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Is SMU being unfairly targeted?

The most recent investigations into a Mustangs team reinstates the debate of if the school deserved the investigations/penalties it has received or has been a fall guy for the NCAA.

Joseph Magnuson and J.B. Stockslager were not afraid to show their opinions toward what their SMU basketball team currently has to deal with.

Among the handful of signs and towels marked “Free Keith” that were in the Moody Coliseum student section for the Mustangs’ Jan. 17 game against East Carolina, showing solidarity toward suspended Mustangs guard Keith Frazier, these two took it to another level. During timeouts, they held up a sign that read “Give the NCAA the Death Penalty” – a clear jab at the history of what SMU sports has endured in the past and the grudge many close to the school still hold toward the college sports governing body.

“We just feel like we’re being picked on,” Magnuson said. “We’d like to have good sports teams, too.”

No one wants to be labeled as a conspiracy theorist. But in the eyes of those who have followed SMU sports for years, hearing reports that Larry Brown’s program is being investigated for academic impropriety at the same time that Frazier was ruled academically ineligible – one month after teammate Markus Kennedy was reinstated from the same issue – just raises their ire and belief that the small private school in Dallas has never gotten the leeway that major schools with perennial winning programs get.

“I feel like we should just start an African American studies program,” Magnuson added, referencing the questionable academic practices that the athletic programs at the University of North Carolina has been accused of.

Last year, it was bad enough that SMU basketball got snubbed for the NCAA Tournament. But now, in the midst of a season where they were tabbed as a favorite to win the American Athletic Conference, all new reports that the NCAA is investigating the program may have fans shouting “Oh come on!”

Because they’ve been there before. It does seem like every time a major program on The Hilltop starts to show success, the NCAA comes knocking, targeting their small school over bigger ones who commit similar infractions more frequently.

This most recent issue comes at a time when it looked like there was such hope for the basketball program under Brown, looking for its first NCAA berth since 1993. After turning an NCAA snub last year into a NIT finals appearance, many at SMU felt nothing would stop Brown’s team this season. But several instances have attempted to.

Highly touted recruit Emmanuel Mudiay, out of the controversial Prime Prep Academy, changed his mind over the summer and opted to play professionally overseas; some speculated this was due to him failing to meet NCAA academic standards (SMU insisted he met the school’s, which are tougher). Junior forward Markus Kennedy was then ruled academically ineligible for the fall semester. He returned during the winter break, but on January 10, senior Justin Martin left to turn pro under his own suspicions of academic ineligibility. Three days later, assistant coach Ulric Maligi, SMU’s top recruiter who was instrumental in bringing in Frazier, took a leave of absence due to “personal reasons.” Then came the Frazier announcement. Then, on the 16th, the NCAA sent its Notice of Allegations to the school.

It definitely sends fans into flashbacks with what happened to SMU football in the 1980s, when the program was frequently investigated and sanctioned for recruiting violations, culminating with the program receiving the first ever official repeat violator “death penalty” in 1987. The events were detailed in David Whitford’s 1989 book A Payroll to Meet and brought back to the public light with the 2010 ESPN movie Pony Excess. In the light of boosters and other supporters of the program, the penalty was more than just harsh – it was unfair to single them out in the midst of what they believed was across-the-board cheating among colleges around the nation and especially in the state of Texas.

To those who covered the scandal, like ESPN 103.3’s Chuck Cooperstein when he was with KRLD, there may have been other programs cheating, but SMU was so blatant about it that they were asking to be caught.

“Everyone was doing everything in the SWC of the 80’s save for Rice and Arkansas. Still, SMU was just so brazen about what they did, and then so arrogant in trying to stonewall the investigation, which of course, involved the Governor of Texas, it was impossible to feel sorry for them. They got what they deserved.”

There is truth to that. Bill Clements and the now-defunct SMU Board of Governors forced the school president to lie about the school’s payment system to players and blamed numerous boosters as fully responsible for the system while continuing to run the system after the program was hit with probation in 1985. This was key in the NCAA handing down the death penalty two years later.

Still, people long associated with SMU have frequently played the “unfair selective enforcement” card in how SMU was investigated. Alumni like former football player David Blewett, who wrote a scathing book The Pony Trap in 2012, have accused not only NCAA officials like Walter Byers and David Berst of having a grudge against their school, but also pointed the finger at media members like WFAA’s John Sparks and the Dallas Times Herald’s Danny Robbins – both alums of the University of Texas, which SMU boosters have long accused of committing worse and getting away with it.

“The only reason that SMU ever got in this business of assisting athletes was strictly as a defense mechanism because the other schools were forcing us to do it,” booster Bill Stevens was quoted in A Payroll to Meet. “A player would come say, ‘Well, I’d a hundred times rather go to SMU than the University of Texas, but they’re offering to do one through ten.’ So if we’d match one through ten, then the guy would come to SMU.”

This is a new age: The Times Herald no longer exists, Sparks no longer is at WFAA and Byers and Berst are no longer running the NCAA. But evidence could be there that the organization still has the same selective procedures. It can seem suspicious that SMU, which so far seems to be following its own tough academic standards by suspending Frazier and Kennedy this season, would be investigated in the wake of so many other incidents happening at the moment.

A lot of people will say SMU had this coming by hiring Brown, the only coach to win an NCAA and NBA championship but someone who has seen two programs get hit by NCAA sanctions in the past.

That may be true, but so far the NCAA has not shown to be investigating Kentucky, who not only also has a head coach with multiple NCAA sanctions on his record in John Calipari but is one of the most infamous schools in recruiting one-and-done athletes more interested in turning pro than graduating college. And while Calipari’s 2008 Memphis team was forced to forfeit back its entire national runner-up season for using an ineligible player, the Kansas team that beat them in the title game did not despite being caught with a similar violation. In fact, the 2008 team was on probation that year, with its lone penalty being the loss of one scholarship.

Kansas and Kentucky are among the programs that currently rely heavily on players who plan to leave and turn pro after just one year. The lone player Brown has so far successfully recruited who may have considered that, Mudiay, didn’t even wait that long. (SMU did pursue projected one-and-done star Myles Turner before he eventually chose Texas.)

And now it definitely would raise eyebrows that allegations would come against SMU so quickly after it was discovered last year that North Carolina was essentially creating fake classes for athletes in multiple sports to take for at least 18 years. At the moment, the only NCAA sanctions on UNC have been three years probation on the football team imposed in 2012; the NCAA re-opened the investigation in 2014, while the school is facing a class action suit from former athletes and employees.

So if SMU has so far been a program not stocked with one-and-done players and enforcing the school’s academic standards, why has the NCAA chosen to come after them? Therein lies the SMU fan base’s fears of targeting.

It’s just the way things work, says Cooperstein.

“With Carolina being a blue blood program, they will always get the benefit of the doubt. Always remember the famous Jerry Tarkanian line: The NCAA is so mad at Kentucky, it’ll probably slap another two years probation on Cleveland State. The NCAA is always suspicious of bottom feeder programs that quickly rise to prominence.”

There is definitely more evidence to support that claim. At the same time SMU football was given the death penalty, the NCAA opened an investigation on the University of Texas and discovered several instances of football players receiving cash and favors from coaches; Texas’ only penalty was to be stripped of 10 scholarships for the 1988 season. In 2011, Colt McCoy’s wife went on Colin Cowherd’s radio show and hinted that other Texas football players may have received improper benefits that her husband refused while in Austin. Despite that, much publicized player arrests and assistant coach/former quarterback Major Applewhite admitting to an affair with a student, Texas was not investigated by the NCAA.

Even one of Brown’s other college programs was given leniency. The 1980 UCLA team that finished runner-up was forced to forfeit back its season – a rare occasion of dropping the hammer on a major program – but the 1988 Kansas team escaped such a penalty for recruitment violations and was only barred from tournament play and stripped of one scholarship for the following year. The NCAA has never stripped a program of a national championship for rules violations (The BCS did strip Southern California of its 2004 football championship).

The general belief by many fans is that if the NCAA comes after you, you’re a dead duck. But according to Whitford, at least at the time his book first came out in 1989, the NCAA is very limited and handicapped in how it can gain evidence. They were only able to nail SMU football in the end thanks to the likes of Sean Stopperich and David Stanley agreeing to talk. In 1989, Kentucky basketball was banned from tournament play for two years for a $1,000 payment that was to be sent to the family of recruit Chris Mills, but that violation was only even discovered because the package containing the money burst and was reported by the shipping agent before reaching its destination. (Numerous people have since claimed Kentucky was set up and no money was actually found; former Kentucky assistant Dwane Casey won a defamation suit against the shipping company that claimed he sent the package.)

SMU’s case may still be tough to levy anything severe on. After all, the NCAA has long had few absolute policies regarding athlete eligibility, relying on the trust of the schools to maintain their own academic standards. This has limited the NCAA’s abilities to police such policies, and the re-evaluations from UNC seem to be a far more glaring example of how schools might abuse that trust.

At the moment, SMU is feeling no ill effects from Frazier’s suspension or the NCAA announcement; the Mustangs have not lost a game since, going into Saturday’s contest with Central Florida on a seven-game winning streak. Even if the NCAA finds anything concrete to lay sanctions for, it is not likely that would happen before the end of the season.

But should the Mustangs get hit hard and a program like North Carolina is not hit even harder, it won’t assuage the fears of people like Stockslager.

“It’s kind of sad that its gotten to this point, with the different programs at the school… at the same time, they have (Frazier’s) high school issue which we thought was covered last year… I kind of feel like they let us down with the timing of all of it.”

Profar is best as a trade piece now for Rangers

The inevitable on Juickson Profar’s lost season appears to have been confirmed.

Just weeks after the Rangers and team doctors suggested he would be out for the rest of the year, the infield phenom himself recently stated it looks like he won’t play at all after re-aggravating his injured shoulder.

Thus the young kid who was supposed to immediately show how much more awesome he was than stupid ol’ Ian Kinsler (the fans and media’s words, not his or mine) won’t play a game in 2014. With Both Profar and the man the Rangers got for Kinsler, Prince Fielder, both gone, that pretty much has to be declared a failure of a trade all around.

So what do they do now?

Profar’s injury forced the Rangers to call up their other can’t miss infield prospect, Rougned Odor, much sooner than they wanted. The good news is that Odor has actually risen to the opportunity, batting .281, and while his production (6 runs and 11 RBI in 22 games) has dropped off, it still shows more than the other infield prospect called up, Luis Sardinas.

But that leads to another problem. Even if the Rangers sign the likes of Kendrys Morales to give Odor some time off and hopefully avoid the rookie wall, there is pretty much no way they can send Odor back to the minors if he keeps this up.

Which is why the subject has to be approached. Jurickson Profar, by this time, may have become an expendable piece that the team simply can no longer hang on to and is probably better as trade bait.

Odor for now seems to have won the spot as the Rangers’ second baseman of the future. So what could they possibly do with Profar now? Convert him to a third baseman and drag him out for another two years until Beltre’s contract is up?

Of course, that’s not the option that so many on the social media seem to want. They see another person as expendable.

Yes, their solution – is too trade Elvis Andrus.

Because continuing to dump the players that were part of those trips to the World Series has been working so well, right? CJ Wilson, Josh Hamilton, Mike Napoli, Nelson Cruz, Kinsler…. one by one the Rangers have listened to the knee-jerk fans who cry that since that team didn’t get the job done (because of ONE fly ball), every single player from there is worthless and needs to be replaced.

The result has been that they have constantly lost players with the experience of playing on the biggest stage and are now having to wait for younger guys to learn while the rest of the division gets better.

And now Andrus? He’s somehow done as a player that can contribute? Even though he has more runs scored and only three fewer RBI than Shin-Soo Choo?

Please.

If you are giving me a choice between a veteran that has already established himself on this team and a kid that had been extremely over-hyped, I’ll take the veteran.

In Profar, I haven’t seen a Rangers prospect so excessively hyped since Ruben Mateo. And that one didn’t work out too well.

This isn’t just the fact that Profar won’t play at all this season. For one resin or another, Ron Washington didn’t want him in the lineup these past two years. Maybe he sees something that other people don’t.

The Rangers won’t get anything for Profar when the July deadline comes. But if they can convince other teams that he has completely recovered by season’s end, an off-season deal for a catcher or power hitting outfielder could be possible.

It’s time to start looking past the hype and realize that Profar might not have a future here and others have passed him by. I’ve heard people say time and time again that we need to “move on” from all the players the Rangers cast off, even as they succeed elsewhere. But we have to stick with Profar just because people say he’s GUARANTEED to be a star? Nothing’s guaranteed.

It’s time to move on from Jurickson Profar.

Rangers fans are screwed over by poor bus line

If there’s anything more frustrating than the Rangers’ performance so far this year, it’s been how few games I have actually been able to make so far. The biggest reason: Being unable to afford parking in addition to tickets.

For years I was lucky to live within just a couple miles of the ballpark, meaning I could make the trip on my bicycle with ease. Now, having to stay on the other side of town, I have no choice but to drive – meaning that with parking fees and gas, it simply isn’t affordable anymore. I know I’m not alone in this – especially given how many people here don’t even live in Arlington at all.

The really sad thing is that a new option was given to Arlington that could have opened things up for many more potential fans – if they hadn’t screwed it up so royally.

It was little less than a year ago that Arlington finally crawled out of the dark ages and agreed to a temporary partnership with DART in creating the MAX bus line. I was ecstatic when this came to be in August 2013. Nearly a year into the experiment – it’s almost painful to see how poorly it was set up, how little it actually serves the people and how it ultimately will doom the city’s chances of actually linking to the Metroplex full-time.

The MAX line is technically meant to link UTA with Dallas County and as much of the rest of the Metroplex as possible via the Trinity Railway Express station at CentrePort. In November, a midway stop was added that, on the surface, appeared to serve people coming to Arlington’s entertainment district and Lincoln Square.

What we got was a redesigned route with the addition of the extra stop that is so poorly planned that it just screams of being set up to fail from the beginning.

First, the midway stop is not adjacent to Globe Life Park, AT&T Stadium or any other place in the entertainment district at all. It’s not even in Lincoln Square. It’s next to one small strip mall on Collins Street about a block south of Lincoln Square, providing no easy access to anything that attracts traffic in North Arlington.

What’s worse, the route is now a loop – from CentrePort down Trinity and Collins to the downtown area and then back up to CentrePort via Division and 360 (or vice versa depending on the time of day). The midway stop is only driven by during the bus’ trip from CentrePort to UTA or the other way.

Also, service is Monday-Friday only. Granted, the TRE still does not run on Sunday, but the eventual completion of the Orange light rail line to DFW Airport in December will help alleviate that inconvenience.

It also doesn’t help that there do not appear to be any plans to extend the service in anyway, in a story The Shorthorn did on the MAX line, one big lament among students interviewed is that they cannot use the bus to travel to The shopping district with The Parks Mall or the Highlands.

In other words, there are probably more people on the Rangers’ disabled list than there are people that benefit from the line in its current format. And among those getting gypped are Rangers fans (and yes, possibly even Cowboys fans) that could benefit greatly from the easy access without forking over at least 20 (or 50) dollars in cash.

A better route for the MAX would have been as follows: A single path from CentrePort down 360 to Randol Mill, with the midway stop being near one or more of the stadiums, then Randol Mill and Center to the UTA stop. Then take the trip back to CentrePort with the same path in reverse (substituting Mesquite for Center since it’s one-way). To improve service further, the first stop should be at the airport (directly connecting to where the Orange line’s final stop will be) and then sopping at CentrePort. The line could then eventually be extended to go on past UTA to the shopping district.

Oh, and add Saturday/Sunday service as well.

I really don’t want to think that DART and the cities involved settled on this mess of a route to appease Jerry Jones, Ray Davis and Bob Simpson, who saw the line as a threat to their ability to soak their patrons in parking revenue. (Jerry once led an initiative to try and get Irving to pull out of DART; no info on what Ray & Bob might think.) But my gut tells me that just might be part of the issue, hence why the line had to wait a few months after the original launch while DART figured out what they could run.

How many potential Rangers fans could have been served with a better planned bus line? Sadly, we may never know.

The MAX line is contractually obligated to still run for anther year after August, at which point the city will have to decide whether to join DART full time, which will have to include some form of tax levy.

Chances are good something like that will not pass. Anti-transit pundits will shoot everything down and point out how little people used the MAX – even though a better planned route would have certainly meant more riders. And Arlington will cut off from the rest of the Metroplex again from everyone except the shrinking number of people who can afford personal vehicles.

Meanwhile, anyone in the mid-cities, especially Arlington, will be forced to keep paying skyrocketing gas prices they can’t afford to get anywhere in town. And adding parking fees that keep some of us from attending as many games as we otherwise could.

Mavs may be in great position to thwart the Spurs after all

This was supposed to be the ultimate humiliation. An easy four game sweep for the San Antonio Spurs to prove what a worthless endeavor it was to get back in the playoffs and that tanking worse than the Sixers to fight for the right to draft an untested college freshman was the better way to go.

Oops.

The dream of so many to see the Mavs swept away in the first round came to a crashing halt Wednesday night, thanks to the Mavs’ 113-92 win in Game Two. The team that had lost 10 straight overall to San Antonio simply schooled them on their home floor, picking off balls everywhere and getting so many contributions that they easily won despite another subpar game from Dirk Nowitzki.

While some can grumble that they could have gotten two wins in the Alamo City had they not fallen apart late in Game One like so many times before, the truth remains that the Mavs got the split in San Antonio that they had to hope for. And now this series heads to the AAC with Dallas being the team that, except for six minutes, has been the better squad overall.

That doesn’t mean we still can’t be concerned about Game One slipping away. History has shown it almost always comes back to bite teams that lose a game in a series that they seem to have had won. The Lakers and Heat never recovered from early blown losses to the Mavs during the 2011 playoffs.

But maybe, just maybe this is one time that such a blown game could be a benefit more than a negative.

The Mavs have a bad trait of blowing big leads late – that everyone pretty much knows about. But unlike the regular season, the Mavs get to face that same team immediately again with evidence as to what they did wrong – and what to correct against this same team.

And while the Mavs can look back at the video and think that they could be up 2-0 in this series, the Spurs can look at it and see something worse. Just like the Ducks have against the Stars, they have not played well at all this series. And they’re in worse shape on the scoreboard that the Ducks were after two games.

And now they have to find a way to completely turn things around with the next two games in hostile territory. If the Mavs win Game Three on Saturday, this Spurs team could be in a lot of trouble.

This may be just overreacting. After all, every Western Conference series is currently tied or has the underdog with the lead in games. Does that mean all the top seeds are going to fall? Not likely. With how spread open the league is getting, we still may see the top seeds advance in the end; we just shouldn’t expect easy sweeps by the highest seeds in the first round anymore.

Like it or not, the Spurs historically are still among the best at adjusting. Even Dirk admits the Mavs have not been great at defending the home court this season. And expecting them to force more than 20 turnovers again may be asking too much.

Still, when you take into account that four number one seeds have gone down in the first round since the league expanded the round to best-of-seven (including both the Mavs and Spurs) and that the lower seed advanced the last three times these two met in the playoffs, saying this is still a gimme for the Spurs is way too premature.

We know this series ain’t ending in four now. And one way or another, it’s likely gonna last a lot longer than that.

Goodnight, it’s great to have the playoffs back in Dallas.

Please Spurs, just go away

Warning: The following has been written from the perspective of the extreme bias of a die-hard fan and may or may not be intended to be taken seriously.

Last year, seeing the Dallas Mavericks NOT be in the playoffs was painful. Now that they’re back, I’d say the time has come to not be objective. The playoffs are supposed to be about passion, so the time has come to be biased as all get out.

So I’m putting that all out at the risk of severely ticking off a few acquaintances and even a few relatives.

I am sick to death of the San Antonio Spurs.

I want the Mavericks to win this series almost as badly as I wanted to beat Miami in 2011.

If disaster occurs and the Spurs advance, I will root against them in the next round and the round after that. And if we get another Spurs-Heat Finals – well, that’s like choosing between Godzilla or Gigan; it doesn’t matter because whoever wins is going to devastate your city.

I hate the Spurs fans and how they claim their team represents all the good in the NBA. No, they don’t. They represent what’s wrong with it.

I hate the fact that the Spurs built this run of championships by the shadiest, most underhanded way possible: They intentionally tanked a season. How David Robinson, who is supposed to have such high moral standards, agreed to ever play for the Spurs again after they forced him to sit out the rest of 1997 with “back issues” I’ll never know. The Spurs should have been stripped of that draft pick and several others for what they did, and instead they got one of the last number one picks to actually be a franchise player. As a result, teams tank left and right nowadays to try and get the next Tim Duncan despite no such player being available, flushing all credibility for the league down the toilet.

Oh, and Duncan? Yeah, I’m sick of him too. His legion of fans in San Antonio love to claim how he’s this class act. This is a guy who believes he has never committed a foul in his life. He’s probably still pouting over that blocking foul he picked up in an AAU game 20 years ago.

I’m sick of the Spurs’ offense, which can best be described as “Cure For Insomnia.” The Spurs have the talent to be one of the most high-flying teams out there, and yet they intentionally try to play the most boring, sleep-inducing brand of basketball in history. Are the rumors true that every Spurs player gets fined if they score 100 in a game, even if they win? The way they play, they might as well go up and down the floor waving middle fingers at the crowd to say “we don’t give a f*ck about you.” They’re lucky to be playing in this era, where you can win with defense and absolutely nothing else. The Lakers and even the Celtics of the 80s would put up 150 on them every night.

I hate how Greg Poppovich is considered some great genius. Especially because he sits players on select games, once again proving this is a team that completely doesn’t care about the people that pay their salaries. Pop, you do know that there’s a very good chance that someone, especially when you go on the road, is watching your team for the first and maybe only time in their life and did so in order to see Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobuli (though for the life of me, I don’t know why), and you frequently deny them that chance on the claims that you have to keep players rested for the playoffs? If these guys aren’t conditioned enough to handle a full 82-game schedule like so many others are, maybe it’s time they pack it in.

I hate how their fans whine and complain that the league is out to get them because they’re “small market.” Excuse me? You ended up winning the draft lottery twice in 10 years, and you think the league is conspiring against you? Your star player whines every singe time he gets whistled, yet he almost never gets T’d up. You’ve brought home the trophy four times, and yet you constantly claim the league is actively trying to deny you?

You didn’t lose the title last year because of biased officiating or any other act on the part of the league to ensure LeBron and Co. got another ring. You lost it because your coach was stupid in Game Six. You had the chance to step on the throat and end it in that game, and what does Pop do? Start the fourth quarter with his worst lineup possible, allowing the Heat to creep back in. Then, in a tighter contest late, he keeps Duncan on the bench when you need defense and rebounding more than ever, leading to TWO offensive rebounds on missed free throws that turned into three pointers for Miami. You got complacent and didn’t go for the kill shot, like the Mavs did to that same team two years earlier.

When the Spurs lost in the first round in 2011, it looked like it might be the start of the end of this dark era. But sadly, thanks to a lack of good young talent flowing in to challenge the status quo, this old, unentertaining bunch gets to keep plodding on and turning more and more people over to hockey.

So please, Mavericks. Shock the world and send the Spurs home whining and crying just like you did in 2006.

Because I’m just sick of them.