Thomas at UNC?
Miami, FL - 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.
arolina? 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.
Ohio State officials said the Buckeyes' non-conference schedule is still not finalized, but confirmed FIU is not listed as an opponent on their schedule for the Coaches vs. Cancer event. A preseason publication on the Buckeyes' athletic department Web site does make reference to a Nov. 9 game against FIU.
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.
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.
Posted: 8/26/09 9:00PM ET