A Mid-Major Program in a Major Conference: DePaul Basketball Program Progress Report


I was listening to Terry Boers and Dan Bernstein (for non-Chicagoans, they host the afternoon drive on WSCR 670 “The Score” and, in my opinion, have the best sports talk show in the city) last week and they had an extended conversation on the state of DePaul basketball, which was extremely unusual since I don’t believe that I’ve ever heard them discuss the Blue Demons in ten years of listening to their show.  Their main point was that DePaul doesn’t seem to know what type of program that it wants to be as of today – if the school doesn’t want to commit the resources to be competitive in the brutal Big East, then it ought to just resign itself to being a Loyola-type program.  Truer words have never been spoken.  When I wrote this high-level assessment of the DePaul program in the wake of its first Big East conference game three years ago (a victory over rival Notre Dame), I was optimistic about the school joining a conference that it felt it should have always belonged to (in the sense of being the dominant Catholic university in a major media market).  However, I also sounded the following warning:

Still, it’s not just enough for DePaul to simply join the Big East – the Demons need to establish a winning program within that conference.  Otherwise, DePaul is going to be to the Big East what Northwestern basketball is to the Big Ten: a Chicago outpost whose arena is filled up every game with fans of the opponents.

Unfortunately, it looks like the latter scenario is becoming the norm at Allstate Arena.  DePaul has lost its first five Big East games of the season, including a blowout loss at home against a horrific South Florida team.  While I knew that DePaul’s stadium situation would always put a damper on the program’s ability to draw recruits, what I didn’t expect was for the school to simply ignore the financial realities of what it takes to be able to compete in the Big East.  Let’s just put aside schools with football programs, such as Notre Dame and Syracuse, and take a look at a ranking of the 2007-08 athletic revenue and expenses of the Big East Catholic schools that don’t play Division I-A football (all of the Catholic schools except for Notre Dame):

  1. Georgetown
    Undergraduate Enrollment: 6,545
    Revenue: $28,956,475
    Expenses: $28,956,475
  2. St. John’s
    Undergraduate Enrollment: 11,567
    Revenue: $27,865,749
    Expenses: $27,750,357
  3. Villanova
    Undergraduate Enrollment: 6,663
    Revenue: $23,925,129
    Expenses: $23,925,129
  4. Marquette
    Undergraduate Enrollment: 7,482
    Revenue: $23,677,426
    Expenses: $23,677,426
  5. Seton Hall
    Undergraduate Enrollment: 4,577
    Revenue: $17,345,372
    Expenses: $17,345,372
  6. Providence
    Undergraduate Enrollment: 3,892
    Revenue: $17,314,913
    Expenses: $17,314,913
  7. DePaul
    Undergraduate Enrollment: 11,128
    Revenue: $14,342,873
    Expenses: $14,342,873

For some points of reference, Ohio State had the largest amount of athletic revenues in the nation last year with $117,953,712.  Among the schools in Chicago sphere of influence, Notre Dame had revenues of $83,352,439, Illinois had $57,167,843 (almost right at the median for schools with BCS football programs), and Northwestern had $41,835,733.  All information is from the fascinating institutional data site run by the U.S. Office of Postsecondary Education.

The expenses number is a pretty good proxy for each school’s athletic budget since athletic departments will typically spend every penny of it (which leads to some Enron-esque accounting to meet the balanced budget mandates of most schools, so that’s why every one of the Catholic schools listed above except for St. John’s reported revenues that equaled exactly to their expenses).  As you can see from the list, it’s clear that DePaul is far behind its peers in the rest of the Big East in terms of commitment of resources to athletics.

I’m not saying that DePaul should be prioritizing athletic spending over other parts of its educational mission.  However, if DePaul wants to be part of a power conference, then it’s going to have to make the commitment that is commensurate of a power conference team or else consider moving out.  When the Blue Demons have a smaller budget than Providence and Seton Hall, which are institutions with around 4,000 undergraduates (compared to DePaul with over 11,000), much less being nearly doubled by smaller schools in smaller markets like Marquette and Villanova, it appears as though the administration just wanted to be passive part of the Big East as opposed to actually competing in it.

I completely understand that DePaul is collecting much larger checks from ESPN and other sources as a Big East member compared to, say, if it had moved to the Atlantic 10 in the same manner as St. Louis University.  There’s also a certain cachet of being in the same conference as Notre Dame, Georgetown, and other Catholic universities that DePaul wants to consider its peers.  It was obvious five years ago that the invitation to the Big East was an opportunity that the school under the El tracks in Lincoln Park couldn’t possibly pass up and I was extremely excited about the move at the time.  However, DePaul hasn’t done much over the past several years, if anything, to justify that invitation.  As of now, DePaul has an athletic budget that’s closer to Loyola than Marquette, and while that’s fine for a mid-major school, it’s simply not befitting a Big East program.  DePaul needs to figure out what it wants to be in terms of sports.

(Image from Chicago Tribune)


A Year Ahead of Schedule: Illini Basketball Mid-Season Report


As Illinois anihilated Indiana by 31 points on Sunday, I felt a certain amount of vindication with the plight of the Hoosiers.  My hatred of the Indiana Hoosiers has been well-documented on this blog over the past couple of years with the actions of Satan’s Spawn – I want these guys get pummeled more than any other team in all of sports, including the Packers and Duke.  The tough thing going forward, though, is that I have a massive amount of respect for new IU coach Tom Crean, particularly with how he was always able to produce extremely competitive teams in the Big East at a Catholic school in Marquette that doesn’t have a football program to supply loads of revenue (unlike the horrific first 4 years of DePaul in arguably the toughest basketball conference in the nation, which I’ll be writing about in a separate post shortly).  Despite that, I can guarantee you that I’ll never get over the way Indiana completely bent Illinois over in the Eric Gordon situation – when one of your biggest rivals takes steps to completely fuck over your program in the long-term, you can never forget.

Fortunately, this season for the Illini has been more than a fantastic surprise on my end.  Back in October, I was basically counting down the days until Alex Legion could be activated and looked at it as a rebuilding year overall.  In fact, I thought that Illinois would look a lot like last year’s team and be hard-pressed to receive a bid to the NIT, much less the NCAA Tournament.  Instead, the Illini have proven to be a pretty good (not great) team in a revitalized Big Ten and would easily be in the NCAA Tournament if the season ended today.  Assuming that we don’t end up taking conference’s automatic bid in the Big Ten Tournament, winning on the road at Purdue and the blowout of Missouri in the Braggin’ Rights Game are already excellent entries on our NCAA Tourney resume.

There are a few key items that I’ve noticed as we get into the heart of conference play.  First and foremost, the Illini can finally score again with regularity after two straight seasons of anemic Bears-like offensive output.  Four Illinois starters are averaging double-digit scoring each game and the team’s overall free throw percentage is over 73% (compared to a Shaq-esque 60.8% last season).  Even though Illinois lost at Michigan a week ago (which will hopefully be avenged on Wednesday night in a quirk in the Big Ten schedule having to play the Wolverines twice in the first four conference games), I was actually refreshed to see the Illini keep up with the frenetic three-pointing ability of scUM up until the last few minutes of the game.  If last season’s Illinois team were on the court, Michigan would have crushed us by over 30 with that type of long-range shooting performance.

The offensive balance has impressive with Trent Meacham and Demetri McCamey both drastically improving their outside shooting and Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale becoming consistent presences in the post.  That balance was something that didn’t exist at all last year, when if the ball didn’t get into Shaun Pruitt, the Illini were pretty much dead in the water.  Just as important is that Chester Frazier has been able to finally get placed into the role that fits him, which is to concentrate on bringing defensive intensity to the floor.  He was unfairly subjected to more booing than anyone last season from the Assembly Hall crowd mostly because he was thrust into a spot where Eric Gordon should have been, meaning that Frazier was being to asked to perform tasks (particularly on the offensive end) no one should have reasonably expected.

Speaking of Frazier’s defense, the rest of the team has performed an excellent job overall on that end of the floor, as well (as characteristic of Bruce Weber-coached squads).  The one concern that I have is that we will have issues with teams that have more athleticism (as exposed by Michigan and will be seen even more so against Michigan State on Satruday) – Illinois has shown to be a better than average running team, but they are more suited to agressive half-court sets throwing down to Tisdale or Davis for short baskets or kicking out to McCamey or Meacham when the buckets in the paint aren’t there.

This year’s Illini feel like the 2005 Ohio State team that happened to upset a perfect Illinois regular season, where Buckeye fans were initially looking forward a year to the incoming Greg Oden/Mike Conley recruiting class but were pleasantly surprised by the quality play of that veteran-laden team.  Similarly, most Illinois fans (including me) were focused on the excellent recruiting classes that will be coming to Champaign over the next couple of years, yet these Illini are making everyone take notice a year ahead of time.  I’m just thrilled to see Illinois safely back on the Bracketology projections again.

(Image from Chicago Tribune)

It’s Funny Because It’s True: The ESPN College Basketball Fan Casting Call


I’m normally not one for hyperbole, but the following find from Awful Announcing might very well be the most awesome sports-related story that I’ve come across since starting this blog: the ESPN casting call for college basketball fans representing different schools.  Due to the fact that it’s so over-the-top in its stereotypes and littered with spelling and grammatical errors, you might think that this is an Internet hoax.  However, ESPN contacted Awful Announcing to make it clear that the casting call was being canceled, which meant that the most powerful cable network in the nation really was going to use these parameters to find people to represent various universities (before they got caught, of course).

Let’s see if I would have met the requirements to be Mr. Illini:

MALE. African-American. Young Obama. Think Toofer-the straight-laced, Harvard grad write r from 30 Rock (Keith Powell)

Well, as a half-Chinese/half-Polish guy, it doesn’t look like ESPN believes that I could represent my Illini.  Believe me when I say that Illinois was treated very positively compared to some other schools.  In comparison, let’s take a look at the alma mater of my man crush Derrick Rose:

MALE. What can we say about Memphis? He’s a southern BLACK kid, really culinary and polite. He’s artistic, and draws comic books really well.

As Awful Announcing noted, an “African-American” gets to be a Harvard graduate, while a “BLACK” can draw comic books really well.  I see that ESPN’s casting director really took to heart America’s historic election of a new President last week.  Anyway, I was able to find a surprising starring role that I could fit into:

MALE He’s an ASIAN kid who is in to all things Notre Dame, ridiculously so. Oh, and he’s always fighting. Every time we encounter him he always has some words or another, be it the faint traces of a black eye, or a scab or whatever. He epitomizes the fightin’ Irish.

As someone that grew up during the Lou Holtz era on the South Side of Chicago (alright, it was the south suburbs, but all North Siders seem to believe that the Chicago area ends at around 57th Street) where every other person was Irish Catholic, I obviously believe that an Asian kid with a black eye “epitomizes the fightin’ (sic) Irish.”  It’s interesting that Notre Dame was the one program that ESPN’s proxies seemed to go out of their way to avoid so many of the school’s stereotypes (well, other than the black eye and scab part), but there was another Midwestern Catholic university where they sincerely nailed it:

FEMALE. Marquette, on a scale of 1-10, she’s a six. A B-, C in every category you can define a person by. Her defining characteristic is you don’t really remember her. You’re not breaking your arm to get to her, but you’re not chewing it off to get away. She does have a winning personality though. Midwest, sweet girl.

Never have truer words have been spoken about Marquette.  (Yes, I’m a DePaul Law alum.)

That was just a mere sampling – 24 schools in all were up for casting and there are many more gems (although ESPN’s lack of a college basketball contract with the Pac-10 has deprived us of roles for USC and Berkeley).  I’m simultaneously mortified that this is not a joke and gleeful that this will live on the interweb forever.

UPDATE: USA Today appears to be the first in the mainstream media to have picked up this story.

(Image from Scream Punch)