I have a confession to make.
I don’t like baseball.
Alright, maybe it’s not that I don’t necessarily DISLIKE baseball, but it’s just that I don’t love baseball. Sure, it’s a fine sport and America’s Past Time and what not, but who among you can honestly say your bowels don’t just drop the day after the last game of the NBA Finals when you know the only live sport you’ll have to occupy your time for the next two months is baseball? Seriously, I’ve even gone so far as to try and get into watching European Soccer to pass the time, but nothing works. Without football, basketball and, sometimes even hockey, ESPN becomes insufferable and the internet is pretty much just a vehicle for email, porn and movie listings. And when you consider that most television networks view the middle of summer as the off-season for new programming, sometimes I find it amazing that we even make it through the summer at all once we’re out of school and the concept of summer vacation becomes as foreign as the makeup of 90% of Major League rosters.
The reason I bring this up now is because I just got back from the TCU Dallas Alumni business lunch where Nolan Ryan - big Frog fan, by the way - was the key speaker and, he was great and everything and it’s always pretty fantastic to be in the same room as one of your boyhood idols, but baseball just doesn’t hold the same appeal for me now as it did then. It was a pretty light hearted affai, veiled shots were taken at the Rangers expense regarding Matt Purke, and I know the big impetus behind this lunch was to get everyone fired up for Horned Frogs baseball, but it’s just not in me yet. Yes, I will cheer on the Frogs this year – heck, I’ll even support the women’s bball team if they make a run, why not? – and, who knows, I might attend a few games and get hooked. Coach Schloss is one of the best in the business and, from what I read about him/derive from the few times I’ve heard him speak, he absolutely has his shit together and has built one of the premier teams in the country with some of the best facilities right under the noses of the perennial CWS teams in his own back yard. That he’s done this at a football crazy school in a football crazy state with modest resources compared to his nearest competition just makes his accomplishments even that more commendable. But as I stared at Coach sitting there today at the luncheon, unassumingly so considering how we should view him in a similar light as we do GP, it just made me realize even more fully the main void of my college experience.
Why the hell can’t TCU have a good basketball team?
So last night I’m sitting at dinner and my phone buzzes. Now, I knew the Frogs game was finishing up about the time this happened, and as my phone automatically pushes final scores to my inbox, I figured this was going to be what said message was. I want to have faith; I want to feel good and optimistic every time I receive a new TCU score. But I’m also a realist and, seeing as how we’ve lost to such loft programs as Northern Colorado and worst in the Big 12 Nebraska, not to mention blew a 20 point lead to a vastly overrated Texas Tech team at home and lost by 10, I wasn’t expecting much. For those of you who followed along, you know the rest – another loss, a sub 500 record for the zillionth time, and practically no shot at competing in the conference for the 100th year in the row. Considering our next two games are against ranked conference leaders New Mexico and BYU, you can expect the rebuilding effort to begin momentarily.
Now, I don’t mean this as a diatribe against Coach Jim Christian. You can’t do much with a roster full of turd sandwiches and a fan base extremely long on apathy. We all love Tuffy Moss and Zvonko Buljan, but, let’s face it – these guys would warm the bench at some D-II programs. Fortunately, I truly believe that Christian is a good coach and he still has plenty of time to find the right players and develop the ones he has. If Neil got as many years as he did, Christian should go ahead and be given a lifetime contract based on past performance. But, the fact remains we’re still a doormat basketball program situated in one of the most talent rich areas of the country which is ENTIRELY unacceptable.
But, let’s suspend reality for a bit and imagine that the opposite is true. Imagine game days where the majority of the student body camps out for tickets; not because it’s a cool statement making move, but because it’s necessary to get tickets? Imagine Daniel Meyer having the same home advantage that Amon G did for the last two games this year? Imagine having nearly 20 balls out, rage filled game days a year as opposed to just six? Imagine supporting a team that doesn’t, you know, lose to directional schools in mountainous states?
Love em or hate em, Duke Basketball arguably has the best fans in the entire country when it comes to college basketball. Yes, they’re nerds. Yes, a lot of the players that play for them are unlikeable, whiny baby floppers. Y es, Dick Vitale makes hating Duke feel as easy as ordering six beers during last call at The Cellar. But, like I said, you can’t deny that they’re passionate as hell about their team. And think about it – what does Duke have going for it that TCU doesn’t? Ok, they play in the ACC and they have established a solid tradition; I fully understand that’s a HUGE advantage and something that we will probably never have, but they still had to start from somewhere. They weren't always good. They also have a perennial loser of a football team and their lacrosse team likes to get a little bit too rapey once they taste success, so it’s not like they have a whole lot of other sports to occupy their minds, either. But, think about it – Duke is a nerd school which attracts mostly wealthy, east coast boarding school white kids who have probably never played a sport in their life. Duke is, as mentioned, a team filled with mostly white “athletes" – see Kyle Singler - who are among the most alienating in the country, even to their own fans. Not to mention the academic requirements said athletes must meet in order to even be accepted, although I’m willing to bet Elton Brand wasn’t exactly as MENSA quality as most of the student body. How does that translate to basketball success exactly?
TCU is somewhat similar to Duke, but would seemingly have the edge in a lot of the comparable categories. TCU also has a small, mostly white student body who mostly come from families of privilege, but you can’t by any means compare the academic lifetstyle between the two. TCU attracts far more average students who likely played sports at some point in their lives and, although grades are important, they definitely aren’t the only thing, so your fan interest in there.
Duke may have a much larger recruiting base to pluck athletes from – the entire nation – but, when you can only have so few scholarship players, this can also be a bit of a disadvantage. I couldn’t tell you the amount of Division I players who hail from the Metroplex, but I do know that once the major schools swing through and grab who they like, there’s still an absolute lion’s share of guys waiting for offers, and you can bet that SMU or North Texas aren't their top choices. Heck, Dunbar and North Crowley are continually two of the best programs in the state and they’re both located within Tarrant County. I know the draw of a big program talks to a lot of kids, but I think we vastly underestimate how much being able to stay at home and play in front of friends and family just like they have for the previous 18 years can hit a note with certain kids. Not to mention, unlike Duke, the academic requirements at TCU aren’t nearly as lofty and arrangements can absolutely be made. Note: I don’t support academic dishonesty… unless it helps the Frogs get ahead, of course!
I know those are some very superficial observations about the situation, and obviously I don’t think TCU will ever be as nationally popular and respected as a Duke, but the message should be clear – TCU has as much of a chance as just about any team in the region to be successful. We have a great coach. We have a home arena that could be among the loudest in Division I if filled. We have financially gifted boosters who could easily pump money into the program. And we W could take the city bus to recruit half of our team and not see any drop off in talent. We also have low expectations - an NIT bid every other year would satisfy me at this point and if we can't at least attain that given our advantages, perhaps we shouldn't even have Men's Basketball?
Of course, the big elephant in the room is this: How many schools have championship caliber football AND basketball teams? Even the big state schools aren’t commonly gifted with both. Of the largest schools enrollment wise in the country, Texas is hands down the biggest exception to the rule as they have outstanding football, baseball and basketball teams. They also have the largest athletic budget in the country in a landslide. Ohio State has a great football tradition, but their basketball team has some room to improve, although they are markedly better now with the momentum they gained with Greg Oden and Mike Conley. Florida, although in the midst of a few down years in basketball, is up there as well. But, schools like Arizona State, Penn State, Michigan, Michigan State, Aggy, Minnesota – practically every Big 10 school as they're the largest in the country – are pretty much limited to one of the other and, in some cases, neither. The Big East is easily my favorite conference to watch for basketball, but going down that list, they have approximately zero teams that enjoy success both on the field and on the court outside of West Virginia, and our football success is always going to be better than theirs as long as Bill Stewart is the coach. It also helps when your highly successful alcoholic basketball coach was practically handed to you on a platter because he is an alumnus.
So, I guess the other bottom line to this post is that at least part of the reason we lack basketball success is because it's extremely difficult to be blessed with success in more than one sport, so you pretty much have to take your pick. If having a great football team means having a less than adequate basketball team, that’s a trade off I think most of us will take every single time. But, I just don’t know why we can’t be an exception to the rule. Perhaps one day we will be.
In the meantime, we’ve got an 11th ranked baseball team about to take the diamond, so perhaps I shouldn’t be so cynical about what we don’t have and appreciate what we do have. So, swing batta batta and hit the ball with the stick over the fence! And, if not, at least beat Texas again this year. I just hate those bastards.