Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Presents & Presence

I'm going to get today's entry started with a shameless plug, then get into the hoops and such after that...here goes:

TEN DAYS until Christmas--and you still have time to get Big South gear from our online store. Visit BigSouthStore.com (or link from BigSouthSports.com) for more details. Yes, that would mean expedited shipping, but it can be done...if you're not feeling as time-sensitive, don't worry about Christmas delivery, just start thinking about Conference play for basketball rolling out as we bid 2010 farewell and work our way into 2011
. You'll want to look the part, so take advantage of the basketball jersey sale happening now at BigSouthStore.com through January 2nd.

I know I'm shilling here, but trust me--you're not going to find all this stuff for all these schools and the Big South Conference in one place anywhere else. This store, done in partnership with Advanced-Online, is the best selection the Big South has anywhere--or has ever had, for that matter, so pay a visit and pick up what you need for gifts, for games, for good times ahead. Enjoy!

Okay, okay, enough of that. Hopefully you sat through my little commercial and didn't just zap past it--I'm telling you, it's worth a look. Anyway....

We salute some of the Big South alums doing big things recently in the professional ranks:
-- Mike Tolbert (Coastal Carolina) of the Chargers, scoring TDs, blasting past people, and making himself more indispensable to San Diego every week.
-- Rashad Jennings (Liberty) of the Jaguars, taking one long distance for a score last week and getting more carries in the Jacksonville mix with superstar Maurice Jones-Drew.
-- Reggie Williams (VMI) of the Warriors, who has gone from last year's D-League call-up to this year's important role player and starter as needed for Golden State.
-- Dustin Johnson (Coastal) of the PGA, who has had an incredible year altogether, but just last week added a win in the Shark Shootout, paired with Ian Poulter in the scramble tournament.

Speaking of big-time success, how about Coastal Carolina getting a big overtime win against LSU in Baton Rouge? Yes, it's true, and the Big South can now claim a pair of SEC wins (Asheville-Auburn, Coastal-LSU), along with one in the ACC (Winthrop-Wake) this year. Fairly impressive, and hopefully something the Conference can build on for RPI purposes going forward. Meanwhile, where does USA Today get off referring to "tiny Coastal Carolina" in its write-up? Small, sure--all our schools would be compared to Louisiana State--but that word choice makes it sound a bit like a one-room schoolhouse, doesn't it? I would say all of our schools deserve a little better than that, but I'm at the Conference office, so it may be natural to get defensive on points of that type.

Okay, enough selling, enough ranting--I'm moving on...until next time: SHOUT -- out.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Hoops Time...& a Fall-Out Review

Ah, yes, let's tip this thing off for real today.
But, you say, "The season started weeks ago."
True.
Yet it's so hard to gauge what should be learned from a combination of road games against superior opposition and home games against weaker opponents. Sure, it's not ALL that, but it's generally the case that Big South teams spend a lot of time in November going out to major conference foes and bringing in lower level squads. The results are predictable, but not absolute: on the men's side, Asheville started out by beating Auburn and Winthrop knocked off Wake Forest, while on the women's side, there were some disappointing losses to very small visiting schools...let's not bother with those details, too depressing.

So why get excited now?
Because tonight (Thursday) there are four Big South Conference games for the men, with another five coming on Saturday. If you're wondering about the math, that's two games for eight members this week, with two teams only getting one game (CCU & CSU).

Yes, Conference games.
The unquestionable peer-to-peer measuring stick, when we'll be able to get a clearer picture of what we might expect down the road. Obviously the league schedule does not begin in earnest until we're ready to bid farewell to 2010 and swing into 2011, but the games of early December will count just as much, so they'd better be ready for them!

Here's the schedule:
Dec. 2nd...
Gardner-Webb at High Point,
PC at Liberty,
UNC Asheville at Radford,
Winthrop at VMI...I do like this one in particular--the "grind it out" defense of Winthrop and the "run and gun" offense of VMI--you figure something's gotta give...

Dec. 4th...
PC at VMI,
CSU at Coastal,
GWU at Radford,
Asheville at HPU,
Winthrop at Liberty.

From there, it's a couple light weeks to get through the month and the holidays, but get fired up again for New Year's Eve and the roller coaster ride that follows, with the full regular slate of Big South Conference games--and that applies to the women in January as well.

For those who live for the hoops side of things, this is the start of--as the song says--"the most wonderful time of the year."

If you're looking for more on the early part of the men's season, you can find our check-in with "Rush the Court" here.


RECAP TIME
Yes, so SHOUT has been quiet recently, but let's fix that and get caught up with a quick review of what the fall sports brought us this season...

Cross Country -- championship-wise, it was another sweep of the Men's & Women's Championships by the Liberty Flames. No one was surprised to see Liberty's Sam Chelanga run away with the individual title again for the Big South...just as you couldn't be too surprised to see Chelanga cross the line as the individual National Champion--a back-to-back winner of the NCAA title! Our congratulations and appreciation for Sam's accomplishments truly runneth over...he is simply the best. Factor in Josh McDougal's win in the event a few years ago and the Flames have produced three of the last four Men's Cross Country National Champions!

Women's Soccer -- would you believe a FIVE-way tie for the regular season title? Yeah, seriously. So tiebreakers sorted out the seeding among a pool of virtual equals, and when the dust settled, the High Point Panthers had made it as back-to-back Big South Champions (the highlight of which was the golden goal bicycle kick in the final by Jillie Johnston). HPU then fell to Maryland in the NCAA First Round.

Men's Soccer -- speaking of High Point, the men's squad for the Panthers roared through the year with a fast, high-scoring attack, going undefeated against Conference foes all the way to the Championship's final game...and that's when they got tripped up: Coastal Carolina took the title, downing HPU 3-1. Coastal then lost at Duke in the NCAA First Round.

Volleyball -- another tight battle through the season played its way into the Big South Championship, and the tournament had its own plot twists--this time favoring the Panthers in the final. High Point stunned top seed Liberty by rapidly sweeping the Flames in the final match. LU may have been exhausted from a five-setter over host Winthrop the night before, but whatever the reason, HPU is the survivor...and the final chapter there has not yet been written, as the Panthers play at Duke (them again?) on Friday to start NCAA play.

Football -- we've mentioned tiebreakers and twists from other sports, but football definitely had its share and then some. With the Big South's first-ever Automatic Qualification entry to the NCAA FCS Playoffs on the line, the whole year came down to the last two games on the last day of the regular season. Stony Brook and Liberty dominated Big South play out of the gate and lasted as undefeated most of the way...but Coastal Carolina found itself mid-season and started an amazing push. The Chants lost to SBU early, seemingly part of the tailor-made set-up for a clash between the Seawolves and the Flames in the end, but everything changed when Coastal Carolina upset Liberty later in the year.

Suddenly a very real possibility existed for a three-way tie at the top among those schools...all would share the regular season title, but who would get the AQ? If Liberty beat Stony Brook, the head-to-head match-ups would only lead in a circle (A beat B beat C beat A, etc.), so no winner...and comparing records against the remaining teams would also not matter, as they all beat everyone else...meaning that the tiebreaker would come down to fewest points allowed in Big South games, a test of relative defensive strength.

So to the final week we go, SBU seemingly holding all the cards--win and in, no ties to break...and even if they lost, they had a cushion of about 40 points in the tiebreaker. Get ready for the playoffs? The answer was a two-part resounding NO. First Coastal obliterated Charleston Southern 70-3 (interestingly enough, only the "3" matters, as it was irrelevant how many points Coastal scored on CSU...the whole point of the defensive tiebreaker was to attempt to avoid running up the score...tiny bit of irony there, as you'll see). In doing that, the Chants actually knocked Liberty out of the running for the AQ just as the Flames began their own game. How? Because LU entered the day four points behind CCU in the tiebreaker and CCU only surrendered three! Unless the Flames figured out how to put SBU in negative numbers, Liberty was already done. For Coastal, the issue became one of hoping for two more things: Liberty winning, and doing so with 42 or more points on the board. And again, all SBU needed was the win--making everything else immaterial. So what happened? Of course, the wild scenario played out--in a game breaking a number of offensive records (both for Liberty and the Big South), the Flames defeated Stony Brook 54-28 -- pandemonium!

Summing up: three teams shared the Big South Conference Football Championship, but when the tiebreakers sorted out the one team receiving the automatic bid, that went to Coastal Carolina. From there, the good news was that CCU got to host the opening game...the bad news was that the Chants fell 17-10 to Western Illinois (who will play next at App. State). Also unfortunate was that Liberty once again was denied an at-large bid to the playoffs. The Flames can claim all or part of four straight Big South titles now, but regrettably no trips to the postseason for all that success.

Okay, so those are the soap operas of the fall, wrapped up for you in one wordy package.
If you hadn't guessed by the mentions above, the fall Sasser Cup leader (standings for all sports) is High Point. HPU has never won the Sasser Cup, but the fall was certainly a good start. Liberty and Coastal (who have each won multiple Sasser Cups over the years) sit in second and third, so watch out, Panthers. That same 1-2-3 order held at the top of the rankings for the men's, women's, and overall standings.

OKAY, time now to ramp up your hoops attention, if you have not done so already.

Enjoy the games, and remember this thought: Thanksgiving should not be the only time for giving thanks, and Christmas should not be the only time for peace on earth and goodwill. Make the most of your holidays, everyone--may they be happy and safe for all. And Happy Hanukkah to those celebrating this week (it came early this year)!

That's all (that's plenty) for today...SHOUT--out!!!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Tricks, Treats, Titles

Happy Halloween weekend, SHOUT fans!

My goodness, just look around the Big South Conference right now--tricks and treats abound.
That's what happens in late October, as the fall sports engage in critical Conference play and approach their seasonal conclusions and championship tournaments--while the basketball machine begins to hum to life (IT'S ALIVE! IT'S ALIVE!)

Football? Got that...and no trick there--fans are getting treated to what was expected coming into the season: Liberty and Stony Brook on top. Neither of those squads would be forecast to stumble this week, but you never can tell with this bunch--"any given Saturday" and all that. The Flames and Seawolves have each begun Big South play 2-0 this year, and the conclusion-jumpers are already pointing to that late November clash in Lynchburg, when those teams could meet with a playoff berth on the line. Too early to call, but it could happen.

Volleyball? Yep, got that too--Liberty is on top as I write this, but the margin is small: Flames at 10-1, High Point Panthers at 9-2. Looks like those two could easily wind up as the top two seeds, but there are a couple more weeks of Conference play to sort that out...

Soccer? Two times over, of course...for the men, High Point has already clinched the regular season title, thanks to a double-overtime victory at Coastal Carolina this week. The Panthers have been ROLLING, mounting goal after goal on the way to a 7-0 Big South record. Meanwhile, the women's side is going to be a lot messier than that...not a treat for those trying to sort out tie-breakers: as of this morning, Winthrop is 6-1-1, with FOUR teams tied for second, just one game back, at 5-2-1...that's CSU, Coastal, Radford, and HPU. Yep. Messy.

CROSS COUNTRY????? So glad you asked! Men's & Women's Cross Country will be the first championship events of the season, kicking off the 2010-11 Big South Championships with a running start in Radford, VA. Liberty swept all the running sports a year ago and would appear to be the favorite yet again for this year's contest. So will the Flames burn brightest again--or can someone else "run away" with the title this year? We'll have the answer by early Saturday afternoon.

And...basketball? You bet. Practices have begun and preseason games are right around the corner. The seasons for both men and women tip off officially on Friday, November 12th, just two weeks away from right now. Lots of hoops fans have their countdowns running with anticipation for another great batch of thrills on the court, and with good reason.

So, is it the most wonderful time of year? Well, that's all about perspective of course, but you have to like what you're seeing out there right now.

That's your recap for today -- gotta run, folks -- and that's SHOUT -- out.

Friday, October 15, 2010

SHOUT in the Dark?

I know, trust me...what's the biggest blogging sin? For many folks, the answer is disappearing or coming and going on an irregular basis. You want to know the blog will be there, you want to know the info is dependable, and so on...and yes, I know that somehow it's been three weeks since the last SHOUT (starting to sound like Confession in here).

But we're here today...with some news to share, so let's try to hit some of the many goings-on in the Big South Conference...starting with perhaps WHY the SHOUT hasn't been making as many appearances lately. I'll preface this by saying it's an explanation--not an excuse.

Well, the truth is (if we peek behind the curtain here) the Big South Conference--while always growing in its general presence and strength of its membership--is still a small shop. Office-wise, there are eight full-time "permanent" employees and three annual interns who work full-time schedules and rotate out each year. Our Multimedia Department covers most of our website maintenance, all our video streaming administration, this blog, our Twitter/Facebook/YouTube outlets, along with the addition this year of handling our new fall programming lineup (Super 7, FLIPPED, Coach Camp)...plus various and sundry other tasks that involve the whole staff, like working championships, meetings, etc. And you'll know who to turn to if you have any issues or questions with this stuff, because that multimedia "department" is me.

It's been a wild fall this year and tricky to keep up at times. Fact is, I always want SHOUT to have some breathing room for fleshed-out thoughts and musings on what's going on. To impart the "quick hits", Twitter has become much more of the go-to source, and we're trying to meet demand in that micro-blogging environment, so short items wind up there. Video-centric items wind up with YouTube and Big South Network. Conversational topics seem to gravitate toward Facebook. SHOUT occupied all these roles when it began -- the quick breaking news, the video connection, the air of banter, but the rapid evolution of the internet has altered the working space.

This blog still has a role to play, but it takes time to make it work best, and time has been a precious commodity lately. One thing we definitely need to look at more seriously than in the past is the role and value of bringing guest bloggers into the space as well. So don't despair, SHOUT still loves you! We'll try to do a better job showing it in the weeks to come.

MOVING ON NOW...


This week was the Big South Basketball Media Day, with the release of the Preseason Polls (for men and for women), along with the the Preseason All-Conference Teams and Players of the Year (again for men and for women). All the coaches did interviews for a number of media outlets and talked up the upcoming season. For the record, Coastal Carolina got the preseason nod for the men and Liberty for the women, but these predictions are far from done deals by any stretch.

In men's hoops this year, five different teams got first place votes, so you can tell there is no true consensus ther
e. In women's hoops, Liberty has taken the vote in 13 of the last 14 years, and has most of the titles in those years to go along with that, but the team that pushed them to the wire is right there with them at Gardner-Webb, and there are lots of experienced players trying to win the tourney on their home court at High Point, so the Flames will be challenged.

If you want some additional thoughts on the men's side, check out the write-up at Rush the Court, submitted by yours truly, with some support info from the RTC staffers.

The football TV package is getting underway this weekend, with ESPN3.com coverage of Gardner-Webb at Charleston Southern. Yes, this one is a bit of a gray area--call it part of the trend toward "convergence" of internet and television. ESPN is asserting its E3 arm as a contender in event programming, and the Big South accepted that as part of its annual TV agreements. It's full TV-style production and gear, nothing scaled down, so it will be treated as TV even though it will be primarily on the internet. Of course, if spectacular things start happening, it could always get picked up by other parts of the ESPN family--another of the advantages of that association. Those two teams pushed to the end in a dramatic finish at Boiling Springs a year ago, and now it's on to Charleston for more. I'll be handling the play-by-play duties for the game, with Nate Ross as my partner and game analyst.

And for a bit of a different spin, the Big South is staging an event that does not directly involve any of its members, although it could benefit them: The Inaugural Big South 5K Road Race. If you're going to be anywhere near the Charlotte area for the morning of October 23rd, come join us at the Blakeney Shopping Center for a fun run going to a good cause. Proceeds will go toward a donation to area middle school athletics--programs in jeopardy at our schools. Some of the money will also go into a scholarship fund for Big South student athletes. How can you go wrong? Hey, get a whole team together. Full information can be found at www.bigsouth5k.racesonline.com.

Okay, enough for now--writing this is always fun, but work always calls me back...we'll have plenty more to SHOUT about in the near future, so stay tuned...and that's SHOUT--out.


Friday, September 24, 2010

Getting Better All the Time

Truth is, Friday consistently seems to be the best day of the week to get a SHOUT out there for everybody, but last week was a sick Friday so your resident SHOUTer was down for the count--sorry to miss one like that, but I'm back!

The Big South has been going through some interesting growth and development in recent times...nearly every member plus the Conference itself has seen online renovations in the form of key website redesigns -- the most recent ones to the party are Gardner-Webb and PC. If you haven't done so already, check out the all-new www.GWUSports.com and www.GoBlueHose.com now! It's okay, I'll wait...

Nice, huh?


Factor in the other web face-lifts seen pretty much everywhere else this year and you've got a pretty sleek online profile for the Big South Conference!

On top of that, we're seeing a growing trend for more schools to try their hands at supplementing the sites with more video production. Keep your eyes out for the efforts at Charleston Southern, High Point, and Winthrop, among others. I'm telling you, the difference between what's happening out there now and what was going on just a few short
years ago when there was resistance to the idea of streaming games and blank stares in reaction to the concept of additional video coverage...well, it's just staggering.

So much effort and initiative is out there now, and good work is being done. If you find yourself with a few minutes to kill sometime, do your own Big South "Web-O-Rama" like we do every so often here at SHOUT. Hit each member site and you'll see revised looks, fresh video, community stories, athlete profiles, new blogs and journals, and more every day. It really makes you proud to be part of the Conference.

Growth doesn't stop at clicks either--it extends to bricks, too. In athletic facilities, you have the remarkable upgrades performed at Liberty, the new baseball stadium at Gardner-Webb, construction proceeding at Asheville, and other projects on the books around the League. Turn from the athletic department for a moment and you see things like High Point University and its desired expansion from a growth campaign of $300 million to one of $2.1 BILLION over the next ten years.

Yeah, that's billion with a big "B" right on the front.
And yeah, that gets a "wow"...

The virtual homes are better, the physical facilities are better, the envisioned futures are better. The best part may be simply that it's all true and not just optimism on my part.

And while I'm feeling generous with the compliments, kudos to the NEW Online Store at BigSouthSports.com.
If you haven't taken a peek, give it a look--I think you'll be impressed with the variety and quality of merchandise for any chosen school and for the Conference itself. I speak from first-hand experience: I've ordered stuff for myself, and I've been pleased with the goods--and with the turnaround time. So a SHOUT-out to the Big South's new partner, Advanced-Online, for making the store bigger and better in every way!

Okay, that's enough gushing...let's just go out there and get some victories against those out-of-conference foes, okay??? Volleyball and men's soccer are already getting deeper into Conference play, which is exciting, but football and women's soccer are still getting some outside tests, so let's beat up on everybody else before we start beating up ourselves...

Enjoy the games! SHOUT...out.


Friday, September 10, 2010

Feeling Super Flipped at the Big South

Today I want to expand on a couple things I've referred to before with a little more detail, as I talk about bringing something new to the table this fall.

The Big South has been a pretty progressive collegiate conference when it comes to embracing technology and changing outlets for reaching out to fans. Obviously the website has been around for a long time now, although it's been through a number of updates over the years--the most recent and most positive
one coming early this year. That's still the fundamental core of the modern interaction with fans, friends, and followers, of course.

We're a few years into video streaming live events, growing the streaming arm (first "The EDGE" and now the Big South Network) to a robust 700+ events last year and planned again for this year. And not just games, but press conferences, media days, and other happenings Big South fans want to see.

Meanwhile, as that growth has been progressing, the social media/networking side of things has exploded from non-existence to an essential modern communication tool. The Big South branched out from its home site first with this blog 2.5 years ago, but in the year that
followed, the Conference found itself with a presence on YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook as well. In the more than 18 months of social media activity since then, the Big South has earned over 570 Facebook fans and nearly 750 Twitter followers, along with literally thousands of video views on YouTube.

So what would be next? With a jam-packed website, live video, social networking, and all the pieces and parts that interconnect those outlets, where would the Big South look now?

Turns out the answer is a little of the past and a little of the future. The Big South Network did what any self-respecting network has done for ages: announce its new fall line-up.

The massive game schedule is a given, and is assumed by all the Big South faithful, so that's not the "new" part here--no, we're talking about new programming: original "shows" on the BSN.

Viewers have the games and media activities, along with support programs like the BSN Viewers Guide, Royal Purple Round-Ups, and such, but what about original content designed for the Big South Network?

And that's my role, coming up with some of those answers--which direction would we go and how would we go about it? The concepts needed to be interesting enough to engage the viewers and valuable enough to get the critical participation from the member schools.


Commissioner Kyle Kallander felt a highlight program was essential, and everyone certainly agreed with that, which eventually gave birth to the "Big South Super 7"...after all, everybody does a top ten, right? So that's all part of the hook--a weekly show, therefore "the best seven plays from the last seven days", and not just one more top ten list. In two weeks, we've already seen some remarkable plays and players from football, soccer, and volleyball featured, with plenty more to come.

Two behind-the-scenes facts to share with you, dear SHOUT reader: one--we can't make the highlights from thin air, so the seven you see may not match the WOW of something you saw in person at a Big South event, but if the host school doesn't feed us the video, we have nothing to use...two--in addition to the hook of the alliterative "Super 7" and the tie to a show every seven days, the number was selected to confirm to the membership that, unlike many other things that are done here, not everyone was guaranteed equal footing--ten highlight slots for ten schools might have implied to some that there was a 1:1 correspondence, while starting with seven openings for ten members makes it clear that not all can make the cut.

Two editions of the Big South Super 7 have already appeared at BigSouthSports.com and at YouTube.com/BigSouthSports, so check them out to see what we're up to these days.

Also already into its season is "Big South FLIPPED: On Campus". I know, it may sound like there's a lot going on in that title, but there's a method to the madness. First off, all the program titles are going to have "Big South" in there for sure, because the branding of your content is important in a time with internet video bouncing all over the world. Next is the seemingly obvious part, with "FLIPPED" -- because we gave each member school a Flip camera to capture video for this effort, and the Flip has become shorthand for that immediate, first-person video experience. So why keep going with "On Campus"? Why not stop with FLIPPED? To leave no doubt: these stories would not be told from afar; these stories would come from the source; these stories would bring the viewer closer to the experiences and atmosphere surrounding the student-athletes, athletic programs, and campus environments.

Already we have seen some interesting images and experiences shared with us this way: the first stop on the Big South Back-to-School Tour at Liberty, the help from Buccaneer football players for move-in day at CSU, the fun with volleyball players interacting with students at UNC Asheville, plus a chance to join a road trip with Asheville men's soccer (hop on the bus to Kentucky). These editions are only the beginning of what should be a fun way to learn more about our student athletes and athletic programs.

The third new show has not yet made its first appearance, but should make its debut next week: "Big South Coach Camp". No, this will not be another one of the traditional coach shows as you've become familiar with over the years. "Coach Camp" will engage a different coach from one of our member schools each week, as they share a few observations on the team, on leadership, and other newsworthy topics from a personal perspective--and then wrap up with a simple tip or example for improving your own game or coaching techniques. We have high hopes for this one as well.

So each week, the Big South Network should provide...

--a healthy selection of live streaming competition (especially so on the weekends),
--solid support programming, such as the Round-Ups and Viewers Guides,
--and a weekly slate of original content.

Roughly speaking, you should see something like this for your fall sports calendar:
Monday-- all collected events from weekend competition archived for On Demand viewing,
Tuesday-- LIVE football coaches teleconference in the morning (archived in the afternoon), plus the "Best of Big South FLIPPED" compilation show from clips posted that week,
Wednesday-- BSN Viewers Guide goes live, Big South Super 7 gets posted,
Thursday-- Big South Coach Camp gets posted,
Friday/Saturday/Sunday-- our biggest days for live events.

What do you think? Personally, I think it should all be a lot of fun--but only if you watch, so be sure to keep up with the goings-on at the Big South Network. Plus of course we'd love it if you subscribed/liked/followed us in our various outlets:
www.BigSouthSports.com
www.Twitter.com/BigSouthSports
www.Facebook.com/BigSouthSports
www.YouTube.com/BigSouthSports

Lots of fun match-ups out there this week -- enjoy the games! SHOUT--out.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Football Football Football

Okay, it is finally time for the football fanatics to get their game on.

In fact, we've already started -- how about PC getting ESPN SportsCenter's Top Play for Thursday? Yeah, not just in the Top Ten, but the number one ranking for the day.
If you haven't seen it yet, try this link to ESPN Video.
There's a pretty good chance it will make this week's "Big South Super7"--more on that in a moment.

So you want to know a little bit more about what to expect, gridiron-wise?
Of course you do...

Here are the team-by-team preview capsules from BigSouthSports.com:
Liberty
Stony Brook
Coastal Carolina
Charleston Southern
Gardner-Webb
VMI
Presbyterian College

And here's where you'll get the Conference's notes for the week one games (link).

But hey, you say, I'm a REAL fanatic -- I need plenty more to go on for my football fix!

Okay, gotcha covered:

The 2010 Big South MEDIA GUIDE

This week's football coaches teleconference

This week's Royal Purple Round-Up

...and the mother ship for all possible things Big South Football, fresh off the assembly line for the 2010 season:
THE BIG SOUTH FOOTBALL MEDIA CENTER.

Whew -- that should be enough to get you connected & get going for Opening Weekend... at least I hope so.

As alluded to above, we have a new regular highlight package for you as part of our BSN fall programming. Be sure to check out our new feature on the Big South Network: the Big South Super7 -- here's a link to the first edition (since Blogger is fighting back on embedding the video here for you, darn it...)

Enjoy the games, everybody -- and have a fun/safe/happy Labor Day Weekend!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Of Shopping, Streaming, and Scoring

So much going on around here, I almost didn't get the chance to SHOUT about it!

First, let me get the shameless plugs out of the way, because we're all fired up about having a NEW Big South Online Store up and running. This site really does have the most apparel and merchandise for the Conference and its members that you can find in one location anywhere, which explains the excitement.

Anybody can do shirts and hats, but we start there and keep on going: backpacks, jackets, decals, jerseys, pens, umbrellas, etc. All with the logo of your favorite school from the Big South, or the logo of the Conference itself, of course. Many thanks go out to our merchandising partners at Advanced-Online.com for making the new Online Store possible.

Give it a look, do a little browsing, you'll probably find something you like!


Okay, so probably enough about the Big South Store already...let's move right along to the Big South Network and what's shaking for the fall...

Naturally we have the full array of live streaming events you've come to expect from the Big South Network: nearly 200 for the fall sports, with plenty of football, volleyball, and soccer (men's and women's) for everybody.

Beyond that, we'll still bring you the Royal Purple Round-Ups with host Matt Hogue, the weekly football teleconferences, and our guides to what's happening with the BSN.

But new this year, we'll have more specialty programming, with fresh video from our member schools: Big South Coach Camp, with short coaching interviews and insights, including tips from each week's coach on his/her sport...the Big South Super Seven, featuring "the best 7 plays from the last 7 days"--our very own weekly highlight show...and one we're really excited about (and one that's already started)--Big South "Flipped": On Campus.

We armed each of our schools with a Flip Camera and the instructions to find fresh happenings and learn new stories about the events on campus and around the athletic departments of their institutions. We want "Flipped" to take us inside our schools to see what's going on outside the field of play for our student-athletes and coaches. This is one show that could go in a million different directions, and we want to see where it takes us
!

Now let's get to the action...the fall season has begun, and although things seems to begin slowly, events will quickly accelerate to full speed.

Right now, women's soccer has most teams just a game or two into the young season, while at the same time, it's been exhibition play for men's soccer and volleyball. Those two sports join women's soccer and get into it for real within the next few days, and then football gets its turn in the spotlight, with PC in the first game for any Big South team this year (9/2 at WFU), and all the others kicking off with the first Saturday of play on 9/4.

If you look to the preseason polls for any guidance, here are the favorites going into the season:
Football -- Liberty
Volleyball -- Coastal Carolina
Men's Soccer -- High Point

Women's Soccer -- Liberty


Of course, those things have a way of changing, but that's where expectations are (according to coaches and media representatives, anyway).

Before I wrap up, a big SHOUT-out to former LU running back Samkon Gado for not only signing recently with the Titans, but then hitting the end zone twice on Monday Night Football for Tennessee in preseason play. Gado is one of about ten former Big South players in camps right now hoping to hang on through the cuts to make their respective NFL squads (familiar names like Thigpen, Teal, Simpson, Simpkins, and more). Good luck to you all!

It's "go" time now, so look for SHOUT to ramp back up for another big season ahead...and that's SHOUT--out.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Big Bid-ness

So Football Media Day is behind us, and the calendar page has turned to August...so grab onto whatever glimmers of summer you have left, because we are on the stretch run to the fall sports blitz now.

There were plenty of discussion points from the sessions last week in Charlotte for all our football members and attending media representatives, but the number one topic was clear: THE BID.

In case you've been ignoring the football talk thus far, this is the big turning point year for the Big South as a football conference: the season that the Conference champion is assured of a position in the FCS Playoffs. The Big South doesn't even have ten years under its belt when it comes to play on the gridiron and does not yet have the championship pedigrees established by some of its neighbors, but now a seat at the table is reserved for the Big South Conference Football Champion, and that is indeed a big deal.

Coastal Carolina snared an at-large berth a few years ago. More recently, Liberty has seen a couple of well-deserving squads get snubbed when the invites went out. In all, it's not much on which to hang one's helmet, but a new game begins now.

The coaches and players had a variety of reactions to the new scenario, but all echoed one sentiment--this will be good for the Big South Conference. That is to say, not just good for this year's teams, but in perpetuity. The new FCS playoff format includes 20 teams (up from 16), and for the first time, it's guaranteed that at least one will be from the Big South. Yes, read that carefully, I said "at least one"...it may seem like a leap of faith, and that may likely be true for year one, but with more teams involved and one team locked, it actually creates greater possibilities of an additional qualified at-large team making the field (like the scenario last year with Liberty & Stony Brook). A whole new line of thought, right?

Among the interesting takes on the new dynamic...
GWU Coach Steve Patton suggested this was a "put up or shut up" time for the Conference, that after years of working to get this qualifier, the Big South needs to demonstrate its worthiness.

CCU Coach David Bennett said that rivals wouldn't be able to use the lack of a bid against Big South teams anymore, but added that getting a game is just a step--that hosting a game would be the next rung on that ladder.
CSU Coach Jay Mills believed that it wouldn't change week-to-week readiness or emphasis for teams, but that the automatic bid would have a lot of impact on the thinking and preparations in the off-season.

LU Coach Danny Rocco assured us that the goals of his team were no different than ever--that the Conference title is always their main target, but that the validation of the playoffs would make it that much sweeter if reached.

And still more from all the coaches and players involved...you can hear them share their thoughts on the automatic bid and the season ahead, the preseason poll and All-Conference team, last year's results, and other stories of life on and off the field, with our Media Day video coverage. Right now you'll find the Media Luncheon speeches from all the coaches at the Big South YouTube page, plus the Streaming Interview Room sessions from each team on the Big South Network (on the "Press Box" channel). The Preseason Preview videos with team capsules and All-Conference team selections can be found in both locations!

If you're still looking for more once you've finished going through all that, don't worry, we collected more great sound from all our visiting coaches and players: thoughts on role models, leadership, and more--and we'll be revealing more of those interviews as we approach the season and progress toward the 2010 FCS Playoffs. Should be a fun year...

Many thanks to everyone from our football schools for making the Media Day event a success--the coaches, the players, the athletics directors, the sports information staffs, and also a special nod of gratitude for the football-hungry fans who have been following all the Big South developments. Blow the whistle--let's go! And that's SHOUT...out...

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Media Day Blitz

'Tis the season...for Football Media Days.

Surely you've seen the festivities working their way through college football lately--the monster-size conferences get the most attention for their events, but they definitely don't have an exclusive on such things.

This week the Big South stages its annual launch/gathering/showcase in Charlotte, and football fanatics throughout the Conference will get their fix as we go into the last month before teams begin play.

Here's what Thursday's 2010 Big South Football Media Day will bring:

--first off, meetings...in the morning, the football coaches will gather to go over issues, followed by a joint session of those coaches and their athletics directors;

--next up, lunch...with the morning sessions concluded, the focus turns to a banquet hall--but it's not just about the food;


--featured presentations...the centerpiece of the luncheon is the formal release of the Big South's Preseason Poll and All-Conference Team (as shared in a preview video produced last week...so I know all those answers already, but I can't share for another 24 hours, sorry)...PLUS the coaches will each get a brief opportunity to address the room and the preseason players of the year (offense/defense) will have short interviews on stage;

--free-for-all frenzy...okay, so it's not really all that frenzied, but a lot happens in the couple of hours after the luncheon's conclusion, with basically three rooms abuzz: the main media room, where individual outlets will all be collecting sports information materials and grabbing lots of interviews...the player interview room, where the Conference will ask questions of the team representatives for use during the season...and the streaming broadcast room, where Matt Hogue (fresh from leading the luncheon) will put questions to all the coaches and players for a FREE live video stream on the Big South Network...plus I expect plenty
of mingling and interviewing in the halls, too.

Catch the live stream if you can--and look for updates coming out on our Twitter and Facebook pages as well, where you can also submit YOUR questions for the coaches and players (and please do so -- we'd love to get the answers you're looking for).


And then sometime late in the afternoon, visitors will depart, the buzz will hush, and life will return to a semblance of normal.

But it will be different than the day before...

...because it will already be football season for those of us who have been waiting for it...(the less eager can try to hold out a few more weeks, but it won't be long now).

Let the games begin.
SHOUT -- out...

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

All Stars to Me

Today is the Major League Baseball All-Star Game, saluting many of the best active players in the sport. The roster even includes a former Big South player, which makes it all the more special. That said, it should be noted that while fame and talent are relative, everybody capable of playing pro ball is a "star" in his own right. And while that may sound broadly optimistic or simplistic, I feel there's more to it than that.

So before I dig deeper into the subject of the Big South in pro baseball, a few digressions:
--remember when this was really the "All-Star Break"? It was a chance for a collective breath from an unending wheel of games, and the only ones who lamented the gap were sportscasters seeking content. Now it seems like the wheel never stops.
--while not as diluted as the NFL Pro Bowl pool seems to get, the overall collection of players that winds up involved in the game often feels like less than the game's true elite, thanks to a combination of injuries (both real and perceived), the compulsion for including every team, and the desire to get as many players in the game as possible (which, at its worst, produced an extra-inning TIE once the benches were laid bare). Taken separately, these things may appear logical; combined, they can be less than ideal.
--determining the World Series home field advantage via an isolated game played months before and likely resolved by players not involved in the championship makes about as much sense as setting Fall Classic start times based on the number of runs scored on Opening Day...one has nothing to do with the other. Would you do it based on the Home Run Derby results? They're both exhibition contests, so what's the difference?

And as for the "star" question, I fall back on some things from my days working in minor league baseball. Try to remember that everybody you watch on these rosters was all-city/all-state/all-star/all-conference somewhere, that each of them was chosen over countless other players, and that all of them have survived multiple cuts to get to the level they are playing at--from the lowest of the minors to the pinnacle of being MLB All-Stars. Getting paid to play ball shows talent greater than most...and of course, getting recognized as one of the best of the best demonstrates exceptional abilities and true GAME. Anybody who can do this for a living has certainly earned a modicum of respect for his game...not necessarily adulation and mind-boggling riches, although those seem to come with the package anymore.

Therefore, I offer an open SHOUT-out to all the players who made their way up through the Big South to the professional ranks--guys like Liberty's Shawn Teufel, who went from this year's Conference Championship tournament to the Tigers organization--playing first with the Connecticut Tigers and now the West Michigan Whitecaps...guys like VMI's Michael Bowman, who got drafted from the Keydets two years ago and pitched in the AA All-Star Game last night...guys like UNC Asheville RHP Justin Schumer, who will get his shot now that he's signed a free agent deal with the Giants organization....and guys like Ty Wigginton, American League All-Star.

Wigginton, who played his college ball for the UNC Asheville Bulldogs, got the lone Baltimore roster spot on the AL squad. He's been traded and cut multiple times in his career, but keeps plugging away, now with his 5th big-league team. It's not surprising that at 32, he gets labels like "journeyman infielder," but just don't forget to include "All-Star" as well. Here's a great profile--including his college years--from the Baltimore Sun.

So catch the game, watch Wigginton when he gets in at some point, and enjoy a smile for a player who's had a wild ride in a successful career.

And yes, there are a great many more players from all our member teams throughout professional baseball, I was just picking a few examples of individuals at different points in their careers (so please don't hit me with "what about Kevin Slowey, or x, or y, or z...").

Before I go, here's a nod to some extra special All-Stars: our Big South Conference Scholar Athletes of the Year! Just announced today, these selections embody the full nature of what it means to be a "student-athlete"...and both are from Coastal Carolina University--male winner Austin Fleet (baseball) and female winner Jill Nyhof (volleyball). It's worth pointing out that the last time both winners came from the same school was just two years ago--and it was also CCU. Congratulations to both deserving recipients on a tremendous year in competition and in the classroom!

No better way to end it than that, so that's SHOUT--out.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Quick Hits for a Holiday Weekend

Gotta share this with you, if you haven't spotted it yet--VMI alum Tim Maypray puts his speed, vision, and reaction time in full effect to return a missed field goal for a touchdown over 120 yards (this is the CFL, after all)!!! Just one great moment from a 54-51 overtime thriller won by Maypray's Saskatchewan Roughriders on CFL opening night (July 1st).

His play is #4, about 1:18 into the video...



In other news for the Big South in the pro ranks, Art Parakhouski from Radford will play on the Boston Celtics' Summer League team, trying to work his way into an NBA job.




Great job, Tim...good luck, Art...and here's hoping everyone out there has a safe and enjoyable Independence Day/weekend holiday celebration ------SHOUT--out.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Transitions

Greetings, Big South friends, fans, family, and followers...Happy New Year!

Tonight marks an annual turning point--and I'm not talking about NBA free agency here.

With the end of June and the start of July, it's the functional transition point from one year's calendar to the next. For the Big South, we move from one fiscal year to the next, but it also represents a definable moment where "this year" becomes "last year" and "next year" becomes "this year"...or is that confusing?

By and large, it means we can do a little less looking back and a little more looking forward.
After all, July may be the thick of summer, but before the month is out we
will hit Big South Football Media Day. And once you're there, it's a full-tilt countdown to the season itself--for all the fall sports, really--and the whole thing is rolling again.

So there is plenty on the planning tables here...stepping up things for the Big South Network with an effort toward more original programming to support the huge number of live events that we will again have available...improving the interactive content quality through this blog, plus our main Facebook and Twitter pages, and possible additions to that social networking family...and of course an overall commitment to making our events and championships the best they can be, along with enthusiastic support for our branding and mission: Developing Leaders Through Athletics.


Some of you are bound to ask about our membership...no, no changes for this year (Texas wouldn't return our phone calls--we thought they were ready to move...and if you're new to SHOUT, that qualifies as wild sarcasm, so please don't take that kind of remark seriously).

In fact, Presbyterian College still has one more transition year for most sports--the final year of the NCAA's lengthy process. PC will be eligible again in its "fast-tracked" sports (softball and men's tennis), but any potential championships in other sports will have to wait another season. As for Campbell University, the Fighting Camels will play one more year in the Atlantic Sun before a welcome return to the Big South next year.


Put another way, no sports will have more than nine teams competing for titles this year (2010-11)...but next year (2011-12) we'll see plenty with eleven squads fighting for the crown.

Before we go, a nod from Big South SHOUT to the South Carolina Gamecocks for winning the College World Series and the NCAA Baseball Championship...USC has been waiting for that one a long time--and they had to go through the Myrtle Beach Super Regional and Coastal Carolina to get to Omaha. CCU played the Gamecocks tough in two games, but came up just short. In the end, we see how strong USC was, but that also speaks volumes for the kind of team the Chanticleers put on the field this past season. Good work by both teams!


Shameless plug time: Coastal Carolina 2010 Big South Baseball Champions shirts are still available through the Big South Online Store!!! If you haven't visited the new store yet, go give it a look. Expect big things there in the upcoming year as well...

That's my time, folks, you've been great--drive home safely. SHOUT--out...

Friday, June 18, 2010

Wrapping Up--or Starting Over?

Truth is (regarding the title question), it's a little of both...when a season draws to a close, it's easy to think of it in terms of reviews, wraps, and retrospectives--and there's always a need for that kind of thing--but it remains a fact of the modern athletics industry (collegiate or professional) that there is no longer an "off-season"...only PRE-season.

When we last left SHOUT at the previous post, we were in the thick of the Conference Baseball Championship Tournament. Since then, top-seeded Coastal Carolina did indeed take that title, albeit with somewhat more drama than an undefeated Big South season would imply. Liberty fought CCU for that crown, and although the Flames had a good overall record, they wound up on the outside of the NCAA bubble looking in...

As for the Chanticleers, they hosted the Myrtle Beach Regional, which saw the ouster of NC State, Stony Brook (our football associate member--hello, Seawolves!), and Coastal nemesis College of Charleston. The CCU-CoC duels wound up being wild rides with high scores, multiple ties, lead changes, extra innings, arguments, and more thrills. In the end, the Chants survived and kept their #4 national seed (a first for the Big South) alive into the Super Regionals to face another Palmetto State rival: South Carolina.

Many of you are aware, but here's the quick rehash so we're all on the same page: many years ago, Coastal was part of the USC system and was under that umbrella. The familiarity between the two led to a similarity between mascots and a sharing of team colors (since dispatched and replaced by CCU). The relationship shifted when the kids wanted to move out of the house, so to speak, as Coastal broke from the USC network and went on its own. Aside from the exceptionally rare forced/accidental pairing (not set scheduling), the two had not met in competition since. Voila, instant subtext for the Super Regional. Add in a little grousing from the Gamecock faithful on how ticket selling was handled, and you know you've got some bitterness off the field.

Meanwhile, on the field, you had two of the nation's top teams squaring off, and the match-up was indeed a quality one. The games had plenty of intrigue, as many of CCU's post-season efforts did. Unfortunately for Coastal, the "dream season" would end with a two-game exit against USC rather than with a trip to Omaha. A shame, really, but after all, it was still a tremendous season--and only eight squads get to make that trek to Rosenblatt Stadium.

But it's not ALL baseball, not with the conclusion to the Outdoor Track & Field season happening in grand fashion at the NCAA Championships in Eugene. Seven Big South student-athletes competed at the event, all doing their programs proud, but none more so than Liberty running star Sam Chelanga. The distance specialist dominated the 10K race to claim HIS SECOND NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP THIS YEAR (going with his individual title in cross country). Before coming back to Liberty, he had a shot at another giant win, but finished the meet with a runner-up finish in the 5K...so close and yet...

We naturally salute Chelanga for that feat and for being the Big South Conference Male Outdoor Track & Field Athlete of the Year, along with his female counterpart for the OTFAY honor: UNC Asheville's Natalie Pearson. Great seasons for both competitors and well-deserved honors also--so consider our SHOUT-out just the icing on the cake, okay?

Yeah, so there's the wrap-up...now what?

Well, since you asked...would you believe we're already more than halfway through June?
The month began with the annual Big South Spring Meetings, where lots of policy adjustments and decisions affecting the coming year are made. A number of other meetings dot the summer schedule, but the tent pole holding everything up between the end of one academic-athletic calendar and the next is Football Media Day. You may not believe it, but that's mere weeks from now, just over a month--on July 29th, and then it's full speed into fall sports...oh my...anyway, HAPPY FATHER'S DAY to all the Dads out there...SHOUT--out!

Friday, May 28, 2010

A Study in Contrast and the Sun Delay

Sorry for not having time to fire off a SHOUT yesterday from the Baseball Championship, but I'm back today with more to share...

Gotta share quick stories on the two games I worked Thursday on the Big South Network, doing play-by-play for the video stream. Talk about two fascinating and different ballgames...whew...

The 3pm game was Coastal Carolina vs. Radford, and it was all about the bats.
I've seen a lot of baseball in my day, but the 2nd inning for the Coastal hitters was an amazing sight. CCU sent 14 batters to the plate, and ten men scored! Felt like we saw one of everything in that frame, and we may well have. The hitting display was impressive, and quite demonstrative of how talented and aggressive the Chanticleers can be. They built a big lead but kept the foot on the throttle, expanding it as wide as they could for as long as they could.

So 10-0 after two and RU facing elimination...game over early?
Hardly.
No quit in the Highlanders: grand slam in the fourth, another four runs in the fifth, and surprise: it's 10-8 and a whole new ballgame for the final few innings.
In the end, it was 11-9 Coastal...the Chants stay unbeaten (both in the tourney and in overall Conference play this season), while the Highlanders hit the high road back home. Radford showed a lot of heart after getting blitzed up front in that game, but the hole was just too deep. A three-hour ballgame, it had 20 runs and 26 hits combined (making the result not unlike Radford's first game, a 10-8 loss to High Point: 18 runs and 24 hits).

So clear the decks and prep the field, it's time for the nightcap with Liberty and High Point...
Total opposite of the last game--no runs at all in the first five innings. The pitching showdown would theoretically been a quick game as well, but with so many deep counts, walks, hit batters, and the like, the game was methodical but not efficient time-wise. That said, the hits were scattered and the pitchers were largely in control of the game...which made the first run that much more ironic: bases-loaded hit-by-pitch, HPU runner comes in to score. Oh my.... So the 1-0 score lasts from the 6th to the 9th, and then the game changes again. The Panthers got the sought-after insurance run in the top of the frame, taking a 2-0 lead in a game with runs at a dear premium (as opposed to the scoring-in-bunches approach seen just before).

You wouldn't believe it...but here we are, bottom of the 9th--strikeout, 0-2 count on the second batter--single, HBP, HBP, and the BASES ARE LOADED, one out, bottom of the ninth...and PASSED BALL, run scores--two runners in scoring position with a one-run game!
Every minute that passed seemed to ramp up the drama another notch.
But the next two batters would go down--game over, 2-1 final, High Point defeats Liberty.

So two games with fascinating scripts, but different stories from start to finish.
That's baseball, folks.

One sidebar before I head back to the ballpark for today's action...
I've often said with regards to baseball (after several years working in the minor leagues), "Every time I think I've seen one of everything, I see something else." Well, Thursday night was one of those times. Early in the game, I witnessed my first "sun delay."
Yeah, you read it...not a rain delay or anything like that, but a sun delay.
You see, The Winthrop Ballpark is a wonderful facility, really it is...but it's not facing the right way, not in any traditional baseball sense, anyway. The setting sun shoots right into the face of the place--right at the hitters, the fans, the press box, etc. To counteract that problem, a huge wall was built in center field years ago as a super-sized batter's eye. Okay, but yesterday the angle was just right, and the sun hit the press box windows just right, causing a reflective glare that was fully in the face of a pitcher standing on the mound. And so we waited...for several minutes...while the sun slowly set...changing the angle in question...and moving the reflective glare away from the mound...eventually disappearing altogether. Strange but true--the story of the sun delay.

Back to the ballpark for me--enjoy the games, and have a wonderful Memorial Day Weekend everyone--get some family time and start your summer, catch the races, do what you do, but above all, remember what the holiday commemorates, okay? And with that in mind, a quick note for Saturday:
In honor of Memorial Day Weekend, all Military veterans and active members of the armed forces and national guard will be admitted free to Saturday's 1:00pm Big South Baseball Championship game at The Winthrop Ballpark. Immediate/accompanying family members will be admitted to the game for $5 each.

Sound good, don't you think? Stay safe, everybody...SHOUT--out!!!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Put Me In, Coach...

Another salute to proper punctuation: "Put me in, Coach" as opposed to "Put me in Coach"...the former would get you entered in a game, the latter would get you seated on a plane.

But all baseball fans recognize the familiar refrain of John Fogerty's "Centerfield," a classic homage to the love of the game. Things change, but there's always something about the game that inspires us, "The one constant throughout the years," as James Earl Jones calls baseball in his epic speech from "Field of Dreams."

The 2010 Royal Purple Big South Conference Baseball Championship began yesterday...that's a mouthful of words for one simple principle: baseball games that matter--a lot.

The first game between VMI and UNC Asheville played as scheduled, despite getting some mid-game showers, and despite a seemingly random glitch that kept some--but not all--streaming viewers from seeing the first few innings. That tech issue had me hopping with troubleshooting, not to mention hopping mad, but all was resolved in a fair amount of time. Meanwhile, the game itself rolled on, a well-fought contest with the Keydets coming out on top 7-4. For VMI, that means at least two more games in the season...for Asheville, it's all over: opening day is single-elimination play.

For the nightcap between Winthrop and Gardner-Webb, I got to put on the headset and take the play-by-play call for the Big South Network. Although I have done literally hundreds of baseball games, the majority on radio, but many on TV as well, it had actually been a while since I had the mic for baseball. In the past few months, I've been tapped to voice softball, swimming, track, and basketball, but no baseball this season, so I was looking forward to the opportunity to dust off some of the old ballgame patter.

I gotta say, it was fun--I've always enjoyed doing that. Every game follows a different script, so you never know what you're going to get. In this case, we got a game with some drama, as Winthrop got on the board and increased its lead slowly from one, to two, to four, before GWU even scored at all. The Runnin' Bulldogs made the most of the late innings, climbing within one and getting good hitters up in the ninth with a shot at changing the outcome. But Winthrop held off the charge 4-3, and the tournament-hosting Eagles punched a ticket to stay alive in their own ballpark for at least two more days. Gardner-Webb? Like Asheville, done.

The Wednesday lineup, about to begin as I post this SHOUT (not from the ballpark for now, but from an edit session for our Hall of Fame Banquet--I'm getting to the park later today): 11am - Coastal Carolina vs. VMI; 3pm - Liberty vs. Winthrop; 7pm - Radford vs. High Point. And again, all games can be found on the Big South Network at BigSouthSport.com. Enjoy! SHOUT (and Mark B.) -- out.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

PLAY BALL!

Fans in the Big South Conference certainly have plenty of events and athletes to get excited about throughout the year, with lots of successes and remarkable competitions to enjoy...but we also know that there are times when fan fever reaches a higher level--moments when even casual fans find themselves fired up for the sports drama to come.

Over the years, the Baseball Championship has been one of those benchmark events. This year should be no different, and it's time to take the field and get going: games one and two are tonight at Winthrop Ballpark for the 2010 Royal Purple Big South Conference Baseball Championship.

The headline story has to be top-seeded Coastal Carolina. The Chanticleers are justifiably ranked with the nation's elite teams. Their overall record is sensational; their Conference record is spotless: 25-0 in Big South play for 2010.

Seriously. Undefeated. Twenty-five wins.

CCU has an inside track on hosting an NCAA Regional--and a Super-Regional if they survive. Those games would all be played at BB&T Coastal Field (home of the Myrtle Beach Pelicans minor league team, and a very nice room to catch a game, right across from the Broadway at the Beach complex). The Chants have been knocking on the door to Omaha for years--does Coach Gary Gilmore have the right combination this time? I won't be the one to jinx anything (baseball is so superstitious), so I'll just say "all things are possible"...and now that the regular season is over, all eyes are on the various conference tournaments as teams are slotted into postseason roles.

But here's the thing...Coastal may be wearing the belt, but seven other participants are in the ring for this particular royal rumble. The top four seeds know they are in the main double-elimination bracket starting play on Wednesday: CCU, Liberty, Radford, and High Point. The next four teams have to play their way into that phase of the competition, with single-elimination play Tuesday afternoon and evening...

Game 1 - VMI vs. UNC Asheville, 4pm
Game 2 - Winthrop vs. Gardner-Webb, 7pm

The two winners join the top four seeds and play for the title...the two losers are one-and-done, postseason over, thanks for playing. If that seems rough, remember that Charleston Southern didn't even make this party, finishing 9th for an eight-team field (noting that PC is still not eligible for the tourney due to NCAA D-I transition rules).

Beyond the two-game opening day on Tuesday, it's three games each day for Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday (11am / 3pm / 7pm schedule each day), and then the final game(s) on Saturday starting at 1pm (one game for certain, two games if necessary to determine an overall winner).

The entire event will be broadcast on the Big South Network. If you subscribed to a Baseball SportPass (or a Spring Combination Package or an Annual Membership), you already have the tournament included in your account. If you're a game-by-game purchaser or new subscriber, you'll need to order the Championship (available by the day or full event) to see the competition. It promises to be one of the more elaborate productions attempted to date on the Big South Network, with up to six cameras in use, significant graphic support, frequent use of replays, and experienced announcers (including me, so I won't lay it any thicker than "experienced" for now). We give a big SHOUT-out to Everett Hutto and Scott Finn at Winthrop for the ambitious production plans and look forward to a sensational product.

Okay, enough hype...PLAY BALL! Just hours after this was written, all the words in the world won't make a difference, as the teams will start sorting it out for themselves between the lines. I hope you have a chance to follow the tournament in whichever way you wish -- either by attending the games at Winthrop, watching on the Big South Network, or following the updates I intend to offer as frequently as I can on Twitter, Facebook, and naturally in some first-person accounts right here in SHOUT! Whew...enjoy the games.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Things That Are & Things That May Be

Been a little while since our last SHOUT, hasn't it?
So let's get to it...


Our focus today is baseball and softball, throwing that at you right now.

On the baseball front, we have some interesting dynamics happening...

First I have to brief you on the baseball tourney format, because that's key to the stuff that follows...keep up with me on this, please: ten teams play in the regular season for the Big South, but PC is not eligible for postseason play yet in baseball as part of their transition to D1, leaving nine eligible for the tournament--but only eight teams make it into the tourney field (with me so far?)...the top four seeds skip the opening day and go directly into double-elimination bracket play, but the bottom four seeds have to play on the first day in single-elimination mode to see who joins the top group and who ends the postseason in a one-and-done...okay, who's lost?

Nobody? Great!

So let's start with the news at the top, because there are some staggering stories to share.

Coastal Carolina is the leader right now...and it's a pretty well-defined stake for king-of-the-mountain, as the Chanticleers are a whopping 20-0 in the Big South this year. Read it again if you like: undefeated in Conference play--in BASEBALL, where even the best team slips up on occasion. But wait, there's more: CCU has actually won 30 Conference games in a row, going back into last season! The Chants peaked with a week at #1 in the NCAA RPI for baseball, now sitting just slightly back, at 6th in the nation. Coastal is ranked in the top 11 in all major polls (6/4/5/4/11, with Rivals.com the only holdout from having CCU as top six across the board).

Very well, you say, Coastal=good, got it...but not so fast, my friends--don't look past Liberty. The Flames are second in the Big South at 18-3, and LU has 15 consecutive Big South victories tucked away. Liberty has inched its way up the RPI to #42 and is receiving votes in multiple polls right now.

Okay, so not quite as mind-blowing as the Coastal data, right? Well buckle up for this, sports fans: they play each other for a three-game series this weekend, the penultimate week of the college baseball season. As a wise man once said, "something's gotta give."

Sidebar on CCU/LU: both teams figure to make the NCAA field, barring odd circumstances down the stretch. ESPN's current "Baseball Bracketology" forecast (are these things getting out of hand?) has Coastal Carolina hosting a Regional, with College of Charleston, North Carolina, and Michigan penciled in to fill out the foursome...and Liberty going to Charlottesville for a Regional hosted by Virginia, with Vandy and JMU there to complete that quartet. That's all speculation, so file that under the "Things That May Be" in our title today...but that kind of guesswork has not slowed down the Coastal Carolina ticket office, offering sign-ups for ticket packages to postseason play not yet awarded. Certainly confident and likely prudent, but in superstition-heavy baseball, is no one concerned about the major hex cast by such a move? The jinx factor can almost be tangible sometimes in baseball, but it's likely the Chants can back up the bravado.

By the way, the focus of that ESPN piece was the likely lineup from one-bid leagues...nice to see that the Big South was NOT featured for a change.

Now to the opposite end, the polar extreme, the bottom of the standings...PC brings up the rear at 4-17, but they're out of the tournament discussion anyway. Remember that remark about the top eight teams? Well, there's a duel for eighth place between Charleston Southern at 6-14 (with five Big South losses in a row) and UNC Asheville at 5-16 (with nine straight Conference losses). And, you guessed it, they also face off in a three-game set this weekend!

Yes, in a happy accident of scheduling, we could very well determine the positioning at the top and bottom of the seeding in concurrent series with just a week left in the season. Sure, there will be a little jockeying thereafter, but a lot will depend on what happens for those teams in those series.

Meanwhile, there's drama in the middle as well, given the value of being in the top four. Now, Coastal and Liberty already have two of those spots locked down, but the others are in play. Radford (13-8) has a leg up, but it's not a done deal. VMI (11-10) holds fourth now, but only by a game on High Point (10-11)--and don't overlook Winthrop just behind at 9-12. The Eagles of course covet a spot in the top four to be sure they avoid a potentially quick exit from an event they're hosting in Rock Hill. The only team I didn't mention up to now is Gardner-Webb, largely because the Running Bulldogs (at 8-13) float in a space neither likely to make the top four nor get bounced out of the top eight. Expect to see them playing in the single-elimination round on Tuesday the 25th.

Moving right along now to softball...we KNOW those seeds, because the Softball Championship is THIS WEEK--no waiting here. All seven Big South teams (including PC for softball) participate in the tourney, with the seeding in this order: Radford, Liberty, Winthrop, GWU, CSU, Coastal, and PC. There will be five games Thursday, five more Friday, and the event will conclude Saturday. It's double-elimination throughout, and although nobody gets knocked out on the opening day, they start falling right away on day two with lower bracket games. Tell you what--in a set-up like this, you don't want to lose your first game. It sounds obvious, but knowing that your second loss is the one that kills you may take some of the sting out of the first--don't be fooled. Losing your opener in this tourney puts you on a rough road if there's going to be a title in your future: a relentless series of elimination games in a narrow time span--good luck...have a look at the bracket here.

If you plan on checking out the coverage from Coastal Carolina on the Big South Network for the Softball Championship, you'll probably hear my voice. I'm the guy doing play-by-play for the first ten games of the softball frenzy in Conway--so check it out!

Okay, enough rambling, I think...yes? Yes...you've gotten a taste for the chases and races here at the waning moments of the baseball and softball seasons--hopefully that gives you a little context to enjoy the games ahead. Follow closely on BigSouthSports.com, Twitter.com/BigSouthSports, Facebook.com/BigSouthSports, and this space as well...even though I'll be talking away, I'll do my best to update all of the above for you, so stay tuned...SHOUT--out.