Five programs, Big 12 have explaining to do
Pat Forde looks in on the proceedings where six programs and a conference are found guilty of impersonating a major.
Welcome to the perp walk, college hoops-style.
The following schools have been arrested on charges of Impersonating a Big-Time Basketball Program. They have the right to remain silent in the face of criticism of their recent performance. They have the right to an attorney, or at least a sports information director in charge of retaliatory spin. Anything they say may be used against them in the court of public opinion, and their work on the court of hardwood will be entered into evidence by the prosecution.
They have been fingerprinted. All thumbs, these guys.
Their mug shots have been taken. No championship nets seen around any necks.
Now it's arraignment time.
Bailiff: First on the docket, People v. Virginia.
Judge: Dave Leitao, how do you plead?
Leitao: Not guilty. We've had some great seasons in the greatest league known to man, the Atlantic Coast Conference. We're part of the In Crowd.
Jack McCoy (representing the people of Hoops Nation): Your honor, the people demand to know what evidence Virginia can present to support its outrageous contention that it is an upper-crust basketball school. Ralph Sampson is 45 years old. Jeff Lamp and Lee Raker are not walking through that door. Othell Wilson doesn't dribble here anymore.
For the deluded Virginians who thought Tubby Smith was going to leave Kentucky last spring to coach your Cavaliers, consider this: It has been 11 painful, humbling seasons since the Cavaliers won an NCAA Tournament game. Your program is as yesterday as Scotty Thurman.
Pete Gillen was a disaster. One NCAA bid, zero NCAA wins. Even the football schools like Florida State and Clemson have passed Virginia by. And the ultimate insult came last year: Rival Virginia Tech, a lifetime resident of the basketball backwater, barged into the lordly ACC and finished four games ahead of the Cavs in league play.
This year, in a depleted ACC, Virginia is still widely picked to finish last. Leitao will do well in Charlottesville, but this is going to take a long time.
Your honor, the good news is that the Cavaliers are not a flight risk. These guys just don't jump very well.
Judge: Bail is set at $5 million, roughly the worth of Leitao's new five-year contract.
Bailiff: Next on the docket, People v. Missouri.
Judge: Quin Snyder, how do you plead?
Snyder: Not guilty. I'm still a hot young coach, aren't I? Maybe? Isn't there someone out there who still has me on their Hot Young Coach rankings? We're still a hip program, even if I did cut my hair.
Jack McCoy: Your honor, the Tigers have fallen off the map and need to admit it. Actually, they need to admit that they were barely ever on the map. Missouri has never been to a Final Four.
What's more, the past few years have simply been embarrassing. The Tigers have finished between fifth and eighth every season this century in the Big 12. They haven't made the NCAA Tournament field the past two years. They have consistently underachieved, despite allegedly stellar recruiting. And there was that NCAA investigation into Mr. Snyder and his staff (and subsequent sanctions).
It's true that Mizzou finagled a few surprising NCAA tourney wins in 2002, but that only served as an indictment of its regular-season performance. No way that team should have been a No. 12 seed, given its talent. Since then: nothin'.
Your honor, the people request that you scan the preseason magazines in search of any hype pertaining to the Tigers this season. You'll find none.
Judge: Remand. Put 'em in Ricky Clemons' old cell.
Bailiff: Next, People v. Michigan.
Judge: Tommy Amaker, how do you plead?
Amaker: Not guilty. Anyone remember the Fab Five? Back-to-back national title games? Black socks? Shaved heads? Cool guys in cool unis? Well, we've still got the cool unis. That has to count for something.
Jack McCoy: Your honor, the Fab Five's three best players are now growing old in the NBA. It should be noted that they haven't won any championship rings there, either.
While the people understand the impact NCAA sanctions have had on the Wolverines, the statute of limitations on excuses has expired. It's time for Michigan to admit that it is a passé program, or else play better and rejoin the ranks of the competitive.
This team lost 13 of its last 14 games last season, judge, finishing 4-12 in Big Ten play -- and that's just the most recent bad news. Michigan hasn't been to an NCAA Tournament since 1998.
And even though the Fab Five was a fascinating and charismatic group, it never won a Big Ten title. Last time the Wolverines won the league? Try 1986. Does the name Gary Grant ring a faint bell?
Your honor, Michigan returns everyone from last year's team. It is high time to turn the corner -- but the corner is wider than a city block. Just breaking into the top half of the Big Ten will be difficult this year.
Judge: Bail is set at $280,000 -- equivalent to the alleged payments from Ed Martin to Chris Webber.
Bailiff: Next, People v. Arkansas.
Judge: Stan Heath, how do you plead?
Heath: Not guilty. We went to consecutive national-title games in the mid-1990s, you know. Find another Southeastern Conference team not named Kentucky that can say as much.
Jack McCoy: Judge, this is an open-and-shut case. The path to a return to SEC prominence has been wide open, but the Razorbacks have been shut out.
Even in a league that hasn't been very good lately, 10 SEC teams have gone to the NCAAs more recently than Arkansas. It hasn't been to the Dance since 2001. Its passport to the college game's VIP Club has expired. Last year ended so unhappily that the team turned down an NIT bid.
This is the only fan base in the league that can compete with Kentucky, but it has atrophied during the combative final years under Nolan Richardson and the unsteady three seasons under Mr. Heath. They've lost the passion that made games at Arkansas special.
But the people acknowledge that there is hope for rehabilitation here. The coach has his most experienced roster yet, and he's brought in former Akron head coach Dan Hipsher as an experienced first lieutenant. Arkansas could be the second-best team in the SEC West, behind Alabama. An NCAA Tournament return is imperative, before people forget what the phrase "40 Minutes of Hell" ever stood for in Fayetteville.
Judge: Bail is set at 10 plastic Hog hats.
Bailiff: People v. Memphis.
Judge: John Calipari, how do you plead?
Calipari: Not guilty. Everyone's out to get us. And if Dajuan Wagner hadn't gone pro, and Amare Stoudamire hadn't gone pro, and Kendrick Perkins hadn't gone pro, and Qyntel Woods hadn't gone pro ...
Jack McCoy: Judge, this obfuscation of the bottom line could go on all day. Even with Wagner, Memphis was an NIT team. Fact is, the Tigers have been an NIT team more often than not under Mr. Calipari. They've won one NCAA Tournament game in his five years. Is that why they paid him all that money to come there?
Attendance was terrible last year at the FedEx Forum. We're now more than two decades removed from Keith Lee taking the Tigers to the Final Four. Anfernee Hardaway couldn't take Memphis back to the mountaintop. Lorenzen Wright couldn't, either. Wagner was barely on campus long enough to learn where the library was. Sean Banks wore out his welcome and never wore a championship ring.
Your honor, the people concede that Memphis has top-15 talent this year -- maybe top 10. But playing in a diminished Conference USA, who's going to notice? It will take a full season of work to re-establish residency in the hoops hierarchy. The people are willing to consider early release in March -- if the Tigers are in the field of 65 and actually do something once there.
Judge: Bail is set at a slab of Rendezvous ribs and a velvet Elvis.
Bailiff: People v. UNLV.
Judge: Lon Kruger, how do you plead?
Kruger: Not guilty. We're the only game in the gaming-est town in America, your honor. We've got a big-time arena, we've got high-roller boosters and we've still got a magic name in college basketball. We belong.
Jack McCoy: They belong to the Hoops Has-Beens Support Group, your honor. No-limit hold 'em owns Las Vegas, not the Runnin' Rebels.
The people emphatically report that UNLV has played just two NCAA Tournament games in the last 15 years, and has not won an NCAA game since Larry Johnson, Stacey Augmon and Greg Anthony rolled unbeaten into the Final Four in 1991. How many of today's teenagers remember that team?
Since the immortal picture came out of Anderson Hunt and Moses Scurry in the hot tub with Richard "The Fixer" Perry, UNLV basketball has ceased to exist as a major player.
Tim Grgurich, Rollie Massimino, Bill Bayno, Charlie Spoonhour ... they couldn't bring back Vegas. Are the people supposed to believe Mr. Kruger will? He's lost three of his top four scorers from last year, his top rebounder and his top assist man.
Judge: Remand. Find room for the Rebs next to The Fixer in lockdown.
Bailiff: People v. Big 12.
Judge: Commissioner Kevin Weiberg, how do you plead?
Weiberg: Not guilty. Judge, this is ludicrous. Oklahoma, Texas, Oklahoma State and Kansas all have been to the Final Four this century. It's a mockery that we've been dragged in here to appear before your court.
Jack McCoy: Your honor, the league has won one national title in the last 54 years. Let me repeat: one title, 54 years. Kansas, 1988. That's it.
In that time, that's tied with the Horizon League (Loyola-Illinois won one) and the Atlantic 10 (La Salle won one), and one behind the West Coast Conference (San Francisco won two).
Quit complaining and win the big one, please. And watch out for Bucknell along the way.
Judge: Bail is set at $15 million, the approximate league revenue from Oklahoma's embarrassing no-show in last season's Orange Bowl.
Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.