Onward

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(UC Magazine)

For years, Bearcat fans have been praying for a spot in a Power 5 conference. On Monday afternoon, the latest answer was hollered down from the sports gods, and they’ve given us a resounding “no.” I won’t drag into how the entire process was a sham from the start or how it likely cost a cash-strapped athletic department seven figures to end up being completely disrespected by Big 12 brass with a nonsense press conference and a patronizing pat on the back. In fact, this will be the opposite of that.

For months, whenever family or friends asked me about the looming Big 12 decision, I gave the same answer: “Nobody knows, but I’m very optimistic.” As the start of the 2016 football season came and went, that answer changed. “Nobody knows. I just want this over with, regardless of the outcome.” True to my word, Cincinnati got rejected, and I genuinely feel a sense of relief. It’s certainly not the outcome I wanted, and I’m angry, but it’s over with, and we can all move on. What now?

Welcome to the American Athletic Conference, where nobody likes each other and everybody wants out.

The former is a great ingredient for college athletics. Things work well with a little disdain. Look at how fantastic the basketball series between the Bearcats and Huskies has been in the past five years. The two programs do not like each other, and it works. Contrast that with the currently laughable Battle for the Bell with Miami. It’s a “rivalry” without any edge. As a result, neither team seems to care much on the field, and the fans certainly don’t circle it on the calendar.

Meanwhile, the latter has always been one of the biggest drawbacks of life in the AAC. Between the fans and the universities themselves, it has always been obvious that nobody wanted to be here. Aside from Tulsa and Navy, every single one of the conference’s 12 member schools applied for Big 12 consideration. For schools like Cincinnati and Connecticut, the AAC has never been anything more than a temporary purgatory before the Power 5 came calling us back home. Fans of AAC schools with their sights set on bigger things have felt reluctant to fully invest in the conference for this reason.

It’s now October 2016 and the last bus to freedom for the foreseeable future just kicked us to the curb and sped off without any passengers. Rather than sit at the bus stop and feel sorry for ourselves, let’s turn around and walk back to the American and make the best of it.

I say this knowing that it’s not what anybody wants to hear right now, but things could be a lot worse than the American Athletic Conference. Things could be a lot worse for the Bearcats, in general.

There is no way to slice the AAC’s television deal that makes it look like a positive. The Bearcats are getting much less than they got in the Big East, much less than they’d get in the Big 12, and much less than they currently deserve. Secondly, UC has managed to be on the wrong end of every large and small decision by the conference, from the basketball tournament location to instant replays. The Bearcats have gotten slighted on just about everything, macro and micro. That’s just the truth. If you’re the conspiracy type, you probably think that’s intentional. I wouldn’t blame you.

Other aspects of the conference, however, work nicely for UC. First and foremost, this group of athletic departments is sneaky talented. There are the obvious ones like Houston, who is on track to appear in a New Year’s bowl for the second straight season, and UConn, who won the conference a national championship in basketball in 2014.

In football, there is a lot to be proud of. Programs like Cincinnati, UCF, ECU, and Navy are traditionally strong despite varying states of current success. Programs like Houston, Memphis, USF, and Temple have experienced a renaissance in the confines of the AAC. UConn and Tulsa seem to be turning the page as we speak, and bottom-feeders SMU and Tulane made recent hires that should put them on track for success in the near future. The American is easily the best Group of 5 football conference.

There are also great facilities. There are more newer stadiums than in the Old Big East, and everything is miles ahead of where they were in the Conference USA days. Nippert just underwent its $86 million facelift, with more tweaks to come. UCF has a nine-year-old stadium that underwent renovations last season. ECU expanded to 50,000 seats six years ago, and they routinely fill those. Houston has a brand new stadium, and so does Tulane. In addition, everyone seems to be hitting their stride, and these seats are getting filled. Of the 12 stadiums in the conference, six have set single-game attendance records while in the American and several others have come close. While conference attendance in the AAC is still beneath the Power 5, it’s much better than any other Group of 5 conference, and that gap will continue to widen. The notion that every team in the conference is in a simultaneous Great Depression is false.

There is also great potential for rivalry here. UC and Houston split one-possession games in 2014 and 2015 and the Bearcats led the Top 10 Cougars in the fourth quarter this season. The Bearcats won heart-stoppers against ECU in 2014 and 2015, and the Pirates have the kind of fan base that’s mean enough to fight back. I like it. USF was an old Big East foe and is back to its winning ways. UConn is an old Big East foe and a strong basketball rival that looks to be heading in the right direction. Memphis is an old C-USA opponent that has a team Tiger fans can be proud of. UC hasn’t even faced Navy yet, and they’re strong every year. If Bearcat fans can step back from the ledge and embrace the AAC as home for the time being, there are a few teams to get excited about playing each year. They aren’t Oklahoma or Texas, but they also aren’t UAB, Southern Mississippi, Syracuse, or Rutgers, who have adorned the schedule in the past.

In addition to all of this — while it’s depressing to say—UC’s football program is on uneasy footing right now. While the lack of Power 5 prestige and money will likely prevent us from landing the country’s hottest football coach, the upward mobility within the conference will entice many when combined with the competition, facilities, and fan support I mentioned above. Nobody wants to reconfigure their football program, but I’d much rather do it in the AAC than in a power conference where teams like Purdue, Iowa State, and Boston College get beaten down by an onslaught of rich powerhouses every time they try to get over the hump. Today, the Bearcats sit in last place. With a few tweaks next season, they could easily play in the AAC Championship Game. That kind of mobility simply isn’t possible in the Power 5.

AAC football is disappointing in contrast to the Big 12, but even the biggest haters have to admit that this conference is much stronger than expected. In fact, it’s so strong that I think it actually caught UC off guard and beat them into the 2016 basement. It’s not fun right now, but so many of the programs we overlooked have become worthy opponents. Let’s go get back on top.

In basketball, things aren’t quite as rosy, but they’re similar. The rest of the conference isn’t as strong as I’d like it to be, and certainly not as strong as the Old Big East. However, that matters much less. The Bearcats made a name for themselves under Bob Huggins playing in C-USA. They were consistently ranked in the Top 10 and did just fine winning games and drawing fans without the help of top flight competition. Ask UConn if their conference affiliation mattered when they won the national championship in 2014.

If SMU hadn’t gone and gotten themselves banned from postseason play, the AAC would’ve had five teams in the tournament last year. That’s nearly half of the conference, more teams than the SEC, and as many as the New Big East. The top half of the American is competitive and figures to stay that way.

Cincinnati, UConn, Memphis, and Temple are all “basketball schools.” SMU is turning itself into one, and Houston has enough history to lean on while it tries to build itself back up to relevance with an arena overhaul on the way. Tulsa, meanwhile, is in the midst of rekindling their success from 1994–2003 when they made the tournament eight times, reaching two Sweet Sixteens and an Elite Eight. They rejoined March Madness in 2014 and 2016 and are emerging as an unexpected road block on UC’s schedule every year.

The rivalry situation in the American is just fine. Following the 2014 tournament, I wrote on Cincy On The Prowl how the AAC is ripe for rivalry. Two and a half years later, I think that’s still correct. There is some good competition, some teams that are easy to hate, and we’ll continue to fight for the American title every year.

The Bearcats are still led by Mick Cronin, who seems to be firmly planted in Clifton, come hell or high water. His system is running seamlessly, and the Bearcats have made The Dance six straight years and 20 of the last 25. Recruiting at UC is the best its been in a while, with talented kids coming in every class now. Troy Caupain is a senior, Gary Clark is a junior, Jacob Evans is a sophomore, and local kid Jarron Cumberland is a freshman. How about that?

I don’t have a problem with selling people on Bearcats football, but if you aren’t excited about Bearcats basketball, I cannot help you.

This positive outlook comes with some caveats.

On the football side, I’m still of the opinion that the Bearcats need to make a coaching change. It remains to be seen what Mike Bohn’s thinking is in regards to Tommy Tuberville, but I would imagine that being relegated to the AAC will only hurt his chances at making it to 2017. Now is not the time to grow complacent. We must keep fighting forward. If you think attendance is a bummer this season, I’d hate to see it next year following a Big 12 rejection, two consecutive disappointing seasons, and Tuberville returning to roam the sidelines. That sounds like a great way to scare off everyone but the diehard fan.

On the basketball side, the arena renovation needs to get done. I worry about their plans given the financial constraints of the AAC and the donor fatigue of having just finished Nippert without a Power 5 ticket to show for it. Fifth Third Arena has grown stale and Mick Cronin deserves more for what he’s done at UC. It’s hard enough recruiting in the AAC. Doing it in an increasingly outdated arena will make it all but impossible. Getting a fresh makeover will make The Shoe one of the country’s finest on-campus arenas. It’ll boost recruiting and it will immensely help attendance and season ticket sales for a fan base whose only real complaint right now is that watching games in person is unpleasant and uncomfortable.

My last note is a call to action. Like much of my piece, it’s not what fans want to hear right now, but here it is: Suck it up.

If your main criteria for supporting a team is the quality of teams they face, then I question how much you love that team in the first place.

UC is not a professional sports franchise. They aren’t a business who deserves to have support waver depending on the product. UC is your alma mater. Cincinnati is your city. These kids rejected other schools to come and play in Clifton. Give them your support. Things aren’t perfect right now. I’m as frustrated as anyone. I want UC to make changes, and I’ve made that clear. However, I will not let that impact my love for my alma mater.

We have a fantastic basketball coach and a perennial tournament team. We have a fantastic baseball coach and a young team that’s making leaps every year. We have a fantastic men’s soccer coach who’s been in Clifton since 2001 and currently has the Bearcats tied for first place. We have a fantastic women’s soccer coach who stunned multiple ranked teams to win the conference tournament last year. We have a fantastic volleyball coach who is ripping through the AAC with one of the best players in the country. We have a fantastic swimming and diving coach and one of the best swimmers in the country. All-American Adrian Valles competed in the NCAA Championships in the pole fault, and Austin Squires and the men’s golf team just won the Firestone Invitational.

Get on board.

Mo Egger penned a rousing column Wednesday, and I’ll echo his message: Go watch the Bearcats.

There is plenty to be excited about at UC with plenty more to come. I believe the Big 12 made a big mistake in rejecting Cincinnati, and the vast majority of national media agrees. If we give up now, the idiots in Dallas win. Let’s make those guys look foolish.

Go Bearcats. Forever.

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Big 12 Expansion Apocalypse: Hope For The Best, Expect The Worst (Please)

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I’ll make this short and sweet, because I promised myself I wouldn’t turn OhVarsity.com into an expansion tabloid until I absolutely had to. Tomorrow I will absolutely have to.

Monday, October 17 is a date that’s been circled for months, and now it appears the anticipation has been warranted. Big 12 presidents meet Monday in Dallas to discuss expansion, and it’s widely believed that they’ll reach a formal conclusion to a matter they’ve been deliberating over since mid-July. Here is what to expect out of a group that tends to pull the unexpected:

1. Believe Nobody But Bowlsby

The Big 12 presidents started their meeting tonight and will conclude some time tomorrow evening with a press conference that’s scheduled to start at 6:30 PM ET. (If it’s anything like the last meeting, we may see that pushed back.) All day, we’ll likely hear reports of what’s happening, and I know we’ll all be reading along. Last time, even minutes before Commissioner Bob Bowlsby stunned the college football world by announcing an expansion exploration, there were reporters on Twitter announcing the opposite. These guys are unpredictable. Nobody knows what’s happening. Don’t react to a decision until you hear it straight from the horse’s mouth.

2. Follow Jason Williams

The Enquirer’s Expansion Man through all of this has been Jason Williams. The whole process has been a mess, and therefore is virtually impossible to cover from a journalistic standpoint. Despite all of this, Jason has made the process, dare I say, enjoyable. He’s done a great job. He’ll be in Dallas having us covered throughout the day and into the evening. Follow him on Twitter.

3. Hope For The Best

I think I’m starting to earn a reputation as one of the more optimistic voices surrounding UC, and I’d hate to stop now. Lord knows we need it. As I said, nobody knows what will happen. Even this week, I saw some “experts” predicting that the Big 12 will (eventually) go to 12, or even 14. The door isn’t closed yet, so I’m still hopeful. Having said that…

4. Prepare For The Worst

I’m 95% certain UC will not be headed to the Big 12 tomorrow evening. It sucks, but that’s life, especially as a Bearcat fan. It’s how UC’s luck has been (especially recently) and it’s how the fickle nature of expansion is. In short, I fully expect to be screwed by tomorrow’s news. I think the best, realistic scenario is that the Big 12 does what the Big 12 has always done and essentially shrugs and goes back to the drawing board. Realistically, continuing forth into this expansion mess may be the best hope UC has. I’m of the opinion that the Big 12 doesn’t want to expand right now, so hopefully they’ll at least leave the door open for expansion in the near future. If you must get your hopes up, please let it be in hopes of a non-decision that keeps Cincinnati’s Big 12 hopes alive.

Bearcat fans, I beg of you, please do not expect an invite. We don’t know what will happen, but I think it’s fair to say that all signs point to a disappointing day tomorrow. I don’t want to spend the evening off of Twitter while UC fans collective jump off a cliff. We’ve been through too much, especially in the past 13 months. I can’t handle a tidal wave of misery, no matter how warranted it will be. Unlike the devastating football and basketball losses of 2015–16, we kind of know this is coming. Please prepare yourselves.

The best we can do is hope for the best but expect the worst. Hunker down and hold onto your seats. Tomorrow is gonna be interesting, somehow.

And of course, as always, #Big12Confirmed.

Things Bearcats Football Is Older Than

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1893 Bearcats football team (UC Libraries)

Bearcats football took the field for the first time on October 23, 1885 in a game against Mt. Auburn. 1885 is a long time ago, and UC football is older than every FBS team but nine. As an ardent lover of old things and Bearcat one-upmanship, I had to seize the opportunity.

The ‘Cats have a bye week and UC football’s birthday is just around the corner, so I figured I’d make a short list of things that came right after Cincinnati football did:

  • Footballs in Cincinnati. This is one of my favorites. The 1927 issue of The Cincinnatian lays out the early days of Bearcats football, and credits Dr. Arch Carson for founding the team. Among other contributions, after all, “it was he who sent away to a big commercial house in the east for the first football, because there were none in the city of Cincinnati at that time.” That’s right. In 1885, footballs themselves weren’t even a thing in Cincy, but UC football was. (Also our colors were Blue and Brown at the time.)
  • 12 states. North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Washington, Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, Alaska, and Hawaii all came after UC played its first football game.
  • Coca-Cola. John Pemberton began serving it at his drugstore in Columbus, Georgia in May 1886.
  • The Statue of Liberty was dedicated in October 1886, just over a year after UC football’s first game.
  • Ballpoint pens. The ballpoint pen was invented by John Loud in October 1888.
  • Kodak cameras. The first Kodak box camera was invented in 1888, bringing simple and inexpensive photography to the world.
  • Inflatable tires. John Boyd Dunlop of Scotland invented the inflatable tire in 1888.
  • Dishwashers. The first dishwasher was invented by Josephine Garis in 1889.
  • The Eiffel Tower was opened in Paris in March 1889.
  • The zipper was invented by Whitcomb Judson in 1891.
  • The radio. The invention of radio is a disputed thing, but the internet credits a variety of people for creating radio some time between 1893 and 1900.
  • Airplanes. The Wright Brothers’ infamous flight in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina was in 1903.

So now if you were a real loser you could say something like, “Hey, do you know why UC’s first football uniforms didn’t have zippers? Because they weren’t invented yet.”

You’d probably come off really smug but it’s worth a shot anyway.

If I Were Athletic Director…

(Ofer Wolberger/The New York Times)

(Ofer Wolberger/The New York Times)

In the world of sports, there are two jobs that millions wish they could perform from the comfort of their couch: General manager and athletic director. I would love to take a spin at the AD job at the University of Cincinnati. “That coach stinks, so let’s fire him. This coach is rising fast, let’s pay him $8 million. The stadium is kind of run down, just build a new one. Let’s get different uniforms for every game!”

I recognize how hard these kinds of jobs are, and also how little the athletic director has control over. I know there is legal red tape, a lot of checks and balances within the administration, and also heavy financial considerations. Athletic directors are not all-powerful dictators with an endless cash flow. However, if I woke up tomorrow as the athletic director in Clifton and I had the ability to pull off just about anything, here are some things I’d try:

 

 
“The honest-to-God truth is, it was too easy.” (Michael Snyder photo)

“The honest-to-God truth is, it was too easy.” (Michael Snyder photo)

  • Bring back Midnight Madness. Back during what I call the Second Golden Age of Bearcats Basketball, Midnight Madness was magical. There were uniform unveilings. There were posters in the Enquirer. There was Melvin Levett rocking a chain and dunking over a freaking golf cart in 1998. Of course, this only happened after UC had refused to let him drive a car onto the court and after Bob Huggins refused to let him jump two golf carts. I want to go back to a world where more than 10,000 of us pile into the arena in the middle of the night and watch a guy settle for only jumping one golf cart.

 
 
 

 
 
 
  • Bring back Armory Fieldhouse. I know this is kind of a financial and logistical mess, but this is my dream world, so watch me work. Armory Fieldhouse was the home of the Bearcats during what I call the First Golden Age of Bearcats Basketball. It was tiny then, and feels even tinier now. It was no-frills then, and feels even less frilly now. The place is barely more than a gymnasium, but it’s one of the most historic college basketball venues in America. It’s old and probably can’t meet any fire codes in 2016, so I understand why it’s sitting there virtually unused. However, there are kids at UC (probably most kids at UC) that probably don’t know that it exists or where it is. That kinda stinks. Set aside some money or hold a fundraiser and let’s nudge Armory into 2016. We don’t need to make it a world-class facility. Let’s just restore it to its original state and use it for special occasions. I would kill for a red and black basketball scrimmage at Armory, much less an early-season game. Maybe open it to the students and allow organized groups to play co-ed games there. Maybe give it to the volleyball team so they can stop holding matches in a massive, empty arena. (I’ve been to several matches. They’re fun and the team is good, but the atmosphere is abysmal for volleyball at Fifth Third.)

 

 
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  • Get some throwback uniforms for every sport. I spend most of my free time at the intersection of sports and history. Throwback uniforms are like crack to me. A short while back, men’s basketball had some glorious throwbacks that they wore for a couple years before they vanished. We need to bring those back, along with uniforms from other eras. Baseball and football have been left out in the cold. Don’t stop at basketball, let’s do it for every sport. UC has tons of athletic history that’s largely untapped. Let’s revive some of that with our uniforms. Under Armour would make a killing on these.

 

 
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  • Close off the north end zone of Nippert. There isn’t much I dislike about Nippert Stadium. It is honestly, without bias, one of the best venues in college football. The detraction is that it’s quite small. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, but we should at least maximize what space we have. This brings me to me main Nippert renovation request: Clean up the north end zone. Nippert is fantastic and intimate, but look at all the wasted space at the north end. Swinging the north stands around to meet the sideline stands will have multiple benefits. First, it’ll give a slight bump to the capacity, which never hurts. Second, when the stadium is full, it will look even more crowded than it currently does. Third, it will allow even less space for noise to escape. And lastly, it will automatically create a kind of tunnel in the northeast corner where the players run out before the game. I’m not an architect or engineer, but I have a feeling something like this hasn’t been done because it’ll look kinda messy and because it’s probably more expensive than it’s worth. Neither of these things matter in my dream world.

 

 
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  • Put seats in Dieterle. For those of you who don’t know what Dieterle is, it’s that gorgeous building that overlooks the south end zone of Nippert Stadium. It was once called Schmidlapp Gymnasium, and it was the first permanent home of Bearcats basketball. It’s beautiful and full of history. These days, it’s nothing more than a vocal arts center for CCM, but we can bring back some athletic fun by putting some seats in there for football games. Very few have access to the building, and even fewer can get in during a game. Watching from inside the old building is an experience I’d pay for.

 

 
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Bearcats hockey uniform concepts by  Daniel Siegel

Bearcats hockey uniform concepts by Daniel Siegel

  • Bring us Bearcats varsity hockey, and stick them in Armory. I actually remember suggesting this as half-joke last year, and on Tuesday I got a tweet from Luke Woerner suggesting the same thing. I’ve only been inside Armory Fieldhouse twice—both on my first day as a student and again on my last. It’s not a large room, so I’m not entirely sure a hockey rink would comfortably fit inside of it. However, let’s be real, that isn’t the most limiting part of this scenario. I’m not much of a hockey fan, but it’s one of those sports that’s incredibly fun to see live and in person. I would be a huge supporter of UC hockey. Putting it inside a smaller venue in the heart of campus would be perfect, and it would bring new life to the dormant Armory Fieldhouse. As Luke also suggested, we could join Miami’s conference and they’d be a rival while repeatedly kicking our ass to balance out the last 11 years of Victory Bell humiliation. (Note: UC does have a hockey team, it just isn’t a varsity sport. At the time of this writing, they’re off to an 8–0 start to their season.)

 

 
UC baseball playing at the south end of Nippert, 1927. (UC Libraries)

UC baseball playing at the south end of Nippert, 1927. (UC Libraries)

  • Play other sports at Nippert. I’m a sucker for sticking sports in unique venues where they don’t belong. Hockey at a baseball stadium? Yep. Football at a racetrack? Yep. Basketball on an aircraft carrier? Yep. UC basically fulfilled this wish at the beginning of soccer season this year when the Bearcats women squared off against NKU in the first edition of the Riverboat Rivalry. The game was a huge success, drawing 4,722 fans––the most for a women’s soccer game in Ohio’s history. Keep it up. The stadium is too small for baseball anymore, but we can certainly get UC soccer in there on an annual basis. A hockey game would also be fantastic. If not UC’s club hockey team, then maybe the Cyclones would be down to play a “Winter Classic.” This would probably be an expensive endeavor, but it’s my dream world so it doesn’t matter. Plus, the fan turnout would be great.

 

 
(GoBearcats.com)

(GoBearcats.com)

  • A football-basketball doubleheader. The first person I remember suggesting this was Chris Bains, back in the day. As someone who can’t possibly get enough of the Bearcats, I always loved the idea. Imagine a noon football game followed by a 6-7 PM men’s basketball game. Crazy, right? Fans could get rolling early in the morning tailgating at The Grid, jump into Nippert for a football game, go back to the grid for more tailgating and dinner, and head to Fifth Third Arena for an early-season basketball game that evening. Let’s turn this up to 100 though. Want to spice it up a little? Maybe sell 13,176 combo tickets that allow fans to attend both events at a discounted price. What to spice it up a lot? Bear with me here: November doubleheader homecoming against Miami. I call it MegaHomecoming. I know, I know. Basketball starts in mid-November and homecoming is usually 3–4 weeks earlier than that. But how cool would it be to save homecoming for the beginning of basketball season and play Miami in both sports with all of the alumni in town? Plus––if you lined it up perfectly––it could be Senior Day for football and Opening Night for basketball on the same day, both against rival Miami. It would be the perfect transition from football to basketball season and would be a great excuse to have a blowout day. How incredible is that? Right? Right?! This is my best, most insane idea. I’m in love with it.

 

 
(UCBearcatBands.com)

(UCBearcatBands.com)

  • Move the band from the southeast corner to the north end zone (idea via Will Hughes). I never would’ve come up with this, but I like it a lot the more I think about it. The band in it’s current location doesn’t make a ton of sense. I do kind of like having them by the students, but at the same time you’re putting the loudest portion of the stadium in one spot. Spread it around. We’ve already talked about how much space there is at the north end of the stadium. Put staircases on either side of the north stands to allow the band to enter after running down the steps and performing before the game. Not only will this allow fans to sit in those “better” seats in the southeast corner, but it puts the loudest members of the crowd at opposite ends of the field, maximizing home field advantage. (I know the fans who sit in the north end zone won’t like this one. They tend to love those seats.)

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If you have a good, crazy UC athletics idea, tweet me. I may add it here. I know I have had crazier ideas in the past, and you guys might trigger something.

If you’re idea is related to personnel, save it. Your “Fire Tuberville” concept is not unique, and I’ll be asking you guys in a couple months which coaches are on your wish list anyways.

A Look At UC’s 2016 Hall of Fame Class

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Chuck Machock (front row, second from right) on the 1955–56 freshman basketball team. (UC Libraries)

The 2016 James P. Kelly UC Athletics Hall of Fame Class was just announced by the university. As a UC history buff, this is always one of my favorite announcements each year, because some lesser-known figures in Bearcats history get honored. Athletes give a lot to the university, and it’s fun when the university pauses to recognize those contributions. The Kenyon Martin induction was phenomenal. If you’d like to read UC’s official release, that’s right here. Here’s your 2016 class:

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Jack Laub (UC Libraries)

Jack Laub

The Bearcats have pioneered a lot of things in the college athletics world, and they’ve set a few all-time records. (UC played the longest game in NCAA history!) Few people know that the Bearcats are home to the only NCAA athlete to play six varsity years.

Jack Laub was a basketball player at City College of New York before serving in the Merchant Marine from 1944–46. After he left the military, he received a scholarship to UC to play basketball. At the time, Bearcats hoops was bouncing back from WWII, they had just joined the MAC, and they were on an upswing. Laub was part of a class that won four consecutive MAC titles and built momentum that carried into the era where UC landed Oscar Robertson and later won back-t0-back national titles.

Perhaps his longest-lasting contribution is the recruitment of Jack Twyman. After being hired as UC basketball’s first assistant coach, Laub essentially told head coach John Wiethe, “Hey, we’ve got a scholarship left and this kid Twyman is going to Duquesne. We can’t let that happen. Get him in red and black.” Wiethe listened and the rest is history. Twyman went on to become one of the best players in Bearcats history and a Basketball Hall of Famer.

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Machock getting ejected from a 2003 NCAA Tournament game. (via Heard It On Hoard)

Chuck Machock

Machock played at UC for two seasons before serving as a Bearcats student assistant for another two. During his coaching career, he was an assistant at Akron, Ball State, West Virginia, Ohio State, and Cincinnati (under Bob Huggins). He was also the head coach at Central Florida in 1984 & 1985.

However, he now leaves his mark on UC from behind the mic, broadcasting UC basketball games on WLW with Dan Hoard. In his most famous broadcasting moment, he was ejected from the Bearcats’ 2003 NCAA Tournament game against Gonzaga, an achievement that was lampooned on Letterman. Last season he celebrated his 400th game without an ejection. Congrats on the streak and the Hall of Fame nod, Chuck.

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Slaise in a 1999 overtime victory over Xavier. (Craig Ruttle)

Madinah Slaise

Slaise left Clifton as the Bearcats 3rd all-time leading scorer (behind Cheryl Cook and Valerie King) before being drafted in the 2000 WNBA draft and later playing overseas. Following 9/11, Slaise joined the Army and served as a trauma medic for three years. In 2010, she earned her second bachelor’s degree, this time in nursing science at Winston Salem State (graduating Summa Cum Laude). She also started competing in fitness competitions. In 2016, she earned a master’s degree as a nurse educator from Liberty University (graduating Magna Cum Laude). She’s now an active duty Captain in the Air Force. She’s basically a super hero, carrying on the legacy of Bearcats toughness and discipline, even off the court.

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(via Sporting News)

Josh Schneider

Schneider is the most underrated athlete in Bearcats history. He’s UC’s most recent national champion, having won the 50-meter freestyle in 2010. Along with that, he was a five-time All-American, a seven-time Big East champion, and a two-time Big East Swimmer of the Year. He’s been a member of the US National Team since his graduation from UC in 2010, although he just announced his retirement from international swimming after narrowly missing an appearance at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. (He also swam in the Olympic Trials in 2008 and 2012.) He has five school records. He’s a freak.

Schneider is currently an assistant coach at UC, where he pours into the next generation of legendary Bearcat swimmers like Jackie Keire.

What Should UC Do With The Miami Game?

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UC-Miami 2013 (Madison Schmidt/News Record)

With the Battle for the Victory Bell looming this Saturday, I’ve seen the debate bubble to the surface on Twitter yet again. I hear it every year now: UC needs to do something about the Miami game. Why? Because for the last decade, not only have the RedHawks not been able to beat the Bearcats, but they haven’t been able to do anything else either. One winning season since 2005, poor attendance to go with fan support that has never been particularly strong, and the simple fact that they compete (or don’t) in the MAC, while UC has played major (or kinda-major) college football. The game is built into the Bearcats’ schedule, and it does very little to benefit them in the current landscape of college football. Let’s play athletic director and look at our hypothetical options.

Option 1: Do Nothing

If we’re being honest with ourselves, this is what will happen. If you’re an athletic director with 25% of your out-of-conference games scheduled for you, I bet you’re pretty happy. When the game is in Oxford, it’s a short ride for your team and a short drive for your fans to see a road game. When the game is in Cincinnati, you get yourself a nice little spike in attendance because it’s a “rivalry” game. Besides, eventually Miami is going to get better. They’ll always be a MAC school, but if you look at their history, the past decade has been an outlier for them. It’s unlikely they’ll remain this bad forever. At some point––like most MAC teams do––they’ll start winning. When they do, it’ll be nice to have a rival on the schedule who’s winning 10+ games. Besides, there’s way too much history in the rivalry.

Option 2: Don’t Play Every Year

There’s some merit to this one, but I’m not a fan. Playing the game every other year may mitigate some of the negative effects, but it’s also going to put a serious dent in a rivalry stretching back to the Grover Cleveland administration. Plus, imagine the scenario I mentioned above. Miami gets everything clicking and a perfect storm like 2003 comes to Oxford. They’re looking at 12 or 13 wins, and… UC doesn’t play them that season. No thanks. Sounds even more frustrating than the current set-up.

Option 3: Play At A Neutral Site

Easily the worst idea, and one that makes no sense. If this is your plan as hypothetical athletic director, you are nuts. Delete your account.

Option 4: Play Every Game At Nippert

This is what the teams did from 1899 to 1970, and it worked at the time. Now that we’ve been alternating, you can’t go back. You can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube. Miami would never agree to this, and I don’t really blame them. They’ve seen the benefits of bringing the game to Oxford, and they can’t afford to lose that completely. Besides, one of my biggest gripes with the rivalry is that Miami doesn’t have enough fans that care about football. Move the series to Cincinnati and that will get even worse.

Option 5: Switch to 2–1–2–1

Alright, here’s what I’m doing as hypothetical athletic director. It’s a more complicated set-up, and one that Miami won’t like, but they have no leverage at this point. UC should alternate two years at Nippert with one year in Oxford. After the last decade, it’s fair. When the game is at UC, it’s usually sold out or very close to it. It’s almost always broadcast on television, even if it’s just ESPNews (like this season). When the game is in Oxford, you’re lucky to hit 20,000 fans for a game broadcast on ESPN3, and then you have to drag your team and fans up there to make Miami money in the biggest game of their season. There’s no give and take. I went to the 2013 game in Oxford, and I swear UC brought more fans than the RedHawks average by themselves. It’s not fair. They’re lucky to win four games in a season, and now here comes UC with a bag of cash. If Miami starts winning eight or nine games again, we can switch back. Until then, this is what UC deserves if they’re going to keep this rivalry going.

Option 6: Treat It As The FCS Game

I also like this option, especially when combined with Option 5. A major gripe among fans is that the RedHawks are so bad that playing them can only hurt us. I agree, and I think the best way to alleviate this is to cancel the annual FCS game for the time being. Treat Miami as the annual cupcake team and schedule three competent G5 or P5 teams to fill out the rest of the out-of-conference schedule. The issue with this solution is two-fold. 1) Now you have to pay a better team to come in place of an FCS team. 2) By eliminating the FCS game, you eliminate an automatic home game every year. To make Option 6 work, I think you have to combine it with Option 5.

Option 7: Cancel It

The favorite option among Bearcats #HotTakers is to cancel the rivalry altogether. “You suck and we won’t play you!” I see the frustration, but I can’t bring myself to do it as hypothetical athletic director. You don’t cancel a rivalry after a lopsided decade. Miami didn’t do it to us when we were terrible. I know college football is different now and the conference landscape has all but cemented the RedHawks will be permanently beneath the Bearcats in stature, but we’ve seen enough rivalries cancelled because of expansion and TV money. I can’t imagine losing this one, too. Cancel the Miami game and Jimmy Nippert will roll over in his grave.

(Note: Now that I’ve written this, I’m fully prepared for Miami to beat us by 20 this weekend. Because karma.)

At Least The Under Armour Curse Pays Well

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Under Armour

The Portland Business Journal released their list of the Top 20 NCAA apparel deals for the 2016–17 athletic year. (It’s important to note that this is a list of public schools, because private universities like Notre Dame don’t have to disclose their contracts.) The Bearcats worked their way into the Top 15 in the nation, checking in at #12 thanks to their new Under Armour contract that went into effect July 2015.

The new contract calls for the Bearcats to make $4.7 million annually, which beats out larger programs like Maryland ($4.55M), LSU ($4.3M), Florida State ($4.21M), Nebraska ($4.19M), and Georgia ($3.81M). The Bearcats are also the highest-ranked Group of Five program, edging out UConn, who is on a $4.48 million deal with Nike.

There are a few reasons the Bearcats are ranked so highly. The biggest, in my opinion, is recency. The NCAA apparel business is constantly growing, so schools signing new contracts will automatically rise to the top. Most schools on this list recently signed new contracts.

Second is timing. The Bearcats’ Adidas contract expired right as Adidas was starting to get out of the college athletics market and right as Under Armour was starting to double down on their collegiate presence. Under Armour’s new deal with UCLA for $280 million over 15 years is the biggest in NCAA history, edging out Ohio State and Texas deals by nearly $30 million total.

The third reason is the conference affiliation. If the Bearcats had jumped into the ACC in 2014 with Louisville, could they have weaseled more than $4.7 million out of an apparel company? Almost definitely. I see Under Armour’s (generous) deal as a case of buying low. If and when Cincinnati gets into a power conference, that $4.7 million will look better for Under Armour. It’s just smart business. They took a bit of gamble on UC, banking that they’ll be more valuable soon.

The final reason is the simple strength of the Bearcats brand. Nobody is going to shell out money for a weak team to wear their gear on the field. You’ll notice that all the schools on the list boast consistently successful teams in either football or men’s basketball. The Bearcats have both, which makes them all the more appetizing to companies like Under Armour who strive to align themselves with the best of the best.

So although 2015–16 Bearcats athletics was stricken with a curse that is certainly Under Armour’s fault, at least we can rest a bit easier knowing there are only 11 universities in the country seen as more valuable in the eyes of the apparel companies.

Bearcats Adidas contract, expired 2015: $2.625 million

Bearcats Nike contract, expired 2007: $90,000 (Seriously.)

Apparel contracts among expansion candidates: Cincinnati ($4.7M), UConn ($4.48M), USF ($3.06M), Houston ($1.3M). Data not available for BYU, UCF, Colorado State, SMU, or Tulane.

Read the full list at the Portland Business Journal and laugh about how they chose a pre-renovation photo of Nippert taken before kickoff. Read here to search the full 2016 public university database.

I Got A Cool UC Athletics Tour Before The Opener vs UT-Martin

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Earlier this week I was contacted by the folks behind @GoBearcats to take part in a behind-the-scenes tour of Nippert as part of a #UCInfluencers program. I know they’ve done this in the past, and I think it’s a great idea, so I was excited to participate. We got a quick tour of the new press box at Nippert, we walked around the field during warmups, and we saw some things in the bowels of the Lindner Center that the public rarely has access to. It was a great time and I encourage anyone who gets the opporunity to participate to do so. It’s a smart idea by the UC social media team that I hope continues. Most programs don’t take the time to bring fans “behind the curtain” like UC has done.

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I‘ve watched a ton of games at Nippert. It was super bizarre looking at the field from this angle. Overall, the new field (which has been the topic of Twitter controversy) looked pretty great. The new press box looked even better.

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It’s hard to believe this is Nippert Stadium. It’s incredible. I should’ve taken a couple more pictures in here. I’ve been in the club level at Great American Ballpark, and Nippert has them beat. Honestly.

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This is the kind of thing the fancy seats get you. On my list of game day priorities, a small TV at my seat is basically at the bottom. Nippert covered all their bases though. Not much more you could want if you’re watching the game from here.

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I think I’m one of the few that loves the white uniforms. Adding white facemasks makes all the difference.

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Seriously, Nippert Stadium is gorgeous. Especially from this angle. Dear UC, please let me tweet the Houston game from this spot.

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People don’t understand how extensive the Lindner Center is. I know it just looks like a long building with offices from the first floor, but the place is endless. This is the practice gym, which gets used by men’s and women’s basketball, as well as the volleyball team. It’s located directly beneath Sheakley Lawn. If you’re worried about the structural integrity of that, I’ve now been told twice that a 747 could park on the roof of this place and be totally fine. It’s basically a bomb shelter with a court in it.

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New graphics abound. The weight room is used by all varsity sports except for men’s basketball, who has their own place. (Theirs was all locked up.)

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Bonus tidbit: Bengals fans may remember this Sports Illustrated cover from 2006. It was shot in the Lindner Center. UC was the first school in the country to have an underwater treadmill on campus for student athletes. Unsurprisingly, the Bengals do not have one.