Last week, we got an introduction to the academic side of our new conference partners, the University of Colorado. This week, I wanted to provide an introduction to the athletic side of CU. And what better way to do that than to get it straight from the horse's...errr....Buffalo's mouth?
Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons
Bob from the The Ralphie Report, CU's excellent SBN site, was kind enough to answer some questions regarding CU's move to the Pac 12, the state of the CU football and basketball programs, some of their athletic traditions, and thoughts on new and old rivals.
Bruins Nation: On behalf of Bruins Nation and UCLA fans, welcome to the 12-Pac! Do you hate *$c yet?
The Ralphie Report: Thanks for the welcoming! All the Pac-10 people have been awesome on our site so far. I was thinking about saving all the comments for a rainy day when the honeymoon stage has worn off and we begin to actually compete against each other. Soon, the Buffs will get bashed with terms like "stupid hippies" and (if Dan Hawkins is still around, which we are guessing he won't be come 2011) "go play intramurals, brother!" But for now, it has been awesome. Very excited to learn about 10 new teams over the next year or so.
As for USC, well, let's just say we are hopeful to possibly get some of their defects after the NCAA sanctions were handed down. That and we are excited to see what Lane Kiffin has to say.
BN: What were your thoughts when the opportunity to join the Pac became a reality?
TRR: One word: ecstatic. For multiple reasons, we were very excited. I think everyone in the Big 12 not named Nebraska, Texas or Oklahoma got nervous once the rumors started flying. Schools like Baylor, Missouri, Kansas State, Iowa State, heck even Colorado could have been left out of a major conference given their geography and dynamics. For Colorado to be named a candidate and then actually get the (first) invite took some serious stress away.
The University of Colorado also thinks of itself as a better academic institution (and it is) than almost all Big 12 schools so a jump to a better set of Universities was also a slam dunk. From an athletic & administration/faculty relationship standpoint, I can't stress the importance to joining the Pac-10. Since the various off the field problems Colorado had five or so years ago, the administration/faculty has been less than pleased to be associated with the athletic department, making it very difficult to succeed and get the proper support needed. There is a hope among the fan base that this agreement will unite the two and make the administration realize that athletics has its benefits to the well being of the University.
I could go on and on about the benefits, another being getting away from the new conference: The Texas 10, but just know we are very grateful to be headed where we are. I put myself in Iowa State's shoes and look at the situation: I get "supposedly" $8 million less a year than Texas and essentially move out of the Big 12 North to the Big 12 South having to play Texas and Oklahoma every year rather than every two years.
BN: I can vouch for CU being a beautiful campus in a beautiful location. What does CU add to the 12-Pac?
TRR: The Pac-10 gains a strong academic institution that has had Rhodes scholars, Nobel Prize winners and other important academic accomplishments. We couple with many of the Pac-10's academic institutions already on research so the move makes sense from an academic standpoint. You mentioned the beautiful campus which many Pac-10 fans will want to visit whether for a nice fall trip to the Rockies or follow the game up with a ski trip. The proximity to Denver makes this an attractive spot.
Denver/Boulder is a top 20 television market and Denver is a very strong sports city. Yes, it may be a professional sports city first or foremost, but we love our sports.
And let's not forget Colorado has won a National Championship within the last twenty years, they have won a Big 12 championship, won the Big 12 North a few of times, played in a Fiesta Bowl against Oregon (and got killed) not too long ago and were a power in the 90's. It has been a rough five years but Colorado has had athletic success. You can win at Colorado; you need the right administrative support and a good group of coaches. Jury is very much out on whether the Buffs have that right now. I think many Pac-10 schools will also be impressed with the basketball program next year with guards Cory Higgins and Alec Burks. They are two superb talents and will make the Buffs a tough team to deal with next year. Colorado certainly has a lot of work to do from the athletic side but we have shown in the past we have the ability to win, we just need the proper direction and hopefully joining the Pac-10 will jumpstart that.
BN: Do you think CU was looking specifically to get away from the Big XII and/or Texas, the way Nebraska was rumored to be?
TRR: Yes, that played a role as mentioned above. I also think being in a conference with Texas and without a strong program like Nebraska in the North to support the Big 12 North teams would have been devastating. Nebraska had some pull for the North; all of that power now resides with Texas Again, a great move for the Buffs on all accounts. Nebraska called Texas out regarding the power shift towards South teams, they acted on it, the Buffs acted on it.
BN: Will you miss Nebraska?
TRR: Ask me that after we play them last. I have some good memories of those games (some bad ones of course and recently, it has been no fun). But as of now, not really. If giving up Nebraska means going to the Pac-10, no sadness at all. Here is how many Buff fans are looking at it with some fill in the blanks:
Do I want to travel to ____________ or ____________?
Lincoln or Seattle; Ames or Los Angeles; Manhattan or Tucson; Lawrence or Tempe; Columbia or Salt Lake City; Lubbock or Berkeley
I could keep going...can you sense the excitement yet?
BN: You do know how bad Pac 10 football refs are, right? Five downs would just be a minor slip for them.
TRR: Ha-ha...Jon Woods, the other writer on our site graduated from Oklahoma and has ties to Colorado. Just bring up Oregon-Oklahoma and he will flip out. The wounds are deep.
BN: Do you see any natural rivals in the Pac?
TRR: It's interesting because everyone already has a rival in the Pac-10 and a pretty deep rooted one at that so it is hard to say a team like Oregon. Colorado has lost a number of recruits to Oregon as well as Mark Helfrich, our former offensive coordinator, at a really bad time before the season so we have a little animosity there. Throw in Jon Woods' hate of the Oregon-Oklahoma game; the Ducks have certainly caught our attention in the past. Of course, UCLA has a story line with Neuheisel for the Buffs. The most logical choice is Utah just because they need a rival too and they are geographically close. We will have to see how it plays out but I am sure no one in the current Pac-10 will claim CU as a rival anytime soon so we will get into that game like we had with Nebraska where they said their rival was Oklahoma, not Colorado.
BN: How about now...do you hate *$c now?
TRR: Starting to heat up the hate. Love the song girls, though. Any cheerleader/co-ed pictures you can send us from the fine Pac-10 institutions would be much appreciated. We need to build up our stock. [BN ed: start here]
BN: I've heard diverse opinions on AD Mike Bohn - some like him, some want him gone. What are your thoughts?
TRR: Simply put and in an attempt to stay as positive as possible, the athletic department has a lot to prove. We are thankful that Mike Bohn and company got us into the Pac-10 but simply getting us in will not cut it. Yes, it is a great move but unless the AD uses this momentum to put Colorado back on the map, it will be a dreadful move for the Buffs. USC, UCLA, Arizona, Arizona State and Utah - that is an impressive division and a division that would kill the Big 12 North.
The facts are out there as to why we should not be happy with the current direction of the athletic department. Little to no success on the basketball court or football field, supposed financial hardship, low morale...they have a lot to prove and they better get it turned around quick or else we will be hoping to be back in the Big 12 North instead of playing the USC's and UCLA's of the world.
BN: CU football has had a rough go lately. What do you think of Dan Hawkins and will he turn things around?
TRR: No, I don't think he will get it turned around so that should explain what I think of him and the job he is doing. The Buffs haven't won a road game since 2007 (2-18 in the Dan Hawkins era). He has failed to prepare the team to be successful. They fail to execute and show signs of being a poorly coached team: horrendous special teams play, one of the most penalize teams in the country, missed blocking assignments that put the Buffs at the bottom of the country in sacks given up and rushing yards. To sum it up, in four years with Dan Hawkins at the helm, we have seen little improvement or player progression. No one can deny that. The energy Hawkins came into the program with has also left. He used to be a guy with a ton of energy, telling everyone how he is going to get this thing going in the right direction, bring a fun style of football to Colorado. None of that has happened. Hawkins has turned cold and very short with the media. He is not the same guy, from an outsiders/fan perspective, that was hired four years ago.
Hopefully, Hawkins and Co. prove me wrong this year. I would be the first to admit I was mistaken of my assessment about the direction he has in place but I think an overhaul will be needed to turn this thing around.
BN: Sticking with Dan Hawkins and the Colorado Athletic Department, is the dept as broke as the media makes them out to be?
TRR: I think this is something that is important to clear up. Are the Buffs broke? No, they are not. Are they rich? Nope. Colorado received $9.7 million from the Big 12 revenue sharing system in 2008-2009 which was seventh in the Big 12 conference. Oklahoma and Texas made about $3.0 million more. Rumors out there now show the Buffs stand to make $15 - $20 million a year from the Pac-10 so we are excited about the huge growth in revenue. The CU alumni base in Pac-10 locations is much larger compared to the alumni base in the Big 12 locations. That should help on the financial front.
The question everyone wants to know is could Colorado really not rally enough people to buy out Dan Hawkins? I have heard from multiple sources, multiple alums and former players (as recently as last week) that the money was there. The deal was ready to go to buy out Hawkins but our administration (president and chancellor), because of the economy, believed they couldn't sell it successfully to the faculty. The faculty hadn't received a raise for a few years so throwing $3.0 million at a buy out wouldn't have been well perceived, they believed. So back up to the point regarding the move to the Pac-10 uniting the athletic department and faculty/administration, this is the sort of thing we hope the Pac-10 helps smooth over.
BN: What do think the reaction will be when Rick Neuheisel returns to Folsom?
TRR: Wouldn't expect a warm reception but it might be a better reception than Dan Hawkins will get if he is still the coach in 2011.
BN: Men's basketball struggled for years under Ricardo Patton, basically being a .500 conference team, and Jeff Bzdelik's record was worse before he left for Wake Forest. How is the outlook for basketball now? Head Coach Tad Boyle was making great progress at Northern Colorado. Can he repeat that at CU?
TRR: I think basketball is on the verge to make some noise. The combination of Ricardo Patton, the off the field issues during the Gary Barnett tenure and poor administrative support was really the perfect storm. After Patton left, seven Buff basketball players took off with him. Colorado has been playing with one senior every year for what seems like forever. This program was decimated when Bzdelik came on with little to no upperclassmen.
Last year, they showed signs of improvement, beating a good Baylor team, should have beat Kansas at home, had Gonzaga & Arizona on the ropes and played Kansas State tough. What this team has struggled with is playing a ton of young players and lacking a big man in the middle. The youth has killed the Colorado on the road since Bzdelik took over. In fact, both football and basketball have struggled on the road. See excerpt below from post back in basketball season when the Buffs finally won on the road:
"Remember where you were January 21st, 2006? Neither do I but that is the last time Colorado basketball won a road game in Big 12 play. If you're counting, that is the better part of four seasons and 36 total games ago. The Buffs haven't won any road game since December 21st, 2007 against Colorado State. Combine the football team's losing ways on the road (12 consecutive defeats) and Buff fans were starting to question when they would ever see another win on the away from Boulder."
Tad Boyle has come on with some great energy already and has started to recruit well. Getting that big 7'0" to help immediately has not been accomplished yet but Boyle has picked up a few good players in less than two months on the job. Boyle is also the beneficiary of guards Cory Higgins and Alec Burks, two top Big 12 scorers who are returning next year. Burks was unbelievable as a true freshman, averaging a Big 12 freshman leading 17.1 points per game and 5.0 rebounds per. Unfortunately, Burks' five rebounds a game was the best on the team, which is one of the reasons the Buffs struggle. Higgins, a third team Big 12 player (probably deserving of a second team honor) averaged just under 19 points per game.
Time will tell if Boyle can have more success finding a center in the middle/ getting production out of the post but he has some nice pieces coming back next year
BN: Has CU made a fair commitment to the basketball program?
TRR: It's no secret that joining the Pac-10 will help Colorado financially. We are hoping the Pac-10 will spark the department and raise the financial commitment to levels higher than we have ever seen. I think most fans will tell you they sometimes question the commitment the University has to athletics in general. Like I said above, the administration has a lot to do to right the ship and get this thing back on track. By all means, it can happen it is just a matter of getting it done and everyone working in the right direction.
BN: Any chance that CU will try to resurrect baseball?
TRR: That's the rumor. I think people would really get behind it. It is by far the sport most CU fans desire.
BN: We know about Ralphie storming the field before football games. Any other classic traditions we should get familiar with?
TRR: Ralphie is the top tradition hands down. Before every game, the Buffs' football team does a "Buff Walk" down Pearl Street and fans come out to cheer them on (like a pep rally). I think just attending a game at Folsom Field is an experience in itself. One of the best places to be on a Saturday afternoon with stadium placed right up against the mountains. Now we just need to win a few more games.
BN: You gotta hate *$C by now, right?
TRR: I'm sure it will happen soon enough.
[BN ed: Sincere thanks to Bob at The Ralphie Report for his contributions]