A year ago at the ACC’s basketball media day, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski voiced adamant opposition to partial conference membership for any school, Notre Dame included. The league as a whole shared his sentiment.
Last month, the ACC welcomed Notre Dame as a member for all sports except football. But while the conference clearly changed its collective thinking, Krzyzewski has not.
“I’m still more of a purist,” he told me Wednesday at the league’s preseason function in Charlotte. “Sixty years (of ACC history), you would hope everybody’s treated the same. However, old-fashioned ideas sometimes don’t translate into current states of affairs. I think we’re fortunate to have Notre Dame, and if the people in charge feel things are being done in a way that benefits everybody, then they know more about it than I do.
“On the surface, you’d just like everybody being the same. … I think the ACC is an exclusive club. You would hope every member pays the same dues and gets the same benefits.”
Don’t misunderstand. Krzyzewski appreciates the Fighting Irish program – eight NCAA appearances in the last 12 years -- and considers their coach, former Duke assistant Mike Brey, a dear friend. But after 33 years in the ACC, Krzyzewski is among its fiercest advocates.
“It’s the way of the world,” he said. “I think it’s a great thing for them, first of all, to come into our conference especially in a different way than any member has ever come into our conference. So that’s an amazing coup for Notre Dame, and it’s good for us.
“Basketball-wise, the addition of those three programs [Syracuse and Pittsburgh arrive next season], in this escalation war, or whatever you want to call it, we won. … To add those three schools with the traditions we already have, we match up, by far, with anybody. I think percentage-wise, we will eventually get more teams in the NCAA with 15 than we did with 12. I can see the day when we have nine, 10 teams make the NCAA tournament. …
“This conference has been the standard-bearer, most of the time, for college basketball. But the last couple of years we haven’t been, as a conference, as good.”
Five ACC teams reached the NCAA tournament last season, four in 2011.
As usual at this event, Krzyzewski addressed several topics aside from the upcoming season.
* He believes conference realignment will continue and eventually affect postseason’s structure.
“I think the next thing that will happen is change, how championships are played, tournaments are run, structure,” he said. “Because you can’t expand these conferences to the level they’re going to be expanded, and produce the amount of revenue they will produce, and expect every conference in the United States to keep up with that. …
“There’s a difference in needs. It’s gonna go there. I don’t know what that means exactly. But it’s gonna go there. … I just know the winds of change still are blowing, and there’s a rippling effect. … Money, exposure, there’s a greater difference. That has to translate into something more in the future as far as structure goes. … I think there will be new ways of looking at how we do everything.”
So does Krzyzewski envision the richer conferences breaking away from the remainder of Division I and staging their own championships?
“I think anything’s possible,” he said.
* Krzyzewski treaded lightly on the possible transgressions of Lance Thomas, a senior starter on the Blue Devils’ 2010 national title team who court documents show may have received extra benefits from a New York jeweler.
Responding to a general question about coaches policing their programs, Krzyzewski said daily interaction with your school’s NCAA compliance department, as well as educating athletes, coaches and boosters are essential.
“The rulebook is complicated because they are so many exceptions,” he said. “There are other things that are added besides just the letter of the law. … The fact is, sports is not unlike any other aspect of our society. At times, somebody can do something wrong, for whatever reason. Or they could do something that is perceived to be wrong. And then you try to find out what happened, and you try to do something about it. It’s a precarious, it’s a slippery slope. …
“One thing you should always remember is, they are kids. A number of times, kids can do things that they don’t even know are wrong. Or, they’re put in positions where they do something with peer pressure. I mean, come on, that’s happened on every college campus, whether it be with drugs, alcohol or academic integrity. These things are happening every day on every campus. So, to think that something cannot happen to you would be really foolish, and what you try to do is create an environment where a kid, at that moment of decision, would do the right thing. If they don’t, then you try to figure out why it occurred.”
Is Krzyzewski confident he knows what happened in the Thomas case?
“No, I don’t know what happened,” he said. “Lance’s situation, we heard the rumor of his lawsuit [the jeweler sued for back payment], we contacted our administration in late September, and they then contacted the NCAA, and what they’re doing is looking into it. … And we have to make sure we honor the integrity of that process in moving along, so that’s what I’ve tried to do, and that’s really about all I can say. That’s just the way it works.”
* Krzyzewski was asked about college basketball’s scores of offseason player transfers.
“We have more than ever and they’re not done in an equitable manner,” he said. “That creates some problems. Like we have a transfer, Rodney Hood [from Mississippi State]. He can’t play, and a number of transfers can play.”
Indeed, NCAA rules require transfers to sit out a year, lest they become annual free agents. But waivers are granted, and in true NCAA fashion, those rulings are maddeningly capricious.
“It’s a very touchy situation as to whether everybody should sit out or everybody should be eligible right away,” Krzyzewski said. “I’m not sure where I stand on that. From a player’s perspective, I think a player should be allowed to move like a coach.”
Krzyzewski attributed the transfer wave to the "one-and-done mentality," which, he said, has damaged basketball's relationship with the academic community. A two-year minimum before turning pro, Krzyzewski believes, would be much better.
What also concerns/irks Krzyzewski is that the NCAA prohibits transfers such as Hood from traveling to games with his team.
“When we go to Atlantis for our tournament, Rodney Hood will not be able to come,” Krzyzewski said. “Now, Rodney Hood has been at every practice, part of the scout team, he’s under scholarship, and all of a sudden we’re going to leave on Sunday night, he’ll be at school for a couple days, and we’ll be in Atlantis. We’ll come back during the Thanksgiving vacation. Where will he be? Does he stay? Who is responsible for him? It’s unbelievably wrong. It’s unbelievably wrong. And they should change it -- now. It’s unfair to those kids.”
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