The Florida Gulf Coast Univ. men’s basketball team is the talk of the sports world today after it became the first No. 15 seed to make the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament. ESPN’s Darren Rovell notes the Ft. Myers-based school, which is only in its second year of eligibility for the tourney, is “on a shoestring budget,” and instead of having an apparel deal for its equipment and jerseys, school officials "pay for their Nike uniforms.” This is the first appearance by the 16-year-old school in the tournament, and the team’s success has forced FGCU to “bolster its servers so that its website didn’t crash” (“GMA,” ABC, 3/25). Ft. Myers’ WBBH-NBC sports anchor Rishi Barran said, “They’re getting their name on the map and it’s going to mean better students, more enrollments (and) more money coming into the school.” NBC’s Willie Geist said FGCU “is the story of the tournament” and Eagles fever is “sweeping the nation” (“Today,” NBC, 3/25). DUNK CITY: In K.C., Blair Kerkhoff notes the NCAA Tournament's opening week produced "dominance by No. 1 seed Louisville, a Big Ten party and a Mountain West retreat," but the "biggest buzz was supplied by the 20-year-old school in Fort Myers, Fla., that is in its sixth year of Division I athletics." FGCU plays with "a freedom and fearlessness that defies the also-ran profile of most double-digit seeds." The team's run is "what college basketball is all about" (K.C. STAR, 3/25). YAHOO SPORTS' Eric Adelson wrote in a college sports world of "corporate fakery and soiled amateurism, FGCU stands for pure joy." The players are "eye candy, winning with playground hoops and streetball theatrics" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 3/24). In San Jose, Tim Kawakami writes the team "apparently has more high-flying talent than your normal NBA Slam Dunk Contest and more chutzpah than the rest of the tournament field put together." FGCU is "what the tournament is about" (SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS, 3/25). The AP's Paul Newberry writes the FGCU players "were like the Harlem Globetrotters, charming the crowds while a pair of supposedly superior teams took on the role of the Washington Generals" (AP, 3/25). In N.Y., Scott Cacciola writes the school has "suddenly gone from one of the country’s most unknown teams to perhaps its most celebrated." It was "such compelling theater that many Duke fans -- awaiting their team's late game against Creighton -- stood and cheered for the Eagles when they returned to their bench for a second-half timeout" (N.Y. TIMES, 3/25). TIME.com's Sean Gregory writes FGCU is "the runaway darling of this year's March Madness." La Salle or Wichita State will be "one game away from the Final Four come Saturday," and if "you love 'mid-majors' in the Final Four, that's terrible exciting." But after watching FGCU "run wild this weekend, the Eagles look more likely than the others to make it all the way to Atlanta. And just imagine what a blast that would be" (TIME.com, 3/25).
SOARING EAGLE: WBBH-NBC's Barran writes FGCU "wants to re-structure" the five-year contract of coach Andy Enfield, "with the goal of making the 43-year old ... the highest paid coach in the Atlantic Sun Conference, nearly doubling his current salary to $300,000 per season." However, FGCU right now "doesn't have the money to make that happen." The school is "hoping to have donations come forward to help keep Enfield" at the school (NBC-2.com, 3/25).
Battle played football at Alabama under
late coach Paul "Bear" Bryant
The Univ. of Alabama on Friday officially announced CLC Founder & Chair Bill Battle as the school's new AD, and the four-year agreement "calls for a salary of $620,000," according to Chase Goodbread of the TUSCALOOSA NEWS. Battle played under late UA coach Paul "Bear" Bryant and eventually got into coaching, but Battle left the "business in 1976 after seven seasons at Tennessee." He soon built CLC, which "grew to attract NCAA schools to license their logos for merchandising." Battle sold the business in '07, and had "settled into filling his days with consulting work." Battle said, "My first reaction was ‘Wow, this is a great honor. But do I really want to do this?' For the last two weeks that's what I've been wrestling with.” Battle: "I thought to myself, ‘If I didn't do this, I would regret it for the rest of my life'" (TUSCALOOSA NEWS, 3/23). The UA BOT said that Battle's contract is "very similar" to former AD Mal Moore, who stepped down last week due to health issues. UA announced that Moore will "serve as athletics director emeritus as well as a special assistant to UA President Judy Bonner when his health permits." Bonner said that discussions about Moore’s "eventual replacement, which included Moore, had been ongoing even before his latest health setback." Bonner said Moore provided “a good blueprint” for the skills and qualifications needed for the role (TUSCALOOSA NEWS, 3/23). A TUSCALOOSA NEWS editorial stated Moore leaves UA "in historically good condition." The football program, "both bellwether and cash cow for the athletics department, has won back-to-back national championships." Moore hired "arguably America’s best football coach" in Nick Saban to run it. Some might "seek to diminish the role Moore played by saying that Alabama is known for athletics." The editorial: "We would disagree. Prior to Moore’s tenure, it was known for football and gymnastics. Now it is known for athletics." Battle will do "a fine job. But no one will ever replace Mal Moore" (TUSCALOOSA NEWS, 3/24).
UCLA men’s basketball coach Ben Howland was fired yesterday, and economics played “a large part” in the decision, according to Chris Foster of the L.A. TIMES. Pauley Pavilion was renovated at the cost of $138M, and AD Dan Guerrero and Senior Associate AD/External Relations Mark Harlan “need the arena to make money.” Foster wrote one "theory is that a new coach might reinvigorate the fan base, which has been on the decline.” There were “only five crowds of more than 10,000 this season.” UCLA “charges a donation to the Wooden Athletic Fund for new season ticket holders, or those wishing to add seats or upgrade seats, on top of the price of the tickets.” Donations per ticket “run from $100 for upper-level seats to $17,000 to sit courtside.” Harlan yesterday said that long-time season-ticket holders “were not exempt from a Wooden Athletic Fund donation if their tickets were in a priority-seating area” (LATIMES.com, 3/24). DAILY VARIETY’s Brian Lowry wrote UCLA has “chosen to dump” Howland “for a reason that has cost many a showbiz exec his or her job: Lousy boxoffice.” The “drumbeat surrounding Howland has been fueled not only by a disappointing record but a failure to put asses in seats.” The “deck was stacked” against Howland “from the get-go.” Thanks to a “new TV deal, a number of Pac-12 games” started at 6:00pm PT, making it “difficult for the Bruin faithful to make tipoff.” At the same time, “practically every game is televised, reducing the incentive to attend in person.” In addition, ticket prices were “jacked up for the new arena.” Like “all of major sports now, UCLA danced to TV’s tune, then turned around and complained when the boxoffice results suffered because of those mercenary priorities” (VARIETY.com, 3/24).
WHAT HAVE YOU DONE FOR ME LATELY? ESPN’s Bruce Pearl noted Guerrero is "one of the finest AD’s in the country," and he had an "opportunity to make a statement here that says that there’s more to this than just winning." Pearl: "I can only see that he hasn’t been hot lately. He took them to three Final Fours some years ago. Are you going to get a better coach than Ben Howland? Is that what you really think? I’m very surprised and disappointed in this move. Whoever said it’s not win at all costs isn’t telling you the truth” (“St. John’s-Virginia,” ESPN, 3/24).
NCAA President Mark Emmert this morning appeared on ESPN Radio’s “Mike & Mike in the Morning” and discussed the investigation into the Univ. of Miami, athletics booster Nevin Shapiro and how NCAA improperly conducted the case. ESPN's Mike Greenberg said, “When you consider how the NCAA doles out discipline against coaches routinely in college sports, quite frankly the way that I felt that you were not disciplined in that circumstance when the things directly under your purview took place, I found that confusing to say the least.” Emmert said, “The point you're raising is a really critical one. ... The association -- all the 100 members -- expect all their members to behave in a way that's consistent with all our values and then my job is to make sure the national office does the same thing. So when we discovered we had behaviors going on that were inconsistent with our policies and our values, I'm very confident that we did exactly the right thing.” Calls have been made for Emmert to step down amid the controversy, but he said this situation “is exactly like saying if an assistant coach did something wrong, the president of the university ought to be fired." Emmert: "I'm not going to talk about personnel decisions, but the people who were directly involved were held accountable. Their immediate supervisors were held accountable. The person above that was held accountable. The person above that was held accountable. We went very deep in the chain of command here and trust me, it wasn't exactly a great week for me either. But the fact of the matter is that the people that needed to be held accountable for this were held accountable for it.”
A COUPLE BAD APPLES DON'T SPOIL THE BUNCH: Emmert noted there are around 460 people in the NCAA, and everyone is "running activities all around the country 24/7." He said, "We have very good people that are involved in these activities. The decision of a couple of guys in a single case where the leadership of the organization from the board on down is intentionally hands-off on those investigations -- you don't want the president of the NCAA in the middle of these investigations mucking around with them. The notion that the president is going to be ... involved in the day-to-day conduct of an investigation is not only wrong, it's wrong-headed” ("Mike & Mike in the Morning," ESPN Radio, 3/25).