Now is not the time to ‘stick to sports’

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Opening comments by Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Dwayne Wade, and Lebron James. Photo credit: Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Last night was the ESPY Awards, and it solidified itself as my favorite awards show by not doing what some say it should have done — “stick to sports.” I used to use sports as my shield from the events that were going on around me. It’s easy to forget the troubles in the world when baseball’s All-Star week is happening.

It took me moving around the United States and traveling the world in the last two years for me to finally open my eyes. Today sports are no longer a wall keeping me in, and I’m learning just how valuable of a platform they can be. Part of my desire to become a journalist is the ability to enlighten and educate, but also the reach that one can have with readers and viewers. The reach as a journalist though doesn’t compare to the reach of lets say Carmelo Anthony.

Anthony, LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Paul took the stage Wednesday night to open the ESPYs with a very important message.

“The racial profiling has to stop,” Wade said. “The shoot-to-kill mentality has to stop. Not seeing the value of black and brown bodies has to stop. But also the retaliation has to stop. The endless gun violence in places like Chicago, Dallas, not to mention in Orlando, it has to stop.”

Based off Twitter, not everyone was happy with the basketball stars’ opening statements. Some even went as far as saying they lost respect for the athletes, and to that I say shame on you. Athletes rarely take stands on issues because by doing so they are putting their brands on the line. For them speaking out can be a calculated decision.

Following the shootings last week, Anthony knew he had to say something, but he carefully thought out what that was going to be. When he approached his friends about making a statement at the awards. it took him days to figure out what exactly he wanted or rather needed to say.

The NBA stars aren’t the first to speak out about recent events. On Saturday, members of the Minnesota Lynx WNBA team wore T-shirts in solidarity of all recent events, and they too received an extreme backlash.

Unfortunately these players can no longer afford to be silent. It’s not a political statement for these athletes; as people of color they are affected regardless of the fact that they are professional athletes.

“There’s NO more sitting back and being afraid of tackling and addressing political issues anymore. Those days are long gone,” Anthony wrote in an Instagram post under the iconic photo from the 1967 Muhammad Ali Summit.

I have always felt that athletes have the responsibility to stand up and use their reach. Some of my favorite athletes are the ones that do so despite the repercussions. In an op-ed for The Guardian, Anthony calls for his fellow athletes to use their platform and their influence. While you may not agree with what they stand for today, don’t persecute them; one day you might want them to stand with you on something else.

The opener by the NBA ensemble wasn’t the only issue to be tackled Wednesday night. Breanna Stewart, the winner of the Best Female Athlete Award, as well as Abby Wambach, Icon Award winner, spoke out about gender equality.

And there wasn’t a dry eye in the crowd after 15-year-old Zaevion Dobson was honored with the Arthur Ashe Courage Award posthumously. His mother, Zenobia Dobson, called for the country “to take a stand to consider the effects of gun violence on the families throughout America.” Dobson was the first of two minors from his family to be killed due to gun violence within the last year.

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Satellite Camps Back On

Last week I was up in arms after hearing that the NCAA voted to ban satellite camps. Now a week later my hope has been restored. The NCAA board of directors met Thursday and decided to rescind the original April 8 vote.

The original ruling was upsetting for I knew the consequences it would have on football players hoping to play at the collegiate level. I don’t know this because I was a player myself. I know this because I grew up with brothers — three brothers by blood and a whole lot more by association. I have witnessed time and time again the hardships families go through trying to help their sons reach their goals. When it comes down to it, it doesn’t matter where in the country you are from. The biggest obstacle for players trying to reach the collegiate level is money.

When one camp costing upward of $200, not including travel and the expenses for family members that need to tag along, the idea of attending more than one camp can become impossible.

Players at satellite camps have the opportunity to be seen by multiple college coaches and recruiters in one visit and often for less money. Without satellite camps, I saw the dreams of hundreds of players become more out of reach. Luckily with Thursday’s decision, players and parents can rest easy. This year will run like years past.

Along with Thursday’s ruling, the NCAA “hopes for initial recommendations for improving the football recruiting environment.” So NCAA, here are some of my recommendations.

LIMIT NUMBER OF CAMPS

My first suggestion would be to limit the number of camps that college coaches are allowed to attend or host. The banning of satellite camps would hurt the non-power five conferences the most. These programs — including schools on the NCAA Division II and III and National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics levelĀ — benefit the most from the ability to attend camps at other universities or third-party camps.

With that being said, I think putting a cap could help the recruiting circuit. The need for satellite camps aren’t as vital for power five conferences. Clearly the SEC and Atlantic Coast Conference didn’t think they were important at all when they put their own conference bans on it previously. So perhaps the cap should be the lowest for the power five schools.

MAKES CAMPS MORE AFFORDABLE

Imagine the players who really want to play at Florida State. They figure out how to pull together a tuition fee of $350. But then they realize that they need an additional $400 because they aren’t from Florida. And then they learn being 15 years old mean a guardian needs to come.

I understand that these players are staying in dorms where they are using electricity and air conditioning. These players need to be fed and campus workers need to be working to make things run smoothly. I understand that coaches need to be paid for being away from their families for an additional four days. But the reality is these camps don’t need $400 a head to run. And for universities like Alabama, Michigan, Florida State, most of the money is going to paying their head coach’s already ridiculously large paycheck.

If the reason behind rescinding the April 8 vote was because the NCAA saw how the decision would hurt athletes and hinder scholarship opportunities, camp tuition fees should be lowered for the exact same reason.

Satellite ban to hurt athletes most

“The National Collegiate Athletic Association is a membership-driven organization dedicated to safeguarding the well-being of student-athletes and equipping them with the skills to succeed on the playing field, in the classroom and throughout life.”

That is the mission statement of the NCAA, and with its newest ruling that statement has been thrown out the window once again.

The NCAA Division I council met April 8 to vote on an issue that has been of pressing concern through this school year: satellite football camps. A representative from each of the 10 Division I conferences met to vote on whether the camps should be allowed or banned. The verdict — satellite camps will be no more.

This ruling isn’t shutting down third-party camps such as The Manning Passing Academy, but it is forbidding college coaches from attending. The ruling also forbids universities from hosting camps off campus grounds.

Satellite camps are nothing new on the college recruiting circuit, but came under criticism as the University of Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh set up camps throughout the south in his first year as head coach of the Wolverines.

The criticism came from one direction only though, the SEC. The SEC and the Atlantic Coast Conference have implemented their own satellite bans in years past to make sure they weren’t stepping on each others toes. Now feeling threatened by Harbaugh and the potential of other coaches coming into their region, they felt the need to try and enforce their rule on everyone, and they got their way.

The NCAA has been receiving a ton of backlash in regards to the issue, and it should, but it is also not 100 percent at fault. In this case the NCAA is the universities that make it up. The ACC, Big 12, Mountain West, Pacfic-12, SEC, and Sunbelt voted for the camp ban, while the American Conference, Big 10, Conference USA and Mid-American voted against it.

The criticism of satellite camps is that they allow coaches to grab recruits from regions other than their own, but the benefits of them are triple fold.

First off, we all know the top recruits in the country. We know the five-star and the four-star players. Coaches know about them without having to visit their home states and are offering scholarships whether they came to their camp or not. These kids have the ability to go anywhere in the country they choose, whether that’s close-to-home University of Alabama or across-the-country University of Oregon. This ruling doesn’t affect them.

This ruling affects the football players on that three-star level and lower — the players that maybe never even got ranked and the players that can’t afford to visit multiple university camps every year in hopes of being a match.

In years past, when a school like Ohio State hosted a summer camp, Buckeye coaches weren’t the only ones in attendance. There were coaches from the state’s smaller schools such as Toledo and Bowling Green. Out of the hundreds of players that attend an Ohio State camp, maybe a handful are considered future Buckeyes. The ones that aren’t just might be what the MAC programs are looking for. Satellite camps allow these kids to get noticed and to have a chance at a free college education and the opportunity to continue playing the sport they love.

College camps are expensive. If a player wants the chance to be seen by Nick Saban, he’s headed to the University of Alabama football camp, where an overnight tuition is $400. If a player wants the opportunity to become a University of Southern California Trojan, parents are looking at a tuition fee of $350. For a player from out of state, that’s a huge fee for the chance to be seen by one coaching staff.

Third-party camps broke the mold with coaches from multiple institutions in attendance. These third-party camps aren’t much cheaper, some are even more expensive, but they hold a greater possibility for players with coaches from different conferences and divisions taking note.

The ruling isn’t set in stone just yet. On April 28, the NCAA board of directors can adopt or rescind. The board is mainly made up of university presidents and chancellors, allowing each program to place its own vote.

I hope for the sake of football players everywhere that this ruling gets rescinded. I also hope it gets rescinded for the sake of the NCAA, which has continued to lose credibility over the years, and if not I call for a new mission statement:

“The National Collegiate Athletic Association is a membership-driven organization dedicated to money and keeping the money within the universities and coaches’ pockets. The well-being of the athlete only goes as far as making sure they are able to supply that income.”

Nova’s win defies the 1 percent

Two weeks ago I discovered perhaps the greatest statistic in the entire world. Unfortunately that stat was completely destroyed Monday night with Villanova’s win over North Carolina.

I have secretly always been a North Carolina fan; not a legitimate fan, but when it came to the Duke-North Carolina matchup, I always went for the Tar Heels. What fueled my secret love? Ask my dad about the birth of his only daughter and first child, and he won’t forget to tell you that I was born during a Sweet 16 matchup, after he consistently told my mom it can’t happen. I was born into chaos. My dad and two grandfathers were screaming at the TV when I entered the world. North Carolina and the University of Michigan were playing. It was 1993 and the Tar Heels went on to win the championship.

Two weeks ago, as I was doing Sweet 16 predictions, I delved into history and discovered that the last three times the Tar Heels won March Madness they played their Sweet 16 game on my birthday, March 25. This year North Carolina defeated Indiana on March 25, and well it only seemed right. It was this crazy fact that prompted me to pick the Tar Heels to win it all this year.

Clearly my theory was wrong, but I can’t be upset Villanova destroyed it. Villanova winning it all this year gives hope to those teams that hardly enter the conversation for a national championship. Going into Monday night’s game, four schools had won 12 of the previous 20 national championships — Kentucky, Duke, Connecticut and North Carolina.

March Madness is the only major sporting event that gives the underdogs an equal chance, but it’s still rare to see Cinderella winning it all. There are the teams that have snuck into the inner circle — Syracuse, Michigan State, Kentucky and Kansas — to name a few, but they can’t even call themselves the underdogs anymore.

I can’t say this Villanova team was the typical underdog. The team was No. 1 for part of the season and shattered offensive records as it made its run, but when it came down to it, North Carolina was expected to do what it always does, win.

As I sat on my couch cheering as North Carolina closed the point gap in those final minutes, it was hard to deny that Nova looked like the stronger team throughout the game. So while I was heartbroken when that shot with less than a second by Kris Jenkins swooshed through the net, I couldn’t help but feel happy that the outcome wasn’t so predictable.

TOO EARLY FOR 2017?

Seven months separate us from the start of next year’s basketball season, but that isn’t stopping most from already making their predictions. While I hope it can be another year for the other 99 percent, the current favorite sitting atop headlines is no-shocker here, the Duke Blue Devils. The Atlantic Coast Conference was the dominant conference this year and by the looks of it, it could happen again. With Duke’s Grayson Allen having announced his return and the top two high school prospects heading to Durham in the fall, the Blue Devils will definitely be in the top five when the season kicks off.

Duke seems to be one of the only team not in complete limbo with the NCAA’s new NBA draft rules too. With that said, 2017 is completely up in the air until after that May 25 deadline.

Just Three Games Remain

After three weeks of March Madness, I am still trying to find the words other than completely unpredictable and upset-laden to describe the tournament, let alone the 2016 season.

Week three brought two more upsets to the season. Three of four No. 1 seeds were eliminated, including the overall No. 1 and top candidate to win it all, the Kansas Jayhawks.

Villanova is finally living up to the hype with the win that sent the Jayhawks packing. After struggling the last two years in tournament appearances, the Wildcats have finally proved that they are worthy to be in conversation with the top dogs.

Even though the Sooners were the No. 2 seed in their region, most people predicted them to come out on top over No. 1 Oregon. With the best college basketball player on their roster, Buddy Hield, some believe there is no stopping them.

University of North Carolina is the sole No. 1 seed remaining. The Tar Heels were the closest to a perfect season in 2016, but ended on a 32-6 record. Multiple factors pointed to a potential early sendoff for UNC, but it proved the doubters wrong and is now the favorite to win it all.

The last team in the final four is Syracuse, who after an early season ban barely made the tournament. In no way can the Orange be named this year’s Cinderella, but it is this year’s biggest shocker. Syracuse is only the fourth double seeded team to ever make the Final Four and the only 10th seed to ever make the Final Four.

SOUTH SEMIFINAL: VILLANOVA

I am going to go against the grain with the majority on this matchup. Despite a regular-season loss to Oklahoma by 23 on Dec. 7, 2015, I think the Wildcats have more going for them than the Sooners do.

Villanova is fourth in the nation in 2-point percentage and second in free-throw percentage. The Wildcats are great at forcing turnovers while not giving much up themselves, and they move the ball with ease, averaging an assist on 60 percent of field goals made.

The difference maker in their first matchup was 3 pointers, Villanova was 4-32, and Oklahoma was 14-26. If Villanova can beat Oklahoma in all other areas like it should, shots from beyond the arc aren’t important.

EAST SEMIFINAL: NORTH CAROLINA

I’m taking the current favorites on the East side of the bracket. The Atlantic Coast Conference champion North Carolina was the nation’s preseason No. 1 and it has the chance to end like it started. They’ve beaten every tournament opponent thrown their way by a minimum of 14 points, and I don’t see why they can’t keep that going.

The Tar Heels take the advantage in the paint and on the offensive glass with a deep front court. UNC swept Syracuse in the regular season by breaking the Orange’s 2-3 zone and doing what it does best, feeding the post, dominating the glass and drawing fouls. There is no reason another win shouldn’t be in the books.

The one thing UNC needs to avoid is settling for the 3. In their first two games against Syracuse, the Tar Heels shot for a combined 9 of 41 from beyond the arc. It’s hard to knock down those shots against the No. 13 perimeter defense.

NATIONAL CHAMPION: NORTH CAROLINA

Who will be the Elite?

And then there were eight. The 2016 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament has been absolute madness. It’s tournament years like this one that gave this event its nickname, March Madness.

The opening round brought on so many upsets that out of 13 million brackets, only six perfect brackets remained. The biggest upset which was a major blow to my basketball season was No. 15 Middle Tennessee’s win over No. 2 Michigan State. Why Spartans, why?

The round of 32 brought on some exciting matchups, but the upsets were halted as the clock struck midnight and Cinderella returned home. To be honest I’m not even sure who I would name this year’s tournament Cinderella. Potentially my home state’s University of Hawaii?

Thursday night tipped off the second weekend in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament with the Sweet 16. This is the first time since 2012 that all four No. 1 seeds have advanced this far, and they are joined by six other top fours. But perhaps the most interesting statistic of the 2016 Sweet 16 is that 37.5 percent of the teams come from the Atlantic Coast Conference. All but one ACC team won in the first weekend. As a conference, it went 12-1 with the one loss going to Pittsburgh, who the ACC may just have to kick out for this mess up. Will the ACC have just as much luck in week two?

As I am writing this, not all Sweet 16 matchups have taken place, but if all pans out like it should, I am ready to give you my Elite Eight predictions.

WEST

In the Sweet 16, I predicted Oregon over Duke and Oklahoma over Texas A&M. Right now I know I am on the money with the Sooners, who beat the Aggies 77-63.

Between the Ducks and the Sooners, I have to go with the Sooners to reach the Final Four. For your information, I still have a perfect bracket for the West and South regions.

In this Elite Eight matchup expect to see an up-tempo game. Both teams like to play fast, but both will try and work their magic to throw off the other. I’ll take Oklahoma in that arena.

But the big difference maker for me is defense. Where Oklahoma plays tough defense and can also rack up the points, Oregon puts up points but has difficulty stringing defensive stops. Expect high scoring and a win by one or two possessions.

SOUTH

With 16 teams left, four from the south, I picked Villanova over Miami and Kansas over Maryland. As I am writing, Kansas and Maryland are in their first quarter, and Villanova completed its rout of Miami, 92-69.

Unfortunately, no matter who advanced from the Wildcats’ and Hurricanes’ side of the bracket, it was always going to be Kansas moving to the Final Four.

I think the toughest matchup for the Jayhawks is their Sweet 16 opponent, the Terps, and if the Terps can’t do it, no one can. What the Jayhawks have going for them is contributors on all fronts. They have their standouts, but even their backup staff is playing better than some of their opponents’ main threats.

EAST

North Carolina over Indiana and Wisconsin over Notre Dame for the Sweet 16 matchups from the East. Both games take place Friday night, but if I am right, I am picking the Tar Heels to be the region champions.

These two teams have already played each other twice this year and they are currently 1-1. Notre Dame took the first game, but just two weeks ago UNC crushed the Irish, 78-47. The Tar Heels keep improving on all fronts and are perhaps the most complete team in the tourney right now.

MIDWEST

Both region Sweet 16 matchups take place Friday, and I have Virginia over Iowa State and Gonzaga over Syracuse. Turning to the Final Four, I predicted Virginia falling short once again, but I could only see Michigan State pulling that off, so now I’m taking the Cavaliers to the Final Four.

Here we are looking at consistent Virginia versus you-barely-made-the-tournament Gonzaga. The disciplined Cavaliers will best the Zags by controlling the pace of play and ultimately the game.

Madness Has Arrived

Each year I ever so eagerly wait for March. It’s the best month of the year for two reasons. One, it’s my birth month; and two, March Madness. While I like to think my birthday is a pretty big deal, we will forget about that for now because the reason people around the country have been MIA since Sunday is the NCAA Tournament.

To anyone who tried to reach me outside of work hours this past week, I am sorry I never got back to you but I was analyzing every bracket matchup possible. I finally finished my bracket with minutes to spare Thursday morning. It’s always so stressful!

FIRST ROUND

The first round kicked off at 10 a.m. Wyoming time Thursday. These first 32 games are some of the most exciting. The round of 64 provides the crazy upsets and unveils this year’s Cinderellas. One of the hardest things for me this year was predicting those upsets. I felt there were a ton of talented teams, but I felt they weren’t all blessed with the greatest matchups.

Filling out a bracket feels like a multiple-choice exam. If you get any letter more than three times in a row, you know you’ve done something wrong. As I made my way through my practice bracket, I soon realized I was going with all the favorites. If that is your plan of action, there is no money in your future, let me tell you that. So like I did in college, when time allowed, of course, I went back and tried to rework the problem.

I eventually figured it out and my predicted upsets in the first round are: Yale over Baylor, Hawaii over California, Wichita over Arizona and Gonzaga over Seton Hall. At one point I really wanted to go out on a limb and name my Cinderella team Holy Cross, but that was just asking for it. While Oregon definitely did not deserve to be a No. 1 seed over Michigan State, don’t try to argue with me on this one, the Ducks are definitely one of the most overlooked teams in the tournament.

My favorite part about this first round is definitely the upsets. All in one day you can have your heart ripped out, torn into a million pieces, have it taped back together, and start beating again. I like to call March the unknown — more times than not no one really has any idea of what is going to happen when two teams take the court.

I got my first hoorah Thursday with Yale’s upset win over Baylor. I knew I could count on the Bulldogs, but I don’t have them getting past the next round.

Then hours later I got my heart stomped on by Purdue. Way to go Boilermakers. I had them going to the Elite 8. I really wanted an MSU-Purdue rematch but they went and messed it all up for me.

The first round continues Friday, so plenty more room for upsets.

IN IT TO WIN IT

Minus Purdue, if none of my other predicted Elite Eight or Sweet 16 teams get beat, I’ll be happy. Minus one seven seed, I only have top three teams making the Elite Eight, and I’m pretty basic when it comes to my Final Four predictions. Check back next week for my rundown of the tournament thus far and my Elite Eight predictions.