Thresholds July 26, 2012
I had a discussion with a friend about the rules of golf the other day. And, of course, by “discussion” and “friend” I mean “argued on a message board with some dude I claim to know but have never met”. The discussion was about Zach Johnson (the golfer) in a playoff at the John Deere Classic.
Johnson’s ball went into the water on the first playoff hole. As the rules state, he has to drop within two club lengths of the hazard line right at the point where the ball crossed into the hazard. Since he was standing in a fairway bunker when the ball found it’s way to the water, the point where it crossed is always going to be approximated.
Johnson decided that his ball crossed into the hazard right where a sprinkler head was located. He set his tees for two club lenghts, dropped the ball right on top of the sprinkler heads, and oh, look at that, the ball is on a sprinkler head and I need relief. He gets to drop again, adding another club length, and now he’s nearly back out to the fairway. He drops the ball as close to that outside tee as possible, hoping for the ball to kick into the fairway and make his chip easier. The first two drops hit the tee he put down to mark the club length, causing the official to tell him to drop it again. The third kicks him towards the fairway, but just misses getting into the short stuff. Johnson puts the chip fairly close, ties the hole (his opponent hit the water, too), and wins the tournament on the next playoff hole.
My discussion with my “friend” was this: he didn’t really approximate where his ball went into the hazard. He looked for some sprinker heads he could drop the ball on and get more relief. My friend’s stance: in the playoff for a tournament with more than a million on the line, who wouldn’t use every legal competitive advantage? He’s not cheating – he’s taking advantage of the rules. My argument – yes, he’s not cheating, but he’s pushing it. Drop the ball, hit your shot, let the chips fall. None of this “I could do this and then get relief and then drop again and then…” – just play the game.
Today, I think my friend was right. Why? Because Tim Beckman flew to State College.
As I’m sure you’ve heard, Tim Beckman and several of his coaches were in a Happy Valley restaurant on Wednesday, meeting with a few Penn State players about transferring to Illinois. Beckman’s presence in Pennsylvania caused quite a stir in the media, with ESPN documenting our staff and Penn State’s staff passing each other in the airport, and twitterers like Matt Hayes with The Sporting News claiming that our coaches were “in the parking lot”.
How did it really go down? Beckman was asked about it at Big Ten Media Days yesterday. This article sums it up pretty well:
Beckman said Illinois contacted Penn State with a list of players it had planned on recruiting before arriving to State College on Wednesday. Beckman said he sent eight assistant coaches to State College, and they had notified Penn State players they would be at two off-campus sites, a coffee shop and restaurant, if they wanted to speak with them about transferring.
“Not at all,” Beckman said at the Big Ten media when asked if he felt he had to defend or apologize for recruiting Penn State players. “We’re just following the rules of the NCAA. We provided Penn State with the names of the people that prior to us even going there. Our compliance coordinator, Ryan Squire, and Mike Thomas, our athletic director, gave him a list of people that — so that they were aware of before we got there of who those individuals might be.
“We’re just following rules. We’re compliant in everything that the Big Ten and NCAA has asked us to do. It wasn’t a sneak attack because it was all up front prior to us even being there.”
Beckman also said Illinois had been contacted by Penn State players who expressed an interest in transferring to Illinois prior to the Illini’s coaches arrival to State College.
Beckman would not say how many Penn State players met with his coaches in State College or whether any had said they planned on transferring to Illinois.
“We gave them an opportunity to come to us,” Beckman said. “We did not go after them. We told them where we at. If they would like to come and talk to our coaching staff, we were willing to talk to them off campus.
“There were certain individuals that reached out to us also. It wasn’t where we were just going in blind, calling players up and doing that sort of thing.”
I love it. I mean, I LOVE it. This story might have me more excited than Aaron Bailey’s verbal commitment. Our athletic director and head football coach were presented with an opportunity to advance our program – to speak to players who had let coaches know they were considering a transfer – and we took full advantage of that situation within the guidelines laid out by the NCAA. I. LOVE. IT.
Do you understand how long I’ve been waiting for our university to treat our football program this way? To take full advantage of the rules? To be proactive in pursuing the best possible roster for this football program? To have in-house recruiting coordinators and talent evaluators (and compliance staff) committed to a winning, vibrant football program? It’s been a long time. Probably 20+ years. Probably since Mackovic left.
So why is this even an issue? Well…
Wisconsin coach Brett Bielema and Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald were among the Big Ten coaches who said Thursday they would not recruit Penn State players out of respect for Penn State.
(Urban) Meyer made it pretty obvious what he thinks of coaches who are in State College, some even on campus, looking to sign Penn State’s free agents.
“I have a problem with that,” he said.
Pat Fitzgerald has a problem with it… while trying to convince the NCAA that Kyle Prater is a hardship case and should not have to sit out a year for his transfer. Urban Meyer has a problem with it… after poaching four players from Penn State’s 2012 class after the Sandusky allegations came out. Bret Bielema has a problem with it, and has even complained in the past about Urban Meyer bring “SEC recruiting” to the Big Ten by chasing Wisconsin’s committed players last year, and then said today that he has no problem recruiting committed players “if they’re interested in Wisconsin”.
Isn’t it fun to draw lines? To place thresholds? I’m OK in this instance, but not in that instance. This is OK, that’s too far. I was against that last year, but I kinda need to do it this year. We all want to win, so we all adjust our stomach for blurry lines just enough to keep our food down.
But the sneaky truth is this: is Pat Fitzgerald doing the right thing in trying to get a waiver for Kyle Prater to play immediately? Yes. Did Urban Meyer do the right thing chasing Tommy Schutt and other Penn State commitments after the Sandusky news hit? Yes. Will Bielema have done the right thing if he poaches a player from Iowa or Minnesota? Yes. Each man is trying to build a football program, and not one of them did anything against the rules.
Now the tricky part. Did Kelvin Sampson do the right thing in contacting Eric Gordon and seeing if he’d be interested in joining Indiana after the coaching staff had changed? Yes. You heard me right – yes. I agree that Gordon strung us along, to the point where his dad was flat out lying, claiming Eric was on the Indiana campus “just to watch a football game” and such, and it’s also obvious from Sampson’s show-cause penalties that he didn’t follow the rules of phone calls and contact restrictions. But should Sampson have contacted Gordon to see if he’d be interested? Yes. And he was. And he flipped. (And Sampson broke the rules, lost his job, and buried IU basketball for 4 years).
Tim Beckman didn’t break any rules, nor am I asking him to. In fact, the way he handled it, the way he verified the paperwork and mentioned how our compliance officer and athletic director were involved, the way he followed the guidelines set by the NCAA and then eloquently handled every question about it at the press conference, gets an A+ in my book. I want my coach pushing right to the edge of every rule, criticism be damned. A single, wholehearted focus on a winning football program and the University of Illinois.
Zach Johnson didn’t break any rules either. He took advantage of an impediment within his drop zone to improve his chances for a successful chip shot. This game we play – this game I played with my friend, setting my threshold at “just don’t drop it on the sprinkler head” – is a silly one. When the circumstances change, our opinions change, and what was disgusting is suddenly palatable. There’s really only one threshold for a college football coach: do everything possible within the rules to build a successful program.
And I think Tim Beckman is doing just that. And I love it.