There aren’t any words for that one last night, folks.  Moving on to the Free Kicks.  The NBA actually decided to play a game last night just as a change of pace- the NBA playoffs moves so slowly that I am a week behind in listening to my favorite sports radio show (podcasts) and everything they are talking about is still relevant.  I just hope they finish the playoffs in time for the start of next season, not that anyone watches the NBA until February anyway.  Meanwhile, college sports are no prettier, with Kansas and UConn basketball programs and the Michigan football program under fire for a number of NCAA violations… yet USC appears to be all but forgotten.  Let’s get to the heart of it and line up for the kick…

A Game Phoenix Couldn’t Afford to Lose

When Ron Artest turned Kobe Bryant’s air ball into a buzzer beater, it may have taken the air out of Phoenix’s hopes for a berth in the NBA finals.  Sure, the Suns are only down 3-2 and are coming home where they could make it 3-3, but last night’s game was the best opportunity they had to put the Lakers on their heels.  The Lakers are a better team top to bottom, and when the worse team has a chance to steal a close game on the road, they have to take it.  There is no way in my mind that Los Angeles, smelling blood, would lose a Game 7 at home, if it even gets that far.  When the Lakers have a team on the ropes, it takes an extraordinary force of will to stop them.  Earlier in the series that force was Amare Stoudemire.  The Suns will not find it easy to shake this one off, but that is exactly what they have to do.  I expect Phoenix to keep it close against L.A. for the first half of Game 6, but succumb to the pressure in the second half and allow the Lakers to close it out on the road.  Had the Suns managed to hold on last night, it would have been a very different story.

Michigan Self-Imposes Sanctions for the First Time…

So the self-imposed sanctions and document dump were released by the University of Michigan, revealing a whole lot of institutional dysfunction but not a whole lot else.  Most notably, it shows that since the days of Lloyd Carr, quality control staffers were regularly delinquent in getting their practice time forms to the compliance officials, with a long trail of emails showing university compliance officials essentially begging for the necessary forms as they remind them that the NCAA takes this stuff very seriously, and being repeatedly ignored.  Rodriguez was never informed of this because, in the words of the quality control staffers in question, they didn’t want to look bad to the coach.  Regardless, 90% of the practice overages were spent on quality control staffers doing stretching and warm-ups with the players before leaving- the players or the staffers were never aware that stretching and warm-ups were considered countable hours by the NCAA.  The Free Press story of a year ago has been all but debunked entirely, and the self-imposed sanctions will likely stand up to NCAA scrutiny.  The story has been plastered all over ESPN and other media outlets, despite near radio silence from even Michigan’s biggest rivals, who know that such a thorough investigation would reveal just as damning evidence of their own negligence.  The process will be over within a year of it starting.

…And the USC Deliberations Continue

On the other hand, we have USC.  The institution, players, and coaches have provided varying amounts of resistance to the NCAA, fought tooth and nail against depositions or in-depth investigation, and have forced the process to drag on for years.  It probably helps that they are a private institution and that most of the individuals in question have moved on to greener pastures, and that they now have the perfect patsy in Lane Kiffin to suffer through any penalties that follow.  Whatever the NCAA has collected since word first broke of possible inappropriate contact between Reggie Bush and a marketing firm, I hope it is worth the time and effort that both sides have put in to fighting this out.  I just wonder what USC is trying to hide, and how much they really have to gain by dragging this on.  The NCAA for their part ought to take this opportunity to ask themselves why they will go after secondary violations but will allow cash cow programs like USC to go untouched.  The NCAA was forced to investigate because of the volume of media scrutiny.  Let’s just hope it doesn’t allow the power of the USC brand to cloud the NCAA’s judgment of what happened back from 2003-2005.  Along with the Tim Floyd scandal, this may deserve a bit more than probation.