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Henry's Highlights
Thursday, February 19, 2004

By Henry Hinton
Broadcaster & Owner of Greenville Cable 7

Sky wars undermine parity in C-USA


AUDIO: Midweek Tip-Off with Henry Hinton, Mike Steele & guests Ed Schilling & Larry Hunter: Select clip...

A while back, Mike Steele and I were interviewing Houston coach Ray McCallum and he made an interesting observation that has become a big issue in the last few weeks. He said that Conference USA is a league of “haves” and “have nots.”

Not only do teams like East Carolina have to play against some of the best in college basketball night in and night out during conference play, they have to do it while traveling at a tremendous disadvantage.

Don’t buy it? Consider this:

Travel during the conference schedule is tough on everybody. Not only are the student-athletes asked to practice every day and play two games per week, they must deal with travel demands ranging from grueling for some to to merely a bother for others.

Ask any college basketball coach. The way the team is required to travel is a huge issue. If your team is at a traveling disadvantage it could mean the difference in winning or losing a close game.

The top tier schools in C-USA have the dollars and wherewithal to simplify their travel. Consider the game with Louisville here in Greenville a few weeks ago.

The game was on national television and was scheduled for a 9 pm tip-off. Instead of being held hostage to an airline schedule and planes that may take off and land off schedule, Rick Pitino simply made the decision to travel to Greenville on game day.

The Louisville players woke up in their own beds on game day, assembled to take a bus to the airport and boarded a private charter jet that flew right into Pitt-Greenville airport mid-day.

A team meal at the hotel where everyone had a day room, a walk-through in Williams Arena, a short ride back to the hotel to rest and prepare for the game and then back to the arena for the game.

After Louisville’s victory over the Pirates, the Cards showered at the coliseum, boarded a bus and went straight to Pitt-Greenville where the charter awaited and took them home again. The players were back in their own beds by 1 a.m. and were able to make classes the next morning.

Memphis assistant coach Ed Schilling, appearing on Cable 7’s Mid-Week Tip-Off this week, acknowledged that being able to use charter airplanes is a huge advantage for the league’s top teams.

Schilling’s boss, John Calipari, has the same kind of pull in Memphis. It would not make a lot of sense to pay a guy like him the kind of money he makes and then expect him to stoop to traveling commercial, right?

As such, the Tigers enjoyed the same treatment last week when they played in Greenville. They chartered in and chartered out.

“It’s so wonderful to be able to do that mid week”, said Schilling. “Kids don’t miss class. We hop right back on that plane the same night and the guys sleep in their own beds. Then they can go to class the next morning.”

Schilling, who was head coach at Wright State until last year, joked that the cost of the pre-game meals at Memphis is equivalent to the entire budget at some schools.

He also added that the increased benefits lead to increased expectations. ”To whom much is given, much is required,” says Schilling.

That may be true, but the reality of the situation is that fans want their teams to win and expectations are high everywhere.

Contrast the laid-back travel logistics of U of L and U of M with the hurry-up-and-wait continent-hopping ECU will be faced with in the coming weeks.

Luckily the Pirates have two more home games in a row before hitting the road. But after that, the travel becomes a disaster for this team.

The Pirate team will fly out Tuesday March 2 for a game the next night in Milwaukee at 8 pm. After the game, they will return to their hotel and get up for a full day of travel back to Greenville on Thursday, where they will get to sleep in their beds for one night.

They will then travel all day on Friday to get to Hattiesburg, Mississippi, in order to play a 5 p.m. game on Saturday. Because of the limited flight schedules in Hattiesburg, the team will have to bus 75 miles to Mobile on Sunday to return home.

STUDENT-athletes? Hardly, during the season. If the guys are lucky they will make one day of class that week.

Let’s hope by then ECU has wrapped up a bid to the league tournament, which begins the next week in Cincinnati. If so, the Pirates will have to travel again Monday to get to Cincy in time for the practice schedules and media commitments.

From the beginning of the semester on January 9 until the end of February, the players will miss 15-17 days of classes at ECU.

Speaking of the tournament, the C-USA Tournament has never been played outside of Louisville or Cincinnati. That, too, has been a tremendous advantage for those two programs.

Get the picture?

Conference USA is not a level playing field for teams like ECU.

How will that change with the exit of the top tier basketball schools in the realignment sweepstakes? Well, for one thing, Calipari has to be licking his chops. He may end up with the only charter deal in the league.

Oh, and he’ll probably end up with the tournament in Memphis also.

They are building a huge new 20,000 seat facility, Fed Ex Forum, just off Beale Street for his program and the Memphis Grizzlies.

The Pyramid just isn’t good enough anymore.

Get the picture?

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02/23/2007 10:13:13 AM

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