Getty Images

Tacko Fall’s issues highlight need for NCAA to get out of initial eligibility process

2 Comments

The wait is over for us.

College basketball will be back this Friday, with actual games that actually count on campuses all around the country. There will be 156 real, live games played on Friday, and while that will fill airtime for the cable networks and provide fodder for hacks like me to bloviate about, the season will not be beginning for far too many players across the country.

Which is why it is past time for the NCAA to get out of the initial eligibility game.

Before I get to that, let’s take a quick rundown of some of the players whose eligibility is currently being held hostage. Keep in mind, starting next season, a list like this is going to be much, much longer when the NCAA’s initial eligibility requirements are increased.

Cheick Diallo at Kansas is the most notable name that has yet to be cleared. A top ten prospect from Mali by way of a high school in Long Island, Diallo’s eligibility situation has resulted in him hiring an attorney in his fight against the NCAA. The hold up for Diallo, according to reports from Yahoo Sports and the Kansas City Star, has to do with both his academic history and his relationship with guardian Tidiane Drame, a fellow Malian-American.

The association has requested more than 2,000 pages worth of homework from Diallo’s classes at Our Savior New American, a private school on Long Island that has been in the NCAA’s crosshairs for a while, that he began attending as a ninth-grader. They’ve asked for transcripts from as far back as sixth grade, when he was still in middle school in Mali.

Diallo, for what it’s worth, is already into his second semester of college classes.

Diallo’s high school teammate, Kassoum Yakwe, is still awaiting clearance from the NCAA as well. Yakwe’s teammate at St. John’s, Marcus Lovett, was next to Yakwe in street clothes when the Johnnies lost an exhibition game to St. Thomas Aquinas by 32 points last week; he hasn’t been cleared yet, either.

Ohio State freshman Mickey Mitchell has not yet been ruled eligible. Auburn’s Danjel Purifoy will not be playing this weekend unless the NCAA sorts out what they’ve deemed a questionable ACT score. UMass guard Luwane Pipkins is still await word as well, while former Syracuse commit Moustapha Diagne was forced to go to Junior College after a class that he took in Senegal was flagged by the NCAA.

I’m sure there are more that I’m not even aware of, but by far the most egregious eligibility misstep is Tacko Fall, a 7-foot-6 center at Central Florida. The NCAA told UCF on Friday that it will only be accepting 7.5 of his core courses from high school and that he is no longer allowed to practice with the team, according to ESPN.com. Here’s the thing: Fall isn’t dumb. I’d actually wager that he’s smarter than most of the folks that are working at the NCAA. He had a 3.6 GPA in high school, and while elite prospects tend to have their grades inflated, do they normally get those grades in calculus and chemistry?

Do they usually declare as engineering majors during their freshman year?

Because that’s the case with Fall.

The issue, however, is the high schools that he attended.

Fall is a native of Senegal. He came over to the United States after spending his first two years of high school in his country. When he first arrived stateside, he bounced around from school to school during the 2012-13 school year as he and his family tried to find him a stable environment to learn and play basketball. He eventually landed at Liberty Christian, where he spent two years and earned a diploma. But the NCAA has been looking into that high school, and the fact that he spent an academic year trying to find a landing spot was a red flag as well.

Like Diallo, Fall has hired legal representation and will be filing a lawsuit against the NCAA in an effort to be allowed to play.

Here’s the cruel irony of it all: Fall should be the poster-boy for college athletics. He should be the kid that the NCAA touts as what college sports should be all about. He’s a student-athlete in the truest sense of the word, a kid that is trying to use his God-given gifts — he is 7-foot-6, after all — to better his lot in life, whether that’s as a college-educated engineer, a professional basketball player or both.

Chew on this for a minute: Fall sends the money he gets from his cost of attendance stipend back home to his family in Senegal so his mother can afford to send his younger brother to school. If he’s declared a non-qualifier by the NCAA, that scholarship — that cost of attendance stipend — could end up disappearing.

“We are exploring every option available to us to support Tacko through this process,” head coach Donnie Jones said in a statement released to NBCSports.com.

This is what the initial eligibility process has come down to.

The NCAA has a high school under review, so a Senegalese engineering major that had a 3.6 GPA may not be allowed to play this season. He’s still on scholarship, according to his guardian, Amanda Wettstein, and he’s still attending classes — all A’s and B’s this semester, in case you were wondering — but as of right now he can no longer practice with the team.

If a kid like Tacko Fall cannot make it through the NCAA’s Eligibility Center untainted, then it is time to declare the process broken. It is time for them to get out of determining initial eligibility.

This isn’t a new sentiment, either. A core function of colleges and universities is determining what high school students are worthy and capable of being admitted. There is literally an entire department — probably named the Office of Admissions, maybe you’ve heard of it — where employees are paid by the school to determine whether or not applicants can succeed academically based on those same transcripts that the NCAA uses.

The NCAA’s initial eligibility process replicates that.

And theoretically, it makes sense. The NCAA wants a level playing field and they have to protect that student-athlete ideal. I get it. But the way the system is currently operating, the majority of these investigations tend to be focused on kids from foreign countries or impoverished backgrounds, kids that are trying to use their athletic ability to further an education and, quite possibly, break their family out of a cycle of poverty.

Fall, at this very moment, is getting A’s and B’s in chemistry, calculus and engineering classes at UCF.

And the NCAA is wasting time, money and resources in trying to determine whether or not he’s truly capable of holding his own academically? Is this real life?

More to the point, college basketball games start in 72 hours and there are still players that will not know if they are going to be able to play in them.

Or at all this season.

It’s ludicrous.

If the system can’t ensure that a kid like Fall is cleared and if it can’t get all of the paperwork and decision-making done before the games actually begin, then the system is flawed.

And it needs to be changed.

 

 

Report: LSU coach Will Wade drawing NCAA scrutiny

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
1 Comment

Will Wade’s success on the recruiting trail in his first 11 months at LSU has caught the eye of the NCAA, according to a report from Yahoo sports.

This does not appear to coincide with the FBI’s investigation into corruption in the sport for the simple fact that the NCAA has kept clear of the players, coaches and the programs named in the FBI complaints and the documents published by Yahoo in the last week while the government does their job.

At this point, according to the report, this appears to be a simple case of fact-finding. The investigation has “stalled” because the NCAA has not gotten enough people to talk, but Wade — who spent two years as the head coach at Chattanooga before going to VCU for two seasons — has undoubtedly been cleaning up on the recruiting trail. He landed four-star point guard Tremont Waters, a Connecticut native and a former Georgetown commit, just a couple of months after getting hired. He’s also landed five-star Naz Reid (New Jersey) and Emmitt Williams (Florida) along with four-stars Darius Days (Florida) and Javonte Smart (Louisiana) in the Class of 2018.

Wade and LSU made headlines last month, as Williams, who was arrested for sexual assault in October, committed to the program on the same day that ESPN dropped their bombshell Michigan State investigation.

With hoops under federal probe, fans say business as usual

Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Arenas were packed, fans were cheering and schools were competing.

In most places, it was a typical Saturday of college basketball. There was little visible hangover from the latest developments in the federal investigation of corruption in college basketball.

Coaches were taking the same tact they have been, some saying they’ve found no evidence of wrongdoing and appear to be waiting for the next shoe to drop. Several players still played despite being named in a Yahoo Sports report saying documents showed they had taken impermissible benefits.

Fans, for the most part, were not surprised — with some saying the circumstances have been reality in college hoops for a long time.

Others had fun with it.

At SMU, where the Mustangs were taking on No. 13 Wichita State, some students chanted “FBI! FBI!” and held balloons spelling out the name of the federal agency leading a corruption investigation that has led to 10 arrests of coaches and others alleged to have worked in the seamy underbelly of the sport. One of more than two dozen names mentioned as receiving impermissible benefits in documents in a Yahoo Sports report Friday was former Wichita State guard Fred VanVleet, now with the NBA’s Toronto Raptors.

In sentiments echoed by many coaches, Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall said he didn’t know about the alleged payments but that his program overall has “nothing to hide.”

Utah’s student section mocked Southern California forward Chimezie Metu, who was mentioned in Yahoo’s report but played and scored 14 points to lead the Trojans in a win. The Utah fans displayed signs like “Need Money? Metu! (Me too)” and chanted, “Payroll! Payroll!” whenever he had the ball or returned to the bench.

“When I’m on the court, nothing else matters. I was just out there playing. I wasn’t paying attention to anything anybody else was saying,” Metu said. “I’m not going to lose any focus at all. I didn’t do anything wrong. Nobody in my family did anything wrong. … For me, there was never a doubt I’d play.”

One school where officials were not enjoying themselves Saturday was Arizona.

Wildcats recruit Shareef O’Neal, son of former NBA star Shaquille O’Neal, withdrew his commitment after ESPN reported coach Sean Miller was heard on a wiretap discussing a $100,000 payment to freshman Deandre Ayton to get him to sign with the school.

Arizona announced that Miller would not coach Saturday night in the 14th-ranked Wildcats’ game at Oregon. Associate head coach Lorenzo Romar stood in for Miller, and the Wildcats lost 98-93 in overtime to the Ducks.

It was unclear what the coaching situation at Arizona would be going forward.

“As basketball players, we have a job. And we’re not going to let outsiders, outside noise, let it mistreat us, in a way. We’re just going to keep pushing, keep grinding,” senior guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright said. “We have games to play. We have practices to practice. That’s what we’re looking forward to.”

While Miller was absent, Ayton played and finished with 28 points and 18 rebounds. Oregon fans taunted him with a sign in the image of a check for $100,000.

In Omaha, where Creighton played No. 3 Villanova, the Bluejays were also linked to possible violations.

The Yahoo report said Christian Dawkins, who worked for former agent Andy Miller, may have bought dinner for former Creighton center Justin Patton or his family. Patton signed with Miller’s agency but fired him once Miller was implicated in the probe in September. Creighton coach Greg McDermott has said he didn’t know if Dawkins had a meal with Patton, but knew Dawkins met with Patton because McDermott also attended the meeting.

“So they took him to dinner. Big deal,” said 54-year-old Creighton fan Jim Belgrade, who has been attending games since he was 6. Belgrade said there needs to be a crackdown if money is exchanging hands and that some fans are more concerned than others.

“They will be if it’s a big-time school involved,” Belgrade said. “And there are people who say it’s the rules, and the rules are the rules, so we have to cap it some way. But will fans at Missouri Valley schools be worried about it? Probably not.”

Several players singled out in the report played on Saturday.

Kentucky fans cheered Kevin Knox as usual before he started against Missouri, and the freshman forward did his best to keep things normal. An internal review found no issues and he said afterward, “I was sure I would be able to play all week. I let Kentucky and compliance handle all that.”

Texas held out Eric Davis against Oklahoma while the Longhorns conduct their own investigation, while Alabama’s Collin Sexton started against Arkansas.

At Duke, Wendell Carter Jr. was in the starting lineup after the school said there were no issues with his eligibility. Afterward, Carter said he refused to let it become a distraction “because I know I didn’t do anything. I know my family didn’t do anything.”

The only obvious indication that anything was different was found on the dry-erase board near the Cameron Crazies’ entrance: A Twitter hashtag , #FreeWendell.

“Obviously I was disappointed that a former player was acknowledged in this report,” Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said after the Terrapins were beaten 85-61 by No. 17 Michigan . Former Maryland player Diamond Stone, who played one season for the Terrapins, was also mentioned as receiving an improper loan from an agent.

“I have absolutely zero relationship with that agent or that agency. Wouldn’t know him if he walked into the room today,” Turgeon said.

Michigan guard Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman said he is aware of the scandal, but that’s about as far as it goes.

“We still have to go out there and play the game. People didn’t pay us. I mean, there’s here and there,” Abdur-Rahkman said. “I don’t really think about it. I can’t speak for anyone else.”

Ken Tighe, a Terrapins season-ticket holder since 2002, said college basketball has an issue that needs to be addressed.

“I think the problem is widespread,” Tighe said. “Diamond Stone is part of an attempt by agents to influence the game.”

Michigan coach John Beilein offered a simple solution.

“Educate your players, educate the parents the best that you can,” Beilein said. “When somebody’s offering them something, they’ve got to say no to a Coca-Cola if an agent is talking to them, and they’ve also obviously got to say no to money.”

In Dallas, Jim Randolph — who attended SMU in the late 1960s and was a fan during the 1980s when the football program received the so-called death penalty from the NCAA — said fans expect their teams to do whatever they can to win.

“The entire infrastructure of amateur athletics, especially basketball, is just as dirty as can be,” Randolph said. “So many people have looked the other way for so long. It’s about time it surfaced.”

Dustan Foster of San Angelo, Texas, grew up in Missouri and is a lifelong Kansas fan. The 36-year-old oil field worker attended the eighth-ranked Jayhawks’ game at Texas Tech on Saturday and said he doesn’t know what is going to happen next.

“I don’t even think (NCAA President) Mark Emmert knows at this point,” Foster said. “I don’t think anybody knows. Flip a coin.”

Villanova coach Jay Wright said the scandal has cast a cloud over basketball that everyone in the sport has to work together to remove.

“It’s certainly not a good day for us,” Wright said. “But I do think we have a lot of good people in college basketball, a lot of good things in college basketball that we’re all going to try to work together to get it right again.”

When asked about a line item on an expense report by Dawkins cited by Yahoo that said Dawkins had a meal with “Villanova coaches,” Wright said: “My athletic director has advised me not to respond to it. He will. The athletic department is on top of it and will respond to it.”

AP Sports Writers Eric Olson in Omaha, Nebraska; Joedy McCreary in Durham, North Carolina; Schuyler Dixon in Lubbock, Texas; Anne M. Peterson in Oregon and Gary B. Graves in Lexington, Kentucky; and Associated Press writers Jeff Miller in Dallas and Matthew Coles in Salt Lake City contributed to this report.

No. 2 Michigan State beats Wisconsin, wraps up Big Ten

Michael Hickey/Getty Images
Leave a comment

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Cassius Winston scored 20 points and went 6 for 6 from the 3-point line, and No. 2 Michigan State held off Wisconsin 68-63 on Sunday to earn the outright regular-season Big Ten title.

Winston hit two 3s during an 11-2 run in the second half — the second with a defender in his face from well beyond the arc — to lead the Spartans (28-3, 16-2).

Brad Davison finished with 30 points for Wisconsin (14-17, 7-11), including a 3 with 4.7 seconds left that had hometown fans holding out hope for an upset.

Miles Bridges wrapped up the Spartans’ 12th straight win with two foul shots.

It was a milestone victory in what has been a challenging season off the court for Michigan State basketball.

One issue involved Bridges. The star forward had 10 points on 3-of-15 shooting in his first game since getting cleared by the NCAA following a Yahoo! Sports article on Friday that identified him as one of many players who may have received improper benefits.

Winston and Nick Ward, who had 14 points, picked up the scoring slack. Winston’s 3 with 4:45 left gave the Spartans a 58-51 lead, a huge cushion in what had been a tight game.

Davison nearly single-handedly brought Wisconsin back, giving the Badgers a huge boost even after aggravating a left shoulder injury. The freshman sprinted to the locker room with a trainer with about 14 minutes left before returning a couple minutes later and checking right back into the game to rousing applause.

He scored Wisconsin’s next six points, popping perimeter jumpers to electrify an already vocal home crowd in the regular season finale.

The teams dueled the rest of the way until Bridges’ late foul shots.

Michigan State muscled its way to a 34-27 halftime lead by taking control of the paint early before softening up the perimeter for Winston. The sophomore sharpshooter made 3 of 4 from beyond the arc in the first half, with a couple buckets coming quickly in transition.

BIG PICTURE

Michigan State: Documents in the Yahoo! story showed that the star forward may have improperly accepted benefits from an agency implicated in a federal investigation into bribery and other misdeeds in college basketball. The team said Saturday that the school’s compliance office conducted a “thorough internal review” and presented findings to the NCAA, which then cleared Bridges. … The Spartans had too much bulk up front for Wisconsin, building an early edge on points in the paint and finishing with a 40-28 edge on the boards.

Wisconsin: The team honored three reserve seniors in its final regular-season game, including fifth-year forward Aaron Moesch. He is the last link to the Badgers’ back-to-back Final Four appearances in 2014 and ’15, a little-used backup on each of those squads. The Badgers’ reliance on freshmen to play key roles in the rotation, especially in the backcourt, led to growing pains this season. They’ve shown signs of maturity of late, winning three straight games before Sunday.

UP NEXT

Michigan State: Opens play in the conference tournament in New York on Friday after earning a double bye as the top seed.

Wisconsin: Locked into the Big Ten tourney as the No. 9 seed, where it will play Maryland on Thursday.

No. 11 Cincinnati rallies for 82-74 win over Tulsa

Michael Hickey/Getty Images
Leave a comment

HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ky. — Gary Clark led a 24-4 run that put Cincinnati ahead to stay early in the second half, and the 11th-ranked Bearcats held on for an 82-74 victory over Tulsa on Sunday that preserved their one-game lead in the American Athletic Conference heading into the final week.

Cincinnati (25-4, 14-2) stayed ahead of No. 13 Wichita State (23-5, 13-3) in the race for the regular-season title. The Shockers won on Cincinnati’s home court 76-72 a week ago.

Wichita State plays at UCF on Thursday and hosts Cincinnati next Sunday in a potential showdown game. The Bearcats play at Tulane on Thursday before heading to Wichita State.

The Bearcats struggled defensively, giving up a season-high 14 3-pointers, but made a season-high 15 from beyond the arc. Clark and Jarron Cumberland had 17 points apiece.

Tulsa (17-11, 10-7) led by eight points early in the second before Clark scored during the decisive run. Junior Etou scored 21 for Tulsa, which had its six-game winning streak snapped.

Cincinnati completed its season playing at Northern Kentucky University while its on-campus arena is renovated, going 14-1 at BB&T Arena.

BIG PICTURE

Tulsa: The Golden Hurricane is wrapping up a regular season that marks a step up for the program. Tulsa went 15-17 last season and 8-10 in the AAC, finishing seventh. It’s fourth in the league with two games to go.

Cincinnati: Even though the Bearcats rank second nationally in defense, they’d given up a lot of open shots in the previous two games, a concern to coach Mick Cronin. The Golden Hurricane got plenty of those, too, while shooting 59 percent in the first half. The Golden Hurricane led 47-44 at the break, the most points Cincinnati has allowed in a half this season.

UP NEXT

Tulsa: Golden Hurricane plays at East Carolina on Thursday. Tulsa opened AAC play by beating ECU 79-53 on Dec. 28.

Cincinnati: The Bearcats have won four straight and 14 of 15 against Tulane, including a 78-61 victory last season.

Bubble Banter: Sunday Funday on the bubble

Getty Images
Leave a comment

As we will do every day throughout the rest of the season, here is a look at how college basketball’s bubble teams fared on Sunday.

It’s worth reminding you here that the way winning are labeled have changed this season. Instead of looking at all top 50 wins equally, the selection committee will be using criteria that breaks wins down into four quadrants, using the RPI:

  • Quadrant 1: Home vs. 1-30, Neutral vs. 1-50, Road vs. 1-75
  • Quadrant 2: Home vs. 31-75, Neutral vs. 51-100, Road vs. 76-135
  • Quadrant 3: Home vs. 76-160, Neutral vs. 101-200, Road vs. 136-240
  • Quadrant 4: Home vs. 161 plus, Neutral vs. 201 plus, Road vs. 240 plus

The latest NBC Sports Bracketology can be found here.

WINNERS

YET TO PLAY

UCLA
PENN STATE
NEBRASKA
N.C. STATE