By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa - I’ve written this column before.
Well, sort of.
This column is similar to one I wrote about a decade ago with regard to the topic and my stand on the topic.
But instead of being about former Iowa football players and brothers Brian and James Ferentz, this column is about current Iowa basketball player Connor McCaffery.
The announcement that McCaffery would be put on scholarship for the 2018-19 academic year has caused quite a stir on social media.
I know that to be a fact because I allowed myself to get sucked into the debate on whether Connor should be on scholarship since he plays for his father, Fran McCaffery, who makes almost $2 million per year as the Iowa coach, and considering the current state of the program with Iowa coming off a disappointing 14-19 season.
Unlike some fans, I feel that Connor McCaffery should be on scholarship for next season because he has earned it.
I felt the same about the Ferentz brothers while they played for their father, Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz, because they also had earned it and were major contributors on the offensive line.
Connor deserves to be on scholarship, partly because Iowa currently has two scholarships available for the 2018-19 academic year, and possibly three if forward Tyler Cook doesn’t return for his junior season.
Cook is testing the NBA draft process and is non-committal about returning to Iowa.
Junior-to-be shooting guard Isaiah Moss also is testing the NBA draft process, but will return to Iowa if he isn’t selected in the draft where he is a long shot at best to be taken.
Fran McCaffery could add a graduate transfer for next season, even with Connor on scholarship, and it wouldn’t have any impact on Iowa’s 2019 recruiting class, which currently has just one player committed – Patrick McCaffery, a 6-8 junior forward from Iowa City West High School and Connor’s younger brother. There still would be another scholarship available in the 2019 class for somebody like Bettendorf point guard D.J. Carton.
Speaking of Patrick McCaffery, he also will deserve to be on scholarship as a top-50 recruit in his class. That could change if two or three highly acclaimed players from his class say they want to play for Iowa because Patrick could easily handle being a walk-on as Fran McCaffery's son.
I think Fran McCaffery should be aggressive in pursuing a graduate transfer in the wake of Iowa finishing 4-14 in the Big Ten this past season, and considering how woefully his team performed on defense throughout the season, and that he should target a guard, even if Cook leaves.
But it wouldn’t have to come at the expense of Connor McCaffery being on scholarship for the upcoming academic year. This isn’t a long-term commitment with Connor, but rather a year-to-year deal.
And Connor already has sacrificed for the team in that he accepted a walk-on role as a true freshman in order to make scholarships available for frontline players Luka Garza and Jack Nunge.
Now if two top-notch graduate transfers suddenly expressed interest in Iowa, or a stud junior-college player said he wanted to be a Hawkeye, along with a graduate transfer, I’d be willing to say that Connor should take one for the team again because he is Fran’s son.
But there are no signs of that happening right now.
It’s looking more and more like Fran McCaffery is comfortable with who he currently has available as guards for next season, and that Connor McCaffery is being groomed to play a significant role.
I don’t have that same comfort level, but if Fran McCaffery isn’t aggressively pursuing any graduate transfers, then why not reward his son, who is one of the few four-star recruits on the current Iowa roster with a scholarship?
Why not reward a former top-100 recruit who stands 6-foot-5 and is a gifted passer and a student of the game?
The decision to put Connor on scholarship would've almost certainly gained more support if Iowa had performed better this past season. Fans are frustrated and some feel that putting Connor on scholarship is just settling during a critical time.
Connor McCaffery certainly isn’t the cure-all for what ails his father’s team, but what little we saw of Connor during his injury-and-illness plagued true freshman season is enough to know that he can help, at least on offense.
Iowa has serious issues on defense, and there probably isn’t much that Connor McCaffery can do to correct that by himself because he suffers from the same deficiencies that hamper point guard Jordan Bohannon, which is a lack of lateral quickness and a sudden burst.
But as mentioned before, Connor is a talented passer who plays unselfishly. There is always the potential for trouble when the head coach’s son plays a significant role, but it should help that Connor is a pass-first guard.
Especially if he sets up Bohannon for a bunch of 3-point baskets.
It doesn’t seem fair that Connor McCaffery should have to sacrifice something that he has earned just because his father is the head coach and is well paid for it. Connor busted his butt, on the court and in the classroom, to reach this point.
Nearly five years have passed since Connor McCaffery committed to Iowa.
His presence might be keeping other guards from building a relationship with Iowa during the recruiting process. But that wouldn’t change if Connor were a walk-on. So what good is an available scholarship if nobody worth having it wants it?
Connor being a two-sport athlete makes his situation more complicated and he might have to pick between basketball and baseball at some point because the sports overlap.
But he doesn’t have to make that decision right now.
Connor just has to show that he can compete at the Big Ten level in basketball and go from there.