If you, dear reader, asked me to identify the state with the highest population density of scoundrels, scofflaws, brigands, pirates, swindlers, con artists, charlatans, rascals, fops and mendacious foofs, I would provide a two-part answer:
1) Excellent question, but you forgot mountebanks and rapscallions
Don’t take it from me. Columnist and novelist Carl Hiassen has spent his illustrious career chronicling the foibles of his native state. He once wrote:
“If you picked the headlines from the five largest newspapers in Florida every day, you could make a very solid case that the human race was slipping backward into the primal ooze.”
Since he wrote that before Ron DeSantis became governor and Donald Trump became a full-time resident of Mar Al Lardo, we can hazard a guess that the ooze is up to the lower lips of many, and it has nothing to do with climate change (although for many of us outsiders, climate change can’t get here fast enough, if it were to wash the high seas over the Sunshine State).
The observation became more relevant in sports this week because the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, known to wealthy bookies everywhere as March Madness, has two teams from Florida in the Final Four in Houston.
Ninth-seeded Florida Atlantic meets fifth-seeded San Diego State in one semifinal, and fifth-seeded Miami meets fourth-seeded Connecticut in the other semifinal. The combination of these four teams was forecasted by exactly no one who filled out a pre-tourney bracket, making the number nearly the same as those who forecasted Covid-19 and the Ukraine war. Where did the rumor start that the human race had many smart people?
Since seeding began in 1979, this is the first time that none among the No. 1, 2 or 3 seeds advanced to the tourney’s final weekend. In its 34-year hoops history, Florida Atlantic has never won a tourney game until this month. And it joins SDSU and Miami in never having reached a Final Four (UConn won the most recent of its four titles in 2014, but has been mostly lame for a decade).
Should Florida State and Miami win Saturday, the title game Monday will feature teams that have campuses in Boca Raton and Coral Gables, wealthy enclaves of Miami, that are 50 miles apart. In North Carolina, such proximity among hoops-addled schools has been known for years as Tobacco Road. Since I don’t know of a proper carcinogen-related nickname for Florida, I’ll defer to Hiassen for the selection: “The floating-human-body-parts capital of America.”
What we can attribute much of this unprecedented arrival of ne’er-do-wells to the pinnacle of the industry is the demon spawn of NIL(name, image, likeness). Not that it’s a bad thing. The new collegiate rules that pay players for use of name, image and likeness are bringing financial stability to many young people and wealth to a few. But the ability to lure without penalty the transfer of athletes from one school to another has discombobulated the NCAA sports structure.
The reason that the game’s traditional blue-blood programs such as Duke, North Carolina, Kentucky, Kansas and UCLA aren’t in Houston isn’t exclusively because of NIL. College basketball’s skills and the randomness of injuries remain important. The difference in the second year of national NIL is that lesser programs that are one top player away from contention can find private cash to pay the star that gives schools a better chance for a slice of the March Madness payoff. They seek the Gonzaga Syndrome, where a couple of national TV tourney appearances catapult a moribund school into prominence that draws ridiculous amounts of donor funding in areas beyond sports.
To cite one of many current NIL transformations, Miami point guard Nijel Pack transferred from top power Kansas State for more playing time with the Hurricanes, who reportedly came up with booster “jobs” worth $800,000 over two years. One of his new teammates, Isaiah Wong, the Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year, pouted about his cash stash, which was promptly amended to reflect no disrespect from the Pack deal.
The ‘Canes 73-year-old coach, Jim Larranaga, offered that he was not among many in his age group demanding NIL get off his lawn.
“TV makes money, right? The shoe companies make money,” Larrañaga said Saturday during a media session. “The universities make money. The athletic directors, they run the program, and they benefit from their relationship with the shoe companies. And the coaches make a hell of a living. Well, what’s wrong with that filtering down? It’s a natural progression to our players.”
Indeed, nothing is wrong. Should have been that way 100 years ago. But now that economic justice has arrived, the question becomes who survives in this new pro game — just the renegade outfits in Florida and Texas?
That question reverberates in the halls at Montlake, where the University of Washington has just retained for a seventh year men’s hoops coach Mike Hopkins, despite evidence to the contrary in the Huskies’ record.
UW’s 16-16 mark included 8-12 in the Pac-12 Conference (eighth place) and an opening-game ouster in the league tournament. After his first two seasons produced NCAA tourney bids largely with holdover players from the Lorenzo Romar regime, Hopkins hasn’t returned the Huskies to the madness. That’s unacceptable to many who dress in purple, but Hopkins was retained only because he has two years and $6.3 million left on his $17.5 million extension he signed in 2019. The Huskies can’t afford to pay Hopkins to not coach, not in this national marketplace.
Three players already have said they are leaving UW via the transfer portal. Three haven’t decided. Five said they will remain. Who will join them? That depends on how hard the private group of boosters known as the Montlake Collective, which is in charge of raising NIL funds but is not part of the university, wants to play.
Last fall the rich guys helped the football team to an 11-2 mark, including a bowl win over Texas. In January, they also retained the services of QB Michael Penix Jr., the nation’s leading passer who skipped the NFL draft to stay one more year, presumably because the money was good enough.
But playing the top-tier NIL game in the two revenue sports — plus doing things for athletes in the non-revenue sports, a big deal at UW — is a serious pull. Particularly in hardening economic times. Yet Hopkins’ job likely depends on luring a big-time recruit to a backsliding team. Programs better and richer than UW’s have been disrupted by NIL. After the success of this year’s Final Four field, even more obscure schools will be tempted to borrow against the campus endowment to hire a 7-footer from Serbia.
Or the Huskies could wait for climate change to trim the field. Except Montake is only 10 feet above sea level.