Kimmelgate is Over. Why the Bulldog Men won (and the Administration Lost).

Most of you know this, but if you’ve been out of pocket for the last four days I’ll fill you in: On Thursday, the Citizen-Times reported that the Big South, UNC Asheville, and the Southern Conference had reached an agreement that would allow the Bulldog Men’s team to host the Big South Conference championship game if they earned that right by winning the conference title.  Under the agreement, should the Bulldogs win the regular season, the 12:00 PM SoCon women’s game will be played at the Justice Center to allow the Bulldogs the use of Kimmel Arena, while the other SoCon women’s games will be pushed back to accomodate for logistical changes between games.

This is amazing news and you should feel happy regardless of how you feel the situation has been handled by the various parties involved in KimmelGate.  The big winner here is the men’s basketball team.  Kudos is owed to Chancellor Ponder for overturning the Big South Conference’s decision on appeal (by unanimous vote) and to the Southern Conference board by graciously allowing a modification in their contract, something they certainly didn’t have to do and a gesture that will not go unnoticed by basketball fans from both conferences.

KimmelGate is now officially over.  the Bulldogs will get the opportunity they  deserve should they win the regular season:  homecourt advantage throughout the conference tournament.  Another winner is the Southern Conference.  They’re a “rival conference” in that both the Big South and the SoCon share territory.

A third winner:  the Asheville Citizen-Times.  Some UNCA fans (you know who you are) have previously been critical of Keith Jarrett and Bob Berghaus for skimping on coverage of the men’s basketball team in favor of covering Western Carolina.  While I also wish the C-T devoted more attention to UNCA, I can understand the C-T’s predicament: they’re a regional newspaper in an area that has more WCU alumni/fans than UNCA. They’re merely serving a demand, and the way to respond to that is by Asheville fans being more vocal and the team performing better on the court (which, to their credit, they’ve been doing).  Having said that, Jarrett and Berghaus’s coverage of this issue has been phenomenal.  I’ve heard some say that the C-T was overly critical of the University during this scandal.  I strongly disagree.  Jarrett and Berghaus’s articles and opinion columns spoke to both the confusion and frustration that UNCA alumni and fans felt during the past 4 weeks and gave those feelings a public voice.  Theirs were rational and inquisitive voices that kept pressing the Administration and maintained the high visability needed to make this a fundraising issue.

Now, on to the losers: the UNC Asheville administration.

Last week, a former UNCA student body president asked me if I was bent on making friends in the current administration.  I assume that the comment was made in jest.  I haven’t spoken to Chancellor Ponder since this debacle began, and I’ve never spoken to Janet Cone before.  I hope that neither of them view my opinions as anything personal or vendetta-like in their nature.  I’m simply a concerned alumnus who cares about his alma mater.  And, unless you’re wearing the rosiest of tinted glasses, UNC Asheville came out of this affair with egg all over its face.

If you’re a university athletics director, your responsibility (even if unstated) is to never, ever become the story.  The story is always supposed to be the achievements of the young men and women on the court, field, or whatever playing surface.  I believe the past 4 weeks speak to Ms. Cone’s failure to keep her actions from becoming one of the biggest stories in UNCA sports this year.  Ms. Cone signed a contract which was detrimental to the men’s basketball team and prioritized the event of another conference over the University.  Further still, Ms. Cone was the primary official involved in negotiating this detrimental contract on two fronts: as the Athletics director of UNC Asheville and as chair of the Asheville Buncombe Regional Sports Commission.

This scandal has been resolved in favor of the University.  Now, the University community, especially the Board of Trustees, have to consider the decisions that made this an issue in the first place.  Namely, the following questions need to be answered (and have yet to be answered by the administration):

1.  Why, given that the format of the Big South Conference Tournament was up in the air, UNC Asheville failed to secure the right to host conference tournament games in negotiations with the Southern Conference and the ABRSC?

2. Why the University failed to resolve this issue in a timely manner once it became clear that the 2012 Big South tournament would retain the format of previous years?

3. Why the University released contradictory statements regarding the decisions it took to the local media and generally handled the story in an inept and incompetent manner?

4.  Whether Janet Cone’s position as both UNC Asheville Athletics Director and chair of the ABRSC led to a conflict of interest in negotiations with the Southern Conference to host their postseason tournament?

The University has yet to provide answers to these questions.  I look forward to hearing the answers by the time of the next Board of Trustees meeting.

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Saturday roundup – CSU, Presby, and Kimmelgate III

Where to begin?

Asheville lost a heartbreaker on Thursday night to Charleston Southern, snapping a 7 game win streak and dropping their conference record to 8-1. Asheville is still in 1st place in the conference, but both Campbell (7-2) and Coastal are lurking at 1 and 1.5 games behind apiece.

What happened on Thursday?  Asheville didn’t play to win, plain and simple. Granted, there was an amazing run to come from behind 14 points and put the Bulldogs in a position to win.  There was also a very questionable blocking call on Matt Dickey with time winding down that put CSU at the line to ice the game.  However, you can never blame close losses on officiating.  Asheville played like an NCAA team for less than half of Thursday’s game, something they can’t do if they want to dance again in March.

Today’s game at Presbyterian offers an opportunity to rebound (punny! hah) against a 2-6 team that, apart from a shocking upset against Cincinnati, has not put together a quality win against a good team this year.  Nonetheless, Asheville has to play smart, efficient basketball on both sides of the court regardless of who the team is.  Often, teams that play to their opponent’s level have a worse problem affecting them (see Tar Heels, North Carolina).  Asheville doesn’t have this problem right now, but the guys can’t let Thursday’s loss get them down.  Every team loses, and if you’re undefeated in conference you’re going to have that much bigger a target on your back.

In off-the-court news, Friday was a take-out-the-trash newsdump of information related to Kimmelgate.  The Citizen-Times ran three articles on the scenario.  The first, a profile of Matt Dickey’s father, conveyed the sentiment many alums, students, faculty, and fans feel: that the entire Kimmelgate saga has hurt the UNC Asheville basketball program.  Regardless of culpability, the fallout from UNC Asheville’s decision to host the SoCon women’s opening round has far outweighed any benefit the tournament might bring the university (distinct from benefits accruing to the City and the community).  It also hurts recruiting.  A recruit looking at UNC Asheville sees this mess and thinks that either:

a) the athletics department doesn’t care about men’s basketball enough to make their conference tournament a priority (a false impression, but one that can be reasonably inferred from the past week); or

b) the athletics department is incompetent and doesn’t know how to manage a story.

The other two news stories that broke on Friday lend credence to the latter theory.  One revealed that ESPN has not been contacted about rescheduling the game and would be open to rescheduling the game.  This is great news and increases the possibility that the Bulldogs, should they earn the right, will be able to play on their homecourt.  The other revealed that the Southern Conference was willing to acommodate the Bulldogs should the situation arise.

Sigh.

I’m very grateful for both ESPN’s and the SoCon’s understanding in this situation.  I especially appreciate the sentiment of the Southern Conference Commissioner, who effectively applied the Golden Rule of “do unto others” by stating that he would not want one of his member institutions put into this position by another conference.  It was a refreshing display of humanity and accommodation in a saga that has been, overall, very immature and childish.

So how does the scenario play out from here?  It’s all up to the BSC.  If the university’s appeal is approved, then the Bulldogs would either play in Justice or move the date of the championship game to Sunday/a different time on Saturday, depending on agreements between the two conferences and ESPN.  Everyone saves a little face and basically gets what they should’ve gotten in the first place.

That, though, is the larger point: this situation should have never happened in the first place.  A prominent UNCA alum emailed me and said something to the effect of: “What should we have told the SoCon – that you can use the arena, but there might be a small chance that the men’s team may have the opportunity to play the championship game the same day as the opening rounds and we need to plan for that?”  Well, yes.    Even if the format was up in the air, we should have made it clear that, if the tournament format stayed the same this year, that the University and the SoCon would have to make arrangements so that UNC Asheville could accommodate both parties.  These negotiations should have wrapped up long before this season started when the format for this season’s tournament was finalized, and it should have been Asheville going to the SoCon and saying, essentially, “we want to honor our agreement, but we want to give our men’s team the opportunity to play on their home court.” The SoCon commissioners are human beings, not heartless monsters, and would probably empathize with the University’s situation (and the negative publicity that would arise should this scenario become public).

Unfortunately, that’s not what happened now the University and both conferences have this mess to juggle along with the regular troubles associated with planning conference tournaments.  It’s a regrettable affair and while it looks like this will be resolved amicably it doesn’t change the fact that the University administration and the Big South badly bungled this entire situation.  It calls for a reevaluation on the part of the University about how it manages unfavorable news and how it prioritizes athletic events.  In both cases, the buck stops with Janet Cone, and she should formally apologize to the men’s basketball team and the University community for putting us through this process in the first place.

It’s going to be hard to fire Janet Cone

Well, it certainly won’t be that easy.

Below are the two contracts I’ve been pouring over today (ironically during my contracts class).  Enjoy.

AB Regional Sports Commission So Con Tournament Contract

Cone Contract_2011

For those familiar with the Butch Davis saga at UNC, there are two scenarios (aside from resigning in disgrace, which please, save us all the trouble and do) under which the University can terminate its agreement with Janet Cone: termination with cause and termination without cause.  One’s much harder to prove, and another is much more expensive.

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Asheville 88, Coastal Carolina 81

 

8-0 in conference.  7 game win streak.  But let’s not rest on our laurels.

Asheville faced a tough, vicious Coastal Carolina team tonight and pulled out a win by playing smart basketball and shooting almost perfectly from the foul line.

There were visceral joys to be found in tonight’s game, like resident punk Anthony Raffa’s two airballs, back-to-back-to-back threes by Chris Stephenson and JP Primm, and a balanced scoring attack that saw four Bulldogs in double figures.  Jeremy Atkinson notched yet another triple-double, proving yet again the value of this junior college transfer.

Coastal Carolina proved that they’re one of the best teams in the Conference, no doubt about it.  Jon Pack, who looked like he was auditioning for the part of a cave troll in one of the Lord of the Rings movies, was a dominating force in the paint with 14 points and 12 rebounds.  The Chanticleers demonstrated, like so many teams before them, that Asheville’s lack of size is a real weakness.

Fortunately, Asheville more than made up for that with smart play.  Doing things like drawing fouls on three-point shots (three times in the first half!) and taking charges down low from bigger players made the difference in this game.  Asheville also shot 93.9 percent from the charity stripe.  In the end, the emotional maturity of the senior players carried the day.

The crowd was a mixed bag, honestly.  The student section was loud, proud, and clad almost to a student in white as part of the #occupykimmel “white out” protest.  From what I heard, Janet Cone wore all black.  Great sense of humor, Ms. Cone!  On the other hand, there were not nearly as many seats filled as I would have like to have seen, which makes me think that ticket prices may need to fall next year.

Speaking of #occupykimmel, this win is another small step towards setting up a nightmare scenario where Asheville earns home-court advantage in the Big South tournament only to lose it as a result of the Administration’s failure to put their student-athletes first.  The next two games (vs. CSU on Thursday and at Presbyterian on Saturday) will go a long way towards determining whether this scenario will keep unfolding.  Tonight, though, Asheville should give themselves a pat on the back for going 8-0 in conference play for the first time in almost 15 years and get ready for two more games this week.

Note: WordPress (the site host) is going dark tomorrow as part of a protest against SOPA and PIPA, two bills currently in Congress that could lead to internet censorship. So if you try and link to this site tomorrow and see nothing, don’t panic.

Saturday roundup: High Point Preview, #occupykimmel, and Photoshop Contest!

I just got done watching what must have been the ugliest UNC game since Carolina lost to Georgia Tech last year.  Roy Williams is going to be making the Tar Heels run from the Dean Dome to Kenan Stadium tomorrow, no doubt about it.  Hopefully the Bulldogs will have better luck tonight against High Point than the Tar Heels did against FSU.

  • High Point isn’t Campbell, but a road game is a road game and the Bulldogs will have to play well in order to win in what must be one of the smallest gyms in the NCAA.
  • Nick Barbour is going to test Matt Dickey and JP Primm this evening.  Barbour’s averaging 18 points per game, shooting 42% from the field for the season.  Still, HPU has mostly a two-man show with Barbour and 6-8 junior forward Corey Law, the only two players averaging double figures in points this year.  Asheville has 5 players (Dickey, Primm, Stephenson, Lane, Atkinson) averaging 10 points or more, so Asheville should use this balance to their advantage like they did against Campbell in the second half.
  • High Point, like Campbell, has a distinct size advantage against the Bulldogs, with Corey Law (8 rebounds/game) and 6-8 Branimir Mikulic down low.  On Thursday the Bulldogs did well when the play of Jeremy Atkinson and Jaron Lane forced the Camels to pay attention to the Bulldogs’ inside game, leaving more room on the perimeter for Matt and JP to fire away.
  • Bottom line: Asheville should win this game if they play well.  HPU isn’t in the top tier of the Big South this year, but this game will provide a challenge nonetheless and an opportunity to prepare for Coastal on Tuesday.  On that note…

The holiday weekend will put a bit of a lull in Kimmel-gate, but expect things to be back in full swing by Tuesday night, when Asheville hosts Coastal Carolina at 7 pm.  A group of alumni and students have organized a “white-out” of Kimmel Arena to show their support of the men’s team and their displeasure with the actions of Janet Cone and Chancellor Ponder.  I will not make it up from Chapel Hill but I encourage all readers to attend the game and wear white, the color of Asheville’s home jerseys as they play on what is supposed to be their home court.  And on that note…

We’re going to have a little contest!  Some of you may be familiar with this UNC tumblr entitled “Black Falcon Based God,” a Photoshop blog featuring UNC players with moderately funny to hilarious images.  (Asheville has cameos here, here, and here).  In that vein, I’m offering two free center-court tickets to Tuesday’s game to whoever sends in the funniest Asheville basketball-themed Photoshop caption. Entries are due on Monday at noon, with the winner being announced that evening at 5 p.m.  Email your entries to uncafanblog@gmail.com.  Go Bulldogs!