Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Gem State Joys....

There are a few things that the month of February brings....it brings Groundhogs Day (commemorated with Punxsutawney Phil), Valentine's Day (commemorated with hearts and chocolates), and President's Day (sadly commemorated with a Mattress Sale at J.C. Penney's). The other thing February brings is National Signing Day, and for Idaho State, the requisite argument over Idaho athletes.

Now, as I delve into this, I can't really comment on certain things due to NCAA regulations (remember, the Bible gave us 10 commandments, and people struggle with those...the NCAA gives us 440 pages of commandments...you do the math).

Anyways, John Zamberlin signed five Idaho kids to scholarships, upping his total on his tenure to 18. California led the way this year with 12, and then it went Washington with 7, Idaho with 5, Hawai'i, Arizona, and Utah each with 1. The comments I always hear can be broken down into a select few, and I'll go through each of them....

Why don't we sign more Idaho athletes?
The answer is we try. I'm not allowed to say who we offered to and who we didn't, but we offered many Idaho athletes....they don't all chose to go to Idaho State. John Zamberlin's summer camp includes so many Idaho High School teams now, and that helps recruiting tremendously, just in the relationship aspect of things. Larry Lewis had a very good commitment to Idaho, and John Zamberlin has taken that vision and expanded it.

If Montana can win with all Montana kids, why can't ISU just get Idaho kids and win with them?
This is an apples and oranges argument. First of all, the University of Montana is the largest school in their state in terms of athletics (sorry Bobcat fans). In Idaho, the Bengals are #3, behind Boise State, and then Idaho (sorry Bengal fans). Montana doesn't have to deal with the issues that ISU does in relations to the pecking order in the state. Start adding in the facilities argument, the desire for many Idaho athletes that are LDS to either play in Utah or attend BYU (don't underestimate that), and the fact that last year Idaho State had 29% of the roster as Idahoans is solid.

Compare it this way...in 2008, Boise State and Idaho had 203 roster slots, and a grand total of 28 went to Idaho kids (mostly walk-ons) ... that's just 13.8%. At Idaho State, 23 of 81 roster slots went to Idaho kids, with well over half on scholarship I believe, and that percentage is 28.4%, more than double the other two institutions.

Why so many kids from California?
This is easy....according the census.gov, the population of Idaho in July, 2008 was1,523,816 people, spread out over 83574 square miles. The same census pegs California's population at 36,756,666 people, and Washington as 6,549,224 people. Let's stay with California though. Say you wanted to recruit just the Sacramento Area and a 15-mile radius around the city center. According the the census, there are over 2.12 million people in that little area, compared to just 1.5 million in the entire state of Idaho. There are just so many kids in California looking for places to play...it's only natural to go there. Look at it this way combined with the above stat...the population of Idaho represents 0.4% of the entire population of the United States, and yet, the football roster is made up of 28.4% from the state...that's a heck of a ratio for us.

My tax dollars go to ISU, so I want scholarships to go to Idaho kids.
Actually, tax dollars (mine included) go to ISU for the programs, but the scholarships are fully raised on donations and contributions to the athletic scholarship fund.

Anyways, all of that is to basically say that John Zamberlin and the football program are going a great job of showcasing the school to in-state kids, and trying to get them to stay at home and play for Idaho State. Sorry if this sounds like something from the high-horse, because really it's not, but I know there has been some internet discussion of this topic, and I thought I could do more justice with a blog-post, plus, my brain is currently fried dealing with softball, so this was a welcome diversion LOL.

Wanna Help? Buy a Locker!
The locker dedication project is in full swing....for those of you that read the Journal's piece on Holt Arena (which my name was spelled wrong and I didn't like the articles anyway, because they were basically negative and ill-informed. Really...the only fan they could interview was one who said they don't go to the games because their son doesn't think the team will win? That's your source? The journalism teacher in me bristled....), they mentioned a wooden stand alone locker in the middle of the locker room. This is why it was there. Seriously, you can attach your name to a piece of ISU that will last for a long, long time...your own personal legacy. (NOTE: That web page went live around 10:30 am, and within three hours Donna Hays had several phone calls from ex-players wanting the contribute!) Hey, if you can't afford the $500, five people can join in, and dedicate a locker together as well.

Jay McMillin, Live in Your Living Room
If you watched the Altitude game on Sunday (we were traveling back from Greeley so I missed it), but former Portland State Viking Rashad Floyd did the color commentary, and all in all, he held his own. This week with the game at Idaho State, ISU's own Jay McMillin will be the color analyst for the ISU/EWU game, which is at 4:07 pm. Jay's Big Sky knowledge is excellent, and he did a great job on the radio for ISU against Boise State earlier this year, so I think Jay will be a star on Saturday.

Bengals to Face Vikings Shorthanded

It's not bad enough that Portland State has dominated Idaho State in men's basketball of late, and that the Bengals are desperate for a win to end a four-game losing streak. To further compound matters, it will be a short-handed ISU that hosts the Vikings in Holt Arena Thursday night.

Bengal Coach Joe O'Brien (above) said on our coaches show last night that he does not expect forward Demetrius Monroe to be available for the Vikings Thursday night, and there is a possibility the Bengals' leading rebounder could be sidelined for the rest of the season with a knee injury. The ISU medical staff is in the process of scheduling an MRI, but O'Brien said Monroe's recovery from the injury, which he suffered in practice early last week, has not been good. He had a lot of swelling on the flight to Greeley last week, and was unable to practice at all on Monday.

In addition, guard Kal Bay (broken bone in his shooting hand) is still not ready to take the floor, and the Bengals' leading scorer, Amorrow Morgan, remains in Memphis tending to his ailing father. O'Brien is hopeful Morgan will make it back to Pocatello for the Portland State game, but that all depends on his father's situation.

So expect to see a lot more of freshman PG Sherrod Baldwin, who played capably in 30 minutes against Northern Colorado on Saturday, and SG Austin Kilpatrick, who emerged from his slump to drill four three-pointers against the Bears. Portland State causes all kinds of match-up problems for the Bengals with their quickness, and O'Brien said he'll likely use a lot more of the four-guard lineup he put on the floor against UNC. The Vikings scored 30 points off Bengal turnovers the first time they played this season, so taking care of the basketball will be at a premium for ISU Thursday night. That probably means more minutes for guards and small forwards, and less for the "bigs."

That quickness matchup issue has been bothering the Bengals all season, and O'Brien said on the coaches show last night that he's looking to tweak the ISU roster prior to next season to try to address it. O'Brien said he was on the road last week, looking at a junior college point guard who might be a partial solution. O'Brien emphasized that he believes strongly in Baldwin's long-term potential at the position, but he wants to bring in another "true PG" to help next year.

O'Brien's problem is that he may not have a scholarship to offer the junior college PG. ISU loses only two seniors after this year, they signed high school SG Eric Segert last fall, and they have promised a scholarship to F Rolando Little, a junior college transfer, IF he gets academically eligible by next fall. But O'Brien said he's approached the JC guard about the potential of walking on; he also said there is the possibility that a current Bengal might choose to leave the team in search of more playing time elsewhere. Stay tuned.

Big Couple of Weeks for the Vikings

While the Bengals are trying to stay alive for a post-season playoff berth, Portland State is trying to maintain its feint hopes of winning the BSC regular season title and hosting the conference tournament. Here's hoping PSU considers its seven straight wins over Idaho State and looks ahead instead to its big rematch with Weber State in Ogden Saturday night.

The Wildcats have a game-and-a-half lead over PSU and Montana in the standings, and the advantage of having beaten PSU already on the Vikings' home floor. Weber also has a potential tiebreaker in its favor in having beaten Montana in Ogden, while the Vikings split their season series with the Griz. If Weber and PSU would happen to tie for first and split their two meetings, the next tiebreaker is how they finished against the third place-team head to head. Weber still has to play in Missoula, but at least they have an opportunity to claim that tiebreaker with a win there.

Portland State has announced if it does slip into the conference host role, the tourney would be played at Memorial Coliseum. Conference rules prohibit PSU from hosting the tourney in the cozy Stott Center on campus (capacity: 1,500), and the Rose Garden, where the Vikings hosted the tourney last year, is already booked for a Trailblazers game.

The Vikings are going to use the Stott Center for a nationally (kinda) televised game with Boise State Feb. 21 as part of ESPN's Bracketbusters event. The game will be televised on ESPNU, which has a much smaller audience than the normal ESPN and ESPN2 outlets. It will be interesting to see if the Vikings, who have averaged 1,066 fans for their home games, can fill tiny Stott for the ESPNU cameras.

--Brad B.

And thanks for being a Bengal fan -- it ain't always easy, but it's always fun.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

This Bengal Deserves All-BSC

Michelle Grohs (right) has always been a member of the supporting cast -- it was always Natalie Doma and Andrea Lightfoot who got the headlines on Idaho State's outstanding women's basketball teams. Grohs, a 6-foot senior from Salmon, has always been a nice complement, shooting the three well and blocking shots as a good weak side defender. But with Lightfoot and Doma around, she was never going to get star billing.

This year, with both Doma and Lightfoot out of eligibility and injuries and attrition reducing the Bengal roster to a bare minimum, Grohs has had more than an ample opportunity to shine. She is taking full advantage of that opportunity.

In a crucial game on Saturday against Northern Colorado, Grohs poured in a career high 27 points and pulled down 10 rebounds to lead Idaho State to a harrowing 63-58 win over the Bears. She drained three line-drive treys, and demonstrated her athleticism with a couple of nifty catch-and-shoots from inside the arc. And while Grohs is not your traditional post-up, back-to-the basket forward, she even dropped in a couple of turnaround jumpers from the baseline. A daunting finishing schedule and the Bengals' bare-bones roster will still make it an uphill climb for Idaho State to make the Big Sky post-season tournament. But if the Bengals do make it, there's no question that Grohs will be a key contributor.

Heading into Saturday's game, Grohs was ranked No. 1 in the Big Sky in three-point shooting and blocked shots, and would have ranked No. 1 in free throw shooting if she'd had enough attempts to qualify. She leads Idaho State in both scoring and rebounding. No matter where the Bengals finish in the Big Sky playoff race, Grohs' production deserves first-team all-conference recognition.

What Is Proper Message Board Etiquette?

I have been reading the debate on the Bengal message board involving my partner in this blog, ISU SID Frank Mercogliano, over proper message board etiquette. Frank took exception to a post noting that Bengal leading scorer Amorrow Morgan would not play in Saturday night's game at Northern Colorado because of a family emergency. (And let me say that my family's thoughts and prayers are with Amorrow and his family).

The debate then continued into whether athletic department employees, including coaches, administrators and SIDS, should be posting on messages boards, or reading and reacting to posts on those boards. There were are lot of differing opinions offered on the topic, and I'm not going to jump into the debate here.

What I would note is that the evoluation of cyber space has created a new set of communciations challenges for a whole range of "establishment" organizations like academia, business, government --and athletic departments. When I started in the newspaper business in the late 1970s, there were a few outlets where people could go for news and comment about these "establishment" organizations. The organizations only had to monitor those few news outlets -- the local newspaper, three or four television stations, and a few local radio stations, and know what was being said about them.

If they disagreed with what was being reported or with the commentary about their organization, they could call the reporter or editor and complain, or write a letter to the editor. In extreme instances, they could simply refuse to cooperate with a specific reporter or news organization in the future.

With the rise of the Internet, however, there are message boards and blogs, and the ability to post commentary on traditional news stories posted on the web sites of more traditional media like newspapers and television stations. For the most part, posters can say just about anything they want, with no standard of accuracy or fairness, and they can do so anonymously. Organizations like athletic departments have to decide if they are going to allow ongoing public comment on their operations without any accountability.

Because I'm in the communications business, I've taken several seminars on the so-called "new media," and I can tell you, business is not sitting back and allowing cyber space to control how they are being perceived. Southwest Airlines, for example, has full-time employees who do nothing but monitor the web for references to their company in blogs and on message boards, and then respond to comment they feel is inaccurate or needs some sort of a response.

I recently took a seminar from a gentleman who writes a travel blog. After a particularly disagreeable experience with a rental car agency that left him standing out in the rain at an airport for an extended period of time, he wrote a blistering review of the company's customer service practices on his blog. The very same day, he was contacted by a secretary who works for the company who asked him if she could provide him with vouchers for a free rental in the future. He was duly impressed.

I know there is an ongoing debate within athletic departments about whether they should monitor message boards and blogs, and if so, who should do it, and how they should respond to criticism, rumors and suggestions. I don't think anybody has developed the "perfect" philosophy, but I would suggest that in this day and age, athletic departments ignore cyber space at their own peril. And I think it's incredibly naive of message board posters to think that coaches, athletes, administrators and their families don't pay attention to what is posted, or that they shouldn't react to it.

Finally, I would suggest posters at least consider the Mark Schlereth policy of cyber posting. The former Denver Bronco and current ESPN analyst says he gets a ton of email and comments on his web postings, and he asks the posters to apply this approach to their posts -- if you wouldn't say it to my face, don't post it anonymously and ask me to take it seriously. I must say, I've done my fare share of anonymous posting over the years, and some of it would not fit Schlereth's standard. But in the future, I will try to live up to that standard. I think it would help contribute to a more civil and intelligent cyber universe. That doesn't mean people should censor their criticisms of coaches, players or administrators -- but offer that criticism in a civil and thoughtful fashion. And take accountability for it -- don't be surprised if a coach or athlete takes exception to your thoughts, even if you think they are "anonymous."
I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below.

--Brad B.

And thanks for being a Bengal fan -- it ain't always easy, but it's always fun.