Random Thoughts On AU, College Athletics

Columnist Phillip Marshall writes about several different sports.

Random thoughts on a Friday morning…

It was an enlightening experience. I covered my first college softball games when Alabama visited Auburn for a three-game series Tuesday and Wednesday. Auburn, if you didn't know, won two of three, taking a doubleheader on Tuesday when Kristen Keyes pitched a no-hitter and won the second game in relief. Alabama won Wednesday.

And I learned a lot.

I learned that pitching a softball doesn't put the same kind of stress on an arm that pitching a baseball does. Keyes and Alabama's Stephanie VanBrakle pitched in all three games.

I learned that having meetings on the pitcher's mound and high fiving each other is an integral part of the college game. They do it every inning, several times in some innings.

I learned that teams have choreographed cheers they do in the dugouts. Alabama players even rattled their keys when Keyes went back to the mound in the second game.

I learned that Jane B. Moore Field is a beautiful facility. I haven't seen any others, but it's difficult to imagine a nicer one.

I learned that Keyes is one dominant pitcher and that senior Martha Phillips from Montgomery is a heck of a hitter.

These ladies compete with as much intensity and as much passion as anybody. If you've ever tried to play fast-pitch softball, you know how difficult it is to hit a ball thrown that hard from 45 feet away.

Auburn, having its best season ever, faces a huge series this weekend at LSU. The Bayou Bengals lead the West Division and the overall standings. Auburn is in second in the West. If the Tigers can make a good showing at LSU and take care of business at home against Kentucky, they could be a host for an NCAA regional.

In typical fashion, the NCAA is overreacting to the scandal that continues to grow at Colorado.

Numerous young women have said they were sexually assaulted by Colorado players or recruits during football recruiting visits. Coach Gary Barnett has been suspended while the investigation goes on.

Believe me, with a daughter and two granddaughters, I believe anyone who was guilty of sexual assault should be put in jail. If Barnett intimidated the accusers or if he looked the other way, he ought to be fired. But just because it happened at Colorado doesn't mean it happens everywhere. It is terribly unfair to assume that.

There is a move afoot now to dramatically change the way recruiting visits are conducted, to make sure recruits are shielded from the evils of sex and alcohol.

Give me a break.

A lot of college kids drink, even when they are underage. A lot of college kids have sex. Sometimes those things get them into trouble and they have to pay the price. By all means, those things should not be encouraged or facilitated by a university athletic department or its representatives, but to believe that a coach or anyone else can keep them from happening is a joke.

Recruiting visits routinely take place in January. Apparently there are going to be new rules that require chaperones and the like. Signees report to campus in August and are expected to live on their own, manage their money and balance the immense demands of football and academics. Are those guys going to be more grown up in August when they report for practice and are essentially on their own than they were in January?

Speaking of the NCAA, it is unconscionable that Auburn is still waiting for a verdict from its hearing before the Committee on Infractions. At the hearing on Feb. 13, Auburn officials were told to expect to hear in 5-7 weeks. It has been 10 weeks.

New women's basketball coach Nell Fortner made a good impression when she was introduced Thursday. She was articulate and witty. She impressed the players with talk of competing for championships.

Following Joe Ciampi will not be easy. Ciampi built the program almost from scratch and put it among the nation's elite. The only thing he didn't do was win a national championship, falling one game short three times.

Steve Renfroe, in his fourth season, might be doing his best coaching job. The Tigers are in good position as the second half of the SEC season starts. They are ranked No. 11 in the nation despite losing their best power hitter and starting third baseman before the season and dealing with injuries that have sidelined or slowed left fielder Sean Gamble, shortstop Chuck Jeroloman and catcher Josh Sullivan.

When Auburn won two of three at Alabama last weekend, it marked the third time in four years Renfroe has won the regular-season SEC series from the Tide.

There have been better years for Auburn athletics, but despite disappointing seasons in football and basketball, the Tigers have dominated competition with in-state rival Alabama.

Mark Gottfried got his first sweep of Auburn in men's basketball and the Tide gymnastics team continued its domination. But Auburn won in football, won two of three in baseball, won national championships in men's and women's swimming, won twice in women's basketball, won two of three in softball, won in soccer and finished far ahead of the Tide in both men's and women's SEC golf.

Until next time…

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