NCAA's lash leaves no mark on U of L's women's coach Jeff Walz
As wrist slaps go, Jeff Walz might as well have been struck by a strand of spaghetti.
Suspended for the next post-season game his team plays, and docked some per diem, the University of Louisville women’s basketball coach faces punishment that figures to impose less hardship than a missed elevator.
The average first-round NCAA Tournament game played by teams seeded either first or second in their regions was decided by a margin of 38.75 points this year. The gulf between the best women’s programs and those at the bottom of a bloated bracket is so great that a team with U of L’s talent could probably play four-on-five and still expect to advance.
Thus Walz’ suspension amounts to a symbolic scolding but not a setback. It reflects a kind of kid-glove sanctimony that allows the game’s stewards to punish a potty-mouthed coach without causing any competitive disadvantage or collateral damage to his team.
It is, as such, pretty pathetic.
If there’s a real problem here – if Walz’ sideline act requires reining in after repeated offenses – NCAA discipline should include a real deterrent. If his conduct during a Final Four loss to Mississippi State “did not meet acceptable standards and has no place in the sport or the women’s basketball championship,” perhaps a timely technical foul would have been more appropriate.
If Friday's announcement was more of a matter of committee members taking offense at a coach venting over controversial calls (and non-calls) during a national semifinal game lost in overtime, however, perhaps those committee members should sit somewhere other than courtside.
Basketball officials have a hard job on the best of days and, at times, a tough, thankless and abuse-laden lot. To keep them coming back for more, sports administrators tend to be intolerant of public criticism by coaches, executives and athletes, even when that criticism is warranted.
Walz knows all of this, and also that there's no point in belaboring calls made eight weeks ago. He responded to his reprimand Friday with a contrite statement, vowing to be "more mindful in expressing my emotions going forward."
Still, if Walz deserved to be T’d up and wasn’t during the Mississippi State game, this was consistent with the see-no-evil officiating of the closing seconds of regulation. Driving to the basket with the game tied, U of L’s Myisha Hines-Allen was knocked off-course by a flagrant hip check from the Bulldogs' Teaira McCowan, and with no call.
To watch a replay of that sequence is to wonder how Walz kept enough of his composure to impart instructions instead of screaming about the swallowed whistle that deprived his team of an opportunity to win the game with free throws.
Herein lies the larger problem. Fouls committed in the last minute of play should be called based on the same criteria that apply in the first minute, and whether it’s the first game of the season of the Final Four. The notion that a referee is “taking over the game” by applying the same standards throughout is as silly and as problematic as an umpire being allowed to revise his strike zone for the ninth inning.
When the rules are not enforced consistently, the calmest coach is prone to come off as a raving lunatic. When it happens in the Final Four, a certain amount of slack is appropriate.
Here follow the week's Top 10 sports quotes, suitable for all audiences:
10. Eddie Guardado, Minnesota Twins bullpen coach, on the defensive prowess of center fielder Bryon Buxton: “We wouldn’t even need to position him. He can catch a ball anywhere. He could sit in the stands having a beer, and he would still get to the ball.” (Bleacher Report)
9. Jordan Spieth, professional golfer, on his collapse at the 2016 Masters: "Even though it was still a tremendous week and still was a really good year in 2016, that kind of haunted me and all the questioning and everything. I let it tear me down a little bit. I kind of lost a little bit of my own freedom, thoughts on who I am as a person and as a golfer." (Fort Worth Invitational news conference)
8. Gary Bettman, NHL commissioner, on a schedule that leaves little time for sleep: “There are probably certain days where people in my family will think I have narcolepsy, because if I sit down I might fall asleep for five or 10 minutes. But what I do is energizing, so that keeps me going. And I eat a lot of candy.” (New York Daily News)
7. Danica Patrick, retiring race car driver, on life after her last Indianapolis 500: "My ego is going to have to cope with the new, less, just not being the center of attention as often. That will be the ego shot. I acknowledge that.
"But I also understand that it's also fake. That is not going to make me happy. ... I've never had to have the spotlight. I'm OK with that. I don't care if someone doesn't know who I am. I really don't." (ESPN W)
6. John Axford, Toronto Blue Jays reliever, on romance: “Dear couple that clearly broke up while standing near our bullpen in the 5th inning today (Friday).
“Lovely entertainment for a few minutes, but we hope you’re OK. Feel free to come back tomorrow and discuss with us. We can provide the third party point of view!
“The Jays bullpen!” (@JohnAxford on Twitter)
5. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers star, on embracing pressure: “I think that's just all part of experience. I mean, I love being a husband now. Did I embrace that at 18, 19? I don't think so. I mean, I’d never been around married couples. As you get older, you just grow into more things. I didn't love wine until I was 30 years old.
“So you learn and you grow and you know what's best for you as you get older. That's just all of us. I think that's what being a human being is.” (Post-game news conference)
4. Rick Vanderhook, former UCLA assistant coach, on chances of a reconciliation between former teammates Trevor Bauer and Gerrit Cole: “I would have to say the odds of the Earth burning up are better than that. That’s not going to happen. It’s just not. They are opposites, just such complete opposites.
“Bauer was the professor. He did analytical stuff, trying to see how many revolutions the ball had, before they started paying these guys all this money to do analytics. Gerrit was the bear (who) would just come out trying to throw 100 mph on every pitch. And you don’t ever want to poke the bear.’’ (USA Today)
3. Brett Favre, former Green Bay Packers quarterback, on an MVP season fueled by pills: ”When I woke up in the morning, my first thought was, 'I gotta get more pills.' I took 14 Vicodin, yes, one time. I was getting an hour or two of sleep many nights. Maybe 30 minutes of quality sleep. I was the MVP on a pain-pill buzz. The crazy thing was, I'm not a night owl. Without pills I'd fall asleep at 9:30. But with pills, I could get so much done, I just figured, 'This is awesome.' Little did I know (fiancée and now wife) Deanna would be finding some of my pills and when she did, she'd flush them down the toilet." (MMQB)
2. Donald Trump, president of the United States, on the NFL’s new national anthem rule: “You have to stand proudly for the national anthem or you shouldn’t be playing, you shouldn’t be there, maybe you shouldn’t be in the country.” (Fox and Friends)
1. Steve Kerr, Golden State Warriors head coach, on NFL’s national anthem rule: “It’s just typical of the NFL. They’re just playing to their fanbase. Basically just trying to use the anthem as fake patriotism, nationalism, scaring people. It’s idiotic. But that’s how the NFL has conducted their business. I’m proud to be in a league that understands patriotism in America is about free speech and peacefully protesting.” (Interview session)