UT men make best of bad situation


The University of Toledo men’s basketball team opened preseason practice Monday, some 10 days after the vast, vast majority of colleges got started, many with a Midnight Madness splash. The Rockets had three games, all at home, slashed from their schedule. They’ll practice four fewer hours, the equivalent of one session, per week. They’re banned from all postseason play, including the Mid-American Conference tournament.

There, I think that’s all the bad news slapped into one paragraph.

Now, make no mistake, UT deserved sanctions on the basis of a pathetic series of academic eligibility and retention performances which the NCAA likes to call the Academic Progress Rate. Based on rolling four-year scores, 15 college athletic programs, 10 of them being men’s basketball teams, are banned for the 2012-2013 postseason, and if I’m reading the charts correctly, UT’s 869 score was the worst of them all.

So a pox on the Rockets … except for one little problem. The coaches and players who were responsible for this foolishness and stupidity, just a cut above a potted plant, are long gone. As always seems to happen with NCAA penalties, the institution gets a well-deserved black eye while players and coaches who have done nothing wrong pay the price.

And that’s the intention — to pay a price. Three fewer home games, no chance of postseason play, it all equals loss of revenue. That’s the big stick the NCAA carries. So be it. However …

“The worst thing for us is starting practice 10 days late,” said UT coach Tod Kowalczyk. “Look, I’m a firm believer in the APR. But these players had nothing to do with it. These kids, over the last 14 months, have the highest [grade point average] in MAC men’s basketball, over 3.0 as a team. They’re doing everything right and have come a long way, on and off the court, in a short period of time.

“So, to me, that part of it is not fair. To take away practice time is not penalizing an institution. It’s penalizing a team that had nothing to do with any of it. That said, we’re not going to make excuses, we’re not going to place blame. We’ll accept the penalties with dignity and integrity.”

Monday’s opening practice was a spirited affair on the Fetterman practice court. There is a considerable amount of talent on Kowalczyk’s team, and all things being equal — eight road games in the first nine and considerable lost practice time are unequal — it would seem reasonable to expect improvement on last season’s surprising 19-win season.

Could this have been a MAC tournament championship season? An NCAA tournament season? Frankly, UT has neither won the former nor appeared in the latter since the 1979-80 season, so Rockets fans who have been holding their breaths are a deep, dark shade of midnight blue by now. But, who knows?

UT’s players have shrugged off the disappointment — no Midnight or March Madness — and turned their attention to the attainable.

“I think it’s unfair because we’ve handled our business,” said Rian Pearson, UT’s leading scorer a year ago. “But I’m over it. I don’t think about it. I just try to focus on the good, not the bad. And if the MAC regular-season championship is as far as we can go, then that’s where all the focus is.”

Added point guard Juice Brown, the MAC’s top freshman last season: “We have no control over it, so we have to accept it. We want that regular-season championship so bad. We want to hang a banner for the community and the school.”

And for themselves. It’s not their fault, but it’s all they can do.

Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at:dhack@theblade.comor 419-724-6398.