Fuming Western Michigan coach Hawkins: New CBI 'a joke'
by Graham Couch
Tuesday March 18, 2008
KALAMAZOO -- Steve Hawkins isn't so much bothered that he's been left out of the postseason.
The "rotten, rotten feeling" eating at Western Michigan University's men's basketball coach is a sadness for his players and a system he sees as flawed and, worse yet, corrupt.
Despite a 20-12 record and a Mid-American Conference West Division title, the National Invitation Tournament and inaugural College Basketball Invitational passed on the Broncos Sunday night.
Hawkins knew the NIT was a long shot, given the recent reduction of teams from 40 to 32 and the mandatory inclusion of regular-season conference champions that don't win their league tournament.
He's not as diplomatic when it comes to the CBI's 16-team field, which includes two other Mid-American Conference teams -- Ohio and Miami-Ohio -- with lesser league resumes, one program with a losing record (Cincinnati), two teams with higher RPIs and five with a worse Sagarin Rating.
"It wasn't based on merit and accomplishment," Hawkins said. "So as excited as I was to see another tournament come along, now it's been dampened by the fact that the (Gazelle Group) that's running it is not basing it completely on accomplishment.
"What appears to be obvious at this point is they have gone with some teams that have gone with them in the past to some of their (preseason) exempt tournaments. So teams that have spent money on them in the past, they've rewarded again by rewarding them spots in the CBI.
"And we've never gone with the Gazelle Group for any of their tournaments, so we're getting punished by not being able to get into postseason play."
The Big 12 Conference, and several other programs, refused bids from the CBI, which required a $60,000 guarantee on ticket sales and 60 percent of any additional gate receipts.
The CBI claimed that it didn't see a need to take a team with a sub-.500 record with "too many teams out there with good records," Gazelle Group president Rick Giles said in November. And yet, Cincinnati, at 13-18, is in the field.
It's believed that the Bearcats, like Ohio -- which finished with 19 wins, three fewer conference victories than WMU and lost a round earlier in the league tourney -- lobbied for a bid, using long-standing financial ties to the Gazelle Group.
"Ohio loses their first-round game (at the MAC Tournament) and (league commissioner) Rick Chryst told me after the game that would probably seal Ohio's fate," Hawkins said. "Then (Sunday) night I talk to (MAC director of basketball operations) Rick Boyages and Rick Boyages says, 'Well, we're hearing that Ohio has brokered a deal to get into the CBI.'
"I said, 'What do you mean? I didn't know brokering a deal was allowed. Should we have been doing something here? Who should have we been talking to, to broker a deal to get into postseason play? I thought this was all based on merit and accomplishment.' And then we find out that it's really not and here we are. I'm going to walk into our postseason meaning in 20 minutes and say, 'Well, guys, the season's over.'"
Hawkins said the MAC office told him the Broncos' No. 119 RPI could be its downfall, though Virginia and Old Dominion both are in the CBI with higher RPIs.
If it's wins and losses that matter, he points out, how is Miami-Ohio in the field after a 17-15 season that included an Ohio-like 9-7 league mark and a loss in its only meeting with WMU.
"I mean, basically, it's a joke," Hawkins said of the CBI. "There's a team that's 13-18 in postseason play."
The CBI, which claimed it would be "100 percent accountable" for the teams it chose, did not return multiple messages left by the Gazette.
"I know I'm going to be coaching for another 20, 25 years," Hawkins said. "And so I can get back into more NCAA Tournaments and NIT Tournaments. I hope there's never another CBI tournament. Whatever it is that's out there, I know I'm going to have postseason play in my future. These seniors have no shot. These other players have a limited shot.
"You're messing with people's dreams, and in the back of smoke-filled rooms, you've got deals being brokered. Meanwhile you've got kids and their families sitting at home."