MIAMI - It sounds like a made-for-TV matchup — Isiah Thomas making his coaching debut for FIU in the opening game of the season at defending national champion North Carolina.
That’s what was listed on the Tar Heels’ schedule for Nov. 9, released Tuesday by the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Oh, but there’s a catch: It’s not the game FIU wanted — and it’s a game the Golden Panthers aren’t interested in playing.
FIU athletic director Pete Garcia lashed out against the matchup Tuesday, saying he felt the Golden Panthers were “bullied” by organizers of the Coaches vs. Cancer tournament and that he expected Thomas’ debut to be at Ohio State instead.
Garcia said the school is examining how to get out of the North Carolina matchup but told The Associated Press that FIU remains committed to playing in the tournament.
“Would they do what they’re doing to us to Duke, or to North Carolina? No,” Garcia said. “But they’ll do it to FIU and any other school out there like FIU.”
The Princeton, N.J.-based Gazelle Group, which operates the tournament, said Garcia signed a contract in November 2008 stipulating the Golden Panthers would play Ohio State or North Carolina sometime between Nov. 9-13. Garcia acknowledged signing that deal.
He said “it’s a matter of principle and a matter of the contract” why FIU won’t agree to playing North Carolina instead.
“We’re being bullied into that game,” Garcia said. “I’ve told them today, we’ll play Ohio State, we don’t want to play North Carolina.”
Tournament organizers say FIU might not have a choice.
Gazelle Group president Rick Giles said the contract language allows for his organization “to have the sole authority” over sites, dates, times, teams and opponents in the tournament. The event even made some concessions to FIU regarding scheduling of sub-regional games in Miami, so that they wouldn’t conflict with a Golden Panthers football game at Florida.
“I’m befuddled by all of this,” Giles said.
North Carolina is not involved in the drama, with a school spokesman saying the Tar Heels will play who the tournament tells them to play.
The tournament format calls for four preselected hosts — Ohio State, North Carolina, California and Syracuse — automatically advancing to the semifinals at Madison Square Garden, regardless of what happens in the event’s early round.
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
Ohio State will play Alcorn State on Nov. 9, in the slot FIU wants. A preseason publication that has been on the Buckeyes’ athletic Web site for several weeks did make reference to playing FIU on that date.
“We don’t want to be pushed around,” Garcia said.
FIU hired Thomas, the former New York Knicks coach and president, on April 15 and gave him a five-year contract. Garcia said many of the nation’s biggest programs have called about scheduling FIU since Thomas got hired.
“Everyone wants to play us now,” Garcia said.
Duke coach said that after winning his second gold medal in men's basketball would be his Team USA finale. That may not be the case anymore.
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