AP Photo/Keith Srakocic

AP Exclusive: Corruption probe prompts reviews of NCAA teams

1 Comment

The spate of arrests, details of under-the-table bribes to teenagers and the expected downfall of one of the sport’s best-known coaches has triggered uncomfortable soul-searching among the institutions at the heart of college basketball, including internal reviews by more than two dozen schools of their own prominent programs.

At stake is the future of a business that, over the span of 22 years ending in 2032, will produce $19.6 billion in TV money for the NCAA Tournament, known to the public, simply, as March Madness.

The NCAA distributes those billions to its conferences and universities, and that figure doesn’t include the millions splashed around by shoe companies, who play an outsized role in the success of the programs and the careers of some of their top players.

More than two dozen universities with major hoops programs — including Louisville, where Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino is in the process of being fired after 16 seasons — have responded to news of the sport’s bribery scandal by conducting internal reviews of their compliance operations.

The Associated Press asked 84 schools, including all the nation’s power programs, and six top conferences about their response to the arrests that upended college hoops mere days before practices for the 2017-18 season began around the country.

Of 63 schools that responded, 28 said the probe prompted their own internal reviews. So did the Pac-12 Conference, which formed a task force to dive into the culture and issues of recruiting.

Among the schools reviewing their programs are Arizona, Auburn, Oklahoma State and Southern California; each had assistant coaches arrested as part of the sting.

The list also includes Alabama, where a review led to the resignation of basketball administrator Kobie Baker but unearthed no NCAA violations, according to school officials.

A representative from one school, St. Johns, told AP the NCAA directed all Division I programs to examine their programs for potential rules violations after the federal complaints were filed. The NCAA declined to comment when asked about that specific directive.

But last week, the NCAA formed a fact-finding commission to be led by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, with results expected in April — right around the time the NCAA Tournament comes to an end.

“My only piece of advice (to young players), don’t let the process ruin you because we will. I blame myself,” said Tom Izzo of Michigan State, one of the schools conducting a review.

Izzo is convinced players’ circles grow too large as they near the big-time and fill up with too many people with different agendas.

But in an illustration of wide-ranging perceptions of the issue, Michigan State’s cross-state rival, Michigan, said it isn’t conducting an internal review and its coach, John Beilein, said “I don’t think the sky is falling in college basketball.”

“I think that there’s certainly some rogue coaches,” Beilein said. “How many? Maybe I’ll be proven wrong, but I can’t believe there’s too much of that going out there.”

Michigan, 34 other schools and the Big East Conference said they were not specifically responding to the federal probe. But many of the “no” responses came with the caveat that the school’s athletic department is always reviewing its compliance.

Four conferences and 21 schools declined to respond to the AP’s survey, including one university that declined to respond on the record but acknowledged privately that it was reviewing its program because of the probe.

The vast majority of schools surveyed have shoe deals with Nike, Adidas or Under Armour. A top Adidas marketing executive was among the 10 people arrested, after authorities spent two years untangling schemes, often bankrolled with money from the apparel companies, to steer future NBA players toward particular sports agents and financial advisers. No players were accused of doing anything illegal, but any recruits found taking any improper benefits could lose eligibility to play.

In many corners, the arrests have been portrayed as the government’s response to activities that have long been viewed as business-as-usual in big-time hoops — a long-awaited reckoning with problems the NCAA has been unwilling or unable to rein in.

An announcement Friday by the NCAA that a seven-year-long investigation into academic fraud at North Carolina would result in no sanctions for the Tar Heels did nothing to promote confidence in the body tasked with keeping its sports clean.

The AP also asked universities if they had been contacted by federal or state law enforcement. Only the schools involved in the federal complaints acknowledged being contacted.

That doesn’t mean more isn’t coming. Prosecutors have made clear the probe could widen in scope as the investigation continues.

“I’d say most people agree that this is the tip of the iceberg,” said John Tauer, the coach at St. Thomas in Minnesota, which has won two Division III titles this decade. “Over the next six months to a year, a lot more chips are going to fall, and you’d have to think that schools that aren’t diligent right now could end up paying dearly.”

Tauer, who doubles as a social psychology professor specializing in issues of sports in society, spends a lot of time wrestling with the NCAA rulebook. His task isn’t as high-stakes, though, because scholarship money and big-time shoe deals are essentially nonexistent in Division III.

“As an educator and a coach, you’re certainly disappointed but not shocked to know this kind of thing goes on,” Tauer said. “You hear rumors and stories of things that go on in the underworld of recruiting. You always hope they’re not true, but you probably know, deep down…”

Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak told a story of losing a hard recruiting battle, and his initial reaction was “at least we didn’t cheat.”

He called it his heat-of-the-moment reaction, though he’s certainly not blind to the issues confronting his sport. When he arrived at Utah in 2011, his two guiding principles were: “We are never going to cheat,” and “We aren’t going to recruit any turds.”

“I wasn’t sure in my lifetime that we were going to see anything of this magnitude where the lid got blown off,” Krystkowiak said. “I was hopeful that at some point somebody’s going to pay the price. Now when you get the feds and the FBI involved, it takes it to a new level.”

Kansas coach Bill Self, whose school is among those conducting an internal review, said he harbors no illusions about what’s at stake.

“This is bigger than us just coming up with ideas, this is us coming up with ideas that can withhold all the headwind that’s going to be coming toward it,” Self said.

NCAA tourney chair addresses non-conference strength of schedule and quadrant system

Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The way the NCAA tournament selection committee picks teams for inclusion into the sport’s crowning event is always under intense scrutiny. It’s a national past time, really.

One of the easiest targets is the RPI, an obviously flawed metric. It was the topic of discussion recently in the Omaha World-Herald, most notably the non-conference strength of schedule component.

That post spurred a lengthy response from Creighton athletic director and selection committee chairman Bruce Rasmussen, who defended the committee’s work with a metric that it acknowledges to be imperfect.

Here’s Rasmussen:

“Non-conference SOS is not a predominant tool in selections.

In fact, each year that I have been on the committee, we have discussed why you have to look beyond the number to evaluate a team’s non-conference strength of schedule, and even with this qualifier, non-conference schedule ranks well behind other factors such as how you did against other tournament caliber teams, did you win the games you were supposed to win, and how did you do away from home since winning away from home is difficult and the tournament games are all games away from home.

“I have argued each year that I have been on the committee that non-conference SOS should be taken off the team sheet, but until we develop a new metric it is staying. However, understand that the committee understands its fallacies (as we also recognize other weaknesses in the current RPI formula) and it is not a prominent factor in decisions.”

Rasmussen also examined the quadrant system being used:

“Many think that the first and second quadrants are silos and that every win in the first quadrant or every win in the second quadrant is treated equally.  I think it is important that while we refer to first and second quadrant wins, we also better communicate that this is only a sorting mechanism and each game in these quadrants is looked at differently. They don’t have the same value.”

So while it’s fair to question NCAA selection committee’s decisions and the way in which they make them, it’s clear there is an extensive amount of well-intentioned thought put into the process.

College Basketball Coaches Poll: Michigan State moves atop the Top 25

Rey Del Rio/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Michigan State is your new No. 1 team in the country, according to the USA Today Coaches Poll.

The Spartans received 20 of a possible 32 first-place votes after their comeback from 27 points down to beat Northwestern on the road on Saturday.

Virginia is still sitting at No. 2 while Villanova and Xavier round out the top four. Duke climbed a few spots to No. 5.

Here is the full coaches poll:

1. Michigan State (20 first-place votes)
2. Virginia (8)
3. Villanova (4)
4. Xavier
5. Duke
6. Gonzaga
7. Texas Tech
8. Kansas
9. Purdue
10. North Carolina
11. Cincinnati
12. Wichita State
13. Auburn
14. Arizona
15. Ohio State
16. Michigan
17. Clemson
18. Rhode Island
19. Tennessee
20. Saint Mary’s
21. West Virginia
22. Nevada
23. Houston
24. Middle Tennessee State
25. Arizona State

Was Bob Huggins justified in his anger over foul shots in Kansas win over West Virginia?

Ed Zurga/Getty Images
1 Comment

Much has been made of Bob Huggins’ ejection on Saturday evening, as West Virginia blew yet another double-digit lead at Phog Allen Fieldhouse as Kansas picked up a critical, 77-69 win.

The ejection was hilarious, and everything that I want to remember Huggy Bear by: Cussing out all three refs as he earns his second technical and an ejection while needing to hold up his pants with his hands:

Huggs is a national treasure.

The more interesting conversation, however, centered around why Huggins was tossed. Kansas shot 35 free throws on Saturday. West Virginia shot just two, which is an absolutely staggering number.

And I thought this was deserving of further scrutiny.

Let’s start with the obvious: West Virginia fouls a lot, enough that it’s not an exaggeration to say that a foul could probably be called on every possession. Part of the strategy of playing the way that Press Virginia does is that they are betting that officials are not going to call a foul on every possession, because they won’t. West Virginia is also a jump-shooting team this season, as nearly 40 percent of their field goal attempts come from beyond the arc. Their free throw rate both offensively and defensively is dead last in the Big 12.

Put another way, the Mountaineers are always going to be outshot from the free throw line.

Then you have to combine that with the Kansas stats. The Jayhawks are second in the Big 12 on offensive free throw rate and third in defensive free throw rate. Throw in the home court advantage that comes with playing in the Phog, and the safest bet in the world would have been Kansas outshooting West Virginia from the charity stripe.

It also needs to be noted that the 35-2 advantage was 27-2 before West Virginia started fouling intentionally and before Kansas went to the line for those two late Huggins’ technical fouls.

But that didn’t stop Huggins from going off in the press conference after the game:

“We blew the game last year,” Huggins said. “We should have won the game. We had the game. They did a great job, they made shots, we threw it around, we missed free throws, we did everything humanly possible to lose the game. That was us.”

“I’ve been doing this 40 years. I don’t I’ve ever been in a game where we shot two free throws. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a game where the disparity 35-2. I’ve never been in a game like that.”

But perhaps his most telling line was this, when asked what his message to his team was:

“It wasn’t their fault.”

It’s pretty clear that Huggins believed his team was hosed on the road.

The truth is probably somewhere in the middle.

West Virginia is normally going to shoot fewer free throws than their opponents. Kansas is normally going to shoot more free throws that their opponents. Studies have proven that home environments in college basketball have an impact referee decisions as much as any sport in the world, including English soccer. That’s part of having a home court advantage, and it’s part of the advantage of having a rowdy, raucous and loud crowd. It’s why places like Phog Allen, and Cameron Indoor Stadium, and Koch Arena, and the McKale Center, and anywhere else with a big and loud fan base.

But 35-2 is 35-2, and it will take quite a bit of video evidence to proof to me that Kansas did not get a significant benefit from playing in front of their home crowd on Saturday night.

So did the referees cost West Virginia the game?

Debatable. I’d argue that Jevon Carter missing some shots and Daxter Miles’ insistence on passing up open threes to try and pass the ball to players going for a rebound played a pretty big role, as did the fact that Kansas is a really good team that made some big shots down the stretch.

But the whistles played some kind of a role.

Just like they always do in the Phog.

College Basketball AP Poll: Virginia, Michigan State, Villanova top the Top 25

Rich Barnes/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Virginia remained in the No. 1 spot in the AP Poll while Michigan State and Villanova still sit at No. 2 and No. 3 with Xavier once again in fourth.

The biggest change in the poll was that Duke rose to No. 5 after three straight wins; they were No. 12 last week.

Kentucky is still not a part of the top 25.

Here is the full AP Poll:

1. Virginia (42 first-place votes)
2. Michigan State (19)
3. Villanova (4)
4. Xavier
5. Duke
t-6. Texas Tech
t-6. Gonzaga
8. Kansas
9. Purdue
10. North Carolina
11. Cincinnati
12. Auburn
13. Wichita State
14. Arizona
15. Clemson
16. Ohio State
17. Michigan
18. Rhode Island
19. Tennessee
20. Nevada
21. West Virginia
22. Saint Mary’s
23. Houston
24. Middle Tennessee
25. Florida State

VIDEO: Wichita State celebrates in locker room after win over Cincinnati

Darryl Oumi/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Wichita State went into Cincinnati — well, Northern Kentucky — on Sunday evening and landed their biggest win of the season.

They were fired up about it, as you might imagine.

And their locker room celebrating after the win was, as the kids say, litty:

Here’s the funny part to me: This game wasn’t played at Cincinnati. It wasn’t played at Wichita State. It was played at Northern Kentucky, where the Bearcats are playing their home games while they wait for the renovations on their arena to be completed.

Which means that some poor NKU employee that had nothing to do with either of these two programs had to spend the time cleaning up this mess.