What the new Yahoo!!! college basketball report says about Michigan State

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Yahoo!, which somehow still staffs a sports department and definitely isn’t a Jeb!-like holdover from the Web 1.9 days, has a new college basketball report out today that is Very Important. I know it’s Very Important because “federal investigation,” “meticulous,” “prominent,” and “underbelly” all appear in the first sentence.

Cutting through the heady haze of college athletics journalism, this is an article based on expense reports from a sports agency called ASM Sports. Those reports apparently document “cash advances, as well as entertainment and travel expenses for high school and college prospects and their families.”

The only document– and please know that the tireless staff of Yahoo! Sports “viewed hundreds of pages of documents,” according to Yahoo! Sports– mentioned that references Michigan State’s men’s basketball program in any respect is an expense reimbursement request Christian Dawkins, a former ASM agent, filed with the agency. One of those requests was dated May 3, 2016: “Redwood Lodge. Lunch w/Miles Bridges Parents [sic]. $70.05.” Another was from the same date: “ATM Withdrawl [sic]: Miles Bridges mom [sic] advance. $400.” The article also states: “According to the documents, Dawkins has dinners listed with plenty of boldface names in the sport – Tom Izzo . . . .” That’s everything on the Spartans.

As one possible starting point, we can acknowledge that the NCAA prohibits student-athletes from receiving money from agents. Whatever the wisdom behind or efficacy of that policy, I’m not sure we even have evidence of a payment to Bridges, the Spartans’ premier player, here.

First, despite that exhaustive (well maybe not quite that exhaustive: “Yahoo[!] did not view all of the documents in the three criminal cases tied to the investigation, but . . . .”) doc review, Yahoo! declined to publish the records referencing Bridges. They published multiple pages of reports mentioning other players but, for some undisclosed reason, decided not to publish those that mention Bridges (or Izzo). That means we have to take the authors’ word that the records they saw but did not include with their article said what they say they do.

Second, assuming those records exist and are as described, I don’t think they actually evidence payments to Bridges himself. A– and perhaps the only– reasonable reading of the two entries are for a lunch with Bridges’ parents and a payment to Bridges’ mother. The negative implication is that Bridges himself did not attend the lunch and did not receive the payment. This distinction is significant in light of the NCAA’s prior case against Cam Newton. There, the NCAA suspended Newton on multiple occasions arising out of allegations that Newton’s father, Cecil, tried to secure a pay-for-play agreement on Newton’s behalf with Mississippi State but ultimately reinstated him based on Auburn’s successful argument that Newton was unaware of his father’s efforts. If Dawkins, in treating Bridges’ parents to lunch and giving Bridges’ mother cash, acted without Bridges’ knowledge, there would appear to be no basis for the NCAA to punish Bridges.

Third, a technical but not legally insignificant point is that these records are, at most, indirect evidence of payments to Bridges’ family. They’re good evidence, but they aren’t direct evidence that the payments actually were made. Even if Dawkins had a receipt of the ATM withdrawal, for example, we don’t have direct evidence that he provided that cash to Bridges’ mother.

Finally on the direct issues, the passing reference to Tom Izzo obviously is meaningless, but it’s good for SEO. There is no indication or allegation that any MSU official had any knowledge of or involvement with these payments. Continue reading

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Why do you hate Johnny Manziel?

After Rice lost to Texas A&M on Saturday, Physguy put fingers to keyboard to write that he hates A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel. Why? It’s tough to tell, exactly. Physguy doesn’t like the on-field taunting and “trash talk to Rice players,” although he concedes that Rice players “were probably trash talking [Manziel] too but didn’t get flagged for it.” He also didn’t like it when Manziel asked his teammates to make room for him on the bench. (For completeness, I might as well add that Manziel apparently Tebowed too.)

When I saw the reigning Heisman Trophy winner make the gesture depicted above on Saturday, it reminded me of Gilbert Arenas’ guns-up pregame celebration following his suspension for presenting firearms in the Washington Wizards’ locker room. Probably not the smartest thing to do, given the context. But then again, guns and the people who use them kill people; autographs, given for a fee or otherwise, do not.

More on context though: 1) the “money” touchdown celebration isn’t a new one for Manziel or A&M; 2) as the USA Today article to which Physguy linked explains, Nick Elder, one of Rice’s own players, defended Manziel, tweeting that he was the player to whom Manziel was talking, and the message was, “what’s up nick, nice hit”; and 3) to state the obvious about football players, Manziel isn’t even the first quarterback to engage in attention-seeking celebrations.

For more on that third point, consider that Manziel’s celebrations are self-referential, and, as such, perhaps preferable. Former Boise State quarterback and probable Detroit Lions starter at some point this season Kellen Moore favored the “double-guns-shoot-your-coach” touchdown celebration. Nothing really wrong with that, but if we’re being hyper-sensitive to these things, there’s at least an element of violence there. It isn’t directed at the other team, like Tim Tebow’s gator chomp, or disrespecting a team’s stadium or symbols.

Maybe Physguy, a Rice fan, is sore because of Manziel’s success against the Owls– in about 1.25 quarters of play, Manziel had three TD passes and no interceptions, going 6/8 for ninety-four yards through the air and nineteen more on the ground– which is ok (Rice sometimes lets games slip away in the second half), but fans of a losing team can’t really quibble with celebrations that are a (showy, but non-offensive to the other team) variant of pointing to the scoreboard. At least Manziel was celebrating successful plays on the way to a win for his team. Over-celebrating when you’re losing is worthy of a critical blog post (e.g., Cam Newton last fall against the Giants); when you’re winning, such are the spoils of victory.

And if it’s perceived snarkiness that concerns Physguy– he wrote that “my Rice Owls . . . stayed classy”– what does he have to say for his beloved Marching Owl Band, which played to the current controversy at least as much as Manziel by wearing Manziel-autograph t-shirts as their uniforms for the day?

Towards the end, Physguy writes: “But this story, despite the title, isn’t about Manziel. It’s first about the media coverage of him.” The frequency with which the ESPN announcers mentioned Manziel and the focus of its cameras on the temporarily suspended quarterback drew Physguy’s scorn. The controversial return to action of the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy is a hugely appropriate story for coverage, though. If Physguy is disappointed that the coverage of Manziel came at the expense of coverage of his team, he should consider that without Manziel on the other side of the ball, Rice isn’t playing on national television last weekend. Moreover, if he really wanted to take issue with the Worldwide Leader’s treatment of a young Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, he should have focused his critical eye on ESPN’s coverage of the New England Patriots’ decision to release Tim Tebow, which aired to the exclusion of an actually compelling human interest story surrounding NFL preseason roster cuts.

Rather than address Physguy’s final full paragraph, which finds him even further afield from the topic at hand, I’ll end by saying that I hope Johnny Manziel can keep it together on and off the field this season, because I want to see him play. While he almost certainly is headed to the NFL next year, I don’t think he has a lot of professional potential. Let’s enjoy Johnny (College) Football in his element as long as we can. No need to hate.

Big Ole weekend rundown: The rest

I don’t know why I keep making it sound like this Nebraska-Michigan game is the most massive tilt ever. It should be fun, but still. The game between these two new conference-mates needs a name, like the Corn Bowl, but it isn’t quite deserving of that just yet. Maybe the Toddler Bowl will work for now. (“My extra hatred for you is only semi-rational and based on the fact that, nearly fifteen years ago, we had to share something that I wanted all for myself because I hate sharing!”) This game will capture my attention because I will be there watching it, but in case you aren’t similarly piqued, here are three other things for you to keep track of this weekend:

  1. Vanderbilt vs. Tennessee: While Michigan and Ohio State no longer have their annual meeting this week, the ‘Dores and Vols are keeping steady on. What will be different this year when these two meet in Knoxville? For one thing, Vandy will be the favored team. Vegas is giving them a point on the road in the SEC, which is really something. UT is 0-6 in the conference, but they’ve cooked up hope of winning this one the only way they could: by pretending star QB Tyler Bray can make it back from a hand injury to play in this game. Vandy isn’t much better on paper– just 2-5 in the conference– but they were two missed plays from being 4-3, and they’ve done better than Tennessee against all common opponents. Vanderbilt must win in Knoxville this week or in Winston-Salem next week to be bowl eligible. The Vols, meanwhile, must win this game and their next one (against Kentucky) to be bowl-eligible and avoid a losing season. They also have to win this game to avoid being brought face-to-face with the undeniable recognition that they’re really bad. They’re going to lose, though, and everyone who’s been paying attention will be both glad and unsurprised. (For what the win can mean for the Commodores, read Bobby O’Shea’s post today at Vanderbilt Sports Line.) 7:00 pm, ESPNU
  2. Carolina vs. Detroit: The Cam Newton Roadshow rolls through the Motor City this weekend, and the Lions’ defenders are licking their chops, which is good, because the Lions’ offenders (that doesn’t quite work, does it?) are licking their wounds. With impressive statistical output that has failed to translate into wins, Newton has been a sort of inverse Tebow this season, and I don’t see this game as the one where the Panthers really put things together. On the other hand, Detroit has been looking less and less stable, successful, and inspiring the closer they get to their Thanksgiving Day meeting with the Packers. The Thanksgiving game is simultaneously a point of intense pride and an albatross for Detroit, and I’m worried that, as more cracks begin to show in their new-look image and play this year, doubt creeps in with the capability of reverting to the old, bag-on-the-head team we’re used to. Hanson kicks the Lions to an uncomfortable win in this one. 1:00 pm, FOX
  3. NASCAR Championship: It’s too tough to encapsulate an entire season (the longest in all of professional sports) into a quick hit here, but when this Sunday’s race at Homestead is over, NASCAR will have its first champion not named Jimmie Johnson in five years. Instead, it’s down to two drivers: Tony Stewart, who won the championship in 2002 and 2005– the last year before #48 went on his dominant streak– and Carl Edwards, the back-flipper who’s never won it all. Edwards holds an extremely narrow lead of only three points heading into this final race, which should make things very exciting. 3:00 pm, ESPN

Enjoy!

Big Monday

Today really isn’t a big day, and most of the weekend’s football games were duds, but there were a couple notable exceptions.

Saturday day was pretty slow around the college football world, but things picked up Saturday night, when two unbeaten teams, Wisconsin and Oklahoma, put their perfect records to the test and failed to preserve them. In East Lansing, Michigan State made it two in a row against the Badgers. Wisconsin dominated early, but the Spartans seized the momentum and the lead, which they held for most of the game. In typical MSU fashion, though, their attention lapsed and Wisconsin was able to tie the game at 31. With no time on the clock, QB Kirk Cousins threw a Hail Mary (or “Rocket” pass in Dantonio terminology– we always seem to learn the names of his game-winning plays) to the endzone that bounced off B.J. Cunningham’s face and into the waiting hands of Keith Nichol, who muscled it across the goal line for the walk-off score:

That game finished in time to watch Texas Tech complete its victory over Oklahoma, a game the Red Raiders mostly dominated, although the Sooners threatened to make it interesting late, after most of their fans had left. (Vanderbilt wrapped up a homecoming win against Army before both of these games.)

All of which caused me to miss a dominant performance by Albert Pujols in Game 3 of the World Series.

On Sunday, the Lions dropped their second straight game and looked a lot like their old selves. Speaking of which, I saw former Lion QB Dan Orlovsky on the sidelines in Indianapolis during their loss in New Orleans, which made me think that, of the three defeated NFL teams– Indianapolis, St. Louis, and Miami– the Colts may actually be trying to lose all their games. Orlovsky has to be a better option than Curtis Painter. He certainly was a serviceable player for the Lions last year, and Painter is not that. The Rams are suffering from critical injuries at QB and RB, and the Dolphins, who need Andrew Luck most of these three, really just are that bad. But Jim Caldwell’s decision to go with Painter over Orlovsky supports the notion that Indy is tanking this, although they really are pretty bad all on their own too. On the topic of rookie quarterbacks, Cam Newton turned his record-breaking stat parade into a win for Carolina, and Tim Tebow did what Tim Tebow now does, apparently, in his first start for Denver, coming from behind to beat the aforementioned and still hapless Dolphins in Miami.

In hockey, the Washington Capitals dealt the Detroit Red Wings their first loss of the year in a 7-1 Capitals home win.

Why is Roger Goodell carrying water for the NCAA?

After delaying the supplemental draft to hear ovations from disgraced former Ohio State University quarterback Terrelle Pryor, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell decided, contrary to the apparent application of NFL rules, that Pryor would be allowed to enter that draft, and, contrary to ready explanation, that Pryor would be suspended for the first five games of the regular season.

That Goodell would allow Pryor into the supplemental draft was not a surprise. Despite a likely inability to make the requisite showing of “changed circumstances,” Pryor was too (in)famous to be left out, and some teams had whispered an interest in him.

What is surprising, though, is the condition Goodell imposed on Pryor’s eligibility: a five game suspension. Indeed, Pryor cannot even practice with the team that drafts him–assuming a team drafts him– until Week 6 of the regular season. Pryor’s high-profile agent, Drew Rosenhaus, appeared to accept the terms of admission graciously: “We accept that voluntarily. It’s a small price to pay for him to have a chance to pursue his dream of playing in the NFL.” Pryor’s attorney was less gracious: “Terrelle is going to [the] NFL because the NCAA mandated that he feed their families but he couldn’t feed his own.”

The five-week suspension just so happens to exactly mirror the suspension Pryor would have faced had he returned to play at Ohio State, assuming he would face no further sanctioning. It’s unlikely that this is a coincidence, since it is a disproportionately heavy punishment when compared with other NFL game suspensions.

The obvious and unanswered question about the conditions of Pryor’s eligibility is, “why?” Goodell’s reputation, as established early and often through his treatment of players like Pacman Jones and Michael Vick, is as a tough, paternalistic disciplinarian. Players who violate league policy or the law can expect to be punished by the NFL under Goodell’s watch.

What was completely unexpected, however, was that Goodell would act to enforce violations of NCAA policy. Pryor has violated no laws, and no policies of the NFL. Why, then, is Goodell punishing him?

The only answer can be that Goodell is punishing Pryor for violating NCAA policies, something that 1) is absolutely beyond his authority, and 2) sets an untenable and inappropriate standard as applied to events in the recent past and the potential near future.

For example, what of Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll, who fled Los Angeles as his USC program went down in NCAA-sanction flames (to say nothing of Reggie Bush)? What if the new NCAA investigation of the University of Miami finds that current NFL players who played there violated NCAA rules? What if the NCAA’s ongoing investigation of Auburn turns up infractions by Cam Newton, the Carolina Panthers’ new starting quarterback?

Does this new aspect of the Goodell Doctrine, the Pryor Precedent, mean that all NCAA rule breakers who go to the NFL now can expect to face punishment from the professional league as well? And why wasn’t Pryor himself entitled to notice of this new punishment policy?

Finally, it is notable just how transparent a departure the suspension was from anything resembling the norm. After hearing the news of Pryor’s conditional eligibility at lunch yesterday and going to post a 140-character version of this post on Twitter, I found the feed full of links to similar reactions. Even for those on board with Goodell’s “new sheriff in town” approach before this week, I imagine this is a departure too attenuated to justify. What, after all, was Goodell’s motive here?