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April 8, 2009

Shouldn't Cinderella have to earn her place?

Blutarsky found an interesting article about the NCAA Tourney in the Christian Science Monitor of all places. The article suggests that the non-power conference schools aren't giving the mid-majors realistic access to the throne:
But on the 30th anniversary of the nail-biter match up between Larry Bird's Indiana State squad and Magic Johnson of Michigan State that sparked the March Madness tradition, the big question for many basketball fans is whether the Cinderella era is gone for good – the victim of recruiting dynasties, revenue-sharing that favors power conferences, and a tourney selection committee that has to face the ratings pressures of a $6 billion TV contract.
First off, every team in the NCAA tourney has to play six consecutive games. Home court advantage is minimal to coincidental, and there are no bye weeks. It's the flattest tourney structure imaginable. In one game, anyone can beat anyone.

But let's put that aside as Blutarsky did and address that this issue of "fairness" and accessibility argument exists for the football and the BCS as well. The bothersome issue to me is the media rarely looks back and acknowledges the simple fact that:

All powerful programs weren't always powerful

The following schools were considered mid-majors or non-BCS members not that long ago:

TeamJoined Power
ArizonaPac 10 in '78
Won NC in Hoops 20 Years Later. Five years
after leaving the WAC, they hired Lute Olson.
Five years after hiring Lute, they were in the
Final Four.
Arizona State
Pac 10 in '78
Played for NC in football 18 years later.
Florida State
ACC in '91
Won NC in Football 3 seasons later. Was a
laughing stock until mid to late '70s.
Completely re-tooled in under 10 years.
MiamiBig East in '91
Won NC in football same year. Considered
giving up football in the late '70s. Built from
nothing to dominance in under 10 years.
Virginia Tech
Big East in '91
Played for NC in football nine seasons later.
Also-ran until hiring Beamer in late '80s.
West Virginia
Big East in '91
Played for NC in '88 before joining league.

Closer to home...remember that UGA had a smaller stadium, fewer SEC titles and less regional or national recognition in football than Georgia Tech when Vince Dooley took over the program in 1964. In the 1950s, I've heard that you couldn't give away tickets to UGA games. As late as 1965, UGA was still giving up away games to schools like Michigan without return trips.

It was only 11 years after the trip to Ann Arbor that UGA played for the national title against Pitt, and we won the title 15 years after the win vs. Michigan.

The point -- There is a path to consistent national relevance. All you need is fan support and money. Fan support comes from hiring great coaches, winning games that interest your fans and investing in your program. Money comes from fan support and TV revenue.

Fan Support:
Since 1980, the only programs to win a share of the National Title while averaging less than 50,000 fans per game were Georgia Tech ('90), Colorado ('90) and Miami (multiple). I can't find the BYU attendance for '84, but I'd wager they were over 50,000 on average given the size of the facility that year.

Since 1990, the only schools to make the title game with a seating capacity of less than 70,000 were Georgia Tech (45k), Colorado (55k), Virginia Tech (54k). In basketball, the schools with arenas with capacities of less than 10k rarely win the NCAA title. The biggest exception being Duke.

You can't legislate your way to national relevance in football. You have to earn it on the field. Anybody, anywhere and anytime is how Bobby Bowden did it at FSU. He didn't go to his senator and say, "Life isn't fair. I need you to go back to Washington and make it easier for me to win football games."

We clawed our way to the top of the pile. Why shouldn't Boise, Utah, TCU and Fresno State do the same thing? Fighting your way to the top is much more fun than having it given to you.



StandupifyourUGA! said...

I think people need to remember your last sentence when thinking about our basketball program.

"Fighting your way to the top is much more fun than having it given to you."

It seems that the Dawg nation only wants to root for our bball team after they become successful. I think people under-estimate the power of fan support and a soldout building in terms of wins and losses for a young team. And don't give me that "We need a new gym" crap. When did UGA start thinking like the Joke next to Coke and build a bigger gym to replace the one that we can't sell out anyway.

Anonymous said...

"You gotta fight for your right to party!"

dudetheplayer said...

I think a couple of your numbers are off here. You've got Arizona winning a NC 30 years after joining the PAC-10 in 1978, which means they would've won last year. I think that you meant 20 years later.

And you've got Colorado and Yech with the split MNC in '91, when I believe their titles would've come in the '90 season.

dudetheplayer said...

... Unless of course you were counting the MNC in the year the team played their bowl game.

skidawg1985 said...

The author must not have seen the 1979 game, it was not a nail biter.

Paul Westerdawg said...

Dude- thanks.

sensible said...

Philip Pearson hired as asst. hoops coach per

Couldn't get any detailed info from, the traffic from tens of new hoops fans caused them to change that board to a pay site.

Anonymous said...

"All you need is fan support and money."

The first one is the easier of the two to achieve. Last time I checked, ESPN isn't giving out million dollar t.v. contracts to the Horizon League/WAC/Mountain West, and realistically, never will. The common denominator between all of your teams that "made their way up", is joining a power conference which already has a streamline of revenue coming in.

rbubp said...

Anon 3:04--
And that's why many of the conferences have become these leviathans with multiple divisions and unbalanced schedules.

The one thing I do wish the NCAA would do in basketball is find some way to require occasional home games on the little guy's court. The fan support for UNC playing at Davidson, VCU, or Western Kentucky would be huge, as many tickets as can be sold out; but the bigger schools just don't do it because they get no benefit from winning or losing. Plain old chickensh*t is what they are.

Paul Westerdawg said...

TV will pay more to broadcast your games when people WANT to see your team play on TV. That's what Fan Support is.

And yes....joining a power conference is part of it. It's not a charity event to drag someone in your league. You do it because it benefits the league.

FSU built themselves up to the point that the SEC and ACC both wanted them.

The Pac 10 and Big 10 will eventually expand OR the Big East will re-align due to its cumbersome structure. Those things don't stay stagnant.

It's up to those mid-majors to give those conferences a reason to pick them to join their leagues.

Paul Westerdawg said...

BTW -- USF, Cincy and Lville are the "modern" model for program growth. Make your program into something that is desireable to another league.

Then jump on that opportunity.

If I were Boise, Fresno State and Nevada, I'd be talking to the MWC about joining their league.

A league of BYU, Utah, BSU, Fres and TCU would be comparable to the Big East in football.

Senator Blutarsky said...

"If I were Boise, Fresno State and Nevada, I'd be talking to the MWC about joining their league."

If I were them, I'd talk to the top three or four teams in the MWC and three teams from Conference USA - Tulsa, Houston and SMU (grab those TV markets!) - about starting a non-BCS super conference. That would be a better conference than the Big East.

Call it the Big West and go chase a TV deal with ESPN.

rbubp said...

"BTW -- USF, Cincy and Lville are the "modern" model for program growth. Make your program into something that is desireable to another league."

Don't forget UConn. What had they done in any sport at all before 1987? We know about men's & women's basketball now, but they are on the move in football too after only going d-1 in 2001. I'm kind of amazed by it.

Anonymous said...

senator- I agree that your concept of creating a non-BCS super conference would be much more appealing to Boise State than an almost lateral move from the WAC to the MWC.

And PWD, as far as your theory of the more the fan support=more TV time and bigger TV contracts, Boise State has killed that theory. How much more fan support could they possibly have gotten with successful year after successful year and eventually beating OU in the Fiesta Bowl? Yet ESPN nor any other prime network came running to Boise with a TV deal. It all comes down to being a part of a power conference, and them joining the MWC would be a VERY small step in the right direction, if that.

Paul Westerdawg said...

Anon 5:55,

Are you joking about Boise's success?

They play almost no one. Conference or not. That's why "TV isn't running at them with big contracts." No one gives a crap about seeing them play Bowling Green or Idaho non-conference.

They don't play on TV more because they don't have compelling games in conference (to your point) or non-conference.

Boise plays 1 non-conference game of note per year...a Pacific Northwest Tussle with OU, OSU, UW or WSU. (except the UGA beat down)

Compare that to Fresno State's non-conference slate:
2009 - Wisc, Cincy and Illinois
2008 - Rutgers, Wisc and UCLA
2007 - Texas A&M, Oregon and KSU
2006 - Oregon, Washington and LSU

You build your program by playing big boys and winning. That's how Florida State did it.

Not by selling 25,000 tickets to home games (it was expanded to 32,000 in 2008) and beating the crap out of Portland State non-conference.

Boise has a LONG way to go in terms of fan support to start pulling big boy money.


Anonymous said...


The actual Big West Conference might have a slight problem with that, though I'd imagine it's the sort of thing a few million dollars could easily solve.

Interestingly, Boise State was a member of the Big West before it stopped sponsoring football. It joined the WAC in 2001.

And Paul, remember that one of the reasons the Mountain West formed in the first place was that the WAC got too big and unwieldy. I'm not sure those schools want to go back to being in a huge conference, although certainly times have changed in the past 10 years.

Paul Westerdawg said...

I'd love to see a Super Mid-Major form:

Boise St.
Fresno St.

Colorado St.
S. Miss

But those schools would go broke on travel costs for non-revenue sports.

It would be a pretty decent basketball league, too.


Anonymous said...

PWD- So we've gone from fan support= tv contracts, to now who has the better opponents= tv contracts? And are you honestly trying to compare Fresno's strength of schedule with Boise State?

SOS ranking for last season- Boise- 94; Fresno State- 90; not that much of a difference.

BTW Fresno's stadium is only 9,000 seats larger than Boise's. For some reason I'm doubting those extra 9,000 make that much of a difference when it comes to advertising a game.

As another poster stated earlier, it's VERY tough for a small, non-BCS school that's competitive like a Boise State to draw big boy opponents. It's lose-lose for the BCS team.(See 2008 Sugar Bowl) I will give Fresno more credit though for being able to pull in bigger names, but to act like their whole schedule is much more attractive and tougher than Boise's, is a little off.

I would love to see the Pac 10 pick up Boise State and Fresno State, and thus creating a 12 team league:


Boise St.


Fresno State
Arizona St.

NM said...

PWD -- Excellent points, but I would quibble a little bit with your UGA history. Sure, in the '50s we stunk, and maybe we were more lightly regarded than Bobby Dodd's Tech team (but I suspect that says more about how good Tech was then than anything about us). But before that, we were one of the better teams in the '40s and historically one of the upper echelon SEC teams -- it's not as if we climbed up from nothing like FSU, Miami, or even UF did. I'm thinking the only current mid-major team that could really compare to pre-Dooley UGA would be BYU, but even then, Georgia has always had the SEC name and teams to back us up, which is an asset BYU can't begin to match.

Anonymous said...

All the big Florida schools are excellent examples of Johnny-come-lately programs. As PWD says in the article, Miami thought about dropping football in the 70s, yet between 83-92 they won 4 NCs and were just shy of another 2 or 3. 1990 UF was one of two programs in the SEC (along with Vandy) that had never officially won a SEC title. FSU was irrelevant before the 80s. USF's entire football program has only been around since 97 and they worked to a BCS league in less than a decade.

The issue with these non-BCS teams is that the majority of them are out west (BYU, Utah, Fresno, Boise). Because of this they would only geographically make sense in the Pac 10 or Big 12. I doubt the Big 12 will expand, and the Pac 10 is the only conference with a current round robin true champion. Also many schools wouldn't pass the Pac-10 academic requirements (extensive graduate/PhD studies, research facilities, etc).

Creating a super conference would probably be the best bet.

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