Thursday, August 26, 2010

Big East Still Serving Double Shots

After several months of deliberation, Big East decides to stick with double-bye format for its conference tournament, much to the chagrin of Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, one of the most outspoken critics of the setup. (Photo courtesy of ESPN)

If you know the Big East, (especially its conference tournament) you can no doubt expect five days of basketball mayhem next March when the conference invades Madison Square Garden for its annual postseason tournament.

This week, the mayhem may have received a kick start when athletic directors and conference officials voted to uphold the Big East tournament's current format, wherein the top four seeds get the benefit (or lack thereof in some circles) of a double bye through the first two rounds into the quarterfinals. The coaches of the Big East programs met in May to discuss changing the system and unanimously agreed to do away with the current structure, but the high brass opted to look the other way.

From someone that has been around the Big East since 2007 as a play-by-play announcer on student radio and now professionally via an online stream, I can relate to both sides here. Having gone to St. John's and seen the Johnnies pick up a No. 13 seed in consecutive years, (both behind the microphone and as a fan) it is not as big a deal for schools in the middle or lower echelon of the conference since they will be playing on either or both of the first two days no matter what. However, the likelihood of lower seeds advancing (such as in 2009 when No. 16 DePaul, who had not won a conference game all season, upset 9th-seeded Cincinnati in the first game of the tournament) would be increased.

On the other side of the coin is the powerhouse end of the conference; schools like Syracuse and Villanova among others, who have consistently placed within the top six in the standings. In fact, Villanova is one of only two schools to receive a double bye in each of the first two years under the format, and both Villanova and Pittsburgh (the other to finish in the top four in each of the last two years) have been eliminated before the championship game, which attests to the belief held by the coaches that the double bye is indeed a momentum killer.

Quite honestly, the proposed changes, which included two days to complete the first round, would benefit all programs in the sense that it gives more of an NCAA Tournament atmosphere to the conference tourney. I don't know about you, but the prospect of schools playing on consecutive nights in the "Big Dance" would cause the tournament to lose a great deal of its long-standing mystique since one school may have gutted out a dramatic overtime victory the night before and may not have the strength to match up to their opponent, who could very well have had it easier. Not only that, but you wouldn't be going from a team on your level to a top 25 program the way the Big East tournament currently sets up for seeds 12 and below.

It's been said that "if it ain't broke, don't fix it," but in this case, sometimes you need to redesign before it actually does break.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Get Your UConn Sports Here!

UConn and Jim Calhoun have another home this season, as Huskies reach an agreement with SNY to broadcast not just basketball, but football as well. (Photo courtesy of NBC Sports)

It's not uncommon for a team to have a tie-in with a major network in the sports world. Some teams have media connections in their ownership, thus making the prospect of their own networks easier; (Examples include the New York Knicks and Rangers on MSG, as well as the Atlanta Braves on TBS) while others simply develop their own network as a means to generate more exposure. (Examples of this include the YES Network, home of the New York Yankees) When you get to the collegiate landscape, however, the networks are few and far between. Unless of course, you count conference networks such as those formed by the Big Ten and Mountain West. Even harder to come by is a college program signing an exclusive deal with a network, such as the agreement between Notre Dame and NBC that has featured the Fighting Irish on national television since I was just five years old back in 1991.

It's that last instance that has generated some attention lately, as the University of Connecticut has reached an agreement with SportsNet New York (the television home of the New York Mets) to become the "official television home of the UConn Huskies football and men's basketball programs," according to the press release issued by the school when the deal was announced two weeks ago. Under this new collaboration, UConn will have at least five football games, thirteen men's basketball contests, and one women's tilt televised on SNY, who can technically no longer use their slogan of "Get your New York sports here!" The network will also air approximately 300 hours of original programming devoted to the Huskies on an annual basis.

As a member of the media and broadcaster myself, I have a mixed opinion on this move. First and foremost, I feel it is about time that a school like UConn that has been among the national elite in both men's and women's basketball for over a decade finally gets an expanded platform; and their football program needs that platform to further evolve as a brand, a process that has accelerated exponentially following the reformation of the Big East and UConn's subsequent bowl appearances, which are becoming more frequent under head coach Randy Edsall.

On the contrary, though, SNY has professed to be the home of the Big East, and has been for the last several years, with original programming and simulcasts of ESPN regional games to back that claim up. With UConn getting more face time on the network, though, it will only be a matter of time before the other fifteen Big East institutions, including local members St. John's, Seton Hall and Rutgers, start to get wrongfully and unfortunately neglected in favor of the increased attention given toward their New England counterpart.

In addition, the Lady Huskies, who are arguably the most recognizable and most successful women's basketball team of all time, (it's debatable between UConn and Tennessee) and have had more undefeated seasons than all teams in the four major professional sports put together, should get more of a commitment than one game a season. I know it's a "minimum of one," as noted by the press release, but let's face it: Basketball isn't just a boys' club anymore. Whether or not some fans, male chauvinists, and basketball purists want to admit it, there are teenage girls out there that dream of going to Storrs and playing under the legend otherwise known as Geno Auriemma. Never mind the fact that women's sports probably will never draw as well as their masculine counterparts, or the general apathy expressed toward them. What could have been a landmark for both parties was left out in the cold.

Regardless of whether other Big East programs or the UConn women get as much attention as the Huskies men's hoops or football squads, (and if you disagree with my views, please let me know) the fact that a school like UConn, who has been a sleeping giant in the New York metropolitan area in more ways than one, can reach an agreement with a regional network is still a crowning achievement in the world of intercollegiate athletics.

Let's see if SNY remains as objective as it has always been (much to my delight as a sports fan) when it comes to the teams in the area. In the words of Billy Joel, "I like you just the way you are." Hopefully SNY doesn't go changing to try and please its new fans.

Bobby Era Officially Gonzo At Hall

Bobby Gonzalez no longer has to hide from his former employer after ex-coach and Seton Hall reach settlement in heated legal battle between the two. (Photo courtesy of New York Daily News)

It only took five months, but the bitter divorce between Bobby Gonzalez and Seton Hall University has apparently come to a long-awaited close, as the former coach of the Pirates has reached a settlement with the program he led to a 66-59 record during his four years in charge.

Although terms of the settlement remain undisclosed at this moment, it is no doubt a positive end to the sequence of events that Gonzalez has endured in the time following his departure from the Seton Hall program; from the expletive-laden phone conversation with Seton Hall official Patrick Hobbs to his recent arrest for shoplifting a satchel from a New Jersey mall.

Gonzalez has made no secret of his desire to return to the college basketball universe, while Seton Hall prepares for their 2010-11 campaign with returning starters Jeremy Hazell, (the team's leading scorer in each of the last two seasons) Herb Pope and Jeff Robinson; not to mention new head coach Kevin Willard, who comes to the Pirates from Iona College.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Chris Crosses The Line

After helping lead Michigan State to consecutive Final Fours, Chris Allen will take his game somewhere else after being dismissed from Spartans. (Photo courtesy of Sports Illustrated)

Michigan State's quartet of guards has shrunk to a trio in the wake of coach Tom Izzo's announcement that Chris Allen, whose outside shot helped guide the Spartans to back-to-back Final Fours, would not be returning to East Lansing for the 2010-11 season.

A junior who forged his way into Sparty's rotation following the 2009 graduations of Goran Suton and Travis Walton, Allen became the sixth man for Izzo early in his career before eventually taking Walton's spot at shooting guard in the starting lineup last year, where he was embroiled in a conflict with Izzo late in the season; one that saw him miss considerable playing time in the Big Ten tournament as well as the Spartans' run to the national semifinals.

Allen will have to sit out a year under NCAA transfer rules, and is in the process of finding a new home after becoming the first player to be dismissed from the team since Izzo took over the head coaching position in 1995. His spot in the lineup will likely be filled by junior Korie Lucious, but incoming freshman Keith Appling has been rumored to see his fair share of minutes as well for a team that is already expected in some circles to make a strong bid to capture its first national championship since 2000.