The Denver Pioneers need to grow up

Dear 5BWest,

I read all 475 words of your post “Summit League basketball needs to grow up.”  I read it 3 times, and skimmed through it a couple more times all while my brain drew a picture of a typical Denver Pioneer fan.  I admit the image did not come out positively, but I would like to point out a few things to you.

The University of Denver (10-9, 2-4 Summit), a young team sitting at one game above .500, has exceeded early season expectations.

I would like to point out that you that the Denver Pioneers have not exceeded any expectations.  Your team was selected 8th in the Summit League preseason poll, and through 6 games your team is currently tied for 7th.  I feel sorry for anyone who thinks that this is exceeding expectations.  One of the two Pioneers’ wins are at home against an Oral Roberts team who did not have the league’s leading scorer, Obi Emegano, who was out with concussion symptoms.  The team’s other win was against Western Illinois.  These two wins do not mean you have exceeded expectations.

Regardless of how the Pios  perform against UNO tomorrow night, it really doesn’t matter.

Way to diminish every game your team plays, I am sure the coaching staff and players working their asses off really appreciate your support.  Go tell your teams’ players that what they are doing is worthless.  By the way, if Denver beats UNO tonight and Pioneer fans brag up the win, it is your responsibility to tell them that they are idiots.

South Dakota State, an early league favorite, is 14-5 but a lackluster 3-2 in league play and it really doesn’t matter.

I love the “it doesn’t matter” tone you are putting down here.  You sound like the kid in high school who cannot find a girlfriend, so he justifies it with “high school is stupid and all these relationships end some day.”  I can say that with a full amount of confidence because I was that kid.  If it really did not matter, your precious Denver Pioneers would not run a respectable offense based on finding the absolute best shot on each and every single play, instead we would just see Nate Engesser throwing up half court heaves a minute into the game.  It’s about developing skills and decision making for these kids later in life.  As a guy who is married to a former division one athlete, who never got to experience a post season tournament, I can tell you that it does matter.  See, now the picture I have painted of a typical Denver Pioneer fan is a 6’2″, 120 pound kid with black nail polish and black eyeliner trying to prove a point.  Look at what you have done.

The Summit League, like most conferences, should be playing on a neutral court in either Des Moines, Iowa or Kansas City, Missouri. Both locations are convenient travel destinations for league members, provide lower cost travel, offer more attractive  amenities for visitors, provide more hospitable weather, and are ‘neutral’.

I can half agree with you here, but later you went here…

Today, a flight to Sioux Falls from Denver costs $400-600 per seat and hotel options and entertainment options are, at best, limited.

Have you been to Des Moines?  I have never heard a person come back from a late winter/early spring trip to Des Moines and talk about the amazing time they had.  The Iowa State fair has fried butter as a meal…seriously.

DU is not the only school that faces this unfair, unattractive disadvantage. BYU, IUPUI, and Western Illinois have to travel to Sioux Falls, too. How many of their fans will be there to support their teams? The answer to that question is easy.

Is BYU joining the Summit?  I would love that!  You should watch an IUPUI and/or a Western Illinois game on ESPN3 sometime.  Just being them is a disadvantage.  I am not sure they have fans.  IUPUI has put together a pretty decent basketball team this year, and they are barely getting 1,000 fans to each game.  Western Illinois fans…well…all 12 of them don’t have to worry about traveling to Sioux Falls right now.

Recruiting players to 1-bid conferences is difficult enough. Try to tell a recruit  they will be playing for the only conference bid on a hostile court with no fan support.

Whether you refuse to accept it or not, Jason Mims is doing a pretty good job for UNO soccer.  When going to a recruit’s home to try and talk them into Omaha during the transition, he said he simply just didn’t even talk about the transition.  If it came up, he would talk about how he would develop a player into a responsible adult.  Try that.  Try to talk about developing young people into responsible human beings…not “hey we play our conference tournament in Las Vegas so our fans can get so drunk they pee themselves inside a casino and people will call them daredevils…all while you’re in a hotel room not being able to enjoy Vegas because you’re 19 years old.”

Your basketball team is built on guys who were undervalued out of high school, and are playing for Denver because they have skills that are great to their system.  I have to say, it’s actually amazing to watch, and I sit here asking: “Was Joe Rosga not on Omaha’s radar?”  That is actually how to recruit to a 1-bid conference…and technically, every conference is a 1-bid conference.  The Missouri Valley is supposed to be a “Only 1 Team Conference” but they regularly get in 2 teams, and in 2006 they were able to get 4 teams into the NCAA tournament.  It might be because the conference tournament is in St. Louis, but that’s probably not the only reason…probably.  I need to see your highly analytical presentation to the Summit League to make a conclusion.

The conference tournament should be an ‘event’ – not an inconvenient, unfair obstacle for fans and players .

Let’s face it, our athletic programs we follow are 3rd or 4th rate programs in terms of local fan bases.  Denver has Colorado and Colorado State to compete with.  Omaha has Nebraska and Creighton to go up against for fans.  IUPUI and IPFW have Indiana, Notre Dame, Indiana State, Evansville, and others.  Oral Roberts has Oklahoma and Oklahoma State to deal with.  North Dakota State, South Dakota, and South Dakota State just have themselves, though, I think some of their fans double up as Minnesota fans.  I have family that live in Denver and I go a few times a year, rarely have I seen Denver Pioneers memorabilia in an establishment to show pride. So are people from Denver going to travel to Las Vegas and in the same month to your hypothetical Des Moines/Kansas City scenario?

The Summit League boasts that their current RPI puts them in the top 10 basketball conferences in the country. If the Summit League truly wants to improve their national profile, they need to offer a neutral court tournament in a more attractive location. The Summit League needs to grow up, or Denver needs to get out.

A neutral court in a more attractive location is not the one and only solution to grow the conference.  I do see your point that it is somewhat a disadvantage to host the conference tournament in Sioux Falls each and every single year, but is Des Moines or Kansas City the only destinations to throw out there?  Denver fans still have to travel a long distance, and hotels should be slightly more expensive than Sioux Falls.  In Sioux Falls, you have 4 teams that have easy short drives.  Kansas City really only provides an easy commute for Omaha and maybe the South Dakota schools…there is not really a city where everyone wins the easy commute.

Basketball teams in the conference built tough non-conference schedules to build up their own reputations, and other reasons, but it helped grow the conference.  The brand got out there with South Dakota State and South Dakota both winning at Minnesota, and other big non-conference games.  The brand didn’t get out there with Denver’s weak non-conference schedule built on Utah Valley, Idaho State, South Alabama, Air Force, Wyoming, Weber State, and San Diego.

If you want the Summit League to grow up, then Denver needs to grow up too.  Yeah, go back to the WAC purely on the basis that their conference tournament is in Las Vegas.  That is the grown up thing to do.  That is a grown up conference everyone is fighting to get into.





2 thoughts on “The Denver Pioneers need to grow up

  1. I think you pose some fair questions. First, you are correct on one thing – the article should have stated ORU, not BYU – our error!

    The main point of the article is that there is only one way to make it to March Madness in a 1-bid conference and Sioux Falls is a horrible place to travel to during that time of year. Other conferences hold their tournaments in more accessible destinations. And, the courts are neutral. That is far from the case with the Summit League. While it may make money for the league, it is a home game for several teams and a big hassle for most fans that want to travel there.

    We projected an 11-win season with 7 freshmen and few returning starting upper classmen. So, in our view they are over-performing. We took into account the weak non-conference schedule, too. DU intentionally scheduled a weak schedule with 3-4 freshmen getting major playing time. We are very supportive of our team and our players but recognize that this is a rebuilding year.

    The conference tournament is not the only way to grow the Summit League – and we did not say it was. However, it would help grow fan interest which is weak as you suggest. Otherwise, it will continue to be a niche North Dakota – South Dakota conference with a few random teams thrown into the mix.

    BTW, UNO does have the most surprising basketball team in the Summit Conference. They have a solid chance to compete for the regular season title – they are very good and battle tested. Then, off to Sioux Falls and I can tell you what will happen next.

    Good to see the UNO blog – new to me. We always look forward to readers opinions – especially from other schools. I think UNO-DU is one of the most logical rivalries in the Summit League for Bball, hockey, soccer, and volleyball. Great AD too.


  2. It’s a difficult situation. I don’t relish the idea of UNO needing to win multiple games against South Dakota, SDSU, and NDSU that are essentially true road games. At the same time, I get that the event makes money in Sioux Falls and gives the league its best opportunity to put on an exciting event that lands in the black. I’m sure quite a few mid major conferences would kill to have an event as successful as the league tournament in Sioux Falls has become.

    Until some of the other schools, and I’m including UNO in this, increase their fanbases and prove they are willing to travel for men’s basketball, the Dakota schools will continue to run the show…and the league will be beholden to them. It’s just the way it is.

    I agree that putting the tournament in a true neutral market would be difficult, at best. Summit League basketball never moved the needle in KC, even when UMKC was in the league. That is a city that is used to Big XII basketball and NCAA Tournament games. It’s a tough sell. Des Moines is split between Hawkeye and Cyclones fans with a few Drake and Northern Iowa fans that follow the Valley sprinkled in. The Summit Tournament would probably be largely ignored.

    I don’t know if maybe the Minneapolis/St. Paul area would possibly work as it’s still close enough for fans for the Dakota schools to drive. It would also be a bit closer for fans of the Eastern schools. It would provide more nightlife. But again, I just don’t think it moves the needle there. A half empty arena doesn’t help the situation even if there are more things to do around the games.

    There are always going to be winners and losers for every league when it comes to accessibility of conference championship tournaments/games. The fact that the Big XII football championship game was almost always in Texas was particularly galling to the Northern schools. The Southern schools didn’t like the basketball tournament in KC.

    Denver has had the Summit Soccer tournament the last couple of years. I’ve been hoping UNO would get the opportunity to host that event at Caniglia Field given the first class nature of the renovations here. Or, what about giving Omaha the Summit League baseball tournament at Werner Park?

    There is room for the league to rotate all of these events more often.


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