The Port Arthur News
PORT ARTHUR —
Editor’s note: The following column from the Best of West collection was originally published in the Port Arthur News on Feb. 15, 1981.
As Billy Tubbs did before him, Pat Foster is growing more and more disenchanted with the college basketball elitism that denies a school like Lamar University entrance into the select circle reserved for the so-called "name" teams and "major" conferences.
When it comes to rubbing elbows with the upper crust roundball fraternity, Lamar, it seems, has warts, bad breath and an undesirable background. The Redbirds are treated like they're from the wrong side of the tracks or just broke jail.
With each passing day, Foster develops a deeper appreciation for Tubbs' infamous reaction to the NCAA shipping Lamar to the West Regional in Ogden, Utah, last year. The assignment marked the second consecutive time the Redbirds had been sent out of the Midwest Region, and was more than Tubbs could tolerate.
"We're like the bastard child at the family reunion," spewed battling Billy. "They'll do anything to keep us out of their sight. We're just lucky Iran or Afghanistan didn't have a regional."
The most obvious slight of Lamar during Foster's first year is its absence from the polls, despite a record that's the sixth best in the nation. But the former Arkansas assistant is concerned about more that just the hypocrisy of the rankings.
Scheduling, for instance, has become an extremely annoying problem. Even though playing in the Beaumont Civic Center affords Lamar an opportunity to offer substantial guarantees to visitors, neither Southwest Conference teams nor schools which frequently dot the top 20 will agree to play home and home.
"It's pretty frustrating," admitted Foster. "We need 12 home games for next year, but the way it looks now we may have to settle for 10. Outside of our five conference opponents, the only home games we have at this point are Pan American and North Texas State. I'd like to treat our fans to some attractive teams, but most of the top schools will only play at their place."
Foster is particularly miffed at the refusal of several Southwest Conference teams to enter a home and home agreement. Told Houston's Guy Lewis has said he'll only play the Redbirds in Hofheinz Pavilion, the former Arkansas assistant vows to look elsewhere before subjecting his team to another rip job at UH.
"This year was a one-time deal," he said. "Either they agree to come here or we don't play. The same holds for everybody else in the Southwest Conference. It's home and home or nothing. We don't have much to gain by playing them anyway. Our basketball reputation is better than theirs.
"If we're going to have to go on the road and run the risks involved, we'll do it against DePaul and Big Ten and Metro Seven teams," Foster continued. "It's a shame it has to be that way, but I'm dead serious. I'm not going to give anybody in the Southwest Conference a one-sided shot at us. We'll try to schedule them all, but we won't get any takers."
SWC pettiness toward Lamar extends beyond the scheduling aspect. Three SWC head coaches — Lewis, Texas' Abe Lemons and Arkansas' Eddie Sutton — are on the United Press International board of coaches that vote in the wire service's weekly rankings. It's almost a cinch bet none of the three vote for Lamar.
"No way they're going to help us get in the top 20," contends Foster. "We'll be recruiting some of the same players. If we're ranked in the top 20 and they're not, who do you think it helps?"
Since UPI guarantees participating coaches anonymity on their vote, it's impossible to prove Lewis, Lemons and Sutton all snubbed Lamar in the latest poll. But it is possible to establish that at least two of the three did.
UPI sports editor Joe Carnicelli told The News that, of 37 coaches participating in the most recent poll, Lamar received votes from only two. One of those two was USL's Bobby Paschal. It's anybody's guess as to who the other might have been. Arizona's Fred Snowden seems a likely possibility.
"It wasn't one of the three from the Southwest Conference," Foster asserted.
That Lamar, which started the week with an 18-2 record and was widely recognized as the last team to beat No. 1 Oregon State, could get only two votes is a sad commentary on the coaches poll. And while the Redbirds were being stiffed, Idaho moved in for the first time despite getting beat.
"I figured all along our best chance to get ranked was in the writer's poll (Associated Press)," Foster observed. "The coaches poll is pretty much self serving. Most of them are looking after their own interests or don't take it very seriously. But I'm still shocked to learn we only received two votes. That's unbelievable."
While Foster is helpless to do anything about Lamar's predicament in the rankings, such isn't the case when it comes to striking back at the Southwest Conference bias. Lamar has, all of a sudden, become the darling of the state's sporting press. It's a development which is giving the LU coach a chance to boost his product and knock brand X at the same time.
Within the past week, writers from the Dallas Times Herald, Houston Post and Austin American Statesman have hammered out lengthy features on the Redbirds. All have been highly favorable. Lamar has also received positive exposure in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and the Dallas Morning News.
Foster does nothing to reject the notion some of the exposure Lamar's receiving is a backlash to the boring, ball control basketball being played in the SWC.
"If those teams were having a banner year, I don't think we'd be getting the statewide attention we are," he says. "The dull game they're playing turns off writers, fans and players. I'm certainly glad kids across the state are getting a chance to read about the kind of basketball we play. We need to capitalize on it as much as possible."
Sports editor Bob West can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.