Tuesday, December 29, 2015

2015/16 Sun Belt Conference Basketball Predictions.

Wednesday marks the start of the Sun Belt conference play for most basketball teams. So that means I roll out my predictions, where I get to exercise the ability to analyze the teams non-conference results and judge where they stand. I'm going to do something bold for the first time, but first, let's start with the men.

The coaches had the following thoughts as to how the final standings would appear:
1UL Lafayette119 (9)
2Georgia State108 (2)
3UL Monroe97
4Arkansas State71
5Little Rock68
6Appalachian State64
7South Alabama56
8UT Arlington48

Texas State48
10Georgia Southern28

Whoa boy do I disagree. The Sun Belt looks stronger than at any point during UTA's tenure and if the chips fall the right way, have the potential to be a two-bid conference come March Madness.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Non-Conference Play has Concluded

Since I became a Maverick in 2000, there has never been a more exciting time in UT Arlington basketball history than right now. In fact, looking back at the history of the program, I think I can say that with the possible exception of two-three years in the early 1980's, both teams have never been as national competitive as they are now. The men have made national, attention-grabbing wins (after being picked as the eighth best team in the 11-member Sun Belt by the coaches) and the women performed near expectations.

I'll break it down, starting with the men's team.

UTA opened the year with Fordham. They took control early, and looked like they would follow previous year's teams and watch the lead disappear. However, they made stops when they needed to and pulled out a 77-72 win. Fordham is not a powerhouse team, having won only ten games or less each of the past seven seasons and not having a winning record since 2006/07. Yet, they, like the Mavericks, have been more than was expected, as they sport a 9-2 record. It was a solid win, though no one knew it at the time.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

2015 Volleyball Recap

Another season in the books, another year without making the tournament. I had high hopes for the UT Arlington squad this year and there were times when it looked like Mavericks would take the world by storm.

I suppose in some ways, the 19-10 season and 4th place Sun Belt Conference (10-6) finish out of 11 teams is good. It certainly beats the 2008 to 2012 stretch with one winning season. But in the end, we are the Mavericks, the most storied volleyball program in the Belt (and still the Southland Conference) with more NCAA tournament appearances than any team in Texas but two. It would be nice to actually be in contention for a conference title in the last week of the season. We haven't been there in a long, long time.

I guess I should come to terms that we haven't had the caliber of team as we had in the 1980's, with their sweet sixteen, elite eights and a final four. In many ways, I think I have, but I can't let go of the fact that we are in the longest tournament drought in the program's history. When I was a student, we were at the top of the Southland Conference and able to make the NCAA's in any given year. I'm hopeful we can now, but don't have the same feeling that we are a dominant team. I felt we had zero chance against Arkansas State, minimal hope versus Appalachian St and not surprised with the Texas State outcomes. That wasn't the case against any team in the early 2000's.

The team looked good this year in some matches. There were times were I really felt the were the dominant team that could impose their will. But it wasn't every match, not even close. When trouble hit, it came in a predictable manner.

Biggest Wins Ever?

In the last entry, the Maverick Rambler questioned whether the Ohio State win two games ago was the biggest win ever. Short answer was no, it was big, but not number one. Someone questioned if I had changed my stance after last night's 68-64 win at Memphis.

No, not really, cause once again, it hasn't changed anything. I still grant they are very, very big wins and likely could be more as the season progresses.

As we saw in the Louisiana Tech game, the only loss on UTA's ledger, when Kevin Hervey missed most of the second half, the team struggled mightily. There is a deep team under Coach Scott Cross, but without his play inside/out and at both ends of the floor, the Mavericks are likely another .500 Sun Belt team.

So at this point, I just plan to sit back and watch something potentially special this year. Maybe when it is all said and done, I'll consider these two games higher.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Biggest Win Ever?

If you haven't heard about UT Arlington's win over Ohio State Friday night, you either aren't a Maverick fan, have been living in a cave with no wifi or you depend on this blog for all your UTA news, and none of those options are good things.

I experienced some elation with the win just like everyone else, but I feel like there is a lot of over-reaction to this win. Don't get me wrong, it is a big one, certainly a milestone win for the program and head coach Scott Cross. Any win over any P5 team is great, especially the hoity-toity Big 10, as all P5 school's athletic budgets should make them better than UTA. But let me point out a few things that make me tap the brakes.

1) We don't really know how good this Ohio State team is. They lost five seniors and an All-American from a team that won a game in the NCAA tournament. The last time the Buckeyes lost to a Sun Belt team on their home floor, they went 6-22 for year, the worst in their history. Not saying that is going to be the case here, but this wasn't exactly a ranked team.

2) UTAMavs.com lead paragraph called this the biggest win in program history. Really? The biggest? Honestly, what did this win accomplish? I'd call the win over Northwestern State in the 2008 Southland Conference Tournament the biggest win in UTA's history. That actually put UTA in the big one for the first time. It gave us something. The win against Sam Houston State in the 2004 regular season finale, which clinched their first regular season title I could argue was bigger. In the end, if we lose every game from here on out, we gain nothing. If we win every game from here on out, we still would almost guaranteedly have to win the Sun Belt Tournament to advance and play in the NCAA's. A CIT or CBA invite is possible cause of it, but doesn't guarantee anything and we'd certainly have to win more games. Those wins I mentioned before did.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

UTA Football Vol. 3, Game 12: The Championship Game at The Mav

Today is my absolute favorite entry this year. It is a scenario not often seen in UTA's history. Win and the Southland Conference championship resides in Arlington. Lose and the trophy goes somewhere else.

In the early days of the SLC, UTA played a few of these games. However, the 1970's just weren't kind. UTA finished 2nd a few times, but the title was lost early in the conference season. Those early losses meant some teams would have to lose for UTA to get the crown, and oftentimes a bowl berth, and those breaks never happened. It hit Coach Harold "Bud" Elliott harder than any other coach, as he finished one win out of first in 1976, 1977, 1978 and 1979. Most of those years would have included an Independence Bowl berth had he gotten that extra win.

When we last left the 1981 squad, they had just bounced back from a loss to Arkansas State by beating the Southwestern Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns. They still trailed McNeese State (2-0-1) and Arkansas State (2-1) in the standings and the likelihood of both losing was remote. But the second to last week of the season was one of the best for UTA as the Mavericks were playing the league leaders in the MSU Cowboys. The Cowboys had beaten Arkansas State a week prior to the Indians (now Red Wolves) win against UTA and controlled their own destiny. A tie to Lamar was MSU's only blemish.

In a very un-Maverick twist, one of the best kickers in Southland Conference history, Don Stump, had the tying extra point blocked in the fourth quarter after the Cowboys drove for the score down seven by UTA's Brent Hargrove. Then, MSU drove down to ten yard line and with 17 seconds left and Stump missed the game-winner. For a top SLC guy to miss not one, but two kicks just never happened to UTA. They rarely got those kind of breaks, it was usually the other way around.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

School Spirit

Nothing much to this one, but I'm going to use my blogger to express my Maverick pride. I usually save this space for objective analysis of the Maverick teams. But after seeing the turnout yesterday for the women's season opener in Waco on Friday, the atmosphere at College Park Center for the homecoming game against Fordham on Saturday and volleyball setting a season attendance record this year, I just feel the Mavericks sports programs are no longer the best kept secret on campus.

Baylor women's basketball coach Kim Mulkey noticed the UTA students in the season opener.

"Compliment your students. I was so impressed. There had to be three-to-five hundred students up there and you outnumbered Baylor students. It sends a message to Baylor students. You have the number five team in the country and UTA students outnumber you."

Impressive indeed.

Great turnout for the men's game against Fordham. 3,868 reported for the season opening 77-72 win. Electric atmosphere's like that really propel a team to victory. Victories propel a following and attendance.

Now I get that those are all surrounding homecoming and may not be representative of the overall state of support. I respond in two ways. One, it never was like that when I was a student around homecoming and, two, it's not just homecoming. There seems to be an increasing following and it has been increasing this year.

UTA had over 2,000 to see a volleyball match this year. They are 628 fans away in Sunday's match from hitting 10,000 total attendance this year. That would set a record and they are doing it with 13 total matches. Last year saw 17 at College Park Center.

Just gotta say, feels good to be a Maverick right now.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

UTA Football Vol. 3, Game 11: That's a Wrap

When it comes to the 1959 season, I admit I don't know everything. UTA, or rather Arlington State College, had just began their transition to a four-year school and played seven games. I know Coach Claude "Chena" Gilstrap wanted to schedule eight games, but only seven were played. I'm not sure if there was a limit to the number of games or if that's just how hard it was in the race to schedule competition. Now, the NCAA has transitional periods stretching years in advance, but I don't know the rules from over 50 years ago. Coach Gilstrap was quick to the joke about being three-year national champions, so maybe there were some rules in place regarding moving up. Again, I just don't know.

After the season opening win against Southeastern Oklahoma State, the Rebels had hit a wall, losing three in a row to some more established schools, with two names that would become familiar to the University down the line, Sam Houston and Northeast Louisiana (ULM), along with Texas A&I (A&M-Kingsville).

But then the Rebels patched together a two-game winning streak heading into the final game of the season, beating Texas Lutheran and the University that would later become Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (funny to think that the Southland Conference once had three schools that once had the sport, but didn't compete at that time).

There's nothing spectacular about today, other than being the last game of the first University season in Arlington. The Rebels opened the season against Southeastern Oklahoma State at home, they would end it against Southwestern Oklahoma State at home.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

UTA Football Vol. 3, Game 10: The Start of a Run

As we enter the November month, college football's best comes to the forefront. Sure there are some great games prior, but championships and bowl berths are won in November. That means some great memorable games to make that happen take place. Sadly for UT Arlington, the season was usually lost before the month started since the 1970's.

That seemed the case in 1981 as well. The Mavericks started the year 1-4, doing the thing they usually do, playing a tough schedule, most of it on the road, to start the season. All four losses were away from Maverick Stadium, two to Southwest Conference schools, one to Southern Mississippi, an independent who would finish the year 19th in the coaches poll and an equal in West Texas State. The lone win was at The Mav versus New Mexico State.

Attendance followed the similar path as previous UTA teams. Okay for the first game, then a dip after returning to Arlington with a losing record. Then they'd be competitive in the SLC, but a loss would make a championship run tough, causing the final games of the season to be paltry, ending in a middle of the pack finish in the conference standings.

1981 was the aberration, however, for reasons both within and beyond UTA's control. After returning home 1-4, they beat Louisiana Tech in the Southland Conference opener, a feat not accomplished often prior, and, where we last checked in, beat North Texas at the Cotton Bowl. At 3-4 and, more importantly, 1-0 in SLC things were starting to look up.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Another UTA Football History Lesson

Got into a discussion with someone recently who thought I portrayed former Coach Harold "Bud" Elliott a little unfairly in some of my This Day in UTA Football entries. It was a good discussion and I asked if he'd be opposed to me bringing the topic here and he said he'd look forward to reading it.

First, a little background. Coach Elliott was the fourth head coach to roam the UT-Arlington sidelines since the school went to four year status. He was hired in 1974 (you can read about his first game here) and coached ten seasons. He began the fourth year after UTA had transitioned to the highest level of college football. His career record was 48-64.

I have said before I consider his body of work at UTA a prime example of mediocrity. Four years of 5-6, only two winning seasons (9-2 and a barely winning 6-5), one conference championship and no postseason appearances.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Should the Women's Game at Baylor be Considered Part of Homecoming Week?

I happened to be reading one of my more visited websites when I came across an article in the Shorthorn (for those not affiliated with UTA, it is the student newspaper) from a guy I have a great deal of respect for, Jesse DeTienne. He is as great a Maverick supporter as I and goes to far more games than I can. I've been a Maverick longer, but only cause I'm older.

He wrote a guest column questioning the fact that UTA is promoting the women's game at Baylor during homecoming week. Click on the link and read it. Go ahead. I'll wait.

From a cursory glance, I get what he is saying. All the festivities are on campus and do not require extensive travel, usually just getting to the University. But I think he is missing the forest for the trees.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

UTA Football Vol. 3, Game 9: The First Hello of Old Friends

For the final time this year, we look back to the 1964 season. Remember, this was the inaugural year of the Southland Conference, and Arlington State College started it with neither a win, nor a loss. Since that time, the Rebels had done okay, but not outstanding, losing to Louisiana Tech in Ruston and beating McMurray at home. The second game of the first Southland Conference season would pit 2-3-1 ASC against 3-2 Lamar Tech in Beaumont.

I've always liked Lamar, partly because of the history between the schools. As founding members of the conference, they have played against each other...a lot...and in multiple sports. Lamar basically has two SLC eras. Once UTA dropped the sport, Lamar joined several schools and left the SLC. They would rejoin a decade and a half later.

Plain fact of the matter is that Lamar was superior to UTA in just about every sport during their first go around. UTA would finish with an 11-game winning streak in football, but Lamar would win two out of every three games in baseball and basketball, while having better Olympic sports like golf and track. Also like UTA, they dropped their football program in the '80's (unlike UTA, they have since brought it back).

Saturday, October 24, 2015

UTA Football Vol. 3, Game 8: All's Fair in Dallas

Can't wait to delve into today's game, the second most anticipated entry this year for me. The 1981 season is among the top five more favored seasons for me, along with the 1967, '68, '79 and '85 years. There are some good, quality, meaningful games from this point forward, necessitating the look at other seasons prior to this entry.

Today is just such a game. When we last left the 1981 UT Arlington football team, they had just gotten annihilated by SMU, 48-0. It wasn't much better afterwards. After beating New Mexico State 26-13 at home, UTA faced a three game road trip and lost every one, 38-16 at TCU, 35-31 at West Texas State and 52-9 at Southern Mississippi. At 1-4, it was looking like the same old Mavericks. Four of five games on the road to start, one home game in September, tougher competition in TCU and SMU and a lot of losses.

If this team had followed the usual script they would have lost the game after Southern Miss. UTA had opened Southland Conference play against Louisiana Tech six times, most since Trinity from 1965-'70. Unlike against Trinity, UTA was 2-4 in those games versus the Bulldogs, thanks to dominant Tech teams that won national championships and Independence Bowls. So not only did they have to travel to harder competition, they had to open against arguably the toughest school in the conference.

Same happened in 1981, yet Louisiana Tech was facing hard times and UTA won their conference opener over the Bulldogs for the second straight year. Prior to 1980, UTA was 1-4 against Tech to open SLC play. First time they had won the conference opener two years in row since the end of the 1960's. Heading into today's game, UTA was 2-4, 1-0 SLC.

North Texas State was UTA's opponent. This was usually one of the most anticipated games of the year. UTA hadn't faced the Eagles/Mean Green as a four-year University until 1973, a 31-7 win. After that, the series was all NTSU, 27-14, 24-7, 15-6, 28-23, 19-14 and 31-14. The main benefit for UTA was the crowd. It was always the highest attended game of the season for UTA in DFW. 19,131 at Texas Stadium, 14,798 at Texas Stadium, 14,800 at Fouts Field, 17,300 at Texas Stadium, 16,821 at Texas Stadium, 14,297 at Texas Stadium and 18,033 at Maverick Stadium.

Today's game takes place at another notable area stadium, but with an interesting backdrop. UTA previously played in the Cotton Bowl in 1974 against Louisiana Tech. The Texas Rangers had exercised a clause in their contract with Arlington Stadium and wouldn't allow UTA to play their home opener. So instead, they traveled 25 miles to open their home schedule at Fair Park. However, UTA and North Texas scheduled the game at the Cotton Bowl and were part of the State Fair of Texas on this date in 1981. I've often wondered why SMU, TCU or North Texas don't do more with the Fair.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

UTA Football Vol. 3 Game 7: Losing

For today's installment of This Day in UTA Football History, we revisit the 1970 season, thankfully for the last time. 1970 is, without a doubt, the worst year on record and easily the worst team UTA fielded as a University. The 1974 squad won one game, but their schedule was tougher.

The 1970 offense would set records for least points scored in both total season (69) and per game average (6.9). They were futile to say the least. They actually could move the ball okay, but turnovers and penalties kept them off the scoreboard and on the sidelines. The defense wasn't much better, sitting in fifth for most points allowed per game (26.6). Still, if UTA had the offensive output they had seen the previous four years, they may have been a .500 team.

There would only be one first team All-Southland Conference selection, cornerback Earnest Baptist. The sophomore was one of the best at that position in UTA's history, going on to win two more and would join only five other Mavericks on the three-time first team list. There'd be a future multi-season NFLer in tackle Don Morrison. The senior would earn an honorable mention in the conference, as the SLC didn't have a second team this year. Morrison was drafted in the fourth round (third highest at that time in Maverick history) by the New Orleans Saints following this season and would play until 1979. Defensive end Sid Bailey would get drafted several rounds later, but didn't earn any conference selection and wouldn't have a long NFL career.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

UTA Football Vol. 3 Game 6: Tradition Begins

2015/16 is the fourth athletic season since the UT Arlington Mavericks left the Southland Conference. Despite the amount of time, it is hard for me to separate the two. UTA was a founding member, and despite the men's team getting expelled from the conference in 1986 for not fielding a football team, the women's teams from UTA played in the SLC during that time, making UTA the longest tenured program to play in the SLC, participating for almost 50 years. McNeese State will equal UTA's streak if they stay in the SLC for four more years.

The conference morphed quite a bit from their Division 1-A heyday. In the mid-1970's to very early '80's, the SLC was one of the better mid-major conferences overall. Football was the equivalent of the Sun Belt or Mid-American Conferences today, basketball and baseball were right below the power conferences and certainly would have had more teams in those tournaments with the expanded fields of today. On the women's side, it was the same thing. volleyball, basketball and softball were as competitive as just about anyone in the NCAA. But several things would transpire to change that.

One of the big ones, with unforeseen consequences, was the conference dropping from 1-A football to 1-AA (FBS to FCS using today's terms). On paper and principle, it looked like a good idea, but for a variety of reasons, it was a big drop in stature, money and prestige and the quality of the on-field product suffered. There's a reason most of the teams in the SLC in the early 1980's are now are back at the FBS level (Louisiana-Lafayette never left, Arkansas State, Louisiana-Monroe, Louisiana Tech and North Texas joined at various times). Once Arkansas State, Louisiana Tech and Lamar left after the 1986season, all sports dropped in competitiveness. The SLC replaced members with a focus on whether they fielded a football team, other sports competitiveness holding very little in the overall decision.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

UTA Football Vol. 3 Game 5: Road away from Home

Last week, I mentioned the 1959 opener was one of the games I was looking forward to the most in this years version of This Day in UTA Football History. Now let me introduce you to one of the games I am looking forward to least.

It is hard to get excited about a winless season, but that's what the 1970 season was. It was Coach Burly Bearden's last at the UT-Arlington, as well as the last UTA would play at the College level of the NCAA. It would be the first of nine consecutive losing seasons. I picked this game for two reasons, both of which are representative of UTA's flawed approach to moving up to the highest level.

Today was the first home game at Turnpike Stadium. Since moving up from the Junior College ranks, UTA played the games at Memorial Stadium, an on-campus venue located where the current Maverick Activities Center is now. What a great location for a stadium. I can only imagine what the football fortunes at UTA would have been had they never left. Think of Maverick Stadium, accessible AND visible to the core of the University, not relegated to the periphery. Today, the Mav is much more connected to the U with the construction of hundreds of apartments, but between 1980 and 1986, there wasn't much between Nedderman Drive and the Stadium.

The last four years at Memorial Stadium, UTA averaged around 9,000 in attendance, near capacity for the venue. They would never get even close to that again. They would get in the mid 7,000's three times at Maverick Stadium, but that wasn't even close to capacity like at Memorial. I will grant the late 60's produced winning teams, while the 80's only produced two winning teams in 6 tries, but I just can't believe location didn't play a factor in the average, to some degree or another.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

UTA Football Vol. 3 Game 4: The Alpha Game

There are several good milestone games in this years edition of This Day in UTA Football History. When I was planning ahead, today ranked in the top three games of the year I was looking forward to the most. I'll come right out and say it, today was the first game as a four-year University after moving up from junior college status.

UTA, or Arlington State College as they were known as both a junior college and later a university, had accomplished about as much as could be done from a juco perspective. They were national champions in 1956 and 1957, had seven straight winning seasons, were four-time conference champs in that stretch with eight overall since 1934 and had a 203-134-23 since they started play in 1919. Their enrollment was growing and they were located in a strategic place within the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

There are some who credit the football team's success as the impetus for moving up from the two-year ranks. I can find nothing that backs that up, other than the anecdotal timing of the football team's success and the move to University status. I'd like to think the move was precipitated by other factors like academic desire, student demand, visionary leadership, etc., but I haven't found anything to say one way or another.

The team was coached by the legendary Claude "Cheena" Gilstrap, a man with so many accomplishments on his ledger. He sported a 51-9-2 record during his time at ASC in six seasons, prior to moving up. It didn't hurt that his predecessor went 8-1-1 the season ahead of him, but to perform at a level where the roster is just about guaranteed to turnover every two years, speaks volumes about what he was able to accomplish on the field as well as behind the scenes. It doesn't hurt that DFW is a cradle of football talent, but that is about as consistent as it can get.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

UTA Football Vol. 3 Game 3: The First of Many

For today's installment of This Day in UTA Football History, we visit the 1964 season for the first time. There's nothing remarkable about this year from a star or results standpoint. After having winning seasons the first three years as a University, the then-Rebels went 4-6 in 1962 and 1-8 in 1963. The record would improve, but that's not hard after a one-win season.

The big event was going to happen regardless of what happened on the field. Coach Chena Gilstrap had been instrumental in the birth of the Southland Conference (he is in the SLC Hall of Honor for his efforts). The school-soon-to-be-known-as UTA met with four other schools that were floating in independent purgatory. It was March 15, 1963 when Arlington State College, Arkansas State, Lamar Tech, Trinity and Abilene Christian came together and decided to form their own NCAA conference. Some around Arlington attributed the independence to the stagnation of the program and believed playing for a conference crown would raise the talent level.

In fact, that is the most remarkable thing about this year. UTA played in a conference for the first time as a University program and the Southland Conference began play for the first time as an NCAA conference.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

2015 Sun Belt Volleyball Conference Predictions

As a primer for those just following this year, or not paying attention in previous years, I make my conference predictions at the close of the non-conference season, just prior to the start of conference play. I feel it gives a better look at teams, as sometimes some teams play better than expected or have an impact player not expected to be a big contributor, a coach who has the team running smoothly, etc. While I have been slightly made fun of compared to the pre-season predictions the conferences release, I'll take my marginally better track record compared to the coaches poll and move forward.

I feel this year's volleyball standings will look like past years, the teams in the top half will stay there, the teams in the bottom half won't move up. Not that surprising in the Group of 5 conferences Olympic Sports. It is expected and nothing I saw this year will change that dynamic.

The coaches estimated the following finish:
1) Little Rock
2) Texas State
3) Arkansas State
4) Appalachian St
5) UT-Arlington
6) Georgia State
7) Louisiana-Lafayette
8) Georgia Southern
9) South Alabama
10) Troy
11) Louisiana-Monroe

My picks are as follows:

Volleyball Check-up: Winning Early, but Who?

Time to check in with the UT Arlington volleyball team for the first time this athletic year. To set the stage, last year's team had one of their better finish in quite a while, going 25-9 overall and 14-6 in Sun Belt Conference play. The wins were the most since 2006's 25 and the losses were the least since 7 in 2004. It was a pivotal year for Coach Diane Seymour, who seemed to be losing the support of many UTA supporters.

UTA has a proud history in volleyball. As far as national competitiveness, it has been the University's best sport. Nationally ranked in the 1970's and '80's, seven wins in the NCAA tournament to go with 10 total postseason wins, a Final Four appearance, 12 regular season conference championships, 10 conference tournament championships and a winning record against 135 of the 217 teams they have played (20 are tied) are just some of the accolades the team sports.

However, most of those accomplishments happened a generation ago. The program suffered six losing seasons in the 1990's, first time the program ever had a losing season. Then Janine Smith took over and got the Mavericks back atop the Southland Conference and into the NCAA tournament. Her last seven season with UTA ended with winning records. Coach Seymour's first season in 2004 was a 20+ win season and three of the next four were winning records. After that though, it was 7-23, 12-17, 17-15, 12-19 and 9-21. She has rebounded since joining the Sun Belt, going 19-15 and 25-9.

There was some worry that this could be a slide from last year. Ashley Bennett, Taylor Gross and Amanda Welsh were big time contributors last year and graduated. Replacing them would be a tall mountain to climb. But early on, it looks like UTA has done so and is competing well.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

This Day in UTA Football History Vol. 3, Game 2: Playing with the Big Boys

Today's installment of This Day in UTA Football History will touch on a point that I have made frequently in this blog, the UT Arlington Athletic Department really bungled the move up from the College Division to the University Division, the highest level of college football at the time. In the mid-to-late 1960's, UTA was a major force in the Southland Conference. They won conference championships in 1966, and 1967, were a point away from another one in 1968 (one of my favorite UTA games) and won the 1967 Pecan Bowl. Prior to 1969, the University was already making plans to move up, primarily in securing a spot at Turnpike Stadium, the primarily baseball facility that would eventually be the home of the just-relocated Texas Rangers.

So with that, I introduce you to the 1970 squad. I'm just going to be blunt here and leave out any suspense, this team was the worst team UTA had ever seen in its history. They would not win a game, would be within one touchdown in only one game and were outscored 266-69 in ten games. Looking back on it decades after it happened, it would appear this season was the omen for playing in Turnpike Stadium and moving the program off campus.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

UTA Football Vol. 3, Game 1: End of an Era

First, let me apologize for the late start. The last two editions of This Day in UTA Football started in the second week of the current NCAA football season. Got an alert from a reader asking why I didn't have one up and was told my reasoning was flawed and UTA had played games on September 5. When I looked, sure enough. So hopefully this is the last late entry.

There are a few good milestone seasons for this year's edition. Later on, we'll see UTA's first season as the then-Rebels transitioned to the four-year ranks from the Junior College level. We'll see UTA's last season as the equivalent of a Division II school. But the one we'll visit first is the last UTA spent as a Division 1-A school, 1981. I'll save the meaning of this season til the last game (that should be a hint right there), but we'll open up with the season opener.

UTA "traveled" to play SMU in the '81 opener. The Mustangs were coming off an eight-win season, their first winning season in six years. They were a talented team, several members of this team would play at the professional level. Once the game story starts, I have no doubt you'll recognize several names, so I'll hold off giving details of the team. If you need a refresher, the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary, Pony Excess, is a great view. There's also clips of this very UTA game in it.

UTA played SMU the prior year, and it wasn't pretty. Some of it was due to SMU's talent, but the 3-8 Mavericks weren't hardy competition for much of anyone that year, getting outscored 341-248. When the highlight of your year is a stadium debut, there are real issues. Coach Harold "Bud" Elliott's squad was hoping for better results. He was on the hot seat as well. There was a lot of talent on the 1981 team, names that received all-conference honors in the current and future years. No one really knew it at the time, as the 1981 UTA Mavericks were a very young team.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Men's Basketball Schedule Released

The UT Arlington Athletic Department finally released the men's basketball schedule, the delay as school after school released theirs becoming more crushing by the day. Heck, even the Sun Belt Conference releasing the vast majority of conference play months ago added to the pressure. But worry no more.

I gotta say, I'm really impressed with this schedule, though not for the reason listed on UTAMavs.com. "Challenging schedule includes Ohio State, Texas and Memphis," reads the headline. Gotta say, don't really care about those teams. Will be highly proud if we pick off a win, but otherwise, they are just more name teams that come in a guarantee game to help raise funds for the team (I'm assuming Ohio State and Memphis, as part of the Basketball Hall of Fame Invitational, are games to be played for monetary value). I'm interested in two things, who is playing at College Park Center, and who are they playing in-state and near-state.

Those last two really have me buzzing.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

History Lesson: Moving the Football Program Off Campus Proved Fatal.

Those who know me personally know I am a research nut, no matter the topic. Once I get an idea that I want to look into something or answer a question of some kind, I dig into the topic and won't leave it until I either tire out or feel I got everything I can.

That's how I came about gathering so much information on UTA football. Unlike the current sports UTA offers, I can't go and look at the latest media guide or fact book to answer some question. So I did the next best thing, crafted my own. I found a 1983 UTA football media guide online, which formed the backbone of what I did.

A lot of the meat of my research, though, came from information came in the online archives of the Dallas Morning News found on the website of the Dallas Public Library. I've had this information for a while and though it did provide a lot of insight, it didn't go in depth, as the Dallas Morning News covered UTA in a bare bones fashion. I thought about making the trek to Fort Worth to see if the Star Telegram had anything. However, I received a late Christmas present pertaining to that (I typed the majority of this piece in January, but decided to hold off on posting it until the offseason to give the individual sports competing in their respective seasons their deserved spotlight).

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Sun Belt looking to 12 again?

Shortly after UT-Arlington joined the Sun Belt Conference (in the world of realignment, it seems so long ago), they were able to make some moves to get to twelve playing schools after losing some members to other conferences. Early in 2013, Georgia Southern and Appalachian State finally got the invite they craved to leave their long time homes in the Southern Conference to go to the SBC. To cover UTA and UALR in the football side, NMSU and Idaho football programs, left without a home after the WAC imploded (remember that one Maverick fans), were given a life raft by the SBC and all of a sudden, the Sun Belt had 12 all-sports and 12 football schools. Then Western Kentucky was offered an invite to Conference USA (I'll leave out my thoughts on that one) and the grand 12/12 with even divisions went with out the door with WKU.

Since that time rumors have floated that the SBC was going to add certain schools, with the list including, but not limited to, Liberty, James Madison, Missouri State, Eastern Kentucky, New Mexico State and Lamar. Nothing was ever concrete, and I never heard anything from an official source, either in person or in media productions.

Well, at least until now.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Extra Basketball at CPC

About  a week ago, it became official. The WNBA's Tulsa Shock will relocate to the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. While that in and of itself doesn't qualify as a topic I'd normally put in this blog, a minor detail about the move does. Come June through September of 2016, College Park Center will be their home.

This season, each WNBA team will play 17 home games. That means when there isn't much going on during the summer months, there will be activity on campus. It also means that for the first month or so of the fall semester, there will be team sports on campus. No longer will volleyball be solo at CPC. This will remedy one of my bigger problems with the fall profile on campus. I mentioned in one of my earliest posts that adding women's soccer would help alleviate the lack of activity in the fall. A WNBA team playing on-campus would do the same.

Of course, this whole turn of events brings up one big question from the UTA perspective. What does this mean for the University?

Thursday, July 16, 2015

UTA Football Find

Apologies if you've read the article I'm about to start a discussion on, as it was initially published in December, but I ran across this, a football faces uphill battle article, posted online from the Arlington voice.

It begins by noting that the University of Alabama-Birmingham has dropped its football program and it might bring sore feelings for UTA faithful (they have since announced they are bringing it back). However, that is really all I have to agree in the article with as there is little fact, quotes or references in there, only loose connections that don't really apply.

The author transitions from UAB to UTA with this:

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Women's Golf Coming to UTA

Some big news came out of the UT Arlington Athletic Department today. When the 2017/18 athletic season begins, UTA will sponsor a new sport for the first time in over 30 years. Women's golf will bring the Mavericks to 15 varsity sports sponsored. On the surface, it may not seem like a big deal; a non-spectator sport with a very low national profile.

The timing was really important here. Once Jay Rees, the prior golf coach, retired it kinda forced their hand. I suspect they were looking at adding this, but maybe not quite yet. The delayed start time reinforces this point. By all accounts, women's golf shouldn't take this long to get up and running. It would if you have a new coach needing to get acclimated to the University.

However, I think there's more to it than just adding a sport.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Underperforming is Wearing Thin

In the previous 69 posts about the UT Arlington sports teams, I have never called for a coach's resignation or suggested that a coach is no longer competent to lead the program. And I never will. It is not my style. I don't believe in that kind of thing. A coach is only a part of a program's success or failure. Mike Krzyzewski couldn't win at a SWAC school, no matter how genius he was in getting Duke the title this year or any other year. Resources (including money), fan support, tradition, facilities, name recognition, etc. all go into the mix. A great coach can be part of a program's turnaround, but that coach can't do it without the other things too.

That said, I will offer critiques or shortcomings that I see. I'll back it up with facts and stats that I see as well as repeated instances of questionable decisions. Right now, that coach is Darin Thomas. Part of this may be frustrations, but why are some Maverick fans getting frustrated? Let's take a look.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

What a Difference a Week Makes

After the UT-Austin win at Globe Life Ballpark, I was all ready to type up a post about how this was a game-changer for these young group of guys, the athletic department as a whole and the fan base. Not only was it a win against "big brother" (stupid a phase as there is since we are equal in the eyes of the system), though we have beaten the Longhorns 17 times before that, it was a great game with late inning heroics and a timely win in extra innings in front of a lively crowd.

The more amazing thing was the fact that there were as many or more Maverick fans as UT-Austin fans. The UTA fans also knew when to cheer at the right times. The major league team that normally occupies that stadium doesn't have that. I was even going to add that I was in downtown Dallas the following day wearing a UTA baseball shirt and a random suit-wearing guy asked if I was at the game yesterday in passing. Really just a cool vibe and great feeling about the program.

And then last week happened.

UTA followed the UT game with a super tough schedule, losing a game against Dallas Baptist, ranked in the top 25 in most polls. It was close until the last two innings. They then went on the road and split a two-game set against top-20 UC-Santa Barbara before finishing off with a victory over a one-win Dartmouth team. Four games against top-25 teams with two wins and a 3-2 record for the week had me feeling pretty good.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

UTA Basketball in the Postseason

In the vein of This Day in UTA Football History, I want to point to a very significant day in UTA basketball history. While I won't make the UTA Basketball version a regular occurrence like I did for the football version, there are many games, the sport is still played, the history is easier to find, etc., I think I like the idea of spotlighting milestone or significant events.

The 1981 season was one of the best years for UTA basketball, especially up to that point. Since joining the four-year ranks in 1959, UTA basketball had just three winning seasons in its history. They were 14-12 in 1966-67 and 1971-72 and 14-13 in 1979-80. When a 13-13 mark in 1972-73 is also considered successful, you know a sport program is moribund.

In my opinion, the 1980-81 team, from a pure talent perspective, is still the best team that UTA has produced. I say that over the 2008 NCAA tournament team as well as the 2012 SLC champ and NIT team.

The Southland at that time was one of the better non-power conferences in the country. As a whole, the conference was 8-9 in the NCAA tournament with two sweet sixteen appearances from the 1979 tournament to the 1987 from four different teams. That time frame is specific since the conference changed drastically. UTA dropped football, forcing the men's teams out of the conference for a year as the membership rules required teams to sponsor the sport. That led a domino effect of Lamar, Louisiana Tech and Arkansas State exiting the conference and lower tier teams replacing them, especially in basketball. The first two teams combined for all eight of the NCAA tourney wins. The SLC wouldn't win an NCAA tourney game again until Northwestern State won a play-in game in 2001.

Monday, February 16, 2015

An Open Letter to the Men's Basketball Team.

To the players, coaches and those who help the outcome on the court,

For better or worse, you are the spotlight of the Athletic Department. The perception of the entire Department, and to a lesser extent the University as a whole, lays on your performance. It may not be fair and it certainly isn't right, but it is what it is.

For years, the University just let the Athletic Department get by with no real active involvement. This is evident from the time the UTA Rebels joined the highest ranks of the NCAA until a few years ago. There was a long stretch of time where UTA was one of the worst performing teams in the Southland Conference from top to bottom with some of the most sub-par venues in the SLC.

But all that has changed. The University is actively involved now and has made Athletics a higher priority. Of course, College Park Center is one of the most visible signs. Going from Texas Hall, which never really was an athletic arena, to one of the finest basketball and volleyball places to play in all of the NCAA and would make many Big 12 teams jealous is the most obvious example, but nearly every sport is receiving some form of facility upgrade. Allan Saxe Field is almost an entirely new softball stadium. Clay Gould has received several upgrades of the last few years. Even Maverick Stadium has seen some improvements. With the baseball and softball teams now in their own locker rooms and the plans for doing so been in the works for years, the six track teams have better facilities at their disposal to train and practice. 11 of UTA's 14 teams has seen some facility upgrades in the last few years. That was unheard of when I was a student at the turn of the century.

But it doesn't end there. The admin was active in upgrading UTA's conference. The Mavericks went from a FCS/1-AA-football-centric conference with decent baseball and softball competition and bottom-level everything else to the nationally-known Western Athletic Conference. When the WAC had to exercise their nuclear option, the admin was active in securing membership into the Sun Belt Conference. While not as nationally-recognized, it was unmistakeably a step up from Southland and the now-WAC competition.

The budget is about double from when I was a student just a decade ago too. More money doesn't guarantee success, but it sure makes getting there a bit easier. The cynicist would say that is a byproduct of UTA's growth and the student fee, but the fact remains the Athletic Department is spending far more money now than at the rate of inflation.

The other big difference is the admin support. I try to make one of every sport played on campus a year, and in the higher-profile sports it is multiple. I have yet to attend any sporting event that President Vistasp Karbhari wasn't there, minus one baseball game. I can't recall one game of any kind where President Witt, President of UTA at the time I attended UTA, was in attendance. Though I concede I didn't really care then about presidential attendance and may have missed it.

All of this is a long way for me to say the U cares about your performance and is giving you the resources you need to compete. The downside is that expectations are there for a team to compete. One of the things I love about the UTA fan base is the incredible realism that we have. We know what to expect and don't have delusions of granduer. Keep that in mind as I go forward.

I know you guys as a whole are quite a young team. You are talented, but young. However you have shown an ability to compete, no matter the opponent. Problem is it ranges from the ranked team in the top 25, to an RPI-300 team. How can UTA claim wins over the top two teams in the conference, but have been swept by the last place team? It is very defeating seeing a team that should be a Sun Belt leader fighting for fourth place with little chance for third. Beat the teams that aren't even above .500 in conference play and you are at the top of the conference.

As a fan, most of us would like to see some consistency that has been missing the last few years. I'd rather be consistently middle of the pack and beat who we are supposed to, rather than do well against the top and poorly versus the bottom. As a fan, this yo-yo action and inconsistency on the court is tough to take. I'm a die-hard and will support regardless. The fairweather fans may be lost forever because of it. That hurts every athletic team in the process.

All UTA fans ask is a Maverick team playing at an even level night in and out. We are okay with losing to a better team. We get frustrated when the last place team in the conference sweeps you. We get frustrated when we have more wins over the top two teams than the bottom two.

So please, help build the fan base and don't play to the level of your opponent. Please don't look past anybody on the floor. Please take it one game at a time and do what you have to against those that you should do it too. Don't take any team for granted.

Beating ULM, Georgia Southern and Louisiana-Lafayette is a great accomplishment. Losing to Troy and South Alabama tarnishes that. You, the University and us fans deserve better.