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State of the Game Address

February 21, 2004 Columns No Comments

The State of the Game Address

by Jim Woods

Good evening ladies and gentlemen and thank you for taking the time to listen to the First Annual State of the Game Address. March is quickly approaching, and there is no better time to look at where we are and where we are going as a basketball nation. We are a mere three weeks away from Championship Week and its coinciding feelings of euphoria and despair. What side of the emotional line you find yourself on depends on whom you root for. I, myself, root for the good of the game. You, and the NABC, might even refer to me as a “Guardian of the Game.” In that spirit, I feel it is my job to bring to you the good and the bad in basketball. This is from the heart, and this is for all of us.

We have come a long way in the past twelve months. Let’s not forget that last season’s final weeks were marred by stories of welding certificates and academic fraud. Talk was about what was going on off the court and we forgot about how special March should be. Isn’t it nice that the A-10 conversation this February centers on a team of destiny and its All-American point guard? Talk of JVK has been replaced by conversations about MVP. Tony Cole is a name of the past and Dennis Felton is the name of the future in Athens, and possibly the SEC. Two wins over Kentucky and one over in-state rival Georgia Tech have the folks in Georgia thinking Big Dance this week. Sure, all is not perfect off the court. The St. John’s fiasco has given one of the sport’s storied programs a black eye. This wound will go away with time and maybe next year you can be Georgia, St. Bonaventure or Iowa State and bounce back from adversity to get your fans excited again.

There are so many things right about this sport, and yet there are many things that can be fixed. This is my vision about where we are headed and what needs to be done.

I want teams in the power conferences to upgrade their non-conference schedules. Coaches, do not be afraid! Challenge your teams to play the best. You will be rewarded in the end. Administrators, give up a couple of home dates against the lower-level opponent and encourage your coaches to step up the caliber of schedule. Do not fire them if they win seventeen against great competition rather than twenty against the cupcakes. And you NCAA and Conference Commissioners, limit your schools to $200,000 in “guarantee” money they can give out to opponents. That is plenty to buy some wins.

Division I coaches being allowed to recruit at Fall and Spring AAU events is not an issue that needs to be legislated. Let coaches evaluate players in any venue during those times, and stop limiting them to only seeing a recruit at his high school or a state certified event. Too many under-recruited high school players are missing out on scholarship opportunities, and “low major” programs’ budgets are being drained from all the travel.

A limit of thirteen scholarships is the only criterion that should need to be followed. Please get rid of the awful five-and-eight rule.

I want fans to accept the fact that money dictates everything in college basketball, and do not be upset when schools jump from conference to conference. Am I upset my alma mater Boston College left the Big East that I grew up with? Hell yeah, but they did what they felt was best for their athletic program financially. And remember your school would have done the same thing if they could have.

I want college presidents to back up their statements about cleaning up the landscape of college basketball. If you want to make it all about educating young athletes and ethics then you need to penalize programs for chronic academic failures and NCAA violations. But everybody knows that CBS will not give the NCAA billions of dollars for television rights to watch mediocre teams with perfect graduation rates. So if you have no intention of giving up the money, stop boring all of us with ethics conventions and proposed legislation that makes it look like you care. Stop criticizing programs, universities, coaches and players when nobody is greedier than the presidents are.

If it is all about education, stop firing coaches who graduate all of their players and run clean programs. Oh, but I forgot, those coaches aren’t bringing in tournament money to support the non-revenue sports. I just want the truth! It is about winning games. You do not have to sugarcoat it at press conferences and in newspapers.

I want coaches to stop rooting for other guys to get fired so that they can move up the ladder.

I want to see ESPN do a reality show about the lobby of the headquarters hotel at the Final Four.

I want to hear more stories about players who graduate on time and perform community service (not mandated by a conviction), and less stories about the kid who goes pro early and does not make it. I have absolutely no problem with anybody who leaves school early to go pursue a professional career. Just if they fail, do not expect me to feel sorry for them. If you have never heard Vermont senior Matt Sheftic’s story, do a “google” search on his name and find out about him. He is what college basketball is all about.

I want parents to stop sending CD-ROM highlight films of their kids set to music to college coaches. If you know how to do that, your kid can’t play! Trust me on that one. I also do not need you to send a detailed journal of your Johnny’s career from the time he was a freshman. If your kid is good, somebody will find him.

I think all parents and high school kids should go to a Division II and Division III game in their area and realize that Division I is not the only level of good basketball. And most should realize that is the level their son should be playing at.

Will people please stop with the list of the top 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th graders in the nation? An over inflated opinion of their own abilities is the last thing these kids need. And let’s not even begin to talk about their parents.

I want the Bracket Buster event to just be eight games. I don’t want to hear thirteen MAC schools and eight Horizon schools are included. Ohio University and Cleveland State are not even busting the Women’s NIT bracket.

We are all fans of the greatest game in sports. Every October we all have the belief that this can be the year that our team goes on that dream run and can be Cinderella for a night. That hope is what makes it special. Despite the negative press about violations and early NBA defections, there is still a magic that brings us to the television to watch Big Monday and Selection Sunday. I can’t wait for March. I know you can’t wait either. Let’s take that time to celebrate all that is good in the game and the players and coaches who make it special.

Thank you and good night.

More Notes from “The Sideline”

• Sorry I have not given you a column in about ten days. I was in the hospital because I drove my car into a tree Wednesday morning when I heard NCAA prez Myles Brand on ESPN radio say, “The purpose of college athletics is to educate the student athlete.” This is coming from the head of the organization that would have intercollegiate Jai Alai and Horse Racing if they thought they could get a TV contract.

• Obviously the Wake Forest staff reads my column and does a good job of studying film. They took the defensive game plan from UNC to stop Duke’s JJ Reddick (complete denial) and took him totally out of the second half of their win Wednesday night. Reddick was in foul trouble during the first half but could never get on track in the second stanza because he didn’t have any good looks.

• Took in the Boston College/Seton Hall game live on Monday night. Both of these teams are NCAA tournament good. Accuse me of bias and say what you want, but it is a fact. Craig Smith is one of the most underrated players in the country and can carry a team through a rough game.

• Building on that last point, the Big East can get six teams in the tournament. Six teams are ranked in the latest RPI Top 30 (dated February 15) and seven are in the Top 40. By comparison Dick Vitale’s vaunted ACC (which I also believe is the best conference) has five and six in those respective categories. And remember, these Big East numbers do not include Notre Dame who is currently 60, but should move up Sunday when the ratings come out again. I am not a huge fan of computers and polls, but the committee uses these things as a guide so that is what I use as a guide to figure out who should be in.

• Faces in the Crowd: Mike Jarvis II taking in the action at the BC/Seton Hall game the other night. Die-hard St. John’s fans will be glad to see the “Deuce” does know his way around the Metropolitan area.

• Congrats to Larry Frank on his great start as Nets coach. I know I was a non-believer but he certainly has me believing now. This leads me to the following story. I’m eating lunch the other day at “The Italian Connection” in Dumont, NJ (official lunchtime sponsor of this column) and I overhear the following conversation between two guys:

Patron #1: “Hey Joe. Have you seen any of these Net games lately with the new coach?”
Joe: “Who the little guy? I have only caught some of them. They are playing great.”
Patron #1: “The little guy used to be my paper boy. I remember him.”
Me: (laughing very hard)
Patron #1: “What are you laughing at? Everybody used to be a paperboy!”

“Second Guessers”: The Readers Get Their Chance

Pat L., of Pearl River, NY writes: “Jim-your articles are good. Very funny, but I cannot believe your left the chick fi-A sandwich off your top 5 list.” Pat, you got me. A glaring omission on my part, and one that I am, quite frankly, embarrassed about. I grew up on that sandwich. This is the equivalent of Tark not being on the Hall of Fame Ballot and Dick Vitale is.

Steve V., of Summit, NJ chimes in on a variety of topics. In regards to the Jones brothers: “Both James and Joe might be stand up guys, but their teams suck (13-24 combined)… I have nothing else to say about this game.” About the situation at St. John’s, “No offense, but I would be much more proud of a team with a bunch of criminals that went 16-0 than a bunch of choir boys who just got waxed by 28 points.” Steve pretty much sums up the feeling of many fans and the reality coaches face. “Just win baby” or you get fired.

After calling attention to the topic of association with gamblers, TJ C., of White Plains, NY refers to me as “The Douglas Fanueil of online gambling.” I had a pretty good laugh at that one.

Along the same lines Matt O., of New York, NY adds, “All it took Jimmy to flip on his friends was a promise from Mahopac PD to let him out of a parking ticket.”

This Weeks Feedback Question

Every fall, a few friends and I attend a college football game. We like to go somewhere where it is truly a great college football environment. Big time game, great tailgate, fun college town to go out in, good talent for my single friends to evaluate (and I’m not referring to the game), etc. Just give us a Super Eight and a couple of 30 packs of Busch cans and we can be happy. I am asking readers for suggestions as to a game and a town that we should not miss.

Where do we absolutely need to be next fall? Please back up your suggestion with details, places to go, and game tickets and a tailgate are always appreciated.


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