Report: NCAA has Sonny Vaccaro in its crosshairs again

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The relationship between Sonny Vaccaro and the NCAA is a well-documented one, and the antipathy between the two parties has been there for years.

In the latest twist in the Vaccaro/NCAA battle, the governing body is going after Vaccaro in relation to his involvement in the lawsuit some former players filed against the NCAA, Collegiate Licensing Company and EA Sports.

Vaccaro is an unpaid consultant for the plaintiffs in this case, which includes Ed O’Bannon, Bill Russell and Oscar Robertson just to name a few.

They’re suing the NCAA, CLC and EA Sports due to the fact that those entities continue to make money off of their likenesses well after their college careers have ended.

According to court documents filed back in June the NCAA wants records from Vaccaro in regards to his relationships with some of the plaintiffs, not to mention his conversations with New York Times columnist Joe Nocera and copies of every speech Vaccaro has given in the last seven years.

The NCAA’s attorneys use words like “agent,” “runner” and “broker” to paint Vaccaro’s livelihood coming off the backs of players. The players’ attorneys say Vaccaro criticized the NCAA long before this suit, and that the NCAA hasn’t denied investigating Vaccaro and now wants to accuse him of improprieties.

“This is scorched-earth litigation,” the players write.

Counters the NCAA: “Vaccaro and his organization are at the heart of decisions and financial careers of former student athletes. Vaccaro’s participation in gathering plaintiffs is directly relevant to the merits of the claims as well as the qualifications of the class members.”

There was a compromise of sorts between Vaccaro and the NCAA, as the governing body was able to get custodial records from his three organizations, communications between Vaccaro and the plaintiffs, camp/tournament documents that use player likenesses and records of payments to and from players.

The NCAA’s lawyers have also alleged that Vaccaro has given ex-athletes money in exchange for their joining the lawsuit (that the plaintiffs hope becomes a class-action suit) as plaintiffs, something the lawyers representing the athletes have denied.

According to the NCAA, ex-Michigan basketball player Eric Riley testified that his camp got money from Vaccaro’s “Hoops That Help” foundation after being encouraged to join the suit. Ex-Connecticut hoops star Tate George received $3,000 in 2008 and ’09 from Vaccaro and changed his mind to be added to the suit, the NCAA says.

The players claim Riley testified he decided to join this suit long before his mentoring program got the donation. They say George testified that his delay — after his basketball camp got two donations — was to analyze how it would affect his position on the board of the NBA Retired Players Association, his family and UConn. (George was indicted in March on charges he ran a $2 million Ponzi scheme related to real estate.)

It should be known by the end of October whether or not the players are successful in their quest to make this a class action suit, with the trial set to begin in February.

A case of this magnitude was sure to result in some interesting legal strategies, and the NCAA’s move to pull Vaccaro into the fray certainly falls into that category.

But will it be enough to turn the lawsuit in their favor and ultimately result in the defendants being allowed to continue their practices when it comes to the use of player likenesses? That remains to be seen.

Raphielle is also the assistant editor at CollegeHoops.net and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

 

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
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INDIANAPOLIS — With the coronavirus pandemic already forcing changes for college basketball, a bubble may be brewing in Indianapolis.

Indiana Sports Corp. released a 16-page proposal Friday that calls for turning the city convention center’s exhibition halls and meeting rooms into basketball courts and locker rooms. There would be expansive safety measures and daily COVID-19 testing.

The all-inclusive price starts at $90,000 per team and would cover 20 hotel rooms per traveling party, testing, daily food vouchers ranging from $30-$50 and the cost of game officials. Sports Corp. President Ryan Vaughn said the price depends on what offerings teams or leagues choose.

“The interest has been high,” Vaughn said. “I think as conferences figure out what conference and non-conference schedules are going to look like, we’re we’re a very good option for folks. I would tell you we’ve had conversations with the power six conferences, mid-majors, it’s really kind of all over the Division I spectrum.”

Small wonder: The NCAA this week announced teams could start ramping up workouts Monday, with preseason practices set to begin Oct. 14. Season openers, however, were pushed back to Nov. 25 amid wide-ranging uncertainty about campus safety and team travel in the pandemic.

There is already scrambling going on and some of the marquee early-season tournaments have already been impacted.

The Maui Invitational will be moved from Hawaii to Asheville, North Carolina, with dates still to be determined and organizers clear that everyone involved “will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.” The Batttle 4 Atlantis has been canceled. The Cancun Challenge will be held in Melbourne, Florida, not Mexico.

More changes almost certainly will be coming, including what to do with the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

“I think we’re past the guesswork on whether we play 20 conference games or more than that,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said Friday. “We’re trying to get everybody set like in terms of MTEs (multi-team events), figuring out when to play the ACC-Big Ten challenge.”

Painter, who was part of the NCAA committee that recommended how to start the season, noted part of the uncertainty stems from differing protocols imposed by campus, city and state officials.

In Indianapolis, Vaughn believes the convention center, nearby hotels, restaurants and downtown businesses, many within walking distance of the venue, could safely accommodate up to 24 teams. The 745,000-square foot facility would feature six basketball courts and two competition courts.

Anyone entering the convention center would undergo saliva-based rapid response testing, which would be sent to a third-party lab for results. Others venues could be added, too, potentially with more fans, if the case numbers decline.

If there is a taker, the event also could serve as a dry run for the 2021 Final Four, also slated for Indy.

“It’s not going to hurt,” Vaughn said. “I can tell you all the planning we’re doing right now is the same for a Final Four that’s been scheduled here for any other year. But it would be nice to have this experience under our belt to see if it can be done.”

Maui Invitational moving to North Carolina during pandemic

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
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ASHEVILLE, N.C. — The Maui Invitational is moving to the mainland during the coronavirus pandemic.

One of the premier preseason tournaments on the college basketball schedule, the Maui Invitational will be played at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center in downtown Asheville, North Carolina.

Dates for the tournament announced Friday have yet to be finalized. The NCAA announced Wednesday that the college basketball season will begin Nov. 25.

This year’s Maui Invitational field includes Alabama, Davidson, Indiana, North Carolina, Providence, Stanford, Texas and UNLV.

All teams, staff, officials, and personnel will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.

Burton eligible at Texas Tech after 2 seasons at Wichita State

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LUBBOCK, Texas — Junior guard Jamarius Burton has been granted a waiver from the NCAA that makes him eligible to play this season for Texas Tech after starting 52 games the past two seasons for Wichita State.

Texas Tech coach Chris Beard announced the waiver Thursday, which came five months after Burton signed with the Big 12 team.

Burton has two seasons of eligibility remaining, as well as a redshirt season he could utilize. He averaged 10.3 points and 3.4 assists per game as a sophomore at Wichita State, where he played 67 games overall.

Burton is from Charlotte. He helped lead Independence High School to a 31-1 record and the North Carolina Class 4A state championship as a senior there.

NCAA season set to open day before Thanksgiving

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The NCAA men’s and women’s basketball season will begin on Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving.

The Division I Council voted Wednesday to push the start date back from the originally scheduled Nov. 10 as one of several precautions against the spread of coronavirus.

The later start date coincides with the decision most schools made to send students home from Thanksgiving until January out of concern about a potential late-fall and early-winter flareup of COVID-19. Closed campuses could serve as a quasi bubble for players and provide a window for non-conference games.

The maximum number of regular-season games has been reduced from 31 to 27. The minimum number of games for consideration for the NCAA Tournament was cut from 25 to 13.

Teams can start preseason practices Oct. 14 but will be allowed to work out 12 hours per week beginning Monday.

No scrimmages against other teams or exhibitions are allowed.

In other action, the council voted to extend the recruiting dead period for all sports through Dec. 31. In-person recruiting is not allowed during a dead period, though phone calls and other correspondence are allowed.

The men’s and women’s basketball oversight committees had jointly recommended a start date of Nov. 21, which would have allowed for games to be played on the weekend before Thanksgiving. The council opted not to do that to avoid a conflict with regular-season football games.

The council is scheduled to meet again Oct. 13-14 and could delay the start date and change other pieces of the basketball framework if circumstances surrounding the virus warrant.

UConn’s Tyrese Martin granted waiver to play this season

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STORRS, Conn. — UConn swingman Tyrese Martin, who transferred from Rhode Island in April, has been granted a waiver that will allow him to play for the Huskies this season.

The 6-foot-6 junior averaged 12.8 points and 7.1 rebounds and started every game last season for URI, where he was recruited by current UConn coach Dan Hurley.

NCAA rules require undergraduate transfers to sit out a season, but the organization has been more lenient in granting waivers during the pandemic.

Martin, 21, is expected to compete for playing time at UConn on the wing as both a guard and small forward.