Chuck Landon: Marshall basketball ineffective for a reason
Remember when Huntington was a basketball town and Marshall was a basketball school?
I do. But it was a long time ago.
If anyone is curious when Marshall stopped being a basketball school it was Sept. 7, 1991. That's the day Marshall's new football stadium opened.
MU has been a football school ever since.
It has steadily declined for the last 24 seasons.
Since Edwards Stadium opened, Marshall football has compiled a 146-100 record with 16 winning seasons, just six losing years and one break-even record.
During the same span, the Marshall men's basketball program is 357-329 with 11 winning seasons, 11 losing years and two .500 records.
The post-season differential is even more compelling.
Since 1991, Marshall's football program has made 14 post-season appearances. That includes four NCAA I-AA championship game berths with two titles and 10 bowl games with eight victories.
In those 24 years, Marshall hasn't appeared in any NCAA tournaments and only one NIT.
Yet, prior to the new stadium opening in '91, Marshall made NCAA Tournament appearances in 1984, '85, '87 and in the NIT in 1988.
The facts leave little room for debate.
So, why the reversal?
It's because most mid-major programs can't adequately fund both football and men's basketball to the level of being able to reach bowl games and NCAA tournaments.
The schools have to choose.
Marshall chose football. And it's still choosing football.
Oh, sure, athletic director Mike Hamrick talked the talk during a press conference to announce the resignation of basketball coach Tom Herrion.
"Basketball is crucial to our success," he said. "We have to be successful in basketball and I think we can. I'm not interested in the NIT. I'm interested in winning the conference and going to the NCAAs.
"Schools like Wichita State, Butler and George Mason go to the NCAA Tournament. What's the difference? If they can get in the NCAAs, why can't Marshall?"
Actually, there's a very good reason. None of the three schools Hamrick referenced has scholarship football programs. Basketball is their marquee sport and is funded as such.
That isn't the case at Marshall.
According to sources, Herrion was warned during the season to expect an across-the-board budget cut for the second consecutive year.
It came to fruition last week when sources say 15 of the 16 sports that Marshall sponsors received budget cuts. The only unscathed sport? Football.
That's because Marshall's commitment is to football, not basketball. That's why Marshall's basketball program never flies charter, hasn't had a secretary for months and uses a graduate assistant from the sports information department instead of a permanent employee.
It's cheaper that way.
But it also signals a lack of commitment, which is a dangerous red flag when a school is trying to hire a new head basketball coach.
Why do you suppose Kevin Keatts pulled out of the search after a conversation with Marshall officials and accepted the head coaching job at UNC-Wilmington instead?
Keatts sensed MU wasn't going to make any bigger commitment to the basketball program.
That's the way it has been since 1991. And that's the way it will stay for the foreseeable future.
Marshall is a football school now.
And it shows every basketball season.
Chuck Landon is a sports columnist for The Herald-Dispatch. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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