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NU wonks don't make the grade

Steve Rosenbloom

The RosenBlog

10:22 AM EDT, March 20, 2012

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I like Bill Carmody. Classy guy. Well-spoken. Smart basketball man.

I think Northwestern is a cute little sports story. Look at those brainiacs go out to recess and try to play with actual athletes. So cute that you want to pet them.

Beyond that, forget it.

In fact, Northwestern has made sure you forget it. The Wildcats have made sure that Carmody can’t win like a big-boy school, and not just Carmody, but anybody.

Compared to other Big Ten schools --- heck, compared to mid-majors, Div. III, home-schools, whatever --- the Wildcats have lousy facilities, bad attendance and worse tradition. Ever been in that gym? It’s like they’re playing some hoops in there until the Home Depot gets built.

Those deficiencies might be survivable if the Wildcats had players. They don’t have them. They can’t get them. Of all the ways the Wildcats make sure that you forget about them, their entrance requirements always get listed first on the death certificate.

The “Harvard of the Midwest’’ seems to have stiffer entrance requirements than the Harvard of the East. But even if it doesn’t, Northwestern plays in a real basketball conference. Harvard plays in some kind of med student rec league. The Big Ten was the best in the nation this season, and here’s the rule with that: Mechanical engineering majors don’t beat NBA draft choices.

Tim Doyle, the Big Ten Network analyst who played at Northwestern, says coaches around the country think it’s a joke that his former coach is in jeopardy because of all of the obstacles to winning that Northwestern has imposed on the coach, most of all recruiting talent.

In basketball more than any other sport, talent wins. In college basketball more than any other sport, the more impossible you make it to bring in talent, the more you’ve set up some sucker on the sideline to fail.

Do you think Duke and Vanderbilt recruit only those players with at least a 35 on the ACT, a minimum 4.5 grade-point average, and all 5’s on advanced placement tests?

Coaches know what it takes to win. Northwestern wonks obviously don’t. Or they don’t care and don’t mind looking stupid in thinking about changing maguffins the way athletic director Jim Phillips is doing.

Here’s the deal: You can’t fire someone because he didn’t achieve something that you made ridiculously impossible.

How can a school turn out so many smart graduates and retain so many dumb sports administrators?

The only reason Northwestern should change coaches is because it will also change its entrance requirements, and if that’s the case, then Carmody deserves to coach with that kind of advantage, or as they call it everywhere else in the Big Ten, business as usual.

But you know what? It wouldn’t surprise me at all if Northwestern carried on its business as usual. I wouldn’t be shocked if a lot of decision-making muckamucks in Evanston rather like the niche of pompously and arrogantly demanding high standards. I would smirk in understanding if those requirements serve as a source of bragging for the elbow patches by the lake.

Like it’s some kind of trophy.

Which would make it Northwestern’s only trophy.