Tag Archives: NCAA

Ohio connections to 2014 Women’s Final Four

Stanford’s win over North Carolina in the second regional final game played Tuesday night means a fourth Final Four in five years for Beavercreek’s Mikaela Ruef, who redshirted because of a foot injury early in her career.

Ruef joins Malina Howard (Twinsburg) and Chloe Pavlich (Cincinnati Sycamore) of Maryland as the three players from Ohio to earn a trip to Nashville.

Meanwhile, Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer is headed to her 11th Final Four with the Cardinal since leaving Ohio State after the 1985 season, when she led the Buckeyes to the Elite 8.

VanDerveer coached Ohio State as women’s basketball became an officially sponsored Big Ten sport and led the Buckeyes to the first conference title.

Her top assistant at Stanford is Amy Tucker, the captain of the 1982 Ohio State squad that played in the first NCAA women’s basketball tournament.

Ohio State came in second for Ruef, who has family on the West Coast and was also swayed by the opportunity to get a Stanford education. Interestingly, back then Ruef’s father told me VanDerveer talked to them about what great memories she had of her time at Ohio State.

The Buckeyes also went hard after Howard, who was ESPN’s No. 1 center prospect in her class two years ago, but she did not have Ohio State among her finalists when she chose the Terrapins.

What the NCAA should have said

So, let’s face it: PR is not the NCAA’s strong suit. Of all the things the organization struggles with, this might be No. 1. Of all the people guilty of a lack of nuance when discussing issues surrounding major college athletics, the NCAA’s spokespeople (be they official or de facto) could be the worst offenders.

We are reminded of this every time they simply deny athletes should be paid rather than point out they already are (and have been almost from the beginning)  paid,  and yesterday’s response from the organization following the news that football players at Northwestern have started an effort to unionize probably did nothing but blow a bigger hole in the organization’s credibility on this issue with the general public.  Continue reading

Highlights of Ohio State’s response to the NCAA

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Consider this a “cliff notes” version of Ohio State’s response to the NCAA’s Letter of Allegations. These are the parts I found interesting or enlightening (or both, I guess). Check another post for more thoughts on the matter.

An empty Ohio Stadium

I guess this is what we're supposed to remember for all Ohio State's 2010 home games

This seems important:

Also, the enforcement staff requested numerous materials from the institution. These included the provision of rules education materials and monitoring procedures (primarily in the areas of preferential treatment and extra benefits). The additional requests in these areas resulted in no additional allegations against the institution.

AND:

The University believes that little institutional responsibility exists for the preferential treatment violations in Allegation #1. While the University recognizes that the institution must take responsibility for its employee’s actions with respect to Allegation #2, the responsibility is upon Tressel. No other institutional personnel were aware of the preferential treatment violations, and Tressel had an obligation to report the potential violation to the appropriate institutional officials.

They say repeat offender should not apply because the violations are far different plus most of the actual violations were more than 10 years ago.

Mitigating factors include:

The individual (Ed Rife) involved in the provision of preferential treatment was not a representative of the University’s athletics interests and is not a contributor to the University. Rife and two of the student-athletes named in Allegation #1 met at a local nightclub.

However

Regarding Rife’s status as a representative, based upon a strict interpretation of Bylaw 13.02.14, Rife became a representative in April 2010 when Tressel learned that Rife had arranged or provided discounted prices on tattoos. The University does not believe if (or when) Rife became a representative is significant to the overall severity of this case. Rife was not (and continues to not be) affiliated with the University and did not have a relationship with any athletics department staff members. It appears that the nexus of the relationship was a chance meeting between Rife and two student-athletes at a local nightclub. Nevertheless, the institution sent Rife a letter (see Exhibit 1-8) disassociating him indefinitely from any contact with the University and its student-athletes. In December 2010, the compliance staff informed all student-athletes that they could not visit Fine Line Ink nor could they have any contact with Rife and specifically requested them to “defriend” Rife from their Facebook accounts.   

This made me chuckle:

The office plans to partner with an organization titled Experience Columbus to communicate the message that businesses may not provide any benefits/preferential treatment to student-athletes based on their status. The compliance staff also plans to provide brochures with this message to all restaurants, bars, and service businesses (e.g., barbers and tattoo parlors) either located near campus or known by the compliance staff to be frequented by students.

They argued (sensibly so, it would seem) that players would have been ineligible in 2010 for five games are being punished just the same in 2011 after the revelation of what Tressel knew, and the school seems to consider vacating the 2010 season as an additional penalty because Tressel used ineligible players.

In summary, the University believes that the corrective and punitive actions are appropriate and negate any competitive advantage gained by the institution as a result of these violations. The University asks the Committee on Infractions to accept these penalties and take no further action.

Tressel’s story:

 Regarding the February 8, 2011, interview, Tressel was asked if he was “aware” that violations regarding student-athletes, particularly and, had either occurred or likely occurred, and his response was “yes.” He was asked whether he was aware “that as a result of these violations that the student-athletes likely would be ineligible for participation during the 2010 season,” and he responded that, “No, I really didn’t think of it like that.” Upon further questioning, he acknowledged that he understood that and had been involved in violations before the start of the 2010 season and that they intended to participate during the season. In response to a question on whether he was prepared to go forward with the student-athletes participating even though he knew that NCAA violations had occurred, Tressel responded that he understood that the institution was “going to get as our works deserve” and that “we were going to pay the fiddler.” As he indicated throughout his February interview, Tressel believed there was a “hierarchy” of issues, with the federal criminal investigation having the highest priority. He indicated that the NCAA issues would be resolved once the ramifications of the federal investigation were resolved.

The letter goes on to say (essentially) they tried like hell to tell the players they couldn’t sell their bowl stuff and point out they have repeatedly made public declarations about what constitutes a booster and what those folks can and can’t do (That began after the Clarett fiasco and actually rose to the level of somewhat amusing absurdity when they would post videos defining boosters on the big screen prior to games and put messages in the program. I see why that is necessary, but I always got a bit of a chuckle out of it anyway.)

Is this enough?

 As noted in the response, the institution’s review in December 2010 focused upon the current student-athletes identified in the U.S. Department of Justice letter. After discovering the Tressel e-mails, the institution began its efforts to ensure that no other student-athletes with eligibility remaining had received any free or discounted tattoos or sold memorabilia. On February 4, 2011, the institution distributed a questionnaire to all football student-athletes about their attendance at or purchases from Fine Line Ink and determined that based upon the information provided, there were no additional violations.

Although the famously overhyped and overwritten Sports Illustrated rip job identified other players’ being associated with the tattoo shops, sources have been indicating for quite some time that all but one of those players was cleared by the NCAA in early June.

ALSO:

The University emphasizes the distinction between information available only to Tressel and the knowledge of other institutional officials regarding this matter. As noted in the Introduction Section of this report, upon receiving information about this matter from the Department of Justice in December 2010, University officials acted immediately, declared student-athletes ineligible, and sought reinstatement. In early 2011, after learning of the e-mails, the NCAA was contacted, several interviews were conducted, and the University determined that a NCAA Bylaw 10.1 violation occurred. It subsequently imposed significant corrective and punitive measures upon Tressel and the football program. In both the initial inquiry and in the determination of appropriate corrective and punitive actions, the faculty athletics representative, key attorneys from the Office of Legal Affairs, and the President’s Office became engaged in the inquiry.

SOMEWHAT ODD:

(Cicero) recalled that on Christmas Eve day in 2010, he received a text message from Tressel, who asked if the information that had just recently been released concerning the reinstatement of six student-athletes related to the information (Cicero) had provided Tressel earlier in the year. Cicero said he confirmed with Tressel that it was the same information.

The school’s description of its dealings with Tressel in December leave little room for doubt that it went to reasonable lengths to find out what the coach knew and when he knew it (even if the scope of the investigation of the team still seems questionably small). Previously, it was somewhat unclear if Tressel had “lied” or simply omitted some details, but this indicates he deliberately told them things that weren’t true about what he knew. 

 Also, on December 16, 2010, the six student-athletes whose eligibility was affected were interviewed by institutional representatives. Shortly after the conclusion of the last student-athlete interview, Director of Athletics Gene Smith and Tressel met briefly with those institutional officials who had conducted the interviews to ask about the status of the information and its implications on the anticipated eligibility restoration requests. During that conversation, University officials asked Tressel about his knowledge of the information. More specifically, Senior Associate General Counsel for Athletics Julie Vannatta asked Tressel if he had been contacted by anyone about this matter or if he knew anything about it. Tressel replied that while he had received a tip about general rumors pertaining to certain players, such information was not specific and pertained to the players’ off-field choices. The University interpreted his responses to mean that the tip related to the social decisions/choices being made by certain student-athletes. Tressel also mentioned during this December conversation that he did not recall from whom he received the tip and that he did not know that any items had been seized. Nevertheless, the conversation represented another opportunity when Tressel could have informed the institution of his previous e-mails with Cicero.

Seeing as how roughly a week later Tressel contacted Cicero again, it’s hard to believe he didn’t know who had tipped him about the players’ involvement with Rife. I don’t believe his characterizations of the content of Cicero’s emails are accurate, either.

LASTLY:

Information was reported to the University and the enforcement staff subsequent to the Notice of Allegations that still is being reviewed. This review continues and the University will report any additional violations if necessary in the future.

Read more here.

Nothing Else Matters or The Day That Never Comes?

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I’m stuck between two Metallica songs in my search for a title for this post.

I guess I’m supposed to have a reaction to Ohio State’s response to the NCAA, but I’m kind of burned out on the topic.

I mean, don’t get me wrong: This is news. There are plenty of interesting tidbits in the documents the school released Friday (find them here), but for anyone who has been following along from the beginning, there wasn’t all that much real, substantive news.

So what is the lesson, if there is one?

I think it’s that sometimes what they don’t say matters as much as what they do.

In this case, I’m referring to the fact that the NCAA still has not alleged Ohio State failed to monitor the situation properly or that it exhibited lack of institutional control. I am under the impression the organization could still do that if it sees fit, but there is no concrete reason to expect that at this point.

Many people got all bent out of shape over what they perceive as a light punishment self-imposed by the Buckeye brass, but most of them have already shown themselves to be a little too itchy on that trigger finger.

They’re also missing an important distinction between what has been reported and what the NCAA actually has shown any real concern about, at least enough to express it in writing. As long as that continues to be the case, I suppose we will still have to deal with the howls and those people will have to learn to get over their disappointment.

Ohio State looked a lot better on paper yesterday than it has looked in the press for quite some time, and that is an incredibly meaningful thing.

However, the time for exhaling has not arrived in Ohio quite yet.

The conclusion of Ohio State’s response could be taken as ominous even though it might turn out to be innocuous.

It reads, “Information was reported to the University and the enforcement staff subsequent to the Notice of Allegations that still is being reviewed. This review continues and the University will report any additional violations if necessary in the future.”

This means Ohio State is not quite out of the woods. While obviously vague (and possibly procedural), the reference to further reviews likely has to do with reports former quarterback Terrelle Pryor had multiple dealings with a Columbus photographer who allegedly paid him for autographs he could later sell.

But much like when Maurice Clarett faced charges of accepting extra benefits (not to mention misleading NCAA investigators), this figures to be tough for the NCAA to prove because Pryor left town with indications he won’t be back, at least not to see them, and the photographer is likely in no hurry to talk to them, either.

There has been one unsubstantiated report that a paper trail exists between Pryor and the photographer, but it stands to reason the persons who made that report would have produced proof by now. And if the NCAA actually had such evidence last month, Ohio State likely would have included a response to that charge with the rest on Friday.

What is certain is that nothing is assured until the case is finally heard, and someone is going to be disappointed in the outcome. Whether it is Ohio State and its fans or the sanction hawks throughout the national media and fan bases, only time will tell.

Waiting For The Sun

“This is the strangest life I have ever known”, a line from The Doors song “Waiting for The Sun”, grabbed me the first time I ever heard it as a catch-all for explaining existence, and I am struck again by it now as the Jim Tressel saga winds on.

I somehow doubt Tressel and Jim Morrison have much in common aside from a first name (although some might say the “Lizard King” moniker fits both), but the latter’s haunting lyric certainly applies to Ohio State and its former coach these days.

Whether they suspected Tressel was clean or dirty all along – and there is plenty of room for many actions of the typical college football regime to fall in between – I doubt many fans of Ohio State or any other school really expected the time to come that he would be undone by a public revelation of unethical practices (especially one executed in such foolish manner). Long ago lines were drawn between those who assumed he was free of major violations because he’d never had any proven against him and those who felt he had never had any proven against him because he was just too good at getting away with them to ever be caught.

In that sense, perhaps his reputation was already made in the eyes of many, although the way it ended assures all unbiased accounts of his life and career will include the fact he was found unequivocally guilty of unethical conduct and that brought an end to his magnificent run. Stories of his possible connection to wrongdoing otherwise likely would have been relegated to footnotes, but that’s no longer the case.

Even in a world that seems to get more complicated by the day, one is hard-pressed to find a more paradoxical person than Jim Tressel.

He’s unquestionably done a lot of good in the community and the sports world.

He’s helped shape the lives of thousands of young men who played for him. Those players helped him build an impressive resume that brought him great prestige and personal wealth that in turn made it possible for him to continue winning and help even more people.

The misdeed that undid him leaves reasonable people to debate what his motivation was not only this time but in all times. Was he simply trying to keep star players eligible for a run at the national championship that had eluded him for seven seasons (there is little doubt that those back-to-back championship game losses ate at him), or did he really think he could teach his players a better lesson than the NCAA could? Or did he just think it was something he could get away with?

It is easy to cynically conclude he spent a lifetime in coaching merely trying to scratch the right backs that would allow him to further his fame and fortune, but I think on balance he is a good man whose actions are mostly motivated by a sincere desire to help people.

Much of the vitriol spewed at him since his sin of omission was revealed spawns from resentment of his often faith-based messages about living the best life possible. People resent a fraud more than a genuinely bad person (that’s not news), but this is an unfortunate symptom of how things sometimes get lost in translation.

Espousing the virtues of a perfectly lived life do not translate into the expectation of actually living perfectly. Every play is designed to result in a touchdown, but that’s only contingent on every part working as it was designed, and never mind those people on the other side intent on doing everything possible to gum up the works.

No one thinks every play will yield six points – and very few do – but such a goal is important to further the cause. And no coach in teaching how to execute a play spends much time talking about how not to do things despite his understanding that things will certainly at times not be done right despite the best intentions.

Coaches, like players, are human, and they know not every play call will be made at the right time. They are subject to greater scrutiny and bear more responsibility for their actions, too, as owed to their greater experience and compensation.

And so that brings us to today. Tressel is justifiably out of a job, Ohio State is looking for a new coach while bracing for further punishment, and Buckeye fans are left to question both what they were watching for the past 10 years and what will come down the pike next.

As far as the song goes, I’m not only thinking of its most iconic lyric but also the title.

Tressel, his former team and its fans sit now, more than two months from his day in NCAA court, wondering what will happen now that spring has sprung.

Waiting for the sun, waiting for someone to tell them what went wrong.

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A quick review of a false start

Jim Tressel’s conservatism was always a bit over stated. He was risk averse, but he took plenty of chances when the time seemed right.

I’m thinking of calling a pass play on 4th and 1 at Purdue in 2002, the long bomb at Penn State in ’09 and opening up the playbook in the Rose Bowl, not to mention unsuccessful gambits such as the rotating quarterbacks at USC in ’08, going for it on 4th and 1 late in the second quarter against Florida and the early fake field goal in the Fiesta Bowl against Miami.

But trying to conceal the misdeeds of some of his players last year was about as wise as asking Steve Bellisari to run an offense designed for Drew Brees. There might be some success at times, but ultimately failure was inevitable.

Whether or not there is a pattern of deception remains to be seen, but for now we can be sure this was a foolish endeavor from the start even for someone with experience in the ways of espionage. When the Feds get involved, things are going to come out more often than not, be it through their own inquiries, random tips or court proceedings. Dealing with such authorities is not in the same league as ordering players to run gassers for missing curfew or putting in his place a booster that stepped out of line.

But I can’t rip Tressel much for being foolish because I was duped as well.

I took Gordon Gee and Gene Smith at their word that they had the situation under control back in March. Naive as that may seem now, I still think it was a reasonable point of view in light of the fact they have a lot more experience with the NCAA than I or just about anyone else writing about the subject did.

To throw out shakily applicable precedent and partially related situations as proof of what’s to come is easy to do (and without consequence), but I took an alternative view and said let’s wait and see how it plays out.

I’m doubting I’ll get the chance repeat my mistake because I don’t know that all of those leaders will be in the position to garner such trust again, but only time will tell.

What Tressel did wrong in this episode is easy to see, but learning just how Smith and Gee misplayed the situation should be interesting.

Were they trying to perform their own cover up, conveniently looking the other way (as others have alleged Tressel made a habit over the years) or just as in the dark as everyone else? None of those possible explanations leave them looking very good.

They are responsible for knowing what their highest profile employee is doing, just as that employee has the duty of following procedures in his contract when he gets credible information about some of his best players’ potential misdeeds.

We know now the consequences for Tressel’s failure to do that.

What will become of his former bosses?

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Ohio State Post-Spring Review: RB, WR, TE, OL

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We’ll start with the running backs (Here’s the quarterbacks eval, in case you missed it): What a loaded position. I feel comfortable with all five of the scholarship tailbacks on the roster dotting the ‘i’ in a power formation this fall (and I bet we see that formation a lot).

Boom Herron outperformed most expectations last season as he turned in an All-Big Ten season, but he will not be available for the first five weeks of his senior campaign, so who is next in line?

Well the second guy off the bench in spring was often Jordan Hall. I like what he brings to the table – short and quick, he runs with some savvy. His low center of gravity makes him hard to tackle, and he has good hands. Carlos Hyde is a big back with surprising agility, and he runs with a sort of violence that is admirable. I still like Jaamal Berry better than both of them, but it remains to be seen if he can earn the coaches’ trust. He has great acceleration and runs hard behind his pads with surprising strength for a back his size. He can make tacklers miss, too, but can he stay healthy and hang onto the ball? Then there’s Rod Smith, who showed exactly why his teammates raved about him during bowl practice. He is a smooth, glider with long legs who really does have a little bit of Eddie George in him (though he doesn’t look as big as Eddie). The No. 1 thing you notice about Smith is how he can plant his foot, cut and get back up to speed quickly and effortlessly. He doesn’t seem to waste much motion. He’s more graceful and a less violent runner than Beanie Wells.

So who will emerge from this group? Hard to say. The coaches did not rush Smith to the top of the depth chart (that was consistent with pretty much all the younger players out there), but they gave him a lot of reps nonetheless during the scrimmages we were allowed to watch. Not knowing how reliable he is at the non-running back things, it is hard to speculate what kind of chance he has to jump to the front of the line, but it seems foolish to rule that out. Something tells me he may be the guy to beat when all is said and done.

Adding intrigue to the situation is the possibility Hall could be destined for some time in the slot. They put him there (Herron and Berry, too) regularly during spring ball, and he seems like he could be dangerous. Having a second year to work on that and the added benefit of a guy like Stan Drayton, the new wide receivers coach who had to work on teaching his running backs to play out of the slot while part of Urban Meyer’s staff at Florida, could make a difference. Perhaps young Mr. Hall could reprise some of Brandon Saine’s hybrid role of the past couple of seasons, although Hall is smaller than Saine, not to mention far quicker and shiftier.

Fullback remains in good hands, of course, as Zach Boren returns with Adam Homan and now David Durham behind him. I like the all-around skills of Boren and Homan, and Durham seems to have the right combination of size and speed to handle fullback if he puts his mind to it. All three are good athletes, not just battering rams.

Tight end looks outstanding as Jake Stoneburner and Reid Fragel return. Stoneburner was a nice safety valve for Terrelle Pryor early last season before spraining an ankle, and he continues to develop in all facets of the game. Stoneburner is a willing blocker whose skill in that area has improved, but Fragel can be a real difference maker in the running game. Fragel is big and has big hands and long arms he can get onto a guy and turn whichever way he wants. He’s a solid option in the passing game, too, although he’s not as quick or elusive as Stoneburner. Then you add freshman Jeff Heuerman to the group (along with returning senior walk-on Spencer Smith) and you’ve really got something. Heuerman is a big dude the quarterbacks were already looking for in seven-on-seven drills and scrimmage action. He looks like he has a lot of potential with room to add good weight.

The offensive line seemed to answer all the questions that were answerable this spring (that is to say, there was nothing that could be done about depth until reinforcements arrive during the summer). I wondered who would take that left tackle spot that Mike Adams won’t be able to fill for the first five games, and while there is still not a particular name, that’s not really a bad thing. Andrew Norwell was the player center Mike Brewster identified as the most impressive youngster among the offensive linemen, and that is important because he figures to be relied upon. Big, athletic and possessing a bit of a nasty streak, the sky seems the limit for Norwell. He practiced some at guard, but I still think he’s one of the top two options at tackle (joining returning starter J.B. Shugarts, who had a positive spring himself as his long-time foot problems seemed to subside). Marcus Hall looked to be in the mix at tackle or guard, and I think he’s better suited to play inside because the strength of his upper body and legs is greater than the lateral quickness of his feet. He could survive on the perimeter, but I think he fits better inside as long as someone else proves capable of handling tackle.

Determining separation at guard between sophomores Jack Mewhort and Corey Linsley was difficult, but both look like they can help this fall, and that’s good because one will have to. Both have experience at center, so either seems suited to either a full-time role or that of a utility player, although Linsley seemed to be responsible for most of the of center-quarterback exchanges we saw during sprain gall.

Brewster, of course, was Brewster, as he handled line calls and dealt with one talented nose guard after another. He bulked up in order to deal with some of the big boys inside this season. He got a lot of work with a multitude of groups because of the lack of numbers up front. (Have to wonder if the door is open for freshman Brian Bobek to slide in as the backup center this fall)

Lastly, I don’t think I’m alone in being unsure what to make of the receivers. While DeVier Posey looked excellent most of the time, he is not available for the start of the season. Behind him, Corey “Philly” Brown is obviously gifted with great speed, but he could stand to catch the ball more consistently and adding some strength to avoid getting knocked off routes seems like a good idea. No one else stepped up until the last week of spring ball, at which point Verlon Reed and T.Y. Williams both had a couple of notable plays. I like what Reed, a former quarterback, can do with the ball in his hands and have since seeing him at the Ohio North-South Allstar game last spring. He’s agile and quick and can break arm tackles. Williams is impossible to miss because of his raw size, and he showed he can run pretty well when he snagged that Taylor Graham pass while streaking down the sideline for a long touchdown, but he needs to toughen up, too. In one scrimmage, he had several balls thrown his way that were a bit off target but still close enough to him he could get his hands on, yet he did not bring in any of them.

Chris Fields, a third-year sophomore whose time would seem to need to be nearing, still looks like a candidate to help this fall. He has been compared to Santonio Holmes in the past, and he does have a similar build (not necessarily a good thing) and agility but probably not the top-end explosion that makes Holmes truly special. Still, Fields can run after the catch and showed nice open-field running ability on a kickoff return and a couple of jailbreak screens.

James Louis, who came here from Florida amid high expectations prior to last season, had one catch in the three scrimmages we watched (including the spring game) and seems to have fallen behind classmates Reed and Williams. He’ll need to have a good summer and get off to a good start this fall with four-star prospects Devin Smith and Evan Spencer set to arrive. Smith in particular was impressive during this year’s North-South Allstar Game and practices. He’s a long-strider and a great athlete who also seems to have a great attitude.

You May Say I’m A Dreamer, But I’m Not The Only One

No, I’m not above using a line from John Lennon to get your attention. Sue me.

Anyway, while I am not surprised to see many people taking their shots at the NCAA and writing the typically lazy columns about how awful it is, I am happy to say I discovered a few people who share my position that blowing up the current system is far from what needs to happen to improve anyone’s lives.

Writes John Gasaway at Basketball Prospectus:

It’s a tribute to the NCAA’s peculiar genius for mugging common sense with bylaws that grown people have to invest effort in saying things like: family members of players in the Final Four should be able to receive a little help if they need it to attend the games. This goes without saying. But it’s a long way from here to cries of exploitation and indentured servitude. Mike DeCourcy and Seth Davis have it precisely right. If at some point in the mid-2020s one or both of my two no-longer-little boys are fortunate enough to receive a full ride at a university because they can propel some kind of ball through some kind of goal, I will be the weird old guy you see turning cartwheels down the street and wearing the t-shirt that says “PLEASE EXPLOIT MY KIDS.”

The NCAA is many things, among them a bureaucracy, investigative agency, and most importantly a place where people who went to law school can earn a living without having to work for a law firm. Most of all, though, the NCAA is a wealth-transfer mechanism. The next time you see “the NCAA receives an average of $771 million annually from its TV deal,” add the words, “and redistributes about $730 million of that.” I don’t suppose that’s particularly noble or noteworthy — hundreds of not-for-profits do the same exact thing every day. But apparently it does need to be restated. Some of the largest consumer products companies in the U.S. send a few billion dollars the NCAA’s way each decade, and that money ends up funding bachelor’s degrees at campuses all over the country. If that is where you choose to invest your indignation, have at it. If that is your scandal, I wish you well. It is not mine.

and then today Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post followed with her own reasonable view of things:

Let’s kill the athletic scholarship! A college campus is no place for ballplayers training for professional careers. You know what else is a scandal? How many culinary students end up cashing in as chefs! And don’t get me started on those med school k ids whose only goals are to become doctors.

and

God forbid that commercial interests should sully campuses — unless of course it means major corporations funding supposedly independent academic research. Or scholars sitting on corporate advisory boards and loading up with stock. Especially if it’s Goldman Sachs, and you’re the president of Brown.

and

… our universities are highly commercialized places, touched by many forms of corruption, and they are used as farm systems all the time, by all kinds of professions. Why are we blaming athletes unduly for this?

The answer, presumably, is that it’s easy for lazy people to do without applying a solitary critical thought.

As an added bonus, few subjects better allow writers to take the populist path so directly to a supposed moral high ground.

Regarding the NCAA and so-called exploitation

Based on this really well-done and informative piece from USA Today’s Steve Wieberg covering the pros and cons of enhancing scholarships for college athletes:

Like NCAA president Mark Emmert, I am against a pure salary for players (although I think he’s missing a key public relations point by continually saying the players aren’t paid. They are paid scholarships worth thousands of dollars), but I certainly am in favor of closing the loophole that exists with the scholarships and true cost of going to school, particularly because there are roadblocks that prevent student-athletes from bettering themselves in ways that the average student can (namely by getting a job).

I’m not offended by the salaries coaches make because the market seems to have dictated such sums of money be paid them, but if that’s a place to look to make up some of the cash needed to fill the loophole, I would not complain one bit.

But while the system could use numerous tweaks*, there is no denying the people on scholarship have a lot of enviable advantages that are often ignored by people who continually beat the drum about supposed athlete exploitation. Those people don’t do the cause any favors with their disconnection from reality (Hate to tell you this but most employers make a lot more money than they pay their employees), although they do manage to rile up some emotional support with their hyperbole, so I guess we have to give them some credit.

I see far more social and developmental opportunities in college than players would find in some hypothetical football minor league, and I’m guessing a nearly insignificant minority would receive more money during their first two or three years in that scenario than they are paid by their scholarship now. And when their careers are over, they would have nothing to fall back on, whether they had the foresight to want or take advantage of that or not. And I have no sympathy for the scholarship players who aren’t interested in getting an education. They have so much help they can hardly fail even if they try, and I knew plenty of “regular” students who weren’t all that interested at the time in school, either, but seemed to be there because they had nothing else to do or their parents simply expected them to be there. Now that they have gainful employment as a result, most of them are plenty happy they were pushed in a direction they might not have chosen on their own.

The bottom line for me is despite its numerous faults*, the current set up of college athletics benefits far more people than it hurts, whether we are talking about the players getting to do what they love in packed arenas or the people who love packing the arenas to watch them do what they love (because many fans share greater bond with old alma mater than they do random pro team X). The nonrevenue sport athletes are surely grateful, too, not to mention the local businesses and municipalities that see money flowing their way as a result of patronage of sports in their area.

If starting from scratch, would I create a system that depended so heavily on higher education to develop our nation’s best football and basketball players? Probably not. But we have a system that works on many levels for many people, so I find it more productive to talk about how we can make it better than worry about going in a completely new direction.

*I’d also argue that most of the complaints people have about the way the NCAA does business are more a result of the necessary bureaucracy any organization that size is going to be than any specific NCAA trait, so thinking we can start over again and do it much better is folly.

NCAA tourney: Regarding the Lady Volunteers…

Pat Summitt’s team has four double-digit scorers, all of whom were McDonald’s All-Americans in high school.

Junior forwards Shekinna Stricklen and Glory Johnson go 6-2 and 6-3, respectively, and both made the All-SEC first team. Stricklen averages 12.6 points and 7.3 assists per game. She shoots 38.5 percent from three-point range and has 73 assists.

Johnson averages 12.1 points per and 9.5 rebounds per game. She has 47 steals and shoots 54.6 percent from the field.

The team’s leading scorer is 5-9 freshman Meighan Simmons, who averages 13.7 points per game and has a team-high 98 assists.

The only senior starter is 6-0 guard Angie Bjorkland, the team’s best shooter from long range. She is hitting 45.9 percent of her treys while averaging 11.0 points per game.

The fifth starter for a little more than half the season was 6-6 junior Kelley Cain, but 6-1 sophomore Taber Spani started both NCAA tournament games last weekend as Summitt opted for a smaller lineup (Both of them are also McDonald’s All-Americans, in case you wondered.)

The 33-2 Volunteers went undefeated in the SEC and won the conference tournament. They have not lost since a setback at Baylor on Dec. 14, and they finished the season ranked No. 2 in the RPI.

 

Summitt had a teleconference Wednesday morning that was not terribly enlightening, but here’s a summary anyway:

“Marquette gave us pretty much all that we wanted,” she said of the Vols’ second round game. “I thought they did a great job. Thank goodness we had halftime and that gave us a chance to regroup.”

She felt perhaps being at home her team might have felt some anxiety, which is not all bad, and she was pleased to get a win in front of a great home crowd.

Asked about facing Ohio State head coach Jim Foster, she said, “Obviously I think Coach Foster has done a great job with this team. It will be kind of like old home week from being at Vanderbilt and going to Ohio State. He’s got a really good solid team. Jantel Lavender obviously is the go-to inside. The guard play is pretty solid too. They do a great job of getting the ball inside.

“They’ll push when they can, but just from watching them I think they prefer more of a half-court because they execute so well in the half court. They’re very, very schooled in that and do a great job with ball movement.”

She said 6-1 junior forward Alicia Manning (another McDonald’s All-American) is an X-factor for UT off the bench.

“She’s the one who comes in and can play multiple positions. She’s got a toughness to her game and I really like what she brings to our team. She’s just got a lot of grit and a lot of focus and I think she’s a very strong vocal leader as well.”

Asked if she might consider using a taller lineup against Ohio State, who starts 6-4 Jantel Lavender and 6-5 Ashley Adams, she said maybe.

Regarding Lavender, Summitt said, “She likes the paint. It’s not like she’s going to step way out but she’s really good at running the floor and getting paint points. We’re going to have to match up early and avoid transition.

“She’s got a good skill set and she does take things simple but she’s also very aggressive.”

Then the local reporters harped on the “anxiety and expectations” thing for a while, but she kept saying she didn’t think it was a big deal, and she sounded pretty convincing.

Her players seem to have taken it upon themselves to put the focus where it needs to be, but they are deep enough they don’t have to rely on any certain person.

“I don’t mind shortening the bench this time of the year. The bench has been a plus, but we’ll wait and see.”

She acknowledged the SEC has been down this year.

“What goes around comes around, but unfortunately we haven’t been as strong in the SEC. Hopefully in the future that will change. I think it’s all about getting the players and getting them to play together. We’ve had our struggles with that but I think we’re in a pretty good place right now.”

Asked about tourney games being more physical, she laughed and said, “They let you play in the postseason. Watching some games, it was pretty brutal at times. I do feel like it’s more physical at this time of the season than the regular season, by far.”

Individuals must adjust to that on their own.

“At this point in time you’ve got to have that mental attitude and not worry about anything but getting your job done.”

In case you missed them: Ohio State interview notes