This is South Carolina

March 25, 2009

While my time in South Carolina is drawing short, there are a few comments I’d like to make about how ridiculous this state remains. I first moved to South Carolina in the fall of 2001 to go to college in Greenville. I graduated in 2005 and then moved back to the state, to Columbia, in the summer of 2007. So for most of the past decade I’ve been living in the state. Not much has changed while I’ve been here, except one thing. The state is no longer allowed to host NCAA tournament games of any kind in any sport.

My first year at Furman, the BI-LO Center in Greenville hosted first and second round NCAA tournament basketball. While I didn’t actually go, the city was buzzing with people for a week. This was the spring of 2002. Since that weekend seven years ago, South Carolina has been barred from hosting games because of the Confederate flag that flies on the state house grounds, now just five blocks from where I live. With protests from the NAACP (among many other groups) the flag was removed from flying atop the state house (where it had been since 1962) and placed next to the monument to Confederate soldiers at the intersection of Main Street and Gervais Street in downtown in 2000. As long as that flag flies there (or anywhere) the entire state of South Carolina is barred.

In a purely objective sense, it doesn’t really bother me that the flag is flying. For as many people as there are in this state who detest the flag as a symbol of racism and hatred, there are equal legions of folks who see it as a symbol of cultural heritage and state pride. I am not going to judge either side for their arguments. But there is a very different argument that is especially pertinent this year.

The economy in this country is in shambles. Of the fifty states in this country, only a few are worse off than South Carolina. With unemployment soaring past 10% (and rising), one of the worst public education systems around and a Governor who is trying his best to refuse federal stimulus money (and run for President in 2012), it is just not a good time to have a multi-million dollar influx disappear. Or really, never even be a possibility.

Columbia built the Colonial Life Arena for the University of South Carolina and specifically to host NCAA tournament games in 2002. The 18,000-seat gym is a beautiful structure and a great place to watch a game. It’s in a relatively large city that is easy to reach by interstate (I-26, I-20 and I-77 all meet here) or by plane. The gym is less than a five minute walk to the most interesting and happening part of Columbia, the Vista. But because of the ban, not a single tournament game has ever been played here.

Now think about this: Boise, Dayton, Albuquerque, Greensboro. What do those places have in common with Columbia? They’re all either state capitals or middle-sized cities without professional sports. What doesn’t Columbia have in common with them? Columbia is never, ever mentioned 200 times per day for the first four days of the NCAA tournament. In a state with 10% unemployment, wouldn’t a vast need for at least part-time work for parking attendants, hotel workers, waiters and bar tenders, concession stand workers, ushers, arena cleaning and myriad other opportunities for work be exactly what could help people in this area? Those aren’t glamor jobs but the need for work around here is palpable.

The point of all this is just to say that this state is wasting an easy opportunity to bring millions of dollars into the economy on a near-yearly basis just to fly a small, square flag that happens to have stars and bars. There isn’t much that can be done about Mark Sanford at this point except to wait out his term, but in a state whose largest source of financial strength is in tourism (golf mostly, and Charleston/Myrtle Beach/Hilton Head), why not add to that pot? It’s a shame to have such a great arena sitting empty each and every March in a city that really could use the business.

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Kelvin Sampson’s Legacy

October 7, 2008

kelvin

Tell me if this makes sense: coach does a bunch of illegal stuff and basically gets kicked out of his job at Oklahoma, takes a new job at Indiana, does a bunch more of the same illegal stuff, gets caught and fired mid-season. New coach is hired and school gets nailed with penalties based on actions of the previous coach.

It doesn’t to me. Tom Crean took a huge gamble in moving from Marquette to Indiana in the spring, but it looks like his road is going to be even harder because of the NCAA’s unfair and inconsistent penalties. Kelvin Sampson was sent packing for the rules infractions he incurred through hundreds of illegal phone calls and text messages. But shouldn’t the school only be punished so much? IU has already been stripped of three scholarships for this season, which by itself is enough to ruin a season. With the scandal around Sampson, all of the best players from a pretty good team last year either graduated, transferred were kicked off the team or entered the NBA draft. Crean has two players back from last season who combined to play eleven minutes. He’ll have eight freshmen and only three players taller than 6’6″.

That should be enough. Indiana is going to be terrible, there’s no question about it. That should be the punishment. But the NCAA wants to make life even more miserable by trying to add yet another infraction to the already long list of violations. What bothers me is that Kelvin Sampson walked away with $750,000 and faces no punishment at all. Yes, he lost his job and will likely never work in major college basketball again, but he got a huge pay day with the buyout when he left IU and he’s the one that was doing all the cheating. There’s no way any of the recruits he illegally contacted are either at IU or planning on coming now that all of it was exposed. So there’s no benefit that Indiana will derive past the tenure of Sampson for all his illegal behavior. To me, that means the program should be off the hook to a certain extent. I’m fine with the punishment levied so far but anything more is just cruel and unusual.


Mike Williams Cut, NCAA to Blame

July 31, 2008

Big Mike Williams

Mike Williams and his free-fall from collegiate stardom to NFL bust can be directly attributable to the NCAA and their back-stabbing ways (though maybe that awful black Lions jersey had something to do with it). Back in 2004 when Williams and Maurice Clarett tried to enter the NFL draft despite the rule against players not having completed three years of school following their high school graduation class. Williams and Clarett sued and won, left college, signed agents and waited for the NFL draft where they were both expected to be very high first round picks.

Instead, a stay was enforced in the case and Williams was not drafted. Without an immediate NFL future, Williams applied for reinstatement, citing the fact that he was simply following rules that were in place when the lawsuit was won. The NCAA reneged and refused his reentry into college.

So rather than being a top draft pick in 2004, Mike Williams had to work out on his own and prepare for the 2005 draft, where he was ultimately drafted 10th by the Lions. I think we all know how awful he’s been since and how much trouble he’s had weighing less than 270 pounds.

But I think the blame here falls on the NCAA. The guy only did what he did in 2004 because that’s what the rules said. He can’t help the fact that they changed back after the draft and he shouldn’t have been punished for it. Sure, you can argue he was an idiot, lazy and incompetent. And really, I won’t argue with that. But he got screwed, big time. I’m convinced that if he doesn’t have an entire year to waste as a 20-year old kid with nothing to do but practice on his own, he’s not out of the league as is now the case.

It’s just sad to see the NCAA completely ruin so many kids’ opportunities.