It is the home stretch. Season tickets have been delivered, early [FedEx] travel arrangements made and I have even had dinner with Frank and several hundred other Roanoke Hokies. We are now inside a month and are counting down to another football season.
Practice has begun at all schools and all available media outlets are buzzing with mostly positive stories. While the annual and unfulfilled MNC hype continues to gush out of Virginia Tech like the Gulf oil spill, pretty much every where there are rosy predictions of gridiron success. That a good number of these optimistic forecasts will be squashed in the reality of a 3-9 season doesn’t matter; It is August and everybody is happy. Well, almost everybody.
For all of the heavy armament being employed by SID departments in promoting their teams, there is the Big Bertha of artillery lurking around an ever-expanding number of college campuses. That would be the NCAA, specifically the outfit’s enforcement folks, who for years had seemingly been firing blanks, especially when it came to supposed recruiting and other violations committed by programs that contribute heavily to the mountains of cash being showered upon conferences by television networks.
Fresh from kneecapping USC, the NCAA is deploying enforcement squads all over the place, including quite a few schools in this neck of the woods. The biggest and most publicized investigation continues at North Carolina. While nothing has been proven, or even formal charges leveled, there is about as much smoke hanging over the People’s Republic of Chapel Hill as there is these days over Moscow.
The NCAA has popped back into town for a second time, never a positive development for the home team. Despite assurances from the good old N&O that Butch runs the cleanest programs to be found anywhere in the land, second only to the Governor’s office in North Carolina for its strict adherence to laws and regulations, the NCAA doesn’t seem to be taking the good old N&O’s word for it. It would seem that Butch was so busy making sure the Tar Heels ran afoul of no NCAA rules that he didn’t notice those allegedly being broken.
The probes this time are concerning Butch assistant and super-recruiter John Blake, specifically Blake’s involvement with agent Gary Wichard, the guy investigated the first time around at Carolina for his part in bankrolling parties in South Beach featuring current and former Carolina players, the former who just happens to be Wichard’s client. For his part, Wichard claims no knowledge of Blake other than being his BFF and states that Blake has ‘never’ worked for him, with ‘never’ including that time when Wichard had agency promotional material printed claiming that Blake did.
Blake is a colorful character who often finds himself in the middle of controversy. He cut his playing and coaching eye teeth for Oklahoma coach Barry Switzer, well-known for his strong ethical background. Blake developed into a terrific recruiter able to convince serious talent all over the country to play for him. When Switzer was run off forced out of Norman amid charges including gang rape and cocaine dealing by many of Blake’s recruits, the guy who had developed the nick ‘Black Santa’ later joined him at the circus that was the Dallas Cowboys in the 1990’s. After being credited with destroying race relations on the Cowboys, Blake discovered the itch to coach college ball again and for some reason was named head coach of the Sooners in 1996, despite having no experience for the job whatsoever, even at the coordinator level.
After amassing the worst three-year record in Sooner football history, Blake was algrohed, although he did manage to recruit many of the players with which Bob Stoops won an MNC. Blake quickly joined the Miss State staff of Jackie Sherrill, another coach always trailed by a phalanx of NCAA investigators. At loose ends, again, when Sherrill got the ax, Blake spent a couple of years under notorious loser Bill Calahan at Nebraska before being snapped up by Butch at Carolina.
Blake paid immediate dividends, establishing a strong recruiting presence at light speed for the Tar Heels and Butch, displaying a particular talent for signing recruits who had already committed elsewhere. This sort of behavior does not tend to make one overly popular with other coaches and the whispers surrounding some of Black Santa’s tactics and bankroll have been loud. When SEC coaches are complaining about recruiting violations, well…….
Once again, nothing has been proven at Carolina, or even officially alleged. It could be that the good old N&O is right, for once, and the program is beyond reproach. Certainly that has always been Butch’s history unless it is not. Given the usual snail’s pace speed at which the NCAA conducts these matters, it can be expected to drag on throughout the season and beyond unless it does not. Butch would seem to have ample time to find another job before the hammer falls, if it does, although pulling a Pete Carroll would seem out of the question.
While the investigation into Carolina football has dominated news, there are numerous other places where the NCAA has been skirmishing.The places are interesting, especially those around here. The most amusing is in the Hills, where the Cousins are under the NCAA gun for offenses committed under the regime of former coach Rich Rodriguez and continued under current head guy Alfred E. Stewart. RichRod is the gift that keeps on giving. Five, count them, five violations are alleged to have been committed, surprisingly enough, the same infractions that RichRod was accused of at Michigan. He seems to have difficulty comprehending that no members of the coaching staff can observe and participate in summer workouts means that no members of the coaching staff, including graduate assistants, can observe and participate in summer workouts. This episode should do wonders to enhance Rich Rod’s already-high popularity among the Cousins.
It just wouldn’t be a widespread NCAA investigation unless the Canes were involved, and they are. The word is that the Canes are under the gun for multiple violations in numerous sports relating to contacting recruits through text messaging, a huge no-no for the NCAA. This could interfere with those annual claims of Canes’ Backness already being trumpeted by ESPN.
Then there is Tennessee. How about that Lane Kiffin, huh? Last seen leaving the Georgia Dome and Vols’ at a dead run to get to Los Angeles to clean up the USC mess he had a large hand in creating, Kiffin is back in the news in Tennessee, not only for ripping off a Titans’ assistant, but possible recruiting violations during his abbreviated stay in Knoxville. If any sanctions are levied, that would perhaps set a record as the quickest a coach ever got a school on probation. For his part, Kiffin said he was ‘not concerned’ about what is going on at Tennessee, mainly since he no longer coaches there and it is not his problem anymore. Between the scholarship reductions, bowl bans and player brawls, he certainly has his hands full at USC.
Even as fans scour the interwebs for news of their teams, anxiously await the arrival of another season and occasionally weauxf about how good will be their collegiate heroes this season, the NCAA methodically carries on investigations into numerous programs. During this last month of the 2010 Dead Zone, it sure makes for amusing reading.