Friday, May 22, 2009

And now for a different view....

Well, it seems there are plenty of folks with plenty of things to say about the new cost cutting measures of the Big Sky Conference...Kellis Robinett of the Idaho State Journal had a regular article that is pretty straight forward, but he takes a few potshots at the Big Sky in his blog. Seton Sobolewski wasn't available for the article as he honeymooning in Costa Rica, but there is no truth that he actual is down there for the taping of this, although that would be totally awesome. The Missoulian didn't get into it all that much, by Skylar Archibald in Portland brings up a tremendously valid point, one I'll get to in a minute, in his Vanguard Blog. There was also news from Jason Asay in Ogden. All of this overshadowed the women's basketball news for ISU and the new Friday-Saturday showcase of dueling Ashleys/Ashleighs/Ashlees (your pick).

But for a moment, let me break down some of the changes made, and some of the implications they might have, not just on ISU, but other's pretty interesting.

The biggest thing is the Friday/Saturday scheduling for basketball. I'm glad the conference is talking about the saving of money, and yes, it should save a little, but how much is really negligible (the reduction of travel parties does that). However, I keep hearing about all the classtime that is saved by doing this. I looked at ISU's men's and women's schedules....wanna guess how much class time the men save? Two days. They will save one day before the Montana State trip, and one before the Portland State trip. Wow....two whole days, but it gets better. ISU's women save....wait for Yep, one. They will save Wednesday, January 21. They get to go to class that day....that's it. All the back-to-backs for that.

My issue isn't even that...I mean, the issue is the competitive disadvantage, right? It's harder to win on the road, right? Honestly, I don't know if it is or if it isn't, but here's where my problem is. The Big Sky uses the "lone wolf" schedule, in which since there are nine teams, eight are paired as travel partners (ISU and WSU, NAU and NCOL, UM and MSU, PSU and EWU) and Sacramento State is the lone wolf, so they play the travel partners on a weekend (they would ISU and WSU on the same weekend, and host the same two on a weekend).

The question is does the lone wolf bear a huge brunt here? The week ISU plays SAC, that's their only game, which would mean that on January 30, when ISU has a week to prep for the Hornets, Sacramento State has to play at Weber State on Friday night. Thank you Big Sky for that one, but Sacramento State can't be thrilled about that at all.

Also, ISU's women were scheduled to play at Montana on December 31 (Thursday) and at MSU on Saturday, January 2. Well, Montana didn't want to host that day, so we moved the game at Montana to Monday, January 4. Do we now have to move it again to January 1? We have signatures from everyone, including the league office, but does this new rule mean that schedule change is null-and-void? There are so many questions....

Also, speaking of the schedule, while it isn't official yet, ISU has a horribly bad break. ISU hosts traditional rivals and big crowd getters Montana and Montana State on January 1 and January 3. Originally the games were Thursday December 31 and Saturday January 2. However, the new scheduling change means ISU has to host Montana on January 1. That'll go over well....and then because it sounds like Montana State might be ISU's Altitude game, that will be January 3. ISU will definitely take a ticket hit, one that the $10,000 Altitude hosting fee might or might not help. Again, it sounds like Weber State is refusing to host a Sunday game, stating the large LDS influence in Ogden and that it would be tough to get folks to work at the contests (concessions, ticket takers, etc.). ISU does get to host Weber State on a Saturday night this year with out a Thursday game in front of it, so that's a nice change.

Weber State also refuses to host soccer games on Sundays, which is why ISU gets a bunch of Saturday games in different years, although it doesn't affect ISU at all next year.

Anyways, the Friday/Saturday thing isn't horrid for ISU, although that ruling, coupled with the reduction of the travel party to 17 members, means it's really tough now for road teams. The radio/TV/video folks don't count against the number, but here is what you are left with....

One head coach
Three assistant coaches
One trainer
12 players

Yes, men's basketball had 13 scholarship players, and women's basketball has 15. Now, if you know you are going to be maybe that 13th going to school there? Maybe not, right? Now, you are playing Friday/Saturday ... can't bring a manager at all. Sports information guy? Nope, he's out too. Director of Operations? Nope, he stays at home, despite the fact he handles the hotel and money and tickets on the road. For ISU, this is devastating, as in the past, the four coaches wouldn't go with the team to pregame meal, instead going over last minute planning and adjustments. So, either Tom the trainer is now in charge of the money (like Phil Luckey was back in the 1970s ... is the Dharma Initiative coming back too?) or an assistant coach will have to go.

The issue with the travel restriction is it just seems like the institution should be able to make this decision. I mean here is the funny thing...say Jeff Tingey needed to accompany the team on a road trip. He can't. Well, he can, but up to the Montana's, he can't get on the bus. He can't get meal money. He can't be a part of the team. He has to drive separately (which is an expense), stay separate from the team (expense), and eat separate (ditto). I can't go.

The other bad part of this is just playing Friday and Saturday...I mean, the trainers, myself, people that work at the games, we sort of like having a Friday night where I can see my family....catch a movie, something like that. Well, thanks for taking those wife was thrilled, and I'm sure all the volunteer workers and folks who make minimum wage working the events were thrilled at losing six Fridays during January and February. No one thought of that one.

The other thing is the plane fare deal. Now, the new rule is if a trip is under 450 miles, air travel is prohibited...on problem. How is 450 miles defined? ISU to Cheney is more than problem. ISU to Portland State is more than 450...again, no problem. Portland to Cheney however is 338 miles. Portland State and Eastern have to drive to each other, but does ISU have to drive to Cheney from Portland? We have always flown it, but does that 450 figure mean everyone is busing that? Let's figure that one out.

This year's men's game at PSU on Feb. 26 ends at 9:00 pm or so. Now, you can shower, eat pizza on the bus, and ddrive to Cheney, putting you there at 4:00 am or so, sleeping on the bus, or you can go back to the hotel, leave at like 8:00 am, and get to Cheney around 2:00 pm. Well, you have to go to Spokane to stay anywhere comfortable and have some food options and be near the airport for the flight back, so you get there at 2:30 pm. After checking in and everything, it's probably 3:00 pm when you go to eat pregame, and 3:30 when the food starts showing and you start eating. Then it's back to the hotel for a little bit to get taped, and then off to the arena. I just don't see how that's conducive to basketball, but I can come back the other way too, in that when I traveled last year, I was usually OK on the Friday travel was Saturday that I dragged a bit, so maybe it won't be as bad as most folks think. Sure, NBA guys play back-to-back, but they have charted flights, five-star hotels, and you know, "people". Oh, and a paycheck....a big giant paycheck....don't forget that one.

Of course, you have to be at an airport minimum two hours early nowadays, so it's almost as bad flying, and what if there is a delay anywhere? ISU had so many flight delays last year I lost count. Now, the bigger issue is the fact that when those two teams come to play ISU and WSU, it's a piece of cake. Game ends for PSU at Weber State at 9:00 pm. Well, they get pizza, and are on the road at 9:45 pm, and they can be in Pocatello, into their rooms at 11:30 pm. They get a great night's sleep, and they have no travel at all. None. So, who has it tougher....ISU and WSU at home, or Portland State and Eastern at home? Doesn't take Ken Jennings to figure out that Friday-Saturday makes the ISU/WSU road trip the easiest one of all, unless we can convince the weather people to seed the clouds just right to shut the Malad Pass down.

I understand the saving of money, and I get the whole thing, but the conference said this will save about $415,000, so divide that by nine, and the average savings per school is $46,111. Is it worth that? Is all of this headache...the extra travel, playing on Fridays trying to get folks to go to back-to-back games, dissing the ISU, MSU, and NAU track programs (it's a little tougher to have meets when there's a basketball game going on) ... all this for $46,111. I personally struggle to see it.

Sadly, everyone, Kellis especially, harps on the Big Sky Conference office, but it wasn't the conference office that did this, and it was done by majority vote, so it is the majority will of the league to try this out again, and really, sometimes you have to try things, so I'm honestly OK with it as long as it gets reevaluated.

I did have someone mention that, if this was tried before and rescinded after one year, why try it again? Well, look at the A.D.s in the league now compared to then....they have all changed over. Every single one of them from that 2001-02 season when the change was made. Terry Wanless has been at Sacramento State since May of 2002, right when they went back to the old way of doing things. Only Mike Adras on the men's side and Carla Taylor and Robin Selvig on the women's side have been around from the first Friday-Saturday experiment, so couple all those new folks, and I can see how they are giving this a try. You have the give the league presidents and leaders kudos for trying things and experimenting with things, and seeing where things can go in an effort to streamline things.

I was glad they kept the basketball tournaments at six teams, because of the implication of the playoff chase on attendance, and I feel for the volleyball teams and tennis teams that saw their tourneys downsized a bit, but in reality, those tournaments don't make money, and the basketball programs can and frequently do, so I get that as well.

There were also some travel restrictions in football (basically chopping the road team down two members to 54), and in reality, basketball teams can get away with 12 players on the road. Honestly, how often do 13 players play? Only in blowouts (think Tom Taylor for ISU...he'd have been that 13th guy most likely last year), so you can survive, but it's just a rough thing to have to leave a kid home. I can't imagine who stays home from trips this year.

Much like a recruiting class, this can't be deciphered until we see it in action, and the potential is there for this to make things in basketball very exciting. It certainly makes road wins hard to come by, and more coveted than ever. Time will tell.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Sobolewski Keeps Bringing in Talent

Even as the roster of recruits from the previous coaching regime leave, ISU women's basketball Coach Seton Sobolewski continues to bring in new talent.

ISU announced two more recruits Wednesday as the late signing period comes to a close. They are: 5-9 guard Brea Matthews, the North County (San Diego) Area player of the year (right); and Ashlee Rigter, a 6-4 center from New Zealand. (See her youtube highlights here, I believe she's No. 13):

Matthews brings size and athleticism to the wing position, where the Bengals struggled against the Big Sky's better teams last year -- especially after Chelsea Pickering went down with a knee injury. She averaged 15 points and -- probably more impressively, eight rebounds a game for a very good Mt. Carmel team.

Rigter, meanwhile, joins Ashleigh Vella, 6-1, and Shannon Byrne, 6-3, as likely center/power forwards in this recruiting class, as Sobolewski tries to address the fact the Bengals were frequently smaller at every position on the floor last year. With Matthews and Morgan Wohltman, 5-11, both coming in at the wing positions, and 6-1 Ashleigh Smith looking like a candidate at both the small and power forward slots, the Bengals appear to have recruited a lot of depth and flexibility in this class. Point guard Kaela Oakes rounds out the group of newcomers.
PS: Will There be an Ash-1, Ash-2, Ash-3?

You may have noticed that this year's recruiting class includes three girls whose first names are pronounced Ash-lee (although there are two different spellings represented). Just wondering if Sobolewski is going to assign numbers to each girl to differentiate? Or will they be known by their last names? Nicknames?

I did a little research, by the way, and Ashley (the Americanized spelling) was the second most popular name for girls in the United States in the 1990s, behind only Jessica. The trend must have held worldwide, because two of ISU's Ash-lees come from Down Under -- Vella from Australia and Rigter from New Zealand.

The Price of Success

When Ken Bone left Portland State to become the new basketball coach at Washington State this spring, he left a pair of legacies: back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances; and a spotty academic record that has cost the Vikings two scholarships and practice time for new coach Tyler Gleving and his team.

Bone made artful use of Division 1 transfers over the past two seasons, leading PSU to one regular season, and two post-season conference championships. The downside to that strategy, however, has been left for Gelving, an assistant to Bone who knew what he was getting into when he inherited the PSU job. When the NCAA released its Academic Progress Rate results, Portland State was well below the 925 target. As a result, the NCAA docked the PSU basketball program two scholarships, and reduced the amount of practice time Gelving can have with his squad by four hours a week -- 25 percent.

Gelving put on a brave front in this interview with the Oregonian: He pointed out that PSU has been successful with a reduced roster in the past, and that the limit in practice time, while regrettable, is something that can be overcome.

All of which is probably true, but the real pain may come as Gelving builds his roster in subsequent years. You have to think the PSU administration is going to be much less amenable to taking D-1 transfers, particularly those in questionable academic standing, in the future. Even JUCO transfers will likely be scrutinized much more closely, and JUCOs and D-1s have been the lifeblood of the PSU program over the years. Those doors, while not entirely closed to Gelving, are likely to be much more difficult to get through in the next few recruiting seasons.

--Brad B.

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

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Good News and Bad from Big Sky Meetings

Well, there was good news and bad out of the Big Sky Conference annual meetings this week. The good news: the conference announced today that it is sticking with six-team tournament fields for both the men's and women's basketball post-season tournaments.

The bad news: the conference is going to Friday-Saturday night rotations for conference games in both men's and women's basketball.

Keeping the post-season tournaments at six teams apiece means there will continue to be more meaningful games for more teams later in the season. That's probably the most important news to come out of the meetings, where the league presidents considered -- and passed -- a raft of cost-cutting proposals.

The second most important news was the decision to play conference games on Fridays and Saturdays, rather than the current Thursday-Saturday setup, with the exception of trips that include Flagstaff, Ariz. The league tried this approach for a season earlier this decade, and the negative response from coaches was almost universal. The requirement to play on Friday night, then get up and travel the next day and play again that night reduces rest and game preparation time, and makes it much more difficult for road teams to compete. All of that to eliminate a total of three extra days on the road for each school.

While the league claims in its release today that it sampled both coaches and players and got positive response to the Friday-Saturday rotation, there is a reason the league dropped it after just one year when they tried it for the 2001-2002 season. I don't remember one player or coach endorsing the concept after they tried it that season.

Other cost-savings measures to pass included: no air travel allowed for trips of less than 450 miles; reducing post-season tournaments in volleyball and tennis from six teams to four; and limiting travel parties in basketball to 17 coaches, players and administrators. Measures that were defeated included reducing travel parties in soccer, football and volleyball; and eliminating the men's basketball game of the week on Altitude Sports.

--Brad B.

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

Monday, May 18, 2009

Big Sky Meetings on Cost Cuts Begin Today

The Big Sky Conference's annual spring meeting begins today, and the conference will consider a long list of potential cost-savings ideas in several sports. We've discussed these in previous blogs, but it appears I misread a note from Jon Kasper, the Big Sky Conference spokesman, about the status of a couple of key proposals -- reducing the number of teams that are eligible for the men's and women's basketball tournaments from 6 to 4. I took Jon's comment that both were "tabled for spring" to mean they were off the table, but that's not true, according to a story in today's Missoulian.

Also under consideration at the Big Sky gathering, which runs through Wednesday, are proposals to:

  • Withdraw from the basketball Game of the Week contract with Altitude;
  • Make Idaho State the permanent host site for the indoor track and field championships.
  • The Missoulian also reports ( that the proposal to play men's and women's conference basketball games on Friday-Saturday nights, rather than the current Thursday-Saturday format, is still on the table.

Already approved by the conference were motions to reduce the volleyball and tennis conference championships from 6 to 4 teams; suspending the RPI requirements for basketball scheduling; and doing away with the annual Big Sky Conference football summer kick-off meetings in Park City, Utah.

We'll keep you posted as we hear more from the Big Sky meetings this week.

Speaking of Budgets:

Boise State announced last week that is cutting $750,000 from its athletic department budget, largely by eliminating three positions and not filling other open slots. The cuts are less than 3 percent of BSU's over-$29 million athletic department budget.

Here's a link to the Idaho Statesman story on the cuts:

--Brad B.

And thanks for being a Bengal fan -- it aint' always easy, but it's always fun. l