Thursday, February 24, 2011

Happy Track-iversary (Blog-iversary?)

It's a few days early by the calendar, but not by the event: it's the three-year anniversary for Big South SHOUT!

See, I'm writing this (in first-person no less--feels more appropriate) from the press deck of the Clemson University Indoor Track & Field facility, just like we did the very first official post of SHOUT in 2008. That first post, "Taking a LEAP," hit February 29th, 2008...making the "leap" a forced pun on the launch of the blog and the calendar's Leap Day...and it used the same clip art photo seen below...

The wheel keeps turning...that was my first stint streaming from the Big South Indoor Track & Field Championships--and I'm now on my fourth. Back then the event was a joint meet held along with the Southern Conference. Since then, the SoCon and Big South have gone back to staging separate events (although on consecutive days), which greatly simplifies the process--as many events as we see in a meet like this, imagine even more sessions and double the athletes. Separate events means a little more in rent for each league, but a less hectic process. And of course, I'll be handling the video streaming for it all on the Big South Network again this year.

It's also the fourth year for the CCSA Swimming & Diving Championships, where I was last week...sweltering (and streaming of course) in the oppressive humidity in the otherwise very nice Gabrielsen Natatorium at the University of Georgia. Those four years have been on the move--Huntersville-NC, Athens-GA, Knoxville-TN, and back to Athens-GA. Those three-day meets can drag at times, but you can't deny the skills of the student-athletes who come out and give their all--some very impressive displays in the pool and the diving well. They come to compete from four different conferences, none of which have their own championship events: Big South, SoCon, MEAC, and the Atlantic Sun. Big South news of note from the CCSA: Gardner-Webb had an impressive dual finish, taking second for the men and third for the women (congrats), and Liberty's women finished 6th--which is an impressive performance for a first-year program, making the upper half of the field.

Anyway, it's all part of the annual gauntlet of championships and travel: swimming, track, men's basketball, women's basketball (and board meetings) in consecutive weeks, after which we can fully embrace the spring sports...which have already begun. Such a busy time, but it's all part of the wheel that turns in collegiate athletics every year.

So Happy Blog-iversary, SHOUT fans, here's a SHOUT-out to you!
Yours truly,
Mark Bryant
Big South Conference

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Retail Therapy? Economic Stimulus? Sure, Why Not...

Okay, here's the deal: most often we use this space to discuss issues/perspectives/events across the Big South Conference...but every so often we verge into "shameless plug" territory. And that's pretty much where we're going today-----wait, give it a chance!!!!

The Big South Online Store went up last year at admittedly sort of an awkward time for us; namely, in the middle of the baseball tournament, our calendar's final athletic event. Not ideal, no, but it allowed us to kick the tires and run some things along before the games resumed.

Well, now we have run most of the way around the calendar and baseball season is near its beginning while basketball approaches its dramatic conclusion, not to mention the several other sports that are active out there right now in the Big South. So I feel it is a good time not only to say that the Big South Store has what fans are looking for, but has a greater variety of styles and items across the board than you'll find anywhere else.

Yeah, I know, sounds like classic marketing hyperbole, right?
Except it's the truth.

I will concede that for any given school you may be able to find some close options out there if you look hard enough, but not likely all in one place (Coastal is obviously one, since they use the same vendor, so the selection is an EXACT match), but only one place has such a tremendous array of goods to pick from for ALL Big South schools, as well as the Conference itself...and you can get there via or

Need a Liberty Golf Bag?
...a VMI Parka?

...a Gardner-Webb Backpack? Asheville Blanket?
...a Winthrop Cooler?
...a PC "Onesie"?
...a High Point Frame?

...a Coastal Camp Chair?
...a Radford Umbrella?
...a CSU Journal?
...or perhaps a Big South Stadium Chair?

Just examples, of course...and you can get any of those items for any of those schools, along with the classic assortment of t-shirts, sweatshirts, jackets, hats, magnets, decals, license plates, bags, pens, notebooks, golf accessories, desk items and various gift "stuff" that you're looking for.

Like I said, it's a pretty good place to shop...and right now there's even a special sale on magnets and decals, with 15% off, but only for another few days after this posting.

The Big South Conference thanks and salutes its partners at Advanced-Online with a big SHOUT-out for making an Online Store we could all be proud of--and we know it's just going to keep getting better!

So that's it, folks. I'm unplugging the plug for now. We'll get back into the hoops talk and ramping up baseball season, etc., soon enough...but until then, go get the stuff to dress the part for your role as a Big South fan. Cool? Cool. Till next time, that's SHOUT -- out.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Tier System?

Under the current format of the Advance Auto Parts Big South Men's Basketball Championship, used for the past few seasons, there wind up being three races at once in the Conference standings, and this year is no different.

At the top, it's obviously been a two-horse race all season, although one of those thoroughbreds is clearly up a length now. Coastal Carolina and Liberty have been the top of the heap throughout league play, with the Chanticleers sporting the edge and the Flames managing to keep pace right behind. Well, last night CCU held off a late LU charge to complete the season sweep of the challenger, thereby giving the Chants a two-game lead in the standings plus a tiebreaker edge over the Flames, with just six Conference games remaining in the regular season. With the Coastal win streak now at 19 games, it's a legitimate time to ask if the run has an end, and where it will fall.

Surely it could go down as soon as Saturday, with VMI running and gunning at CCU. Fail to keep up with the pace or fail to hit your shots when you have the chance, and you're in trouble against the Keydets. That said, VMI has continued its habits of scoring 90 and giving up 100--defense is largely a non-factor in those high velocity contests. But one should note the Chants haven't lost at home this season to anyone. Down the schedule, we see at PC, at Winthrop (now THAT could be interesting, given the grudge match between those rivals), vs. GWU, vs. NC Central, vs. Asheville, at CSU, and then the tournament. If Coastal CAN keep this momentum running, they could be as strong as 28-2 riding a 26 game streak when March arrives and CCU hosts championship play. Surely any team can win any night, and all this could be moot in short order, but the speculation is intriguing. If, and I mean IF, Coastal runs the table, one would have to favor them to win three home games for the Conference Championship--and then what happens in terms of NCAA seeding? The record and the win streak would be wildly impressive, the RPI given a generally weaker out-of-conference schedule would not.

In any case, that's putting a number of carts before their respective horses, no doubt about it.

After all, let's look at Liberty--they've beaten all Big South comers save one...LU has lost only two Conference games, both to Coastal Carolina. You have to like THEIR chances to advance in the tourney, possibly to a final against CCU. Can the same team win the head-to-head match-up three times in one season? It has happened, but it's a tall order. The Flames' faithful know they have a beautiful chance to play spoiler in much the same way that Coastal's much-hated rival Winthrop did one year ago, knocking off the regular season champs on their own floor.

So the captivating race and rivalry at the top is one drama playing itself out in front of us...and with FOUR teams hosting first round games, the next race then comes into play. If you can't be numero uno, you really, really want to be in the top four. As of this writing, with Coastal at 12-0 and Liberty at 10-2, those teams pretty well have one and two locked down--because the next squads are at least three games behind second place!

The middle group could be considered as large as five teams fighting for two positions: Asheville and Charleston Southern have the lead of the moment, each with 7-5 records, followed by Winthrop, lurking on the perimeter at 6-6, and you can't yet count out VMI and HPU, holders of 5-7 marks, just two games off of the pace for hosting a game. There will still be plenty of shake-ups going on within that quintet for the remaining weeks of the season.

Okay, so two teams currently in the top tier, FIVE teams in the middle tier, leaving three currently in the bottom tier, yes? Now if you consider that those first two groups we discussed include seven teams, that takes up every slot but one in the tourney field, still set at eight. Of the three teams remaining, PC has the unfortunate distinction of being ineligible for postseason play due to NCAA division transition rules. The Blue Hose have been forced to be content with the role of spoiler from day one--they can't play for seeds, tournaments, or championships. So that leaves us with two teams scrapping for one spot: Gardner-Webb and Radford. It seems so hard in this light to think that Radford was the Big South Champion the season before last, falling to UNC in the NCAA's, but the Highlanders have not enjoyed much high ground this season. In fact, both RU and GWU have staggered out to 2-10 Conference records. The "winner" in this contest will have the distinction of (almost certainly) making a trip to Conway to meet Coastal Carolina...some reward...but still, "that's why they play the games," right? It's not as if the team left out gets a better draft pick--you might as well be pushing for greatness. Win the right games at the right times and big things happen--the beauty of the college hoops Cinderella stories.

Make sense? So as you're watching the MBB standings in the Big South, remember the three races at stake: the top one, top four, and top eight positions. If you keep those in mind, you'll start seeing more intrigue, more on the line than before--trust me.

And finally, a huge SHOUT-out of support for our fans and friends facing the worst of the winter storms. Most of our region here is under merely cold rain, but beyond the borders of the Big South there are plenty of folks struggling with astonishing amounts of ice and snow--we send you our wishes for your safety and comfort through these difficult days!

Enjoy the upcoming games, everybody---------SHOUT, out.