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Have Game, Will Travel; Retirement for Tara? Rarified "Air;" Saban Makes Sense; Pac-12 Desperation

The transfer portal has arrived at Stanford...with a thud.

The Cardinal's 6-7 center, Lauren Betts, the No. 1 recruit in the nation in 2022, has entered the transfer portal. Two other Stanford players, wing Agnes Emma-Nnopu and point guard Indya Navar, reportedly have joined her.

So Stanford's women's basketball future suddenly looks much different. And for perhaps the first time in three decades, there is legitimate cause for concern.

Betts had been slated to start alongside 6-4 All-American Cameron Brink next season and coach Tara VanDerveer planned on her being the foundation of the program going forward.

No mas.

To be honest, I wasn't a fan of Betts (above). She missed a lot of easy layups, was slow to get back on defense, and seemed to be annoyed she wasn't playing more.

Emma-Nnopu, on the other hand, was a strong defender and three-point shooter who I thought deserved more playing time.

Apparently, she agreed.

Navar backed up Telana Lopolo and gained more trust from VanDerveer as the season progressed. She would've battled for the starting job this season.

Now the Cardinal will only have Brink and grad student three-point specialist Hannah Jump returning, along with Lepolo and forward Kiki Iriafen, who's been very inconsistent.

They'll need help from incoming freshmen or transfers to provide an outside scoring threat and perimeter defense, the two things that were most lacking this year as Stanford failed to advance to the Sweet 16.

VanDerveer recruited three of the top 40 high school players in the country: 6-2 forward Nuna Agara from Minnetonka, MN; 5-9 guard Chloe Clardy from Conway, Arkansas and 6-0 wing Courtney Ogden from Atlanta. Ogden, a McDonald's All-American who was rated the No. 10 prospect in the country, will be counted on to provide scoring punch immediately.

The transfer portal will always be a stretch for Stanford, given the university's academic requirements, early deadlines for admissions and limited transfer spots available.

It's a far cry from the situation at places like LSU, a school that built a national championship team from the transfer portal.

Right now, the Cardinal isn't even in the same area code as LSU, South Carolina, Iowa, UConn, Virginia Tech and Utah in terms of returning talent.

Time for Tara to Retire? So the question must be asked; Might it be time for VanDerveer, who will be 70 years old in June, to step aside? Are things going stale at Stanford? Is a newer, fresher approach needed?

When the players at the Elite Eight were asked who other than their own coach they'd like to play for, only 2 of the 79 respondents in the Athletic survey named VanDerveer.

Five months ago, she shamed attractive women athletes, saying that accepting NIL deals based in part on beauty was "one step back." The comment was not well received.

She is a great coach, the winningest coach in history (although UConn's Geno Auriemma will pass her this year), one of the four best of all-time in the women's game, but these transfers, that poll, and this season's results might indicate the game is starting to pass her by.

If I were Tara, I'd be tempted to announce that the coming season would be my last, enjoy a well-deserved victory tour, and go out at the same time as Brink, one of her greatest players.

VanDerveer won her third national championship in 2021. It's always better to retire on top rather than to wait too long.

Breath of Fresh "Air": We all need something positive in our lives these days. In a world where it's hard to understand most of the movies that are coming out (see "Everything Everywhere All at Once"), and even harder to sit through three-plus hours, do yourself a favor and catch "Air."

It's the story of Nike's pursuit and successful recruitment of Michael Jordan, who initially had no interest in the Beavertons. Matt Damon as Sonny Vaccaro, Ben Affleck as Phil Knight and Jason Bateman as Nike exec Rob Strasser are all outstanding.

But Viola Davis steals the movie as Jordan's mother, Deloris.

I've spent some time with Vaccaro, and Damon's performance does him justice. Affleck also captures the genius and idiosyncrasy of Knight.

Saban Makes Sense: It's kind of scary, but lately I've often found myself agreeing with Alabama football coach Nick Saban.

In a recent interview, Saban told ESPN that NIL "wasn't supposed to be me going to give a speech to raise money from alumni so we can get enough money in our collective so we can pay players."

Saban prefers a pro-style system where players are employees and sign contracts with a team under a salary cap.

"Pay the players, and they can become employees...that's not what college football or amateur sports are supposed to be, but I would rather see that than be where we are now, where nobody has a contract, you can leave whenever you want and we can actually create an institution that can pay you to pay for our school. I asked the question then and I'll ask you now: is that what we want college football to become?"

Pac-12 Desperation: Latest news reports have the Pac-12 Conference shopping its media package to the CW Network.

That's not a typo.

The CW is basically a network for teenage girls. It's more of a punchline than a network for most people.

Last year new ownership of the network proclaimed a desire to appeal to a more mature audience, which led to signing a deal with the Saudi-backed LIV golf tour. The ratings have been embarrassingly low.

The Pac-12 has been stumbling and fumbling for almost a year now, trying to find a partner for its media rights. A statement by the league's presidents in February indicated a deal was coming "very soon." Yet commissioner George Kliavkoff continues to come up empty.

One thing is certain: If the Pac-12 decides to put a substantive portion of its football and basketball games on CW, the other four Power Five conferences will pop some champagne corks.

It would mean, for all intents and purposes, the end of the Pac-12 as a major player in college football and basketball, and more defections from the conference would immediately follow.


Gary Cavalli - Bowl and League co-founder, author, speaker 

Gary Cavalli, the former Sports Information Director and Associate Athletic Director at Stanford University, was co-founder and executive director of the college football bowl game played in the Bay Area, and previously was co-founder and President of the American Basketball League.

Get in touch//@cavalli49//

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