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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Some Kind of Leadership

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Frank: The NCAA tournament included a couple of coaches whose behavior was deemed, um, less than perfect with regard to NCAA rules.

Artie: Our own former UW-Milwaukee guy, Bruce Pearl, at Tennessee, and Jim Calhoun at Connecticut.

Frank: With the Volunteers "one and done," Pearl is now a former Tennessee guy, too. Earlier this season he was suspended for eight Southeastern Conference games and took a pay cut for, in the NCAA's words, "providing misleading and incorrect information" to investigators of recruiting violations.

Artie:
Or, in plain language, he lied.

Frank:
He's always been a media darling, but he couldn't quip his way out of this. As for Calhoun, who's in the Sweet Sixteen, the NCAA has banned him from UConn's first three Big East games next season for "failing to create an atmosphere of compliance" in another investigation.

Artie:
All these fancy words. There was a simpler phrase back when Tricky Dick Nixon was his own defensive coordinator during Watergate: covering up!

Frank:
And in football we have another example in Jim Tressel of Ohio State. His story smells worst of all. It started in December when the NCAA suspended his star quarterback, Terrelle Pryor, and four other players for the first five games of 2011. They had sold championship rings, jerseys and awards, and also got discounts on tattoos.

Artie:
Thrifty student-athletes trying to make a few bucks and save on adornments. That's the enterprising spirit that made America great!

Frank:
Probably what OSU told the NCAA. But in the course of appealing, the school learned that Tressel knew about the improper benefits for at least nine months—in other words, all through the Buckeyes' 12-1 season.

Artie:
More echoes of Nixon. Remember, "What did the president know and when did he know it?" And didn't I read that Tressel's contract says he has to inform the school about any potential rule violations—with the word "any" underlined?

Frank:
True. Early in March the school suspended him for the first two games next season.

Artie:
In which the Buckeyes figure to pummel Akron and Toledo. Some punishment, ain'a?

Frank:
OSU said it "considered" barring Tressel from spring practice and summer camps, but decided against it.

Artie:
Of course. Those are times he really needs to be around.

Frank:
Then last week, when the NCAA denied OSU's appeal of the players' suspensions, Tressel voluntarily lengthened his penalty to five games so "the players and I can handle this adversity together." But of course the bans are for game-days only.

Artie:
That adds games against Miami—the Florida one—Colorado and Michigan State. A loss or two there might hit OSU in the only place it cares about: the national rankings.

Frank:
Obviously, Tressel is trying to dodge a harsher NCAA penalty—like wiping out the 2010 season because he used players found to be ineligible. And under his contract, OSU could fire him.

Artie:
Which they might do—if he had a .500 record. But the perfume of winning covers a lot of ethical stench.

Frank: Tressel signed an NCAA disclosure form last September saying he was unaware of any violations. But he'd exchanged e-mails in April and June with a Columbus lawyer who told him of the players' actions. An Associated Press story said Tressel explained that he didn't tell anyone "because he felt bound by confidentiality," since the tattoo-parlor owner was the subject of a federal drug-trafficking investigation. He said he never considered that the improper benefits might affect their eligibility.

Artie:
Just like it never dawned on Nixon that discussing payoffs for the Watergate burglars and ways to stymie the investigation might affect his eligibility as leader of the free world.

Frank:
Apparently, Tressel responded to one of the lawyer's e-mails this way, "I will get on it ASAP." Which to him apparently meant, "After Sanctions Affect Players."

Artie:
I don't think the NCAA went nearly far enough. Give OSU the "death penalty"!

Frank:
The offenses probably aren't as bad as what got Southern Methodist football shut down for 1987 and '88. That involved lots of cash payments to players when the school was already on probation.

Artie:
Hey, Tressel has been tainted before. When he was at Youngstown State a star QB, Ray Isaac, was accused of accepting stuff like cars from boosters, and the school eventually admitted it. At OSU tailback Maurice Clarett, who helped Tressel win the national title in January '03, was suspended for getting improper benefits from boosters.

Frank:
And so was Troy Smith, the Heisman Trophy QB of '06.

Artie:
At the very least the NCAA should make Tressel burn those ridiculous sweater vests he wears on the sidelines. He looks like he's Fred MacMurray in "Son of Flubber." Now we know he's more like MacMurray in "Double Indemnity."

Frank:
They could order him to wear only his gray vests and add a big scarlet letter—"M," as in "Mum's the word."



How Much Sweeter Will This Get?

Sixteen teams remain in the NCAA men's basketball tournament, and two are from this state. How many people really expected that? Wisconsin's advance to the Sweet 16 past Belmont and Kansas State wasn't a huge surprise, even considering the Badgers' 33-point debacle in the Big Ten tournament. But Marquette's gutty victories over Xavier and Syracuse made the Golden Eagles—the worst-seeded of 11 Big East teams—one of two conference survivors.

Now MU faces mighty North Carolina and UW draws always-scrappy Butler. But is anyone thinking the Eagles and Badgers can't possibly win twice more to reach the Final Four? Whatever happens now, their seasons have been sweet.


Artie: I would have called earlier, but I had an emergency. My toilet clogged up when I tried to flush my bracket. I should have ripped it up region by region.

Frank:
That makes me feel smart for not doing a bracket. And also for saying that because the Badgers flopped at the Big Ten tourney they'd certainly win twice.

Artie:
Which they did by playing their game—controlled offense, tough defense and making their free throws.

Frank:
Speaking of which, did you notice a similarity between MU and UW in their second games?

Artie:
Both teams made 19 of 23 from the line—routine for the Badgers but hardly for MU. If the Eagles hit their usual 70% instead of 82%, things might go differently. But they also made almost half of their three-pointers against that Syracuse 2-3 zone and of course played their usual swarming defense.

Frank:
UW managed to beat K-State even though their star guard, Jordan Taylor, shot badly.

Artie:
I thought Reggie Miller got carried away and portrayed the game as an NBA-style duel of stars, Taylor against Jacob Pullen. Maybe Taylor got to thinking like that; there was lots of dribbling and trying to do too much. Bo Ryan will talk to him.

Frank:
I still believe MU didn't deserve a shot at the national title with 14 losses. But as Todd Rosiak noted in the Journal Sentinel, after heartbreaking NCAA losses to Stanford, Missouri and Washington the last three years, the Eagles were due for good karma.

Artie:
And this tournament is so unpredictable, at least in the opening rounds. The parity among teams is so great and you only get one loss. Look at Virginia Commonwealth; they had a play-in game, then scored two upsets. Now that we're in the round of 16, though, things usually play according to form.

Frank:
UW has a pretty good draw: After Butler would come Florida or Brigham Young. Marquette, however, has to deal with either Ohio State or Kentucky if it beats North Carolina.

Artie:
The last time UW got to the Sweet Sixteen it ran into Davidson and Stephen Curry, who shot the lights out. Butler doesn't have anyone like him.

Frank:
But BYU does in Jimmer Fredette. I'm going to stay smart and not make any Final Four predictions. What does your now-soggy bracket say?

Artie:
I have Duke and Kansas in the final, which is still possible, with Kansas winning. But if the Badgers were to make the Final Four and knock off the Jayhawks, I could sure live with that!

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