Friday, May 29, 2009

JSU Football and APR

Here is a link to a very interesting article on the NCAA and the APR measurement. Please read and let us know your thoughts.

The CSN Way: FCS and the APR
By Chuck Burton, The CSN Way Columnist

Myles Brand’s campaign to set academic standards “with teeth” has definitely changed the collegiate athletics landscape, but not in the way that any of its architects may have imagined. Last year, its effect was seen very strongly in the cost-containment world of FCS football - and this year, we see the first FCS victim of the “teeth” given to the APR: UT-Chattanooga.

The Academic Progress Rate (or APR for short) attempts to get a real-time view of the academic progress of colleges at the end of a year. If an athlete is retained – meaning ‘stays in school’ – a school gets two points. If an athlete is eligible – meaning ‘holds above a 2.6 average’ – a school gets two more points. Add all these athletes’ numbers up for a year, divide that by the maximum number of points and multiply that times 1,000, and you have your yearly APR number. Do this for a 4-year period and you have your official NCAA APR number.

The NCAA determined that if a school finishes above 925 out of 1000 possible points in their APR numbers, an institution can escape penalties (According to the NCAA, a 925 APR corresponds roughly to a 60% graduation rate.) In addition if a school has an APR above 900 but doesn’t have anyone transfer or drop out that isn’t in good academic standing, that school also escapes penalties.

As has been the case for the past four years, the APR results were released with a flourish by the NCAA, saying that they are ‘creating positive behavioral change among Division I institutions’. There are recognition lists – and punishment lists, despite the repeated references in the NCAA literature that the APR was not created to be “punitive”.

For those schools that fall below the thresholds, the historic penalties are extremely harsh. Scholarships can be taken away and practice time might be restricted. If it persists for more than three years, loss of postseason opportunities and even loss of sanction as a Division I school are possibilities.
The goal of the APR is a noble one: to create academic standards that can apply to all Division I schools. Academic reform is going to be NCAA president Myles Brand’s legacy, and it has the potential to be something great for college sports. Cleaning up college sports is the right thing to be focused on, making sure kids are graduating and schools aren’t trying to cheat the system.

The Schools
In the NCAA’s APR public recognition for the best APR rates this year, there are many FCS schools – including the entire Ivy League, Bucknell, Colgate, Davidson, Dayton, Holy Cross, New Hampshire, Richmond, Villanova, and William & Mary.
These schools for the most part have a similar profile. For example, only two of these seventeen schools – New Hampshire and William & Mary – are public schools. All of them are wealthy private schools, and all are expensive to attend. All of them have extremely selective admissions departments. Even with the economic downturn, nine of them have billion-dollar endowments – Harvard and Yale’s endowments are more than the gross national product of some countries.

All of these schools are – let’s face it – expected to be in the upper echelon of any academic ranking system. All are already nationally (and some internationally) known for having great academics. They are also all extremely well funded.
Interestingly, they also field some of the best teams in FCS. In 2007, Dayton went 10-1 and won the Pioneer Football League championship (as well as a postseason win in the “Gridiron Classic” that year). New Hampshire, Richmond and Villanova all made the FCS playoffs and Richmond won the FCS national championship. Of the teams in playoff autobid leagues, only Bucknell and Holy Cross have not made an appearance in the FCS to the playoffs in the past five years – and even so, Holy Cross has had four straight winning seasons and came within a whisker of winning the Patriot League title in the past three years.

In contract, terms of schools facing APR “historic penalties”, FCS schools also make up the majority of those named. These schools also share a lot of similarities.

Of the 33 football schools that were subject to penalties in the latest APR report, twenty-one of them came from FCS. Of the twenty-one schools, only three are private institutions.

Howard, with its $500,000 endowment, has by far the richest endowment of the twenty schools that actually have endowments. Another two – UT-Martin and UT-Chattanooga – are part of the extremely troubled Tennessee State system who recently have faced $56 million dollars in budget cuts due to budget shortfalls. Five more – Delaware State, Morgan State, Howard, North Carolina A&T and Jackson State – are historically black universities who have had big resource difficulties as well.

Two of these schools made the FCS playoffs last year (Weber State and McNeese State), and one school made it to a postseason championship game (Jackson State out of the SWAC). Their combined postseason record in 2008 was 1-3.

In a nutshell, if you’re being praised by the NCAA for great APR rates, chances are you’re a rich, private school with an extremely selective admissions department. You also probably have a pretty good FCS football team. If you’re being punished, however, chances are you’re a state school that cannot depend on a rich endowment. You also are likely to have an FCS team that hasn’t exactly ripped it up in postseason play.

FCS schools face some unique challenges in APR compliance that FBS schools do not have to face.

Unlike FBS, where football is what is considered a “headcount sport”, FCS football is an “equivalency sport”, meaning that in FBS there is no way to divide up scholarships – either you’re on full scholarship, a walk-on on the way to a possible scholarship, or not playing the sport at all.

In FCS, schools can award up to the equivalent of 63 scholarships. However, in FCS scholarships are divided up all the time – meaning, with rosters of 90 or more kids, scholarships are broken to offer partial scholarships to more players. Those students on partial scholarships frequently have to spend money out of their own family’s pocket to play at an FCS school. And every FCS roster has them.

“We have good players paying to play in our subdivision,” Southern University Athletic Director Greg LaFleur said. “And in [FBS], you get paid to play.”
As a result, many less-well-off FCS schools have financial retention issues that never even enter the mind of an FBS head football coach. What that also means is that if a student needs to “pay to play” football, and finds himself suddenly not able to afford the school and has to drop out, that counts against a school’s APR.
For the purposes of the NCAA’s APR calculation, the student who flunks out of school on a full scholarship counts against his school the same way a student on a ½ or even a 1/3rd of a scholarship who has to leave school since his family can’t afford college.

“If we don’t meet their aid 100%, we have kids that will move on to other schools,” one FCS coach told me, “to compete for playing time somewhere else if they’re not playing. One freshman [on partial scholarship] that counts against [our APR] this year says flat-out, ‘I’m not going to play here.’ What am I going to say to him? ‘Oh, yeah, stay here, you can really beat him out?’ He’s not going to beat him out! The kid had an enjoyable period here, but he just wants to get an opportunity to play somewhere else.”

These sorts of situations cannot occur at an FBS school. The matter seems to come down to pure economics. If an FBS athlete (or an FCS athlete on full scholarship) is getting a free education to play football at the school, he might be hesitant to transfer – but if he’s only getting a partial scholarship and paying part of his way already, there is less to hold him at his existing school.
“The APR was written to apply to [full] scholarship athletes,” one athletic director told me. “We’re being asked to be held to the same standards as those [FBS] schools, but our circumstances are quite different.”

Although the A in APR stands for “academics”, the discussion hasn’t been about that side of the APR equation: more often, the word you hear is “retention”, or how to keep kids in school once they get there.

Retention issues on football teams have a lot of causes, and they are not always academic in nature – for example, a player might want to transfer to be closer to a girlfriend back home, they might have lack of playing time, they might have struggles at home, or simply wish to play football games where the parents can come locally to watch and support him.
“I’ll take the heat for all the kids that come in and are incapable academically,” one frustrated head football coach told me, whose team GPA is over 3.0 but whose team faces historic APR penalties. “But the NCAA wants you to be held accountable for not retaining a kid not liking an experience he spent a weekend on reviewing a school and assessing a football program?”

One retention issue comes up at FCS schools that don’t seem to come up at full-scholarship FBS schools: money. “It’s not grades, it’s not GPA, it’s not graduation rate,” one FCS coach told me. “The issue here is retention. We have some kids who are kicking, crying, screaming because they have to leave because something’s happened and they can’t afford to stay. Yet our athletes’ GPA and graduation rate are higher than that of the student body. ”
Morehead State athletic director Brian Hutchinson has found financial retention to be an issue in his school’s football program, who received an APR warning in 2007. “The common denominator seems to be that the family finances don’t always work,” he said. “Many times the kids we lose tend to be in a situation where it is difficult for them and their families to sustain them being here when they could be going closer to home.”
“When we keep kids for four years, they tend to graduate. We don’t seem to have problems graduating kids if we can get them through. The problem is we lose them too early. When they’re here, they persist and go through to graduation. [Our APR scores] come more from retention, not eligibility.”

Southern Utah’s athletic director, Ken Beazer, is another AD who is concerned. “Ironically, retention has to do with scholarships,” Beazer told the Southern Utah Spectrum. “A student-athlete is less likely to leave if they’re on [full] scholarship. They don’t want to leave that much money on the table and go somewhere else.

“I’d be less than honest if I said it’s all retention, but in the cases I’ve been looking at least 50 percent of point loss are through retention,” he said. “The NCAA APR forces athletic administrators to put resources into retention.”
The retention issues at different schools are as wide and varied as the reasons the students give themselves for transferring. In some cases, this focus on retention is at odds with other institutional goals.
Sacramento State deputy director of athletics Bill Macriss, whose Hornets were subject to historical APR penalties this year, points to retention struggles as well. He told the Sacramento Bee that part of the school’s mission is to take in community college transfers. If those transfers struggle, their APR is negatively impacted.

Remedial course work is sometimes required to bring some transfers up to speed in the classroom – classes that, for the purposes of the NCAA measurements, don’t count as course credit. “Transfer kids have been our highest risk students,” Sacramento State athletic director Terry Wanless told the Sacramento Bee. “The mission of the university is to take JC kids. They in turn struggle.”

What’s the solution? One possibility is becoming more selective in admissions – financially.
“We put together, at the behest of the NCAA, an APR improvement plan for football,” Hutchinson said. “What we said is we know the [financial side of retention] is going to be trouble, so we have to provide every bit of mentorship that we can to these kids to hopefully find young men that have a solid enough family background – and that means in lots of different ways, but financial support would be one of them.”

The NCAA’s Fix-It Plan
One of the most recent APR improvement plans that were made public came from an NCAA performance workshop in 2007. It featured Middle Tennessee State’s APR improvement plan, who competes in the FBS in football. Meant as an example of how an athletic department should cope with the new APR requirements, MTSU’s part of the presentation details what they are planning to improve their APR standing.
Phase One of MTSU’s plan involved doubling the academic staff and adding new offices and new technology to their compliance department. Phase Two involved an aggressive tutoring program: freshmen athletes get special tutors once a week, while any non-freshmen athletes with less than a 2.25 and a 2.49 GPA are required to meet with tutors twice a week.

(MTSU’s APRs for their football and basketball programs ended up below the 925 threshold in 2007, but in 2008 their football team’s APR was 945 - the first time ever they were above that number. In men’s basketball for the second straight year their APR was 906 - but, curiously, they didn’t get a public reprimand from the NCAA.)

The Powerpoint presentation makes it look like anyone could increase their compliance if they just follow MTSU’s lead. However, these types of costly options are not open to all Division I schools. Unsurprisingly, the issue once again is money.
“When the rules came out, the big-time schools hire three more academic coordinators and another compliance person to stick with these kids left and right,” on FCS coach told me. “Put them in the right courses, put them in the study halls, stick with the tutors, all that other stuff… they’re going to force them to get it right. We don’t have that luxury.”
“We are finding that [APR compliance] has a lot to do with institutional resources,” Montana State coach Rob Ash said, whose Bobcats improved their APR numbers enough in 2008 to get relief from the penalties imposed on them in 2007. “The schools that have the most money are getting their APR problems fixed, and the ones that are struggling for resources are having more difficulty because it just takes a lot of money to hire the people, and put the facilities in place for academic support.”
Morehead State certainly can’t afford this type of budgetary demand for football compliance. With a non-scholarship football program with a tiny budget compared to other FCS schools (just under $700,000 in 2005), economically it makes no sense to increase spending on football compliance alone. (You wonder if the entire Morehead State football budget would buy even a portion of the office space that MTSU is getting.)

The NCAA has identified this as a problem. “We went to a training where the NCAA had identified schools that may have resource issues,” Morehead State AD Brian Hutchinson said. “One of the things we have is a very modest academic support system within athletics. The purpose of that meeting was to try to help us develop some ideas going forward to putting together an APR improvement plan.”
The upshot seems to be, however, that some FCS athletic departments are going to have to work harder and get more creative in order to retain students – while still spending less. Without the resources to hire three more compliance officers to track student-athletes, that means the responsibility falls on coaches who are spending more time in study hall and making sure their athletes are in academic compliance.
“I’m embarrassed because of what came out (their failure to make the APR thresholds in 2007),” said Southern athletic director Greg LaFleur, who was a former scholarship athlete at LSU. “I’m embarrassed for me and Southern University. But if we had the resources to make it better for our students, we’d have done that. If we could afford summer school for all our athletes, we would do that. We want to make sure our kids get whatever they need to graduate.”

In 2007, Montana State head coach Rob Ash said that he was hopeful that Montana State’s yearly APR that year would be above 925. Coach Ash arrived in Bozeman after the previous head coach was fired after a pattern emerged with former players and coaches getting involved in serious problems with the law. He also discovered that As a result, for four years straight their yearly APR was below 925, “and only one year was it above 900,” he said.
“Our institution is working really hard to improve our APR given the resources that we have,” he said. “We don’t have the resources of the Big 10, but we are committing the resources that we can locate. We’ve really tried to stress to our players the absolute necessity of attending every single class, of staying on target with all their assignments, and flat-out being students.”

The Have-Nots?
It is possible for teams to get exemptions from the severe historical penalties that the NCAA imposes on teams whose four-year APR falls below the thresholds. Unfortunately for the twenty-one FCS schools affected, they were not granted exemptions – although the NCAA certainly could have.

UT-Chattanooga appears to be the first victim of the historic penalties imposed by the NCAA. Of the three “Occasion Three” teams that face a postseason ban, two are schools playing FCS football. While Jacksonville State’s football penalties are being appealed, the Mocs are the first to suffer a post-season ban as a result. No FBS-level school had to suffer these penalties.
For UT-Chattanooga, it didn’t have to be that way either.

In 2007, UT-Chattanooga’s football team went from an 816 yearly APR in 2006 to a 928 - marked improvement by any measure. Yet the NCAA did not choose to give an exemption, even though other schools were given exemptions because they showed “marked improvement".
In that same year, according to an article in The State (SC), of the 492 teams across all sports that were penalized, 66 teams from BCS conference football schools were granted exemptions merely on the basis of their APR improvement plans. While the list of institutions given exemptions was not made public, USC, Ohio State, Maryland, Indiana and Purdue had them granted, mostly in men’s basketball.
Some of the exemptions strained belief. The University of Maryland’s basketball team was given a special “squad-size adjustment” since “fifteen of the twenty-one [retention] points lost by men’s basketball in the four-year period were due to student-athletes who left to pursue professional careers.” In other words, their players are not graduating since they “go pro”, so they don’t count towards their APR.

Indiana’s basketball team also were given an adjustment since “this past year, IU improved its APR figure by 40 points and because of that improvement, the program will not be subject to scholarship penalties,” the university released in a statement. Only a month after getting the exemption, head basketball coach Kevin Sampson had to step down after facing serious recruiting violations.
In football, South Carolina was given an exemption since they had submitted an APR improvement plan. Purdue’s football team was given an exemption for the same reason. Others, including Minnesota, Mississippi State and South Florida had APRs under 925 but were not penalized because they didn’t have anyone transfer while academically ineligible.

At least some of these exemptions were given because they have either spent money to hire more academic coordinators, built more office space, or been able to demonstrate a great increase in year-to-year APR. However, many of the twenty FCS schools demonstrated a great increase in year-to-year APR in 2007 and had submitted APR improvement plans – in more challenging financial conditions. None of the FCS schools were given exemptions.
Why did many high-profile football and basketball programs get exemptions in 2007, and how come this list of FCS schools did not? It’s a question that the NCAA still hasn’t answered. Had the NCAA given UT-Chattanooga the same benefit of the doubt that was given to Indiana’s basketball program in 2007, the Mocs (who were winless last year) might not have to face the prospect of reclassification and might actually have a post-season to play for this year.
In other words, had UT-Chattanooga been given an “FBS exemption” in 2007, they wouldn’t have a postseason ban today.

The APR Going Forward
The APR can be an effective tool to measure retention rates in schools going forward.
Despite the issues emerging with the APR calculations, Montana State head coach Rob Ash credits the APR program with improving academics at both Montana State and other schools. “I know the APR program is working,” he said. “I know schools are making a huge commitment now to academic progress because of the teeth in the APR [in the form of penalties]. When the scores are low, it’s not just the program – you need a wide-ranging scope in order to do well with the APR. The penalties need to have teeth in order to get the kind results.”

The APR is working in the sense that schools are devoting time, energy, and creativity towards making sure kids stay in school and graduate. However, tweaks are necessary in order to make it fair towards FCS schools, many of whom are resource-poor or handle scholarships in a much different way than FBS schools.
When special exceptions are given to resource-rich schools while denied to resource-poor FCS schools, a cynical message is sent to schools that the APR is simply a onerous regulation that can be “bought off”. That has to stop. If an exception is granted to Indiana basketball for having a yearly increase in APR, Weber State should not be denied the right to the same exemption.

FCS and FBS football is all Division I. However, the way scholarship money is used can be very different, and ought to be treated differently by the NCAA. If the existing APR is working for FBS schools, it should be maintained the way it is. However, the FCS should have its own rules for APR calculations since it is a functionally different subdivision than FBS.
If an institution is classified as “resource-poor”, the punishment of certain sports programs while granting exceptions to others leaves open the charge that the NCAA is picking and choosing which programs to punish irrespective of the institution.
If an institution plays non-scholarship football at the Division I level, the APR rules for scholarships cannot and should not apply.
Here’s hoping that in the near future they’ll be talking about these issues covered in this article – and how to fix them.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Wednesday's Links

OVC Commissioners Cup
Murray State wins the inaugural OVC Commissioners Cup. HERE is a breakdown of the points for each school. In previous years, the OVC had separate cups for Men’s and Women’s sports. This is the first season they combined Men’s and Women’s. HERE is a little more about how it is calculated.

JSU Linebacker Alexander Henderson
ALEXANDER HENDERSON was named to the Consensus Draft Services 2009 preseason Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) All-American Team. Click HERE to see the entire list.

Jacksonville State’s Kyle Bluestein
JSU Freshman Baseball player, KYLE BLUESTEIN was named the Ohio Valley Conference Freshman of the Year. One lesser know fact is that he led the conference in doubles with 21.

High School sports in Alabama
Looking at the top 50 teams nationally according to by sport, here is where Alabama high schools show up.
Prattville #10
Vigor #54
Butler (Huntsville) #22
LeFlore (Mobile) #27
Bob Jones (Madison) #46
None in Alabama

OVC Baseball Tournament
Tennessee Tech, the OVC Baseball Tournament Champion, was 10-11-1 in conference play this season.
Jacksonville State’s Sam Eberle, Steven Leach, Todd Cunningham, Kyle Bluestein, and Austin Lucas were named to the OVC All-Tournament team.
Eastern Illinois, the #1 Seed in the tournament, didn’t win any games. The championship game featured the #5 vs. #6 seeds. Play to make the tournament – anything can happen.

We’re proud of you. The softball team played Alabama for the chance to go to the College World Series – the top 8 teams in the country. We didn’t quite make it, but came closer than ever. As Coach Norman Dale said in the movie “Hoosiers”, (Click HERE for the top 100 sports movie quotes, and scroll down to #42).
“If you put your effort and concentration into playing to your potential, to be the best that you can be, I don't care what the scoreboard says at the end of the game, in my book we're gonna be winners.”
And in our book, you are winners.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


Yesterday, had the opportunity to speak with Allie Barker of the Jacksonville State Softball team. Allie is a Senior Catcher on the Softball team and the daughter of JSU sports’ legend Butch Barker. The Alexandria product hit .366 on the season and over 400 in the Knoxville Regional. Here are her thoughts on the Knoxville Regional and advancing to the Tuscaloosal Regional.

Q: What are your feelings headed down to Tuscaloosa?
A: We are just excited. We are two wins away from being where we want to be and that’s getting in the World Series. This is what we have dreamed about since we were little kids. It’s like we’ve been saying ever since we came back from Regionals—we are just living the dream!

Q: That has kind of become a team motto hasn’t it?
A: It has. We just kept saying this is the dream, then that became “living the dream.”

Q: How is the team health wise?
A: We were a little sore, but we have that worked out and we are good to go. Lord willing we will be healthy.

Q: Is it an advantage or disadvantage having previously played Alabama?
A: I always think it's an advantage because we have seen [their pitchers]. I’m sure they have improved, but its always an advantage having seen someone before.

Q: Do you like playing in Tuscaloosa?
A: We love playing at Alabama. Their facilities are really nice. Their infield is a little bit quicker than ours, but I don’t think it's as quick as UT’s so I think we will be fine. We like playing there. It’s a good atmosphere.

Q: Are the Bama fans tough on you?
A: Yes, it’s a tough place to play. They pull for Alabama a lot but they do heckle a lot too.

Q: Do you expect a good JSU contingent like you had last year?
A: I sure hope so. In Knoxville, our fans were awesome. We have been calling them the 10th man because they impacted us a lot and helped get us thru. I know a lot of them are trying to come back to Alabama.

Q: How does the ESPN coverage impact you?
A: It's exciting, but the biggest thing that is a factor is that we are not used to being on tv and they have all of the regulations as to what you can and can’t do. [For instance], you have to sit there and wait between innings. We are trying to play and they are saying you can’t go yet. As far as being on ESPN, it's exciting, but it's not going to get to us where it impacts us negatively at all.

Q: You guys had a great year (39-13) only to lose 2 of 3 in the OVC tournament, what is your view of what happened?
A: Everybody has bad weekends. The best thing I can tell you though is that it is all part of God’s plan. . . . God tells us to pray and that if you ask for it in the right manner to glorify Him, he will give it to you, but it's on His time and not on our time. We wanted to go to Regionals so badly, but we wanted it on our time. But then we were given an opportunity to go to Regionals and glorify Him. [God] has taught us so much in this and brought us closer together. It's just all Him and I don’t want to take any credit for that.

Q: What was your mentality going up to Knoxville?
A: We knew what we were fighting for and we were fighting with everything that we had. We were just clawing with everything we had to get to the next level. That is the mentality we had going into Knoxville. We lost that first game, but we beat ourselves with errors. So we sat down and talked about it and said to ourselves if it comes down to who wants it the most, we are winning this thing. It really showed that we had more fight. . . . We had the fight that weekend.
[Also], this [past weekend] you could tell in everyone’s eyes and everyone’s actions that no matter what they were doing, whether they were on the field or on the bench, that everyone was giving everything they had. We just fought and gave everything that we had and left it on the field. It was an amazing feeling to know that we put every ounce of effort into [our play] and then we were rewarded for it.
I just hope we can continue it [in Tuscaloosa] because we know what we are fighting for- its going to be an all out battle this weekend.

Q: After having only one hit in the OVC tournament, you hit over 400 in Knoxville. Tell me about that?
A: There again, it’s the Lord. But everyday after practice, I go and take extra work in the cage. Its not just me, a lot of our teammates are getting in the cage to get that repitition. If you are hitting good, you keep feeling good or you can fix something minor. So, [after the OVC] I just went up to the cage and found my swing again. It just felt good. I’ll be in there again today.

Q: Was winning in Knoxville the hilight of your career?
A: Winning the conference tournament last year was awesome and going to Regionals and doing pretty well, but not as good as we wanted to. But, you can’t beat last weekend [because] that’s everyone’s goal to see how far they can go. Our goal since the very beginning of the season was to go to the World Series. Until last year, noone truly believed it could be done. Since last year, our Coaches have been saying “One step further.” Now, that we have taken it one step further, we want to keep it going.

Q: JSU has two big time pitchers in Ashley Eliasson and Karla Pittman. Tell us about working with them?
A: Karla has so much energy and so much fight. She will put you on her back and carry you to wherever you need to go. She has carried this team so much. She can do so much with her fastball and changeup that it is unreal.
Ashley has grown a lot this year. She really grew in the Knoxville tournament. She used the corners so well and stayed up the whole time. She was in the game the whole time mentally.

Q: Your Dad, Butch Barker, was a 2 sport star for JSU. How did that impact your decision to sign with Jax State and what other factors were involved?
A: My family is from right down the road [Alexandria]. I grew up watching JSU and loved the coaches and came here for the coaches. My Mom was big on me staying somewhere close to here so she could support me. I am really glad I did stay close. My family is at every game to support me. She would probably be at practice if I would let her!

Q: How are you doing academically?
A: I’m a marketing major. I have a 3.3 GPA.

Q: What do you want to do when you graduate?
A: I would like to coach in college hopefully. I would like to be a graduate assistant somewhere and get a masters in sports management. I’d love to stay here, but I don’t know what will happen- it will be whereever the Lord leads me.

Q: What are your interests outside of softball?
A: Anything athletic. Also, me and one of my best friends go fishing any free chance we get.

Q: The baseball team is headed to their conference tournament on Wednesday. Are you guys tight with the baseball team?
A: Yes. They come to our games and we go to theirs and scream our lungs out. One of my friends on the baseball team says we have motivated them. . . [They have struggled lately], but you never know what can happen in the tournament. I keep telling my friends [on the baseball team] that if they believe it and fight they can do it. We have seen them beat Georgia twice. . . . We all know they can do it. We wish them the best.

Q: Allie, the Gamecock Nation is proud of you. Good luck this weekend.
A: Thank you.

We want to thank James at for the photo above.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


What better way to start off the day than with a couple of links relating to our JSU Softball team. Way to go ladies! Click HERE and then HERE.

JSU continues to bring in quality student athletes in all areas. Here is a recent one. JSU signs KY All-state soccer player Ariel Jones to National Letter of Intent.
Here are 2 links: Article & Video

The JSU Baseball team didn’t have the regular season they expected, but have made the tournament. They could be a dangerous team there. They start out tomorrow (Wednesday) in the OVC tournament against Morehead State in Paducah, KY. Here’s a PREVIEW.

Watching Charles Barkley play golf may be like watching a train wreck. I’m not sure how he swings the club like he does. HERE, he puts it to use and almost takes out a Bama fan.

Eastern Kentucky gets QB transfer from Marshall. The Eastern Kentucky folks sound like they are expecting a lot from THIS GUY.

Not athletics related, but JSU has put together a terrific video to promote the school to prospective students. What a quality job. Thanks goes to the PR department. TAKE A LOOK.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Softball Team Makes Some Noise

I guess you know the result by now. JSU sweeps Tennessee in softball to move on to the Super Regional in Tuscaloosa.

Quotes after the game yesterday, originally posted at this site

Opening Statement
“We’re living the dream. That’s been these girls philosophy since the end of the conference tournament when we thought our
season was over and we were getting ready to turn in our equipment, and then found out the NCAA had given us an at-large bid
and put us in the tournament. And I know that at least three of these girls, they came up with the philosophy we’re living the dream,
we’re getting to play another day of softball. I think if any of you watched our games, you saw the excitement, the energy our team
played with and they played like they were living the dream. They had the opportunity to play another day of softball and I couldn’t
be more proud of this team. They fought hard, they earned every play, they earned every run that they scored. Hey, it’s a dream
come true.”
Can you speak to winning three games in one day to move on to the Super Regional?
“It never bothered me with this team. Like I said, this team had the philosophy, coming in here, that we will fight, we will fight, we
will fight until the end. I’ve been on them that you take one inning at a time, one pitch at a time. You don’t look at three games. This
morning when we woke up, all we were focused on was Nebraska, the first inning, the second inning, then the third inning. I’m sure
these girls had the same mentality that I did, it was just one pitch at a time. And we never looked at it as three games. All it ever
seems as one, now it seems like we’ve played 21 innings, basically. That was our philosophy. We were going to play it one pitch at a
time, one play at a time. You can’t look at the third game when you’re playing the first game, you have to take it one pitch at a time.
And I’m proud of these girls.”
Was freshness a factor in bringing in Ashley Eliasson in when you did?
“I think so. When I woke up this morning, and we went to breakfast as a team, I sat there with the coaching staff, I said ‘Ashley
Eliasson is going to be the difference maker today’. She started the Nebraska game, and I knew if she could win the first game, get
the first game for us, (Karla Pittman) Pitt could start the second game for Tennessee. Then we knew Ashley would be in the third
game. It took us a while to decide if we’d start Pitt or would we start Ashley. I’m very proud of both of them. If there was one thing
I knew we’d have an advantage in with going through our regular season, we have two pitchers here who could start for any team
we’ve played against.”
On getting an at-large bid after you thought the season was over:
“I think that we all learned our lessons last week when we were saying good-bye to all the seniors, crying our eyes out. And we got
another chance. Friday we didn’t take advantage of it, we slept a little, and we realized that this was our second chance and we
weren’t going lose it. So we gave everything we had.”
Did you feel any pressure when you came into the game, in a win or die situation?
“I knew that if I held Tennessee that my team would have my back. If I gave it everything I had, it would be fine. You can’t really put
pressure on yourself, you just gotta play the game because if you put pressure on yourself, you’re just going to fail.”
On getting an at-large bid after you thought the season was over:
“I have to go along with her, we did it. Us pitchers, defense, hitting, we all came through. Like I told you I thought we would today,
we came in and won three and shut ‘em out.”
Were you getting tired in the second game?
“I wasn’t getting tired I guess I just wasn’t hitting my corners as good as I was in the first game threw. I wasn’t getting tired I was too
pumped up to get tired.”
On getting an at-large bid after you thought the season was over:
“I thought everybody on the team, it was awesome. Everyone contributed, everyone did their job. We’re just living it up.”
On her RBI single to give JSU the 2-1 lead:
“I’m kind of a free swinger up there. I’m pretty aggressive, you know what I mean. I was just looking to put the bat on the ball, really,
just hit it solid. Just see the ball, hit the ball.”
On getting an at-large bid after you thought the season was over:
““I mean, thank you Lord. That’s what I have to say first. Without him, we wouldn’t be here. Like coach said, every day, we yell at
each other, in each other’s faces ‘we’re living the dream’. I think if you guys watched our game, it was give everything you have,
every second you have. Like coach said, for us three, we were turning in our stuff and anybody that’s ever played college sports, it’s
your life. You wake up, go to weights, throw some class in there, go to practice and for me, back to the cage, it’s all day. It’s your
life, really, when we lost in the tournament, it was like my life had been taken away, so to speak, when we got it back, we were going
to make sure we went one step further. That’s been our motto since last year, ‘one step further’. I don’t what else to say, we’re
going one step further.”
On going to Tuscaloosa, where last year you were sent for the regional and being two games from the College World Series:
“I think for me and I think also for the team, we’re going to have to keep doing it like coach said, one game at a time, one pitch at a
time, one play at a time. Not worry about the name on the front of the jersey, just worry about our team, and sticking together, and
playing as a team. When we play as a team, who knows what we can do. Just slow down the game, play it one pitch at a time.”

Here is a link to the OVC website, with an article on the JSU vs. Tennessee games on Sunday...

Way to go Gamecocks! You make us proud!!

Thursday, May 14, 2009


Can we clone Jana McGinnis? The long time Head Coach of JSU’s softball team came to JSU in 1988 as a freshman and helped resuscitate a moribund women’s basketball program. In 1992, at the age of 23, she began coaching softball at JSU. The results have been nothing short of spectacular. Under her leadership, JSU won the OVC in 2005 and 2008, and the Atlantic Sun Tournament title in 1996. She has been conference coach of the year four times.
In 2009, the success continued. The Gamecocks posted a 39-13 record and won the OVC regular season crown. After a disappointing OVC tournament, the softball team became the first JSU sports team to receive an “at large” bid to post-season play.
JSU will play in Knoxville, Tennessee as the #2 seed. They are joined by Nebraska, James Madison and UT, currently ranked #14 in the Country. On the eve of their trip, Coach McGinnis sat down with and shared her thoughts on the Regionals, the season in general and what makes JSU a great place.

Q: Are you excited to be headed to Knoxville?
A: We are excited, especially the way our season played out. We had one of the most successful years since I have been coaching and for it to end the way it did to get upset in the conference tournament- I really thought we were done. We were ranked 34th in the Country but I still didn’t know if that would be good enough because when it comes down to selection time the bigger programs get looked at more. I thought that [it] would weigh heavily with us getting beat out of our own tournament. But, we were fortunate enough that over the years our program has built a good reputation and what we did last year along with our RPI ranking, I think it definitely helped.

Q: When are you going?
A: We are leaving at 5:00 [Wednesday]. We will have a practice at 1:10 tomorrow. Each team is allowed an hour and ten minutes. Everything is structured. I tell the girls we are now on the big stage.

Q: You’ve been on the big stage before- will that help?
A: I hope it helps a lot. We have a lot of the same girls back that played at Regionals last year. Every year is different but it definitely helps with our experience. Last year was great. Our girls were excited and [had] fun. I want them to maintain that same mentality. Earlier this week, I heard our seniors telling our freshmen this is the funnest thing you will ever do- and that’s true- the competition is great, the environment is great. It’s what you work for throughout the year. I don’t want our girls to lose the excitement and the fun of this tournament, because its there in the air.
I remember Coach Burgess the first year we advanced to the NCAAs to play Washington, I remember him telling me: “Enjoy every minute of it because a lot of coaches work their entire career and never get to play in an NCAA championship.” So last year, I had flashbacks [to that] and said I’m going to enjoy every minute of it. I’m not going to get stressed out. I am going to try and take in every little thing, from every press conference to every practice and I want our kids to do that too.

Q: What do you know about the teams you will be playing?
A: We are playing Nebraska [first]. Nebraska [has a] great tradition. I think this is their 15th year going to the NCAAs in softball which is very impressive. They will be good. They are very well coached, high energy, very fundamentally sound. They have one [very] good pitcher that they rely on and also have some speed at the top of their lineup.

Q: What about UT?
A: Tennessee is very good. They have speed and they have power. They don’t have Monica Abbott, the Olympic Pitcher, they had for four years that took them to the world series. They don’t have her, but they are a very solid team. Their coaches do a great job.

Q: You beat James Madison [another team in the Knoxville regional] earlier in the year, do you view that as an advantage.
A: I think so, but they now have a new #1 pitcher that we did not face. This girl’s ERA is like 1.4 they may be a different team with her on the mound. But, it’s like I tell our girls, from here on out there’s not a bad team in the tournament. The teams there win and are used to winning. We just need to raise our level and go out and execute.

Q: That’s the scouting report on the other teams; tell us about JSU’s team.
A: Pitching and offense has been our strong points. Our defense is solid. But I would say that if people were giving scouting reports on us, the key to our success was our pitching staff. We have good depth. We have Karla Pittman who was Pitcher of the Year in the Conference. We have Ashley Eliasson, last year’s Freshman of the Year, and she helped carry us to the championship [game] of the Regionals last year.
So I would say this game starts in the pitcher’s circle and we have two good pitchers, but our hitting has also gotten us to this point. We need that to continue if our season has been extended.

Q: You have a hitter named Nikki Prier, hitting 409, tell us a little about her?
A: Nikki is only a junior. She has been very consistent for us throughout her three years. She is a good hitter, a good kid, we rely on her. That was one of the problems in the conference tournament we only had one hit between Nikki and Allie [Barker] that’s just untypical. I don’t know if it’s because the pitchers were honing in on them or what. Throughout the year, they have been very significant. Even if one was off the other would be on. In order for them to be successful, we need them to play their game and hit like we know they can.

Q: Tell us about your big pitchers, Pittman and Eliasson.
A: Pittman is not your typical D1 athlete. If we stretch her she’s probably 5-5, but I have had so many coaches say “Wow, I like that pitcher, she is a bulldog.” A lot of people call her a bulldog, but I jokingly say: “You are our fighting Gamecock.” If she was six feet tall, I don’t know if we would have ever had a chance at signing her. She is very good. She has the best changeup in the game. When her changeup is on she is hard to beat.
Ashley Eliasson is a pitcher that throws a good curveball. She has very good control. When she is on she can very easily start frustrating hitters.

Q: In this format, you play a lot of softball in a short period of time who do you look to after these two?
A: Probably Melissa Dowling or Kayla Collins.

Q: Do you have any significant injuries going into this tournament?
A: No, we are very thankful. We seem to be all well and good to go.

Q: What is UT’s fan support like?
A: It is good. There is a lot of good softball up in Tennessee. They have very good support and very good facilities- its state of the art. You can see the tradition that they have. When you walk into the facility, there is a huge mural of them playing in the World Series in Oklahoma City. They have a life size poster of [former Olympic Pitcher] Monica Abbott in the middle of the facilities. There is just a lot of tradition.

Q: Is there going to be any TV?
A: We won’t know until Thursday. ESPN will tell us when we [have] the head coaches’ meeting.

Q: How was it for a Spring Garden girl to be interviewed on ESPN in primetime last year?
A: I really didn’t realize what it was! The week after the tournament everyone was calling me and saying I saw your interview. [Jana joked that the ESPN technology took out some of her southern accent.] It was fun. A lot of people saw the games. It was amazing how much publicity our University received out of that. We had people all over the country talking to us about it. Our first tournament we recruited at [following the Regionals] there was a Texas team and an Arizona team playing and one of the coaches said: “Congratulations Coach we watched you guys play on TV!” I don’t think our University could have paid for the publicity that we received out of that. It was a big deal.
I also had more emails from alumni that are not even associated with athletics or softball that watched the game. One of the emails said it’s been since the D-2 days since I have had as much pride in JSU as I had in watching the game. So if things like that help build us up that’s great.

Q: What do you think caused the setback in the OVC tournament?
A: I don’t think we overlooked anybody. Our team has not done that, but I don’t think we were prepared for the intensity and the level that the other teams [played at] because if you looked at our scores I think we 8 run ruled everybody in the league except for EIU. [You have to] give the other teams credit they came in and raised their level of play like you should do in the tournament. You could really tell they were trying to salvage their seasons. We didn’t play the level we were capable of playing, but we had some hard shots that [the opposing teams] made great plays on. They came in and raised their level- every team in the tournament that I watched was definitely playing at a higher level than what I saw them play at in the regular season.

Q: Jana, you beat FSU last year, you beat Ole Miss twice this year. What is it that you all have accomplished that has allowed JSU softball to compete at a national level?
A: One thing that our softball team has is a lot of pride in our school. We don’t have a lot of athletes sitting here mad because they didn’t get to go what we call “big time.” The majority of our kids wanted to be at JSU. For instance, Allie Barker, our catcher. She grew up on JSU, her dad [JSU legend] Butch Barker played at JSU. Allie could have been successful as a catcher in the SEC, but she wanted to play at JSU.
But those that don’t know our program- when they get here- we have traditions that we do. It doesn’t take long before our players gain pride in JSU. One thing that we do- all newcomers have to learn our fight song. There are little things that we do to instill that pride in our school. It’s the pride we had back in the D2 days that JSU had, and it didn’t matter, we knew that when we walked on the field we were going to win. We never let our girls say we are not supposed to win this game because we are a smaller school. We never let them make that as an excuse.

Q: Tell us a little about your recruiting philosophy?
A lot of our kids are not what you call high profile recruits. What we try to do is try to find good athletes with good character that are winners. It seems to work out for us. [Sometimes with high profile athletes], we may steer away from them because they don’t have the attitude or personality that fits into our program. I learned a long time ago [based on] advice from Coach Abbott, recruit the kids that fit your personality and the personality that you want your program to have.

Q: What do you sell about JSU in the recruiting process?
A: It’s the people! The people and we have a beautiful campus too. When we bring our recruits in and we take them around campus, they meet Ann Cohen, at our academic center. They get to meet the people in our athletic department and [after doing that] many of the players and their parents say things like: “We really feel comfortable at this place” or
“we really feel like this place cares about our daughter and its not just about softball.” I think that’s our selling point. While our facility may not be the nicest one that they can play in, it goes far beyond that. We just try to develop the trust that we are going to take care of your daughter. It’s not just about wins. We want [our kids] to get their degree.

Q: Speaking of degrees, what have you done to have such an outstanding academic record?
A: It starts with signing good kids that are good students that have a goal of getting a college degree. We ask them that before they ever [arrive]. We try to sign good kids with good grades from the start.
We [also] have a wall of excellence outside of my office. You can make the grand slam club, the home run club or the rbi club. The rbi club is 3.0 to 3.49, the home run club is 3.5 or higher, the grand slam club is 4.0. After each semester, their names go up on the wall. Believe it or not, kids like to see their names up on the wall. Pittman, for the first time ever, made our wall last semester. That’s the first thing she said when I arrived at practice was: “Coach my name’s going to be up on the wall!”
We also divide our team up into academic teams. The team that wins gets [incentives] like getting to make out the practice schedule. We don’t care what they put in there. You will be surprised, [the girls] are very competitive with it. The players on the academic teams will challenge each other [to do well academically]. It’s that inner-competition in the classroom. This year we only had one D on the entire team.

Q: I notice you all have a new scoreboard what are some things that you want to do to improve the facilities?
A: Well we love where we are at. It’s the prettiest place on campus. At the tournament we just hosted, we received so many compliments from the other participants. They said [things like]: “this is the best atmosphere for softball.” The fans could sit up in the outfield are in the bleachers. One dad from California said: “This is absolutely beautiful. I don’t know many places you can play softball and look up and see mountains, but then you can also look out and see a little bit of campus.” We love that spot where our softball field is.
My wish list is to one day have wrap around stadium seating and sunken dug outs and possibly a players facility with locker rooms and a training area. But, until then, I’m just going to try and do it with private donations. We are going to dress it up from the outside in to try and make it a D1 facility. Last year we bought a big wrap for our batting cage with Gamecock softball on it. We also have the new scoreboard. It really makes our field look so much better. I also want to do little things, like banners commemorating some of our success and getting some photos of current or former players. If the school is not going to do the seating or the dugouts, we can do little things to dress our facility up. [Editor’s Note: Can’t we use some stimulus money to reward the success of this group of winners?].

Q: As a long time JSU coach and player what can we do to increase fan support?
A: We need to market [all of our successes]. [It would be great to have] billboards for our rifle team that finished third in the nation, our tennis team won the OVC championship and went to FSU for a regional, our baseball team has [been] dominant in the OVC, they beat the #1 team in the nation this year. Our golf team is [very good]. Our team this year had close to a 3.4 GPA, we should flood the market with the positives of JSU.

Q: What do you like to do when you are not coaching softball?
A: I like to relax with my family! I like to sit back on the creek bank by my house. I also run every day.

Q: Give us an update on your sister?
A: She’s doing great. She’s helping her husband Coach basketball at Spring Garden. They have won three state championships. They are working on their future. Last year was the first time in eight years they did not advance to the final four.


Friday, May 8, 2009

Spring Sports Update

Softball - the #1 Seeded Lady Cocks dropped their opener to Tennessee Tech and will have to win out to capture the OVC title.

Baseball- travels to Tennessee Tech for a critical weekend series as they fight for a high seed in the upcoming OVC tournament.

Tennis- a fine season ended today at the hands of FSU in the national tournament.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009


The Gamecocks running game received a much needed boost on news that Tremayne Coger will return to the team. Coger was a 4 Star Recruit from Tennessee that originally signed with Alabama. Croger transferred to JSU in 2008, but had a series of injuries beginning with a concussion when Morrell Jones lit him up in practice. After sitting out against Tech and A&M, Coger seemed to be finding his stride rushing for over 100 yards against UTC. The 1000+ Gamecock fans that attended that game got a glimpse of the speed that Coger brings to the table. A couple of weeks later, Coger hurt his knee against SEMO and decided to leave school. An added bonus about Coger, he was a defensive back at Alabama. While my guess is the Cocks will play him at running back, Coger's flexibility is a plus for the Gamecocks.

This is big news, although it remains to be seen whether Coger will be eligible for the 2009 season. More transfers could be on the way. We might be so good that they will have to expand the Stadium.

JSU 88