Random Thoughts – Volume VIII

Update: Washington joins Arizona in opening practices to fans … 

From Dawgman.com … The Washington football team is back on the field at Husky Stadium for its first spring football practice season in two years — and you’re invited!

Husky fans are invited to attend 10 of the Dawgs’ 15 spring practices, including the Spring Game on May 1.

Due to state and county health department policies, the number of fans allowed at each practice is limited and, because of that, the athletic department has introduced a system by which fans can sign up to attend. You MUST sign up and complete all required attestations in order to be able to come to practice.

 

Is it Time to Open Practices to the Public? 

Jedd Fisch is the new head coach at Arizona. A coach who says his favorite player is Jimmy Connors – yes, that Jimmy Connors, star tennis player from decades ago. Arizona hired a coach who has never played a down of football, not even in high school. “I was on the debate team,” Jedd Fisch says. “I was into forensics.”

Rather than issue a press release informing the local media he would rarely be available for interviews during spring practices, as his predecessor, Kevin Sumlin, had done, Fisch staged a luncheon for about 20 reporters the week before the start of spring practices and and told them, “I’ll be available for interviews every day.”

Arizona’s new head coach is not the paranoid stereotype many envision when dreaming up a coach to lead a program: their playbook locked in a safe as they conduct brainstorming sessions with a clandestine support staff that out-works rivals because of sheer size of the operation; practices conducted far away from outside eyes behind 12-foot brick walls; non-answers to questions about the attitude of the players in the locker room.

“What is the value of making it difficult?” Fisch told 247 Sports.

Oh, and Fisch has opened all of Arizona’s practices to the public.

“I’d rather you see what’s going on than hear it from somebody else,” he said. “We want to have 57,000 people at every game, we want to sell out our stadium. So why not start encouraging people to come watch us practice and watch how hard these kids are working?”

Why not, indeed?

There have always been rationalizations as to why practices should be closed to the public, and can be lumped into two main statements:

You don’t want the opposition to get a good idea of what you are preparing

That certainly makes sense the last week or two of Fall Camp, when the team begins its game preparations for the season opener.

But spring practices?

Does the name Tim DeRuyter ring a bell? DeRuyter has been an assistant coach at schools like Texas A&M, Air Force and Navy. He was the head coach at Fresno State from 2012-16, and from 2017-2020 has held various positions at Cal, most recently as co-defensive coordinator and assistant head coach.

That was until January 28th, when Oregon hired DeRuyter away to be its new defensive coordinator.

Cal will play Oregon in Eugene on October 15th.

Now, do you think that Oregon’s staff would be getting more information on the Cal defense from its defensive coordinator over the past four seasons … or from a blogger sitting high in the stands during spring practices, making notes which defensive linemen are getting the most reps with the first unit?

Assistant coaches play the game of musical chairs every off-season. If you want to play the Kevin Bacon six-degrees-of-separation game, you can probably find a connection to every head coach in the Pac-12 to at least one assistant on every other team in the Pac-12. Coaches who have spent years learning and sharing with each other are now on opposite sidelines.

But opening spring practices to fans is going to let secrets out?

Please …

If fans are given access, message boards will (unfairly) criticize and critique players, without knowing the full story

That’s true, to an extent.

Sure, if a wide receiver drops a half dozen passes in a practice, or if a linebacker consistently misses tackles, or if an offensive tackle allows a number of sacks in a scrimmage, there would be hand-wringing and criticism on the message boards.

And, given the (relative) unsophisticated nature of the fan bases, that criticism might be unwarranted. Perhaps the wide receiver dropped a few passes, but they were tough passes thrown by a walk-on fourth string quarterback. Perhaps the linebacker missed tackles, but they weren’t his tackles to make, as the lineman in front of him missed their assignment. Perhaps the offensive tackle allowed the sacks because the running back behind him failed to double team the rusher.

Fair enough.

But, here’s the thing.

Do you think that the players who missed their assignments don’t already know they missed their assignments? Do you think that the coaches and players don’t know whether or not the player in question is doing their job correctly?

Would having fans on the sidelines or in the stands for scrimmages really change that narrative?

Now, compare those arguments to the benefits of actually having fans – or at least reporters – getting information out about the team.

Go back to the quote from new Arizona head coach Jedd Fisch … “We want to have 57,000 people at every game, we want to sell out our stadium. So why not start encouraging people to come watch us practice and watch how hard these kids are working?”

Meanwhile, Colorado, which is, like Arizona, always in a constant battle to win the hearts and minds of the local sports fans, is not only not allowing fans at practices or at the spring scrimmages (local health official dictates could play a role in this as well, but that is a recent excuse, and for a school looking to “fill Folsom” in a few months, a few fans in the stands shouldn’t be that scary), but has scheduled its spring game for a Friday.

A Friday morning, that is.

While every other Pac-12 team which has scheduled its Spring Game will be playing on Saturday afternoons, the Buffs will be playing at a less-than-fan-friendly 9:00 a.m. on a Friday.

Not exactly the way to try and create a buzz about the program …

Meanwhile … Who says cheaters never prosper? 

This past week, Kansas head coach Bill Self was given a lifetime contract.

Self will make roughly $5.4 million every year with an annual $200,000 raise (or, to put it in perspective, a salary which is three times the $1.8 million Tad Boyle makes).

The contract is technically a 5-year deal which will automatically renew a 1-year extension at the end of each season … for as long as he wants to stay at Kansas.

Kansas is currently being investigated by the NCAA for alleged unauthorized payments to star players. The NCAA has charged the school with a handful of Level 1 violations — but the NCAA has not gotten around to formally punishing the University.

But, get this, Self negotiated a clause in which he can not be fired for cause based on the findings or punishment from the current probe — but he could take a salary hit if he’s suspended.

Per the contract, if the NCAA suspends Self  — he’ll take a 50% reduction in salary for the time missed. In other words, if he’s out for a month — he’ll make 50% for that month before returning to his full salary … but that’s it. Even if the school is banned from post-season play, loses scholarships, or is fined for what took place during Self’s watch … Kansas can’t get rid of him.

The school can fire Self for cause if they determine he violates the law or NCAA rules moving forward — but he’s protected in the scope of the current investigation.

Unbelievable …

(If you are looking for a silver lining in the unconscionable way Kansas is dealing with the NCAA investigation, is that it precludes an opening for the head coaching position anytime soon. You would think that, if there is a job that Tad Boyle might consider leaving CU for, it would be for his alma mater at Kansas. With Self there in perpetuity, the chances of keeping the best era in CU basketball history going increase).

At the same time, in Tucson, Arizona is doubling down on its head coach, Sean Miller.

After a four year investigation, the NCAA seems ready to – finally – lower the boom on Arizona and Miller.

Arizona refused to release the NCAA’s Notice of Allegations for four months before a court ordered it to do so in March. The Wildcats were charged with five Level I (most serious) violations, along with three Level II (including two involving the UA swimming and diving program) and one Level III violation.

Those allegations were among the 10 “aggravating factors” listed that could push UA’s case into the most serious Level I aggravated category, in which the Wildcats would be facing a postseason ban between two to five years if the charges hold up. A standard Level I case would merit only a 1-2 year ban, which is consistent with Arizona’s self-imposed one-year ban this season.

Stu Brown, an Atlanta-based attorney who represents schools with NCAA cases, said the NCAA enforcement staff clearly presented the case as Level I aggravated, noting that “the enforcement staff has also promoted the narrative of UA being institutionally uncooperative, or even somewhat deceptive, during the investigation.”

Think the Arizona President would be leading the charge to get rid of Miller, and preserve some semblance of honor for the University?

Think again.

“I’m not sure what the timing is going to be but we hope as soon as possible that we can get past this as a university, that coach Miller, his family and his basketball program can move forward,” President Robert Robbins said. “You know, he’s out there recruiting. I think signing day is coming up soon. We’ve got a really good team. They’re young.

“And we’re eager to move forward and get the final chapter of this now almost four-year saga over. But coach Miller is our coach.”

Sigh.

Makes you proud that CU has Tad Boyle. There has never been even a whiff of wrongdoing about the Buffs during his 11-year tenure, and Boyle has taken delight it taking out coaches like Miller and USC’s Andy Enfield, another coach who works in the shadows (CU has won its last seven games against USC, including three this season).

But, if blue bloods like Kansas and Arizona will not only not take out the cheaters, but reward them … what does that say about the future of the sport?

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