Rounding up the hot topics from beat writer Dave Matter's weekly chat with fans of Tiger athletics.
EFFECT OF NCAA SANCTIONS ON RECRUITING?
QUESTION: Are the NCAA sanctions affecting recruitment yet?
MATTER: That's pretty hard to measure so early in the process. I'm sure Barry Odom will be transparent with recruits and tell them where things stand with the appeals process. Any penalty that MU appeals doesn't go into effect until the NCAA appeals committee makes a final ruling, which could take a year. So, the recruiting restrictions and scholarship reductions won't factor into how the staffs recruit this spring and summer.
At some point, though, if those penalties are upheld, then the coaches will have to make MAJOR adjustments to their recruiting routines and schedules. Coaches won't be able to go on the road to recruit for seven weeks. That could have drastic effects on how they're able to build inroads and evaluate prospects.
MIZZOU'S RECRUITING IN ST. LOUIS
COMMENT: Mizzou got five of the PD’s top 30 recruits, which is better than they got in the past couple years. Looks like Illinois got more from this group, which maybe was expected after Lovie Smith hired the Trinity High coach last year is the reason the Trinity players chose the Illini?
MATTER: Keep in mind, that list isn't the area's top 30 recruits in the mind of Missouri's coaches. They value CJ Boone a lot more than the folks at our newspaper who put together that list, seeing that Mizzou wanted Boone and he's only No. 19 on the list, behind at least seven players Missouri didn't heavily recruit or offer a scholarship. Minnesota signed three area players and none held Missouri offers. Missouri didn't view Isaiah Williams as a quarterback and he wants to play QB, so he was never much on MU's radar.
Of the players on that list who didn't sign with Missouri, Odom's staff wouldn't have taken any more than five and maybe just four. And that’s OK. Missouri doesn’t rely solely on the in-state or St. Louis area players to fill their classes. They're very happy with the area players they landed and just as happy with the recruits from Michigan and Texas.
CAN MIZZOU INFLUENCE THE APPEALS PROCESS?
QUESTION: How much of the timing of the appeals process can Mizzou influence, and do you get a sense from the administration as to whether they will push for a fast process or let it drag out? In theory, if they could influence, then there might be a strategy on when to start serving the penalties, based on how the football season is unfolding.
MATTER: There's no rush to get the appeal resolved now. On one hand, if you think you can get the postseason ban dropped, you'd like to know that before football season starts — but the timeline is essentially out of MU's controls once it files its appeal. On the other hand, if the postseason ban is going to stick, Mizzou should want that applied in 2020 or later — not 2019, when this team's got a chance to compete for the SEC East. When you land the best grad transfer QB on the market, you go for broke in 2019.
I think it's admirable that some local politicians are talking about the sanctions — you might also call that grandstanding and appealing to their base — but in reality, anything a state senator says on the floor of the Missouri Capitol isn't going to influence how a five-person committee looks at the COI's ruling and punishment and then decides if the COI overstepped its power. This all comes down to Mizzou and its lawyers making a case that the punishments were inappropriately severe and convincing the five-person panel that the penalty doesn't fit the crime.
Will the court of public opinion influence how these five people decide the appeals? Realistically, probably not. But as I've been saying for a week, there is value in folks like Sterk, Odom and Sundvold going public with their rancor. And that has everything to do with unifying and mobilizing and galvanizing the fan base — not to sway the appeals committee but to build support for the program. If the penalties stick but Mizzou sells more season tickets and squeezes out more donations from a ticked-off fan base, MU can still win in the end.
WOULD PROGRAMS BE ELIMINATED TO CUT COSTS?
QUESTION: You're the athletic director. What athletic department operating expenses do you cut/reduce or eliminate, what programs are eliminated? Operating expense reductions and eliminations are going to be critical, especially in light of the estimated $8-9 million loss should 2019's postseason ban for football not be reduced by the NCAA Appeals Committee.
MATTER: Good question, and people aren't going to like my answer, but if your goal is to slash spending I think you have to consider getting rid of some teams that cost money and only subtract from the bottom line. Now, personally I'd try to avoid doing that, but if you have long-term financial concerns, it would be irresponsible to not put that option on the table.
Now, before we get started, the new south end zone complex will bring in revenue that will offset some of the current losses. (The project also adds to Mizzou’s debt, which factors into annual expenses.) It won’t be enough to offset $9 million lost in a postseason ban, but the revenue from the new suites and higher-priced ticket areas could help push MU into the black for the 2020 fiscal year, pending the sanctions.
Now, as far as cutting expenses, if you're getting rid of teams, you likely have to start with men's teams because of Title IX laws. I'm not well versed in all the legal requirements, but if you start with the men's teams, what is expendable? Baseball? Golf? Wrestling? Wrestling is a such a great program at MU and it wouldn't make sense to get rid of your best championship contender. I wouldn't like to see MU get rid of baseball.
So if you decide against that, then you have to trim expenses in other ways. You can't really reduce travel expenses. Teams have to get to games. You can't cut food for athletes. Maybe you start with staff around the athletics department — and Sterk already has. He hasn't replaced some key staffers who have left for other programs. Instead they've consolidated responsibilities.
WHO MIGHT TRANSFER OUT OF MIZZOU FOOTBALL?
QUESTION: Which football players are most at risk for being "poached" by another SEC school? Do have any sense for who is being targeted?
MATTER: I would be surprised if Mizzou loses anyone that will upset the fans or coaches. Let's apply some good old fashioned common sense here. There are eight players with starting experience among the returning seniors: Wallace-Simms, Durant, Johnson, Garrett, Perkins, Acy, Oliver and McCann. Unless their primary goal is making the College Football Playoffs, why would any of those guys jump ship on the coaches and teammates they've been around for the last several years? (Just one year in Oliver's case, but you get the picture.) And who's to say any of those guys are starters at a legit playoff contender? The schools that we know have contacted Mizzou about the seniors aren't in any better shape for 2019 than Mizzou. Is a guy like Acy just dying to play one year at Auburn so he can play in maybe a slightly better bowl than Mizzou? That doesn't pass the common sense test.
Then you've got the two grad transfers. We already know Kelly Bryant is staying. There's no indication yet that Jonathan Nance wants to leave.
That leaves us with the seniors who are non-starters. Only eight of those guys are scholarship players. Richaud Floyd, who could very well start as a senior, Franklin Agbasimere, Markell Utsey, Justin Smith, Alex Ofodile, Jack Lowary, Jonah Dubinski and Tyrell Jacobs. If MU is going to lose a transfer, I would think someone from this list makes more sense—and probably not Columbia natives Ofodile and Dubinski. These eight aren’t starting at MU or playing very much at all. They can go somewhere else for one year, hit the reset button and get some playing time as a senior. And if playing time is their objective, guys like this would be better suited at a lesser program, a conference or a team where they'd have a better shot to see the field. If that happens, I don't think anyone at MU is losing much sleep. The other seniors are walk-ons. I don't think you have to worry about Jacob Trump leaving his uncle's program.
Here's the reality: It's not just the senior class MU has to think about here. If the appeals process drags on beyond this football season, it's the current junior class that will then have the chance to transfer without penalty. Then you're talking about guys like Okwuegbunam, Rountree, Holmes, Gillespie, Byers. Those guys would be more attractive than the current seniors.
HEALTH UPDATES FOR TILMON AND MARK SMITH?
QUESTION: Dave, any sense that Mark Smith will play Saturday? Any injury update on Tilmon after Tuesday's game?
MATTER: Cuonzo Martin didn't express any concern with Tilmon's knee after the game Tuesday. Tilmon had an ice pack on his knee after the game — he didn't stop for interviews — and seemed to be walking fine. From what I understand he's OK. Martin will meet with the media Friday.
As for Mark Smith, no telling at this point. A week ago Martin thought he would play against Auburn — and that obviously didn't happen. At this point, we'll know he's playing when he checks into a game.
SEC EXPANSION TO ... OKLAHOMA?
QUESTION: Do you think the SEC will expand soon? What are the chances the SEC gets Oklahoma and OSU? If not, who would you take? Do you think Oklahoma City is a big enough TV market for the SEC to want?
MATTER: I don't think expansion/realignment will be a serious topic until the next wave of media rights contracts comes open for renegotiations. Also, with all the cord-cutting that's happened, I'm not sure TV ratings will be the all-powerful measurement when conferences decide who they want to add in another round of realignment.
And even then, I'm not sure there are natural additions that would please the current SEC membership enough to make the move. Would Texas allow the Oklahoma schools to leave the Big 12 without putting up a fight? Right now, the Sooners are in a pretty good spot in the Big 12 with fewer conference teams to compete against and a fairly clean path to the playoff most years. I'm not sure OU is wild about joining an SEC West Division with Alabama, Auburn, LSU, A&M in their way of a playoff spot.
HOW MIZZOU COMPARES TO GOOD OL' ROCKY TOP
QUESTION: You've made several references to how Tennessee's men’s basketball program was in a relatively similar place, three years ago, to where Mizzou is now. Can you elaborate a bit on how you see similar talent both in Columbia and on the recruiting horizon and in the coaching staff to make a similar rise, in the coming years?
MATTER: Rick Barnes didn't inherit much talent and the guys he brought in were just considered ordinary recruits. But player development and retention have been crucial in UT's turnaround. Schofield and Alexander got better each year. Schofield and Williams completely transformed their bodies in the program. Bone and Bowden struggled early — and have developed into really good, bordering on elite players. It's a junior-senior program led by a head coach who seemed rejuvenated when he got fired at Texas and really got players to buy into his message.
It's an ideal blueprint for a program if you're not bringing in five-star players, but it still takes the right coach who knows how to identify talent and develop talent. MU's core is still very promising. Martin was incredibly upbeat Tuesday in Knoxville. He really likes his freshmen. Here's what he said: "You gain through wisdom and experience. Xavier Pinson, Torrence Watson, Javon Pickett, I’ll go to battle with all three of those guys. They’ll continue to grow as they get older. One thing we always talk about is the pain and the pain within sport. You lose games and how you lose games, you let that pain allow you to grow. I think those guys are doing that. We’ll be all right because of it."
QUESTION: How big can Mario McKinney be for Mizzou next season? I know college is much harder than high school, but that guy can handle the ball.
MATTER: I think he's in the rotation on the wing, a scoring threat and a defender who can add energy in a reserve role behind the Smiths, Dru and Mark, and Pinson. He's still working on his handle and his jumper, and he'll have to commit to defense to earn serious minutes under Martin, but this team could definitely use some more athleticism on the wing. He could probably be helping this team right now.
STANDARDS FOR RETIRING A NUMBER?
QUESTION: What are the new retired-number standards that have been laid down (which are welcomed, by the way, if they mean someone like Derrick Chievous has his raised to the rafters) by the athletic department under Jim Sterk?
MATTER: Eligible players have to be 10 years removed from their final year of competition at Mizzou. They must already be inducted into the MU Athletics Hall of Fame. After that, they have to meet four of 10 criteria to be considered for number retirement by a panel of voters. Among those: First-team all-conference, major conference of the year award winner, All-American by at least one major outlet, national award winner (Outland Trophy, Mackey Award, etc.), Olympic medalist while a student-athlete, professional service of five-years or more, induction into national college or pro hall of fame for respective sport. Mizzou analyzed a lot of number retirement criteria from a handful of other schools before coming up with the list.
Under the old requirements, a candidate had to win national player of the year honors in their respective sport, such as the Heisman, Naismith, etc. And they had to have earned their undergraduate degree. That award-winner standard was put in place in the early 2000s after the school had retired its seventh football player's number. The new requirements are more broad-based but open the door for more candidates. What MU doesn't want is to open the floodgates so there's not a groundswell of support for every athlete who had a nice career at MU.
I'd say the only former football player who has a shot is Chase Daniel. Some will say Brad Smith, but he was never Big 12 player of the year like Daniel and never was a Heisman finalist. Yes, you can argue Smith was just as important to the program's rise in the Pinkel years, but Daniel had a far more celebrated college career.