Three Offseason Thoughts: NCAA and Integrity

Staff Columnist
Posted Mar 24, 2010

When late March arrives and the coaching carousel spins furiously in college ball's other big-revenue sport, you know there are connections to be made between the realm of roundball and the precincts of pigskin.

1) Since it's NCAA Tournament time and you likely have at least some interest – perhaps intense, perhaps only casual – in the Big Dance, it's worth making some connections between hoops and football. In many ways, they're not the same beast, but they both carry the big-ticket banner in collegiate athletics. Roundball and pigskin generate so many dollars for the athletic-industrial complex that it's virtually impossible to do everything the right way and win.

LSU – compared to other schools in the SEC – has a comparatively good reputation in college football. However, The Advocate in Baton Rouge, La., reported Wednesday morning that the Tiger program is self-reporting NCAA and football recruiting violations involving former wide receivers coach D.J. McCarthy and former defensive lineman Akiem Hicks. Neither person is currently associated with the program. Moreover, this bit of news is not some outrageous, far-ranging scandal on the order of what is happening with Oregon football, or what has happened at basketball programs John Calipari has coached in the past. Nevertheless, it's just one more predictable and mind-numbing event in a series of developments that underscore how hard it is for programs to do everything exactly right.

Want to know how hard it is to win and be free from ethical taint? Look at the case of St. John's basketball coach Norm Roberts, fired within the past week despite being regarded as one of the most honest and dignified people in a cutthroat profession. Roberts cleaned up a very messy program, but because the Johnnies haven't restored the era of Lou Carnesecca's supremacy, the coach got the boot.

The NCAA has to be honest with itself: Given the money that's at stake in athletic competitions – money that in turn forces good people to be fired while also leading rogue assistant coaches to bend the rules in recruiting – shouldn't the athletic-industrial edifice be scaled down instead of ramped up? This is perhaps the biggest reason why the NCAA Tournament shouldn't be expanded to 96 teams. More importantly, of course, this is why the entire system of college sports regulation needs to be fundamentally re-prioritized.

2) Continuing the football-basketball theme, isn't it refreshing – football fans – to know that on the gridiron, a timeout is a bad thing to use except for time management purposes or a rare case in which a play needs to be talked about? The proliferation of timeouts at the end of a college basketball game is one of the core weaknesses of scholastic hoops. Coaches overcoach in basketball, a point proven when the reverse happened in the Michigan State-Maryland game. Tom Izzo and Gary Williams trusted their players to make plays in flowing, open-court situations, and sure enough, they hit clutch shots. Thanks goodness football does not allow more than three timeouts, and is structured so that coaches need to hold onto all three timeouts until the final two or three minutes of regulation. Moreover, it's a relief to know that when a college football coach uses a late timeout, he's doing so only because he absolutely has to, not because he wants to overcoach.

3) So, Mike Bellotti wants to be a broadcaster, eh? Whether the calamitous nature of his one year in the athletic director's chair pushed him to ESPN or not, the overseer of the Oregon program clearly lacked an appetite for that form of work. We'll see how smooth Bellotti is in front of a camera; just know that if a plum opening emerges in 2011, an actively-employed athletic director will be able to place a call to a very attractive coaching candidate.