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Sankey: Sports gambling, transfer waivers among SEC topics

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HOOVER, Ala. (AP) — Greg Sankey does a little bragging when asked about the main item on the agenda for this week’s Southeastern Conference spring meetings.

“That as a conference we’re doing really, really well,” the league’s commissioner said. “I’d put that at the top.”

The annual gathering of coaches, administrators and league officials begins Tuesday in Destin, Florida. And rest assured, it will be about more than SEC types patting themselves on the back over their athletic successes.

There also figures to be plenty of talk about sports gambling — specifically the prospect of NFL-style availability lists outlining injury status — NCAA transfer waivers, and the potential for student athletes to eventually be compensated for their names, images and likenesses.

Sankey spoke with The Associated Press about the upcoming meetings Sunday on the balcony of his Hoover Met suite shortly before the baseball championship game.

The potential hot topics include sports betting and the injury lists. The Supreme Court cleared the way for states to legalize sports betting a couple of weeks before last year’s meetings. Now, several states in SEC country have legalized, or appear on their way to legalizing sports betting, including Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and Tennessee .

Some SEC football coaches treat their players’ injury status as top-secret information, wary of giving opposing coaches any insight about their availability. Others, including Alabama’s Nick Saban, are sometimes more forthcoming while still stopping well short of an official list describing players’ status.

“Sometime out there, it may be part of what we do, but I think we should proceed very carefully,” Sankey said. “I’m not in any rush to see that happen. I think it’s a mistake to hurry and not do something correctly.”

The NCAA transfer portal and waiver process has created some angst, with some players moving on in midseason to preserve a year of eligibility. Sankey also wants more clarity on the waiver process, having previously expressed concern about the high number of approvals being granted.

“Do I expect conversation? Yes,” Sankey said. “Do I think that’s a central part? Perhaps in interviews. My view is we have to pay attention to the different patterns. I think, if I’ve looked at the data correctly, we’ve accelerated the number of people looking to transfer. I’ve seen some media articles that there’s more people in the transfer (portals) than there are available scholarships. I’ve said that for years: We can’t assume that people just have opportunities, or better opportunities, when they transfer.”

He’s also waiting for the conclusions of a new NCAA working group examining potentially letting athletes make money off their names, images and likenesses. Current rules forbid them in most circumstances from receiving such benefits or compensation from a school or outside source.

Georgia President Jere Morehead and Tennessee faculty athletics representative Don Bruce are part of the working group.

“Discussions of positions are a little bit premature,” Sankey said. “We just want to make sure we know what’s going on now, which is certainly different than we’ve seen.”

Other items on the agenda:

—The NCAA’s vice president of enforcement Jon Duncan is set to talk about men’s basketball issues that surfaced from a federal investigation. LSU coach Will Wade was suspended after leaked excerpts of an FBI wiretap captured him speaking with a person convicted of funneling illegal payments to the families of college basketball recruits. Wade has denied wrongdoing and was later reinstated.

Ex-Auburn assistant coach Chuck Person pleaded guilty in March to conspiracy to commit bribery.

—The SEC’s head football coaches and referees will gather for a moderated discussion Wednesday morning. “I expect that if we televised it, we might have good ratings on that,” Sankey said.

—Dr. Allen Sills, the NFL’s chief medical officer, will speak in order “to share with us some of the learning that’s going on at that level,” Sankey said.

—Sankey expects the SEC to finalize bowl agreements for the next six-year cycle “soon.” The current one expires after the 2019 season. He also anticipates another talk about the possibility of expanding the College Football Playoffs at some point, though he thinks the current four-team system “works well and can continue to work well.”

Back-patting aside, the agenda doesn’t seem to lend itself to big news coming out of the event.

“You never know what happens at these meetings, so stay tuned,” Sankey said.

New-look Virginia back to work after winning NCAA title

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Tony Bennett’s first offseason as a national champion coach has come with benefits on the recruiting trail. His first season at Virginia after winning the title, however, will bring challenges.

Five players who helped Virginia beat Texas Tech to capture the first basketball title in school history are gone, and that’s four more than expected. Center Jack Salt graduated, and guards De’Andre Hunter, Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy declared for the NBA draft. Seldom-used Marco Anthony transferred.

Recruiting was already well underway before the Cavaliers won it all, but Bennett said Wednesday the result “certainly can’t hurt and I think it has helped. It validates a lot of good stuff that’s happened in the past.”

Virginia hopes the spoils of those improvements are evident quickly in incoming freshmen guard Casey Morsell, big men Justin McKoy and Kadin Shedrick and junior college shooting guard Tomas Woldetensae.

Virginia opened its summer practice period on Tuesday, and Bennett said he’s not sure just yet who will be ready to contribute.

“Everyone will have ample opportunity, the newcomers, so to speak,” he said. “To say who, you just don’t know. … There are some opportunities out there. So it’s the returners and we can go down the list of the guys we brought in, but I think they’re excited about the opportunity.

“There’s always a learning curve any time you go from whether it’s high school to college or junior college to college or coming from a redshirt to being eligible. … Going up a level and playing in the ACC, for any of these guys, there’s the challenge of the physicality and the level of talent and the speed.”

Woldetensae, a left-handed shooter, averaged 17.3 points per game and shot 47.6 percent from 3-point range last season at Indian Hills Community College.

“We thought we needed to add some experience and a quality player on the perimeter and when he was mentioned and we did our homework and watched film and all those kinds of things,” he said. “His personality came out as a young man of character and we always start there. He seemed wanting to challenge himself at a very high level.”

The Cavaliers were delighted that Mamadi Diakite decided to come back for his senior year after testing the professional waters. And they added senior transfer Sam Hauser, who averaged 14.9 points and 7.2 rebounds last season at Marquette. Hauser will be eligible to practice with the team, but won’t be able to play until 2020-21.

Bennett’s offseason included numerous speaking engagements, recruiting, talking to NBA scouts about his players and some time to decompress.

He also checked an item off his bucket list when, with his father, longtime college coach Dick Bennett, he played Augusta National Golf Club, home of The Masters. That, he said, “was amazing.”

Now, it’s back to work.

“I’m grateful for the busy-ness of it,” he said of the offseason. “It means something good happened.”

Four-star forward commits to West Virginia

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West Virginia landed a top-75 recruit Thursday night.

Isaiah Cottrell, a 6-foot-9 forward from Bishop Gorman in Las Vegas, committed to West Virginia’s 2020 recruiting class.

Cottrell picked the Mountaineers overs offers from the likes of Kansas, Washington and Arizona, among others. His father, Brian Lewin, played for West Virginia in the 1990s. The four-star prospect continues a promising recruiting trend for Bob Huggins, who landed a top-40 commit in center Oscar Tshiebwe in the 2019 class.

The Mountaineers missed the NCAA tournament last season for the first time in four years as they slid to 15-21 overall and last in the Big 12 with a 4-14 mark.

John Calipari’s new deal at Kentucky worth $86 million over 10 years

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John Calipari and Kentucky agreed in April to what was described as a “lifetime contract.” Thursday, the exact terms of that deal were disclosed.

The Wildcats coach’s new contract worth $86 million over 10 years.

“I’ve said from day one that this would be the gold standard and it has been for student-athletes and coaches,” Calipari said in a statement released by the school. “As I enter my 11th year, I’m reminded it took me 20 years to get an opportunity to like this. There is no other place I want to be. As I look forward, my mindset is what’s next and how can we be first at it for the young people that we coach.”

Calipari, 60, will likely continue to be a source of speculation for other jobs presuming he keeps things rolling in Lexington as he has for the last 10 years, but what Kentucky is paying him will almost certainly be more than any other program – and potentially NBA franchises – are going to be willing to. Calipari’s success, NBA history and ability to always be central to the broader college basketball conversation means he’ll always be in demand, but it’s hard to picture a situation that could intrigue Calipari enough to leave one of – if not the – best jobs in basketball.

“(Calipari) has added a special chapter to the greatest tradition in college basketball and it’s a chapter we want him to continue writing until the end of his coaching career,” Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart said in a statement. “We are pleased to announce a new contract that will enable him to do exactly that.”

Calipari 305-71 with one national championship, four Final Fours and 26 first-round draft picks in 10 years with the Wildcats. He and Kentucky will likely open the 2019-20 season as one of the frontrunners for the national championship.

Michigan State reports violation for Tom Izzo hosting visit for former high school

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Michigan State self-reported an NCAA rules violation for Tom Izzo hosting Iron Mountain High School for a tour while the team was in town to compete for its first ever state title that weekend.

Izzo unknowingly committed the violation — which only occurred because Iron Mountain was competing in the Breslin Center that weekend — and the Spartans immediately gave notice once they became aware of it. Proud of his alma mater for advancing to Michigan’s final weekend, Izzo was merely taking interest in players and a team connected to his youth. The Iron Mountain program toured the Breslin Center with Izzo and toured Michigan State’s locked room while also watching the Spartans practice before their state semifinal game.

Since it was a special privilege for Iron Mountain, playing in an event there, the Spartans were technically at fault for a violation. The fact that Izzo and Michigan State have to report a violation for this sort of thing is kind of ridiculous since Izzo has a natural connection to the team in question. Although Michigan State likely isn’t going to get hit with any NCAA issues from this, it’s the kind of thing that critics come to question about the NCAA’s rulebook.

Former lacrosse star Pat Spencer commits to Northwestern for basketball

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Northwestern landed a unique graduate transfer on Thursday as Loyola lacrosse star Pat Spencer will spend his final year of college eligibility hooping for the Wildcats, according to Stadium’s Jeff Goodman.

A former high school basketball standout at Boys’ Latin (MD), Spencer was one of the best lacrosse players in the country for the Greyhounds the past four years in college. He was selected in two drafts during the Spring. Spencer was taken first overall in the inaugural PLL College Draft while getting taken seventh overall in the MLL’s Collegiate Draft. Loyola remains in the NCAA tournament as Spencer is playing out his senior season of college.

Spencer is passing up multiple professional lacrosse opportunities to play Big Ten basketball for Northwestern. For a stud athlete in a sport to pass up money to pursue another athletic dream is one of the college basketball’s best things to follow next season.

As if Spencer’s background wasn’t unique enough, he’ll be at a Northwestern team starving for an identity since making the NCAA tournament a few seasons ago. By playing in the Big Ten, Spencer will be thrown against Final Four contenders and potential draft picks, which makes this transition particularly intriguing. It’s a cool story to follow this season as college hoops doesn’t often get athletes from other sports playing in such prominent conferences.

Greg Paulus famously went from Duke point guard to Syracuse quarterback as a graduate transfer, but he was leaving the sport to pursue an opportunity to play football. Spencer choosing basketball over a sure pro shot in lacrosse is an interesting opportunity for him this season. It’ll be interesting to see if he can still contribute anything on the hardwood.

(Ht: Jeff Goodman, Stadium)