Rice-UH rivalry now a friendlier one
In the long and occasionally truncated sports rivalry
between Rice and the University of Houston a rivalry that was felt on the
respective campuses and on downtown city streets long before it began to be played out on
the fields something has happened.
Down deep, a number of young and old, Owls and Cougars alike, still may harbor
old feelings of animosity we hear you out there, Coach Lewis: "Ahd
rather go to HAIL than lose to RASS!"
The reason why Guy Lewis might harbor such feelings aren't at all that
unreasonable -- for much of his long tenure as U of H basketball coach, Rice
administrators wouldn't deign to engage his Cougar teams in so much as a
Ever since "first contact" occurred in 1970, when Rice sponsored
Houston's entry into the Southwest Conference, the somewhat one-sided
athletic rivalry between the schools seemed to all concerned to play out as a zero-sum
game; with any on-field success experienced by one inuring to the detriment of the other.
As Houston became more and more of a pro-sports town, the battle for column -
inches, out of necessity, grew more intense, and the increasingly jaded coverage of area
news media rubbed salt into mutual wounds.
But once Rice and the U of H announced resumption of both their football and
basketball rivalries a couple of years ago, the respective administrators involved, by
natural inclination, it appeared, took up such renewal amid a climate of mutual respect
and a desire for synergy.
The shabby treatment visited upon both Rice and U of H by their former
state-school brethren of the old Southwest Conference made more than a few people, in
either camp, realize that the two schools, if they wished to survive in the shark-infested
waters of intercollegiate athletics, might best cast their lots as shipmates in a single
This week, while Rice president Dr. Malcom Gillis wrote in the Houston Chronicle
op - ed page, calling for further co-operative ventures between the two universities as a
way of making them both stronger, the staunchest, old-time supporters of their athletic
teams met on an occasion which could only be described as downright cordial.
The locus of good feeling evident, all-around, at the Touchdown Club Bayou
Bucket Luncheon Thursday, was centered right up there on the dais.
Bobby May, Ken Hatfield, Chet Gladchuk, Dana Dimel. If one wishes to identify
the engine driving both renewed, good relations and the promise of on-field success for
both schools, one might well focus directly on these four talented, eminently sensible
Amid the blessings of the respective university administrations, it seems that
with such sort of leadership, Rice and the University of Houston, might, with
great irony, serve significant roles in their mutual resurgences in athletics
-- along with, who knows, discoveries in the science labs that we now can only dream of.
--PTH (August 31, 2000)
What's with ESPN, anyway?
In jungle environment, Rice needs to protect backside
ESPN, in yet another bizarre exhibition of journalistic irresponsibility, on Monday
blithely reports, without any attribution whatsoever, that SMU and TCU are already gone
from the WAC and voted in to Conference USA at their league fathers' Tuesday meeting.
It was consistent with the ongoing brick-bat throwing that has characterized
the ABC-owned sports cable network's attitude toward and relationship with the eight-team
Western Athletic Conference ever since a separate broadcast deal was signed with TCU
several months ago. So what's going on?
After all, the story was immediately denied by the presidents and athletic directors of
both schools -- and fairly well vehemently, at that.
"I think all of this is some shoddy reporting by USA Today and ESPN," Rice
president Malcom Gillis said. "I heard the rumor on Thursday and called Gerald (Dr.
Gerald Turner, SMU president) and Mick (Dr. Michael Ferrari, TCU chancellor) and asked
them to tell me what was going on. They said they were keeping their options open, but
they had not applied (for C-USA membership). And they said no one will be there on their
behalf at the presidents' meeting (Aug. 30 at Chicago). They told me they were not
pursuing it and I took it at face value."
Any university president who's crafty enough to drive a 35-year-old GMC pickup to work
hasn't taken any wooden nickels in years. But it seems, when it comes to conference
realignment, there's danger in taking any statement, from any source, at face value.
Rice's experience of the past five years should demonstrate that. With the
treachery surrounding the demise of the Southwest Conference and the 16-team WAC, it would
appear that one of the top items on Rice AD Bobby May's job description would need to be,
"watch our backside."
The skulduggery consistently displayed by Rice former, and current, conference brethren
-- and the carefully-worded semi-denials emanating this week from the Hilltop and Cowtown
-- tend to suggest a modest proposal for Rice administrators: hire some outside
Rice sports administration has performed admirably on all the traditional fronts during
the May reign: winning teams, excellent student-athletes, the highest graduation
rates, no cheating. But expecting the existing staff to cover all the bases required
for best positioning in the coming, inevitable realignment wars, is unrealistic.
The better plan is to do what any successful business would under the circumstances:
for this job, Rice needs a public relations firm -- a PR/management consultant with
attorneys on call and private investigation services on the job. Seriously, we mean
it: put some gumshoes on the tail of our league compadres! Develop an
intelligence front so as to stay informed of the machinations, league-by-league; and
devise a system to manage Rice's potentially available options.
The consultant and attorney fees might reach into the mid-six-figures. But if the
considered goal of the university administration is to maintain, if not enhance, Rice's
position in the pantheon of intercollegiate athletics, the money is cheaper, at twice the
price, than the cost of getting blindsided.
After all, this is an environment where, as we have seen, a major cable sports network
thumb-nosingly engages in actionable tortious interference in order to enhance the
position of one minor television contract with one mid-rung competitor. It's an
environment where every-man-for-himself has proven to be the byword, in each and every
quarter, from top dog to bottom rung.
So we shouldn't be surprised when players like ESPN gratutiously nuke the prospects of
nice-guy, do-it-the-right-way actors like Rice. It's a jungle out there.
Time for a little guerrilla warfare.
--PTH (Sept. 1, 1999)
Eight-team WAC not so bad
a parking place for Rice
One day, perhaps a Division 1 southern Ivy League; meanwhile,
vacations in Hawaii, Bay Area, and Yosemite
When Rice first joined the Western Athletic Conference lineup in 1995, prospects
appeared only so-so for long-term cohesion and financial success of the league. The
schools were so geographically disparate, it just seemed impossible that a genuine series
of rivalries might ever develop. At likeliest, the 16-team WAC appeared to many Rice
supporters as an acceptable parking place for a few years, until a new series of league TV
contracts was let, and the next round of conference shakeouts occurred.
But with the absolute economic exigencies of Title IX, it makes sense that the Division
I schools eventually organize into conferences more geographically regional in size and
When this writer was at Rice in the late 60s, a letters-to-the editor campaign ensued
among various campus newspapers. In those pre-Proposition-48 days, it was an era when the
academic disparity between show-me-the-money schools and the schools less inclined to
compromise academics was just beginning to become more evident. So, the thinking went, why
not form a sort of Division 1, southern Ivy League? (We called it the Magnolia
Conference.) Schools like Rice, Tulane, Vanderbilt, perhaps TCU, SMU, Georgia
Techschools with similar academic missions and philosophies--might maintain high-end
Division 1 budgets and schedules, while avoiding some of the crasser extremes of the big
business of college sports.
Naive idea. But one that, while less than prescient, now looks quite inviting and not
inconceivable, heading toward the first years of the coming century. Its a concept
to keep in mind, to water and to fertilize.
Meanwhile, the remaining WAC 8 frankly isn't so bad a deal. Four of Rices seven
conference cohorts are in the same geographic region. Three are private schools; two have
been athletic colleagues of Rice, without fail, for some 85 years.
Yet, our coaches get to tout regular trips to Hawaii and the Bay Area to our recruits.
Aside from BYU, the recent football power ratings of the breakaway schools are really no
better than the ones remaining--nor is the national reputation. In basketball, we'll have
our hands full enough with Billy and the Tark. In baseball, the best programs remain, we
should continue to dominate, and our power ratings should improve with the absence of the
weaker conference competition.
In football, Rice gets to schedule an extra nonconference game. Why not schedule it,
when the slots come available, with the best private schools--the service academies,
In sum, maybe the situation isn't so bad as some of our inferiority-complex- ridden
rival fans have postulated. Perhaps it's really no better nor worse than it was under the
confusing 16-team WAC configuration--with any losses in revenue being offset by
corresponding decreased expenses.
someones got to finish last
Problems with superconference same
as those already experienced by Big 12
Talk persists of an ensuing split of NCAA Division 1A into two
tiers essentially, a 48- or perhaps 64-team superconference of the biggest-money
programs, with the remainder of Division 1A schools in a second tier. A little analysis of
the situation reveals that the major problems such reorganization may present lay not with
the "have-nots," but with the "haves."
A look at the internecine squabble brewing in the Big 12 is revealing. None of its
four, new members has yet learned to cope with a basic, unavoidable paradigm: in any
league, someone has to finish last!
The arrogance and high-handedness of Texas A&M and the University of Texas in
dumping the SWC and embracing the Big 8 was neither unprecedented nor unanticipated: after
all, A&M and Texas were the two biggest fish in a pond of their own for many, many
years. Winning, and playing by ones own rules were, well, just an entitlement, a
But, contemplating the dismantling of the SWC, Ag and Horn fathers apparently never
stopped to consider that an affiliation with several other, mostly land-grant, Enormous
State Universities might doom them to what many alumni consider chronic mediocrity, even
with an occasional conference crown. They did not stop to consider the changes in pecking
order that the elimination of the politically and financially less-strong former SWC
partipants fashioned - both vis a vis the size of the fish, and the size of the
They didn't stop to realize that Bob Devaney and the respective state legislatures of
Oklahoma, Nebraska, Missouri, et al., don't much give a fig about the State of Texas, and
their eyes don't collectively tear up at the hearing of The War Hymn or The Eyes. They
didn't take into consideration that schools like Nebraska have a whole state to surround
them and cover up their little recruiting pecadillos, with no in-state rivals looking over
their shoulders to police them.
But the irony is, Texas Tech and Baylor marched right in lock-step with Texas and
A&M! And so would a few dozen other participants in the Super 48, if and when
the time came.
Yet somebody will have to finish last in each league, each year. For each victory
logged on someone's won/loss record, somebody else must log a defeat.
The University of South Carolina is given as an example of a consistently 8- or
9-loss program drawing 75,000 fans each home game, nonetheless. But name another
program that does so. Oklahoma? The exception proves the rule. The short
attention-spans of Generation-X alumni will brook little tolerance for losing programs.
With alumni expectations at an all-time high upon the formation of the new league,
the moderate successes of A&M and Texas now are perceived by many, particularly
young alums, as less than that. R. C. Slocum is the winningest coach Texas A&M
has ever had--and a large contingent of A&M supporters want him fired. And
the Mack III situation at Texas speaks for itself.
Before, A&M and Texas could feel virtuous, and not totally without accomplishment,
about beating up on TCU, SMU and Rice year after year, while at the same time decrying how
much "welfare" money was being "siphoned" by the "weak
In the Super 48, who will be the Harlem Globetrotters? And who will be the Washington