THOUGHTS OF THE DAY; FEBRUARY 1, 2019
NCAA HYPOCRISY ON DISPLAY ONCE AGAIN
“The NCAA is so mad at Kentucky they’re going to give Cleveland State another year of probation.” – Jerry Tarkanian
Today they’re probably having similar thoughts in Columbia, Missouri and wherever folks hoist an adult beverage in honor of the Missouri Tigers. Because 12 athletes across three sports were involved in academic fraud involving an out of control tutor, the NCAA lowered the boom on Missouri football, baseball and softball. Since Mizzou football is the bell cow that pays for all the other sports, we’ll focus on football.
The NCAA handed down a 2-year probation for Missouri, cutting scholarships and dishing out fines of 1% of the budgets in the three sports involved. That’s not a lot of money for baseball and softball. It’s a chunk of change for football. The fines are bad but they aren’t the worst part – Missouri football cannot go to a bowl game in 2019, a year in which some folks who are considered experts are saying the Tigers are a darkhorse to challenge Georgia for the SEC East title. This means Mizzou will forfeit its portion of the SEC’s bowl receipts, probably in the range of $8 million.
And for what? Academic fraud? Now academic fraud is a serious matter, but let’s take a look at how the hypocrites who run the NCAA handled their two most famous academic fraud cases – Florida State and North Carolina.
At FSU, 61 athletes across 10 sports (including 23 football players) were found to have been given the answers to an online music appreciation course entitled Music Cultures of the World. Bear in mind 146 athletes actually took the course so who knows how FSU convinced the NCAA that only 61 were guilty. There were unproven allegations that there were other tests in which answers were provided, but the NCAA went with the one test it could prove and didn’t delve deeply into the possibility of other fraud.
Now, if you ask me, if you have to have answers to pass a music appreciation test – an online test mind you and we know NOBODY ever cheats on an online test (Wink! Wink!) – you have no business being in college because you are either too lazy or too dumb.
For this, FSU didn’t lose a bowl game although it had to play Kentucky in the Music City bowl without 20 or so players who were deemed guilty of cheating in music appreciation. Two academic people were fired and because he played some academically ineligible players Bobby Bowden had to vacate 12 wins from the gozillion or so he won during his 104 years as FSU’s head coach. Nobody took into account that Bobby probably wasn’t coherent enough to know if these guys were ineligible or had done something wrong.
And just to show how mad the NCAA was at Bobby and the football program, they vacated 22 basketball wins including a couple in the Nobody’s Interested Tournament (NIT), took away an NCAA baseball win and vacated a national title in track and field and a bunch of wins in sports that FSU isn’t any good at. But there was no bowl ban for football. Imagine that.
At North Carolina, academic fraud went on for 18 years and involved more than 1,500 athletes across its athletic program. A good number of basketball players were involved, which, of course, means the NCAA could have vacated national championships in 2005 and 2009. All these athletes took bogus courses. A whistleblower detailed everything and for her honesty, UNC fired her. Roy Williams declared he saw no evil, heard no evil and spoke no evil, therefore he was as innocent and pure as the driven snow. And by golly if Roy was innocent so were all these basketball players.
So UNC, being the fine upstanding institution of higher learning that it is, sued the NCAA and the NCAA caved even though it had the goods on the school. Instead of stripping UNC of those two basketball championships, the NCAA said it couldn’t punish UNC basketball or other sports because anyone on campus could have taken those sham classes. Right.
Now, back to Missouri. Missouri was fully cooperative with the NCAA, unlike FSU or UNC. Missouri’s case involved only 12 athletes not the 61 that the NCAA accepted as cheaters in the case of FSU and certainly not the more than 1,500 that took bogus classes at North Carolina.
So what did the NCAA do? It hammered Missouri.
How hypocritical. It reminds me of my favorite Clint Eastwood quote: “Participating in a gun buyback program because you think criminals have too many guns is like having yourself castrated because you think the neighbors have too many kids.” That’s about how much sense the NCAA makes.
Moral of the story: If the NCAA comes after your school, don’t cooperate. Hire the best lawyers money can buy and wear the NCAA out. It worked for Jerry Tarkanian all those years ago. It worked for FSU. It worked for UNC.
WHAT UF MUST DO TO BEAT KENTUCKY SATURDAY
On paper, it seems there is no way 7th-ranked Kentucky (17-3, 7-0 SEC) can lose to Florida (12-8, 4-3 SEC) Saturday (4 p.m., ESPN) at the O-Dome. The Wildcats have been the picture of consistency in winning their last seven games and they seem to be building the kind of momentum that can carry them well past February and deep into March. Florida, on the other hand, had perhaps its best win of the season Wednesday night when it beat Ole Miss, 90-86, in overtime but the game before that, the Gators shot so badly that they couldn’t have put the ball in the ocean if they were standing on the end of the pier.
The hallmark of Kentucky’s winning streak has been consistency on both ends of the floor. The hallmark of Florida’s entire season is a roller coaster ride. When the Gators shoot well, they have a chance to win any game. When they defend really well, they have a chance to win any game. The problem has been there have been far too few games in which the Gators shot well and defended well, which is what they have to do to if they want to beat Kentucky.
Here are five keys to the game:
1. Andrew Nembhard cannot allow Kentucky point guard Ashton Hagans to harass him into mistakes. Hagans is playing All-SEC defense. Nembhard averages 5.9 assists per game and rarely turns the ball over. He has to play near perfect against Hagans, who is averaging 3 steals a game during the UK win streak while forcing numerous bad decisions and turnovers.
2. The vertically challenged Gators have to find a way to protect Kevarrius Hayes. That might mean playing more zone than Mike White likes, but if Hayes has to sit for protracted minutes because of foul trouble while battling against Kentucky’s superior inside size, it’s going to be a long, long day for UF. Another way to help Hayes is to double the ball on the wings and the corners to eliminate easy passing angles, making it difficult for UK to pound the ball inside.
3. KeVaughn Allen can’t allow Keldon Johnson to intimidate him. Johnson is 6-6, long and athletic with tremendous leaping ability. He will draw the assignment on Allen. The way for Allen to neutralize Johnson is constant motion. He needs to run Johnson all over the court and into one screen after another. Make him pay a price for trying to defend. When Allen gets an open shot, he has to launch!
4. Make Kentucky play small ball. To do that the Gators have to do more than just spread the court and hit some shots. Once they make the Wildcats sacrifice size for the quickness to cover the perimeter, the Gators have to be willing to drive the ball to the rack and get to the foul line. Florida needs free throws and the Gators won’t get them if it’s just a 3-point shooting contest.
5. The Gators have to win the tempo game. The Gators aren’t nearly as effective in a half court game offensively, but if they get into a track meet, it will favor Kentucky. The best way to win a battle like this is to control tempo with defensive intensity. This was Al McGuire’s strategy. In Marquette’s heyday, the Warriors (they were the Warriors in those days before political correctness won the day in Milwaukee) only ran off turnovers. Marquette played harassing defense on one end, used the press judiciously more for surprise than anything else, and on the offensive end kept the ball moving with minimal dribbling. Marquette wore people down with its passing on one end and with its defense on the other and without slowing the game down to a crawl. Al always believed if he controlled the pace of the game and played quick he typically controlled the outcome.
SATURDAY’S SEC GAMES
#7 Kentucky (17-3, 7-0 SEC) at Florida (12-8, 4-3 SEC)
#1 Tennessee (19-1, 7-0 SEC) at Texas A&M (8-11, 1-6 SEC)
Arkansas (12-8, 3-4 SEC) at #17 LSU (17-3, 7-0 SEC)
#22 Mississippi State (15-5, 3-4 SEC) at Ole Miss (14-6, 4-3 SEC)
Alabama (13-7, 4-3 SEC) at Auburn (14-6, 3-4 SEC)
South Carolina (10-10, 5-2 SEC) at Georgia (10-10, 1-6 SEC)
Vanderbilt (9-11, 0-7 SEC) at Missouri (10-9, 1-6 SEC)
MORE ON MISSOURI
The NCAA probation that includes a postseason ban could have the effect of nuclear winter on the Missouri football team. That’s because under NCAA bylaws any player with one year of eligibility remaining can transfer ANYWHERE and play IMMEDIATELY even if the player hasn’t graduated. But don’t think only seniors will be tempted to bolt. Underclassmen only need to look at the cases of Ole Miss transfers Van Jefferson (to Florida), Shea Patterson (to Michigan) and Tre Nixon (to UCF). They hired lawyers and the NCAA granted waivers even though they all had at least two years of eligibility. Figure at least some of Mizzou’s talented underclassmen already have good lawyers on speed dial.
Do you think transferring isn’t being considered an option by Larry Rountree III (1,216 rushing yards, 11 TDs last year), who can probably use the appeal that he’s leaving early for the NCAA? Or by tight end Albert Okwuegbunam (43-466 receiving for 6 TDs), who could be the first tight end to go in the 2020 NFL Draft?
And then there is Kelly Bryant, the former Clemson QB, who is a grad transfer. Do you really think he’s going to stick around? He needs to play for a really good team to make the transfer from Clemson worth his NFL while.
If you are a betting type, the over/under for transfers at Mizzou should be something like eight, not including Bryant. Take the over.
OTHER SEC FOOTBALL STUFF: Vanderbilt special teams coordinator Shawn Mennenga is leaving to become the special teams coordinator of the Green Bay Packers … Deke Adams, formerly of Memphis, is the new defensive line coach at Mississippi State, filling the spot vacated by Brian Baker, who took the D-line job at Alabama … Arkansas will be Alabama’s homecoming opponent on October 26. Alabama is 12-0 in homecoming games under Nick Saban. You can bet the farm Nick will be 13-0 … South Carolina safety J.T. Ibe has been granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA … Wide receiver Tavin Richardson, who figured to be a starter in 2019, is transferring out of Kentucky … Trent Dilfer, who won a Super Bowl as the quarterback of the Baltimore Ravens, said in an interview Thursday that he cautioned Justin Fields about signing with Georgia. “I told him it wasn’t a good move to go there,” Dilfer said. Fields has transferred to Ohio State where he has petitioned the NCAA for a waiver that would make him eligible to play in 2019 … Jeffery Simmons is expected to be chosen in the first half of the first round when the NFL Drafts in May but NFL Network is reporting the former Mississippi State standout nose tackle won’t be invited to the NFL Combine due to a standing policy to ban players who have had past incidents that involved violence. Before he ever enrolled at MSU, Simmons punched a woman several times.
RANDOM THOUGHTS: A federal judge tossed a suit by two New Orleans Saints ticket holders who demanded a do-over for the blown call by the zebras that cost the Saints the NFC championship. Big surprise there, right? … The Dallas Cowboys avoided going totally brain dead. After considering former UF offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier for their OC job or to coach quarterbacks, the Cowboys promoted Kellen Moore to OC and hired Jon Kitna to coach the QBs … Colorado Rockies’ third baseman Nolan Arenado signed a 1-year contract for $26 million. That is nice work if you can get it … For all those predicting Duke will win the national championship with all those one-and-dones, here is a stat for you. Only twice since one-and-done became the rule has a team with three one-and-dones won the NCAA title – Kentucky 2012 and Duke 2015. In 2017, three teams had three one-and-dones – Kentucky (Elite Eight), UCLA (Sweet 16) and Duke (second round). Kentucky had four one-and-dones in 2010 but only made the Elite Eight.