Friday, June 25, 2010

Johnson and Rautins Taken in the 2010 NBA Draft

Congratulations to Wes Johnson and Andy Rautins, both who were chosen in the NBA Draft last evening. Johnson was the #4 overall pick, taken by the Minnesota Timberwolves. He will be joining former Syracuse player Jonny Flynn, taken with the sixth overall pick last year. Rautins was taken in the second round with the 38th pick overall. His father Leo was the 17th pick in the 1st round of the 1983 draft, taken by the Philadelphia 76’ers. Johnson and Rautins are the 53rd and 54th Syracuse players ever drafted.

Johnson is the highest Syracuse draft pick since Carmelo Anthony was taken with the 3rd overall pick in the 2003 draft. He joins an elite group of Syracuse players taken with one of the top 4 picks of the draft; the other four were Anthony (3rd, 2003), Dave Bing (2nd, 1966), Derrick Coleman (1st, 1990) and Billy Owens (3rd, 1991).

Rautins and Johnson are the first Syracuse duo drafted in the same year since Etan Thomas (12th pick) and Jason Hart (49th pick) were both taken in 2000. It is the highest two players have been taken out of Syracuse, since 1991 when Owens was taken #3 and LeRon Ellis taken at #22. Syracuse last had three players in a draft was in 1986, when the draft went more than two rounds. Pearl Washington was #13 (1st round), Raf Addison #39 (2nd round) and Wendell Alexis (#59, 3rd round).

Three is top number of players ever drafted out of Syracuse in one year. Besides 1986, it has happened twice before. In 1983 Leo Rautins went in the 1st round, Erich Santifer in the 3rd round and Tony Bruin in the 7th. And in 1981 Danny Schayes went in the 1st round, Eddie Moss in the 4th and Marty Headd in the 9th.

Andy Rautins is the fifth Syracuse player drafted by the New York Knicks. Gary Clark was first, as a 3rd round pick in 1957. Marty Headd (9th round), Howard Triche (6th round) and John Wallace (1st round, 18th overall pick) were the other players.

In the Jim Boeheim era (1977-present), there have been 34 players drafted by the NBA. 16 of those were first round picks, 10 were second round picks, and 8 were taken in the now defunct 3rd through 9th rounds.

On the purely trivial side, Wes Johnson is the second Johnson from Syracuse ever drafted in the NBA. Dave Johnson was taken in the 1st round in 1991. Andy Rautins is the also second Rautins taken from Syracuse; his uncle George Rautins was drafted in 1975 by the Buffalo Braves out of Niagara University.

Both Johnson and Rautins have a strong upside to their game. Johnson, who made tremendous improvements after arriving at Syracuse, should be very interesting to follow in the NBA. He’s a rare combination of a great athlete who has an outstanding perimeter shot. If he learns to put the ball on the floor, he could be down right scary for opposing defenders.

Rautins improved significantly each year in college and was an outstanding perimeter shooter last season, despite being targeted by opposing defenses. He is also an outstanding passer who has a great feel for the game. Rautins is not as athletic as other draft picks, and may lack some of the lateral quickness, but you know that he’ll keep working on improving in those areas. And that international experience will continue to help him. This is a kid who came to college highly unnoticed, blew out his knee, and yet still managed to find time to put on 25-30 lbs of muscle, improve his quickness, improve his all around game dramatically, while impressing enough NBA scouts to get drafted.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Academic Fit for the Big Ten

I still believe that Syracuse will have a tough time, long term, competing athletically in the Big Ten (if given the opportunity). However, Syracuse University can hold its own academically with the schools in that conference.

US News and World Report ranks Syracuse as #58 in the country. That puts Syracuse in the middle of the Big Ten, trailing Northwestern, Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, Penn State and Ohio State, but beating out Minnesota, Purdue, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan State and new addition Nebraska. And really, the difference between #53 and #58 is splitting hairs, so Syracuse would be on par with Ohio State, Minnesota and Purdue.
For a point of reference, here is how other potential Big Ten schools ranked:

  • Notre Dame - #20
  • Maryland - #53
  • Pitt - #56
  • Rutgers - #66
  • UConn - #66
  • Missouri - #102
So any notion that Syracuse does not fit academically with the Big 10 is a false notion. Of course, it is not all about academics. Nebraska is at #96, well below the bottom standard previously set by the Big Ten at 71. However, academics should not be a reason the Big Ten would not invite the Orange.

Texas surprised me by not accepting the offer to go to the Pac-10. That keeps the Big 12 intact for now. However, minus two schools, the Big 12 is going to want to grab two schools from somewhere; those schools are not going to be coming from the Big Ten or Pac-10, nor likely the SEC. That does not leave too many conferences left to raid. The Big East should be keeping an eye on some of its Western members, and working proactively to expand now.

As I mentioned the other day, expansion could occur simply by having some of the existing members step up to Division I with their football. Villanova is almost there (I-AA) anyhow, and that would give the Big East a football team in Philadelphia. I'd be willing to over a position in the Big East to another school with a Div I football program, and jettison Notre Dame (unless the Irish want to bring in their football program, which would never happen).

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Big Ten Expansion - Should the Orange Go?

Should Syracuse go to the Big Ten, if invited?

I love the Big East, especially the basketball. There are great traditional rivalries in the league, and most teams are in the same time zone and relatively short travel distances.

I am not, however, a fan of the bloated Big East with its current 16 team configuration. I understand the need to do so in order to keep the football conference alive, but the conference is too big for basketball (and ironically, not big enough for football).

One of the nice things about the original Big East was that most of the schools were private institutions. This put all the schools on relatively equal footing financially. UConn was a state school, but never had its act together in the first decade, so it could not leverage its state funding. Pitt is a quasi-public school; it is not state run, but it is significantly state funded. The rest of the original schools were all Jesuit, with the exception of Syracuse which is now non-sectarian private.

Economics got in the way, the conference had to grow to keep football alive, and in the process added several state schools (West Virginia, Rutgers, Cincinnati, and South Florida) along with some additional Jesuit schools (Marquette, DePaul and Notre Dame).

The only reason I can see for Syracuse going to the Big Ten is revenue. That is a very big reason, and possibly the only reason that matters. More on that later.

I think going to the Big Ten would be a bad move for Syracuse for several reasons. It of course would ruin the regional rivalries, and schools like Georgetown, St. John’s and Villanova would definitely be left behind.

Recruiting Midwest athletes to play in Syracuse would be very tough. It is not impossible; Syracuse does recruit Ohio football players right now with some success, and recently has done well in Michigan with basketball players. But obviously, those are exceptions. It is much easier to convince a Philadelphia or New York kid to come to Syracuse, when he knows he’ll play a few games a year at home, than it is to convince a kid to come out of Indiana to the cold snowy Syracuse campus.

Ten out of the eleven Big Ten schools are state schools. The lone exception is Northwestern, which is historically the worst athletic program (for football and basketball in the Big Ten) and is last in revenue for the Big Ten. That is not a coincidence. State schools have access to tax dollars and have much deeper financial pockets to dig into to build the facilities and infrastructures to compete in the NCAA, not to mention the ability to pay coaches and staff.

With the exception of Northwestern, Big Ten schools have between 20,000 to 40,000 (Ohio State) undergraduate students. Syracuse has approximately 14,000. That leads to not only a larger on campus presence at games, but also a larger booster / alumni base. For every one alumni Syracuse would have, OSU would have three.

I think over the long haul, it would be very difficult for Syracuse to remain competitive in the Big Ten. Eventually the size differences of the institutions and revenue differences would come into play, along with the geographic anomalies, and Syracuse would be a mediocre program.

However, I think that if given the chance, Syracuse would jump to the Big Ten immediately. And, it would probably be the right decision. The only reason to make the move would be because of the money, but it’s a huge reason. And the discrepancy is significant. Per an article by ESPN’s Outside the Lines, the average Big Ten team makes $22 million per school in television revenue. The entire Big East television contract is around $35 million, and the schools that play football and basketball in the Big East make only $2.8 million annually from the conference television contract.

UConn is the top revenue school in the Big East with $54.7 million in 2007-2008 (per an article in the Orlando Sentinel). That would rank it only #10 in the Big Ten. The next three in line in the Big East are West Virginia, Louisville and Rutgers (note that they are all state schools). Syracuse made $44.7 million in 2007-2008. Even if they were at the bottom of the Big Ten, then would make a 25%-30% increase in revenue.

The Big East, despite the revenue disparity, appears to be quite content to leave things as they currently are. There is no talk of expansion, nor of shaking things up. And I believe that any team in the Big East would be foolish not to jump to the Big Ten (I would think UConn and Rutgers would be the top two candidates based on the geographic markets they can bring in and being state schools). If the Big East is raided, its football conference is going to die. So status quo does not work.

The ACC would have been a much better fit for Syracuse, I believe, in terms of geography (Syracuse does recruit the northern area of the ACC conferences and Florida), and its basketball prominence would be a better fit for Syracuse. But that is water under the bridge.

Unfortunately, moving to the Big Ten does start a trend of downward competitiveness for Syracuse. The administration would never admit to it, but if you could guarantee an additional 30% revenue from athletics despite being a perennial loser, they would jump at it. From a business perspective, the only reason to win is to generate more revenue; if you can generate more revenue in a losing situation than business dictates you do it.

I think in 15 years you will look back and say it was a bad move for Syracuse to move to the Big Ten (if it happened). But you cannot worry about fifteen years from now.

I hope the Big East stays alive for football, and the Orange remain put, but I think if given the chance, they will go.

By the way, if ESPN’s sources have it right, Nebraska has accepted a big to join the Big Ten. This could start a domino affect of a group of Big 12 teams joining the Pac-10, the Big 12 falling apart, and teams scrambling everywhere. We’ll see.