While It May be Time for the Final Four to Return to NBA Arenas, No Change is Imminent

Posted by Bennet Hayes on January 29th, 2014

It’s getting hard to remember the days when Final Fours weren’t confined to cavernous NFL stadiums. It’s been almost 20 years since the last non-dome Final Four (Continental Airlines Arena and East Rutherford, New Jersey, played host back in 1996), and the streak has also served to rob the two coasts of any national semifinal hosting duties. There had been recent discussion of bringing college basketball’s biggest stage back to NBA arenas, but Monday’s announcement of the finalists for the 2017-20 Final Fours revealed that shift won’t be occurring for at least another seven years, if at all. In theory, the practice of getting as many fans as possible to the event is a noble one – more eyeballs is better, after all – but the continued avoidance of the two coasts (you know, where there are like, a few kind of important cities) is a puzzling oversight by the NCAA. Even forgetting for a moment that nobody wants to visit Indianapolis in April, or that part of what makes college basketball unique is its geographic comprehensiveness, the NCAA’s shunning of east and west coast host sites puzzles on a purely financial level. The brightest spotlight – and relatedly, most money – is to be found in America’s signature cities (New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, Washington, DC, etc.), most of which can’t currently accommodate the NCAA’s 60,000 minimum seat requirement for a hosting facility. No worries if the host city rotation retains a heavy dose of domes, but NCAA, it makes too much sense (and cents) not to bring the Final Four back to the biggest population centers from time to time.

74,326 Fans Descended On The Georgia Dome For Last Year's Championship Game. A Move Back To NBA Arenas For The Final Four Would Significantly Diminish That Attendance Figure, But The Benefits Could Easily Outweigh The Costs.

74,326 Fans Descended On The Georgia Dome For Last Year’s Championship Game. That Attendance Figure Would Shrink Significantly If The Final Four Moved Back To An NBA Arena, But The Benefits Of Such A Shift Could Outweigh Any Costs

Forgetting practical reasons for a moment, the NCAA’s reluctance to bring the Final Four back to NBA arenas takes away from the ubiquity of the sport’s reach. Professional sports are confined to 40 or so major American cities; college football covers a little more ground, but there are still nine states without an FBS program. In college basketball, only Alaska lacks a D-I college basketball program, and every one of the 351 programs has a “neighbor” within a few hours of them. Hoops covers America unlike any other sport; the game is almost everywhere. Equally spreading Final Four sites around the entire nation is a quixotic notion, but the sizable gap in current coverage doesn’t jive with one of the sport’s most defining elements.

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AAC M5: 01.14.14 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on January 14th, 2014

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  1. I understand the value of coaches’ speeches and motivational tactics, but don’t put too much stock into rhetoric when it comes to impacting the team’s play on the floor. That said, asking his players to stop trying to live up to last year’s team seems like the right message for Rick Pitino to be sending right now. Even we here at the AAC microsite started the season expecting Louisville to look very similar to last year’s team, but it didn’t take long to realize how much the Cardinals would miss Peyton Siva and Gorgui Dieng. The national championship picture is pretty wide open and anyone who says they are confident about their chances is probably saying it through gritted teeth. Pitino is well aware of this, and while the Cardinals have probably dropped out of the conversation altogether with their recent play, Pitino knows there is still major talent on his roster and that in March, anything can happen. If the message gets through to guys like Luke Hancock and Wayne Blackshear and they start to consistently pick up their play, the Cards still have more than a puncher’s chance at repeating.
  2. Raise your hand if you saw UConn center Amida Brimah‘s performance against Central Florida coming? After scoring 37 total points in the first 15 games of his career and taking a grand total of three shots in his previous four games, the freshman exploded for 20 points on 8-of-10 shooting while chipping in eight rebounds and five blocks as the Huskies won their first conference game of the season. It might be a little early to say Brimah is “beginning to blossom” considering the small sample size and quality of the opponent, but if Brimah can even contribute a fraction of that performance on a nightly basis, head coach Kevin Ollie would probably be ecstatic. Much has already been made about UConn’s underwhelming frontcourt and Brimah probably has the most upside of anyone in that rotation, but he just needs to learn to stay out of foul trouble and play more consistently. Brimah has been playing basketball for fewer than five years now and his talents are obvious to everybody. He is going to be a really good player down the road; it would just be nice for Ollie and the team if he could start to fulfill that potential a little ahead of schedule.
  3. It’s hardly a secret anymore that Ge’Lawn Guyn‘s grasp on the starting point guard role for Cincinnati is in name only, and that freshman Troy Caupain is the better and more trusted player right now. That’s not a knock on Guyn, who is a nice veteran presence to have in the rotation, but it’s more an indication of Caupain’s ability and upside. It should be required to mention that Caupain celebrated his 18th birthday fewer than two months ago and he is playing with poise, shooting the ball extremely well, and showing flashes of vast defensive potential. Many pundits felt that the Bearcats would only be as good as whomever took over for Cashmere Wright this season, and if you have been watching, Caupain is getting better every game and the Bearcats have been improving along with him. Caupain has an NBA frame but is still very obviously growing into his body, so the tough grind of a full season should be somewhat concerning to head coach Mick Cronin. He needs the freshman at his best if Cronin wants to take the Bearcats back to the Sweet Sixteen.
  4. Is it too early to start drumming up support for South Florida guard Anthony Collins to get a medical redshirt and retain two years of eligibility? Isn’t there someone who can issue a preemptive strike about the hypocrisy of the NCAA so that Collins can get his year back hassle-free? Injuries have temporarily derailed Collins’ promising career, and although he has played in eight games for the Bulls this season, lingering issues with his knee never allowed him to get back to 100 percent and now he is sidelined indefinitely again. I am sure the NCAA will take a look at the fact that Collins played in eight games after getting cleared by the team, but since the decisions on transfer waivers and redshirts have been so consistently arbitrary, there is no good reason for the NCAA to deny Collins an extra year. It’s not his fault that he had an inflamed bursa sac over the summer and has been forced to deal with continued tendinitis in the same knee. Nobody is trying to take advantage of anyone in this situation and the right thing to is just give him the extra year. All aboard the bandwagon!
  5. Houston never looked that good when they were at full strength, so it is incredibly impressive what they have been able to do in their first three conference games without the services of Danuel House or L.J. Rose – a pair of starters and two of the team’s best players. The team is 2-1 in conference play with a one-point loss to unbeaten Cincinnati as its lone blemish and a match-up with Louisville looming on Thursday. There may be good news on the way, though, as both Rose and House are considered “questionable” to return on Thursday and coach James Dickey said he is “more optimistic” that the duo will play. The Cougars travel to the YUM! Center this week, so even with House and Rose at full strength and no rust it will be an uphill battle against the Cardinals; but they may benefit from being thrown to the fire and their return has much greater long-term implications for the team than just Thursday’s game.
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Otskey’s Observations: Episode VII

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 8th, 2014

Each week throughout the season, RTC columnist Brian Otskey (@botskey) will run down his observations from the previous week of college basketball. 

Baylor Fails To Live Up To The Hype

When I saw the national polls come out this week I was stunned to see Baylor ranked No. 7. Yes, the Bears were 12-1 heading into last night’s Big 12 opener at Iowa State, but I was surprised more pollsters were not able to see through their smoke and mirrors. I rated Baylor No. 19 in the latest RTC Top 25 and thought it was generous given its resume. Of the team’s 12 wins, just three have been quality: Two came in Dallas against Colorado and Kentucky (certainly very fine wins) and one in Maui against Dayton. In other words, Baylor had yet to beat a great team away from home and last night’s game was actually its first true road contest of the season. Scott Drew’s team didn’t exactly validate its lofty ranking after being torched in the second half at Hilton Coliseum last night. BU’s interior defense, normally a strength, was horrendous against the Cyclones, particularly in transition. It almost seems as if Baylor was unprepared for Iowa State’s up-tempo style of basketball. Baylor is not a bad team by any stretch but there just isn’t enough consistency from game to game to warrant such a high ranking. The Bears do a lot of things well and a handful of things poorly. That keeps their ceiling low, despite a ton of talent on the roster.

Kenny Chery and Baylor have some shortcomings to address

Kenny Chery and Baylor have some shortcomings to address

Iowa State is For Real, But Just How Good are the Cyclones?

Speaking of Iowa State, how about the job Fred Hoiberg has done in Ames? In only his fourth year he has made his alma mater relevant in leading it to a top 10 ranking this week. The Cyclones are legitimate and DeAndre Kane is a big reason why. The Marshall transfer is making the most of his one year in Ames as one of the country’s best all-around players. After a season-high 30 points against Baylor last night, Kane seems to be getting even better. Hoiberg really can’t ask for much more from a senior who can run the team, rebound and score efficiently. Iowa State is obviously terrific at home but I would like to see this team perform on the road against better competition before I fully buy in. Don’t get me wrong, the Cyclones are a sure fire top 20 team in my view. However, their toughest road test to date was against a 9-7 BYU team in Provo. With five of their next nine games on the road, the Cyclones will be challenged in a big way against the likes of Kansas and Oklahoma State, as well as upstarts Texas and Oklahoma. While I believe Iowa State is very good, we will know a heck of a lot more about it when the calendar flips to February.

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NCAA Considering Change in Transfer Rules… Again

Posted by Chris Johnson on January 3rd, 2014

One of the topics college basketball people frequently debate and nitpick is transfer culture. They get into other macro issues from time to time, like changes to how the game is officiated and amateurism, but transfer-related issues – a certain player’s waiver getting denied by the NCAA, for instance, or an inconsistent application of transfer rules, or the vast increase in transfers in recent years, or coaches deciding to block or limit where a player can transfer, or something else – seem to spark discussion and controversy on a national level just as (or more) often than anything else. A new transfer-related development has, to no one’s surprise, created a bit of a stir among college hoops folks.

Josh Smith Represents a Transfer Ruling That Didn't Make Much Sense (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

Josh Smith Represents a Transfer Ruling That Didn’t Make Much Sense (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

The NCAA Division I Leadership Council, which was at one point considering a loosening of the restrictions that apply to transfers ineligible for the one-time transfer exception (football, basketball, baseball and men’s ice hockey players), is discussing the notion of making all transfers sit out a season regardless of circumstance. Student-athletes would be granted an extra year to their “five-year” eligibility clock if they transfer after using their redshirt year. Student-athletes who have not already redshirted would not be granted an extra year. This would essentially eliminate the waiver process you read about so often – the one that initially denied Rutgers transfer Kerwin Okoro immediate eligibility after he moved closer to his New York home following the death of two family members, but allowed UCLA transfer Josh Smith to play right away, just because.

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Jay Bilas and Mark Emmert: How About a Meeting of the Minds?

Posted by Chris Johnson on December 12th, 2013

The reputation Jay Bilas has developed over the years as one of the most vocal critics of the National Collegiate Athletic Association is well-earned. He frequently hammers away – via Twitter and otherwise – at president Mark Emmert and the controversial institution he presides over. Just last summer, Bilas highlighted the NCAA’s fundamental hypocrisy regarding its stance on player likenesses with his ShopNCAASports search bar revelation. Months before, in an extensive interview with Andy Glockner, Bilas opened fire on the NCAA in general, and Emmert in particular, calling the latter an “absentee president.” Those are just two examples. Scroll through Bilas’ tweets and you’ll find an endless supply of reasoned NCAA criticism (with plenty of rap lyrics sprinkled throughout; Young Jeezy even dropped Bilas’ name in a song). Most sports fans also know Bilas for his college basketball analysis, which – much like his frequent disparagement of the NCAA – is almost always, whether written or televised, very much on-point. If, in the preseason, you read Bilas’ “College Hoops Opus,” for instance, you’d feel so prepared for the upcoming campaign, you probably wouldn’t have spent any money on preview magazines.

Jay Bilas and Mark Emmert Traded Barbs Yesterday

Jay Bilas and Mark Emmert Traded Barbs Yesterday

As you no doubt already know, Bilas is a pretty smart guy, and he knows it, too. Which is why his latest squabble with Emmert was so predictable. Emmert was in New York Wednesday for the IMG Intercollegiate Athletics Forum, where he fielded questions from reporters about various NCAA-related issues. Responding to a question about Bilas, Emmert said, “I appreciate how passionate he is about college sports. I don’t like the ad hominem [personal] attacks.” Emmert followed up. “I dare say I know more about running complex organizations than him and he knows more about basketball.” Naturally, Bilas retorted: Read the rest of this entry »

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The NCAA is Changing — With or Without a Division IV

Posted by Chris Johnson (@chrisdjohnsonn) on November 4th, 2013

Division I college athletics are entering a period of change. Anyone who pays attention knows this to be true. And those who don’t, well, surprise! Acknowledging the prospect of change is one thing; knowing exactly how the NCAA will change is entirely another. As recently as this summer, conference commissioners hinted at the possibility of the formation of a new NCAA subdivision. It was to be called Division IV, reports suggested, and it would be created with the express purpose of allowing wealthier schools with more resources to operate under a different set of rules. The idea that all of Division I – whose institutions range from penny-pinching programs like Grambling State to, um, Texas –  should be forced to abide by the same rules always seemed silly. Conference commissioners were simply airing the obvious truth that’s been kept below the surface over years of clunky, uneven, inefficient NCAA governance.

Momentum behind the Division IV concept seems to have subsided. The possibility the NCAA will change remains high. (AP)

The big boys wanted their own sandbox to play in, somewhere the little guys couldn’t impede the passage of important measures such as cost-of-attendance stipends or unlimited training table meals. They wanted to be able to make decisions about rules and regulations without having to worry about smaller schools with comparatively microscopic budgets – including one so far removed from the major conference realm it asks its students to fork up extra money to help allay the “financial emergency” within its athletic department – getting in the way. All of this made sense. A new subdivision of college athletics was coming, and we were all going to need to learn how to live with it. Read the rest of this entry »

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AAC M5: 10.30.13 Edition

Posted by CD Bradley on October 30th, 2013

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  1. Louisville has been the first team mentioned in much of the discussion about the new handchecking rules in place for this season. Most of that commentary has been about how the rules will hurt the Cardinals, but coach Rick Pitino has maintained that he favors the new rules and thinks his team will benefit. The defending champions played their first exhibition game Tuesday night, and the new rules were the main storyline, but in a way that for a night vindicated Pitino while raising concerns about game length early in the season. An overmatched Kentucky Wesleyan team committed 41 fouls and saw five of its players foul out. Yahoo’s Pat Forde noted that the first half lasted more than an hour and agreed that the change would have a major impact on TV tip times, which Eric Crawford reported had one coach thinking the rules would soon go back. But Pitino, who served on the panel that recommended a similar change in the NBA a decade ago, said teams will adjust. “I know it will frustrate, you, me, the fans, but once everyone adjusts, you’ll wind up with a much better game,” Pitino said.  The best news for Pitino: Russ Smith scored 19 points and committed no fouls.
  2. Connecticut coach Kevin Ollie has one of the nation’s best backcourts, but a frontcourt full of questions. One of those questions was answered earlier this week when freshman Kenton Facey was declared eligible, and Ollie hopes that sophomore Phil Nolan can answer another. “I need one big man to step up and just separate themselves,” Ollie said. “I’d like to have two, three, four of them separate themselves, but I need one, and if not, we’ll do it by committee. They know exactly, I made it real plain and simplified it a lot, that how to get minutes is rebound.” Nolan said he had put on some weight over the offseason and hopes to build off a first taste of success late last season, when he averaged more than six rebounds over his last three games. “I think he comes back this year stronger physically. His endurance is better and he’s able to play more plays at a high level in a row,” associate head coach Glen Miller added. “A lot of freshmen take plays off here and there, but he’s playing a more complete game, and he’s doing everything a lot better.”
  3. SMU coach Larry Brown is also trying to figure out a frontcourt rotation with both returning players and newcomers trying to stake a claim. Brown said he’s intrigued by a pairing of two massive newcomers: junior college star Yanick Moreira and Villanova transfer Markus Kennedy, who has lost 40 pounds since leaving the Big East. “Markus looks great,” Brown told CBSSports.com. “I think he and Yanick are going to blend well together. They’re both team guys and I think those two will give us a real strong base to work with.” Brown said those two will pair with returning big men Shawn Williams and Cannen Cunningham, underscoring that perhaps his toughest challenge will finding the proper balance.
  4. While major college athletics officials are discussing revisions to the NCAA governance structure in Indianapolis this week, it appears a new division of the biggest schools is off the table for now. “From what I’ve heard in the association, I think people would like to have one Division I, but in some ways, a structure that will make certain differentiations between small conferences and big conferences,” Nathan Hatch, president at Wake Forest University and chairman of the Division I board of directors, told USA Today. “I think people like having one division.” That’s good news for the American, which risked being on the outside looking in had the five largest football conferences – the SEC, Big Ten, ACC, Big 12 and Pac-12 – left the others behind. Hatch sand other said some differentiations in rules are under consideration, but it’s unclear which side of the divide the AAC schools will end up on. Probably the biggest impact of a new super division would be the fate of the NCAA tournament, and that such an option seems out of the question can only be good news for college basketball’s crown jewel. Yahoo! reports that athletic directors, who took a back seat to college presidents a decade ago, appear set to reassert themselves in the revised structure.
  5. Former Memphis wing Adonis Thomas, a sophomore when he declared himself eligible for the NBA Draft after last season, was one of 20 early entrants who did not make an NBA opening night roster. Thomas wasn’t drafted, but was signed and then cut by the Hawks, then signed by the Nets with apparent designs on stashing him in the D League. Memphis resident and CBS columnist Gary Parrish argues that we shouldn’t necessarily weep for those who took their shot, but haven’t (yet) found a comfortable landing spot.
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Morning Five: 10.28.13 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on October 28th, 2013

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  1. For the fourth consecutive weekend (ugh), several schools around the country staged their Midnight Madness events. The headliner over the last three days was at North Carolina, where the Tar Heels’ annual Late Night With Roy event featured big cheers for troubled guard PJ Hairston. At Seton Hall, eating contest legend Takeru Kobayashi was brought in to wow the crowd as he went head-to-head in a hot dog eating contest with Pirates’ head coach Kevin Willard. Willard didn’t even try to get one down, preferring to spend the minute-long competition watching Kobayashi house a total of 10 without so much as an extra breath. Perhaps more impressively, Kobayashi then drained a gallon jug of milk in just 15 seconds. Over at Villanova, Nicki Minaj performed during its Hoops Mania event, while Kansas State created some buzz with its Fresh Prince of Manhattan skit. The most impressive item out of the weekend, though, may have come from Providence‘s Brandon Austin, who shut down the proceedings with a simply ridiculous between-the-legs, 360-degree windmill dunk. All good fun, but after literally a month of these Madnesses, can we get to some real basketball soon? Eleven days.
  2. With just over a week remaining before bona fide games tip off, the NCAA is releasing decisions on player eligibility with gusto. Last week it was Georgetown receiving the good (and astonishing) news that former UCLA center Josh Smith would be eligible to play immediately; Oregon got similar news on Friday when the NCAA cleared Houston transfer Joseph Young to play immediately for Dana Altman as well. Young is an exceptional scoring guard who averaged 18.0 PPG last season and brings to Eugene the 26th-best offensive rating in college basketball (124.1 last season). In a now-loaded backcourt featuring Dominic Artis, Damyean Dotson and Young to go along with transfer Mike Moser in the frontcourt, the Ducks are suddenly looking like one of the top two or three teams in the Pac-12 again. Interestingly, transfers Young and Smith will face each other in their first game of the season between the Ducks and Hoyas in South Korea on November 8.
  3. Just a few days after Tim Floyd revealed that Kentucky and UTEP were exploring a 2016 game to celebrate the 50th anniversary of their Brown vs. Board of Education national championship match-up, word came out that John Calipari’s program is seeking to spearhead another Champions Classic-style event involving the nation’s top basketball schools. According to ESPN.com‘s Andy Katz, Kentucky, UCLA, North Carolina and Ohio State are negotiating a three-year event that would mimic the Champions Classic with each team rotating through the others in alternate years. The unnamed event would begin in 2014-15 and would move between Brooklyn, Indianapolis and Las Vegas during the first three-year window. When the Champions Classic was first developed, we wondered if some of the other all-time great basketball schools such as UNC and UCLA would ever have a chance to participate; with this new event now in the pipeline, we’ll just about have it covered. Serious question, though — with a combined 24 national titles among this group, shouldn’t the new event supersede the other for rights to the name “Champions Classic?” And what happened to Indiana (five titles compared with Ohio State’s one)?
  4. The Miami/Nevin Shapiro scandal has come and gone with Frank Haith getting off relatively easy (a five-game suspension) and the Hurricane basketball program moving forward in decent shape. But, as the Miami Herald reports, former assistant coach Jorge Fernandez’s professional life has been destroyed as a result of admitted violations relating to providing free airline tickets to players and later lying to the NCAA about it. The article correctly points out that it is often the low-level assistants in these scandals who suffer the brunt of the punishment, as Fernandez notes that a two-year ‘show cause’ penalty has shut him out of the coaching profession and caused the matter of providing basic needs for his family very difficult. Some coaches around the country have rallied around him throughout his ordeal, but many others have not, and it’s uncertain if or where he will be able to land after his penalty has ended. It’s another one of those stories that makes people shrug their shoulders at the stark inequities built into the NCAA’s byzantine system of enforcement and punishment.
  5. It got lost in the late week news cycle, but some big news relating to the Ed O’Bannon case against the NCAA was released on Friday afternoon. Federal district judge Claudia Wilken denied the NCAA’s motion for dismissal, paving the way for O’Bannon and the other plantiffs to move forward and eventually receive a trial on the merits of the case. The primary issue here was the relevance of language in a 1984 case from former Supreme Court justice John Paul Stevens that, while not part of the holding of that lawsuit, has been relied upon by the NCAA to retain its amateur model: “In order to preserve the character and quality of the [NCAA's] ‘product,’ athletes must not be paid, must be required to attend class, and the like.” Wilken rejected the notion that Stevens’ language represented any particular binding precedent, and in so doing, has removed a major procedural barrier assuring that the plaintiffs will get their day in court. Wilken will next rule on class certification of the case, potentially allowing thousands more plaintiffs to sue the NCAA and correspondingly raising their potential liability well into the billions of dollars.
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Josh Smith’s Clearance a Game-Changer On and Off the Court

Posted by Bennet Hayes on October 26th, 2013

When news broke Wednesday of Josh Smith’s accepted waiver and immediate eligibility for Georgetown, the bulk of the media reaction constituted pure shock. After all, without any known medical issues or hardship concerns facilitating the transfer, there was no indication that Smith would recoup two full seasons of eligibility after playing in six games as a junior at UCLA. The decision marks the latest puzzling chapter in the transfer waiver saga that unfolded over the offseason, and has left nearly everyone (outside the NCAA offices – or maybe not?) as confused as ever about the process – including CBSSports.com’s Gary Parrish. The folks at Georgetown may or may not be surprised by the news as well, but they are surely excited to have their big man ready for the season opener. As for the rest of us, the state of confusion we currently find ourselves in is understandable, but perhaps it’s time to give the NCAA the benefit of the doubt. They may have finally figured out that more leniency with the transfer policy benefits both the kids and the sport. Increased transparency from the governing body will be necessary at some point, but for now, I’ll take Smith’s immediate eligibility as a sign of changing times.

Thanks To A Generous NCAA Ruling, Josh Smith Will Be On The Court When Georgetown Kicks Off Their Season In Seoul, South Korea On Nov. 8 (Harry How/Getty Images)

Thanks To A Generous NCAA Ruling, Josh Smith Will Be On The Court When Georgetown Kicks Off Their Season In Seoul, South Korea On Nov. 8 (Harry How/Getty Images)

When the NCAA overturned its own decision to deny Kerwin Okoro’s waiver request a month ago, we had to know then that the organization was finally beginning to hear the vitriol of fans and media surrounding the transfer issue. The Smith ruling may be a more subtle version of that phenomenon. Jay Bilas tweeted that the Smith ruling was “not objectionable,” but that what is objectionable is that “the NCAA rejects so many others, with no coherent policy.” Agreed, and while we have no coherent policy in place, the Smith decision certainly feels like the waving of the white flag. If the NCAA is going to set such a clear precedent with a case like Smith’s – after all the discussion on the waiver issue this offseason – we have to assume enough self-awareness on the part of the NCAA to presume that they are going to be taking a far softer approach to the issue. We can hope for a definitive public stance on the issue before next offseason, but the blatant nature of this case should mean we are headed for fewer denied waiver requests, and eventually, perhaps none.

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Morning Five: Columbus Day Edition

Posted by RTC on October 14th, 2013

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  1. The month of Midnight Madness celebrations continued over the weekend, with a number of schools choosing to reveal their 2013-14 teams to the public on Friday night. The most prominent basketball school of this weekend’s group was Marquette, entertaining some 4,000 fans at the Al McGuire Center for Marquette Madness. The event trotted out the tried-and-true Madness standards: a three-point shooting contest (won by Jake Thomas), a dunk contest (won by Deonte Burton), etc., but one unique aspect of this version was that the school also handed out a “Lifetime Achievement Award” as part of the proceedings. Chris Otule, a Golden Eagles center who has played a full season in only two of his five years in Milwaukee and was recently granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA, was the recipient (see the tribute video here). Otule earned substantial national recognition in 2010 when it was learned that he was playing major college basketball with only one working eye (he’s been blind in his left eye since birth), but he also has become something of a hard-luck case due to the three significant injuries (two broken feet and a torn ACL) that he has suffered during his career at Marquette. By all accounts a genuinely nice guy, let’s hope that his final year in Marquette is productive and injury-free.
  2. News came out last week that longtime Texas athletic director, DeLoss Dodds, will retire from his post overseeing the wealthiest athletic department in all of college sports. The 76-year old’s decision to retire, though, comes at a time when the school’s revenue-producing programs — football, basketball and baseball — are all suffering through relatively tough times. Notwithstanding the football Longhorns’ upset of unbeaten Oklahoma on Saturday, the team had lost badly to BYU and Ole Miss earlier this season, and rumors are swirling about the security of Mack Brown’s head coaching job there. Similarly for basketball, Rick Barnes’ Longhorns were just picked to finish as the eighth-place team in a 10-team league (only ahead of the hoops disasters known as Texas Tech and TCU), raising significant questions as to how a program and coach who makes so much money and has access to so much local talent could have gotten itself in such a mess. Brad Townsend of the Dallas Morning News examines the political and operational realities of Dodds’ retirement, ultimately concluding that the new AD will certainly have some hurdles to overcome upon arrival at his new job. And apparently, Louisville’s Tom Jurich is not interested.
  3. While on the subject of athletic directors, the AP reported on Friday that a group of 65 ADs attached their names in support of a nine-page memorandum sent to a legal team convening in Chicago later this month to discuss updating the Uniform Athlete Agents Act (UAAA). Tired of dealing with agents, runners and other interested hangers-on associating with student-athletes in their revenue programs, the group requests that the penalties attached to violations of the UAAA contain higher fines and additional prison time. Specifically, they ask that changes to the law must “increase the incentives for and ease of prosecuting violators,” offering a number of recommendations to make it easier to catch the wrongdoers. Perhaps the strongest part of this proposed legislation is the idea of classifying someone as an agent for purposes of the law regardless of whether they are registered as one — although difficult to implement, this could help with the runner/go-between problem that has become all too familiar in recent years.
  4. Connecticut head coach Kevin Ollie may have jumped the gun in revealing his school’s latest APR score on Friday, but who can blame him given that his team was forced to miss the NCAA Tournament last season because of prior years’ academic troubles. The second-year coach proudly told the media: ”We got a thousand. If you want to wait until May, you can find out in May. But it’s a thousand.” The “thousand” he mentions equates to a perfect score on the APR metric, which basically means that all of UConn’s student-athletes in the basketball program are in good academic standing and on track to graduate. According to Ollie, the program has emphasized the importance of education through accountability (i.e., players run if they miss class, etc.), which of course is all fine and well. But perhaps more than anything else, this improvement to a perfect score shows that the APR can be gamed like any other arbitrary metric if a school simply takes it seriously and correspondingly incents the players to do the bare minimum in the classroom.
  5. One of the interesting aspects to the NCAA’s new rule allowing practice to start in September is that coaches are limited to only 30 practice sessions in those 42 days between September 27 and November 8. Not only does the extra time between sessions let coaches ease into their practice plans and teaching points a little more thoughtfully, but it also allows teams to do some other character-building exercises that they simply wouldn’t have had time for under the old model. Case in point: Duke‘s four-day trip to New York over the weekend. On Saturday, Coach K transported his charges to West Point, his alma mater and site of his first head coaching job, allowing the Blue Devils to take in the pride and spectacle of the school responsible for educating the nation’s future military leaders. By all indications the players loved the experience, and one might suspect that if the Blue Devils go on to enjoy a great upcoming season, they’ll reflect often on this preseason trip to New York as the bonding experience where things started to come together. Have a great holiday, everyone.
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With Little Pomp or Fanfare, Practice is Underway: Is Earlier Better?

Posted by BHayes on September 27th, 2013

Bennet Hayes is an RTC columnist. He can be reached @HoopsTraveler.

Aaand we’re back. Sort of. Today marks the official return of practice for college basketball players across the country, but unlike in years past, there will be no festive Midnight Madness celebration to announce that we are underway – at least not yet. A new NCAA initiative to allow programs more practice time before their opening games was passed this offseason, and teams are now able to use their 30 days of preseason practice over the span of six weeks, instead of the four weeks it had been in preseasons past. Great, you say — perhaps we will have a cleaner, more efficient brand of basketball ready for opening tip? That has to be the hope, as the extra time should allow for a smoother transition into the year, at least on paper. But in a sport where tradition and ceremony often delivers much of the impact, will the extra weeks of practice improve the play on the floor enough to offset a potential depreciation to the meaning of Midnight Madness?

Will Midnight Madness Suffer As A Result Of The New Early Opening To Practice?

Will Midnight Madness Suffer As A Result Of The New Early Opening To Practice?

It’s hard to know how direct a response this rule change is to the game scores that are getting lower and lower and the accompanying grumblings that are getting louder and louder, but it feels like an effort by the NCAA to raise early-season quality of play. While the actual practice time (30 days) remains the same, stretching it out over the course of six weeks should help keep players from feeling overwhelmed, and also offer them the chance to recover and work on individual skills on off days. Nobody is claiming these two weeks will advance basketball 10 years worth of quality, but there’s no way the extra time can’t help improve the product of November and December basketball.

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Why the NCAA Could be Taking a Huge Risk in the Ed O’Bannon Suit

Posted by Chris Johnson on September 27th, 2013

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

It wasn’t so long ago that we discussed the possibility of former UCLA basketball player Ed O’Bannon and his group of plaintiffs being granted class certification by U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken in their lawsuit against the NCAA, Electronic Arts and the Collegiate Licensing Company. Thursday’s news forced a revision of that statement. The lawsuit now counts one defendant: that four letter institution we love to hate, the NCAA. Hours after EA announced it would no longer manufacture its popular college football video game, the video game company and CLC announced a settlement of a wide swath of cases brought against them by former players. The settlements, according to reports, will result in between 200,000 and 300,000 players receiving compensation for the previous use of their likenesses. Current players could also be in line to receive compensation, though it is unclear whether accepting money would compromise their eligibility. It is believed EA’s decision to cancel its production of NCAA Football – and thus dissociate itself from its sticky and laughably contrived argument that player likenesses were not modeled after real-life human characteristics (even after SB Nation discovered the use of former Florida quarterback Tim Tebow’s name in virtual playbooks designed by EA for its NCAA Football ’10 game) – was a preemptive move to eliminate the possibility of “damages” against current student-athletes, whose likenesses would have been used in the game.

The settlements reached by EA and CLC makes the O'Bannon case a one-on-one legal battle with the NCAA (AP Photo).

The settlements reached by EA and CLC makes the O’Bannon case a one-on-one legal battle with the NCAA (AP Photo).

That leaves the NCAA – who according to a USA Today report Thursday, is beefing up its legal team with the intention of fighting its case all the way to the Supreme Court – as the lone defendant. If the NCAA is truly bent on embarking on a long, drawn-out, high-profile legal battle, it risks not only having to pay billions of dollars to current and former players. It won’t have any say in when it must make those payments. O’Bannon and his plaintiffs, in other words, could be entitled to massive sums over a compressed time period after the trial. That’s a risk the NCAA appears willing to take, given its reported hiring of powerful attorneys. But is that a wise strategy? Or should the NCAA take EA and CLC’s lead and try to negotiate a settlement? We probably won’t find out until Wilken decides whether to certify O’Bannon’s class – which, according to legal experts, is likely to be the case. What’s interesting about EA and CLC’s decision to settle is the implicit message it sends – that the class is likely to be certified, and that cutting their losses now and reaching a deal before making themselves liable to much, much larger payments in a class action suit was the most prudent move available. It almost seems as if EA and CLC saw the writing on the wall. Another interesting part of this settlement comes from Sports Illustrated legal analyst Michael McCann, who suggests O’Bannon and his plaintiffs are “likely demanding information that would help them advance legal claims against the NCAA. A settlement with EA and CLC, in other words, makes one with the NCAA more likely.”

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