The O’Bannon ruling is on the side of the very clumsy angels

Sugar beet farmers, 1948. The parallel between them and Jahlil Okafor is obvious. To our legal system.

Sugar beet farmers, 1948. The parallel between them and Jahlil Okafor is obvious. To the legal system.

The fact that the question raised by Ed O’Bannon landed on the docket of U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken is solely and ineluctably the NCAA’s fault. It should never have come to this. The NCAA never offered a common-sense justification for not compensating O’Bannon for the use of his name, image, and likeness. Then again logic, fairness, and common practice all unite in saying there can be no such justification, so don’t blame the NCAA’s lawyers for the weakness of their argument. Blame the NCAA for taking this to court in the first place.

With any organization that operated without the debilitating procedural inertia of several hundred otherwise distracted voting members (otherwise known as Division I), this matter would have been settled outside the courtroom. Such a resolution would have had two cardinal virtues: 1) It would have been the collaborative product of the parties involved; and 2) It would, one assumes, have been tailored to to the very different needs and characteristics of the two revenue sports, football and basketball.

Now we have a resolution to the dispute that sides with O’Bannon, but does not possess either of these two virtues. In other words, we have a court decision, and more’s the pity.  Continue reading

More powerful power conferences won’t change hoops (much)

His team had more talent. It didn't matter.

Weird things can happen to very talented teams.

Today the NCAA board of directors is expected to allow the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC to set their own rules and pass resolutions without the approval of the rest of Division I. It is widely anticipated that this so-called “big five” will move toward offering full cost-of-attendance scholarships to their athletes, thereby giving recruits an added incentive to play at one of these member institutions as opposed to any of the 280-odd schools outside the charmed circle.

This will lead to a good deal of “rich get richer” talk, and, to be sure, I don’t suppose if I were a fan of a non-big-five hoops powerhouse like Connecticut or Memphis I’d welcome this development with unalloyed euphoria. But is this really going to have a huge impact on the actual college basketball results we see on the court?  Continue reading

On the irredeemably doomed nature of (most) preseason conference hype

BP

This man is excited about the SEC’s future.

The SEC held its spring meetings last week, and the most noteworthy product of this year’s conclave was arguably the solemn and earnest talk of a potential Division IV in college athletics. Nevertheless, there was also, of course, the requisite chatter promising that the conference will henceforth be good at basketball. This time the SEC means it. Truly.

“This is as focused as I’ve seen this league and these coaches and the programs and the ADs in how do we move this ball forward,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “We had three teams in the Elite Eight, two teams in the Final Four, a team in the national championship game and still … come on now. Our goal is let’s get half of our teams in within the next three years and two of us playing for a national championship.”

I share Calipari’s preferred measure of conference strength. How many teams you put into the NCAA tournament and, more specifically, where those members are seeded is to my mind the best gauge of just how good your league really is.  Continue reading

Why Aaron Gordon will never shoot better than 62 percent at the line

It's an open look. Knock it down.

Statistically speaking, this is unlikely to go well.

We typically think of bad free throw shooters as all alike. Either a player makes a normal number of free throws or he falls short of that standard, and we all know that guys in the latter category represent a special case. We sit up and pay attention when they’re at the line, we shake our heads when they miss, and we applaud a little too enthusiastically — like parents at the school play — when they make one.

Basically we define “really bad” as anything under 60 percent because, well, that is really bad. An average shooter will make something closer to 70 percent of his attempts. But in terms of measurable harm to your offense, there’s a significant difference between shooting, say, 58 percent at the line and connecting on just 42 percent of your free throws. And in his one and only season as a college player, Aaron Gordon shot 42.2 percent at the line.  Continue reading

My season’s final four days

OSM

Members of the media watch “One Shining Moment” on the mammoth HD screen above the court at AT&T Stadium after the national championship game.

Friday
It’s Media Day. My plan is to surf the press availabilities at the stadium in Arlington for a few hours and then go back into Dallas to meet up with Ken Pomeroy on his way out of town. After speaking to a room full of coaches on Thursday, Ken’s leaving town on the Friday of Final Four weekend. (“I didn’t realize there were games connected to this thing.”)

AT&T Stadium is a domed football venue 20 miles away from the city where everyone’s staying, and this necessitates a media shuttle. Because I’ve skipped out on Media Day early to meet with Ken, I’m alone on the shuttle with the driver. He lives in Phoenix, and this is his first Final Four.  Continue reading

Let them play

He likes reviews.

He likes reviews.

Perfecting what is already the best sport in the world will require addressing a rather ticklish situation that has arisen between the generations. At the risk of offending the age cohort to which I myself belong, college basketball is suffering from an infestation of adults.

The adults are the ones who insist on calling timeout over and over again in the game’s final minute. The adults are the ones who take way too long to review every call, particularly if it involves elbows being swung this way and that. The adults are the ones who whistle more fouls with each passing year.  Continue reading

If and when amateurism ends, the work will just be starting

Yale Bowl construction, 1913. And here our troubles began.

Construction of the Yale Bowl, 1913. And here our troubles began.

Last week there was an NLRB ruling that you may have heard about concerning the Northwestern football team, and there is also a collegiate sporting event this weekend that is fairly well publicized in its own right. This has meant a deluge of polemic on the subject of what is to be done with college sports. I believe the deluge is a positive development, and, even if it weren’t, I’m a good host. So:

Welcome, reformers. We’ve been hoping you’d arrive. I too have my torch and pitchfork, and I trust we can all agree there’s more than one tweak to be made when it comes to revenue sports.

I’m proud to announce I’ve discovered an “ideal of the amateur coach.” Compared to the thin and meager history behind that wobbly and dubious model of the amateur athlete, I can footnote my exciting new ideal something fierce, citing precedents dating back to Socrates. Henceforth coaches will receive no outside compensation, no endorsement deals, no fees from speaking engagements, nothing. Schools can pay for a coach’s room and board and a few other incidental expenses, but that’s it. After all, college sports are not about the coaches. How many people do you think would come out to see John Calipari coach a bunch of D-League players?

Continue reading