Friday, May 8, 2009

House Cleaning

This Friday blogpost is going to be a veritable hodge-podge of stuff, so let's get to it, shall we?

When 5-for-7 rocks, and when it just sucks.
In sports, going 5-for-7 generally is good. If Amorrow Morgan is 5-for-7 shooting, that's awesome. If Megan Miller goes 5-for-7 in a doubleheader, we should probably win both games. If Kyle Blum or Russel Hill go 5-for-7 passing on a drive, ISU is probably gonna score. In all those ways, 5-for-7 rock. So when does 5-for-7 suck? When the Idaho State Journal runs something regarding Keith Goins, Ryan Anchetta-Major, and Travis Anderson's legal troubles five of the last seven days. Really? I understand the first deal (although the headline and positioning was a bit much), and I get the little thing on the editorial page today in a way, but seriously, this isn't a free for all on the athletic department.

The only day there was nothing regarding this information was in Tuesday and Wednesday's paper. Matt Stucki (Pocatello) won four awards last night in the Bennion Awards Banquet, and Michelle Grohs (Salmon) won three .... we honored 37 or so student-athletes. All that got into the paper on that tremendously positive story was a listing of the winners in the agate section. No photo of all of our student-athletes dress in ties and dresses looking great ... just the agate. Hell, let's see who did have a picture in today's sports ... Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, Kellis Robinett, Ben Crane (who you ask? he's on the PGA tour), a high school softball pitcher from Malad (name withheld due to NCAA rules), some high school tracksters, and LeBron James.

Now, as I have always stated, I don't write for the paper, and I have a great relationship with Tim, Kelvin, and Kellis, and maybe they have others above them making decisions on things (of which it should be pointed out that most of the incident stuff this week avoided the sports section, save for Kellis' column where he basically has decided ISU's hiring and firing practices ... I'll still buy his lunch next week though), but you would have to think that somewhere a picture could have made it. I will give kudos for running a small second APR story that painted a much truer picture of ISU's APR standing, brings me to my next nugget.

The NCAA loves the APR acronym, but I'll let Dave Hickman of the Charleston Daily Mail describe a great point in his column from yesterday.

"For starters, I'm never really sure what to call it because, apparently, neither is the NCAA. You know it as the APR, but that can refer to either Academic Progress Rate - which seems to be the NCAA's semi-official moniker for the system itself - or Academic Progress Report, which is what the group uses to refer to its yearly account of its findings. And just for kicks and giggles, the folks out there in Indianapolis also sometimes refer to the APP (Academic Performance Program), which seems to be the umbrella under which those APRs (take your pick) fall."

Nice right? Since the APR (take your pick) is here to stay, the NCAA has to do a better job at a couple of things with it.

#1) Retitle the reports.
When you go to the NCAA website and get a report, for instance, the one that came out last Wednesday, it is titled "NCAA Division I 2007-2008 Academic Progress Rate Public Report". Well guess what...that's wrong. It's not the 2007-08's the four-year rolling score, meaning the correct title is 2004-08. If the report is entitled that, then folks know that the men's basketball score of 897 is spread over two coaches, Doug Oliver and Joe O'Brien, not one. Instead, it looks like Joe is saddled with an 897. O'Brien's score since he's been here? 926, and that includes having to get rid of guys from the previous staff like Tony Jones, and stuff like that (not bagging on the previous staff here, just making a point).

#2) Make the individual year reports available.
Why is this not available? Well, each school has an APR officer who has a pass code to gain access to it, but why not the publicity people who have to get the information out? ISU's four-year APR scores are OK, but the single-year scores for this year are higher in 13 of our 15 sports. Why wouldn't the NCAA make that publically available? I get the four-year score, but let's take men's basketball. In Doug Oliver's final year, the score was 827 (43 of a possible 52 points). In Joe O'Brien's first year, the team got 45 of 50 points, a 900 score (Tony Jones hurt here, and then Joe cleaned a few guys out of the program, like Ryan Baumgartner off the top of my head). His score for last year, which was just released, was a 956 (43 of 45), losing a point for Steve Anderson, who transferred out just half-letter grade under the 2.6 GPA mark. The guys had a perfect fall, and so, just for arguements sake, let's say that men's basketball gets 52 of 52 points, a 1000 score. Next year's report will list ISU's score for 2008-09 as 920.

That 920 will get in the commented on potentially as a "lowlight" since it's no at the magical 925 mark .... but is that 920 a representative score? Should a new coach pay for a something that he could not control? Apparently, he has to, but in what I just described, O'Brien's APR for his three-years would be a stellar 952. So O'Brien has his squad performing OVER the national Division I average, yet according to the NCAA and the APR, ISU is below the mark? Denmark? Rotten? I think so....there has got to be a better way to properly showcase the improvements schools make, so that brings me to point number three

#3)Allow waivers to recuse schools that change coaches
Now, all of that might look like I'm blaming Doug Oliver and his staff, but to the contrary, Doug announced he was not coming back during in January of the season. Try as he and his staff might, he couldn't control if kids transferred out or went to class in April ... he wasn't here. Anytime there is a coaching change, the APR of either the first season of a new coach, or the last of the old coach will always be down. Look at football. John Zamberlin cleaned out the program, and because of that, he took a huge APR retention hit. But, the program is better off. Now, a few scholarship athletes do something stupid, and he boots three scholarship kids out of the program. Good for him, but bad too, because now his APR takes a hit. He kicks Rashaad Richards off the team. Rashaad is an APR hit. Coaches, who used to have to come to grips with the fact that letting go of a student-athlete might hurt his chances at winning on the field, now are put into a position of having to decide whether or not to clean out a program knowing it could devestate the APR, causing lost scholarships, meaning it's tough to compete, meaning it's hard to win and recruit better kids, and getting into a horrible catch-22.

#4) Actually post accurate information
When you go to ISU's website and click a boxscore, there is an understanding that you are downloading the official, correct stats. Well, guess what. If you pull ISU's 2006-07 APR score off the NCAA's official web ain't right. ISU had a few numbers changed on that report after an audit...some scores went up, some went down. However, if you go to the NCAA website, like all of the nation's media were sent to, the NCAA hasn't fixed the older reports to put the new stats on there. Seems like that would be something to get up there pronto. Hell, I'd like it if they just told the SIDs that the school was audited, because I didn't even think to check the numbers.

Admitting a Gaffe
This is sort of a BengalDen response, but some questions arose (legitimate ones I might add) about how the football incidents with the four guys was handled. Let me go with the best political answer I can give here. We tried something a little different. For 11...well, 10 years and 10 months, we have always been pretty quick with things like this in releasing a short statement that "X person has been suspended for a violation of team rules". However, different coaches take different tacts with them, and while I was prepared to let folks know if they asked that they were suspended for a violation of team rules, no one in the media brought it up to me. Why that is, I have no earthly clue, but it wasn't. It was also decided to not release anything about the suspensions until I was asked so as not to throw the folks under the bus so to speak, which is something I have great empathy for, and after nearly 11 years, I decided to alter my own policy stance and try something different. In the end, it was my call.

Suffice to say what can work for a coach somewhere else might not work here, and that is why I regard everything as a learning experience. I was OK with trying something different, but clearly if the Idaho State Journal is going to have something about this incident in the paper in five of the last seven days, we need to go back to the original plan of action.

While these things are discussed with coaches, the bottom line is it comes down to my call, and I went in a different direction with it....hindsight shows it was not the correct decision. We learn (me especially) and move on. I have prided myself since being here of being someone who listens to the fans, and tries to represent ISU as best as possible, and I don't mind answering questions about it. Hope that lends a little insight.

In other news, Matt Stucki needs a pick-up truck
Matt picked up four awards last night, and Michelle Grohs three at the Bennion Banquet. There is no funner event for me that the Bennion Banquet, of which I Ihave now MC'ed twice, which is great. After all the hard work during a season, I take great pride in getting to announce season awards and read the accomplishments of the award winners to their peers. Everyone is all dressed to the nines, it's a great times.

Graduation is Saturday!

Monday, May 4, 2009

...And For Good Measure It Rained Saturday Too

So when Idaho State defeated Utah back on Saturday night, December 6, when the game ended...I sorta had this blank expression, as if to say "holy crap...we just beat those guys". Everyone was happy, lots of hugs in the locker room, lots of giddy questions from reporters, more giddy answers from the players and coaches, but what I honestly thought about was this...I couldn't wait to go to church. I wanted all those people to pat me on the back...tell me they were there, and say what an awesome game it was. And they did, and it was good. That was a fun day for me.

Now, fast forward to this Sunday ... ummmmm ... I didn't want to go to church at all. I didn't want to hear all the snarky comments, and I didn't want the folks coming up to me saying they felt bad for me. While I would love to question the placement of the headline on Saturday's paper, or the fact that they used "End of the World" type (back when I was in Journalism class, anytime you used gigantic headline size for a story, it was considered "End of the World" type), I can't get mad at the paper. I can only get annoyed the people involved.

I'm writing all of this because I do read the Bengal Den, and I do hear things around town, and my wife hears it, and my kids hear it, and sometimes I think folks think we here at ISU don't mind these types of things when they occur. All I can tell you is my thoughts, both as an ISU employee, and as a resident of Pocatello. Both thoughts are the same ... I'm pissed.

I'm pissed because at ISU, there are about 250-300 student-athletes, and the actions of six student-athletes tarnishes the images of the others that do everything right, the ones that go to school, give back to the community, that want to stay in Pocatello and Southeast Idaho because they genuinely love it here.

I'm pissed because I get roped into it too. I purposely and proudly wore ISU gear on Saturday and Sunday because I am proud of our athletes, and our employees. Anyone working here will get looked at differently because of the last three incidents (even though everything was lumped together on Saturday, those were two separate incidents).

(Quick side note: I had someone come up to me Sunday and say how come this only happens with ISU and not in the high schools. I informed him that it does in fact happen, but they are all minors, so their names can't be in the paper ... remember, my kids went to high school here and know folks at all three ... I hear plenty).

I'm pissed because I want to see out athletes succeed. I want this town to be proud of ISU, and these things happen, and suddenly I hear things like "That's why I wear xxxxx gear instead of ISU". Of course, this stuff happens pretty much everywhere, but I digress.

I hate saying this, because in my position, you get to know these kids, and you learn to like them, but all those things have to be separated. I think the decision in the punishment was right, in that you do something like shoplifting, and you lose the privilege of playing sports and having a scholarship at ISU.

The timing of all this sucks by the way, in that this week is the start of the Bengal Foundation Fund Drive, and the Bennion Awards Banquet. Instead, this will hang like a dark cloud over it to a degree. It's hard to ask folks for money to support our program, to ask folks to spend their hard earned money on a ticket for a football game, to buy the shirts, to wear the hats, when a student-athlete comes out gets arrested for shoplifting, I get it ... it's like a slap in the face to our fans.

But remember too it's a slap in the face to the peers of these kids. Softball had an awesome season....they give back to the community. They go to class, they do the right things, but they are now dragged into this as well. Men's basketball has a great year, but now they are also guilty by association. Also, the football players...there's 80 guys that are doing the right things...they are reading at elementary schools, they are sacking potatoes with the food bank to help the needy, they are helping freshmen move into the dorms, but they also are labeled unfairly.

The football team's entire year of doing good things in our community should be ruined by a few pieces of Samsonite that decided to break the law, and are paying the price for it.

What our fans need to know and understand is that of the six student-athletes in the football program that have slipped up in the last three months, three have been dismissed from the program, scholarship revoked, and are gone. The others were suspended, and are now on probation, meaning they basically can't screw up again. They didn't run wind sprints. They didn't have to write an essay. They all faced a variety of serious punishments (and if you think a suspension isn't serious, think back to last basketball season when Austin Kilpatrick was suspended by coach O'Brien for violating a team rule, and think how long it took him to recover from that), and I think it's safe to say that these incidents are taken seriously by the man in charge in Jeff Tingey.

I haven't touched on Coach Key at all with this, and Cherokee's leave of absence ironically ended the same day that Kelvin called informing me that a person in the community sent him an email about it, along with the other kids (I'm guessing it was not a season ticket holder that emailed him). Key will have to carry this to any other coaching stop he goes to, and now has permanent baggage, so I think for a first offense, albeit a serious one, his punishment works. As a coach, you want to coach, and he couldn't, forcing a big shuffle among the coaches and players.

I will say this ... I personally don't drink (not a religious thing by the why, just a personal choice), and I haven't seen much good come out of it, so it's one of those lost things on me. I don't know Key's circumstances, but I know the statistics of it all. Drunk driving is serious, and you can go to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (M.A.D.D) to get all the statistics. Hopefully, he learns from it, and I hope the other six learn from their actions as well and become better people. I've made mistakes in my life and learned from them, and I'm sure if you've read this far, you have made them too, and learned from them as well. Any questions or comments can be left here, or you can email me at as well.

OK, on to other things.....
Who the heck is Carmen Harris?
Ever play table top sports games? I must confess, I still have a few, like All-Star Baseball, Talking Monday Night Football, and I'm dying to find this one. Someone apparently has their own updated card sets for Statis Pro Basketball with Idaho State's women's team for this year, complete with fake names, although you can figure out folks by the height. Nice.

They have numbers...
Evan Dietrich-Smith is #62, and D.J. Clark is #32 for the Panthers.

Holy cow....

Brandon Veltri Named Head Coach at Carroll
Former Doug Oliver graduate assistant Brandon Veltri is now the head man at Carroll College. This is noteworthy because he was the assistant coach and SPORTS INFORMATION DIRECTOR. Very cool.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

O'Brien Can Remake Bengal Hoops Program

(Author's note: I apologize for the spacing on this post -- I've tried to insert spaces after each paragraph about 15 times, but when I publish the post, they disappear.)

Joe O'Brien (right) is in a rare position -- he has the opportunity to completely remake the Idaho State men's basketball program, and he has the unusual luxury of a three-year contract extension in which to do it.

From team composition to recruiting philosophy, from the makeup and approach of his coaching staff to his non-conference scheduling, O'Brien has the chance to put a lasting imprint on the Bengal program over the next several months. It will be fascinating to see how he approaches this assignment.
Let's take a look at each particular element:
By this time next year, O'Brien will have replaced three-fourths of his roster. As many as nine seniors will depart after the season. O'Brien has said he hopes to sign four or five of the replacements in the early signing period this November, followed by another four or five late signees next spring. He has also said he'd like to split the signees as evenly as possible between high school players and junior college transfers.
O'Brien's recruiting philosophy has been an evolving one in his first three years here. He started out by signing all high school players, and all of them were in the 6-4 to 6-6 range -- typical, Big Sky Conference "tweeners." His next two recruiting classes shifted hard toward the junior college ranks, and included an emphasis on size -- including 7-foot and 6-11 centers.
Idaho State's last two teams have enjoyed a distinct size advantage over most Big Sky teams, frequently putting a couple of 6-5 or 6-6 guards on the floor, along with at least one of the two big men. O'Brien, whose emphasis has always been on the defensive side of the ball, liked to point out that Idaho State felt comfortable switching every screen -- which means, in essence, that the Bengals had enough size at every position that the guards were comfortable playing the other team's "bigs."
The Bengals' downfall, however, has been matching up with the smaller, quicker guards that have dominated the league the last two seasons. O'Brien has used his one open scholarship this spring to recruit a more traditional point guard, Broderick Gilchrest, a JC transfer. With as many as nine open scholarships next year, O'Brien will have the opportunity to recruit to whatever team composition he desires -- high school or junior college dominated; bigger or quicker guards; the 6-10 to 7-foot "true post players," or smaller, more athletic forwards that are more typical in the Big Sky.
O'Brien will also have an opportunity to reconsider where he will focus his recruiting efforts. Right now, most of his players come from the Midwest or the Southeast, with as many as four scholarship players coming from Memphis alone. Unlike his predecessor's staff, O'Brien has done very little recruiting from within the state of Idaho, in the northwest as a whole, or in the Scenic West Athletic Conference, the premier JUCO league in the west.
Doug Oliver brought in a steady stream of Idaho players who grew into excellent contributors over their careers -- David Schroeder, Logan Kinghorn and Matt Stucki, for example. He also had a lot of success with SWAC players like Tim Erickson and Scott Henry.

O'Brien, meanwhile, has felt more comfortable in his Midwest roots and with his "Memphis connection." His only Idaho recruit, Steve Anderson of Nampa, suffered from a string of injuries and didn't get much of an opportunity to contribute his freshman season, then went on a mission. It's uncertain if he'll be back. O'Brien's only dip into the SWAC ranks, meanwhile, was a decidely mixed bag -- Felix Caspari turned out to be the "energy player" the Bengals hoped for off the bench, but Kal Bay was hurt or sick for much of the season, and didn't appear to really fit into O'Brien's system when he did play. He wound up transferring out after a season.
In his first three seasons, O'Brien has shown a real penchant for taking on all-comers: UCLA, Arizona State, Oregon, Wisconsin, Marquette, Illinois, Brigham Young, Utah, Utah State, Iowa, Kansas State, the list goes on and on. Part of that schedule came from revenue-producing requirements -- the $300,000 the basketball team generated in the 07-08 season was the third highest source of revenue for the athletic department, behind state funding and student fees.

O'Brien also had an opportunity to bring in the three "big hitters" from Utah this past season: BYU, Utah and Utah State. He'll have to return trips to those three teams and continue to generate revenue with big name money games next year. But O'Brien has already said he wants to tame down the killer schedule he put together last year, a schedule which made it almost impossible for Idaho State to book a winning record and get into any post-season tournament other than the NCAA spot reserved for the Big Sky champion.
Because of the previous commitments to Utah's big three and the revenue requirements, it will take more than one year for O'Brien's "kinder, gentler" scheduling philosophy to take root. It will be interesting to see how it's manifested. It will also be interesting to see if the University of Idaho is part of that picture. O'Brien has expressed reluctance to travel to the Palouse to play Don Verlin's improving program. Will that mean a temporary end to the in-state rivalry?
Coaching Staff
Associate head coach Steve Swanson was the man behind the Bengals' offensive approach, and he is leaving the program to get his doctorate degree. Swanson took a lot of heat early in the year, when the Bengals' set offense looked disorganized and unimaginative. He got some love later in the season, though, for making adjustments like implementing the "empty post" offense that pulled center Lucas Steijn out high and revolved around a lot of high pick-and-rolls. Steijn and guards Amorrow Morgan and Stucki thrived in the offense as the Bengals got hot down the stretch.
What will O'Brien's coaching staff look like next year? Will he replace Swanson, or simply go back to the smaller, three-person staff that Oliver relied upon? O'Brien has said he will take over the controls of the offense -- what will that offensive approach look like, and will O'Brien's involvement in it dilute the time he's spent as the master of the Bengals' defense over the years?
O'Brien has shown a great deal of growth in his three years at the Idaho State helm --a three-year run that has been pretty successful on the court, at least in conference play. He now has the advantage of having those three years of experience under his belt, along with the security of a three-year contract that gives him the freedom to truly make this program his own. It will be fun to see what he makes of it all.
--Brad B.
And thanks for being a Bengal fan, it ain't always easy, but it's always fun.