Wednesday, June 25, 2003

Virginia Tech has accepted the ACC's invitation to join that conference. Even if Miami also accepts, the conference will still be one short of the number required to hold a post-season conference title game, which was the whole point of enlarging the conference.

Saturday, June 14, 2003

Neuheisel's gone: here's the termination letter (many thanks to my crack investigative team, led by Prof. David Johnson, who's been on this story like stink on the Clippers; he needs to start a blog). In order to justify terminating Neuheisel with cause, and thereby save itself a few million, UW is now claiming that he lied to investigators when they first asked him about the charges that he had participated in a pool. As with the Martha Stewart and Henry Cisneros prosecutions, the university is using a prosecutorial bully's favorite tactic: charging the defendant not with the more serious but difficult to prove charge (in this case, gambling), but on a much more selective charge used to intimidate witnesses before the law.

Don't be surprised if the parties agree to a confidential "settlement". Neuheisel has the NCAA dead to rights on this one. The NCAA knows that its regulations, while clearly spelling out whole areas of prohibited conduct involving gambling, do not mention pools. A prolonged legal battle based on the regulation in question is one they cannot win, and the letter from the compliance official at Washington okaying participation in tournament pools is going to be hard to ignore in any wrongful termination suit.

The NCAA also wants this story out of the papers A.S.A.P.; without gambling, college basketball would be followed with all the intensity that college baseball is now, and the popularity of their showcase event largely stems from the participation of millions of people in pools, most of whom have never set foot in Vegas, telephoned a bookie, or set up an off-shore account. Making a common activity seem sinister, and implicity calling many of its devoted fans criminal, are not in the best interest of the NCAA.

Thursday, June 12, 2003

With reports circulating that UW has already decided to fire Rick Neuheisel, the NCAA spin that has been lapped up by sportswriters is that the regulations in question are unequivocal: NCAA tournament pools are a violation of the rules. In fact, the conventional wisdom is wrong; one wishes that the sports pages were less filled with "Steno Sue" Schmidts and Jeff "Kneepad" Gerths, and would actually question the nonsense they are being fed.

To wit, NCAA Bylaw Article 10.3 reads as follows:
Staff members of a member conference, staff members of the athletics department of a member institution
and student-athletes shall not knowingly: (Revised: 4/22/98 effective 8/1/98)
(a) Provide information to individuals involved in organized gambling activities concerning intercollegiate
athletics competition;
(b) Solicit a bet on any intercollegiate team;
(c) Accept a bet on any team representing the institution;
(d) Solicit or accept a bet on any intercollegiate competition for any item (e.g., cash, shirt, dinner) that has
tangible value; or (Revised: 9/15/97)
(e) Participate in any gambling activity that involves intercollegiate athletics or professional athletics,
through a bookmaker, a parlay card or any other method employed by organized gambling. (Revised: 1/9/96, 1/14/97 effective 8/1/97)
As you can see, there are a number of activities that are clearly prohibited, such as using a bookie to place a bet, betting a teaser card at a casino, or even the handshake bet on a game that probably constitutes the majority of bets made on sporting events in this country. NCAA Tournament pools, on the other hand, are not mentioned, either specifically or generally, even though that has been a national tradition for almost two decades, and even though the legality of such pools brings into question whether the state views that as "gambling". The sheer randomness of a pool emphasizes the luck quotient to an extent not typically seen in sports gambling; if anything, a pool has more in common with a state-run lottery than the activities the regulation is supposed to guard against, such as point shaving and game fixing. That Neuheisel received a memo from the school stating that an outside pool was appropriate under the regs in question would seem to strengthen any lawsuit he might later file against the university (and the NCAA) for wrongful termination.

Monday, June 09, 2003

One of the reasons why it's so easy for me to root for Rick Neuheisel is that I've realized who he reminds me of: Bill Clinton. The two of them have a great deal in common. Both were prodigies, who came from the hinterlands of America (Clinton from Arkansas, Neuheisel from Arizona) to become nationally prominent in their chosen field. Both men have law degrees, although neither has ever practiced law for any significant period of time, and both have had a habit of parsing every legal technicality to get away with stuff. Both were caught in embarrassing lies about relatively trivial matters. Clinton was the first boomer President, while Neuheisel was the first Gen-X head football coach, and both were the recipients of a great deal of resentment from the people they passed along the way, particularly their contemporaries. The subconscious image that comes to mind when people think of the former President is him playing "Heartbreak Hotel" on his saxophone, just as football fans instinctively think of the song "Margaritaville" when Neuheisel comes to mind. And both have been nicknamed "Slick" by their enemies.

Today is the day that the Washington A.D. is supposed to decide whether Neuheisel gets the boot, but no matter what happens, I know he has a bright future. Of course, you know and I know that putting money into an office tournament pool is "gambling", just as we all know that sexual relationships encompass all matter of activities, including blow jobs. But as Kenneth Starr and Robert Ray discovered to their horror, trying to nail someone who is smarter than you are on a technicality can boomerang. Regardless of whether Neuheisel relied on the now-infamous internal memo approving tournament pools organized by third parties, the existence of that memo makes it next to impossible for either the university or the NCAA to take action without seeming to be grossly unfair. The NCAA regs in question do not specifically mention office pools as a prohibited activity, even though they have been around for ages, and to do so now will invite a huge lawsuit.

From my own personal experience, I can tell you that Rick Neuheisel is one of the most charming people I have ever met. He's funny, engaging, and brilliant, skills that would make him a formidable politician (he's probably a Republican, so I'm not sure I want to encourage that path). And like Bill Clinton, certain people hate him with an intensity so passionate as to be obsessive. Eventually, if you keep giving your enemies a loaded gun, one of them will fire.

Rick Bragg Note: much of the research above was done by my loyal stringer, Prof. David ("Smilin' Jr.") Johnson, who reminds me that NCAA head honcho Myles Brand is also a Philosopher (but more to the point, is he a Straussian?).

Sunday, June 08, 2003

After two seasons of occasionally brilliant play at USC, senior forward Jerry Dupree has been declared academically ineligible, thereby ending his career with the Trojans. When his head is in the game, Dupree is an electrifying player, a fan favorite, and he helped carry the Trojans through their improbable run to the Pac-10 conference finals last year. He really had no business being anywhere near an institution of higher learning. If he's lucky, he'll catch on in Europe.

Thursday, June 05, 2003

Having gone to law school with Rick Neuheisel, and being able to vouch for his likeability, I have to admit this story pains me. Moreover, the activity he took part in, an NCAA tournament pool, is one that was not illegal in the state of Washington. There has always been a Butch Cassidy-like quality to the man, and I would hate to see the most unique coach in college football get the axe for something like this. It's not like he went to a strip club, or got liquored up at a frat house, or did something else that was illegal....

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