Checking in on… the Big South

Posted by rtmsf on December 25th, 2010

Mark Bryant, Coordinator of New Media for the Big South Conference and writer of Big South SHOUT, is an RTC correspondent.

A Look Back

  • Giant Killers?!?  Presbyterian College defeated Auburn and Wake Forest on the road in consecutive games over the past week, while Coastal Carolina notched a big-time win at Louisiana State recently… put those up alongside earlier ACC-SEC upsets, with UNC Asheville toppling Auburn and Winthrop downing Wake Forest, and the conference has a growing list of notable wins.  The wins over Charlotte by CCU and Gardner-Webb also moved up a notch once the 49ers upended Tennessee (although in fairness, Charlotte beat Winthrop).  So yes, Auburn and Wake would each be 0-2 in the Big South right now… go figure.
  • Return to Earth.  And while the Big South’s brief ownership of a winning record against the SEC was enjoyable (at 3-2 through 12/20), two days quickly turned that back to reality, with a High Point loss at Georgia on the 21st and losses by Winthrop at Kentucky and Radford at Florida to bring the season mark to 3-5.  That still smacks of respectability, as does the 2-4 mark against the ACC,  particularly when compared to records vs. other power conferences: the Big East (0-6), Big Ten (0-2), Pac-10 (0-1) and Big 12 (0-4), a cumulative 0-13.  Still, that can be understood, but far more troubling is a 1-10 total against the Colonial (Liberty’s win over William & Mary the lone bright spot there).
  • Greetings! Coastal Carolina’s Mike Holmes, a transfer from South Carolina, became available last week and made the most of his entrance.  Holmes came off the bench for the Chanticleers in Baton Rouge and put up a double-double against LSU in his debut (14 points, 10 rebounds).  No doubt the others in the Big South took notice of the arrival of a significant new player to watch.

Power Rankings

  1. Coastal Carolina (10-2 / 1-0)… the Chanticleers have made it eight in a row and sit idle until New Year’s Eve with struggling Radford coming to CCU’s floor.  The hallmark win is the overtime victory over LSU, but this is undeniably a team on a roll, and one that just got better with the addition of Mike Holmes to the active roster.  You have to say that Coastal is the team to beat right now.
  2. Presbyterian College (6-6 / 1-1)… where do I get off vaulting a team I had low last time, and one with a .500 record,  into the second spot?  Show me another squad here that knocked off back-to-back power conference teams on the road and I’ll consider them for this slot… frankly, this week, PC has earned the “number two with a bullet” position after wins at Auburn and Wake Forest (even if those teams are apparently having down years).  By the time most folks read this, we’ll know if the Blue Hose added a win at Old Dominion to cement their right to this space or if they are easing back down the list.
  3. Liberty (7-6 / 2-0)… aside from bringing PC from the bottom to the top, the rest of the order pretty much stays the same, as we haven’t seen much to change opinions–most teams had something disappointing along the way, or simply wins over lesser opponents.  For Liberty, the disappointment remains the inability to win a true road game.  Home or neutral: 7-1.  Road: 0-5… including the last loss to Hampton.  The Flames would drop, but other than PC, no one’s ready to jump.
  4. High Point (5-5 / 2-0)… for the Panthers, the last home game was 12/4 and the next one is not until 1/13/11.  Like Liberty, that doesn’t bode well for a team with a bad home-road split: 4-1 at the Millis Center, 1-4 everywhere else.  But also like the Flames, HPU is 2-0 in conference play, so we’ll keep them in the upper group for now.
  5. Winthrop (5-7 / 1-1)… uneven and inconsistent early season play–we’ve said that about Winthrop before… last year, in fact.   Somewhere in the middle of conference play a season ago, the Eagles lit a fire and got where they needed to be and made it all the way to the NCAAs.  It may take a little more to overcome Coastal again this season, but I never count Winthrop out of the running.
  6. VMI (7-5 / 0-2)… standard operating procedure continues–pile up points and hope it’s enough.  So far this year, it’s worked more often than not, but not in the Big South games.  Heading back into league competition, it will be interesting to see what the Keydets will really bring to the table.
  7. Gardner-Webb (6-8 / 1-1)… life for the Runnin’ Bulldogs will depend greatly on when they can have leading scorer Jon Moore back from injury.  Without him, the team lacks some of the intensity and certainly the scoring threat they need to be a contender.
  8. UNC Asheville (5-6 / 1-1)… here’s another squad with sweet home cooking–the Bulldogs have won 12 in a row at the Justice Center (dating back to last season).  Asheville could be ready for a rise, given the next two Conference games will both be in that intimate gym.
  9. Charleston Southern (5-6 / 0-1)… looking for an identity still from a team that has gotten its wins by pounding small schools, often scoring more than a hundred in those games, and losing to large schools and peer programs.  The “best” win CSU has is probably the one over The Citadel.  Until we see evidence that the Bucs can hang with stiffer opposition, they hang near the bottom.
  10. Radford (2-9 / 0-2)… run that losing streak to nine for the Highlanders…yes, that’s right, they won the first two and haven’t notched a W since 11/14.  Things have not been looking so rosy for RU lately, and is may not be getting better, with the next game at a red-hot Coastal Carolina team on New Year’s Eve.

A Look Ahead

Okay, we made it: conference play time is here for real.  We had that early December appetizer of Big South games, but the men’s teams launch the league schedule in earnest on New Year’s Eve with a full complement of games.  Play continues on January 2 and rolls on a regular calendar from there to the end.  Contenders, pretenders, champions, also-rans… some of that has been hard to peg of late, but now we will know where these teams stand head-to-head.  And THAT will make this a Happy New Year!

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Checking in on… the Big South

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 12th, 2010

Mark Bryant, Coordinator of New Media for the Big South Conference and writer of Big South SHOUT, is an RTC correspondent.

A Look Back

  • Sneak Preview: Early December brought a glimpse of conference play, as all teams got in some Big South action, with most playing two games inside the league.  Liberty, High Point, and Coastal Carolina can all enjoy undefeated conference records until the full league schedule begins, while Charleston Southern, VMI, and Radford still seek their first Big South wins (and Gardner-Webb, Winthrop, UNC Asheville, and Presbyterian College all sit in the middle at 1-1).
  • Small Teams, Big Numbers: The trend of beating up on smaller schools continued recently, with Charleston Southern crushing Toccoa Falls 120-43 and VMI sprinting past Central Penn College by a remarkable score of 151-92…that’ll certainly help the famous VMI scoring average.
  • Conference Calls: While the Big South has mounted appropriate marks of 3-3 against SoCon foes and 2-2 vs. A-Sun opponents so far this season, other records may not reflect as well on the league, most notably an 0-6 total against the Colonial–and throw in a combined 0-4 vs. teams from the MEAC, MVC, and Patriot.

Power Rankings

  1. Coastal Carolina (7-2 / 1-0)… the Chanticleers have rattled off five in a row, they are undefeated at small but spirited Kimble Arena (5-0),  and won their first Big South game on a Chad Gray dunk with 1.6 seconds to go against Charleston Southern.  Things have been working out early for the defending regular season champions, and they get the nod at the top of the list.
  2. Liberty (6-4 / 2-0)… this time, let’s give Liberty the benefit of the doubt we afforded VMI last time (more on them in a moment).  The Flames handled Presbyterian and held off Winthrop to net two conference wins, running their overall win streak to four.  Liberty seems to be making the necessary improvements to contend, save one:  LU needs to demonstrate it can get a road win.  The Flames are 6-0 on home or neutral floors, 0-4 on the road, not a recipe for success in crunch time.
  3. High Point (5-3 / 2-0)… earlier, we wondered when we would see the expected performances of Preseason Player of the Year Nick Barbour and his supporting cast with HPU–apparently that was coming in Big South play.  The Panthers got off to a 2-0 start by pulling out two close home victories, by two over GWU and three over Asheville.  HPU also got some high praise and national recognition for Shay Shines’ dunk against Asheville that made the top spot on SportsCenter’s Top Plays last weekend:
  4. Winthrop (4-4 / 1-1)… we will keep saying it because it’s true: beware the lurking Eagles.  Coach Randy Peele believes in building for the tournament and knows that winning a few games at the right time can mean everything–but that doesn’t mean Winthrop sits back in the regular season.  Winning in overtime at VMI in a high-scoring game was a test the Eagles passed with flying colors, only to falter at Liberty two days later.  To move up the list, we’ll need to see more of the former and less of the latter.  Robbie Dreher and Andre Jones have become a formidable tandem for the Eagles: they combined for 93 points in the two conference games.
  5. VMI (6-4 / 0-2)… the Keydets keep piling up points, but spoiled their hot 5-0 start by losing three of the last four games.  Stan Okoye is the league’s only player averaging over 20 points per game for the season, with teammate Keith Gabriel not far behind with more than 18 PPG.  Not to be overlooked, freshman Rodney Glasgow has been a strong contributor this year and throws in better than 13 PPG as well.  Nonetheless, you have to say VMI’s conference start was a disappointment.  Losing in overtime against Winthrop should not be held against them, but it seems as if they should have been able to give PC more of a fight.
  6. Gardner-Webb (6-6 / 1-1)… would you believe the Runnin’ Bulldogs are already approaching last year’s win total?  It’s true, thanks to coach Chris Holtmann waking up the potential at GWU and getting off to a good start.  The Bulldogs won a road game they needed to get at Radford and fell at HPU by just a basket, so it seems as if GWU may have some bark and some bite this season.
  7. UNC Asheville (3-5 / 1-1)… it remains hard to peg this Asheville squad, although it seems fairly certain the injury to John Williams has hurt the squad’s overall performance.  The Bulldogs hit the road and crushed Radford by 20, but followed that up with a three-point loss at High Point. They have a losing record overall, but with a win at a Big Six team in hand (even if it’s Auburn), so which team is this?  Answers will likely come when full conference play rolls in soon.
  8. Presbyterian College (3-5 / 1-1)… another team playing to mixed reviews on the early conference swing, falling to Liberty by nine but downing VMI by double-digits (and setting a PC record against Division-I opposition with 92 points in that game).  Khalid Mutakabbir has found his shooting stroke, leading the Big South in 3-point field goal percentage (.680, 17-25).
  9. Charleston Southern (4-5 / 0-1)… the Buccaneers have also had their ups and downs in the early going.  CSU thought it might be able to sneak out of Conway with a win over Coastal, but fell by just two points.  That’s a fair start, but still a loss–and that game will sit as the only Big South contest for a few weeks.
  10. Radford (2-6 / 0-2)… it can’t be encouraging that in seven games, the Highlanders have only broken 60 once (83 vs. Methodist).  Opening Big South play with a 20-point home loss sure doesn’t help the outlook for Brad Greenberg’s squad, now with six losses in a row.

A Look Ahead

  • Until all league teams get into the regular conference schedule beginning December 31, it remains a motley collection of home contests against smaller schools, road games versus major conference opponents, and  a smattering of match-ups against comparable programs.  Right now, the most encouraging thing is knowing that these teams will be going head-to-head soon and can truly sort out their identities from this rollercoaster mix of high-scoring wins and crushing defeats.
  • If you’re looking to catch the Big South in action against the nation’s top teams, you’ll have a few chances with Presbyterian matching up against Missouri (12/11), Gardner-Webb at Louisville (12/18), UNC-Asheville visiting Ohio State (12/21) and Winthrop against Kentucky (12/22).
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Checking in on… the Big South

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 29th, 2010

Mark Bryant, Coordinator of New Media for the Big South Conference and writer of Big South SHOUT, is an RTC correspondent.  [ed. note: this post was written prior to the Nov. 26-28 games]

A Look Back

  • V = 5: For the first time in modern era play, VMI has opened its season 5-0.  While none of these victories have been great shockers or eye-openers, it remains an attention-grabbing start—the best opening run in the Big South this year.  That jumpstart will be tested with a road trip to West Virginia.
  • Hello, There!: The Big South has had a few surprises in store early this season:  UNC Asheville won at Auburn in overtime (70-69), Winthrop defeated Wake Forest in Winston-Salem as part of the NIT Tip-Off (83-74), Presbyterian College downed Princeton (69-67), and two members have taken down Charlotte — Gardner-Webb in the opener (78-70) and Coastal Carolina in double overtime (79-75).  Radford hopes that trend continues—the Highlanders have Charlotte next.
  • Feasting on Home Cooking: Admittedly, the schedule-making is a little tilted at the start of the season, generally with tougher opponents on the road or at neutral sites in tournaments, as opposed to mostly (but not completely) softer opposition at home.  That said, how about this: the Big South is undefeated at home so far this season (19-0) …nice start.

Power Rankings

  1. Coastal Carolina (5-2 / 0-0)…  Okay, so the Chanticleers opened with two giant wins over small colleges, which doesn’t tell us a whole lot, but let’s get a look at the second week.  CCU had a four-game week at the Charleston Classic, dropping games to the host, College of Charleston, and to Big East power Georgetown, before bouncing back with two victories—including a 2OT thriller over Charlotte in what was the team’s fourth game in six days.  The early lessons of resilience should serve the Chants well as the year progresses.  And while plenty of eyes are on Chad Gray and Kierre Greenwood, junior guard Desmond Holloway asserted himself this week by averaging 20 points per game in that tough four-game stretch.
  2. VMI (5-0 / 0-0)…  I was not going to elevate the Keydets to this spot without a little more weight behind those victories, but upon further reflection, VMI is out to the best start of anybody in the conference—AND they’ve got that running, gunning offense rolling right out of the gate.  So for the moment, let’s not take anything away from the fact that VMI has done what it wants so far.  Once again VMI will bid for the nation’s best scoring average–the Keydets are averaging over 90 points per game so far, and they have led all teams in scoring for each of the last four years.  Through five games, VMI’s Stan Okoye and Keith Gabriel each average better than 20 points per game to help power that engine.
  3. UNC Asheville (2-2 / 0-0)…  Coach Eddie Biedenbach may have the right combination working for him right now, as the Bulldogs have demonstrated their talents early on this season: D.J. Cunningham is among league leaders in rebounds and blocks, J.P. Primm is the Big South steals leader, and Matt Dickey is near the top in scoring.  Only VMI is scoring more per game this year, and Asheville’s come-from-behind effort to force and win overtime at Auburn shows the grit that goes with the skill.  Watch this team carefully.
  4. Winthrop (2-3 / 0-0)…  Call this pick the benefit of the doubt, but coach Randy Peele’s Eagles know how to “grind it out” (Peele’s favorite phrase), and they already boast a win over an ACC team on its own floor this season.  While Wake Forest may not be as well-armed this season, that’s still nothing to sneeze at, and Winthrop will do what it always does: frustrate opponents and make every game a fight to the finish.
  5. High Point (2-2 / 0-0)…  The Panthers have had an unremarkable beginning to the year, but they also get some credit for having Preseason Player of the Year Nick Barbour, who can be a difference-maker on any night.  HPU opened with two home wins against lesser teams and two road losses to more credible opponents.  The good news for upcoming games: two home conference contests.  The bad news: NO home games from December 5 – January 12.
  6. Gardner-Webb (3-2 / 0-0)… The Runnin’ Bulldogs have come out on the positive side so far under first-year coach Chris Holtmann.  Like High Point, they have two home victories against small schools and two road losses—in this case, both at major programs (Florida State and Michigan).  The tipping point for GWU this year is winning a game they would likely have lost a year ago: the opener at Charlotte.
  7. Presbyterian College (2-4 / 0-0)…  So will the real PC please stand up?  Is this the team that got blown out at Vanderbilt (88-47) or the one that hung with Kansas State before getting caught at the end (76-67)?  The one that beat Eastern Kentucky and Princeton in close games, or the one that got handled by Bucknell and James Madison?  That’s the problem here—the bottom few teams in the Big South all have questions.  Unfortunately for the Blue Hose, even if they’re the Jekyll and not the Hyde here, they still won’t be able to play any postseason games as they continue their transition to Division I play.
  8. Liberty (2-4 / 0-0)…  The Flames have the same familiar pattern: home wins they should have, and road losses that were probably expected.  Liberty has shown the ability to bounce back from aggressive scheduling losses before, so let’s not drop them to the bottom just for falling to the likes of Notre Dame, Texas Tech, and South Florida.
  9. Radford (2-2 / 0-0)…  Same early issues for the Highlanders as most of their peers: expected home wins and road losses, and that’s how this season has begun.  This team will not get its due until it makes it clear that they’ve found a way to plug that (literally) big hole left behind by the departure of center Art Parakhouski.  The lack of RU presence near the tops of most league leader boards right now shows that they may still be looking.
  10. Charleston Southern (2-3 / 0-0)…  It seems painful to drop the Buccaneers to the bottom, but someone has to hold this spot.  CSU has a lot of talented players and a good mix of experience (Jamarco Warren) and youth (Jeremy Sexton, Sheldon Strickland)—plus they certainly can beat anybody if the threes are falling, because this team can bomb with the best of them.  All that said, the Bucs have not been able to wow anyone in the early going—consider this rank a challenge for the team to pick itself up for a run up the list.

A Look Ahead

While there are a number of games across the conference for the Thanksgiving weekend, the real deal for the upcoming weeks is the first glimpse of conference play.  The way the season is structured, the Big South has two early December games as part of the schedule for most teams.  Given the tilt toward home teams so far, here’s where the squads will be for those two games on the December 2nd and 4th.

  • HOME: High Point, Liberty, Radford, VMI, Coastal Carolina (12/4 only)
  • ROAD: Gardner-Webb, PC, Asheville, Winthrop, CSU (12/4 only)

All those games will help shape early perception of the Big South race, but one game that has me intrigued is the contrasting style in the Winthrop at VMI clash: will VMI be able to push its desired pace and continue its early season roll or will Winthrop be able to get in the way, slow things down and “grind out” another win?  That’s among the early answers the December conference games will offer—should be a fun sequence of games.

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

Posted by rtmsf on November 9th, 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 Eight: 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.
  • 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.
  • Chris Lang, Writer, Lynchburg News & Advance: Lang has been the beat writer for Liberty University since 2005 after having spent eight years as the Sports Editor at the Arizona Daily Sun in Flagstaff, Arizona.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

So far, in regards to marketing, we’ve touched on the differences in the size of athletic budgets and the size of the media markets between some rather disparate programs classified as mid-majors. But regardless of the size of the program or the size of the market, a big key for mid-major programs is to get consistent media coverage. Coverage from their local media not only can keep the program in the minds of their fans and keep them up to date, but it can also introduce the team to new fans. Not surprisingly, schools in smaller markets generally have an easier time of getting local media coverage.

Media Coverage, Especially at the Local Level, is Important

Andrew Roberts, Assistant Athletic Director for Sports Information, Arkansas-Pine Bluff : Arkansas Pine Bluff is in a unique situation, because we have a local newspaper, the Pine Bluff Commercial, that does an outstanding job of covering the UAPB athletic department top-to-bottom, all sports, they all receive excellent coverage in our local paper. And then, there is a paper in Little Rock, the Arkansas Democrat Gazette and they cover football and men’s basketball extensively throughout the year. They’ll assign us a beat writer and he’ll cover us. The coverage was great.

Eric Brown, Assistant Athletic Communications Directory, Liberty: Our main media affiliates would be our local TV station here in Lynchburg, WSET. They do a good job of covering us since they’re right here in our area, and then our local newspaper Lynchburg News & Advance, they’re real good also. They’ve got a beat writer that covers us all the time.

Chris Lang, Writer, Lynchburg News & Advance: With basketball, we’re trying to cover all the Big South road games this year, where in the past we had covered mostly just home games. We don’t do a ton with the out-of-conference road games, because honestly Liberty is very unlikely to win many of those. I mean, if they go out to Florida, what’s the point of us traveling down there to watch them lose by 35 points or something. We do try to treat it like it’s a big time program, it’s the one program that’s right in our city and our backyard. We cover Virginia, Virginia Tech as well, but they are both an hour, an hour and a half away. Liberty is a growing program, it’s grown a lot in the five years I’ve been here for sure, it’s grown big-time, so we try to treat it as such.

Brown: Outside of that, there’s not a whole lot that will cover us regularly. The thing is, Charlottesville’s not too far away, but they’re gonna be focused on UVA. Roanoke is close, but they’ll be focused on Virginia Tech. So we’re kind of always competing with them, or in their shadow a little bit, because we may not get looked at as much in those areas because the focus is on Virginia and Virginia Tech. We’ll have a few other outlets cover us from time-to-time based on what we’re doing, but mostly it is the TV station and the newspaper.

In larger markets, getting consistent media coverage can be much harder, but it does happen.

Jessica Dickson, Assistant Athletic Director for External Relations, UMKC: Surprisingly enough, we are extremely lucky with the media coverage we have. Blair Kerkhoff (Kansas City Star) is who covers us the most and he really does seem to see the importance and the value of promoting UMKC, because we are the only Division I basketball program in Kansas City. He does a great job covering us. Now, where maybe Kansas or Kansas State or Missouri, the three Big 12 schools closest to us, don’t need to pitch stories to the local newspaper or to the radio stations or TV stations, that’s the difference with us, we do need to give Blair a call and say “hey we’ve got this student-athlete with this great story, can we get you in touch with the coach to talk about it”. And we work around his schedule and absolutely understand that where we thought something would run this week, it might get bumped because of something else and run the following week. But beyond the print, our media partner as far as broadcasting is Sports Radio 810, a fabulous all-sports radio station here in Kansas City. They cover us wonderfully, not only is that the home of our men’s basketball games, but our color commentator is Steven St. John, who hosts the morning show for the station and he’s a UMKC grad and covers us really well. They include us in their SportsCenter update, when they’re talking about what’s going on in the city. If we’ve got a game coming up that night, they’ll make sure to plug us. Anytime that we’ve got a game coming up where we want to get one of our coaches on the air, they’re more than happy to get them on for an interview. And then we’re extremely lucky in Kansas City to have a 24-hour local sports TV station called Metro Sports, they’re owned by Time-Warner cable and that’s been our television home since we went Division I and they’ll televise 15-17 of our men’s and women’s basketball games, and we get our coaches out to the studio on a weekly basis to do shows from their studio. So, we, for a mid-major school, get fabulous media coverage, especially when compared with some other schools.

While local media coverage is very important, getting on national television on a semi-regular basis is a goal as well for many of these programs, not only as a way to get the university’s name and brand out there, but as a way to build awareness for potential recruits.

Read the rest of this entry »

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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 (part four)

Posted by rtmsf on October 12th, 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 Four: 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:

  • 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.
  • Chris Lang, Writer, Lynchburg News & Advance: Lang has been the beat writer for Liberty University since 2005 after having spent eight years as the Sports Editor at the Arizona Daily Sun in Flagstaff, Arizona.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

Last time we talked about the difficult process that mid-major basketball programs go through when putting together their non-conference schedules, and we’ll get more of that here. When teams have a hard time finding quality opponents who are willing to come to their place, their choices get relegated to playing insanely tough opponents (like with Long Beach State who we discussed last time), playing a ton of road games as is normal for many mid-majors, or watering down the schedule with teams in the bottom reaches of Division I and even lower divisions of basketball. At East Tennessee State, for example, they had trouble finding anybody to come to Johnson City to play them, with Tennessee Tech and NAIA-school Milligan College the only non-conference home games on their schedule.

It's Tough When Scheduling NAIA is a Viable Option

Murry Bartow, Head Coach, East Tennessee State: Yup. That’s all we’ve got is two non-conference home games, and one of those in a non-DI school. But we just really struggled, more this year than I ever have as a head coach, to get home-and-homes started. And again, to get games is easy. To go on the road is easy. To get people to be willing to play you at home is not an easy thing.

Chris Lang, Beat Writer for Liberty, Lynchburg News & Advance: Between Liberty and Virginia or Virginia Tech, the biggest difference is scheduling. They can’t get anyone to come here to play men’s basketball games. There’s a reason they play three or four NAIA or non-DI’s a year, because you can’t get anyone. If you’re Coach Layer, you can take money game after money game, but do you want to put your team through that and never get a chance to play at home and get used to your home court? I know for this year’s schedule they have five non-conference home games and only two of them are against Division I teams. They got George Mason and William & Mary to come here, but it is very difficult.

The difficulties in scheduling, and specifically the difficulties in getting home games, lead to problems in terms of winning games. No matter the level of competition, it is hard to win on the road. So, the more road games a team has to play, the more likely losses can begin piling up.

Tommy Dempsey, Head Coach, Rider: The thing is, the leagues at mid-major level are just so balanced, and you can’t get non-conference home games, so in order to have a great year, you have to either dominate your league or win a lot of non-conference road games. And over time, those two things have been very difficult to do. It is hard to dominate a league that is so balanced where every night you can get beat. And non-conference road games are very difficult to win. So it makes having that 22- to 25-win year hard -– you had better be really, really good. And that’s why you see so many of the mid-majors at the end of non-conference play under .500 and so many of them hovering around .500.

And when mid-major programs lose games early, whether they be against big BCS teams on the road or in tournaments 0r even in their home games, it can hurt the confidence of the players, and it can diminish the support of the fans.

Bartow: The fans just have to be realistic. As a head coach, you don’t want to come out in the paper and be negative, you don’t want to come out and say, “hey fans, we’re going to lose a lot of these games,” but fans have to be realistic, fans have to understand the big picture. Again, when I go into these games, I hope we can win them all, I hope we can go undefeated, but I’m also old enough and experienced enough as a head coach to know when you go in and play Kentucky or Ole Miss on the road or Dayton on the road, chances are, you’re going to lose those games. So you just have to understand the big picture of what you’re trying to get done and fans have to be understanding as well.

At Arkansas-Pine Bluff, they worked their way through a rough 0-11 start to last season during a tough non-conference stretch featuring 11 straight road games with eight of them against BCS conference teams, before being able to turn it around and eventually earn their way into the NCAA tournament.

Is the UABP Model of Scheduling the Right One?

George Ivory, Head Coach, Arkansas-Pine Bluff: Our team was good about it. You come to school and you want to play against tough competition. We started 0-11, but our minds were always positive. One thing we did last year that was maybe a little different than the year before was to just focus on our academics and the guys understood that their number one goal when coming to college was to get a degree. So we focused on that and it kept a lot of tension off of the 0-11 stretch for our guys.

The Arkansas-Pine Bluff model, a model similar to Long Beach State’s plan, is to play tough teams to toughen your squad up for conference play and the postseason. And many coaches found at least some validity to such a plan.

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RTC Conference Primers: #29 – Big South

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 6th, 2010

Mark Bryant of Big South SHOUT is the RTC correspondent for the Big South Conference.

Predicted Order of Finish
  1. Coastal Carolina (14-4)
  2. Winthrop (13-5)
  3. UNC Asheville (11-7)
  4. Presbyterian College (10-8)
  5. High Point (9-9)
  6. Liberty (9-9)
  7. Charleston Southern (8-10)
  8. VMI (6-12)
  9. Radford (6-12)
  10. Gardner-Webb (4-14)

All-Conference Team

  • Nick Barbour (G) - High Point
  • Austin Kenon (G) – VMI
  • Jamarco Warren (G) – Charleston Southern
  • Al’Lonzo Coleman (F) – Presbyterian College
  • Chad Gray (F) – Coastal Carolina

Sixth Man

  • Keith Gabriel (G) – VMI

Impact Newcomer

  • Mike Holmes (F) – Coastal Carolina – Holmes comes to CCU after being dismissed from South Carolina last winter and won’t be eligible to play until a big tilt against LSU on December 13. The senior averaged 10.8 PPG and 7.4 RPG in his last full season in a power conference (2008-09), so he’s very capable of being a force in the Big South as long as he keeps his act together. Until he proves that, however, he’s something of a wildcard.
Cliff Ellis led Coastal Carolina to school records in regular season victories and wins in conference play, but had to settle for the NIT in 2010. Such is life in the mid-majors. (TSN Archive)

What You Need to Know

  • Most folks would probably still identify Winthrop as the team of note from the Big South, with that school still having provided the conference’s only NCAA Tournament first round victory (over Notre Dame in 2007). Although they represented the Big South last year, the Eagles did not do so unchallenged.  Coastal Carolina, bitter rival of Winthrop, asserted itself last year and won the regular season title before falling to the Eagles in the Conference Tournament.  Expect the two familiar foes to be dueling again throughout the upcoming year.  As for players to watch, with the departure of some hallmark big men from the league, outside shooting and guard play will likely generate the most excitement, thanks to contributors like Nick Barbour of High Point, Jamarco Warren of Charleston SouthernAustin Kenon of VMI and J.P. Primm of UNC Asheville, among others.

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

Posted by rtmsf on September 28th, 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 Two: 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:

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

Last time around, we heard about the challenges mid-major schools face in competing for recruits and the importance of player development at the mid-major level. This time, we’ll look at some of the more practical questions to be answered when recruiting, such as what types of players coaches are going to be looking for and where they are going to find them. If you’re in a talent-rich area, you may not ever need to go outside of your region to find players, but the bigger pool of talent from which you are able to draw, the more likely you are to be able to land talented players.

Tommy Dempsey, Head Coach, Rider: We’re in a great location. We sit right in the middle between Philadelphia and New York City. We’re about 35 miles from Philadelphia and about 50 miles from New York City, which also puts us two hours from Baltimore, maybe three hours from Washington DC, within three hours of Virginia, we have a couple of kids from Delaware, so again we’re in a location that allows us to recruit regionally. I think most coaches will tell you that they want to take care of their back yard, but how big your back yard is changes for everybody. If you’re in the Midwest and there are not as many players within a two-hour radius of your school, then obviously you have to change your approach. But in our situation we are able to do the majority of our recruiting close to home.

Locating Talent is Extremely Important

Jason James, Head Coach, Tennessee-Martin: As far as location, we try to bring in student-athletes within about a six hour radius from us, we’ve been more successful doing that, but saying that, we kind of go where we know people, where people can help us and we’ve been able to be successful because of our contacts.

Todd Miles, Assistant Athletics Director for Media Relations, Long Beach State: Coach (Dan) Monson’s goal is always to get the best player in Long Beach. That’s his number one goal. That’s how we got Larry Anderson. Casper Ware is a local kid, T.J. Robinson happened to come from Connecticut, but he came because we were recruiting Larry Anderson who was at a prep school and we saw T.J. But, with this team this year we had a lot of returners, so they were trying to find pieces that would fit with this team, with all these returners they had certain needs and they may have been a little more particular about who they wanted. Three years ago when Coach Monson and his staff came here, they needed players, and it didn’t matter what position. And I think this year maybe more they wanted to recruit to a position or to a skill set.

Eric Brown, Assistant Coach, Long Beach State: We prefer to recruit locally, but really, it is all based on need. Certain classes are stronger than others: 2012 looks to be stronger than the 2011 class, as an example. And then there might be times when you have to recruit for need, like you need a point – it’s not just about recruiting a position, like you need a guard or forward – you might have more specific needs, like you need an athletic, guard-the-rim post-player, they may not need to be a great offensive post player. Or you might need a post player who can pick-and-pop and hit the three, but isn’t that great on the block. Or you might have a bunch of 6’4/6’5 athletes who are drivers/slashers, but you need to find a guy that can hit the three. If a player can do it all, they’re not going to come to our level. Sometimes we just need to find guys that can fit a need. In this case, we got some really good kids out of state and if we have a need and don’t think that need can be best filled out of the local area, we go to wherever it is we can get it.

Chris Caputo, Assistant Coach, George Mason: There are some years where we sign a number of guys from the area and other years where it’s a little bit different, but yeah, our base is the local area. Last year we brought in two kids from the DC area. Obviously we want to stay with that as much as possible, but there are times when there is just not enough volume in your area when you’ve got to get five or six kids in a year, which we’ve had to do. You know, we had to get 10 guys in two years and so sometimes when there’s not as much in the area and you’ve got to get quality, you’ve got to go to places out of the area, and I think that’s where TV has helped us as well.

Schools like Long Beach State and George Mason have easy access to major metropolitan areas. Obviously, not all schools enjoy such a location, and as a result cannot rely entirely on getting recruits from their local area.

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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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24 Great Things About Watching ESPN’s 24 Hour Hoops Marathon

Posted by jstevrtc on August 18th, 2010

One of the first things I did on this website upon debuting two years ago was live blog ESPN’s first 24-hour college hoops marathon from start to finish.  You know how it is. You’re the new guy, you want to impress your co-bloggers, and all that.  I volunteered for the job, thinking I’d earn the respect of my RTC-mates and perhaps bring a few new visitors to the site. I assumed the novelty of it (it wasn’t that novel) would, in the same way that circus-goers stroll by the exhibition of freaks, bring a few people by to check in on the weirdo who was staying up and live blogging the whole thing.  I thought it turned out great, especially for a guy’s first time.  I had been awake for 16 hours before it started, too, so there were a few palpitations and many hallucinations by the time it was over, but I was proud. And as I was doing it, I was convinced that the combination of my astute basketball observations with my razor-sharp pop culture references would make this site a household name and propel us into the very heart of the American consciousness. Which, as we all now know, is precisely what happened.

Last year I did it again, despite the wagging fingers of my internist and a couple of specialists. We had some technical difficulties when the internet connection at the RTC Southern Compound tendered its resignation, but with some help of friends who subbed for me while I changed location, we got it done and I was able to finish strong.

Oh sweet, delicious caffeine -- the Marathon blogger's best friend.

We’re still in secret discussions as to what we’re going to do this year to celebrate the national holiday that is the 24-hour hoops marathon. I might insult my cardiovascular and central nervous systems for a third year in a row, or we might have something better in store this year. But because I’ve done it twice and not yet needed a trip to the ER, I — erroneously, in all likelihood — consider myself the authority on the subject.  To celebrate the release of this season’s Marathon schedule and the fact that it’s — *sigh* — only three short months away, here are my 24 favorite things about watching ESPN’s 24 Hour Hoops Marathon from beginning to end.

24. The fact that it’s actually about 26 hours of basketball, not 24. The last game starts at 11:30 PM ET, if it’s on time. Not only is it an “extra” game, but it’s a good time to summarize what you’ve seen during the day and pat yourself on the back.  Bonus hoops?  I’m not complaining, not even after 24 hours.

23. Seeing whether or not ESPNU’s Lowell Galindo will continue to go with the full Windsor knot in his tie.  Others in the sports media have worn it. Only one man has perfected it.  He’s made some appearances without it during the off-season, and stock markets all over the world plummeted each time.

22. The constant string of games is an instant reminder of those sweet days of Championship Week and the NCAA Tournament.

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