1. The NCAA finally ruled against Louisville basketball last week, stripping the Cardinals of a national championship, demanding the return of millions in NCAA tournament revenue, reducing scholarships inside the UL program and suspending coach Rick Pitino for the first five games of the Atlantic Coast Conference season in 2017-18.
The NCAA verdict was, in some ways, harsher than some expected, though count me in the group that believes vacated wins and stripped titles are meaningless punishments. The money lost is a real issue in today’s college athletics, where programs spend millions to support sports that don’t produce a cent of revenue. Louisville basketball is a cash cow; being forced to repay millions made in recent NCAA tournaments will hurt.
The verdict was, in other ways, lenient. Pitino deserved more than five games. I suspect his status as a legend allowed him to escape what should have been a more severe punishment. If you believe Pitino knew nothing about what was happening on official visits to Louisville, activities that included strippers and prostitution, well, I can’t help you. Of course he knew. It’s his program. What happens inside it is his responsibility.
What does it mean for Ole Miss? Pete Thamel of Sports Illustrated said Louisville’s penalty should worry both Ole Miss and North Carolina.
I’m not here to disagree with Thamel; he’s damn good at what he does. However, there are so many differences in the cases that it’s hard for me to make a sweeping assertion of any sort.
2. What of Ole Miss’ case as of now? Well, I’d argue that it depends on your disposition. Ole Miss’ 125-page response was strong, well-written and pretty convincing. A subsequent lawsuit filed by Rebel Rags and Terry Warren against Leo Lewis, Kobe Jones, Lindsey Miller and all the John Does should lend the NCAA investigators some pause.
Maybe it will. Perhaps we’ll see the NCAA take a step back in its response to Ole Miss’ response next month. If so, I’ll tell you how wrong I am about the NCAA, the ridiculous nature of these investigations and whatnot. Those of you who love to revel in my inaccuracies will have a field day.
You may have noticed by now: I’m a cynic. I have believed for months, if not longer, this case had a specific target and the NCAA investigators were not going to be derailed from being serious charges against Ole Miss to the committee on infractions. The second NOA (or amended NOA or whatever you wish to call it) confirmed that for me. I believe the investigators in this case want to send a message by delivering crippling penalties against Ole Miss and Hugh Freeze, and I don’t think a civil suit is going to do anything to change that plan.
I believe it’s going to be up to Ole Miss to convince the COI that it has been overcharged. I believe it’s up to Ole Miss to prove Leo Lewis told a pack of lies amidst a handful of truths. I believe it’s up to Ole Miss to plant a seed of doubt that Lewis’ testimony in his immunity interviews was coached by people in high places at Mississippi State (I’m told the transcripts bear that out, but I’d like to see them with my own eyes). I believe Ole Miss should scorch some earth, so to speak, in Indianapolis, but I’ll believe that when I see it as well.
Still, the ruling in the Louisville case likely didn’t provide any encouragement for Ole Miss, but the cases are far too disparate to read too much into the committee’s decision.
3. That said, it’s past time for the NCAA to get real. My friend Andy Staples of SI.com expressed that sentiment far better than I ever could, recently proposing a real-life overhaul of the NCAA manual.
It’s a gorgeous piece of journalism. I’m tired of pretending that everyone doesn’t cheat in college football. I’m also tired of the kids not getting what they deserve. There’s a way to fix this, but it’s going to take some common sense, a strong dose of reality and a departure from some political correctness to make it happen.
I’m not optimistic, but again, maybe that’s just my nature. Go ahead, NCAA. Prove me wrong.
4. The college football season is still 2 1/2 months away, but that didn’t stop the Las Vegas-based South Point Sportsbook from posting over-under win totals for the SEC last week. (Thanks, guys, by the way; you provided a great deal of podcast fodder.)
Ole Miss has an over-under win total of 5 1/2. Call me crazy, but I wouldn’t have put the number above 6 1/2, so I get it. There are so many variables for the Rebels. There are two new coordinators, a quasi-new quarterback, the possibility of mid-season NCAA-induced chaos and major deficiencies at running back and linebacker. Like I said, I get it.
I love the over on South Carolina (5 wins), the under on LSU (9 wins) and the under on Texas A&M (7 1/2 wins).
The over on Mississippi State (5 wins) is intriguing, as is the under on Kentucky (7 wins), but I’m not ready to hop on a plane to Vegas to throw money on those lines.
5. What is Ole Miss’ best case? What is the scenario in which the Rebels run past the 5 1/2 wins Las Vegas sees in their future?
This isn’t difficult. It’s a 3-0 start, including a win at California in mid-September and then a win over Vanderbilt after a road swing through the state of Alabama. In a best-case scenario, Ole Miss sweeps a home stand against LSU and Arkansas and heads into November 6-2. Give the Rebels home wins over Texas A&M and Louisiana-Lafayette and a split of road games at Kentucky and at Mississippi State and Ole Miss is 9-3.
6. What’s the worst case? Give Ole Miss a loss at California and a loss at home to Vanderbilt to enter the second half 2-4 with bad NCAA news looming. A loss to LSU could lead to a loss to Arkansas and a disastrous 2-6 heading into November. Give the Rebels two road losses in November and a loss to Texas A&M at home and 3-9 is staring Freeze and Co. in the face.
7. What’s realistic? That likely depends on your outlook. I’m a realist. Rarely do teams catch every break in a season and rarely do they have nothing but bad look. The breaks tend to, well, break even.
Personally, I think everything hinges on California and Vanderbilt. I think Ole Miss opens 2-0 and I think the games at Auburn and at Alabama are losses. So give Ole Miss a 1-1 mark agains the Bears and Commodores and a 3-3 first half. Give them a split at home against LSU and Arkansas and they’re 4-4 headed into November. I think the Rebels beat Louisiana-Lafayette but loses at least one to Kentucky and Mississippi State. Texas A&M, in that scenario, becomes another swing game. My pick is 6-6, and if you told me I were off a game, I’d go 7-5 before I went 5-7. That said, if you told me it was either a magical season or the wheels fell off, I’d go with the latter. Like I said, I’d have put the betting line at 6 1/2 wins.
We’ll see soon enough.
8. Kevin Durant finally won an NBA title, leading the Golden State Warriors to a 4-1 NBA Finals win over the Cleveland Cavaliers. Durant was dominant, often looking like the very best player on the floor.
I still believe what Sam Presti told Durant last June when he took one last shot at keeping Durant in Oklahoma City. “All titles aren’t created equally,” Presti reportedly said, and it’s true. A title in OKC would’ve meant more to Durant’s legacy, but that doesn't change the fact Durant, a decade into his NBA career, appears poised to become the league’s best player and lead the Warriors on what should be a dynastic run.
Meanwhile, the Boston Celtics are positioning themselves to be a superpower ascending to the throne at the climax of LeBron James’ glorious career. Over the weekend, the Celtics traded the top pick in the draft to Philadelphia in exchange for the Sixers’ top pick (No. 3 overall) and the Lakers’ 2018 first-round pick (protected from two through five). If they wind up keeping the Lakers’ pick, the Sixers will reportedly send the Kings’ 2019 first-round pick to the Celtics.
The Sixers will take guard Markell Fultz, and he should thrive in Philadelphia immediately. He joins Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid to form one of the league’s most talented under-25 trios. The Celtics will likely take Kansas forward Josh Jackson at No. 3 and are now positioned to make runs at free agents Gordon Hayward or Blake Griffin and possibly trade for Jimmy Butler or Paul George.
Draft night on Thursday promises to be fascinating. Teams are trying to build superpowers. Boston is on the clock. The Cavaliers’ window is closing, and the Warriors and Durant are very much in control of the league.
9. It’s Father’s Day, which means it’s time for a drink (hell, any day that ends in day is time for a drink, but regardless, it’s a holiday, so there’s even more of a reason). With that in mind, here’s Jonathan Howard:
Many apologies for my absence. I went away to San Diego for the World Class National Finals, and although I did not win, I had a very strong showing amid very little time to prep and was encouraged to do it again next year.
Happy Father's Day to all the fathers out there. To celebrate, here is one of my favorite little-known whiskey cocktails, Remember the Maine.
The drink is named after the press slogan, which allegedly provoked the 1898 Spanish-American War, eventually leading to Cuban independence. The Maine, a U.S. Naval ship, was sitting off the coast of Havana in 1898 in a bout of saber-rattling with Spain, which controlled Cuba at the time. When it mysteriously exploded and sank, some warmongering journalists used the phrase, "Remember the Maine, to Hell with Spain.”
The cocktail comes from Charles H. Baker Jr.s’ The Gentlemen's Companion from 1939. In the book he writes of the drink, “…a hazy memory of a night in Havana during the unpleasantness of 1933, when each swallow was punctuated with bombs going off on the Prato, or the sound of three shells being fired at the Hotel Nacional, then haven for certain anti-revolutionary officers."
Remember the Maine is a variation of the Manhattan cocktail and is notable for its additions of cherry liqueur and a touch of absinthe, served with a lemon twist in lieu of a cherry. The drink is made in the same matter but the additions of the new ingredients makes for a lighter and more fragrant version. I also prefer a floral rye whiskey like Templeton, and a brighter sweet vermouth like Cocchi Torino vermouth. Stir until chilled and serve up.
Remember the Maine
2 oz. rye whiskey
3/4 oz. Cocchi Torino vermouth
1/4 oz. cherry herring
1 dash absinthe
Directions: In a mixing glass, add absinthe, followed by remaining ingredients, ice the glass and stir. Strain into a cocktail glass or over ice, and garnish with a lemon Twist.
10. Like I said, it’s Father’s Day. It’s a special day for me, as I’m sure it is for so many of you. I spent my Saturday in Batesville, helping coach my son’s 10-year-old all-star team. My dad came to the second of the three games. Carson and I didn’t get home until around 11:15 p.m. I helped him get his stuff inside and then took a shower downstairs while he showered upstairs. I got him some apple juice and got him into bed around midnight.
He crashed, but I was wired. I poured a Stella Artois, pulled out my phone and read about the Cubs’ 4-3 loss at Pittsburgh earlier that night. I’m my own toughest critic, but I’ll give myself this: At that moment, in a quiet house, with exhaustion beginning to make its presence known, I had the awareness to think: I don’t think life gets a lot better than Saturday. A breakfast sandwich, watching your son pitch, throwing batting practice, eating a bad hamburger at Chili’s, dousing yourself with bug spray and then driving home late at night while the not-so-little-anymore guy crashes in the backseat -- yep, that's as good as a day really gets.
I'm fortunate. I still have my dad and my three children are all happy, healthy and thriving. Being a dad is the most important part of my life. It's the job I take the most seriously. Nothing makes me happier. Nothing brings me more fulfillment. It's funny; people make Father's Day about dads, but I always feel I should spend the day thanking my kids for letting me be their dad.
Anyway, Happy Father's Day to all of you. I hope yours was as sweet and fulfilling as mine.
It's June, so I have no idea what we'll have coverage of this week, but we'll have something. Until then, here are some links of interest to me _ and hopefully, to you _ for your reading pleasure:
Paul George is planning to leave the Pacers after next season, and he let them know this weekend.
Looking back at the worst trade in sports history
Why is Cristiano Ronaldo possibly leaving Real Madrid?
A trio of teenage girls have invented a straw that detects date rape drugs
The juiced ball is back
The moving man: How Dick Pryor became the go-to guy when college coaches change jobs
The Staats’ family tradition continued Saturday at Grandma’s Marathon without the family patriarch
Cubs, White Sox players discuss the joys of fatherhood