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When It Comes To SEC Basketball Jobs, Who’s Better And Who’s Best?

Who's_Better,_Who's_BestMick Cronin.  Ben Howland.  Chris Mack, Tim Miles, Archie Miller and Richard Pitino.  For kicks throw in Gregg Marshall and Shaka Smart, too.

With the Tennessee and Missouri jobs now open, you can expect to see many of the same names on the Vols’ and Tigers’ lists of coaching candidates.  From our list above, expect Howland to push for both UT and MU, though there’s a reason he’s been passed over by Cal, Marquette, Boston College, Wake Forest, Tulsa, and everyone else he’s contacted this year.  (The reason is likely this.)  On the other side of the coin, Marshall and Smart aren’t likely to being going anywhere at all this offseason (but never say never).

That means Mike Alden and Dave Hart will be probably end up chasing those other guys.  Aware of that fact, Cronin, Mack, Miles, Miller and Pitino will be able to drive up their salary demands accordingly.  Two jobs in the same league open?  It’s called “leverage” and coaching candidates will have it.

But which school has the better basketball program?  Which school is the bigger draw?

Below we present you with our ranking of all 14 SEC jobs as if they were open right now.  We based our selections on facility size (fan support), stability (recent coaching turnover), and overall tradition (titles and tourneys).  We’re not just throwing out names from the top of our heads here.

 

Coaches would kill for…

1.  Kentucky

All-time:  53 NCAA tourneys, 16 Final Fours, 8 national titles

Last 15 years:  6 Conference titles, 3 head coaches

Arena capacity:  23,000

Upside:  Limitless

UK is clearly the top job in the SEC and it’s in a group of just four or five schools that could make a legitimate claim to being the best gig in the country.  We believe it probably is tops in America, but schools like North Carolina, Duke, Kansas, UCLA and Indiana are all terrific.

 

2.  Florida

All-time:  17 NCAA tourneys, 5 Final Fours, 2 national titles

Last 15 years:  6 Conference titles, 1 head coach

Arena capacity:  11,548

Upside:  Limitless

Billy Donovan has turned Florida into a national power.  Now, whoever replaces him will have to survive in a legend’s shadow.  But the UF athletic department has been incredibly stable, the recruiting base is large, and most of the heat in Gainesville gets directed toward the football coach.  If Donovan left today, Jeremy Foley could have a new coach by suppertime.

 

Coaches would be interested in…

3.  Arkansas

All-time:  29 NCAA tourneys, 6 Final Fours, 1 national title

Last 15 years:  0 Conference titles, 4 head coaches

Arena capacity:  19,200

Upside:  Strong

Arkansas eeks into the three-slot based mainly on what’s happened there in the past, just not in the recent past.  The arena is top-notch and the recruiting base includes Memphis (if a coach can tap into it).  When the Hogs are rolling, a good case can be made that UA becomes a basketball school.  It’s also hard to ignore a place with six Final Fours and a national crown.  There’s plenty of upside in Fayetteville and Jeff Long has shown that he’ll spend whatever cash the Razorbacks’ biggest boosters will give him.

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Martin’s Departure Has Tennessee Chasing Its Tail Again

dog-chasing-tailHere they go again.

In Knoxville today, the private planes are being warmed up for yet another coaching search (assuming the boosters allow Tennessee’s AD to use them).  Cuonzo Martin’s surprise decision to go to California with an aching in his heart creates the umpteenth coaching vacancy at UT in the past decade.  Here’s the school’s scorecard in case you haven’t been able to keep track of all the major comings and goings in the Volunteers’ men’s athletic department:

 

* Basketball coach Buzz Peterson — fired March 2005

* Baseball coach Rod Delmonico — fired June 2007

* Football coach Phillip Fulmer — fired November 2008

* Football coach Lane Kiffin — left January 2010

* Basketball coach Bruce Pearl — fired over NCAA violations March 2011

* Baseball coach Todd Raleigh — fired May 2011

* Athletic Director Mike Hamilton — resigned June 2011

* Football coach Derek Dooley — fired November 2012

 

Now I don’t know about you, but that makes Tennessee’s athletic department look rather dysfunctional to most unaffiliated observers.  For example, here’s some of the national reaction that average fans — and coaches — are seeing across the country today:

 

Gary Parrish of CBSSports.com:  ”Can you imagine?  You sign two five-star prospects in a span of three recruiting classes, win more games each year than the year before, mold a roster into a team that will soon make the Sweet 16, and, still, literally tens of thousands of your own fans have taken time out of their day to sign a petition requesting that you be replaced by the man you replaced three years earlier.”

Pat Forde of Yahoo! Sports:  ”There is something in the water, or the soil — or, most likely, the people — at the University of Tennessee that has turned the athletic department into a transient, turmoil-ridden place.  Basketball coach Cuonzo Martin’s departure Tuesday is just the latest huh? moment for a school that has been buffeted by them in recent years.”

Dana O’Neil of ESPN.com:  ”In a lot of places (Martin’s results) would merit a raise, a contract extension and a heap of praise.  At Tennessee, it got Martin a heap of nothing.  Impatient fans and lukewarm administrators never really gave Martin a chance — Indiana fans, with a bit more basketball dog in the fight, gave Tom Cream a longer leash.  And now the Vols got what they stopped wanting and exactly what they deserved.”

 

The first response to the national media from many Vol fans will be one big “who cares?” and a string of “yeah, buts.”  But no school’s boosters and fans really want the sporting world to view their athletic department as some sort of sad joke.  And unfortunately for the faithful on Rocky Top that is exactly how Tennessee is being viewed today.

Martin was never embraced in Knoxville for one reason — he wasn’t Pearl.  As soon as the NCAA came down on Pearl he became to some UT fans their own “Lost Cause” hero, a combination of generals Albert Sydney Johnston and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson.  ”Why we’d have never succumbed to Yankee tyranny had our beloved leader in gray not been taken from us so grievously!”

Martin got better each year in three at Missouri State.  He got better each year in three at Tennessee, too.  He wound up three points shy of the Elite Eight last month.  But he still wasn’t Pearl on or off the court.  So the anti-Martin crowd simply changed their battle cry as the Vols advanced in the tournament — “Yes, but we underachieved in the regular season.”  So when a team lives up to preseason expectations at tourney time the regular season becomes the problem?  Kentucky fans are bonkers about hoops, but I don’t see anyone running John Calipari away for following the very same path Martin went down last season — disappointing regular season, expectations basically met in the postseason.

The greatest irony is that Martin was the only guy to do any real winning on Rocky Top in years.  Pearl won an SEC basketball title in 2008.  That is the only championship for Tennessee in a major men’s sport in 15 years.  Vol baseball last took home the SEC trophy in 1995.  Vol football hasn’t been crowned league champ since 1998.

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The SEC Needs A Rule Protecting Schools From Having To Face Players Booted For Disciplinary Reasons

gfx-honest-opinionLast week, Gary Pinkel surprised a lot of people — including many Missouri fans — when he jettisoned talented receiver Dorial Green-Beckham following his third run-in with police.  While the victims of the latest investigation into the player refused to file charges, the evidence suggests Green-Beckham busted into a girl’s apartment, shoved a friend of his girlfriend and then grabbed and dragged his girlfriend by her neck.

He earned his dismissal and Pinkel deserves credit for protecting the integrity of his football program.  Pinkel does not deserve to face Green-Beckham if/when the player purifies himself with a year of junior college ball.

We’ve stated this view on previous occasions.  Just last season, for example, Georgia had to face two starting quarterbacks  with the SEC who had previously been drummed out of Athens.  In the spring of 2009, freshman Zach Mettenberger was arrested.  Reportedly, he then failed to come clean to Mark Richt about the circumstances of that arrest and he was dismissed.  After a year at Butler Community College he transferred to LSU and almost knocked off Richt’s Bulldogs in a 44-41 thriller last year.

Later in the season, Georgia did fall 43-38 to an Auburn team quarterbacked by Nick Marshall.  Marshall began his career as a defensive back at Georgia, but he was dismissed from the team as a freshman in 2011 due to an unspecified violation of team rules.  After a year at Garden City Community College, Marshall landed on the Plains and came within one drive of leading the Tigers to a BCS championship.

Richt being Richt, he said he was happy that both young men had turned things around and found success.  We don’t doubt that.  But was it right for Richt to have to play two players that he had chosen to discipline?  The fact that a booted player could come back to haunt a coach down the road might lead some to hang onto players a bit longer even if they’ve proven to be bad news.

That wasn’t the case with Richt, nor was it the case with Pinkel.  They — among others over the years — made tough decisions to sever football ties with athletes who’d let down them and their programs.  One lost a game to a player he’d dismissed and might lose another to him this fall.  The other could wind up seeing Green-Beckham lined up against him somewhere down the road.  That’s not right.

The SEC should discuss at its spring meetings the possibility of taking a unified stance against players disciplined by member institutions.  There are 125 FBS programs in the nation.  Anyone thinking, “What about second chances?,” needs to remember that.  If a player errs so seriously or so repeatedly as to cost himself an opportunity to play for 14 of those schools — those in the Southeastern Conference — he would still have 111 other top-flight schools as possible landing spots.

(Interestingly, such a rule could have applied to an SEC coach in recent weeks.  If such a rule were put in place with regards to players — it won’t be — there would likely need to be a similar rule regarding coaches who lose their SEC job due to NCAA violations.  Now, would any school respect its leaguemates enough to back away from a proven coach who just happened to run afoul of the NCAA law at a conference rival?  No way.  Much to Bruce Pearl’s happiness.)

If maintaining discipline and protecting the reputations of schools is important in the SEC, the league’s schools should work in concert to make discipline a priority.  If a player is banished from one school for disciplinary reasons he should be barred from landing at one of that school’s conference rivals.  No coach doing the right thing should himself be punished for doing that very thing.

Pinkel has said that he wants what’s best for Green-Beckham.  ”I love that kid.  I want him to get some help.  He can go to another place and get a fresh start and he can still achieve his goals.”  Those are admirable comments from Mizzou’s coach.  But the Tigers shouldn’t be punished because they chose to punish a player who had brought negative attention to the University of Missouri and Tiger football.

We at MrSEC.com hope Green-Beckham does turn his life around and does earn himself a second-chance at another school.  But that school should be one of 111 schools across America.  That school should not be in the Southeastern Conference.

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New Football Uniforms For Mississippi State… Again

Mississippi State is quickly becoming the SEC’s answer to Oregon.  No, the Bulldogs aren’t quite to the Ducks’ level of garishness yet, but they do churn out new uniforms at an alarming rate.

In the past few seasons they have added silver to their uniforms, donned black jerseys, tested the all-white Stormtrooper look and added gold to their Egg Bowl unis.  They’ve worn a variety of helmets as well.  All that’s missing at this point is a pillbox hat.

 

msu-uniforms

 

 

Well, today State is expected to unveil a new overall uniform design for the 2014 season.  One reporter/leaker looks to have already let the cat out of the bag via Twitter.  Here’s the photo that’s been popping up all over the web in recent days:

 

mississippi-state-new-uniforms2-610x650

 

 

That uni looks positively old school (which means it gets our immediate stamp of approval).  The only question we have?  Has MSU already gotten NCAA approval to use the words “Hail State” on the front of its jerseys?  We ask because last month the NCAA ruled that new adidas uniforms for Baylor’s basketball team could not be used with the words “Sic ‘Em Bears” on the front.  Only the name of the school or its mascot are allowed on the front of basketball jerseys.  If the same holds true for football, adidas could be outta luck again.

So, surely the “Hail State” has been approved by the NCAA.  Surely.

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Final Four Saturday: Can Florida, Kentucky Make It An All-SEC Championship?

gfx-hoops-round-up2UConn vs Florida

1. Huge key for the Gators - “how well Florida plays inside could determine whether Florida makes its fourth trip to a national title game under head coach Billy Donovan.”

2. How does Florida feel about playing in cavernous AT&T Stadium?  Michael Frazier II: “It doesn’t really bother me. It’s still the same distance from the hoop.”

3. Mike DeCourcy on Billy Donovan: ”He’s already got as many NCAA championships as Dean Smith, Denny Crum, Hank Iba and his mentor, Rick Pitino.”

4. “If Florida or UConn win it all, it could be the first time since the NBA draft began in 1947 that the NCAA champion does not have a player in the first round.” 

Kentucky vs Wisconsin

5. A remarkable turnaround for Kentucky in less than a month: “The same fans who’d grown weary of this talented team’s underachievement have fallen fully in back in love with it.”

6. “In the seven games since spending a few days with his dad, (Kentucky guard) Aaron (Harrison)  has averaged 16.6 points and has hit 22 of 44 threes.

7. John Calipari on his program:  ”We have had 17 players drafted…Every one of them in the league right now. ”

8. More Calipari: “The job at Kentucky ages you.”

Extra

9. John Feinstein: “(S)adly, this event isn’t as big of a deal for the players as it used to be.”

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Like Sands Through The Hourglass, Tennessee/Martin Soap Opera Goes On And On

cuonzo-question mark copyOn Sunday it appeared as though Cuonzo Martin would be leaving Tennessee for Marquette.  On Monday it appeared that the only delay was a clause in Martin’s contract that would see his buyout for leaving drop by $1.3 million at midnight this morning.  Right after midnight this morning… that all went out the window.

Martin is staying at Tennessee.  For now.  Might he still wind somewhere else?  Wake Forest is reportedly closing in on Tulsa’s Danny Manning, but there is reportedly some interest in Martin as well.  The Boston College job remains open (despite an earlier version of this piece tying Jay Wright to BC… as we forgot it was April F’n Fools Day).

Either way, how the Martin situation went from sure departure to sorta/kinda staying is the topic of the day in hoops circles.  We believe there are a few possibilities:

 

1.  Marquette decided to go in another direction.  That one’s doubtful because everyone — and we’re talking everyone — said the MU job was Martin’s to take.  From ESPN to sources on the ground inside the University of Tennessee athletic department, a Martin/Marquette marriage was in the cards.  So yes, this has all the hallmarks of a face-saving move by the coach, but we’re told that’s most definitely not the deal.

2.  Tennessee ponied up a nice raise and extension.  It doesn’t sound like that’s the case, either.  Martin and athletic director Dave Hart met twice on Monday.  It has been reported/rumored that UT didn’t offer Martin much of anything to stay.  A very vocal chunk of the Vol fanbase wants Martin and his 19+ wins per year gone.  If he returns to Knoxville we’ll someday know what he received, if anything, for doing so, but for now it doesn’t appear that Hart wooed him back with cash.

3.  Martin got cold feet after examining Marquette and talking to others.  This one seems a bit more likely.  Marquette has a new president.  They have an interim AD.  There’s turmoil and flux in MU’s administration.  And Martin has been through enough of that at Tennessee.  He took the Knoxville gig not knowing if the school would be crushed with NCAA sanctions.  Then the man who hired him was fired and he wound up working for Hart who allowed him to twist in the wind all season.  It’s typical in these situations for a potential coach to call a school’s ex-coach for some reconnaissance.  Buzz Williams left Marquette for Virginia Tech.  That’s telling.  So it’s very much possible that Martin might’ve been scared away from the Marquette gig by Williams himself.  Don’t sleep on this possibility.

4.  Martin wanted to stick around for the kids he recruited.  Yes, by all accounts Martin is a good guy, a stand-up guy.  But coaches move.  It’s part of the business.  Martin left players and recruits at Missouri State when he took the Tennessee job.  While we have no doubt he loves his players and vice versa, we think it’s doubtful that Martin would stay in what’s becoming a pretty nasty situation just out of loyalty to his players.

 

Whatever the reason for Martin’s decision to stay, Tennessee once again finds itself in the middle of a soap opera.  The Volunteer fanbase has been dealing with one issue after another since the end of the Phillip Fulmer era.  Losing seasons.  Coaching turnover.  NCAA issues.

All that together has helped to split the fanbase into factions and those factions are only going to get louder next season if Martin is still in Knoxville.  The pro-Martin crowd will defend the coach saying he deserves better treatment than he’s received.  The anti-Martin crowd will scream, “I told you so” with every missed free throw.

Since launching this site in 2008, Tennessee has given us more chaos to cover than any other school in the SEC.  Martin is UT’s sixth football or basketball coach in that short span alone.  So it’s no wonder we look at this situation and say, “Only at Tennessee.”  Where else would there be so much debate over a coach whose win total has increased every year and who just took his team to within two points of the Elite Eight?

Like sands through the hourglass…

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Martin’s Last Stand At Tennessee? Vol Coach Has Plenty Of Reasons To Bolt

cuonzo-martin-hand-up-presserExcuse Cuonzo Martin if he’s not feeling all warm and fuzzy about his current job at Tennessee these days.  Sure, he’s got the Vols in the Sweet 16 against Michigan tonight.  Yes, he’s just one step away from reaching the Elite Eight and equaling the best work by his predecessor, a ghost that’s haunted him from his first day in Knoxville.  But this year has been far from easy for the Vols’ stoic third-year coach.

While his team was picked for third place in the SEC and not ranked in most preseason top 25 lists, many Volunteer fans assigned much greater expectations.  So when Martin’s team struggled with inconsistency for the first two-thirds of the season, things turned ugly.  More than 36,000 people signed an online petition to bring back then-on-the-market Bruce Pearl, the man who had left UT’s program under an NCAA cloud.  It was that very NCAA cloud that chased away more proven candidates and left Martin as the first man to say yes to the Volunteers’ offer.

The petition might not have been the worst of things.

According to VolQuest.com — the Rivals.com site covering Tennessee (paywall) — we learn that “multiple donors indicated to the athletic department that they no long wished to allow their private planes to be used for basketball recruiting purposes.”  That was in February, the site reports.  And it’s not surprising.

This isn’t a new move at Tennessee (or elsewhere, for the matter).  The Vols’ budget jumped during the Derek Dooley tenure for the same reason — the school had to start buying airline tickets for coaches on the recruiting trail rather than just using donated booster planes.

Martin didn’t get very much support from his boss through the season’s struggles, either.  Dave Hart — who inherited Martin — made it clear early on that he wanted to see “tournament success.”  MrSEC.com learned through an NCAA/NIT source last week that if the Volunteers had failed to reach the NCAA Tournament they would not have accepted a bid to play in the NIT.  Coupled with Hart’s silence, it’s not hard to figure out that Martin was likely standing right on the razor’s edge on Selection Sunday, desperately needing a bid.

But now his team is playing its best basketball of the season.  That’s not unusual.  Martin’s first team won eight of its last nine regular-season games.  Ditto his second squad.  And this year’s team is in the middle of an 8-1 nine-game stretch as well.  His first team — picked near the bottom of the SEC — managed to finish second in the league.  Last year’s club managed to work its way onto the NCAA bubble despite playing all season without preseason All-SEC first-teamer Jeronne Maymon.

In five years as a coach at Tennessee and Missouri State, Martin has won 19 or more games five times.  That’s hardly the work of a “bad” or “terrible” coach as so many folks have written on messageboards and Twitter over the first four months of the season.

Ah, but Martin lacks the personality of Pearl.  Nevermind that everyone else also lacks the personality of Pearl.  Vol fans wanted to see more fire from their coach.  In addition, they also wanted to see an up-tempo squad, like the ones Pearl put on the floor during his first three seasons in Knoxville.

Ironically, Martin’s team may still be alive because it does not play with such a style.  According to Ken Pomeroy’s stat-geek-heaven site KenPom.com, only three of the teams reaching the Sweet 16 this year ranked in the top 100 of his tempo category (possessions per 40 minutes).  Five squads — including Tennessee and SEC rival Florida — ranked outside the top 300.  Fast-pace teams rarely win in national championships (exceptions over 20 years: Rick Pitino’s Louisville, Gary Williams’ Maryland, Rick Pitino’s Kentucky, Nolan Richardon’s Arkansas).

So one of the things most often cited as a negative by the anti-Cuonzo/”Bring Back Bruce” crowd is likely a very big reason Martin’s team is having success now.

Martin has worked himself off the firing line, obviously, and now he’s in line for an extension and a raise.  Many Vol fans — those who supported Martin all along and those who’ve been won over by UT’s hot finish — are now hoping that the petition used against Martin and his recruiting and his program won’t come back to bite the school in the rear.  One pro-Tennessee website even penned an open letter to Martin this week begging for forgiveness. 

Why the sudden fear?  Because Martin might jilt UT if he gets a chance.  Could you blame him?  Now, his name has not been connected to any of the current openings at Wake Forest, Boston College, or Marquette (to name a few).  That doesn’t mean there hasn’t been some unreported back-channel communication between those schools and Martin’s representatives.

If Tennessee loses tonight and sees what has to be deemed a successful season come to close, will it be Martin’s last game with the Volunteers?  Next year figures to be a rebuilding year if the squad loses junior Jarnell Stokes to the NBA or Europe.  Many of the same fans who’ve gone from “hate him” to “love him” over the last three weeks will more than likely slide right back into the “hate him” camp after two or three losses next season.  Martin must know that.  And while he’s not talked about the petition or the lack of booster planes, he’s had to deal with both.  (Think that petition helped his recruiting efforts?)

For now, win or lose tonight, it looks as though Tennessee will be set to cough over some more cash to its coach in order to bring him back.  Whether or not Martin accepts UT’s cash and a contract extension is still very much in question.  Things have changed from February to now.  The Volunteers are no longer in control of the situation.  The ball is now clearly in Martin’s court.  For Tennessee fans hoping to hang onto him, they’d better be hoping he’s a forgiving man.

Update: Marquette Targets Cuonzo Martin

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Auburn’s Pearl Talks Coaching Opportunities, Show-Cause Appeal

Bruce-Pearl-my-players-1024x712Readers of this site know that beginning in January — when the “Bruce Pearl will be the hottest coaching candidate in the country” talk began — we consistently wrote that if any school were to make a play for a man currently riding the NCAA pine due to a show-cause penalty it would be Auburn.  Obviously, Auburn did indeed make Pearl their new coach.

So did Pearl have any other major schools chasing him?  Did he have serious offers from any smaller schools?  Not according to what the Tigers’ new boss told The Birmingham News today:

 

“I did have a couple calls but they were early on and from mid-major programs who wanted to know if I’d be interested.  (Auburn AD) Jay (Jacobs) wasted absolutely no time.  So then I looked, as you should, if Jay’s interested, maybe somebody else is.  What else is open?  One, I really wanted to go to work for someone who wanted me with all my baggage, my history, my challenges, with a show-cause.  And do you really want me knowing I can’t recruit until August?  (Auburn associate AD) Dave Didion, who was director of enforcement of the NCAA during my investigation, he knew what we did, he knew what we didn’t do.  He wanted me?  Here?”

 

According to reports, Didion’s review had more to do with “he’s learned his lesson” than it did with what Pearl did or didn’t do to earn himself a three-year show-cause penalty.

The bigger question is this: If Pearl wasn’t a hot commodity, how did he and his attorney milk a six-year, $14.7 million deal out of Auburn?  Pearl’s $2.2 million salary is larger than what he was paid at Tennessee before spending three years in NCAA lock-up.  Consider Pearl’s contract to be his first big victory on the Plains.

If Pearl wins ballgames, too — and it’s likely he will — Jacobs and AU may well look at Pearl’s salary as money well spent.  But if he doesn’t win, then you can bet there will be some questions asked of Jacobs regarding his contract negotiation skills.

As for Pearl’s show-cause penalty, the coach isn’t ready to say whether or not he and Auburn will launch an official appeal that would end his punishment early, before August:

 

“When I got my penalty, I had 30 days to appeal.  I thought my penalty was too harsh and I said that.  But I chose to not appeal because I had a choice between trying to get less or being accountable… I’ve already missed three seasons of basketball.  I’ve missed three recruiting cycles.  I am serving my sentence.  I didn’t know this, but when Auburn chose to hire me, there then was another 30-day window where Auburn has to show cause as to why they hired me and in that there’s an opportunity to discuss what the rest of the show-cause looks like.  And between three years ago and now, have some circumstances changed?  Now I have a job; I didn’t before.  I’ve served my three years; I hadn’t before.  So I think we’ll be discussing the timing of a June (2011) hearing and an August (2011) penalty and see what that looks like.”

 

So long as Pearl avoids future NCAA entanglements, it’s hard to imagine his hiring being anything less than a hit at Auburn, where basketball has languished since the turn of the century.

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The End Is Nigh (For College Sports As We Knew Them); What The NLRB’s Ruling Means For The SEC

repent-the-end-is-nigh-ye-must-be-cleansedA representative of the National Labor Relations Board ruled yesterday that Northwestern football players are employees of that university, not student-athletes.  And they are employees who help the school bring in a large amount of money.

From NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis to athletic directors’ offices across the nation, a long series of gulps and forehead slaps likely followed that announcement.

What does this mean to you, the fan?  It means that college football as you’ve always known it is one step closer to becoming a pay-for-play enterprise.  If that sounds good to you, just mull the possibilities (likelihoods?) over for a few minutes.

While yesterday’s ruling by the regional director of the NLRB’s Chicago office only opens the door for players at private schools to unionize, it won’t take long for attorneys to figure out some way to create something akin to a union at public schools.  (The National Labor Relations Board does not have jurisdiction when it comes to state-run institutions.)  And while the NLRB’s Northwestern ruling will be appealed, we’ve already seen that in at least one case — the first test case — at least one decision-maker has sided with the players and their attorney.  It’s likely then that there would be others at the NLRB who would agree with that decision.  Translation: Attorneys now have a battle plan.  And if one person views players as employees, it’s certainly possible that their will be likeminded individuals in the appellate courts or even the Supreme Court when this case winds its way through the justice system.

Attorneys are already feeling emboldened these days.  The Ed O’Bannon case has been cleared to go to trial this summer.  Another gauntlet was thrown down earlier this month when sports labor attorney Jeffrey Kessler announced he would sue the NCAA and the major conferences (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC) on antitrust grounds on behalf of another group of athletes.

That’s one case that’s already been given the initial okey-dokey, another that’s going to trial this summer and another that’s coming down the pike if Kessler is to be believed (and he is).

Eventually, college football players will be paid.  The goal of the initial Northwestern move to unionize was to create full-cost-of-tuition scholarships/stipends for players.  And while there are other issues at play — research into concussion- and health-related issues, medical insurance, licensing of players’ likenesses, etc — the bottom line is simple: Players want a piece of the pie.

So let’s say we do end up in a world where college football players are allowed to unionize.  How long will those athletes be satisfied with full-cost-of-tuition scholarships?  Here’s guessing they’ll be just as greedy as the presidents, ADs and conference commissioners have been when it comes to pocketing cash.

How long before college basketball players push for a cut of profits?  The smaller the revenue brought in by a sport the less likely something akin to a union will be OK’d.  Still, if an attorney believes he can help college basketball players grab some loose change here or there, you can bet he’ll have little trouble finding players to represent.

If players are paid and they are unionized, get ready for strikes and threats of strikes when athletes — or attorneys representing athletes — decide they have some new desire that isn’t being met by the NCAA’s system.  Get ready for agent involvement as well.  If players are paid, they will need someone to help them with their cash and their taxes.  That or get ready to lose a star tailback to IRS issues.

Worst-case scenario?  Your favorite college football team could start facing the same problems as your favorite pro football team: stars asking for more money, free agency, hold-outs, etc.

Sound promising?

For now, at least, we’re talking about one private school and one ruling that could be appealed for years, all the way up to the Supreme Court.  But yesterday’s ruling was a helluva start for college athletes and the lawyers and attorneys hoping to represent them.

So what does this mean for your SEC in the short-term?  Commissioner Mike Slive put out a statement yesterday saying, “Notwithstanding today’s decision, the SEC does not believe that full time students participating in intercollegiate athletics are employees of the universities they attend.”  No surprise there.  Representatives of the NCAA and other major conferences have all responded in kind.  Yesterday’s ruling was not a welcomed one as it’s literally the opening of Pandora’s box.

As a private institution, Vanderbilt will likely be the first SEC school to face a union challenge, a la Northwestern.  Will Commodore football players vote to follow in their Northwestern counterparts’ footsteps?  Hard to imagine why they wouldn’t.

Elsewhere, state labor laws will apply.  State schools are not covered by the NLRB.  Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas are all right-to-work states.  A college football players union would be a no-go in those states.  That does not mean, however, that some attorney won’t be able to coax some players into striking (or threatening to strike) if they see that athletes in other states are making money while they are not.

The power is with the players on this one.  If they don’t play, schools lose money.  Would a university stand it’s ground and lose revenue or would it rush to reach some sort of agreement with its football players?  We’d bet the latter.  (The major conferences have already been pushing the NCAA for the right to provide full-cost-of-tuition scholarships in the hopes of fending off such a battle.  It’s likely they’ll be granted that power by the end of the year.)

There were two states from the SEC footprint that were not mentioned in the list above; Kentucky and Missouri are not right-to-work states.  They could be the first SEC schools — aside from private Vanderbilt — face a union or union-like challenge.

But this is actually a moot point.  If one SEC school provides X for its football players — due to a court ruling, a union, or just an internal decision — the rest of the league’s schools will have to follow suit.  No SEC school will want to be a non-paying school recruiting against one or more paying schools.  So if the Northwestern decision holds up in the long run, you can expect every school — right-to-work states or not, unions or not — to match what the Northwestern administration is eventually forced to pay.

Again, this could all play out over years.  It will be appealed repeatedly.  But the die has been cast.  And the end is nigh for college sports as we know them.

UPDATE — Former Missouri receiver TJ Moe seems to view the prospect of college football unions much as we do.

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3 SEC Teams Still Alive In The NCAAs? Sweet, But The League Still Stunk

pondering-300x199Kudos to the Southeastern Conference teams still alive in the NCAA Tournament.  Three teams in the tourney, all three still dancing their way into the Sweet Sixteen.  Hard to complain about that showing.  In fact, it’s tempting to say that the SEC was underrated this season.

But it wasn’t.  The league as a whole was still pretty darn bad.

In 2013-14 the SEC had one great team (Florida) and two pretty good teams that have gotten hot at the right time (Kentucky and Tennessee).  Five teams (Alabama, Vanderbilt, Auburn, South Carolina and Mississippi State) finished the season with losing records overall.  That’s eight teams, so how did the other six SEC squads out of the NCAA Tournament but boasting winning records do against Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee?

 

Arkansas 2-2

Texas A&M 2-2

LSU 1-4

Missouri 1-4

Georgia 0-4

Ole Miss 0-4

 

That’s a combined 6-20 versus the three squads that received NCAA bids.  Mix that in with the five squads that finished with losing records, toss in several ugly non-conference losses across the league, and it’s easy to see why NCAA selection panelists frowned upon the SEC this season.

Having said that, it is certainly possible that the NCAA selection committee underseeded Kentucky and Tennessee due to their bad home league.  The Wildcats should have probably been a five or six seed based on their record and RPI.  And teams with Tennessee’s selection Sunday RPI have been seeded as high as seven and nine in recent years.  So we’ll give you that that much was botched.

But we were referring to the SEC as a three-bid league as far back as December.  We see no need for revision now.  No other SEC teams can legitimately claim that they did enough to earn an NCAA bid.

Now a few other random notes…

 

*  The SEC will get a fatter chunk of cash for this tourney because three teams have advanced to the Sweet Sixteen round.  Repeatedly getting three teams into the tourney has cut down on the earning power of the league.  But with every game won, the SEC receives a bigger slice of the tournament revenue pie.  Mike Slive’s league is wealthy to begin with, but the more money the better.  Obviously.

*  Might the SEC’s performance this year help during the tournament selection process next year?  Well, it certainly can’t hurt.  The league has developed a reputation over the past few years for being a bad basketball league.  It was ranked 7th among conferences in RPI this year.  The SEC went so far as to put a new czar in charge of hoops prior to the season in the hopes of gradually building the league back into a five- and six-bid conference.  That will take time.  Having national pundits point to the fact that three SEC teams are still playing in the NCAA tourney will help on the national perception front.  But as far as invitations in 2015?  The selection committee has a history of looking only at the current year’s numbers, not past years’ successes.  Ask Kentucky fans.  Last season the defending national champs had their bubble popped and were shipped to the NIT.  So national perception — yes, this helps.  Tournament selection in the future — it might not make a bit of difference.

*  I can think of two SEC coaches who might like to tell a few of their teams’ fans to stick it right about now.  John Calipari’s first four years in Lexington resulted in three Elite Eights, two Final Fours, a national title and — uh-oh — an NIT bid.  This year his kindergarten Cats “stumbled” to a 26-10 record.  Talk shows and messageboards and social media heated up.  Coach Cal was taking plenty of guff.  ”How can a guy with so much talent not win?”  But basketball seasons are long and winding roads, to paraphrase The Beatles.  UK has won five of its last seven with the only losses coming to top-ranked Florida.  After knocking off previously unbeaten Wichita State yesterday, UK has a date with Louisville this week for the right to play in yet another Elite Eight.  It’s interesting that the Calipari-to-the-NBA rumors started floating earlier than normal this season.  One wonders if UK’s coach has grown tired of the “#1 or bust” attitude of many spoiled Kentucky fans.  Or if he or someone close to him leaked such information just to remind Big Blue fans that they’d better appreciate him and his program’s current run of success.

*  Cuonzo Martin has had it worse than Calipari.  Three years ago he took over a Tennessee program that no one else wanted.  NCAA clouds left overhead by the Bruce Pearl administration were ominous and spooky.  In his first season he managed to coach a UT team picked near the bottom of the SEC into a second-place league finish.  His second team wound up on the wrong side of the bubble, but the Vols were still in the mix despite losing preseason All-SEC big man Jeronne Maymon for the year.  This year, UT was picked for third place in the SEC.  They finished fourth by one game.  Fans barked for Martin’s head.  More than 30,000 signed a petition to bring Pearl back.  AD Dave Hart was so torn that had Martin not gotten an NCAA bid eight days ago he might have been fired.  But Tennessee has now won eight of its last nine games with the only loss coming to Florida.  Most of those wins have been of the blowout variety.  UT is now 3-0 in the NCAAs and suddenly Martin has leverage.  While Calipari might be able to jump to the NBA, Martin might be looking around at other college jobs in case he wants to get while the getting is good and re-start his coaching clock somewhere else.  (Somewhere else where tens of thousands of fans don’t sign petitions to bring back ex-coaches.)

*  It might be time for the NCAA to ditch its RPI formula and just use Ken Pomeroy’s numbers.  The hoops fan/math geek has done some nice work over at KenPom.com this year, as usual.  Of the 16 teams still alive in the NCAA tourney, Pomeroy has 14 of them ranked in his top 21.  Only Stanford (34) and Dayton (43) are distant from the main pack.  For the record, Pomeroy has Florida #1, Tennessee #6 and Kentucky #11 in his current national rankings.  If nothing else, the NCAA selection committee might steal a glance at his rankings next March before they start handing out seeds.

 

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