The Big Ten got people talking with a proposal last week of freshman ineligibility in football and men's basketball. Does it have legs?
Each week until March Madness, the Pac-12 Confidential blog will take a look at the broader landscape in college hoops, examining trends, topics of the day and newsmakers in the game.
So the other day, the Big Ten made waves by floating the idea of freshman ineligibility for football and men’s basketball players.
To which I’d ask: What took you so long?
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The idea has been met with skepticism, even derision. Jim Boeheim, the Syracuse basketball coach, said, “That will never happen. I don’t know why people are talking about it.”
I’d buy the first half of his response. But not the second.
A lot of people aren’t around to remember it, but once, all freshmen were ineligible. And college athletics seemed to get along just fine. There were freshmen teams in football and basketball, which played abbreviated schedules compared to the varsity.
Seemed like a reasonable thing, especially as it allowed athletes to become students for a year (there’s a concept).
But then in 1972-73, freshman eligibility was implemented, so this is the 43rd year we’ve had it. For a long time, I thought a return to the freshman-ineligible rule would have helped right the wayward course of college athletics.
These days, it would curb one-and-one basketball players from entering a school merely to bide their time before being drafted by the NBA. They’d probably opt to play overseas. Let the NBA and players association – and their refusal to amend their 19-and-under requirement – figure this thing out, rather than dump the mess in the lap of the colleges.
It’s been said that additional scholarship costs would be prohibitive – but maybe not if you didn’t field freshman teams. Why couldn’t redshirts simply be redshirts, the way most football freshmen are anyway?
While the Big Ten idea is the one making the headlines, the Pac-12 presidents hinted at the proposal last spring, when they advanced a 10-point reform plan. One of the planks suggested that if the NBA and its players association couldn’t solve the one-and-done mess, “consider restoring the freshman ineligibility rule in men’s basketball.”
Problem is, this may be a case of tilting at windmills. Reality seems to render the discussion moot.
Lawsuits, it has been pointed out, might be an issue, and the NCAA is no doubt suit-weary. How could a school justify allowing soccer players to compete as freshmen, but not football players?
Tuesday, I reached Michael McCann, the ESPN legal analyst who’s in the middle of covering the Aaron Hernandez trial. He painted a picture that the chance of successful litigation by athletes deprived of freshman eligibility might not be so great.
“A (basketball) player could go to Europe or even the (NBA) D-League, depending on how good they are,” he said. “That could limit the scope of any litigation.”
McCann thinks that “because there’s no right to play a college sport, I don’t know that the outcome necessarily is one where it (freshman ineligibility) is illegal. It depends on the arguments raised.”
But here’s the factor not a lot of people have focused on. Television has some serious control in both football and basketball. And how happy would TV be with a chunk of the personnel inventory made to sit on the sidelines, especially in basketball? (We could do a whole sidebar on Kentucky and John Calipari.)
I suspect the tortured model of college athletics is too far entrenched to consider going back in time. But the dialogue advanced by the Big Ten can’t hurt. As they say in encouraging Internet repartee: Discuss.
K.O. KO’s Zags
Kevin O’Neill, the outspoken former coach who does studio work for Fox and the Pac-12 Networks, unloaded on Gonzaga the other day in a discussion of the teams in the running for No. 1 seeds in the NCAA tournament.
“Gonzaga should not even be in consideration for a No. 1 seed,” O’Neill blasted. “They play in a mid-major conference, they don’t play anybody. I mean, the three of us (analyst Austin Croshere and host Rob Stone) and two of our crew could go .500 in that league.”
O’Neill, who was speaking before a Villanova-Marquette game, said Villanova “if they win out, should be a No. 1 seed, no matter what anybody else does. No matter.”
My take: I don’t think Gonzaga, even with a single loss in overtime at Arizona, holds its No. 1-seeding fate in its hands. If Villanova, with two losses, holds serve and wins out, it may well move ahead of the Zags for a top seed. And you probably can’t discount Wisconsin or Kansas, although both lost this week.
The real quest isn’t so much gaining a No. 1 seed. In fact, that might serve to add pressure to Gonzaga. What’s more important is staying out of Kentucky’s region, and a No. 1 seed does assure that.
Lots of strange things tend to happen in February, like players tweeting badly, patience running out, etc. But what happened with Idaho coach Don Verlin at Northern Arizona last week was one for the books.
Details are still sketchy, as Verlin, at his Tuesday press conference, refused to elaborate. What we know is that he was fined $5,000 for his actions and ordered to attend a leadership class.
Verlin was caught on camera on the sidelines, looking at the play cards displayed by assistant coach Chris Helbling. It appears this is one of those setups where a play is signaled via large cards from the bench.
Verlin looks at the card, then walks away, comes back to Helbling, seems to get more animated, and finally, grabs the binder of cards and flings it behind the bench. Then he nudges Helbling toward the locker room.
Completely bizarre. In case you’re wondering, Verlin is in his seventh year, with a 108-110 record. He apologized in a statement, but offered nothing more.
And What’s More . . .
* It should alarm somebody at Oregon, if not the Pac-12, that the Ducks’ average home attendance of 6,209 fans is their lowest in 23 years. That team may make the NCAA tournament.
* According to Statsheet.com, a site that tracks officials and the “numbers” they compile, David Hall, a regular who does the Pac-12, leads the country in games worked with 82. Given that there have been 107 days since Nov. 10, that’s a ton.
* Last year Nebraska was one of the darlings of the game, going to the NCAA tournament. This year, it’s sagging at 13-14, and coach Tim Miles suspended his players from their locker room and lounge indefinitely after an uninspired home blowout loss to Iowa. Said Miles afterward, “When I was at Southwest Minnesota State, to pay for shoes, we used to go to the Renaissance Festival in Shakopee, Minn. for a weekend and pick up trash. We were the trash guys. If I had the option, I would do that tonight.” Of course, the Huskers still hold the unfathomable distinction of never having won a game in the NCAA tournament.
* Joshua Smith, the Kentwood product who transferred from UCLA to Georgetown and has battled weight issues, is the Hoyas’ second-leading scorer at 11.5 and leading rebounder at 6.3, playing 22 minutes a game. The school lists him at 6-10 and 350 pounds.
* Stony Brook, the America East school that started Washington on its long slide with an upset here in late December, is 19-10 and tied for third place.
* Back in the day – OK, way back in the day, like more than half a century ago — the best basketball conference in the country was the Missouri Valley. There will be echoes of that Saturday, when Wichita State (25-3) hosts Northern Iowa (26-2), a matchup of the Nos. 11 and 10 teams in the AP poll.
Some people think Kentucky could be vulnerable Saturday at 1 p.m. in hosting No. 18 Arkansas on CBS. Simultaneously, Northern Iowa and Wichita State go at it on ESPN.
The day’s headliner, though, is No. 7 Arizona at No. 13 Utah at 6 p.m. on ESPN. At 7 p.m., there’s BYU and Gonzaga on ESPN2, which is senior night at GU.
Pac-12 career 3-point
- Todd Lichti, Stanford (1986-89), .477
- Terry Taylor, Stanford (1986-89), .463
- Salim Stoudamire, Arizona (2002-05), .458
- Isaac Fontaine, WSU (1994-97), .457
- Jason Kapono, UCLA (2000-02), .446