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Stop Blaming the NCAA

By Dr. Samuel Jay

In the middle of October, as part of a government investigation into Adidas consultants paying college basketball recruits, text messages between University of Kansas head coach Bill Self and Adidas’s T.J. Gassnola were made public. Shift through the texts and it becomes clear Self was not operating as an ignorant nonparticipant in the pay-for-play transactions. He was central to them.

I don’t know what will happen now. Most likely nothing.

Remember last spring when University of Arizona head coach Sean Miller was in deep shit for the same brand of activity? What happened to him?

Exactly.

I’ve been trying to wrap my head around how so few fucks come to be given about these cases. They circulate a bit in the news stream, garnering attention for four or five days, but soon enough they’ve disappeared, ignored by writers and commentators who turn towards other sports stories more comfortable to write and more palatable to consume.

I think I now know how this is done so effectively, without compelling any of us to stop down and ask “What the hell is going on here?!”

Coverage of these stories tends to focus on two blamable parties: the NCAA and the players involved. These characters are central to the narrative not because they are driving the story, but because their voices are absent from it.

Follow along with me here.

With the NCAA, which is nearly always brought up at some point in commentary on pay-for-play scandals as a parasite that takes advantage of student-athletes, you have a character too large and convoluted to speak for itself. The organization is consistently personified, but effectively without the presentation of a person -not even president Mark Emmert- who can counter the criticism. As a result, we consume these stories, accepting the NCAA as a “greedy cartel of an organization,” dumping blame onto a non-person without fear that some person would argue back in defense.

Predictably, this trope surfaces during two moments in the year:

First, during the middle-to-end of the college football season as we prepare for conference championships, bowl games, and the College Football Playoff. It is at this time that we criticize the NCAA for making money off the backs of Division I college football players, the thousands of whom provide ESPN with a month’s worth of often-mediocre content.

Second, in the midst of March Madness, often after the excitement of the first weekend has passed and we settle into an Elite Eight and Final Four made up primarily of schools who are members of Division I men’s basketball nobility: Duke, Kansas, and North Carolina. It is at this moment, especially once the annual oddity of a Loyola-Chicago has been dropped, that we turn back to the NCAA and scold them for the $1 billion they earn from CBS and question why that money isn’t going back to “the kids.”

And again, this sense-making works for us because the NCAA cannot talk back.

Neither can the student-athletes, the second vessel of blame which carries with it an immense rhetorical effectiveness and thus, allows these faceless teenagers to carry the weight of a system that’s flawed from top to bottom, doing so without speaking for themselves.

Do you ever remember a student-athlete in the midst of one of these cases or investigations speaking up?

Me neither.

DeAndre Ayton said nothing last year amid the Arizona scandal. Terrell Pryor didn’t say much while an investigation was going into the trading of Ohio State football memorabilia for tattoos. Eric Dickerson has still never said shit of any value about SMU boosters handing out cars.

And to be clear, The Fab Five only spoke up after they left Michigan.

Of course, while these two parties are taking all the blame, the gents most in need of criticism -the coaches- are criticizing 18-year-old recruits they missed out on (see: Syracuse’s Jim Boheim) or screaming at “the media” (see: Sean Miller).

Worth stating is the irony that for years the University of Kentucky’s John Calipari has been viewed by college basketball fans as the sleaziest of balls while also being the most honest about how the system works and the fact he’s been able to take advantage of it.

I like John.

It’s time to start putting mics in faces of the people who can most completely answer for the wrongs that are done. Get Boheim to answer a difficult question in a press conference or make Bill Self feel uncomfortable enough to remove that perpetual shit-eating grin off his face.

It’s time to hold these men accountable, whether it be football or basketball coaches. They are the ones benefiting the most from these wrongs, winning championships and getting raises when things are overlooked while avoiding persecution when they aren’t.

And to end, here’s a brief sidebar: Rick Petino was fired from Louisville not simply for a pay-for-play scandal, but because prostitutes were being leveraged to land recruits.

We live in a capitalistic society, but a puritanical one as well.

Random Stats Brought to You by Me for No Particular Reason: NBA Scoring

By Dr. Brian Schrader

It’s November.

That means that baseball has likely come to an end and while we still have college football, things won’t really heat up for a few weeks.

What are we left with?

The NBA.

By default it becomes the best show around with the obvious downside that the season won’t end for another 8 months (probably with another title going home to Oakland).  I know there are lots of people for whom the NBA represents a high point in the sports calendar but I have always had trouble getting into basketball until the end of the regular season and by the time the playoffs start I am fully invested.

As a Denver native and lifelong Nuggets, I am more interested in the current NBA happenings than in years past and have done some early season reading and thinking about the NBA and my team’s prospects.  In particular, I am curious to see if the Nuggets’ hot start is a fluke or if they have a chance to make it deep in the always-competitive Western Conference.

Because I believe that analytics allow us to look past the superficiality of the standings and understand more fully the relative quality of individual teams, my investigation began with a look at point differential.  We know that in baseball, for example expected win/loss, which is simply a projection of a team’s record based on the difference between the runs they have scored and the runs they have allowed their opponents, effectively predicted the teams who would have success in the post season with the top 3 teams in run differential (Huston, Boston, and LA) making it to the Championship Series of their respective conferences.  Similarly in basketball, point differential can be useful in determining if teams are lucky or good.

What surprised me when looking at aforementioned stats had nothing to do with point differential, but how many points were being scored across the league. This predictably led me down a digital rabbit hole in search of… I don’t know what.

What follows is some of the stuff I found and not much of an explanation of what it might mean.

As of right now, the NBA team scoring average is 112.5 points per game.  I know, it’s early in the season and regression to the mean is bound to occur.  But, were this number to remain it would make the 2018-19 season the 9th-highest ever in terms of PPG, which is crazy.

While you may think that this year is an outlier, the league average PPG has been steadily creeping up over the past handful of years.  It was 101 in 2013-14 and has increased a little each year with the 2017-18 season ending with a whopping 106.3 PPG average.

It gets better!

In 2003-04 there were only two NBA teams who averaged fewer than 100 points per game while last year only two teams didn’t average at least 100 PPG.

This year all 30 NBA teams are averaging 100+ points per game (Orlando is last with 100.6).

What does this say about the NBA?

I’m not sure.

Maybe nothing.

But it makes you think if there is something about the composition of teams, coaching, or style of play that is leading to this surge in scoring.

Because I am a baseball fan first, this has made me think of an argument I heard someone make (it may have been Sports Science or something like that) that baseball either by coincidence or luck managed to set the pitchers mound the perfect distance from home plate.  Any closer and the players would be at too great a disadvantage because of reaction time and hits would extremely scarce.  Any farther and professional hitters would take advantage of the increase reaction time by launching homers with impunity.

I wonder if a similar logic can be applied to this most recent spike in NBA scoring.

I heard another possible apocryphal story about the invention of basketball that suggested the reason that the hoop in basketball is 10 feet off the ground is not because of some advanced mathematical formula or the result of years of experimentation/trial and error.  But rather, when Dr. James Naismith invented basketball, there just so happened to be some convenient structural feature where he affixed his prototypical hoop and it happened to be at 10 feet.

I am not sure this is true but perhaps unlike baseball, Dr. Naismith did not luck into the right height on the first try.

Sure, 10 feet worked for a long time but given the size and athleticism of modern NBA players, wouldn’t a 12-foot hoop provide more of a challenge and perhaps change the NBA into a more strategic and defense-oriented sport as opposed to the shootouts that are so common today.

Before you answer ponder this, the Timberwolves just beat the Jazz by a score of 128-125…