The Big East’s expansion, depressing as it is, make sense

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Rudy is, without a doubt, one of my favorite movies of all-time.

Every time I hear that theme song, every time I listen to the crowd chanting “Rudy”, every time I see Sean Astin make that goofy leg kick before coming off the edge to sack the Georgia Tech quarterback, I’ll admit it — I get a little dusty.

The interesting thing about that movie is how they portray Dan Devine, the Notre Dame head coach that, first, didn’t want to dress Rudy for his final game and, second, didn’t want to give Rudy a chance to play in that final game. The line that always stood out to me? The “What the hell is he doing?” Devine dropped as the Irish offensive players did their best to give Rudy, a walk-on defensive end, a chance to get on the field.

Devine’s reaction to Notre Dame running up the score for their teammate is EXACTLY the way I reacted when I heard the news this weekend that the Big East had sent invitations to five — and possibly six — schools. According to Andy Katz, Central Florida received an invitation in all sports to join the conference. The league also sent conditional invitations to Houston, SMU, Boise State and Air Force, saying that those invitations would be valid so long as they are accepted by Houston and SMU in all sports and Boise State and Air Force in football. The Boston Globe is also reporting that Navy received a football only invitation.

So, in the immortal words of Dan Devine, I ask you “What the hell is John Marinatto doing?”

The (really, really) Big East’s plan to counter-expansion is to add football programs from Colorado and Idaho, two athletic departments from Texas and a second school in Florida? Is it any wonder why Louisville, UConn and West Virginia are chomping at the bit to get away from this disaster of a conference?

Marinatto is obliterating the basketball product this league had by bringing in three schools that struggle to finish in the top half of Conference USA. He’s made traveling for those marquee, weekday matchups between the Providence and SMU women’s volleyball teams an absolute nightmare. He’s trying to save the Big East’s BCS standing by adding two football programs that are farther west that schools in the Pac-12.

Boise State, Air Force, SMU and Houston have no desire to be in the Big East. None. They are just like TCU, who was so excited to join the Big East before they got an offer from the Big 12, happily paying a $5 million exit fee to a league they never spent a day as a member of. Those four schools are simply looking for a way to get a taste of the BCS. Boise State is sick of dealing with people that don’t believe they deserve a shot at a BCS bowl or the national title game. Houston and SMU don’t want to play “little brother” now that TCU has joined the ranks of Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech and Baylor in a BCS league. And Air Force simply wants to upstage the other service academies.

The ironically depressing part of this whole drama?

Marinatto doesn’t have a choice. The Big East has to expand. They can’t go with just six football playing programs if they want to maintain their BCS Standing, and only adding a couple of schools does nothing to helped promote stability in the league. What better options do they have? Notre Dame certainly isn’t going to become a football playing member. If the league can’t hang on to its current members, how will it be able to poach a program from one of the other BCS conferences?

There were other options — Temple has a Big East calibar hoops program and used to play Big East football; Villanova could have had their football program elevated to D-IA; Memphis has a great basketball program and the potential for a competitive football team. But its not like those choices were all that much better.

Its depressing, really.

The Big East didn’t have another option. They backed themselves into this corner. It makes you wonder how their leadership is still, you know, their leadership.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.

Kentucky’s Tionna Herron recovering from open-heart surgery

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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

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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

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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.

Dream’s McDonald returning to Arizona to coach under Barnes

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TUCSON, Ariz. — Atlanta Dream guard Aari McDonald is returning to Arizona to work under coach Adia Barnes.

The school announced that McDonald will serve as director of recruiting operations while continuing to fulfill her WNBA commitments. She will oversee all recruiting logistics, assist with on-campus visits, manage recruit information and social media content at Arizona.

McDonald was one of the best players in Arizona history after transferring from Washington as a sophomore. She was an All-American and the Pac-12 player of the year in 2020-21, leading the Wildcats to the national championship game, which they lost to Stanford.

McDonald broke Barnes’ single-season scoring record and had the highest career scoring average in school history before being selected by the Dream with the third overall pick of the 2021 WNBA draft.

South Carolina, Staley cancel BYU games over racial incident

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COLUMBIA, S.C. – South Carolina and women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley have canceled a home-and-home series with BYU over a recent racial incident where a Cougars fan yelled slurs at a Duke volleyball player.

The Gamecocks were scheduled to start the season at home against BYU on Nov. 7, then play at the Utah campus during the 2023-24 season.

But Staley cited BYU’s home volleyball match last month as reason for calling off the series.

“As a head coach, my job is to do what’s best for my players and staff,” Staley said in a statement released by South Carolina on Friday. “The incident at BYU has led me to reevaluate our home-and-home, and I don’t feel that this is the right time for us to engage in this series.”

Duke sophomore Rachel Richardson, a Black member of the school’s volleyball team, said she heard racial slurs from the stands during the match.

BYU apologized for the incident and Richardson said the school’s volleyball players reached out to her in support.

South Carolina said it was searching for another home opponent to start the season.

Gamecocks athletic director Ray Tanner spoke with Staley about the series and supported the decision to call off the games.