The original plan approved by the Board of Trustees in December accounted for two practice fields, one natural grass, one phony grass, to be built south of FIU Baseball Stadium and the Nature Preserve. But a boldface slip-out clause comes on Page 8 of the Jan. 6 facility program document in PDF form: "The Project will include consideration of lower cost, alternative sites, such as at or adjacent to the soccer stadium, Tamiami Park, etc."
Word on the information superhighway is the new site is over the Nature Preserve. That prompted this petition and a flurry of Tweets and Facebook posts saying, "NOOOOO!"
Curious about how FIU ranks among its Conference USA peers since moving from the Sun Belt Fun Belt in 2013, a curiosity prodded by several people inside and outside the athletic department asking the same thing, I did a little record hunting.
Now, obviously, the best answer to the above would be found by compiling the records of each CUSA school in each sport that FIU plays, weighting for things like missed conference tournaments, NCAA runs, conference tournament runs, individual brilliance (such as FIU's Meghan MacLaren tearing up the 2015 conference golf tournament). But all that would take up way too large a portion of whatever time I have left on this plane of existence. So, here's what I did:
I ranked the schools on overall and conference records since 2013 in football, men's basketball, women's basketball, baseball and then a wild card sport -- each school's best sport in which FIU also participates.
You play to win championships, so when ranking in conference play, the title winners eat first. When I assign point values later to determine an overall ranking, conference play will get greater weight. You get more credit for beating your peers than you do gorging on lesser punks.
I see the obvious flaws. With a relatively small sample size, one great or abysmal season can swing the results too hard in one direction. That's even more the case with schools that entered CUSA after the Great Sun Belt Migration of 2013 brought FIU, FAU, North Texas and Middle Tennessee State to the league. But, outside of Intelligent Benevolent Dictatorship, no perfect systems exist.
Here's the rankings for each sport:
1. Marshall – 33-8, three bowl wins
2. Western Kentucky – 20-7, two bowl wins.
3. Rice – 23-16, two bowl appearances, one win.
4. Louisiana Tech – 22-17, two bowl wins.
5. Middle Tennessee State -- 21-17, two bowl appearances.
6. Old Dominion – 11-13
7. North Texas -- 14-23, won one bowl game.
8. UTEP – 14-23, one bowl appearance
9. UTSA – 14-22 (ranked behind UTEP and North Texas despite a smidge better record because UTEP’s extra loss came in a bowl game and North Texas’ extra game was a bowl win).
10. Southern Mississippi – 13-25, one bowl appearance
11. FAU – 12-24
12. UAB – 8-16 (loses tiebreaker with FAU on, you know, the program being dead, then revived to two-season coma).
13. FIU – 10-26
14. Charlotte – 2-10
1. Marshall -- 20-4, one conference title
2. Western Kentucky -- 12-4, one conference title.
3. Rice – 15-9, one conference title.
4. Middle Tennessee State – 17-7
5. Louisiana Tech -- 16-8
6. UTSA – 12-12
7. Old Dominion – 7-9
8. Southern Mississippi – 9-15 (gets the tiebreaker over UTEP, North Texas and FAU based on a Conference USA West Division title.)
9. UTEP 9-15 (gets the tiebreaker over North Texas and FAU on combined head-to-head record)
10. North Texas -- 9-15 (head-to-head tiebreaker over FAU)
11. FAU -- 9-15
12. UAB – 5-11
13. FIU – 7-17
14. Charlotte – 0-8
MEN’S BASKETBALL OVERALL
1. Louisiana Tech – 68-19
2. UTEP – 55-27
3. Old Dominion – 53-32
4. Middle Tennessee State -- 51-31
5. UAB – 49-32
6. Western Kentucky -- 28-18
7. FIU – 38-40
8. North Texas 36-42
9. Charlotte – 17-28
10. Marshall – 27-52
11. UTSA – 25-50
12. Rice – 24-53
13. FAU – 21-53
14. Southern Mississippi – 41-36 (placed down here for two years of self-imposed postseason bans after fundamental NCAA violations, such as completing homework assignments for recruits).
MEN’S BASKETBALL CONFERENCE
1. UAB -- 20-15, one Conference USA title
2. Louisiana Tech – 31-6
3. UTEP -- 27-9
4. Western Kentucky -- 12-7
5. Old Dominion – 23-12
6. Middle Tennessee State – 22-13
7. FIU – 16-19
8. North Texas -- 17-21
9. Charlotte – 7-12
10. UTSA -- 13-23
11. Marshall – 12-23
12. Rice – 10-26
13. FAU – 7-27
14. Southern Mississippi -- 17-18 (See above)
WOMEN’S BASKETBALL OVERALL
1. Western Kentucky – 40-7
2. Middle Tennessee State – 60-20
3. Southern Mississippi – 60-22
4. UTEP – 52-25
5. UAB – 41-33
6. Old Dominion – 44-37
7. FAU -- 38-34
8. Marshall – 38-37
9. Charlotte – 22-22
10. UTSA – 34-40
11. Louisiana Tech – 33-42
12. Rice – 24-49
13. North Texas -- 23-48
14. FIU -- 20-54
WOMEN’S BASKETBALL CONFERENCE
1. Western Kentucky – 17-2, one conference title
2. Middle Tennessee State 30-5, one conference title
3. Southern Mississippi -- 27-8
4. Old Dominion -- 21-14
5. UTEP – 21-15
6. Charlotte – 10-9
7. UAB – 18-17
8. Louisiana Tech – 15-20
9. UTSA -- 15-21
10. FAU -- 14-21
11. Marshall -- 11-24
12. Rice – 11-25
13. North Texas -- 11-25
14. FIU – 6-29
1. Rice – 79-42, one NCAA at-large bid
2. Southern Mississippi – 71-43-1
3. FAU – 70-44, one NCAA at-large bid
4. UAB – 68-46
5. UTSA – 68-51
6. FIU – 66-51
7. Old Dominion – 63-54
8. Middle Tennessee State – 63-54
9. Western Kentucky – 24-28
10. Louisiana Tech – 40-62
11. Marshall – 40-63
12. Charlotte – 38-60-1
North Texas & UTEP – No team
1. Rice -- 45-15, one conference title
2. FIU – 29-31, one conference title
3. Southern Mississippi – 38-21
4. Middle Tennesse State – 37-24
5. UAB -- 35-25
6. FAU -- 33-26
7. UTSA -- 33-28
8. Old Dominion – 30-30
9. Marshall -- 22-37
10. Charlotte -- 21-38
11. Western Kentucky – 10-19
12. Louisiana Tech – 13-46
North Texas & UTEP – No team
WILD CARD SPORT
1. Western Kentucky – Volleyball. 62-10, 30-2 in conference, two conference tournament titles.
FIU senior center back Marie Egan got the Panthers only All-Conference USA nod, a First Team honor. Hey, that's a bump from last year's Second Team nod. Left back Lyrik Fryer made the All-Freshman team.
The Panthers' season ended 8-11, 4-6 in Conference USA play and outside the conference tournament (played this year at the FIU Soccer Slum) for the second consecutive year.
This week's attempt to get bodies to Charlotte-FIU at FIU Stadium, a noon kickoff forced by your friends at the American Sports Network, is a Salute to Hometown Heroes Day.
All active or retired military personnel and first response folks (fire department, police department, emergency medical personnel) will receive free admission for them and their entourages. Tickets can be picked up at the University Credit Box Office in the R. Kirk Landon Fieldhouse (that's a mouthful).
The military personnel and the first responders also will be asked to help form the tunnel through which the Panthers run onto Ocean Bank Field.
Tennis -- Friday, Saturday, Sunday, FIU Invitational. Like Adrian Peterson -- All Day.
Men's Soccer -- vs. New Mexico, Saturday, 7 p.m.
Volleyball -- vs. UTSA, Sunday, 1 p.m.
Volleyball, tied for fourth in the conference with Rice, North Texas and Florida Atlantic (which FIU beat at FAU), has a 7-4 Conference USA record and is close to clinching a spot in the conference tournament.
Women's soccer, on the other hand, needs more help than Grandma trying to put up the Christmas tree the years after Grandpa passed on as the Conference USA soccer season ends Friday and Saturday. FIU sits 10th with 12 points, two points behind UTEP and Middle Tennessee State, which sit tied in seventh and eighth. Eight teams make next week's FIU-hosted Conference USA tournament that's caused FIU to put a new coat of paint on the Soccer Stadium stands (sort of like when that Between AARP and Social Security aunt stops by the Walgreen's makeup counter before hitting the Bowl Bar on Friday night).
First, FIU (8-10, 4-5 in conference) needs to win against playing-for-pride Charlotte (6-11-1, 2-6-1) Friday night. A tie or a loss, dead, no tournament. That'll give FIU 15 points (3 points for a win, 1 or a tie, 0 for losing). Then, FIU needs ninth place Louisiana Tech needs to lose or tie against North Texas, which already clinched the regular season title. And Middle Tennessee State to beat UTEP in UTEP's season finale. That combination would do it right there. BUT...
If UTEP beats Middle Friday, then FIU needs to root for Old Dominion to keep Middle behind FIU (and, possibly, Old Dominion) in Sunday's season finale by beating Middle. Got that?
Tough position for FIU to be in after leaving for Western Kentucky and Marshall in a position to get into position. Two wins there and they would be within a lower rung team's loss of clinching a spot in the tournament. Instead, they lost 1-0 at Western in double overtime, 1-0 to Marshall, then, last Sunday, 2-0 to FAU on FIU's Seniors Day.
Takes a long time to get up the slide, not much time to come down. On the verge of following last year's stunning tournament miss with another miss, head coach Thomas Chestnutt. But unlike last year's team loaded with the kind of talented experience that begets conference title projections, this year's team came with the uncertainty of youth.
"Outside of a couple of results, I think we can be reasonably happy with our season," Chestnutt said. "We started out pretty well in the non-conference (portion), had a really tough non-conference schedule. I think we're in the top 40 in terms of opponents records. We've played some good quality teams and gotten some results. I think the last couple of games, we've lost our way in the offensive side of the game. We didn't create, didn't finish off situations we created.
"This team has in some ways has outpaced what we expected," he continued. "Not in terms of results, maybe, but in terms of their play. It's been pretty impressive. These things don't count, but, in terms of style of play, 500 passes a match -- we've never gotten close to that before. We've been there twice (this year) and we've been over 400 multiple times. The passing percentages are high -- well over 80 pct. That part of the game has gone really well.
"We knew we had no recognized goal scorer's coming into the season. So, we knew we'd have to make it by committee. That's worked to some degree. We've kind of fizzled out toward the end."
While lauding the leadership growth in the seniors and the performance improvement of sophomore defender Gaby Bovo, junior goalie Sophia Trujillo and others, Chestnutt also acknowledged, "Missing the tournament isn't acceptable for this program."
Today's last two FIU meets in Dual-A-Palooza, FIU vs. FAU at 10 a.m. and FIU vs. Hurricanes at 3 p.m., have been moved from the Biscayne Bay campus to Gulliver Prep, 6575 Kendall Drive, in the lovely suburb of Pinecrest.
Pool malfunction, says an FIU source. Will it be fixed by the next home meet, Nov. 6 and 7 vs. Illinois? "Hope so."
Anyway, when I talked to FIU swim & dive coach Randy Horner last week, he downplayed the significance of Friday's meet against Conference USA's second best swim team, Rice. Some of the events aren't regulation NCAA events, it's early in the season, etc.
Bet Horner still puts that 133-90 win against Rice, however, with the other feelgood wins on the shelf. On the FIU whole, that almost balances out women's soccer losing 1-0 in double overtime to Western Kentucky and volleyball losing in 3-2 (21-25, 25-21, 11-25, 25-17, 15-8) to Southern Mississippi.
Middle’s first two Conference USA seasons, the Blue Raiders averaged 240.1 rushing yards per conference game. Bunches of running backs coming into the game to steadily move the ball in 4 to 8-yard cracks. Now, with head coach Rick Stockstill's son, Brent, at quarterback, they throw it for over 300 yards per game, 307.2 to be exact over their first six games. The run game's getting only 3.5 yards per crack, 3.9 under my Real Rushing stat, which discounts quarterback sacks.
That's why Middle's thrown 10 more passes than they've run, 21 more subtracting sacks and kneeldowns. That's also why FIU's most worried about wide receivers Ed'Marques Batties, a fifth-year senior, and redshirt freshman Richie James, each of whom has 49 receptions. Expect a bubble screen bath from Middle and the usual Lawrence Welk Show of bubbles and 5-yard Stop-and-Pops from FIU, too. Safe passes, get elusive or strong players in space and see what happens.
If FIU uses 6-5 senior wide receiver Juwan Caesar, it would make sense to use his big body not only as a chain mover, but a people mover. Run the edges to his side, run bubble screens with him making the 3-or-30 block (the block that determines whether the play goes 3 yards or 30 yards). When FIU’s run bubbles using sophomore wide receiver Dennis Turner or sophomore Thomas Owens as the blocker, you can see the play’s potential right before the block gets shed and the receiver upended.
Middle’s defensive backs didn’t look good against Western. Yeah, I know, Western could make the Seahawks secondary look confused and pregnant. But tackling’s tackling. Or, rather, not tackling is not tackling, in the case of Middle. That's a problem when if you have to deal with El Dorados with acceleration like tight end Jonnu Smith, Ya'Keem Griner, Caesar and Thomas Owens.
As far as the defense Middle runs, FIU coach Ron Turner said, "Very similar to ours -- 4-3, quarters coverage, like a lot of people. They're fairly basic on first and second down, as most people are. But they've got a very good third down package that schematically presents a problem."
Middle's picked off 10 passes this season already. Could be some jumpy defensive backs, especially if they start to think they can time FIU's Stop-and-Pops. With some patience and time, quarterback Alex McGough could find himself with some receivers running relaxed through the secondary like a cigarette ad couple strolling by a country pond.
For what it's worth, this game’s at 11 a.m. Murfreesboro time. Middle looked sleepy for its 11 a.m. start against Western Kentucky last week. FIU had UTEP down for an afternoon nap by noon. Temperatures should be a little nippy for FIU, low 60s, but good football weather.
Both teams, on both sides of the ball, do their job in the red zone partially because both defend the run better than the pass. Both teams also have shown vulnerability to the big play. And I think we'll get several of those. As noted in today's advance story, things tend to get weird when FIU and Middle get together.
Middle's at home. Alabama, Vandy, Illinois and Western in-conference might make the Blue Boy Group a little more competition tempered than FIU.
Middle Tennessee State 30, FIU 24.
But that's one black man's opinion. I could be wrong.
Swimming & Diving -- Saturday vs. University of Miami, 4 p.m.
Men's Soccer -- Saturday vs. Old Dominion, 7 p.m.
Actually, let me open with women's soccer, which can clinch a spot in the Conference USA tournament this weekend. Wins at Western Kentucky and Marshall -- or a win at Western, a tie at Marshall, FAU ties or beats Western Sunday, Louisiana Tech doesn't win both weekend games (got that?) -- put the Panthers into the tournament they'll host Nov. 4-8.
Think that's not a big deal? Ask the nearest FIU softball player, forced to sit in the timeout of offseason while the 2015 Conference USA tournament teams played in her sandbox. Or the remaining women's soccer players from last year's very talented, very underachieving team that somehow didn't make the conference tournament. Or volleyball. Or men's soccer. Or women's basketball.
(Boy, it really was Big Enchilada In or Big Enchilada Out for FIU last year as far as last year's Conference USA tournaments/meets, huh?)
Conference USA's Sexy Seven. Not much movement at the top, but this weekend could make things interesting.
1. Western Kentucky (5-1, 3-0 in conference play): Is North Texas adding a third digit to the visitor's side of the scoreboard for Thursday's game? This weekend: If I have to tell you, you're not paying attention and I'm not coddling that.
2. Marshall (5-1, 2-0): Responded to the challenge by a good Southern Mississippi team by giving them what for, 31-10. This weekend: at FAU.
3. Louisiana Tech (4-2, 2-1): That three-point win over UTSA looked much harder than it should have been. This weekend: at Mississippi State.
4. Middle Tennessee State (2-4, 1-1): The Blue Raiders defense Floundered against Western. (Capitalization intentional. It reminded me of Flounder throwing up on Dean Wormer.). By the way, check out this story on Middle's No. 2 rusher Jeremiah Bryson. This weekend: vs. FIU.
5. FIU (3-3, 1-1): The only team that's kept La Tech under 30 leads the conference in red zone offense, red zone defense and rarely turns the ball over. This weekend: at Middle.
6. Rice (3-3, 2-1): See Louisiana Tech, sub "one-point" for "three-point" and "FAU" for "UTSA." This weekend: Bye.
7. Southern Miss (3-3, 1-1): Todd Monken said it's time for this team to make a move. This weekend: hosting UTSA.
Let's talk bowls and bowl possibilities for FIU.
Nobody's saying FIU can't go to Marshall and win. And, maybe FIU's got the big play defense to fence with the swashbucklers at Western just as Western's offense made it the Metallo to Marshall's Superman last year.
The most likely results, however, land FIU at six or seven wins, the swing game being Middle on Saturday. Breaking down the schedule, it looks like it'll be a perfect fit -- seven bowl-eligible brides for seven bowl brothers. So, which bowl's bed gets FIU? Going chronologically...
Gildan New Mexico Bowl, Dec. 19: This is where UTEP went last year. Rice is the closest. FIU going here makes no sense.
R&L Carriers New Orleans Bowl, Dec. 19: Savvy sportswriters covering games at Southern Miss fly into New Orleans the night before and drive to Hattiesburg on game day. This is Southern Miss all the way.
Miami Beach Bowl, Dec. 21: I wish. But, no.
Last year's Miami Beach Bowl broadcast came back from commercial break to another establishing shot showing a December-chilled nation our sunny Miami home. A bowl suit and I pointed at the screen and laughed, "That's why this game exists!"
To an even greater degree than most bowls, the Miami Beach Bowl's about promoting tourism in our tourism-and-real estate-based ponzi scheme economy. Which means, if at all possible, the bowl wants two teams from out of town to bring their fans to Miami in December. They want two teams from out of town to bring their fan eyeballs to the broadcast, so those eyeballs' owners can see those establishing shots (mini-commercials) and say, "I'm tired of change of seasons."
Also, after last year's shootout-and-brawl between Memphis and BYU, they'll want a team that can help with at least the shootout part. Hello, Western Kentucky.
Popeyes Bahamas Bowl, Dec. 24: Got your passports? Might want to get them ready just in case. This tourism-based bowl would welcome a school a short plane hop away. I'm not sure FIU would welcome the expense compared to the other leading option...
St. Petersburg Bowl, Dec. 26: The game called the Beef O'Brady's Bowl when FIU met Marshall in 2011 could invite FIU back. Of the seven previous incarnations of this bowl, five have featured a Florida school. Cheap for FIU, an easy gameday drive for fans the day after Christmas.
Zaxby's Heart of Dallas Bowl, Dec. 26: You fly into Shreveport when you go to La Tech and get on Interstate 20 East. The sign for I-20 West says "Dallas." Which is why La Tech went there last year and probably will again this year.
Arizona Bowl, Dec. 29: The first year of anything means all kinds of problems. There were problems in the Bahamas Bowl last year. The Miami Beach Bowl brawl doesn't happen if Memphis' doesn't have to run through the BYU bench to get to its fan section. Bet that'll be changed this year. Rice has more juice in the conference than Middle, so the Blue Raiders could wind up the guinea pig team.
Put up a hat trick in a conference game, you'll probably be in line for conference offensive player of the week if you do anything more than navel cleaning the second game. So, when FIU junior Luis Betancur followed up his hat trick in the No. 24 Panthers' 7-2 scorching of FAU with a goal in Friday's 5-1 stomping of Marshall, Conference USA could've started doing the press release.
Conference USA's Offensive Player of the Week for women's soccer split her scoring evenly. Fifth-year senior Scarlet Montoya picked up one goal and one assist in each of FIU's wins last week, 3-1 over UTSA and 3-2 over UTEP. She stuck in free kick for the last minute game winner against UTEP.
FIU and UMass opened with FIU a 3.5-point favorite for next Saturday's football game in Amherst, but swung to Pick 'Em by Sunday night and is now UMass by 3.5.
So FIU's played at its mid-state parallel as far as campus, size, etc (Central Florida); in the quintessential Middle America college town (Bloomington); a textbook Southern town/region crazy about its mid-major college (Shreveport-Ruston); and now go to the quintessential New England college town (Amherst).
The remaining trips are to Murfreesboro (read: Nashville until time to go to the game) and Huntington, West Virginia (college town in the sticks).
Good weekend for Thomas Chestnutt's team, taking out travel partners Texas-San Antonio and UTEP, the latter on a last minute goal by senior Scarlet Montoya. FIU's 6-5, 2-0 in Conference USA with Rice and North Texas coming next weekend.
Volleyball -- Thursday vs. Bethune-Cookman, 1 p.m.
Volleyball -- Thursday vs. Central Florida, 7 p.m.
Women's Soccer -- Friday vs. UC-Irvine, 7 p.m.
Volleyball -- Friday vs. Seattle, 7 p.m.
Football -- Saturday vs. North Carolina-Central, 6 p.m.
Volleyball -- Sunday vs. FAU, 1 p.m.
Women's Soccer -- Sunday vs. Florida, 1 p,m.
The men's soccer team took care of an Ivy League quinella over the weekend, dumping Penn and Princeton to stretch their winning streak to four games. The 4-2 Panthers impressed enough folks to move up to just outside the National Soccer Coaches Association of America Top 25, 27th with 29 voting points. FIU's two losses were on the season-opening road trip to No. 3 North Carolina and No. 7 Wake Forest.
On a weekend during which senior Lucia Castro surpassed 1,000 career kills, volleyball won the Stetson Invitational with wins against Stetson (3-2) and Mercer (3-0). Senior Gloria Levorin slammed 19 kills and made 11 blocks for the 6-2 Panthers.
Thursday and Friday's Panther Invite features FIU in three matches over two days, timed perfectly for skipping class or taking in an athletic contest before starting the weekend.
Women's soccer -- Friday vs. North Florida, 7 p.m.
Men's soccer -- Saturday vs. Princeton, 7 p.m.
The opening lines, out of Vegas and the offshore sites, installed FIU as a 7.5-point underdog to Indiana. The Hoosiers struggled to beat FCS foe Southern Illinois at home after game-time suspensions of nine players, most of them on defense.
Still, that seems a strangely large line for favoring IU or putting FIU as an underdog.
As I watched the replay of Thursday's game, I realize forgot to address the two-point conversions in the postgame blog.
The second two-point conversion try, well, yeah -- 15-14 to 16-14, so what? You still lose on a field goal and you're a touchdown behind if you give up a touchdown. Might as well go for 17-14.
As for the first, during the game, I thought, "Oooo, just take the point." Later, though, the logic came clear. It wasn't about momentum, but math and cold-eyed reality.
After Alex Gardner's 7-yard run pulled FIU to 14-9, each team had allowed one real touchdown drive in two-plus quarters. UCF got a quick, 26-yard touchdown drive off the Alex Gardner fumble. You should hope you'll reach the end zone again. You can believe you'll reach the end zone again. But you have to know there's a decent probability you won't reach the end zone again.
A customary conversion still leaves FIU needing a touchdown to avoid defeat. Getting two would've left FIU just a field goal short of tying the game. The two teams allowed only one more score, as it turned out (that it was an FIU touchdown is immaterial -- we're talking about what the coaching staff knows at that moment in the third quarter).
Going for two at 14-9 describes greedy if you're in the first half of a game where points flow at a normal pace. But in the situation facing FIU, the Panthers made a smart move.
Alex Lamars, a National Weather Service meteorologist, updated his College Football Climatology for 2015.
The two FBS schools in Miami-Dade County tie for second in Average Rainfall from September to November and fifth in Most Rainy Days from September to November. To find the leader in both those categories you have to go all the way north...to FAU.
After two almosts in ACC country last weekend, the men's soccer team rebounded with two wins this weekend. Sunday, FIU went over to Deland and put DeFoot into Stetson's DeBooty 3-0. Brad Fountain, Santiago Patino, who assisted on Fountain's goal, and Jamar Campion-Hinds scored for the 2-2 Panthers
The women (2-3) got it done late again. Madlen Weinhardt, who assisted on the overtime game-winner in the season opener, struck in the 81st minute to give FIU a 1-0 win against Miami of Ohio.
Men's soccer -- Thursday vs. Fairfield, 7 p.m. (way to coordinate)
To be fair, the title fits only two out of three from the last football-free weekend until after Thanksgiving. Volleyball's pair of 3-0 wins Saturday over Alabama A&M and South Florida pushed them to 2-1, a nice rebound from Friday's 3-1 loss to North Florida.
Men's soccer is 0-2 after a weekend in the Carolinas but could feel more gold than blue. The Panthers played No. 5 North Carolina and almost-ranked Wake Forest, from the best soccer conference in the country, on even terms.
The Tar Heels held a statistical edge on FIU, but the game remained scoreless until a penalty kick in the 82nd minute when Marvin Hezel got convicted on a hand ball charge. The Tar Heels buried the penalty kick, of course for a 1-0 win. Sunday, FIU took a 1-0 lead on Wake Forest, fell behind 3-1 before losing 3-2. Coach Scott Calabrese said he'd learn a lot about his team quickly. He learned they can go iris-to-iris with top notch ACC teams, even if the Panthers blinked first.
Women's soccer played Central Florida on even terms, at least in the second half. But that's also when an FIU defender bounced off UCF's Ashley Spivey, allowing Spivey the space to take a step to the right and bury a gorgeous shot into the far upper corner in the 55th minute.
Freshman defender Lyrik Fryer showed some wonderful dribbling skill, the type that allows her to beat an opponent two or three times, although once and on your way does the job. FIU's best scoring chances came from junior Alyssa Robinson, who put one shot over the net and eschewed another shot from scoring range for a pass that went awry.
Like the men, the women fell just short of a good, nationally-respected opponent.
The first team marching into its stadium (heh-heh) in this year's parade of FIU sports is, as usual, women's soccer. The team does so not draped in its customary attire of glossy official expectation but rather the plain, unfinished garments of apparent rebuilding.
So what? Recent years' glittery preseason clothes made of great expectations looked terribly out of place on the Panthers' heartbroken Miss Havishams the last few years. Since the 2011 Sun Belt Conference title, FIU lost the 2012 Sun Belt Conference championship game to a North Texas team to which they felt clearly better; lost key players in the front and the back early in 2013; then failed to make the 2014 Conference USA tournament despite what coach Thomas Chestnutt called, "The best team, the most talented team we've had."
In fact, for what little he cares for such projections, Chestnutt sees FIU being picked sixth by Conference USA coaches as something of a compliment. He figures if you finish 10th and lose two of the top scorers in school history, Chelsea Leiva and Ashleigh Shim, and still get picked sixth, "I guess the rest of the conference thinks highly of us."
Fifth-year senior defender Nikki Rios said, "I think we'll be a really big force to be reckoned with this year and I don't think anybody's expecting it. We didn't perform to our best abilities (in 2014) and we're predicted sixth this year. Everybody's saying, 'They've got a lot of new players, they've lost their experience, they're only going to go down from here.' That's not the case at all. We're just going to go up from here because we're so willing to win and win that ring this year. And it's (the Conference USA tournament) on our home turf this year."
Rios said she told teammates and coaches, "Marie, me and Scarlet Montoya are the three fifth-year seniors and we're not leaving without a ring on our finger."
Reminded she was a freshman on the 2011 Sun Belt Conference champions, Rios said, "Marie and I were hurt that year, so we don't really count it as our own."
"Marie," by the way, is defender Marie Egan, Second Team All-Conference USA in 2014 and the lone Panther voted to the preseason all-conference team.
"I don't think I've ever wanted to win this ring more," Egan said.
In addition to the intangible of want-to, the similarly amorphous quality of "chemistry" gets claimed by the Panthers.
"We did lose a lot of experienced players, but we did gain a lot of young new players who are willing to learn and work hard as soon as they came in," Rios said. "I think our chemistry is already building and it'll only get stronger."
Chestnutt said the 2014 team lacked accountability more than chemistry, but "You can have good character people, but they may not be able to hold each other accountable because there's chemistry lacking in the group."
FIU's 25-woman roster includes 10 freshmen plus junior goalkeeper Sophia Trujillo, a Gulliver graduate transferring back home from San Diego State. Chestnutt named defender Taylor Coffee (Pembroke Pines Flanagan); defender Jacqueline Manteas; midfielder Steffi Reischmann; and midfielder Jacqueline Byers among those freshmen who'll see the field often.
"Quite a few players in our new class will have a direct impact immediately," Chestnutt said. "If we're not having three freshmen contribute heavily, we're not doing a good enough job of recruiting."
They'll be the first ones at FIU to find out this year how well they've done recruiting and coaching.
The Las Vegas handicappers put FIU a 17-point underdog at UCF Sept. 3 with the over/under at 46.5.
Now, back to vacation. See you when classes start.
I asked Ron Turner who looked good among the receivers after a week of training camp. He named fifth-year senior Clinton Taylor, who works out of the slot; sophomore Dennis Turner ("he's picked it up"); looks-taller-than-6-1 sophomore Thomas Owens ("he's picked up where he was in the spring"); and Shawn Abrams.
Freshman Anthony Jones and junior college transfer Julian Williams "are progressing really well," according to Turner.
If I had to guess, on Sept. 3, UCF will see Taylor and Owens as the wideouts in the double-tight end set to open the game.
In talking to redshirt junior defensive lineman Imarjaye Albury for tomorrow's story on the cost of attendance stipend, I asked him what he would do differently if he had to go through his recruiting again.
"I would've taken all my visits, looked at all the schools that offered me a scholarship," Albury said. "I would've held every conversation with every coach. I would've looked at every aspect of a school, not just its name, how it is publicity-wise and TV-wise."
Today, as I went through my old Sports Illustrated's, I ran across the 1986 College and Pro Football Preview Issue. I read a story I somehow hadn't read before -- I used to truly go cover to cover with those SI previews -- written by just departed Pitt player Robert Schilken on life as a college football backup. Schilken, who played four years then entered Pitt's med school, wrote something similar to what Albury said to me about an hour later -- consider everything when you choose a school, not just football.
Football can go sideways on you.
The unofficial opening of the sports season -- FIU hosts the Hurricanes at 7 p.m. Thursday for a little preseason skirmish.
The women footballers also open the official athletic season a week from Friday against Dayton at FIU Soccer Stadium (ahem).
Coming off a disappointing 2014 season that ended short of making the Conference USA tournament, FIU's ranked sixth of 14 schools in the CUSA coaches' preseason poll. Senior defender Marie Egan is FIU's lone preseason all-conference player.
Rice came in atop the poll.
FIU's got an easier time filling FIU Stadium dates than filling FIU Stadium for the school's football team.
The FCS Bowl, an all-star game for FCS teams and historically black colleges, and the National Bowl, an all-star game for Division II and Division III players, will be at La Cage Sunday, Dec. 7. Tickets go on sale Nov. 10.
Desiring a location at least some fans can reach on foot or via Miami's adequate-for-1962 mass transit system and with minimal nose-picking along State Road 836 during rush hours, the David Beckham Group has now stated they prefer to build a stadium alongside Marlins Park. Many local politicos can now smile that they've bent the soccer bringers to their will somewhat and can now discuss the fringe benefits for the local powers-that-be.
Not that FIU athletics acted as if the MLS fantasy still had even a Law & Order episode's basis in reality. FIU athletic director Pete Garcia's been in Brazil a few times to get popular soccer club Flamengo for an exhibition game at FIU Stadium and keep the lines of communication open with the top muckety-mucks of Brazilian soccer. The national team's trained at FIU twice before friendlies at Sun Life Stadium.
Speaking of soccer, I'm still unclear on what the school plans to do about the embarrassment of FIU Soccer Stadium before the school hosts women's soccer's Conference USA tournament. According to some folks I spoke with this week, the grounds crew does a good job with the pitch. But nothing says "first class institution" to people from other schools like picking 35-year-old splinters out of their butts from stands that look bought second hand from an early 1900s minor league baseball park. And the banners ringing the field look better than bare fences yet don't fool anyone that they're above being lipstick on a pig (and I'm not saying which end of the pig).
The place is beneath the soccer programs and beneath FIU as a school.
But soccer games, indeed all games, on PantherVision should look better this year. FIU's hired Brian Duval as a dedicated video coordinator.
When Cindy Russo retired after seemingly a century as FIU women's basketball head coach, she already counted as something of a dinosaur -- a female head coach at FIU. The hiring of Marlin Chinn as her replacement cemented Russo's brontosaurus status.
This article puts FIU's dearth of female head coaches in perspective. Only 29 of the 138 schools with FBS football or Big East basketball have a lower percentage of women coaching women than FIU's 30 percent. Of the 10 women's sports at FIU, only three have female head coaches and the school's getting three sports for two women -- Rita Buck-Crockett is the head coach for volleyball and sand volleyball. Katarina Petrovic coaches the tennis team.
A case-by-case look at FIU's women's teams coaches reminded me of the 1980s Boston Celtics, which often included three white guys among five starters. The bombastic declarations that this melanin split demonstrated racism in the Celtics organization were countered with, "OK, who do you not want to start? Perennial All-Star Larry Bird, perennial All-Star Kevin McHale or Danny Ainge, for whom every NBA coach would find a spot?"
Similar situation among FIU's women's teams. Randy Horner's turned FIU's swimming and diving team from what one former swimmer called "a glorified high school team" into one of the best mid-major programs in the nation. Before the last two disappointing seasons, FIU's most consistent winners played soccer under the direction of Thomas Chestnutt. Joe Vogel coaches golf. That covers FIU's last three conference championship programs before the baseball team battered Conference USA into submission in May.
Softball coach Gator Rebhan came recommended by some of his current players. Track & field and cross country's Ryan Heberling ascended to head coach of both programs off convenience and his work with FIU's women's throwers, the strongest part of the track program in recent years. As has been noted here often, the women's teams consistently perform well academically despite so many FIU female athletes growing up with English as a second or third language.
In the overall athletic department, coaches who have shown progress but yet to prove definitively they can get it done consistently -- football's Ron Turner, men's basketball's Anthony Evans, men's soccer's Scott Calabrese -- occupy jobs women's coaches won't get as things stand now.
And that's the legitimate beef women's coaches and their advocates have with the steady stream of men into jobs coaching women's teams. Nobody's truly an equal opportunity employer.
Pat Summitt racked up 1,098 wins over 38 years as Tennessee's women's basketball coach. If you sat on a pile of her credentials and honors, you do your best Mongo Santamaria on Shaq's head. Handling the Tennessee program from the days when she had to drive the van and wash the uniforms herself, Summitt's knowledge of running a successful college basketball program is oceanic. Tennessee reportedly twice approached Summitt about coaching the men's team.
Yet, you never heard of, say, Louisiana Tech, nosing around Pat Summitt about coaching its men's hoop team. But Tyler Summitt with two years as an assistant at Marquette and 23 chromosomes from his mother gets the women's basketball job at La Tech, where all the coaches of women's teams have a Y chromosome.
Can you imagine one of Mike Krzyzewski's daughters doing two years as an assistant men's coach at Butler then applying to be the head coach at FIU? Can you imagine one of Mike Krzyzewski's daughters getting the chance even to be an assistant at Butler?
Though I'm a black man with a daughter, I don't get crazy about the gender/race role model thing. It's too limiting. There's too much to be learned from too many people of all skin tones and genitalia. And if nobody who looks like you has achieved something before, I say to that person what my mother used to say to me: "Guess you'll have to be the first."
But what about when you don't even get the chance to be the first? Because there's too much to be learned from diverse voices, the reduced volume of female coach voices matters at FIU and elsewhere.
As the baseball team practiced (with adidas bats -- more on that later), the 2013-14 Academic Progress Rate numbers dropped. Not literally, but in the modern popular music vernacular.
Terry McMillan's Waiting to Exhale concerned African-American women and early 1990s relationships, not APR. But, it does tend to describe FIU around this time of the year. It's entirely possible one of the breezes I felt at the baseball stadium today came from the department exhaling over an APR report without any red flags or even yellow flags.
Men's track (indoor and outdoor), women's track, volleyball, softball, golf, women's cross country each registered perfect single-year APRs of 1000. Golf owned the lone perfect multiyear APR.
Proving that bad APR falls somewhere between tires and herpes in durability, men's basketball came in with the lowest multiyear APR, 879. That's still represents progress from 858 in 2011-12 and 866 in 2012-13 and allows basketball to proceed penalty free for the first time since the Richard Pitino-coached season of 2012-13.
Women's basketball 995
Women's cross country 987
Men's cross country 977
Women's outdoor track 977
Women's indoor track 975
Swimming & Diving 973
Men's soccer 970
Women's soccer 969
Men's outdoor track 958
Men's indoor track 956
Men's Basketball 879
2013-14 Single Year APR
Men's indoor track 1000
Women's indoor track 1000
Women's outdoor track 1000
Men's outdoor track 1000
Women's cross country 1000
Women's soccer 979
Women's basketball 967
Swimming & Diving 962
Men's basketball 933
Men's Soccer 932
Businesses show love by showing material and money. As detailed here in the February post "Getting Dressed," the FIU athletic team Adidas loves most is baseball. No other program gets the amount of equipment under Adidas' agreement with FIU Athletics that baseball does. No other FIU head coach gets $4,000 of free product annually as FIU's baseball coach does.
According to Camp Mitch sources, baseball's love of its Adidas clothes and gear didn't extend to the bats. So FIU brought other brands along with Adidas to the plate throughout the season.
Apparently, somebody at Adidas noticed FIU's bat diversity as the Panthers battered Conference USA tournament opponents. That's not a problem unless there's a clause in the agreement between the school and the athletic wear company stating "each Sport...shall exclusively use or wear Adidas products whenever School's athletic teams are playing one of the Sports (including games and practice sessions)..." and that failure to do so constitutes a material breach of contract.
FIU swung Adidas bats at practice Wednesday and you can bet they'll do so this weekend in Coral Gables.
Of the 230 schools ranked, FIU placed 90th in total revenue ($28,104,962), 92nd in total expenses ($27,542,910), 16th in subsidy ($22,540,365) and 36th overall, second to Eastern Michigan among FBS football schools, in percentage of total revenue that comes from subsidies (80.2%).
Click here to see the current real world job of former FIU running back Darian Mallary.
If you're a full-time student-athlete and bring in a 3.75 grade point average, Conference USA honors you with the Commissioner's Academic Medal. FIU had 34 such athletes for the 2014-15 school year, 10th among full Conference USA member schools (Kentucky, South Carolina and New Mexico are in the league for men's soccer only.)
(Thought I posted this last night. Apparently, I only saved it. A face-down-on-the-keyboard mistake.)
A 3.0 GPA gets you on the Conference USA Commissioner's Honor Roll, which 172 FIU athletes have done this year. FIU ranks eighth most among Conference USA's full membership schools. That's an improvement after 154 and tied for 12th last year.
The names are submitted to the conference by the schools.
Baseball (16): Brandon Cody, Charles Cormier, Cody Crouse, Ian Exposito, Julius Gaines, Evan Holland, David Lee, Spencer Levine, Dominic LoBrutto, Carlos Lopez, Andres Nunez, Mitchell Robinson, Austin Rodriguez, Jack Schaaf, Eduardo Silva, Zack Soria.
Men's Basketball (3): Larry Dennis (Huh? He transferred to a junior college at midseason), Kris Gulley, Hassan Hussein.
Women's Basketball (13): Jade Cheek, Jerica Coley (Say what? Everybody's happy she's still around campus doing graduate work, but how is she counting for this year? Was somebody just throwing names in there to see if C-USA was paying attemtion?), Marita Davydova, Arielle Durant (Uh, director of basketball oerations this year, not a player), Katrina Epnere, Aajah Hawkins, Amari Hawkins, Zsofia Labady, Tynia McKinzie (dismissed from the team at midseason), Taylor Shade, Nikolina Todorovic, Ciera Wheatley, Brianna Wright.
Football (17): Chris Ayers, Richard Burrows, Christopher Cummins, Akil Dan-Fodio, Ricky Fernandez, Chris Flaig, Adrian Francois, Cody Hodgens, Yousif Khoury, Jose Laphitzondo, Fred Porter, Anthon Samuel, Donald Senat, Yohan Soares, Delmar Taylor, Scott Wade, Cory White.
Swimming & Diving (20): Klara Andersson, Sabrina Beaupre (she's been off the eligibility clock since the 2014 NCAA's), Jessica Chadwick, Jenny Deist, Nadia Farrugia, Valerie Inghels, Anna Jonsson, Lily Kaufmann, Maria Lopez, Jean Madison, Alex Mayhew, Melissa Moreno, Sonia Perez-Arau (oh, come on! the only C-USA swimmer to score at the 2014 NCAAs. Lazy times in ), Valeriia Popova, Rebecca Quensel, Silvia Scalia, Alaina Smith, Kayley Tepe, Courtney VanderSchaaf, Becky Wilde.
Volleyball: Lucia Castro, Tia Clay, Maria Coukolis, Briana Gogins, Gloria Levorin, Anja Licka, Natalie Martinez, Kristine Monforte, Kari Peterson, Jovanna Santamaria, Anabela Sataric, Tina Toghiyani (wait, she already got counted back at sand volleyball...)
Funny what you can learn sitting around the arena on a Friday afternoon.
Executive director for sports and entertainment Pete Garcia passed with Senior Associate ADs Julie Berg and Heath Glick and invited me along to look at the choice of new chairs for FIU Arena.
At least all the lower bowl chairs in the arena will be replaced. That's the "Bleacher Project" referred to in the pre-Miss Universe e-mail to Glick as "likely scrapped."
The other project mentioned as "likely scrapped" in that e-mail, the softball/golf locker room, should be started after FIU hosts Conference USA softball championships, according to Garcia and Berg. The new practice area for the track and field throwers, also part of the Women's Sports Initiative, should be done before the year's out. Garcia said a major upgrading of the baseball stadium will be coming in the next year or two.
A major donation should be announced soon that'll pay for the baseball stadium and arena seat replacement. The other projects should be covered under what's been collected for the Women's Sports Initiative.
Recently, I heard again from someone close to the situation, as I did last fall, that the long-awaited soccer/track stadium will become a reality once FIU takes over the Youth Fair land. Don't confuse this with any drive to get Major League Soccer as a temporary FIU tenant. This pitch would be for FIU and youth teams.
Considering the amount of time we've been waiting on this project, all skepticism until dirt gets disturbed is warranted.