Saint Michael and the acolyte Poythress

✔✔✔ Good day, fellow Dukies. FC here. Probative. Provocative.

Until Saturday morning, FC thought the big news about Duke basketball this summer would be the rather absurd trip to Kunshan, Shanghai, Beijing and Dubai in late August to play four exhibition games. Rather absurd? Yes.

To take a handful of upperclassmen and five incoming freshmen on such a grandiose adventure simply sends the wrong message:

✔-- wrong for young athletes, already treated royally, starting with their being ushered through the admissions office. The last time we saw College Board scores for the freshmen recruits for the men's basketball team, the numbers were horrifying: 698 total for verbal and math. Now a new group of athletes will be going to the plushest hotels in Asia and the Mideast, in Dubai for instance a Gulf-front room with a Ramadan special costing $729 each per night. Consider the impact on freshman this year, lionized before they have ever shot a basket for Duke, much less become an effective team and won a game.

✔-- wrong signals to stakeholders in the university and the general public about priorities at our school, priorities which have caused the intellectual heart of the university to flutter. Yes, there is good reason the Athletic Department has refused to tell FC the cost of this expedition, or where -- in this era of crimped budgets -- the money is coming from. Compare please, how many searches for basketball players we have eliminated, with the number of searches for Arts and Sciences professors that have been cut.

The trip is a PR stunt, conceived in the heady days of actually believing we would win another consecutive national championship. Two high level administrators bubbled over when they heard the idea, and both are now gone: Greg Jones, who left his vice presidency, we are told, for health reasons, and Blair Sheppard, who left his post as Dean of Fuqua with all of seven days notice, because, we are told, of an epiphany that he is not the man of the hour to lead Fuqua forward.

The grand tour? The suggestion was that the world would love Duke more after seeing Kyrie Irving, and the implication was that Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler would be along too, although none of that was ever realistic. Never mind the Arts and Sciences professor who wrote FC recently that he had to pay his own way to a conference in Charlotte, these kids travel in the front of the plane. And their coach, by contract, gets a private jet within the USA.

The roster is not the only disappointment for this trip. Even the travel agent handing this uber-expensive jaunt, which die-hard fans can join, admitted to a Deputy Fact Checker that the Dubai game, for example, would be played in "something like a high school gym" with 2,100 seats.

✔✔ So on Saturday morning, Duke basketball made unexpected headlines nation-wide. The kind of headlines usually reserved for the annual disclosure of Coach K's earnings, which, in the 2009-10 year totaled $4,699,570 from Duke alone, or reserved for his quest to become the most winning big time coach in college basketball history, a goal for which he is three games short. FC hates the word winningest.

No, this time it was for an alleged violation. Oh my, what would Dick Vitale say? He who abounds with praise for all things Blue and White, "Never a rule violation. Never a recruiting violation." "You're awesome, baby." Oh my, USA Today was so stunned it asked readers in its daily poll if Duke, "above reproach.... never been a whiff of scandal" deserved a break if a violation did occur. Results due Monday. How vapid.

So let's pick up the story in Orlando. Or Lake Buena Vista. Or Kissimmee, depending on which dateline appears for The ESPN Wide World Sports Complex, the closest thing you’ll find to a sports theme park with playing fields for just about every sport you can think of: basketball, baseball, softball, football, lacrosse, soccer.

500 top players -- some young enough to be rising into the 8th grade, others rising to be high school seniors -- gathered amid much hype for a series of tournaments. Poythress was eligible for two.

And in the stands, a who's who of hungry coaches: Duke's Krzyzewski, Kentucky’s John Calipari, Kansas’s Bill Self, UConn’s Jim Calhoun, Memphis’ Josh Pastner, Florida’s Billy Donovan, North Carolina’s Roy Williams, Georgetown’s John Thompson III, West Virginia’s Bob Huggins, and Cincinnati’s Mick Cronin to begin the list.

On Tuesday night (July 26) Poythress's team lost an overtime heart-breaker 79-77. Poythress had a monster game, scoring 26 from all over the court, though in the final 30 seconds, he did not come thru: he took a shot that was blocked, and his opponents snagged the rebound. (In another tournament, Poythress scored only four points as his team got whipped 66-37 in the quarter-finals.) Crucial facts to remember: the tournament continued with the finale being scheduled on Wednesday night. And the players on Poythress's team were still under the jurisdiction of their coach.

The rule: Practice or Competition Site. Recruiting contact may not be made with a prospective student-athlete prior to any athletics competition in which the prospective student-athlete is a participant during the day or days of competition, even if the prospective student-athlete is on an official or unofficial visit. Contact includes the passing of notes or verbally relaying information to a prospective student-athlete by a third party on behalf of an institutional staff member and telephone calls. (Revised: 1/11/89, 1/10/91, 1/11/94, 1/9/96 effective 7/1/96, 9/18/07)

Now the careful Loyal Reader undoubtedly sees the issue of whether a tournament that has ended for Poythress is nonetheless a "day of competition."

FC comment, give me a break. This is just a basketball game! There are less intricacies in law school.

After the heart-breaking loss -- we get conflicting information on whether this is late Tuesday or sometime on Wednesday -- coach K called Poythress's coach. That call resulted in the player's making a call back to Coach K. Whether this return call was solicited or offered or just emerged is not pinned down.

There are more nuances to this: Bylaw (you know that, right?) allows for telephone calls initiated by the recruit and at the recruit's expense.

And then there is Bylaw 13.02.4, the "bump rule," which allows the coach to be "innocently" approached by the prospect, his parents, or somebody associated with the prospect, and the coach must exchange no more than pleasantries and act to end the contact immediately.

Issue: did Poythress misinterpret Coach K's praise? Did this 17-year-old amid the hubbub of ESPN national TV coverage, with at least 15 big time college teams after him, hear what he says he did. Clearly this rising high school senior from the military town of Clarksville, Tennessee -- standing 6-7, 215 pounds, overall rank #17, small forward position rank #3. -- was enthralled to have Coach K pick up the phone: "It felt pretty good... It was pretty exciting to talk to Coach K. He said he saw me play at the Super Showcase and Peach Jam, and he liked what he saw."

✔✔ A possible violation? A scholarship offer! It was a jolt, the news reverberating. It was bad enough when CBS Sports broke the story; 20 hours later the Chronicle sports editor entered the Holy Temple of Cameron and confessed that Poythress had told someone at the newspaper (not identified) the same story about the Deity himself. The difference: unlike CBS, the Chronicle did not realize it had a story on its hands and its blog -- up and running even though the paper is on summer vacation -- said nothing.

Sunday night ESPN’s Andy Katz said he's been told by a source that Duke is appealing to the NCAA for an interpretation of this morass. Publicly Duke offered only pap: “Proper adherence to NCAA bylaws has always been, and will continue to be, a cornerstone of Duke Athletics,” Jon Jackson, associate athletics director for university and public affairs, said in a statement. Coach K -- reportedly out of town -- recruiting -- has not been heard from.

✔✔ We have no doubt Coach K knows the rules, as arcane and complex as they are, and obeys them. Rules, rules, rules, there are more than 9,000 burdensome rules -- plus books and books devoted to interpreting them. The work product of a bloated bureacracy and zealots who thirst for power.

It is very easy to step across the line. It doesn't have to be something serious, like the Ohio State memorabilia-for-tattoo scandal that cost Jim Tressel his job in May. Consider the fine for Nebraska announced in early July for, over the course of four years, giving its student athletes too many textbooks. Yes, $28,000 in total value in all sports in four years. Textbooks.

As the journal Inside Higher Education dug out earlier this year, the NCAA has punished nearly half of all big-time college sports programs for major violations in the last decade. That's 53 out of 120 universities in the NCAA's top competitive level. Yes, it isn't just a "few bad apples."

And there was more in the Journal: the number of academically related violations leaped in the past decade. Leaped in the time-frame after the NCAA changed eligibility rules and lowered minimum academic requirements for freshmen, and imposed penalties on teams that do not make consistent progress toward a degree.

✔✔ So Duke, mindful that the NCAA rewards universities that uncover infractions themselves, can probably expect a mild penalty if there is any guilt at all.

At worst -- assuming there was an improper phone call if not a scholarship offer -- Duke will have to revoke it. We do not know if another offer can be made. Another possible penalty is a loss of one or two days of off-campus recruiting by each coach.

No heavy sanction, but remember, please, that even for the most serious infractions, the NCAA has grown famous for ducking. In the Bowl Subdivision, in the past decade, just six teams have been barred from the playoffs, and no team has been barred from lucrative TV appearances.

✔✔ Duke's internal investigation will cover and perhaps resolve the immediate situation. But larger questions ensnare our athletic program: how it influences the culture of this university, how it may distort our values.

Oh Duke has had the microscope out before. Lacrosse comes to mind, but despite the furor of the year 2006 with President Brodhead's having no less than four commissions and two special advisers at work, little has changed.

Nor has any change been apparent since Brodhead felt impelled to relieve Executive Vice President Trask of his oversight of athletics, taking over the portfolio himself.

In a series of internal studies, the Brodhead commissions did not mention basketball. Nope, not at all. Lacrosse, baseball, golf, the sport with students statistically showing the worst behavior, all were addressed.

In fact, mention basketball and our President becomes skittish. Remember, please, his horror that the lacrosse team had strippers at its famous 2006 party, his comment being it did not matter if a rape occurred because "what they did do was bad enough." Contrast that to Brodhead's falling silent after the historian Robert David Johnson, known as KC, revealed the men's basketball team had strippers at its own party two weeks earlier.

One must never question the Deity.

Remember the reports that Brodhead commissioned on "campus culture," devoted largely to alcohol abuse? Recall, please, the heavy criticism of Tailgate, even before a 15 year old was found slumped in a porta-potty. Recall please the attack on the bacchanalia we call Last Day of Classes, with its unbridled drinking all over the quads.

Has anyone ever seen a similar report on K-Ville? On the numbers of people carted off to the emergency room unconscious? Or the sanitation of it all, hundreds of people in tents week after week? The noise of "music" every night disturbing to students in regular rooms? Of a concert starting at 2 AM? Or the last two nights before the Carolina game with their hazing? The last time a Deputy Fact Checker went to K-ville, she reported a night-time of both men and women urinating between the tents, and spotted two engaged in public fellatio.

✔✔ Go Duke, Go. Yes we cheer our basketball team and its coach, but we need urgently to get it back into perspective, before this entire university drifts further toward being an air ball.

A good place to start to learn more about this, Loyal Readers, is the transcript of the Academic Council -- the faculty's elected Senate -- last December.


Yes, the Academic Council to its credit lets everyone attend and everyone read the transcript. And you know what? FC has never heard one faculty member say this transparency in any way encumbered debate. Contrast please with the Board of Trustees, and its specious insistence it must have closed meetings.

✔ We like the way Richard Hain, the professor of mathematics who has waged a lonely fight to put athletics in perspective, and Fred Nijhout, the professor of biology, framed the issue some time back in a letter to the editor of the Chronicle:

"Recent editorials and op-eds in The Chronicle seem to suggest that athletics and academics are equal partners at Duke. They are not and never should be. Duke is a non-profit educational institution. Like all research universities, Duke's primary mission is the creation, exploration and dissemination of knowledge through research, scholarship and teaching. Athletics serves a significant auxiliary role by helping cultivate school spirit and by creating a healthy diversion for students from their intellectual pursuits. For many faculty, the primary issues concern the relationship of athletics to the University's mission and its priorities.

"The relationship between academics and athletics is not static. During the last decade, the Duke Athletics budget has grown at about twice the rate of the Arts and Sciences budget. If this trend persists, Athletics will be half as large as Arts and Sciences in 2030 and as large by 2046. This raises very serious questions for the Duke community. But the issues extend well beyond Duke. This summer, the House Ways and Means Committee continued its inquiry into college sports. According to The Chronicle of Higher Education (September 22, 2006) "Lawmakers are concerned that big-time sports programs are evolving into entertainment businesses that are only marginally connected to the tax-exempt purposes of colleges and universities....

"Not all issues relate to budgets and priorities. Student-athletes are subject to increasing time demands for travel and practice, which often have significant impact on their studies. An athlete in one of our classes a few years ago was on a team whose coach scheduled practice the minute her classes ended. To avoid penalty, she had to leave class early in order to attend practice on time."

OK all together, GO DUKE.

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