I would like to start this week’s article with an apology as what follows is a bit rambling. Do to some events in my professional life this week, which actually sparked an idea for next week’s column, I did not have time to go back and edit/rewrite the article like I normally do. Hopefully people will still find it at least somewhat interesting and I promise that next week’s will be more on point.
As many of my readers probably know, prior to moving to Australia I was high school football and basketball official in the States. Officiating was a fun activity that allowed me to be involved in sports and helped me to gain a deeper appreciation and understanding of sports, you get a very different perspective from watching the game on the playing surface. It also gave me a different perspective on officiating, showing me that it was a much harder job than I had ever anticipated and causing me to back-off considerably in my criticisms of officials and their calls during games. In fact, as many of you who follow me on twitter or who have joined us for our game chats here at The Buckeye Battlecry (if you haven’t joined us for game chats you really should as they are lots of fun), I have often taken to defending the officials, occasionally to the annoyance of others.
As an official I read with mild interest an opinion piece published on ESPN last week about teaching respect for officials. These type of pieces pop up from time to time and while I agree with the sentiment I have given up expecting the piece to actually do anything to change how sports fans view officials and a quick perusal of the comments section confirmed that view. The comments section was filled with the standard responses that one sees when you tell fans to respect the officials as people responded ‘I will respect the officials when they call the game right’ or ‘if I made a mistake at my job as big as what officials make, I would be fired’ or the ever famous ‘I will respect officials when they realize the game is not about them and that they should be invisible’. Of course I am paraphrasing on these but those statements encompass the spirit of most of the posts in the comment section and they are things that we have all heard and many of us have probably even said; I even said things like that before I became an official and I may have even made comments along the lines of ‘if I missed a call like that in a game I would never work anything higher than middle school ball again’ a time or two since becoming one.
The past six months have seen lots of talk about conference realignment and as a result many teams will be finding new homes in the next couple years and some conference will be almost unrecognizable after the massive reorganization. The Big Ten will not see any change in its membership until 2014 but Big Ten fans won’t have to wait that long to see the effects of conference realignment. While everyone who is a college sports fan, at least beyond their own team, will likely see the impact of conference realignment beginning this fall, Big Ten fans will feel the direct impact of the realignment come December. This week the matchups for the annual Big Ten-ACC Challenge in men’s basketball were released and for those fans who missed out in all the realignment talk, the list of matchups will cause a large amount of confusion. In addition to announcing the matchups for the challenge, Yahoo sports has ranked the matchups in terms of interest and while I generally agree with much of Yahoo’s coverage, there are several issues that I have with their ranking of matchups.
My issues with Yahoo’s rankings begin almost immediately as they ranked Michigan-Duke as the most interesting matchup. Sure, to the casual fan who for some reason give Michigan basketball more historical credit than it deserves and ignores the whole NCAA ruling on the Fab Five, this may seem like an intriguing matchup of two teams with a rich history, it actually won’t be that good of a game. The Wolverines lose their star player as Trey Burke declared for the draft and in early December the team will still be looking to fill that hole, they will also be looking to find someone who can randomly put up ill-advised shots as Tim Hardaway Jr. is also leaving. Meanwhile Duke returns a very talented team and will be adding star freshman Jabari Parker to the mix. Add in the fact that Coach K is a far better coach and this one shouldn’t even be close.
Since moving to Australia last year I have grown used to talking with people who do not understand many aspects of America. Things like US politics, our view on guns, our appreciation of good Mexican food, etc… seem to baffle many Australians. This lack of understanding continues to sports and one of the things that many Australians seem to have a hard time understanding about Americans sports, other than our realization that cricket is boring, is our love affair with college sports. It’s not that Australians do not understand or appreciate American sports, the NFL, NBA, and MLB all have decent followings over here; NFL and MLB games are on free television here at least once a week and you can find NBA jerseys in many sporting goods stores here. This interest in American sports does not extend to the college ranks though and many Australians cannot understand the passions that Americans have for college sports and the amount of money that is involved in them.
A big reason why Australians do not understand the love of college sports is that students here have a very different relationship with the university they attend than students do in the States. The obvious difference is that college sports do not exist here but it goes even beyond that. When most Americans go to university they live in the dorms for at least a year and then move to an apartment, normally near campus. This means that most American students spend a major portion of even their non-class time on or near campus. It is a very different story in Australia where dorms are pretty much non-existent, the small amount of on campus housing that exists is mostly in the form of residential colleges which function as a sort of academic fraternity in many ways, and a large percentage of students live at home due to the high cost of housing. This means that students here tend to spend far less of their non-class time on campus.
While football at any level is a great sport and a lot of fun, college football stands out as the most truly enjoyable version of the sport, at least in terms of the overall experience. While the NFL is better played and high school is somewhat more pure, the atmosphere of a college football game is unique and it is that atmosphere that elevates a college football gameday above all others. As Ohio State fans we are blessed with having one of the best gameday atmospheres in the country and a major reason for that is the Ohio State University Marching Band; you would be hard pressed to find an OSU fan who didn’t feel that Skull Session, the ramp entrance, ‘Script Ohio’, or the band’s halftime show weren’t vital parts of a football Saturday in Columbus. Buckeye fans and visitors to Columbus have long known just how good TBDBITL really is but some changes coming this fall will make even more people aware of the how impressive the band truly is.
OSU President Gordon Gee has said on numerous occasions how much he likes the marching band and how he feels they are important representatives of the university. That view of the band is now reflected in a new funding model that will begin this fall. Traditionally the OSUMB has been funded by the College of Arts and Sciences and the Athletic Department. Both of these groups will continue to provide funding but the band will also now receiving funding from the Development Office of the President. This will increase the band’s annual budget to $1 million, moving the OSUMB from ninth place in the Big Ten to first.
As Ken reported on Tuesday, after four weeks of searching, Ohio State announced the hiring of Kevin McGuff as the new women’s basketball head coach. While McGuff doesn’t have the level of name recognition as some of the other candidates for the job, he is a far better hire than many people realize and is the type of coach that I wanted when the job search began. McGuff is a relatively young be coaching standards, he is 43, and is an up-and-comer who has a very solid resume that has shown that he can build programs.
Like many of Ohio State’s recent high profile head coaches, Kevin McGuff has ties back to the Buckeye state. McGuff was born in Hamilton, Ohio and after leaving the state to attend Saint Joseph’s College in Indiana, returned to begin his coaching career as an assistant coach at Miami of Ohio. The next step in McGuff’s coaching career saw him travel back to the state of Indiana where he served as an assistant coach at Notre Dame under Muffet McGraw where he was part of the program that won the 2001 national title. Unable to stay away from the state of Ohio, McGuff got his first head coaching gig at Xavier in 2002.
At Xavier, McGuff compiled a 213-73 and led the Musketeers to 4 Atlantic Ten tournament Championships, 3 WNIT appearances, and 6 NCAA tournament appearances. While McGuff’s Xavier teams didn’t have great success in the postseason, they did make the Elite Eight in the 2009-2010 season and came within a minute of upsetting Stanford to make the Final Four. A big part of McGuff’s success was his recruiting and despite the small profile of Xavier in women’s basketball, McGuff had good success on the recruiting trail, signing several players who could have easily played at major conference schools, most notably Ta’Shia Phillips and Amber Harris who were the only two players from non-BCS schools invited to attend the 2011 WNBA draft in person.
It has been a month since Ohio State announced that Jim Foster would not be returning as coach of the women’s basketball team and the OSU athletic department has been busy searching for a new coach.
When the announcement of Foster’s firing was made, OSU said that they expected to be in the Final Four every few years, clearly setting a high bar for the program in the upcoming seasons. Considering the fact that Ohio State has only ever made one Final Four, this would seem a bit unrealistic but with the resources of OSU and the talent produced in Ohio and elsewhere in the Midwest, it is a very achievable goal.
However, to meet this goal OSU will need to find a coach that can properly take advantage of these resources and lead the program to the next level.
While women’s basketball coaching searches aren’t followed as closely as those for football and men’s basketball, some bits of information has slipped out over recent weeks. The first bit of news was that current South Carolina coach Dawn Staley had withdrawn her name from consideration for the OSU job. Staley has South Carolina on the rise and over her tenure the Gamecocks have gone from being a non-factor in the SEC to finishing ranked in the top 20 this season. Despite this improvement, South Carolina hasn’t had success in the NCAA tournament and that is obviously an important criterion for Ohio State. The most upsetting part of Staley’s announcement is the potential implication that OSU isn’t being perceived as the top tier job that it should be.
The firing of coaches is met with a wide range of emotions by fans, with some firings eliciting happiness and shouts of “good riddance” from the fans while others spark anger in the fans for the loss of a beloved coach. The announcement that Jim Foster would not be returning as the head coach of the Ohio State women’s basketball team was met with a more complex set of emotions by many, including myself. My feelings regarding Foster’s firing would best be described as bittersweet. Foster was a great coach, and even better person, who markedly improved the women’s basketball program. At the same time, despite Foster’s dominance in the Big Ten he was never able to get the team to take the next step and the past three seasons had seen a decline even in the performance in conference.
As WVaBuckeye pointed out in the excellent first part of his series on Ohio State women’s basketball’s history of success, the Buckeyes dominated the Big Ten in the early days of the conference sponsoring the sport in the 1980s, also enjoying a run of NCAA tournament success during those years. By the late 1990s that dominance in the conference had evaporated, along with pretty much all of the postseason success. In the five years before Foster arrived, OSU had an overall record of 81-65 but went 35-45 in the Big Ten and never finished higher than a tie for fourth place in the conference. The Buckeyes did win the WNIT in 2001 but a sub-.500 record the following year led to the firing of Beth Burns as head coach and the hiring of Jim Foster.
Yesterday’s win over Minnesota in the first round of the Big Ten tournament was huge for the Ohio State women’s basketball team’s hopes of making the NCAA tournament. Today’s matchup with top seeded and 7th ranked Penn State was an opportunity for the Buckeyes to improve their NCAA resume and virtually assure themselves a spot in the Big Dance. This was also a chance for OSU to get some revenge after Penn State overcame a halftime deficit to beat the Buckeyes in their only regular season meeting.
The game started out as a tight, back-and-forth defensive battle with both teams having to work hard to get an open look. The opening five minutes saw both team trading baskets with neither able to open up more than a three point lead. Ohio State led 14-13 at the fourteen minute mark but then Penn State scored six straight points to take a 19-14 lead just a minute and a half later and it seemed like the Nittany Lions were poised to take control of the game. The Buckeyes responded though, getting some defensive stops which led to some nice layups as OSU scored 8 straight to take the lead, 22-19, with eight minutes remaining in the half. The teams would go back to trading baskets for the next few minutes and OSU managed to extend its lead to 29-24 with just under five minutes left in the half. The Nittany Lions closed out the half strong though, going on a 9 to 2 run to close the half and to take a 33-31 lead into halftime.