Conference play has arrived in college basketball and that means Division I teams will start picking on people their own size.
In the first two months of the season, seven games were decided by more than 70 points — the most blowouts of that magnitude since at least 1996-97, according to STATS. No mismatch was as great as Southern’s 116-12 win over tiny Champion Baptist this week.
That outcome begged the question: Why are games like that even scheduled?
A lot of Division I programs have difficulty lining up home games against quality opponents. Southern, for example, is coming off an NCAA tournament appearance yet doesn’t have a high enough RPI to make it worthwhile for a name team to travel to Baton Rouge, La., and possibly lose.
Usually low-major programs round out the schedules of risk-averse mid-majors and power-conference teams in November and December. But there also are plenty of non-Division I teams willing to take beatings to help meet their budgets, give their players the experience of playing against big-time competition for a night and gain exposure. After all, before Southern did its number on Champion Baptist, who in the sporting public had heard of the 100-student unaccredited Christian college in Hot Springs, Ark.?
“We’ve had hundreds of people email us asking if they can come play for our school since this happened,” said Eric Capici, who serves as head coach and school president.
Utah and Charleston Southern each show up twice on the blowout ledger. The Utes own an 84-pointer against The Evergreen State College (Wash.) and a 73-pointer against St. Katherine (Calif.). Charleston Southern beat St. Andrews Presbyterian (N.C.) by 82 and Johnson University (Tenn.) by 79.
Those Fightin’ Firebirds of St. Katherine also lost by 83 to nationally ranked San Diego State the night before losing at Utah, and by 71 to Weber State. Coach Scott Mitchell, whose program is in its first season, is anything but embarrassed.
“I’d play Duke if I could,” he said, “but I don’t know what they would get out of beating up on us.”
Unaccredited St. Katherine opened three years ago with 13 students and shares space in a San Diego-area office building with a yoga studio and optometrist. Mitchell’s day job is as an account executive for YP.com, the online yellow pages. He recruited one of his players, a 34-year-old freshman, after he saw him working out at a 24 Hour Fitness.
St. Katherine athletic director Mike Scolinos said the school has applied to join the NAIA for 2014-15, and the hope is to be an NCAA Division I member in 10 years.
“Some people would call that ridiculous,” he said. “As the saying goes, if you don’t dream it, you’re not going to do it, and that’s our goal.”
Champion Baptist has no visions of grandeur. The Tigers are content in the Association of Christian Collegiate Athletics, where they have won three national championships in seven years.
Southern, which beat Champion Baptist 90-36 last season, set an NCAA record when it opened a 44-0 lead on Monday. Champion Baptist didn’t score until there was 5:10 left in the first half, and the Tigers made only 3 of 44 field goals while earning $4,000 for their trouble.
The 104-point margin didn’t threaten the NCAA record of 117, set by Long Island University against Medgar Evers in 1997.
Champion Baptist’s players receive no scholarships, and most work full-time. The team didn’t practice in the two weeks before the game because Capici wanted his players to be home with their families over Christmas break. The team took an eight-hour bus ride to Baton Rouge and played two hours later.
Southern, meanwhile, was playing its last game before its Southwestern Athletic Conference opener, and Jaguars coach Roman Banks want to polish up some areas where he thought his team was deficient. He played his starters 20, 22, 24, 27 and 29 minutes.
Banks was criticized for letting the game get so far out of hand, but Capici said he had no complaints. Southern athletic director William Broussard said game officials declined when they were asked to use a running clock in the second half.
“So do you ask your players to miss shots or deliberately turn the ball over?” Broussard said. “No specific action was taken on our part to cause embarrassment. At the same time, it’s unfortunate it happened.”
Capici said Banks called him Wednesday to make sure he wasn’t mad about the outcome. Before hanging up, Banks asked him if he wanted to line up a game next season.
“Would I do it again?” Capici said. “Yeah.”