Writing On Wall For NCAA Amateur Status

By Posted on: March 18th, 2014 in Basketball, Featured Article, Football 15 Comments »

Yesterday, a lawsuit was filed in US federal court in yet another attempt to tear down the amateur distinction of big time college athletes at big time college institutions in an ultimate attempt to get fair compensation for student athletes in the respective multi-billion dollar industries in which they toil. This new suit, against the NCAA and the five largest conferences, challenges the lawfulness of the “wage” assigned to football and basketball players to being capped at the value of an academic scholarship, presumably under existing anti-trust legislation. With recent suits also pursuing the NCAA on similar grounds, could it finally be 3rd and 25 for college football? Watch for the pooch kick here soon.

While no reasonable person can defend hundreds of millions in value added to major programs’ bottom lines by a countless parade of high-profile athletes with little more than tuition and board as the carrot, no sane college football fan can discount the negative effect of direct money payments to players on the integrity of the sport. While this type of compensation and resulting corruption have gone on ever since we’ve had the game of football, the modern age brings the spotlight full on the big money sport it truly is. With major programs generating billions in revenue, the lavish amounts of money heaped on from ticket sales, television, and merchandising is too much to ignore anymore.

It’s un-American to think that  players’ images on TV and in video games can earn these types of dollars cumulatively but can provide no more than books, lodging,  and two semesters a year for the individual himself. It’s also unreasonable to think that the schools themselves, who have been building their brands for in excess of one hundred years in most cases, have no intrinsic value other than a revolving cast of semi-employees who filter in and out of their ranks every year. Why must it always be 3rd and long?

How did football and basketball end up like this, with the colleges serving as de facto farm systems for the sports, unlike baseball, which does provide a real alternative for those who wish to become semi-pro and those who want to remain amateurs until they get their education? We’ve so bastardized the systems and they’ve grown unchecked for so long that it may well now be impossible to separate those two distinctions again.

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It’s Time for Auburn to Roll the Dice on Bruce Pearl

By Posted on: March 17th, 2014 in Basketball 8 Comments »

pearlEverywhere you turn these days, it’s all about Bruce Pearl. Can Auburn get him? Will Auburn take a chance on him? But what’s the real story behind the colorful former Tennessee coach? What do we really know about him?

Most importantly, he led a down-and-out Tennessee program to six straight NCAA Tournament appearances. Auburn has been to eight total in its history. He’s the second fastest coach to 300 wins in NCAA history.

Prior to Tennessee, he won a Division II national title at Southern Indiana and then followed that up with two NCAA Tournament appearances while at Milwaukee.

But more than a winning record, Pearl brings excitement. The only thing worse than Tony Barbee on the court, was talking to him off it. He never connected with the students or alumni. There’s little evidence he even tried. He likely will be remembered as the worst Auburn basketball coach in the modern era.

Auburn needs excitement.

That won’t be a problem with Pearl who was almost always the most popular guy on campus. Whether it was painting himself orange or mugging for pictures with fans during football season. Hiring Bruce Pearl would guarantee a full Auburn Arena.

What are the risks?

How ironic that Dave Didion, the NCAA investigator who spearheaded the Pearl case at Tennessee, is now Auburn’s associate athletic director for compliance. Auburn’s pursuit of Pearl will likely come down to Didion’s recommendation.

In a column last week, Birmingham News columnist Kevin Scarbinsky wrote that there may be “more to that story that makes hiring Pearl less objectionable than many people might think.” He didn’t provide more detail.

Pearl was found guilty by the NCAA of inviting a high school recruit and his family to a cookout at his Knoxville home while the player was on an un-official visit. According to reports, Pearl acknowledged that the recruit should not be there, but rather than ask him to leave, encouraged those present to keep silent.

When questioned by the NCAA, Pearl reportedly lied about the gathering and it all went downhill from there. Ultimately, Pearl was fired by Tennessee and given a three-year show-cause penalty by the NCAA that remains in effect until August 23rd.

Auburn is known for having one of the top compliance departments in the country. This should ease any fears it has about giving Pearl a second chance. Besides, what does the program have to lose?

Auburn has arguably the worst program in the SEC and among the worst in major college basketball. Its new arena has done nothing to boast its stature.

Speaking with athletic director Jay Jacobs before the BCS National Championship, ESPN radio personality Colin Cowherd jokingly told Jacobs that he had no clue who the Auburn basketball coach was and couldn’t pick him out of a lineup.

That sums up the program now. Auburn’s not bringing in a top notch coach without some warts. Its only option is to take a chance on Pearl or give another up and comer a shot and hope he doesn’t turn out like Barbee.

I’m tired of being irrelevant. I have no illusions of being Kentucky, but one appearance in the tournament since 2003 is not going to cut it.

Roll the dice. Give Bruce Pearl a second chance.

What do we have to lose?

Nostalgia Friday: Auburn vs. Alabama 1993

By Posted on: March 14th, 2014 in Football 6 Comments »

It was one of Auburn’s most unlikely seasons. While they were not the long shots we saw in 2013, the 1993 Auburn football team was nowhere to be found on the college football radar as the season started.

Taking over following the Pat Dye era, Terry Bowden was the surprise pick of the Auburn search committee and expectations couldn’t be lower heading into his first campaign.

Following a nasty, months long investigation by the NCAA involving former player Eric Ramsey, Auburn was not only on probation and ineligible for bowl play, they were also banned from television. In fact, they were the last major program to be subjected to this penalty – one that likely will never be implemented again.

Bowden’s bunch captured the hearts of Auburn people across the country, but only a select few ever saw them on the field.

Auburn ran through its 11- game schedule unscathed and perfect. The crowning moment came on November 20, 1993 at Jordan-Hare Stadium when Auburn defeated Alabama 22-14. It’s remembered as one of the greatest wins in Auburn football history.

The above video is from the coaches cameras because no broadcast cameras were allowed. Auburn would go on to finish fourth nationally in 1993 and while they didn’t win the SEC in the record books, they were clearly champions of the SEC.

Tigers Will Be Tough Again in 2014!

By Posted on: March 13th, 2014 in Football 6 Comments »

Titles are won on the line of scrimmage.
(Photo by Acid Reign.)

     War Eagle, everybody! We are just five days away from spring drills, although you’d hardly know it by looking at the thick layers of frost on the windshield this morning. After a grueling winter of tough workouts, the Auburn Tiger football team is ready to hit the practice fields, and work towards a terrific season. What’s been impressive this offseason has been a unity of purpose displayed in the comments of these fine young men. To a man, the team seems determined to do everything they can to take another step forward, and win another national championship. That they came so close last January, and came up 13 seconds short has left them hungry for more.

     Auburn has a plethora of skill players on offense returning this season, including Coach Gus Malzhan’s first ever returning starter at quarterback in Nick Marshall. The situation has us all dreaming of scoring 50 points per game and setting new offensive records. But, it’s important to remember how titles are won. We’ve seen teams win the SEC with average quarterbacks, average linebackers, and even average running backs. What you won’t see is a team win the league with mediocre play along the line of scrimmage.

     Make no mistake. Auburn had the second most prolific scoring team in school history last season because Greg Robinson, Alex Kozan, Reese Dismukes, Chad Slade, Avery Young and Patrick Miller absolutely road-graded SEC defensive lines on a weekly basis. Likewise, Auburn made timely plays on defense because of a 12 man defensive line rotation that ensured fresh, talented defenders on the field throughout the game.

     Most of the offensive line returns, with only Robinson headed for the NFL. There is talent and depth there, and coach J. B. Grimes did an outstanding job tweaking Auburn technique last season. There is reason to be optimistic that this year’s bunch will be even better. It should be one of the highlights of spring to watch Avery Young, Patrick Miller and Shon Coleman battle to avoid being the odd man out. It’s going to be fun to watch three offensive tackles of this caliber!

     On the defensive line, Auburn returns a lot of good tackles, but might have a numbers issue at defensive end. With the talented Dee Ford, along with reserves Kenneth Carter and Craig Stevens leaving, some new faces must step up on the outside. I think senior LaDarius Owens is a proven product on the run-side of the line, as he held onto the starting job all last season. Who’ll be that “rush end” is a whole different story. Will sophomores Carl Lawson or Elijah Daniel grab that spot and hold on? Or will it be a committee approach, with room for newcomers to shine immediately?

     Even with Nosa Eguae graduating, Auburn is as deep at defensive tackle as any team in college football. Gabe Wright grabbed a starting job and held on down the stretch last season. Montravius Adams, Ben Bradley, Angelo Blackson and others made plays in the middle. Adams may have the most upside of any tackle. And Jeffery Whitaker returns for a 5th season with his knees as healthy as they’ve been while he’s been at Auburn.

     Another interesting spot to watch will be in the secondary. Safety Jermaine Whitehead and corner Jonathan Mincy are proven SEC players. Auburn will be trying to find some answers behind them. Last season’s safety starter Joshua Holsey will still be rehabbing a knee this spring. A starting corner opposite Mincy must be found. Auburn has some talent here, but much of it is unproven. Jonathan Jones played in spots at corner last season. Converted running back Jonathan Ford is said to be a natural at corner. Finally, Trovon Reed will try his hand at defensive back, something he was recruited for by many schools five years ago.

     There won’t be a lot of live kicks and punts on A-Day, so we won’t learn anything much about the return teams, although I do count dropped balls and cringe on a yearly basis. The best time to watch kickers on A-Day is during the pre-game warmups. I’ll be really interested in who has the big legs, and who nails most of their field goal attempts. Auburn is likely to field a team in 2014 with a pair of redshirt freshman kicking legs, as Daniel Carlson and Jimmy Hutchinson are expected to win the kicking and punting battles, respectively.

     The running back battle is going to be interesting to watch, too. Seniors Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant are the heirs apparent, after both rushed for over 600 yards each last season, off the bench. Artis-Payne has gone on record as saying that his goal this season is to be the SEC’s first ever 2000 yard rusher. The two experienced guys may be pushed by redshirt freshman Peyton Barber, who was said to be a scout team monster last fall. Barber is around 230 pounds, and dangerously shifty and fast. My guess is that he’ll find a way to contribute.

     One of the biggest obstacles to an Auburn repeat SEC title this fall is the schedule. On paper it’s much tougher than 2013. There are land mines early, and a particularly brutal November. Auburn has Arkansas for an opener, then travels to Manhattan, Kansas for a Thursday prime-timer against K-State in week three. Louisiana Tech makes for a high-powered homecoming, then LSU comes to town a week later. The rest of October is on the road at Starkville, an off-week, then Auburn hosts South Carolina. November begins at Ole Miss, Texas A&M at Jordan Hare, Georgia in Athens, Samford, then Bama in T-Town. That’s road trips to Oxford, Athens and Tuscaloosa in November. Gone from the schedule are the likes of Western Carolina, Florida Atlantic and Tennessee.

     I’ll go ahead and go on record now stating that I’ll likely be attending Auburn’s A-Day game on April 19th. I’ve been to three of the last five, I always have a great time, and it’s been a good way over the years to load my camera up with tons and tons of clearer shots during ever-increasingly rare daylight football at Auburn. I dig into those A-Day archives regularly!

Too Late Not to Draw Battle Lines Over Slowing Down the HUNH

By Posted on: March 12th, 2014 in Featured Article, Football 22 Comments »
battle lines

Last week the debate over slowing down the Hurry-Up-No-Huddle offenses was put to bed when the NCAA’s Rules Committee withdrew their 10 second proposal to slow the college football game down. However, that doesn’t mean the debate is going away. Not while Nick Saban and Bret Bielema still have a pulpit to speak from.

Feeling the heat from ninety three college coaches and numerous media types, the committee wisely decided to follow Gus Malzahn’s recommendation and table the proposal.  But make no mistake, the issue is not dead. There will be numerous studies over the next year by those who wish to stop the HUNH; in an effort to find evidence – any evidence that could show it pose’s a safety threat to athletes.

You can cloak yourself in the garb of “player safety” all you want but even the most delusional bammer knows in his heart this is about wins and losses. As Texas Tech Coach Kliff Kingsbury said, “The last three losses (Saban’s) had, have been against, you know, some up-tempo teams.” Coincidence? Not hardly.

Saban has never made a secret of his distaste for the innovative offense. He fired his first salvo against the HUNH after the 2012 Ole Miss game when he said, “Should we allow football to be a continuous game? Is that the way the game was designed to play?”

But the battle lines were clearly drawn when the odd couple took it upon themselves to fly to Indianapolis in an effort to influence the Rules Committee to change the way the game is played. It will remain a hot topic at media days and conference meetings for the next 12 months.

The outcry over the Indy trip was a new experience for Saban. Usually accustomed to being portrayed as the king of college football, it had to be both surprising and frustrating for the little emperor to have his actions questioned by a normally adoring media.

After keeping silent for two weeks, and feeling the backlash from the coaching community, Saban finally came out and said he had nothing to do with the 10 second proposal. – Yeah, right.

Then sensing the possible failure of the “safety” excuse, Saban came up with the notion this week that he really wants to protect the refs by making sure they’re in place at the start of the play. It’s just another line in a continuous web spun by the tortoise to slow down the Hare.

First it was :
* Should we allow the game to be continuous?
* Next he jumped on the Bret Bielema “safety” wagon.
* Now he says he is concerned about the refs being in place.

That last one is no more legitimate than the safety ruse. Besides any officiating problems that might occur can be addressed by adopting the Big 12′s practice of having eight officials in conference games.

It is painfully obvious that what he is most concerned about is a competitive advantage or more accurately being at a disadvantage. Someone has built a better mousetrap and either Nick can’t or he won’t go back to the drawing board to figure a way to stop it short of asking for the rules to be changed.

Steve Spurier who runs a traditional offense at South Carolina says he’s had no problem defending against the HUNH. His Gamecocks have beaten Clemson’s high octane offense the last three years. Spurier said there is no big secret to it,” To me, the No Huddle is part of football.” He continued, “Our goal is to stay on the field and run that clock and all (the opposing offense) can do is sit on the sideline and look at each other.” That’s simple enough.

But what is disturbing is the people that still allow themselves to be influenced by Saban. Steve Shaw, the SEC’s Coordinator of officials told Al.com Monday, “My hope is that people won’t draw the battle lines. We’ll have a year cycle to debate this, not just for safety, but the competitive balance of the game.”

Did you get that? He’s referring to Saban’s position of a ‘competitive balance.’ While saying he doesn’t want to see people take sides on the issue, he may have tipped his hand with this statement. He seems to be leaning toward Tuscaloosa himself.

Anyway, it’s too late for the college football world to not be divided into battle lines over this issue. That ship sailed when Saban and Bielema chose to fly to Indianapolis to try and pull a fast one on the other coaches.

Should the NCAA continue to allow football to be played at a fast pace?

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Auburn Dismisses Basketball CoachTony Barbee

By Posted on: March 12th, 2014 in Basketball, News 16 Comments »

Auburn lost to South Carolina 74-56 tonight in the South Eastern Conference Tournament to end another losing season in the SEC. A short time later AD Jay Jacobs announced that Head Coach Tony Barbee would not be returning for a fifth year.

Barbee was 49-75 overall and 18-51 in his four years in the SEC. It was  the second-worst conference winning percentage (26.5 percent) in Auburn program history. The last time the Tigers were that bad was in the 1946-47 season.

Jacobs said that while he was grateful for what Barbee had tried to build on The Plains, it was just time to move on.

“We made an incredible investment in basketball, and certainly appreciate those players, particularly the seniors, who kept fighting.” (But) “I believe we should compete for championships in men’s basketball. It’s time for somebody else to have a turn. We need to find somebody to come in here and take what we have here now and put some more in and compete for SEC titles.”

Jacobs said the search for a new coach would begin immediately.

Golloway’s Tigers Getting it Together Just in Time for SEC Play

By Posted on: March 11th, 2014 in Baseball, Featured Article 3 Comments »
9743219-Kegan Thompson

              Keegan Thompson  has only given up one earn run this season. (photo:auburntigers.com)

After a rough start, new Auburn Baseball Coach Sunny Golloway has his Tigers playing the way he has expected. The Tigers played a good game last week in a one run loss in the Capital City Classic, before sweeping a good Mercer team at home over the weekend.

Although the wins came as a result of  what Golloway has been preaching – “a team effort”, the Tigers had several players shine at the right moments.

For the second straight week Freshman sensation Keegan Thompson dominated on the mound. After hurling a one-hit complete game shutout last week, he  delivered seven shutout innings in Saturday’s game to pick up  his third win. He has a 0.30 ERA and has given up just one earned run in 30.0 innings this season. Opponents are only averaging 0.95 against him.

In addition, the bats have also started to come around with sophomore Jordan Ebert leading the charge in the weekend series. Ebert had  two RBI’s, scored five runs, stole 3 basses and hit .545 for the series. Senior Damek Tomscha leads the team with 13 RBI’s and has hit three of the team’s four homeruns this season.

But if there was a star moment in the series it had to be when senior Ryan Tella came to the plate in the ninth inning Sunday and hit a dramatic two out walk off bases loaded single that broke a tie game and gave the Tigers the sweep.

Make no mistake, it was an outstanding team performance against a very good Mercer team. The Bears came in to Plainsman Park 12-2 and ranked No. 11 in the RPI. It couldn’t have come at a better time for the Tigers as they open the SEC season Friday at 6 p.m. when No.25 Texas A&M Aggies come to town for a three game series.

But first things first. Auburn must play Kennesaw State (10-8) on the road today and will be looking to redeem their earlier season loss to Alabama State (15-4) tomorrow at 6 p.m. in Plainsman Park. Then the important part of the season begins …

Let’s go Tigers!

Update: Auburn defeated Kennesaw State 6-1. Four Tiger pitchers combined for AU’s 2nd one hitter of the season. Bring on ASU. War Eagle!

Update (3-12-14) Auburn defeated Alabama State 6-5 to head into SEC play at 11-6 and riding a five game winning streak.

How About a Cold One in Jordan-Hare Stadium?

By Posted on: March 10th, 2014 in Football 16 Comments »

Fraternity boys across the South must be pinching themselves today. Is it really true? Might the SEC allow beer sales during college football games? They are at least going to take a look at it.

SEC officials plan to discuss the subject during league meetings this spring, with an eye on perhaps allowing neutral site games such as Georgia-Florida and Arkansas-Texas A&M to sell beer at those venues.

Many believe this is a first step in allowing beer sells campus wide. LSU Athletic Director Joe Alleva is one who is open to the idea.

“(Selling beer at football games) would enhance the fan experience,” Alleva recently told al.com. “I don’t think that’s something that would necessarily be a negative for drunkenness and it might curtail the drunkenness if you sold beer.

“Right now, they drink excessively in the parking lot before they come in because they can’t get alcohol inside. Perhaps if they had access in the stadium, they wouldn’t drink as much when they come in. I think it’s something we have to talk about.”

I’m shocked it’s the LSU guy who’s leading the charge.

Of course, if you have enough money, drinking is allowed at Jordan-Hare Stadium. It has been for 25 years. Just pony up the 60 grand for a private suite and you can drink until you drop. Believe me; I’ve done it – as someone’s guest.

There was a time in my life where I’d been turning back flips at the suggestion. Now I’m not so sure. There are already enough morons sitting around me that come in juiced up prior to kickoff. The idea of them drinking for four more hours is something that gives me pause.

A lot of people bring in their stash now. I’ll never forget the time I was behind the young student pushing his friend through the gate in a wheel chair. The chair bound student handed the attendant his ticket, while a blanket draped his legs.

There was nothing unusual about it until they got 25 feet inside, at which point the handicapped student rose from his chair, chunked the wheel chair and out came a keg of beer that quickly disappeared into the student section.

I stood there in astonishment and admiration. Do we really want to take that kind of ingenuity away from our young people by making beer sales legal?

The discussion suggests a complete 180 degree change from the SEC’s past policies on alcohol. Just eight years ago, the league asked CBS to stop referring to the Georgia-Florida game as The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party. Now it’s looking at taking the party inside.

In an era where season ticket sales are on the decline due to the advent of inexpensive big screen, high definition television sets and satellite providers who carry every league game, schools are looking at ways to enhance the game day experience.

The fact that commissioner Mike Slive has been quiet on the subject suggests that changes may ultimately come.

“Up to now, we like our rule,” Slive said. I think this is an area where we want to walk slowly and carefully.”

That’s a long way from being opposed.

Financially the move makes lots of sense. From a common sense standpoint, it’s completely idiotic. We all take our football too serious in the South. Allowing beer drinking to move inside after a long day of tailgating will cause big problems. Ask the NFL.

When families stop coming, the sport will suffer. I’m all for having a beer or six before the game. But let’s keep the party outside. Who needs to keep drinking when you’ve got Gus Malzahn’s team on the field?

There’s nothing that can top that.