December 27, 2007 10:34 am ET by Kyle Whelliston
PAWTUCKET, R.I. -- Hey y'all, hope you had a great holiday. We sure did here at the version of TMM Mobile HQ that has its own basement. And with the lack of actual games these past three days, we also have the chance to catch our breaths and look at a few off-court stories in Hoops Nation lately.
Eddie Sutton in San Francisco. Jessie Evans had amazing success at Louisiana-Lafayette early in the decade, and the ULL-Western Kentucky rivalry was once one of the best that mid-majordom had to offer. He could just never get it going in San Francisco, had trouble recruiting and even more breaking through to 20 wins. His Dons muddled through three years in the WCC's midsection, which is where they'd already been for four seasons anyway before he arrived. It was probably time for a change.
After a 4-8 start, Evans reportedly had a quit-or-be-fired order because the school had a true coaching legend in the wings. It's not every day that you can get the second-winningest bench boss in men's college basketball history, and Eddie Sutton will coach USF on an interim basis after coming out of retirement, which began almost two years ago after a drunk driving accident.
It seemed to me that most of the coverage of this was centered around Sutton's closeness to his 800th win. He's just two away, and should be able to get that pretty quickly. Even the statement that son Scott issued from his post at Oral Roberts made prominent mention of the number 800. The first thing I thought of was an advanced-age Gordie Howe coming out on the ice to get another milestone, then shuffling back out into the night.
I really hope that Coach Sutton, who has never been to the USF campus, is in this for more than a round digit. And I hope the school is in this for more than five minutes on SportsCenter and national coverage it hasn't received in nearly a decade. This is the program of Bill Russell, two national championships (1955 and 1956), Phil Woolpert and Peter Peletta. It would be a shame if this proud school has resorted to a publicity stunt.
But if that isn't the case: welcome to the mids, Coach. We hope you stay a while.
Herb Pope, New Mexico State. There's no question that a 6-9 power forward rated in the top 50 by all the recruiting services could help out the Aggies right now. But eligibility issues have kept him shelved since October, when the NCAA clearinghouse raised concerns about the format of his high school transcript. He did receive a waiver early this season that allowed him to practice, but that was reversed when the NCAA said further review was required.
Over the weekend, the situation became even more complicated. Pope and his lawyer received a restraining order against the NCAA, and the big frosh will be on the practice court this week. But what if he plays in games, and then the NCAA declares him ineligible for the season? What if his restraining order is struck down or somehow ruled unjustified down the road? Could any games Pope appeared in be vacated, could NMSU face giant sanctions and penalties? The school is in talks with the NCAA about that, but those answers seem to be as forthcoming as the ones about Pope's eligbility.
I'm not a lawyer or an expert on the way the NCAA handles things internally, but it seems to me that the way to spare everybody this ridiculousness is for the governing body to make a decision on Pope's eligibility. That's all anybody's waiting for, a thumbs up or a thumbs down. And Pope isn't the only one who's being effected by this foot-dragging... at least seven coaches I've talked to this year have had a recent clearinghouse horror story regarding professionalism or academics, including Gregg Marshall, who detailed his troubles getting an overseas player through over the summer in our interview with him. And there's Niagara and Iowa State and Purdue and yes, San Francisco, who have found that getting European players into programs is a slow, case-by-case process that could go either way.
Clearly-written rules, consistently enforced, would help in all these situations -- but we're not quite there. The lack thereof is taking the focus off the floor, confusing a lot of people's lives, and it's turning people like me into legal extrapolators and opinion columnists. If the NCAA would process these cases during the summer, then we could get back to enjoying the games in the winter.
The MEAC Tourney. Sad news for those of us who love HBCU hoops -- March's week of MEAC fun will likely be the final version at Raleigh's RBC Center. They've had a lot of trouble getting it to work financially the past two years, but I had no idea it was this bad.
A concert that draws 15,000 people, [RBC Center VP/GM Dave] Olsen said, would generate approximately the same ancillary income as the basketball tournament produces in six days.
Ouch. It takes the MEAC almost a week of sessions to fill the building twice over! And it isn't that people don't like black college basketball or anything. Making things even more embarrassing for the MEAC is the resounding success of the Division II CIAA tourney, which moved out to Charlotte in 2006 after outgrowing Raleigh. The CIAA event is everything the MEAC's is, but add a slick marketing machine, an embrace of 21st Century technology and a better balance of new and old schools. It pays off: the CIAA grosses four times what the MEAC event does, and draws literally hundreds of thousands of fans to its annual event.
Sadly, the MEAC doesn't have what it takes to compete in a sports entertainment world, and may be a bit stuck in the past. Dealing with the MEAC may be like going to a friendly neighborhood grocery store, but the CIAA is a smooth-running sports supermarket (they're on me every spring, even though I only cover D-I). The worst part is that the MEAC's basketball championship has had to rely on local government support to make it in Raleigh, and there's charity where self-sufficiency should be.
And this is a hypothetical for all the people who know who they are. Imagine if the CIAA had gone Division I instead of the MEAC three decades ago, if the CIAA had the rep and the power the MEAC had at that time. What if we were talking about teams like Shaw and Virginia Union and Virginia State going to the Big Dance. Things would be different, wouldn't they?
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