LOS ANGELES — It took the better part of seven seasons, but Tad Boyle and the Colorado men's basketball team may have found their foil as a heated rival in the Pac-12 Conference.
And all it took was a rubbing-it-in-your face timeout from a coach who needs to take a closer look in the mirror.
After the relatively innocuous comments made by Boyle following last weekend's win against then-No. 14 Arizona, the USC Trojans and head coach Andy Enfield felt personally slighted. For those who haven't paid attention to college basketball yet this season, Enfield's program was one of four teams across the nation who had assistant coaches arrested in a still-ongoing FBI bribery and corruption probe. Arizona also is on that list, along with Oklahoma State and Auburn.
For USC, that assistant is Tony Bland. He is alleged to have accepted a $13,000 bribe to steer future USC pros to the services of particular agents and financial advisors. He also is alleged to have made payments of at least $4,000 to the associates of two athletes (one was a recruit who has since de-committed from USC). Amid this chaos the Trojans have kept sophomore guard De'Anthony Melton on the sideline all season, and on Thursday the school announced Melton will remain a spectator for the duration of the year after determining a close family friend did indeed receive impermissible financial benefits.
Even without this backdrop, to defeat USC or Arizona — the programs boasting the greatest depth of talent in the league — clearly is an enormously satisfying feat for a youthful CU team still likely to finish in the bottom half the league despite last week's upset victories. Yet Boyle has been outspoken about the frustrations of competing in what seemingly isn't a level playing field since news of the FBI bust broke in late September. His comments following the win against Arizona didn't break character.
To review, after that victory Boyle was asked if there was extra satisfaction in topping the Wildcats amid the ongoing FBI corruption investigation. His full response:
"Absolutely. Absolutely there is. It's ironic that we're playing Arizona today. I have got great respect for Sean Miller and the kind of coach he is. They recruit very, very well. They've recruited very well, their staff has. USC has recruited very, very well. The two most talented teams in our (league) from top to bottom are USC and Arizona. So hell yes there's extra satisfaction. Hell yes.
"I've got great respect for Sean. Hell of a coach. I've got great respect for Andy Enfield. But to answer your question — hell yes."
Despite not saying a single word about USC's student-athletes while expressing respect for Enfield, and despite the well-publicized black mark currently staining his program, the Trojans' coach nevertheless took umbrage. On Tuesday, about 24 hours before defeating Boyle's Buffs, Enfield provided a prepared statement to a pair of reporters, saying:
"We are disappointed in Tad Boyle's comments, and what they imply. Not only is it unfair for someone to comment who doesn't have all the facts, but those comments are unfair to those of us involved in the USC men's basketball program, most importantly to our student-athletes and their families. They're outstanding young men who chose USC to earn a world-class education and to compete for championships."
Enfield then proceeded to take a meaningless timeout with 21 seconds remaining in USC's 12-point win against CU Wednesday night, laughing it up with his team and basking in the moment.
It's one thing for a coach to stick up for his players. It's quite another for Enfield to play role of the victim and invoke the word "unfair" with a key player relegated to the sideline for impermissible benefits and an assistant coach awaiting trial.
Certainly Enfield is within his rights to read deeper into Boyle's comments. It's probably fair to say Boyle's barb ran deeper than the surface of last week's statement. However, reading into implications works both ways. What are the implications of having a recruiter like Bland, a member of Enfield's staff since he took over the USC program before the 2013-14 season, helping to bring in the players that sparked an abrupt and dramatic turnaround of a Trojans program that won just six games as recently as six years ago? What are the implications of having a player on the roster publicly exposed as having accepted cash benefits, even if that cash was directed toward a close family friend? What are the implications when the extent of Melton's punishment so far is to remain on scholarship and still practice with the team while eyeing a possible return next season?
February 21. Buffs fans can circle the date. That's when the Trojans visit the Coors Events Center. If the Buffs hold a reasonably comfortable lead in the final minute and Boyle still has timeouts in his pocket, do you think he will use one?