Locker Room: Where is college basketball going?

     If you are a fan of college basketball you are certainly aware of recent scandals, FBI investigations, NCAA investigations, loose money, loose morals, and a whole lot of stuff that doesn’t much have anything to do with a college education.
     Where is college basketball going? Is it destined not to really be college basketball? This week R.J. Hampton, the number five rated player in the country did not sign with any school. He says he doesn’t want to go to college, just play basketball. He also wants some money. He is now a member of the New Zealand Breakers, whatever that is. Hampton didn’t even want the “One-And-Done” short ticket. He didn’t want to step on campus at all.
      Notre Dame coach Mike Brey, President of the Board of Directors of the National Association of Basketball Coaches, is concerned about his sport, and he says a huge percentage of the coaches across the country are also concerned. It seems a few control things, a few control most of the money, third party deals are a problem, the investigations are and should be embarrassing to the schools and the NCAA, and transfers are flying around everywhere and it seems that college basketball has little or no academic guidelines. Who’s going to step up? Who’s going to draw the line? Where does it end?
     Brey believes the sport must come under control and in order to do so if coaches and others involved need to be fired, then fire them. There’s an investigation at NC-State involving money. The coach is still there. At least Louisville did finally get rid of Rick Pitino. They had a house of ill repute on campus. Kansas is under question for illegally recruited foreign players, Arizona has been under major investigation twice in just four years, and players were being paid, but nobody got fired.
     Brey’s and the nation’s coaches are worried about a lot of stuff. “As coaches we’re concerned about the number of waivers being granted and it seems like the NCAA has even given a blueprint to how to go about it. There are too many waivers being granted without justification and players are being allowed to pick up one day, go somewhere else and play immediately. If it’s legitimate fine, but in the just completed academic year 79 basketball players asked for graduate waivers and 44 were granted. A third of all college waivers are men’s basketball players.” Just think, it takes 22 positions to play football, just five to play hoops. That’s a huge percentage.
     Brey is correct. That appears to be a problem, but you know how the NCAA often deals with problems, it avoids them. Just like the flow of money from third parties, like the shoe companies. The Knight Commission is pushing the NCAA to release to the public the financial details of contracts between athletic departments and shoe and apparel companies. That request hasn’t gained any momentum. Wonder why? How much are the schools getting free, but what do they have to do to justify free? Is anything ever really free? It’s just like politicians talking about free stuff. Run from it. And the major coaches across the land, members of the same organization that Brey presides over, they don’t want that information released either. “We do not control all the third parties and their ability to cooperate with us. We have to fix that if we want to move the ball,” says Brey. Let me know when you get a first down.
      The apparel companies are trying to monopolize college sport. I don’t blame them. That’s what you’re in business for, but take any Power Five Conference football school as an example. A few years ago they might have worn Russel Athletic apparel for whatever reason. Addidas comes in, offers a deal. They take it. Suddenly you won’t find anything with Russel’s name on it in the campus book store. Then one day Nike rolls in, outbids Addidas, and then Addidas suddenly disappears. The same thing happened when UnderArmour made a move on Notre Dame.
     If it were not financially rewarding for these companies to give free apparel and shoes to schools for their athletic teams, they wouldn’t do it. But what has been lost in the process? How much money is it? Who is really running the show? Just how much involvement do they have? There have already been instances where apparel companies have tried to influence where players go. Louisville being a good example again. A company offers a little payola, the players goes to that school, the school wins, and then the apparel company sells more stuff. It might be a crooked road, but it’s fairly easy to travel.
     Without wading through the mud the bottom line is this. The NCAA could be losing control of college basketball. You want a clean sport. There are guidelines. Stop watering them down. Go by those guidelines. When a player violates those guidelines he no longer is allowed to play college basketball. When an athletic administrator violates those guidelines he or she should be fired. When a coach is caught cheating he should be fired. Condense the operations manual to about 10 pages. Then go by what it says. Will it happen? Will Brey’s association get results? Probably not, and that’s a shame. Purity suffers another blow.
Good News for Tech, UVa:
      A month ago Hokie fans were wondering what type team Virginia Tech would be able to put on the court next season. Mike Young was a new coach, key players were graduating, and then the dreaded transfer portal became a big factor.
    Have things turned into something wonderful in a short period of time, no, likely not, but Young has made things a lot better in a relatively short period of time. Guard Wabissa Bede had decided to take his name off the transfer list and return to Tech. Young was able to sign highly regarded four star guard Jalen Cone, a top 100 player. He was also able to recruit another guard, Hunter Cattoor. He also needs some length and got one of his old Wofford players to transfer to Tech, 6-9 Keve Aluma. This week Young landed some more length when he got 6-8 Brandon Johnson to transfer from Alabama State.
      And Kerry Blackshear is still in the transfer portal. You would have thought he would have picked out his school by now. For some time it was felt he wanted to go to Kentucky, but that makes no sense to me. Kentucky has a half dozen Blackshears. Why do they want him, and why would he want to play on a team and see his playing time maybe cut in half? We’ll see, but my guess is he’s considering the NBA Draft, or returning to the Hokies. If he plays for Tech, then Mike Young’s first season suddenly looks a lot different.
     And Virginia got good news this week as well. It will not help them for a year, but Sam Hauser has decided to transfer to UVa from Marquette. Being available in two years could be perfect timing for the Cavaliers since most of the front line talent will be gone after next season. Hauser is 6-8 and averaged 14.0 points and 7.2 rebounds per game at Marquette. He will have two years at UVa.
When You’re Hot, You’re Hot:
​     Clemson remains on fire in football recruiting. The Tigers signed their fifth, 5-star player last week, 6-3, 255 defensive end Myles Murphy. He is the number two rated player in the country, and the Tigers now have both the top two rated defensive ends in the 1920 class. Clemson also has nine, 4-stars and far and away the top rated class in the country.
      Virginia has four commitments and has the 44th rated class, West Virginia has four and is rated 47, and Tech has four and is rated 55. However, recruiting does not end until the final national signing day next February so things could and often do change.
 Rest in Peace Billy:
        Bill Buckner has passed away. I’m so old I remember when he was a young player and people called him Billy. He is mainly remembered as the player who booted an easy ground ball against the Mets in the World Series. That’s unfortunate, and very unfair.
     Buckner played for 22 years. The last two or three he played in pain. His legs were beat up and his knee were bad. He had little or no flexibility left, but he wanted to play and he was still good enough. I felt from the moment it happened the error in the World Series likely happened because it was hard for Buckner to get his legs to work. That’s why he was on first. He couldn’t move well enough to play any other position.
       I’m glad that after a few years he was welcomed back to Fenway Park and Red Sox fans gave him a two-minute standing ovation. All the hurt, at least outwardly, seemed to go away for Buckner and the fans. I’m not sure he ever forgave the press for the way it treated him, and I don’t think he should have.
       Just a small rewind. I’m a Red Sox fan, and yes I was upset, however, I didn’t think the Mets were all that good, and the error came in game six, and there was still a game seven to get the job done. The team didn’t, not Buckner, the team didn’t. Also on that faithful day and another factor that was forgotten was two pitches before the grounder the Boston catcher dropped a foul tip that would have ended the game.
     But finally on that homecoming day in 2008, all was forgotten and some other things remembered. Like 22 seasons and never striking out more than 39 times in any one of them. Like a league batting title. Buckner never struck out three times in a game even once.
      Bill Bucker was a tough, gritty baseball player, the best kind. He gave the game all he had, he was a great teammate, he played in pain. The publicity was so bad he eventually moved his family to Idaho. Buckner loved the outdoors, and I hope in his final years he found the peace he deserved.
By DAN CALLAHAN, The Patriot