BANNED FOR LIFE: BIRTH OF A NATIONAL MELTDOWN

Donald Sterling

Journalism isn’t dead.

It’s only an inconvenience, in some cases.

Take a gander at Bomani Jones, a current writer for SB Nation, who first outed shamed Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling as a racist.

Take a good, solid look at the fact that Jones was a writer for ESPN.com at the time he broke that story, in 2006.

It’s not a secret, folks. Donald Sterling is a racist.

This wasn’t some one-off aw-shucks old man saying what old men say. This was legit stuff. It was real, raw, unfettered Sterling at his finest hour.

I read this story, and I’ve known of Sterling’s tactics since 2009, when – as a transfer student in Houston – I read a story about Sterling’s treatment of employees, notably Hall of Fame forward and Clippers GM Elgin Baylor.

The NBA made the strongest of statements on Tuesday, banning Sterling for life and stripping him of all NBA privileges save ownership (which should come down shortly). Kudos to Adam Silver.

But, has the action come too little, too late? Not necessarily, but America should know better.

This nation, as we understand, has always had head-butts with racial issues since – pretty much – the beginning of this nation. The vogue thing to do in mainstream white America, as I’ve noticed, is to claim that racism is over in the legal sense. Moreover, all minorities are whiners and complainers when and if they notice racial discrimination, and they should simply stop talking about it, because it’s inconvenient to white people.

But when can we have the Big Uncomfortable Racial Conversation? Can we stamp out people who think of their employees as subhuman, regardless of their sexual relations with those of a different race?

The history of Sterling’s relations with blacks, Asians, Latinos, and even women speaks for itself. And the NBA, in all of its good will, had the gun pointed on them to do something. Or risk a revolt. The league’s profile is fragile, star-first; to lose stars to Sterling’s actions would spell doom for the league, which already has a hard time cultivating lifelong fans among a nation of casuals. Six percent of Americans consider themselves avid NBA fans, while 14 percent side with baseball as their No. 1.

While a myriad of concerns would be brought up for why the NBA struggles to build a hardcore base of supporters, this much is clear and concrete.

Zero tolerance for mistreatment.

Many conservative commentators and contrarians will point to other incidents of black misbehavior or whereabouts. That has zero bearing on being a powerful, influential white owner with a history of treating his clients like dirt. Whatever is thrown back at the community gives nothing back to the overall point of the story. It’s irrelevant.

To conclude, the NBA is a black league. Basketball is a black sport. Larry Bird even said it once. To allow a rogue bigot, with a routinely consistent track record of both porous team ownership and oppressive racial and social discrimination, to roam free in a league overtaken by hip-hop and black culture would be counterproductive. It doesn’t make any sense at all.

Philip Arabome is the Sports Director at KTXT-FM in Lubbock. He is also the voice of Texas Tech softball and women’s soccer and co-hosts the Walk-Off on KTXT. Follow him on Twitter: @PhillyBeach93

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TEXAS TECH SOFTBALL RECAPS

In their final home stand, the Texas Tech softball team took two out of three games against Iowa State at Rip Griffin Park.

On Friday night, the Red Raiders scored a season-high eight runs in the first inning as they destroyed the Cyclones, 15-0, in five innings via run-rule. It was the largest margin of victory over a Big 12 opponent in school history for Tech.

Tech got four home runs combined from Kierra Miles, Cassie McClure, Lea Hopson, and Gretchen Aucoin.

“It’s always nice when you can jump out to an early lead like that,” Tech coach Shanon Hays said Friday. “We talked all week long about getting after the pitching staff early and I thought that was really key tonight.”

According to Tech Athletics, Miles, who also had a double and four RBI, got her fifth home run in the first inning. McClure and Aucoin hit back-to-back homers in the second inning. Then Hopson hit the last one to left field on a three-run shot.

Aucoin, who pitched all five innings, got the win, gave up no runs, two hits, and added five strikeouts. Last week, Aucoin earned Big 12 Pitcher of the Week and each of the wins during the five-game winning streak that led up to Friday night.

On Saturday, Iowa State scored four runs in the third inning as well as sixth in the sixth as they spoiled Senior Day, beating Tech, 13-9, to end the Red Raiders’ five-game losing streak.

Hays said poor pitching and defense had a lot to do with it.

“Nine runs should be enough to win in the Big 12,” Hays said on Saturday. “We didn’t play very good defense today and just gave up too many runs. I thought we gave ourselves a chance with base runners, but you just can’t strand that many people like we did and win the game.”

Cyclones sophomore Aly Cappaert hit six RBI, including a two-run single in the first inning before hitting a three-run homer in the sixth, her 10th of the year.

Junior Lexi Slater also helped the Cyclones’ cause, scoring four runs, a home run, a double, and three RBI.

Tech had previously shut out its opponent over the past 12.1 innings coming into the game. It was the first time Tech had lost despite scoring at least nine runs as they did losing to South Florida, 15-9, on Feb. 27, 2009, according to Tech Athletics.

McClure hit 3-for-5 with two RBI as she was one of three Red Raiders to have a multiple-hit game to go with freshman Sydni Emanuel and sophomore Kady Crow.

Tech starting pitcher Brittany Talley (9-2) took the loss, pitching just three innings while giving up five runs and seven hits. It was her first loss since mid-March and only her second of the year in her 28 appearances.

Talley was joined alongside Taylor Powell and Marisa Malazzo on the field after the game as they were recognized as part of Tech’s annual Senior Day celebration.

On Sunday in the rubber match, Aucoin pitched her third-straight complete game and hit three RBI, including a home run, as Texas Tech dominated Iowa State, 10-1, in five innings via run-rule.

The victory gave Tech (35-16, 8-7) its third-straight series win, who have now won seven of their last nine games.

Tech limited Iowa State (22-25-1, 2-10) to only three hits after giving up 16 on Saturday.

“I was proud of how we responded after yesterday,” Hays said after picking up his 300th career win. “We really challenged this group to come back and win the series which was big for our postseason chances. We hit the ball well really all series and then made enough plays to get a big win.”

Aucoin (14-7), who pitched in strong wind conditions, said being able to do well on the mound and in the batter’s box is great to do.

“It’s just probably the best thing to benefit the team both on defense and on offense,” Aucoin said. “It’s just one of the days that you can’t ask for.”

In the fourth inning, sophomore Samantha Camello followed Aucoin’s solo shot with a two-run homer of her own. Miles and Crow added RBI singles in the four-run inning. Tech is 20-0 this year when scoring four or more runs in an inning.

Paris Imholz (4-9) took the loss in her third start of the weekend, giving up 10 runs, six of which were earned, and nine hits. 

The Red Raiders will close the regular season in an important three-game series at Oklahoma. The first pitch of the series starts at 6:30 at Marita Hynes Field in Norman.

THE PLIGHT OF THE T-SHIRT FAN

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“T-shirt fan”: used pejoratively to describe a college fan who roots for a big team for the sake of them being a big team.

One long-lost day, a friend and I descended upon a local Jack-in-the-Box, starving for some fatty afternoon meals. A hefty woman was up front working the shift and took our orders. I decided to get a bacon cheeseburger; my partner-in-crime ordered a slimmer, less expensive option. He used his school ID, which gave him a (negligible) discount, and he gigged me for it at the time.

“Y’know, if you use your Tech ID, you get a discount,” he said, grinning.

“But, you saved, like, 20 cents,” I replied back.

The lady up front decided to interject. “Well, I wouldn’t know about that,” she said undisturbed. “I’m not even a Tech fan.”

“Are you from Lubbock?” I asked.

The woman flashed a toothy grin. “Yes, sir. But I’m a proud UT fan!”

Disgusted with her answer, we took our food and left the establishment, laughing at her surety. “How can you be a UT fan and never step foot in Austin? I bet she’s never even seen a game there,” my partner said.

“I will safely assume she’s never even been to the campus, let alone went there,” I replied.

These stories, and more, are just prime examples of what a front-running T-shirt fan is all about.

***

The “t-shirt fan” is a term I’ve only seen used in Texas, mostly to describe lower-class individuals who cheer for one of the state’s two major football programs at the collegiate level (the University of Texas at Austin or Texas A&M University). These people tend to have nothing more than a standard grade 12 education, live in low-quality enclaves such as Lubbock or a small town with a strong college culture, and base their fandom based on their team’s availability on TV.

Mind you, the Texas Longhorns are the most recognizable brand in college athletics; the iconic horns sticking out of the steer’s head make it hard to miss, be it in Dallas or Detroit or Dunwoody, Ga. The main problem with college sports is the more successful the program, the “dumber” (so to speak) the fans.

A few well-documented cases of low fan intelligence relative to high amounts of team success would include:

  • University of Alabama football fans
  • Ohio State University football fans
  • Any big state university’s football fans
  • University of Kentucky basketball fans
  • University of Kansas basketball fans
  • University of North Carolina basketball fans
  • the Dallas Cowboys
  • the New York Yankees
  • the Los Angeles Lakers
  • Any Premier League club worth anything

The “t-shirt fan” phenomenon cannot be properly applied to the pros as much as it is at the collegiate level, but similar cases arise. What makes their fandom that much more perplexing is that it usually flies in the face of another, readily available school or program in their vicinity, such as Longhorns fans in Lubbock or Aggie fans in Austin. Remember: these people didn’t, haven’t, or won’t go to school there; they simply like the football team.

Another twist in the “t-shirt fan” claim is the number of youth and teenage fans of these programs. As a high schooler who split his time between Southern California and the Houston area, I can report that even USC and UCLA have front-running young fans who never went there, people who will buy that expensive $200 Reggie Bush jersey and roll around town with it but wouldn’t be caught dead in the SC Admissions office (even if it is a mile from their house – USC is in the ghetto). But Texans take college fandom to a whole ‘nother level: there are young men and women who are bred on a particular college team – namely Texas or Texas A&M – and convince themselves that one day they will walk onto the campus in Austin or College Station and join in the traditions they’ve watched from afar. They’ll be Cadets and saw ol’ Varsity’s horns off (even if Varsity ain’t in the same conference anymore); or they’ll blow the cannon, carry around Bevo, and proclaim that the eyes of Texas are upon them ’til Gabriel blows his horn.

How does this connect to Texas Tech? Glad you asked.

Texas Tech has the most authentic fanbase in the state, devoid of silly front-running “t-shirt fans”. Local Lubbock kids like the Red Raiders, too, but the smart ones get out of town on the first letter they get from Texas, A&M, or some other top-notch school. There’s no real pretentiousness, just plenty of rabid students who intimidate even the most steely-eyed of coaches. There are “superfans” who overextend themselves, then justify their actions by telling media they said something awfully tame.

But, the main reason they have such a loyal fanbase is simple: they’re mediocre.

Don’t get the editorial board of the Walk-Off blog wrong; we love Texas Tech. We enjoy the Saddle Tramps, the red crepe papers, the Victory Bells, the flying tortillas, the Jeff Orr-on-Marcus Smart incidents, and the sorority girls rocking blood-red pants.

But Texas Tech doesn’t win…enough…to justify random fans chasing the program around in, say, Longview. Unless you went to Texas Tech, have some sort of connection to the school, or just like pirates or mean coaches in red sweater vests, Texas Tech doesn’t have the same pull a UT or an A&M has in the state (or country).

And for that, Joe Fan, you should be thankful.

Authentic fans forevermore.

Philip Arabome is a sophomore journalism major and the lead host of the Walk-Off on KTXT. He is also the voice of Red Raider softball and intern-writes for RaiderPower.com. Follow him on Twitter: @PhillyBeach93

WARE HAS THE TIME GONE?

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Originally written in March, “Ware Has the Time Gone?” is Walk-Off contributor Gerald White’s love letter to former Cowboys defensive end DeMarcus Ware, who is now a member of the Denver Broncos.

Tuesday was a different kind of “Doomsday” associated with the Dallas Cowboys. A day many began speculating was coming in November of last year, but chose to ignore because its possibility seemed unfathomable. Following the paths of former greats Don Meredith and Don Perkins, DeMarcus Ware is the latest Dallas legend facing the heartbreaking reality that, unlike in the movies, not all great Cowboys ride off heroically into the sunset. As the franchise’s all time leader in sacks (117) and forced fumbles (32), Ware will undoubtedly be enshrined in the Dallas Cowboys Ring of Honor, joining Meredith and Perkins as the only members that didn’t play on a Dallas Super Bowl team. As a fan who’s been donning a No. 94 jersey since his rookie year, the only thing more painful for me to admit is that cutting Ware was the appropriate move for both sides.

In the Cowboys’ case, they have been struggling to meet the NFL’s salary cap requirement year after year, especially after being penalized $10 million in 2012 for front loading contracts during the 2010 season. Before Ware’s release, Dallas was less than $1 million over the cap, and by cutting Ware, they saved $7.4 of the $16 million that was scheduled to count against it. For Dallas, being able to create cap space is huge considering they trotted out one of the worst defenses in NFL history in 2013, and Ware’s release should enable them to fill a couple of gaps via Free Agency and the NFL Draft.

The other key factors to consider are age, health, and production. Contrary to popular opinion, the Cowboys have a younger roster than people realize. And while I don’t dare call Ware “old” as he nears the age of 32, it’s unquestionable that he hasn’t aged well since spraining his neck in 2009.

From 2006 to 2012, Ware etched his name in NFL history alongside Hall of Famers John Randle and the late Reggie White by becoming only the third player ever to record 10 or more sacks in seven straight seasons. However, the injury bug began to bite him in 2012 as he dealt with nagging nerve injuries in his neck, shoulder, and elbow, which ultimately resulted in two separate offseason surgeries.

In 2013, Ware missed multiple games for the first time in his entire career with a quadriceps injury that lingered throughout the season, and finished with his worst career single-season totals in sacks (6) and tackles (28). Some of the decline in production can be attributed to a change in defensive scheme, but if you watched the games you could tell he wasn’t the same Ware we were accustomed to watching slap the turf after sacking NFL quarterbacks every Sunday afternoon. So if the Cowboys were planning on starting a youth movement in an effort to rebuild, particularly on the defensive side of the ball, cutting Ware to free up some much needed cap space made sense.

As I alluded to earlier, the release made sense schematically for Ware. I’ll spare you by not attempting to delve into the brainlessness behind replacing Rob Ryan with Monte Kiffin after two seasons, but the fact is that the coaching change didn’t play to Ware’s strengths. As a converted high school wide receiver before enrolling at Troy University, it should come as no surprise why Ware possesses the ability to run a 4.5 in the 40-yard dash. But when you couple his exceptional speed with his 6’4”, 265 pound frame, you have a hybrid outside linebacker that was bred with the sole purpose of wreaking havoc on opposing quarterbacks, and has no business putting his hand in the dirt as a down lineman. So in 2005, that’s what Ware, along with Marcus Spears, was drafted by Bill Parcells to do as “The Big Tuna” intended to set the foundation for the first ever 3-4 defense in Dallas Cowboys history.

Another reason you could argue that Ware needed to make a move in free agency to a team that runs a 3-4 is his injury history. In recent seasons, Ware has been pulled from games due to recurring neck stingers. If Ware were to stay in Dallas as a true defensive end in their new 4-3 defense, he’d be taking more frequent blows to his shoulders, which would cause these stingers to become more common than if he were to make the move back to outside linebacker in a 3-4. And at this point you’ve got to think he’d like to give himself the chance to play as long as possible, and with as little pain as possible, as he pursues a title in the final years of his career.

Finally, the issue comes back to money. The Cowboys had no choice but to ask for a pay cut from Ware given their salary cap woes. So in his case, if you’re an aging All-Pro knowing you’re going to have to take a pay cut just to stay with the epitome of mediocrity that is the Dallas Cowboys who just happened to undermine you by changing defensive schemes, of course you’re going to test the waters of free agency. You’ve broken franchise records; you’ve accumulated Hall of Fame worthy numbers. The only thing you have left to do is pursue the Lombardi Trophy, and Jerry Jones has proven that it damn sure won’t be coming back to Dallas any time soon.

Listen, could Ware have come back to Dallas for $250,000 per year less than what he was offered by Denver? Absolutely. But should he be questioned for bolting to the Mile High City just a day after his release? Absolutely not. Cowboy fans, it’s not your right to request a hometown discount from a future Hall of Famer who would essentially be setting himself up for failure, just like it’s not your birthright to win Super Bowls. Ware served his time in Dallas, he provided us with nine years of highlight reel football. And when he’s eventually enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, hopefully you’ll be able to look back at all the greatness he achieved as a Cowboy and appreciate it. It’s not his fault that Dallas didn’t make a deep playoff run during his tenure. Football is the ultimate team game and he’s just one man.

Super Bowl or not, Ware was a winner on and off the field in Dallas, and he proved it time and time again. He’s been to seven Pro Bowls, he’s one of eight players in NFL history to lead the league in sacks in two separate seasons, he was named the NFC’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2008, and he was named to the NFL’s 2000s All-Decade Second Team, despite having only played five seasons in said decade. Along with the numerous contributions he made off the field, you couldn’t have asked much more from him.

Let me be clear, I was just as depressed as anybody when I read the news of Ware’s release, regardless of the fact that it was the right move. For at least eight years, he was one of the few constants in an otherwise erratic and dismal era of Dallas Cowboys football, and will always be defined in my mind by his infamous game-ending sack-fumble of Drew Brees that sealed an upset victory over the 13-0 — and eventual Super Bowl Champion — New Orleans Saints in 2009, just one week after suffering a neck sprain in a loss to the Chargers. But as depressed as I am that he’s no longer a Cowboy, I’m twice as excited for him that he’ll be competing for a title with a legitimate contender. I’ve owned his jersey since his rookie year when I was in the eighth grade—damn, do I feel old saying that—and as far as I’m concerned, if he wins a Super Bowl with the Broncos, it’s a partial win for Cowboys fans. The man’s a warrior who’s earned a shot at the Lombardi Trophy, and I’d love nothing more for him than to get a chance to hoist it before returning to take his rightful place in the Dallas Cowboys Ring of Honor.

From a lifelong fan, thanks for the memories, DeMarcus.

Gerald White is a senior business marketing major from the greater Dallas Metroplex. He also maintains a personal sports blog. Follow him on twitter: @GeraldWWhite

REQUIEM FOR COLLEGE BASKETBALL

money2 arena

ESPN’s two-hour 30 for 30 special, “Requiem for the Big East”, chronicled the dramatic rise — and equally captivating collapse — of college basketball’s premier league, the Big East Conference.

In short, the money being earned by the conference’s bigwigs, such as Georgetown and Syracuse, combined with the influence of college football’s independent Eastern powers and the birth of the Bowl Championship Series to create a cluster of diverse and unequal interests.

It was destined to fall.

And may I add my own brush to this canvas? College basketball as a whole rose with the Big East, and collapsed with her as well. The shoe money seeped into the youth game, creating a world governed by Nike and Adidas and not by high schools or smart AAU coaches. The outside interests really did the sport in.

Let’s take an in-depth look at what really went wrong with the college game.

PART ONE: THE FOOTBALL PROBLEM/SOLUTION/PROBLEM

For the first 12 seasons of its existence, the Big East Conference was basketball-centric, surrounded with like-minded schools of varying levels of success. From powers such as Georgetown, Syracuse, St. John’s and Villanova to minnows like Seton Hall and Boston College, the conference was basketball heaven for those in the Northeast. The league was aided in its success by the birth and growth of ESPN and the convenience of being in proximity to the nation’s media powers, such as New York City, Boston, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.

The money earned by the Big East was unfathomable, and the fame of its players and coaches was beyond comparison. It was the East’s answer to the mighty SEC, which put its football icons on a regional pedestal and carved them into Southern superstars. It helped rein in elite Atlantic Coast talent which usually would’ve retreated to the ACC or the SEC, and created a reputation for its characters and high quality of play.

When Dave Gavitt, the Big East’s leader and advocate, left for the Boston Celtics in 1990, the league took on a corporate atmosphere as greed began to creep into its corners. College football, the increasingly relevant superpower of state-university athletics, began to knock on the Big East’s door — very loudly. At the time, the league was a collection of a handful of state schools and the elite Catholic institutions which couldn’t afford nor find a care to field a team on the gridiron. That didn’t phase the Big East: In came the University of Miami in 1991, its abysmal (and recently reborn) basketball program gathering up dust in a hoops haven.

But that didn’t matter anymore. Football was calling the shots.

This was the birth of conference realignment as we know it.

In 1995, West Virginia and Rutgers moved the rest of their athletic department inside the Big East universe, having played football in the league since 1991. Virginia Tech followed suit in 2000, also an original football school within the conference. (Temple only played football in the Big East from 1991 to 2005.) Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Connecticut, and Boston College always had football, but moved their teams in with the other five additions in ’91.

Once these schools — with varying levels of basketball ambition — made their way into the Big East, the size and management of the conference’s hoops affiliations proved difficult, which became the league’s main conflict of interest for the next 17 seasons.

One thing proved true: that storied tournament in New York City, held in Madison Square Garden, was game for each of those teams — from mighty Georgetown to lowly Virginia Tech and middling Providence. It became nearly untenable.

Meanwhile, ESPN began to pay more attention to the surging interest in college football, being beamed across America in growing amounts. The two sports have always seen themselves as central to their university’s identity, but usually one truly prevails. As financial issues began to creep up in college athletics — who really pays for the golf or women’s water polo teams, Hoss? — it became clear that college football was the real golden egg that everyone should begin to chase.

With these conclusions reached, college football became front and center for ESPN and the rest of the media. Schools where basketball could enjoy marginal attention and success — read Alabama, or Florida, or Ohio State, or Oregon — began to be swallowed up by the 24/7 football news machine. Recruiting websites popped up, regulating talent in both football in basketball via a “star system”. Spring football became as routine as Midnight Madness once was, and the storylines behind those events became goldmines for information to starving football fans.

Meanwhile, the Big East still produced elite talent, thanks to the security that network TV contracts gave to the league. Teams were still winning tournaments and making major ripples in the world of college hoops. But the thing was: it was losing its luster.

PART TWO: THE SNEAKER PROBLEM

“It’s gotta be the shoes.”

Surely, it is.

College basketball and college football are married to one another, and neither is really hunky-dory about it.

To be brutally honest, Under Armour — which made its money off form-fitting football apparel, made famous by catchy advertising — is not a good basketball brand. None of its clients (including noted basketball power, Maryland) are dedicated to winning basketball games, nor are they particularly powerful and competitive programs (that includes you, Texas Tech).

The association of football and basketball apparel has also killed college basketball. Case in point? Under Armour thinks it’s a basketball shoe brand. It is not, and it never will be.

In the 21st century, established basketball-friendly companies such as Nike, Adidas, and Reebok have made inroads into the influential world of travel basketball — which, like it or not, has been making decisions for young 18-year-old recruits since shoes were cool.

The rise of college football took away much-needed resources, interest, and sound insight from college basketball, whose equally enormous ego has forced the non-Duke, non-Kentucky, non-UNC, and non-Kansas schools to go on the defensive when another one of their top-ranked in-state recruits tells them they’re too much of a “football school” and sign with one of those four aforementioned programs.

This isn’t a knock on college football. But it’s zapped the interest out of hoops, playing a major role. Tying non-basketball companies such as Under Armour to a sport which is foreign to them is a guaranteed recruiting killer. Look at Maryland: once a competitive program protected from the UA bubble by the influential Gary Williams, it has not succeeded anywhere on the recruiting trail in the UA/Mark Turgeon era. They also are teetering on the brink of irrelevance, being sashayed into the Big Ten Conference this fall for the sole purpose of looking good in football season.

In short, the fact that basketball and football teams have to share athletic apparel companies can hurt — and it’s basketball that’s getting the hurtin’. But such is normal in the high-stakes, football-first world of college sports. It’s where the MONEY is.

PART THREE: THE NBA DRAFT PROBLEM

Once upon a time, parents tell us, college basketball was exciting.

The personalities jumped out of the TV screen. The gyms were packed. The talent was boiling over like a teapot.

Nowadays, outside of the traditional bigwig basketball schools — namely Duke, North Carolina, Kentucky, Kansas, and Arizona — nobody gives a damn anymore.

Why?

Let’s walk back to 1995, when Kevin Garnett – basketball’s foremost power forward, all respects to Tim Duncan – decided to make the leap (it was a LEAP!, they wrote) from high school straight into the National Basketball Association. Garnett was picked up by the Minnesota Timberwolves and proceeded to craft a Hall of Fame career with two different franchises, winning an NBA title in 2008 with the Celtics.

Garnett’s trailblazing move created a market for high school talent, mainly unmotivated by rah-rah college guys running up in their houses at midnight and asking them weird questions about life, to follow his lead and go forth into professional basketball. Kobe Bryant, one of the game’s great guards and a surefire Hall of Famer, took the jump in ’96 and became a Los Angeles Lakers legend.

LeBron James did the same thing in 2003, when he became the third high-school player of the era to make a major impact in the NBA. So far, he has quite possibly racked up the most accolades of the bunch, while crafting a legacy as both a champion and a villain to millions of Americans. Two years later, the NBA outlawed the charade, relegating those players to the collegiate ranks for a season prior to their NBA debuts.

This was the death knell for a seemingly reborn version of college hoops.

Why?

  • College basketball already had one-and-dones. Carmelo Anthony, Gerald Wallace, and Gilbert Arenas had, in recent seasons, made the single-season leap to the NBA in the high school era. All three were, and are, All-Stars and became the faces of basketball franchises. College hoops saw this happen occasionally, but the 2005 ruling opened up Pandora’s box for a universe where any college player could jump to the big leagues at 19 years old.
  • It created the possibility of superteams. Kentucky under John Calipari, the Godfather of the one-and-done rule and its unabashed advocate, has become the face of modern college basketball. His effective system has sent dozens of top-10 draft talent off to the NBA, hoarding much of college basketball’s best recruits for his personal crafting. Other schools were left punchless, including Duke — whos’s changed to keep up — and Kansas.
  • If you weren’t a “basketball school” beforehand, good luck trying. Despite Texas’ success with Kevin Durant (losing to USC in the 2007 Round of 32), USC’s brief talent boom with Nick Young and O.J. Mayo, and Kansas State’s one-year experiment with Michael Beasley, most elite recruits were going to gravitate to the One-Year NBA Farm Teams evolving out in Kansas and Kentucky, two of the college game’s most gratuitous beneficiaries of the rule. Other teams in contention, outside of powers such as Syracuse or UNC or Duke (or even Ohio State or Michigan State or Michigan), were left with rejection letters — being told they were a “football school” and not worthy of their time. The Canadian basketball boom also led to a ticket race, with most to all of the young men coming from North of the Border making a one-year pit stop (Andrew Wiggins).
  • One-and-dones killed the nation’s interest in college hoops. Period. To learn that Texas got this top-three recruit, and then to learn that he’s just here until he’s guaranteed a top-10 spot in the draft by his soon-to-be-agent, kills a school’s interest in basketball. This is possibly the second-biggest reason why college basketball has been rendered irrelevant: not only has football’s offseason (pro and collegiate) become a media circus worthy of ESPN’s time, college hoops has become diluted with faceless, nameless, careless stars, ready to cruise their way through a half a semester of campus life before bolting to the NBA. Meanwhile, not only is college football better (and more colorful – thanks Oregon!), it retains all of its stars and creates more – partially because of our national over-analysis of the gridiron game, but also because the NFL won’t let those guys jump until their third season of college is finished.

Adam Silver, the newly crowned commissioner of the NBA, has realized this massive gulf between the NBA and the college game – NBA fans are bored with the college game (as are most Americans), and college fans hate the NBA (as do many Americans) – doesn’t help the NBA or the college game.

Basketball at its grassroots is at a crisis, fueled by greed birthed in the Big East. That’s why there was a 16-team tournament in the league’s decadent days; purely unskilled teams such as South Florida and Rutgers were sharing the court with basketball powers such as Connecticut and Syracuse.

No one is watching as the tree is falling in the backyard. They’re just bickering over which side of the fence the tree is going to fall.

College basketball is falling, and fast. Let’s hope there can be a person who can solve the bickering.

For the love of the sport of basketball.

For the relevance of the pro and college game amidst a sea of Adam Schefter and Nick Saban.

For the Duke fan, for the Syracuse fan, and for the memory of the Big East Conference: a requiem for the game of basketball itself.

Philip Arabome is a sophomore journalism major. He is the Sports Director at KTXT-FM in Lubbock and the host of the Walk-Off, a sports-related show which airs Tuesdays at 5pm CST. Follow him on Twitter: @PhillyBeach93

A TALE OF TWO CITIES: TWO STORIED NFL FRANCHISES APPEARING TO GO IN OPPOSITE DIRECTIONS

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The NFL has graced America and the rest of the world for 50 years. Those who have watched it have seen storied games played, rivalries created, and legends with names like Rice, Unitas, Butkus, and Lombardi. Over the past decade, more legends have risen, and many franchises have become elite. Since its inception, there have been these two teams from these two cities. One has been abused by poor ownership and sports icons departing; the other has flourished, bearing the same combination of colors throughout the city and has won championship after championship.

However, in the upcoming 2014-15 NFL season, it seems like these two NFL franchises are going in different directions.

Who are they? The Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns.

And things are about to change.

There is no doubting the Pittsburgh Steelers history: Bradshaw, Mean Joe, Noll, and The Immaculate Reception; six Super Bowl championships and 21 inductees in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. As compared to Cleveland’s zero Super Bowl championships and its (still respectable) 16 Hall of Fame inductees, but have lived on through names like Jim Brown, Otto Graham, and Ozzie Newsome. Over the past decade, the Steelers have relied on good defense and a reliable quarterback in Ben Roethlisbuerger, and the Browns have been plagued with a host of busts at quarterback: Colt McCoy, Brady Quinn, Tim Couch, and Brandon Weeden, whom have compiled laughable results, making Cleveland the joke of the NFL.

Unfortunately for Pittsburgh, their era of success seemed to come to an end in the 2013-14 NFL offseason, when many of the team’s best players were gone, such as Mike Wallace, Casey Hampton, Rashard Mendenhall, and James Harrison. Along with this year’s free agency forcing the team to possibly release LaMarr Woodley among others, the team is rapidly aging. From the team’s success, Big Ben just turned 32, Troy Polamalu will be 33, and Brett Keisel will be 36. None of these players are getting any younger and past injuries among them are taking an effect on the team. These players have helped to rebuild a foundation of championships in the Steel City, and it appears that we are at an end of an era.

On the opposite side, we have the Cleveland Browns. Cleveland – a passionate sports town – has witnessed the Browns being forcefully moved by Art Modell, and had to witness LeBron James “take his talents to South Beach”, and has been beaten-down constantly. However, things appear to be looking up for Browns fans. This team posted the eighth best rush defense, the 18th best passing defense, and they seem to only be getting better. Relying on young and talented players such as Joe Haden, Jordan Cameron, Josh Gordon, Paul Kruger, Joe Thomas, Barkevious Mingo, D’Qwell Jackson, T.J. Ward, and Tashaun Gipson can make even the sourest Browns fan smile. Two first-round draft picks, along with a multitude of other selections, leaves the Browns with endless possibilities. In truth, the Cleveland Browns are a quarterback, running back, and one more solid receiver away from the playoffs.

With the talent they posses, this team is ready NOW!

Now, of course, it is impossible to predict the future; it does seem that over the past two or three seasons, the Steelers have gotten progressively worse, and the Browns have gotten progressively better. Will all of this happen? Can Cleveland and Pittsburgh switch roles in the NFL? Only time will tell, but one thing is for sure: the NFL is about to get a little more interesting.

Shane Carter is a junior journalism major from the greater Austin metropolitan area. He is a co-host of The Walk-Off, KTXT’s sports show. He is not engaged on Twitter, so I can’t help you with that. He does have Facebook, though, so leave him feedback there.

THE RESPONSE TO “THE N-WORD – ‘NO'”

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NOTE: This is related to a previous article written by KTXT staff member Shane Carter. Read the story here.

The main issue with the National Football League is the excessive protection of its image – “the Shield”, in the words of Roger Goodell. The eighth-year commissioner has instituted laws purportedly done “in the best interest of the league”, much to the detriment of fans and players alike.

His latest conquest? Taking on the words used on the field.

A proposal is floating around the NFL’s congress, one which would forbid usage of the controversial racial term/slur nigga among the league’s players. Violators would punish their team with a 15-yard penalty.

Most athletes, protective of their own free speech as well as preventing a major revolt in other black-heavy sports (namely, the NBA), have come out in fierce opposition to the NFL’s new rule. It has been characterized as “racist” and has clearly rubbed the league’s black majority the wrong way.

My simple statement is this: why isn’t there more uproar over the fact that old white men — ah, yes, the perennial punching bag of America — are legislating the language of young black men? It’s a complex and highly controversial situation which never ends pretty, especially considering black men’s peculiar place in the national conscience.

Black men of any age are traditionally typecast as lawless thugs, albeit intrinsically by emotional reaction; they are only good in their domesticated form, be it on a field of play or in a music video. The dream of being an athlete or entertainer is usually a one-track-mind thing. Without being too in-depth and going into a social rant about their position in America, it goes to show the lack of perspective and discourse between the NFL office and its players.

What about the legality of such a move? Goodell hasn’t stated anything which would hold water on why, or how, he came to the conclusion that football players saying nigga was A Big Deal within his league. It couldn’t be related to the Jonathan Martin/Richie Incognito fiasco, considering all of their publicly disclosed interactions occurred within the realm of the text-message world. Besides, Incognito was white and – some will say – was merely messing around with a particularly sensitive teammate (and, at one time, friend).

Where does the policing of language – such a grey area nowadays – come into the NFL’s front door and become such a pressing concern that the league office snaps their fingers and (severely) penalizes teams for it?

It’s ridiculous. Some might say it’s just a case of the NFL living up to its pejorative nickname, the “No Fun League”. And for me, it’s just another case of an entitled man operating from his high perch as the Grand Justice of All Things Right and Wrong.

Philip Arabome is a sophomore journalism major originally in Long Beach, California. He finished high school in Houston, but that’s irrelevant. He is the co-host of the Walk-Off on KTXT-FM. Follow him on Twitter: @PhillyBeach93

THE N-WORD — “NO”

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Warning: contains strong language and white males using racial terminology.
There is a word that has been around for so long and has such a negative past to it that it can instantly put images in our head of death, slavery, racism, riots, and negative relations among races; that word is nigger. As of late, it has been more commonly called nigga, in an attempt to take away any negative connotations and become a term of endearment. It has become used so much in a “positive” way that even white people are being referred to as “my nigga” from their black friends. I can personally say that I have been called someone’s nigga, with no negative meaning involved. However, there are many people who not only hate whites being referred to as “nigga”, but are completely focused on eliminating it 100%. The NFL is no exception; a proposal has been made that the word “nigger”, “nigga”, or any sort of the word will result in a 15-yard penalty as an attempt of ridding the word from the league.

The idea is admirable, eliminating such a nasty, hated word, but it does infringe on a person’s right to free speech. Black people have been saying this word  for quite some time and it has spread (within their community) to become a common word for “friend” with no negative connotation. However, with the possibility of the NFL penalizing players for talking, personal rights may be infringed. Richard Sherman of the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks, who is not shy about saying what’s on his mind, came out on Monday against the idea of eliminating the word, calling it “atrocious” and “almost racist” to eliminate just this one word instead of slurs and all profanity of any kind. Richard Sherman does have a point. Why say it’s OK to say things like “Fuck you!”, “Little bitch”, and “faggot”, but when you say “nigger”, negative or positive, you are out of bounds? Perhaps the committee should consider this point before enacting anything.

Now, I know what many of you are thinking. “Why should I listen to you? You’re white. You’ve grown up in a generation of people using that word as a positive while your grandparents grew up during a time when that word was used for its initial use.”

True. I am white. I do live in an era of people using it as form of “friend”. However, I am someone who has been around the word enough, both negatively and positively, to formulate an opinion. Progress has been made over the past century among races in America. Progress is so well that not only do black people not get offended by it, not only do black people call each other “nigga”, but many have even included white people in it. This is the best progression.

Instead of getting rid of a word, change its meaning. If meaningless words like “faggot” can become a negative word, apart from its original meaning (a strong bundle), then the opposite can occur as well. Nowadays, people say words many don’t want to hear, but they’re not meant in a traditional way. However, the negative way of saying this word still exists. There will always be people who say this word to mean harm and offend others, but they are in the vast minority. Whether you agree or disagree with the banning of the word in the NFL, there is one undeniable truth in all of this: if one word is not OK, then none of the words are OK to use. While I am against banning this word, I understand that many are on the opposing side.

All I have left to say is this: You can try and get rid of one word at a time, but in the end, you have to realize how futile it would be. As long as we as Americans have right to free speech, no one should legislate what can and cannot be said. I don’t give a damn whoever a person is. No one will take away my right to free speech, no matter what the word is. I, like all of you, use responsible speech, but don’t think of this as a way of not saying what you want to say. But be careful when you speak. You never know who’s listening.

Shane Carter is a junior journalism major from the metro Austin area. He is a co-host of The Walk-Off. Since he doesn’t have a Twitter, you’re out of luck in finding him online. He is on Facebook, though.

THANKS FOR NOTHING, DAD

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LeBron Raymone James, born December 30, 1984, in Akron, Ohio, has been one of the most dominating players in NBA history, as well as one of the most dominating and polarizing figures in sports. Four Finals appearances, two Finals victories, four MVP’s, and 10 All-Star game appearances have almost surely landed him into the Hall of Fame, and his career isn’t even close to being done.

However, despite the money, the fame, and the admiration, there is one thing he has never had: a father.

Despite this, he doesn’t seem to mind.

Just looking at Lebron James, you can tell he is a monster athlete and a workout warrior. But where did it all come from? His mother, Gloria raised him as a single mother while living in Akron. He had no father to watch him play, take him to games or prepare for life. Though they didn’t have much, his mother worked very hard, and she deserves a magnitude of credit for doing the absolute best she could for him during the hard times.

Lebron will turn 30 this year, and has come from nothing into an absolute star. In regards to his father, on February 20, 2014, LeBron James took to Instagram with a captioned photo. In this photo he thanks his father for not being there for him, using it as fuel to better himself as a player, as a father, and as a man. Wherever Lebron’s father is, one can only wonder: what he is thinking now?

I had the fortune of growing up knowing both my parents. Despite growing up with divorced parents in different cities, I was lucky to have parents that loved and supported me through the really bad times and the really good times. Many people grow up with one parent or possibly with one or both parents that they had wished they’d have never known, but it is in the darkest times, that we see who we really are, and who truly loves us. Like many of us, LeBron has seen the dark and the light sides of life and has continued to wow us all. Whether you are a fan of LeBron or not, respect should be given to him and his mother for the way they have persevered. Those of us that have loving parents, or even just one, should feel grateful and want nothing more than to make them proud.

Needless to say, in LeBron’s case, mission accomplished.

THE GOOD WORD AIN’T ENOUGH

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Tubby Smith has spent the entire season spreading the good word about a still-in-progress Texas Tech basketball team, one that sits in ninth in the Big 12 Conference and has a losing record.

However, the good word only spreads so far.

Coach Smith, who has resurrected stagnant programs at Tulsa, Georgia, and Minnesota — not to mention his decade at SEC powerhouse Kentucky — is suddenly gaining a reputation as a salesman. But can his stellar efforts with the fanbase translate where it matters most: the recruiting trail?

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Texas Tech University is located in the windy West Texas community of Lubbock, the anchor tenant of the Texas Panhandle region and one of the nation’s leaders in cotton production. Tech has been a renowned institution in the sciences, agriculture, and (recently) business. Academically, Tech is respected; athletically, Tech is lambasted.

Red Raider fans could make a case for being some of the most passionate and fun-loving group of supporters in the country. The football program constantly pushes the line of “Protect the Jones”, noting that the stadium (when full) is one of the most intimidating places to play in college football. Local establishments have wrapped themselves in Tech red-and-black. Red Raiders young and old hold their school and its virtues true to heart.

On the field, it’s another story.

Texas Tech is located in Lubbock, which to some kids may as well be North Dakota with better-looking women. It’s constantly windy, has some of America’s most brutal and inconsistent weather patterns, and receives a dust storm once a year. Its distance from major metropolises such as Dallas (five hours), Albuquerque (six hours), and Denver (eight-plus hours) makes it an unattractive landing spot for choosy high school recruits.

In the increasingly high-stakes game of recruiting, Texas Tech has always struggled – whether it be on the football field or basketball court. Quality matters in this business, and Texas Tech has seemingly always had it on the bench and never on the court. For example, Bob Knight – an elite head coach but a sub-par recruiter – took control of Texas Tech’s basketball program in 2001 and made four NCAA Tournament appearances in six-and-a-half seasons, all while producing one NBA player (Andre Emmett, who was undrafted).

To compete for quality talent, Texas Tech basketball has been forced to look far and wide, not just in Texas, but nationwide – and sometimes worldwide. Lead guard Robert Turner is a junior college transfer (and the Red Raiders have banked on those quite frequently). Center Dejan Kravic is a Canadian of Serbian descent.

Texas Tech has been called a “football school”, but that notion is debatable. Under Knight, basketball was possibly Tech’s biggest claim to fame, not to mention Mike Leach’s football magic and quarterback-turned-head-coach Kliff Kingsbury’s video-game statistics. The star power of Knight alone was both a blessing and a curse on the recruiting trail: his infamous temper turned off an increasingly cocky and individualistic class of athletes – most of them very talented – but still attracted those who thought his father-like figure would build them up as better men. Nevertheless, Knight got the job done in his time in Lubbock.

Tubby Smith, on the other hand, is a shift in the other direction. Most in the media or the sports world has described him as “the nicest guy ever” and “kindhearted”. In contrast, former head coach Billy Gillispie, a West Texan who whipped up Texas A&M into basketball shape before bolting to Kentucky, was scaring players off with his abrasive style. Getting kids to Lubbock – either in sports or in college admissions – is never easy, and perceptions of negative leadership will never help the cause.

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Tubby Smith has worked wonders for consumers of Texas Tech athletics, selling basketball as a valuable on-campus leisure activity and ginning up excitement for a ninth-place team. The goodwill is fine and all, but the signing periods await. Young talent, from Texas and abroad, will flood in with their letters of intent. How much of an impact will — can — Coach Smith make in this department?

If these questions can be answered, not even with a flurry of SMU-style five-stars or Baylor-esque talent, Tubby Smith’s good word is more than just marketing. It’s action.

Philip Arabome is a sophomore journalism major from Long Beach, Calif. He is Sports Director of KTXT-FM and the lead host of the Walk-Off. Follow him on Twitter @PhillyBeach93.