Hail Varsity Mailbag
Photo Credit: Quentin Lueninghoener

Mailbag: NCAA Building Trust, Special Teams, Fans, Pro Day, and More

March 24, 2021

It’s Mailbag Day. Let’s get to it.

What does the NCAA have to do to earn the trust of the athletes, coaches, ADs, fans, and the public in general? (@Corn_Huskers) 

Greg Smith: Honestly, they’d need a massive overhaul in leadership first. Then they’d need the new leaders to value transparency, honesty, and forward-thinking. Then over time it would be a chance to gain trust.  

Mike Babcock: As Greg says, a massive overhaul. There have been multiple issues in recent years. This might be an unfair assessment, but it seems as if the NCAA has become a money-generating organization first and foremost, that money is the overriding concern rather than student-athletes, who are now pushing back in a big way. 

Brandon Vogel: The NCAA has always been at the extreme end of the spectrum when it comes to what, in other arenas at least, has been an evolving definition of amateurism. Currently, I believe the culture at large is as far away from the NCAA’s position as it has ever been. It’s a completely antagonistic relationship between the governing body that writes the rules and puts on the championships and the student-athletes who abide by the rules and participate. The result, now more than ever, is that the NCAA gets called on everything because, from an athlete’s perspective, it’s very easy to say, “Well, what are they doing for me anyway?” and that might be the best-case scenario. Worst-case is something closer to “these people are actively against me.” Until this starts to feel like a true partnership between the governing body and the student-athletes who play the games that allow the NCAA to exist, no trust is going to be regained. And I don’t see any this gets closer to a partnership without some willing (key word there) participation by the NCAA on the NIL front. Another good start would be to not treat women’s championships like a second-class event, and that’s true no matter where we end up in the great NIL debate. 

Derek Peterson: Brandon’s point about building toward a true partnership is spot on. I think about the “Day in the Life” ad the NCAA ran during the 2019 NCAA Tournament and then continued to run despite widespread criticism as sort of a watershed moment. It feels like it’s always been trendy to criticize the NCAA, but that revealed maybe more bluntly than any other thing I can remember that the people making decisions are either remarkably oblivious to or don’t care enough to know about the lives those decisions affect. And then they just let it run for months. From a player perspective, I’d imagine it feels like the NCAA doesn’t want anything to do with a partnership. Changing that requires doing a lot of what Brandon laid out. It’s going to require a number of good-faith efforts, but it’s also going to require following through on those. NIL legislation is introduced and it’s revealed that the NCAA will vote on it… big win for athletes… and then it’s kicked down the road. Blanket transfer waivers are introduced and seemingly have a clear path toward implementation… loads of kids enter the portal expecting immediate eligibility… then it’s kicked down the road. The women’s tournament has been a disaster for the NCAA and probably set them back a great deal. I could care less about the gift bag discrepancy, but the treatment of mothers, the handling of weight room/exercise room (same thing, Emmert) matters, differences in food, and the promotion of the event can’t all be chalked up to revenue. Someone in the NCAA’s offices could have stopped at any point and said, “Hold on, these things aren’t equal. Why is that?” A step toward reconciliation could very well be listening to John Cook and showing real attention to the volleyball tournament and championship. The NCAA has to be the party reaching further across the dividing line from this point forward. It has to show some intentionality and then follow through with promises. 

You failed your Pro Day miserably…. how do you prove that you’d be at least an exceptional locker room glue guy? (@SipplesLostT) 

MB: Only a guess, but I’d be surprised if NFL teams are looking at character devoid of the necessary talent to have an impact. The key there is “failed miserably.” You probably need to consider another line of work. Hopefully, you’ve earned a degree or are on the way to doing so. 

Jacob Padilla: Bribe my coaches and teammates to put in a good word for me. Maybe pay off one of those “anonymous scouts” that some writers like to cite around draft time to say good things about me.  

Special teams need to step up big time if Huskers have a good season. Who’s going to be the Special teams coach? They need a kicker that will kick touchbacks consistently. (@CarnesRegg) 

GS: I think special teams is going back to being handled a little bit by multiple coaches with analyst Bill Busch having a large say in the unit. I’ll be keeping an eye on Kelen Meyer, a walk-on kicker from Ord, to see if he can be the guy you describe for kickoffs. Field goals and punting should be solid this year.   

What is the possibility of having fans at the CWS? Is the NCAA in charge of the decision? (@Go_Big_Red) 

MB: The Big Ten just announced that it was allowing fans based on local guidelines for all spring sports from this point on, baseball, softball, soccer, etc., as well as the Husker spring game and conference championships in Lincoln, men’s gymnastics and tennis. I would think the NCAA would follow suit and take this into consideration when deciding how to handle the CWS, unless problems arise between now and then. The NCAA is allowing limited attendance (25-percent capacity?), with consideration of local guidelines, for the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments. Plus, the CWS is outdoors.  

Did any player significantly improve their draft potential through their pro day numbers? (@InDaWilderness) 

GS: Anytime you run a 4.38 40-yard dash you will catch the attention of scouts. Dicaprio Bootle made himself some money on Tuesday. The player that surprised me most was Jack Stoll. I thought he performed better across the board than I expected. 

JP: Greg nailed the big ones. Bootle’s 40 time is the headliner, and that’s huge for a defensive back, but his other numbers were pretty good too. Stoll ran a 4.60 40 and had a pretty decent 3-cone time too. Matt Farniok’s results probably helped him somewhat as well, showing some explosion with his vertical, 20-yard shuttle and 3-cone drill times.  

DP: Bootle, like the other guys said, but Farniok deserves some credit, too. He looked good moving around. He weighed in at 311 and posted better test results across the board than Brenden Jaimes. That’s not to disparage Jaimey in any way, I just think Farniok did well for himself. He wanted to get in better shape, and he seems to have done that. He wanted to show athleticism, and I think he did that. Consistent on-field play from him seems to be the biggest worry with a lot of NFL Draft folks, so if he can continue to show throughout this process he has the intangibles, he has the work ethic, and he has the right body, I think he can sneak his way into either the very tail end of the draft or a nice UDFA deal. 

Why hasn’t Twitter verified John Cook? Ok real question now: will Lexi Sun win the Big 10 player of the year this year? (@ScNOTty_Frost) 

Erin Sorensen: Good question. As someone that is verified, I don’t really understand the rhyme or reasoning behind who does and doesn’t get the blue checkmark. I’ve tried to get Hail Varsity verified with no luck, for example. I think Hail Varsity should be verified. Cook too, of course. Twitter is always confusing. As for Lexi Sun, she’s certainly making a case for herself. She has to keep that momentum going, of course, but she’s doing all the right things. 

JP: Sun is certainly coming on strong, taking home Big Ten Player of the Week honors twice in the last three weeks. After a slow start to the season, she’s hit .250 or better in her last seven matches with four of those performances over .300. However, she’s still only hitting .258 on the season, which isn’t outstanding. With only four matches left in the regular season and Nebraska not in pole position to win the regular season title, I’m not sure she’ll get enough votes. She is among the Big Ten’s leaders in points per set, however.  

I can’t remember which one of your guys is an OKC fan, but what do you think about how Roby has been doing? (@TwinTwisterDad) 

DP: The OKC fan is me, unfortunately for my mental well-being. I loved adding Roby to the roster last season and I really hoped he’d get a significant look this year with the team in full-on development mode. I didn’t expect this kind of role, though. He’s averaging 23 minutes a game with 17 starts in 37 appearances. Per 36 minutes, he’s averaging 14.3 points, 8.7 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.3 steals, and 1.0 blocks while shooting 53% from the field and 34% from 3. Real big positive: he’s shooting 54.5% on corner 3s. This is super down in the weeds but there have been 15 players according to basketball-reference.com who have posted that line (14 ppg/8.5 rpg/2.5 apg/1.0 spg/1.0 bpg/34% 3P per 36 minutes) for a full season; the list includes Larry Bird, Dirk Nowitzki, Joel Embiid, Hakeem, and KG among others. Without any insider info, I’d imagine they’re really excited about Roby’s development this year. He’s played some on the wing, but mostly in the frontcourt. He’s the kind of player everyone wants in the frontcourt, and I think before this year people maybe thought the best-case scenario was first big off the bench for a good team. Maybe his ceiling is higher now given the way he’s looked. To see him used sort of all over the place is encouraging.  

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