Morning Five: 08.01.13 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on August 1st, 2013

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  1. See that date up there at the top of the post? Yeah, August 1. Also known as the downswing of the summer, and the corresponding slow, gradual ramp-up to the next college basketball season. It’s not yet time to get excited, but it’s definitely worth a nod to the notion of a season getting here sooner rather than later. With that said, how about some super-duper-early preview materials to get the month started? SI.com‘s Andy Glockner gets things going with a look at the new Big East, featuring three new schools and an interesting existential question on whether a basketball-centric conference can survive and even thrive in major college athletics. And in case you missed it from a few days ago, Glockner also did a review of the remnants of that conference — the AAC — with a heavy emphasis on the defending national champions. 
  2. While on the subject of these two non-BCS leagues, Mike DeCourcy examines how a proposed $2,000 “living expenses” stipend that the top football conferences are hoping to add (especially if they pack up for a Divison 4 entity) would impact the likes of these conferences. It’s not an easy question to tackle, nor is it something that the “high-resource” schools populating the Big East and AAC necessarily want to see happen. That said, as DeCourcy notes, there is no realistic scenario where huge basketball schools like Connecticut, Cincinnati or Georgetown would allow regional and national rivals in the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, SEC and Pac-12 to offer recruitsan additional and legal financial incentive without also doing so on their own. Those schools would simply have to rework their financial sheets to make it happen, which may require some level of creativity among their accountants and senior management, but let’s not pretend that college athletics isn’t awash in money. The issue at most relevant schools is on the expenditures side, not the revenue one.
  3. And what about those revenues? It’s time for your near-daily Ed O’Bannon lawsuit update, and this one is a good one. In a 2-1 appellate decision involving a different case but one that will be instructive to the O’Bannon group’s decision, the US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled on Wednesday that video game maker EA must face claims against it for the usage of college players’ likenesses. The video game company had argued that it was protected by artistic license under the First Amendment, but the court rejected that argument. EA, of course, was notorious for using college football and basketball player likenesses to the point of absurdity in its video games, yet still claiming player anonymity because the names were removed from their virtual jerseys. It sounds ridiculous, and it is. As the court stated: the video game likeness had the “same height, weight, skin tone, hair color, hairstyle, handedness, home state, play style (pocket passer), visor preference, facial features, and school year” as the defendant (former Nebraska quarterback Sam Keller). What does this mean for O’Bannon? SI.com sports law expert Michael McCann believes that it means EA will settle its case with that group, leaving its co-defendants the NCAA and Collegiate Licensing Corporation to twist in the wind for the major payouts. Either way, this is another signal that big change is on the horizon.
  4. Stipends, Division 4, huge-dollar lawsuits… the NCAA is taking hits on all sides right now. Still, the prevailing wisdom is that no matter what transmogrified shape major college athletics eventually assumes, everyone’s beloved NCAA Tournament will not be messed with. The positive cash flow of over $700 million per year to the NCAA (and eventually parsed out to the schools) is just too valuable to destroy — so goes the thinking, at least. But, as Gary Parrish notes in one of his best columns in a long while, the potential of the monied schools choosing the nuclear option is at least worth our consideration. If there’s a dollar to be made, this cabal has proven that they’ll pursue it, time and time again, and often in the face of public sentiment. If, as we’ve also argued in this very space, the big-time schools decide that they can run their own version of March Madness resulting in a larger piece of the pie than they currently receive, then, as Parrish says, “smarter people [have done] dumber things.” We cannot disagree.
  5. In the meantime, America is stuck with the Texases and Ohio States of the world sharing postseason basketball space with the likes of VCU and Gonzaga. Arizona, as a member of the burgeoning Pac-12, is closer to the former group than the latter. And with Sean Miller at the helm, the Wildcats are poised to dominate west coast basketball and stay as a national powerhouse for the next decade or longer. This SBNation.com report from Scott Coleman notes that only two schools have ripped off top 10 recruiting classes in each of the last three years: Kentucky, obviously, but also Miller’s Wildcats. This year’s recruiting class will join a strong returning group from last season to potentially vault Arizona to the top of the Pac-12 standings, and if the reports about Aaron Gordon’s performances over the summer are any indication, he may just find himself standing as the best prospect in the country not named Andrew Wiggins this time next year.
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Morning Five: 06.20.13 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on June 20th, 2013

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  1. Today’s biggest news in the college athletics world is likely to come down from Oakland, California, as a federal judge is expected to rule on a motion from Ed O’Bannon‘s legal team that would certify his lawsuit against the NCAA into a class action. We’ll have more on the importance of this topic later this morning, but the long and short of it is that if the motion is granted it would open the door for literally thousands of past and present athletes to sue the NCAA for the use of their likeness for, oh, the last four or five decades. The experts are mixed in evaluating what this could ultimately mean, but needless to say that the Doomsday Scenario — an end to the NCAA’s amateurism model of business — is on the table here. SI.com‘s sports law expert, Michael McCann, gives a really nice overview of what’s at stake out in the Bay Area later today.
  2. While on the subject of the West Coast, the San Jose Mercury News‘ Jon Wilner published a previously confidential email related to the O’Bannon case that outlines just how much money the Pac-12 stands to make with its television deal with ESPN/FOX. His estimate based on some number-crunching might include a tad of wishful thinking, but between the television contracts and anticipated BCS and NCAA Tournament payouts, as well as revenue from the new Pac-12 Networks, it wouldn’t surprise him if the total annual take-homes for the members approached nearly $40-50 million. Larry Scott may not be winning championships yet, but he certainly seems to be winning the business of college sports. Take that, SEC and Big Ten?
  3. Rick Pitino once wrote a book called “Success is a Choice.” Apparently he chose — or maybe it was the basketball gods he thought were promising him Tim Duncan — to not succeed in Boston as the head coach of the Celtics. Some years later, he went on to say that “the biggest mistake” he had ever made in his career was to leave Kentucky (or, as he called it, “Camelot.”). He now disagrees with himself. Last week Pitino told a group of Louisville local businessmen last week that, actually, leaving Lexington for the Celtics was the best move he ever made because his failure in Boston taught him humility. Of course, nobody knows what he really thinks about much of anything — the guy flip-flops better than the best politicians — but maybe give him a few more years and he’ll tell a group of Providence denizens that he should have never left there either.
  4. We honestly cannot imagine a scenario where Alabama forward Devonta Pollard will be allowed to return to the team next season, but there were dueling reports on Wednesday about whether he was still officially on the team. CBSSports.com reported from a source internal to the program that he was no longer enrolled in Tuscaloosa, while ESPN.com later reported (from presumably a different source) that Pollard is in fact still on the squad until his legal troubles are settled. Given the alleged fact pattern surrounding his charges — that he assisted his mother in the kidnapping of a 6-year old girl — we’re going to go out on a big limb and assume he will not be back. And frankly, if he is convicted of such an irresponsible crime, he shouldn’t get a second chance to play ball anywhere.
  5. They say that you can’t go home again, but that doesn’t stop most of us from trying to remember and, in some cases, re-live the past. New UCLA head coach and Indiana legend Steve Alford manages to find time in his busy schedule each summer to return to the Hoosier State and run a camp for elementary school children at D-III Franklin College. Although the expectations on him at his new job in Westwood are enormous, he is using this week to get back home and recharge his batteries around familiar, and supportive, faces. He won’t have a very long leash at UCLA, even next season, so this is probably a pretty good idea on his part.
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Morning Five: 10.03.12 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on October 3rd, 2012

  1. It’s officially considered preseason when the various Top 25s start rolling out from the more reputable sources, and even though we’re still aghast that The Sporting News no longer publishes its college basketball annual (or any annual, for that matter), we’ll give them a break and assume that they still generally know what they’re talking about over there. TSN‘s Top 25 rankings were released Tuesday, and if you’re looking for any major surprises, this probably isn’t the place to start. Still, these rankings are bullish on the Big Ten (three teams in the top five), Duke (#6), and giving some love to the high-mids (seven teams on the list). On the flip side, the group is still a bit skeptical of UCLA (#11) and the Big 12 (only Kansas is represented). If you can’t handle the annoying slideshow format, check out Mike DeCourcy’s write-up on the logic of their selections here.
  2. Is the Atlantic 10 positioning itself to eventually become the pre-eminent basketball league with a predominantly east coast footprint? Obviously we’re excluding the ACC from this consideration, but with the news on Tuesday that the A-10 had signed a new eight-year television deal with ESPN, CBS Sports Network and the NBC Sports Group, you have to wonder if the conference could overcome the dwindling Big East during some of its down years, and especially if more moves (ahem, Louisville) are coming. According to CBSSports.com‘s Jeff Goodman, the league will have roughly 150 annual games on those networks, and although financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, it’s reasonable to assume that the additions of Butler and VCU as mid-major basketball empires produced a significant uptick in the league’s overall marketability and value.
  3. That muffled groan you heard late Monday night emanating from Indianapolis had nothing to do with the Monday Night Football game but instead everything to do with a decision by a federal judge in San Francisco concerning its case versus Ed O’Bannon and his friends. The class action suit against the NCAA depends primarily on the plaintiffs proving that the organization has for decades knowingly exploited its “student-athletes” through the use and sale of their names, likenesses, and images. To show the financial incentives for such a scheme, the O’Bannon group filed a motion for the NCAA to release its licensing and television contracts with ESPN since 2005, and lo and behold, the judge sided with their request. As SI.com‘s Michael McCann writes, this information is invaluable for the plaintiffs, as it not only provides specific dollar figures for the ‘monetization’ of college sports but it also opens up other companies such as ESPN and EA Sports to lawsuits down the line for exactly the same thing. This is a substantial ruling, one that should be watched carefully.
  4. North Carolina continues to find itself under fire for its jock-friendly academic coursework, as the Raleigh News & Observer has repeatedly embarrassed the school with release after release of new information that only serves to further fuel a national sentiment that there needs to be a comprehensive NCAA investigation of the academic side of the basketball program. The latest news is that a number of Tar Heel hoops players (among other athletes) were surprisingly enrolled in a 2007 Naval Weapons Systems class, a course ostensibly designed to produce commissioned US Naval officers rather than eligible power forwards. A Twitter war erupted over the fact that every school has easy classes and majors of which many athletes are attracted to, but people omitting the other side of the story are missing the bigger point. There already is clear and convincing evidence that members of the football team committed academic fraud at the school, and there is significant circumstantial evidence that the university has been at best, incompetent, or at worst, obstructionist, in evaluating the basketball side of the equation — there’s enough smoke here to strongly suggest further scrutiny because it’s becoming increasingly apparent that the school either cannot or will not adequately police itself.
  5. It’s becoming a huge recruiting week for the Class of 2013, as the Harrison twins are due to announce their decisions on ESPNU this Thursday and a couple of other top five players are busily narrowing their lists. Let’s start with some pundits’ overall #1 player, Jabari Parker. The Chicago big man released a list of 10 finalists over the summer (Connecticut was added last week), but his reported favorites Duke and Michigan State will be the first two schools to receive his official visits this fall. He will soon add three more schools from a list including the Huskies, BYU, DePaul, Florida, Georgetown, Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina and Stanford. Another player considered by some to be the top overall player, Julius Randle, has narrowed his final list to six schools: Kentucky, NC State, Florida, Texas, Kansas and Oklahoma. Interestingly, Tobacco Road powerhouses Duke and UNC were removed from Randle’s list, while Mark Gottfried’s Wolfpack remain. After this coming weekend, the pieces of this year’s recruiting class will start to really fall into place.
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NCAA Emails Signal Dissension Among Administrators and School Officials

Posted by Chris Johnson on September 20th, 2012

Chris Johnson is an RTC columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.

Criticizing the NCAA’s amateur-related restrictions and regulations is a trend long since adopted by a sizable majority of the college sports viewing public. The main point of contention, or so it seems, is the organization’s ability to negotiate and license lucrative media rights deals while expressly denying its constituents – the student-athletes themselves and the marketable product their competition creates – a slice of the financial pie. Each and every violation of that fundamental principle, from textbook impermissible benefits scandals to menacing third-party influencers to rogue boosters, amplifies the national discussion. It’s gotten to the point where supporting the NCAA’s legislative agenda draws widespread skepticism and angst, as if the maintenance of amateurism has evolved into a contrarian viewpoint. It wasn’t long ago that the discussion proceeded in reverse, with the now-in vogue free-market position marginalized by a prevailing consensus that the extant system, such as it is, works. As the discourse challenging the underlying structure that defines intercollegiate athletics gained new levels of credibility and authority, it was fair to suspect the NCAA would eventually need to defend its heavily scrutinized system in not only the court of public opinion, but a court of law. Sure enough, a class-action lawsuit led by former UCLA star Ed O’Bannon has challenged those bedrock principles forbidding student-athletes from receiving paid compensation above the school-funded assistance provided by athletic scholarships, otherwise known as grant-in-aids.

The internal disagreements over the NCAA’s concept of amateurism could help advance O’Bannon’s suit against the organization (Photo credit: Isaac Brekken/AP Photo).

The legal dispute is nothing new; O’Bannon initially raised his grievances in 2009. His case, which is scheduled to go on trial in early 2014, has only intensified the public indictment of NCAA policy. In the meantime, while it prepares to face the landmark test case that could dismantle its authoritative standing, the NCAA may need to reconcile its moral and philosophical mission internally. That’s the impression given by ESPN Outside the Lines reporter Tom Farrey’s article revealing in-house dissension over the legitimacy of the NCAA’s treatment of its student-athletes. Email correspondence between school administrators and NCAA officials contains hard evidence of high-ranking authorititative figures harboring substantial misgivings over the basic philosophy upon which the student-athlete ruling system operates. For example, Nebraska Chancellor Harvey Perlman offers scathing criticism of the student-athlete’s absence within the financial component of the NCAA’s media rights and licensing negotiations.

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Morning Five: 08.09.12 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on August 9th, 2012

  1. International basketball has a number of differences from the US game, ranging from the legal goaltending rule to the trapezoidal lane to a much higher tolerance by officials of cheap shots during game action (see: Anthony, Carmelo vs. Argentina). While Team USA’s core group of players has gotten used to FIBA rules by now, Bill Self’s Kansas Jayhawks are learning on the fly while they’re touring around Switzerland and France. According to this Lawrence Journal-World report, in KU’s first game on Tuesday night, Swiss forward David Ramseier lost his s#&% after a technical foul call went against him in the second quarter. From Bill Self: “He went nuts. He went absolutely nuts. I’ve never seen that. I saw Bill Romanowski do it in football one time, and I saw Roberto Alomar do it in baseball one time. But this guy went and actually did it twice. He’s going after the official and did it twice.” A physical assault that may have resulted in expulsion from the team (or at least a suspension) in America apparently held no weight overseas — Ramseier was back in the Swiss lineup on Wednesday. For what it’s worth, KU won both exhibition games but not without working for it; the Jayhawks outlasted the Swiss team by three points on Tuesday and four points on Wednesday.
  2. Moving stateside to poor treatment of officials, the NCAA on Wednesday publicly reprimanded Cincinnati head coach Mick Cronin for his “profane and abusive language toward a game official” during UC’s Sweet Sixteen loss against Ohio State last March. The NCAA had previously censured Cronin for this same incident, but UC had appealed it on his behalf — that appeal was denied. For the record, Ohio State was tallied with 11 total fouls in that game versus 21 for the Bearcats, resulting in 27 free throw attempts for OSU (making 19) against eight for UC (making five). That 14-point difference in foul shots made essentially accounts for the difference in the game (81-66) — no wonder Cronin was so hot. Does anyone know what he actually said to warrant such a strong reprimand?
  3. CBSSports.com has been crushing it this week with its series revealing what coaches really think about a number of topics. We learned Tuesday that Temple’s Fran Dunphy is considered the most underrated head coach in the land, a fact not too surprising considering how well his teams have done at both Pennsylvania and now Temple. On Wednesday, the most overrated head coaches were listed and the “winner” is a man who 98% of programs around the country would love to have on their sidelines — North Carolina’s Roy Williams. In nine years at UNC, he’s won two national titles and taken the Heels to three Final Fours and six Elite Eights. Everyone knows that he always has great talent at his disposal, but come on… should Williams have gone to six Final Fours and won four titles in the same period — would that make him accurately rated? Rick Barnes, the second-place “winner,” on the other hand…
  4. While on the subject of Roy’s alma mater, ESPN.com‘s Dana O’Neil wrote a piece Wednesday excoriating the NCAA for its seemingly (ok, definite) inconsistency in refusing to further investigate North Carolina for an academic scandal featuring athletes getting pushed into certain courses for easy As. As she clearly writes in the article, it’s certainly no secret that college athletes and students alike know where to find the easiest professors and courses, but there’s a clear distinction between “equal-opportunity baloney classes” and those that exist as fraudulent academic portals for athletes (Jim Harrick, Jr., on line two). She correctly points out that the NCAA would have no problem calling such grades into question at the high school level; but, when it involves its member institutions, it says it has no jurisdiction? It sounds like a really weird mandate, but Robbie Pickeral takes the time to explain in detail how the NCAA defines the issue: If players are clustering in certain classes as a result of academic-related counseling, then the NCAA defers to the university in handling it. If players end up in those courses as a result of the athletic department steering them there, then and only then does the NCAA get involved. What’s left unsaid here, of course, is what happens when there’s an unspoken pressure — even a wink/nod agreement, perhaps — for academic counselors to push players to those classes in the spirit of what’s best for the university (largely influenced by UNC sports).
  5. While we’re piling on the NCAA today, we may as well use this opportunity to check in on the Ed O’Bannon antitrust lawsuit against the organization and its licensees regarding the ongoing usage of his and other players’ names and likenesses in video games, published materials and so forth. The three-year old case is working its way through the system, but on Monday the O’Bannon group of plaintiffs convinced a judge to agree with them that the NCAA must “turn over information relating to revenue that its members receive from broadcast television, radio and Internet rights as well as reports tied to income from sponsorships, licensing, sales of advertising.” Clearly this sort of information is highly sensitive, but it’s a key victory for the athletes in that it shows that their case is meritorious enough for a federal judge to require the NCAA to release such documentation. In a nutshell, this case isn’t going away.
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