How will the University of Utah Runnin' Utes' sudden and unexpected success on the basketball court this season affect their future?
The next few weeks will tell. The Utes' 30-4 season could help the Utes' scheduling and recruiting efforts. On the other hand, it will make coach Rick Majerus, the architect of Utah's hit season, a big target for schools hunting for coaches.Athletic Director Chris Hill hopes the Utes' high-profile season will help him upgrade their nonconference schedule. He has been trying to arrange a series with national powerhouse Nevada-Las Vegas, among other teams.
"I talked to their athletic director, and he said he would talk to (coach Jerry Tarkanian)," says Hill. "My hope has been to get a series going, although I have to admit we're having second thoughts. They lose everyone next year, plus they'll be on (NCAA) probation, so they can't be on TV."
Hill says he has tried to upgrade the schedule in the past, without success. "It's harder to get teams in here than people think," he explains. "They (other teams) don't recruit in Utah, they have no alumni here, and we have have a relatively small population base, so there's no TV. Those are the reasons schools usually play (non-conference) games. We tried to get Virginia and Arizona in the past, but they weren't interested . . . We want to play anyone, but not in a situation in which we play three games at their place and one at ours. It would be a home-and-home arrangement."
Hill also says, "I've been thinking, with the attention we're getting, that maybe we need to leave a game open so we can bring in a big team and get a TV game."
According to Hill, Majerus will try to arrange "a TV game or two" for the Utes while attending the Final Four this week in Indianapolis.
In the meantime, the Utes are hoping their huge success this season will cause blue-chip recruits to consider Utah, but assistant coach Joe Cravens is skeptical. "We're probably always going to face the same problems we have faced," he says. "Distance is always going to be the biggest factor. There is not a wealth of talented kids in this state, and the ones who are are LDS. So now we've got to go elsewhere, and that comes back to the old problem of distance. You've got to find your niche in recruiting."
So far, the Utes' niche, under Majerus, has been the Prop. 48 route. Starting guards Byron Wilson and Tyrone Tate were both Prop. 48s two years ago. Wyatt, Walker and Mims, last year's freshman recruiting class, are Prop. 48s. Look for the same this year.
The Utes' sudden rise in the basketball world this year should bring them some long-term benefits, but there is a flip side. Given his amazing success at rebuilding basketball programs (63-9 during the last three years, at Ball State and Utah), Majerus probably will receive a few job offers in the weeks to come. Hill is confident the coach will return to Utah next season, but he believes the coach's status will always be a "year-to-year thing." -Doug Robinson