March 04, 2014

SAAC up & get some Compliance

Friday's Board of Trustees Athletics Committee meeting featured so much conversation on Compliance and the Student Athlete Academic Center, places that define "turnover" and "fumbling" better than a bad wishbone offense could, that Senior Associate AD Bobby Staub didn't get to make his presentation on the $2 million initiative to build up facilities for women's sports -- finishing the softball stadium, locker rooms for softball and golf and the like. Allegedly, the department already has $1 million of the $2 million.

Let's be blunt about Compliance and the SAAC. Nobody notices when Compliance slips up on a shot putter. A softball starter lost to academics? The interest barely makes it out of the locker room. Not that shot putters and softball outfielders don't work just as hard in class or at their craft. I'm talking just interest here.

But when ineligible basketball players take the court (Ray Taylor), key players can't take the court (Marita Davydova, whose loss FIU coach Cindy Russo again Saturday called "catastrophic"), the basketball team can't go play after school with the other boys and the football team loses three of its most talented players to GPAs that look like breathalyzer tests, many notice.

So, Compliance is considered a problem. The SAAC is considered a problem, though men's basketball and football are the only teams with more GPAs under 3.0 than above and three sports (women's basketball, women's tennis and men's cross country) have none under 3.0.

Committee chairman Jorge L. Arrizurieta opened the meat of the meeting by asking about Compliance and the SAAC, "What’s the game plan to fix the issues that have taken place in the past? We’ve come too long a way in athletics at this great institution to risk falling behind in some of these issues. It’s not an option. My concern from a mangement standpoint is from Compliance, we’ve had three program directors and two interims in the last six years. In the case of the SAAC, as I understand it, three program directors, three interim in the same time period. That’s got to stop. Something has to change.”

While Arrizurieta said he wanted to look forward and not belabor FIU's failures in those departments, that's hard to avoid. So Christopher Schoemann, a long-used compliance consultant in the Collegiate Sports Practice Group of the Kansas law firm Bond, Shoeneck & King, was called up to explain Davydova and Taylor's ineligibility.

Taylor's problem, as reported often, was that he didn't withdraw his declaration for the 2012 NBA Draft soon enough (Digression: shouldn't somebody have told him, "Ray, you're a nice mid-major player. But you're a 5-6 point guard who isn't exactly dominating the Sun Belt. What business do you have declaring for the NBA Draft?).

Davydova's problem is that she, apparently, played some games for Russian State Agrarian University and should've had to sat out a season upon transferring to FIU. Some members of the committee seemed surprised Compliance whiffed on situations that turned on basic, factual information that Compliance had. It is sort of like watching someone strike out in batting practice.

New Compliance head Hank Harrawood introduced himself to the committee, which discussed Compliance being moved under the Athletic Department's roof.

"I believe the Compliance officer should report to the General Counsel," opined Trustee C. Delano Gray, whose bio speaks of his great experience with internal auditing (speaking of internal auditing, that audited 2013 football attendance report should've been ready in late January...). "I prefer that the head coaches or the folks in athletics doesn't have the influence that is likely to happen. I used to be an internal auditor. I have experienced that every now and then, the people you are working with have some kind of influence in what you do."

Schoemann, a former Compliance director himself, said, "Nationally, it is a mixed bag. Has the trend been to have these offices report outside of athletics? The trend has been. I've seen these programs work well solely from an athletics perspective where there is no outside tether to the office of the general counsel, president or provost; and I've seen them work poorly when they're placed entirely of the athletics purview. Hank Harrawood becomes a de facto assistant athletic diretor because of the nature of his job. He becomes a member of Pete's staff. That's true whether or he would report to the general counsel or the office of the president or directly to Pete.

"What's imperative, is that in any type of analysis that the NCAA does with respect to institutional control -- despite the fact they operate with the old Supreme Court adage with respect to pornography that they "know it when they see it" but have never defined it -- that's the litmus test that gets applied to you once that bell gets rung and the NCAA shows up on your doorstep. When we're doing our analysis of institutions, we want to make sure those outside tethers are engaged. That (new Compliance director) Hank (Harrawood) and his counterparts have the necessary access to those offices (of general counsel and president)."

Arrizurieta, referring back to the instability at the top of the department, said part of the reason he supported the move was "Whatever we've done hasn't worked."

General counsel Kristina Raattama said in dealing with Compliance outside Athletics, “Pete feels like he has accountability and no control and I feel like I have responsibllity and no control. When you combine that function into the athletic department, you have a situation where everybody knows what they're responsible for.”

Pete Garcia said, "Hank has been given a directive by all of us that if there's a major issue...his first phone call is to the president’s office, his second phone call is to the legal department." 

The SAAC remains outside athletics. It also remains without a director. Dr. Stephen Fain, the most recent past faculty athletic representative, has been serving as the interim director. Dean of Undergraduate Education Douglas L. Robertson presented the State of the SAAC Report. A committee with the task of finding a new director has a start date of July 1.

"We anticipate filling the director's position with a director who will die in the position," Robertson said. After that brought unintended laughter from the room, "I meant of old age. I meant retire in the position. I anticipate his start date will be July 1, but hope it will be sooner."

(How is it FIU can replace a head basketball coach in a week but takes 10 months to start to find a new SAAC Director?)

The next director comes into a SAAC that gets a budget bump of around $80,000 next year to just over $840,000. Here's how some of that money will be spent:

$60,000 for a business analyst working out of the SAAC who's involved in the building and care of an automated NCAA player certification system and provides tech support.

$26,000 for a bump in the SAAC Director's salary. Dr. Phil Moses salary was $105,000 when he was hired in 2011.

$5,000 as an "equity salary adjustment" for the SAAC Tutor Coordinator, who now makes $35,000.

$16,000 for an "equity adjustment" for the SAAC tutors.

$84,000 for a "significant increase in tutoring hours and staffing."

$10,000 for "additional staffing for book distribution."

$9,000 for "productivity tools for SAAC staff (cell phones and service...)"

$7,000 for GradesFirst, an academic tracker designed for student-athletes.

Those are yearly recurring costs. Under one-shot costs, ther are...

$252,000 for "automation of the NCAA player certification process."

$21,000 for replacing all 35 desktop computers in the SAAC Computer Lab ($600 per computer)

$6,000 for replacing all eight SAAC staff desktop computers.

$176,000 to "improve the SAAC environment" and add five offices. 

Dean Robertson seemed quite excited about bringing Graduation Success Initiative-like metrics, which helped boost on-time grauation rates from 41 percent to 50 percent at FIU in two years, to the SAAC.

"We have invested significantly in predictive analytics to target students who are at-risk or who are on track to graduate, but may not know it an need some additional support," Robertson said.

All this means not much if you don't have athletes who give a good darn enough to crack a book. After all, you can lead a horse's butt to water, but you can't make him think.

Arrizurieta asked why some of these GSI-like ideas and technologies, including real-time updating, "weren't initiated before? Or, was it and it wasn't executed?"

Robertson answered with something that I think of almost as the FIU mantra: the school grew faster than the infrastructure.

"The institution has invested heavily in creating the infrastructure for the GSI that involves a big investment in predictive analytics and various kinds of academic tracking tools that are expensive to build have now been built," he said. "Those tools and expertises -- for example, we now have an office with five behavioral scientists doing these kinds of analytics -- is now in place. That allows the proper support of a SAAC diredctor in providing these kinds of analytics that was not there before."

As for information reporting, Garcia said when Robertson spoke to the faculty senate some time back, Robertson asked for progress reports on the student-athletes.

"There has been a very small percentage return on progress reports (13 percent)," Garcia said. "The reason I’m saying this is they need to know what kids need what tutoring now. They don’t need it at the end of the semester when they’ve failed. As good as I think our SAAC people right now, they can’t help these kids if they don’t know what classes they need help with." 

 

March 03, 2014

SUNDAY! SUNDAY! SUNDAY!

A pretty good one out at Camp Mitch, eh?

The softball team took two games, Detroit-Mercy being an after dinner snack after upsetting No. 19 Minnesota 3-1. Freshmen Gabby Spallone knocked in a run with her first hit and scored another after her second. Freshman Stephanie Texeira doubled in freshman Marina Carmona. Note the repeated use of "freshman." The softball team comes home from Arizona at 14-6.

Back on Miami-Dade County soil, we saw the wearing out of the Greens.

For Sunday brunch (no mimosas, though) baseball smacked around Dartmouth and came home eased up with an 11-7 win that puts FIU at 11-1 with another round of national rankings coming today. Perfect Game's Top 25 puts FIU just outside the rankings, as one of Five to Watch. 

FIU's got five hitters over .300, led by Aramis Garcia (.463) and Josh Anderson (.460) and Zach Sweety at .294. But when you've got starters with ERAs of 1.12 (Mike Ellis), 1.65 (Mike Franco), 1.00 (Robby Kalaf) and 1.64 (Cody Crouse) you could have a Hee-Haw lineup of banjo hitters could get you through the night.

On the court, Tulane's Green Wave got swallowed by a rogue wave from FIU. The Panthers jumped to a 10-0 lead and kept pace past the signposts. I thought, FIU's playing extremely well, but if that lead gets under 10 at halftime, I'm worried. FIU led by 10 at half. Then I thought, OK, don't let the lead get down to four or five. It was down to five at 42-37 for one possession. Rakeem Buckles dropped in a three. Tulane suddenly looked like John Belushi's Samurai hotel clerk when Richard Pryor's Samurai chopped a desk in half to end an argument: "I understand where you're coming from." 

 

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick walked in at halftime, dressed for a sunny March day in Chicago, with a few pals. President Mark Rosenberg and athletic director Pete Garcia talked with the group for a few minutes before showing them to a cabana. A cooler quickly was produced. The group hung out until about four minutes remained in the game. Kaepernick declined to say what drew he and his crew to spend part of a sunny Sunday watching Tulane vs. FIU.

SWIMMING & DIVING

I forgot to note FIU's Rio Ramirez received Conference USA's Diving Coach of the Year award. 

March 02, 2014

FIU Swim 2nd in Conference USA; JoGus, Beaupre 1st (again)

Women's basketball Senior Night at The Branch included redshirt junior forwad Arielle Durant. Though Duratn said this was the first year she felt truly healthy and a year of eligibility remains, she's done after this season. Academically done. As in, she's about to get her master's degree in sports management.

While Durant told us this, FIU's swimmers did their own finishing up in Atlanta, coming home second behind Rice in the Panthers' first Conference USA swim meet, FIU's best finish in a conference championship meet. Rice racked up 1,000 points, helped greatly by taking all the relays. FIU's 740 points edged East Carolina's 700 and Western Kentucky's 686.

Just as she used to in the Sun Belt, senior Sabrina Beaupre took Diver of the Meet. Beaupre followed a narrow second in the 3-meter springboard by dominating the 1-meter springboard Friday and 10-meter platform Saturday. 

Also treating C-USA as she did the Sun Belt, junior Johanna Gustafsdottir won a third consecutive conference title in the 200 backstroke. Her 1:55.05 didn't break the school record she set with her first 200 back conference title, 1:54.40, but she did do some record-breaking with a leadoff 50.01 in the 400 free relay. Gustafsdottir, freshman Jenny Alfani, freshman Jenny Deist and junior Klara Andersson came in second to Rice (catch the running theme?) but did so in a school record 3:20.74. That shaved 0.93 off the record set at last year's Sun Belt meet by Gustafsdottir, Andersson, Dani Albright and Marina Ribi. And all members of this relay team should be back next year. Ribi was a senior and Albright decided to quit swimming.

In her last individual conference championship event, senior Sonia Perez Arau knocked 7.24 seconds off her own school record while snagging second in the 1,650 free in 16:28.63. Below 400 yards, Gustafsdottir's the best swimmer in FIU's 11-season history. At or above 400, it's Perez, two-time conference champion in the 400 individual medley and school record holder at every distance at or above 400 meters.

Juniors Jean Madison and Dani Meara got FIU points with a fifth (2:18.28) and ninth (2:19.97), respectively, in the 200 breaststroke. Senior Sarah D'Antoni swam to a 200 butterfly sixth place in 2:01.13. Deist's personal best 50.43 in the 100 free was good enough for fifth.

 

 

February 28, 2014

Smoke in the water, fire on the track (and field)

I'll get to this morning's Board of Trustees' Athletics Committee meeting in my next post. And baseball clobbered The Green of the Ivy, Dartmouth, 11-0 to go to 10-0 this season. 

Spring football starts Mar. 18 and runs through April 12. Conference USA's football media days are July 22 and 23 in Dallas.

But, elsewhere, FIU folks are trying to win conference championships swimming and running, so let's get to that.

In the Atlanta pool, the favorites paid for FIU, trailing leader Rice by 181 points and leading third place East Carolina by 28 points.

Senior Sonia Perez Arau knocked 4.02 seconds off Quincy Christian's Conference USA meet record and won the 400 individual medley by 4.84 seconds with a 4:12.11. Perez was third after the opening butterfly leg, then destroyed the field with a 1:03.20 backstroke leg that put her 2.14 seconds up halfway through the race. She closed with the race's fastest freestyle leg, 57.02. Second coming out of fly was sophomore Becky Wilde, who stayed in the mix with the non-Perez part of the field through back. But after breast, she was slotted into sixth, where she finished in 4:22.20.

After senior Sabrina Beaupre finished second in Thursday's 3-meter springboard diving, I'd have bet my next paycheck on Beaupre taking the 1-meter springboard and 10-meter platform. As predictable as the Canadiens winning the Stanley Cup in the late 1970s, Beaupre won her seventh conference title.

If junior Johanna Gustafsdottir hadn't reset her 200 free school record by leading off Wednesday's 800 free relay with a 1:46.90, her 1:47.55 in Friday's 200 free final would've done it. That got Gustafsdottir, who came into the meet seeded fourth, a third behind Rice's Casey Clark (1:46.98) and FAU's Agi Bucz (1:47.47). Gustafsdottir led Clark by the start of a wink after 100, but Clark blew out a great third 50 and a strong final 50, while Bucz swam the race's fastest final 50 to pip Gustafsdottir for second.

Junior Klara Andersson got FIU points with an eighth in the 100 breast with a 1:03.17. Andersson's 1:02.89 in the prelims was a tick off Jessica Chadwick's school record 1:02.84.

I picked the 400 medley relay for an upset on a whim. The team of Gustafsdottir, junior Dani Meara, freshman Jenny Alfani and Andersson came in fourth behind Rice's 3:39.00. FIU's 3:43.19 was the second best time in school history behind the 3:40.87 posted by last year's Sun Belt Championship winner, an all-star concoction of the 100 back (Gustafsdottir), 100 breast (Chadwick), 100 fly (Marina Ribi) school record holders and Andersson, who had second best 100 free in FIU history behind Gustafsdottir.

Friday, Gustafsdottir gave FIU the lead after the leadoff backstroke (of course). She didn't swim the 100 back Friday, but surely will swim the 200 back Saturday. FIU could get a win there and from Beaupre in the 10-meter platform. FIU's seeded second behind Rice in the 400 free relay. 

Inside the Birmingham CrossPlex, FIU and East Carolina's women dominated iron slinging. FIU sophomores Miriam Pierre (61 feet, 5 1/2 inches) and Chelsea Goburne (58-4 1/2) finished second and fourth amidst a 1-3-5 placing by East Carolina women that was led by Kayla Padgett's 68-5 3/4.

In the ongoing events, sophomore Brandon Ballard qualified for Saturday's 800 meters final with a 1:54.44, sixth fastest among the final eight. Senior Lashae White got out of the 400 prelims in 56.04 seconds. Sophomore Cam'ree Jackson hustled to a 7.54 60 to make that final. Senior Desmond McGill shot through the 60 hurdles in 8.15 seconds, the fourth best of the eight finalists separated by 0.13 seconds.

 

 

 

 

 

February 27, 2014

A 1 and a 2 and a 2 and a 2...

FIU's second day of the Conference USA Swimming & Diving Championships in Atlanta could be summed up by the above Lawrence Welk-as-imitated-by-Mel-Tillis rhythm. Also, the Panthers sit in second with 266 points just ahead of Western Kentucky (226) and East Carolina (224). Rice, the clear favorite to win the team title going into the week, leads with 339.

The 1...: You know who -- junior Johanna Gustafsdottir won the 200 individual medley in 1:57.94, taking down her own FIU record (1:58.27) and the Conference USA champinoships meet record (1:58.08, SMU's Therese Svendsen in 2012). Gustafsdottir had the fastest butterfly split (25.78), fastest backstroke split (29.08) and second fastest closing 50 freestyle (28.54).That's now six individual conference titles by Gustafsdottir in two and a half conference championship meets. I'm guessing she gets more over the next couple of days in the back events.

...and a 2: Senior Sonia Perez Arau erased her own FIU record while losing a duel with Rice junior Erin Flanigan in the 500 free. Perez and Flanigan, the Nos. 2 and 1 seeds, respectively, pulled away from everyone with Perez in front until the next-to-last 50-yard segment. Still, Perez came home in 4:45.06, 3.37 seconds better than the record she set at last year's Sun Belt Championships.

...and a 2: This counts as an upset, although I knew it would be tough for senior Sabrina Beaupre to sweep the diving events as she used to in the Sun Belt. Better divers in C-USA, one more event. I still think Beaupre will take the 10-meter platform and 1-meter springboard after finishing second, 294.30 to 293.70, to Old Dominion junior Rachel Eckert. Freshman Lily Kaufmann came in fifth, scoring 256.00.

...and a 2: Junior Klara Andersson's 22.73 anchor leg couldn't walk down Rice for the 200 free relay championship, but second place FIU still broke the school record of 1:33.58 set by Gustafsdottir, freshman Jenny Alfani, junior Courtney VanderSchaaf and Andersson. This time, the same group in the same order, other than freshman Jenny Deist replacing VanderSchaaf, got home in a smashing 1:32.09, 0.57 behind Rice.

Friday, there's the 100 back, in which Gustafsdottir comes in as the second seed behind North Texas junior Mona Groteguth (yeah, I'm betting Reykjavik rocks in that one); 400 IM, in which Perez had the best time in Conference USA this year by 8.21 seconds, which is almost a generational gap at this distance; the 1-meter springboard, another chance for Beaupre to win her seventh conference title; the 400 medley relay, where FIU has the sixth best seed time, but I'll stick with my prediction that this is a relay they take; the 200 free; the 100 fly; and 100 breast. 

 

 

February 26, 2014

JoGus resets a record, FIU gets a 2nd & 7th

The first day of the Conference USA Swimming & Diving Championships showed a couple of things hadn't changed much from the Sun Belt Championships.

1. The live stats ran on Miami time. Hours after the swimmers left the pool and finished demolishing dinner, the live stats said the last completed event was the men's 1-meter diving, the third of Wednesday's five events.

2. Johanna Gustafsdottir is still FIU's best swimmer, possibly the best FIU swimmer ever.

FIU finished second in the 800 freestyle relay to Rice by 1.14 seconds, 7:12.29 to 7:13.43, with Gustafsdottir leading off with a 1:46.9 leg, knocking 1.1 seconds off her school record, set at last year's Sun Belt meet. Leadoff times in the 800 free relay can be used as 200 free times for record purposes.

One of the two relays I thought FIU would take turned into a tremendous group duel with Rice. Gustafsdottir finished her leg second to Rice's Casey Clark by a breath, 0.26 seconds. Sophomore Becky Wilde knocked a millimeter, 0.05 seconds, off the margin. Senior Sonia Perez Arau pushed FIU into a narrow lead in the middle 50s of her leg before handing junior Nadia Farrugia a virtual match race, a 0.05 deficit, with Rice senior Karina Wlostowska, an ace anchor for the Owls the last two years. What little margin Wlostowska came home with she got in the third 50, which she left with a 1.12 second lead.

While the 800 relay finished exactly where seeded, the 200 medley relay came home seventh in 1:43.93. To be fair, the relay team that swam the fourth-best seed time of 1:42.76 -- Gustafsdottir, junior Klara Andersson, freshman Jennifer Alfani and freshman Jenny Deist -- at the Mizzou Invite in November wasn't Wednesday's C-USA team. This time, Alfani was the leadoff backstroker, instead of backstroke motorboat Gustafsdottir, and freshman Therese Nord was on butterfly, where Alfani, this year's fastest butterflier, had been.

Rice won that relay, too, at 1:39.33.

 

February 24, 2014

Coley, Conference USA Player of the Week, Lieberman finalist; Baseball ranked

Senior point guard Jerica Coley scored a career-high 47 and 35 points in her two games last week. She also averaged 10 rebounds, five assists, three steals and two blocks. For this, she won her second Conference USA Player of the Week award. 

Coley also made the cut to 22 for the Nancy Lieberman Award, given to the best point guard in college ball. The award is given by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

BASEBALL

College baseball polls outnumber flagpoles at the United Nations. Perfect Game and ESPN/USA Today doesn't rank 8-0 FIU. But Collegiate Baseball's weekly poll puts the Panthers at No. 30.

That should be 9-0 after Tuesday's game agianst Florida Memorial.

 

Ramble On

While the stick and ball teams take a break from using their bats on visiting teams like they owe FIU money, swimming and diving prepares to leave for Atlanta and the Conference USA meet.

(They won't need to do any Internet panhandling, but the volleyball team is still at http://www.gofundme.com/FIUVolleyball, $195 toward their goal of $6,000. While you're on the site, you can contribute to the Oswego State Synchronized Skating Team's trip travel to nationals. Or the Coppin Academy Girls Basketball team trying to raise $6,000 to attend a summer camp.)

Lack of diver depth hurt FIU in the Sun Belt meet and could do the same here after senior Sabrina Beaupre takes the 10-meter platform and at least one of the two springboards. She's favored in all three.

In the pool, C-USA's tougher than The Belt and FIU no longer has Madame Butterfly, Marina Ribi, to pick up points in that dastardly stroke. Still, junior Johanna Gustafsdottir ranks first in the 200 backstroke and second in the 100 back. Senior Sonia Perez Arau comes in with the best 400 IM time in the conference. Klara Andersson is a close third in the 50 freestyle, which she won at last year's Sun Belt meet.

And FIU will bring home a relay win or two. I'm thinking 400 medley and 800 free. Just noticed -- the common thread in every school record relay is Gustafsdottir swimming the first leg. That makes sense. She's strongest in back, the first stroke of a medley relay. Her next strongest stroke is free. Classic relay set up uses the second fastest to lead off with the fastest anchoring.

I'd be shocked if the water women can give the athletic department its first Conference USA title. Defending champion Rice is still strong and East Carolina looks like a possible problem. That leaves baseball and softball -- track? Name the last conference champion without a coach -- and both of them get blocked. Rice owns baseball while UAB and Tulsa tussle over softball.

No, the baseball team isn't outscoring the football team after eight games. They were after three games (25-23) and four games (30-23). But if you just count scoring against Division I/FBS opponents, it's closer than you think after eight games: 78-63 for football.

When I saw FIU football coach Ron Turner at FIU Baseball Stadium with his family Saturday on the concourse on the first base line. I thought, "Boy, he'll go anywhere to see some offense." The Sunday juxtaposition couldn't have been more ripe -- FIU sports and centertainment head Pete Garcia attending hte baseball game with Butch Davis, the currently unemployed former coach at the Universty of Miami.

Now, if Davis wants back in coaching, he's got to cleanse himself by working somewhere else for a year or two. Obviously, FIU would be a fine place for that. Maybe Davis has changed his mind about FIU. He certainly could've joined his buddy Garcia a year ago and a few candidates (or their representatives) said they were told, "don't bother, this is Butch's job." Garcia's fits of temper and rash decisions would do Lewis Carroll's Queen of Hearts proud -- thus why some in the department call the second floor area housing Garcia's office "The Tower of Terror" -- but firing Mario Cristobal without a card like Davis to play exceeds Garcia's Yosemite Sam quotient.

 

North Carolina was on the hook for Davis' money, so nothing about that green affected Davis taking FIU's green. A theory I formed while writing about Saturday's 10-0 baseball thumping of Stony Brook: Davis learned the horrible academic situation facing FIU football in 2013 and decided to let someone else deal with that academic barf. If I knew about it in December, 2012, why wouldn't Davis?

This weekend's baseball stories were easy to write. FIU won three blowouts, scored early in each one and I didn't have to spend any time waiting to talk to coaches or players or transcribing their quotes. I did talk to Stony Brook Friday night starter Frankie Vanderka, one of the better pitchers FIU will see in non-conference play, about what pitch Julius Gaines drove for a home run and what he thought of FIU's lineup. On Saturday and Sunday, I wasn't going to waste the Stony Brook coach's time asking him his opinion of a team that just waxed him by 10 runs.

I'd have liked to talk to Aramis Garcia, hitting .500 over the first eight games; or freshman JC Escarra, with a team-leading .577 on-base percentage; or Josh Anderson, last year's team leader in doubles with 22, already with five this year and 14 RBI.

Alas, FIU coaches and players were unavailable for comment to the media. I'd been told before Friday's game that would be the case. Officially, it was Turtle Thomas' decision so everyone could remain focused on baseball without any distractions. Logically, that dog didn't hunt. Postgame interviews are, you know, postgame and about 18 hours before the next game. They take less than 10 minutes total time, two or three players and Thomas combined, once they start. There wasn't media, only a medium -- me -- for three of the first five games (as well as Friday and Saturday). And the Panthers looked none too distracted in winning their first five games. Also, Thomas does answer questions from FIU media relations after the game.

Of course, this came from above Thomas. Thomas' bosses are Garcia and Senior Associate AD Bobby Staub. This was a predictable reaction to the Dennis Wiseman story, but mostly because I'd long ago heard that neither was too pleased about a series of public records requests I've been making since December on a broad range of things. Sometimes, I just feel there's information I should have. Sometimes, I'm curious. Sometimes, I smell something.

Marketing's now Staub's thing, by the way. He's now the most motivated salesman in FIU athletics. In addition to his $110,000 salary, Staub gets $1,000 bonuses for football season student attendance being above $20,000, then another grand if over $30,000; basketball season student attendance over 5,000, then 10,000; basketball season tickets over 500 and over 750; baseball ticket revenue over $15,000 and $20,000; football ticket and sponsorship revenue (excluding Pepsi) over $1 million and over $1.5 million; sells the naming rights to FIU Baseball Stadium or five other new athletics assets; and sells all the suites for one season for football and basketball.

By the way, the victory song for FIU during the Turtle Thomas era used to be "New York, New York." Not sure why, but it's become custom since 2008. Now, under directions from marketing, it's Kool and the Gang's "Celebration," both the highest charting and worst Kool and the Gang single ever. Feel the cliche.

Oh, I forgot, The Master Plan Development for Camp Mitch from Feb. 14 still shows a soccer field surrounded by a track as a Future Development. Not even Funded or Likely Funded. Future Development.

To let you know how far into the future that might be, also in that category is Stadium Upper Bowl Expansion. That'll be about as useful as a weave store for skinheads until Ron Turner turns into Dr. Alchemy followed by Staub turning into P.T. Barnum.

That would be something completely different.

 

 

 

February 22, 2014

Kicker Scott Wade declares for FIU

Plantation American Heritage senior Scott Wade, the first team All-Broward kicker for both The Herald and Sun-Sentinel, last year Tweets that he's now committed to FIU. FIU has one scholarship left for this year if it wants to use it. Wade hit a pedestrian nine of 16 field goal attempts this year, but one of the nine was a 52-yarder. He averaged 41.3 yards per punt.

After Jack Griffin's erratic senior year in 2012 -- see what fatherhood can do to you? -- and a year of wildly erratic kicking and kickoffs from freshmen, solid kicking would be even a small hook on which FIU could hang its scoring pants. 

FIU football coach Ron Turner attended Saturday's baseball game with some of his family. I couldn't help thinking, boy, he's looking anywhere for offense, huh?

 

Play4Kay Hoops & Cut Baseballs

Saturday represents the only basketball sort of doubleheader of the season -- the men at 2 p.m. vs. Tulsa, the women at 6 p.m. vs. Marshall, baseball and softball going on during the time between games --  and the women's game also will be the penultimate home game for senior guard Jerica Coley.

It's also the Play4Kay game, FIU's part in the movement to try to find a cure for breast cancer. The team will wear several pink accessories and fans are also asked to wear pink.

BASEBALL

The Diamond Dinner keeps the baseball and softball programs above the Internet panhandling to which the track and volleyball programs have been forced to stoop. Baseball needs that event as its budget has subtly sunk like a good Randy Jones pitch over the past few years.

Total operating budget: 2011-12: $834,498

Total operating budget for 2012-13: $825,940. Main difference: $4,872 less for Tuition, Stipends, Scholarship, $11,000 less for Game Expenses, $9,061 more in baseball staff and operations salaries. 

Total operating budget for 2013-14: $820,460. Main differences: $5,000 less for Team Travel, $20,211 less for Tuition, Stipends, Scholarship, $3,500 more for Recruiting Travel, $10,000 more for Game Expenses, $4,284 more for baseball staff and operations salaries.

The budget for men's basketball fell also each of the last four years. It fell 0.2 percent from Isiah Thomas second year to his third and final year, but 6-1 percent from Thomas to Richard Pitino's year and another 2.7 percent from last year to this year. But examining that difference line by line shows most of that difference is in Team Travel, which was budgeted over $100,000 less each of the last two years than each of the last two Isiah Thomas-coached seasons, a drop of over 30 percent; and basketball staff and operations salaries, which have gone down with each coaching change (Thomas to Richard Pitino, Richard Pitino to Anthony Evans); and in the line item Fringe Benefits, which has also gone down with each change.

Football's budget dipped by 2.1 percent from 2010-11 to 2011-12 (bowl season to bowl season); rose by 1.2 percent from 2011-12 to 2012-13; then rose again by 4.29 percent for this year. Most of that came from larger numbers for operations and staff salaries and Tuition, Stipends, Scholarship.

But, note that there were head coaching changes around each of the moves in budget for football and basketball. Baseball's staff has remained the same at the top.

Keep in mind, there was an increase in student fees of 54 cents per credit hour, approved to cover the move to Conference USA and increased yearly fees. The increase more than paid for that move, as the students have more than paid for their share of FIU athletics. According to USA Today's annual subsidies (student fees, state funding, etc.) report, FIU's the 25th most subsidized athletic department budget (83.38 percent). Among the 24 more subsidized departments, only Georgia State plays football at the FBS level. 

Now, all of this assumes that the budgetary numbers I received from a public records request from FIU are accurate. Sometimes, numbers get misplaced. Or, things go missing.

 

February 20, 2014

Coley Academic All-American; Compliance moves

The day after tying her career high with 47 points in a loss to Southern Mississippi, senior guard Jerica Coley was named a Third Team Capital One Academic All-American.

You know the numbers: 3.41 GPA, 29.4 points per game, an amazing (or ridiculous) 42.7 percent of FIU's offense this season. The only home games remaining for Coley, assuming FIU doesn't make a postseason tournament of any kind, are Saturday against Marshall and a week from Saturday against Old Dominion, both 6 p.m. games.

COMPLIANCE

Val Sheley was the Director of Compliance until last fall. Back then, Compliance didn't fall under Athletics.

Now, comes Hank Harrawood. Harrawood's title? Associate Athletic Director of Compliance, indicating that office has been moved under the Athletics roof or is about to be.

FAU, USF and UCF each have both an an Assistant AD of Compliance and a Director of Compliance. FAU doesn't list staff beyond their top two. In addition to the assistant AD and director, UCF has a director in charge of rules, another for financial aid, an assistant director in charge of monitoring rules and one monitoring eligibility. USF has three additional assistant directors of compliance and a "compliance extern."

FIU has the Harrawood position, three assistant director positions (one open, the one in charge of APR) and a compliance intern (also open). Not sure what Harrawood's making, but Sheley was making $100,000. The two assistant directors in place now make around $110,000, combined. Considering FIU's Compliance troubles and possible fines incurred to the NCAA for those troubles, the school might want to drop a little coin on the department. At least that'll keep the money in town.

The same could be said of the SAAC. Former director Phil Moses wrote in his 2012 evaluation, "The needs of the student-athletes we serve and the needs of the SAAC staff members are diverse. The financial constraints of a budget that does not match the needs of the students we serve necessitates decision-making that is consistently efficient, but very challenging. The same goes for the professional development of the SAAC staff. Much development is needed for staff, but critical priorities have severely hampered funding such development."

In one of her performance evaluations, Sheley wrote that "our staff is not big enough to be doing all things at all times for all people" and that Compliance at FIU had responsibilities "for certain areas not usually housed in the Compliance office." Then again, I've heard some athletic department staffers in an area that should have nothing to do with Compliance were having to handle Compliance work.

Or, to paraphrase Biggie, "No money, mo' problems."

(Yes, I have made a public records request for the budgets of Compliance and the SAAC.) 

Let's see if FIU puts the new guy, Harrawood (undergrad at East Carolina, law school at Elon) and whoever takes over the SAAC in a better situation. Harrawood most recently was an assistant AD for nine months at Louisiana-Monroe, where Senior Associate AD Bobby Staub was athletic director before coming to FIU. Before that, Harrawood was the Compliance Coordinator at Gardner-Webb University.

 

 

Randy Melvin, new D-line coach

To fill the spot vacated when defensive line coach Andre Patterson went to work on a Minnesota Vikings staff that includes the other Turner, Norv, FIU head football coach Ron Turner hired Randy Melvin.

Melvin coached with Turner on Tampa Bay's staff in 2011 and remained there in 2012. Over his career, he's bounced between college and the NFL -- Eastern Illinois, Wyoming, Purdue, New England Patriots (first Super Bowl season), Rutgers (twice), Cleveland, Temple (with Al Golden). He even did a CFL season with the BC Lions (Grey Cup) before heading back to the NFL with Tampa Bay.

 

From Gomez (not Addams)

Southern Mississippi attempted defense, a pressing, trapping kind. FIU's Jerica Coley ended with 47 points. FIU attempted defense. Southern Miss scored 106 points and shot 54.4 percent from the field. Stetson attempted defense and achieved comedy -- six errors leading to five FIU runs.

Only FIU's relief pitching seemed to have the concept down Wednesday night at Camp Mitch. And the last of those relievers, senior Mike Gomez, is truly appreciative of another chance to be the closer FIU thought he would be in 2013, before Tommy John surgery ended his season after five appearances and four saves.

"It's unreal," Gomez said. "To be back on that mound, there's nothing like it. All last year, I was sitting and watching from the stands. All I could think about is getting back on the mound."

In three appearances, Gomez has two saves. 

"Close to night and day, the way my arm feels at least" he said. "With our new pitching coach now, Coach (Sam) Peraza, he's teaching how to just command (pitches) and just pound the zone with strikes. Not taking away from our other pitching coaches. Coach (Drew) French was a great coach, but this year I think what I needed was "throwing strikes" engraved in me because I had too many walks last year and the year before that."

Gomez has developed a cutter to stick in his arsenal.

"I've been working hard on that pitch," he said. "It was a little struggle at first. Me and Coach Peraza overcame it. It's a good pitch for me, especially against lefties. I needed an out pitch against lefties. My changeup has been devastating to righties, so that was a good pitch to add."

The baseball team sits at 5-0 going into the weekend series against Stony Brook (No, they don't have a Flinstone Hall or Rubble Recreation Center). They got votes in the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association Top 25, votes that would surely multiply if FIU comes out of this weekend 7-1 or 8-0.

February 19, 2014

Serrano C-USA Golfer of the Week

For medalist honors at the Amelia Island Collegiate with an 8-under 208, freshman Camila Serrano is Conference USA's Golfer of the Week. 

With Serrano, sophomores Sophie Godley and Meghan MacLaren, FIU stands a decent shot of winning the Conference USA title the year after winning the Sun Belt title. 

February 18, 2014

Golf, gold, decisions

Frehsman Camila Serrano took medalist honors with an 8-under 208 and FIU's 859 team score gave them a 12-stroke win over Kennesaw State in the Amelia Island Collegiate.

Sophmores Meghan MacLaren and Sophie Godley swapped spots (third and fourth) after McLaren shot a 3-over 75 to close and Godley put forth a 6-over 78 in the final round. Serrano held on for the win only after beating Daytona State's Tiffany Chan in an 18th hole playoff (literally an 18th hole playoff -- they played the 18th four times).

FUNDING VOLLEYBALL

http://www.gofundme.com/FIUVolleyball. They're up to $195 as of right now. Their goal is $6,000.

WISEMAN

As several of you hasve asked, from my end, here's what went into deciding to do today's story on Dennis Wiseman.

A young woman sent Tweets to several different people about Wiseman, his past and Saturday. I don't know Wiseman. His last year at FIU ended the academic year before I started my first run covering FIU. I might have had occasion to write his name in 1990 as a key departure from the baseball team from the previous year. I didn't know about what happened at North Miami High. When it happened, I was a Panthers/NHL reporter enjoying the time off between the Panthers getting knocked out of the playoffs that spring and the Stanley Cup Final. If I did read it in our Local section back then, I long ago dumped it from my memory banks.

Anyway, after seeing the woman's Tweet, I searched several public records on Wiseman. I found the progression of the case through the court system and his registration among several other facts. I also found what was written on the case after Wiseman's arrest. With information from these places, I called my immediate superior and laid everything out with "Here's what we have. What do we do with it?"

After all, this isn't some coaching change, schedule change or a recruiting commit. That's stuff you get out with all necessary haste, if you can. Blog post, hit it, it's out. I can make those decisions on my own. For stories like this, I can have my opinion, but it better be expressed in discussions with editors before that opinion is acted on one way or the other.

That editor told me to wait while he went up the chain of command. It's obviously a sensitive topic, on at least two levels. He came back with, "Write it." I called the FIU media relations department, asked who was in charge of selecting Wiseman and said I would like to speak with that person. Soon after, I was told he'd been on the football team plane several times so I also asked to speak to Pete Garcia. The answers to these requests are in today's paper.

I got Wiseman's cell phone number Monday night, called and left a message with my cell phone number. We waited until 10 p.m. before moving ahead with the story, sans comment from Wiseman. My cell phone stayed on until 1:30 a.m. He didn't call. (Wiseman called me this morning. As he wished the conversation to stay private, that'll all I'll say about it.)

I had nothing to do with the headline or story placement. Aside from blog posts and a few stories posted directly online, I haven't written a headline or picked the page/space for a story since the Indiana Daily Student.

February 17, 2014

Golf clubbing Amelia Island competition; FIU athletics kickstarter

FIU's got three of the top four indivduals, shot a team record 11-under 277 in the first round and head into the final day of the Amelia Island Collegiate with an obese 13-stroke lead on second place Kennesaw State.

Freshman Camila Serrano sits atop the team and tournament leaderboard with an 11-under 133 after two rounds. Sitting in third and fourth overall, five and seven shots back respectively, are sophomores Sophie Godley and Meghan MacLaren.

The tournament, at Fernandina Beach's Amelia National Golf Club, ends with a third round Tuesday. 

FUNDRAISING

Over on http://www.gofundme.com, you can find the volleyball team $5 into a campaign to drum up $6,000 in donations with a 10/20 drive -- each athlete asks 10 friends to donate $20. Track and field took to the site last July to raise $15,000 to help pay for "the new upgrades to our facilities," specifically the soccer field/track renovation that was to start in November. Track has raised $2,200 of a $15,000 goal. 

I'm all for the Kickstarters of the world. I think they're brilliant uses of the Internet. But there's a difference between a director with a unique concept or an inventor with a new bobrick and the athletic team of a large, public university.

That two of FIU's teams have to resort to this electronic panhandling says the school needs to get better at tapping some moneyed pockets. By comparison, the groups from UCF I found on the site were club teams, pure extracurricular activites without scholarships.

 

Diamond Stud-ded (and Stud-ette-d) Weekend

While I spent Friday at Prime Italian -- haven't seen that much outkicking of coverage since Ray Guy retired -- and Saturday and Sunday at FIU Baseball Stadium, the FIU team with the new home ripped their way to an 8-2 record and the championship of the FIU Classic.

FIU opened and closed the tournament by zeroing out Georgia Southern, 8-0 by mercy rule on Friday and 2-0 in the championship game Sunday. Sophomore Corinne Jenkins had the circle throughout the first game and for the first six innings of the championship game. Junior Shelby Graves came in for the save, striking out two of the three batters she faced. Georgia Southern turned out to be Mission: Very Possible to Graves, who went three for three with two RBI in the opener.

Later that day, Graves took her turn in the circle as a starter against Gulf Coast. She lasted five innings, gave up four runs and seven hits, struck out five and went one for one hitting in FIU's 7-4 win. Freshman first baseman Stephanie Texeira, Conference USA Player of the Week in her first post-college week, cranked her first home run as part of a two for four night.

When I saw FIU would start Saturday against Wisconsin, I winced. I don't care if it's fast pitch, anytime you get Middle American corn-and-pork fed folks serious about softball from someplace serious about beer, I get seriously worried. Indeed, Wisconsin's the defending Big Ten tournament champion with seven players officially taller than FIU's five 5-7 players.

The Badgers mercy ruled FIU 8-0 in the first game. In the rematch later Saturday, Wisconsin marche to a 2-0 lead before junior Krystal Garcia's two-run double tied the game. Graves took the pitching baton from Jenkins and allowed one hit in the final two and two thirds innings. Meanwhile, freshman Stephanie Texiera, last week's Conference USA Co-Player of the Week, and sophomore Aleima Lopez went deep on the Badgers to put FIU up 4-2 on the way to a 5-2 win.

Texeira's adjusting well to college ball: team high's .500 batting average, .857 slugging percentage, 14 hits, four doubles, .595 on-base percentage. With the six hit-by-pitches, it looks like a 10-game Frank Robinson stat line.

Over at FIU Baseball Stadium, the Panthers sandwiched a pair of Saturday routs of Rutgers with one-run wins in front of friends, family and a bunch of scouts who came to check out junior catcher Aramis Garcia.

Garcia didn't disappoint, other than a passed ball and throwing error early in Saturday's second game. He threw out runners. He handled FIU's pitchers well. He hit .615 with a .688 on-base percentage in the four-game series, finishing with a three for four Sunday. Everybody besides Garcia found Sunday Rutgers starter Kevin Baxter harder to hit than the Cash 3. 

"Their pitching staff will throw any pitch any count -- fastball, changeup, anything -- so you can't sit on any pitches," said FIU's Josh Anderson, seven for 14 with 5 RBI on the weekend. "They'll throw 2-1 breaking balls, 1-0 changeups and throw them for strikes. They were doing a good job mixing up all the pitches. He was keeping the ball down. He was throwing strikes. We were a litle antsy. We got a lot of hits (Saturday). We probably wanted to pick up where we left off."

Defensively, shortstop Julius Gaines vacillates from Gaines the Great to Gaines Burgers -- three throwing errors, but at least four plays of athletic wonderfulness, shortstop by Alvin Ailey. But it was the same last year, when Gaines' fielding percentage was .884. With second baseman Edwin Rios, who started one double play with a diving stab and flip to Gaines all with just the glove, and Gaines, FIU has an effective and flashy double play combination. FIU turned eight double plays in the first four games. The Panthers turned 50 in 58 games last year.

It was nice to see junior Mike Ellis back from an almost crushing back injury navigating five innings the way he did Saturday evening. 

"It was a big injury for me," Ellis said. "I've never had to deal with anything like that. I had some doubts over the summer if it was ever going to be the same. I'm stronger than I was last season. I feel more refined mechanically. My body hasn't been in this good a shape ever."

Freshman Christopher Mourelle, from Southwest High, pitched an inning in relief of Ellis Saturday. Mourelle will get the start against Stetson Wednesday. The other freshman trying to grab the fourth starting spot, Cody Crouse, went five innings, giving up six hits and was responsible for two runs.

"Cody did a nice job. I don't think he ran out of gas because his pitch count wasn't high going into the sixth (he wound up at 60)," FIU coach Turtle Thomas said. "I think what happened, in the bottom of the fifth, not that we did a whole lot offensively, but the inning took a long time. And, I think he might've lost his focus sitting over there. That happens to young guys after they've been out there four, five, six innings at times."

February 16, 2014

Bits & pieces

I'll have a wrap up of this first baseball weekend after today's season closer. But here's some FIU athletics Snacky Cakes for the morning:

FOOTBALL: FIU will play UMass home-and-home in 2015 and 2018. UMass just went FBS in 2012 and has had back-to-back 1-11 seasons since then.

And this year's deal with FCS Wagner is a one-shot deal.

BASKETBALL: I figured with men's basketball attendance up and not having to travel to a conference tournament, this might be a better year financially for basketball than usual. Hey, there can be an upside to academic failure!

Alas, FIU could be facing a series of fines. I'd heard months ago that the program could be fined for Marita Davydova playing all of last year as an ineligible player. Fines instead of forfeits could be the penalty for the Ray Taylor fiasco, too. Frankly, if it's an either/or thing, I'd hope for forfeits if I were FIU. You never know what the Hypocrisy Hounds of the Nattering Nabobs of the NCAA will decide.

TRACK: Don't look for the soccer stadium renovation/reconfiguration into a soccer-and-track facility any time soon. The $3 million project was talked about for years and supposed to be started after this soccer season finished. 

February 12, 2014

Coley and CLASS; Snow day; 2015 Diamond Dinner

Another pile of points from senior guard Jerica Coley, 29 of them, couldn't lead FIU to an upset of Middle Tennessee State Wednesday night at The Branch. But Coley did get two pieces of individual good news lately: she's one of 10 finalists for the Senior CLASS Award (http://www.seniorCLASSaward.com) and one of the 30 finalists for the Naismith Women's Player of the Year Award.

The former award takes into account Coley's excellence in the classroom as well as on the court and fans can go to the website to vote for their favorite student-athlete. 

TENNIS

The women's tennis match against Winthrop got snowed out. They can't clear off the courts and play? Nobody's got a shovel up there? Sheesh...

BASEBALL & SOFTBALL

Arrangements for the 2015 Diamond Dinner, Feb. 7, 2015, already are underway. And FIU's in talks with another excellent keynote speaker. I'm not sure he's a better speaker than this year's Jim Kaat, current broadcaster and former longtime major league pitcher, but he's one of the biggest names in baseball from the 1960s and 1970s.

February 11, 2014

Nice debuts: Texeira & softball stadium

Swung by the renovated softball stadium for a few half-innings Saturday. The new press box, at field level, puts you pretty much in the backstop position. 

The first games at FIU Softball Stadium, the Felsberg Memorial, were this weekend's coming out for freshman first base Stephanie Texeira also. The Panthers went 4-1, losing only 1-0 to DePaul in the championship game. Texeira, a Gulliver Prep graduate, went 10 for 14 with four extra base hits (all doubles) and five RBI. 

For this, Texeira was named Conference USA Player of the Week.