I read a column the other day from Wyatt Wheeler of the Springfield News-Leader called “I don’t feel like criticizing Mizzou coach Cuonzo Martin. He’s making a difference”, while I get what Wheeler was going for, I felt some of it missed the mark.
First, I think it was an admirable effort to give Martin credit for all the good he does. And it’s not easy writing a column about the trying times we’re dealing with these days... trust me, I tried it yesterday.
But the Mizzou-Missouri State stuff just came off as weird.
I thought about writing about my disappointment in Mizzou and head men’s basketball coach Cuonzo Martin.
I decided not to.
Well, that’s big of you...
As a reporter who covers Missouri State athletics, I was upset to hear Martin say on the radio that the previously discussed game at JQH Arena between the Bears and the Tigers is probably not happening.
It would have been a great and historic scene to cover as the two in-state programs play each other. As someone who cares tremendously for my readers, I was excited for Bears fans to have an opportunity to pack the stands and host the Tigers.
It might be the greatest rivalry that might never be played. But I can’t sit here and write something negative about Martin today.
Ok, let’s slow this down a bit here.
I feel I should start by saying that I have no ties to the University of Missouri other than growing up in state and kind of picking the team as my own, mostly due to proximity. I know it’s weird, but I consider myself a fan of Missouri State and SLU as well. My parents came from Springfield, Missouri and my dad even played basketball at what is now Missouri State.
I’ll also say I would love for Mizzou to play both SLU and Missouri State; those games would be far more interesting than another game against Chicago State or North Florida. The pecking order in state is Mizzou, then SLU, then Missouri State. If Missouri State wants to leap SLU, they need to be more consistent and invest more money into their program.
The realities of College Basketball and why these games don’t happen are easy to figure out. And no, it’s not because Missouri is scared to play the games. It comes down to season tickets and the gate. If SLU or Missouri State wanted to come play at Mizzou Arena, the Tigers would be more than happy to host.
This game against Missouri State nearly happened because Cuonzo wanted to play the game. Why it’s not happening has nothing to do with Martin. There are weird political dynamics at much higher levels than the basketball coach, and I’m sure Martin was hoping to get the game done before those powers stepped in, but it didn’t happen.
Also, I feel weird having to point this out, but there is no rivalry with Mizzou and Missouri State, or SLU for that matter. Southern Illinois doesn’t have a rivalry with Illinois, Drake doesn’t have a rivalry with Iowa, and Indiana State isn’t a rival with Indiana. Fans and admins of the smaller schools might hold resentments towards the larger schools, but that’s not enough for it to be a rivalry.
Should these games be played? As a college basketball fan... YES! We need more regionality in college sports, and these kinds of games would be far more interesting than the games we get, even if it meant catching a loss when you shouldn’t lose. If North Florida is trying to fill out its schedule, they should play Florida, Florida State, and Miami, Florida A&M and South Florida. Imagine Mizzou playing Mo State and SLU, Arkansas playing Arkansas State, or LSU playing Louisiana-Lafayette every year? It’d be a lot more fun.
But these games don’t happen because teams want home games, and high major schools don’t play a lot of road games in the non-conference slate unless it’s against another high major. Back to Wheeler:
That brings me to Martin, the former Missouri State head men’s basketball coach.
Sure, he might have received pressure from others around Mizzou to drop the game. A potential loss to the Bears might not bode well for the coach of the state’s SEC program.
Let’s walk through this a bit... Cuonzo Martin, a man who left Missouri State for a better, more high profile job, who grew up in East St. Louis and beat cancer? That man is not worried about taking a loss in JQH Arena. If Martin was worried about catching a loss to the Bears he wouldn’t have broadcasted that they were working on a game IN Springfield on the radio. If anything, Martin was probably hoping his public pronouncement would get the go-ahead from the higher ups and let the game go ahead.
It didn’t happen. But it wasn’t because Martin didn’t want to play, or is somehow worried about catching a non-conference loss.
So far Mizzou is playing Kansas, Illinois, Wichita State and Utah, and they are going play at least seven games on the road before they hit SEC play... that’s a lot of revenue loss for a school in need of revenue.
As usual, the reason Mizzou and Missouri State aren’t playing is because of money. So Wheeler was right to praise Martin for his accomplishments, but any criticism for why these teams don’t play should be left at the door. If Mizzou and Missouri State play a basketball game in the future it will be far more because of Cuonzo Martin than anything else.