February 23, 2007

Timeout with Pat Coleman

For the past 12 years, fans of DIII basketball have turned to for all their college basketball news, analysis, and rankings. Working in conjunction with partner sites and, Pat Coleman, a former USA Today and current employee, is in his 10th season as editor and publisher of We talked with Coleman earlier this week to discuss the allure of DIII sports, Chicago’s rivalry with Wash U, and the playoff prospects for both Maroons squads.

Chicago Maroon: What is it about DIII basketball that you find so riveting? What separates it, in your mind, from the other levels of college sports?

Pat Coleman: Despite the fact that there’s this famous book [The Last Amateurs by John Feinstein] that suggests that the folks in the Patriot League at a couple Division I schools are the so-called “Last Amateurs”…Division III is where the amateurs are. They’re not getting athletics scholarships, they’re not getting any special treatment—they may actually be given a harder time by some of their professors than other students would be. They’re doing it because they truly do love the game; there is nothing in it monetarily for them. And truly, I think it’s the highest form of amateur athletics in the country.

That’s one of the things that made it appealing to me. I went to a Division III school—I went to Catholic University in Washington, D.C.—and I was an SID [sports information director] there for a while. Trying to battle as a SID in a market where there were five Division I schools and four professional sports teams made me realize that there really is no outlet for Division III coverage in the print media, and that’s why we worked so hard at putting this site together.

CM: Are you content right now with the amount of coverage DIII sports gets from national media? Do you feel at all that if ESPN started covering games every week, it would lose a little bit of its luster?

PC: While I’d like to see maybe a little bit of coverage—mostly respect in the national media for what happens in Division III—I’m actually happy that it’s not something that they cover on a 24/7 basis. The way that they beat stories to death.… I’m kind of glad that Division III is left under the radar a little bit. And even when ESPN does pick up stories in Division III, it never seems like it’s the most interesting stories that they pick up on; it’s usually whatever is the most sensationalized. It’s not the most interesting story of the week or the year or the month; it’s just something that came to their attention….

CM: Where would you rank the Chicago–Wash U rivalry among some of the other rivalries in DIII? What’s number one for you?

PC: There’s no question what the number-one rivalry is in Division III basketball: it’s Hope–Calvin. They had 11,000 fans at one of their games several years back, and until another rivalry can come through and put those kind of numbers together, I don’t think there’s really any room to dispute Hope–Calvin as the number-one rivalry. Although we have to call it Calvin–Hope right now because Calvin has won the last men’s game and the last women’s game, so that’s their policy: Whoever the winner is gets top fiddling.

I know that Wash U and Chicago has been a very competitive rivalry—especially in men’s basketball—in recent years. Those games are hard fought and often have conference title implications. I’m kind of looking forward, in fact, to this weekend, where this is a winner-take-all game for the conference title.… Fans from different eras in Wash U history might have different takes on who their top rival is, though. There might be some people who would say NYU is their top rival.

CM: Looking ahead to the NCAA picture, what needs to happen this weekend for the Chicago women to make the tournament? How much help do they need, and how would you rate their chances?

PC: They need to win. That’s kind of an obvious, maybe a clichéd answer, but that’s first and foremost on the docket right now…. I think if they win they’re probably a 60–40 to get in, maybe even higher. Despite the fact that they’ve lost six games—and six of them relatively recently—their numbers are still pretty good, the things that the NCAA committee looks at. Their regional record is not great—now they’re at a .727 regional winning percentage, and obviously, that’ll go up with another win. Their Quality of Wins Index, which is kinda like a very dumbed-down version of the RPI [Ratings Percentages Index] that they use in Division I, is 10.136 coming into Wednesday, and that would go up with a win. A win at Wash U would be worth 15 points, so that would bump up the average just a little bit, and I think it would be relatively safe to get in.

The committee recently...kind of did away with the “performance at the end of the season” criteria. That is something where Chicago would really be hurt; obviously, their performance in the last 10 games has been pretty awful…. That is something that isn’t officially considered anymore, but I would be surprised if it doesn’t weigh on the minds of some people on the committee.

CM: Before the year, did you anticipate the Chicago men having the type of season that they’ve had, or has this UAA championship comes as a shock in national circles?

PC: I think it’s a surprise. We always have kind of a baseline of respect for the University of Chicago just because of what [head coach] Mike McGrath has done there over the past several years and what [former head coach] Pat Cunningham did before him. So we’re always kind of waiting, I guess, for Chicago to break out a little bit. They have a baseline of respect where people will always expect them to be competitive. I don’t think that anybody that I know of thought they would be 20–4 going into the last week of the season. We kind of assume that Chicago will win 16 games and then ratchet our assumptions up and down from that baseline.

CM: Where do you see the men playing their opening round games next week? Is there any chance at all of them getting either home court advantage or a bye if they win Saturday?

PC: I think if Chicago wins, they will host. I’d be surprised if it were the other way around, if they had to go on the road. There are only five byes given out. There are 59 teams in the field—thanks, Division III protocol, for the odd number—so I’m not sure Chicago will get one…but if that happened, they would host a second-round game on Saturday. If they don’t get a bye, I would be surprised if they don’t host first- and second-round games on the Friday and Saturday of the tournament.

CM: Likewise, for the women, where do you see them heading if they get in?

PC: The road. [Laughs.] They’re not gonna be hosting.… I think [11th-ranked] DePauw is a good candidate to host a first-round regional. There are basically 16 first-round hosts, so there’s a lot of places they could go. They’re in easy driving distance of [second-ranked] Calvin, which I think will host a regional regardless of whether they win this week…. They could end up at Carroll or [16th-ranked] Lake Forest. That would be a preferable situation if you’re Chicago; they’re teams that you could be competitive with…. They try to keep first-round travel down as much as possible, but they could send Chicago on a bus as much as 500 miles. It’s always a possibility….

CM: Last year the UAA men only had one team make the tourney while the women got three. How many do you see each getting this season?

PC: The men are guaranteed two—I don’t see any way that Chicago and Wash U don’t both get into this field. I think the Brandeis–NYU winner from Saturday will basically be considered a lock. Brandeis might get in anyway…and Rochester’s numbers are pretty good. All five of them are pretty good candidates at this point, with NYU kind of near the bottom.

On the women’s side, I don’t see any way that Wash U and NYU don’t get in, and I think those two are both locks. I think Brandeis’ women are a lock. Rochester’s a lock, and then Chicago’s the team on the bubble.

I think both easily could get four, and it’s possible both could get five, and that would be so far unprecedented in the brief time that we’ve had this re-expanded tournament.

CM: What teams in the Midwest do you see as capable of really giving the men fits, both in terms of matchups and particular players who can do damage?

PC: On the men’s side, you have to watch out for anyone who comes out of the CCIW, whoever qualifies. I think [ninth-ranked] Augustana is likely to get in regardless, and then if somebody else comes in and wins the conference tournament, there would be two teams. [Fourth-year point guard] Drew Wessels from Augustana is a player to watch. Elmhurst has the two big men, [second-year] Brent Ruch and [fourth-year] Nick Michael. Wheaton, if they qualify, [second-year] Kent Raymond, the shooting guard, was a preseason All-American.

If UW–La Crosse qualifies, [fourth-year] Joe Werner: The big man is the guy that people kind of focus around, but they have three good three-point shooters. They’re a team that could put together a bit of a run in the tournament. Chicago is kind of the focal point of a big swath of Division III; from Wisconsin to Ohio basically is where a lot of the top teams in the division call home.