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Larry Brown Has Moody Madness Returning to SMU

Published on Yahoo Voices

And mine was published BEFORE Sports Illustrated released its article on SMU!

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Larry Brown Can Make Things Change at SMU

Larry Brown is definitely in new territory running the show at Moody Coliseum. After the guy isn’t used to fans being satisfied with simply playing a ranked opponent tough.

“You walk around here and people congratulate you after you get beat, that’s pretty strange” he said of the days after the Mustangs lost to Louisville. “You’re in Lawrence, Kansas or Westwood or Chapel Hill, they have a heart attack after every loss.”

That comes with the experience of playing and coaching at the highest levels. The experience of being the only basketball coach in history with an NCAA and NBA championship. You don’t know the meaning of moral victories.

And that is exactly the type of attitude needed if things are going to turn around on the Hilltop. And after less than two years, it looks like things already are.

With Tuesday’s win over Rutgers, SMU’s team already matched its win total from last year. With 15 wins already and at least 13 games left against the likes of Memphis, UConn and Louisville again, the path is set for SMU to build a good enough record to get into that magical field in March one way or another.

It’s not just the fact that other coaches within the American Athletic Conference are saying SMU looks like a Tournament team this year. Could DFW actually have a program that could be able to aim for the NCAA Tournament every single year?

Well, that’s what Larry Brown’s mission was when he took over this program. Some people who have been jaded by decades of college basketball mediocrity might be hard to convince. But you just know someone like Brown would love to prove them wrong.

Ask him, and he’ll tell you he can look into players’ eyes and see when they know they can win. He saw it in the players at Louisville and Cincinnati when the Mustangs traveled there. And little by little, with each victory, that look is starting to appear in his own players.

This is naturally a different animal that he’s dealing with in Dallas. Whether it was playing at SMU or coaching at UCLA or Kansas, Brown was with a program that was a big dog in the area. Now, it takes something special to get people away from Valley Ranch or the American Airlines Center and show up to the media center at Moody Coliseum.

But when you’ve accomplished almost everything else at so many stops, maybe that’s the one challenge that remains. And it’s the challenge that those college basketball fans that do exist in the Metroplex have hoped someone like Brown would take on – and succeed at.

For years those of us who have followed college basketball in this area have had to hope that one of the multiple programs in North Texas could simply get luck in the conference tournament for an automatic bid, or otherwise be thankful for an NIT, or even a CIT, bid.

Even those of us who have ties to one particular university in the area would be ecstatic to see any one of them send a Metroplex representative in The Dance each year.

TCU could have had something like that in the late 90s under Billy Tubbs. But an NCAA season in 97-98 was overshadowed by a 1-10 football season, so the school put all its efforts to what went on at Amon Cater Stadium, and Tubbs was gone a few years later, clearly seeing the writing on the wall.

Things are different in University Park now. With their major upgrades to Moody and the completion of the Crum Basketball Center, it’s clear SMU is committed to taking its basketball program to another level.

Larry Brown wouldn’t have come here if he didn’t think that was possible. And even though it already looks like things are being fast-tracked compared to what we’ve been used to in this town, he knows there is still a lot more work and improvement to do.

And maybe very soon, he’ll start being congratulated for the Mustangs winning against the likes of Louisville.

Baylor’s Basketball Success Proves TCU Can Have It, Too

At 0-3 and staring at a game in Stillwater against No. 8 Oklahoma State, things do not look promising for Trent Johnson’s program, to say the least.

It’s not just that they’re winless in conference, they’ve barely been competitive, losing their last two games by an average of 22 points, Yes, they were against ranked opponents, but such is life in this conference.

But in that most recent loss, to the now No. 12 Baylor Bears, may lie the spark of hope that this dormant program can in fact be revived.

The Frogs are already looking at another year of finishing at the bottom of the highest ranked conference in the country unless something spectacular happens soon. Given that and the absolute apathy toward college basketball in DFW, one could call it a helpless cause to ever make TCU basketball relevant. But that can be countered with one simple response:

“If Baylor did it, why can’t we?”

It’s beyond amazing that Waco, Texas has suddenly become the epicenter of Big 12 athletics, likely to the chagrin of the two schools equidistant from Baylor (TCU for still stinging that Baylor got the original Big 12 bid over them, and Texas because… they’re Texas, they think they own everything). But what has happened at the Ferrell Center has to be considered leaps and bounds more miraculous than what has been happening at the soon-to-be-gone Floyd Casey Stadium.

For it was only 11 years ago that Baylor’s men’s basketball program was mired in what had to be the worst scandal in NCAA history, at least until what happened at Penn State in 2011. Yes, far, far worse than what happened at SMU in 1987.

A dead player murdered at the hands of a teammate? The coach trying to destroy the reputation of the slain player to hide the actual offenses he himself was committing? These were things not even the most shameless film director would put into a TV movie of the week.

Baylor received perhaps the worst NCAA sanctions ever outside of getting the actual death penalty, including being banned from non-conference games for a year. With that and one of the worst stigmas to stain any program, recovery for Baylor had to be considered non-existent in a conference where that have to deal with the likes of Texas, Kansas and other powerhouses.

Yet here Scott Drew’s program now stands, with an Elite Eight appearance and an NIT crown in the past two seasons.

So how can anyone following TCU in any capacity say no chance to Trent Johnson’s program doing it?

Several more steps need to be taken, but many of them are. Daniel-Meyer Coliseum, which my biased mind has called the worst of the three college buildings in the immediate Metroplex for years, is about to undergo a $45 million renovation that will include more seating and new locker rooms. Meanwhile, Johnson may want to have a lunches with Gary Patterson to learn some tips on how he launched his program into the spotlight.

TCU basketball still has a lot of work to do to get out of the cellar they’re in. But they don’t have the history of a murdered body among their player alumni. And if one program can rebuild around that, anything is possible.

TCU, A&M are Having to Learn Some Hard Lessons

We still have a month to go before the meaningful college basketball games get started, so I guess if I’m going to talk about college sports, I gotta talk about football.

Not that there’s much to talk about that’s very good all of a sudden. Three years ago, absolutely. But now, one of the “little programs that could” suddenly isn’t now that it’s with the big boys.

Geographically speaking, TCU belongs in the Big 12, and it was a move they should have been able to make long ago. But fitting in regionally is still one thing; whether or not they can compete regularly sadly still remains to be seen.

After six 10+ win seasons in the previous seven years, the Frogs’ inaugural Big 12 season saw them finish 7-6 and not win a conference game at home. The next year did not get better, finishing 4-8.

Injuries and inexperience may have played a big part, especially given that more than half their conference losses were by a field goal’s margin. But the one that really stung had to be that Saturday night on Oct. 26. With the mighty but supposedly fallen Texas Longhorns coming to Amon Carter for the first time since 1994, Frog fans were prepared to kick the Horns while they were down. Instead, they got a three-hour storm delay and a 30-7 whooping after that.

The last game couldn’t have been much better, losing at home – to Baylor. The school that for years had supposedly been proving the conference made the wrong decision in picking them, now standing tall as being one of the best in the country. The first two years had so far proven that little private schools like the one in Fort Worth perhaps couldn’t compete with the big boys after all – except that the little private school in Waco was now doing so.

Still, I’m sure TCU believes joining the Big 12 was the right decision, and I do respect their reasons. While other schools keep bolting conferences to whichever one can get them more TV money, with TCU, I’ve always had the feeling the desire to be in the Big 12 lied in getting back to more regional matchups and renewing rivalries with old Southwest Conference foes. (And I’m sure that desire also remains with SMU and other former SWC schools that have not been as lucky).

That can’t be said for the school down in College Station. And while Texas A&M may not have had as bad a season as TCU, the disappointment there has to be greater – and is more deserved for its arrogance.

Following their fast-track entry into the Southeastern Conference that saw them beat Alabama and ESPN loverboy Johnny Manziel, the Aggies were beyond certain that this year would prove they made the right decision in telling every other school in Texas to eff off and their fans to get excited for playing the likes of Auburn and Ole Miss. They were going to prove that moving to the SEC was no big deal after having to settle for being UT’s lapdog so many years in the Big 12, and now they were among the best.

That came crashing down quickly with a 3-3 second half that included losing their last two games. Instead of playing the Longhorns on Thanksgiving like they’re supposed to do, two days after Turkey Day the Aggies got beat by fellow Big 12 mutineer Missouri to finish the regular season a pedestrian 8-4 and a .500 record in the SEC.

Chew on this, Aggies. You finished with the same record as North Texas. Rice is going to play for a conference championship, and you’re not.

The wake-up call was loud and clear. By being the new guys, Texas A&M has a target on its back by the conference who’s consecutive national titles I’ve lost count of. And they’re probably going to have to do a lot more if they’re going to move up the SEC rankings (including a few things I can’t mention without libel accusations).

Don’t expect either of these schools or their supporters to be backpedaling, though.

Gary Patterson insists he knew preparing for the increased competition in the Big 12 would take time. His program is hoping the likes of DeSoto’s Desmon White or All Saints’ Foster Sawyer will solve their quarterback issues.

Texas A&M, meanwhile, appears to still have confidence in where they’re going, giving Kevin Sumlin a six-year contract extension. No one’s expecting Johnny Wonderboy, or whatever his name of the week currently is, to be wearing maroon next year, so now it’s really put-up-or-shut-up to see if the Aggies can bring in recruiting classes they’ll need in the SEC.

It remains to be seen if the local guys in Fort Worth will bounce back quicker than the ones in College Station. But so far, this hasn’t been what either school has hoped for with their new digs.

Why Can’t North Texas Teams Play Each Other Anymore?

Tonight is one of the nights I look forward to after a long off-season.

Tonight, Scott Cross’ UTA Mavericks finally begin their home season, kicking off UTA’s Homecoming celebration against the mighty, hated… Bulldogs of Samford.

Yeah, was this the game that had to get thrown in the last minute to replace the Lean Green chickening out? Not sure, but it’s a disappointing blow.

North Texas was supposed to come to the College Park Center for the first time this season. It was going to be the game that highlighted the non-conference schedule like Oklahoma coming to Arlington was last year. They’re not coming now. Second-year Mean Green coach Tony Benford cited the need for one more home game as the reason for the cancellation; no other game could be dropped to make room for it.

And the fact that the Mavericks have beaten the Green five of seven times since the rivalry was renewed had nothing to do with it, I’m sure.

On the flip side, TCU and SMU continued their series just a few days earlier, with the Mustangs beating the Frogs 69-61, amazingly at the American Airlines Center.

Of course, there was a time when this game meant more than just possibly Metroplex bragging rights – in all sports they took part in together.

There was a time when college sports meant something in Dallas-Fort Worth – maybe not as much at UTA, but definitely on the Fort Worth and University Park campuses. But their inability to be in the same conference since 2000 has wrecked the glory.

There’s little doubt the Southwest Conference’s breakup killed interest in college sports in DFW. It led to supposedly greater things for the campuses in Austin, Lubbuck and (finally) Waco, but the Metroplex’s teams have become afterthoughts as they spent years in conferences loaded with out-of-state opponents no one was interested in.

What is to blame for all this? Many still point to SMU’s football team getting the “death penalty” more than 25 years ago, turning it into an extremely toxic conference for recruits who didn’t want to play in a “dirty conference.” Yeah, because conferences and schools where teams give players illicit benefits is a turn-off – just like the University of Miami and more than half the SEC.

What’s likely more of a factor was the 1984 Supreme Court Ruling “NCAA v. Board of Regents of the University of Oklahoma,” which firmly established that schools and conferences were free to negotiate their own television contracts outside the NCAA’s regulation. As a result, schools ever since have been looking for the bigger deal with the big network, or even starting their own network.

And the price paid for that? Conference and matchups the fans loved watching. The SWC breaking up to help form the Big 12 was just the beginning, as the Big East (now The American), SEC and Big Ten have begun poaching off teams left and right to make the next great superconference that will get them a Brinks truck from a network. And the fans have no choice but to settle for “new, great” conference matchups they have no interest in.

How would you like it if Jerry Jones suddenly decided the Cowboys needed to move to the AFC West? Or better yet, move into the Canadian League because they could actually win a championship there? Yeah, I know that’s a ludicrous idea. But so is West Virginia being in the same conference as Texas.

That’s what college fans have had to suffer. It’s not just the Texas-Texas A&M game that’s gone. Kansas no longer has Missouri or Nebraska on their schedules – despite them still being mentioned in their fight song.

And any complaints by the fans are met by condescending replies from administrators in the department saying “forget those old opponents. This is the best thing that’s going to happen to us.”

I know, because this carousel stopped and picked up UTA on the way.

I won’t stop saying I enjoyed playing in the Southland Conference. Being able to travel to the likes of Stephen F. Austin and Sam Houston was a joy every year. Now, one year I had to get geared up for Utah State and San Jose State, the next – Troy and Georgia State.

UTA has two D1 opponents from Texas this season – only one in-conference, thanks to the likes of UNT and UTSA choosing Conference USA over trying to establish a true Texas mid-major conference.

People within UTA’s athletic department have kept telling me that this is for the best because they couldn’t hope to advance in such an inferior conference. But why is that a bother when UTA doesn’t play a sport that is dependent on news polls and power rankings to make the postseason? Every sport they play, you get in by winning whatever conference you’re in.

TCU finally got its wish to join the Big 12 with the likes of Texas, Tech and Baylor, but SMU’s teams still struggle to fit old SWC opponents each year into their non-conference schedule. Heck, Texas A&M is now gone away from in-state competition, trying to sell its fans that it’s so much better to be playing the likes of Auburn, Kentucky and Florida and not one single Texas opponent.

Aggies will try to puff out their chests and say they’re glad to be in the SEC. But behind that exterior I’m sure is sorrow that they can’t get hyped for Baylor, Tech or other opponents that have proximity and actual meaning to.

Will eventually we get to what the UIL does, re-aligning all conferences every few years and telling rivalries and long-time matchups to just go to hell to look forward to what’s all shiny and new?

It seems to be the way things are going. Charming stadiums built for rowdy fans are getting torn down for glitzy revenue-building facilities, just like classic movies are getting buried in Netflix’s vaults as they get re-made by wannabe directors.

College sports was built on proximity matchups, rivalries and bragging rights. But all of that, especially in the Metroplex, was long destroyed by school administrators who’s eyeballs were bigger than their stomachs.

Longhorns’ Plight May Lie in Their Network

And the panic erupting in Arlington is only topped by the one exploding 180 miles south in Austin.

After the Texas Longhorns lost to BYU last Saturday, giving up more than 500 rushing yard sin the process (refresh my football stupidity; that’s bad, right?), heads rolled pretty quickly.  Arnie Spanier, who may no longer be on the air in DFW but still has an obsession with Texas sports, not only proudly trumpeted his correct prediction on the game but also the aftermath, as it was announced defensive coordinator Manny Diaz.

Now according to Arnie and his sources, the anger has not yet been quelled. Supposedly the biggest boosters for UT have issued an ultimatum to Mack Brown: Beat Oklahoma AND go to a BCS bowl game this year or step down. And the Longhorns will gladly go back to enduring the David McWilliams’ and John Mackovics of the world. Or they’ll just unload three Bronks trucks on Nick Saban’s door to bring him to their school with a contract that should cause some people to permanently lose their faith in college sports. (Let me get this out of the way: NO MAN is worth paying 10 million a year to win in ANY athletic program at a supposed institute of higher learning).

Clearly the Texas Exes will do anything to get their beloved football back on top. But they might not be seeing the bigger issue going on at the Forty Acres.

The entire Texas athletics department is in a tailspin. The football team actually wasn’t that bad last year compared to their brethren, as they at least made a bowl game. The basketball and baseball teams failed to make the NCAAs completely.

Some continue to say this is just a rough patch that just happens to be coming for so many programs all at once. But rarely is something like this just coincidental. There is usually a common link.

And in this case, it just might be that big ol’ TV network that got so many up in arms.

The university launched the Longhorn Network in April 2011 intending it to be the ultimate money printing source for what already may be the most luxurious, gluttonous athletics department in the nation. (I still roll my eyes when I see the mini-Metrodome they use for a football practice facility.) It was also looked upon as a wholly unfair recruiting tool by some, especially with the network announcing it would air high school games. That’s the big reason why Texas A&M is facing Alabama this Saturday and another Longhorns-Aggies matchup looks like it may never happen again.

But after two years so far, clearly the network hasn’t been that much of broadcast pied piper luring in every great athlete to come wear burnt orange. Which leads to the question: Could the Longhorn Network actually be repelling prospective student-athletes?

There may be one obvious explanation for this: The Longhorn Network hasn’t been a big player because, well, no one has been carrying it. Turns out the university greatly over estimated its value as being a must-see college athletic department for a national audience. Since its inception, the network has managed to coax the major cable providers at a rate of one a year with Fios, AT&T U-Verse and, most recently, Time Warner Cable. Comcast and the two big satellite providers continue to refuse.

Representatives from DirecTV may have summed it up best: “We understand Longhorn has other programming that may be of value to a small segment of our customers, but two UT football games do not constitute a network.”

If the games it carries aren’t going to be seen by anyone, what’s the point? At the rate it’s going, the network will hopefully be big enough to be a lure by maybe 2020.

Johnny Manziel soap opera, the debate of how much college athletes are supposedly being used as indentured servants is up in full force once again. And therein might just lie the big issue with the Longhorn Network. It may be the final straw for a growing number of athletes getting disenfranchised with how these schools will profiteer off them.

Now, I still remain among those old schoolers who believe college athletes should not be paid for play. But that doesn’t mean I can’t see and understand the frustration said athletes can have when the schools go too far in trying to make money off them with little compensation outside of a scholarship. And with a school creating its own cable network – that’s about as far as you can get.

That’s not to say the Alabamas and the Oklahomas of the country aren’t equally as guilty of the bottom line of profiteering. But UT may have finally found the line to cross – and the athletes are seeing they crossed it and responded with, “no thanks.”

Think I may be getting ludicrous in such a theory? Maybe we should travel to Greece and ask Ioannis Papapetrou, who signed to play pro ball there after last season. Yes, playing professionally in a country on the verge of bankruptcy was more enticing than returning to UT. And he wash’t the only one to leave, as Rick Barnes has recently seen seven other players either turn pro or transfer.

Either way you look at it, many more are taking a hit all at once in Austin, not just those wearing pads and helmets. Suddenly kids aren’t interested in hearing “The Eyes of Texas” over and over again. Not when they see a school trying to collect hundreds of millions off their efforts with a TV network that won’t even be watched by those with a satellite dish mounted on their roofs.

And if that’s the case, it may take a lot more than replacing Mack to get at least Texas football back to national prominence. In fact, UT might want to take a step back from all the money that spend – and consider less might be more in making them more attractive to college athletes.

English Soccer Revels in Rivalries America is Losing

The British are coming! The British are coming! And they’re coming to play their game – or something like that.

While so many in this country are gleefully awaiting the start of American football season this weekend, the truth is that, across the Atlantic “football” season already began three weeks ago. And bad news for a lot of soccer-hating ugly Americans: More and more people are getting into it.

Yeah yeah, I know this is something we keep saying year after year. But there’s a new twist this year – in the form of a $250 million deal from NBC to broadcast the entire English Premier League season to the States, mainly via the NBC Sports Network. And given that the opening weekend of their coverage resulted in 67 percent better ratings than their competitors at Fox and ESPN broadcast last year, for now it looks like money well spent.

No, I’m not saying we’re on the verge of seeing the majority of this country prefer the game where you actually use your foot with the ball. There are still a number of obstacles toward getting more people used to “the beautiful game.” Games starting at five in the morning definitely aren’t going to help.

But there are a number of benefits a game like EPL soccer has that could explain just why that number id growing with each passing year.

First of all, this, like most soccer leagues outside this country, is a league that makes certain all teams play for success throughout the year. You finish at the bottom of the EPL, you don’t get first pick at the best amateur talent; you get kicked out, your entire franchise bounced down to the minor league. No “Team Tank” or “Suck For Luck” here. Just 20 teams forced to keep some level of integrity to their ticket-buying public.

Second is the excitement that these teams are just playing for their national league championship. In addition to the EPL, there is also the UEFA Champions League, with four English clubs (Arsenal, Manchester United, Chelsea and Manchester City) set to begin group play in three weeks. For the closest U.S. comparison, imagine what college basketball has with the conference season, conference tournament and NCAA Tournament. Now, instead of cramming those in succession over just three months, imaging them being played side by side over nine!

And that comparison proves the best segue into the biggest thing that makes the EPL – and most other pro leagues across the ocean – so exciting. Something that is sadly disappearing in our country.

Rivalries steeped in local ties are still alive and well.

This Saturday, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur will face off in the first game of what’s called the North London Derby between two clubs less than four miles from one another. And those are just two of six clubs within London’s area. And then there’s Aston VIlla and West Bromwich (3.5 miles), Newcastle vs Sunderland (10 miles) and Manchester United vs Manchester City (5.2 miles). And all 20 clubs within one country roughly the size of Georgia.

No wonder English soccer fans have such a reputation for insanity. Familiarity really does breed contempt.

But it’s still refreshing to see compared to what’s happening here in the USA, where regional rivalries, especially in college sports, are being destroyed for money and TV exposure. Dallas-Fort Worth has seen that as painfully as anyone, as SMU hasn’t played in a Texas conference since 1995 and TCU waited more than 15 years to get back to one. How tough must it be for Mustang fans to see this year’s games against Texas A&M and Texas Tech as “non-conference” matches?

Yeah, conference jumping like that will never happen in the case with the EPL. True, the league was created in 1992 by clubs who wanted to break away from  The Football League at the time. But you’ll never see Manchester United move into the German Bundesliga or Liverpool decide to go to the Italian Serie A, while over hear SMU’s athletics department tries to sell its fan base that playing the likes of Cincinnati and Rutgers will be worth watching.

I’m probably not going to convince anyone just from this article. A number of you are already dead set in your ways still.

Go ahead and get ready for TCU against LSU in a game that won’t affect any conference championship at all.

Me, I’m getting ready to see what this London Derby has to offer. Arsenal’s been on a tear with eight goals in three games, so Tottenham could be in real trouble.