Recapping the offseason's first 50 days
Have you ever visited a particularly depressing casino? You know the kind. Sparsely populated, rundown floors smelling of stale cigarettes and shame. Hunched seniors pulling slots in dead silence. Broken machines squealing unhinged carnival noises. Angry patrons storming away from ATMs without that last bit of cash they so desperately seek.
The college basketball offseason is a little like that.
The season itself is a full-floored Las Vegas romp, full of glitz, glamour and excitement. Some win, some lose, but the next game is always just around the corner. Who's up for some craps? Why not!
Then, just like that, it's gone. Five months of too much basketball -- concluded by the greatest month in all of sports -- end with seven months of no basketball at all. The addicted college hoops fan is left banging his fist against the ATM, constantly searching for that next big fix, even when the next big fix is months away. It's as depressing as any casino could ever be.
Here's the good news: The time moves faster than you might think. As of today, we're now -- count 'em -- 50 days into the 2011 offseason. That means 50 fewer days until Midnight Madness. Hey, it could be worse.
The swift passing of time makes sense. In 50 days, we've witnessed the (still ongoing) spin of the coaching carousel. We've seen draft decisions come fast and furious. And, as always, we've chuckled at the kind of amusing minutiae that we bereaved basketball fans must resort to in the absence of actual hoops. (Kyle Singler trick shot video! Weeeee!)
We haven't had anything as earth-shaking as NCAA tournament expansion or conference realignment -- the two major drivers of conversation at this time last year -- to chew on in 2011. That will come this summer, when the NBA's owners and players collectively bargain on the one-and-done rule when the CBA expires June 30. Still, just like 2010, most of this year's offseason intrigue occurred in that first 50-day period -- before June, July and August, when that tortured casino metaphor will become painfully apt.
Just like last year, then, let's recap some of the biggest stories from the first 50 days of the offseason. From coaching changes to the new draft deadline, here's what you missed if you started sleeping during that offensive-challenged national title game and are just now waking back up to college hoops:
The NCAA's new draft deadline becomes the worst rule change of all time. OK, so maybe that's an overstatement. But not by much.
When the NCAA changed its early-entry draft deadline to May 8 -- a full month and change ahead of the previous mid-June deadline -- it did more than make the lives of year-round college hoops bloggers a little busier. (Again, NCAA, thanks for that.) It also robbed players who wanted to test the draft waters of valuable time in which to do so.
Who came up with this gem? It wasn't the NCAA itself. Instead, the rule was drafted and submitted by ACC coaches. Why? Because those coaches were frustrated at the will-he-stay-or-go-process inherent in filling scholarships during the spring signing period, and they wanted to do something about it.
So, to review: Coaches submit a rule that helps coaches and hurts players. Rule is ratified by the NCAA. Most everyone (except, of course, said coaches) agree this rule is about as fair as Daniel Tosh vs. Manny Pacquiao.
Surely this wouldn't happen again, right? Um, guys ... right?
The NCAA, led again by a proposal from ACC coaches, went one better this offseason. They moved the deadline all the way up to -- get this -- the day before the start of the spring signing period. The spring signing period, for those wondering, began April 12.
In other words, beginning in 2012, college hoops players will have about a week after the national championship game to talk to NBA personnel, work out in front of scouts and general managers and make a life-changing decision with millions of dollars and a viable professional career on the line. And why? So the coaches -- those guys already making millions -- don't suffer the minor inconvenience of roster uncertainty.
It's a travesty. And it's a black mark for the NCAA, an organization struggling to combat the nagging, vague perception of "hypocrisy." Often, that perception is wrong. In this case -- when a non-profit dedicated to amateur athletics actively acted against the ability of those student-athletes to make educated decisions about their futures -- it couldn't be more spot-on.
Speaking of draft decisions, what's the verdict on the lockout? Compared to 2012, those underclassmen making their decisions in 2011 had a relative eternity to do so. But they also had to do so in the midst of grave questions over whether there would actually be an NBA season in 2011-12. Would the threat of a lockout keep more players in school for another season?
The results were inconclusive.
Four of the most highly touted draft prospects in this year's class made surprising -- but not necessarily lockout-related -- decisions. All four stayed in school, and all four will have a huge impact on the college game in 2012 because of it.
Harrison Barnes returned to North Carolina on the promise of leading a loaded Tar Heels team to a run at the national title. Jared Sullinger was true to his word that he would be back for his sophomore season at Ohio State. Baylor's promising Perry Jones wanted another year to develop his game. Kentucky's Terrence Jones wanted to do the same, and Jones' mother conceded her son was partially spooked by the specter of a lockout.
That foursome has a lot in common. They're all freshmen. They were all surefire lottery picks. (In fact, Sullinger, Barnes and Perry Jones were likely top-five selections.) They decided to stay for another year. And if all goes as planned, they'll help make the 2011-12 college hoops season one of the most exciting and talent-rich seasons we've seen in a long time. In many ways, that's the story of the 2011 draft class.
Of course, not everyone stayed. Kyrie Irving left Duke to take his rightful place as the likely No. 1 overall pick. Arizona's Derrick Williams said he wasn't worried about a lockout. Nor, apparently, were the handful of players that probably should have stayed in school for another season: Michigan's Darius Morris, Texas' Cory Joseph and Illinois' Jereme Richmond, among several others.
Still, seemingly inadvisable draft decisions are nothing new, and in 2011, there was a minimal but noticeable decrease in the number of underclassmen that stayed in the NBA draft past the deadline. Whether that's a product of the lockout is up for debate. Either way, one thing is clear: With less attrition and more talent, college hoops is set up for a fantastic 2011-12 season.
The coaching carousel spins on. Most offseasons, the coaching carousel is characterized by two things: Speed and predictability. In 2011, this annual rite of spring was marked as much by surprise decisions and awkward timing. And we're still not done yet.
Among the biggest surprises was Missouri's hire of Miami coach Frank Haith, which precipitated Jim Larranaga's surprise move from George Mason to Miami and deposed Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt's move to George Mason -- a veritable triumvirate of "I did not expect that guy to be coaching THERE" style moves. Perhaps the biggest surprise of all, though, was how little interest some of the nation's top mid-major coaches -- Butler's Brad Stevens, VCU's Shaka Smart, Richmond's Chris Mooney and Wichita State's Gregg Marshall -- had in vacant jobs like Missouri, NC State and Georgia Tech.
As for awkward timing? Maryland coach Gary Williams' decision to retire May 6 created a late vacancy at one of the most desirable jobs in the country. It also extended the coaching carousel much longer than usual. Maryland made a solid hire in Texas A&M coach Mark Turgeon, who was in turn replaced by former Murray State coach Billy Kennedy, creating a vacancy for the Racers. You get the picture.
Last but not least, Monday came, and with it arguably the most surprising coaching news of the offseason: Penn State coach Ed DeChellis would resign his position with the Nittany Lions in order to take a job at ... Navy? Could that be right? Indeed, it was. DeChellis found a salary decrease and a guaranteed job preferable to rebuilding the Nittany Lions without a vote of confidence from his athletic director. Who will take the Penn State job? What school will see the next domino fall? Alas, the coaching carousel hasn't finished just yet.
Finally, a charge semicircle. A year ago, the NCAA made a subtle rule change, instructing referees to imagine -- yes, imagine -- an invisible NBA-esque charge semicircle under the baskets. The refs did as they were told, but one thing was missing: an actual charge semicircle (or if you want to get all technical about it, a "restricted area arc").
That will change in 2011-12. On May 4, the NCAA announced a spate of rules changes, one of which included a mandated charge semicircle on college courts around the country. The referees -- and, for that matter, fans -- will be forced to visit Imaginationland no more.
Transfers be transferrin'. College basketball has experienced a spate of transfers in recent years, and the 2011 offseason was no different. While the total transfer count is too large to list in this space -- hey, this column's already long enough -- some of the bigger names are worth mentioning.
After a monster NCAA tournament, Arizona's Lamont "MoMo" Jones left the school to look for a starring role elsewhere. George Mason's Luke Hancock, he of the late 3 to beat Villanova in the tourney, decided to leave the school for Louisville in the wake of Larranaga's departure for Miami. USC's Bryce Jones moved east, but not too far east, to UNLV. Dayton freshman Juwan Staten -- a top-100 recruit in the 2010 class -- was set on Penn State before DeChellis bolted for Navy; his destination is now in doubt. NC State freshman Ryan Harrow -- a top-50 recruit in the 2010 class -- hit the road after Sidney Lowe was canned and ended up at Kentucky. Promising Kansas State forward Wally Judge left the team during the season amid "emotional issues;" he'll be playing at Rutgers in 2012.
Aaric Murray (La Salle to West Virginia), Olu Ashaolu (Louisiana Tech to Oregon), Desmar Jackson (Wyoming to Southern Illinois) and Will Clyburn (Utah to Iowa State) are just a few of the under-the-radar players switching schools.
Most of these players -- with the exception of postgraduate transfers like Valparaiso's Brandon Wood, who will be eligible to play for Michigan State next season -- will have to wait a year before they're eligible to play. Still, their absences will be felt by their former teams in 2011. And until the NCAA sees a noticeable decrease in transfers, questions about the recruiting process and its ability to accurately match players with coaches and schools will continue to arise.
Think point shaving is dead? Think again. Point shaving seems antiquated, the stuff of the immortal Nick Nolte classic "Blue Chips" and aging Las Vegas mobsters in bowling shirts. Apparently, the practice remains alive and well.
That was allegedly the case at the University of San Diego in 2010 and 2011. In early April, federal authorities accused former USD star Brandon Johnson -- the school's all-time leading scorer -- of accepting a bribe to influence a Toreros game in 2010. Authorities also claimed Johnson, acting from his post in the NBA's developmental league this season, solicited someone to do the same in 2011. An ex-teammate and former USD assistant coach also were charged.
Johnson's case was devastating news for the San Diego program. In a larger sense, it's the stuff of NCAA nightmares. It invoked images of smoky backroom meetings and yellow envelopes full of cash. And it reminded us that the next big gambling scandal can happen anywhere. And any time.
Get ready for more Pac-12 hoops. Thanks to an outdated TV deal, Pac-10 hoops has been hard to find in recent seasons. Some games were available regionally. Some games simply weren't televised. No more. In early May, the new and expanded Pac-10 -- we're now calling it the Pac-12 -- signed a 12-year television contract with ESPN and Fox that begins in the 2012-13 season.
The deal is a win-win for the Pac-12 and its fans. The league makes a boatload of cash -- $225 million per year, or $2.7 billion over the life of the deal -- and fans get easier, more widespread access to the Left Coast's marquee hoops league. No more scanning Twitter for late-night Arizona-Washington State scores. No more deep channel searches on your DirecTV box. Just good, old-fashioned TV broadcasts. Like I said: win-win.
Another NCAA proposal to watch. Remember the 2010 offseason? It was a little bit freaky. The NCAA was in deep on a 96-team NCAA tournament expansion. Conference realignment was beginning its tectonic shifts. It was a volatile time; the game was undergoing massive changes and fans seemed to have little say in the matter.
There's nothing quite so scary in 2011. We don't yet know what the product of an NBA lockout will be, whether the one-and-done rule will survive, or what form it may take as a bargaining chip -- two years? three? none at all? -- between the NBA and the players' association in the collective bargaining negotiations this summer. The rule will have a massive impact on the game, but a manageable one.
Arguably, the more impactful change could come from the NCAA. Last week, the Big Ten announced a proposal that would allow schools to increase scholarship funds to include "cost of attendance," a monetary amount set by each institution according to federal regulations for financial aid. On its face, this seems like a good idea. College costs more than tuition, books and room and board. Why shouldn't athletes who help bring in so much money to these various athletic departments get some small extra money for things like transportation and clothing?
Problem is, the proposal could fundamentally change basketball recruiting as we know it. If it passes, schools will have the option to increase their scholarship allowances, but there will be no NCAA-wide mandate to do so. Some schools -- many of the mid- and low-majors out of the 345 program in Division I basketball -- probably can't afford such adjustments. Some would use it. Many would not.
In the end, the proposal would end up as a competitive advantage for rich high-major conferences like the Big Ten, something commissioner Jim Delaney all but conceded during the proposal announcement last week. Mid-majors, also known as the Cinderellas that make the NCAA tournament so exciting every year, would only get left in the dust.
The proposal has the backing of NCAA president Mark Emmert, and it was supported by former NCAA president Myles Brand before his death. If it passes, it could have a greater impact than any other change to the college basketball game in years -- the one-and-done rule included.
In a dreadfully basketball-bereft offseason that's about to become much less eventful, this is at least one story worth keeping an eye on.
Eamonn Brennan covers college basketball for ESPN.com. You can see his work every Monday through Friday in the College Basketball Nation blog. To contact Eamonn, e-mail email@example.com or reach him on Twitter (@eamonnbrennan).
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