A few thoughts to jump start your Thursday morning.
FINALLY, CHRIS WALKER IS ELIGIBLE
The NCAA has finally cleared Chris Walker to play for the University of Florida starting Tuesday night when the Gators play host to Missouri. The NCAA says the Walker suspension is because he took $270 from agents (he will have to pay it back to a charity and perform 80 hours of community service), some apparel, free cell phones, airfare, meals and other benefits provided by three other people. I talked to an AAU coach Wednesday night who knows the situation all too well. His response: “Chris Walker is a sweet-natured kid from a small town who trusted the people who were giving him things when they said they weren’t doing anything wrong.” Billy Donovan said Walker had been completely honest and forthcoming with the NCAA, which leads me to believe that the kid did truly believe that he wasn’t doing anything wrong. The benefits Walker received pale in comparison that I know some very recent college stars received during their AAU days but that’s another story for another day. What is most important is that Walker will be playing as the Gators enter their stretch run. Don’t expect miracles from him, but if he can give the Gators what I call a 5 by 5, it could get UF to the promised land. A 5 by 5 is: 5 minutes, 5 fouls and a combination of 5 rebounds, points and blocked shots. It might not sound like much, but when a team is trying to win a national title, getting that from a talented 6-10 kid is huge.
Florida’s 2007 recruiting class, which will go down as one of the two or three best in school history, got its momentum in the spring of 2006 when persistence paid off for Chris Rainey. The pint-sized (he was 156 pounds coming out of high school) tailback kept bugging buddies Mike and Maurkice Pouncey and Ahmad Black to visit the UF campus. The Pounceys had been committed to FSU until the US Army All-American Combine in San Antonio when they decommitted officially on video for Gator Country outside the Alamo Dome. The Pounceys were still firmly Seminoles until they came to Gainesville for a Nike Combine on the UF campus. They didn’t participate but they did talk to Florida coaches. Black, who was hoping for an FSU offer, was there and like Rainey, he stood out in the individual drills and got a Florida offer. Within two months, the twins and Black committed to Florida followed by teammates Steve Wilks and Paul Wilson. John Brown later committed and signed with the Gators. Injuries shortened the careers of Wilson and Wilks. Brown transferred out after two years. The Pounceys and Black became All-Americans while Rainey made All-SEC.
RECRUITING FLASHBACK, PART II
That 2007 recruiting class produced six All-Americans: Mike Pouncey, Maurkice Pouncey, Ahmad Black, Joe Haden, Chas Henry and Aaron Hernandez. It also produced a future Heisman Trophy winner in Cameron Newton, although he won it at Auburn after transferring out following the 2008 season. It produced future All-SEC performers Carlos Dunlap, Jaye Howard and Major Wright and solid contributors (started at least one year) John Brantley, Justin Trattou, Brandon Hicks, Duke Lemmens, James Wilson and Deonte Thompson. It produced 14 players who spent at least one year in the NFL and two (Justin Trattou and Deonte Thompson) who have Super Bowl rings.
WHAT DO THE NORTHWESTERN PLAYERS WANT?
The Northwestern players who have decided to organize and attempt to form a union really aren’t in it for the money. What they are seeking is actually not that unreasonable. One of the critical points of contention for the Northwestern players the lingering effects of injuries suffered during a playing career that require surgery or treatment after the playing days have ended and long term coverage for concussion-related problems. “With over $1 billion in new TV revenue, why is there no guarantee that current and former players’ sports-related medical expenses are covered?” Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter asked. At their press conference in Chicago, the Northwestern players noted that if the NCAA had addressed these problems years ago when other reformers had tried to address them there would be no need to unionize.
THE NCAA’S RESPONSE TO NORTHWESTERN
The NCAA responded to the Northwestern players in typical NCAA fashion Wednesday, offering a statement that says “turning athletes into employees undermines the purpose of college: an education. Student-athletes are not employees, and their participation in college sports is voluntary.” I’m always appalled at the pompous reactions by the NCAA, which claims education is its paramount goal. A smart response might have been something like “the NCAA understands the concerns of the Northwestern players and looks forward to constructive dialogue that could lead to long term solutions to the problems and concerns of the players.” That would be a smart response. Of course, no one that I know has accused the NCAA of being smart lately.
BAD CHOICE OF WORDS
Syracuse coach Scott Shafer tweeted Wednesday: “2 inches of snow, city and airport shutdown ATL #softnosed”. They do know how to deal with snow better in Syracuse, but the folks in Atlanta certainly know how to deal with Syracuse on the football field. Last season, Syracuse’s first in the ACC, the Orange were demolished to the tune of 56-0 by a very mediocre Georgia Tech team at Bobby Dodd Stadium. Shafer needs to get used to life at the bottom because that’s where Syracuse is going to be in football. No way Syracuse is going to attract the kind of talent it takes to win the ACC, not when there are schools like Florida State, Clemson, Miami and North Carolina around.
RETURN OF THE FRIDGE
Rutgers is expected to announce that it’s new offensive coordinator is Ralph Friedgen, who has been out of coaching the last three years since he was unceremoniously dumped by Maryland after going 9-4 to complete a 10-year stretch in which he won 75 games. In the 14 years prior to his arrival Maryland won 45 games and in the three years since he left, the Terps have won 13. Fridge has a terrific offensive mind and a great understanding of putting players in space. With Rutgers moving to the Big Ten next year, his schemes and concepts will come in handy because the Scarlet Knights are going to be underdogs in most of their games.
THERE WILL BE A SUPER BOWL ON SUNDAY
I will watch it. I always watch it even though I probably don’t watch four NFL games start to finish in the course of a regular season. I watch it so I can say I watched it. I also watch it because it has great commercials. Or at least it used to. I still miss the Budweiser lizards and the Bud Light “Yes I Am” commercials. Bruno Mars will be the halftime music. I tried to listen to one of his songs once. Never made it all the way through.
MUSIC FOR TODAY
Tommy Castro and the Painkillers have been playing the club circuit all over the country the last 30 years. They’ve interrupted their busy schedule often enough to produce nine albums filled with their fusion of blues, soul and funk. This is one fun band to see live. They will be performing at the Tampa Bay Blues Festival in April. This is one of my favorite songs, “Nasty Habits.”