Miller Mailbag: Weather Games, COVID-19 & Recruiting, UA Media Bias, and More

The pandemic continues to wreak havoc with fall and winter Pac-12 sports

In his latest mailbag column, Dane Miller addresses winter football weather, Arizona media bias, the effects of COVID-19 on recruiting and the Pac-12’s delay of basketball. As always, your questions are much-appreciated. (Ask them here.)

Posted on August 29, 2020

Dane Miller
  By Dane Miller, SportsPac12

I saw Dane’s twitter post about liking football in Tucson in the winter, but how bad would it be in the other Pac-12 cities? We’re talking a lot of snow and cold in some of them. 

—Tony, Phoenix, AZ

Everyone loves a “weather game.”

They are so rare that you can’t help but watch, even if they are low-scoring. Matchups in January and February would become must-see events, even with limited fan attendance.

Bottom line: It would increase the home-field advantage of those schools.

Imagine a cold Saturday night in Salt Lake City with the Oregon Ducks in town or a snowy day in Boulder against the Sun Devils. It could turn the season upside down with shocking upsets.

Added drama would abound and an extra layer of analysis would take place.

The X-Factor might be how it effects practice. Blizzards and cold temperatures could prevent some teams from practicing the normal amount of hours they’re allotted. That could change how the team performs that week, especially on the road.

usc logoOn the flip side, the Southern California and Arizona programs could benefit the most. In the desert, the NCAA prevents games from starting before 7:00 p.m. through September due to the heat. That limitation will be gone.

The Grand Canyon State is notorious for “snow birds” who spend their winters in the mild weather and then go back to their other homes in the Midwest during summer. The road trips to Tempe, Tucson, and even Los Angeles could generate a similar vacation feel and distract some teams from the task at hand.

It will be up to the coaches to keep their teams locked in.

Edwards

Mind games could even be played during the week at press conferences. Herm Edwards could make subtle knocks on North Division opponents in an attempt to distract them with the sunny weather, and road games at the Rose Bowl may begin to be viewed as treats.

All that could combine into a wild, topsy-turvy year with unpredictable results.

Arguably, Utah may emerge with the biggest advantage. Other than CU, all the teams in the South are in warm-weather locations. Road games at Rice-Eccles Stadium are already tough. The frigid cold would make them downright foreboding.

Similarly, any South Division team with a matchup in Seattle will be hard-pressed to emerge victorious. It opens the door for a major upset.

Would USC’s air-raid work in the 38-degree rain? Seems unlikely.

If the Pac-12 takes care in crafting the season, they could engineer some truly great matchups. It’s easy to imagine what intrigue the games would bring.



Oregon’s Justin Herbert runs for a score against Wisconsin in the 2020 Rose Bowl. | CBS Sports

If the SEC, Big-12 and ACC play football this fall, and that obviously sets back the Pac-12 and Big Ten financially, does it also set us back in recruiting? 

—Tommy, a Coug in Boise

No, it doesn’t and here’s why.

The postponement of the season to January—assuming recent talk of bringing back Big Ten by Thanksgiving doesn’t change that—has had little bearing on the Class of 2021.

They weren’t eligible to play this fall, and only some of them had plans to enroll early. The COVID-19 delay isn’t expected to affect them, except that it may push back the start date of their season by a few weeks.

If things go right, the Pac-12 will be playing football around this time next year.

That could change by the time September 2021 rolls around, given another major outbreak or the lack of a proven vaccine. But absent that, the current high school seniors and juniors know that this year’s postponement will have little impact on their freshman year.

Now, all that could change if the Conference announces the postponement of next year’s season. The rest of the Power 5 has proven willing to play given the Myocarditis threat. If that attitude were to continue while the Pac-12 bows out, it could very well lead to a slew of de-commitments.

In that event, your team’s recruiting class would be the least of your concerns. Entire athletic departments could be forced to shutter as revenue dries up. All non-revenue generating sports could be canned, and expenditures on football drastically reduced.

The result would be shells of athletic departments that would find it difficult to stay afloat, let alone attract high-level recruits.

Arguably, the Pac-12 won’t allow that to happen.

Scott

The Conference’s executives should do everything in their power to protect the recruiting classes by providing clear signals that next year will go forward as planned.

Fortunately, the answer to your question is not far away. The early-signing period in December should provide a good barometer for how the Pac-12 stands. If recruits hold off on signing with their universities, it could start the ringing of the alarm bells.

But the COVID Era is too unpredictable to say with any certainty that the Conference will suffer on the recruiting trail due to the current postponement.

For everyone’s sake, let’s hope it doesn’t get to that point.



Arizona and Sean Miller will likely face some NCAA sanctions, but also have been the subjects of numerous unfounded media accusations. | arizonawildcats.com

I’ve been seeing hints from Dick Vitale and other clowns that the NCAA is about to come down on Arizona for basketball violations. Again. Should we be worried, or is this just more BS? 

—Travis, Tucson, AZ

The Notice of Allegation from the NCAA is coming at some point, but nobody knows when it will be delivered or what violations it will contain.

Kansas, Louisville, Oklahoma State, USC, South Carolina, TCU, and Creighton have all been hit with NOA’s up to this point, and there are unconfirmed reports that Auburn has received one as well.

If I had to guess, the Wildcats are likely to receive at least one Level I violation and face a one-year postseason ban, at minimum. However, there are many who argue the NCAA is going to throw the book at Sean Miller, and the Cats will face a 2-3 year ban.

To be frank, nobody but the NCAA officials themselves have any inside knowledge of what Arizona will receive. And without getting into detail about what Miller may or may not have known about Book Richardson’s actions, the nationwide perspective is that Miller and Arizona are guilty.

U of A basketball tends to rouse animosity among many outside of Tucson, no matter where you are in the country. Be that as it may, any story that paints Miller as a cheater is paraded around as fact.

Vitale

Never mind the discredited Mark Schlabach story about Deandre Ayton and the alleged $100,000 payment by Miller that has been proven to be false, or the clear agenda of Dick Vitale. The fact is there are people across the country who want to see Arizona punished as much as possible, regardless of proof or evidence.

For what it’s worth, Miller himself has stated that the reporting by ESPN was defamatory, and the University itself has echoed those statements. The targeted tweets by Vitale that attack Arizona while bewilderingly offering support to Rick Pitino and Louisville borderline on libel, but it’s unlikely the school will take any action due to sensitive documents that would undoubtedly come out in discovery.

The bottom line is that the NCAA is going to hit Arizona with something. Eventually.

Quinerly

The school has been prepared for that reality and has cooperated with the FBI and NCAA up to this point. It’s worth noting that all Arizona players were cleared to play by the NCAA, as was Jahvon Quinerly who wound up at Villanova, but was the main player involved in Arizona’s FBI case.

In many ways, the school might even welcome the delivery of the NOA so that it can begin to move forward. The impending allegation hanging over the program’s head has hurt recruiting and forced Miller to go overseas or seek high four-star talent instead. Gone are the days where the Cats can land an obvious one-and-done, lottery-caliber five-star prospect.

But to directly answer your question, no it’s not BS. However, it’s not something to lose sleep over. In fact, on many levels it’s fair to say that the sooner it comes the better.



ASU’s Remy Martin drives vs. Arizona. | thesundevils.com

How much disadvantage is it for Pac-12 basketball teams not to play preseason games when most or all of the others do? 

—Richard, Irvine, CA

Assuming the date doesn’t change, as it appears it might, a January start could cost the Conference a team or two in the NCAA Tournament.

The nonconference season is vital to determine seeding, and it plays an oversized role in the reputation of each league. Poor performances in November and December have crushed the Pac-12’s reputation in past years, but the games at least provided a starting point to work from. Without any nonconference matchups, the image of the league will arguably rest on it’s pre-existing reputation.

Unfortunately, that perception gets weaker the moment you hit east of Denver.

The Pac-12 did have a better-than-expected nonconference season last November and December, but there’s no guarantee the revitalized status will carry over into this year. On some levels, the Conference will rely on its communication directors to boost its national image and ensure the analysts on television are well-informed.

At the same time, the lack of nonconference games doesn’t effect the teams in the Pac-12 equally. Oregon, UCLA, and Arizona are arguably more immune to the effects due to their national image. But programs such as Colorado, USC, Washington, Utah, and even Stanford could find their path to the NCAA Tournament significantly more difficult.

Let’s not sugar coat it: The Selection Committee tends to show a Big East, ACC, and even an SEC bias as of late. That bias, even if it’s implicit, makes the path to the Big Dance more challenging for high-major programs out West. The lack of nonconference games prevents teams like Colorado and Utah from making statement victories over the Dayton’s and Kentucky’s of the college basketball world.

But as much as it hurts the middle of the pack, it pales in comparison to the damage it does to the bottom of the Conference. Programs on the up-and-up, such as Washington State, might not even be considered bubble teams without a nonconference resume to judge. In a normal year, Kyle Smith could arguably inject his program into the bubble discussion this season with the roster he has built.

However, even if the second-year coach were to guide his program to a seventh or even sixth-place finish in the Pac-12 in 2021, the likelihood of generating buzz for an at-large invite is lower than it would have been had the nonconference games been played.

That’s nothing short of a disaster for the Conference, and Larry Scott should do everything he can to get the Presidents of the universities to reconsider their decision.

Ultimately, a head-turning season from a school like WSU would be discounted by a majority of East Coast observers, who would once again dub the Pac-12 as “weak.” It’s an unfair categorization, but it’s a reality the Conference faces.

Hurley

The wildcard is the effect it has on the seeding of a program like Arizona State. The Sun Devils aren’t considered a mid-level Pac-12 program anymore, as Bobby Hurley has deservedly built a solid national reputation.

But ASU hasn’t sustained its success long enough to reach the national perception of UCLA, Oregon, or Arizona. Most of its image was built on nonconference success while toppling programs such as Kansas, Xavier, San Diego State, and Kansas State over the past few years.

It remains to be seen how the Committee will view them with only a conference season to judge.

Regardless of the program, the lack of matchups against schools outside the Pac-12 could hurt everyone on Selection Sunday. If the other conferences have more resume-building victories, the Committee will be forced to reward them at the expense of the teams from the Conference of Champions.

It could be the difference between a 7-seed and an 8-seed, which ultimately might prevent a Sweet 16 run.






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