A collection of quick hits from this, the dreaded off-season for intercollegiate athletics:
I got a chance to meet Tim Walsh (right), Joe O'Brien's new assistant coach, at the Brian Reems Memorial three-on-three tournament last weekend. All of the Bengal players were there serving as officials and the coaches came out in the rain to support the effort. Walsh, who worked with O'Brien in the junior college ranks, brings a long history and deep recruiting ties to the Midwest, where O'Brien seems most comfortable doing his recruiting. Walsh, O'Brien and I talked a lot about Illinois high school basketball, with Walsh having coached at Quincy, one of the premier high school programs in the country, and I having grown up in Collinsville, one of Quincy's top rivals back in the "good old days" several decades ago. While Walsh took a dip into coaching junior college basketball in Arizona a couple of seasons ago, he returned to his Midwest roots last year as an assistant at Wisconsin-Green Bay. His hiring tells me O'Brien will likely continue to focus his recruiting efforts in that neck of the woods.
Speaking of recruiting, O'Brien told me the Bengals are still in the market for another player for the upcoming season in light of Phyllip Taylor's academic ineligiblity. He said they're currently looking at a 6-4 high school guard who might fit the bill. As we noted recently, while the letter of intent period ended in May, recruits can still sign scholarship agreements.
Recruiting for the class of 2010 kicks into high gear in a couple of weeks, when the July evaluation period opens. That's when coaches can watch recruits in person at a number of summer tournaments around the country. Many top Division I programs already have commitments from recruits for 2010, but it typically takes at least until mid-summer before recruits start getting serious about lowered-tiered schools like Idaho State. The Bengals will have at least seven scholarships to give out for next season. The early signing period is in November, and O'Brien has said he'd like to get about half of his recruits in that period and the other half in April, with a ratio of high school to junior college players about 50-50 as well.
New Rules Announced
While we're on the topic of college basketball, the NCAA announced several changes in playing rules for next season (http://rivals.yahoo.com/ncaa/basketball/blog/the_dagger/post/NCAA-finalizes-clarifies-brilliant-new-rule-s-l?urn=ncaab,169027). The most interesting is the effort to try to better define what is a blocking foul and what is a charge. Beginning this year, secondary defenders cannot position themselves in the area between the front of the rim and the backboard to draw a charging foul. That will cut down on traffic under the basket somewhat, but it still allows a primary defender to pick up a charge under the basket. I'd still much rather see the NCAA go to the NBA rule, where an arc is established under the basket and a defender standing in that arc is automatically guilty of a charge in the event of a collision, whether they are primary or secondary.
Other new rules changes include allowing an opposing coach to select who will substitute for an injured free throw shooter, rather than the coach of the injured player, and that substitute must come from one of the other four players on the court at the time of the foul; and allowing officials to use video replay to determine if a player was guilty of a flagrant foul that would result in ejection.
Earlier, the rules committee suggested points of emphasis including no taunting among players, and closer scrutiny of elbow throwing and three-second lane violators.
Bengals Lose Out on Potential Walk-On
According to the Post Register, Blackfoot's Jordan Bjornberg, a 6-5 all-state forward, was all set to walk on at Idaho State when Westminster College called to offer him a partial scholarship (http://www.postregister.com/blogs/sports/?p=4692). Bjornberg, who averaged 19.7 points and 7 rebounds a game as a senior, would have been an intriguing addition to the ISU roster. It's very difficult to assess how good Idaho high school players can be on the college level because, quite frankly, they simply don't play against good enough competition, night-in and night-out.
David Schroeder was a great example of how hard it is to evaluate Idaho players -- ISU didn't offer him a scholarship until a JC recruit washed out academically the summer between David's senior season and when he entered ISU. He turned out to be a star, of course, but dozens of other Idaho players have tried to make it as walk-ons over the years, but quickly found out they weren't athletic enough to compete for consistent playing time. What category will Bjornberg fall into?
His comments to the Post Register seem to indicate he sees the Westminster offer as more of a tryout for a Division I scholarship than a four-year commitment. "I anticipate getting a lot better there," he said. "...If I stay four years, great. If I get good enough and bigger schools are willing to offer, that's an option..."
Montana Signs up for Big Games Against FCS Heavyweights
The University of Montana announced this week that the Griz have signed long-term deals to play home-and-home football games with two other FCS heavyweights -- Applachian State and McNeese State http://www.missoulian.com/articles/2009/06/12/sports/sports02.txt). These kinds of FCS battles are highly unusual, for a couple of reasons: 1) Most FCS schools would rather play their non-conference games against FBS schools for a major pay-day; and 2) If they're going to play another FCS non-conference game, the schools would prefer to play somebody they feel confident about beating.
Instead of a the half-million-dollar or more payday these FCS powers would generate from FBS teams, Montana and Appy will guarantee each other $100,000 to cover travel expenses. Since both Appy and Montana already play to packed houses every week anyway, the great matchups won't generate much more in gate revenues for the participants.
So congratulations to the Griz, the Mountaineers and the Cowboys for having the guts to play at a high level within the FCS without a big pay day, and here's hoping you can convince ESPN to pick up your games on national television. But don't expect too many of your FCS brethern to follow suit.
By the way, Pat Forde of ESPN has an excellent analysis of college football scheduling these days. It's written from the view of the "big boys," but talks about how smaller schools are getting more leverage to extract large payouts to play body bag games (http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/columns/story?columnist=forde_pat&id=4239858&sportCat=ncf)
Boise Burn Update
Two former Bengals, defensive back Ernie James and defensive tackle Mark Weivoda, are making significant contributions to a red-hot Boise Burn arena football team. The Burn, (8-2), are off to their best start in team history, and their defense is a big part of their success. The Burn ranks third in the high-scoring league in scoring defense (40.2 per game). James has 21 tackles and 2 interceptions, and Weivoda has 4.5 sacks as part of that defense.
And thanks for being a Bengal fan -- it ain't always easy, but it's always fun.