Canzano: Running for the hills? Or screaming from the top of them?
Published: Jun. 15, 2023
By John Canzano | Bald Faced Truth
Tim Shelton sounded defeated. Maybe he is. In the hours after the former Oregon State men’s basketball assistant went public on Wednesday, folks buzzed about how downright sober his exit interview played.
Shelton whined about NIL resources.
He complained about the war chest.
“We’re not going to be Arizona,” Shelton said in an interview with OSU beat reporter Nick Daschel. “Not going to be Washington or Oregon. That’s fine. That gives us an extra chip on our shoulder. But we can’t be last in those resources.”
By the end, I wondered how Shelton managed to drag himself to work each day as one of Wayne Tinkle’s chief recruiters. Then, I remembered he was paid $205,000-a-year in salary. Also, that he probably sees a short runway for Tinkle in Corvallis. That about sums it up. It looks to me like Shelton is literally running for the hills by defecting to Colorado State.
On the way out, though, I think he did Tinkle a favor.
Dick Oldfield was minding his business when Shelton’s gripes went public. The co-founder of OSU’s Dam Nation Collective looked at his phone and saw a series of notifications pop up.
“The first thing I thought was, ‘Gosh, I wish Tim would have reached out,’” Oldfield told me on Thursday morning. “It was the first we’d heard about it.”
Shelton never expressed any of his frustration with the school’s preferred collective, per Oldfield. The men spoke cordially a few times about non-basketball matters, he said. That was it. Maybe by design, as state and NCAA rules require a separation of church and state on the NIL front. Still, anyone else think it’s curious that Shelton decided to throw a grenade on his way out of town?
Tinkle’s team went 11-21 last season. The Beavers finished 11th. Three years ago, the coach reached the Elite Eight and received a $17.2 million contract extension that runs through 2026-27. No doubt, the coach is in need of a bounce-back year next season.
It’s why Jordan Pope became such an important figure as last season ended. Pope was the most talented freshman in the Pac-12. He was the ideal offseason target for potential poachers who could offer a bigger stage and a more lucrative NIL deal. I was surprised to see him return.
Former Indiana University basketball coach Tom Crean walked me through college basketball’s house of horrors this week.
“The scariest thing that is going on with NIL and the transfer portal — when you’re a solid player or a good player, not even a great player, there’s the potential of people shopping you to another school long before the season ends,” Crean told me.
Pope sure fit that bill, didn’t he? The Beavers played out the end of last season. Pope continued to make threes and provide offensive spark. Even as he assured OSU fans that he planned to return for his sophomore season, I rolled my eyes. I wondered if he was already negotiating.
“It could be with three weeks left in the season, it could be three months,” Crean said. “For people to think the players don’t know what’s going on, that they live in a vacuum… someone’s out there making calls to see if they can get a better NIL deal, that an agent is calling, that the family is calling.
Pope, who averaged 12.6 points, stayed put at Oregon State. He secured a six-figure NIL deal in the process, per a source. OSU teammate Glenn Taylor Jr., however, left for St. John’s University.
Oldfield declined to comment on either player. I followed up by asking him how involved OSU’s collective has been with helping the school’s major athletic programs attract and retain talent.
Running back Damien Martinez was believed to be a target of several SEC schools after rushing for nearly 1,000 yards as a freshman last football season, for example. In January, Martinez was announced as an ambassador for the OBS Lifestyle Brand. The company was co-founded by former Beavers’ star running back Steven Jackson, who is an ambassador himself for — wait for it — the Dam Nation Collective.
“When it comes to football and men’s basketball,” Oldfield told me, “we’ve been involved with key players on both of those teams. There’s a reason they’re still here. It involves us.”
It was interesting to hear Shelton bellyache on his way out. Is Tinkle’s challenge NIL funding? Or the lack of recent proof of performance? A little of both? You decide. But OSU’s athletic department issued a statement in the wake of Shelton’s departure indicating that it disagreed with his assessment.
As a kid, I used to ask my grandfather and grandmother why their parents — my Italian ancestors — abandoned Caserta and Calabria and came to the United States.
“If it was any damned good,” Grandpa used to say, “we wouldn’t have left it.”
Is that what Shelton was doing — leaving for a better situation? Burning down the house on the way out? Or was he trying to do his old boss a favor and excuse/explain Tinkle’s lack of recent success?
It’s hard enough to recruit and retain talent on a tight NIL budget when you’re winning. But Jonathan Smith is doing exactly that in football at OSU. His key assistants got significant pay raises this offseason. The football program also lost fewer players to other schools in the transfer portal than anyone else in the conference. But as Tinkle is discovering in men’s basketball, the challenge is far trickier when you don’t have proven culture and solid recent success.
Washington State men’s basketball coach Kyle Smith said last month that it takes $1 million to $1.5 million a year in NIL funding to field a decent team in the Pac-12. He had a nice season, but lost several players via the transfer portal.
Oldfield told me that most of the text messages and calls he got after Shelton’s remarks were from pro-OSU businesses and donors who were already engaged in trying to help with the collective’s mission.
“We’re meeting with anybody and everybody who wants to talk,” he said. “I heard back from a bunch of people who were in the works. I guess it gave people a sense of urgency, which is good.”
College athletics is off the rails, be sure. Games between Power 5 Conference schools sometimes now look like a matchup between the “haves” and “have-nots.” The Big Ten and SEC have separated from the Pac-12, Big 12 and ACC in terms of media-rights revenue. Within the conferences there are glaring gaps between the tiers when it comes NIL support. It’s become difficult to compare the collectives, too, because some of them prefer to work in the shadows.
Said Oldfield: “The bigger ones are the more secretive ones.”
Tinkle told me multiple times that he made some horrific recruiting mistakes immediately after the Elite Eight run. He is still trying to recover. The way I see it, Shelton did Oregon State a favor. Maybe OSU donors will sit up in their seats and back the collective with a donation today.
Running for the hills is one thing.
Screaming from the top of them is another.