Blogger Spotlight: Rules can be interesting — ask Bylaw Blog

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There once was a time when a nameless blogger wrote a popular blog among college sports writers and fans that helped explained nuances and reasoning behind the NCAA’s myriad rules. A blog about bylaws? It might sound like homework for adults, but it was actually great.

Then this happened. And it seemed as though the Bylaw Blog would forever disappear.

Until the NCAA did the college sports world a favor and had John Infante, the assistant director of compliance at Colorado State, bring back his blog on the NCAA’s site. It’s as good as ever.

So, as the NCAA prepares to spend another summer tweaking its massive rulebook yet again, I had John on for the latest Blogger Spotlight. I was lucky, too. He’s a massive soccer fan and he was kind enough to send responses around various Gold Cup games.

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Q: After your identity was “outed” last summer, how did you decide to resurrect Bylaw Blog? Did the NCAA approach you or did you approach them? It seems like a natural pairing.

A: After I was outed, I decided I would not bring the blog back as a single, personal website. Luckily, the NCAA reached out to me as part of their larger blogging project for NCAA.org. It was the right mix of freedom and support. What’s surprised me more is how much writing once a week on a broader level than what’s going on at an individual school has changed my opinions on topics that I thought I wouldn’t budge on. And how strong some positions I now have are that I was fairly ambivalent about in the past.

Q: Example, please. I assume it wasn’t one instance that prompted the change, but is there anything that sticks out in your mind?

A: The best example is my view on the ongoing debate over nonscholastic vs. high school sports. I used to be pretty ambivalent. Now I’m convinced that nonscholastic sports are the future for developing college athletes, and the role of high school athletics will inevitably decline. The best way for the NCAA to regulate recruiting as high school sports become less important is to help organizations with proper controls and structure succeed by favoring them in the recruiting rules.

Q: How did the Bylaw Blog begin? I’m envisioning a mix of you explaining the nuances of your compliance job and people constantly asking you about the myriad NCAA rules led to its creation.

A: Part of my motivation was to “set the record straight” since there was not a lot of information about the nuances of NCAA rules. Look at how many people still think the NCAA prevents athletes from having part-time jobs. But mostly it was that the things I write on the blog are the fun part of my job. Digging through rules, putting together puzzles, and presenting in a way that others find useful. I wanted to do the fun part of my job more, so I turned it into my hobby.

Q: Most blogs associated with college sports have built-in audiences. Fans of the school, conference or sport want to know what’s going on. Have you found that to be true of Bylaw Blog? And who are those people – aside from media types and other school compliance officers?

A: The biggest audience I’ve seen is fans of schools who are facing investigations or violations. It’s an audience that’s growing, although the jury is still out on whether that’s a positive development. When news breaks that a school is under investigation or accused of major violations, fans want to know what it means. They want to know what’s going to happen next, if everything is going to be OK. And the more information about NCAA rules they can find, the better they tend to feel about the situation.

Q: There’s a disclaimer on the blog’s main page, but how often do people ask you for advice, clarifications, etc? I’d guess they view you as an extension of the NCAA’s main office.

A: I get questions on Twitter fairly regularly. And increasingly I’m getting accusations that one program or another is breaking the rules. I think it’s less that I’m seen as an extension of the NCAA and more that I’m a compliance professional with more than a few Twitter followers. Luckily, I don’t get questions from the two groups mentioned specifically in the disclaimer. I have never had a coach from another institution call me and I very rarely get calls from student-athletes or prospects who are at or being recruited by another institution.

Q: What kind of limitations accompany blogging on the NCAA site? Is anything deemed improper material or is anything suggested to you as a topic?

A: I have free rein to publish pretty much whatever I want, with direct access to the CMS, so my posts appear on the NCAA’s site without prior approval or editing. The NCAA staff has only edited one of my posts, and I agreed with the change (I had linked to a full, editable copy of the NLI on the same day there was an incident with a forged NLI. That could have lead to some mischief.). I struggle more with self-censoring and not wanting to appear like I’m just spouting a party line.

Q: Ah, the AAU debate. That stemmed from the Rivals rule, right? Your opinion here spells out your reasoning pretty well, which is tough to argue. What would be the tipping point for that change to actually take place?

A: That was a major part of it. It’s kind of a chicken and egg problem though. The NCAA needs an alternative to AAU in men’s basketball to get behind, but a competitor to grassroots basketball needs the NCAA’s support to emerge. I’m a pretty outspoken fan of the US Soccer Development Academy, and that really took off when MLS decided to invest in youth development. The NBA could change the entire landscape of prep basketball if it decided to get involved in youth development.

Q: Are there any other college basketball rule changes that might benefit the sport? Or any that just bug you?

A: At this point it’s clear that limits on communication between prospects and coaches are providing an opening for the third parties whose influence we want to limit. Not to mention that phone calls and text messaging (when it was legal) are a bigger factor in men’s basketball recruiting than most other sports. Deregulation would give coaches equal access and not provide a maximum amount of contact that coaches feel compelled to meet (or exceed).

As far as rules that bug me, I’m not a fan of the summer school/summer practice proposal, at least in its current form. My biggest objection is that it doesn’t require a student-athlete to earn any credits he’s not already required to earn. Not to mention there’s a conflict with the July recruiting periods. I’d like to see a rule that rewards coaches who promote a focus on academics during the season with extra practice in the summer, and a summer recruiting model that support it.

 Q: Kentucky snagged the spotlight the last week regarding its stance on John Calipari’s 500th win. Are cases like that a compliance nightmare? Bad press for something that’s not going to actually land the school in hot water?

A: I’m much more worried about the hot water than the bad press. Given the intense debate over NCAA rules, doing what the rules require can attract plenty of bad press as well. I thought the debate between the NCAA and UK, which was branded as petty, was actually very important. Had UK and the Committee on Infractions gone to a hearing, it would have had a major impact on how effective the penalty would be going forward.

Q: What’s in your future? Is Colorado State a spot you could envision staying for a while (Ft. Collins is lovely) or might this job eventually turn into something at the NCAA? And if that occurs, what happens to the Bylaw Blog?

A: I think I could stay here a while. I’m not sure about a job in compliance at the NCAA or a conference, I really enjoy doing this job on a campus, I’m not sure I would enjoy it as much at the national office. If it was an opportunity to write full-time, that’s a different story.

More of John’s writing can be read here. He’s also on Twitter @bylawblog.

You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.

John Petty Jr. returns to Alabama for senior season

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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama guard John Petty Jr. is staying in school instead of entering the NBA draft.

The Crimson Tide junior announced his decision to return for his senior season Monday on Twitter, proclaiming: “I’m back.”

Petty, the Tide’s top 3-point shooter, averaged 14.5 points and a team-high 6.6 rebounds rebounds last season. He was second on the team in assists.

Petty made 85 3-pointers in 29 games, shooting at a 44% clip.

Alabama coach Nate Oats called him “one of the best, if not the best, shooters in the country.”

“He’s made it clear that it’s his goal to become a first round pick in the 2021 NBA Draft and we’re going to work with him to make sure he’s in the best position to reach that goal,” Oats said.

Fellow Tide guard Kira Lewis Jr. is regarded as a likely first-round draft pick.

McKinley Wright IV returns to Colorado

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McKinley Wright IV will be back for season No. 4 with the Colorado Buffaloes.

The point guard tested the NBA draft process before announcing a return for his senior year. It’s a big boost for a Buffaloes team that’s coming off a 21-11 mark in 2019-20 and was potentially looking at an NCAA Tournament bid before the season was halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wright was an All-Pac-12 first team selection a season ago, along with an all-defensive team pick. He and athletic forward Tyler Bey declared for the draft in late March. Bey remains in the draft.

“We’ve got unfinished business,” said Wright, who averaged 14.4 points and 5.0 assists per game last season.

Midway through the season, the Buffaloes were looking like a lock for their first NCAA Tournament appearance since ’15-16. Then, the team hit a five-game skid, including a loss to Washington State in the Pac-12 tournament. Simply put, they hit a defensive rut they just couldn’t shake out of, Wright said. It drove him to work that much harder in the offseason.

“This is my last go-around and I’ve got big dreams,” the 6-footer from Minnesota said. “I want to take CU to a place they haven’t been in a while. We want to go back to the tournament and win high-level games.”

The feedback from NBA scouts was reaffirming for Wright. He said they appreciated his transition game, movement away from the ball and his defensive intangibles. They also gave Wright areas he needed to shore up such as assist-to-turnover ratio and shooting the 3-pointer with more consistency.

He took it to heart while training in Arizona during the pandemic. He recently returned to Boulder, Colorado, where he’s going through quarantine before joining his teammates for workouts.

“The work I put in and the time I spent in the gym compared to all my other offseasons, it’s a big gap,” Wright said. “Last offseason, I thought I worked hard. But it was nothing compared to the time and different type of mindset I put myself in this year.”

Another motivating factor for his return was this: a chance to be the first in his family to earn his college degree. He’s majoring in ethnic studies with a minor in communications.

“My grandparents are excited about that. My parents are excited about that,” Wright said. “I’m excited about that as well.”

Wright also has an opportunity to take over the top spot on the school’s all-time assists list. His 501 career assists trail only Jay Humphries, who had 562 from 1980-84. Wright also ranks 13th all-time with 1,370 career points.

NOTES: Colorado announced the death of 95-year-old fan Betty Hoover, who along with her twin sister, Peggy Coppom, became fixtures at Buffs sporting events and were season ticket holders since 1958. Wright used to run into them not only on the court, but at the local bank. “I’ve never met anyone as loving and supporting and caring as those two,” Wright said. “They hold a special place in my heart. It sucks that Betty won’t be at any games this year. Maybe we can do something, put her name on our jersey. They’re two of the biggest fans in CU history.”

Jared Butler returns to Baylor

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Baylor got some huge news on Monday as potential All-American Jared Butler announced that he will be returning to school for his junior season, joining MaCio Teague is pulling his name out of the 2020 NBA Draft to get the band back together.

Butler was Baylor’s leading scorer a season ago, averaging 16.0 points and 3.1 assists for a team that went 26-4, spent a portion of the season as the No. 1 team in the country and was in line to receive a 1-seed had the 2020 NCAA Tournament taken place.

With Butler and Teague coming back to school, the Bears will return four starters from last season’s squad. Starting center Freddie Gillespie is gone, as is backup guard Devonte Bandoo, but those are holes that can be filled. Tristan Clark, who was Baylor’s best player during the 2018-19 season before suffering a knee injury that lingered through last year, will be back, and there is more than enough talent in the program to replace the scoring pop of Bandoo. Matthew Mayer will be in line for more minutes, while transfer Adam Flagler will be eligible this season.

Baylor will enter this season as a consensus top three team in the country. They will receive plenty of votes as the No. 1 team in the sport, making them not only a very real contender for the Big 12 regular season crown but one of the favorites to win the national title.

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As MaCio Teague returns, Baylor now awaits Jared Butler’s NBA draft decision

Butler is the key.

Baylor was one of college basketball’s best defensive teams last year. They finished fourth nationally in KenPom’s defensive efficiency metric, a ranking that dropped after they Bears lost two of their last three games to TCU and West Virginia. Where they struggled was on the offensive end of the floor. The Bears would go through droughts were points were at a premium and their best offense was a missed shot. Butler’s intrigue for NBA teams was his ability to shoot and to create space in isolation. He’s the one guy on the roster that can create something out of nothing for himself.

And now he is back to try and lead Baylor to a Final Four.

Arizona State’s Martin to return for senior season

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TEMPE, Ariz. (–Arizona State guard Remy Martin is withdrawing from the NBA draft and will return for his senior season in the desert.

“I’m blessed to have the opportunity to coach Remy Martin for one more season,” Sun Devils coach Bobby Hurley said in a statement Sunday. “Remy will be one of the best players in college basketball this year and will be on a mission to lead Arizona State basketball in its pursuit of championships.”

A 6-foot guard, Martin is the Pac-12’s leading returning scorer after averaging 19.1 points in 2019-20. He also averaged 4.1 assists per game and helped put the Sun Devils in position to reach the NCAA Tournament for the third straight year before the season was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Martin’s return should put Arizona State among the favorites to win the Pac-12 next season.

Martin joins fellow guard Alonzo Verge Jr. in returning to the Sun Devils after testing the NBA waters. Big man Romello White declared for the draft and later entered the transfer portal.

Hurley has signed one of the program’s best recruiting classes for next season, headed by five-star guard Josh Christopher.

Michigan State forward Xavier Tillman will remain in the 2020 NBA Draft

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In the end, Xavier Tillman Sr.’s decision whether or not to return to remain in the 2020 NBA Draft for his senior season came down to security.

A 6-foot-8 forward that averaged 13.7 points, 10.3 boards, 3.0 assists and 2.1 blocks this past season, Tillman was an NBC Sports third-team All-American a season ago. He’s projected as the No. 23 pick in the latest NBC Sports mock draft. He was the best NBA prospect that had yet to make a decision on his future until Sunday.

That’s when Tillman announced that he will be foregoing his final season of college eligibility to head to the NBA.

In the end, it’s probably the right decision, but it’s not one that the big fella made easily.

Tillman is unlike most college basketball players forced to make a decision on their basketball future. He is married. He has two kids, a three-year old daughter and a six-month old son. This is not a situation where he can bet on himself, head to the pro ranks and figure it out later on.

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He needs something stable, particularly given the fact that we are living in the midst of a pandemic that has put the future of sports in doubt, at least for the short term.

He needs security.

He needed to know that there would be a job for him in the NBA. Not a two-way contract. Not a spot on a camp roster or a chance to develop in the G League. Hell, there might not even be a G League next season. That was an option at Michigan State. He was living in an apartment with his family that was covered by his scholarship and stipend. He had meals paid for. He was able to take food from the training room home and have dinner with his family. He was able to get to class, to the gym, to practice and back home in time to do the dishes at night. He told NBC Sports in March that the school was able to provide him with $1,200-a-month to help pay for things like diapers high chairs. That was all going to be there if he returned to school. It was a great situation, one that lacked the uncertainty that comes with the professional level.

Because as much as I love Tillman as a role player at the next level, NBA teams do not all feel the same. The tricky thing about the draft is that it makes sense to swing for the fences on the guys that can be locked into salaries for the first four years of a contract. The Toronto Raptors took Pascal Siakam with the 27th pick and have paid less than $7 million in total salary in his first four years for a player that made an all-star team. Kyle Kuzma is averaging 16.0 points through three seasons and is on the books for $3.5 million in year four.

Tillman’s ability to defend, his basketball IQ, his play-making and his professional demeanor means that he can step into the modern NBA and do a job as a rotation player for just about any team in the league. But he doesn’t have the upside that other bigs in the same projected range have — Jalen Smith, Daniel Oturu, Jaden McDaniels, Zeke Nnaji — so there are teams that are scared off.

I don’t get it.

But Tillman’s decision to head to the professional ranks indicates that he does, indeed, feel confident in the fact that he will have gainful and steady employment next season. Since he would have walked at Michigan State’s graduation in May had it been held, that doesn’t leave much to return to school for.

The Spartans will now be left in a tough spot. There are quite a few pieces to like on this roster. Rocket Watts had promising moments as a freshman, as did Malik Hall. Gabe Brown and Marcus Bingham are both talented players. Joey Hauser had a good season at Marquette, and the early returns on freshman Mady Sissoko are promising. But this is going to be a young and unproven group.

Izzo has had less at his disposal before, but this is certainly not an ideal situation for Michigan State.