Follow Alamo Audible:
The final buzzer sounding just a split second before the game-winning shot left Japhet Medor’s hand was an unfortunately accurate symbol of just how tough UTSA’s men’s basketball season was. UTSA matched their disappointing 10-22 record from last season, earning just 14 wins against Division I opponents throughout the past two years. While newcomers such as DJ Richards, John Buggs III, and Japhet Medor out-performed expectations, the lack of depth and a rim protector made it difficult for the Roadrunners to compete for a full 40 minutes.
When the Roadrunners got bounced from the Conference USA tournament in the first round, speculation ran rampant that UTSA Athletic Director Lisa Campos would announce a change in direction in the program’s leadership. After all, Steve Henson’s buy out reduces to a meager $400,000 this month. While parting ways with a coach with a 32% winning percentage over the past two seasons would certainly be justifiable, Dr. Campos instead sent out the dreaded “letter of support” email to donors.
As someone whose formative memories as a UTSA fan include watching UTSA upset Iowa on the road, rushing the court at the Merrill Center when UTSA won the Southland tournament, and seeing Devin Gibson give Ohio State fits in the NCAA Tournament, it hurts me deeply to see the program so uncompetitive. It hurts even worse to feel my own apathy for the program, and see the same from my friends and fellow alumni. Because I enrolled at UTSA before the football program formed, UTSA basketball was my first love as a Roadrunner. But from a business standpoint, I certainly can appreciate the decision from Dr. Campos and Dr. Eighmy to allow Henson to coach out a lame duck season as his contract expires.
A $400k buyout is only part of the equation for UTSA’s administration. UTSA will need to at least double their head coaching salary to offer competitive pay in the American Athletic Conference. That’s a half million dollar operating expense increase before even discussing increasing assistant staff pay, bolstering the recruiting budget, and hiring additional support staffers.
As we covered in our last podcast, UTSA is continuing to invest heavily into the football program’s infrastructure as they hire support staffers left and right. The resource gap between UTSA and its AAC peers is quickly diminishing, which is great news for Jeff Traylor, but it makes the discrepancy in resources for the basketball program even more glaring.
Suspending a head coaching move for a year allows UTSA to complete their football operating expense upgrades before turning their money and attention to a similar increase on the basketball side. As UTSA continues to raise funds for RACE 2.0, it also provides the chance to break ground on a state-of-the-art facility for the basketball and volleyball teams, which will make it considerably easier for UTSA to attract high-quality candidates, as well as physically displaying a willingness to invest in the basketball program.
While all of that makes sense to me, what doesn’t make sense is the social media chatter declaring that UTSA and Roadrunners fans are essentially getting what they deserve. That the program isn’t able to afford a competitor. That fans are the cause of the program’s struggle because they’re not packing the Convo to see the team lose to Grambling State. That Henson is maximizing UTSA’s potential.
I’ll always be the first to admit that UTSA basketball has a fixed ceiling. The 48-year-old rusty roof of the Convocation Center is a perfect physical representation of that. Unfortunately the program has never been a consistent winner, has an extremely limited basketball culture, and the administration (rightly) will always be focused on developing the football program. Expecting UTSA to earn at-large bids to the NCAA Tournament or crack the Top 25 is completely off-base. But UTSA should receive a return equivalent to their investment. UTSA fans should be permitted hope. Neither are happening at the moment.
In my opinion, too much of the discussion around UTSA basketball is centered around the program’s ability to compete within their conference. An important measure for sure, but accepting UTSA’s place as one of the worst programs in Division I is completely repugnant. Is UTSA’s basketball budget near the bottom of C-USA/AAC? Yep. Is the Convo one of the worst arenas in UTSA’s conference? Sure. But does that hold across all of Division I? Not a chance.
There are 352 programs in Division I. UTSA has ranked near the bottom in the KenPom rankings over the past two years, but the program’s expenses are just under the national average. You may be shocked to learn that at the level UTSA spends, the Roadrunners should expect to be as competitive as they were in Steve Henson’s best seasons every single year! In fact, Henson has only considerably outperformed expectations based on expenditures in a single season throughout his seven at UTSA.
To take this logic a step further, if UTSA fans feel that the current performance of the Roadrunners’ basketball program is meeting reasonable expectations, then they should be arguing for divestment in the program, as clearly the department’s expenditures are excessive in relation to desired output.
Perhaps that money would be better spent on programs like baseball, soccer, tennis, and golf, where the programs’ successes exceed the relative investment. UTSA could comfortably reduce men’s basketball spending by $1 million a year and still expect to return the same results as they have over the past two seasons. The Roadrunners are spending at a Murray State or Valparaiso level but receiving a product in line with Houston Baptist.
Perhaps one could argue that the program’s respectable expenses are diluted due to the poor state of the Convocation Center. It’s nice and convenient to point to the albatross that is the Convo as a simple explanation for the program’s bad fortune. Unfortunately such cut-and-dry explanations rarely hold water in reality. The truth is that a large percentage of programs (including highly successful ones) play in dumps that are just as bad, if not worse, than the Convo. The majority of the Great West Conference plays in facilities that are outclassed by 3A high school gyms in small towns across Texas. The examples of mid-major programs who have found great success despite playing in arenas comparable to the Convo are endless — FAU, Georgia State (before their new arena), Hofstra, Davidson, etc. Hell, look at what Nicholls State and Texas A&M Corpus Christi have accomplished in the Southland relative to UTSA in recent years.
The limitations around the program are real and need to be addressed. But hand-waving recent results as being in-line with expectations and budget expenditure is not rooted in data or reality, and is disrespectful to the UTSA community who have passionately loved this program for decades.
While UTSA may be a long way from collecting at-large bids to March Madness, accepting their current place within the bottom 15% of all Division I programs is not only harmful to the health of the men’s basketball program, it’s also harmful to the mission of the entire athletics department and the university of itself. If UTSA truly wants their athletics programs to serve as the “front porch” of the university and not just a social club then at minimum the output of the program should be in-line with current spending.
Want to see more or less content like this? Let us know with an upvote or downvote.
Share this post: