Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Bummer Green, but...

For those that know me, you know what I am trying for with this blog. While I am shooting for some level of professional, journalistic integrity, I make no bones that I am a UTA alum and fan. While I aim for standards that apply when I worked in media, I am still a fan first. With that said,I give you this targeted toward the University of North Texas:

There's a crisis brewing in Denton with their men's basketball team and it has me feeling there is justice in this world. Their basketball team has run afoul of one of the NCAA's myriad and obscure rules (ever tried to read the NCAA guidelines?).

Turns out the NCAA only allows four non-DI exhibitions and games in one season. UNT played two exhibition games against an NAIA and NCAA Division II school, along with regular season games against two NAIA schools.

Wait, that's four you say? Oh yes, then there is the matter of Incarnate Word. They are the newest member of the Southland Conference, a Division I Conference. But, and here's where they ran afoul, as a member of Division II last year and in the four-year transitional phase now, they are not DI yet, meaning they count as non-DI competition. The penalty is game forfeiture.

Why does this relate to a UTA blog and give me a feeling that justice has occurred?

In collegiate sports, non-conference scheduling is done on a contractual basis. There are usually two methods, home and home contract and guarantee games, though tournaments can fall in there as well. Home and home contracts stipulate that two teams will play each other more than once at each other's home. Usually a one-and-one, but not always. Guarantee games are where a team goes to another gym and the home team pays the visitors a check.

Last year, UTA went to play at the Super Pit in the first game of a home and home. The Mean Green were supposed to come here this year. They called and said they wanted to push it back a year. UNT was going to be our big revenue game with 6,000 or more likely. UTA said, "no, either give us the game or buy us out." So they bought out the contract.

The official reason UNT gave is that they wanted to play more home games than road this year. I'm sure it had nothing to do with losing five of the last seven, including 72-59 last year and 97-64 in Arlington the year before. So their now extra home game to fill was a guarantee game against a non-DI school, either Northwood or Wayland Baptist. So they wanted another home game and have to write the Mavericks a check. Then they write a check to an NAIA school. Now they may have to forfeit a game.

This really opens the doors to a whole set of topics. There's been a higher than normal amount of non-DI games across the highest level this year. Part of that is due to the constant shuffling of conference realignment. For example, under normal circumstances, Middle Tennessee and Florida Atlantic would have stayed in the Sun Belt this year, since they invited to Conference USA much later than North Texas and Florida International. The main reason is scheduling. That has to happen well in advance of the season. When conference schedules are set, as they were when MTSU and FAU were in the SBC, then schools work at their non-conference set. That is why teams leave for a different conference well over a year after they are invited.

MTSU and FAU were granted an early release to go to C-USA from the SBC, but that left holes in the schedule. This happened all over, including in C-USA too, where they play all but one team once and that leftover twice. When they hit 14 next year, they may revert back to divisional play, I don't know.

But too often, non-Power-5 Conference schools won't play each other, mostly for the reason of we have nothing to gain. Before Johnny Jones took over at UNT and while I was an undergrad at UTA, that was the reason the Green gave for not scheduling us. BULL HONKEY!

In this case, there is nothing to lose. The Sun Belt and C-USA are one-bid leagues at this point. Lightning could strike and occasionally a team receive an at-large bid, but not likely often. So unless a school is certain they are going to win the conference tournament, it at most affects RPI and seeding, but barely on the last.

Now look what UNT lost. The cheapest road game possible against DI schools, a game fans could travel and now a likely forfeiture.

In men's basketball, UTA-UNT actually draws local media attention. In any sport, when these two teams play, it is one of the higher attended games/matches of the year, at either venue. More alums show for both schools and more students turnout. Regardless of outcome, it drums up support for both schools. I would say UNT and UTA have nothing to lose by playing, rather than the other way around.

And that doesn't just apply to these two, but include TCU and SMU as well. A two-day, round-robin  tournament that featured all four schools would draw local media attention, likely televised games and uplift all four schools. They do it in Philly and none of those schools have suffered Those schools in perceived "upper" DI conferences and the 'lower" conference schools have played each other and all benefited.

I hope this is the beginning of the end of scheduling non-DI games. I'd be willing to bet, even in the UNT Athletic Dpeartment, they'd agree with me that playing a non-DI school hasn't helped them as much as playing in College Park Center would have at this point.

Maybe, just maybe even if it hurts RPI, if it creates fan entertainment and support, than it has done its job and helped every single program. Rivalry is the lifeblood of college athletics. Nothing stimulates rivalry more than geography. We all win when we all play together.

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