Friday, November 7, 2014

Coaching Carousal Part 2015-01: The Short Off Season

The Ebb and Flow...
Economic cycles, conference realignment and the expansion/contraction of Division 1 have disrupted the grander cycle of the Carousal, but the annual cycle, the cycle within any particular season/off season, has remained (with some exceptions) intact. Which party (employer or employee) dominates at any point in the cycle is governed by the timing. As the season winds down, Administrators perform their year-end assessment of their programs, and baskeball underperformers begin to search their souls. Administrators dominate until the third weekend of the NCAA Tournament when the accumulation of open positions and interviews brings job offers and the carousal begins to move. Departing coaches trigger more openings. This multiplier effect powers the carousal for 4-6 additional weeks. The spring signing period ushers in the next phase. General disaffection with job performance (or employer support or brighter spotlights) gives way to specific reasons -- health (Skip Prosser, Wake Forest; Rick Majerus, St. Louis), behavior (Mike Rice, Rutgers; Billy Gillispie, Texas Tech) and internal politics (of succession, for example -- Jim Calhoun, Connecticut; Dave Boots, South Dakota) or even a combination (Jimmy Collins, Illinois-Chicago) -- for the change in leadership. When the turnover occurs outside of the peak period of the cycle -- the end of February through the end of the spring signing period -- the more obvious the reason for change. Though not always initiated by administration, the changeover can disrupt the program.

The last two turnovers -- Doug Wojcik (College of Charleston) and Gib Arnold (University of Hawaii) -- both initiated by management and coming along the cusp of the 2014 and 2015 cycle -- are examples of the exigent circumstances. For Wojcik, the problem was player abuse, a growing concern among Division 1 Athletic Directors. Arnold and Assistant Coach Brandyn Akana were relieved of their duties amid rumors of document tampering during the admissions process of a potential transfer. The allegations, self-reported late last season, resulted in a 14 game suspension for Akana. The investigation continued through the summer and concluded a fortnight into the official fall practice period. Wojcik settled on a payment; Akana has yet to respond publicly; Arnold may well sue. Given the timing, the College of Charleston looked locally and hired Clemson Assistant Coach Earl Grant, a Charleston native and journeyman coach at three South Carolina colleges/universities (and Wichita State in Kansas) before coming home to Charleston. Hawaii promoted Assistant Coach Benjy Taylor as interim Head Coach. Taylor, whose job before Hawaii was Head Coach at Chicago State (3 seasons, 39-53) has held staff jobs at eight different Division 1 and Division 3 schools in a career that spans 22 years.

46 coaching vacancies since fall practice 2013 marked the lowest turnover since 2009. The percentage of Division 1 openings (13.1%) also marks a "bottom" since 2009 (9.3%). The last common trait the current cycle shares with 2009 -- the all-too-brief "offseason". Jim Crews was fired by Army in late September 2009 (the last turnover in the 2009 offseason) while Fordham's Derrick Whittenburg was fired on December 3, 2009 (the first of the 2009-10 cycle), making that coaching carousal "offseason" all of 11 weeks. This one, from August 5 to October 24, was just under 12 weeks.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

An Atlantic 10 - Big East Challenge? Already Happening

The Under Reported Conference Challenge
"Something I'd love to see moving forward in the non-conference portion of schedules? A Big East-Atlantic 10 Challenge." I caught that tweet from a hungry -- yet humble -- sports writer several Sundays ago as I monitored my twitter feed while watching Massachusetts take Fordham behind the shed to the tune of 90-52. ESPN, CBS and Fox Sports, through the power of made for television events (power conference challenges, early season invitational tournaments and gimmick-inspired match-ups like the "Aircraft Carrier" and now-defunct "Bracket Buster Weekend" games), have transformed the out conference portion of the season from untelevised David and Goliath games in which an "above the red line" host pummels a "below the red line" visitor (and then settles the penalty clause for breaking the NCAA-mandated home-away contract with a check) into a series of games that capture the excitement of the post season in the weeks before conference play begins.

I wrote about this organic rivalry several years ago, and though conference realignment has changed the details, the general points remain the same...
1. The conferences share a common geographical footprint that stretches from Rhode Island (URI and PC) in the east, south to the Washington DC metro area (Georgetown, George Washington, Richmond and VCU) and west (through the Rust Belt) to the Mississippi River Valley and it's tributaries (St. Louis and Creighton).
2. Many of the teams continue historic rivalries initiated because of their shared geography. While there are exceptions (*cough* Georgetown *cough*), most, as the table below confirms, continue to play their neighbors even though conference commitments take a large portion of their schedules.
3. Many of those schools located in the upper mid-west and south share conference affiliations.
4. Early season invitational tournaments have brokered matches that two neighbors have not, on their own, created. The two conferences had 30 members who played 37 games back in 2010 (and 50+ games, including the post season, in the snapshot I took in 1975) when I wrote about the rivalry last. Conference realignment has reshaped both conferences. Today they have between them 23 teams (10 in the Big East, 13 in the Atlantic 10) that include four entirely new faces (Creighton, Butler, George Mason and Virginia Commonwealth) and 11 teams departed (Charlotte, Cincinnati, Connecticut, Louisville, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, South Florida, Syracuse, Temple and West Virginia), but the table below suggests that number of games played aside, the power relationship remains unchanged.

The number of common games has declined as the membership of each conference has changed, but the trend over the past five years (and the snapshot from 1975 seems to affirm), that the Big East schools tend to win the larger portion of the games; 2011 excepted (of the 21 games played the Big East record was 11-10 or 0.524) the Big East tends to win at least 60% of the games. 2013-14 is an outlier only in the smaller-than-usual sample and the high winning percentage (10 games, 8-2 so far). Of course the post season will yield at least one-to-two additional matchups.

1. If the last three invitations are any indication, A-10 Commissioner Bernadette McGlade's realignment strategy will have the conference expand to the south. With the addition of Xavier, Butler and Creighton, the Big East appears open to moving westward should Commissioner Val Ackerman and the membership decide to expand beyond 10.
2. The regions into which each conference expands will decide whether their pool of common games grows or diminishes.
3. When the Hoyas joined the Big East in 1979-80, they allowed three of their most active local rivalries, with American (1938-39), George Washington (1906-07) and Maryland (1907-08) to lapse. George Washington (1981-82) and Maryland (1979-80) were discontinued in the early 1980s, while the American series continued until 1986-87 before taking a 20 year hiatus. Restarting the series with George Washington, relatively competitive at 54-39, would likely raise DC interest in college basketball. Reviving the Maryland rivalry would give the Big East an annual game with the Big Ten.
4. As the rankings and head-to-head records suggest, both conferences would be better served with conference challenge showcases with better matched conferences. Fans may find a Big East-Pac-12 challenge more competitive for both conferences while the Atlantic 10, clearly at the head of that group of conferences consisting of the C-USA, Mountain West, West Coast and Missouri Valley might be better served with a conference challenge with the West Coast Conference, a showcase that could give both conferences exposure on the other coast.