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Could An AAU Basketball Slush Fund Bring Down Richt?

For years, Mark Richt has been known as the “good guy” of the SEC.  He’s respected by his peers.  He’s won a whole lot more than he’s lost.  He’s represented his school well.

But now he sits on a hot seat coming off the first losing season of his tenure.  It’s a win or else type of year for the Bulldogs’ coach.  And the actions of a pair of parks and recreation officials could lead to end of the coaches’ reign.

Here’s how:

* Tony Adams and Herman Porter work for the city of Columbus, Georgia’s Parks and Recreation Department. 

* A police investigation has found that they used an unauthorized bank account to pay for Jarvis Jones — a local football star who had also played on the local Georgia Blazers AAU club — to fly to Los Angeles after he signed with Southern California’s football team in February of 2009.

* The four flights back and forth between Atlanta and Los Angeles cost $828.40.

* AAU athletes can have their room, meals, and legitimate team-oriented travel costs covered, but they aren’t allowed such things as personal airline tickets.

* Jones — who has since transferred to Georgia and is expected to land a starting outside linebacker job — must now wait to see what the NCAA says about his eligibility.

* If, like Georgia receiver AJ Green last year, Jones is forced to sit for a few games — let’s say two — he will miss two of UGA’s most important games: Boise State and South Carolina.

* If Jones misses those games, there’s no reason to believe Georgia can’t replace him.  However, given the team’s psychological funk following the Green suspension, there’s also no reason to dismiss the possibility that UGA could once again get a case of the early-season blahs.

* If the Dawgs lose one or both of those early games, many fans will be woofing for Richt’s head.  And who knows how his team would respond to such a loud distraction as that?

That’s a lot of ifs to be sure. 

But given what UGA went through last year without Green — who was admittedly a much bigger impact player than Jones — it’s not too far-fetched to say that an illegal AAU basketball slush fund back in 2009 might make Richt’s 2011 campaign just a little bit tougher.

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NCAA Basketball: Should The July Recruiting Period Be Eliminated?

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Calipari is for eliminating July recruiting, but with UK's recruiting budget, that's no surprise.

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James Crisp – AP

Calipari is for eliminating July recruiting, but with UK’s recruiting budget, that’s no surprise.

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There is a consensus among conference commissioners across most of America that basketball recruiting is broken, and something must be done to fix it.  Their solution is to delete the July recruiting period, two ten-day sessions in July where college coaches attend AAU tournaments (conveniently scheduled around those dates) to evaluate talent.

The two sides shake out like this:  The commissioners are mostly for the elimination of the July period, and the coaches are overwhelmingly against it.  The commissioners believe that the process is broken and that something must be done, and that something is to force coaches to see recruits during the regular season rather than watching them compete against the best talent in the country. 

The coaches, obviously, prefer the approach that places the most talent on the floor at one time so that they can get a true read on how the kid is performing.  There is the added advantage of being to evaluate a number of potential recruits in the same tournament, minimizing the travel necessary to see your target play the same number of games. 

I can see both sides of this argument, but in the end, the coaches are right.  The NCAA and conference commissioners are well-intentioned, hoping to eliminate the motivation for “outside influences” (i.e. agents and runners) from lobbying the coaches as they are wont to do at these events, either directly or indirectly.  The coaches also are forced to pay high prices for tournament information packets, which are little more than the names and addresses of the players on the team, which sell for several hundreds of dollars each, and a seat in the best areas of the arena are reserved for those who buy these overpriced packets.

Look, this is pretty smarmy stuff, but what’s going to happen if the recruiting periods are banned is that the videos will be sold at inflated prices, or coaches will have to turn to recruiting gurus not connected directly with the schools to do their evaluations for them.  The tournaments, though, will not go away, just like the April tournaments didn’t go away when they banned April recruiting.  There are thousands of ways to get around such a ban, and many of them would just make the NCAA rulebook thicker and thicker.  Before long, it will rival the tax code in complexity.  It has already created the NCAA equivalent of the tax preparer, known as a compliance officer.

In the end, this has the potential for doing more good than harm.  Unintended consequences are always a problem, and this one looks rife with the potential for accidental damage.

The best solution I have seen comes from St. Rita High School and former DePaul assistant coach Gary DeCesare:

“I got a whole different philosophy on it. I don’t think there should be a dead period, July period. If you look at the D-I transfers, there’s over 360. Obviously, what’s in place now is not working. I don’t understand why we have all these live and dead periods. I said this when I was in high school coaching nine years ago. I believe they now have 130 days during the high school season and 20 during the summer. That’s 150. You don’t need that many days. Give them 100 days, and let them go out whenever they want. The dead period should be the national holidays.”

This actually seems to be a great idea to me.  Let the coaches have 100 days a year to recruit, and let the coaches choose which 100 days those are.  Forget having to worry about non-contact periods, dead periods, and other nonsense.  Give them 100 calendar days each year to call, watch, or do whatever within the rules.  After they use those up, they are done.  It might not solve the complaints about the Kentuckys of the world, who have huge recruiting budgets, having an unfair advantage, but it would help level the playing field a bit.  Everybody could go to the tournaments of their choice, watch their targets, and figure it all out.

One other proposal I would consider — make it a rule that a coach can pay no more than, say, $150 for an information packet and a ticket total at any event.  That would force the organizers, who have a vested interest in the coach’s attendance, to be able to make a reasonable profit and still not charge the ruinous prices they charge at many events.  That helps level the playing field for the teams that don’t have the budgets of Kentucky or Louisville or UConn for recruiting.

In the final analysis, trying to eliminate the AAU isn’t the answer, and coaches understand this problem better than anybody.  There are better ways to skin this cat.

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The Academics Of Expansion: A Conference Comparison

Academics equal reputation.  Academics equal research grants.  Academics equal donations.  Academics equal students… and tuition.

Academics won’t be the driving force in conference expansion but they will play a role.  And if you’ve wondered why certain schools are considered “a good fit” with a certain conference, you should be able to look at our school-by-school numbers (links below) and come to a clearer understanding.

SEC academics

ACC academics

Big East academics

Big Ten and Notre Dame academics

Big 12 academics

Pac-10 academics

Those numbers aren’t meant to be definitive, by any means.  We simply present them to give you a thumbnail view of why a school like Texas seems to be more interested in the Pac-10 and Big Ten (academic standards, research grants) than the SEC.  Why a school like North Carolina might be less likely to jump from the ACC to the SEC.  And why SEC presidents might not have as much interest in adding schools like Louisville and West Virginia.

Let’s look at the average academic numbers from each league with Notre Dame’s data tossed in, too:

Conference % Admitted Enrollment Undergrad Enrollment ACT Low ACT High Endowment per Student ($) Research Spending ($)x1000 AAU Members US News Ranking
ACC 45% 23,339 16,340 27 31 $65,596 $298,766M 5 of 12 49 (0 Tier 3s)
Big East 62% 28,987 21,093 22 28 $6,407 $223,978M 3 of 8 60 (4 Tier 3s)
Big Ten 60% 41,035 29,961 25 30 $53,808 $505,703M 11 of 11 50 (0 Tier 3s)
Big 12 71% 29,669 23,208 23 28 $23,182 $196,047M 7 of 12 83 (3 Tier 3s)
Pac-10 56% 32,035 22,824 24 29 $106,560 $444,599M 7 of 10 62 (1 Tier 3)
SEC 61% 25,822 19,228 23 28 $29,009 $227,954M 2 of 12 91 (2 Tier 3s)
Notre Dame 27% 11,733 8,371 31 34 $327,695 $78,553M No 20

How ’bout some sweeping generalities?

* SEC schools — on average — are smaller than those in every other conference aside from the ACC.  Big Ten and Pac-10 schools churn out more students every year.  By default, those schools make more money from tuition, more money from alumni donations, and they churn out more fans each year, too.

* It is no wonder schools are interested in joining the Big Ten and Pac-10.  They have higher academic standards, far more endowment dollars per student, higher US News & World Report rankings and more AAU members than the SEC, Big 12 or Big East.  In addition, the amount of research spending for those leagues (ie: research grants coming in) dwarfs the other four BCS leagues.  “Richer and smarter” serve as pretty good lures.

* If there is a league that is close to the Big Ten and Pac-10 academically, it’s the ACC.  Read that again, SEC fans.  If the SEC is forced to expand and it decides to try to raid the ACC, Mike Slive will have to convince some ACC presidents to leave a league with a good academic reputation for one with a so-so reputation.  On the positive side, research spending is the area where the ACC lags behind the Big Ten and Pac-10.  From a monetary standpoint, at least that’s one battle the SEC won’t have to fight.

* The SEC, Big 12 and Big East are similar in academic terms.  The only difference?  The prestige and reputation of AAU memberships.  The Big 12 has seven such schools on its roster.  The Big East has three members among its eight football-playing members.  But the SEC has only two schools in the AAU — Vanderbilt and Florida.  Don’t think that won’t come up if the SEC makes a run at a school currently in the AAU.

We should point out that none of the schools and leagues graded and dissected above are “bad” schools or leagues.  We’re not talking about online degrees and community colleges here.  (“Not that there’s anything wrong with that.”)

Also — and let’s make this perfectly clear — none of this means that Texas or another AAU member won’t be joining the SEC.  Academics are just one part of the equation.  As we’ve explained in our “Expounding on Expansion” series, football and television will drive the bus, but other factors will come into play.  Consider academics among those factors.

And after sifting through all this data, hopefully you’ll have a better understanding of why we’ve declared some schools to be better academic fits with the SEC than others… and how we ranked the 18 schools we examined.

UPDATE — A reader has asked for a bit more info on the Association of American Universities.  According to its website, membership in the AAU is “by invitation and is based on the high quality of programs of academic research and scholarship and undergraduate, graduate, and professional education in a number of fields, as well as general recognition that a university is outstanding by reason of the excellence of its research and education programs.”  For more information on the AAU, click here.

You can find more information about the AAU (as well as the Big Ten’s CIC and the SEC’s SECAC) by clicking here.

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Expounding On Expansion: Don’t Forget About Academics And Politics

(This is the fifth part in an on-going series examining the possibility of SEC expansion from a business perspective.)

Mention the words “conference expansion” and fans start dreaming of ways to create the world’s greatest football league.  “This team is great and it’s in the Southeast.”  “Well this team would be a natural rival with Georgia and Florida.”  “This team won a national title this decade.”

That kind of talk is fun.  But it’s not the kind of chatter you’re likely to hear when a group of university presidents get together.  And ultimately, any decision on SEC expansion will be made by the league’s 12 presidents, not by Mike Slive, the league’s coaches, or its fans.

Money will be key.  Securing future funds, future fanbases (ie: population bases) and future power will all be goals.

And football?  Well, it’s part of the equation, too, but it’s not the 95% of the deal that some in the media would have you believe.

Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said this week that academics shouldn’t be overlooked in the current expansion frenzy.

“You’re hitting on the most important part of this deal that people are actually missing.  Our presidents are in it not because of football.  Let’s be clear.  And I agree with them.”  Adding more schools from the AAU — more on that group in a minute — “would take us to a whole other level” as a conference.

That’s not just a Big Ten view.  Former ACC commissioner Gene Corrigan recently discussed just how much of a role academics played in his league’s expansion back in the early 90s.

“I think if you would have asked the people at Florida State about joining, there were some who probably thought, well, (the ACC is) not good enough in football.  But if you ask some people in the faculty, they’d say, ‘We get to be in the same league as Duke and Virginia and Carolina and Georgia Tech!”

Even football coaches understand the importance of finding good academic “fits” for a league.  “At Wake Forest, we want to be a great football team, we want to win as many games every year as we possibly can, but we can’t sacrifice academics,” Jim Grobe said.  “And it’s good to compete against other schools that have the same goals and aspirations.”

In other words, while you and your buddies are debating the merits of Florida State or Texas A&M as potential SEC dance partners, you’d best not be forgetting about academics.

The AAU and The CIC

When you read the letters AAU, you probably think of a mid-summer basketball league.  But in the Big Ten, those three letters mean something completely different.

Each of the Big Ten’s 11 schools are members of the Association of American Universities.  That’s a collection of 63 of the biggest research-oriented schools in North America.

According to the AAU, the 110-year-old organization “focuses on national and institutional issues that are important to research-intensive universities, including funding for research, research and education policy, and graduate and undergraduate education.”

Compared to the research spending of top-flight major universities, even the biggest athletic budgets pale in comparison.  In 2008, the University of Florida was one of only three schools to top $100 million in athletic spending.

Think $100 million is a lot of cash to spend?  Multiply it by five and you have what UF spent in 2008 on research projects.  In fact, Florida receives more than $550 million annually in sponsored research funding.

Presidents pay attention to those kinds of dollars.

In addition to focusing on AAU membership, the Big Ten has also created the Committee on Institutional Cooperation.  The CIC, according to its director, was designed to “save money, solve problems, share assets and build opportunity for faculty and researchers.”

All eleven Big Ten schools — as well as original member the University of Chicago — benefit from this consortium.  Imagine the ability to buy in bulk.  The CIC has also digitized millions of books that can be shared across the conference via fiber optic network.

“By almost any metric — investment in research, number of top ten academic programs, national rankings and enrollment — the CIC universities are very similar,” said Barbara McFadden Allen, the group’s director.  “This helps us move together on projects and initiatives in ways that would be difficult for a more disparate group.”

If and when the Big Ten expands, Allen said the league will “be bringing in a university and not a team.”

Michael Hogan, the incoming president at the University of Illinois, has thought about possible Big Ten membership while serving at his last school, the University of Connecticut.

“Part of what appealed to me about it was, there’s an academic counterpart to the Big Ten, the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, which is based there in Urbana (Illinois).  It brings together presidents and provosts to share ideas on the academic side, including sharing programs that make them widely available to all students in the Big Ten.  It’s a nice match of the academic and sports part of the institution all across the board in the Big Ten.”

Starting to get the picture?  The presidents of the SEC do.  They’re surely aware that their own league lags behind the Big Ten in terms of academic reputation.

According to the latest rankings provided by “US News & World Report,” the average Big Ten university ranks at #50.  The average SEC school comes in at #91.  On average, Big Ten schools receive and spend more than $500 million in research funding each year.  In the SEC research funding reaches only about $227 million per school.

Then there’s the whole 11 to two lead the Big Ten holds in AAU memberships.  Only Florida and Vanderbilt are in that club from the SEC.

In short, the Big Ten is a league of massive, big budgeted schools that focus on graduate degrees and academic research.  The schools of the SEC are solid, spend well in research, but focus more on the undergraduate side of things.

That’s something for fans to think about when trying to hash out which schools are most likely to receive SEC invitations (if any).

The SEC’s presidents are trying to take steps to close the gap on the Big Ten academically.

Part of ESPN’s television deal with the SEC forced the network to partner with the league in the creation of the SEC Academic Network. 

Launched last August, the online network features “content from every (SEC) institution ranging from research, innovation and economic development to community partnerships, civic engagement and service.”

“The commitment to highlight the accomplishments of SEC member institution academic programs was a key component of our new television agreements,” Slive said.  “This network will provide our 12 institutions with the ability to create and distribute academic and other non-athletic programming through the world on a regular and full-time basis.”

In other words, it’s a PR wing designed to push and improve the SEC’s academic brand.  But good advertising isn’t the only step the league’s presidents are taking.

In 2005 the SEC created the Southeastern Conference Academic Consortium.  Consider it a very young version of the Big Ten’s CIC.

According to a 2006 press release, the consortium was created to “bolster teaching, research, public service and other educational activities” at SEC schools.  It’s goal is to “provide opportunities for schools to work together to enhance and share academic resources.  All 12 SEC member schools will work together, outside of the athletic realm, to create a cooperative environment for all students.”

If you’re bored to tears, you shouldn’t be.  This is how conferences expand.  This is how schools decide which league they will join.  Take Texas, for example.

Targeting Texas

Make no mistake, Texas is the prize that the SEC has its eye on.  The Big Ten is looking toward the Lone Star State, too.  And Washington’s athletic director Scott Howard recently said, “I’d be surprised if our (Pac-10) office is not in contact with them.  I’m sure those conversations have happened and are taking place.”

Texas is big.  It’s got the television markets, alumni base, name brand, huge facilities and A-1 athletic programs that conference commissioners lust after.

The school also fancies itself to be a Harvard on the Colorado River, which appeals to university presidents.

To hear former SEC commissioner Harvey Schiller tell it, Texas was ticketed to join the league back in the late 1980s.  “I spent some time with (Texas athletic director) DeLoss Dodds and he really wanted to join the conference.”  Unfortunately politicians got involved and the deal fell through.  That’s how Schiller recalls it anyway.

Folks in Texas remember things a bit differently.  Former University of Texas president Robert Berdahl told in 2007 that at the time he was unimpressed with the SEC’s academic reputation.

“We were quite interested in raising academic standards and the Southeastern Conference had absolutely no interest in that.”

If the former Texas prez is to be believed, we might not be talking about the SEC possibly wooing the Longhorns now had the league agreed to boost its academic standards some 20 years ago.

Academics play a role, folks.  A big role.

Politics Play A Big Role, Too

Go back to the early ’90s and everyone seems to have a different take on how that wave of expansion took place.

According to Schiller, the SEC didn’t want Texas A&M and balked at a “take ‘em both or you get none” stance from the Texas state legislature.

Meanwhile, Vince Dooley was pushing for Georgia Tech to earn an SEC bid.  Florida supposedly wanted both Florida State and Miami to join.

As you know, in the end, Arkansas and South Carolina were the only schools to come on board.

But in Texas, the powerbrokers say that Texas A&M and LSU officials had been angling to bring the Aggies into the league as early as the late ’80s.  As the story goes, after talks with Miami fell apart, LSU athletic director Joe Dean called A&M AD John David Crow and told him that LSU would sponsor an entry bid from A&M.

Dean said at the time that he believed Texas was “headed north” to the Big Ten or Big Eight (now the Big 12) and that A&M was the “most logical addition to the SEC.”

Unfortunately Texas legislators weren’t going to let the state’s two biggest schools split.  So that meant a Texas and Texas A&M package deal to the Big Eight.  But the politicians weren’t done yet.

Baylor and Texas Tech had powerful allies throughout the state legislature and, according to some, threats were made to Texas and A&M officials.  If they tried to jump from the old Southwest Conference without the Bears and Red Raiders riding shotgun, both schools would see their state funding cut.

Presto Chango, the Big Eight grew not to 10 teams but to 12.

The lesson here is that in many cases, targeting just one of a state’s schools can lead to political headaches.  There’s been much talk that Texas and Texas A&M would still be bound together by politicos today (though officials from both schools seem to be fine with the idea of going in different directions).

History would tell us that any deal for Texas might not just be a combo package with A&M but a super-sized meal that includes Baylor and Texas Tech, too.

Want Oklahoma?  You’ll likely hear a howl from Oklahoma State grads in that state’s legislature.  Ditto Kansas and Kansas State.  Double ditto in the case of Virginia Tech and Virginia.

The above information isn’t sexy.  It’s not fun.  And it doesn’t make for good sports bar conversation.

But it will play a role in any expansion decision the SEC makes.

Academics and politics will be involved.  Just take note of what Missouri Governor Jay Nixon told the Associated Press this spring:  “I’m not going to say anything bad about the Big 12, but when you compare Oklahoma State to Northwestern, when you compare Texas Tech to Wisconsin, I mean you begin looking at educational possibilities that are worth looking at.”

A governor ripping one conference while talking up another.  Academics and politics, folks.  Academics and politics.

(To read Part One of this series, click here.  For Part Two, click here.  For Part Three, click here.  And for Part Four, click here.)

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