From a reporter’s standpoint, there is no better way to spend 15 minutes – you pick the city and the day – than listening to Texas A&M coach Gary Blair, a legit Hall of Famer, talk about basketball (and baseball) and the way things are. The man has been a head coach since 1973, a head coach since 1985 at Stephen F. Austin. He has street credibility.
And there he was Sunday sitting on the dais at the Lincoln regional, getting ready again to play UConn in Monday’s Elite Eight game.
One of the things I often wonder about is what the long-range impact being in the American Athletic Conference will have on UConn women’s basketball. It doesn’t matter what I think. So I asked someone who might know better than I.
“In my opinion, it seems similar to what it was back in the day at Louisiana Tech [where Blair served as an assistant from 1980-85] … At some point it became harder for Leon Barmore [their coach] to get the games he needed to inspire himself and his team to play at the highest level. It was harder for him to convince the great players to come to LA Tech. They began going to places [in the bigger conference] where there were charter flights and better meal money and where everything was bigger. “It [sustainability] can still be done [anywhere], but we’re not letting him in the SEC, I’ll tell you that,” Blair said smiling. “They will not be coming in.
“And I think what is likely holding UConn back is the football program. Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter how good their basketball teams or other teams are; football pays the bills and until they improve their football, they probably won’t be invited to play in the right conference.
“Can they [the American] steal a few teams to come to their conference? Who knows, that’s beyond my pay scale. But I’ll tell you this, we [UConn and Texas A&M] will play each other [in the regular season]. There’s many teams who won’t, but we will.
“The respect Geno has in the game is why people will play him. It’s good for the game. I’d love to play him every year, in the Elite Eight or Final Four, that is. But I wouldn’t mind starting another series with him and I am sure you will eventually see Tennessee back with them, too.
“Geno does not need to play non-conference games against the bottom half [teams] in major conferences. He needs to play team’s in the top third of the six major conferences, not including his.
“And what we need to do for parity is play games like this in January and February for television’s sake. I know its going to hurt us more than it will hurt him. All Geno needs to do is play three games in a week to have one great one to make his team better. But that’s no sweat off his back. He will figure it out, don’t worry.”