NCAA matters, paying players and Georgia basketball

semerson@macon.comApril 24, 2014 

Part 2 of the mailbag, which begins with the subject du jour nationally, then veers into a few interesting questions related to Georgia basketball.

Your thoughts on the NCAA paying players. What do you think the solution is, and also what do you think will actually happen? Is the educational compensation enough? Is the NCAA using revenue from football and basketball to pay for the other 87 championships really that unfair? Splitting Division I into subcategories based on the school's funds? Lastly, thoughts on the NCAA not paying the players, but allowing any athlete to sign endorsements while in college?
- Blake Dixon

I’m working on a story for Sunday’s papers that will cover a lot of this, so I don’t want to scoop myself. You do ask some pertinent questions.
One thing I am put off by is the reaction of some fans: If you clamor for your school to give a coach a raise, or pay top-dollar to get a new coach, then you shouldn’t be opposed to giving players a little extra. Don’t be in favor of Georgia getting an indoor practice facility, but against Ramik Wilson getting some money to buy his girlfriend a present.

Ultimately, I’m skeptical whether unions will happen, but I do think they’ll be the impetus for real change. It’s unfortunate the NCAA will be forced essentially at gunpoint to do some common-sense reforms. But if that’s what it takes, hey.

What is your opinion on Steven Godfrey's article on "shadow boosters" or "bag men?" If this "under the table donations" does occur, do you believe it is the reason so many players try to cheat the system and think they can get away with it? (For example, the recent double dipping with the checks)
-Ray, Lawton, OK

Honestly, it’s hard for me to weigh in on this because I don’t know who the sources were and what schools they were associated with. I read the story, and it was interesting, but I wouldn’t want to throw out any speculative statements based on the story.

I will say that in general I’ve found less appetite among the public – and the media – for exposing athletes being paid under the table. The Sports Illustrated series on Oklahoma State was well-done, but hasn’t really had much of an impact. People are kind of inured to the whole thing now. Perhaps it goes to the Cam Newton story, and the sense that if the NCAA wasn’t going to do anything about that, then what’s the point? Perhaps it’s the whole debate over unions and player stipends.

Here’s an opinion: If stipends do come into effect, then there will be a renewed sense among the public that paying under the table for recruits is wrong. Right now, however, the public is anti-NCAA and players getting paid under the table seems low on the outrage list.

I am a fan of coach Will Friend and believe he sincerely wants the team to succeed. But since he has arrived the offensive line has invariably been our weak link. High school linemen in Georgia don’t consider us as a viable option. We never develop game-changing O-linemen once we get them on campus. Coach Friend flip-flops players throughout the season and our guards play tackle and tackles play guard. I keep thinking that some dominant left tackle would like to come here and block for this incredible bunch of running backs. Is it just me or can you shed some light?
- Tom Johnson

I get the concerns, though I would quibble with a bit of that: The line has been the weak link of the offense, but not the team. The team has signed some good in-state O-linemen, including four in this previous class, and John Theus wasn’t an in-state guy, but he was a five-star and still has a chance to live up to the expectations. Maybe he becomes that dominant left tackle this year.

But overall, it’s clear the line hasn’t had the influx of talent the other spots on offense has seen, and it’s been reflected in the production. Since 2004 Georgia has had only one offensive lineman selected in the first three rounds of the NFL draft: Cordy Glenn, a second-rounder in 2012. It’s possible none of the three senior starters on last year’s team will be drafted. The recent recruiting hasn’t netted many five stars: Theus was a good get out of Florida, but the team missed out at the last minute on Laremy Tunsil last year. So far they’re struggling on in-state linemen for the 2015 class.

I’ve asked Friend about the rotating of players, and his answer was pretty simple: “When there is no doubt in our mind that somebody is without a question the best center, he doesn’t come out of the game.” And that goes for every position. The counter-point to that is that perhaps a player needs to stay at a spot for a few games and absorb some bumps and develop into that starter. It’s a legitimate argument. But it also may be easier to say than to do, especially when you start off playing Clemson and South Carolina.

This will be Friend’s fourth year at Georgia. He’s coached and signed almost all of these guys their entire careers. (The exceptions being Kolton Houston, who arrived a year before he got here, and David Andrews, who signed just before Friend was hired in 2011.) So it’ll be fair to take a look at how the line fares this year.

Basketball question: How would you rank the SEC basketball jobs? Obviously, Florida and Kentucky are 1-2, but how would do you see the rest of the league?
- Conor O'Neil

Wow, good question. The best way to do this may be to break it into tiers, as a numerical ranking includes too many different factors: Tradition, fan support, recruiting base and facilities being probably the big four. So I’d go this way:

Destination job: Kentucky
Also top tier: Florida
Second-tier: Arkansas, Missouri, Tennessee.
Third-tier: Georgia, Alabama, LSU, Vanderbilt.
Bottom tier: Auburn, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, South Carolina, Texas A&M.

Those bottom two tiers are very arguable, however.

With the additions of Yante Maten and Osuhen Iduwe, what are the best and worst case scenarios for the hoop Dawgs next season?
- Neel Desai

That’s a good way of framing it. I haven’t seen Georgia listed in any way-too-early preseason top 25s, and didn’t even make Joe Lunardi’s first eight out for his even-way-too-earlier preseason bracketology. But that could be because Georgia basketball just isn’t on many analysts’ minds, and while Maten is expected to be an immediate-impact type, he’s not the kind of recruit that gets the national people talking.

Best case: Georgia (finally) gets off to a good start in nonconference play, then has another solid SEC season (finishing around this past year’s 12-6 record is reachable.) That gets Georgia into the NCAAs, where they win a game or perhaps even two.

Worst case: Another poor nonconference start, including a loss at Georgia Tech, followed by a middling performance in the SEC – which, by the way, shouldn’t be much better than it was this year. Florida and Kentucky will be good again, but Tennessee should see a dip, Missouri lost its coach and a bunch of players, and while Pearl will inject some energy into Auburn, there won’t be many immediate wins. The teams best positioned to make a jump are Georgia and LSU.

Any other name surfaced in regards to the basketball scholly that is now available? It seems we might have been interested in Ahmed Hill and Jakeenan Gant, but Hill has committed to Virginia Tech, and Gant would have to sit a year (don’t understand it, that’s just what I read). You seemed to lead in a tweet, right when the news of Dixon was breaking,that we had interest in getting involved with some possible transfers. Have you heard any names of players that our staff has reached out to or tried to get a visit from?
- Jon, New Orleans

Hill seemed destine to follow Buzz Williams from Marquette to Virginia Tech. I’m sure Georgia would have loved to have him, but he also wasn’t automatic to qualify, at least at UGA. Gant, however, was the player Georgia wanted the most during the fall signing period, when it had just the one open scholarship, so if there was a way to still make that happen the Bulldogs would try. As I understand it, Gant would only have to sit a year if Missouri didn’t release him to another SEC school. So Georgia is still going to wait and see what happens after Missouri hires its next coach, and its assistant coaches. But it’s a longshot, since Gant’s mom has already moved out there, and his AAU coach hasn’t made Georgia sound like a real possibility.

That still leaves a number of transfers out there, but as of this writing nothing was imminent. Georgia doesn’t necessarily have to use the scholarship this year, and might prefer to save it for next year’s class; the Bulldogs would have three spots next year if they don’t use the scholarship now.

Dixon’s transfer didn’t happen because Georgia wanted to open up a spot. It was more in the wake of Maten and Iduwe committing, and Fox making it clear that Maten will get a lot of playing time. But the reason I hinted at the transfer possibility the day Dixon left was because Georgia obviously would have interest in using that scholarship. Hence, apparently, not trying hard to change Dixon’s mind.

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