Thursday, March 31, 2011

Are Cam's critics racists?

That's the opinion of Hall of Fame NFL quarterback Warren Moon.

Moon, an NFL Hall of Fame quarterback who has been advising Newton, says the Heisman Trophy winner from Auburn has been subjected to scrutiny and criticism far beyond what other QBs in the upcoming pro draft have received.

Exhibit I: This assessment of Newton by Pro Football Weekly's Nolan Nawrocki:

"Very disingenuous — has a fake smile, comes off as very scripted and has a selfish, me-first makeup. Always knows where the cameras are and plays to them. Has an enormous ego with a sense of entitlement that continually invites trouble and makes him believe he is above the law ... Lacks accountability, focus and trustworthiness — is not punctual, seeks shortcuts and sets a bad example. Immature and has had issues with authority. Not dependable."

Moon's response to “A lot of the criticism he’s receiving is unfortunate and racially based. I thought we were all past this. I don’t see other quarterbacks in the draft being criticized by the media or fans about their smile or called a phony. He’s being held to different standards from white quarterbacks. I thought we were past all this stuff about African-American quarterbacks, but I guess we’re not.

“Of course there is racism in every walk of society. We've made a lot of progress in this country. But racism is still there. I just thought in the sports arena we were beyond it. I think the way Cam is being treated shows we’re not."

Newton, on the other hand, enters the draft with some oversized baggage to go with his impressive skills. While at the University of Florida, he was arrested for being in the possession of a stolen laptop. Before entering Auburn, his father admitted shopping him to Mississippi State. Asking price: $180,000. As a result, he was briefly suspended then reinstated by the NCAA -- Newton says he never knew of his father's activities -- in time for Auburn's late-season rush to the national championship.

Newton has been mentioned as the possible top overall pick by the Carolina Panthers in the pro draft. His workouts have been mixed, and Nawrocki and others have recently homed in on his personality, work habits and ability to lead.

While Moon says Newton has been singled out because of his race,QB Ryan Mallett has undergone similar scrutiny. In fact, experts say concerns about the Arkansas All-American's character and personality may drop him down the draft board.

In recent years, as top rookie quarterbacks have demanded contracts in the tens of millions of dollars, teams have put more and more emphasis on a player's intangibles.

With the draft four weeks away, don't expect the probes to stop now.


$80,000 for Patrick Peterson?

That's what a former Texas A&M coach said he was told it would take for his school to land the cornerback, who ended up going to LSU. Click here for the story from ESPN.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Tonight on TV: Auburn under the microscope UPDATED

"Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel" (HBO, 10 p.m.) takes a look at big-time college athletics. Click here for a partial transcript (courtesy of where former Auburn players talk about football and money, not necessarily in that order.

Here's more on tonight's program from the lead reporter, Andrea Kremer, courtesy of

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

It's time to play Name that Narcissist!!!

"Very disingenuous — has a fake smile, comes off as very scripted and has a selfish, me-first makeup. Always knows where the cameras are and plays to them. Has an enormous ego with a sense of entitlement that continually invites trouble and makes him believe he is above the law ... Lacks accountability, focus and trustworthiness — is not punctual, seeks shortcuts and sets a bad example. Immature and has had issues with authority. Not dependable."

This describes ...

A. Lindsay Lohan

B. John Edwards

C. Bill Clinton

D. Lohan and Edwards' love child

E. Clinton and Edwards' love child

F. Some genetic and mutant amalgam of all of the above PLUS a little of Charlie Sheen sprinkled on top.

In fact, it's Cam Newton. Or at least the assessment of Newton's interpersonal skills by the 'respected' author of a pre-NFL draft publication.

You remember Newton, the guy who played a pretty good game of quarterback at Auburn and could be the Panthers' choice for the top pick in the upcoming draft.

At least the writer used his name, but Nolan Nawrocki didn't say if his professional qualifications to make such a psychological assessment come from the school of Jung or Freud. His comments appear in Pro Football Weekly's annual draft guide.

Want to read more of what Nawrocki has to say? Punch here.

Did he go too far? Punch here.

Given the criticism, what's more important to the Panthers: Newton's time in the 40 or his Myers-Briggs? MG

Monday, March 28, 2011

Outlook worsens for Toomer's oaks

Based on a TV report out of Columbus, Ga., the poison got deeper into the soil than earlier thought.

Read here.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Et tu, hoope'

We come to praise Carolina, not to bury it. Anybody who watched the Eastern Regional Final between Carolina and Kentucky knows how easily the last two minutes could have swung either way.

Suffice to say, Kentucky made shots. That wasn't by chance. UK got more of the looks it wanted out of its half-court sets, and it made them when it had to. The Heels showed heart and not a drop of quit. But they never found a rhythm when forced to walk the ball up, and Harrison Barnes, despite a breathtaking minute of end-to-end excellence, took too many off-balance shots out of set plays, and too few of them found net.

Yet, there's no gloating here from the SEC side. This is the most likable UNC team in years. The same, though, can be said for Kentucky, whose rebirth from last year's Elite 8 crash-and-burn, when John Calipari's gang of one-year mercenaries showed little mettle and major character flaws in falling to West Virginia, was as complete for him as it was for his team.

One point worth mentioning. This was not a vintage year for SEC basketball. But the teams at the top -- Florida, Alabama and Kentucky -- kept getting better.

Kentucky played .500 ball for a big chunk of the conference schedule. But little by little, Kentucky jelled. When the Cats plastered the Tide and the Gators to win the SEC Tournament, the secret slipped out with the subtlety of a train blasting out of a tunnel. Big Blue is back again, and now headed to Houston. Florida was one basket away from joining them. Alabama is in the Final Four of the NIT.

Not bad for a football conference.


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Your 2011 SEC football schedule

Anticipation begins... now.

And if you'd rather see it in grid form... here.

Alabama-Penn State, LSU-Oregon, Georgia-Boise, plus the usual conference mayhem. We can't wait. What games are you looking forward to?

-- Tommy T.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Pearl, Tressel and "the Great White Defendant"

In "Bonfire of the Vanities," his prophetic novel of class, greed and institutional/individual corruption, novelist Tom Wolfe introduced us to the notion of the "Great White Defendant." The term refers to the absolute glee in which cops, prosecutors, judges and juries bring to any case involving the rich, the powerful, the privileged.

This week we were again reminded that the NCAA understands the concept. How widely it intends to apply it remains to be seen.

Tennessee fired Bruce Pearl on Monday, but here's betting every dollar in the UT athletic budget that the NCAA, not Vol AD Mike Hamilton, swung the ax.

By now most of us know that Pearl, the first Tennessee coach since Ray Mears to put together an era of prolonged hoops excellence, had trouble following the rules. He violated regulations about entertaining high school junior recruits at his home, then, when caught on camera, lied about it to the NCAA.

The devil, a rather large and ornery one, is in that second detail. It makes the Pearl case a major one, the difference between speeding, and speeding while having an opened bottle of Basil Hayden, an unlicensed .45 and an unchaperoned 16-year-old brunette all in your lap.

Back in the fall, Pearl snuffled his way through a mea culpa press conference, accepted a big pay cut and an SEC suspension, then went out and cheated again, this time illegally "bumping" into a recruit and declining to say anything to his school or the NCAA about it.

That was it. Hamilton, who soon should be cleaning out his own desk because of the twin hirings of Pearl and Lane Kiffin -- which has led to twin NCAA investigations into both programs -- clearly wanted to keep his basketball guy. The university's administration, perhaps alerted to the fury that would rain down from Indianapolis if Pearl stayed, overruled him. For the first time in a long time, sanity prevailed on the banks of the Tennessee.

It's too soon to say whether Pearl's departure earns UT any style points with their friends in the NCAA.

But there's no better time to make a prediction: Ohio State is about to get thumped.

We know, we know. The honorable Jim Tressel has done the honorable thing. Rather than take the two-game suspension for knowingly suiting up ineligible players throughout the 2010 season, then lying about it to his school and the NCAA, Tressel has volunteered to sit out five games. That's the same penalty assigned several of his star kids who took thousands of dollars in illegal benefits from the owner of a Columbus tattoo parlor.

The NCAA took the path of least resistance, least logic, but the biggest bucks in allowing the players to suit up for the Buckeyes' Sugar Bowl matchup with Arkansas. Only afterward did Tressel allow that, well, um, he knew more about the matter than he had first allowed.

Let's review: In Pearl, we have a coach who built a Top 20 basketball program, broke the rules and then told a bald-faced lie to the wrong group of folks.

In Tressel, we have the coach of a Top 5 football program who knew his kids were breaking the rules, said nothing for months, kept those kids on the field, then hid key parts of the truth when the story finally surfaced.

Here, ladies and gentleman of the jury, we have our Great White Defendant -- a coach and a school at the highest rung of the pecking order; an athletic department that leads the country in reported NCAA violations but which hasn't felt the NCAA's lash since Woody Hayes made sense; a school that forced the NCAA to make an embarrassing and highly publicized decision based on what the agency now knows to be a series of lies.

It's hard to imagine Ohio State firing Tressel -- especially given the sycophantic performances given by the school's president and athletic director at the press conference to announce Tressel's initial punishment. Funny, TOSU hoped to use that announcement to get in front of the story. Instead it made it worse.

Now, Tennessee's firing of Pearl -- and the NCAA's likely role in bringing that about -- has complicated matters further. It has also left Ohio State at a torturous decision point straight from another great work of American fiction: "The Lady or the Tiger."

1. It can fire its highly successful coach.
2. Or it can face the fire of an unhappy and humiliated NCAA.

What's it going to be, Buckeyes?


Wednesday, March 9, 2011

THE Ohio State sets THE standard for embarrassing press conferences

This we know about Jim Tressel:

He wears a sweater vest -- against which he hides most of his cards.

He's a motivational author.

He is openly religious, if his book jackets accurately reflect his inner life.

He flat knows how to coach, winning national championships at Youngstown State and The Ohio State University with a simple, attacking style.

One other thing: Jim Tressel has trouble following the rules.

He may have left Youngstown State with a trophy, but he also left it on probation.

He won a national championship in Columbus by somehow keeping Maurice Clarett eligible and jail-free for one magical year. After that, when Clarett continued to act out, Tressel cut him loose. Clarett claimed he had been the beneficiary of academic fraud -- allegations that were never thoroughly investigated.

In subsequent years, Tressel's extraordinarily successful tenure in Columbus has been marred by persistent problems with boosters. Today, The Ohio State leads The Nation in violations reported to the NCAA. Buckeye fans explain away the numbers by saying their school takes NCAA compliance that seriously. Which makes the recent allegations of Tressel's less than forthrightness more ironic than surprising.

Let's review: Last December, The Ohio State announced it was investigating five players, including quarterback Terrelle Pryor, for trading team paraphrenalia for free tattoos and other benefits. Astoundingly, the NCAA ruled the kids could play in the Sugar Bowl, saying they had not been adequately schooled by their coaches or support staff to discern right from wrong. The suspensions were delayed until the first five games of 2011, when Ohio State will play five of the Seven Dwarfs (Sleepy will be taking a nap, and Doc used up his NCAA eligibility in 1943.)

Now Tressel will join his players on the sidelines for the first two weeks. Turns out, the coach had been tipped off to his players' comings and goings at the tattoo parlor some nine months before Tressel's erstwhile bosses began investigating. Somehow he didn't say a word, and the players, several of them team stars, played the entire 2010 season. Thanks to the situational ethics of the NCAA, they also played in the Sugar Bowl. Only after that game did Tressel admit to his superiors that he knew far more than he had first allowed.

In other words, he lied.

Yahoo Sports broke the story this week, which led to Tuesday's flung-together news conference, during which Tressel justified his actions with a story so convuluted it would wow Verbal Kint.

He was joined at the podium by the university president and athletic director who fell all over themselves making the point that Tressel's job IS NOT IN JEOPARDY!!!

Heck, school President Gordon Gee added, he hoped the coach wouldn't fire him -- perhaps the most humiliatingly honest assessment of gridiron realpolitik ever uttered by a career educator.

The school hit Tressel with the suspension and a $250,000 fine -- a love tap really, given that Tressel put winning football games over the reputations of his program and his school. Based on a press conference with barely a hint of reproachment, Tressel's bosses made a separate peace with the same value judgment.

It's not hard to imagine that Tressel would have avoided his school-ordered suspension and fine altogether had Yahoo not spilled The Ohio State's little secret. Now that TOSU has been outed, so has the NCAA, and an embarrassed NCAA -- if there is such a thing anymore -- will mete out Tressel's final sentence.

The governing gods of collegiate sports have had a tough autumn. They suffered back-to-back torchings from their eligibility decisions involving Auburn's Cam Newton and Tattoo U.

Newton is gone, but the NCAA's current football champion remains under investigation. Ohio State will soon join them.

And now the world knows a second dirty little secret: In making its laughable Sugar Bowl decision, the NCAA took the word of a coach who, despite his image and book titles, can't be counted on to play fair.


Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Wall Street Journal returns to "oversigning" UPDATED

For once Nick Saban isn't the target.

The Wall Street Journal's latest look at oversigning stays in the SEC, but this time the paper homes in on Houston Nutt, Bobby Petrino and Steve Spurrier.

Nutt and Petrino consistently sign more kids than will be allowed on campus. In fact, Nutt's bumper crop of 37 recruits for Ole Miss in 2009 did the impossible: It shamed the SEC office into setting the ceiling at 28 signings, three more than the 25 scholarships the NCAA allows each year. No more than 85 players can be on scholarship at any given time.

The Big 10 has banned oversigning. The Big 12 and SEC are among its most enthusiastic practioners. Coaches who use it say it helps them offset injuries, departures or kids thrown off the team. Critics say it enables coach to maintain their talent pool at the expense of kids they run off to make room for the newcomers.

Not surprisingly, Nutt and Petrino defend the practice. Somewhat surprisingly, they are joined by Spurrier. The OBC broke into the over-30 club by signing 31 kids in February.

That's Spurrier's biggest class ever, and it may explain why he seems to have lost track of the numbers. Coaches with oversized classes normally can get their numbers within the NCAA boundaries in a number of ways: They can offer gray shirts (a one-year delay on the scholarship; in other words, a player who accepted a gray shirt in February won't join the program until 2012); or they can sign kids who have no chance of meeting academic qualifications and will spend a year of two in prep school or junior college getting their grades in order.

Spurrier used both methods to boil his class down. But he still ended up with two kids too many, and USC coaches broke the new relatively close to the Feb. 2 signing day.

One of the players involved has turned into a public relations disaster for Spurrier and all the proponents of oversigning. Lorenzo Mauldin of Atlanta says he was "shoved away" late in the process after committing to South Carolina over the summer. Mauldin's father is absentee and his mother is in jail and he grew up in 16 foster homes. Now he has no place to play football.

While online defenders of USC's handling of the situation say the team was up front with Mauldin from the start, his high school coach said he learned that his player had lost his scholarship 18 hours before signing day. If USC says differently, the coach maintained, USC is lying.

Mauldin, who hasn't academically qualified, may still end up in Columbia. But Spurrier's explanation sounds like a guy who knows X's and O's but struggles with arithmetic involving multiples of 10.

Here's a short update from Go to the fifth item of Chip Towers' 10@10. In it, Spurrier acknowledges mistakes and says he sent letters of apology to the kids involved. Angry feelings remain.

The SEC is supposed to revisit oversigning at its spring meetings. Best of luck.