Are you the Sports Information Director for a major college athletic program? Do the sports programs at that school have a reputation for bending NCAA rules? Do you like your job, like traveling the country and being involved with sports? Then here's a little hint: don't let your Hall of Fame basketball coach be blindsided at a press conference with questions about players tampering with grades.
This was going to be a story on the rebirth of the SMU basketball team. About a legendary coach taking on one last job, one last challenge. This was going to be about Larry Brown, the only man to coach NCAA and NBA teams to titles. It was going to be about the SMU Mustangs defeating the Houston Cougars yesterday 75-68 to move to 16-4 on the season.
But then came the post-game press conference and WFAA's Brett Shipp asking Brown his attitude about players who don't come to class, don't turn in work assignments, who get grades changed and transfer to SMU. That lead to Brown's stock answer, that answer every coach gives, about the importance of education and everything the school does to make sure the players do their school work. The questioning continues with generalities until Brown's asked if he has a zero tolerance policy towards players who change grades which is when Brown finally ask Shipp's what he's getting at.
"Are you aware of the investigation involving one of your players?" Shipp asks.
"No. No," Brown says. "Is that something new, or is that -- when did this..."
"You should talk to your guys," Shipp says, pointing toward the SMU SID standing uncomfortably off to the side.
So here's the thing. If you're the SID of a major athletic program, and you've got an investigative reporter breathing down your neck, trying to find about wrongdoing with your team, you make this information available to your coach. Especially if said reporter's been chasing this information for two months. You don't let him get blindsided by a reporter during a press conference where he's talking about the importance of the new players to the program. If you're a SID and you want to keep your job, you don't let the questioning go on, you don't let your coach dig a deeper hole, especially here where it truly appeared that Brown had absolutely no idea what Shipp was getting at.
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Shipp refused to name the player during the press conference, instead preferring to let Brown squirm uncomfortably. But WFAA's report last night indicated that the player was freshman Keith Frazier, a high school star at Dallas' Kimball High School who reportedly transferred to Kimball in violation of state rules, and who supposedly only graduated from high school after a failing grade was changed a week after the classes ended. While the grade change came at the instigation of a coach no longer employed by the school, Shipp also implies some improper conduct on the part of SMU assistant coach, and former UH assistant coach, Ulric Maligi.
Who knows what happens next at SMU with basketball and with Larry Brown? This was turning into a feel-good story. The story of the 73-year-old Brown attempting to bring to prominence a school that's not been nationally relevant since former coach Dave Bliss was slipping money under the table to star center Jon Koncak during the mid-1980s. In just his second year at the school, Brown's coached the Mustangs to a 16-4 record and to where the team's receiving votes and is on the verge of making the top 25 rankings. The team plays in a newly renovated arena before crowds of people who not so long ago didn't even know the team existed.
The question was going to be about what happened to SMU after Larry Brown leaves -- and Larry Brown always leaves. But now the question's going to be about what happens to SMU basketball in light of what appears to be the play of an ineligible player. What did Larry Brown know, and when did he know it? What did his assistants know? What did his assistants do, if anything? Did the school even do anything wrong?
SMU played a nice game yesterday. They came back from a six-point halftime deficit to defeat the Cougars by seven points. But it's no longer about just winning basketball games. It's about damage control. And no school, no coach, no SID, ever wants to be involved in damage control.