Sports Goggles

A Sunday, March Madness Recruiting Tale: Geno Auriemma and UConn – Pat Summit and the University of Tennessee

with 11 comments

patgeno.jpgESPN’s Bob Ley, in Sunday’s excellent Outside the Lines segment on women’s college basketball, illuminated the “feud” between University of Tennessee Women’s basketball head coach, Pat Summit, and the University of Connecticut’s head coach, Geno Auriemma. The rivalry that was reached nasty status this summer when UConn extended a contract to continue the annual regular season meeting between the two teams and Summit and Tennessee refused.

It is no secret that the coaches dislike each other. It is no secret that, as the Boston Globe‘s Jackie McMillan said today on the OTL segments, that Auriemma wishes that Summit would understand the entertainment, “grow the game” through a staged rivalry side of their jobs, while Summit wishes Auriemma would take the game and everything around it more seriously and, as McMillan said, “respect the game” more.

However, there is something more than just a difference of perspective that led Summit and the Volunteer program to refuse to sign an extension for the teams’ annual meetings. The obvious question is why, but when that question was put to Summit, she refused to answer. For his part, Auriemma said that it comes down to an intense dislike on Summit’s part: “Sometimes you wonder why” [somebody doesn’t like you]. “I don’t know. I like me.”

It is widely rumored, though, that Summit is deeply angered by the fact that when Connecticut arranged for recruit Maya Moore to visit and tour ESPN and its studios, a secondary NCAA violation, that the Huskies program stepped over the line into an ethical gray area and is using unethical practices in its recruiting processes.

Now, it is a recent phenomenon that the two schools even talk with the same high school players. Until the last three years or so of the teams’ 13-year rivalry, Summit and Auriemma had unspoken areas of regional recruitment areas throughout the nation that neither coach breached.

Now, though, the game has changed. The stakes are higher. Top high school players are coveted by not only the Volunteers and Huskies programs, but many colleges and universities across the country. And many of the “lesser” programs do engage in shady tactics, from insinuating a rampant lesbian culture at some schools’ programs to implying that some schools secular ways or religious affiliation is antithetical to a the recruit – and particularly her parents – and somehow generally immoral.

Moore’s recruitment exemplified this new recruiting climate.

That UConn had no history of providing recruits with visits to the Bristol, Connecticut ESPN complex some 37 miles from the UConn Storrs, Connecticut campus was apparent in the NCAA’s ruling that a singular, secondary violation had occurred. But the fact that they felt it necessary to arrange the visit for Moore to be ingratiated into the high-profile media culture that would be inadvertently responsible for the bulk of the coverage of her and her team and help form her collegiate image and perhaps her worth as a professional, is illustrative of the pressure Auriemma, or someone in the UConn women’s basketball program or athletic department felt to be ensured that Moore signed on the bottom line of a University of Connecticut scholarship.

That Summit, or someone in the University of Tennessee’ women’s basketball program or athletic department had “moles” established somewhere around Moore (at ESPN?) to learn of and report the visit, then, though the visit was an admittedly very minor violation report it to the NCAA is indicative of the progress made by women’s basketball and its revenue-producing potential for collegiate programs and its growing place in our sporting consciousness.

Moore’s UConn-arranged visit and UT’s reporting of that visit also represents something deeper between with the schools.

In some circles, the sudden rise of the University of Connecticut’s men’s basketball program was built on shady and unethical practices.

For nearly three decades Connecticut Men’s Basketball was regional power in the defunct Yankee Conference. The Huskies won 18 championships between 1947 and 1975. Despite its success the program was dropped by the university. But in 1979 the program was revived as one of the seven founding member of the Big East Basketball Conference.

For the next 10 years, the program flagged behind the upper-echelon Big East schools. As a result, the inclusion into the conference of UConn and fellow perennial doormat Seton Hall was questioned. The hiring of Jim Calhoun in 1987 represented a watershed moment in the program. Though UConn suffered through a 9-19 first season, the following year the Huskies went on what seemed to be a magical run led by guard duo and first nationally-recognized recruits, Tate George, Scott Burrell, and Chris Smith, and won the NIT Tournament defeating Ohio State, 72-65. The following year, 1990 UConn opened the Gampel Pavillion and began the season unranked. They ended it as Big East regular season and tournament champions, earning a #1-seed in the NCAA tournament. They advanced to the Sweet 16 and there beat Clemson, 71-70, on what is known in Huskies lore as “The Shot” by George (after a length-of-the-court pass from Burrell) but were defeated in the Regional finals in overtime, 79-78, by Duke. That year propelled Connecticut on what has been an 18-year run of excellence.

But the question surrounding the Huskies program was and remains, at what cost is this excellence achieved? Because Storrs is an outpost of a town, it has been a mystery as to how Calhoun was able to recruit players, particularly black players from big cities to the campus “in the middle of nothing to do.”

There have been whispers of money payments to players, car, and other illegal amenities given to high school recruits to not-so-subtly encourage them to join Calhoun’s teams. The whispers reached a head in the recruiting battle for high school All-American point guard Khalid El-Amin (1997-2000). It was widely held that El-Amin a product of North Minneapolis, Minnesota was headed to the University of Minnesota to play for Clem Haskins. El-Amin had a child and was engaged to his high school sweetheart and, despite being recruited by schools across the nation, wanted to stay close to home to be near his family.

However, out of the blue, El-Amin signed with the Huskies. Haskins was irate. It was said that Haskins knew that there were improprieties in El-Amin’s almost secret recruiting by UConn. The whispers became shouts when the point guard arrived on campus only to be housed in an apartment with his – by then – wife and child. In an ironic – and some would say equally mysterious – turnabout, it was Haskins who found himself under fire just two years later when a female graduate assistant made public a grade-fixing scandal within the basketball program. Haskins was blamed and summarily fired.

The burgeoning shouts and ever-probing questions into El-Amin’s circumstances – and of recruits before 1997 – were silenced. Nothing more has been made of this issue in relation to UConn.

Until Maya Moore. The whispers surrounding the basketball program at Storrs have again arisen. The thought is that this might have been a trend – perhaps not visits to ESPN’s campus, but other illegal “gifts” to female recruits – in the long-held mold of the men’s program is the backdrop to Summit’s anger.

However it must also be said that Tennessee is not at all an innocent in this tale. Summit’s reporting of UConn, though for a mush lesser violation is eerily similar to the recent shenanigans between Tennessee football head coach Philip Fulmer and the University of Alabama. When Crimson Tide recruiters and recruiters from rival SEC schools began making deep inroads in the recruiting of players from Tennessee, Fulmer illicitly taped phone conversations with Tom Culpepper, a former Rivals.com recruiting analyst. After having his insider status at Alabama cut off by Ronnie Cottrell, Former rivals.com recruiting analyst. Former rivals.com recruiting analyst. Culpepper, after having his “insider” status at Alabama cut off by then-Crimson Tide assistant coach Ronnie Cottrell, approached Fulmer about violations in the Alabama program.

In May and August of 2000 Fulmer, against NCAA regulations, initiated two phone conversations with NCAA investigator Rich Johanningmeier, to discuss what Fulmer felt were potential NCAA rules violations at Alabama. During the Aug. 7 call, Fulmer told Johanningmeier that, “with his lawyer’s advice,” Fulmer secretly recorded 90 minutes of an eight-hour conversation with Culpepper in Chattanooga during the summer of 2000 in which Culpepper discussed information he could provide regarding NCAA rules violations at Alabama.

Fulmer alleged knowledge of a laundry list of violations committed by former Alabama head coach Mike DuBose, ‘Bama players, boosters, Auburn, Kentucky, Georgia, and the University of Alabama, and even the venerable (and deceased) Bear Bryant. Each university had made the mistake of impinging on Fulmer’s self-perceived recruiting “territory.”

Though Summit followed NCAA regulations by reporting UConn’s transgression with Moore through the University of Tennessee’s Athletic Department, the context of the reporting of this violation by Pat Summit smacks of the same type of “territorial imperative” with athletes felt by her longtime UT cohort, Fulmer.

It will be worth following and noting the continued fallout from Moore’s visit and Summit’s reporting of that visit, and its impact on the two schools. The public nature of the events and the exposing of widespread unethical recruiting tactics in what is now big-time women’s collegiate basketball acts as a “welcome to big-leagues” for the sport.

Surely, though, because women’s basketball is seen as a “purer” form of the hyper-athletic nature of the men’s game, this is not the sort of welcome the sport imagined.

However, it is the reality of sports on college campuses everywhere and women’s basketball is not immune to the petty jealousies and outright corruption that goes with the promise of massive revenues for money-starved universities across the U.S.

Like the two schools that dragged the women’s game into the nation’s consciousness, University of Tennessee and the University of Connecticut, it is – sadly – fitting that these two schools would be the ones to also introduce us to the seamier underbelly of the women’s game.

Hooray for March Madness.

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11 Responses

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  1. Interesting piece. I sometimes wonder the same about getting recruits here. But we wanted to be “big time”.

    I would like to offer two minor corrections. First it is Gampel Pavilion not Gompel Arena. Also UConn and ESPN are only about 50 miles apart. Yeah it’s a little picky but we’re a little too picky for our own good here.

    VinceCT

    March 23, 2008 at 7:20 pm

  2. Thanks for the correction (Bristol is 37 miles from Storrs). I don’t know where the hell I came up w/ Gompel Arena? I know the name – space and didn’t re-read it….

    dwil

    March 23, 2008 at 7:49 pm

  3. Off Top Great Informative article.

    “For nearly three decades Connecticut Men’s Basketball was regional power in the defunct Yankee Conference. The Huskies won 18 championships between 1947 and 1975. Despite its success the program was dropped by the university. But in 1979 the program was revived as one of the seven founding member of the Big East Basketball Conference.”

    I never knew such things…good look on the history lesson (No Sarcasim)

    I kinda think Summit should put her feelings aside for the good of the game, victory is the best revenge

    Maybe the fact she was taking home more L’s then W’s was a factor in her decision?

    I enjoyed Sundays outside the lines also, funny thing tho…imo more and more females are bi or homosexual these days..or at least more open about it….I’m surprised that it would be that much of a detriment in recruiting…..

    But I guess it’s the parents influence…..

    I wonder where that 6’8 chick who be dunking all over people is gonna go………

    ILLAIM

    March 24, 2008 at 12:51 am

  4. >>Despite its success the program was dropped by the university. <<

    I hate to be a spoil sport again but this line was bugging me a little. I think the Yankee Conference dropped basketball, and even then I am not sure, because UConn did not. As evidence here is a link to the UConn Media Guide.

    http://www.uconnhuskies.com/sports/MBasketball/2008/MediaGuide/UConn%20079-104.pdf

    As you can see the program has been continuous for over 90 years. If I remember correctly they jumped the Yankee Conference directly to the Big East. Of course I was only about 10 when that happened.

    Sorry to be a pain…VinceCT

    VinceCT

    March 24, 2008 at 6:40 am

  5. Info on Jim Calhoun’s recruitment of Rudy Gay:

    http://www.collegehoopsnet.com/big12/kansas/111604.htm

    des

    March 24, 2008 at 6:53 am

  6. Yankee Conference info from Wikipedia (reference UConn Huskies.com):

    UConn Men’s Basketball was once a regional power, winning 18 Yankee Conference championships between 1947 and 1975, when the Yankee Conference dropped support of basketball….

    In 1979, UConn was one of the seven founding schools of the Big East Conference…

    dwil

    March 24, 2008 at 9:50 am

  7. des-
    Thanks… from that article:

    The controversy ensued when UCONN scheduled a makeshift travel team called the Beltway Ballers. The Ballers took a 102-44 pounding, but the center of controversy swirled around McDonald’s All-American Rudy Gay’s recruitment. Gay’s AAU team was sponsored by the same group that owned the Ballers.

    The Baltimore club team received $25,000 just for showing up in Storrs. Maryland Head Coach Gary Williams, who was also recruiting Gay, turned down a chance to play the Ballers. Williams was quick to imply that the game was scheduled to secure Gay’s commitment to the Huskies.

    The Terp’s coach was quoted as saying, “we could’ve scheduled an AAU team and given them $25,000 dollars like some schools I know.”

    Though UCONN was guilty of no wrongdoing (according to the rules), the riff between Calhoun and Williams became public.

    Plus… I was in Minneapolis when the recruiting of El-Amin happened. I actually knew a family that had a city H.S. all-star hoops player for a son (I coached his younger brother in tennis). They lived a few blocks from El-Amin’s parents’ home and I coached the younger brother at a school’s tennis courts which happened to be 200 yards from the El-Amin home.

    If I remember correctly, the El-Amins went so far as to have an apartment built, attached to their home for their son, daughter-in-law and child…. then he “changed his mind” and went to UConn. I talked with a lot of people and players who knew the fam and Khalid. There was much more to the story. Some of the info was unsubstantiated, some of it was obvious, but needs to be further sourced, etc…..

    dwil

    March 24, 2008 at 9:58 am

  8. I don’t blame Summitt. Auriemma has been talking trash on the low for years, and looks like she’s just tired of it. There’s something about a male coach in women’s basektball trash talking a the premier female coach that feels greasy to me. Maybe I’m just old school like that.

    Something about Geno that makes me cringe. ‘Phony’ might be too strong a word, but Geno seems to have a little ‘car salesmen’ in him. Just a little, as my granny would say, ‘too slick’ for my taste. I get the same vibe from Bruce Pearl sometimes, too.

    Sweet Jones

    March 24, 2008 at 10:58 pm

  9. I hate to burst your bubble, but UConn never dropped basketball. I was a student there from 1974 through 1978, and the basketball program was intact. They played in the MIT in 1974 and 75, and in the NCAA’s in 1976, losing to (then) undefeated Rutgers. Such is the pitfalls of relying on Wikipedia.

    I love it when you talk about the “whispers”. It absolves you from actually having to have any facts. One fact you left out, Pat Summitt and the University of Tennessee made a complaint to the Southeastern Conference, which then made a formal complaint to the NCAA regarding another incident with Maya Moore. The allegation was that Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi gave her a ride to an Atlanta awards dinner after her junior year. Unfortunately for Tennessee, Bird and Taurasi were playing for their Moscow basketball team at the time, and were able to document that. They never attended the dinner.

    It always amuses me when the Southeastern Conference makes complaints about recruiting. It is widely acknowledged as the dirtiest league.

    Brian

    March 25, 2008 at 5:06 pm

  10. In 1990 UCONN was a #9 seed, not a #1.

    Anonymous

    February 14, 2017 at 11:53 am

  11. […] rivalry between coaches continued to make headlines that year. A Sports Goggles blog post from the time alleges it was UConn "moles" at Tennessee who reported the team for [minor] […]


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