Published January 6, 2013
On Saturday night, I had dinner with the immortal Phil Kidd* of Defend Youngstown fame and he asked me an intriguing question, which he also posted on his Facebook page.
What would be a bigger deal for YSU athletics?
1. Another national championship in football.
2. Making an NCAA tournament run like Butler did in men's basketball.
3. Having any other YSU team (baseball, cross country, volleyball, etc.) win a Division I national championship.
I said No. 2 — I think it's the easy pick, and most people agreed — but I would go further: I think YSU simply making the men's NCAA tournament would be a bigger deal than the other two.
I say this because North Dakota State won its second straight FCS title on Saturday and I would bet $50 that if I had walked into a BW-3 on Saturday and asked the first 50 fans I saw "Which two teams were playing in the FCS final?" no more than five would know. And that's at a sports bar in FCS country.
(Now that I'm writing this, I really wish I had done this on Saturday. We were eating at O'Donold's downtown, which would have been a good lab for my theory.)
I get home delivery of the Cleveland Plain Dealer on Sundays and when I opened up my paper Sunday morning, I saw a 35-word brief on the NDSU victory buried inside a college football roundup that led with Pittsburgh getting waxed in something called the BBVA Compass Bowl.
I think YSU athletic director Ron Strollo made the right decision three years ago when he decided to pour the bulk of the school's limited athletic budget into football but I also believe making the NCAA tournament would provide a bigger boost than winning another FCS title.
If that sentence seems odd, well, it's not. Youngstown is a football town with a passionate fan following, a solid recruiting base, tremendous tradition and top-notch facilities.
Basketball, meanwhile, suffers from average facilities, poor tradition and a lousy recruiting area. The Penguins also compete in a conference where basketball is king. Only Valpo has football and the Crusaders are an atrocious non-scholarship team.
Trying to make the NCAA tournament isn't an impossible task -- especially now that Butler is in the Atlantic 10 -- but it's exceedingly difficult.
But I can't help but think it might be worth it. Rather than playing at noon on ESPN2 when everyone's mind is on the NFL playoffs, YSU would be part of one of the biggest sporting events on the planet. You can't buy that kind of attention for your school.
* Note: Phil Kidd is not actually immortal.
2. Speaking of FCS football, the New York Times recently published a big story on schools that make the jump from FCS to FBS. Not surprisingly, the results are very mixed.
You can read that here.
3. The Plain Dealer's Elton Alexander recently previewed the Horizon League.
He picks the Penguins to finish fifth. You can read that here.
4. In case you missed it, YSU rallied from 14 points down to beat Loyola on Saturday, 68-66, in one of those games that could loom VERY large next month.
As one person at YSU told me on Sunday, "Last year's team wouldn't have won that game." Kendrick Perry hit the game-winner in the closing seconds.
You can watch highlights here.
5. Sorry for the lack of blog entries over the last month. Because of the holidays and YSU's light schedule, I haven't actually seen the Penguins play in person since the Dec. 8 win over Hiram. I should do better in the coming weeks.