Master of puppets?

In this Friday the 13th installment of Triangle Offense basketball crosstalk, we look at the mixed results of the last week.

As a special bonus for the occasion of this weekend’s NCAA convention, to which Triangle Offense was invited to apply for credentials but declined because Indianapolis is too far away, we will treat you to an email flame-throw from a week ago, concerning the conditions of servitude among college Division I athletes. The main correspondents are David Fellerath (editor of this here blog and typer of these words), who plays Karl Marx or perhaps Big Bill Haywood to Adam Sobsey’s… gonna go out on a limb here and say Edmund Burke Andrew Carnegie.

But first, let’s look at last week, starting with Mike Potter’s thoughts on the women’s games, then continuing with Neil Morris on the “Roland Ratings” and how they apply to N.C. State’s bigs and finishing with Sobsey’s thoughts on 9 p.m. starts.

Things we learned this week in the women’s game, other than that the Clemson women certainly aren’t afraid of playing in Chapel Hill

1. Duke’s Tricia Liston should be a force to be reckoned with the rest of her career. Already a great shooter when she arrived in Durham, the solidly-built 6-1 wing has become a more complete player as a sophomore, averaging 11.8 points per game and getting her first double-double Sunday against N.C. State.

Richa Jackson attacks the basket for Duke.

2. State’s Marissa Kastanek is becoming an even stronger floor leader. The hard-nosed junior guard averages 12.9 points and is hitting 89.5 percent of her free throws and 35.1 percent of her 3-pointers. Often times, as Kastanek goes so goes the Wolfpack.

3. UNC’s Brittany Rountree is a star as a freshman. The Tar Heels’ most decorated recruit this season, she has been the only consistent double-figure scorer behind senior center Chay Shegog, averaging 11.1 and hitting 47.6 from 3-point range. —Mike Potter

N.C. State’s big men aren’t playing so, well, big

Maryland dunks over States non-big.

Over their first two conference games—and win over Maryland and an unexpected loss to Georgia Tech—the most distressing trend isn’t the Wolfpack’s shooting, defense or ball possession, all of which can shift fluidly from hot to cold. Instead, the Pack’s big men, who feasted on non-conference opponents, have thus far faltered under the heat of ACC competition.

It would be easy to analyze this is terms of individual output. But, another telling method is the so-called Roland Rating, one of those nouveau statistics that is gradually growing in popularity. In short, the RR is the numerical difference between a team’s net points while a particular player is on the court and the team’s net points while the same player is off the court. While the rating certainly isn’t an absolute measure of a player’s ability, it is a guide to how a team performs with or without that player.

After five straight games with a RR of 30-plus, Richard Howell’s rating sank to minus-9 against Maryland and minus-7 against Tech. Meanwhile, DeShawn Painter, despite playing only 15 minutes against the Terps and 20 minutes versus the Jackets, compiled shocking ratings of minus-27 and minus-15, respectively. Perhaps not surprisingly, the only Wolfpack to post a positive RR in both games was C.J. Leslie, including a telling 23 rating in State’s 11-point loss to Tech, further demonstrating how much the team truly relies on him.

As State enters the meat of conference season and even more formidable front lines (UNC, Duke, Virginia, etc.), it bears watching to see if these numbers stand up…and whether State’s big men can stand tall. —Neil Morris

Starting games at 9 p.m. may be hard on us hacks, but adrenaline knows no bedtime

Quickly here, because I’ve got to write a game story now and it’s well past midnight: Seems like it must vary depending on the game.

Duke-Virginia was a helluva tilt on Thursday, and after 11 p.m., while we were in the Duke locker room interviewing players, no one looked tired. There’s a point at which fatigue is overridden completely by the forces of adrenaline. I’m sure things were very different in the UVA locker room, but even at that, I bet the minds of the Cavs are and will be racing well into the small hours as they replay what might have been—especially Virginia guards Jontel Evans and Sammy Zeglinski, both good shooters who went a combined 0-14. (Fittingly, it was Evans’s wide-open missed 3-pointer at the buzzer that sealed the Cavs’ defeat.)

As the ACC season wears on, I think we’ll see cumulative fatigue, but in the, say, 24-hour aftermath of a high-level game like last night’s, between two top-20 teams, I don’t think anyone on either side cares that it started at 9, not even Tyler Thornton, who tweeted on Thursday at about 11:30 a.m.: “3 classes in a row this morning #sheesh.” —Adam Sobsey

And now for the main event, emails about the (appalling exploitation of college athletes)/ (EVERYTHING IS JUST FINE!), mostly between yours truly and Mr. Sobsey, with contributions from Mr. Potter, Rob Harrington and Bob Geary. Emails are lightly edited, but non-standard style and spelling may linger.

It started with a passage from an email David wrote to everyone on Tuesday, Jan. 3 at 1:14 a.m.

Over time, I’d like to find a more complex approach. And perhaps we can fold in thoughts about the world outside of Triangle basketball, as well. For example, although I’m ready to get off my “banish the December garbage games” hobbyhorse, I’d like to keep track of other developments in the NCAA, such as the upcoming convention in Indianapolis Jan. 11-14. And the ever-rising calls to professionalize college sports. Perhaps next week I’ll invite everyone’s thoughts on Joe Nocera’s piece in the Times Magazine this weekend:

Sobsey replied at 9:53 a.m., writing in part:

… I should go ahead and confess that I don’t generally get worked up into much of a lather about the NCAA and its hypocritical/money-grubbing ways, which seem par for the course with most sports (and other) orgs. I was similarly immune to the hysteria surrounding baseball and steroids.

Fellerath, 10:33 a.m.:

There’s one very big difference between the NCAA and “most sports,” Mr. Sobsey!

Sobsey, 10:48 a.m.:

Right, but that silence you hear is the players, almost to a man, not complaining that they don’t get paid. Until that happens, the NCAA can conduct itself like any other for-profit megacorp which makes money for its members via unfairly exploited labor. And I’m not sure the exploitation is as bad as it might seem. The players *love* getting to play on these teams. I would even venture to say that W. Mich. loved getting to play in Cameron, and didn’t really care that they got thrashed there. They get to travel, stay at the WaDu, guard Austin Rivers, be on ESPN. They get a scholarship, in many cases. Etc. But I’m out of my depth here.

I do think the players should be better set up for what happens to them after college—some sort of trust fund, perhaps—and I wouldn’t object at all to their receiving some sort of fellowship money to go along with their scholarship. I do think, though, that it’s mostly people outside the programs who are making the noise about the NCAA’s problems—which are more, I think, the result of superannuation than outright corruption.

I’m more angry about things like Sandusky and Fine, and how little accountability there is (which the NCAA needs to demand, as a governing body) for the character of the personnel of its schools’ sports programs. Money or no money, student athletes should be getting a lesson not just in how to set a ball screen but in the tenets of teamwork, right conduct and ethical living. If you have diseased people like Fine and Sandusky close to them, enabled by untouchable coaches who are kept bubble-wrapped inside their tiny worlds and don’t do enough to step in when they should, they’re subject to irrevocable damage.

Fellerath, 11:13 a.m.:

And do you really expect, say, Andre Dawkins, to say something about working conditions to you?

Geary, 11:23 a.m.:

The kids say all they can by going pro in one year flat. Until then, they mouth the platitudes.

Sobsey, 11:51 a.m.:

Like I said, I’m out of my depth here. I’d never heard of the National College Players Association (NCPA), which has just come into the wider public’s eye. I will continue to be a pain in the ass, at least for the moment, and point out that 300 signatories on a petition represents a tiny fraction of college athletes. That’s like the rosters (w/ practice squads) of four Big-10 college football teams or something. And the NCAA basically flicked its wrist and shooed the petition away.

Andre Dawkins? No, hell no. Duke’s players generally come from well-off families, out of the well-greased (with money) bball pipeline, and the income they could be clearing now is probably relatively unimportant to them. Which leads indirectly to the problem that different student-athletes are using their college sports time for different things. There are, as Geary points out, the one-and-done kids, but that is also a tiny fraction of players. (And I would posit that what’s driving them is not just the money but a life-drive to play at the top level; they never thought of college sports as anything but a stepping-stone in the first place. After Duke beat UNC-G, Austin Rivers told Eric Martin that Duke is “the right place to transition my game.”)

There are kids who are using the time as a sort of minor-league trial, trying to impress the pros via four years of improvement in their sport and maybe squeeze a little career out of it afterwards. And there are those who know full well that they’ll never be pro athletes, and are there for the pleasure and work and sense of belonging in it, and for the degree they’re getting at the same time. Their agendas are totally different. Some of them really want their degrees, some of them don’t care at all.

According to the NCPA, the graduation rate in basketball and football is between 40—50 percent. When you have all these different agendas playing on the same field, it’s hard to see how the NCAA can satisfy them all even if it tries to.

Fellerath, 12:14 p.m.:

First of all, you hit on the real issue you write, “The NCAA basically flicked its wrist and shooed the petition away.”

To you, that suggests that there’s no problem here, and everyone can move along. To me, that’s evidence of the power imbalance between a multibillion-dollar cartel and its unpaid players.

You scoff at 300 signatories, but don’t you think it takes considerable courage to sign such a petition? (Just a guess, but the signatories are likely seniors with little to lose.)

My point in bringing up Andre Dawkins wasn’t to suggest anything about his family background. My point is that he is a marginal player that Coach K can easily jettison if he becomes troublesome. One thing many people don’t realize is that these scholarships are NOT four-year rides. They are NOT guaranteed. They are renewed annually at the discretion of the coach, and the coach alone. That’s what’s going on when, during the football off-season, you catch news of a few marginal football players being cut from the roster of UNC or State or some other school, for unspecified reasons.

Let me know what you think of the Nocera piece.

Harrington, 12:47 p.m.:

I favor moving to four-year scholarships, too, although the lower Division I teams would balk. If I’m not mistaken, Duke has an actual rule in place against pulling someone off scholarship without cause. I’m also pretty sure Butch Davis did that to several players during his time in Chapel Hill. (It’s very common in football.)

I also like the idea of a trust for players who graduate. Faculty concerns tend to revolve around creating an elevated, segregated class of student out of the revenue athletes, and actually paying them might exacerbate that issue.

To me, some of these issues simply are the cost of doing business. There’s no way to bring that much money into an amateur system and eradicate problems, but fans would revolt if we were to move entirely European. For better or worse, this stuff has become an institution.

My greater concern is the low graduation rates. I can accept some of the cheating (just not at my school!) and other issues, provided the athletes themselves get something meaningful out of the experience. Cracking down on these loser programs and coaches should become a top priority. Even if the diplomas are bogus, they’ll still have value for those otherwise getting exploited by the system.

Potter, 12:54 p.m.:

Again on the “paying players” thing. Most progressive people are in favor of Title IX, which would mean if University X pays 100 football and men’s basketball players it would ALSO have to pay 100 female athletes – in numerous sports unless the NCAA just wants to start women’s football.

And in reality there are only about 50 football-playing schools that have all the money they need and more; the rest have to figure out more creative ways to stay afloat.

I do think there needs to be an adjustment to the one-year vs. four-year scholarship agreement.

What about this: If a coach removes a player from his team for simple lack of athletic prowess or a dispute over an injury, if that player is in good academic standing and not in trouble with the law the school MUST continue paying tuition and other mandatory fees and issue a free campus parking pass even if the FAFSA says he doesn’t need any aid. He gets that for a total of eight undergraduate semesters within a six-year period, and can make up for personal spending needs (food, housing, etc.) with work-study or another job just like any other student.

And I am now in favor of “full cost of attendance” grants, which would be something like a 12-month, $200 a month stipend to ALL full-scholarship athletes. A school could decide whether to give the stipend to all such athletes or none, and that decision would be made public for all to see as high school grads chose where to matriculate.

At the Division III schools within the SUNY or University of Wisconsin systems, for example, all they get is a pat on the back.

And that was what we did on email Tuesday, Jan. 3. Nine days later, we got a follow-up.

From Harrington, Jan. 12:

As for Duke, I found this from the student athlete handbook online:

“Under NCAA regulations, athletic scholarships are granted for one year renewable terms. Under normal circumstances, Duke’s policy is to treat an athletic scholarship as a four year grant. Your scholarship will not be taken away for reasons of health or injury. However, the university may revoke your scholarship if you render yourself ineligible for athletic competition (this includes academic failure), falsify information on your application or letter of intent, or fail to follow the rules established for your sport, including failure to adhere to the student-athlete drug policy. You are free at any time to withdraw from the team voluntarily and resign your scholarship. If you do so, your scholarship, of course, will be terminated immediately and will not be renewed for the following academic year.”

Duke Handbook rev. July 2011