In Their Words: Life at the Mid-Major Level (part seven)

Posted by rtmsf on November 2nd, 2010

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-10 and Mountain West Conferences and an occasional contributor.

To read the entire In Their Words series, click here.

Part Seven: MARKETING

Over the summer, we’ve spent time hearing about some of the next big-name recruits on their way to college basketball: Jared Sullinger and Harrison Barnes, Anthony Davis and Michael Gilchrist. We’ve heard the big-time schools announce their high profile games on their upcoming schedules: Kentucky going to the Maui Invitational and visiting North Carolina, Michigan State hosting Texas and going to Duke. But for the vast majority of Division I programs, they’ve been flying under the radar. There are at present 73 teams that participate in basketball in the six BCS conferences, but there are 347 total programs in Division I. Of those other 274 programs, there are certainly quite a few big-name programs: last year’s national runner-up Butler comes to mind immediately, as does Gonzaga, Memphis and a handful of other schools in conferences like the Atlantic 10 and the Mountain West. But, we were also interested in how the other half (or really, how the other three-quarters) lives, so we spent some time talking to coaches, athletic directors and other people around the country affiliated with some of those other schools — those non-BCS schools, those “mid-majors” — and we asked them about how they recruit, how they create a schedule, how they market their programs, and quite a few other things. Over the next eight weeks, we’ll let them tell you their story, in their own words.

To begin, let me introduce and thank this week’s cast of characters:

  • Andrew Roberts, Assistant Athletic Director for Sports Information, Arkansas-Pine BluffRoberts runs a tight ship at UAPB as the sole full-time member of the Sports Information Department.
  • Murry Bartow, Head Coach, East Tennessee State – Bartow is entering his eighth season as the Buccaneers head coach, after having previously succeeded his father Gene Bartow as the head coach at UAB. Bartow has posted a 118-72 record in his years at ETSU and has racked up 241 total wins and four NCAA appearances in his 13 seasons as a head coach.
  • Eric Reveno, Head Coach, Portland – Reveno heads into his fifth season at Portland having turned around a program from a team that was 18-45 in his first two seasons to a team on the rise with a 40-24 record over the last two seasons. Reveno spent his previous nine seasons as an assistant at Stanford, his alma mater where he was a Pac-10 Conference All-Academic Team selection as a senior.
  • Jessica Dickson, Assistant Athletic Director for External Relations, UMKC – Dickson has been in her current position, where she oversees marketing and promotions for UMKC, for just over three years.
  • Todd Miles, Assistant Athletics Director for Media Relations, Long Beach State – Miles starts his third year in Long Beach following a seven-year stretch at Boise State where he was the primary media relations contact for the basketball team.
  • Gregg Bach, Assistant Athletics Director for Communications, Akron – Bach was named to his current position this past summer after having spent the previous eight years on the media relations staff in the Akron athletic department. His new job makes him the spokesperson of the athletic department.
  • Kevin Keys, Associate Athletic Director for External Operations, Liberty – Keys is a ’77 Liberty graduate who enters his sixth year back on campus in charge of Liberty’s licensing, promotions and marketing.

Last time out we introduced you to the marketing side of mid-major basketball programs and its range of athletic budgets from the one-man Sports Information Department on up. This week, we’ll take a look at another big difference between mid-major programs: the size of the markets in which they play. When these schools compete in small college towns, they can be the talk of the town when things are going well, but for those schools in bigger markets, they are in danger of being overshadowed and potentially lost in the crowd no matter how well they’re playing at the moment.

With So Many Entertainment Options in Big Cities Like LA, Finding Fans Can Be Tough

Andrew Roberts, Assistant Athletic Director for Sports Information, Arkansas-Pine Bluff: I definitely think it is an advantage (to be in a smaller market), here in the state of Arkansas. I’m originally from Texas, the Houston area, and two schools in that area are in our conference: Prairie View A&M and Texas Southern. They have at times been lost in the shuffle of everything else that is going on, because you’ve got professional sports franchises and other colleges in the city of Houston and high school football and they have sometimes voiced concerns with the amount of coverage they have gotten. There is just so much going on in the city from a sports perspective. At times, it’s just hard for those programs to get ample amount of coverage because there is just so much going on. You’ve got a lot of competition for coverage among those other entities, where in Little Rock its UAPB, its UALR and then that’s really it in the Little Rock area. You’ve got the Arkansas Razorbacks, but there aren’t any professional sports in the state, so there is probably more ability for the news outlets to cover local colleges.

Murry Bartow, Head Coach, East Tennessee State: It can go both ways playing in a small community. Our fans are very much diehard fans. We’ve got very hardcore fans, which is great if you’re winning, and if you’re losing, they let you know about it. It can work both ways, but I’d much rather be in this situation. Let’s say you’re a mid-major program in a big city, it’s tough, because you can easily get swallowed up from a media standpoint and a PR standpoint. In the newspaper, you might be on the sixth or seventh page, if at all, whereas when we do something good or bad, it’s going to be the lead story in our paper. No question, if we play tonight the lead story in the paper tomorrow is going to be about ETSU basketball. If you’re a mid-major in a big city, you probably have to flip to the back pages to see anything about your program. That would be something you fight. So I like the situation we’re in, but if you’re not winning, then it can obviously work the other way.

Eric Reveno, Head Coach, Portland: When you look at Gonzaga, as far as the city of Spokane, they are the biggest show in Spokane, by far. Portland is not the case, we’ve got the Blazers, we’ve got Portland State, we’ve got minor league baseball, we’ve got more nightlife, we’ve got more going on, which is good. But from a standpoint of getting corporate sponsorship and getting fans, if you’re a company in Spokane and you want to wine and dine your clients, you take them to a Bulldogs game, because there’s nowhere else to take them.

Jessica Dickson, Assistant Athletic Director for External Relations, UMKC: We’re not a small market, so I actually think it is a little more challenging for a smaller school in a large market, as compared to some of our league opponents who are in smaller markets where there’s not as much competition for entertainment. I don’t necessarily think that we directly compete with the Kansas City Chiefs for fans. I think that we as a mid-major school compete with that dinner-and-a-movie crowd, that’s a little more comparable to what our price point is. But we do have to compete. There are so many entertainment options in Kansas City, from the art to the theater to the ballet to the movies to concerts at the Sprint center to football games to Royals games to Wizards games. There are so many options of things for people in KC to do, so we have to come up with creative ways to keep UMKC basketball at the top of their minds.

Todd Miles, Assistant Athletics Director for Media Relations, Long Beach State: We’re obviously competing against UCLA, USC, everybody else in our league, the Lakers, the Dodgers… there’s so much to do here. Getting attention in a place like this is a lot harder here than it was at Boise State in terms of local media and stuff like that, but I would say it is probably an advantage in some areas too. You’re more apt to see North Carolina come and play us, or play UCSB like they did a couple of years ago than to see them visit, say some mid-major in a smaller market.

Gregg Bach, Assistant Athletics Director for Communications, Akron: I would say we compete for the professional sports fan in Cleveland, no question about that. That might change a little bit with what has happened with the Cavs and LeBron and all that this summer but certainly the last five or six years, that has been something that we definitely fight. It is not something where football overshadows basketball or basketball overshadows football within our department, I don’t know that we have that issue, but maybe fighting some of those outside things for what people are spending their entertainment dollars on. Even with Ohio State, we’re just two hours north of Columbus, but most of the state is into Ohio State and Ohio State football, so that’s something that we fight as well. I’m not saying someone is not going to come to an Akron game because they are necessarily going to an Ohio State game, but maybe they’re going to stay at home and watch the Ohio State game on TV or go to a sports bar, or something along those lines. So that’s something that we fight and that something we take into consideration a lot of times in terms of how you are going to schedule a game or how we are going to market a game.

Kevin Keys, Associate Athletic Director for External Operations, Liberty: There is no question that we compete with Virginia and Virginia Tech, as our town sits right in the middle between the two. Our philosophy has been for a long time, we’re not going to steal Tech fans or steal UVA fans, that would be a fruitless effort. But those fans don’t always have games at Tech or UVa on the nights that we are playing, whether that be football or basketball. We here are their hometown team and we reach out to them, that’s part of what I would say are our non-traditional fans, that we’ve really begun to grow our fan base with the success we’ve had. Those people are big sports fans and they come watch us. Does that mean they’re giving up wearing maroon and orange for Tech or blue and orange for UVA? No, it doesn’t mean that. But they become fans of ours. Ultimately, we’d love to think that some of them would become primarily Liberty fans, but that’s not our goal. Our goal is to put on a good show and maybe they’ll come to our games on a night when their team isn’t playing.

Putting on a good show is often a goal for these mid-majors, not only getting their fans to come to the games, but making sure they have a good time so that they are more likely to come back. And one of the big things is to create a game atmosphere that is not only fun for the fans and the student base, but also an environment that could aid the basketball team. The first step is getting the fans there.

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In Their Words: Life at the Mid-Major Level (part six)

Posted by rtmsf on October 26th, 2010

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-10 and Mountain West Conferences and an occasional contributor.

To read the entire In Their Words series, click here.

Part Six: MARKETING

Over the summer, we’ve spent time hearing about some of the next big-name recruits on their way to college basketball: Jared Sullinger and Harrison Barnes, Anthony Davis and Michael Gilchrist. We’ve heard the big-time schools announce their high profile games on their upcoming schedules: Kentucky going to the Maui Invitational and visiting North Carolina, Michigan State hosting Texas and going to Duke. But for the vast majority of Division I programs, they’ve been flying under the radar. There are at present 73 teams that participate in basketball in the six BCS conferences, but there are 347 total programs in Division I. Of those other 274 programs, there are certainly quite a few big-name programs: last year’s national runner-up Butler comes to mind immediately, as does Gonzaga, Memphis and a handful of other schools in conferences like the Atlantic 10 and the Mountain West. But, we were also interested in how the other half (or really, how the other three-quarters) lives, so we spent some time talking to coaches, athletic directors and other people around the country affiliated with some of those other schools — those non-BCS schools, those “mid-majors” — and we asked them about how they recruit, how they create a schedule, how they market their programs, and quite a few other things. Over the next eight weeks, we’ll let them tell you their story, in their own words.

To begin, let me introduce and thank this week’s cast of characters:

  • Andrew Roberts, Assistant Athletic Director for Sports Information, Arkansas-Pine BluffRoberts runs a tight ship at UAPB as the sole full-time member of the Sports Information Department.
  • Jessica Dickson, Assistant Athletic Director for External Relations, UMKC – Dickson has been in her current position, where she oversees marketing and promotions for UMKC, for just over three years.
  • Eric Brown, Assistant Athletic Communications Directory, Liberty – Brown is a graduate of Liberty University and former sports editor at the student newspaper, the Liberty Champion.
  • Kevin Keys, Associate Athletic Director for External Operations, Liberty – Keys is a ’77 Liberty graduate who enters his sixth year back on campus in charge of Liberty’s licensing, promotions and marketing.
  • Gregg Bach, Assistant Athletics Director for Communications, Akron – Bach was named to his current position this past summer after having spent the previous eight years on the media relations staff in the Akron athletic department. His new job makes him the spokesperson of the athletic department.

Our last topic in this series is marketing: how do mid-major programs get their name and their brand out there, how do they grow their program, how can they compete for fans in both large and small markets, and how does their limited budget affect their choices? To begin with, even though all of the schools we talked with are regarded as mid-majors, there are a wide variety of budgets and a wide variety of staff sizes even among this small sample, ranging from Arkansas-Pine Bluff on the very small end to Liberty on a larger scale. At UAPB, the full-time staff is extremely limited.

Marketing at Mid-Major Programs Requires Creativity

Andrew Roberts, Assistant Athletic Director for Sports Information, Arkansas-Pine Bluff: Full-time? Just me. No interns at the moment. No graduate assistants at the moment. We have some individuals that come and help us out on game days, which is really where I need people’s help, whether running shot clock or running game clock, setting everybody up. But as far as week-to-week, day-to-day operations in the office, it is pretty much just me, handling 16 sports. It becomes something where you really have to pride yourself on good time management, doing stuff in the most efficient manner possible, just because when you’re small-staffed you have to be smart about it, the way you go about doing stuff, because you don’t necessarily have the manpower of a USC or Duke who have that SID office with eight or nine people full-time.

Jessica Dickson, Assistant Athletic Director for External Relations, UMKC: I definitely, in my role as an individual at UMKC, have quite a bit more areas of responsibility than someone in a similar position at Kansas State, Kansas or Missouri. You can look at the staff directories and see that we have quite a few less people, so in our marketing department, which would be my area of external relations and marketing promotions, we have only three full-time staff members to handle fundraising, special events, ticketing, marketing, promotions, game atmosphere, licensing. If you add sports information in, then you add two more full-time staffers and beyond that we have two graduate assistants. Each individual has quite a bit more responsibility and areas of oversight than you would find at one of the bigger schools.

Eric Quinton Brown, Assistant Athletic Communications Directory, Liberty: I would say we’re not the typical FCS staff because we probably have more staff members than a lot of our counterparts do. We’re probably different in that we’re fortunate to be able to add positions in the last couple of years. I don’t know if there is a larger full-time sports information department in our conference than what we have. We have five full-time people. We have a director, an associate director and then three assistant directors and we’ll have a GA [graduate assistant].

And, as the sizes of the sports information or athletics communications departments vary, so too do the responsibilities that fall to the individuals in those departments. While at Liberty roles may be more clearly defined, at smaller schools there may be more of a do-everything culture.

Kevin Keys, Associate Athletic Director for External Operations, Liberty: I oversee all external communications, but I spend a lot of my time in the marketing portion and I spell sponsorship. My two graduate assistant students who work for me are specifically focused in the area of marketing.

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In Their Words: Life at the Mid-Major Level (part five)

Posted by rtmsf on October 19th, 2010

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-10 and Mountain West Conferences and an occasional contributor.

To read the entire In Their Words series, click here.

Part Five: SCHEDULING

Over the summer, we’ve spent time hearing about some of the next big-name recruits on their way to college basketball: Jared Sullinger and Harrison Barnes, Anthony Davis and Michael Gilchrist. We’ve heard the big-time schools announce their high profile games on their upcoming schedules: Kentucky going to the Maui Invitational and visiting North Carolina, Michigan State hosting Texas and going to Duke. But for the vast majority of Division I programs, they’ve been flying under the radar. There are at present 73 teams that participate in basketball in the six BCS conferences, but there are 347 total programs in Division I. Of those other 274 programs, there are certainly quite a few big-name programs: last year’s national runner-up Butler comes to mind immediately, as does Gonzaga, Memphis and a handful of other schools in conferences like the Atlantic 10 and the Mountain West. But, we were also interested in how the other half (or really, how the other three-quarters) lives, so we spent some time talking to coaches, athletic directors and other people around the country affiliated with some of those other schools — those non-BCS schools, those “mid-majors” — and we asked them about how they recruit, how they create a schedule, how they market their programs, and quite a few other things. Over the next eight weeks, we’ll let them tell you their story, in their own words.

To begin, let me introduce and thank this week’s cast of characters:

  • Eric Brown, Assistant Coach, Long Beach State – Brown enters his fifth year as an assistant on head coach Dan Monson’s staff, after previously having spent time on coaching staffs at Cal-State Northridge, USC and Iowa State.
  • Dale Layer, Head Coach, Liberty – Layer enters his second season at Liberty after having spent a season as an assistant at the university in 2007-08. In between, he spent a year at Marquette and previously he spent seven seasons as the head coach at Colorado State. He has compiled a 118-122 record in his eight seasons as a Division I head coach.
  • George Ivory, Head Coach, Arkansas-Pine Bluff – Ivory enters his third season in Pine Bluff, where he has turned the Golden Lions into winners. UAPB turned around an 0-11 start last season by finishing 18-5 over their last 23 games, winning UAPB’s first SWAC tournament title in 43 years and advancing to the NCAA tournament before losing to eventual national-champion Duke.
  • Larry Williams, Athletic Director, Portland: Williams has been the AD at Portland for six years now following a five year stint as the head of licensing and product marketing at his alma mater Notre Dame. Williams was a two-time All-American offensive lineman with the Irish before starting 44 games in the NFL.
  • Murry Bartow, Head Coach, East Tennessee State – Bartow is entering his eighth season as the Buccaneers head coach, after having previously succeeded his father Gene Bartow as the head coach at UAB. Bartow has posted a 118-72 record in his years at ETSU and has racked up 241 total wins and four NCAA appearances in his 13 seasons as a head coach.
  • Tommy Dempsey, Head Coach, Rider – Dempsey enters his fifth season as the head man at Rider, following two seasons as an assistant. He has compiled an 83-75 record over that time and coached NBA lottery pick Jason Thompson during his time there.
  • Gregg Bach, Assistant Athletics Director for Communications, Akron – Bach was named to his current position this past summer after having spent the previous eight years on the media relations staff in the Akron athletic department. His new job makes him the spokesperson of the athletic department.
  • Eric Reveno, Head Coach, Portland – Reveno heads into his fifth season at Portland having turned around a program from a team that was 18-45 in his first two seasons to a team on the rise with a 40-24 record over the last two seasons. Reveno spent his previous nine seasons as an assistant at Stanford, his alma mater where he was a Pac-10 Conference All-Academic Team selection as a senior.
  • Chris Caputo, Assistant Coach, George Mason – Caputo is entering his sixth season as an assistant coach for the Patriots after spending the previous three seasons as an administrative assistant and video coordinator under head coach Jim Larranaga.
  • Jason James, Head Coach, Tennessee-Martin – James enters his second season as the head coach at UT-Martin following eight seasons as an assistant coach there. His first season was rough, to the tune of 4-25, after he was appointed head coach in the wake of scandal with the previous head coach. But James, the recruiter who brought Lester Hudson to UT-Martin, has plans to begin to turn things around this season.

For the most part, our first two articles on scheduling at the mid-major level have talked about the difficulties associated with lining up game. We mentioned that some schools see benefits to playing big-time programs with talented rosters, both in recruiting and in preparing their teams for conference and postseason play. Another benefit to playing these types of games is the money. Very few of the programs at this level have huge athletic budgets, so the money from taking a guarantee game and going on the road to face a bigger school is important not only to the basketball program, but also to the entire athletic department and the university. So while getting a chance for publicity from playing these games is a great incentive, the money associated with them is also a strong enticement.

Guarantee Games Are Not Always Guaranteed

Eric Brown, Assistant Coach, Long Beach State: The Big 12, the ACC, they’re all paying out big guarantees. It all depends on that particular school’s budget – some big schools will pay $55,000 or $60,000 guarantees. You can even get up to $80,000 or $90,000. And the later you wait, if there is a BCS school still looking for games, they may have to raise up the ante, they’ll pay a larger amount than they would have three months earlier.

Dale Layer, Head Coach, Liberty: It’s an important part for most mid-majors. Here at Liberty, the athletic department typically tries to reinvest a lot of that money back into the program, so we’re able to use it in a way that enhances Liberty basketball and the athletic department in ways that everybody can appreciate.

George Ivory, Head Coach, Arkansas-Pine Bluff: We think the money is very important, and the main thing when we play those games, you want to do everything you can to help out within the athletic department and the university. So we don’t have a problem playing guarantees. It’s a great thing for the guys to play that kind of schedule, you’re playing some of the top players in the country, some of the top coaches in the country, so I think it is a great experience for all of us.

Larry Williams, Athletic Director, Portland: We will play guarantee games. At some places there are mandates where you’ve gotta play these many guarantees and earn this much money, but we don’t do that. We’re trying to be very conscious of the growth of our program. And if an appropriate guarantee presents itself, we’re not afraid to play it, because quite frankly, we can win those games too. So, we’ve gotta be conscious of the opportunity to get a win and a paycheck.

Murry Bartow, Head Coach, East Tennessee State: I wouldn’t say we have a mandate. My AD and I have a very good relationship, and I, based on conversations with him, know what he is hoping to get, in terms of number of guarantee games, and know what he is hoping for based on the current budget and the current situation. So he and I sit down and visit and based on those conversations I know what I need to do. The bottom line is, I don’t mind playing those games.

Tommy Dempsey, Head Coach, Rider: You can ask ten different schools about guarantee games and get like five different answers. I don’t have a lot of pressure on me, on our basketball program, to play guarantee games. We do play them, but we don’t play too many of them. Last year for instance, we played one against Mississippi State, this year we play one at Pitt. It does help us with revenues within our athletic department at a school like ours, but fortunately our administration isn’t saying to me, you have to go out and play four guarantee games so that we can fund a different program. You know, I don’t have that pressure on me, I don’t have a certain number of dollars that we have to generate through guarantee games. If I choose to, if I want to maybe buck our RPI up in a year when we think we have a chance to be pretty good, maybe help us with getting into a postseason tournament, I have the opportunity to schedule them if I’d like. But I don’t have pressure from my administration to schedule them to bring in a lot of money, and I think that’s a very good situation to be in, where your program is funded enough that there’s not pressure to go take four losses, just to help out with the budget. And I’m very appreciative that I don’t have to do that.

While road guarantee games are the usual case for mid-major match-ups with BCS conference teams, there are other ways to get matchups with BCS schools in other environments, the most common and a greatly preferred way, is in the early-season tournaments like the NIT Season Tip-Off or the Maui Invitational. These tournaments often (although not always) give mid-major programs a chance to face high-majors on a neutral court.

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In Their Words: Life at the Mid-Major Level

Posted by rtmsf on September 21st, 2010

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-10 and Mountain West Conferences and an occasional contributor.

Part One: RECRUITING

Over the summer, we’ve spent time hearing about some of the next big-name recruits on their way to college basketball: Jared Sullinger and Harrison Barnes, Anthony Davis and Michael Gilchrist. We’ve heard the big-time schools announce their high profile games on their upcoming schedules: Kentucky going to the Maui Invitational and visiting North Carolina, Michigan State hosting Texas and going to Duke. But for the vast majority of Division I programs, they’ve been flying under the radar. There are at present 73 teams that participate in basketball in the six BCS conferences, but there are 347 total programs in Division I. Of those other 274 programs, there are certainly quite a few big-name programs: last year’s national runner-up Butler comes to mind immediately, as does Gonzaga, Memphis and a handful of other schools in conferences like the Atlantic 10 and the Mountain West. But, we were also interested in how the other half (or really, how the other three-quarters) lives, so we spent some time talking to coaches, athletic directors and other people around the country affiliated with some of those other schools — those non-BCS schools, those “mid-majors” — and we asked them about how they recruit, how they create a schedule, how they market their programs, and quite a few other things. Over the next eight weeks, we’ll let them tell you their story, in their own words.

To begin, let me introduce and thank this week’s cast of characters:

  • Murry Bartow, Head Coach, East Tennessee State – Bartow is entering his eighth season as the Buccaneers head coach, after having previously succeeded his father Gene Bartow as the head coach at UAB. Bartow has posted a 118-72 record in his years at ETSU and has racked up 241 total wins and four NCAA appearances in his 13 seasons as a head coach.
  • George Ivory, Head Coach, Arkansas-Pine Bluff – Ivory enters his third season in Pine Bluff, where he has turned the Golden Lions into winners. UAPB turned around an 0-11 start last season by finishing 18-5 over their last 23 games, winning UAPB’s first SWAC tournament title in 43 years and advancing to the NCAA tournament before losing to eventual national-champion Duke.
  • Chris Caputo, Assistant Coach, George Mason – Caputo is entering his sixth season as an assistant coach for the Patriots after spending the previous three seasons as an administrative assistant and video coordinator under head coach Jim Larranaga.
  • Tommy Dempsey, Head Coach, Rider – Dempsey enters his fifth season as the head man at Rider, following two seasons as an assistant. He has compiled an 83-75 record over that time and coached NBA lottery pick Jason Thompson during his time there.
  • Eric Reveno, Head Coach, Portland – Reveno heads into his fifth season at Portland having turned around a program from a team that was 18-45 in his first two seasons to a team on the rise with a 40-24 record over the last two seasons. Reveno spent his previous nine seasons as an assistant at Stanford, his alma mater where he was a Pac-10 Conference All-Academic Team selection as a senior.
  • Eric Brown, Assistant Coach, Long Beach State – Brown enters his fifth year as an assistant on head coach Dan Monson’s staff, after previously having spent time on coaching staffs at Cal-State Northridge, USC and Iowa State.
  • Jason James, Head Coach, Tennessee-Martin – James enters his second season as the head coach at UT-Martin following eight seasons as an assistant coach there. His first season was rough, to the tune of 4-25, after he was appointed head coach in the wake of scandal with the previous head coach. But James, the recruiter who brought Lester Hudson to UT-Martin, has plans to begin to turn things around this season.
  • Dale Layer, Head Coach, Liberty – Layer enters his second season at Liberty after having spent a season as an assistant at the university in 2007-08. In between, he spent a year at Marquette and previously he spent seven seasons as the head coach at Colorado State. He has compiled a 118-122 record in his eight seasons as a Division I head coach.
  • Gregg Bach, Assistant Athletics Director for Communications, Akron – Bach was named to his current position this past summer after having spent the previous eight years on the media relations staff in the Akron athletic department. His new job makes him the spokesperson of the athletic department.

First up: recruiting. This is the biggest, most pressure-packed area in college athletics. No matter how good coaches are at the X’s-and-O’s, they need players to execute their plans. At the mid-major level, the likelihood of a coach winding up with a ready-made pro is minuscule, so coaches have to find diamonds-in-the-rough, and, perhaps more importantly, develop their players over the course of their careers. Not only do schools at this level have to compete with other schools of similar size, if they find themselves competing with  a higher-level school for the same prospect, they may have to make a decision as to whether or not continuing to recruit the player is a worthwhile use of time. And the schools have to make the most of every advantage they can find in order to land the best student-athletes for their institution.

Recruiting Players Takes on Many Forms

Murry Bartow, Head Coach, East Tennessee State: Obviously, if you’re a college basketball coach, the most important part of your job is making sure that you’ve got good players.

George Ivory, Head Coach, Arkansas-Pine Bluff: There are a lot of things that go into recruiting. It comes down to what that kid is really looking for and what that kid wants out of college.

Bartow: There are so many things that go into it. There is no question that the relationship is critical, whether that’s with the head coach or an assistant coach. But that is very pivotal in the decision, building the relationship with not only the prospect, but a mom or a dad or whoever is going to be helping them make that decision. And certainly the product you’re trying to show them is important. Fortunately, I think I’m in a situation where I think we’ve got a good product, but there are a lot of things that are important: the school, the community, the housing, the fan’s support of your program, how many times you’re potentially going to be on TV and what conference you’re in, your history, the success you’ve had and how many times you’ve been to the NCAA tournament recently. So there are a lot of things and certainly different things are important to different players. For instance, we’ve been to the NCAA Tournament the last two years, and for some prospects that is very, very critical and important, and for others that might not be so important. So there are different things for different prospects.

When George Mason broke through to the Final Four in 2006, they were the first big mid-major success story in the NCAA Tournament since, arguably, Larry Bird’s Indiana State team made it there in 1979. Sure, there have been other non-BCS schools to get to the Final Four (Memphis ’08, Louisville ’05 and Marquette ’03 all came out of Conference USA, and Utah ’98 out of the WAC are all examples of non-BCS teams advancing to the Final Four, but none of those teams can really be considered a mid-major given their substantial basketball budgets), but Mason, an 11-seed and one of the last teams into the tournament that season, is clearly the first “modern” mid-major Cinderella story. While their success opened some doors recruiting-wise, new challenges arose as well.

Chris Caputo, Assistant Coach, George Mason: I don’t think anything has gotten easier since the Final Four, but it has been different for sure. I think we’ve gotten some good players, but you’ve got to caution yourself against those with superficial interest, people who will put you on their list because it sounds good, but they’re really not considering you because they are too far from home or whatever. You still want to make sure you’re getting guys that really want to be there and they’re hungry. Sometimes when you have success there are certain kids who are really attracted to the success and maybe not as attracted to working, almost like they’re feeling, “hey, if I get a scholarship over at George Mason, that’s it, I don’t have to work anymore.” But the guys that helped us get there, they signed with George Mason when it wasn’t as fashionable and they were driven to succeed. The one thing that the Final Four appearance has done for us is that it has helped us get involved with guys who maybe we previously couldn’t have gotten involved with. It helps us get into homes in different areas. You know, our school is much more of a household name nationally, and we’ve become a stronger name in our area as well. I think it has been good, but you also have to be careful with it too.

For mid-majors, a lot of the big-name recruits (McDonald’s All-Americans), are out of the question in all but the rarest of circumstances. This season, point guard Ray McCallum, Jr. chose Detroit over BCS schools like Arizona, Florida and UCLA, a decision which would have been startling were it not for the fact that his dad is the head coach there. For most mid-major programs, these players aren’t even in consideration. To make up for that, mid-majors have to find players that fly under the radar of some of the bigger schools and guys who are willing to put in the hard work to improve.

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