Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Overdue Catchup

As the UT Arlington women's basketball team enters the fourth year of the Krista Gerlich era, it looks like the team maybe finally renewing the talent and/or results of the Donna Capps era. The team is now 5-1, with many wins that would qualify as character victories.

There are many parallels to Gerlich and Capps, who took over with a low talent program and suffered a loss-heavy first season. Capps was 6-21 in 2000/01. Gerlich was 4-25. Capps was a game under .500 in year two while Gerlich was 17-13 in the sophomore season. The 13 win improvement is best in the UTA record books, besting Jody Conradt's 12-win improvement from 1974-75 to 1975-76. Capps reached the winning season in year three with a 15-13 mark. Gerlich declined a bit, thanks to a lot of extraneous factors, but was still competitive at 15-16. In the fourth year, Capps was 19-12 and third place in the Southland Conference.

That 2003-04 team won the first two games of the season before dropping five in a row to the likes of SMU (71-74), Michigan (51-68), TCU (73-43), Nebraska (59-81) and Saint Mary's (73-66). They would win 17 of the next 24 and make it to the SLC championship game, where the team lost to Northwestern State for the right to play in the NCAA tournament.

This year's team however, has looked much better to start.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Change at the Top

So much to write about right now in regards to the UT Arlington athletic program. After I put up the last men's basketball post, I started on an entry for the women's basketball team. Then came word about Coach Diane Seymour stepping down as head volleyball coach. Then, I don't know if you heard, but UTA beat UT Austin on Tuesday. Then there's some fallout from that. All of which are deserving of its own commentary. So just bear with me as I navigate the flood of topics coming out of Mav land.

On Monday, it was announced that Coach Seymour was retiring. She spent 13 years at the head of the program, amassing a 211-195 mark. She spent the previous eight seasons as an assistant coach under Janine Smith and was a player during the late 1980's, which is the period of the program's greatest achievements.

There's no question she is dedicated to the University and the community, as she was also an Arlington ISD product before starting at UTA. I knew her as a student broadcaster in the early 2000's traveling with the team broadcasting events for UTA Radio. So I don't take it lightly when I say that I believe the change was overdue.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Turning the Corner

When we last left the UT Arlington men's basketball team, the poor second halves the Mavericks displayed led them to a 1-3 start. In an attempt to right the ship after a demoralizing 0-3 road trip, UTA returned home to face NAIA's Saint Francis from Joliet, Illinois.

The game was similar to what we Mav fans have seen the first four games of the year, a great first half and a lackluster second. UTA raced out to 57-27 lead at the break. And like the previous games, had a second half that was poor. Even though St. Francis is a talented NAIA team, UTA should destroy them if they are at the level we were all hoping for during the offseason. Yet, somehow the Fighting Saints were able to play to a 41-40 second half. Now every Maverick did play, and Erick Neal led the team in minutes with 23, so the second half did see a lot of different players and combos, but one of the supposed strengths of the team is depth. Due to that, I'd expect better in the half. In the end, they won and I suppose that is all that matters.

The team ended their homestand with the Mount Saint Mary's Mountaineers, a team from the Northeast Conference that should be a contender within that conference. Their non-conference record is lacking as they are what UTA used to be, built for conference championships. The team, as has been the course of action this year, took the lead at the half, but with the slimmest of margins possible, 35-34.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Not Quite the Worst Case Scenario...

...but not far from it. If you would have told me prior to the start of the season that the UT Arlington Mavericks mens basketball team would have started the season 1-3, I wouldn't have been overly concerned. While the opponents aren't fantastic, they aren't pushovers either.

Texas Southern is a contender within the Southwest Athletic Conference only. Minnesota is likely to finish in the top half of the Big 10 at best. Florida Gulf Coast is a good team that is about where UTA is trying to go and Arkansas is similar to Minnesota but in the weaker Southeastern Conference. What has given me some major concern and dejection is what I have witnessed in all four games. Let's look at the following.

1) They have held a halftime lead in every game. Hard to think of an instance in where a team that is 4-0 at halftime is ultimately 1-3 when it matters. Against Texas Southern, UTA was up by double digits, before entering halftime at seven. UTA again pushed the lead to double digits before the Tigers tied it. UTA managed to find enough in front of a home crowd versus a team that won't finish in the top half in all of DI to get a win. I was concerned at the time, but brushed it off as early season jitters and rust.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

UTA FB Vol. 4 Gm. 12 - The End of an Era

As soon as I knew that 1983 would be included in this years edition of This Day in UTA Football History, I also knew this game would be covered. Fans of the UT Arlington Mavericks football team from this era or people who have a general knowledge of UTA's history know why. After roaming the sidelines of UTA football for a decade, today was the last game for Harold "Bud" Elliott to coach a UTA team.

It was a whirlwind week for the UTA football program leading up to this one. After starting the year 1-3, coach Elliott said his team may not lose another game. The Movin' Mavs beat Wichita State, then Lamar 21-0, New Mexico State, 28-7 and Arkansas State, 28-19 to move their record to 5-3.

After that, the squad dropped a 20-16 road game to McNeese State and a 24-17 home contest to Louisiana Tech, moving their record to 5-5, and maybe more importantly, dropping their conference record to 2-3. With that, a season that started with so much hype and promise, would turn out to be one of the worst conference records and finishes in a long time. Coupled with 1982's 1-4 tie for fourth, Coach Elliott had gone 3-7 in SLC play in two years to this point after winning the conference title in 1981.

With the perceived talent at his disposal and more resources given with the opening of Maverick Stadium and re-classification to Division I-AA, the Athletic Council thought this was unacceptable. On the Thursday prior to this week's game, UTA elected not to renew the contract of dean of the Southland Conference, effectively firing the ten-year coach.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Real Talk or Disingenuous Argument?

I've really enjoyed UT Arlington President Vistap Kharbhari from afar. The University's enrollment has grown, alumni engagement is the best I've ever seen, he has been present at most every, if not all athletic events that I've attended and I see him all over social media and University releases. I don't know him personally, other than a few casual interactions, but my impression is that he is a quality President and a quality person.

That's why I was somewhat shocked to here something he said recently. One of his interactions with the UTA community is a somewhat regular event called Pizza with the President. It's generally a noon time event where students eat and ask the President a question. The questions vary depending on the season and current events, but there is always one that comes up - football.

The most recent Pizza with the President was this past week, and as usual, he was asked that question. From a recap given by UTA's award-winning student newspaper, The Shorthorn.

Business freshman Jesse Labelle asked Karbhari about creating a football team in regard to Homecoming week.

At the beginning of the event, Karbhari said that unless College Park Center gets filled at the basketball games, he would not discuss football with anyone. Students will also need to raise $100 million, as that is the size of the endowment needed to build a football stadium.

The first reason is a completely unrelated attempt at correlation. It is also a reason that was given in the past and was proven to be false.

I'll start with the second point. For decades, UTA played in Texas Hall, a place so poor for basketball that coaches would try to get out of showing recruits the building at times. It was an awkward place to play, very few amenities for fans and players and seated 3,500.

For much of the 1990's until its end, UTA's home average attendance was less than 1,000. In many cases, almost 50% less than 1,000. I heard many times that the University would not build a new arena unless the University and Arlington community filled Texas Hall.

That never happened. In 2005, when then-President James Spaniolo announced intentions to build what would become College Park Center, UTA averaged 811. The previous year, UTA saw 931 on average per game (the team averaged 1,437 the last five games in a conference championship year). UTA has more than doubled attendance at CPC, and last year it was quadruple. Since CPC's opening, there have been nine crowds that drew more than Texas Hall's highest. That came in 1981. The University invested in the basketball program by building a quality place to watch and play and people have come out.

I get what he's trying to say. As a whole, you, the UTA community, need to support what we have. And I'm in full agreement with that philosophy. UTA for years played in front a largely apathetic fan base in most sports and lost its football team largely because of it.

But, moving from the second point to the first, basketball attendance and resurrecting a football program aren't anywhere near related. There are so many other factors involved. Geography, student body, demographics, etc. that have so much more say than an unrelated sports program.

UT-San Antonio, Lamar, Southeastern Louisiana and Houston Baptist are all nearby schools that started or resurrected a football program with basketball attendance lower than what UTA has now.

Looking at the SBC itself, there is no correlation between support for basketball and football. Last year, UTA was third in the SBC in attendance for its mens basketball games. They were behind Louisiana-Lafayette, who has been near the top of the SBC in that category in every sport for years, and Little Rock, who had an amazing run during a 30-win season.

I detailed how UTA's attendance trajectory is on the upward trend in all sports at the end of the athletic year. There is excitement surrounding UTA's sports teams, one that has hit a level I have never felt before. UTA was tooled to make runs at Southland championships, not national-level competition we are seeing now.

Saying we need to fill CPC first is a crutch to me. Plus it is so generic. Fill it how? What's the percentage? Sell-outs? What's the time frame? One year? Five? Several? That point is so generic as to be useless, which may be the greater point.

As for the price tag...there are so many ways to dissect that too.

Ignoring the fact that the quote from the Shorthorn says endowment to build the stadium, as endowments are set up for recurring expenses like scholarships or operating costs, I think his money quote misses the mark too.

What's the $100 million for? Using Texas State's renovation of their stadium, Bobcat Stadium, as a model, I calculated roughly $50 million, adjusting for inflation needed to get Maverick Stadium to FBS standards. Using the Nienas report from 2004 as a guide, UTA needs roughly $10 million for equipment scholarships and salaries. So what's the other $40 million for? Sounds like it is a random number to me pulled out of thin air.

Perhaps the difference might be the money needed for another sport to offset the Title IX implications of adding football. But UTA is already adding women's golf for a few hundred thousand. Not sure women's soccer, swimming, gymnastics, etc. need all that. 

But that $100 million also assumes UTA is going straight to FBS, which is a laudable goal but not necessary. The Mavs could play right away at the FCS level with minimal to no need for stadium renovations.

There is even a possibility of playing non-scholarship FCS, further reducing the financial strain. Before the idea gets dismissed, schools that have made names for themselves in basketball play in the Pioneer Football League, Butler, Davidson, Dayton, Drake and Valparaiso.

I know this gets tossed around a lot, but no other start-up needed $100 million. Using a real case study from a peer institution in the State of Texas that went straight to FBS. UTSA needed only $22 million over eight years. Prior to their first game, they only needed $2.6 million. Yes, they play in the Alamodome and have a sweet deal with the City of San Antonio, but that still backs my point up early. To play at Maverick Stadium, straight to FBS, UTA would need roughly $55 million, or a little more than half of what President Kharbhari said was needed.

The other $20 million UTSA calculated came after the sport began play, and when revenue began generation. UTA's Sun Belt brethren earn $1.5 million or more when they play a guarantee game. Each SBC team earns $1 million base from the College Football Playoff. There's more when incentives happen. Students have already pledged a student fee of $2 per credit hour up to 15 hours. That generates roughly $2 million if my calculations are correct. So before you factor in ticket sales, sponsorships, donations and other sources of revenue, the football program has already generated a minimum of $4.5 million annually. So very little of that $100 million is operating costs.

And then there's the matter of who sources that $100 million. Assuming the quote is accurate by the writer, President Kharbhari is suggesting the students raise that money? When have any fundraising operations been targeted at the student? Student fees are all I can account for. College Park Center and the Athletics fee are the only fees towards sports I can recall where a student pays for anything (and I think that CPC fee is dubious at best). Otherwise, like with CPC, University officials look to outside support. Carrizo Oil and Gas gave $5 million for CPC. Clay Gould and Allan Saxe renovations were financed by individual donors. I don't get where the students fork over any money, outside of that athletics fee mentioned, but that's for annual operations, and shouldn't be in start-up costs.

The thing is, I'm not against the stance, whatever it is. I'm a Maverick through and through. I believe a cross country championship is as valuable a basketball one (but I also know what society gravitates to). I'd like football, but I'd also like to add womens soccer. I'd rather hear an up front and honest answer. "We are not looking at football now" or "we are carefully analyzing everything, proceeding cautiously so as to maximize the opportunity for success" are much better responses to me.

When I hear something that is so easily defeated by simple fact checking and sounds blatantly false, I wonder why. The right proper way to deal with something like UTA and football is to be up front and honest. That answer sounded neither to me.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

2016 Volleyball in the Books

With the conclusion of the 2016 regular season, the UT Arlington volleyball team ended conference about where I expected, with a 10-6 record, good for third in the West Division and fourth overall in the Sun Belt Conference.

The 10-6 record was exactly what I thought they were going to get, though I had the teams wrong. I thought they would get swept by Arkansas State and lose their sole match to Coastal Carolina. The ones I had wrong were minor. I thought they would split with both Texas State and Little Rock. Instead they swept the Trojans and were swept by the Bobcats. I thought that if they were going to lose to a team in the east not named Coastal Carolina, it would by Georgia Southern, instead they lost to Georgia State in five.

For the fourth year in a row, UTA has finished fourth in the SBC. On top of that, non-conference losses to North Texas (13-16), Abilene Christian (12-19), New Mexico (14-15) and Ole Miss (9-16) contributed to a really poor non-conference showing, 6-9. Coupled with the Georgia State loss, there's five losses that just obliterate any chance of post-season success.