AN IRREVERENT LOOK AT ALL THINGS SAID, CONSIDERED, TWEETED, POSTED, PHOTOGRAPHED, PLAYED AND OTHERWISE GONE AMUCK IN COLLEGE SPORTS
Richard Nixon helped open China to the world in the 1970s. Let's hope UCLA's basketball team doesn't close it.
Tuesday's story that three freshmen Bruins were detained and interrogated for allegedly shoplifting on a Pac 12 "goodwill" exhibition in China would have been enough to drop my jaw. The fact that one of the players was LiAngelo Ball, second son of LaVar Ball, just adds another layer of international intrigue.
I can't wait to read all about it in my hometown community paper: "The China Champion."
Let's put aside the absurdity of players thinking they can shoplift from a Louis Vuitton outlet in China, a communist country with a repressive government and a 99% conviction rate.
Someone please, please tell me the UCLA players were sat down before the trip and told what NOT to do on this trip:
1: No jokes about pandas or Chairman Mao, no matter how much you liked John Lennon's lyric "And if you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao, you ain't going to make it with anyone anyhow."
2: Don't doodle on the "Great Wall."
3: Observe the laws and customs of the country you're in. Remember, every great basketball take-off from the free-throw line in China is called "The Great Leap Forward." Oh. Don't shop lift. Don't even think about shoplifting.
Seems easy enough, but three UCLA Bruins thought otherwise.
Don't worry, though, LaVar Ball is already on the ground and on the case.
We learned Wednesday the three UCLA players were released on bond and LaVar had released a statement to ESPN: "He'll be fine. He’ll be fine. Everybody making it a big deal. It ain’t that big of a deal.”
He'll be fine? What about the other two players? And sorry, LaVar, it is a big deal. A HUGE, embarrassing, deal.
Pac 12 Commissioner Larry Scott has to be seething. He's carved his reputation on expanding the Pac 12 brand to Asia, specifically China. In October, Scott secured a deal with media conglomerate Alibaba Group to stream conference games in China. This is Larry Scott's "baby" and these series of basketball exhibitions are key components to his global strategy.
Scott and UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero are both on the China trip and the only good news for Dan is that this is a distraction from his crumbling football program.
The Pac 12 and UCLA can only hope this doesn't turn into an even uglier, international incident: A State Department official told The Washington Post it is “aware of reports of three U.S. citizens arrested in China and subsequently released on bail in China. We stand ready to provide appropriate consular assistance for U.S. citizens. Due to privacy considerations, we have no further comment.”
LaVar Ball is also, wisely, heeding advice from counsel and not talking--but how long can that last? As it is written on Chinese t-shirts regarding foreigners trying to interfere with the country's inner workings: "Stay In Your Own Yang."
Henry Kissinger is an old man--his diplomacy days are done.
Dennis Rodman is busy baby sitting North Korea's dictator.
The UCLA news made the front page of the L.A. Times sports section and jumped to a story on USC associate head basketball coach Tony Bland being indicted as part of a larger college basketball bribery web.
It's been a swell start for NCAA basketball, don't you think?
Let's do it for the kids
Florida State wasn't about to allow Fresno State to become the only "FSU" to become bowl eligible this year. Especially given that Fresno State is now 6-3, a year after going 1-11, and was not expected to compete for this year's national title.
Florida State has gone to 35 straight bowl games, dating to 1982, but currently stands 3-5 with remaining games against Clemson, Delaware State and Florida. Wait a minute--that only adds up to 11 games.
That's right. Florida State's Sept. 9 game vs. Louisiana Monroe was canceled because of Hurricane Irma.
Well, that game is canceled no more.[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership] Florida State announced this week it would play Louisiana Monroe in Tallahassee on Dec. 2, the same day of the ACC championship game many Seminoles' fans expected to be playing in.
The added game now gives the Seminoles a decent chance to reach six wins this season. Figuring a loss to Clemson this week, Florida State will be favored to sweep Delaware State, Florida and Louisiana Monroe to get to 6-6.
No way Florida State plays this game if it was still in the college football playoff chase. Miami, for good reasons, is not replaying its hurricane-canceled game against Arkansas State.
But, hey, why not?
“It was unfortunate for both teams that we were not able to play this game in September, and both teams deserve the chance to play their 12th game of the season," Florida State Coach Jimbo Fisher told the Tallahassee Democrat. "Any time we have the opportunity to play in Doak Campbell Stadium in front of our fans we are excited. However, this week our complete focus is on Clemson.”
What a sanctimonious load of Fresno State bull (dog). Florida State is playing this game to protect its bowl streak.
Up in Smoke
A woman was physically hauled out of Bryant-Denny Stadium last Saturday for smoking a cigarette during Alabama's 24-10 win over Louisiana State. It was an ugly alteration and clearly in violation of school policy.
"Like many other campuses nationwide, The University of Alabama is now a Smoke Free Campus. The change, effective Jan. 1, 2015, is designed to make the campus a healthier environment for our students, faculty, staff and visitors.
Smoking of any lit product (including e-cigarettes) is prohibited on UA grounds, parking structures, athletic facilities and buildings. Whether you are a smoker or a non-smoker, UA knows that the campus community will demonstrate thoughtfulness, consideration and cooperation as we work together to successfully implement this campus wide policy."
I wonder what one former Alabama coach would have thought about this: That's right: Bear Bryant, the most iconic coach in the history of the school, and co-"bearer" of Bryant-Denny Stadium. Bear was a chain-smoker (and chain drinker) who often sneaked a puff or 20 during games. Bear famously advertised for his favorite brand of cigarettes: Chesterfield. What a great Christmas gift!
My friend and colleague Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News has been rightfully crucifying the Pac 12 for its scheduling practices. Actually, the league should stop practicing and get serious. There is no question that scheduling is hurting the conference. Just consider the plight of USC, which will play 12 consecutive weeks without a bye. The Trojans had to play Notre Dame the week after Irish had a bye and looked like a beat-up team in South Bend. Wilner notes that Cal, Colorado, Oregon, Washington State and USC will play 10 (or more) consecutive weeks this year. The SEC and Big Ten conferences simply don't allow that. The SEC, which only plays an eight-game conference schedule, strategically schedules to keep its schools fresh and competitive in November. Alabama and LSU were both coming off byes when they played last week. The SEC also uses November to scrimmage lesser out-of-conference schools. Alabama plays Mercer on Nov. 18, a week before the Iron Bowl against Auburn.
The Pac 12 has less flexibility for a few reasons: TV contracts allow the networks to schedule specific games on Thursday and Friday night slots. Also, when the Pac expanded to 12 schools, certain stipulations had to be met. UCLA and USC were put in the South, but are still mandated to play annual games against North-division foes Stanford and Cal.
The Pac gets boxed in when it comes to scheduling, but something must be done to address an issue that continues to put the conference at a competitive disadvantage.
Go Gus Go
Washington State Coach Mike Leach is not only nuttier than fruitcake, and a little bit bananas, he addressed each of those topics in between coaching his Cougars to a 24-21 win over oh-so-sanctimonious Stanford last weekend.
Leach, on Oct. 31, weighed in on how much he hated candy corn as a Halloween treat: "It's like fruitcake," Leach said. "There's a reason they only serve fruitcake once a year. Because they're awful."
Can we get an amen on that?
This week, after out-coaching David Shaw in Pullman, Leach discussed his favorite school mascots. He cited "Mike the Tiger" at LSU and "Ralphie" at Colorado and said more schools located near the ocean should be nicknamed "Sharks." Then Leach remembered another one.
"There is a place in Kansas called Pitt State, and I used to see it on film," Leach said at his weekly press conference. "We didn't play them. Called Pitt State, and they're called the gorillas. And there should be a lot more gorillas for mascots, because think about it, a gorilla could whip a lot of stuff, you know."
Leach had it right: Pittsburg State is located in Pittsburg, Kansas, and is nicknamed the Gorillas. Its mascot is "Gus the Gorilla."
Leach said the school played "Welcome to the Jungle" when opposing schools ran on the field. But, wait, it gets better.
"They'd all be hurling bananas at the visiting team," Leach said. "You'd see bananas everywhere. Bananas bouncing off helmets. Bananas everywhere."[/membership]