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IT'S NOT PLAGIARISM IF YOU LINK TO IT IS ROWING

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Iowa rowing shenanigans AND P.J. Fleck nuptials! Oarn't you glad you clicked on this post?

Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

The Probe Episode

The U.S. Department of Education has opened an investigation into claims of gender bias in the Iowa athletic department stemming from the firing of field hockey coach Tracey Griesbaum, according to the Associated Press.

The University of Iowa is facing a wide-ranging federal civil rights investigation into allegations that its athletics department does not provide equal opportunities for female athletes, correspondence obtained by The Associated Press shows.

The Office for Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education is looking into gender bias allegations in 13 areas, including how the department counts participation levels, awards scholarships, schedules practices and games and delivers services such as tutoring, medical attention, housing and dining. A team of investigators will visit the Iowa City campus in April, according to documents released Thursday under the open records law.

The department's equipment, locker rooms and facilities are also part of the review, which comes as its men's basketball and football teams have been enjoying high national rankings.

The fact that the investigation has moved beyond the terms of Griesbaum's dismissal and into the department's funding, policies and participation level calculations as a whole may be problematic.  Iowa athletics has used the women's rowing team as a catch-all for female athletes for years, resulting in a whopping 72 rowers on the current roster of a sport where at most 20 can participate.  That ratio isn't much different than football, but it does raise the question of how much actual opportunity there is for actual participation.

The most interesting potential development: Facility equality is now apparently a potential point of contention in a world where Iowa has the nicest, newest football practice facility in the Big Ten.  As nice as the Boat House is -- and it's really nice -- it pales in comparison to the palace next door to Kinnick Stadium.  With that said, Iowa's facility imbalance between revenue and non-revenue sports isn't much different than that of almost every other major football school.  If having a really nice football practice facility is found in violation of Title IX, the Department of Education is about to get really busy.

The investigation could take years, so there's certainly no reason to hold one's breath for a decision.  But the effects of a negative decision could be monumental.  Keep an eye on this one.

Home Sweet Home

Chad Leistikow at the Des Moines Register put together a comprehensive review of NCAA Basketball Tournament seeding and first round location assignment practices and reached one conclusion: Iowa basketball is a near-certainty to play its first- and second-round games in Des Moines.

And even after Thursday's 85-78 loss at Indiana, it's still looking really good for an Iowa and Des Moines match.

The NCAA can't say it that strongly yet, obviously, with much basketball to be played between now and Selection Sunday on March 13. To better grasp Iowa's positioning, it helps to understand three key factors:

  • A primary principle in the NCAA's bracket building is, "Teams will remain in or as close to their areas of natural interest as possible."
  • Iowa State cannot play at Wells Fargo Arena, because it's the host school. That's important, because the Cyclones are a top-25 team and own a head-to-head win over Iowa.
  • The NCAA seeds teams Nos. 1 through 68. The first thing that happens in the bracketing stage is scattering the top 16 overall seeds -- Nos. 1-4 in each of four regions -- among the eight first- and second-round host sites.
That means two top-16 seeds per locations. And there are only three eligible schools in the top 25 of the latest USA TODAY Coaches' Poll within 400 miles of Des Moines: No. 5 Iowa (114 miles), No. 6 Kansas (232) and No. 24 Wichita State (391).

The upshot: So long as Iowa is one of the top 16 seeds in the tournament, an increasingly likely scenario given what's left on the schedule, it's almost impossible to craft a current scenario where the Hawkeyes would not end up playing in Des Moines with Kansas.  Iowa would have to fall behind two teams that would have a Des Moines preference.

Kansas is currently No. 1 in the RPI and looks set for the Capitol, but Xavier is the only other program within 600 miles of Des Moines and ahead of Iowa at this time (and St. Louis is quite a bit closer for the Musketeers).  Michigan State and Dayton are within shouting distance of Iowa in the RPI and could make it to Des Moines, but the NCAA would be hard pressed to make up a reason to move the Hawkeyes so that an Atlantic 10 program or a team that Iowa beat twice could play here.

The other upshot from Leistikow's article: Given the RPI and ongoing success of Kansas and Oklahoma, chances are high that the eventual Big 12 winner will be the top seed in the Midwest; if Iowa is going to be a one seed, it would almost certainly be in the West bracket.  A two or three seed, under the right circumstances, could send the Hawkeyes to Chicago.  The one seed is worth another Hawkeye postseason trip to Southern California, to be sure.

Stars Matter, Except for When They Don't

Last week, we were bombarded with articles on how important star rankings are, and how far behind Michigan and Ohio State the Big Ten West had fallen.  They had bar graphs and everything!

This week, we get how horrible Mack Brown's final classes at Texas were, leaving the cupboard completely bare for Charlie Strong; Texas got only one player into the NFL Combine this year, after all, which is fewer than 69 other teams (including Iowa, as we discuss below).

Zero Texas Longhorns were drafted in 2014. Five were drafted in 2015, but only one is on the list of 332 players invited to the 2016 NFL Combine.

If defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway is the only Longhorn drafted this year, that'll mean Mack Brown's final three years as head coach included the recruiting of six pros, fewer than Florida State, Louisville, Florida, Alabama, or Miami had last year alone.

Mack Brown truly and completely failed in his final few years in charge of the Texas program, a fact that must have been identified by the recruiting services whose star rankings were the basis of all those breathless articles about how important Signing Day is.

Only, yeah, no, not so much: Texas was fifth in the Rivals recruting rankings in 2009, third in 2010 and 2011, and second in 2012.  Over those four years, which would make up the bulk of the graduating classes in question, Texas hauled in 8 Rivals five-star recruits and 60 four-star commitments.  Even when Brown's recruiting dipped in his final season, he brought in 9 four-star recruits.  The reason these now-apparent recruiting misses were so highly rated: They were holding offers from Texas, mostly.

The mothership (which I contribute to, for the record) loves to breathlessly report on the vast wasteland of high school football between the gulf coast and California because the Midwest is dead and buried, but the recruiting rankings are ignored when a program bombs out.  After all, which is more likely: There are two elite football players north of the Mason-Dixon Line, or the recruiting services are simply focused  on building up the recruits of the fan bases most likely to pay $120 a year for a recruiting subscription?  Texas' wholesale implosion tells us the answer to that question.

Other Stuff

Iowa baseball, hot off one of the most successful seasons in program history, is fourth in the preseason Big Ten poll. Pitcher Calvin Matthews, shortstop Nick Roscetti and first baseman Tyler Peyton are among the conference's Players to Watch list.  Rick Heller is ready to go.

Iowa will play its now-usual pair of spring exhibitions in April, with the Des Moines open practice on April 8 and spring game on April 23.

It remains an open question whether Iowa will have filled its open defensive assistant/recruiting coordinator spot by then.  Kirk Ferentz said he hoped to have the spot filled within a week of Signing Day.  That was nearly two weeks ago, and while there remain a number of FBS assistant openings left to fill, Iowa's is the longest-vacant spot in the Big Ten by far.

Austin Blythe, Marshall Koehn, Jordan Lomax and Drew Ott were invited to the NFL Combine.  Some took it as a sign that Ott's pending eligibility appeal was destined to fail, but the NFL likely knows as much about the NCAA's thinking on the question as anyone else.

Northwestern fans are asking whether their lack of coaching turnover is a sign of a problem.  We did this a few years ago, and after a few years of problems after Iowa's wholesale changes, I think we learned that new blood can help immensely with breaking tendencies and lethargy.

Western Michigan coach and noted nautical enthusiast P.J. Fleck got married this weekend.  He livetweeted the festivities with his usual zeal, calling his bride-to-be "inspiring" and dropping a reference to rowing in there for good measure.  He was also wearing a Hermes belt that apparently is quite expensive.  This man wants the Iowa job, and is apparently making his case by being as un-Ferentz as possible.

Cincinnati really, really, really, really, really wants to get into the Big 12.  Like leaving-the-Swingers-answering-machine-message-on-Bob-Bowlsby's-voicemail wants in.