Kabongo case highlights need for NCAA reform, weekend picks, more
NEW YORK -- Texas' 64-41 loss to Georgetown Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden was even uglier than the score. The Longhorns, who are ranked 337th in the country in turnovers per game (19.1), coughed the ball up 22 times against the Hoyas. If it sounds like this team must be playing without a point guard, that's because it is. Myck Kabongo, a 6-foot-1 sophomore from Toronto, has not played yet for Texas this season because the NCAA is investigating whether he received extra benefits from an NBA agent last summer. Kabongo is technically eligible to play, but in reality Texas has no choice but to hold him out. If he plays and is later found to have committed these violations, the Longhorns could be forced to forfeit the games in which he played.
The fact that we are now into December and this case still has no resolution has understandably been a focus of much consternation and criticism. Yet, when I spoke with Texas coach Rick Barnes after the loss Tuesday night, he did not add his voice to that critical chorus, on or off the record. "I honestly don't blame the NCAA for taking so long. They have a tough job to do," he told me. "They want this thing over with just as much as we do. We've just got to do the best we can in the meantime."
It is indeed troublesome that this case is dragging out so long, but that is not the main problem here. The real concern is, we don't know
On Wednesday morning, I brought these questions to NCAA president Mark Emmert, who was in New York to speak at the annual IMG Intercollegiate Athletics Forum. "It's not in our interest to have this drag out," he said, "but it's never the case that people [at the NCAA] sit on all this information, dilly dallying around from August to October, waiting for just the right time to determine whether somebody is going to sit or not. That's not how it works. Sometimes people aren't as forthcoming with the information. I don't mean they're being deceitful, but they're not providing you stuff as readily as you'd like to settle those cases. It's like tax day. I gotta file my taxes, better hurry up and do this. Well, it's time to play, so I better hurry up and give them the information they were looking for. So we get a flood of information at the end."
Is that what is happening with the Kabongo case? Emmert couldn't say. "We have this curious set of bylaws that prohibit our talking about cases in any kind of detail," he said. Notice he is not talking about federal privacy laws, which forbid schools from releasing a student's academic information and other information. He's talking about NCAA rules that don't allow for basic disclosures about the enforcement process. This is foolish. If we don't know what's going on and where things stand, how will we know whom to blame?
Emmert agreed this is something that needs to be changed. As part of the reforms he is trying to get passed early next year, he wants to establish mechanisms that will yield a lot more transparency. The public doesn't need to know all the details about the information that is traveling back and forth, but we do need to know whether said info is currently back or forth.
Here's how Emmert envisions the new setup. "Let's say, and I'm making this up, that we determine there are four stages of reinstatement," he said. "It involves this filing, it involves this kind of solicitation of information, and this kind of response, and this kind of finalization, and then there's a decision. We want to be able to say to the public, this is in stage three. We're waiting for information from the parties at hand. Or I can say, 'It's in stage four. We're cogitating on it and we should have an answer soon.' If it's sitting on our desk, then you are perfectly right to say, 'What are you doing? We're eight games into the season.'"
This idea makes a lot of sense. So why hasn't it been done yet? "Not all members like this idea because they want to control the messaging," Emmert said. "They don't want you [in the media] going to them and saying, 'So you're sitting at stage three. What's the holdup?' If they said, 'it's the NCAA's fault,' then you could say, 'Well, actually they're waiting for something from you.' Some of [the member schools] might not feel quite as warm and fuzzy about that as others."
Keep in mind that as NCAA president, Emmert can't vote on rules, he can't sign anything into law, and he can't stop legislation with a veto. He can only suggest ideas and try to rally spheres of influence to get them passed. He's throwing down the gauntlet on this one, and I hope the schools have the guts to pick up. Everybody agrees that this whole enforcement mess is broken, but nobody can agree on why or how or where. We're enshrouded in too much darkness, which makes the solution obvious: Let there be light.
If college basketball's mad scientist has his way, the 2013-14 season will begin with a Texas-sized tip-off.
I spoke with the scientist, Mark Hollis, during a break at the IMG conference. Besides being Michigan State's athletic director and a rookie member of the Men's Basketball Committee, Hollis is the creative soul who came up with, among other things, the Carrier Classic, which pitted his Spartans against North Carolina last year aboard the USS Carl Vinson. I approached Hollis because I wanted to know what his next big idea was. As usual, he did not disappoint.
The details aren't finalized, but here it is: Next year on Veterans Day weekend, there will be four -- count 'em, four -- games taking place simultaneously at Cowboys Stadium, site of the 2014 Final Four. The games will begin 15 minutes apart and be held side by side (by side by side) in the giant facility. The purpose is to simulate the madness that takes place during the first week of the NCAA tournament. Only instead of the games taking place in four different cities, they'll be played in one town, under one roof.
"We're going to squeeze everything into a three-hour time period," Hollis told me. "We're talking with eight institutions right now that have a very high interest and have that weekend open, and we're going to partner with the 12 [military] bases that are around Dallas, so we can make it a celebration for the guys at Fort Hood and others."
Hollis didn't want to get into which schools would be playing, except to confirm that Michigan State would be one of them. The idea came to him while he was touring the stadium last month for the unveiling of the 2014 Final Four logo. Cowboys Stadium is so massive (and its overhanging video screen so gargantuan) that Hollis wondered aloud whether they could have four courts instead of one for the Veterans Day tipoff. "I was sitting with Rolando Blackmon, and he said to me, 'You can never do that,'" Hollis said. "Someone barked out, 'You just told that to the wrong guy.' "
As for the logistically-challenged copycat games that the Carrier Classic spawned, Hollis said he thought it was unfortunate that two of those had to be canceled because of condensation on the courts, but he indicated that it was the result of limited advance planning. "We spent eight years planning the first one," he said. "We started in sunlight and had a warm court, which was the most important piece. If you're anywhere near the ocean, you're going to get condensation at night. When President Obama was late, our immediate concern was about condensation. It was unfortunate those games had that happen, but hopefully it won't be the end [of aircraft carrier games]."
Having developed a deep passion for athletic events that honor and include the military, Hollis, who also arranged for Michigan State to play UConn at Ramstein Air Base in Germany last month, said that he's hoping to continue setting up these games "at some other unique locations down the line." Mark Hollis doesn't just think outside the box. He lives there.
See y'all in Texas.
• I'm glad that the NCAA's new vice president for championships and alliances, Mark Lewis, is promoting the idea of holding a Final Four in a traditional arena, but I honestly don't think it's feasible. The issue isn't money -- there's enough upside for the NCAA to take a financial hit for one year. The issue is logistics. The Final Four has gotten so big that there are simply too many people (including corporate folks) who want and need to be there. It's just too hard to shut people out.
• I saw a freshman-laden Florida State win two games at the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic three weeks ago, so I'm surprised to see the Seminoles on this three-game losing skid, which includes a loss to Mercer. They say that youth is served, but right now the Seminoles' youth is being served up.
• New Mexico's backcourt of Kendall Williams and Tony Snell gets a lot of love, but the Lobos' 7-foot, 250-pound sophomore center, Alex Kirk, is a tough cover and a reliable double-double guy. You've heard of stretch fours? He's a stretch five.
• Kansas senior center Jeff Withey leads the nation in blocks at 5.7 per game, and he has been called for a total of six fouls in seven games. Just making sure you knew.
• Geron Johnson, the juco transfer who has had multiple legal problems in the past, had his breakout game for Memphis on Wednesday night, scoring a season-high 21 points in a 26-point drubbing of Ohio. That's a great sign for the Tigers, but an even better sign was the return of malcontented forward Tarik Black to the lineup after a one-game hiatus. The pieces are there for a really good season in Memphis. The question is whether Josh Pastner can make them all fit.
• Tennessee has failed to reach the 40-point mark in each of its last two games. In a word: Oy.
• Can't think of a better tribute to Rick Majerus than Utah's decision to raise his trademark oversized sweater to the rafters. Actually, I can: The Utes then went out and drubbed a very good Boise State team by 19 points. Somewhere, Rick the Pick is smiling.
• Time to start talking about Charlotte. The 49ers won at Davidson on Wednesday night to improve to 8-0. We'll know whether they're legit next Friday when they play at Miami.
• I don't understand the argument that UConn needs to extend Kevin Ollie's contract right now. What's the rush? Don't tell me recruiting, because the spring signing period doesn't begin until April 17. Given that Ollie's only previous experience is two years as an assistant under Jim Calhoun, athletic director Warde Manuel is smart to allow himself a full season to evaluate the coach.
• Illinois leads the country in made threes per game (10.8) and is 21st in three-point percentage (40.6). That's nice, but the worry wart in me can't help but wonder whether that's fools' gold.
• I realize that San Diego State guard Jamaal Franklin already has three technical fouls this season, but that's a small price to pay for his passion. Giving his team energy and a competitive edge is the best thing Franklin does -- and he does a lot of things well.
• Same goes, by the way, for San Diego State's fans. They turned the Aztecs' game in Anaheim against UCLA last weekend into a home game. Even Ben Howland said so. It was a perfect storm, because while San Diego State has one of the best fan bases in the country, UCLA might have the worst. Yes, their team has been struggling, but Bruins' fans expect their team to win like Kentucky, Kansas and Indiana, but they don't turn out like those fans do. Check out Indiana's attendance numbers during the recent lean years. There was barely a dip.
• I love the tradition of coaches taking their teams to play road games in their seniors' hometowns. Yet another reason why college hoops is better than the NBA.
• I also love when coaches have to play true road games at their previous schools if they voluntarily left for a better job. Should be a staple of every coaching contract.
• During halftime of Indiana's 36-point home win over Coppin State, Tom Crean conducted a quick walkthrough in the hallway outside the team's locker room. You think this guy isn't locked in?
• Little noticed but largely significant: Duke freshman Alex Murphy played a season-high 21 minutes and scored 10 points in the Blue Devils' home win over Delaware last weekend. Murphy was in the starting lineup for Duke's two exhibition games, but he has hardly seen the light of day since. At some point Duke will need him to contribute, especially given the lingering concern of Seth Curry's leg injury.
• Speaking of Duke, I disagree with Coach K's argument that because of conference realignment, we should do away with events like the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. I understand the disappointment of having your league raided, but the ACC didn't seem to feel too badly when it poached Syracuse, Pitt, Louisville and Notre Dame from the Big East. I also understand the challenge of going from a 16-game to an 18-game schedule because your league is adding teams. Still, not only do these made-for-TV challenges produce high-level matchups, they produce big-time games that are played on campus, which is becoming an increasingly rare occurrence this time of year.
• Now that Michael Dixon is gone, Missouri will really need freshman guard Jabari Brown, a transfer from Oregon, to provide some perimeter pop when he gets eligible later this month. The Tigers were down by 10 points at halftime against Southeast Missouri State on Tuesday night, and even though they came back to win by 16, that comeback required 18 shots from Phil Pressey, who only made four and shot 1-for-7 from three-point range. That is not Pressey's game, and it is not Missouri's best formula for success.
• I noticed Gonzaga coach Mark Few wasn't wearing a tie during the Zags' win at Washington State on Wednesday night. Frankly, I've never understood why basketball coaches dress like they're going to a
• Mark Lyons, who has never been a point guard, transferred to Arizona so he could play point guard. After six games against bad teams, Lyons has more turnovers (18) than assists (14). If you don't think this is a potentially huge problem, then you're not thinking.
• Incidentally, why is it that Arizona has played all bad teams to this point? The Wildcats' only tough nonconference games are at home against Florida next Saturday and a potential matchup with San Diego State at the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii later this month. Makes a Hoop Thinker scratch his head.