Man, I'd have loved to have been at the Patriot Center last night. Buzz beater beats arch-rival VCU:
Okay, I love my alma mater and I was as proud as anyone when its men's basketball team made the Final Four a few years back, but I cannot say that I'm at all happy that according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch GMU's new basketball coach, Paul Hewitt, is the highest paid state employee in Virginia while the school's president, Alan Merten, is the 11th highest paid. I'm not gonna argue whether or not anyone working at a state university should be among the highest paid employees in the state, but I am gonna argue that there's no way a coach should make more than the school's president.
The way big time college sports work I'm willing to bet that Hewitt's state salary is probably a small part of his overall income package – who knows what he's getting from endorsements and other sources, but I'm willing to bet it's more than the almost $660k the state is paying him. (Looky here, thanks to a link at the GMU Hoops blog we can see that the coach is getting $7.5 million over five years thanks to his severance package from Georgia Tech). Major college sports like football and basketball generate a lot of income and, right or wrong, the coaches are able to make a great living regardless of their base salary, so it's ludicrous to have a coach making more in salary than the person in charge of the whole educational enterprise. After all there wouldn't be a team without the school right?
You don't have to be an expert on the college sports industry – and that's what it is, an industry – to know that it's seriously out of whack. I love what the teams can bring to the campus in terms of school spirit and alumni engagement, but I don't think you have to have a multi-million dollar enterprise to get what I think are those core benefits. College sports have become a big business and in the process they've totally skewed the priorities on campus. WTH kind of signal are we sending our kids when we tell them that running one sports team with 12+ kids on it is worth more than running an entire university that serves over 32,500 students on mutliple campuses?
I'd hate to think what we'd be paying a football coach if we had more than a club team.
I hope this NY Times article about my alma mater's men's basketball team doesn't carry the same kind of jinx that appearing on the cover of Sports Illustrated does.
But the Final Four spotlight has gradually faded, and the players from that team have moved on. This season, the Patriots have flourished by reclaiming the program’s preferred role as a midmajor team with major dreams.
Their faces are not on magazine covers or bobblehead dolls, but the Patriots were 22-5, riding a team-record 12-game winning streak entering Saturday’s game at Northern Iowa. George Mason is No. 20 in the Ratings Percentage Index, ahead of teams like Villanova, Louisville and U.C.L.A., and it will probably receive an at-large bid to the N.C.A.A. tournament bid if it does not win the Colonial Athletic Association tournament.
“The Final Four team had their time, and what they did was great,” the junior forward Mike Morrison said, “but now we’re trying to make our mark.”…
“All of a sudden they’ve got a lot of guys on the floor with a great deal of experience and a great deal of confidence,” Virginia CommonwealthCoach Shaka Smart said. “They don’t get rattled.”
And perhaps that is how this team most resembles the one that reached the Final Four. With each win and each day that draws March closer, it becomes more apparent that when the N.C.A.A tournament begins, George Mason could become this year’s George Mason.
Winston-Salem Journal sportswriter Dan Collins had a sit down with Wake Forest AD Ron Wellman to discuss the tough (to say the least) season that WFU's basketball program is enduring. Collins used his blog to share a bunch of the Q&A that couldn't be squeezed into the article that appeared in the paper, and I particularly liked Wellman's answer to the question, "You're well-versed in college basketball. Do you see parallel among cultures of successful programs? In other words, do the teams that keep getting to the Final Four, are there parts of their culture that you see as consistent?…What are those?"
First of all they have a great coach. If you look at the Final Four teams for the last six years, and they all do certain things very similar. Mike Krzyzewksi, Brad Stevens, Bob Huggins, Tom Izzo, Roy Williams, Jim Calhoun, Jay Wright, Bill Self, John Calipari, Ben Howland, Billy Donovan, Thad Matta, John Thompson, Jim Larranaga, Bruce Weber, Rick Pitino at Louisville. They’re all really outstanding coaches who have great coaching ability and have great relationships with their players. They’re different relationships with their players. If you look at Bob Huggins and compare him to Tom Izzo or Mike Krzyzewski or Roy Williams, it’s totally different. But it’s a relationship that gets those players to play their hearts out for those coaches. Their attention to detail is beyond anything that you could imagine, to the point where maybe the greatest coach in the history of college basketball – I think we’ve got a couple of great ones in this conference, but I think everyone looks at John Wooden and it would be difficult to argue with that. Remember what he used to do in his first practice? He had the players sit down and he showed them how to put their socks on. My goodness. You talk about attention to detail. Jeff is doing a good job with those types of details. You look at our team today, there’s a certain way he wants them to wear their uniform. How important can that be? It’s very important, because that’s what he believes in. How important is it for us to conduct ourselves in a certain way on the floor? Remember J.T. the first three he made in one of the first games? And there was quite a celebration by J.T. when he did. J.T. isn’t doing that anymore. Jeff’s idea, and strong suggestion to the players, to get out of yourself and into the team, or into your teammates is becoming evident. It’s more and more evident every practice and every game. So those types of details are going to be the building blocks of this program. They’re important. To some they might be `That’s incidental. That isn’t important.’ But we think it’s important. Jeff thinks it’s important. That’s why those details are being covered on a daily basis. (Emphasis mine).
I think Wellman makes a great point with the quote, but I also think wanted to highlight that one of the coaches he mentions is George Mason's Jim Larranaga. Mason's only made one Final Four but I'd argue that Larranaga's built one of the better programs you'll find at a "mid-major" school and I think it's high praise for him to be included in Wellman's list of coaches who have built a great culture.
Also for what it's worth, and that ain't much, I'm much less pessimistic about Wake's medium and distant future than other fans seem to be. The next couple of years probably won't be great, but I do think that if they can keep the current crop of kids around through graduation and add one or two strong recruits the program could be back in the top half of the ACC in three or four years.
Here's a fun fact for you: the season that Mason made the Final Four (beating Michigan State and UNC on the way) they lost in overtime at Wake Forest.
I'm going to keep this simple: I hate big-tim college football's BCS. There are many reasons for my hatred, not the least of which is that because of the BCS the national "champion" in football is determined in the same fashion that figure skaters and diving champions are crowned in the Olympics. If you need more reasons than that to hate the BCS then all you need to do is read this Sports Illustrated article. Here's a highlight for you academics out there:
Of the 120 athletic departments that play I-A football, 106 lost money in 2009, according to an NCAA report. Budget shortfalls forced the University of California in September to cut five sports. Virginia hit up students for $11.9 million in fees for the 2008–09 school year to offset athletic department operating expenses. Cincinnati reached two consecutive BCS bowls and still found itself $24 million in debt. All over the country, schools are turning to student fees, academic funds and taxpayer support to balance the athletic department's books, which helps explain the uptick in so-called pay games (Hey, LSU, good luck this Saturday against Louisiana-Monroe!), conference realignments and expansion of the men's basketball tournament.
Really, you need to read the article to see how bad this really is.
Personal aside: when I was at George Mason U back in the 80s the school was considering adding an intercollegiate football program, but eventually decided on building a Fine Arts Center. Many students were aghast because we wanted a football team. I mean, seriously, homecoming basketball games just don't do the trick. If memory serves the school's president argued that the expense just wasn't worth it, though we students suspected that he'd used some inflated numbers since everyone knew he preferred the Fine Arts Center. In retrospect I think he may have been right if they were looking at adding a D-1 program, but I'm still not convinced that a 1-AA program wouldn't have worked. Well, I'm proud to say that students at my alma mater didn't wait for the school's administration to put a team together. In 1993 they started a club football team and it seems to be going pretty strong in the Seaboard Conference. I have a lot of admiration for students who will go to that level of effort to play a game they truly love; to me they're true student-athletes.