Chat with Mechelle Voepel
Welcome to SportsNation! On Thursday, women's basketball writer Mechelle Voepel will stop by to chat about upcoing college baskebtball season.
Voepel is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's women's basketball coverage.
Send your questions now and join Voepel Thursday at 2 p.m. ET!
Mechelle Voepel (2:03 PM)
Good afternoon, folks. Well, college practice gets under way officially tomorrow, and we're still waiting for some important news from various WNBA franchises. Let's get started.
Barry (Phoenix, AZ)
Recycling should be limited to paper and plastics, not former GMs/coaches. Whiz is not a great offensive coach (CViv looks like Westhead next to him), he has o understanding that the player rules in professional sports and the coach rules in college, and he has Our Girls Syndrome. He kept Chelsea Newton because she was like a daughter to him, even though she had basketball talent equal to Tiger Woods' belief in monogamy.
Mechelle Voepel (2:10 PM)
I just have to give Barry a nod here for a rather amusing, if brutal, analogy. I obviously wish for the best for the Liberty, just like every other WNBA franchise. Looking at the WNBA from an overall perspective, you want each team to make good decision for the health of the league. And I can't pretend I'm enthusiastic about the Liberty deciding to hire John Whisenant. For a number of reasons. But that was their choice, and I hope for the sake of the franchise, players and fans, this works out. I know he does his homework on players, but whether that translates to making the right moves - that's a different story. And the Liberty do have some important personnel decisions to make for next season. And I also remain bugged by the franchise's attitude toward fans and the "expectation" that it's no big deal to go to play in a different city and arena. I still think there needs to be more outreach to the fans - the ones who've been faithful should not be taken for granted.
Glenn (fresh meadows)
Geno runs his mouth, stop me if you heard this one! What do you think about Geno's comments, honesty, motivation, or some clever reverse physcology? (And when do YOU think the streak ends this season)
Mechelle Voepel (2:14 PM)
For reporters, Geno Auriemma is terrific. :) I mean, he likes to talk and he always has something to say. Sometimes I think he says things as a kind of motivation or "ploy," the same way any coach does. And that might be the case in him insisting UConn is going to lose ... but it's probably just as much the case he IS being honest. There are all kinds of legitimate reasons the Huskies SHOULD lose not just once, but maybe three-four-five times. Look at what they lost and the level that the program has been at the last two years. So I wasn't surprised he said it. And I have said before - not trying to stir up UConn fans, that I think the streak will end against Baylor. But, obviously, I'm not going to be surprised if it goes all the way until the game against Stanford.
Judith (Washington, DC)
What do you make of Mystics ownership and management utterly ignoring emails from Founding Fans and other longtime season ticketholders over the "departure" of Angela Taylor? It's one thing to refuse to address the substance of what happened, quite another not even to send a "thank you for your concern" reply and tell STHs how much they are valued, even if management won't discuss contract negotiations. They've always been responsive to fans before. This really makes no sense, and hardly seems like a good way to run a business.
Mechelle Voepel (2:26 PM)
OK, quite literally as I was answering this question, I got a call from the Mystics organization. Their thought is that they don't want to communicate anything until they are ready to announce the entirety of their plans to go forward. Now, I have told them - not that I have any say or standing in the matter, except as a concerned observer of the league - that this is a mistake. That fans would much more appreciate even a basic, "We're sorry you're upset, we value you, please hang in there with us while we work it out," kind of e-mail, at the very least to season-ticketholders. Why they are not doing this, I don't understand. If it were my business, I would. I have gotten the sense pretty strongly now that they did not expect to be in this situation. Which makes you suspect things went south quickly and unexpectedly with Angela Taylor. Why that happened, though, is still an uncertainty.
Glenn (fresh meadows)
With the new CFB controversy involving agents do you see a change in the rules involving some of the tourneys run by companies like Triple Crown which also serves as Agents to W players?
Mechelle Voepel (2:32 PM)
You know, earlier today I was talking to North Carolina's men's soccer coach, Elmar Bolowich, about the issue of agents in his sport. Because men's soccer does have to deal with some of the same issues that football and men's hoops do ... and increasingly, so does women's hoops. All the attention goes to the problems with agents in the "big two" sports, but the issue goes beyond them. So I think you bring up a good point about potential conflicts of interest and how many things have gone under the radar for a long time but now may start to get more scrutiny.
Is there any reason to suspect that the Mystics won't re-sign Lindsey Harding?
Mechelle Voepel (2:36 PM)
Well, you'd think that might be pretty much automatic, right? But that's the issue with this whole GM uncertainty. The players, I have heard from several sources, liked and trusted Angela. They understood she was a businesswoman, but also felt she listened to them and tried to do the best she could to take care of their concerns. Now, they are not sure whom to trust or really talk to. At least, that's what I'm hearing. And that is worrisome, because this is a good team, coming off its best-ever finish in the East, and a team that has great roots with the colleges in its area, of course. It would seem a real shame if the hard-won progress the Mystics finally have made erodes to any significant degree in this off-season.
Glenn (fresh meadows)
That almost 911 esque call from Mystics management screams a major issue...should we worry about litigation...or worse?
Mechelle Voepel (2:39 PM)
It may have been a coincidence that I was right in the middle of answering a question when I got a call. I don't know. They had been telling me they expected some news to announce earlier this week ... but now it looks like possibly next week. But there is nothing definitive that it will happen then.
kevin (macon ga)
What will be the impact of the NCAA putting all the refs together in a common LLC?
Mechelle Voepel (2:43 PM)
At least on the face of it, it sounds like a good idea. The point of it seems to be to improve consistency of officiating throughout the country, so you don't have things being called drastically differently depending on where the game is being played. And so there is more of an overview nationally. College football formed an organization like this in 2007. And while I don't think it's going to solve all problems, it may improve the overall level of the accountability of officials.
Tennessee gets most of the SEC publicity, but I like what Coach Mitchell is doing in building Kentucky. Amber Smith's injury hurts, but do the 'Cats have what it takes to go Final Four this year?
Mechelle Voepel (2:47 PM)
I was so impressed with Kentucky last year, and the way that Matthew Mitchell's team played in the style that he'd been building since he got there. I'm happy whenever a new program knocks on a door they have either never knocked on before, or that they haven't done in a long, long time. And Kentucky did that last year with making the Elite Eight. The SEC has never lacked for a lot of good teams, but seeing Kentucky potentially elevating into a perennial good team is very positive for the women's game. And I'd love to see the non-conference rivalry between Ky and Louisville truly elevate to blockbuster-game proportions. That would be fun. :)
kevin (macon ga)
Yesterday on Mike & Mike they were discussing the agent problem in college football. Kirk Herbstreit blamed Title IX for the problem. Is there anything bad in college athletics that guys won't claim is rooted in women playing sports?
Mechelle Voepel (2:52 PM)
I just have to laugh out loud at this. This is solely about the money in college football. It couldn't have anything less to do with Title IX. I can't even imagine any kind of "logical" way someone could actually claim otherwise. You could literally end ALL sports other than college football and still have the same problems. Short of making college football into semiprofessional football, we'll have the same problems, and even that wouldn't completely solve it.
One non-b'ball question: What are your thoughts about the transgendered woman suing the LPGA over their "female at birth" rule?
Mechelle Voepel (2:58 PM)
It's one of those questions that defies any kind of simple response. It's very complicated. You want to be fair to the intent of keeping women's athletics as its own protected "class" of competition. But I am very sympathetic to the reality of trangenderism, and the need to figure out the best, fairest, most compassionate ways to integrate transgender athletes into competition. I think there probably have to be different rules and standards based on the age of competitors and the level of competition. How this will be argued legally between this woman and the LPGA will be interesting to watch. Coming up on ESPN.com fairly soon, I will have a story on the recent report the NCLR helped author about recommendations for high schools and colleges dealing with transgender athletes.
Do you think that Sandy Brondello would be a better or rather a sucessful coach without her husband on the sideline? It seemed she was unable to make decisions without his approval and that he was the person making the decisions? From the outside looking in it just didn't seem like a healthy situation for them or the team, or one that could be successful. It made for some good fluff PR but that was about it.Mary
Mechelle Voepel (3:07 PM)
Again this week, there have been several questions and comments about the SASS coaching situation. I'll make a general observation: when you have two coaches on any staff - college, pro, high school, men, women - that have a relationship beyond that of just being co-workers, you add another potentially difficult dynamic to deal with in the running of a team. Now, I'm not saying that it doesn't ever work. Sometimes it does. There are situations where husband-and-wife, or partner-and-partner _ as is the case as long as gay couples can't marry and have their bond legally and publicly recognized - coaching tandems have and continue to work well together. But I think it has more peril than people generally want to acknowledge. There are a lot of complicated power issues with coaching, which again people sometimes don't want to be realistic about. Olaf Lange used to be Sandy Brondell's coach - so how does that affect her ability to coach with him in a supposed subordinate role? There is a reason for the concept of hierarchy in any endeavor - the buck has to stop somewhere, and a final decision has to be made. In basketball, I think you have to know who really makes the ultimate decisions. And when that's murky, more often than not, there are going to be problems.
Mechelle - Can you give your thoughts on the CAA? It might just be the best mid-major conference in the nation now. Do you know much about Hofstra?
Mechelle Voepel (3:09 PM)
I think there is a lot to be interested about in the CAA, both because more programs such as Hofstra have made a concerted effort in recent years to elevate themselves - and have done that- and because of the exciting individual talent that has ended up in the league for various reasons. For so long, Old Dominion just had this iron grip on the league, and it's a credit to that program that it has maintained its quality for so long. But it's been for the betterment of the CAA that ODU now faces legitimate challenges.
kevin (macon ga)
The NCAA is officially discussing expansion of the women's tournament. How much, if any, should it expand?
Mechelle Voepel (3:14 PM)
Zero. Zilch. Not at all. Men's basketball has expanded to make more money, period. The men's NCAA tournament is a money-printing machine. More games, more TV commercials. But we know that the women need to continue to improve the product, and they're doing that. Expanding the tournament either on the men's or women's side is a path toward greater acceptance of mediocrity being rewarded. The men can get away with it, because, as I said, it makes money. The women need to strive toward *more* demand for excellence, not less.
I think Kirk Herbsteit's remark about Title IX was that if you pay football players money, you also have to pay the female athletes too. I find it unnerving that whenever someone says Title IX is the blame for something, it quickly turns into someone is ripping the law or women's sports. In this case, Kirk was stating what is probably a fact.
Mechelle Voepel (3:25 PM)
So apparently, he's not worried about how it might mean that men athletes from non-revenue sports would "have" to get paid - as in MOST men's sports - but only that women would "have" to be paid. First of all, I think if real and honest dialogue dictated college sports' discussions, then maybe college football could move toward paying its players based on the revenue that those in revenue-producing programs bring in. I would not be against some athletes being paid beyond a scholarship, based on their proven value to a school's bottom line. Yes, I know it sounds like a Pandora's box. But maybe it could be worked out. To me, that would not violate Title IX's intent, which is that women won't be denied OPPORTUNITY. And who do you think is really a more powerful advocate against football players being paid: women athletes whom he is assuming would "demand" pay ... or the college football coaches and administrators themselves? You think the college coach who's making $5 million a season is eager to share any of his salary with his players?
Jerry (san antonio)
Now that the Liberty picked their coach/general manager, what does that mean for the other teams looking for a coach or coach/GM? Specifically, does that mean the proverbial domino is about to fall for the Silver Stars and Chicago?
Mechelle Voepel (3:28 PM)
I am still not sure the direction that Chicago is going to take. But what I'm hearing about San Antonio is that is seems likely Dan Hughes will step back into the coaching role. Not that he necessarily wants to, but that management wants him to if he wants to keep his GM position. But Dan himself has not told me that ... I have heard it from other sources.
Don't worry many UConn fans agree with you about the Baylor game; Huskies don't have Tina to play center against BG. Which leads to my question, with her new friends, can Griner take the next step and become national POY this year, or is it already Moore's if she's healthy.
Mechelle Voepel (3:31 PM)
Actually, that's a very good question ... do award voters come into this season with a preconceived idea of who will be the POY, and then is it basically that person's award to lose? I don't enter a season thinking that, but that doesn't mean that Maya Moore hasn't earned the right to be thought of as the definite favorite. And as for all the questions about Griner, the good thing is that we will see very soon - in a month - what kind of progress she's made over the summer.
kevin (macon ga)
Nancy Lieberman seems very optimistic about her D-League coaching assignment. How will she do?
Mechelle Voepel (3:34 PM)
I hope she does well, because maybe that opens more doors for female coaches in men's basketball. People always ask about when women will have those opportunities, and I think it comes down to certain women deciding they would prefer to work in the men's game and then building their way through that system. It is a hard road; let's not even pretend they wouldn't have to face a great deal of prejudice. They would. But the only way it changes is for more people to try to do it.
Glenn (fresh meadows)
Uconn not withstanding. Last year was the year of the breakout, St. Johns, Gonzaga, Georgetown, Xavier, Nebraska just a few of the schools who caught the nation's imagination with inspired regular and post season runs against the big boys. Is this year more of the same, who else is poised to break out? Or will the breakout schools revert to their past doscile selves?
Mechelle Voepel (3:39 PM)
There are definitely some schools that had "breakout" type seasons last year that I think will be factors this season, too. Of the schools you listed, the one that I think could be in store for the biggest fall from last year's high is, of course, Nebraska. The Huskers lost such a tremendous senior class. That said, the Big 12 is full of question marks this year. Baylor is the absolute pick as the league favorite, Texas AM should be solid, but then I think everybody else has at least one major issue that people are wondering about. So Nebraska is not alone in finding a new identity in the Big 12 this season. My thought is that Xavier and St. John's, in particular, can carry over last season's success to this season.
My point was that if you pay football players, you have to pay everyone, female athletes including. Probably didn't do a great job of getting that across. As far as football coaches making $5 million a year, there's a reason why. Football brings in all the money. Do you really think Notre Dame paid out the majority of what was left on Charlie Weiss' contract? No, big-money boosters did.
Mechelle Voepel (3:49 PM)
I understood exactly what you were saying. Who is the world doesn't acknowledge how much money the big football powers bring in? We just almost saw the entire conference structure of college sports blown up for the sake of football. That's why I'm saying that reasonable people could see football at that level as an entity so powerful, with so much money, that its players get paid. Which is what I meant by it becoming, in effect, semi-pro. Now, what about men's basketball and the money it brings in through the NCAA tournament? That's another issue to tackle. But again, if the concern is the belief that ALL athletes would have to get paid if football players were paid, then why single out Title IX and female athletes? Is there just as big a concern about having to pay the men's non-rev athletes? Or is paying women the only so-called wrench in this system? I assume he didn't say, "The tough thing is, where are we going to find the money to pay our men's cross country runners?" So don't tell me that Title IX doesn't get used as a scapegoat for the fact that most college sports don't make money.
Mary (San Antonio)
You said Dan Hughes doesn't really want to coach. Well he told everyone that would listen last year he only stepped aside so he could keep both Sandy and Olaf on the staff because of the new limit on assistant's. If that was the only reason it would seem he would be ok with coaching again. He traveled with to all the away games last season, was alwasy at practice so it doesn't seem the reluctance would be because of time?
Mechelle Voepel (3:51 PM)
I want to be very clear on this: Dan Hughes has not told me he didn't want to coach. Three other sources in the WNBA told me they felt he was happier doing just the GM role, based on their contact with him. But if Dan tells me differently, of course, I will report that. Only he really can say what he wants.
kevin (macon ga)
Everybody seems to be talking about UConn this and Baylor that, oh Stanford and ooh Xavier. Is it my imagination or is Tennessee flying under the radar? How is that possible?
Mechelle Voepel (3:54 PM)
Well, they aren't with me. I was just having a discussion with my editor yesterday about our series of season preview stories, and I will most certainly be doing one on Tennessee. I think a big key will be the team getting back to playing old-style Tennessee defense, with a lot of pressure on the ball and making the defense translate to more "easy" offense. Does Tennessee have the right personnel to do that? I think so, but it may mean some people expanding their roles and playing more outside of previous comfort zones.
Mechelle Voepel (3:55 PM)
I really appreciate the range and diversity of questions. And for those of you who took the time to type in a bunch of questions that I didn't even get to - you know who you are :) - thanks for keeping the chat lively and interesting. We'll do it again next week.