• Member of The Internet Defense League

  • Select-A-Ticket 120x600
  • SecondSpin.com

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.”

Advertisements

College athlete union could spell the doom for college sports

The Final Four came to an end and crowned a champion in North Texas. I could make this column about how I loved the fact that Arlington got the shaft in that, but that’s for another time – maybe.

The point is this: We may want to appreciate another enthralling NCAA Tournament, whether it concluded in our backyard or not. Because there is that chance this type of excitement could be gone for good, if a very, very small handful of athletes get their way.

Recently, the college sports world was stunned by a decision from the National Labor Relations Board that a number of football players from Northwestern University did have the right to organize a union of college athletes. This is, of course, the latest attempt by athletes in claiming that a full scholarship to the college of there choice while thousands of other students go into eternal debt for a degree is not enough, and that they should be paid for the right to play intercollegiate athletics.

This was escalated further by UConn basketball guard and NBA prospect Shabazz Napier, who, in an interview before the title game against Kentucky, claimed that he sometimes goes to bed “starving” despite meal plans being included in athletic scholarships. After UConn won the national championship, Napier tried to steal the spotlight by claiming the NCAA had no right to ban the Huskies from tournament play for poor academic performance. Because, you know, who cares about academics in college?

Now, anyone who follows me on social media, especially Facebook, knows that my political and social opinions do lean to the left. So it may surprise many to hear my position on this. Why would I be against such a progressive movement?

Because this is an example of the demands of the few imperiling the needs of the many.

To hear all the sanctimonious people in the media, one would think that the athletics department at every single Division I university is a money printing machine, churning out millions of dollars to help fund the gluttonous salaries of the coaches and other administrators.

This is as far from the truth as can be. Despite the huge numbers ESPN and other networks put up on how much money the NCAA makes (most of it paid out by organizations like ESPN), the number of colleges making millions of dollars remains in the great minority. For every Texas or Ohio State or Kentucky, there are a dozen UTAs out there that struggle to just make their athletic budgets. They don’t pack the house every night. They don’t have some huge TV deal. And might actually – horror of horrors – have athletes that actually GO TO CLASS.

Many of these colleges benefit greatly from the NCAA’s revenue, and the student athletes benefit most of all. The NCAA states that 96 percent of its annual revenue goes back to its member schools – 60 percent of it to Division I participants.

And if athletes like these Northwestern members succeed in forcing universities to pay their athletes, all these other universities will be forced to completely shut down all their athletic programs. The line in the sand will be drawn” If you can’t afford to fully pay all your athletes like employees, you don’t deserve to have athletics at all.

For now, the Northwestern athletes are claiming they are not out to demand that athletes be paid full salaries/stipends, just improved benefits. Of course they are going to say this – they’re avoiding the one most polarizing aspect and trying to look like the little guy fighting the good fight until they successfully get their feet dug in, and THEN they make the big demands. Note that included in their demands is the option to be able to demand pay at some time later.

There seems little doubt that demanding some form of full salary or stipend for all athletes will be coming down the line. Note that while the Northwestern athletes are currently saying they still view themselves as students and not employees, the NLRB though the opposite in making its approval of a union.

And if they ultimately want all athletes to be fully compensated, there is really only one way they can ultimately do that: All “unionized” teams will refuse to play against schools that don’t have union athletes – the “scabs,” though they may try to find a more PC term for them – forcing the hand of the coaches as to who they get to schedule. Therein will lie the key to driving the programs that can’t pay their athletes out of operation.

This of course, is a worst-case doomsday scenario I am presenting. But the best-case scenario would still be the breakup of Division I into schools that can afford to pay athletes and those that can’t. If that happens, you can still kiss things like the NCAA Tournament in its current form goodbye. No more seeing the likes of Butler or Virginia Commonwealth or George Mason making an improbable run to the Final Four, since they will all be booted down to a lesser subdivision, unable to compete in the same tournament as Florida or Duke or UCLA. The schools that actually want STUDENT-athletes will be kicked to the curb in D1.

And that should also eventually lead to the downfall of those programs, because the chance of playing in the big tournament is often the one motivation the alumni base and other boosters have to support their programs. Take that away, and you’ll be lucky to get support better than a Division II program.

Nothing is set in stone here. The NCAA is appealing this decision, and appeals will likely take years. Even still, one of the keys to the NLRB’s decision was that Northwestern is a private college, meaning state universities are a whole other situation.

But those who love college sports can only hope that in the years this fight will take, cooler heads will ultimately prevail.

Most college student athletes in the more than 320 Division I schools are good people. They go to class. They have aspirations that go beyond playing professionally, as more than 99 percent of them will not be doing so.

And now their opportunities to use their athletic talents to get an education and develop as people is under serious threat.

All because a bunch of spoiled, greedy athletes are putting their own short-term self interests ahead of so many others.

SMU’s Snub is a blow to the college basketball season

Larry Brown doesn’t want to dwell on the fact that his SMU Mustangs got snubbed for the NCAA Tournament. Just focusing on winning the NIT is now his program’s focus – and it has nothing to do with vindication or retribution.

Fine. He’ll take the high road and not rant. Leave that to people like me.

It can be tough to be that thing known as “objective” when you’ve become an actual journalist of sports teams in your area. And it’s not just the simple fact of how it’s more fun to report when the team you’re reporting on is winning.

As a fan of college basketball for years, I’ve desperately wanted the programs in DFW to be relevant. I want the Metroplex to be an integral part of this excitement that arrives every March. Which is why this past season watching SMU was so exciting – it looked like one of our own was not just going to get into the field but possibly be a serious competitor in it.

And then the NCAA selection committee made it painfully clear that they don’t let newcomers into their exclusive club if they can help it.

But it goes deeper than that. One of the things that frustrates me is how no attention is paid to the first 3 ½ months of college basketball, as there is a sense by all the major outlets that it’s just not necessary. And sadly, the fact that SMU got passed over for the likes of Oklahoma State and North Carolina State did nothing to rebuke those claims.

As someone who has followed small schools and conferences like UTA and the Southland/Sun Belt for years, I had to accept long ago that the regular season almost means nothing in those leagues. Whoever wins the conference tournament is getting their lone entry into the Dance.

But this selection by the NCAA has made it all too clear: The regular season means absolutely nothing in the other conferences as well.

It was believed for weeks that SMU’s victories over Memphis, UConn (twice) and Cincinnati proved they deserved to be among the elite and in the NCAAs. The selection committee said flat out no, the fact that you’re SMU and you play in the American Athletic Conference, you don’t deserve an at-large bid.

You can get an at-large, however, even if you finish below .500 in the Big 12. You can get one even if you fail to beat any of the top teams in the ACC.

It seems too clear those involved in the selection process had made up their minds that the more “elite” conferences were getting a set number of teams in the field, by hook or crook, and anyone else who actually tried to earn their way in be damned.

Brown has flat out said the selection committee didn’t respect his school’s conference. Given the fact that the defending national champions from Louisville were given a four seed, he may have a point.

It makes you winder if Wichita State, which got a Number One seed after a perfect regular season, might actually have been rejected had they not win their conference tournament as well.

I will not be unbiased in this NCAA Tournament. I hope that Oklahoma State and NC State get throttled to prove the selection committee had nothing between their ears in choosing them.

And hopefully, SMU will make that more clear by being the ones hoisting the other trophy at Madison Square Garden.

Larry Brown Has Moody Madness Returning to SMU

Published on Yahoo Voices

And mine was published BEFORE Sports Illustrated released its article on SMU!

College Baseball Championship Central

WAC TOURNAMENT – UTA/DBU
QuikTrip Park, Grand Prairie

CHAMPIONSHIP – DBU 4, UTSA 11
The Patriots’ quest for another NCAA bid came to an end as the Roadrunners rallied from an early 2-0 deficit to score all their runs in their last four innings at bat, including a four-run eighth to finish it off.

DBU 12, New Mexico St 4
By scoring four runs in the first inning and never looking back after that, the Patriots earned a spot in the WAC title game against San Antonio on Sunday.

DBU 7, Texas State 5
Michael Miller’s three-run homer in the fifth inning drove the Patriots forward to get their fist WAC Tournamnent win.

UTA 2, Texas State 11
The Mavs’ season ends with a 1-2 record in the WAC Tournament after the Bobcats rocked them for 15 hits. Starter Daniel Milliman only lasted two innings, allowing three runs on five hits.

UTA 3, New Mexico St 4
Down 4-0 with four outs to go, the Mavs could not complete a comeback and saw their shot at the WAC title game dashed.

UTA 2 DBU 0
The Mavs made the Patriots look foolish all night, recording 14 strikeouts, 11 of them from Brad Vachon.

BIG 12 TOURNAMENT – TCU
Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark, Oklahoma City

TCU 8 Oklahoma State 4
The Horned Frogs were two outs away from going down in their first tournament game but then exploded for six ninth-inning runs, starting with six straight base runners to take the lead. Keaton Jones took one for the team to go up in front, getting hit in the knee with the bases loaded.

TCU 3 West Virginia 10
The Frogs were completely sloppy in the field with nine errors that led to six unearned runs, as WVU scored four in the first two innings and another six in the 6th/7th.

TCU 0 Kansas 4
The Frogs’ season ended as they could get nothing off of Robert Kahana and the Jayhawks, stranding 11 runners on base for the game.

Amazingly, it may be the Horned Frog baseball team to see the most disappointment in the move to the Big 12. At least the basketball team had few expectations and can claim a win over Kansas. But barring a miracle run through this tournament, the Frogs are likely seeing their streak of making the NCAAs come to an end.
The tournament has been delayed by one day in light of the tornadoes that ravaged Oklahoma.