2014 Pulitzer Prize Winner
  • Hypothetically speaking, who would be a good fit for the Mountain West?

    Thu, February 28, 2013 by Brent Briggeman with 9 comments

    The current construction of Mountain West basketball will cease to exist with the conclusion of the conference tournament in two weeks, as the nine-team league braces for the addition of San Jose State and Utah State.

    The jump to 11 (Hawaii is a football-only member, leaving the odd number) has led to scheduling issues that could be smoothed over with the inclusion of one more program. And with the MW currently ranked No. 1 in conference RPI, there would be no time like the present to find that one additional school that doesn’t play football and bring them into the fold.

    If it were up to you, who would you like to see brought into the mix?

    Keeping in mind this is entirely hypothetical, here are my top choices:

    Gonzaga (currently in the West Coast Conference)
    The Mountain West is ranked No. 1 as a conference, so why not shoot for the team that may soon be ranked No. 1 in the nation? Gonzaga doesn’t play football, so that wouldn’t be an issue. The Bulldogs would also help the Mountain West put an imprint in the Pacific Northwest as well as Seattle’s large market. It would also give Boise State a regional rival. Gonzaga has won the West Coast regular-season title in all but one season since 2000-01 and has captured 10 of the past 14 tournament titles (it was runner-up the other four times). The team needs better competition, as is clear from speculation that even a No. 1 national ranking might not assure the Zags of a top seed in the NCAA tournament (their strength of schedule ranks 68th, leaving them No. 9 in RPI). A league with the likes of San Diego State, New Mexico and UNLV could provide that competition on an annual basis, while helping solidify the MW’s stature at a top-flight basketball league and exponentially increase its presence in the national media. It seems like a win-win for all involved.

    Wichita State (currently in the Missouri Valley)
    With nine NCAA Tournament berths to its credit – including three trips to the Elite Eight – as well as NBA standouts Xavier McDaniel and Antoine Carr amongst its alumni, the Shocker would bring some historical weight to a league currently short on deep basketball roots. The Shockers are also pretty good in the now, ranked No. 39 in RPI and having played in the NCAA Tournament last year and capturing NIT title the year before that. They draw well, averaging 10,312 fans per home game this year in an arena that has a capacity of 10,512. Wichita State wouldn’t, however, open a large market like Gonzaga. Wichita is a mid-90s media market – nearly identical to Colorado Springs – and the potential of penetration statewide is limited given the presence of Kansas and Kansas State. Still, from a basketball perspective, this would improve the Mountain West. It would also represent at least a slight step up for the Shockers from the Missouri Valley, and its close proximity to the Front Range wouldn’t greatly impact the miles it currently travels as part of a league with schools from Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky.

    BYU (currently independent in everything but football; West Coast Conference in other sports)
    The Cougars are exploring life as the Mormon answer to Catholic mainstay Notre Dame in football, trying to utilize the religious tie-ins that provide a national fan base to go at it as an independent. The school’s other athletic programs are part of the West Coast Conference. The Mountain West would be the better destination. In the Cougars last season in the MW two years ago they ranked second in road attendance at 10,542. They were charter members of the league, have fan bases in each city and geographically couldn’t be a better fit. The addition of Utah State would even provide an in-state rival to replace Utah (now a Pac-12 member). Having BYU back in the fold could also leave the door open for an eventual return for the football team if the independent route doesn’t work as planned. This is a known commodity and would help the Mountain West further dominate the Rocky Mountain region in terms of fan support.

    Denver (currently in the Western Athletic Conference, slated to move to the Summit League in 2013)
    Joe Scott has built the Pioneers into a legitimate team (currently ranked 75th in RPI) and their addition would provide even more of a footprint in the large Denver media market in addition to keeping travel costs down for Air Force, Colorado State, New Mexico and Wyoming. However, it’s tough to imagine the private school with a basketball team that plays second fiddle to it’s powerful hockey program being in serious consideration. For local fans it would sure be nice.

    Santa Clara (currently in the West Coast Conference)
    The addition of San Jose has already set up the MW to be introduced in a new market, this would double the presence in the heavily populated area near San Francisco. This would also give some academic punch to a league that isn’t exactly known for excellence in that area. It’s tough to imagine the Mountain West providing enough competition or revenue opportunities for Santa Clara in sports like soccer and volleyball.

  • Mountain West shows support of NCAA president after memo is leaked

    Tue, February 26, 2013 by Brent Briggeman with 43 comments

    A cryptic email from the bigwigs of the Mountain West came out of the blue Tuesday evening and seemed a bit puzzling.

    The email expressed confidence in the leadership of the NCAA and, in particular, its president Dr. Mark Emmert.

    Why the need for the letter? Why now?

    I didn’t know. I asked Air Force athletic director Hans Mueh. He didn’t know either.

    It finally came to light that the statement – signed by Anthony Frank, the president of Colorado State and the chair of the Mountain West Board of Directors as well as the Mountain West’s Colorado Springs-based commissioner Craig Thompson – was in response to a leaked email from FresnoState president John Welty to the league’s presidents.

    According to Chicago Tribune, an email from Welty, who is retiring this year, said:

    “Is it time for the presidents to seek new NCAA leadership or a new organization? The NCAA has evidenced decisions that focus on trivial and penalize our athletes. The salaries for the NCAA leadership are excessive and an embarrassment to the Mountain West schools. Their decision making is cumbersome and oblique.”

    Emmert has been central in recent discussions of the NCAA’s handling - or perhaps mishandling - of the Miami investigation as well as the harsh penalties imposed on PennState following the Jerry Sandusky scandal.

    What all this means, who knows? Sounds like some high level gossip simply found itself in the public domain.

    Anyway, at least we’re not scratching our heads as to what that initial release from the league was all about.


    Here’s the full text of the Mountain West statement:

    This is a challenging era for governance within intercollegiate athletics and Dr. Mark Emmert’s leadership during these times is greatly appreciated.  He has initiated much needed reforms in the areas of academic enhancement, student-athlete well-being and athletic certification.  As a conference, the Mountain West is committed to working within established governance channels.  If we ever arrive at a situation where we have concerns with the NCAA, we will express them via appropriate channels within the formal NCAA governance structure.  No such concern has been expressed by our conference.

  • An NFL-style combine at the high school level? Calhoun is for it

    Mon, February 25, 2013 by Brent Briggeman with 12 comments


    Troy Calhoun is no stranger to the NFL Combine, and he’s a fan. So much so that the Air Force coach would like to see another version of it that, instead of highlighting college players for NFL evaluators, would put high school athletes there for college coaches to see.

    “It would ensure there’s consistency across the board,” Calhoun said. “Compliance-wise it’s something clearly you can monitor, but at the same time it’s fair to everyone involved in terms of being able to evaluate.”

    Calhoun’s suggestion is to hold a large number of high school combines, maybe 70, holding two per day in April and May in large cities and at regional sites.

    “I think it makes more sense,” he said.

    He’s absolutely right. And it would save major dollars.

    Instead of paying for each assistant to travel to dozens of towns and schools each year to verify heights, weights and all other measurables for recruits, that effort could be consolidated. There would still be travel associated with recruiting, but if much of the weeding out process could be done in one organized location it would simplify the process and keep costs down at public institutions across the country.

    Calhoun said he hasn’t heard any discussion of his proposed college combine, but he sure seemed to be into the idea.

    As a former NFL assistant, Calhoun understands how the combine fits into the overall evaluation process. He was part of a draft for the Texans that included stealing tight end Owen Daniels in the fourth round, so he clearly understands how to use it to his advantage.

    It would be interesting to see how a program like Air Force, which recruits nationally, could use a college combine to help identify potential recruits. It would also be interesting to see if players from the Colorado Springs area might be able to use such a platform to elevate their status.

    It certainly seems worth pursuing.

  • Lyons as surprised as anyone to see his outing vs. CSU topped so soon

    Mon, February 25, 2013 by Brent Briggeman with no comments

    Colorado State coach Larry Eustachy insists his team's defense against Kendall Williams of New Mexico was as tight as it was against Air Force's Michael Lyons. Photo evidence suggests otherwise.

    Colorado State coach Larry Eustachy insists his team’s defense against Kendall Williams of New Mexico was as tight as it was against Air Force’s Michael Lyons. Photo evidence suggests otherwise.

    Michael Lyons found himself briefly cheering for Colorado State. More specifically, cheering for CSU’s defense. Even more specifically, cheering for CSU’s defense against New Mexico’s Kendall Williams.Willliams sank free throw after free throw in the final minutes on Saturday, capping a 46-point performance against the Rams that eclipsed Lyons’ own 45-point barrage against the game team the week before.

    “I was kind of rooting against him in a way,” said Lyons – sort of joking, sort of not. “That was good for him though.”

    Williams followed Lyons as Mountain West player of the week.

    It was odd that a team as good as CSU, a top-25 team, would see two similar eruptions from guards in such a short span.

    Rams coach Larry Eustachy gave all the credit to the two guards, saying he doesn’t know how he might have changed the defensive approach.

    “Every shot was contested,” Eustachy said. “What we got were two incredible players who had incredible outings. It was a reflection on them and certainly not a reflection on our defense.”

    This has been something of a trend for Colorado State. According to stats dug up by Geoff Grammer of the Albuquerque Journal, the Rams have allowed an opposing guard to scored 20-plus eight times, 30-plus three times and 45-plus twice.

    Among that group, Lyons was king. Who would have guessed how quickly that reign would end?

  • Air Force releases spring football schedule

    Wed, February 20, 2013 by Brent Briggeman with 3 comments

    Air Force released its tentative spring practice schedule, bumping the start up from Friday (as had been previously announced) to Thursday. Weekday practices run from 4 p.m. to 5:45 p.m. and Saturday practices are from 10 to 11:45 a.m.

    Practices are open to the public and there will be no spring game this year.

    A few developments to watch this spring (and we’ll get into this a bit more in depth in a full story) will be to see if the offense takes on a different look following the comments from a top tight end recruit that coach Troy Calhoun intends to open the passing game a bit more. Also, replacements will need to be found for all four linebackers, at quarterback, running back, three of the five offensive line spots and several other positions.

    What will you be following most closely as the team practices over the next month?

    Air Force Spring Practice Tentative Dates
    Thursday, Feb. 21
    Saturday, Feb. 23
    Monday, Feb. 25
    Wednesday, Feb. 27
    Thursday, Feb. 28
    Saturday, March 2
    Tuesday, March 5
    Wednesday, March 6
    Monday, March 11
    Tuesday March 12
    Thursday, March 14
    Saturday, March 16
    Monday March 18
    Tuesday, March 19
    Wednesday, March 20
  • Indentifying Lyons’ good luck charms

    Tue, February 19, 2013 by Brent Briggeman with 16 comments


    Air Force basketball coach Dave Pilipovich offered a theory as to why Michael Lyons went off for 45 points against Colorado State on Saturday.

    “He seems to play well when his parents are there,” Pilipovich said. “I noticed before the game that his dad, who lives in Virginia, was sitting behind our bench.”

    Lyons wasn’t quite as convinced that his parents’ make a difference in his game, though he did conceded some of his top performances have come with them in attendance.

    “I think it’s just total coincidence,” the senior guard said. “It has worked out to where every game he’s been there has been a pretty big game, but I guess they’re just my good luck charm.

    “I don’t try to do anything else different, it just happens to work out that way.”

    Another contributing factor may have been a pregame haircut. Pilipovich, who is painfully superstitious, advised against Lyons getting his hair buzzed Saturday morning. Pilipovich had received a pregame haircut years ago and has since avoided the practice. When Lyons said he had previously had one and it preceded a win, Pilipovich gave the go-ahead.

    No word if the scissors or Lyons’ parents will be making an appearance Wednesday in Boise.