Mitch Barnhart excited to join NCAA Selection Committee
At this year’s Southeastern Conference Spring Meeting, Kentucky Coach John Calipari suggested the league move its postseason tournament to November. This latest Calipari brainstorm proved to be nothing more than a barely detectable zephyr.
The idea was tabled, a polite way of saying those at the meeting believed there were better things to discuss. But Mike Tranghese, who has been hired to help raise the profile of SEC basketball, diplomatically suggested the UK coach follow up with him at a later date if he wanted to seriously discuss moving the conference tournament.
No such discussion has taken place.
“I told John he’s not going to get any support for it,” Tranghese said in a recent telephone conversation. “You have a thousand battles to fight. Fight the ones I think you can win.”
Cal’s the most innovative thinker in our game. He does all kind of things that are creative, different and create thought. And I love (talking to) him because he stimulates my mind.
South Carolina Coach Frank Martin
Actually, South Carolina Coach Frank Martin said he liked this particular Calipari idea. He liked it a lot even if, as he said, it did not get “a lot of traction” at the league’s spring meetings.
“I’ve never been a fan of postseason conference tournaments,” he said. “But I understand there’s a place for them for our fans, for television money, the whole thing. I get it.”
“We just played 18 games, beating each other up,” Martin said. “We don’t want to play each other again. So playing it at the beginning of the season kind of brings a happy medium there that I thought I’d really enjoy.”
That Calipari would propose a seemingly radical idea did not surprise Martin.
“Cal’s the most innovative thinker in our game,” Martin said. “He does all kind of things that are creative, different and create thought. And I love (talking to) him because he stimulates my mind. He makes me think of things.”
For example, Martin mentioned the one-and-done player. Critics said a one-season cameo appearance by high-profile players reduces a theoretical college education to a who-needs-it afterthought. Calipari was not deterred.
“Cal’s the guy who embraced it,” Martin said. “Guess what? He changed college basketball because of it. It’s just who Cal is, and I enjoy it.”
Yet, Calipari’s idea of moving the SEC Tournament to November seems more brain cramp than brainstorm.
The league television contracts run through 2023, he said. That deal would have to be renegotiated with a TV partner surely resistant to the idea. A television audience (read: a television revenue) will be smaller in November than the week before the NCAA Tournament.
“Hardest time to draw people,” Tranghese said of college basketball in November. “You’re right in the middle of football season.”
And as the Big Ten discovered, regular-season games during the ballyhooed “Championship Week” get lost in the buzz surrounding conference tournaments. The SEC wants to increase attention to its basketball, not be a non-entity as rival leagues monopolize the launching point of March Madness.
A conversation about Calipari’s ever-churning imagination led Tranghese to mention another innovator: the late Dave Gavitt, who practically invented the basketball-oriented league with the Big East Conference.
Tranghese shared one of Gavitt’s brainstorms. Arguably, it would bring about a November more likely to be remembered by basketball fans.
“Dave Gavitt, God rest his soul, always used to worry,” Tranghese said. “Unlike every other sport, we don’t really have a great start to the season. A lot of people start the season (and) people don’t really know about it.
“He used to say, ‘I wish we had a starting date where everybody in this country would start playing on that particular day. We can arrange for great games.’”
The idea of forming a committee has been the source of humor for a long time. Fred Allen, a comedian of yesteryear, once said, “A committee is a group of people who individually can do nothing, but who, as a group, can meet and decide that nothing can be done.”
But, in college basketball, that isn’t true. People take the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee oh so seriously. Its decisions about team selection, seeding and bracketing inspire endless speculation, analysis and reassessment.
The NCAA Tournament Selection Committee even inspired a new field of study: bracketology.
That he is about to serve on the Selection Committee thrills UK Director of Athletics Mitch Barnhart. He called it among the “two or three things in college athletics” that administrators would like to experience.
Barnhart, who officially joins the committee on Sept. 1, attended an orientation meeting in July. “I just tried to listen and learn,” he said. “I’m the rookie on the committee.”
Two old hands, former Big East Commissioner Mike Tranghese and new SEC Associate Commissioner Dan Leibovitz, plan to meet with Barnhart this summer. The UK AD said they will help him “gently walk through” the process.
This year, Barnhart proposed not insignificant changes in how the Selection Committee operates. Echoing UK Coach John Calipari, he suggested a set criteria for judging teams and regular updates during the season so teams know where they stand.
Last week, Barnhart spoke much less critically of the committee. “I have a great respect for what they’ve done ... ,” he said. “Not everyone is going to agree with everything that they do, and you’re going to get (criticism), and I get that. So I’m going to just sort of learn and grow into what my role is in that deal.”
Barnhart voiced confidence he can handle the torrent of fan and media second-guessing that comes with Selection Committee decisions.
“That’s what they do with my job every day,” he said with a smile.
Support for Sankey
No surprise that Mitch Barnhart supports SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey’s effort to raise the league’s basketball profile regionally and nationally. That effort includes the hiring of Mike Tranghese and Dan Leibovitz as a consultant and associate commissioner focused on basketball, respectively.
“He’s been very strategic in what he’s done,” Barnhart said of Sankey. “And, obviously, we’ve got to go win more games on the court.”
Everyone, including Tranghese and Leibovitz, agree that ultimately there’s no substitute for winning games, especially the marquee non-conference matchups and then in the all-consuming NCAA Tournament.
In the interim, Sankey has doubled down on his predecessor Mike Slive’s emphasis on making improvement in men’s basketball a league priority.
“I don’t know how it will not benefit us what he’s done,” Barnhart said of Sankey. “It can’t do anything but help.”
Rookie of the Year odds
In case you missed it, Bovada has made the odds of ex-Cat Jamal Murray being next season’s NBA Rookie of the Year as 12-1. The odds are also 12-1 for Denzel Valentine of Michigan State being Rookie of the Year.
LSU one-and-doner Ben Simmons is a 13-4 favorite to be Rookie of the Year, according to Bovada. Buddy Hield is the second choice at 11-2. The third- and fourth-best odds belong to Brandon Ingram (13-2) and Kris Dunn (15-2).
By the way, Bovada set 7-1 odds on ex-Cat Karl-Anthony Towns being the NBA Rookie of the Year last season. Jahlil Okafor was Bovada’s 7-2 favorite. D’Angelo Russell was a 4-1 second choice.
Of course, Towns won the award.
New UK baseball coach Nick Mingione is no fan of excuses. “Excuses are like nails to build a house of failure,” he said.
Lexington businessman (SteinGroup LLC) and sports bon vivant Alan Stein is in six Halls of Fame. He needs to be inducted into three more to equal the number of championship rings he has.
Stein, the founder of the Lexington Legends, wore one of the rings to a meeting called last week to promote the idea that building a youth sports complex could significantly improve Lexington’s economy.
When asked how he decides which ring to wear, Stein smiled and said he tries to color coordinate the ring with that day’s attire.
The rings are red (Astros), silver (Astros), green (Legends), gold or black (Omaha Storm Chasers) and blue (Royals).
To Mike Pratt. The former UK standout and present radio analyst turned 68 on Thursday. … To Daniel Orton. He turned 26 on Saturday … To James Blackmon. He turns 52 on Sunday (today). … To Mark Coury. He turns 30 on Monday. … To former Alabama coach Wimp Sanderson. He turns 79 on Monday. … To Randy Embry. He turns 73 on Tuesday. … To Hall of Famer Bob Cousy. He turns 88 on Tuesday. … To incoming freshman Sacha Killeya-Jones. He turns 18 on Wednesday. … To UK assistant coach Tony Barbee. He turns 45 on Wednesday. … To UK assistant coach John Robic. He turns 53 on Wednesday. … To Jason Parker. He turns 36 on Wednesday.