The Holiday Edition

By Brian Curtis - December 22, 2006

Christmas is upon us and Hanukah is coming to an end, not to mention the celebrations of all religions around the world. But I am going to resist the temptation to use this week as a time to reflect and look back on 2006. Rather, I am going to honor the week by treating it as just any other week. So a few random thoughts...

Yes, the Florida-Ohio State basketball game on Saturday will be big, but it won't mean much. The Gators' Al Horford apparently won't play so it will be hard to tell just which team is better, when one of them is without a big piece of the puzzle. Regular season games are for hype, not for much else, and this game has the hype because of the January 8th football date....

....Sticking with hoops, UCLA is a very quiet #1. Why is that? We haven't heard much about them, they haven't been getting glaring reviews and they generally have gone under the radar which is hard to do when you are #1....

...On to football, there were many football coaching moves in recent days. Tom O'Brien going to NC State is a coup for AD Lee Fowler and the Wolfpack. Stanford made a great hire in Jim Harbaugh as did Tulane in getting former UCLA head man Bob Toledo. Who knows what will happen at Alabama?

...Just days go, the NCAA Committee on Women’s Athletics proposed a ban on the unlimited use of male practice players in women’s sports. The issue came to the forefront in recent years after a growing number of women’s basketball coaches began to use male players, full-time students, as practice players, to heighten the level of competition in practice. Among the coaches who have long used male students in practice are legendary Tennessee coach Pat Summit, Ohio State coach Jim Foster and Rutgers coach, Vivian Stringer. The Committee believes the use of male practice players is a threat to women’s participation in athletics and violates the spirit of gender equity. Currently, Division III is the only division with a proposed plan. Men would be allowed to practice just once a week and only during the traditional sport season, and they would be limited in number by maxing out at half the number of starting spots in the sport, thereby allowing just two male players to practice with a women’s basketball teams.

After talking about the issue on this week's edition of Taking Issue, I think there is a middle ground. Patrick Nero is the Commissioner of the America East Conference and a member of the NCAA CWA and he brought up a good point--that the use of male practice players now extends beyond basketball into soccer, softball and other sports. Nero also points out that some women's hoops coaches are not offering the full allotment of scholarships because they simply don't need bodies in practice or in games. Van Chancellor, the head coach of the WNBA's Houston Comets said he has been using male practice players for years and sees no hinderance to the development of any of his players.

Here's what I about women's teams can use male practice players, as many as they want, but just once a week? It will allow teams to practice against tough competition without hurting the opportunities for female athletes.

.....From the same group that releases the annually controversial Black Coaches Association hiring report card, now comes a report on the diversity at the administrative level, including athletic directors, conference commissioners and university presidents. The results are not surprising. All Division I-A commissioners are white males and 94% of university presidents are white. The numbers for athletic directors are similarly appalling. The study, conducted by the University of Central Florida’ Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, gives high praise to the NCAA headquarters itself, noting that 19% of high-ranking positions were filled with blacks.

None of the information released in the report should come as a surprise. College sports—at all levels—is vastly white. Though the number of black college basketball coaches is rising, the number in I-A football stands at just six, and that’s including the recent promotion of Miami assistant Randy Shannon. The only way college sports will ever become fully diverse is with more minorities getting the opportunity to run athletic departments and universities. But there’s more. Fair or not, the success of minority coaches will crate more opportunities down the road.

.....Auburn University President Ed Richardson announced last Thursday that an internal investigation determined that a faculty member changed students’ grades, including those of some athletes, from 2002-2004. The investigation sprung from a series of reports in The New York Times which reported that several athletes, especially football players, took directed-reading classes from a certain professor and received high grades for little or no work. President Richardson said that the Auburn will supply the NCAA with all the information for any action. Look, I don’t think it comes as a shock to any of us that grade-changing takes place on college campuses, and that sometimes, it revolves around keeping student-athletes eligible. But athletes shouldn’t get singled out. Is a professor changing the grade of a student worse than a fraternity house systematically cheating on exams and papers? Or a student’s sexual flirtations with a professor? Everyone is culpable. The professors, the students, the university. Any professor caught changing a grade should be dealt with harshly, regardless of the why, who and what. And so should the thousands of college students who cheat on a regular basis, whether they score touchdowns or not.

...In a show of support for higher education, Duke University and its rival, the University of North Carolina, support a $24 million scholars program, allowing select students from both schools to take classes at the other, and, be accorded full student privileges on both campuses. Sounds great, right? Well, last year, several North Carolina scholars decided to camp out in Krzyzewskiville, the student line for basketball seats, and then proceeded to wear Tar Heel jerseys in the middle of the Duke student section. Actually, that’s pretty clever. Well, the Duke Student Council has cracked down, and last week voted to ban these UNC scholars from camping out to sit in the student section. Duke administrators say there is nothing they can do. I don’t know where to even start with this one. Duke students got scammed where they hate to get scammed—in their basketball student section. I think what the Carolina kids did was fair and brilliant, and what the Duke student council did, was retaliatory and mean. And Duke administrators look a bit cowardly in declaring that there is nothing they can do.

....The mother of prized Arkansas quarterback Mitch Mustain and the parents of other freshmen met with Arkansas athletic director Frank Boyles to express their frustrations at the offense being run at Arkansas this year. An offense which relied heavily on the running of Darren McFadden and not the passing game many of the freshmen expected. The possibility has come up that the players, including Mustain, might have transferred, but it looks like just Damian Williams will. Tight end Rick Cleveland’s father was quoted as saying that the freshmen may have been sold “ a bill of good” during recruiting, implying that coach Houston Nutt and his staff told the youngsters they would be playing in a wide-open, pass-happy offense. We should not tforget that Mustain led the Razorbacks to eight wins before being benched. So just to get this straight, the parents of three freshmen went to the coaches’ boss to bitch about playing time, though they insist it wasn’t about that? What is this, YMCA soccer? If indeed the coaches sold the players a “bill of goods” during recruiting, well, too bad. It happens all the time. Coaches promise kids playing time or a great TV schedule or “we’ll take good care of you” and then it never materializes. The majority of coaches will say anything to land a top recruit. Recruits and their parents need to stop picking schools based on who is coaching, because most likely, that coach won’t even be there all their years on campus. Pick a school because of tradition and recent excellence and academics and location and even how good-looking the coeds are, because that won’t change. Coaches will.

Have a great holiday and a happy New Year!

Posted by Brian Curtis at 01:08 PM on December 22, 2006

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