Category Archives: College Basketball

Auburn, Adidas and the FBI

It is a sad and sobering day. I have always been one who wants to believe that when someone talks to you they will tell you the truth, do the right thing, be honest and forthcoming. I still want to be able to do this, badly, but my innocence (or naiveté), has, once again, taken a major hit.

I am growing weary.

As I was sifting through different topics and stories on the morning of the day this column was written, the Adidas/Bribery/FBI scandal story broke. And there sits Auburn, right smack dab in the middle of it.

Really?

And this is, most assuredly, the tip of the iceberg. Oklahoma State, Southern Cal, and Arizona also had assistant coaches charged. The Auburn assistant coach involved is Tiger legend, Chuck Person.

It’s the same old story, umpteenth verse. Greed, corruption, arrogance, and pride. This reads like a tragedy of Greek proportions.

When will we ever learn? Can we not take the failures and flaws of such stories, past and present, apply them to our lives, and do better? Apparently not. From time immemorial, this has been the case. We haven’t learned a confounded thing, it seems.

From Cain and Abel to Jacob and Esau to Samson to King David, and right on through the crucifixion of Jesus, the Bible tells tale after tale of man’s tragic fall again and again and again.

Yes, from day one the selfish desires of hugely flawed humanity have been paraded before us in every conceivable manner, from pulp fiction to the holy writ.

“It’s the same old story, umpteenth verse. Greed, corruption, arrogance, pride. This reads like a tragedy of Greek proportions.”

“How long, oh Lord?” (Psalm 13), and also a favorite quote of the late, great Hunter S. Thompson. My answer? Today? For as long as there are homo sapiens roaming the highways and byways of good old planet earth.

We tend to fail. We tend to fail miserably. And we are usually undone by the works of our own hands. We are, all too often, more than willing accomplices. Pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath, and sloth. The seven deadly sins, all on full display day after day, week after week, and year after year, illuminated in the news and gossip rags for all the world to see.

But what about redemption? Yes, that is the theme in many of these same biblical teachings, and it is, sometimes, the case in current tales of the fallen.

People screw up, and, unfortunately, often willingly. But people also redeem themselves. We can be a forgiving people, amazingly so, sometimes it seems. We just want those fallen, those guilty, those transgressors to come clean. We want them to be honest and straightforward. We want to forgive.

We also want our sports to be a place for escape, for joy, a place in which we can immerse ourselves and forget the travails that so closely surround and pound us on a daily basis. And yet, again, that place is tainted by the sights and sounds of another tale of the fallen, the lost, the prodigal.

There will be karma, people will reap what they sow. There will be weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. There will be long-lasting repercussions. Penalties will be meted out.

Yet in this modern morality tale, which is now unfolding in front of us, there is bound to come redemption. Where? Who? How? Why? When?

Corruption and redemption. The first part of that coupled pair is now playing out in front of us. I find myself already longing for the second part. Redemption.

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E-mail Bird at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @Autull.

State of the Cleveland State Fandom: This Must Be the Turning Point

You would be forgiven to be overly skeptical of the headline here, given Cleveland State’s history of having a fanbase that has displayed shades of apathy and combativeness, depending upon what time of the year it happens to be.  You’d also be forgiven in thinking that there’s no way that this situation is ever going to change.

But something about this off-season seems kind of different. And at a pivotal point in the program, this needs to change everything.

In a previous column, I talked about the recent resurgence in Cleveland State’s social media presence, particularly on Twitter as it related to the recent Mascot Melee on SB Nation’s Mic-Major Madness site. While CSU’s mascot Magnus was edged out at the last minute by Scrappy, the mascot at North Texas, the push by Cleveland State was undeniable.

To anyone who has watched the Viking fanbase dwindle to a small, surly band over the years, the CSU off-season push was more than a pleasant surprise. And in the aftermath of the mascot battle, it offers hope that maybe, just maybe, the fandom can be emerge from life support.

It would appear that over the last month, Cleveland State has taken a multi-pronged approach to kick-starting interest. The first, of course, was social media, which was given an unexpected boost by the mascot challenge. That led CSU to venture beyond the keyboard, and Magnus was running all over the place, from television to radio.

And the true face of Cleveland State would have been remiss if he didn’t show up the annual gathering of freshmen that bears his name over the weekend.

But the extra bonus to Magnus being everywhere is that CSU is in ticket-giveaway mode now. With approximately 4,100-plus votes coming through on Twitter in the championship round versus Scrappy, Cleveland State made it known that it would reward those votes with two tickets to the men’s basketball home opener on November 17th against Coppin State.

Normally, a game against an opponent from the MEAC wouldn’t really inspire anyone to make their way down to the Wolstein Center. But, if even half of the 4,100 voters on Twitter cashed in on the freebie, head coach Dennis Felton’s debut would draw the biggest home crowd for an opener in years.

Whether this actually happens or not remains to be seen, of course. But it’s clear that CSU, under new athletic director Mike Thomas, has, at the very least, recognized that some of the old approaches have not netted the interest it had hoped.

The true test will be in the coming months, as basketball season approaches and Cleveland State makes its pitch to the masses to come to games. While many outside of CSU are viewing Felton’s opening season as transitional one, it will be important in terms of building the foundation for transforming the fan base.

If this summer truly is the turning point for the Viking faithful, does that mean that an attitude change by those who stood by Cleveland State the entire time be in order? Conventional wisdom would say this probably won’t happen. But with any fan base, the crazy diehards have always been a small sliver of the whole. It’s just at CSU’s whole has never really been that large.

For a new era in Cleveland State, that change must come.

E-mail Bob at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @bobmcdonald.

Image via CSUVikings.com

Mitchell Robinson’s departure drastically changes Western Kentucky’s outlook

Mitchell Robinson, a Consensus Top 10 recruit in the class of 2017, announced on Sunday that he would withdraw from Western Kentucky University and focus on preparation for the 2018 NBA Draft. Robinson’s decision brings an end to one of the most bizarre recruiting sagas in recent years. 

Robinson initially committed to play for Texas A&M in 2015. He backed out following the 2015-16 season, shortly after assistant coach Rick Stansbury left to become the head coach at Western Kentucky. Initial buzz suggested Robinson would wind up at another power conference program, but he opted to follow Stansbury to WKU in June of 2016. The decision Stansbury made in adding Robinson’s mentor Shammond Williams to the Hilltoppers’ coaching staff likely didn’t hurt his recruiting pitch.

The Hilltoppers seemingly made their recruiting coup official when the 222 pound 7-footer signed his letter of intent during the early signing period in 2017, but the story was far from over. Shammond Williams resigned from his coaching position in July, and Robinson was released from his Letter of Intent less than a month later. 

Uncertainty about his 2017-18 eligibility after he started classes at Western Kentucky took most potential suitors out of the running for her services. Robinson visited perennial powerhouse Kansas and local programs LSU and the University of New Orleans, a member of the Southland Conference, before reaffirming his commitment to WKU

During this stretch Western Kentucky fans got another bit of great news when leading scorer and rebounder Justin Johnson announced he would return to the Hilltopper basketball team after flirting with the idea of playing football for the fall semester of his senior year. Johnson averaged 14.5 points and 9.4 rebounds as a junior. Putting him next to a strong one-and-done candidate center would’ve given the Hilltoppers a front court that mid-majors can’t dream of.

There’s no doubt that Robinson, who currently projects as late first round pick on NBADraft.net in the wake of his departure from WKU, would’ve been a serious game changer for the Hilltoppers. His NBA size and athleticism combined with his skills on defense and in transition would’ve made him a nightmare matchup in a conference where tweener forwards dominate the post. 

The timing of Robinson’s arrival at Western Kentucky would’ve been beneficial to the Hilltoppers’ chances at a potential Conference USA title despite the fact that he’s joining a roster that finished 7th in the C-USA in 2017. Middle Tennessee State, which advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament in each of its last two seasons, lost 2017 C-USA Player of the Year JaCorey Williams and Second Team All-Conference USA performer Reggie Upshaw to graduation. 2017 C-USA runner up Louisiana Tech lost its star forward Eric McCree to the Miami Heat. 

While Western Kentucky suffered significant losses to graduation, there was still optimism for a big jump in the conference standings. The combination of Robinson and proven double-double machine Johnson would have allowed the team to absolutely overwhelm many conference opponents in the post by preventing overmatched opposition from consistently double teaming either player. It wouldn’t have taken much for Stansbury to build around that front court and put together a roster that would finish near the top of the C-USA. From there, a conference tournament upset or two isn’t out of the question and Western Kentucky could’ve been a strong candidate to find its way to the NCAA Tournament. 

Now it seems that those hopes are all but out the window. Johnson’s stats will likely see a significant jump as much of last year’s supporting cast graduated, but what will be good for his individual numbers won’t be so good for the team’s win total. The Hilltoppers will likely finish somewhere in the muddled middle of Conference USA, and you should’t expect a return to the NCAA Tournament unless Stansbury can channel his inner Ray Harper.

Email John and [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @jjparker084.

Photo by: Western Kentucky Hilltopper Athletics

Felton’s Debut Season at Cleveland State Will Be Grueling

For as many basketball pundits who have already predicted that Cleveland State, under Dennis Felton, will finish at the bottom of the Horizon League rankings, the Vikings’ new head coach didn’t seem deterred by loading up the non-conference schedule with some tough contests.

Cleveland State will, for its opening months, be facing the likes of Rutgers, Michigan State and Cincinnati. As expected, The Spartans and the Bearcat will provide the Vikings with, quite bluntly, nearly impossible odds of winning, especially given the recent changes in the Cleveland State roster and coaching staff.

Ironically, though, the CSU-Cincinnati game on December 21st will be played at the home of one of Cleveland State’s conference foes, Northern Kentucky. The Bearcats, while their permanent home is being renovated, will take up temporary residence at BB&T Arena, which the Vikings will see one more time later in the season when they face the Norse in Horizon League play.

As for the Scarlet Knights, second-year head coach Steve Pikiell may find some challenges in Cleveland State, which travels to New Jersey as part of the Phil Sellers Showcase, though Rutgers has made some significant improvements to its roster since last year. This showcase will also find the Vikings hosting Coppin State on November 17th, which will be Felton’s home debut, and Central Connecticut State, with a road trip to East Carolina in between.

For the third year, Cleveland State, along with Akron, Kent State and conference foe Youngstown State, will gather for the annual Northeast Ohio Coaches vs. Cancer Classic. This season, the classic will be held in Akron, with the host Zips facing off against the Vikings on November 14th.

Akron will be one of four MAC teams that Cleveland State will face. Toledo will come to the Wolstein Center for CSU’s annual pre-Christmas match on December 23rd, while the Vikings will make the road trip to Kent State (12/2) and Western Michigan (12/6).

In what seems to be a given with Cleveland State and every other mid-major, there will be a non-Division I team on the home slate. This year, it will be Notre Dame College on December 10th. The Vikings will play a second non-D1 team, Cedarville, but this will be a November 2nd exhibition game.

Cleveland State will, in addition to its conference slate, play 14 games in the confines of the Wolstein Center. The Vikings will play host to Arkansas State on November 29th, a return matchup from the trip CSU took to Jonesboro last season.

Of course, the most anticipated game on the schedule may very well be on New Year’s Day, when the Vikings open the year, and the Horizon League, with a home contest against Youngstown State. The duel between new coaches Felton and YSU’s Jerrod Calhoun is probably marked on a few people’s calendars, though it’s a safe bet many of those folks are wearing red and white.

The competition that Cleveland State will face in 2017-18 is some of the stiffest that the Vikings have seen in some time, and you’d be forgiven if you’re not sure what to make of it. With three high-major road trips and an ever-improving Horizon League (IUIPUI notwithstanding), it seems as if CSU will not spend Felton’s opening year trying to ring up wins against low-majors to inflate its record.

At the same time, a slow burn may hinder Felton’s effort to rebuild the fan base. Whether the scheduling will serve as a benefit or deterrent to the Vikings when January 1st rolls around remains to be seen.

Email Bob at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @bobmcdonald.

Image via CSUVikings.com

Farewell, Rollie Massimino

When news broke that Rollie Massimino died, the basketball world was understandably heartbroken. The passing of the famed head coach who led Villanova to the NCAA title in 1985 came on the heels of the death of another coaching legend, Michigan State’s Jud Heathcote.

To be sure the Wildcat faithful and the fans at Keiser University, the NAIA school where Massimino spent his final years coaching, have naturally paid their respects. And so, too, have those who remember Massimino’s tenure at Cleveland State, where he was head coach from 1996 to 2003.

And rather than dwell on his final two seasons with the Vikings, which ultimately led to him stepping down, I’d much rather hearken back to 1996, when Massimino was hired to take over a Cleveland State squad that had languished under the final season of Mike Boyd, both in the win-loss column and in the stands.

Here’s a snippet of what I had written that May after he hosted a Select-Your-Seat night at the Wolstein Center (then the Convocation Center):

The Cleveland State basketball team hasn’t played a single game yet under new head coach Rollie Massimino. and yet, they have finally stepped into the big time.

It made no sense to me at first how one small head coaching change could vault the Vikings’ sad hoops team into national recognition. But in one fell swoop, it has.

The name and the energy of Massimino has brought CSU to the limelight. Why? Because Massimino has something that no coach in a 250-mile radius, including Cincinnati’s Bob Huggins has, a Division I basketball championship ring.

Now, to the uninterested person on the street, that wouldn’t even get a dull roar. But for the basketball-hungry fans of CSU, or basketball fans in general, it means everything.

While the Massimino’s debut campaign in 1996-97 showed a modest improvement in terms of wins and losses for the Vikings, he did, however, provide enough starpower to get the likes of Georgetown and Michigan to come to Cleveland. And CSU also notched a surprised win against Detroit Mercy in the Midwestern Collegiate Conference tournament that years as well.

Even long after his departure from Cleveland State, Massimino’s influence could be felt at all levels of the basketball coaching ranks. In fact, at least four the players on that 1996-97 squad, Derrick Ziegler, Dean Rahas and Malcolm Sims, all currently coach at the high school level.

Of course, there’s the well-heralded Massimino coaching tree in college, that includes, among others, Villanova’s Jay Wright and recently-hired Youngstown State head coach (and former CSU manager and player) Jerrod Calhoun.

And that influence will be more of Massimino’s legacy than anything else. Despite the 90-113 record at Cleveland State, there was never any shortage of that contagious enthusiasm he brought on the sidelines for every game. And what seems like a bygone era in which high-major schools shied away from traveling to mid-majors, Massimino delivered, from his first year bringing in the Hoyas and Wolverines and all throughout his tenure, hosting, among others, Cal and Florida State.

When I first heard about Massimino’s death, I wasn’t entirely sure how I was going to write this column that would inevitably going to happen. As it’s been well-chronicled, my role in the latter years of the Massimino era at Cleveland State was that of an enemy combatant, to be honest.

But, like all things, the passage of time makes us all think of the good more than the not-so-good. And that’s truly why when I sit back and remember Massimino, I think back more than anything to the man who openly embraced the college kid trying to make his way as a sports writer.

Good-bye, Coach Mass. I, like so many others, will miss you.

Email Bob at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @bobmcdonald.

Image via CSUVikings.com

Cuonzo Martin’s Missouri Basketball Team Gives Tiger Fans Reason To Be Excited

They say that the Earth was created in six days. Not too shabby. Missouri’s Cuonzo Martin may have that beat if we’re to believe both the experts and Missouri fans.

When Jim Sterk hired Martin to rebuild the Missouri basketball program, I’m not sure even Sterk envisioned Martin’s masterpiece being created in such short time. Martin hired Michael Porter Sr. to sit along side him on the bench and the rest was a domino effect. Porter Sr.’s blue chip recruit son, Michael Porter Jr., pledged his commitment to the Tigers, highly regarded point guard recruit Blake Harris jumped onboard Martin’s party bus, Jeremiah Tilmon was wooed away from Illinois, and, finally, Porter Jr.’s brother Jontay reclassified for the 2017 season and joined his father and oldest brother.

[Merenbloom: What Mizzou Assistant Michael Porter Sr. is All About – Family Values and Humility]
[Merenbloom: Missouri’s Jim Sterk Got His Man]

Martin inherited a team that went 8-24 in 2016. With only two players taller than 6’8”, the roster Kim Anderson left for Martin was short on height and talent. And now the 2017-18 team has multiple blue chip recruits to go along with six players who are taller than 6’8”. On paper, this is the most formidable roster Missouri has had since the late 1980s. Emphasis being placed upon ON PAPER.

Missouri went from SEC doormat to being considered contenders to win the conference. Not only that, but Missouri is one of the preseason favorites to win the national championship. Everyone needs to pump the brakes on Martin’s party bus.

Let’s at least see this team play before anointing them as a dream team. Martin’s team will certainly be talented, but it’s going to be a talented and young team. No matter how talented youth is, it’s still youth. A learning curve should be anticipated as these kids transition from high school and AAU ball to major college play.

The Tigers start the season at home against Iowa State. While the Cyclones aren’t considered to be an elite team this year, they should still be considered to be a tough test for a team as young as Missouri is. We’ll learn a lot about Martin’s team in this game but we shouldn’t base the entire season on this one game.

I expect this team to be good, but I also expect this team to have growing pains. Being able to score shouldn’t be a problem for this team. It’s on the defensive side of the court that I anticipate this team showing the most growth as the season progresses. Defense has a lot to do with being disciplined and knowing your opponent. Players coming right out of high school are used to being the biggest players on the court. This also means that these players are used to physically dominating their opponents. That won’t be the case most nights in the SEC.

Missouri fans should be excited about this team but the fans should also expect to see some frustrating moments. When those moments happen, just remember how the last three seasons went. It may take a few months for this team to mature and hit its stride, but once it does, it could really make some noise in the NCAA tournament. Be excited, but a trip to the Final Four shouldn’t be considered a foregone conclusion. But it sure is nice to be a Missouri basketball fan with legitimate anticipation and hope for an upcoming season. It’s been too long.

Comment on this story in our free forum.

E-mail Seth at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @SethMerenbloom.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Cleveland State’s Slow, Steady Social Media Burn

In years past, the Cleveland State men’s basketball team has been up and down in terms of its social media presence. The most glaring example of this shortcoming was the disappearance of former coach Gary Waters from Twitter, which oddly coincided with a number of coaching departures in 2015.

In fact, the only thing that made that situation worse for Waters was the emergence of the Evil Gary Waters parody account in summer 2016. And like all good parody accounts, this one went to work quickly on all things Cleveland State. To the detriment of CSU, Evil Gary’s popularity only grew as the Vikings slogged through a 9-22 campaign.

So when Dennis Felton took over for the retiring Waters in late March, the bar was set pretty low on the social media front. But even with the low bar, you could tell there was going to be some pressure to get up to speed, especially with fellow Horizon League coaches getting a big jump ahead of him.

But an interesting thing started happening in the middle of the summer. Social media with CSU athletics, which has been marked by highs (like lacrosse coach Dylan Sheridan’s Twitter feed) and lows (the aforementioned Waters disappearance) started getting on the same page.

And while coaches like Sheridan and women’s basketball coach Kate Peterson Abiad have always been active, it has been men’s basketball that has always seemed to lag behind them.

Felton and his staff, it appears, are looking to change that in a big way. And Cleveland State is naturally on board.

The change has never been more striking than on Felton’s Twitter feed. Previously, many of his posts have included quotations from coaching greats or thoughts on the NBA, of which he spent three years as the Director of Player Personnel with the San Antonio Spurs.

Now, he’s leaned into CSU, lending support to not only men’s basketball, but all Vikings sports, as well as various Viking-centric ventures that have included contributing a jersey to Bryan Black’s 351 Jerseys for Hope campaign to raise awareness for epilepsy.

For athletics as a whole, CSU has made a huge push to get votes for Magnus during Mid-Major Madness’ Mascot Melee, which has pushed the Viking mascot to the Elite Eight, at last count.

Video has been playing a huge role in the summer social media blitz as well. For its part, Cleveland State has made Felton the star of a weekly video series, aptly titled Fridays with Felton.

And then there was the Drive-By Dunk Challenge.

With the sounds of George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic, who Felton is a huge fan of, he and three players, senior Anthony Wright, sophomore Evan Clayborne and freshman Tyree Appleby (a Twitter must-follow in his own right) chronicled their journey to Westlake to take part in the dunking on driveway hoops.

Felton has even been spotted on the live-video platform Periscope, setting up a feed during his autograph-signing session at a Lake County Captains game.

Since his hire, Felton has made multiple overtures that he wants to shake things up and perhaps surprise some people with his team’s performance on the court. While we won’t know about how Felton’s influence will translate in the win-loss column until the season starts, the recent social media efforts have indeed been a pleasant surprise.

At the very least, Felton, along with the rest Cleveland State athletics, have recognized that a change was sorely needed to find some footing in an already-crowded Cleveland sports landscape for its signature program.

E-mail Bob at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @bobmcdonald.

Image via Cleveland State Athletics

To the Cleveland State Class of 2021: Follow Athletics (If You’re Not Too Distracted)

Dear incoming Cleveland State freshmen:

As I’ve made it a general practice of doing over the last three years, I’d like to welcome you to my alma mater. No doubt the college experience…

Oh, I’m sorry. I see some of you were stuck at the Parking department’s Web site fighting for parking passes like it was Thunderdome. That feeling is never going away. But take heart in the fact you didn’t have only three dirt lots to park in like I did.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes. I’m usually the guy who tries to remind you in vain that Athletics is part of the money you pay to CSU every semester.

Oh, wait. I see we’re still on the parking thing. I’m seeing a lot of you out there are tweeting like mad about this whole situation. Maybe now isn’t the best time to mention that Cleveland State is looking at private companies to run the parking operation.

I’m very sorry. I didn’t mean to throw another log on the fire there. I wanted to talk about athletics, especially the men’s basketball program. For the first time in a long time, you will be joined in your first year by Dennis Felton, who is also beginning his tenure as head coach.

And of course he’s brought in some new students as well. A few of them, Shawn Christian, Stefan Kenic and Tyree Appleby, are freshmen like yourself.

Plus, since it appears that some of you are into Twitter, you probably want to follow Christian and Appleby, especially Appleby, who’s already said the Vikings will make the NCAA Tournament this season.

But I see another Twitter discussion is going on. What’s this about? A new fee for career services? Well, maybe they can finally hire me, then. Or not.

I’m off track again. What I wanted to say is that since you paid into athletics already, the big advantage of that is you get into all sporting events for free. That’s not a bad deal in the fall, seeing as how CSU has the defending Horizon League volleyball team starting up again, not to mention men’s and women’s soccer.

What’s that? There’s another Cavs ticket giveaway going on across all of Cleveland State’s social media platforms? And everybody is falling over themselves to get them? It’s not for a game on the same night as a CSU basketball game, is it? That would be rather awkward.

But enough about that. The important thing is that for years, Cleveland State has dedicated a section of the Wolstein Center to students. Currently dubbed Viking Village, you can go and cheer on both men’s and women’s teams for absolutely free. In fact, I’m sure that student leaders as we speak are devising ways to get more students involved.

And I have the utmost confidence that student leaders a totally not be worried about who’s coming in to replace Ronald Berkman as CSU’s president; not even a little bit.

Look, I get it. It’s a whole new world out there for a lot of you. And I’d be lying if I said there weren’t going to be times where Cleveland State makes you completely nuts, because there will be. Believe me. I’ve been exactly where you are.

And it’s because I’ve been where you are, I can say this. Even though you will probably curse CSU to the high heavens no less than a half-dozen times (and I’m being very conservative here), at the end of the day, this will still be your alma mater. You will always be connected to Cleveland State, as a student and as an alumni, whether you like it or not. Make the most of it.

E-mail Bob at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @bobmcdonald.

Image via Cleveland State University

Departures, Arrivals and Uncertainty Shake Horizon League Fans

If you are a fan of a Horizon League member school and expected to have a rather boring off-season, you have probably been surprised.

Realistically, there wasn’t supposed to be much going on, aside from Cleveland State and Youngstown State, which each hired new basketball coaches.

But as it has been with mid-major conferences across the country, the Horizon League found itself in the riptide of change elsewhere.

That elsewhere turned out to be the Missouri Valley Conference, which itself was a part of a snowball that started rolling when the American Athletic Conference invited Wichita State to come aboard. The MVC, in turn, decided it was a school short and looked around for somebody to invite.

For Valparaiso, it became an opportunity to leave the Horizon League. For the remaining schools, it became a time to panic, at least as far as scrambling around to fill the scheduling holes were concerned.

Realistically, the conference didn’t need to really do anything, given how late in the school year it was when Valpo left. The Horizon League still has nine school, and even commissioner Jon LeCrone, when talking about conference expansion in a video conference, did not appear to have a sense of urgency to add another member by the start of July.

So it was curious to find rumblings of the addition of a new school started to grow louder, with fans speculating on a wide range of possibilities, from Robert Morris to Grand Canyon, the latter intimating a westward shift for the conference if it happened.

In the end, however, LeCrone, with the unanimous approval of the Horizon League’s presidents and chancellors, invited IUPUI, in what only can be described as the basketball equivalent of trading a cow for some magic beans.

You can cut through the entire PR spiel about the virtues of IUPUI, and you can certainly go ahead and avert your eyes from the presentation that IUPUI apparently broke out in support of its bid. The league absolutely could have waited a year to expand. And it didn’t.

The good news is that for teams that were slated to struggle at the bottom of the basketball standings next year, congratulations, you have competition. The Jaguars were a meager 14-18 overall and 7-9 in the Summit League, capping the season off by getting hammered at the conference tournament, 90-62, by Omaha.

And next year doesn’t look all that promising, either, losing their top three scorers, Darell Combs, Matt O’Leary and Kellon Thomas, to graduation. In fact, IUPUI hasn’t been a factor since Ron Hunter left for Georgia State.

The only real benefit to IUPUI’s arrival would be that once the agreement with Olympia Entertainment ends, the Horizon League can look into moving the men’s and women’s basketball tournament to Indianapolis, the conference’s home base. Then again, this could have already happened, but clearly Olympia’s pitch to have the tourney in Detroit was too great a pull.

Beyond hoops, the move throws an even bigger question mark on the Horizon League’s commitment to baseball. With Valparaiso out, the conference is now left with only six schools that sponsor the sport. And with no clear urgency on the Horizon League’s part to address that concern, fans of the remaining baseball teams are left to wonder if their school should be seeking an associate membership elsewhere.

After all of this, you have to wonder what’s in the cards for the Horizon League in the future. LeCrone’s idea of expansion still appears steadfast, but what schools would that include? Does he go west and invite Grand Canyon and New Mexico State? Or does he stick close and bring Robert Morris and Fort Wayne into the fold?

No matter what happens, fans are hoping than anything is better than the current situation.

E-mail Bob at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @bobmcdonald.

Image via Wikipedia

There Is No Cleveland State-Youngstown State Rivalry. And There May Never Be.

It’s almost like that scene in the movie “Mean Girls” where Regina George snaps at Gretchen Weiners tell her to stop trying to make the word fetch a thing.

Ever since Youngstown State entered the Horizon League in 2001, much to the consternation of literally every fan in the conference, there was always the hope that somehow, some way, the Penguins, perennial underachievers in basketball, would finally right the ship.

Meanwhile, Cleveland State, after toiling in sub-mediocrity, did turn things around during the height of the Gary Waters era.

Had YSU gotten its act together during the tenure of Jerry Slocum, the battle between the two schools would have been rife for a natural rivalry. It made sense. Cleveland and Youngstown’s geographic proximity could have made it a cinch.

But it never happened. That heated feud between the two schools has failed to present itself.

Now, Slocum and Waters, who consistently butted heads when they roamed their respective sidelines, are gone. And at least one of their replacements seems to be making a concerted effort to goad the other into action.

And still, no luck in getting a rivalry going.

YSU tabbed Division II runner-up coach Jerrod Calhoun as Slocum’s successor, while CSU opted for ex-Western Kentucky and Georgia coach Dennis Felton. Calhoun built a success at Fairmont State, while Felton opted to spend time with the San Antonio Spurs after his departure from Georgia, then returned to the college ranks as part of the Tulsa coaching staff.

Despite their resumes, Calhoun has a sizable advantage in terms of his connections to Northeast Ohio, particularly as a former Cleveland State player under Rollie Massimino. Theoretically, that should have given Calhoun an edge in the CSU coaching search.

Cleveland State athletic director Mike Thomas, however, seemed to think otherwise and hired Felton.

With Calhoun chosen to lead YSU, it seems that he has been focusing a great deal on what should be Cleveland State’s backyard.

And Thursday, Calhoun hit closer to CSU’s home than ever.

This time, it was Waters himself, along with noted Viking alum D’Aundray Brown, who came to the Youngstown State campus and speak with Calhoun’s players.

And it is in this instance that we may all now lay to rest any silly notion that a rivalry between Cleveland State and YSU exists or, more to the point, will ever exist.

Give Calhoun credit, of course, for trying the jumpstart things a little. But it’s clear that Felton isn’t biting.

But more than that, rivalry discussion can be dismissed by the mere reaction, or rather lack thereof, from the remaining CSU fans. If Youngstown State were such bitter rivals, conventional wisdom would tell you that the Viking faithful would be incensed.

No such reaction really came. For some, in fact, the entire event was dismissed outright, as if it was much ado about nothing.

Perhaps that indifference really speaks to the long-festering root of Cleveland State’s issues with apathy and complacency. And this massive problem may be the primary reason why this potential rivalry never really gotten off the ground.

That’s not to say that YSU has been just as apathetic over the years, as the long drag of subpar basketball has certainly a contributing factor. What’s been CSU’s excuse? And while Calhoun appears to have recognized the hills he will have to climb to sell his program, what will Felton come up with to address the same issue?

While it’s early to determine whether Calhoun’s sprint out the gate or Felton’s marathon-like pace will produce results on the court, off the court, the feud that should be clamored for has not really materialized.

And at this point, the prospects remain dim that it ever will.

Email Bob at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @bobmcdonald.

Image via CSUVikings.com