Ask Mike: NIL Madness, SEC Baseball Talk & Cal’s Waiting Game

By Mike Irwin
on 2024-04-22 19:29 PM

Q. Our first question is from KYHog who asks: Could mousetown be right? Arkansas’ baseball team has the pitching but not the hitting to win it all? The Diamond Hogs are coming my way in a couple of weeks and Kentucky can pitch and hit. Yeah, I’m worried.

A. Here’s the issue. Arkansas was 11-1 after its first four SEC series. Only one of those opponents was ranked and LSU has since fallen out of the polls. Alabama and South Carolina are ranked. The pitching and hitting got tougher and both series were on the road. Arkansas went 3-3 and fell out of the overall lead in the SEC while losing its number one national ranking. The Razorbacks still have to go to Kentucky and Texas A&M. Those two series will decide the SEC race. If that’s a big deal to you right now it doesn’t look good. It would be nice to have at least one of those two teams at home.

However if the goal is to go to Omaha and win it all, I would remind everybody that two years ago Ole Miss finished 5th in the SEC West with a 14-16 record and tied for 8th overall. The Rebels barely got into the NCAA Tournament field but won the College World Series.

Last year Arkansas won the SEC and didn’t make it out of its own regional. In 2021 Arkansas was number one for almost the entire regular season and didn’t make it to Omaha.

Post season is all about post season and we’re not close to being there yet.

Q. Eddy Lynn says: Thankful for game two on Saturday. In the previous four SEC games Arkansas had gone 1-3 averaging just two runs a game. They finally stopped swinging for the fences and went for base hits. Guess what? 9 runs.

A. It did look like that but you’d have to be those guys to know what their mindset was at the plate. Sometimes it’s a matter of facing the right pitcher at the right time. Whatever happened you’re right. It stopped the bleeding on what had been a miserable offensive stretch.

In spite of the one loss to South Carolina, Arkansas remained a game ahead of the Aggies in the SEC West and gained a game on Kentucky for the overall lead which lost two of three to Tennessee. So what could have been a bad weekend turned out fine.

Q. Razorback Hobbs says: All I saw on my twitter feed Saturday during the first game was fans complaining and wanting Nate Thompson fired. Runners left on base are a part of baseball. The last 2 games at Alabama and the first 2 games at South Carolina there were a lot of hard hit balls but they just didn’t find the gaps. Then, in the final game of the South Carolina series, the balls started to fall and we scored 9 runs. Arkansas had 21 hits in the final 2 games at South Carolina. I believe our offense is starting to heat up.

A. Complaints about Nate Thompson has been going on for three or four years at least. It’s based on a belief by some fans that Arkansas’ batters are taught to swing for the fences and way too often they strike out or fly out. There are not enough line drives or hard hit ground balls.

I get what you’re saying but it’s pretty hard to argue against the numbers. Right now Arkansas is 9th in the SEC in batting, 9th in hits but 12th in runs scored. That’s not sustainable and you can’t blame it on too many balls failing to go through the gaps. This lack of consistent run production puts too much pressure on the pitching staff. I’m not saying that Thompson needs to be fired but adjustments have to be made. I hope you are right about the offense heating up because after Florida this weekend Arkansas will close out against against three teams that are in the top four in pitching in the SEC.

Q. Hawgredneck wants to know: Are our pitchers running out of steam? Seems like hitters are starting to figure us out. Particularly the bullpen. Am I overreacting?

A. The team ERA has been hovering in the mid two’s for a while. Now it’s up close to three. That’s still the best in the SEC. I think some of it is the pitchers faced better hitting teams in Alabama and Texas Tech. The concern has to be South Carolina. After holding them to just one run in game one Arkansas gave up 12 runs in the next two games and yes, it’s mostly been the bullpen. So no, you’re not overreacting. Will Mc Entire has struggled bit lately. That’s definitely something to keep an eye on.

Q. Marty Byrde’s proxy asks: Has there been a trend towards higher level baseball players going to college instead of signing professional contracts? It seems they could now make at least similar money, if not better and probably have a far easier lifestyle for those 3 or 4 years.

A. This was happening before NIL and for several of reasons. First, the college experience and a chance to earn a degree is has been appealing to some high school seniors. Also, as you mentioned, the facilities, travel and overall lifestyle is much better and less stressful on a good major college team. Moving up through the minor league system can be very difficult. Finally the chance of actually getting to the major leagues is better coming out of a college program first.

Q. Pigsfeat wants to know: Has NIL benefited other sports as much as it has football and basketball?

A. Personally I don’t think NIL benefits a sport at all. It benefits certain players. Currently NIL money is mostly going to football and basketball at most schools. There are some exceptions for individual athletes who have national following or image but this imbalance will not continue. There are lawsuits attempting to include Title IX athletes at the same NIL level as football and basketball players. A some point a universal NIL collective payment for all scholarship athletes will happen.

Q. To basketball where there are a bunch of transfer portal questions: sgiles wants to know: Is there an issue with basketball recruiting? Last week Courtney said not to worry, Cal will clean up but a week later we still have just one scholarship player on the roster.

Q. SardisHog asks: Should we be concerned that only one player has left KY and come to AR so far?

Q. And Sherlock.Hawg wants to know: Is Cal re-recruiting Battle or Blocker? I know that many think he will bring in the talent that had committed to Kentucky and I hope he does.

A. Karter Knox is supposed to be in Fayetteville now (Monday) on a visit. He’s a former Kentucky 5-star signee who got out of his LOI. As many as four other former Kentucky players or signees are rumored to be coming to Fayetteville. If true, that would still leave Cal with 7 other scholarship to fill. There appears to be a chance that Kalif Battle could return. He, along with all the other Razorbacks with eligibility, hit the portal in the days after Eric Musselman left for USC.

Q. Kevin says: Can we please stop using NIL. Start calling it what it is. Signing Bonus. We are just paying players now, nothing to do with name, image & likeness.

A. I agree 100%. The original Supreme Court ruling was about name image and likeness in selling a product. As we said, because of Tennessee and a couple of other schools the NCAA rule against using NIL money to buy players in recruiting has been put on hold. So there are no rules on that as of right now. Before this transfer period is over it is now projected that as many as 2,000 scholarship basketball players could be in the portal. That’s 40% of all college basketball players and that’s nuts. Also the one time transfer without penalty rule was set to go back into place this fall. Now that appears to be out since the Division I committee of he NCAA has recommended unlimited transfers as long as the athlete in question is academically eligible. That means a kid could transfer four or five times and each time shop himself out for more NIL money. These idiots have lost their minds. College sports is going to eventually crater is something is not done.

Q. Hogdogger says: I love the Calipari hire but I do have a question. If he hires the same staff and has most of the same players will he have the same results or will the team here be more successful than Ky. Just don’t call us Ky lite.

A. He won’t have the same staff because he’s already added former Louisville head coach Kenny Payne . Payne was with Cal during his most successful years at Kentucky. Also at least one coach in his staff this past season at Kentucky has taken a job with another team. As I just pointed out, even if as many as say three players off of last years’ Kentucky team end up here that will mean 10 players will be here that did not play for Kentucky last year.

As for whether or not the record will be there same who knows? Fans will have to decided for themselves if they think that Cal is reinvigorated. Common sense dictates that the competitiveness in him will drive him to success.

Q. WVHogfan says: First, congratulations to the Gymbacks for their top 7 finish.
Second, how serious is the proposal of the 70 team 6 conference division that you and Courtney discussed. Would that be for all sports, or football only?

A. Well it was seven, 10-team conferences for all sports. It’s just a proposal. There are several groups working behind the scenes trying to come up with a solution to what we’ve been talking about. Unlimited transfer combined with the open bidding for players. A super division would address those issues. The one proposal I mentioned was interesting to me because it addressed another developing issue within the so called power four conferences. That is travel concerns.

This nonsense where West Virginia is in the Big 12, USC and UCLA are in the BIG, come on. That’s a travel nightmare for athletes who have to come back from the road trips and still go to class the next day. Not to mention what it does to the fans. Frankly it’s driving them away from attending events live. TV revenue is nice but all schools need live gate money.

However it seems unlikely that the SEC and BIG would give up some of the power they enjoy to benefit schools in other conferences. The BIG’s gutting of the Pac 12 is a good example of that. Any super division will probably consist of those two conferences with a few selected teams invited to join.

Q. parallaxpig asks: So powers to be would not up the anti to sign Lane Kiffin for the money making sport, but we’re going to kick in $6 mill to pay Beard or Tang buyout? Not buying it. Help me out.

A. You are mixing two different issues that happened five years apart. At the time that Hunter Yurachek decided not to get into a bidding war with Ole Miss over hiring Lane Kiffin he was new on the job. He had promised to be very careful with the athletic department’s money and he also had a philosophy of not hiring somebody he thought might go job hopping in a year or two. What was Kiffin’s history? Fired as head coach of the Oakland Raiders. Hired at Tennessee but left abruptly after one season. Went to USC where he was fired. Ended Up working at Alabama as an offensive coordinator. Stayed there two years. Took the head coaching job at Central Florida. Stayed there for two years and was job hunting again. I can see why Yurachek didn’t want to get into a bidding war over his services. He didn’t have a good track record and he was job hopping all over the place. You can’t look at Kiffin today and Kiffin five years ago and say Yurachek should have known he would have the success he’s had at Ole Miss. He was not a proven commodity.

As far as paying a buyout for either Chris Beard or Jerome Tang, Yurachek says he never offered either one of them a job. He got Calipari with no buy out. Sounds like to me he’s been a careful businessman.

Q. St. Hog says: Wally Hall mentioned in his April 3rd article that Hunter Yurachek recently made the three-man finalists for the Texas A&M AD job. How ironic that Mr. Yurachek demands a non-Compete clause preventing his coaches from bolting to another SEC school yet he wanted to leave for another SEC AD job? I would assume Coach Cal would not have accepted the UA job if he felt the AD who hired him was looking at other opportunities.

A. Don’t confuse an AD with a head coach. Many head coaches make five times to ten times at much as their boss who is the AD. I’ve never heard of an AD with a no compete. An AD is not putting a team on the field each week during the season trying to beat other conference teams. AD’s hire coaches and manage the budget of the their athletic department.

As for Yurachek leaving, there was a time when he was apparently looking. We are told that that time has passed. I don’t think Cal is worried about his boss leaving.

Q. Hogman80 asks: Do you think this will be the year that softball will make it to OKC? I like how we are looking, but the only concern for me is game 2. I don’t want that to bite us when it comes to regional and supers play.

A. Just like I mentioned earlier with baseball the regular season and post season are different but to get out of a regional a team has to win three games not two so the game two problem you mention could be an issue. A super regional is different. Win two and you advance to Oklahoma City.

Q. pghawg1 says: Courtney, outstanding story about Coach Cal and Rabbi Litvin

A. Courtney: Thank you! I appreciate you for taking the time to watch it. If you haven’t seen the story yet, you can watch it right here.

(Last updated: 2024-04-22 19:29 PM)