Blogger Spotlight: Big East Coast Bias sorts out this mess

0 Comments

Nobody’s got a handle on the conference realignment mess. Just when you think things have settled, someone else gets happy feet. If it’s not Missouri trying desperately to leave the Big 12, it’s TCU being courted by the Big 12 and away from the Big East.

Hey, even the conference commissioners hardly know what’s going on.

But if you need news and some semblance of understanding, the guys at Big East Coast Bias are tough to beat.

Makes sense. The Big East has taken the brunt of the realignment chaos, losing two founding members – Syracuse and Pittsburgh – to the ACC, while another founding school – Connecticut – is trying to do the same, while West Virginia consistently mentioned as possibly the SEC’s 14th member. That makes Mark Ennis, one of the site’s managers, ideal for the return of Blogger Spotlight.

I traded emails with Mark recently over a 10-day period, right when the Big 12 seemed on the brink of collapse and right before TCU became a courted school. We did our best to figure out what’s ailing the Big East, what can be done and how BECB is handling it all.

Click here for more Blogger Spotlight

Q: Big 12 fans spent most of the last six weeks fretting about what the future holds. But at least they knew this was coming (thanks Longhorn Network!). Safe to say everyone in the Big East was thrown by Syracuse and Pitt applying to the ACC, conference commissioner John Marinatto among them?

source: APA: You know Syracuse has long had a wandering eye for the ACC and the Big East has had to try and stop them from going to the ACC before, but Pittsburgh making such a quick move like this, yeah, you could say that the conference’s remaining members and the Big East leadership were quite thrown by both the move and the clandestine nature of the whole thing. You can see it clearly in the comments from Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich. Pittsburgh’s leadership was viewed as one of the main parties rallying the football schools to be bold. To then turn around and leave unannounced, it’s stunning.

Q: Thus prompting Rick Pitino’s “Godfather” themed betrayal blog post. There’s some serious animosity rising among schools. What will the season be like for Syracuse and Pitt – and UConn if it bolts? (I’d include Rutgers, but I’m certain nobody will care if the Knight leave.) Road trips will not be pleasant.

A: I imagine that for both football and basketball, the road trips for Pittsburgh and Syracuse will be harsh, especially from those schools who might be left with no real options because of the decisions made by those two schools. Can you imagine the animosity for a place like Seton Hall, a founding member of the conference that might be forced to the Atlantic 10 or something? It’ll be understandably rough.

Q: And it sounds as if – though this could change – that both Syracuse and Pitt won’t be in the ACC until 2014! Hope they’re ready thousands of obscenities thrown their way. Might want to get those plastic shields soccer teams have to protect their benches in some of the more … ahem … vigorous fans. So what’s the best way to combat this? What would help the Big East schools feel better about their situation?

A: I’ve been asked this question by a number of people and honestly I have no idea what could have been done to make Pittsburgh or Syracuse feel more secure in the Big East prior to their departure and I definitely don’t know what could be done now to keep the remaining teams more committed outside of miraculously adding Notre Dame as a football playing member right now. Which, of course, we know won’t happen.

Q: What about hiring a new commissioner? The Big 12 ditched Dan Beebe. Would moving on from John Marinatto help, even if it’s only for cosmetic purposes? (As you say, Notre Dame football is really the only thing that would solve everything, but that isn’t happening.) Or is that just like trying to put out a fire with a water pick?

A: Firing Marinatto might help, but only if there was a guy out there that would definitely bring some sort of fireworks with him, or perhaps an “in” that would ensure some quality football teams are also coming to the Big East. I’ve knocked Marinatto as much as the next guy, but, I’m honestly not sure what anyone else could have done to make the Big East better than it has been.

Q: That’s life in a league that isn’t built around football, right? So I have to ask: Would the conference be better served if it only had basketball and had the schools play football in other leagues? Or is that something that hurts too much to think about?

A: I think that might wind up being its future whether it would be better or not. With the conference openly discussing adding Temple rather than allowing Villanova to grow up in the league, it’s pretty obvious that they really aren’t concerned with what’s best for the basketball playing members even though, with the loss of Syracuse and Pittsburgh, the value in the conference is clearly on that side.

source: APQ: I’ll say. Declaring the Big East tournament as the most important – and perhaps best  — tourney after the NCAA tournament, protecting that might just be more important than retaining that automatic BCS bid. 

A: I think there’s a lot of true to that. And since you mention it, is there anything sadder than the thought of a Big East tournament in MSG without Syracuse? No Flynn overtime magic, no McNamara, no games with Georgetown. It’s a shame the ACC and Pitt/Syracuse sacrificed that in a panic over superconferences.

Q: I’ll miss Pitt just as much. For a while there, they seemingly were in the title game every season. And UConn just ripped off its historic run yet it’s openly trying to get out. Fairly certain winning the ACC tournament (in Greensboro) won’t hold the same appeal. But hey, you’re a Louisville guy, right? Maybe it’ll give your Cardinals a boost.

A: I’ll you that Louisville and Rick Pitino love being a part of the Big East Tournament and all of the pageantry associated with it. They’d miss that if all of this resulted in a conference change.

Q: Would the conference just be better off as a basketball-only league? Football’s crucial for thriving, but I’d wager the Big East is the one league that could make it work as a hoops league. The logistics would be hell, though.

A: I think that’s the question that everyone is trying to grapple with. It might be in the best interest of schools like Marquette, St. John’s, Georgetown, etc. to go ahead and have discussions about whether they even want to bother dealing with the football members anymore. The television contracts are essentially separate anyway. If the football schools came to a meeting and said they wanted to stick you with playing basketball games against East Carolina or Central Florida, wouldn’t you at least think twice about just going it alone? It’s illustrative of the biggest problem with the Big East: members whose interests are not just different, but diametrically opposed.

 Q: OK then, onto to other things. Big East Coast Bias. How’s the reception been since it launched? Do you miss covering only Louisville sports?

A: The response to the site has been fantastic, and I feel badly for the basketball minded fans because we launched in the deadest of dead seasons and then went right into football. We love basketball and the idea for the site was something Pat Johnston and I hatched during the NCAA Tournament because of the negative attitude toward the Big East and the way it played in the tournament. As basketball draws near, we’ll expand coverage of it.

Conference realignment rumors also tend to help drive traffic.

Q: You seem like a football guy. Would you rather focus on hoops or football, or do you just go with the news and time of year?

A: I would say I understand football at a deeper level than basketball, but like most everyone that moves to Kentucky from somewhere else, basketball gets into your blood. I love splitting my time between both and it’s fun as a blogger that looks at the entire conference to get to be a fan of just about everyone on any given night. It’s a bit of a schizophrenic experience to cover the best basketball and worst BCS football conference, but it helps you stay grounded.

Q: What’s your hope for the site’s future and your place in it? Is this the dream?

A: I would love for the site to become synonymous with Big East sports, but that’s a very big picture goal and with the (daily) changing landscape of conference membership, I honestly have shifted my focus to just trying to stay on top of who the Big East’s members and hoping the league survives.  If the league survives as a viable BCS league and doesn’t water down the basketball side of things, I think Big East Coast Bias has an extremely bright future.

You can read more of Mark’s writing here and follow him on Twitter @Mengus22 and follow Big East Coast Bias @becg_sbn.

Related stories:

You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.

NCAA steering farther and farther away from harsh penalties

ncaa
Brett Carlsen/Getty Images
2 Comments

The days of postseason bans and crippling scholarship reductions to punish schools for breaking NCAA rules appear to be winding down.

Memphis was placed on three years of probation earlier this week with a public reprimand and fined for NCAA violations related to the recruitment and short college career of James Wiseman, who is about to start his third season with the Golden State Warriors. The NCAA also wrapped up an investigation of Air Force football for breaking the COVID-19 recruiting quiet period.

No postseason bans or scholarship reductions in either case. The Independent Accountability Review Panel, the NCAA’s outside arm of enforcement, said in its decision in the Memphis case that it did not want to punish current athletes.

That sentiment is widespread in college athletics these days, even with millions of dollars suddenly flowing to athletes from various sources for their celebrity endorsements amid concerns over improper inducements. In fact, it is on the way to being codified: Last month, the Division I Board of Directors adopted three proposals to change the infractions process.

The board also committed to “identifying appropriate types of penalties and modifying current penalty ranges, including identifying potential alternative penalties to postseason bans.”

Trying to predict what those alternatives will be is difficult, but if the goal is to avoid harming athletes and others who were not involved in the violations the options are limited.

“I emphatically believe it’s the wrong direction to go,” said Nebraska law professor Jo Potuto, who spent nine years on the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

“If you’re going to deter, the punishment has to fit the offense, right?” Potuto added. “You’re not going to deter serious violations with penalties that are not perceived to be really serious.”

Since January 2020, there have been at least 45 major infractions cases decided by the NCAA. Of those, at least 15 involved Level I allegations, the most serious and those carrying the most severe penalties; six cases resulted in some kind of postseason ban, with four of them self-imposed.

The Memphis case went through the IARP, which was created in response to the FBI’s investigation of college basketball corruption but is now being discontinued. Sunsetting the IARP was among several recommendations put forth by the NCAA’s Division I Transformation Committee earlier this year and recently adopted by the board.

As college sports moves toward less centralized governance by the NCAA and deregulation in general, the hope is to create a more streamlined enforcement process.

If justice is swift, the thinking goes, it is more likely to be applied fairly.

“The reality is the current system is broken,” said Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner Jim Phillips, a member of the transformation committee. “I think everyone in the association, in the enterprise, understands it. When (an investigation) takes the amount of time that it does now and you start to penalize young men and women that were high school, if not middle school-age (when the violation occurred), it’s not an effective process.”

The IARP is still handling cases stemming from the FBI probe involving Louisville, Arizona, Kansas and LSU. Those have been in the NCAA enforcement pipeline for years. A related case against Oklahoma State did not go through IARP and the Cowboys did end up with a postseason ban.

David Ridpath, a professor at Ohio University and former compliance director for several schools, said even though the IARP failed, NCAA enforcement would be best handled by an independent organization.

“No system is perfect, but if you’re going to have an enforcement system at the end of the day you need to provide basic due-process protections and then you have to be able to consistently punish people,” he said.

In the Memphis case, Wiseman received $11,500 from Hardaway in 2017 while Hardaway was coach at a local high school. Hardaway was hired as Memphis’ coach in March 2018, and Wiseman committed to the Tigers in November 2018.

The NCAA accused Memphis of four Level I and two Level II violations, including lack of institutional control, head coach responsibility and failure to monitor. In the past, those types of allegations could strike fear into athletic directors but probation and fines seem much more likely to be the outcome now instead of the sweeping scholarship sanctions, vacated victories and postseason ban that Southern California received in 2010 for the Reggie Bush improper benefits case. Those penalties set USC football back years.

In the end, the IARP essentially reduced the charges against Memphis and cleared Hardaway of wrongdoing.

While the NCAA is losing sway in the wake of last year’s Supreme Court ruling, with more power being shifted to its member conferences, it also remains clear the schools still want the association to handle enforcement.

But what exactly is being enforced?

Athletes can now be paid for endorsement and sponsorship deals and college sports is still waiting on and hoping for help from federal lawmakers to regulate name, image and likeness compensation.

Plus, as revenue skyrockets for schools at the top of major college sports, the NCAA is trending toward fewer restrictions on what financial benefits can be provided to athletes.

“Until we have clarity and certainty on what schools and boosters and athletes can and can’t do, I think many recognize that it’s dangerous to hand down significant punishments when it’s not clear what you can and can’t do,” said Gabe Feldman, director of the sports law program at Tulane. “And I think unless you have clear rules, it’s hard to harsh punishment.”

Still, punishments directed at schools (fines) and coaches (suspensions) could become steeper and longer, Feldman said.

Potuto said with so much money flowing into the top of college athletics, it is doubtful fines could be large enough to be a true deterrent. While she understands the desire to not have current athletes pay for the sins of previous regimes, loosened transfer rules could mitigate the potential harm.

“I will make one prediction: If there is a move to impose penalties much less frequently in five years there is going to be a move to put them back in,” Potuto said.

Kentucky moves scrimmage to Eastern Kentucky for flood relief

Sam Upshaw Jr./Courier Journal/USA TODAY NETWORK
0 Comments

LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky will play its annual Blue-White men’s basketball scrimmage in Eastern Kentucky to benefit victims of the devastating summer floods.

The school announced that the Oct. 22 event at Appalachian Wireless Arena in Pikeville will feature a pregame Fan Fest. Ticket proceeds will go through Team Eastern Kentucky Flood Relief.

Wildcat players will also participate in a community service activity with local organizations in the relief effort.

Kentucky coach John Calipari said the team was excited to play for Eastern Kentucky fans and added, “We hope we can provide a temporary escape with basketball and community engagement.”

The scrimmage traditionally is held at Rupp Arena. It will occur eight days after its Big Blue Madness public workout at Rupp.

Kentucky’s Tionna Herron recovering from open-heart surgery

Rich Janzaruk/Herald-Times/USA TODAY NETWORK
0 Comments

LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky coach Kyra Elzy says freshman Tionna Herron is recovering from open-heart surgery to correct a structural abnormality.

The 6-foot-4 post player learned of her condition after arriving at school in June and received other opinions before surgery was recommended. Senior trainer Courtney Jones said in a release that Herron underwent surgery Aug. 24 at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston and is recovering at home in DeSoto, Texas.

Elzy said Herron “is the definition of a warrior” and all are grateful to be on the other side of the player’s surgery. Herron is expected back on campus early next month and will continue rehabilitation until she’s cleared to return to normal activity.

“Her will and determination to eventually return to the court is inspiring, and it’s that `game-on’ attitude that is what makes her such a perfect fit in our program,” Elzy said in a release. “We are so thrilled for Tionna’s return to our locker room; it’s not the same without our full team together.”

Herron committed to Kentucky during last fall’s early signing period, rated as a four-star prospect and a top-70 player in last year’s class. Kentucky won last year’s Southeastern Conference Tournament and reached the NCAA Tournament’s first round.

Emoni Bates charged with 2 felonies

Joe Rondone/USA TODAY NETWORK
2 Comments

SUPERIOR TOWNSHIP, Mich — Emoni Bates, a former basketball prodigy who transferred to Eastern Michigan from Memphis, was charged with two felonies after police found a gun in a car during a traffic stop.

The 18-year-old Bates failed to stop at an intersection Sunday night and a search turned up the weapon, said Derrick Jackson, a spokesman for the Washtenaw County sheriff’s office.

Defense attorney Steve Haney told The Associated Press that the vehicle and the gun didn’t belong to Bates.

“I hope people can reserve judgment and understand there’s a presumption of innocence,” Haney said. “This was not his vehicle. This was not his gun. … We’re still gathering facts, too.”

Bates was charged with carrying a concealed weapon and altering identification marks on a firearm. He was released after his lawyer entered a not guilty plea. Bates’ next court hearing is Oct. 6.

“This is his first brush with the law,” Haney said in court. “He poses no threat or risk to society.”

Less than a month ago, the 6-foot-9 Bates transferred to Eastern Michigan to play for his hometown Eagles. Bates averaged nearly 10 points a game last season as a freshman at Memphis, where he enrolled after reclassifying to skip a year of high school and join the class of 2021.

“We are aware of a situation involving one of our student athletes,” EMU spokesman Greg Steiner said. “We are working to gather more details and will have further comment when more information is available.”

Bates was the first sophomore to win the Gatorade national player of the year award in high school basketball in 2020, beating out Cade Cunningham and Evan Mobley. Detroit drafted Cunningham No. 1 overall last year, two spots before Cleveland took Mobley in the 2021 NBA draft.

Bates committed to playing for Tom Izzo at Michigan State two years ago, later de-committed and signed with Memphis. Bates played in 18 games for the Tigers, who finished 22-11 under Penny Hardaway. Bates missed much of the season with a back injury before appearing in Memphis’ two NCAA Tournament games.

In 2019, as a high school freshman, the slender and skilled guard led Ypsilanti Lincoln to a state title and was named Michigan’s Division 1 Player of the Year by The Associated Press. His sophomore season was cut short by the pandemic and he attended Ypsi Prep Academy as a junior, his final year of high school.

UConn to pay Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million over firing

uconn
Michael Hickey/Getty Images
0 Comments

STORRS, Conn. — UConn announced Thursday it has agreed to pay former men’s basketball coach Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million to settle discrimination claims surrounding his 2018 firing.

The money is in addition to the more than $11.1 million in back salary Ollie has already been paid after an arbitrator ruled in January that he was improperly fired under the school’s agreement with its professor’s union.

“I am grateful that we were able to reach agreement,” Ollie said in a statement Thursday. “My time at UConn as a student-athlete and coach is something I will always cherish. I am pleased that this matter is now fully and finally resolved.”

Ollie, a former UConn point guard who guided the Huskies to a 127-79 record and the 2014 national championship in six seasons as head coach, was let go after two losing seasons. UConn also stopped paying him under his contract, citing numerous NCAA violations in terminating the deal.

In 2019, the NCAA placed UConn on probation for two years and Ollie was sanctioned individually for violations, which the NCAA found occurred between 2013 and 2018. Ollie’s attorneys, Jacques Parenteau and William Madsen, accused UConn of making false claims to the NCAA for the purpose of firing Ollie “with cause.”

The school had argued that Ollie’s transgressions were serious and that his individual contract superseded those union protections.

Ollie’s lawyers had argued that white coaches, including Hall-of-Famers Jim Calhoun and women’s coach Geno Auriemma, had also committed NCAA violations, without being fired, and indicated they were planning to file a federal civil rights lawsuit.

The school and Ollie said in a joint statement Thursday they were settling “to avoid further costly and protracted litigation.”

Both sides declined to comment further.

Ollie, who faced three years of restrictions from the NCAA on becoming a college basketball coach again, is currently coaching for Overtime Elite, a league that prepares top prospects who are not attending college for the pros.