Charlie Moon

GHSA NIL

By: Charlie Moon

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

Special thanks to GHSA Executive Director Dr. Robin Hines for taking time from a busy week to discuss the GHSA NIL with me.

Recently, there were well-designed black boxes with a stern warning floating all over social media. GHSA Executive Director Dr. Robin Hines put out this message over the emergence of NIL “Clubs,” and how they were a clear violation.

Hines told me, “Charlie they’re basically jacked up Gofundme pages.”

The skinny? An adult starts a page and entices high school athletes to be a part of their Gofundme group. The athletes are paid a percentage…More on that later.

Do you remember when a couple of our national leaders tried to convince us there were Jewish space lasers? And many Americans actually believed that?

Now we’ve got GHSA and NIL …. where schools can pay 14- to 18-year-old highschool athletes.

Again, don’t believe it just because it’s on the Internet. Read it. Study it. Use your head.

“One conversation at a time, Charlie.” That’s what Dr. Hines told me this week, about an hour before he boarded his return flight home from Boston and a national convention of state high school league officials.

“Charlie,” said Dr. Hines. “When we first put this out, I had athletic directors calling and asking me how they were gonna pay their players. I had to reassure them of the basics of this thing and that there was absolutely no allowance for schools paying players.”

Knowing most wouldn’t understand the difference between the NCAA and GHSA versions of NIL, there was and still is, a huge hill to climb. No, not the kind of disproving the Jewish laser theory. If someone has to convince you of that, that’s a “you” problem.

Hines says, “Charlie, one conversation at a time. No matter how we rolled it out, folks were gonna think it was the college version. We’re clear. The GHSA NIL only allows for a kid to profit off of their own name, image and likeness. But it does not allow for that to be tied in any way, to a school or a team.”

So, what does that mean? If a business wants to compensate a player for promoting their business, that promotion cannot include anything tied to the player’s school. They can’t wear a jersey. They can’t say their school’s name. The school or team logo cannot appear.

And what does that look like? Dr. Hines told me. “Charlie, there’s a local breakfast place in Barnesville, GA that honors one athlete each week or month with a free meal. But if they take pictures or post it on social media, they can’t say anything about the school or the sport.”

What about these NIL Clubs? Hines says they’ve been popping up nationwide and it was a major point of discussion in Boston. They first began in New Jersey and recently, a few popped up in Georgia.

Hines says, “They were reported to us. Schools were contacted. They contacted the kids and the pages were immediately taken down. Some of the parents didn’t even know their kids were on these pages.”

Yes, you heard that right – adults secretly signing up high school athletes, without parental permission. It’s certainly not illegal per se. But all of it is definitely a GHSA rules violation.

It began with AAU basketball 40 years ago. Fast forward to now, where we’ve got everything from 7-8 year olds playing for weekend rings in all sports, to adults trying to skirt a rule for their Gofundme pages. The line between youth playing for the love of the game has been skewed.

Needless to say, Hines and GHSA stood their ground on drawing that line. They will not allow adults to cash-grab their to NIL Clubs, all in the hopes of a few extra dollars.

Of note: Schools must report any NIL deal. As of this week, there are only 47, less than .004% of all GHSA athletes.

Out Of No Where

By: Charlie Moon

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

Oh come on, we all saw this coming, right?

Raise your hand if you knew the following: Prior to the 2024 Atlanta Braves campaign, a guy with one of the most unassuming names – Lopez – would not only lead the Braves in ERA, but as of June 26, all of Major League Baseball. Oh, come on, stop that!

I mean, Lopez? In the English language world of last names, you got names like Smith and Johnson. But in Hispanic culture, you have names like Fernandez and… Lopez. Who would have thought a guy that was destined for a velled middle relief spot in the Braves bullpen would sit atop MLB?

When you think of momentous trades and/or roster additions in Atlanta Braves and MLB history during my lifetime, a couple come to mind.

Probably the most recognizable and arguably, the most influential trade in Braves history, was for the man affectionately known around Braves Country as “Smoltzie.”

It was August 1987 and the Braves were still in their lovable losers days, while Detroit was in a heated AL-East race with the Blue Jays.

The Tigers needed one more starting piece to their rotation and they got it. The Braves sent veteran Doyle Alexander to the Tigers. Alexander went on to garner 10 wins in that short August – October span. The Tigers won the AL East by two games over the Blue Jays and lost in the ALCS to the Twins in five games.

And the Braves got an unknown kid named John Smoltz, who wasn’t even in the majors. He was in his rookie season, with the Tigers’ minor league affiliate, Lakeland, (FL) team.

Who knew then, that Smoltz would become one of the most renowned pitchers in Atlanta Braves history?

Who can forget the July 20, 1993 Fulton County Stadium fire in the press box prior to the game against the Cardinals?

The Braves were 8 games back of the San Francisco Giants. I guess it was a presage to McGriff’s own fire at the plate. He belted a tying home run in the 6th, enroute to an 8-5 win over St. Louis.

Call it six degrees of separation, but later I’ll tell you the Cardinals tie to Lopez’s big splash. McGriff went on to aid Atlanta in an epic 8-game division winning comeback in the second half of the season.

And that trade? The Braves sent OFs Melvin Nieves and Vince Moore and RHP Donnie Elliott to the San Diego Padres for McGriff. I’d say the Braves got the best of that one.

And now, Reynaldo Lopez? In most trade reports, you’ll see something like, “On November 20, 2023, the Braves added another reliever…..”

That’s right. Lopez has spent nearly all of his 9-year career in the bullpen. He went a combined 17-25 in 2018 and 2019 as a starter for the Chicago White Sox, but that’s pretty much it for the big, strong right-hander out of the Dominican Republic.

The rest of his nine years have almost all been in the pen.

That is – until now. Chris Sale and Max Fried have been phenomenal, combining to go 17-5. Sale has even been a pleasant surprise, since coming over from the Red Sox. That was a huge get for Atlanta itself.

But it’s been Lopez, from nowhere, that has stolen the show, from a numbers standpoint. Remember that tie-in with McGriff and the Cardinals?

Well, in Wednesday’s 6-2 win over the Cardinals, Lopez went 5 innings and earned the win. But, it also put him over the required 75 innings to be on the MLB Leaderboard in ERA, at 1.70.

Look, between Braves GMs Schuerholz and current Alex Anthopoulos, they have been a lot of great trades and signings. But in the end, it may be one that came while we were all eating left-over turkey sandwiches during November’s hot stove league, that just might take the cake.

Texas Grit

By: Charlie Moon

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

If 2023 was any indication, the Texans might be ready for a big step forward in 2024.

After a 10-7 regular season and a 34-10 1st round road playoff loss at Baltimore in 2023-2024, the Texans look to make a step this season under 2nd year head coach DeMeco Ryans.

And for all the talk about the phenomenal rookie season for CJ Stroud, it just might be the defense that becomes this season’s difference.

For one, Ryans was one of the best defensive players of his time, so he knows defense.

Time for a deep dive…

Answer this question. If you see your team set a franchise record in sacks, and improve its run defense from one season to the next from 32nd all the way to 6th… would you make not one, not two, but three changes to its defensive line? It just doesn’t happen.

That should give you an idea of what Demeco Ryans sees in his defense, and where he thinks they can go.

Out on the defensive line is Jonathan Greenard, Maliek Collins, and Sheldon Rankins. In comes a definite off-season homerun in 2023 All-pro Danielle Hunter. He was 3rd in the league with 16.5 sacks, bested only by the likes of T.J. Watt and Myles Garrett.

Now throw in a couple guys who had great 2023 campaigns and you have a defensive front that could dominate, come 2024. 33-year-old Deneco Autry had one of his best seasons with 11.5 sacks.

And another guy along that defensive line Ryans wouldn’t let go for even a Jeff Bezos payday, Will Anderson, Jr. Anderson looks to build off his 2023 campaign that saw him voted as the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. Out of Alabama, he will definitely be a great bookend to a guy like Danielle Hunter.

Ultimately, Ryans and his staff think last year’s 20.8 per game and 13th-ranked defense, is something they can build on, and become one of the league’s top 5 defensive units.

On the flip side, the offense scored 22.8 points per game and ranked 13th in the NFL. But it never really felt like a middle of the road offensive unit.

Deep dive #2….

CJ Stroud’s rookie campaign was one to remember. In 15 starts, he put up 4,108 passing yards (8th in the league) 23 TDs (13th) and just 5 INTs (tied 7th).

Stroud had the 3rd highest QB Rating for any rookie in the history of the NFL. Let’s face it. That’s phenomenal. But need we not forget, Stroud was just a rookie.

The offensive line is a good one – all intact from 2023. But It’s the playmakers that Houston lacked last year that would have made Stroud even more dangerous. They added two guys – one on the outside and at RB.

Steffon Diggs has been one of the most consistent and dangerous wideouts of the last 9 years. He spent the first 5 at Minnesota and yes, that was Diggs on the other end of “The Minnesota Miracle” in that miracle final play and pass from Case Keenum of the 2018 playoff win against the Saints.

He spent the last 4 years on the other end of Buffalo Bills gun slinger Josh Allen.

The Texans also added Joe Mixon, another veteran. Mixon spent all seven years at Cincinnati, including four 1,000-yard seasons.

By all accounts, most projections have this year’s schedule tougher than last year’s. But what DeMeco Ryans has instilled is something the Texans haven’t had in a while – grit. And when you add pure grit to a group of Texas men in oil country, things usually turn out okay.

Omaha!

By: Charlie Moon

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

Well, well, well….Ya know all those heated arguments with your buddies about the SEC vs. ACC?

And we all know, depending on which sport you’re talking about, usually there’s a dominant conference. But just like the parent that will rationalize their kid cheating on a test and somehow blame the teacher, conference fans will swear up and down their conference is the best.

‘My team beat this team and they lost to them and they beat that other team… blah, blah, blah.”

Go ahead. Laugh. You know that’s you!

Even plausible arguments like bowl games, rivalry games and RPI, can be a bit tedious and all have reasons why they might not be the best way to gauge conference supremacy. But make no mistake, for the next week or so, Omaha will be the setting for probably the closest thing we’ll ever get to a proper gauge.

For the first time in the history of the NCAA College World Series, all eight teams are from two conferences and you guessed it. That would be the ACC and SEC.

Here’s my CWS outlook.

Best Offense – UVA Cavaliers-While the #1 Vols have hit the most HRs per game (2.6), it’s Virginia with the upper hand. The Cavs make their 3rd trip in 4 years to Omaha, but they bring a much more potent line-up.

They lead the country in scoring with 9.4 runs per game, but are #17 in HRs. What does that tell you? They string a lot of hits together. They lead the country with 121 occurrences of over 2 consecutive hits.

This bodes well for Charles Schwab Park, a bigger park than the college band boxes. It happens every year. The power teams struggle because of relying on the long ball. A final nugget – only one starter batting under .300 – Harrison Didiwick at .297.

Best Pitching – UNC Tarheels-Although Tennessee enters with the best team ERA (3.83), I’m rolling with the Heels. They’re team ERA (4.22) is #15, but is misleading because their home field, Boshamer Stadium, is one of the smallest stadiums in the country.

They also boast arguably the best bullpen in the country. The bullpens can simply maketeam becauseollege baseball team because starters only go 4-6 innings.

Best Player – Jack Caglianone-You’d have to be either brain dead or living under a rock, not to agree with this one. Why? The man plays both ways – Ohtani, Jr. .411, 33 HRs, 68 RBIs at the plate. 5-2, 4.11 ERA on the bump.

Just as important, Caglianone is clutch in their biggest games on the mound and was a big part of their runner-up finish last year.

Darkhorse – NC State-Yeah, I know. Why not Florida? Barely .500 on the season and just upset the Oklahoma St Regional and the #6 Clemson, all on the road. The Wolfpack boasts the #1 bullpen (Baseball America) in America.

And they’ve been the hottest offensive team in the land over the last 6 games. It’s that bullpen that’s been their mainstay and will keep them in any game.

My Winner – Kentucky Wildcats-I see the Heels out of Bracket 1 and the Kentucky Wildcats out of Bracket 2 facing off for the national title.

None of the above included talk of Kentucky, so why the Cats? Remember what I said about Charles Schwab Park? The power of teams like Tennessee, Texas A&M, and others gets neutralized in this park.

Similar to Wrigley Field, though, the wind can really be a factor. Remember the Oregon State Beavers, that just “small-balled” their way to titles in 2006, 2007 and 2018? This is that Kentucky team.

The End of The Road

By: Charlie Moon

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

Drinking my coffee, visiting family in Birmingham, AL, one song seems fit: “….I’ve been through the desert on a horse with no name… uh uh huh, ahh ahhhh…”

I’m confident that in 1972, when Dewey Bunnell, of the band America, penned the group’s 1-hit wonder, he had no idea some overweight bald dude was going to tie his lyrics to Birmingham Southern College baseball in 2024.

I first heard of this story a couple weeks ago while heading home from work and thought of that song immediately.

Birmingham Southern College played Salve Regina University (Newport, RI)  (Friday, May 31), on the very last day Birmingham Southern College was known as an active institution of higher learning. That’s right. The Panthers of Birmingham Southern competed for a national title, when the name on their jersey is a thing of the past.

Hence…. “Goin through the desert on a horse”.

Bunnell once said he wrote the song as a metaphor of being free, independent of societal constraints.

One thing is for sure. The Panthers are free. On March 27, head coach Jan Weisberg met with the team in their clubhouse after an 8-5 road win at LaGrange, GA.

Team leader Drake Laroche (son of former Atlanta Brave Adam Laroche) said, “We had no idea what coach wanted to say. It was a big win for us. After a rough stretch, we lost our way. But something clicked that night. The chemistry finally brewed. We thought coach wanted to ignite that flame a little.”

Sadly, no. Coach Weisberg informed the team that Birmingham Southern College, a state-chartered Methodist school since its founding in 1856, was closing its doors.

Laroche says there were a few tears at first, but then they just sat around for about 2 hours, with questions…and answers.

“We didn’t know at first, if we were gonna be able to finish the season. If not, could we enter the transfer portal? Did we have to go home? Were we still gonna get meals on the road?”

Weisberg calmed everyone’s fears.

Laroche said: “Oh, it popped off. We got jacked up….like something out of a movie. We knew there was just one thing left to do – win a natty.”

There have been hundreds of times an NCAA school has finished their season, knowing their program had been shut down as of that season’s completion. Birmingham’s own UAB, after all, shut down its program just before the Blazers played in a 2014 bowl game. Of course, the Blazers wouldn’t go away.

And so have the Panthers. After beating the nation’s #2 Denison University, in the Regionals, they began the Division 3 College World Series.

And they’ll did it in style!

The team began a GoFundMe. Until their wins against Denison, it only had about $10,000. Suddenly, it ballooned to over $200,000.

The team was able to fly a private charter to Eastlake, OH. They’re stayed in a 5-star hotel and had all their meals catered.

Birmingham Southern alumni from all over the world flocked to Eastlake. It turned into a Panther Party at the Division III World Series.

That song we began our coffee cup talk with? It closes with: “After nine days, I Iet the horse run free, cause the desert had turned to sea.” The idea being…everybody can run free now.

Well, one thing is for sure, the Panthers all run free. I imagine one major difference. They won’t be constrained by a single thing.

Birmingham Southern’s run ended in the round of 8 double elimination. The Panthers lost to Wisconsin-Whitewater 11-10 to end their magical run.

“When the game got tight, I wasn’t worried about winning or losing,” he said. “I wanted one more night to be able to hang out with everyone. I think the ride we had the last three weeks is better than winning a national championship.”

Small Town Pride

By: Charlie Moon

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

Charlton County Indian baseball coach Thad Marchman told me, “Our players and community take a lot of pride in our field.”

I had no idea where he was going after asking him about Charlton’s (Folkston, GA) hometown feel.

I wondered, “Is this guy ok?” It’s a busy week for him, but…..more on that later.

This weekend, for my third consecutive year, I’m honored to call the GHSA A-Div. 2 State Championships at Georgia Southern’s JI Clements Field. I feel like an honorary Tribe Nation member.

The #1 ranked Indians (36-2, 20-0) battle #2 ranked, fellow Region 2 rival, Lanier County (32-9, 15-5) – a 3-game series.

For the Tribe, it’s familiar territory. Since Marchman took over in 2007, Folkston’s diamond boys have won 3 state and 10 region titles, including a state title last year.

The only thing between them and a possible 3rd consecutive state title, is a 2022 mis-played deep left field fly ball on a late-night cloudy, hazy sky against Metter, at JI Clements Field.

…..back to why Marchman talked about their field, when discussing Folkston pride.

“First thing we did when I started was, improve our field. Our players and community take a lot of pride in it. It’s beautiful…come a long way. All players have a role making it that way and keeping it that way.”

I knew where he was going now.

“That’s a reflection of our town. The common ground of small-town high school athletics builds the hometown feel, taking pride in how we represent our community when we play, keeps it that way.”

And it’s not just baseball. In the modern era, between baseball, football and hoops, Charlton owns 7 state titles, 36 region titles and 7 state runners-up.

Although Charlton has had long-time athletics success, baseball was a doormat – until Marchman arrived in 2007.

“We immediately focused on the field so our players would have a place they were proud to play. Then we focused on discipline, then on performance.

We finally started to see some success in 2011. We made the state playoffs for the first time since like 1977.”

Marchman doesn’t worry about private schools poaching players either.

“I have to coach the players that live in my county. Whoever is there, that’s who I am going to coach. If they want to be with us, great. If not, that’s ok too.”

Charlton and Lanier call the Okefenokee Swamp their backyard. They’ll shut down their towns, drive to Statesboro, and decide a state title.

One thing is for sure. The Indians of Charlton will bring every bit of hometown pride that JI Clements Stadium can handle!