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News, notes and analysis from around the MAAC and the rest of the college basketball world

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

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Why Fairfield fans can breathe a sigh of relief

Fairfield will enter next season with expectations the highest in more than a decade.

That remains true today, since with Boston College's decision to hire Cornell's Steve Donahue, Ed Cooley is almost certain to return for a fifth season.

Cooley had been one of three reported finalists for the job -- vacated when Al Skinner was fired last week -- along with Donahue and Northeastern coach Bill Coen, who, along with Cooley, was a long-time assistant under Skinner.

If Fairfield lives up to expectations next year -- especially if the Stags make it to the NCAA tournament -- the odds Cooley will be back in 2011-12 are slim.

But great as the BC job would have been for Cooley, his departure would have come at the least opportune time for Fairfield.

The Stags' program is the healthiest its been since the mid-90s, when it won MAAC regular season and tournament titles in back-to-back years. That's almost entirely because of Cooley, and even if Gene Doris hit it out of the park again on Cooley's replacement, there's no guarantee the new coach would have been able to pick up where Cooley left off.

Worst of all, though, would have been the impact on Fairfield's roster. Had Cooley left it's entirely possible Derek Needham would have left as well, depriving the Stags of arguably the best player in the MAAC at a time when his presence makes Fairfield the team to beat in the league.

Boston College wanted someone who could energize a dormant fan base and quickly restore a program that has slipped in the ACC pecking order over the past several years. Cooley fits that description almost perfectly. From that standpoint, Fairfield fans may actually be lucky that Colin Nickerson's 15-footer at the buzzer didn't fall in the MAAC title game.

Donahue's credentials -- taking a bottom-tier Ivy League program and eventually leading it to the Sweet 16 -- are hard to match, but if Cooley had added an NCAA tournament experience to his resume, he may have landed the BC job or been in the mix for several other jobs at power conferences.

There's enough balance in the top half of the MAAC to make the races for the MAAC's one or two NCAA tournament spots (assuming the tournament expands to 96 teams) extremely competitive.

Fairfield, though, has the best shot of any school. If the Stags make it back to the Big Dance, their program will be in infinitely better shape than it was on April 11, 2006, when they introduced Cooley as their new coach.

And if that's the case, Cooley can leave for greener pastures knowing he left a significant mark on the program.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Why NCAA tournament expansion would be a bad business move

Many have argued against NCAA tournament expansion because it’s a shameless money grab. That argument is flimsy. This move is more blatantly about money than most, but everything in sports is a money grab, and for the most part, there’s nothing wrong with that.

Expansion isn’t wrong because it’s greedy. It’s wrong because it’s an awful long-term business decision — one that, over the course of time, will land the NCAA and its member institutions less money instead of more.

The notion that expansion would hurt the game is common almost to the point of becoming accepted doctrine. The NCAA, though, will address the issue at its April 29 board meeting anyway, because adding 16 more games would draw a more lucrative TV deal. (The NCAA can opt out of the final three years of its $6 billion deal with CBS at the end of this year).

The argument that an expanded tournament would be severely watered down sounds good but also isn’t true. With 347 Division 1 teams, adding another 32 will actually do very little — if anything — to dilute the field. And the dilution argument ignores the reality that the current field doesn’t contain the best 65 teams in the country anyway because of all the automatic bids to mid- and low-majors.

But the tournament will lose a lot of its appeal if it gives 32 teams a bye while the other 64 have to play on the first day. One of the charming things about the tournament as its presently constituted is that Kansas needs to play the same number of games to win the tournament as Robert Morris — that on the first day, upsets like Ohio over Georgetown are possible. This is corny but entirely true: Those upsets give the tournament charm, and that charm is the reason casual sports fans — or better yet, people not even interested in sports — become college basketball fans in March.

Expanding the tournament has the potential to turn away those fans in droves, yielding the NCAA’s TV partner — whether its CBS, ESPN or someone else — lower ratings. That could easily mean that by the time it’s time to negotiate the next tournament TV deal, the value of the deal will be less than it would have with a 65-team field.

But expansion would hurt the tournament itself significantly less than it would hurt the regular season and conference tournaments.

College basketball’s regular season is already under siege from critics for having little significance. If a team like North Carolina can have its most disappointing season in decades and STILL make the NCAA tournament, critics will rightly argue that at least as it pertains to successful teams from power conferences, what goes on between November and February will be a string of exhibition games.

It’s easy to envision a scenario in which regular-season TV ratings go down and conferences are eventually forced to settle for less lucrative contracts as a result.

Then there are conference tournaments. Those held by the power conferences already have little meaning, but those held by mid-majors have both meaning and financial value. A league like the MAAC, for instance makes a comparative killing on its tournament.

Yet under some of the proposed expansion plans, automatic NCAA bids would be awarded to both regular season and tournament champions.

While the value of mid-major regular seasons -- contrary to high-major regular seasons — would increase, such a plan would cripple conference tournaments and potentially deprive conferences of revenue. Imagine how much less meaningful last moth’s Fairfield-Siena game would have been if Siena had already clinched a tournament berth. That’s exactly how a potential MAAC title game could play out next year if the tournament is expanded.

It’s very easy, then, to envision a scenario in which high-major regular seasons and mid-major conference tournaments are so devalued that interest in the sport drops significantly over the next decade. If that happens, TV deals will be less lucrative, attendance will dip, and disinterested donors will stop forking over the loads of cash that pay coaches’ salaries.

That’s why when the NCAA board meets later this month, it should keep the tournament -- and the structure of the sport — how it is.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Rohrssen staying at Manhattan

When Steve Lavin puts together his coaching staff at St. John's, Barry Rohrssen won't be one of the candidates.

Multiple outlets are reporting that Rohrssen, contrary to what some had speculated, will stay at Manhattan for a fifth year.

The New York Post posted a story on Rohrssen on its Web site.

Rohrssen's job status was the subject of speculation over the last two months of the 2009-10 season, but the Jaspers finished strong, winning at Iona and beating Loyola in the MAAC tournament play-in round before losing to Siena in the quarterfinals.

Jeff Ruland trashes Iona on WFAN

This is a must-listen.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Coaching dominoes

FRAN McCAFFERY: Headed to Iowa

KEVIN WILLARD: Headed to Seton Hall

BARRY ROHRSSEN: Could join Steve Lavin at Saint John's

A day that started with news that Fran McCaffery was headed to Iowa now has taken a couple more interesting turns.

Once Seton Hall learned McCaffery was unavailable, the Pirates quickly moved to hire Iona's Kevin Willard, who Adam Zagoria reports will make an astonishing $1 million per year -- more than double what the Hall paid Bobby Gonzalez.

If that wasn't enough, the Boston Globe is reporting Steve Lavin could be on his way to Saint John's -- with Manhattan coach Barry Rohrssen as one of his assistants.

The Rohrssen part of the equation may be the most surprising, but it makes sense. Rohrssen is on a short leash at Manhattan, with significant improvement next year likely needed for him to keep his job. Getting out now -- and joining a good staff that will inherit an experienced team in Jamaica -- might be smart.

If Rohrssen does leave -- and that looks far from a certainty right now -- the MAAC could have three coaching vacancies -- the most it's had since 2006, when Iona, Manhattan, Fairfield, Saint Peter's and Canisius all had openings.

McCaffery to Iowa; Who should replace him at Siena?

Pete Iorizzo reports today that Fran McCaffery has accepted an offer to coach at Iowa. McCaffery was reportedly the leading candidate for the job at Seton Hall, and was also drawing interest from St. John's.

Instead, he'll head to Iowa City, where he'll try to rebuild a proud but dormant program. The Hawkeyes fired Todd Likliter after three straight losing seasons.

Pete reports that McCaffery will be introduced at a news conference tomorrow.

Siena has signed letters of intent from two highly regarded high school seniors forwards -- Melsahn Basabe and Trenity Burdine -- but both can be released from their letters.

With Ryan Rossiter and Clarence Jackson back and the MAAC's best freshmen class coming in, I thought the Saints would be a top-tier team in 2010-11. This has the potential to change that, though it's possible McCaffery's successor could keep the recruiting class intact.

So here's the question, Siena fans: Who would you like to see as McCaffery's replacement?