The Big 12 case for one particular school

Sometimes we can come across as being in our own little world out West. Sometimes we can come across as being in our own little world out West, especially when it comes to a debate over who, in addition to BYU, merits an invitation to the Big 12 should the conference expand: Boise State or Colorado State. Well, let’s not forget the other side of the country. Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel won’t let us. Bianchi used his column last week for an open letter to Big 12 presidents, imploring the conference to add UCF (Central Florida) in tandem with, say, Cincinnati. First, he points out that UCF is “smack, dab in the middle of the third-largest state in the union and perhaps the No. 1 recruiting hotbed in the nation. The Big 12 is the only conference in the southern part of the United States that doesn’t have a footprint in the Sunshine State.”

Then Bianchi zeroes in on UCF itself, “the second-largest university in the country with more than 60,000 students. UCF’s football program—and its overall athletic program—had the highest graduation rate of any public university in the nation last year.” This could be the haymaker, especially where Boise State is concerned: “Orlando is the 18th largest TV market in the nation and is the biggest TV market in the country that doesn’t have a professional football team. Metro population 2,387,138.” The lack of TV households, national brand notwithstanding, is something the Broncos can’t do anything about.

Here’s Bianchi’s dramatic conclusion: “Dear esteemed presidents, I urge you to look at the projections, the potential, the market size and the graduation rates and then make the smart decision. A decision—and a university—that will get smarter and smarter in the years to come. UCF to the Big 12. It’s academic.” Well, it would be had the Knights not gone 0-12 in football last season. Then again, UCF averaged 30,065 fans per game despite that misery, and it drew a record 23,147 for its spring game Saturday with the fan base energized by new coach Scott Frost, the former Oregon offensive coordinator. And, of course, the Knights did go to the Fiesta Bowl a little more than two years ago, upsetting Baylor. These are all things we need to keep in mind.

I’ve saved this line from Chris Murray of the Reno Gazette-Journal from last fall, because I sensed it would be relevant at some point. He used it after Boise State routed Virginia 56-14 in Brett Rypien’s first start—a bad omen for Ryan Finley a week after he was injured against Idaho State. Wrote Murray: “This reminds me of when Nevada’s Nick Graziano got hurt and was replaced by Colin Kaepernick.” In 2007, Graziano was the Wolf Pack starter until he went down against Fresno State. In came the gangly redshirt freshman, Kaepernick. The next week, Kaepernick made his first start in the classic 69-67 quadruple-overtime loss to the Broncos on the blue turf. By the following season, Graziano had transferred to Central Arkansas.

Allen handed the Idaho Steelheads the same result laid on the Americans last Thursday with a 3-1 win in Game 2 of the ECHL Western Conference quarterfinals Saturday night. It was Allen’s Chad Costello who was named ECHL Player of the Year over the weekend, but it was veteran center Casey Pierro-Zabotel who twice pushed the puck past the Steelies’ Philippe Desrosiers to even the series at a game apiece. Idaho managed only 22 shots on goal, and Rob Linsmayer was the only one to find the back of the net. The Americans and Steelheads resume the playoff tussle with Game 3 Wednesday night in CenturyLink Arena.

UNLV, spurned by Chris Beard when he bolted Friday for Texas Tech a week after being announced as the Rebels’ new head coach, has quickly turned to its runnerup, Marvin Menzies of New Mexico State. Menzies is probably a good fit for UNLV. Beyond that, he must see the Rebels program as a safe haven. Menzies has coached New Mexico State for nine seasons and has witnessed the disintegration of the WAC, now just a piecemeal league. He had some good battles with Boise State during the Broncos’ WAC days, the best of which was the 107-102 triple-overtime thriller in the 2008 conference championship game that gave Boise State its only league tournament title in the past 22 years.

Graham DeLaet and Tyler Aldridge took different paths to the same end yesterday at the RBC Heritage in Hilton Head, SC. The valley duo tied for 14th after each carded an even-par 71 in the final round. DeLaet was able to do it with a birdie on No. 18. Aldridge was on pace for a top 5 finish at the turn before recording two bogeys and a double-bogey versus just one birdie on the back nine. Both golfers earned $88,631.

Campus notes: The Boise State men’s tennis team rediscovered its steely resolve over the weekend, defeating San Diego State and UNLV by identical 4-1 counts. Toby Mitchell clinched yesterday’s victory over the Rebels by taking No. 3 singles, the fourth time in six matches he’s earned the deciding point. And Boise State’s Shani Remme hit her beam routine and scored a 9.8 Friday night at the NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Championships in Fort Worth, TX. Of course, there are lots of gymnasts at that level at nationals, and Remme finished 29th in her event.

Also, it was a “daily double” Friday for two prominent Mountain View Mavericks. Basketball star Destiny Slocum played in her second premier national all-star game and scored seven points in 20 minutes in the Jordan Brand Classic. The Maryland-bound Slocum was the starter for the West at point guard and helped her squad to a 100-94 win over the East. And Adrian Jones clocked the fastest high school time this season in the 3,000-meter steeplechase at 9:34.38 when he won the event in the Oregon Relays at Eugene’s legendary Hayward Field.

There were two first-time winners in the 39th Race To Robie Creek Saturday. There had to be, as no past champions were entered in this year’s field. Jeff Howard, a former Boise State runner and currently a graduate assistant in the Bronco track and field program, won the men’s competition on his first try. For Molly Mitchell, it was her second Robie, and she took home the women’s crown. The weather on Saturday helped ensure that there “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” Aldape Summit included. It was a transition day to another stretch of warmth, with a 34-degree morning giving way to the mid-50’s during the race, near-perfect running conditions (the high ended up being 65).

This Day In Sports…April 18, 1966, 50 years ago today:

A major professional regular season sporting event is played on an artificial surface for the first time ever, as the Houston Astrodome celebrates its grand opening. The Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Houston Astros 6-3 to win the inaugural game. It’s also a milestone day for Don Sutton, as the Dodger rookie gets his first major league victory—the start of a Hall of Fame career that would see him win 324 games.

(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment Sunday nights at 10:30PM on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra and anchors five sports segments each weekday on 93.1 The Ticket. He also served as color commentator on KTVB’s telecasts of Boise State football for 14 seasons.)