Monday, January 30, 2006

The CourtMaster Flips

In my latest Duke Basketball Report column, I talk about the demise of Wake Forest basketball and the surprising success at Virginia. I also share my thoughts on the latest suspension at Virginia Tech and Gary Williams' accomplishments at Maryland.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

ACC Football-Early Departures and the 2006 Schedule

In my latest offering to, I write about the impact of the ACC players who left school to enter the NFL draft early. I share my thoughts on how wise decisions of such players like Mario Williams, Vernon Davis, Devin Hester, and Antonio Cromartie were and how they will affect their respective teams next season. I also take a peek at the recently announced 2006 schedule, which features the third annual Florida State-Miami opener on Labor Day night. The revitalized Notre Dame Fighting Irish also face two ACC schools this upcoming season.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Biggest College Hoops Surprises

As with every college basketball season, there are teams that have greatly exceeded expectations and those who have failed to live up to them. In this post, I'll give you the teams I think are the most pleasant surprises to their fans so far this season.

Florida (18-2, 4-2 in SEC East). When teams lose their top three scorers (David Lee, Anthony Roberson, and Matt Walsh), as a rule they don't get better. Coach Billy Donovan's Gators have broken that rule this season. Balanced scoring, with five players averaging in double figures, and a down year for the SEC helped Florida jump out to a 17-0 start and reach #2 in the national rankings.

They're not that good, but with their top four scorers all sophomores (Taurean Green, Corey Brewer, Joakim Noah, and Al Horoford), they should only get better next year. Donovan has survived some choppy waters recently at Florida, but it should be smooth sailing for a while down in Gainesville.

Ohio State (14-2, 4-2 in Big Ten pending Saturday night's Iowa game). All of the buzz around the Buckeyes' program before the season was about the 2006-07 freshman class. This group, including the top rated high school player in the nation, Greg Oden, is being compared to Michigan's Fab Five in 1991-92 (hopefully without the attitude). It seems they're got a pretty fair team in Columbus this season after all.

Coach Thad Matta has four seniors and a junior among his top six players, exceptional experience these days in college basketball. It appears they have built on the momentum of their shocking win over undefeated Illinois in the final regular season game last year. Center Terence Dials and guard Je'Kel Foster gives Ohio State the kind of inside-outside balance most coaches dream of. Look for the Buckeyes to stay in the Big Ten race down to the wire.

Tennessee (14-3, 5-1 in SEC East) Coach Bruce Pearl is proving that his success at Wisconsin-Milwaukee was no fluke. There are coaches who can do well at a mid-major but find that they are not up to the task with the big boys, but Pearl clearly does not fall into that catgory. He has implemented the same frantic pace that his Panthers employed last year, and the Volunteers have failed to score at least 73 points only twice this season.

A team that likes to get up and down the court needs good guards to do that well, and Tennessee has two of them. Senior C. J. Watson and sophomore Chris Lofton are each scoring around 16 points per game and they could lead the Volunteers deep into March.

Other surprises, in a good way: Georgetown, Air Force, Colorado, and St. John's.

Coming soon, I'll look at the biggest disappointments in college hoops this season.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Terps Football Losing Ground

Yesterday, Ralph Friedgen’s Maryland football program suffered another setback when prized offensive line recruit Antonio Logan-El announced that he would forgo the opportunity to stay home and be a Terrapin. Logan-El announced he would attend Penn State in a tawdry public relations spectacle that all too often accompanies these decisions by highly rated college football and basketball recruits.

Logan-El, in an announcement covered live by ESPN News, enjoyed toying with the crowd while a video highlight package of his career played on a giant screen behind him at Baltimore’s ESPN Zone restaurant. He had a bag with several school caps in it, dramatically pulling out first a Florida hat, then tossing it aside, then a Tennessee hat, and finally a Maryland hat was flung away. Logan-El then pulled out a picture of himself standing with Penn State Coach Joe Paterno and made his formal announcement.

According to the Baltimore Sun report, one fan in the back of the room yelled, “Traitor.” The player’s mother shouted back, “Hater!” Nice example mom. Asked about that afterwards, Logan-El said “It shows you why Penn State was the best decision for me.” That’s right, young man, fans in Happy Valley don’t boo or shout nasty things at you… long as the team is winning. Good luck dealing with it if things don’t turn out that way.

Thanks in large part to talent from the state of Maryland, that is not very likely. Paterno has landed seven of the top eleven players in the state this recruiting season. For Friedgen, who made signing the top players in the state a top priority when he took over in 2001, this is a disturbing trend.

A program that won 31 games in Friedgen’s first three seasons is now trying to come back from consecutive 5-6 records. Recruiting losses like this don’t help. The Terps’ fan base and the boosters who have written checks for Maryland’s plush new training facilities are beginning to get a bit restless and wondering what direction the program is heading.

Especially with most of the state’s best players heading north to Penn State.

Monday, January 23, 2006

The Mike Jones Era Starts Early at Maryland

Anytime someone fritters away an opportunity, there is someone else who has been waiting behind him poised to take a crack at it himself. Such is the case with the Maryland basketball team after today's announcement that guard Chris McCray was ineligible for the rest of the season. According to the report, McCray fell short of passing six credit hours in the fall semester.

More on McCray later, but first I want to look ahead at the immediate future for Terps basketball. It is quite likely that Mike Jones will replace McCray in the starting lineup. Jones was the #2 shooting guard in national high school rankings in 2002, just behind some kid named Lebron James. That makes Jones the highest rated recruit Coach Gary Williams has ever landed at Maryland. Jones is hardly in the J. J. Redick mold of shooting guard. He is an exceptional athlete who ran track in high school and one year finished second in the 100-meter dash at the Massachussetts state meet.

Some of you reading this outside the ACC area may wonder, then, why you haven't heard about Jones before. Well, when you average 4.9 points as a freshman and 7.2 per game as a sophomore, the media doesn't pay much attention, and those were Jones' numbers his first two years at Maryland. Coach Williams also had issues with his defense, and he is not a particularly good ball handler.

The young man can score points in a hurry when his shooting stroke is on. He scored 22 points recently vs. Wake Forest on 8-11 shooting, and made 4-7 threes vs. Gonzaga at the Maui tournament in November. Unfortunately, Jones has had two games this season where he did not score from the field, and five where he only made a single hoop, including three of his last four games.

I've talked extensively about Mike Jones on my regular radio appearances with Bob Haynie on WNST radio in Baltimore. For 2 1/2 seasons we have speculated on when he would break out and claim a spot in the Terps' starting lineup. The debate, ironically enough, has often been who should take the shooting guard spot, Jones or Chris McCray. I have been a long time McCray supporter, feeling that he had a much better all-around game than Jones. McCray was a outstanding defender and good ball handler and usually no slouch in the shooting department himself.

Now, by default, Jones will have every opportunity to play 30-35 minutes per game on a regular basis, even if he doesn't start. Coach Williams recently gave him the green light to shoot, but will he respond with more 8-11 games like he did against Wake or 1-4 efforts like Saturday night vs. Virginia Tech? No pressure, Mike, but Maryland's chances of returning to the NCAA tournament might very well be riding on it.

I recently wrote a piece sharing my concerns and disappointment with the character and heart of the 2005-06 Maryland basketball team, so obviously this is just another brick in that wall. The blame game is being played among Maryland fans regarding McCray's demise. Quesions about academics and college athletes is a very sticky subject and, of course, the opportunities and challenges these players face succeeding in both areas vary wildly.

There is an extensive academic support unit on the College Park campus and many others with major sports programs. These schools often realize that they are reaching below normal standards to accept some of their athetes, particularly football and men's basketball players, into school and have made great efforts at significant expense to help them meet at least minimum standards of eligibility. If an athlete is in over his head at one of these schools, he has every opportunity and then some to get help that is often well above and beyond what the average non-athlete will receive.

When someone in this situation, with all these resources made available to him, fails, they should only have to look in the mirror to find the person responsible. I hope Chris McCray does this and uses this latest misstep to FINALLY grow up. I hope he feels the responsibility of letting his teammates and coaches down and that it bothers him enough to make a difference in how he approaches the rest of his life.

Here is the Washington Post article on this story with comments from McCray's mom. She is more than happy to point the finger away from her son.

Coach Gary Williams is not blameless in this situation. I don't fault him for McCray's failure in the classroom. I've always had the impression that Williams is a bit more hands off regarding off the court activities than some coaches are, and I totally respect that. It's up to him to give his players the opportunity to be successful, but if he or his staff hold their hands through every step of their life while they're on campus, what would they really learn from the experience? Maybe that their athletic ability will continue to entitle them to special treatment instead of figuring out how to manage their own lives like most other college students.

Where Williams has come up short is in his recruiting. He obviously recruited talented players on this year's team, but did he sacrifice character and heart to do so? The results, both on and off the court, lead me to conclude that he did. The balance of the 2005-06 season is very important to Williams and Terrapin basketball, but it will be the next two recruiting classes that will allow us to completely evaluate what direction the program is heading.

Right now, it is closer to slipping into mediocrity than returning to the Final Four. Coach Williams has done some of his best work in his most challenging situations. He now has another opportunity to excel.

The CourtMaster Is Packed

Packed is a good description of the ACC basketball standings, where all but two of the teams have between 2-4 conference losses. Duke is undefeated, Virginia Tech is winless, and everyone else if jockeying for position.

I like NC State and Miami to possibly break out of the pack, but it's way too early to overlook Maryland, North Carolina, or even Boston College, while Clemson and Virginia are showing unexpected strength in the early going.

For my entire column and some highlights from last week's ACC play, check out Duke Basketball Report.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Self-"I Think The Internet Stinks"

That's Self as in Bill Self, the head basketball coach at Kansas, not self as in myself. I just wanted to be very clear about that.

Self utted that statement to an AP reporter while talking about how Kansas fans have reacted to his team's last two games, losses to rivals Kansas State and Missouri. The latter loss was the most painful after Kansas' Christian Moody clanged two free throws with four seconds remaining in regulation of a tie game. The Jayhawks eventually lost in overtime, and some of their fans didn't take it very well and expressed their angst in no uncertain terms on Internet message boards. They were the primary target of Self's comment, as Moody has been the target of their frustation and anger.

"One thing I think has hurt college athletics more than anything is the technology age," Self added. He also said how he learned not to read the message boards and counsels his players to follow the same course. That's pretty good advice from the coach, but I think his broad statement about the technology age is something he should feel silly about ever having said in public.

More coverage of college basketball generates more interest and excitement among fans, which creates more demand for tickets and increases television ratings, which increases television contracts and demand for officially licensed school products which means more money in the school's coffers (and a higher salary for the basketball coach).

See, everybody wins. Except when they lose, that is. Then, it can get ugly. Very, very ugly, especially when a school with a long record of success hits a rough patch. Fans of programs like Self's Jayhawks and Kentucky, for example, feel winning teams are practically a birthright. When their heroes stumble and lose, as both programs have done this season, fans scream louder than a little baby that just had their binky yanked out of their mouth.

When a team I root against loses, the first place I go is to a message board at one of that school's popular fan sites on the Internet and watch the implosion with glee. For cheap, tawdry entertainment, it just doesn't get much better than that. The venting that goes on at these boards, particuarly within the first hour of a loss, is not for the faint of heart. I would like to think that these fans direct their hostility into their Internet posts, but I suspect some of them still have enough anger left over to log off and then go break something.

Of course, there is one sure way for players and coaches to avoid the worst of this phenomenon-don't ever lose. Even then, though, a win that is too close for comfort will annoy some fans, and they would not hesitate to share that feeling with the Internet world.

That's okay, Coach Self. When you should worry is when they don't bother to post. Anger is not your biggest concern regarding your fan base, apathy is. As long as you're at Kansas, I doubt you'll have much to worry about in that area. I would continue to stay away from the message boards, though.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Both Ends of the Spectrum in College Sports

I've mentioned the NCAA's blog, "Double-A Zone," previously, but there are two recent posts there that I feel are worth linking to and commenting on.

In the first one, writer Josh Centor shares some his experiences as a Division III baseball player at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass. From purely a sports perspective, you've probably never heard of Brendeis, and I'm sure you've never heard of Josh Centor, and that's really the point I'm making here.

Centor and his teammates knew that you would probably never hear of their exploits, their successes or their failures. They didn't play for fame or fortune, or even a scholarship since they are not allowed in Division III athletics. They actually played for the love of the game, and thousands upon thousands of college students still do that every year. Teams in the NCAA's Division II, Division III, the NAIA, and countless junior colleges are 99% comprised of athletes competing because they enjoy doing it. The lack of attention they draw does not diminish the impact the participation has on the athletes' lives, a point Josh states very eloquently in his post.

On the same blog, there is a contribution by none other than Myles Brand, best known as the man who fired Bob Knight and who currently serves as the president of the NCAA. In his post "The Problem," Brand talks about the financial situation in college sports today. He states that while there is a perception of major college programs rolling in money, few of them operate at a profit.

Brand writes that the biggest financial problem facing college sports is the rapidly increasing rate of expenitures. I couldn't agree with him more. There are hundreds of millions of dollars, being spent every year on constructing new stadiums/arenas or upgrading existing ones. There are also many millions being used to construct training facilities with the justification that they are required to "stay competitive." This is the NCAA's version of "keeping up with the Jonses, just like their professional counterparts. At least the schools don't threaten to move.

I've been behind the scenes at the University of Maryland's new basketball arena and their football training facility, and I was suitably impressed. The Comcast Center is beautiful, fan friendly and a great facility for athletes from many sports to use. If the Terps' football team was up to the level of their training center, they'd be in a BCS bowl every season.

It's all nice, but is it absolutely necessary? Of course not. Mr. Brand says that he will outline an approach he feels will lead to a moderation in athletics expenditures. Instinctively, I'm very sceptical, but he at least deserves credit for putting the situation out there. I think he is sincerely trying to do the right thing by the schools, athletes, and students. It remains to be seen how much he will actually be alowed to change. I eagerly anticipate his next post and will try very hard to give him the benefit of the doubt.

In the meantime, I'll dig around some of the D III websites if I want to get in touch with the heart and soul of college sports as they were meant to be played, and I'm glad Josh's story pointed me in that direction.

Monday, January 16, 2006

The CourtMaster Pushes Buttons

My buttons got pushed last week with events around the ACC while several coaches pushed the right buttons in their teams' big wins. The best example of this was Miami's coach Frank Haith, whose switching defenses befuddled North Carolina and led the 'Canes to an important road win at Chapel Hill. For more, see my latest column on Duke Basketball Report.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Terps: Heart and Character Do Count

Maryland's 2001-02 national basketball championship team was one the fans and alumni could take great pride in. It went well beyond the fact that they were good.

Gary Williams had put together a group of players that (with the exception of forward Chris Wilcox) weren't highly recruited, and stepped onto the College Park campus with something to prove. They were also athletes with great character. The struggles that star Juan Dixon dealt with growing up are well documented. Forward Byron Mouton lost his brother, who was murdered, early in that championship season. Even Coach Williams overcame adversity that season, losing his father on the eve of Duke's last visit to Cole Field House.

Those 2001-02 Terps were a team that any fan (except perhaps for those from Duke) would want to see succeed. As an alumnus, I was proud of the way that team represented my school.

Now we are in the midst of the 2005-06 season, not even four years later, and I find myself struggling to root for the team Gary Williams puts on the floor. The heart and character the championship team showed seem a distant memory, with this season's squad apparently lacking in both areas.

Questions regarding Maryland's heart seem appropriate after watching their abysmal performance during their 76-52 loss at Duke Wednesday night. Afterwards, senior forward Travis Garrison said, "This is our last go-round. We can't let this season be a season like last year."

Garrison has already accomplished that personally, getting himself suspended for Sunday night's critical game vs. Wake Forest. Garrison was charged with two misdemeanors on Friday relating to an altercation he had with a woman at a bar near the College Park campus back in October. The suspension is for Garrison's violation of a rule requiring members of the team to stay out of bars late at night. Coach Williams is reserving further action until the legal process plays out, a decision which I find completely appropriate.

The Terps' leading scorer, Chris McCray, said his team "came out flat" for the Duke game. WHAT! How can any basketball team come out flat when playing the #1 team in the nation, not to mention their bitter rival? It's easy to blame the coach, but as I told host Bob Haynie on WNST radio in Baltimore on Friday, all any coach in that situation should have to do is open the locker room door and send his players onto the court for them to be fired up.

McCray has dealt with his own issues over the past few months. In August, he was charged with resisting arrest and two other misdemeanors when police tried to break up a party he was attending. The charges were dropped, but McCray admitted he was drinking irresponsibly and entered an alcohol education program. Did he learn his lesson? I suspect not.

Earlier this season, McCray was replaced in the starting lineup after being late for a team meeting. He was also named as a witness in the complaint against Garrison, which could result in further disciplinary action.

I can't imagine ever rooting against any team with "Maryland" on their jerseys, but it's hard rooting FOR this group of basketball players. There are some Terp fans that will think I'm a traitor for saying that. I would disagree. I'm just holding my school to a high standard and believe all fans should do the same for theirs.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Embarrassed at Cameron

When I appeared on Bob Haynie's radio show on WNST 1570 in Baltimore on Monday, he asked me what I expected to happen in tonight's Maryland-Duke game. Instinctively, I answered, "Hell if I know." I gathered myself enough to predict a ten-point Duke victory. I was a tad off-Duke won 76-52.

Being a Maryland fan, I would have liked my team's chances if I had known in advance that J. J. Redick would make only 4-13 shots from three-point range and 9-22 overall. I also would have felt positive knowing Maryland would grab 21 offensive rebounds.

However, if I'd had any inkling the Terps would turn the ball over 29 times, including 18 in the first half, I probably would have watched the Style channel instead. Shelden Williams' triple-double, only the third in Duke history, insured the game would be a rout.

I kept an eye on the second half, waiting for that one desperate run that Maryland would make to at least scare the Cameron Crazies. I'm still waiting because the Blue Devils were never threatened.

I was prepared for a Duke win, but I was not anywhere near ready to watch my team be totally unable to handle the Blue Devil's aggressive defense. Each pass was an adventure, each attempt at driving the lane or making an entry pass was fraught with peril, often resulting in a turnover or one of Williams' ten blocked shots.

Now what? Hell if I know. Maryland is now 1-2 in the ACC with both losses coming on the road--in itself no big deal. They way the Terps have lost, however, IS a big deal. Their next game, Sunday night at home vs. Wake Forest, becomes critical. Unfortunately for Maryland, the Deacons will come in feeling the same way. Wake is 0-2 in the ACC, dropping an overtime game at Clemson after being blown out at home by Duke.

Terps' coach Gary Williams must find the right button to push to reach his team again, balancing between the abuse they sorely deserve and the encouragement they desperately need. If he fails to do so, Maryland's season will be teetering on the brink.

Good Looking Atheletes Playing Ugly

Contrary to what I heard on sports-talk radio, last night's basketball games on ESPN and ESPN2 did NOT set college basketball back anywhere between 20-50 years.

It wasn't that the teams polluting my television screen didn't try, though. Wow, there was some UGLY major conference college basketball played last night. Thought the carnage, I did pick up on a trend: gifted athletes do not directly equate to gifted basketball players.

There was some evidence to support this in North Carolina's 64-61 win at Virginia Tech. The Tar Heels have a big man, Tyler Hansbrough, who has ridiculously well polished low-post skills for a freshman on both ends of the court. As a result, he totally outplayed his more experienced and more athletic counterpart, the Hokies' Coleman Collins.

Without any inside game working, Tech had to rely on their perimter game. That didn't work out very well since they made only 3-13 from three-point range and shot 40.7% for the game. This enabled Carolina to overcome 25 turnovers, including a mind-blowing seven by backup point guard Quentin Thomas in nine minutes--how does someone manage to do that?

The Tar Heels, along with their domiance inside, were skilled enough to force the tempo to a pace too fast for the Hokies to handle, especially with the short bench Coach Seth Greenberg has to work with.

The Carolina-Tech game was a virtual classic compared to the next game I watched, the Vanderbilt-Kentucky debacle won by Vandy 57-52. I don't want to spoil the moment for the Commodore fans who can celebrate a win at Lexington for the first time since 1974, but how can a team shoot 34% and win on the road? When their gracious host shoots 35% and only makes 5-20 beyond the arc.

Randolph Morris contributed in his much ballyhooed return, scoring 10 points and grabbing 7 rebounds in 28 minutes, but the Wildcats' problems run much deeper than he can fix. For reasons known only to him, Coach Tubby Smith has recruited a group of athletes that mostly can't shoot a lick. They play strong defense, but then again they'd better. Kentucky did score 80 points against West Virginia and 79 vs. North Carolina, but they appear to be regressing, scoring less than 60 in each of their last three games.

The SEC is not as strong as usual right now, with the noteable exception of Florida, so this season may not be a disaster for Kentucky. At this point, though, it's safe to assume it won't be very pretty either.

Tubby may want to look toward Raliegh and see what NC State Coach Herb Sendek has done with his team. Sendek, who was an assistant at Kentucky with Smith under Rick Pitino, has to fight Duke and North Carolina for recruits. He has not always succeeded in signing blue chip players, but most of his recruits have excellent basketball skills.

If you watch this season's Wolfpack, it will seem that they can all shoot, pass, and dribble. If you notice that, you're sure not to confuse them with the 2005-06 Kentucky Wildcats that struggle to do any of the above with consistency.

Why Tubby Smith, a great bench coach, has assembled a roster so lacking in basketball talent is beyond my comprehension, but he doesn't have to answer to me. That's just as well, he's got enough on his plate dealing with a lot of angry Wildcat fans.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

The CourtMaster Opens Up

In my latest Duke Basketball Report column, I share my thoughts after watching the first week of conference play in the ACC.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Story Updates

Over the weekend, I wrote about the dismissal of Marcus Vick from Virginia Tech last Friday. His name is in the news again today with the announcement that he was charged with pulling a gun on three teenagers in a McDonald's parking lot in Suffolk, Virginina, the town where his mother lives.

Now I've encountered issues at McDonald's when I couldn't get my order right, but I never considered shooting anyone. Of course, I never carried a gun either, but maybe that's just me. In my post on Saturday, I speculated whether we would see the younger Vick brother first in an NFL or police lineup. I didn't have to wait long to find out.

In a story not involving deadly weapons, Arkansas fans have not given up hope of local high school quarterback Mitch Mustain attending their school. Mustain had verballed to Arkansas but, as I wrote about a couple of weeks ago, decommitted even after the Razorbacks hired his high school coach for their staff. A group of fans have established the site "Stay Home Mitch"
and already have 371 signiatures. Signing day is February 1, so at least they didn't have to make a long term investment.

The NCAA Joins the Blogosphere

I recently ran across a blog affiliated with the official NCAA site. Titled Double-A Zone, the blog does a good job taking the reader behind the scenes at officla NCAA functions and lifts the veil on some of the day-to-day operations. The writer, an NCAA staffer named Josh Centor, was a Division III football player at Brandeis and a media relations assistant at Boston College. He does a good job making some pretty dry material as entertaining and interesting as it can be. If the inner-workings of the NCAA interests you, I would strongly recommend you check this site out.

Josh has been kind enough to link to The CourtMaster site, which I appreciate.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Joe Paterno-Out of Touch

Spending virtually your entire adult life in one profession for one employer can have a way of skewing one's perspective. That controlled environment can become the center of your world and it becomes easy to lose touch with issues that don't directly involve it.

That's the only explaination I can offer for Penn State football coach Joe Paterno's insensitive remarks last week. Paterno has given 55 years of loyal and successful service to Penn State and assisted the university in areas well beyond the football field. He was asked about an alleged sexual assault that resulted in the suspension of one of Florida State's best defensive players, A. J. Nicholson, for the Orange Bowl. His response, as reported by the AP, served neither him or his school very well.

"There's so many people gravitating to these kids," Paterno said. "He may not have even known what he was getting into, Nicholson. They knock on the door; somebody may knock on the door; a cute girl knocks on the door. What do you do?"

"Geez. I hope - thank God they don't knock on my door because I'd refer them to a couple of other rooms," Paterno continued. "But that's too bad. You hate to see that. I really do. You like to see a kid end up his football career. He's a heck of a football player, by the way; he's a really good football player. And it's just too bad."

There have been no legal charges filed in this case, at least through Sunday, but Paterno had already treaded Nicholson, the accused, as if he were the victim.

The president of the Pennsylvania chapter of NOW (National Organization for Women) , Joanne Tosti-Vasey, was outraged and called for Paterno to resign. She issued a statement on Friday saying, "When someone of his stature makes light of sexual assault, we have a serious problem." It sends a message that this behavior is not serious ... that sexual assault or rape or violence against women is acceptable for an athlete." The national office of NOW supports this view.

While I don't believe this calls for Paterno to step down from his job, I do think a price should be paid for his "boys will be boys" approach. Violent acts of male athletes toward women is a serious problem on college campuses, and a respected leader like Paterno should treat the issue with some basic level of sensitivity, or at the very least keep his mouth shut about them. Since he chose not to, I think a sizeable donation to an appropriate non-profit organization that assists victims of abuse along with a profuse apology would be a good place to start balancing the scales.

Football players may be the center of Joe Paterno's universe, but in the grand scheme of things they are no more important than any other student on campus, or any person in our society. If Coach Paterno knows that, he needs to do a much better job of expressing it.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Marcus Vick A Hokie No More

Quarterback Marcus Vick was dismissed from Virginia Tech on Friday after school President Charles Steger was made aware of a traffic violation Vick had committed on December 17.

This decision hurts the Virginia Tech football program, Head Coach Frank Beamer, and ACC football. Marcus Vick? Too soon to tell.

President Steger told the media that Vick “no longer deserved the privilege of playing Virginia Tech football.” That was a very refreshing statement to hear, a reminder that no one, not even a member of the Vick family, has a God-given right to play intercollegiate sports. It is an opportunity that should be earned. President Steger felt Vick no longer deserved that, and I wholeheartedly agree.

It would have been even better if Beamer had more strongly reinforced that view instead of acting as an apologist for Vick. I suspected this decision was thrust upon him, and watching the video of the news conference only reinforced that view.

I don’t want to come across as too harsh toward Beamer. I think he is a good man who really does care about his players, but he’s been down this road before. Back in the late 1990’s off the field problems drew some very negative attention toward his program and the school. The administration had to step in then and lay down strict guidelines regarding player behavior, and it appears that they took the initiative on Friday to cut the school’s losses with Marcus Vick.

This move will obviously hurt the quality of the product Virginia Tech will put on the field next season. The backup quarterback listed on their two-deep for the Gator Bowl was Sean Glennon, who threw 11 passes in 2004 and did not play this season. Since the Hokies lose their top two running backs from this year’s squad, seniors Cedric Humes and Mike Imoh, having a quarterback with almost no experience will be a problem.

Viewing this through a broader lens, Vick’s dismissal will also hurt ACC football. The conference has been a very defensive oriented league the last two seasons and there’s nothing wrong with that. There has been a lot of good football played in the ACC during that time.

Unfortunately, it’s players like Vince Young and Reggie Bush who garner the media attention, not Mario Williams or D’Quell Jackson. Marcus Vick would have been the marquee player in the conference in 2006 and may have developed into a Heisman Trophy candidate. I don’t see anyone else on an ACC roster poised to fill that role.

Frank Beamer said that Marcus Vick was “deeply hurt, deeply saddened” when told of his dismissal from school. Shortly after Beamer said that, Vick issued a statement where he said, "I am very excited about this opportunity and look forward to proving my athletic ability at the professional level. I believe I am ready for this challenge and the next chapter of my life."

Boy, youngsters sure do bounce back quickly, don’t they? Speaking of that, I bet his mother gave him some stern parenting after getting kicked out of school. Vick’s mother, Brenda Boddie, told the AP in a telephone interview Saturday, “Everybody does stupid stuff when they’re 19, 20, 21, years old. Everybody goes through that. Nobody’s perfect. He just did the wrong thing.

"Everybody does it in the NFL and college football," Boddie continued. "He just got caught doing it, and since he's been in trouble in the past everything just got blown all out of proportion."

That sounds more like enabling than parenting to me. If I had done even half of what Vick is documented having done when I was his age, my mother would have introduced great pain into my life. Of course, knowing that, I kept my nose pretty clean.

Vick announced that he will make himself eligible for the NFL draft, a logical move since he had only one year of college eligibility left. Early analysis seems to point toward him being taken on the second day of the draft, somewhere in the middle rounds. That fact alone will cost him millions of dollars in signing bonus money, but he will have a chance to make that up if he gets his act together and plays up to the level of his physical gifts.

As I think about this new scenario for Marcus Vick, I recall a player who was recently dismissed from a major football program due to legal problems. You may have seen his name in the news recently. I’m talking about Maurice Clarett, the former Ohio State running back who was charged with armed robbery after wasting his opportunity to make the Denver Broncos last summer. He was also a mid-round draft pick.

I would much rather see Marcus Vick in an NFL lineup in the future and not a police lineup. In my opinion, at this point neither one would surprise me.

ACC Bowl Recap

In my latest Southern Pigskin column, I recap a bowl season that could have been a LOT better for the ACC. This was written before the announcement of Marcus Vick's dismissal from Virginia Tech.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Sports Are Not Fair

Sometimes, sports are not fair. Sure, the games have a score and clearly delineated winners and losers laid out in black and white for all to see. When it comes down to evaluating individual participants, though, there are often shades of gray to discern. From my vantage point, two quarterbacks in yesterday’s bowl games, Cody Hodges and Marcus Vick, illustrate this point.

Hodges was the quarterback for Texas Tech, a fifth-year senior who waited until this season to be handed the keys to Coach Mike Leach’s high-octane offense. It was worth the wait. The Red Raiders finished the regular season 9-2 and earned a Cotton Bowl bid vs. Alabama, the #2 ranked defense in the nation.

Vick is the quarterback for Virginia Tech, a redshirt sophomore who did not play in 2004 due to his well documented legal problems. He led the Hokies to a national ranking as high as #3 and a spot in the ACC championship game. Despite losing to Florida State, Tech finished 10-2 and earned a spot in the Gator Bowl to play Louisville.

Both quarterbacks faced adversity yesterday and handled it in completely different manners. Hodges twisted his knee in the fourth quarter vs. Alabama and sat out a series while they were taping it up like a mummy. With his team trailing 10-3, Hodges lobbied his coach to put him back in the game. Leach did so, and the hobbling Hodges threw a late touchdown pass that tied the game.

Vick got off to a very slow start against a surprisingly tough Louisville defense and the Cardinals led the game into the third quarter. While things were going poorly for Vick and the Hokies’ offense, he responded by, apparently intentionally, stepping on the knee of Louisville star defensive end Elvis Dumervil while he was trying to get out of the pile after a play. Vick claims it was accidental, but also claimed that Dumervil accepted his apology after the game. Dumervil says no apology was offered for him to accept.

If sports were fair, Texas Tech rides the heroic performance by Hodges to victory, and Vick winds up getting pounded and looking out of the earhole of his helmet while his Hokies are losing.

Instead, Alabama moved down the field to kick a last second field goal and defeat Texas Tech 13-10, and Vick, along with a strong Virginia Tech defensive effort in the second half, came back to beat Louisville going away.

Despite the numbers on the scoreboard, I’d much rather be in Cody Hodges’ skin this morning than Marcus Vick’s. If I want to root for someone, I’ll always take the athlete that exhibits character, not the one who has a track record of acting like a young punk.

Monday, January 02, 2006

How to Beat the ACC

After scouting ACC hoops so far this season (from the comfort of my chambers) I devised game plans of how I would approach each team if I were coaching their opponents. That is the topic of my latest Duke Basketball Report column.