Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Isiah Thomas to make his coaching debut against Ohio State ... uhh, I mean North Carolina

Take a look at this post. It is the Friday Morning Dump for July 10th. Look about two-thirds of the way down.

You see it? The link about Isiah Thomas and FIU opening the season against Ohio State?

No? Trust me, its there.

Now take a look at this. It is a press release from Tuesday afternoon stating that UNC released their basketball schedule, and that they will be opening their national title defense against FIU in Isiah Thomas's coaching debut.

Where will Isiah Thomas begin his Florida International coaching career.
(photo credit: ESPN)

Wait, what? Two coaching debuts?

Not exactly. You see, our old friends at the Gazelle Group are up to no good, as usual. You remember them, don't you? They are the guys that decided that tournaments shouldn't be a tournament. Long story short, last year they changed the format of a couple 16 team pre-season tournaments to ensure that the hosts of the four regional sites (the four major conference teams in each tournament) were guaranteed a trip to the semi-finals, regardless of the outcome of the first two rounds of play.


Bigger schools equal higher ratings and attendance. Higher ratings and attendance equals more money in their collective pocket.

The GG saw an opportunity this year. Pitting Isiah Thomas, an NBA hall of famer and borderline celebrity thanks to his tenure with the Knicks, in his debut as a collegiate coach against the reigning national champs as they kick off their season is a dream match-up and will easily pull better ratings (it is scheduled to be televised on ESPN U) than if he started off the year against the lowly Buckeyes.

The problem is, no one told FIU. Both Thomas and FIU athletic director Pete Garcia had no idea that they would be headed to Chapel Hill instead of Columbus until UNC released their schedule today.

"We knew nothing about this until the press release from North Carolina today," Garcia was quoted as saying. "We told (Gazelle) last week we would not change the game and had never agreed to this."

Thomas reiterated the same point to's Dana O'Neil.

"I had no idea," he said. "No one contacted me, our athletic director, no one. Maybe in 2010, 2011 we can play North Carolina, but not this year."

The issue doesn't necessarily seem to be the fact that FIU is playing UNC. Ohio State is a good team, but to play the defending national champs in their season opener on national television is exposure that any mid-major program would love to receive. From what Garcia has said, the more plausible explanation seems to be that FIU doesn't like the way that the GG has handled the situation; Garcia was quoted as saying that he felt "bullied" during the process.

And based on some of the things that Rick Giles of the GG has been quoted as saying, I don't really blame him.
  • "I think once they sit down and take a look at everything and think about it, they'll do the right thing and go ahead and play Carolina."
  • "If we let every team tell us who they want to play, we'd never get a field finalized."
  • "They agreed to play either one. We talked to them two weeks ago and wanted them to play North Carolina. They said they'd prefer to play Ohio State and we understand that, but we want them to play North Carolina."
  • "I would be stunned if Isiah Thomas' first act as a head coach was to break a contract."
From reading about the issue, the hang-up is that the contract that was signed said Ohio State or UNC, but that some kind of handshake agreement was reached in which the Panthers would play the Buckeyes. FIU seems like they are ready to boycott the event, which would only end up hurting the kids on the Panther team that would have a chance to play against a national powerhouse, whether it ends up being Ohio State or UNC.

I bet this issue could be solved with a simple phone call where the GG says "Hey, our bad. We screwed up. But this would be such a better match-up". We'll see if that happens.

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