Skip to main content
Original Issue

The Final Four

Summertime Blues

Just about everyone who is anyone in college basketball—coaches, athletic directors, NCAA officials, television representatives—was gathered in Indianapolis, and one of the hottest topics of discussion was summer camps. The camps, privately run affairs with names like Five-Star Camp and B/C All-Star Camp, are where college coaches evaluate high school talent and make some of their recruiting decisions. But some coaches don't like the system.

One complaint is about the fees they have to pay to attend the camps. In fact, according to USC coach George Raveling, at least one camp charged coaches $200 just to receive the roster of participating players. But a bigger gripe is that some of the coaches in summer programs are not college or high school coaches, but are so-called middlemen who steer players to certain colleges in return for payment from the schools.

"I went into two homes [on recruiting visits] last summer, and the high school coach wasn't there, but the guy who coached in the summer was," said Raveling. "One of those guys asked, 'Which one of my kids are you interested in?' I said, 'Your kids? Don't these kids have a mother and a father?' I think we need to get the unsavory element out of this."

A number of other college coaches agree with Raveling, and the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) is pushing to have the NCAA sponsor regional camps throughout the country with high school coaches as instructors. College coaches would be allowed to evaluate the talent at those camps only and not be permitted to attend private camps.

The NABC hopes to put the proposal on the agenda of the NCAA convention in January and have the regional camps in operation by the summer of 1992. The idea will certainly be opposed by the current camp organizers, and not all college coaches are in the NABC's corner. Some are convinced that extending the NCAA's reach into the summer camps is not a wise move. "No system is going to be perfect," said Raveling. "But the summer situation needs looking at. It needs changing."

A Color Barrier?

A delicate and increasingly tense situation is developing between black coaches and black referees. There are coaches who believe some officials are so intent on not showing favoritism toward black coaches that they lean too far the other way. According to Drake coach Rudy Washington, who is black, some black coaches have asked their conferences not to assign black referees to their games.

Members of the Black Coaches Association (BCA) met in Indianapolis with black officials, including two of the most respected of them, Pac-10 supervisor of officials Booker Turner and Big Ten referee Ed Hightower, to talk things over.

"We respect that they [black referees] have a tough situation," said Washington. "Say you have a game with a black coach and a white coach. The black ref has a call that could go either way, and the black coach gets the call. The white coach says, 'So that's the way it's gonna be, huh?' Some black refs are going to give the next few judgment calls to the white coach, just to prove they're not biased. They might not even be conscious that they're doing it, but it happens."

"It comes down to job security," said one black assistant coach. "If you're a ref, and you have the one black coach in the league mad at you, is that going to cost you your job? No. If you have the eight or nine white coaches in the league mad at you, is that going to cost you your job? Probably so."

The BCA isn't interested in trying to force any referees out of their jobs. "We want to see more black referees, the same way we want to see more black coaches and athletic directors," Washington said. "But the bottom line is we want them to be fair."

Heightened Appeal

There were signs at the women's Final Four in New Orleans of growing support for lowering the rim six to 10 inches for the women. There's a strong possibility that the NCAA women's basketball rules committee will vote on the change at its next meeting, according to rules editor Marcy Weston.

Nora Lynn Finch, associate athletic director at North Carolina State, is one of the proponents of the change. "Every other sport adapts its equipment to the competitors," she says. "Why should women play on the same height basket as the men when we're not as tall? It's the same principle we used in going to a smaller ball, because women's hands in general are smaller than men's."

Lowering the basket would allow women to play the "above the rim" kind of game that the men play. One obstacle is the expense involved in fitting gyms across the country with baskets that can be raised and lowered. Another drawback is that in international competition, the women would be forced to readjust their play to the 10-foot basket. But it would probably be worth it. Lowering the basket could heighten the appeal of the women's game in the U.S.

One measurement that isn't likely to change for the women is the three-point shot distance of 19'9". However, the board of directors of the NABC has recommended that the three-point line for the men be pushed back from that distance to the international distance of 20'6". If that change is approved, there will no doubt be some floors with three three-point lines—one for the men, one for the women and the 23'9" line for the NBA, which means you might see shooters searching for the right line from time to time.

Big Man Off Campus

Tom Odjakjian might have been the busiest man at the Final Four. Odjakjian, a programming manager for ESPN, is responsible for putting together that network's college basketball schedule, and every year he uses the Final Four weekend to get a head start on the next season's slate.

He does it by meeting with anyone who has the power to help make TV commitments for his or her school. Odjakjian had about 10 meetings a day in Indianapolis, not to mention the impromptu sessions that happened when he accidentally ran into school officials.

"This year's not as hectic as last year," Odjakjian said. "Last year I'd have three breakfast meetings and three lunches. I'd have orange juice with someone from the Big East, a grapefruit with a Metro Conference guy and eggs with the SEC. The waiters in the coffee shops were starting to think I was moving in.

"It's a constant juggling act," Odjakjian added. "It can get a little hairy at times, especially here where you see so many people. Say I tell [Georgia Tech coach] Bobby Cremins this morning we want to televise a certain Georgia Tech game if he'll move it to a certain Thursday. He says he'll get back to me. Then this afternoon another game that's not as attractive comes along, but the school commits to playing it on that Thursday if we'll commit now to doing the game. Do we take that deal or hope Georgia Tech agrees to move its game and take the chance that we'll wind up with neither one? Those are the kinds of decisions that make it very challenging."

Then there are the nonconference games that ESPN tries to create. Last weekend Odjakjian asked Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson, whose team is leaving the Southwest Conference for the Southeastern Conference, if he would be willing to play former SWC rival Texas on ESPN next year.

"He said he wouldn't go to their place, and he was sure Texas wouldn't go to Fayetteville," Odjakjian said. "I said, 'Would you play it in Dallas [a neutral site]?' He said maybe. Now I've got to find [Texas coach] Tom Penders and see if I can turn a couple of maybes into a yes."

Odjakjian is also approached by schools, usually from smaller conferences, that try to convince him to televise one or more of their games. He tries to oblige when he can.

"I know how important it can be to some of those schools and conferences to get the exposure of ESPN," he said. "I don't look at my job as having a lot of power, I look at it as having a lot of responsibility."

As usual, rumors about coaching moves were abundant at the Final Four. The wildest had UNLV coach Jerry Tarkanian leaving to coach the II Messaggero team in Italy and taking forwards Larry Johnson and Stacey Augmon with him. Oklahoma coach Billy Tubbs and the vacant Texas A&M job also turned up in the same sentence quite often, and Notre Dame coach Digger Phelps was rumored to be under consideration for the open Indiana athletic director post as well as an education post in the Bush administration.... You may have seen the sneaker commercial in which Indiana coach Bob Knight suggests that the media should pay to cover games. Knight wrote a "Bob Knight on the Final Four" feature for the Indianapolis News. Hey, doesn't that make Knight a member of the media, too?



During Kansas's semifinal win over the Heels, this fan had Jayhawk written all over him.



This excited lad was blowing his school's horn as Duke shocked mighty UNLV in the semis.



Are black refs able to give black coaches like Georgetown's John Thompson a fair shake?