After yesterday's dreadful Final Four semifinals, Jon Morse wrote this morning, "The best game yesterday was the one you didn't watch."
Morse writes a blog called "Bring on the Cats," which is essentially a Kansas State Wildcats fan site. However, Morse also provides the public service of tracking all of the "other" college basketball tournaments that are going on this time of year. The "best game" to which he refers was the University of South Dakota's 71-65 win over Florida Gulf Coast for the championship of the Women's National Invitational Tournament. The game was available nationally on cable channel CBS Sports Network, and those who bothered to watch saw a competitive contest played before an enthusiastic DakotaDome crowd of 7,400. I'm a USD alum, so yes, I was watching.
Summit League regular-season champ USD was relegated to the WNIT with a loss to South Dakota State in the league championship game on March 8. SDSU went on to play well in the NCAA tournament but bowed out in the 2nd round. After yesterday's win, USD Coach Amy Williams was asked the inevitable question of whether it was better to play a game or two in the NCAA tournament or win the WNIT. As with most situations that have arisen in the past four years at USD, Williams was prepared, answering, "Every accomplishment has its own glory." Despite chants from the student section of "Bring on UConn," this 32-6 WNIT winner isn't ready to take on the undefeated Huskies. But after the Summit League disappointment it did string together six wins over good teams, including dominating performances against so-called Power 5 teams from Minnesota and Oregon.
The men's Final Four yesterday did nothing for me. The only interesting figure, Buddy Hield, had a bad game as Oklahoma got trounced. I used to sort of like Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim, but he has turned into something of a detestable figure in his old age. North Carolina is in the middle of an academic scandal that goes well beyond the athletic department. Unlike Syracuse and UNC, Villanova hasn't gotten caught cheating lately (1971), but there's nothing there that draws my interest. I'll probably watch UNC-Villanova Monday night out of habit, but I really don't care about the outcome.
This year I've found local college basketball much more interesting than that played by these corrupted national brands. Last week, the men's team from Augustana University of Sioux Falls completed a 34-2 season by winning the NCAA Division 2 championship in Frisco, TX. The campus is five miles from my house, so yes, I watched that championship game, also on CBS Sports Network. So what happens to the players who actually attended class for four years and will not get drafted by the NBA? Augustana seniors Dan Jansen and Casey Schilling, both D2 All-Americans, are student teaching for the remainder of the semester. USD senior Tia Hemiller, who carried her team with 22 points yesterday, also will be busy with student teaching. Any bets on whether projected high NBA draft pick Ben Simmons has attended any classes since the end of his one-and-done season at LSU?
The mythos of the "student/athlete" and the view that there is considerable hypocrisy in college sports are not mutually exclusive. Both have elements of truth. The NCAA loves its $10.8 billion (with a "b") March Madness TV contract, no doubt about it, and there is plenty of speculation that bigger schools are trying to figure out how to share less of that with the smaller schools. But even smaller schools have to invest considerable funds in facilities and coaches. For those who think we spend too much on college sports at the expense of more worthy constituents, sorry but that's just the way it is and you are going to have to deal with it. Right or wrong, colleges see their sports programs as important marketing tools for fundraising and attracting prospective students. USD is completing a $74 million building project that includes a new basketball/volleyball arena. Alas, unlike buildings, coaches cannot be affixed to the ground. One of the plights of being a so-called mid-major institution is serving as a stepping stone to Power 5 jobs for talented young coaches.
In discussing the candidates to be the next coach of the Arizona Wildcat women, Arizona Star columnist Greg Hansen wrote, "Some big-school AD will soon hire Williams, 40, who led the Coyotes to a win in Saturday’s Women’s NIT championship game." He cited her salary as $180,000 a year, which sounds like a lot to your typical South Dakotan but is well below what a Big 10 or Pac 12 coach gets and is probably the lowest of the six football and basketball head coaches at USD and SDSU. Until now, all state employees were limited to a one-year contract, which is far from the norm in Division 1 sports. This has not been a problem at SDSU for whatever reason, but it became a problem at USD when it hired a new football coach recently. The South Dakota Board of Regents passed a resolution this week to allow four-year contracts for D1 coaches, athletic directors, and university presidents.
As Hansen pointed out, many of the top coaches in women's basketball are men (including all four in the women's Final Four), but Arizona has never hired a man for its top spot. SDSU's Aaron Johnston may have been the victim of gender discrimination when the Minnesota job was open a couple years ago, so it appears there are at least some schools that want a woman to coach the women. Being a hero in her home state may have its own glory for the Spearfish native Williams, but it seems likely that a young, successful mid-major coach who also happens to be female will be offered Power 5 opportunities that will be difficult to pass up. Last Wednesday, Williams' team obliterated Oregon of the Pac 12 by 34 points. Is that something you would be interested in, Arizona of the Pac 12? USD probably will be unable to hang onto Williams forever, but in my view it would be a good idea to act quickly on an enhanced contract offer and make it at least slightly less tempting for her to move on and seek greater glory elsewhere.
Update: Just a few hours after I wrote this, it was reported that SDSU men's coach Scott Nagy was leaving for Wright State in Dayton. While this doesn't sound like an upgrade, apparently Wright is going to nearly double Nagy's salary to $400K. I don't think the two South Dakota schools are willing yet to compete with that. Time to go find a young ambitious (relatively inexpensive) coach and hope for the best.