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Saturday Sports: Mighican sign stealing, NBA in-season tournament

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

And now it's time for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: Coach Harbaugh, step away from the sideline. NBA, a tournament early in the season. Howard Bryant of Meadowlark Media joins us. Howard, thanks so much for being with us.

HOWARD BRYANT: Thank you for having me, Scott. Are you having a little fun at John Harbaugh - I'm sorry - Jim Harbaugh's expense?

SIMON: I would never have fun at Coach Harbaugh's expense.

BRYANT: (Laughter).

SIMON: Big Ten Conference announced yesterday it's banning Coach Harbaugh from the sidelines for the team's final three games. This comes after the team was found to be in violation of that Big Ten sportsmanship policy because they sent a staffer to opponents' games to record video of the team signals. He can coach the game during the week. Does the punishment fit the violation?

BRYANT: Well, certainly, it's cheating. I mean, there's no question - I know that the university is filing an injunction to get Coach Harbaugh on the sidelines, etc. But if you lay out and you read the 13-page complaint, essentially, you're not supposed to spy on other teams, especially when you're the third-ranked team in the country and you've got a great coach like Harbaugh. And the complaint said that this was not a reflection on him.

However, it really is a silly sort of dirty thing to do. And it seems they got caught. The assistant coach - former assistant coach Connor Stalions resigned as the center of it - buying 12, 13 tickets to games to have other people in the stands watching your opponents' play. And they got caught. And the reason why this punishment is so abrupt, even though the University of Michigan is saying it's a rush to judgment, is because they were caught earlier in the season doing this. So they're trying - so the Big Ten is trying to punish them during the season. There are only three games left. And so, yeah, to answer your question, does it feel a little bit rushed? Sure it does. But what are you doing, Michigan? What are you doing?

SIMON: You mean - oh, you mean, 'cause they knew the rule, right?

BRYANT: I mean, if you're Michigan, what you doing as a team that this is something that - what are we - are we the New England Patriots? Are we going back to Spygate back 20 years ago?

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: I mean it's just a really silly but serious offense. And I think that what we're also seeing with Jim Harbaugh and with that team is that he was - the school was already under violation for recruiting violations...

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: ...Earlier this season. So this is twice this year for a really, really good team. They've got a huge game today. And this is - the coaches always talk about not wanting to be distractions. Well, they...

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: ...Are the distraction right now.

SIMON: First ever NBA in-season tournament's underway. By the way last night, LeBron and LA Lakers came back in the fourth quarter to...

BRYANT: (Laughter).

SIMON: ...Beat Phoenix. I'm not sure I understand the idea of a tournament within the season.

BRYANT: Sure you do, Scott Simon. Sure you do. Just go back to "Airplane!" where the little kid looks at Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and says that you guys don't play hard until the playoffs, and my dad thinks that you're - I think you're great, but my dad thinks you're lazy or whatever...

SIMON: Right. Yeah.

BRYANT: ...That type of stuff. Essentially, what the NBA did...

SIMON: (Imitating Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) Hey, kid, try walking around with Bill Walton on your back.

BRYANT: (Laughter).

SIMON: Yeah. I love that scene. Yeah.

BRYANT: Exactly. So what they're trying to do is they're trying to give an 82-game season some relevance. They're trying to fight the argument that the games don't matter until we get past the All-Star break and that the teams don't really care about the season and, with load management being an issue over the last couple of years, that they're trying to make you care about this. They're trying to make the players care about it, you know, before Christmas. And to try this new gimmick to give you something to play for, to give the fans something to watch - it seems, in some ways, a bit of a concession that the season is just too damn long. And maybe this is a way to get people excited about the full season until - you know, before the real action starts. So somebody's going to...

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: ...Hoist a trophy in the second week of - or the first week of September. We've got an in-season tournament. And the other sports are doing it too. We have something like that...

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: ...In soccer as well. So it's a way to try something different.

SIMON: Howard Bryant, thanks so much.

BRYANT: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.

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