Playing with the Big Boys

As youngsters back in the day, groups of kids would gather at the local park or school yard to play some type of game. The oldest kids, the big boys, would determine the rules, choose teams & off they’d go. If you weren’t chosen, you’d start up another game with the younger kids. The younger kids always wanted to play with the big boys. It’s still the same at the collegiate level…
…..the big time D1 basketball & football teams choose the dates, times (now TV does that), and invite schools with lesser programs for their non-league wins…oops…games. Often, the lesser team competes for a short while but eventually gets blown away. In many ways, it’s like big bro playing little bro….he knows he can crush him at any time…so…initially the “juices” aren’t really flowing to wipe out this opponent. After awhile, usually after substitutes have been inserted, the wide gap between the 2 teams becomes apparent. But…..once in a while….the big boys have a battle on their hands….and some actually lose. Then, the big bro begins to respect little bro.
…So it is in NCAA Basketball, LSU & St Louis U were both seeking opponents. The Tigers agreed to come to the Lou…..expecting Big Brother treatment for the Bills. SLU not only competed well but beat LSU 85-81! This type of win opened eyes around the country….no SLU isn’t being considered as a rival for the Pro Factory called Kentucky but….an Atlantic 10 team beating a SEC #3 seed in conference is notable. This was a HUGE, HUGE win for the Billikens. It is only non-conference and most fans will forget it by Feb 1 but…..the Bills demonstrated that they CAN play with the Big Boys
…In order to establish the notion of being a “Big Boy”, St Louis U has to win a couple games in the NCAA tournament….reaching the quarterfinals would be a huge step upward. Basketball guru’s view the NCAA tournament as the ultimate measuring stick of a team’s strength—being a Big Boy. Winning a conference, some big wins, especially some “big” wins in December….all that evaporates without some NCAA victories. Gonzaga should be SLU’s model for climbing up the ranks. It takes time.
….speaking of time…these Big Boy upsets are much tougher currently due to the shot clock. Prior to the shot clock a weaker team could “milk” the time clock late in the game. The more up & down the game goes, the more it favors the better team.
…Coach Travis Ford has formed a team with a good portion of St Louis Area players. SLU history almost dictates that local players be used. This Year– Jordan Goodwin (Althoff-Belleville), Yuri Collins (St Marys-St Louis), JaVonte Perkins (Miller Career-St Louis), Terrance Hargrove (E St Louis, ESL) are all local and highly productive. Younger StL players are waiting in the wings as they develop their skills and prepare for playing with the Big Boys.
….A team has to be wary….if it becomes known as a “good record” team w/o outstanding players.. they could become permanent “sacrificial lambs” for the Big Boys. Those shellacking’s for a few bucks would seem to shackle recruiting the highest level players in the future.
….in 1948 it was different, the National Invitational Tournament (NIT) was played in New York. IT WAS the premier collegiate tournament. The NIT was for the “big boys”. The NIT began in 1938, the NCAA tourney began in the early 40’s. Initially, teams could compete in BOTH tournaments. In 1948 only 8 teams were invited to the NIT Tournament. ST Louis U won the 1948 NIT tournament, Ed Macauley was the Most Valuable Player of the Tournament. Amazingly…to us, today… EVERY player on the roster was from St. Louis!! Macauley, Hank Raymonds (went on to be longtime NCAA coach—mostly @ Marquette), Clayton Cary, John Cordia and Jack Wrape were all from St Louis U High. Bob & Joe Schmidt were from Cleveland HS; DC Wilcutt-Normandy (tremendous coaching career @ CBC); Joe Ossola-Collinsville; Marv Schatzman-Soldan; Louis Lehman-Beaumont; and Capt Danny Miller was from McBride. The Bills beat New York University 65-52 to win the title and then returned home, via train, to a waiting crowd of 15, 000! The only time that the Bills played in both the NIT & NCAA was under Coach Eddie Hickey in 1952.
…So….how did the NCAA elevate in prestige and minimize the NIT? It was a slow process. In the early 1950’s the NCAA made it mandatory for the winners of the top 10 conferences to send their teams to the NCAA. The NCAA continued to expand its tournament from the original 8 teams to 16, then 22. Each expansion of teams weakened the NIT. In the late 1970’s Marquette (coached by New Yorker Al McGuire) turned down an NCAA invitation to play in the NIT. The NCAA then made it mandatory for ANY team that was invited to the NCAA, they MUST accept it. Expansion continued as the NCAA currently grabs the top 68 teams. Eventually, the NCAA bought the NIT for $56m.
….I would like to propose that the NIT be revamped. Forget about the post-season, host a pre-season tournament! It would be the final 8 teams from the previous NCAA tournament. Add a losers bracket so all the teams would play at least 2 games. It would add some zest to the once great, NIT tournament. It also would provide quality opponents for these teams.
…The Billikens have experienced ups & downs over the past few decades. In 1960-61, the Billikens were the NIT runner-up under Coach John Bennington. Coach Rich Grawer, who resurrected the program from one of its lowest ebbs, took the Bills to back-back NIT Championship games but lost each in 1989 and 1990.
…Mizzou moved to the SEC in 2012, in essence, to play with the “big boys” in football and earn “big boy” checks from the SEC conference. There are many different views on this historic move. It’s clear…at least to me…that the move was based primarily on earning “big boy” checks from television. A couple historic rivalries between were wiped out. KU – Mizzou (the Tigers/Jayhawks nicknames originate from the Civil War). It was the Fighting Tigers of Columbia, MO who in 1864 protected Columbia from the Confederates during the American Civil War. The Nebraska-Missouri football rivalry began in 1892 with the last game in 2010. Even a move to the Big 10 …which I would prefer… would have put Missouri into a conference with similar climates, educational views, similar strengths in sports, historical background. For example, 8 years into the SEC, Mizzou’s wrestling team must still compete in a different conference since the SEC doesn’t field that sport. Do any of you really feel like we’re playing the Big Boys with Mississippi , Miss ST, Vanderbilt, Arkansas, S.Carolina, Auburn, Texas A&M in football? ….that’s HALF the SEC league!!
….Well…..I’m not a Big Boy and can’t demand your time….and I don’t want to wear out my welcome either 😊 If you missed last week’s blog, find it on I’m interested in your thoughts…put them on Facebook, my website, or just send them to me to be published