bleedCrimson.net Interview With Don Ball

bleedCrimson.net interviewed retiring Aggie men's and women's tennis coach Don Ball and talked about his coaching career, changes he's seen at NM State during his tenure, some of his favorite memories and advice for kids wishing to have a career in coaching.

bleedCrimson.net: Congratulations on your retirement.
Don Ball: Thank you. I will definitely miss working with the teams but there's part of the job that's kind of a pain in the neck. The paperwork. That I won't miss a bit.

bc.net: How was collegiate tennis changed over the course of your coaching career?
DB: The game has changed some but it's probably changed less than NMSU. The rackets have definitely made an impact. You can hit the ball much harder with less effort and I think the men's game, the talent level near the top is pretty much the same as when I started. The talent level at the middle and the bottom is much better currently. That makes it really really difficult to recruit. When I first started out, as a mid-major we used to go after the international players on a regular basis because the best U.S. juniors had no interest in New Mexico State, or any mid-major but especially New Mexico. They didn't know where it was so they weren't too excited about coming here. So we ended up recruiting internationally to a pretty serious extent when we could. We either did in-state or internationally. For the first four or five years I was here, that was what we did. And as time went on, now the best schools in the country are going international and we still have trouble attracting U.S. kids. We have a pretty good network of recruiting and have kept our teams at a very high level.

NMSU has changed a lot and the program has changed a lot. When I got here I think each team had two scholarships. That's a lot under the NCAA limit which for the women is eight full and for the men is four and a half. So you can see that we played with one arm behind our back for at least eight or 10 years at the beginning of my career here. We've been very fortunate with McKinley Boston's arrival, we've ended up getting more and more money so that we're reasonably well funded. I'd say for a mid-major, we can't complain. We've been taken care of very well. Our facility is one of the best in the country and that was something we kind of fell into. I was in the right place in the right time and I talked to the right people and amazing things happened there.

That's the key thing. The facility has changed. When I got here we had 20 courts, 10 of them were a skateboard park basically and the other 10, it was a public facility. We were competing with everybody in Las Cruces for court time. They had the most play in town, there's no question about it. In two or three years I was able to get it a little more exclusive in the fact that we had a membership. We actually had a building built and we were able to monitor the courts on a full-time basis. We got more access for the students and faculty and of course for the teams and limited some of the outside play and those who did play had to pay. That was probably the biggest thing that happened. And as we went along there, students decided they needed more parking about five or six years ago. They wanted our tennis facility. That's another one of those deals that you can't pass up. When the students want to come in and buy your facility and build you a new one. And they did and we were real lucky on that deal. We were able to build 12 fantastic courts with lights and a building. It's easily one of the finest facilities in the country.  Continue Reading This Post >>

bleedCrimson.net Interview With WAC Commissioner Karl Benson

bleedCrimson.net: What are you, the University Presidents and ADs looking for in a university when looking at expansion, what are the core criteria, for example enrollment size, public or private institution, academic status (as we've seen with the Pac 10 and Big 10), and athletically are there certain sports do they need to field beyond the minimum requirement for Division I status?
Karl Benson: Conference affiliation is always going to be based on a combination of academic and athletic fit and I don't know if you can put more priority on one over the other. I think you also have to factor in geography and as we go through this next phase of identifying potential members of the WAC, we'll take into consideration all of those, the academics, the athletics, the geography, the demographics, the media value. All of those will be factored in.

bc.net: Are there any minimum requirements in any or all of those areas?
KB: The only current sports sponsorship requirements are men's and women's basketball, football and women's volleyball.  Continue Reading This Post >>

Vargas, Fernandez Take Over Aggie Tennis

Written By: NM State Athletic Dept.

LAS CRUCES, N.M. - New Mexico State Athletics Director Dr. McKinley Boston didn’t have far to search for the new tennis coaches. Longtime tennis assistant coaches Carlos Vargas and Ivan Fernandez are tasked with leading the Aggies following Don Ball’s retirement.

Vargas becomes the new men’s head coach after he spent the previous 19 seasons as an assistant while Fernandez is in charge as the women’s head coach following his eighth season with the Aggies.

“Being the head coach has always been my goal,” Vargas said. “I’m thankful to coach Ball for giving me the opportunity to work with him and turning my life passion of playing tennis into a coaching career. I’m looking forward to being in charge of the men’s team.”  Continue Reading This Post >>

The Daily Aggie :: 06/29/10 :: WAC Not Expanding For Now

The WAC released a statement just a little while ago stating that the league will not be expanding until at least July 1, 2012 and will play the 2011-2012 athletic season as an eight team league (football, men's and women's basketball, volleyball, etc...)

Here is the statement from the WAC:

"The WAC and its eight member schools remain well positioned for the future," said Benson. "Over the past few weeks, the WAC's Board of Directors and athletics directors have explored several membership options. We believe it is in the best interest of the WAC to operate as an eight-team league for the 2011-12 season. We will now take several months to 'drill down' on the various membership options before making any decisions that would impact the 2012-13 season."

"Throughout its history and since its inception in 1962, the WAC has operated very successfully as an 8-team, 9-team and 10-team league. Each of those models have their advantages and all will be looked at very closely. Also, a 12-team league that would allow the WAC to split into divisions and conduct a football championship game will be evaluated."

"The future for the WAC is very bright, and we will continue to provide our student-athletes with the opportunities to compete on both the regional and national stages in all of our sports."

Matt James of the Fresno Bee pointed out that Fresno State plays at Hawai'i in 2011, as do the Aggies. This is notable since with no expansion coming, that leaves an empty slot in the schedule and a non-conference game to fill it with. It also means that the Aggies (and Bulldogs and any other WAC team scheduled to play at Hawai'i in 2011) could potentially add two non-conference games since teams traveling to Hawai'i are granted a 13th game.

The Daily Aggie :: 06/27/10

It appears that all this conference shuffling is not just confined to the FBS conferences. According to a report in the Portales News-Tribune, the Lone Star Conference, a Division II conference that Eastern New Mexico, an occasional opponent for Aggie preseason exhibition games, appears on the verge of collapse as two universities, both in Oklahoma, have left the LSC and three others, also in Oklahoma, appear to be on the way out as well.

During ENMU’s Board of Regents meeting in Portales, Gamble said the Lone Star Conference is "unraveling before our eyes," and said the university may soon have to hunt for a new conference to call home.

According to the report, the cause for mass exodus is the increase in membership fees in the conference from $15,000 annually to $50,000 annually.

While $50,000 may seem like a trivial amount, it just illustrates the major differences between schools that participate at the Division III, Division II, FCS and FBS levels.

While we're on the subject of FBS schools, we shared an article on Fresno State's financial struggles as it relates to their athletic budget. Fresno State is apparently not the only WAC school having financial struggles. Chris Murray of the Reno Gazette-Journal reports that the Wolf Pack athletic department is facing a projected budget deficit of roughly $1.2 to $2 million dollars, though Nevada A.D. Cary Groth said that number has been since downsized to around $600K and $700K thanks to donation pledges. However, UNR's president estimates the projected deficit at around $1 million. Murray conducted a Q&A with Nevada's A.D. and discussed some of the things that Nevada is considering to reduce the deficit. Among those options being mulled is dropping a sport.

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Aggies’ Radio Broadcaster/PA Announcer Lorn Brown Passes Away

Written By: N.M. State Athletic Dept.

LAS CRUCES, N.M. – Lorn Brown, a part time radio broadcaster and PA announcer passed away this past week. Brown was a member of the NM State Athletics family for the several years, working as the radio broadcaster for Aggie women’s basketball games and PA announcer for Aggie softball games. One of Brown’s famous lines at NM State softball games was ‘Adios Amigo’ with every homerun the Aggies hit.
 
Brown was a sports broadcaster who worked for baseball's AAA Iowa Oaks (1973-74), the Chicago White Sox (1976-1979, 1983-1988), the Milwaukee Brewers (1980-1981), and the New York Mets (1982), among other jobs.
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Aggie Tennis Coach Don Ball Retires After 25 seasons At NM State

LAS CRUCES, N.M. - After 25 years at the helm of the New Mexico State men's and women's tennis programs, head coach Don Ball is retiring. As a staple of Aggie Athletics, Ball is the longest tenured coach in school history.

"NM State has afforded me a great opportunity, and hopefully, I have given them back as much or more," Ball said. "I think I have left the program a lot different, than when I got here with basically 10 pretty good courts. Now we have the finest facility in the WAC, and one of the finest in the country, and I would like to think I was a part of that, not all of that, but a good part of that."

Ball has coached over 1,100 dual matches in his illustrious career and has won 562 combined matches from his men’s and women’s teams. He came to New Mexico State in the fall of 1985 after serving as the head tennis professional at the El Paso Tennis Club in El Paso, Texas. Since taking over the Aggie tennis programs, his men’s squads have gone 274-280 (.495), while the women’s program has a 288-289 (.499) record under Ball’s guidance.

"I have two really, really good assistants that will jump in and take my place and I don't think we'll miss a beat," Ball said. "They might even be better than in the past and that's exciting. I want to see this (program) succeed, and I want to be a fan. I only see bigger and better things for the tennis program at NM State. I’m glad I was a part of it."  Continue Reading This Post >>

The Daily Aggie :: 06/22/10

We've talked quite a bit the past couple weeks about conference expansion and how it pertains to the WAC. One of the effects of the expansion/contraction of conferences is the financial aspect. George Hostetter and Daniel Lyght of the Fresno Bee report on some troubling news out of Fresno State (H/T to The Wiz of Odds). It appears the Bulldogs' athletic program is in some financial trouble, to the point where some (the article doesn't mention who those people are) are questioning Fresno State's future in Division I athletics. We'd be shocked if Fresno State dropped out of Division I, though, there is some recent precedent as the University of New Orleans' athletic program is dropping out of Division I to Division III starting in July of this year.

The Bulldogs' $18.84 million budget is projected to have a surplus of $11,000. One thing that will hurt all of the WAC schools could be the restructuring of the ESPN television contract. We talked about this a little bit in yesterday's Daily Aggie but the $4 million television contract with ESPN that begins this year could be worth less as ESPN has the right to renegotiate the contract because of Boise State's departure from the league.

The other thing that will hurt all of the athletic departments in the WAC is the potential loss of BCS payouts. According to a report earlier this year by Michael Smith of the Sports Business Journal, this year's BCS payouts to the "coalition conference (i.e. non-BCS) totalled $24 million.

"A total of $24 million is distributed among the Mountain West, WAC, Conference USA, MAC and Sun Belt. About $4.7 million is shared evenly, while the rest is paid based on a performance formula, agreed to by the five non-automatic qualifying conferences. The Mountain West gets $6 million because TCU was an automatic qualifier into the Fiesta Bowl, while the WAC gets $4.5 million for placing a second team from this group in the BCS."

Because of the performance formula, the WAC finished second in BCS payouts among the coalition conferences, however, when Boise State leaves the WAC next season, there is a distinct possibility that the league could drop below C-USA in the formula (it depends greatly on how the WAC performs on the field).

Last year was a good year for the coalition conferences in terms of BCS payouts because there were two teams, Boise State and TCU, that earned BCS bids. In 2006 when Boise State played in the Fiesta Bowl the payout to the five non-BCS leagues was $18 million which according to a USA Today report back in 2006, that was twice what the payout is normally.

If the WAC is unable to put a team in a BCS game after Boise State leaves next season, it could definitely put a damper on every WAC athletic budget. Teddy Feinberg of the Las Cruces Sun-News reported that the Aggies received $430,000 from the NCAA for Boise State's appearance in the Fiesta Bowl. That number could shrink to less than half if the WAC is unable to put another team in a BCS bowl and also keep their spot as the second best non-BCS football conference (according to the BCS performance metrics).

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The Daily Aggie :: 06/21/10

A few more journalist around the WAC have weighed in on what the future holds for the WAC. Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News blogged about a few possible replacements for Boise State. Among the options according to Wilner's conversation with a few of his sources are to stay at an eight team league, add one of the teams we've mentioned in our earlier posts and those being Montana, UC-Davis, Cal Poly, San Diego State (unlikely) or North Texas. It's interesting to note that North Texas turned down WAC membership back in 2005 when Utah State, Idaho and New Mexico State joined the league. We've also read elsewhere that North Texas is actually hoping for membership in Conference USA. Remember that UNT has already experienced the financial burden of having to travel to west when USU, Idaho and NM State were in the Sun Belt and their administration may not want to travel down that road again, particularly since they'd be adding the Hawai'i trip.

San Diego State is one we hadn't really seen mentioned much. It's hard to believe that SDSU would leave the Mountain West to join the WAC, particularly since the MWC will be a stronger football conference and has a better financial distribution from a television contract perspective, not to mention that the Mountain West has been a stronger men's basketball conference in the past few seasons. But here is Wilner's thinking on the subject:

"But I wonder if California State University boss Charlie Reed would consider such a move in order to make struggling SDSU more competitive and have all three of his FBS teams in the same league."

The other option that Wilner brings up is adding non-football playing schools which apparently Commissioner Benson is open to (which could potentially open the door for either Denver or Utah Valley).

Matt Hinton, aka Dr. Saturday, one of the most respected college football bloggers out there writes that everyone is a winner in the conference realignment... except the WAC.

Here's a telling excerpt from his guest recent appearance on the radio in Fresno:

"Take Fresno State. The Bulldogs, in spite of their consistently solid record over the last decade and hard-earned reputation as giant-killers, haven't won even a share of a conference championship in 13 years under coach Pat Hill. When I did a spot this morning on Fresno radio, though, the question wasn't "Can we finally win the WAC now that Boise's gone?" It was "Is there any chance we can get an invite to the Mountain West, too?""

Those thoughts only echo the sentiments from Nevada and Fresno State that we shared in Friday's Daily Aggie.

Finally adding insult to injury (or in this case potential financial injury to injury), Chad Crippe of the Idaho Statesman reports that ESPN has the right to renegotiate the new $4 million television contract with the WAC because of the departure of Boise State in 2011. While according to the article Benson states that that particular conversation with ESPN hasn't taken place yet, one would imagine that it will pretty soon. Boise State was, as the article states, the centerpiece for ESPN's WAC football coverage and as another writer mentioned, the national audience isn't tuning in late November to watch Idaho versus Utah State, they're tuning in to see Boise State.

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The Daily Aggie :: 06/18/10

It appears as though the conference expansion business has settled down for now. With Utah officially joining the Pac 10 yesterday, the Mountain West's Commissioner Craig Thompson stated in a press teleconference (as reported by Chris Murray of the Reno Gazette-Journal) that the league is not looking to add any more teams at this time.

“Our intention is to move forward for the 2011 season with a nine-member conference,” Thompson said.

“We are done. Parroting what fellow commissioners in the Pac-10 and Big 12 and to a degree in the Big 12, I think our endeavor in expansion is over for the time being.”

That is certainly good news for the WAC for the time being as it looks like they'll only have to replace Boise State, which in itself will still a major undertaking.

We would caution WAC fans to take Thompson's word with a grain of salt however. This is the same league that last Monday had a press conference stating that they would not be inviting Boise State to join the Mountain West, only to turn around and invite Boise State a few days later.

It's clear (at least to us) that Fresno State and Nevada wish to be the next two WAC teams to head to the Mountain West. Matt James of the Fresno Bee has some strong words for Fresno State supporters:

"The only realistic upward move for Fresno State is the MWC, and the only thing that matters to the MWC is becoming an automatic qualifier BCS conference.

For better and worse, it's a football world, and Fresno State needs to put its resources and efforts toward that team. Every coach and administrator on campus should be asking, "How can I make the football team better today?" Silly? Of course it is. But football pays the bills and eventually changes your department.

If that's not your vision, then become I-AA and move on."

Chris Murray of the Reno Gazette-Journal reports that Nevada was one of the teams that inquired about potential Mountain West membership.

Nevada was among the schools to express public interest in joining the MWC if a spot opened up in the league.

Wolf Pack athletic director Cary Groth said neither she nor UNR president Milton Glick ever contacted Thompson, but that she will continue to monitor future opportunities.

We're afraid it's just a matter of time before the WAC loses Fresno State and Nevada (and Louisiana Tech for geographical reasons).

Blue Ribbon Yearbook announced their Preseason All-WAC team and Davon House was named to the Preseason All-WAC team. The Blue Ribbon Yearbook folks predict that the Aggies will finish 8th in the league ahead of San Jose State.

On the subject of Aggie football, NM State is shooting for 9,000 season tickets to be sold this year. According to the Sun-News story, the Aggies have increased season ticket sales in each of the past two years from 5,499 in 2008 to 7,438 in 2009.

The Aggie football season ticket prices start at $44 which according to a report by Olin Buchanan of Yahoo! Sports and Rivals.com, only Florida International ($40), Western Kentucky ($30) and Kent State ($30) have cheaper starting price points for season tickets. Basically, Aggie football season tickets are one of the best deals in the entire country. (UNM's cheapest season ticket is $72 and UTEP's cheapest season ticket starts at $99).

Aggie fans who renew their season tickets before July 15th will receive a Pistol Pete bobblehead.

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