Griggs Weekly Ramblings: The End of a Golden Age??

I’ve mentioned this before, but I think that in future years people will look back at this time and think this is when college athletics were completely wrecked, or at the very least changed, but not for the better. People in power seem to have it in their heads that conferences are not stable unless they have sixteen teams in them, and that they must stretch all the way across the continent. For close to a hundred years the vast majority of conferences consisted of maybe eight or nine teams, all of which were similar geographically, institutionally and athletically. The schedules were balanced with everyone playing twice in basketball, and once in football. The SEC started the trend of going out to twelve teams and two divisions for the sake of a football championship, but even with that most conferences still had geographic, institutional and athletic identities amongst the membership. I believe that much of the rivalry, excitement and intrigue that exists in college sports grew out of those models. Now, we’re getting away from that. Conferences are becoming bloated and spread out all over the place, and if they’re not bloated, they’re deemed to be unstable. Is this good for college athletics?? I don’t think so.

I totally understand why this is happening. One of the biggest reasons for bloating up a conference and expanding it across several time zones is media and TV contracts. The more geography a league covers, the bigger the media footprint is, and the bigger the media footprint is, the more money there is to be made…..at least for now. Here’s the problem, though. College athletics are popular, and one of the reasons they’re so popular is because of the excitement and rivalry and familiarity that grew out of leagues that consisted of like-minded institutions that were geographically and institutionally similar. People love watching Kansas v Kansas State, and Kansas v Missouri, and Texas v Texas A&M, and Mizzou v Nebraska, and Duke v North Carolina, and Duke v NC State, and NC State vs UNC, and Syracuse v Georgetown, and Syracuse v UConn, and Maryland v Virginia, and…you get the idea. Twice a year, every year, in a balanced format. It was great.

Now that Mizzou must travel half a continent away for a conference game against a team like Florida in a league that is not balanced, is that going to create the same kind of intrigue as we had before?? The networks are paying a fortune for the broadcast rights of these bloated conferences. Will the number of people who have tuned in for the past several decades continue to be as interested in Mizzou v Vandy and Mizzou v Florida as they were in Mizzou v Kansas?? Same with Pitt v Wake instead of Pitt v West Virginia. Same with a ton of other games. My guess is no. The networks spent a fortune on something that will not create the same enthusiasm that we’ve had in the past. When the enthusiasm goes down, the ratings go down. If the ratings go down, will the networks ever spend that kind of money for broadcasting rights again??

Metaphorically speaking, have the Dodgers left Brooklyn?? Yes, there are still great moments in baseball, but it’s not the same, nor is it as popular or as tangible as it was in the 1950s. Is this the end of a golden age for college athletics that was spawned by conferences that played balanced schedules in a one division format against geographic and intuitional rivals?? I’m not saying there won’t be great moments. I’m not saying it won’t be popular. I just feel that a lot of the magic is gone, and that once this becomes whatever it is that it becomes, people will always look back on and feel nostalgia for the way it was before we had this convoluted mess. I find it ironic that the attempts being made to grow the popularity and revenue could work in the short run, but hurt in the long run. In ten years will people be saying “College basketball was extremely popular, but that all ended when they tried to make it popular.”

Next Move: Big West

Following up on the conference re-alignment mess, the next major move in the entire puzzle will most likely be coming from the Big West Conference.  As it stands right now, by 2013 the Big West will have 10 teams:  Cal Poly, CS-Fullerton, CS-Northridge, Long Beach State, UC-Davis, UC-Irvine, UC-Santa Barbara, and UC-Riverside are the eight current members that will be remaining.  Pacific is leaving for the West Coast Conference.  However, the league will be adding San Diego State and Hawai’i, a pair of marquee chips.  San Diego State will be placing its football team in the Big East while Hawai’i’s football team is off to the Mountain West.

So how does the next major move belong to the Big West?  As it stands right now, most of the members of the conference are happy with their new ten team alignment.  The issue is Boise State.  When Boise State agreed to go to the Big East in football they originally also reached out to the Big West (along with San Diego State).  The Big West passed, citing the extra travel costs in adding trips to Idaho for all of its members in all sports, especially with having already agreed to the Hawai’i travel expense.  Boise then appeared ready to return to the WAC for all non-football sports.

The Mountain West made the next major move, by expanding to ten football members/nine non-football members (remember Hawai’i is football only) by adding Utah State and San Jose State.  This move left the WAC with only two football teams (New Mexico State and Idaho) and three schools that competed in all but football come 2013 (Denver, Seattle and Boise State).  While there has been some talk of the WAC trying to stay alive as a non-football conference, they are still two members shy of the seven necessary to qualify for an automatic bid (and noone much better that Utah Valley and Cal State-Bakersfield available to fill those spots).

The quite likely death of the WAC has left Boise State scrambling again to find a place for its non-football sports.  As it turns out, they have two options.  The first is to try once again to get into the Big West.  The second would be to head back to the Mountain West.  In fact, Boise has not yet officially withdrawn from the Mountain West (their resignation from the league is not due until July 1 of this year).  San Diego State has already given their official resignation.

The problem that Boise would have in staying in the Mountain West is that the Mountain West wants their football team — which means that Boise would have to cancel its move in football to the Big East.  San Diego State has a provision in its agreement with the Big East that allows them a chance to withdraw its football from the conference in the event it does not have a travel partner west of the Rockies by July 1, 2013.  Thus, if Boise State stays in the Mountain West for all sports, San Diego State could head back there as well.  The Mountain West wants both teams back…which is one reason they stopped their current expansion at 10.  If they get those two programs back, they will reach the “magic number” of 12 for football.

This is why the next major move belongs to the Big West.  Boise State has renewed its interest in the conference.  San Diego State wants them in it.  The Big East does as well.  If the Big West takes Boise, I expect them and SDSU to stay in the Big East for football.  The Mountain West would probably then make a move to grab UTEP and New Mexico State, Idaho would drop down to FCS football and join the Big Sky, and the WAC would officially fold, leaving Denver and Seattle to try to find new homes.

On the other hand, if the Big West declines taking Boise, I would not be surprised to see them stay in the Mountain West and San Diego State may return there as well.  UTEP would remain in Conference USA, Idaho would still drop to FCS and join the Big Sky, and New Mexico State would have to consider either the Sun Belt (if they can get in) or an independent status, at least in football, while their other teams would be looking at smaller conferences like the Southland or possibly the Summit League.  With only 11 football members after Navy joins, a further move would also be likely from the Big East, which could result in a chain reaction again…though my guess is they would re-visit the Villanova to FBS issue one more time.

This is why the next major move in the conference re-alignment puzzle belongs to the Big West Conference.  And we should have an answer in the next 4-6 weeks, as Boise State is fast approaching their deadline to withdraw from the Mountain West.  In my opinion, San Diego State is a huge piece and could help elevate the rest of the conference much the way UNLV did back in the early 90s before they left.  If getting that piece requires having your track and women’s tennis teams travel to Boise once a year, I still think it is worth it.  There was a time the Big West was considered to be one of the marquee mid-major conferences.  They have a great chance to return to that level and should not let the opportunity slip by.

Griggs’s Weekly Offseason Banter: Conference Musical Chairs

-The nice thing about calling this “Weekly Offseason Banter” is that I’m allowed to banter. There are certain times of the year, particularly early December, early May, and late August, when life outside of cyberspace becomes very busy for me. This resulted in me missing my normal target time for posting on Hoops HD. I began receiving frantic phone calls, emails, and texts, from people all over the world who were in a panic over not having their weekly banter from David Griggs. NBA Commissioner David Stern threatened to postpone the playoffs if the banter did not resume. Feeling the way that I do about the NBA, I was tempted to quit Hoops HD entirely, but decided my love for college hoops surpassed my disdain for NBA hoops. So, without further ado….

CONFERENCE MUSICAL CHAIRS

-It seems as though there was more fervor surrounding conference realignment last summer than this summer, probably because almost all of the speculation involved the major conferences, but there has actually been more movement this offseason.

-In case you’ve been living under a rock, The Big East is losing Pitt and Syracuse to the ACC, and West Virginia to the Big Twelve. This impacts football more than it impacts basketball, so the Big East felt compelled to replace them with programs that would best help the conference’s football profile. They called up SMU, Houston and UCF from Conference USA. Memphis has lousy football, but they were invited to join as well. So, as it currently stands, the Big East basketball lineup will be Louisville, Cincinnati, SMU, Houston, UCF, Memphis, South Florida, Marquette and DePaul. All of those teams are either currently in or were recently in Conference USA. Perhaps the Big East should hire the current CUSA commissioner. He knows all about all of those teams. Rutgers, Connecticut, Notre Dame, Georgetown, Villanova, Seton Hall, Saint John’s and Providence round out what will be a 17 team Big East.

That is still a solid conference, but there is a significant amount of tradition that is going away. Big East basketball has always provided an intense regular season that ended with what I considered to be one of the best showcases in college basketball in their conference tournament. We’re losing the Backyard Brawl between Pitt and WVU. They may still play, but it won’t be the same now that it’s not a conference game. Same with UConn vs Syracuse. Same with Syracuse vs Georgetown. Literally half of the Big East used to be Conference USA. DePaul, Marquette, Louisville, Memphis and Cincinnati all have rivalry and history with one another. It just seems very odd that it has been transplanted the way that it has.

Call me sentimental, but I kind of liked it the way it was before.

-Conference USA is undergoing its second major change in recent years. In fact UAB, Tulane, East Carolina and Southern Miss are the only schools schools that were in the league in 2004, and plan to remain in the league after the second wave of realignment. Rice, UTEP and Marshall joined the league back in 2005. They will now be joined by Louisiana Tech, UT San Antonio, Florida International, North Texas and Charlotte (who is actually rejoining the league).

University presidents make these decisions, and it is obvious that there are two things the CUSA presidents were looking for: academic classification, and market size. Athletic tradition, success, and resources?? I guess that’s all secondary. All of the new institutions are tier one research universities, and all but Louisiana Tech are in big media markets.

Unfortunately, another thing these new schools have in common are lousy, unaccomplished basketball teams with small fan bases. Maybe that was also a criteria for expansion. I don’t know. I wasn’t there. Middle Tennessee and Western Kentucky are established programs who fit the geographic footprint, and Middle Tennessee brings the Nashville market. You turn on the games when either of those two teams are playing, and there are actually people there, yet they were completely passed over by CUSA.

Conference USA was a great basketball conference and a rather competitive football conference. It’s just that CUSA is now the Big East….or at least half of it.

-Missouri and Texas A&M are leaving the Big Twelve for the SEC. This means the end of two longstanding football and basketball rivalries in Texas vs Texas A&M (although they may continue to play in basketball, it still won’t be the same) and Kansas vs Missouri. My feelings on that are well documented. In a nutshell, the best way to phrase it with proper professional etiquette is this…. “I’M PISSED!!”

-The Mountain West may have become a victim of its own success, which is unfortunate. The league ventured out on its own and started its own network, and had a nucleus of schools with substantial and passionate fan bases. The classic lineup was Utah, BYU, Colorado State, Air Force, UNLV, New Mexico, San Diego State and Wyoming. TCU joined the league later on, which didn’t add much to basketball, but added a ton to football. Boise State came on board as a tenth member, which would have made this a high quality league in both major sports. It was putting multiple teams into the top 25 in both football and basketball. They also managed to send teams to BCS Bowls on four occasions, and won three of those games. That does not count the addition of Boise State.

However, before it could become a league that would match up very well against any of the “major” conferences with its ten team format, BYU defected for football independence and full membership in the West Coast Conference, and Utah defected for the Pac Twelve (which appears to be a step down, at least in the short term). Even with just eight teams, the league put four teams in the NCAA Tournament last year, which was half the membership, but now even that is coming to an end with San Diego State leaving for the Big West in basketball and Big East in football, and Boise State leaving for the Big East in football…..and I don’t know where they’ll end up in basketball.

They do take on San Jose State and Utah State, who are solid additions, but had the league stayed the course with its ten team format, it could have ended up being as good as any major conference.

-The WAC is currently flailing around like a drowning person in the attempt to keep its head above water. It may not survive, and if it does it will look very much like a one-bid league in the #15 seed range. That is where Boise State planned to put its basketball team, but with the BCS getting rid of automatic qualifiers, it’s possible that San Diego State and Boise State will remain in the Mountain West. I think it would be best if they did, not just in basketball, but overall.

In closing, I’ve come to the conclusion that if you don’t like the conference that your team is in, just wait a couple of days. It will probably change.

Fire John Calipari – A Nontraditional Program

Okay no, don’t literally fire John Calipari. His material is far too rich for him to leave the stage just yet. But in honor of the Fire Joe Morgan guys, the recent papal bull issued by the Kentucky basketball coach deserved some special attention.

 

Big Blue Nation, it’s time we learn and come to grips with the fact that we are not a traditional program. We haven’t been one for the last three years, and going forward, this will continue to be a nontraditional program.

This is pretty much the exact same opening script as the OT III Scientology video.

The 25-year-old model doesn’t work anymore. It is done and blown up. We are going by our own model now: the gold standard. Everyone has to accept that.

You know what this means? RON PAUL

We are going through things that no other program in the history of college basketball has gone through. No other program is losing five or six players a year. We are facing issues and having to make decisions with the thought of what’s next and where are we going, which includes our schedule.

That’s brilliant. This reminds me of that one time my friend’s sister got caught shoplifting, cried all the way home, then screamed at her parents “NONE OF MY FRIENDS HAVE TO GO THROUGH THIS!!!”. Incidentally, with a scholarship limit of 13, aren’t most college programs losing at least 3-4 players a year? And UK only lost two to early departure in 2010-11. Schedule the whole ACC! Everyone’s back!

When we schedule, there are three factors my staff and our administration must take into consideration: (1) preparing our players for the postseason, (2) our fans and (3) the financial component.

It’s almost impossible to read this without thinking that step 2 is “preparing our players for our fans” and step 3 is “preparing our players for the financial component. Which, if you think about Kentucky’s history, is exactly what you’d expect the process to be.

When we talk about preparing our players, we have to think in terms of protecting our players because no one has gone through what we’ve been through the last three years.

Again…um…two early defections in 2010-11? Coach? One of them was DeAndre Liggins? And no, Enes Kanter doesn’t count. Guys who were never eligible, you don’t get to cry over.

This is a players-first program, and you cannot put a young team into situations that is not fair to the players. In a traditional program, you can sign an eight-year deal because you may have the same team for three or four years and have an idea of what your roster will be. However, this is not traditional.

Following the logic here, apparently all “traditional” programs put their players into unfair situations. Ooh, those evil traditional programs, where everyone plays 25 games in the RPI Top 50 every season! How dare!

We will no longer have multiple contracts of longer than two years. Because of our roster turnover, it makes it difficult to lock ourselves into five home-and-home series. If we need to replace a team for a year or two, we will have the option to do that to protect our program. If eight guys leave and go in the first round, and we’re not the type of team that can play a ridiculously hard schedule, then we shouldn’t be locked into contracts we can’t adjust.

B…bbbbut UNFAIR SITUATIONS! What if you bring in the top 8 high school players and they all leave after their freshman year, coach? Aren’t you screwing your remaining players with that two year contract? I thought we were better than those “traditional” programs? One year contracts are what we need!

If the rule changes and we know we’re going to have the same team for three years, it changes how you schedule, but that’s not the case right now. We need the flexibility.

You know what would really provide flexibility? Half-game contracts. Yes, yes this is the answer. After all, what happens if we schedule a game against Ohio State, and Nerlens Noel is declared ineligible at the under-16 timeout? We need the flexibility.

With our nontraditional approach, we are using the entire season to prepare us to compete for national titles. It’s not just about winning as many games as we can win or playing as many home games as we can play. There are no road games in the NCAA Tournament. You are in a neutral venue, hopefully with more of our fans than anybody else, and they’re in big buildings. Why not prepare for that?

“Coach, didn’t you just win a national title after losing a true road game earlier in the season? Thanks, I’ll hang up and listen.”

Part of that means you’ve got to play in big arenas, you’ve got to play in football stadiums; you’ve got to do something to get them ready for a Sweet 16 or a Final Four. A lot of teams do not have that opportunity. We do, and we need to take advantage of it.

By this rationale, Syracuse should be ripping off titles every year. Or, for that matter, Kentucky, who plays in one of the largest basketball-specific arenas in the country.

In the past, we’ve always tried to have two non-guarantee nonconference home games added to our league schedule of eight home games. Now our league has added a ninth league home game, so we’re going to have at least one marquee nonconference game at home in addition to at least one on the road. Those will be TV games and be big games for us.

Wait, I thought EVERY game was a big game for Big Blue Nation? And I think we’ve finally found out the ugly truth — a home game versus Texas A&M might not make it on national television. I never saw that coming throughout this whole expansion process, I honestly didn’t.

Whether the game is played at Rupp Arena or at a neutral site, you’ll be watching us against the best programs in the country. The traditions of North Carolina, Louisville and Indiana can continue, but a couple of them may have to be at neutral sites.

Unless those programs are the best in the country, and they choose to not play the series at neutral sites. Oh, right…that’s why you’re wasting our time with this nonsense. Sorry, forgot!

It’s either we do that or we over-schedule and put our players at risk. Right now we’re locked into Louisville for a few more years, so that’s one of them. Where is the other one? We’re trying to walk through that now to see who it is and what we do.

Except the Indiana series could’ve continued…AT RUPP ARENA…next year. And could’ve been a two-year contract. How is that overscheduling, exactly? Are your players at risk because of the number of games, or the quality of opponent? Because, you know, last year you played Penn State and Old Dominion on a neutral floor (PREPARING FOR THE NCAA TOURNAMENT!), Radford, Portland, St. John’s, Chattanooga, Samford, Loyola, and Lamar at home. UALR on a semi-home floor. And…one true road game. If you’re worried about putting players at risk, surely they’re more likely to trip over the decaying carcass of a Samford player than get tripped up against Indiana or UNC.

In doing so, we want the fan experience in those games to be like it was in Rupp Arena last year against North Carolina, where North Carolina’s fans walked away and said, “Wow, that was a respectful group,” and “Wow, that was great.” That’s what we’re looking for. Why eliminate the opportunity to add a new home-and-home series to our schedule every two years?

I’m sure that’s exactly what the UNC fans were saying. So coach, your plan is to wow the opposition and then never let them visit again?

The good news is it benefits our donors as well as our fans that cannot get into Rupp Arena. For our K Fund donors, you will still have the best tickets and the best seats. For our season ticket holders at Rupp Arena, they will have the first opportunity to purchase tickets at the neutral sites. We will always have a minimum of 10 non-guarantee games with nine of those in Southeastern Conference play and at least one from our two home-and-home series. There will be times we have more, but never less, and our goal is to always have 19-20 home games for our season ticket holders even with the neutral site games.

The K Fund donors are no doubt ecstatic at the thought of having first option on driving 14 hours to New York to watch a neutral court game versus UConn. Or even better, first option to watch that neutral court game against Arkansas-Little Rock! I wonder how the donors and fans feel about watching those rousing games against Lamar and Portland. Surely they’d prefer some more exciting competition (since, after all, they ain’t gettin’ any in the SEC)?

More importantly, for the people who can’t afford to get into Rupp Arena or don’t have the opportunity to buy those tickets, they will now have an opportunity to buy all the extra tickets. Instead of 20,000 at home, we bring 40,000 on the road.

Wouldn’t that defeat the purpose of playing a “neutral site game” to prepare for the NCAA tournament? But I digress…

There is certainly a financial component to all of this.

No, really?

Our program, along with football, funds the other scholarships for all the other student-athletes on this campus. We are doing well throughout our athletics program, but we’ve got to remember that funding is important to every sport.

Yes, I’m certain playing two road games out of conference per season would kill off like nine women’s sports tomorrow. How myopic of us!

If we see an opportunity to generate more revenue for our program, we have to take it into consideration. If a neutral site game brings back more dollars for our student-athletes to succeed – whether it’s softball, swimming, tennis or gymnastics – we’ve got to explore that option.

I am 100% certain that this was the real reason behind all of this.

We cannot underestimate that the financial component is a part of it, but it is by no means an overriding part.

I…whatever. Sure. Let’s move on.

As we move forward in the coming weeks, we will let you know what our schedule looks like and who our upcoming opponents are. I think you’re going to be excited about it, but remember, we are a nontraditional program, so start thinking nontraditionally.

We need more information on this. “Start thinking nontraditionally”…we really need you to expand on this concept, coach. Should we expect games to start in August? That would be nontraditional…and bold. And probably guarantee wins! You don’t see anyone else playing in August! Only Kentucky!

When you talk about our schedule versus other programs, let’s take a look at the major conference programs we play like Duke, Indiana, Kansas, Louisville and North Carolina. Who are the ranked non-conference opponents that they played that were not in a made-for-TV challenge or tournament? Tell me who they played.

Great comparison. Indiana, for instance, played in a “made-for-TV challenge” against eventual Sweet 16 team NC State. On the road. And won. They also played Notre Dame (on a neutral site!), who ended up being fairly decent. Kansas played Ohio State (and vice versa. Jerk.) And while Duke played Ohio State and UNC played Wisconsin in a “made-for-TV challenge” (which apparently gets like six asterisks and three bleeding daggers in the record book), Kentucky played…St. John’s. In a made-for-TV challenge. I love this “made-for-TV challenge” complaint. Apparently Cal thinks those don’t count because they weren’t naturally conceived…or something? Like the teams just absolutely wouldn’t have played if they hadn’t been forced to by the evil schedulemakers. As if the coaches didn’t know “Yeah, we’re consciously playing Duke in this game”. Plus, didn’t Kentucky gleefully play Indiana the three years prior to this one when the Hoosiers were as far away from being a “ranked non-conference opponent” as possible?

Many of you argued with me two years ago when I said our five guys going in the first round of the NBA Draft was one of the biggest days, if not the biggest day in the history of our program. When you look back on it, those guys were miserable they didn’t win the national title. Ask any of those guys if they didn’t want to win the national championship in the worst way. They all wanted to win it. But by five of them being drafted, what it did to transform us into a truly nontraditional program, led us to this national title. Now I’m telling you we have to reevaluate our schedule to make sure we’re worried about our program and preparing us for that tournament that really matters. Believe me when I tell you, Big Blue Nation, we’re scheduling to maintain what’s in the best interests of our players and our program.

What he means is, “If those guys hadn’t all left, it’s likely we don’t have the nucleus of this year’s team, and therefore don’t win the national title, which then would’ve made me completely unable to argue this hysterically stupid notion of us being a ‘nontraditional program.'”

By the way, that team he’s referring to played THREE neutral site non-conference games. Surely they won the national title! Oh.

How can anybody say that I want to back away from challenges? When I was at UMass, I saw what John Chaney and Temple were doing and adopted the motto “any team, any place, any time.” My last year at UMass, we played 10 home games and 27 games away from home, and I carried that over to Memphis.

I thought your last year at UMass didn’t exist, according to the NCAA.

What, have I changed over the years? Do I get nervous in big games? Come on, it has nothing to do with that. I’ll play teams on I-64. We’ll close it down. I’m good with that. But this program is not traditional. This program is in a position right now that we must protect as we march forward to try to grow it to another level.

Playing teams on I-64 would almost certainly fall under “putting our players at risk.”

For all the Big Blue Nation, please do not listen to someone who has never coached or listen to media who are agenda driven for another program. That includes fans from other programs. Don’t listen to those people and have them affect how we think, because they have no effect whatsoever on how I think.

I was right, this IS the script from the OT III Scientology video!

We’re in this together and we will always keep the Big Blue Nation’s thoughts in mind, but I have to protect this program and these players. We’re not traditional and we’ve got to think differently than everyone else.

Sorry to break it to you coach, but “not playing road games” is hardly thinking differently than everyone else. It just means you don’t want to play road games. Or have your home court winning streak broken.

UConn Got What They Deserved

This is the place where I was going to post the second part of my review of the 2012 season for the mid-major conferences.  However, being by trade a person that is paid to defend and argue the causes of individuals with whom I may or may not personally agree, and given David Griggs’ posting last week about the stupidity of the APR rules, I think it is only appropriate if someone speaks out in favor of the NCAA’s rulings.

First, let’s start with the APR, or Academic Progress Rate, calculations.  You begin with the total number of scholarships being given in a particular sport.  Each student-athlete that receives a scholarship can get up to 2 APR points.  1 point is given for staying in school and a second point is given for remaining academically eligible.  Therefore, if a team has 13 scholarship athletes and all 13 remain in school and academically eligible, the school would score 26/26 which equals 100% or a perfect 1000 score.  If, however, 2 of the 13 players become academically ineligible and leave the school early, they would only score 22/26 or 84.6% — an APR of 846.  If those 2 players remained in school despite poor academics, however, the score with be 24/26 or 92.3%/923.

There are two exceptions to the APR.  Any student that transfers to another school OR that leaves a school to turn professional in his sport, and maintained a 2.6 GPA or higher, does not count towards calculating the APR.  Thus, if a teams with 13 scholarships has three players leave early while keeping 2.8 GPAs, and the other 10 students are all academically eligible and stay in school, the school’s APR would be 20/20, or 1000, with the 3 players that left not counting at all.

If a school failed to meet a four year average of 900, penalties came in, beginning with scholarship reductions and eventually going up to postseason bans (or even possibly worse, suspension from Division I, though this has not been applied yet).  The NCAA is increasing the number to 930 over a multi-year change which means that for 2012-13, in addition to the 900 four year average, a 930 two year average was required.  In 2013-14 it will be a 930 four year average or 940 two year, and after that just a four year 930 average.  During the transition period, schools which historically have financial issues, such as Jackson State, have been granted lower standards though they will have to reach the 930 four year average by 2015-16.

APR’s are calculated a year after grades are final.  Therefore, any penalties assessed in 2011-12 were for four year averages from 2006-07 through 2009-10.  UConn’s four year average heading into last season was only 893.  As a result, the school lost two scholarships.  The reason for the low four year average was a frankly pathetic 823 APR for 2009-10.  For next season, while UConn will gets its four year average back over 900, the 823 will be added to a 978 for 2010-11, giving them a two year average of only 902, well below the 930 two year average required.

UConn’s argument is that the rules were changed on them.  The paid the penalty for the lousy 2009-10 numbers by losing two scholarships.  However, even if they scored a perfect 1000 for 2010-11, they could not get to a 930 two year average.  Further, when the 823 hit, the rules did not exist that required a 930 average over two years.  If not for the rule change, which happened after the 823 year, they would be eligible for the 2013 championship.

The argument is a strong one for UConn,  However, in my opinion, it fails on one very important point.  That point is quite simply that the NCAA rules, since 2005 when APRs were adopted, clearly stated that the goal was to obtain an average APR of 900.  In other words, schools were all clearly on notice that they had to get their scores over 900 on a yearly basis.  Essentially, schools were told that the better make sure they are recruiting student-athletes and not just athletes, because if they bring in a bunch of kids that go to classes for the fall semester, play hoops and goof off in the spring and then quit school, they won’t get to play in the championship.  UConn scored an 823 in 2009-10.  That is a pathetically low score brought on because UConn brought in exactly the type of student that the NCAA had told schools not to bring on.  I do not buy for one second the argument that UConn is in some unique place because it has athletes good enough to start for other schools sitting on its bench.  As I stated earlier, if the student has a solid grades, if they leave to play pro ball or to transfer to another school, they will not count in the APR at all.

UConn lost 2 scholarships last season and is banned from postseason play this season, all because of the actions of kids back in 2009-10 that aren’t even on the team anymore.  However, UConn is not a financially disadvantaged school that needs the breaks that a school like Jackson State is getting.  Additionally, they knew very well that they needed to try to have every year at or as close to 900 as possible and did not come close in 2009-10.  The only flaw I see in the system is the fact that UConn had no way at all to get its two year APR high enough to avoid the postseason ban next season.  With that fact known heading into this year [(823 + 1000)/2 = 911], the NCAA should have just given UConn its ban last season.

In any event, UConn knew the rules back in 2009-10.  They knew they needed their student-athletes to post something close to 900.  If they have just posted a number in the high 800s (882 or higher would have done it based on their 978 in 2010-11), they would not have been in this situation.  Instead, they have to pay the price.  As long as college athletics has the word “college” in it and student-athlete has the word “student” in it, schools need to learn that their athletes are not just money-making pawns but instead they have an obligation to the NCAA, and more importantly to every paying student at their school to make certain educations are being provided.  And they need to avoid allowing kids that have no intention of going to class from stepping foot on campus.  UConn is, deservedly, the poster child for just what can and should happen if a school forgets that.

Loss of IU-Kentucky series temporary, unremarkable

We mentioned this a while back on HoopsHD, but it’s apparently official now, as ESPN is reporting that Indiana and Kentucky are halting their long-standing series due to an inability to determine game site locations. Eamonn Brennan has already gone to Defcon 2 over this, calling the ending of the series “ridiculous” and engaging in some righteous thrashing of Crean and Calipari over the impasse.

I understand Brennan’s take on this, but he really needs to calm down a bit. It doesn’t surprise me at all that we find ourselves at this juncture with this series, and anyone who was paying attention in the last 6 months has seen that we were headed this way. From Calipari’s original groundwork-laying comments back in December to the lack of NBA defections on the IU squad, this was almost a pre-ordained outcome.

From Kentucky’s perspective, they cannot be 100% sure what sort of team they’ll have next year. Unquestionably they’ll be talented, but the chances of Calipari meshing this group together in the same way he meshed last year’s national champs are very low. They absolutely can’t afford to take Louisville off the schedule, especially in the aftermath of a Final Four victory and the Cardinals being projected as a top-5 team next year. By dropping both Indiana and North Carolina off the schedule, Kentucky gives itself a lot of time to figure out who they are and what they can do as a team. Their SOS may suffer a bit, but their ranking should stay consistently high.

As for Indiana, it is a shame that they won’t get a chance to take this year’s squad into Rupp Arena, in what would’ve likely been a fascinating look at a young but talented team trying to win in one of the most hostile environments in college basketball. But like Kentucky, the Hoosiers are going to need some early-season reps to figure out how to mesh their existing pieces with talented freshmen like Yogi Ferrell and Jeremy Hollowell. The neutral court games that Indiana will get in the Brooklyn tournament (against Georgetown, UCLA, and/or Georgia) should do more than enough to give IU a taste of life away from Assembly Hall.

As for the idea that IU and Kentucky need to “grow up” and fix things…come on now. Who, exactly, should “grow up”? Should IU say “Yeah, sure, we’ll give up the financial and basketball benefits of playing a home game against Kentucky every two years just because that’s what Kentucky wants”? It does seem that UK is being a bit cynical in pushing for this neutral site game series, but they are well within their right to do so. As we mentioned last month, it does seem that UK pushed for the neutral site venues knowing full well that IU would never agree to the terms. And again, I don’t blame UK for that — they will have a young and inexperienced team, and probably would struggle against an IU squad that’s bringing everyone back. It’s hardly a petulant decision — it’s a basketball decision. And a financial one. Believe it or not, those things can and do take place in college sports all the time. It’s not always as simple as one side or the other taking their ball and going home.

Fear not, these two teams will play again soon, maybe as early as 2014-15. And I wouldn’t be at all shocked to see them play next year anyway, in the NCAA tournament.

UPDATE: According to Andy Katz, Kentucky offered to play the series solely in Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. That revelation does nothing to change my thought process above. In case you haven’t noticed, Lucas Oil Stadium in basketball configuration is nothing like Assembly Hall, and Bloomington is a completely different community from Indianapolis. From a crowd standpoint and a buzz standpoint, the biennial IU-UK game is the single biggest event in Bloomington. That’s not something to easily surrender, and in fact local businesses have gotten irritated about IU athletics surrendering far less high-profile events (such as the IU-Penn State football games in 2000 and 2010). And lest you think UK was being gracious by not offering a return “neutral” game in Louisville, there’s the little matter of Kentucky not being allowed to play anyone but Louisville in the Yum Center.