Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Metroplex Four Tourney

Once again, an idea that has been out there many-a-time made print headlines again. Sportsday's Rick Gosselin, perhaps the highest-profile person to broach the topic, argued for an annual fall tournament among DFW's four area Division 1 schools in a recent Sports Day article.

In it, he argues that other cities have successful local showcases and North Texas should too. I know UTA would be on board. My guess is so would University of North Texas. But TCU hasn't played the Mavericks in years based on the tired argument that they have nothing to gain. From what I've ascertained, SMU is the same way.

In fact, Rick Gosselin quotes that elitist-attitude in his article, and then shuts that idea down:

"We are always open to evaluating options," SMU athletic director Rick Hart said, "but our preference is to play home games and home-and-home series -- like we have with TCU -- which reward our students, fans and season-ticket holders and allow us to showcase our campus and what we believe is one of the best arenas and in-arena experiences in all of college basketball to a national audience."

It's understandable why SMU would prefer to stay at home for its games every winter and out of any local tournaments. The Mustangs have gone national and have the most to lose of the four programs. But this tournament wouldn't be about SMU. It would be about celebrating college basketball in the area. It would be about generating local interest and enthusiasm for the sport. It would be about establishing a tradition.

The idea in the last two sentences is it in a nut shell. The idea from the "bigger" programs is that playing "smaller schools" hurts the RPI if they win, and hurts recruiting if they lose, especially if it is against a school in the same recruiting footprint.

The first part I reject whole-heartedly. In non-conference, SMU played, Brown (5-11), Nicholls State (5-16) and Hampton (11-8) while TCU played Southeastern Louisiana (3-15), Colgate (10-9), Prairie View A&M (1-18), Abilene Christian (8-12) and Delaware State (2-17) at home. UTA will hurt your RPI when you tip-off against those guys? Oh Please!

The recruiting angle is harder to refute or confirm. I personally don't believe it changes much. An athlete picks a school for myriad reasons. Academics, institutional support and facilities surely matter to most recruits more than who they beat locally a year before. Somehow, UTA has played and beaten all those schools before, but doing it in a local tournament will? UTA even beat TCU twice in a row in the 1970's in football, yet the program was still headed for disbandment while the Frogs are now playing in the Big 12.

Are there any other legit reasons for not doing it?

Finances maybe? But let's analyze that a little. Depending on where the site is, travel will not exceed 50 miles for any school. No other game on the schedule will be that close. Certainly there is no lodging, one of the biggest pieces of the budget. No lost class time, supposedly a big concern of University President's. Biggest expense may be facility rent or game-day expenses.

Any other reasons? Buehller???

Now let's look at the positives. To start, I'm going to highlight a pertinent point that the SMU AD said against the tournament as a reason for having one.

...our preference is to play home games and home-and-home series -- like we have with TCU -- which reward our students, fans and season-ticket holders...

So playing three local schools (INCLUDING TCU) in a tournament-style, celebratory setting doesn't reward anyone? Please! UTA's highest attended crowd this year was UNT. A good portion were UTA fans ready to see the two area Division I public Universities play, but there were plenty of UNT fans who made the trek, for the exact same reason. Rivalry is the life blood of college sports, and something that has taken a hit with realignment. This would be a huge attention-getter.

That's exactly why you do this. UTA/UNT games in any sport are the highest attended games in any sport for either school. The SMU/TCU football game is the same (can't speak for other sports). Why? Precisely because the proximity of the schools generates excitement and interest in the match-up and that sport. SMU could go 0-3 (it is unlikely they wouldn't win the whole thing right now) and still come out ahead.

How the tournament is hosted is up for grabs, American Airlines Center, rotating to one campus site a year, multiple campus sites a year, other neutral sites, etc. UTA built College Park Center. SMU renovated Moody Coliseum. TCU renovated the arena formerly known as Daniel-Meyer, now Schollmaier Arena, completed recently. UNT's Super Pit is still a nice place, if overly big. There are no shortages of appropriate places to hold this thing.

Also, coming up with a financial model that at least break even is a must, but the excitement will be worth something outside of the financial ledger. Guarantee this would increase media coverage for all teams, for example.

That may be the best reason of all. If you put this together in late November or early December, it will rival anything going on at that time. The Stars and NBA-Mavericks will have just begun and not grabbing the headlines like they do later in the season. The Rangers and Major League Baseball will be done and not doing much to garner media attention. Cowboys will be doing their yearly end-of-year tank (ba-da-bing) and DFW media will be looking for something positive. Win or lose by any team is still a win for everyone. SMU taking on UConn, Cincinnati or Memphis is nice for them. TCU taking on Texas, Kansas or West Virginia is the same. But, I have no doubt this would draw more coverage.

I'd also expect this would be a great winter break event, if that were the route to take. I was happy that UTA scheduled their non-DI school over the break to minimize the attendance hit. I'd expect near-sell-outs at all venues minus UNT's Super Pit, only because it is so cavernous, or the American Airlines Center.

I'd also expect there to be a good discussion about whether this is open to women's basketball too. What's good for the men is good for the women too. It still benefits the same school and fosters the smae rivalry spirit.

Finally, I'm going to quote the SMU AD one more time.

...us to showcase our campus and what we believe is one of the best arenas and in-arena experiences in all of college basketball to a national audience...

Anyone else think Mr. Hart hasn't been to UTA's College Park Center?

My opinion as a guy who has been to a game at both venues...CPC is light-years ahead of Moody in everything but tradition. Both are great, intimate venues, but 2,000 in attendance rocks CPC. Moody needs the place full to have the equivalent. Plus the fan and player amenities are far superior in Arlington.

Of course, that may be more of why this isn't happening. TCU and SMU just can't stand to acknowledge UTA as an equal. Yet TCU/UTA baseball draws great and benefits both. Basketball would be no different.

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