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June 12, 2014

Another year without a Triple Crown winner. This year was supposed to be different in the world of horse racing. California Chrome, after winning the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, was supposed to become the first horse to win the Triple Crown since Affirmed did it in 1978. Chrome was supposed to be number 13 because only 12 horses in the history of the sport have completed the Triple Crown. Chrome was denied the Triple Crown in the Belmont Stakes on Saturday by Tonalist, a horse that started from the outermost gate (No. 11) and won in a time of 2:28.52. Chrome, a 4-5 favorite heading into the race, finished fourth.

It did not take long for the attention to come off of Tonalist and move back to the California Chrome camp. Chrome owner and breeder Steve Coburn had some harsh words for the racing system on Saturday moments after his horse was denied the elusive Triple Crown at the 146th running of the Belmont. 

Owner Penny Chenery & the great Secretariat in 1973

Coburn referred time and time again that it was not fair to his horse that he lost out to horses that did not participate in the Kentucky Derby or the Preakness. He spoke of the system being unfair and that the Triple Crown should be a closed circuit in which horses must compete in all three events. Coburn referred to fellow owners as cowards because they did not enter their horses in all three races. His line of thinking is that those horses are fresher for the three race in five week Triple Crown run. 

I did a little fact checking and Coburn’s line of thinking does not hold water. He might have a point if fresh horses were dominating the course but they are not. The course record at the Belmont is still held by Secrateriat and that was set 40 years ago. As we all know, Secrateriat, a Triple Crown winner, ran and won all three races. California Chrome was the 13th horse since 1978 to win the first two legs of the Triple Crown before coming up short at the Belmont. It is not a secret that the Belmont is the hardest of the three races due to the longer length of the race. Still, the average finish of the 13 most recent horses that came one race short was third place. They have been right there to win but just could not finish at the longer distance.  

O’Bannon vs. NCAA 

The Ed O’Bannon v. the NCAA court case finally began on Monday. It took five years to get this case on the docket. That is why you have likely not heard much about it. I will try to simplify it for you. Actually, the suit started out in a simple manner. O’Bannon, a former basketball star at UCLA, was at a friend’s house one day and noticed someone playing a video game. In the game, the 1995 Bruins team featured a player wearing No. 31 who had the same physical appearance and skill characteristics as O’Bannon. The NCAA and UCLA had sold O’Bannon’s likeness to game-maker EA Sports, but O’Bannon had not been compensated. Plenty of former college football and basketball stars likely had a similar experience, but O’Bannon was selected to be the face of this lawsuit. 

The suit is now a class action suit that includes all current and future NCAA athletes. The plaintiffs argue that the NCAA and its member schools have acted as a group selling the athlete’s names, images, and likeness for billions of dollars in television, DVD and video game rights deals while not paying the athletes. The NCAA will argue that the players are compensated with tuition, room and board and that they sign away their name, image and likeness rights in return. 

While EA Sports got out of the college sports business recently and finalized a $40 million settlement with the plaintiffs last week, the NCAA has made it clear they are ready for trial. Most experts do not like the NCAA’s chances in court. There is just too much money being generated and little of it is being shared with the athletes.

Ed O’Bannon

What I expect to happen is that the NCAA will lose this case before appealing it over and over again until the case reaches the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, they will begin revamping their system in an attempt to come up with some sort of compensation before they settle the case. When this occurs, do not buy into the demise of college sports. The NCAA, as we know it, may disappear. But as long as there is money to be made in football and men’s basketball, someone will be willing to administer those sports. 

Talks for a new association are already out there. The “autonomy plan” is currently being discussed by the five wealthiest conferences and the rest of Division I is a direct response to lawsuits such as this. The five wealthy conferences, the obvious targets of future suits, want the ability to give more to athletes and shrink the potential plaintiff pool. This includes providing athletes with more money as well as voting rights with regard to NCAA rules. No one will say it publicly, but the autonomy plan would also give those leagues the flexibility to change the rules, thus allowing them to settle the most threatening cases. 

Personally, I see these changes taking place within five years.  

UNC Academics Being Questioned Again 

The North Carolina academic fraud scandal and story may be in the midst of a new chapter, this one directly pertaining to the basketball program. 

Former Tar Heels star Rashad McCants told ESPN that he took fake classes, rarely went to his real classes, and had tutors write his term papers. 

McCants told them the assistance helped keep him eligible during the 2004-05 national title season. He also discusses the “paper-class” system at North Carolina, which allowed students to simply write one term paper as opposed to attending an actual class.

McCants also spoke of being on the Dean’s List in the spring of 2005 (the championship season) despite not going to class. And according to McCants, coach Roy Williams knew about it.

Rashad McCants

The academic fraud surrounding North Carolina’s athletic department has been a story since 2011, although the basketball program has remained mostly insulated from the accusations and the football program received the penalties.

However, UNC’s African-American Studies program was at the center of the scandal, and McCants took 18 AFAM classes, according to the transcript obtained by ESPN. McCants was part of the North Carolina team that won the national championship in 2005.

In three seasons in Chapel Hill, McCants averaged 17.6 points. He left college after his junior season, getting drafted by the Minnesota Timberwolves. McCants spent four seasons in Minnesota before being traded to the Sacramento Kings. Since 2009, McCants has been out of the NBA but has played in the NBDL, France, the Phillipines, China and Brazil. 










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