November 24, 2020

Pohl’s Perspective

Time For A Change

John Pohl, Journal staff writer

Most of the men’s and women’s basketball teams in the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference are plain lousy. There, I’ve said it. I know a lot of you who follow Webster University basketball are cringing now.

I have been covering both the Webster men’s and women’s basketball teams as well as the SLIAC teams they play for a couple years now. The level of competition in the SLIAC is downright poor. What is Webster doing in this conference?

Yes, I know both Webster teams won the SLIAC tournament last season and advanced to the NCAA Division III tournament. The players, coaches, students, staff and faculty were excited. I was excited. But the excitement was short-lived, as both Webster teams were easily defeated in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

In the last four seasons, no SLIAC tournament championship basketball team has advanced past the first round of the NCAA tournament. Most of these games were lopsided losses.

Webster’s basketball teams started the 2011-12 season rather unceremoniously, with a combined record of 2-16. Both teams started identically with 1-8 records. All but one of the women’s losses came outside the SLIAC.

Since their poor start, the men have gone 8-1 and the women 7-2. At first glance, one may think both squads have really turned things around. But have they? All nine wins by the men are SLIAC victories and their nine losses came in non-conference games.

The women are 6-3 in the SLIAC but a dismal 2-7 outside the conference. It seems like all the SLIAC teams can do is beat up on each other. Webster basketball can be better than that.

It is incredible that Webster remains a part of such a non-competitive conference. I know the Gorloks have captured many trophies for winning the SLIAC in various sports. But Webster’s undergraduate enrollment is more than twice that of any other SLIAC school, according to ope.ed.gov/athletics. And Webster, as well as Fontbonne University, has the largest city in the conference to recruit players from.

According to D3hoops.com, in the last two years, no SLIAC team has been ranked as one of the top 40 Division III teams in the nation. This includes Webster’s men’s and women’s SLIAC championship teams from 2011, which featured two of Webster’s greatest players of all time — Katy Meyer and Willie Trimble.

I don’t blame the coaches or players for this. Men’s coach Chris Bunch and women’s coach Jordan Olufson have recruited well enough to remain competitive. But there are limitations of what they can do because student athletes want more. Who wants to play Blackburn College or Principia College?

Many student athletes want to play at a university center that has first-rate facilities. Restrooms that are used as locker rooms are unacceptable. Better facilities and better competition will make a better program. The same really goes for all of Webster’s teams.

I know changing the geographic landscape of the SLIAC  is impossible, but Webster is too good of a university to be stuck in neutral. Webster needs to take the next steps. Create a first-class University Center and get out of the SLIAC.

I am sure I will hear all kinds of reasons why this can’t be done, but former SLIAC member and local school Maryville University accomplished this three years ago when it jumped to an NCAA Division II conference, the Great Lakes Valley Conference.

Webster may like being the big fish in a small pond, but the school should consider making a similar change.

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