UVSC Moves from Feeder School to Bottom Fisher

Many Utah Valley State College Wolverines (UVSC) have played exciting basketball in the Marriott Center in years past -- but always before or after their junior college careers

Travis Hansen, one of the sparkplugs on last year's Cougar squad and a second-round pick in the 2003 NBA draft, started his collegiate basketball career at UVSC. Kestlee Nelson, a current standout on the women's basketball team, also transferred from UVSC.

What is notable is the UVSC Wolverines men's and women's basketball teams face their BYU basketball counterparts for the first time ever as Division I opponents. The Wolverine men's team will play in the Marriott Center in November while the BYU women's play a road game two minutes away at UVSC.

This season UVSC is making the jump to Division I basketball, joining its companion Beehive State schools BYU, Utah, Utah State, Weber State, and Southern Utah. UVSC is the first school to jump directly from the JC ranks to Division I so the ambitious Orem campus athletes are breaking new ground. That means they will no longer be a feeder school for future Cougars, ala Hansen, Nelson and others in the past.

Moving up to Division I will not be a pleasant process. In effect, this is making them the lepers of the basketball world. This year will be hard enough for the Wolverines, but not as hard as their next several seasons.

For this year only, the Cougars have agreed to play them in the Marriott Center on November 29 because this game against the neighborhood newcomers to Division I will not count against their opponent's RPI.

But starting next year, playing UVSC becomes a potential landmine for BYU because their games will impact their RPI rating and would not help their national ranking or tournament seeding. This goes well beyond being a lose-lose situation for BYU that often describes well-established big-time programs that play talented, scrappy teams new to Division I. If they win, it's no big deal because you beat up on the baby of the family, but if you lose, you become the Rodney Dangerfield of the entire basketball community before they can even turn off the scoreboard lights.

Beginning next year, BYU's all-important NCAA seeding becomes a major factor, particularly if they are "on the bubble" for NCAA Tournament inclusion. That's why it makes more sense for BYU and other Division I programs to play their "breather" games against lower division programs instead of lower Division I teams like UVSC.

Interestingly, this will NOT be the first time the Wolverines' Dick Hunsaker has coached a game in the Marriott Center. When Utah coach Rick Majerus took a leave of absence from Utah in 2000-2001, Hunsaker, then his assistant coach, took over, earning MWC Coach of the Year, as well as other national coaching honors in that season. Utah lost against the Cougars in the Marriott Center that night, but his Utes did even the score beating the Y in Salt Lake City.

If Coach Hunsaker has to beg to fill the Wolverines' dance card this year, next year he'll have to send fresh flowers, get down on bended knee, and probably promise to give up his firstborn child to get on respectable opponents' game schedules.

We don't know how the Wolverines are going to sign anybody except military bases and JV teams for any home games. Until they find a conference home, UVSC's basketball schedulers are going to have to be creative, patient, and thick skinned. Moreover, the team is going to have to get used to living out of suitcases. And they probably shouldn't plan to visit the Marriott Center after this season's initial match up, until they have become a respectable (i.e. competitive) opponent in their new Division I home.

I've got a few tongue-in-cheek suggestions for the NCAA to consider that might help a fledgling Division I entrant like UVSC get through the difficult birthing process:

1. Allow probationary Division I programs to offer 10 extra scholarships and to be exempt from the 4-8 rule;

2. Allow transfers to and from probationary programs without penalty (transfers going either direction could play the first season without losing any eligibility);

3. Allow these schools to let boosters fund the needed athletic scholarships;

4. Allow probationary programs to pay their scholarship players an extra $1,000 per month beyond the normal scholarship allotments;

5. Allow these programs to trade one future transfer to any school willing to play them at home, and

6. Allow any school to leave Division I and rejoin as a probationary member again the next year to renew these benefits.

Okay, so I'm just blowing non-carcinogenic smoke with these perfect-world suggestions, but I have a hard time imagining how our former cross-town feeder school is going to accumulate the required number of games any other way to successfully make that perilous jump from the flatlands up to the crags of the Division I mountain.

Meanwhile, bring on the UVSC Wolverines this November; let's give them a big Marriott Center welcome! It might be quite a while before we see them again.

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