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Coaches on the Hot Seat

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You know the deal this time of the year.

Every outlet digs through the college coaches that haven’t won enough games over the course of the last four or five seasons and churns out their ‘Coaches On The Hot’ list. It’s never a fun process to predict that people with families and mortgages, people who we’ve developed professional relationships – some better than others – with, are going to lose their jobs, but it is what it is.

Most years, every one of the men that show up on a list like this are aware that they are going to show up on lists like this. If you’ve gone four years without a trip to the NCAA tournament at a high major program, you’re probably in some trouble.

This year is different, however.

Because this year, with the FBI’s investigation into corruption in college basketball, the ‘hot seat’ is anyone who has cheated to get a player. Any coach that facilitated a payment from a shoe company to a kid’s family; anyone who took money from an agent or a financial advisor to shuttle a player to that individual; anyone who did business with Jim Gatto or Merl Code or Christian Dawkins; hell, anyone who has an assistant on their staff who did any one of those things, they’re in the line of fire this year.

We know who some of those coaches are – Sean Miller, Andy Enfield, Jim Larrañaga, Brad Underwood, Bruce Pearl, Mike Boynton – but we don’t know all of them.

Not even close.

It’s impossible to know where the FBI’s investigation is turning to next. I can make some educated guesses, but that’s all based on speculation and connecting dots. The FBI spent more than two years on the investigation and we didn’t get a whiff of it until that Tuesday morning in late-September when the college hoops world was flipped upside-down.

Which is to say it’s hard to know which coaches are actually going to end up losing their job, and who is truly worried about it.

THE FBI IS MAKING THEM SWEAT

BRUCE PEARL, Auburn: I think that it is fair to make the argument that Sean Miller, Andy Enfield and Jim Larrañaga all deserve a spot on a list like this. Miller’s program is as connected to this investigation as any, with assistant coach Book Richardson getting fired; two current, unnamed players being linked to money changing hands; and a recruit, Jahvon Quinerly, being forced to decommit after as much as $20,000 earmarked for Quinerly was allegedly given to Richardson. That’s before you get into the discussion of Arizona and Nike outbidding Miami and Adidas for a player that eventually committed to North Carolina.

Larrañaga has copped to being the ‘Coach 3’ that is mentioned in the complaint filed by the FBI, the one that is discussing getting $150,000 from Adidas to land current UNC-commit Nassir Little, while Enfield had an assistant, Tony Bland, get fired as well. He, like Richardson, was caught taking bribes, and some of that money was meant for players currently on the roster.

But Pearl, more than any of those three men, is the one in the most trouble because he’s already had a run-in with the NCAA. In 2010, he lied to investigators about recruiting violations that he committed – bringing a player to a barbecue, of all things – and was actually still waiting out his show-cause penalty when he was hired by Auburn in 2014. He couldn’t recruit for the first couple of months that he was on the job. Now, he’s the coach of a program that had an assistant, Chuck Person, fired for taking more than $90,000 in bribes, with some of that money meant to be passed along to players on the Auburn roster. It has already cost Pearl a five-star recruit in the Class of 2018.

And to be frank, the pressure would be mounting on Pearl even if he didn’t have these off-the-court issues hanging over the program. This is his fourth year at the helm of the Tiger program. He’s never won more than seven SEC games in a season. He’s never finished better than 18-14 overall. The team he has this season is good enough to reach the NCAA tournament – it will be a disappointing year if they do not reach that level – but there are many paths to failure. Austin Wiley isn’t fully healthy yet. There’s the risk that some of Auburn’s best players have a fight on their hands with the NCAA when it comes to eligibility. (UPDATE: Wiley and Danjel Purifoy are being held out of games indefinitely.) There’s also a risk that the pieces just don’t come together; just because a team that missed out on the NIT looks like it should be better doesn’t mean that it will be better.

The window is closing for this group as well. It would not be shocking to see both Wiley and Mustapha Heron bolt for the pros this season. If that happens, Pearl’s tenure would look like this: Four seasons, no postseasons, involvement in another NCAA scandal and little positive momentum.

Would you feel your job was safe?

Brad Brownell (Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

DON’T SIT DOWN WITHOUT POTHOLDERS IN YOUR DRAWERS

BRAD BROWNELL, Clemson and PAT CHAMBERS, Penn State: At this point, it makes too much sense for these two gentlemen to be lumped together.

For starters, they are the only two high-major head coaches that are currently employed despite missing the last six NCAA tournaments at their current job. The only other guy that could have been on this list is also employed, but Lorenzo Romar saw his salary drop by 70 percent because he’s now an assistant at Arizona instead of the head coach at Washington. He was fired despite holding a commitment from Michael Porter Jr.

That’s where we’re at with these two. Now, Brownell has actually reached an NCAA tournament during his tenure and Chambers finally has the Penn State program trending in the right direction – I don’t think a tournament berth is out of the question with the young talent he has – but I’m not sure that being the basketball coach at a football school can save you if you’ve missed seven straight NCAA tournaments.

It’s worth noting here: Chambers has not gotten a contract extension since 2015, and his current deal only runs through 2019. Brownell was extended in April; he’s under contract through 2021.

MARK FOX, Georgia: I feel for Mark Fox. He’s a good head coach at a football school in a football state. He’s been with the Bulldogs for nine seasons now, but has made just two NCAA tournaments, the most recent of which was in 2015. His teams are never terrible – he hasn’t finished below .500 in the SEC since 2013 – but they’re rarely all that great. Last year might have been the year that saved him, but star forward Yante Maten injured his knee down the stretch of the season.

JEFF LEBO, East Carolina: Now in his eighth season with ECU, Lebo has a record of 114-117. In three seasons in the American, he’s gone 41-57 overall with a 16-38 mark in league play. He’s never been to the NCAA tournament as a head coach despite coaching at four different programs. In 2013, he was given an extension that runs through 2021.

JIM CHRISTIAN, Boston College: It feels like Jim Christian actually has some positive momentum right now. A back court of Jerome Robinson and Ky Bowman is actually quite good, even by ACC standards, and the addition of grad transfer Deontae Hawkins should help bolster BC’s front court. That said, he’s just 29-67 in three seasons and coming off of a 2-16 year in the ACC. Those two wins were a two-win improvement on the 2015-16 season. He was given a contract extension in August by an athletic director that resigned in February. It’s time to win something.

Kevin Ollie (Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

JUST DON’T BE TERRIBLE, OK?

KEVIN OLLIE, UConn: It sounds ridiculous to have a UConn coach on the hot seat less than three years removed from winning a national title, but that’s exactly where we are with Kevin Ollie right now. Ollie has missed two out of three NCAA tournaments since winning that title and has yet to finish better than a tie for third in the AAC, a league that just got tougher with the addition of Wichita State. Last year can be forgiven after injuries to Alterique Gilbert and Terry Larrier. There are no excuses this season, now with Jalen Adams back as well. Ollie signed a contract this year that runs through 2021.

TIM MILES, Nebraska: Miles is in a tough spot. Four players, including two starters, transferred out of his program during the offseason, and six week ago, his athletic director was fired because the sports teams at Nebraska weren’t winning enough. That’s bad news for Miles, who hasn’t been to the NCAA tournament since 2014, his second year with the program. But the Huskers routinely sell out their arena – they’re annually top 15 in total attendance in all of college basketball – and Miles actually has something of a promising group this year. Georgetown transfer Isaac Copeland is eligible to play, Louisville transfer Anton Gill is healthy, Glynn Watson is back for his junior season and the Huskers have been recruiting fairly well.

ERNIE KENT, Washington State: Kent is heading into his fourth season in Pullman, and he’s yet to win more than 13 games in a year or seven games in the Pac-12. This season, the Cougars lose their three best players and four starters off of last year’s roster. If Wazzu reverts back to the 2015-16 team, the one that won nine games and went 1-17 in league play, Kent, who got an extension through 2022 in May, will be in some trouble.

DAVE LEITAO, DePaul: This is only Leitao’s third season with the Blue Demons, but DePaul has not seen any improvement since his arrival. They’ve won 18 games in two years and are all of 5-31 in the Big East during that stretch. But Eli Cain is back, key transfers are eligible and a couple more are still sitting out. There should be some improvement. DePaul is going to need it to justify their new, $173 million arena.

BRUCE WEBER, Kansas State: Weber alleviated some of the pressure that he was under last season by getting to the NCAA tournament and winning a game, but he still went just 21-14 overall and won a First Four game. The Wildcats lost their best player during the offseason but Weber still signed an extension through 2021. No one in Manhattan is expecting a Final Four, but in a year where the Big 12 is wide open, Weber probably just needs to avoid finishing near the bottom of the league.

JOHN GIANNINI, La Salle: Giannini has been with La Salle since 2004, but he’s managed to get to just one NCAA tournament – a Sweet 16 run in 2013 – in that time frame. In the last four years, he’s finished no better than .500 in league play or 17-16 overall. That includes bottoming out with a 9-22 season in 2015-16.

Louisville challenges NCAA over recruiting allegations

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Louisville has refuted NCAA allegations against its men’s basketball program in the wake of a federal corruption scandal, requesting that the highest-level violation be reclassified.

The university also is challenging that former coach Rick Pitino failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance in his program.

Louisville filed a 104-page response last week to the Notice Of Allegations sent to the school in May. The document stated that college sports’ governing body seeks to ignore wire fraud convictions against several people involved in the scheme – including a former Adidas executive – by suggesting they were representing its athletic interests. Louisville’s contract with the apparel maker was a standard sponsorship agreement rather than a promotional deal, the response added.

“This argument is as novel as it is wrong,” the school wrote in its response. “Even if an institution has some responsibility for the conduct of its suppliers, that responsibility plainly does not extend to acts of fraud perpetrated against the institution itself.”

Louisville also seeks to have several second-tier violations reclassified even lower. The NCAA has until Nov. 15 to respond with the school responding 15 days after before a decision is made whether the case will proceed through the traditional Committee on Infractions or Independent Accountability Review Process (IARP).

The NCAA’s Notice of Allegations states that Louisville committed a Level I violation, considered the most severe, with an improper recruiting offer and extra benefits along with several lesser violations. Those lesser violations also include Pitino failing to promote an atmosphere of compliance.

The NCAA notice completed a two-year investigation following a federal corruption probe of college basketball announced in September 2017. Louisville acknowledged its involvement in the federal investigation related to the recruitment of former player Brian Bowen II. Pitino, who’s now coaching Iona, was not named in the federal complaint and has consistently denied authorizing or having knowledge of a payment to a recruit’s family.

Louisville has previously indicated it would accept responsibility for violations it committed but would contest allegations it believed were not supported by facts. The school also noted corrective measures taken in the scandal’s immediate aftermath, such as suspending and then firing Pitino and athletic director Tom Jurich.

Louisville also dismissed the NCAA’s contention that former Adidas executive James Gatto and amateur league director Merl Code represented the school while funneling illegal payments to recruits at several schools.

“The enforcement staff’s remaining allegations lack factual support and overread the relevant Bylaws,” the response stated, “and rest on the erroneous contention that the conspirators were representatives of the University’s athletics interests.

“For these reasons and others set forth, the panel should reject the enforcement staff’s dramatically overbroad theory, and classify this case as involving a Level II-Mitigated violation.”

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

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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

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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.