The announcement that a group of Northwestern football players are asking to be represented by a labor union probably will not elicit the amount of attention it deserves from the general public because… well, they are Northwestern football players, but it could be one of the biggest sports stories of this year. With the backing of the National College Players Association the football players filed a petition to be recognized as employees with the National Labor Relations Board and filed union cards for an undisclosed number of players. Before we get ahead of ourselves we should point out that this is just the first step of the process (“getting a seat at the table” as they say), but it is an important one. As you can imagine the NCAA is not a fan of the idea and has issued a statement essentially saying that athletes do not meet the definition of employees and thus should not be awarded rights typically given to unions. The scope and details of the case go well beyond what we have the space to cover here so we would recommend you check out the excellent Outside the Lines piece we linked to earlier.
We all knew it was coming, but Dante Exum came out and announced it yesterday: he will be entering this year’s NBA Draft. The Australian point guard, who is projected by most to be a top-5 pick in this year’s Draft, had reportedly been considering playing college basketball and even had come up with a list of finalists. Basically it was a list of top programs with no real shot (even UNC where his father played) since Exum is guaranteed NBA millions. Multiple players including Andrew Bogut, a fellow Australian and #1 pick who actually went to college, came out publicly and urged Exum not to go to college. Now college basketball fans can bring back their dreams of landing a star recruit to American high school players.
According to Tim Miles it was not a single incident, but rather a series of them that led him to dismiss Deverell Biggs from the team. Biggs, who redshirted last season after coming to Lincoln as a first-team junior college All-American, was the team’s third-leading scorer at 9.9 points per game despite being a reserve playing just 20.5 minutes per game. We do not know the full extent of the series of incidents that led to Biggs’ dismissal, but he was cited in April 2012 for suspicion of DUI and in December 2012 for leaving the scene of an accident then was suspended in July for a violation of team rules. We do not know what happened to make Miles finally decide to get rid of Biggs, but we imagine that there will be somebody else out there to take a chance on Biggs.
We are not sure what “medical and personal reasons” have led Kennesaw State coach Lewis Preston to take off from his coaching duties since January 2, but the school announced that he will return to his coaching duties at the end of this season. Preston, who is 7-61 (not a typo) as a head coach at Kennesaw State, was replaced by Jimmy Lallathin, who did not do much better going 3-12 as the interim coach. As we said we have no idea what the specific reasons were for Preston’s absence were and it would be reckless to speculate on what those reasons could be so we will just wish Preston the best in his return.
Normally the loss of a player who is averaging 2.8 points and 2.8 rebounds per game would not even merit a mention here (ok, maybe if they did something really dumb), but Xavier’s frontcourt is so thin that the indefinite suspension of freshman forward Jalen Reynolds might have an impact on the team. Despite his limited playing time (partly the result of his propensity to foul) Reynolds is one of the top rebounders on the team and as a freshman one would expect him to improve as the year goes along. Based on the reports on nearly every site it appears that this is an academic issue so we doubt that we will see Reynolds back this season.
KSU Suspends Cummings: In a move that sent shock waves through the league, rookie head coach LewisPreston announced Tuesday that he had indefinitely suspended Markeith Cummings for “conduct detrimental to the team.” The 6’7” Cummings led the A-Sun in scoring last season and was named the league’s preseason POY. Preston would not provide specific details in our interview with him the day after the announcement, but suspending Cummings is a clear sign that Preston has a long-term vision for building his program that he will not allow to be held hostage by any player – no matter how talented. For more on this, check out our Q&A with Preston at the end of this post.
Respectable Showings, But No Signature Wins: While a number of teams acquitted themselves well in matchups with teams from higher-RPI conferences over the season’s first week, a headline-grabbing upset eluded the A-Sun. Obviously, the closest was Belmont’s 77-76 loss to No. 6 Duke in Cameron Indoor Stadium. The Bruins nearly overcame a 16-point second-half deficit, but Andre Dawkins’ cold-blooded three-pointer with 16 seconds remaining sealed it. On the same night, Florida Gulf Coast and first-year coach Andy Enfield dropped a one-point decision at TCU, East Tennessee State led for much of the first half before cold shooting (29 percent) doomed them in an 11-point loss at Virginia Tech, and Jacksonville overcame a big early deficit to get back in the game and play Florida State to a standstill over the final 30 minutes in a 12-point defeat.
Belmont Acquitted Itself Well But Couldn't Pull Off the Upset (Belmont Sports)
Stetson’s Newcomers Make Statement: When Casey Alexander was hired last spring at Stetson, league observers predicted the longtime Belmont assistant would quickly energize the long-floundering program. So far, so good: Alexander got the Hatters off to a 2-0 start with solid wins over Bethune-Cookman and Florida A&M. (The “That-Can’t-Be-Right” nugget of the week: The 2-0 start was the first for Stetson since 19-friggin’-52. Right after Dwight Eisenhower was elected president. Seriously.) Stetson is benefitting from more than just a new face on the bench. Adam Pegg, a 6’9” transfer from Delaware, was named A-Sun Newcomer of the Week after averaging 14.5 points in the two victories.
Quote of the Week: “When your team can come into Cameron Indoor Stadium and make that kind of a comeback… and almost win the game, then as I just told (the players), we’re no worse a team because we lost by one than we would have been had we won. We’d have been a lot happier if we had won by won, but the team’s the same. The two points are nothing.” -Belmont coach Rick Byrd
Will Rothschild is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic Sun. You can find him on Twitter at @warothschild.
Reader’s Take I
Belmont’s Last Dance In The A-Sun: In May, realignment hit the conference when it was announced that Belmont will join the Ohio Valley Conference starting in the 2012-13 season, meaning this campaign will mark the Bruins’ A-Sun swan song. The repeal of a stipulation requiring every OVC program to field a football team (which Belmont doesn’t have) appeared to be the final hurdle. Belmont’s new home is a step up in terms of competition and is more favorable for its travel schedule. As the Bruins have represented the Atlantic Sun in the NCAA Tournament four of the last six seasons, a new leader will have to rise.
Mick Hedgepeth Leads Belmont In Its Final Season As A Member Of The Atlantic Sun. (Getty Images)
New Coaches To Watch: On paper, the A-Sun’s three first-year coaches look to be as good a collective group as has ever entered the conference. How they deliver – and how quickly – both on the court and in recruiting will be worth watching. All three – Casey Alexander at Stetson, AndyEnfield at Florida Gulf Coast, and LewisPreston at Kennesaw State – inherit programs that lost 20 or more games last season. All three also are first-time head coaches who were highly-regarded assistants at successful programs: Alexander at Belmont, Enfield at Florida State, and Preston at Notre Dame, Florida (where he was on the staff of the repeat title teams in ’06 and ’07) and Penn State.
ETSU Hopes To Stay Afloat: In eight seasons in Johnson City, coach Murray Bartow has taken the Bucs to three NCAA Tournaments while averaging just under 20 wins per season and finishing third or better in the standings five times. Most recently, the Bucs enjoyed a 24-win campaign in 2010-11, earning a spot in the CollegeInsider.com Tournament and advancing to the semifinals of that event, marking the first time in school history the team had captured two postseason victories in the same season. During the regular season, the Bucs enjoyed their highest RPI ranking since 2004, and won road games against quality opponents such as Mississippi State and Dayton. But to keep ETSU near the top of the A-Sun this year will require Bartow to do one of his best jobs. Gone are POY Mike Smith and two other standouts who combined to average more than 42 points per game, a whopping 60 percent of ETSU’s offensive production. Bartow welcomes in another highly-regarded recruiting class and welcomes back 6’4″ forward Tommy Hubbard, a major talent who missed all but four games last season with an injury. How well Hubbard regains his old form and meshes with the talented newcomers will determine whether this proud program maintains its traditional perch among the top three or gets overtaken by one of several improving programs.
Bruins Poised For A Cinderella Run: For what has become one of the best mid-major programs in the country, the only thing missing on Belmont’s“To Do” list is a run in the NCAA Tournament. After nearly knocking off Duke in 2008, the 13th-seeded Bruins lost to four-seed Wisconsin last March and are seeking their fifth NCAA tournament trip in the past seven seasons. So Belmont is well past any “We’re just glad to be here” feelings about making it to the Dance. With four starters and all but two of its 11-player rotation back from a 30-5 (19-1 A-Sun) team, the Bruins have the look of a team that could become a national darling in March.