The practice of overcommitting is widespread in the SEC. For example, this spring Alabama signed 30 recruits, Auburn and Georgia 28, Kentucky and LSU 27. The letter of intent is legally binding, assuming the athlete qualifies academically, but coaches who overcommit usually identify players on the bubble and work out an arrangement with them before signing them. They offer the option of walking on, enrolling in January or going to junior college (with a promise down the road) if the player qualifies under Prop 16 but the school has no scholarships left. The complicated juggling act gives coaches a deeper pool of players from which to recruit.
The appeals court could still uphold the trial judge's original ruling, throwing eligibility rules back into chaos. If that happens before the start of next football season, says an official close to the NCAA's National Letter of Intent Committee, "coaches who intentionally oversigned this year might find themselves in a much graver situation. The door opens for a free-for-all." Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville remains un-fazed. "We'll oversign as long as they'll let us," he says.
An Age-old Problem
When Missouri basketball coach Norm Stewart, 64, retired last week after 32 years of guiding the Tigers, he left behind an impressive record: 731 victories (seventh-highest all time), eight conference championships and 16 NCAA tournament appearances. Yet while Stewart is revered in his home state, storm clouds had been gathering around Stormin' Norman since midway through last season, when reports of conflicts between him and his players surfaced. Although Stewart insisted that the retirement was his decision, many close to the team believe Stewart left under pressure from athletic director Mike Alden and several players, who reportedly threatened to transfer if Stewart returned.
Stewart's case is one example of a growing trend in which colts are replacing old (and successful) horses on the coaching carousel. Despite having taken Marquette to postseason play in four of his five years there, coach Mike Deane, 47, was fired on March 5 and replaced by 33-year-old former Michigan State assistant Tom Crean. After Saint Louis coach Charlie Spoon-hour, 59, retired, his spot was filled by former Pepperdine coach Lorenzo Romar, 30. Then there was the case of Iowa coach Tom Davis, 60, who was forced out despite taking the Hawkeyes to nine NCAA tournaments and averaging more than 20 wins a season in his 13 years in Iowa City. His replacement? Former Southwest Missouri State coach Steve Alford, 34.
All of these callow coaches could turn out to be successful, but the luster of youth may be fool's gold, warns Pete Newell, who coached college basketball for 21 years and led Cal to the '59 NCAA title. "There's a tendency to come to the answer that older coaches can't relate to younger players," says Newell, an 83-year-old who's still immensely popular with the young players who attend his annual big men's camp. "The truth is they relate to them in a different way. Some of these younger coaches are all buddy-buddy, but that doesn't get it done. The most important thing a coach can have from his team is respect. If they respect you, they won't dislike you. But I think those kinds of things are getting lost these days."
Just ask Stewart. At week's end the leading candidate to replace him was Quin Snyder, who has been an assistant at Duke for four years. Snyder is 32.
Connecticut's NCAA Title
The Key to Victory
Connecticut may owe its national basketball championship to divine intervention—in the form of Bowie Kuhn. That's right. Bowie Kuhn.
In March 1998, Kuhn, the former commissioner of major league baseball, donated his memorabilia collection to the Baseball Hall of Fame, which, according to Kuhn's wishes, in '98 forwarded some items that it didn't want to Sister Shaun Vergauwen, 64, the vicar general of the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist in Meriden, Conn., and the director of the Franciscan Life Center. One of the tchotchkes in the Kuhn stash was a gold tie clip connected to a small key bearing the inscription ST. PETERSBURG. Instead of including the tie clip and key in the annual silent auction to raise funds for the Franciscan Life Center, in April '98 Sister Shaun sent it to a friend she thought could use it.