? Division III schools are not allow to offer athletic scholarships.

So while the NCAA has swung its big stick, it hasn’t come close to the big fat piñatas hanging in the middle the room — the ones plastered with names such as Auburn, UConn, North Carolina, Ohio State, USC, Tennessee and myriad other major universities with recent or future appointments with the NCAA.

And in the meantime, many of those schools have thrived on the field. Added Smart: “I think it’s pretty clear to a lot of people in this business that a lot of people who have broken the rules or bent the rules have prospered.”

No school feels any threat that its money-printing and money-burning machines — uh, programs, rather — might be deleted for something as trivial as, say, paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to a street agent or family member for delivering a star player or “money handshake” or lying to NCAA investigators.

That’s why, in part, we are where we are — cringing at the daily headlines of impropriety run amok.

Until coaches, administrators and boosters do know their precious games can be eliminated, until they truly believe the NCAA will recast the hell of oblivion experienced by Mustangs football upon any institution that spits upon the rules, college sports will sink deeper and deeper into the mud hole.

And too, more and more coaches with stellar dossiers — icons such as Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun, Ohio State coach Jim Tressel and the once-celebrated (now exiled) former Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl — will reek of the stench of impropriety. Or be out of a job.

It’s no mystery why a few “new” schools were widely cheered over the last year for more than their success on the football field or basketball court. Stanford (disclosure: it’s my alma mater), Butler and VCU were among those institutions lauded not only for winning but also for doing so “the right way.”

Translation: They didn’t cheat. At least not that we know.

Sure, we all root for our schools. And the more they win, the closer they get to a championship of any sort, the easier it is to cheer for them, no matter which “way” they got there.

But my tolerance is waning. Fast.

And, thankfully, the next generation of coaches doesn’t seem to walk in the same muddy trails. Nor are they afraid to say so.

This fall, Ohio State and Auburn will be among the institutions that open their seasons beneath the cloud of an NCAA investigation that could affect their records in recent seasons.

Now is the time for the NCAA to let them, and all schools, know that their misdeeds will cost them, dearly. Perhaps for illegally texting a recruit … off with their thumbs!

Butler Can Still Do It

Butler was bad. Really bad. Historically bad. Yeah, they played hard. Yeah, they didn’t quit. But they stunk. The Bulldogs couldn’t shoot (just 18% overall, and only three 2-point FGs), couldn’t even get close to the basket (zero points in the paint until late in the game), and in the end they couldn’t keep up with maybe the red-hottest team in sports, UConn, losing 53-41 in the national championship game.
And Butler picked the worst time to look so lame-during their second turn on college basketball’s biggest stage.
On Twitter and elsewhere, critics were understandably out for blood. Some called the Bulldog’s performance an affirmation that while we all like Cinderella, we don’t really want her at the dance. Others said it was a loss for mid-majors everywhere, after making so much progress in recent years that the nom itself was becoming inappropriate. Still others just said they choked under the glare of the moment.
My before-one-shining-moment take was simply this: I do not want to hear another peep from the guys at my neighborhood bar who always whine about how much better college basketball is than the NBA. That argument is done!
But I won’t dwell on last night. Nor should the critics.
Butler was reached back-to-back championship games, an accomplishment not to be diminished.
And they did elevate the status of mid-majors, as did the likes of VCU, Richmond and even Morehead State this year.
They’re here and because their players tend to stay for at least three and in most cases four years, they’ll remain legitimate Final Four contenders. Cinderella will be back. Get used to it.
As for Butler, its legacy should not be tarnished by one miserable moment.
Let’s see if Brad Stevens can build on the climb and not crippled by the fall. Let’s see if he can recruit a Kemba Walker, the player who can actually break down a defense and get his teammates free for open looks. Let’s see if he can recruit a Jeremy Lamb, an athletic shot-blocker with a deft shooting touch. Let’s see if he can recruit an Alex Oraikhi, a clog-up-the-paint stud.
And this isn’t just on Stevens and Butler. By deciding to stay at VCU (albeit after collecting a 400% raise), had coach Shaka Smart-and other mid-major coaches-will play a part in shaping the Butler legacy. If they can not recruit the young man who might have otherwise gone to a school with the big name on the uni, then what Butler and their peers did this season will not go unrecognized.
In fact, it would have changed the game-and for the better.

Daddy Cam = Mommy/Daddy Bush?

Was Cam's sig worth $200,000 to Auburn?

Oh, I bet the Heisman folks are fidgeting right about now.
The news this morning that someone – maybe or maybe not working on behalf of someone maybe or maybe not related to Auburn QB/Heisman fav Cam Newton – was telling schools it would take $200,000 to sign the player out of junior college last year really isn’t “news,” now is it?
Not just weeks after SI’s illuminating story of an agent gone wild, and in the wake of the revelations regarding Reggie Bush’s apparently lucrative days at USC, which led to USC being slapped with probation and Bush being stripped of his Heisman.
So we’ve seen this movie.
Nothing has been proven, of course, and the NCAA (God bless ’em) is investigating, which means Newton will be leading the Dallas Cowboys to the Super Bowl before any findings are announced.
But you have to believe something is amiss. And that’s too bad because it’s already tainted a very talented and seemingly fine young man.
In many ways, agents, cash and greedy relative are college sports’ “steroids” issue.
And just as the drug saga dragged baseball into the pits before the game decided enough was enough, it will likely have to get a whole lot worse for college sports this madness ends.
If it will ever end at all.

NCAA (a/k/a Kollege Keystone Kops) Strikes Again

So let’s see. Agents are enriching college athletes’ families and friends like Extreme Makeover. Former players and other alums are running amok trying to build new ties. And boosters are still luring recruits with tales of their institution being the promi$ed land.

And the NCAA goes ballistic on a college freshman over his Facebook page?

File this as yet another chapter of College Sports’ Keystone Kops, under “you couldn’t make this up.”

North Carolina State freshman Taylor Moseley received a “cease and desist” letter from the NCAA after its “investigators” uncovered, after weeks of intense discovery no doubt, the kid had created a Facebook group imploring John Wall, a 6-4, 185-pound senior point guard from Word of God Academy in Raleigh, N.C., to attend N.C. State.

Wall (above) might be the nation’s most coveted recruit.

The group – called “John Wall PLEASE come to NC State!!!!” – attracted more than 700 members. But it apparently violated NCAA Division I Bylaw 13.02.13.

The rule targets “individuals who would develop a social networking site or use an existing one to send recruiting messages to prospective student-athletes,” according to NCAA spokesman Erik Christianson. “Those communications are not allowed.”

The letter to Moseley said: “Should this activity not cease and/or it continues in the future, we will have no choice but to take further action.” Such “action” might include barring the student from getting even student tickets to games or “disassociating” the school from the student, like some scofflaw booster.

Way to go, NCAA. Now we are all criminals.

All of us who are fans. All of us who would like to see our alma mater land the best athletes.

All of us who have integrated the newest communications technology into our lives. And that’s a lot of us. Some estimates say there are nearly 200 million Facebook members in four languages.

That could mean a lot of C & D letters. And a lot of silliness. Not to mention millions of possible violations of First Amendment free-speech rights. “NCAA legislation hasn’t caught up with technology, and that’s being discussed nationally,” Michelle Lee, N.C. State’s interim associate athletic director for compliance told the Charlotte News & Observer.

All Moseley did was what fans across the nation have done for years, use whatever means available to induce a top recruit to attend their school. A generation ago, there might have been telephone calls or letters or even fresh-baked desserts delivered to their home.

Later it became e-mail and even later text messages to recruits. Many, if not most, come from other kids, students, not big-bellied, deep-pocketed boosters.

Where does it end?

And is this may be just a start. Not surprisingly, there are several Internet-based sites encouraging (begging?) Wall to attend various schools. (According to the News & Observer, Wall is still choosing among Duke, Memphis, Baylor, Kansas, Miami, Kentucky and N.C. State)

Moseley deleted his original group, then launched “Bring a National Title back to NC STATE!” Wall’s name is nowhere on the site, only his picture.

Smart kid. No doubt, the NCAA keystones are on the case, while the those who are truly out there tainting a system continue to run amok.

AP photograph

OU a Hoops School? What Would Bud Do?

The Sooner was college hoops' monster in '09

The Sooner was college hoops' monster in '09

My calendar’s all outta sync. Yeah, I know it’s March, and I’m well aware that it’s Spring (although Winter’s still got a death-grip on things here in the Northeast).

But growing up in Oklahoma (Tulsa), there were only two true seasons – football and spring football. Otherwise, we all hibernated.

Now I’m watching the highlights last night and there’s Bob Stoops, the Sooner football coach, sitting courtside at an Oklahoma City Thunder game, not too far from former OU quarterback J.C. Watts (he spent a bit of time in Congress, too, but we don’t care about that). Both guys looked kinda out of place, but they were there.

A couple of weeks ago, budding-star golfer Anthony Kim, who teed it up at Norman, sat courside at a Sooner basketball game, cheering a team that is threatening to alter OU status as a pure-bred don’t-talk-to-me-’bout-no-hoops football school.

What in the name of Bud Wilkinson….

The Sooners were actually a concussion away from being the No. 1 team in the nation this season. Star/stud Blake Griffin went down early against Texas in late February, and the Sooners lost only their second game of the season, 73-68.

Still, they’re one of the strongest teams still standing in the NCAA tournament (yes, I have them going to the Final Four) and yet they still seem like they’re crashing a party.

Then there’s the women’s team, which stands as one of the few squads with a chance to collar UConn and possesses its own legit star in center Courtney Paris. She magnanimously promised to pay back her scholarship if the Sooners don’t win the national title.

Not a single other school whose team finished the season in the top 20 has a football team that played in a BCS Bowl this past season (OU lost to Florida in the BCS title game; Gator basketball this season was a no-show). And certianly none of them would ever dare call themselves a football school.

Among the men’s Sweet 16, several schools have had decent football teams, but none live and breathe the sport like we do.

This isn’t OU’s first foray into the hoops near-elite. In the 80s, Wayman Tisdale once gave us a reason to don our red. And though it might be hard to recall given recent events, Kelvin Sampson stoked the first fires for Sooner hoops, guiding team to eight consecutive 20-win seasons, 10 NCAA tournaments and a trip to the Final Four (2002) from the mid-90s into just a few seasons ago.

But under vibrant new leadership (head coach Jeff Capel, and his counterpart, women’s coach Sherri Coale), and with Griffin and Paris showcasing Norman as a viable place for the region’s best talent, this team might actually succeed where their predecessors could not – stir Sooner nation for another season.

And I’m sure Bud Wilkinson wouldn’t mind a bit.