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Friday, October 31, 2014

Applying Ole Miss hoops logic to its beloved sport of baseball

COLUMN: The latest chapter of the ongoing Andy Kennedy saga will take place tonight when Ole Miss tries to avenge its recent “bad loss” to Texas A&M at home. As it stands, the Rebels are either on the very tip of the bubble or the very edge of the first teams out of the NCAA Tournament, depending on your preferred bracketologist.

Nothing’s changed in the sentiment among fans, and nothing really should — the consensus is that the Rebels have to make the dance for Kennedy to stay in Oxford. I’m not arguing that theory, in fact, on multiple occasions I’ve endorsed that.

But as the Diamond Rebs have started the 2013 season in a red-hot fashion, fan support has slowly trickled across campus to (eventually) sunny Swayze, where the undefeated start has the Ole Miss faithful already convinced that this could be the year Mike Bianco’s team finally breaks through and makes it to Omaha.

That’s a hope with little in the way of facts behind it, solely because conference play in the grueling, loaded SEC hasn’t begun. But it does make you think — if there’s such an absolute consensus to “make it or break it” for Kennedy, how come that opinion isn’t as widely held about Bianco and Omaha?

There are vast differences between the two sports, but in those differences there’s also a lopsided tally of advantages for Ole Miss baseball to be more successful than Ole Miss basketball.

Fact is, just as Kennedy has failed to find March Madness, so has Bianco and that little tournament in Nebraska.

But the NCAA Tournament is a 68-team field. The College World Series is just eight. I am aware. But we’re comparing a field of 68 to one of eight because that’s the standard that “Rebel Nation” has set. And isn’t Ole Miss now considered one of the best programs in the entire nation for college baseball?

Sure, because Bianco built it to be.

OK then — hence the higher standard. I’m guessing Gonzaga’s definition of a successful baseball team is one that merely make a NCAA Regional (if that), but hoops didn’t have a good year unless they’re in the Sweet 16.

And yes, Bianco built this current program to its current state, but he was also given a cathedral of a facility and a ton of fan support after he began hosting regionals. Ole Miss draws huge crowds that rank in the Top 10 nationally. It’s not hyperbolic to say Ole Miss is to baseball what UNC is to hoops or Alabama is to football.

Because they win! Basketball doesn’t!

Two things here: One, basketball wins. Compared to its pre-Kennedy existence (all of it), Rebel basketball wins a lot more than it loses, and does so with consistency. The current “embattled” coach is also now the program’s winningest one.

Second, I’ve got a theory, and while it hasn’t been proven I’d enjoy arguing it with any Rebel diehard: Ole Miss loves baseball for more than just baseball. It’s the perfect sport for a fan base so in love with its own pregame pomp and circumstance. You can tailgate during the actual event. Ole Miss would lead the nation in cricket attendance so long as it can bring coolers and wear sundresses.

Well it’s more fun!

I won’t try and argue that, but if you think basketball games aren’t inherently fun to attend, you’re not really a basketball fan. And you’re not really a part of a fan base that supports basketball then, are you? And if that’s the case, why demand the ouster of a coach who can’t make the NCAA Tournament if you’d rather be drinking in the outfield, anyway?

Toughest standard
So you’re proposing that if Ole Miss doesn’t get to Omaha again this season that you fire the architect of the program?

I’m not saying that, I’m simply applying the rubric given to Kennedy to Bianco. And that’s the point; at Ole Miss, basketball — the least funded, least supported and least fawned over of the “Big 3 Sports” — is held to the toughest standard of the three.

Kennedy’s made his bed. He’s done what he could, both for better and worse. I’m not lobbying for him or against him. I am, however, curious as to why that doesn’t apply to the Rebels and Omaha. (February 27, 2013, Page 7)

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