College Basketball Nation: Big Ten

[+] EnlargeKeifer Sykes
Mary Langenfeld/USA TODAYSykes soared, but was ultimately unsuccessful in his dunk attempt.
Have you heard of Keifer Sykes? If not, get to know the name.

As a junior last season, he averaged 20.3 points and 4.9 assists for a 24-win Green Bay team that beat eventual NCAA tourney 1-seed Virginia and lost to eventual Final Four participant Wisconsin by just three.

He's also one heck of dunker, as our C.L. Brown documented in the preseason. Even Sykes' missed slams are spectacular -- as was the case Wednesday night in a rematch with the Badgers at the Kohl Center.

During the opening minutes of the Phoenix's 84-60 loss to UW, the 6-foot guard took off from halfway down the free-throw lane and leaped right over the shoulders of 7-foot Wisconsin center Frank "The Tank" Kaminsky, who was recently named the No. 1 player in college basketball in's #CBBrank survey.

OK, so the attempt clanked off the back of the rim. Those are mere details. The effort was insane and Kaminsky certainly took notice, using his Twitter feed after the game to thank his lucky stars.

Sykes quickly responded, which led to a cordial exchange about the professional futures of both players. Well done, fellas.

Five Takeaways: Big Ten media day

October, 16, 2014
Oct 16
ROSEMONT, Ill. -- Big Ten coaches and players gathered again for the league’s annual media day on Thursday.

Here are my five takeaways from the event:

  1. [+] EnlargeBo Ryan
    AP Photo/Morry GashBo Ryan has four starters returning from last year's team that made a Final Four run.
    Same ol' Wisconsin. The Badgers, who were picked to win the league for the first time under Bo Ryan, didn’t arrive by chariot. Sam Dekker wasn’t wearing sunglasses and a gold chain, either. If all the hype and buzz that followed last year’s Final Four run has changed Wisconsin, the program is doing a great job of hiding it. “Well, it really doesn't affect when we're doing; our transition defensive drills, I don't think my guys are thinking about that,” Ryan said. “Our guys live in the moment, or at least we're trying to -- it appears that way. They're trying to get better. They know there's weaknesses to shore up, and we're trying to accentuate our strengths." One strength that Ryan pointed to was the team’s overall depth. He says he has seven starters with Nigel Hayes, Bronson Koenig and Duje Dukan all potentially working their way into the starting rotation. Four starters return, including Frank Kaminsky, the Big Ten’s preseason player of the year. They’re obviously facing more scrutiny and the expectations are higher, but the Badgers seem as humble and reserved as they were when they became accustomed to being the perennial underdogs in the league.
  2. Where are the stars? In recent years, the Big Ten has been carried by some big names who shaped the league’s identity. Jared Sullinger, Greg Oden, Draymond Green, Robbie Hummel, Cody Zeller, Adreian Payne and others were marquee names that resonated on the national scale. But outside Wisconsin’s roster, it’s difficult to find those stars in the Big Ten. There are certainly some candidates who could emerge in the coming months. A.J. Hammons could have a big year for Purdue. Branden Dawson is finally “The Man” at Michigan State. Caris LeVert could be Michigan’s next lottery pick. Rayvonte Rice is a talented player who could make some noise. Aaron White at Iowa could, too. But it’s odd to survey the room and not see the kind of recognizable talent that the Big Ten often enjoys. But the good news for the league is that it has produced a multitude of breakout stars, including Victor Oladipo and Nik Stauskas, in recent years. That could happen again this season. Right now, however, there aren’t many surefire gems in the Big Ten who don’t live in Madison.
  3. Big Ten not worried about Big National Title Drought. The Big Ten has taken the “best league in the country” championship in recent seasons. It’s a force that regularly sends six or more teams to the Big Dance every year. But the conference hasn’t won a national title since Michigan State seized the crown in 2000. Big Ten football has experienced a similar drought (Ohio State’s 2002 championship was the league’s last national title in that sport). But commissioner Jim Delany said he doesn’t think that mark is a fair measurement of the league’s achievements. “When I was at North Carolina, we lost in three Final Fours three years in a row,” Delany said. “We couldn't win the big one. But the reality is there are a lot of ways to measure success. This is college basketball, so check us first on who we recruit, the kind of people we have, how they move through the system. Check out our winning, check out our attendance for 38 years in a row. We've had five years of consecutive attendance growth -- that's pretty remarkable.”
  4. Nebraska ready for the next step. Tim Miles, the coach who live tweets during games, kicked off the event with his typical brand of humor. “You know, an old coaching friend told me one time, never trust the media unless it helps you with recruiting, so I kind of stick by that.” How old a coach was that? “Well, that was Jim Molinari, my assistant. He told me yesterday.” But he’s more than a comedian. Miles can coach and he’s ready for the expectations that Nebraska faces after last year’s run to the NCAA tourney. “Expectations are what they are, but nobody should have higher expectations for us than ourselves,” he said.
  5. Poll Recount? Wisconsin, Michigan State and Ohio State (the latter two lost major contributors from last year) were picked to finish first, second and third in the league by a media panel. I think Nebraska deserves a slot in that top three with all that Miles is bringing back. Kaminsky, Dekker, LeVert, Terran Petteway and Yogi Ferrell comprise the preseason all-Big Ten squad. Strong crew, but no room for Dawson, Rice or Big Ten newcomer and former all-ACC performer Dez Wells?

Tim Miles answers the Ice Bucket Challenge

August, 12, 2014
Aug 12
If you're on Facebook or Twitter, you've surely heard of the Ice Bucket Challenge by now. To help raise money and awareness for ALS research, people all over the country and even the world are dumping buckets of frigid ice water on themselves and challenging others to do the same.

On Sunday, our very own Dana O'Neil took the challenge and then called on Mr. Social Media himself, Nebraska Cornhuskers coach Tim Miles, to do the same.

He did. And he did so in the only way Miles knows how to do such things -- in an entertaining fashion.


3-point shot: NIT format good for St. John's

July, 11, 2014
Jul 11

Andy Katz discusses how potential changes to the preseason NIT format would aid St. John's, Nebraska's loss of Leslee Smith and Wichita State is still looking for two more games.

3-point shot: Will Doug Wojcik recruit?

July, 7, 2014
Jul 7

Andy Katz discusses College of Charleston coach Doug Wojcik's status in recruiting, what UCLA coach Steve Alford needs from son Bryce, and Illinois' offseason training.

#ThingsTimHowardCouldSave: The B1G?

July, 3, 2014
Jul 3
After goalkeeper Tim Howard's record-setting performance in Tuesday's USA loss to Belgium, the hashtag #ThingsTimHowardCouldSave has been all the rage on Twitter.

Even college basketball has joined in on the fun. The official Twitter feed of Wisconsin basketball, which was knocked out of the Final Four on a late 3-pointer by Kentucky's Aaron Harrison, dreamed of a scenario in which America's new hero saved the day at JerryWorld.

A Big Ten rival, which suffered the same fate at the hands of Harrison a week earlier in the Elite Eight, found itself playing the "what-if" game as well.

3-point shot: 5 things for Rutgers in B1G

July, 1, 2014
Jul 1

In today's 3-point shot, Andy Katz talks about Rutgers officially joining the Big Ten, Connecticut picking up key recruit Jalen Adams and new teams joining the American Athletic Conference.

3-point shot: A tough transfer

June, 30, 2014
Jun 30

Andy Katz reports on why Dominic Artis isn't headed to St. John's, how Louisiana-Lafayette plans to springboard off Elfrid Payton's NBA lottery status, and the upcoming first days in new conferences for Louisville, Maryland and Rutgers.

3-point shot: Return pays off for Napier

June, 27, 2014
Jun 27

In today's 3-point shot, Andy Katz reports on how returning to school for another year could have boosted the draft stock of Jahii Carson and James Michael McAdoo the way it did for Shabazz Napier, who was taken in the first round of the 2014 NBA draft.

Badgers embody Bo Ryan's toughness

June, 26, 2014
Jun 26
Editor's note: During the next five weeks, we will reveal the top 50 coaches in college basketball, as decided by our ESPN Forecast panel. Today, we unveil No. 7: Wisconsin's Bo Ryan. On Friday, we release No. 6.

Bo Ryan knew he'd likely be the one to get tested, yet he never backed down from the challenge every time he ventured with his Chester (Pa.) High School teammates to find the best pickup games around town.

Ryan was often the only white person on the court -- sometimes the entire neighborhood -- during a time in the 1960s when racial relations were complicated.

[+] EnlargeBo Ryan
AP Photo/David StlukaBo Ryan learned how to be tough by playing in pickup games in Chester, Pennsylvania.
It was on those courts of Chester that classmate Ted Cottrell, a longtime NFL defensive coordinator who had stints with the Buffalo Bills, New York Jets, Minnesota Vikings and San Diego Chargers, said Ryan developed his fight.

"Things could get kind of tough down there," Cottrell said. "And you better hold your own and not back down from people or they're going to talk trash at you and try to intimidate you."

Ryan wasn't easily intimidated.

Cottrell learned that while he was Ryan's teammate on the football team. Ryan played quarterback with Cottrell -- who is now an NFL appeals officer responsible for reviewing discipline for on-field conduct -- playing center.

Ryan took his licks running the option out of the I-formation and would come back for more. He developed a rapport with Cottrell to the point that they would run a play no one else knew they were running.

"If no one lined up over me at center, we had an automatic 'Goose' play," Cottrell said. "I'd go block, and it worked to perfection every single time."

Cottrell said the team was positioned to have a big senior year behind Ryan at quarterback. But when Ryan signed up to attend a basketball camp during the start of football practice, his coach gave him an ultimatum to choose between sports.

Cottrell said Ryan's father had already paid $100 to attend the camp, so his choice was already made. Chester's football team won only one game that season without him, but it led him to concentrate on basketball as a senior.

And that kept him on those playground courts. Ryan knew he was good enough to play with the best in his area, and, as the starting point guard, he helped Chester to a 25-1 record as a senior. He folded that same self-assuredness into his coaching career.

Few programs have embodied the character of their coach the way Wisconsin has, and Ryan represents Chester to the fullest. He's made sure to instill his hometown toughness in the Badgers.

"He's been through it. He knows what tough is," Cottrell said. "Tough isn't jumping up and down shouting or getting in people's faces … He can demonstrate it without being vocal all the time. He gives you that look. You ever see his look? He's got one of those stares."

Ryan didn't blink when he entered the Big Ten. He won his first six head-to-head matchups with Michigan State and Tom Izzo, who was one season removed from a national championship and the established league giant when Ryan first entered the league.

The Badgers won at least a share of the league in each of his first two seasons in 2002 and 2003, breaking a drought that stretched back to 1947. During his 13-year tenure, the Badgers never finished lower than fourth in the standings and have won double-digit games in conference every season but one.

Wisconsin entered Ryan's first Final Four appearance as the coach used to walk on the blacktop courts. The Badgers were quietly confident they would beat Kentucky -- and all of its future NBA draft picks -- and came within a last-second 3-pointer from pulling it off.

Not that Ryan needs any validation as a coach. He won four Division III national titles at Wisconsin-Platteville.

"He's always won wherever he's been," Cottrell said. "But he's not one of those guys bragging and boasting about what he's done."

Ryan probably won't even brag about the team he has returning next season. The Badgers return all but one starter from the top seven players in their rotation and will be an early favorite to return to the Final Four.

But Ryan isn't big on dwelling on past performances. That's not how they do things in Chester.

3-point shot: NCAA and McCants

June, 9, 2014
Jun 9

In today's 3-point shot, Andy Katz reports on why the NCAA isn't responding to the Rashad McCants allegation at North Carolina, a home for the 2018 Big Ten tournament and the outlook for the United States' Under-18 team.

3-point shot: Marquette in 2014-15

May, 7, 2014
May 7

Andy Katz looks at Big East/Big Ten challenge, Matt Carlino transferring to Marquette, Steve Wojciechowski's first schedule with the Eagles and more conference tournaments in Washington D.C.
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The National Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian American Art Museum share one of the oldest buildings in the nation's capital, a historic landmark built in 1836 to house the U.S. Patent Office. The paintings and photographs on the inside of the museum are only one reason to visit. The building itself, a classic Greek revival, is a work of art in its own right.

The east end of the building is bracketed by steps. Across the street is the Verizon Center, the downtown home of the Washington Wizards and Capitals and Mystics and Georgetown Hoyas basketball. Before events at Verizon, if the weather is nice, fans stream out of the Metro train station, pick up food from nearby restaurants and set up shop on the portrait gallery steps.

A few blocks east is the National Building Museum. If you go a block southwest, you can see Ford's Theatre. The White House isn't too far away. The National Mall is five minutes south.

[+] EnlargeJim Delany
AP Photo/Ting Shen/Triple Play New MediaBig Ten commissioner Jim Delany is continuing to expand the conference's footprint into the East Coast.
Welcome to the home of the Big Ten.

On Tuesday afternoon, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany sat in the Verizon Center's Acela Club room and formally announced news that broke early Monday evening: In 2017, after 17 years spent rotating between Chicago and Indianapolis, the Big Ten will bring its conference tournament to the Verizon Center.

The timing is no coincidence. Delany was joined at the podium by Maryland athletic director Kevin Anderson and coach Mark Turgeon; university president Wallace Loh was in attendance. On July 1, the Terrapins, alongside Rutgers, will become official members of the Big Ten. Delany is determined to greet their arrival with a major presence throughout the Northeast corridor.

"At the time Maryland came in, we set, I think, an aggressive goal to live in two regions of the country," Delany said. "Those were our words. We've been working awful hard the last 18 months to turn words into actions."

This week was proof of that push. On Monday, Delany was at Madison Square Garden in New York -- where the league recently opened a satellite office -- to announce a new competitive partnership with the Big East. The Dave Gavitt Tipoff Games, an eight-team event beginning in 2015-16, will pit the Big Ten and Big East in what both leagues hope will be a marquee season-opening event.

The league also added lacrosse power Johns Hopkins as an affiliate member, which will allow it to host its first conference championship in the traditionally East Coast-focused sport.

On Tuesday, the Verizon Center was lit up with the Big Ten's conference and team logos. The arena's video board featured men's basketball highlights from the previous season. The message was clear: This is the Big Ten's turf.

"The Big East is on the East Coast as well as the Midwest," Delany said. "We're in Midwest and on the East Coast. ... We want to move the ball. We want to move into a second region."

The question is why, and the answer is easy: television. The Big Ten Network has expanded by leaps and bounds since its debut in 2007; it now reaches nearly 50 million cable subscribers both inside and outside the conference's traditional footprint. In 2012, the league distributed about $23 million worth of (mostly) television revenues to its 12 members. In late April, according to an open-records request by the Louisville Courier-Journal, the league projected each school to receive nearly $45 million in 2017-18, in what would be the first year of a new television deal.

Delany touted the high number of alumni along the East Coast, as well as the number of "casual fans" he felt sure would come to enjoy the Big Ten's product. But the eastward expansion is a product of the same strategy that propelled the Big Ten Network in the first place: Fans' demand for college athletics and the networks that carry them, and the bundled economic model of large cable television providers.

Some of the almost 10 million homes in New York and Washington, D.C. alone -- to say nothing of regional areas and New Jersey, where Rutgers' following is strongest -- already receive the Big Ten Network. But there are many more homes to reach, and many more subscriptions to sell.

"We're in, and we have some distribution in, the East," Delany said. "I hope that we'll have complete and total integration and Big Ten distribution in the East in the coming months.

"We're not there yet. We won't get there overnight. These things take a little time to develop. But I'm confident we'll achieve distribution in these markets -- full distribution."

That, of course, is why the Big Ten took on Maryland and Rutgers in the first place. It's why Delany was eager to create a new event in partnership with the Big East. It's why the Big Ten will move its men's basketball tournament out of the central (and largely fan-convenient) Indianapolis and Chicago locations for the first time in nearly two decades in 2017.

And it's how the Big Ten commissioner found himself sitting across the street from the National Portrait Gallery, admiring the Big Ten logos in the Verizon Center, planting a flag hundreds of miles east of the league's Chicago home, speaking the language of the benevolent conqueror.

"We've come here not to visit," Delany said. "But to live."

For the third time since the ACC/Big Ten Challenge began in 1999, more teams have been added to the mix. The battle for conference supremacy started with just nine games deciding the outcome back when that was the extent of ACC membership.

The league has ballooned to 15 teams and now that the Big Ten expanded too, a slate of 14 games over three consecutive nights from Dec. 1-3 will determine bragging rights.

The ACC was 6-0 when just nine teams played in the Challenge. It was 4-2 after ACC expansion and 11 teams played. Since going to 12 teams the Big Ten won once and the Challenge has ended in consecutive ties.

The ACC still holds an advantage winning 10 of the 15 meetings overall, but it has not won the Challenge since 2008.

Louisville (ACC) and Rutgers (Big Ten) will make their respective debuts in the Challenge this season. Clemson, Wake Forest and Virginia Tech did not participate last season for the ACC. Boston College will sit this one out this season.

As Maryland changes allegiances from ACC charter member to Big Ten expansion team, it becomes the Big Ten team with the most wins. The Terrapins have participated in every challenge and has a 10-5 record, and trails only Duke (13) for most Challenge wins. Five Big Ten teams (Illinois, Minnesota, Ohio State, Purdue, Wisconsin) are tied with seven wins in the series.

From top to bottom, here are the best matchups of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge:

1. Duke at Wisconsin: It just might be an early Final Four preview. On paper, both have the rosters that could be playing the final weekend of the season. The Badgers, led by center Frank Kaminsky, return most of the rotation that got Bo Ryan to his first Final Four during his Wisconsin tenure. Duke restocks with the No. 1 recruiting class led by center Jahlil Okafor and guard Tyus Jones. The Blue Devils were 0-4 versus top 10 teams away from home last season in a year that ended with a NCAA second round flameout against Mercer. Wisconsin will be an early test to see if Duke will write a different narrative this season.

2. Iowa at North Carolina: Expect a high-scoring game because the Hawkeyes and Tar Heels both want to run early and often. Forward Jarrod Uthoff and center Gabriel Olaseni give Iowa a formidable frontcourt duo that will put up points in Fran McCaffery’s system despite their roster losses from last season. The Hawkeyes have never won on the road (0-5) in the Challenge. UNC will be a much more athletic team than it was last season with the addition of freshmen Joel Berry, Theo Pinson and Justin Jackson. The game could offer a small bit of redemption back home for guard Marcus Paige, who is a Marion, Iowa, native, after the Heels were bounced by Iowa State in the NCAA tournament.

3. Ohio State at Louisville: The last time Thad Matta squared off against Rick Pitino, Xavier upset the Cardinals in the 2004 NCAA tournament en route to the Elite Eight. It was the run that helped Matta land the Buckeyes job. Matta will learn what he’s working with in an early road test for a young, but talented team. The game will also serve as a homecoming for Ohio State freshman guard D’Angelo Russell, a Louisville native, who had an offer from Louisville. Ironically, next season, the Cards will rely heavily on sophomore guard Terry Rozier, a Cleveland native, who is expected to have a breakout year with the departure of Russ Smith. Montrezl Harrell’s decision to return to school was like a recruiting coup for the Cards.

4. Virginia at Maryland: A new twist to an old rivalry. The two foes have literally played the past 100 years, and as ACC rivals the game had the exalted status of the final regular season game for the better part of the last four decades. It could easily be the most intense game of the Challenge since both teams know each other so well. The backcourt battle pitting Virginia’s London Perrantes and Malcolm Brogdon against Maryland’s Seth Allen and Dez Wells could determine the outcome.

5. Michigan State at Notre Dame: From 1908 to 1979 the Spartans and Irish had a healthy basketball rivalry, meeting 94 times. It’s the first meeting between the schools since MSU beat the Irish in the Elite Eight en route to its 1979 national championship. The Spartans bring back Branden Dawson, who considered turning pro. The Irish welcome back Jerian Grant, who withdrew from school at the start of conference play due to an “academic matter.”

6. Syracuse at Michigan: Think of how great this game would have been with guard Tyler Ennis and forward Jerami Grant still suiting up for the Orange and guard Nik Stauskas, forward Glenn Robinson III and center Mitch McGary playing for the Wolverines. Instead, they form an all-star lineup of NBA early entries. In a rematch of the 2013 Final Four game, only a combined five players (Syracuse: Rakeem Christmas, Trevor Cooney; Michigan: Spike Albrecht, Caris LeVert) remain who played in the game.

7. Nebraska at Florida State: If the Cornhuskers plan on improving on last season's NCAA appearance, they have to learn to win games like this. The Huskers were just 3-8 last season on the road and Tallahassee can be a tough place to play. The Seminoles missed the NCAA tournament last season due to several close nonconference losses, a trend they’ll need to reverse this season.

8. Pittsburgh at Indiana: The Panthers haven’t played the Hoosiers in Bloomington since 1941 and Pitt's experienced guards Cameron Wright and James Robinson won’t be intimidated by Assembly Hall. Noah Vonleh’s decision to turn pro possibly set IU back in its bid to rejoin the nation’s elite. But guard Yogi Ferrell and newcomer James Blackmon Jr. means the Hoosiers' cupboard isn’t bare.

9. Illinois at Miami: The Illini could be a darkhorse in league and an early road win could prove it. Guard Rayvonte Rice will be even harder to stop if he can improve his 3-point shooting from 29.5 percent last season. The Canes return just three players from last season, who accounted for just 15 percent of their scoring. Transfers Angel Rodriguez (Kansas State) and Sheldon McClellan (Texas) should make immediate impact for Miami.

10. Minnesota at Wake Forest: Guards Deandre Mathieu and Andre Hollins give Minnesota backcourt stability. The Deacons counter with their top duo of leading scorer Codi Miller-McIntyre and leading rebounder Devin Thomas, who should help Danny Manning make a smooth transition in his first season as coach.

11. Rutgers at Clemson: The Mack and Jack show is back for Rutgers. Myles Mack and Kadeem Jack were the top two scorers from last season and a formidable duo. Clemson returned everyone of impact except leading scorer and rebounder K.J. McDaniels. Guard Rod Hall will likely expand his scoring role after leading the Tigers in assists.

12. NC State at Purdue: The Boilermakers are the hottest team in the Challenge with five straight wins. Junior 7-footer A.J. Hammons gives Purdue a solid centerpiece to build around. NCSU has the monumental task of replacing 2014 ACC Player of the Year T.J. Warren. The Wolfpack's fortunes could rest with talented, yet erratic, point guard Anthony Barber.

13. Georgia Tech at Northwestern: Both teams hope to get a boost from guards lost to injury last season. Tech’s Travis Jorgenson played in just four games before tearing his ACL. Northwestern’s oft-injured guard JerShon Cobb, its leading scorer returning, missed the last five games with a foot injury. The Yellow Jackets have only won once on the road in the Challenge.

14. Virginia Tech at Penn State: The Nittany Lions return most of their rotation that lost eight games by five or fewer points. Senior guard D.J. Newbill, who led the team in scoring, is now the unequivocal leader with Tim Frazier gone. Buzz Williams begins Hokies rebuilding project with a good starting point -- guard Devin Wilson was on both the coaches and media all-ACC freshmen teams and ranked third in the league in assists.

NCAA air-balls handling of McGary

April, 25, 2014
Apr 25

Let’s be clear: Mitch McGary is not a maize-and-blue martyr. He smoked marijuana, which is illegal in Michigan and remains on the NCAA’s list of banned substances.

He messed up. To his immense credit, he admitted it, even though had he kept his mouth shut, odds are this never would have gone public.

His punishment is that he was forced to make a decision that he might have made anyway. McGary will forgo his final two years of college and put his name in the NBA draft. He will not be destitute, banished and exiled to the unemployment line. His life will not be over, so let’s save the hankies here.

However (and please put the proper emphasis on that word, a la my colleague Stephen A. Smith), that doesn’t mean McGary hasn’t been at least partially victimized and that the culprit isn’t the same old group in Indianapolis.

His is yet another in a litany of cases in which the NCAA simply cannot see the gray and, worse, refuses to allow for it.

[+] EnlargeMitch McGary
AP Photo/Tony DingMitch McGary, who missed all but eight games of the 2013-14 season due to injury, will turn pro after a positive test for marijuana.
McGary took a drug test on March 28, according to a Yahoo Sports report, after the Wolverines beat Tennessee in the Sweet 16.

One week after that, he was told he tested positive.

On April 15, the NCAA agreed its punishment for street drugs -- a full year’s suspension -- was too severe and decided to reduce the penalty for first-time offenders to half a season.

But McGary failed under the old rule and, even upon appeal, was denied the half-season penalty.

There was no attempt to meet the kid in the middle, to recognize that, by offering a half-season suspension, the NCAA wasn’t being soft; it was being reasonable.

And that remains the crux of the problem.

On Friday, Northwestern football players took to the polls to vote on unionizing.

On Thursday, the NCAA Division I Board of Directors met in Indianapolis to endorse giving more autonomy to the big boys of college athletics, the PowerBall 5 of the Big Ten, ACC, SEC, Big 12 and Pac-12.

The two groups are coming at things from wildly different directions, but the goal is the same: to essentially make an organization that has been built on the backs of athletes that is actually of the athletes, by the athletes and for the athletes.

Ever since university presidents shoved their loafers in their mouths at the NCAA convention -- offering blank stares to an athlete who brazenly suggested the kids who play the sports might actually be involved in their own decision-making process -- the NCAA has practically tripped over itself promising a kinder, friendlier organization (although never a unionized one).

At the Final Four, NCAA president Mark Emmert and his posse sat at a podium and Emmert said, "The proposals that are under consideration would have both voice and vote for student-athletes."

But this, this case of Mitch McGary, remains the reality.

The organization is not athlete-centric. It is rulebook-centric. The athlete-centric group looks at the fact that the very group that made the rule has deemed the punishment too severe and offered McGary -- and any other first-time offenders from this NCAA tournament that we haven’t heard about -- the reduced penalty.

The rulebook-centric crew says, "Tough nuts. You’re done."

Just like the rulebook-centric group initially told Mormon missionary/Colgate freshman Nathan Harries that he couldn’t play for a year because he played as a fill-in during three rec league games.

Just like the rulebook-centric group at first denied Rutgers’ Kerwin Okoro a hardship waiver after he transferred from Iowa State to be closer to home after his father and brother died.

Just like the rulebook-centric group initially told Middle Tennessee quarterback Steven Rhodes he was ineligible for a year because he played with a military team while serving in the Marines.

The NCAA can propose, endorse and vote on all sorts of changes and give Mike Slive, Jim Delany, John Swofford, Larry Scott and Bob Bowlsby their own fiefdoms, but until it discovers the fine art of common sense, it won’t work. Until it replaces its rigidity with understanding, it will fail.

Every society needs rules, and the truth is college coaches have no one to blame but themselves for the monstrosity that is the NCAA rulebook. If they spent more time adhering to the rules as written as opposed to trying to work the loopholes, we might not be where we are.

But rules need to be subject to interpretation, as do their punishments.

Harries, Okoro and Rhodes were all eventually cleared to play -- after all three received extensive media coverage detailing the absurdity of their situations.

That won’t happen for McGary. His decision to leave is final.

There shouldn’t need to be extensive media coverage to unveil the obvious. There should be room to examine a rule, a punishment -- and most of all, the gray -- and make a smart, fair and reasonable decision.

And until the NCAA allows for that, it will be offering little more than lip service to being a student-athlete-first organization.