Category Archives: stay off my side

Quality, justice, and 2015-16’s brave new world

Under the new guidelines, verticality matters.

Under the new guidelines, verticality is supposed to matter the way it was supposed to matter under the old guidelines. This is a good thing.

You may not be exceedingly familiar with James Thompson IV, Ethan O’Day, or even the Convocation Center in Ypsilanti, Michigan, but the 2015-16 college basketball season will begin tomorrow morning at 11 Eastern when those two guys contest the opening tip in said arena on behalf of Eastern Michigan and Vermont, respectively. Perhaps this strikes you as a rather inauspicious manner in which to embark upon an endeavor that will culminate with all eyes on Houston next April. For my part I’m too happy to care. The season’s finally here.

In the seven months since the final horn sounded in Duke’s win over Wisconsin, the NCAA has instituted a number of changes and issued several directives aimed at improving the game. Yes, the shot clock’s been shortened from 35 seconds to 30, but if you’re unfamiliar with everything else that’s new and different the NCAA just posted a briskly efficient 14-minute video that summarizes the main points. I highly recommend giving it a click.

This is the part where I scratch my head over the NCAA acting like the nimblest of daring Silicon Valley start-ups when it comes to bettering the game while at the same time the organization does a searingly convincing imitation of a cadre of Bulgarian apparatchiks circa 1953 and continues to define “top-50” wins with a metric that’s off by 50 spots or more seven percent of the time. Go figure, the “bettering the game” part of said schizophrenia is highly laudable. NCAA, I salute you! Continue reading

I rushed to finish this judgment of our rush to judge a rush to judgment

When historically bad sports-transcending actions transpire in your program, your peer institutions may take note. That's unobjectionable, unless of course the peer institutions call themselves the NCAA.

When historically diabolical sports-transcending actions transpire in your program, your peer institutions may object. That’s unobjectionable — unless of course the peer institutions call themselves the NCAA.

If tomorrow it emerges that a staff member at a blue-chip college basketball program has for decades used his position of power and prominence to secretly carry out terrible criminal actions of unimaginable scope and magnitude, I will have no problem whatsoever with the other revenue-sports-playing universities in the vicinity collectively considering — at the conference or national level — whether some form of censure and redress, subordinate to and cognizant of criminal proceedings, might be appropriate.

Apparently I’m in the minority. Today the conventional wisdom is that those universities rushed to judgment in 2012 when they reacted to Jerry Sandusky’s crimes by fining Penn State, imposing a postseason ban, taking away some football scholarships, and vacating 14 years’ worth of Joe Paterno’s wins. Reasonable people can differ over whether that was the best blend of sanctions, but what’s being asserted now is the far more sweeping claim that any action at all undertaken by the universities was categorically unwarranted. That strikes me as a novel contention, to say the least.  Continue reading

Academic life after UNC

It appears some of these guys weren't subjected to particularly rigorous challenges in the classroom. It appears in some instances there was no classroom.

It appears some of these guys weren’t subjected to particularly rigorous academic challenges. What’s far more surprising, however, is that neither were some of their fellow students in the stands. (Grantland)

After reading Kenneth Wainstein’s report on the University of North Carolina’s academic misdeeds between 1993 and 2011, it occurred to me that if I were a graduate of UNC the really galling thing would be that my highly prestigious alma mater was so badly outperformed in this one respect by Auburn.

Eight years ago more or less the exact same transgression that has now been documented so thoroughly in Chapel Hill also came to light at Auburn. In both cases a faculty member was found to be offering an inordinately high number of “independent studies classes.” In both cases the grades that athletes received in their independent studies were far higher than their overall grade point averages. Continue reading

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

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

What we talk about when we talk about building brackets

That's me, eighth from left, at the 2012 mock selection. My portrayal of Ron Wellman was termed "Brando-esque."

That’s me, ninth from left, at the 2012 mock selection. My portrayal of Ron Wellman was termed “Daniel Day Lewis-esque.”

The NCAA men’s basketball committee has done its work, and the bracket is now set. Before critiquing the committee’s handiwork, let it be said that any ideal bracketing system we would design would of course duplicate the overwhelming majority of what the NCAA just did. Our Perfect Bracketing Machine would have given No. 1 seeds to Florida, Arizona and Wichita State, would have had teams like Nebraska just barely making the cut, and would have buried the nondescript likes of Memphis and Kansas State in 8-9 games. The NCAA gets things mostly correct annually.  Continue reading