Nate Billings, The Oklahoman
Players, coaches, AD, fans...even the NBA...have conspired to suck the life out of a once proud program.
After watching the Cowboys run Tech out of GIA on Saturday, then reading John Hoover's article in the Tulsa World, I decided to list all the culprits in the demise, starting with who I think is the LEAST responsible first.
To a great extent, these guys are prisoners in this whole fiasco. They are talked into attending OSU in the hopes that their hoops skills will raise up the program. The fans, with the help of the media, heep all of their hopes and dreams upon them, fairly or unfairly. The bloggers (including me) praise and criticize (mostly criticize) with our self-appointed expertise. Tough environment for young, immature kids. They give great effort to a sparsely populated fieldhouse. Twitter offers the athletes a way to communicate and connect with the fanbase, but also exposes them to those who are neither sophisticated nor grounded in their fandom. While they do control some of their environment (effort given in practice and games), they don't control most of it. Their athletic ability will only get them, and the team, so far. They need some help reach the next level.
This behemoth, who needs no help, has benefited greatly from the fans hunger for quality basketball at a time when the two major college programs were down. If much of business success is determined by location, location, location, it is also just as much about timing, timing, timing. Granted, you need a quality product, but given the slightest appearance of talent, the marketing machine that is the NBA and David Stern will convince even the most marginal of fans that it is a worthwhile expenditure to attend a game. That's the first and most important step in the process. Figure out a way to put butts in the seats. Now that Oklahoma's basketball population has gotten hold of "KD-mania" and experienced an NBA finals, it will be extremely difficult to redirect that enthusiasm (and spending).
Ok, understood. Those who don't attend, I get it. As mentioned above, the cost and the lack of a quality product have dampened your enthusiasm. Why go to the effort and expense to attend when you can watch in the comfort of your establishment of choice, which also allows you to vacate when the game is no longer worth watching.
But I'm more interested in the folks at the games. The 300 level is pretty empty, but the 200 level has plenty of red-blooded fans in the seats. When the most exciting player on your team makes one of his amazing plays, get your asses out of your seats like you're paying attention.
If you're going to bother attending, you can bother making some noise. Noise and demonstrated excitement help create the atmosphere that draws others back to the gym. These guys deserve your energy at the game. Who knows, maybe Nash's inability to find his mojo is partially tied to the complete lack of enthusiasm from the fans in attendance. There was way more audible sound from the crowd when Soucek hit his 3 and Budke attempted his.
- The AD and the coaches
These guys get to travel together. When one of the greatest college hoops generals EVER had his rather unceremonious retirement, little did we know his son had some of the same issues his dad was dealing with at the time. I don't blame Ford for getting hired, but much of the fan base was alienated when a "non" family member was brought in to take the helm. Add to that a product that bears absolutely NO resemblance to the days of the elder Sutton, and fans quickly lost their motivation.
Now let's throw in a little greed and arrogance. Enter AD Holder, who saw an opportunity to raise ticket prices on the heals of Eddie's success. Problem is that success quickly vanished, and the NBA appreciatively stepped into the void.
One of the main reasons the State of Oklahoma had no major professional football or basketball franchises was due to the fact that you had two extremely successful and well supported major college programs. Getting those fans to redirect their "fan" dollars would be almost impossible, unless of course the fans were disenchanted with the current programs. Combine OU's and OSU's hoops "issues" of late, and the opportunity was present. The OKC Thunder and the NBA have staked their claim to that fan expenditure, and Holder giving away seats for free won't get people back to GIA. Only championship competitiveness will get that done.
As far as the students, who are obviously more of a captive audience, until you "bring back the rowdy," basketball tickets for this group shouldn't cost more than $1, and honestly, I think they should be free. There are plenty of empty seats. Encourage those in the 300 level to move down after the ten minute mark of the first half. Pride goeth before a fall, Mike, so suffice it to say SOMETHING HAS TO CHANGE, BECAUSE WHAT YOU'RE DOING RIGHT NOW AIN'T GETTIN IT DONE FOR BASKETBALL.
Coach Travis, same goes to you. Your X's and O's aren't producing on the court. Once again your vision of more up tempo offensive basketball has often turned into half court stagnation. If not for the shooting ability of Brown and Forte, with the occasional jumper from Smart, the Cowboys struggle to produce enough outside shots to free up the paint. You have yet to figure out the mystery that is Le'Bryan Nash, and Murphy/Cobbins/Jurick are not going to be offensive saviors.
My theory here is this...Ford is a pretty good recruiter. Superior athletes are the difference in the lower tier of Div 1 basketball. The talent disparity often can't be overridden by good coaching, so bringing in better players will usually spell success. However, that doesn't get it done with the big boys. Everyone has great athletes. The difference becomes the X's and O's. For those who watched Gonzaga vs Butler, well, it couldn't be more obvious.
In 15 years as a head coach, Ford has only taken 3 teams to The Dance...Eastern Kentucky in 2005, his last year before going to UMass...and his first two seasons at OSU with Eddie's and Sean's players. He has led 7 of the 15 squads to overall losing records, and only 8 winning records in conference play. The Cowboys are the first post for Travis where the teams record has gotten worse every season. Chances are pretty high that won't happen this year. Still, the team looks disorganized at times, and it is obvious that they are getting by on talent and effort.