NAME-ASSOCIATION TIME. What do the following have in common: A. The Bataan Death March; B. Napoleon, C. Custer; D. The 1988-89 Southern Utah State basketball team?
Mark yourself correct if you said, "Well, they all had truly awful road schedules."If Stephen King had written the Thunderbirds' basketball schedule, it would be a runaway best-seller. Talk about your misery. It's a wonder the T-Birds aren't going to Amityville, too.
If SUSC doesn't rate the year's toughest schedule, they should stop doing the ratings. If the T-Birds are still alive when it's all over, they should give them a purple heart and quadruple frequent-flier miles.
What SUSC has lined up for the season - which started this weekend - is a 28-game schedule that includes 18 games on the road. Among those 18 away dates are games at Oklahoma (last year's runner-up to the national championship), Wyoming, Fresno State, Kansas State, Arkansas, Akron (last year's winningest independent team in the nation), Baylor, Texas, Cal-Santa Barbara, Northern Arizona, Washington State, Northeast Louisiana, Chicago State and New Orleans.
At home in Cedar City, it won't be much easier. Weber State is going to visit the Centrum, as is Northeast Louisiana (twice - this weekend), Idaho and West Texas State.
Perhaps you noticed that the above teams are all NCAA Division I-A caliber.
What gives here - and by now you're no doubt wondering - is that this is the year Southern Utah State has decided to throw off the NAIA and Division III shackles of its past. This is the year the Thunderbirds will hit the . . . Big Time.
Or vice versa.
Gone are the bus rides to New Mexico and Nevada and somewhere in the middle of Arizona; gone are the arch-rivalries with Grand Canyon College and Colorado Mines and Cal-Poly Pomona; gone are the days of playing in a division lower than BYU and Utah and Utah State and Weber State.
This is it. The big jump.
Just exactly why the Thunderbirds are possessed to make this leap reportedly stems from orders from the college president, Gerald R. Sherratt, the man who also brought the Summer Games to Cedar City and the man who has a kind of Steinbrenner-like mentality when it comes to the big time or no time.
Besides, he doesn't have to take this team on the road.
That lot falls to Neil Roberts, a certified local Cedar City basketball legend who became a college star at BYU and won the national junior college championship down the road as the head coach at Dixie J.C. in St. George. Roberts took over as the T-Birds' coach last year, when he went 16-11, and, to either his credit or competitive spirit, he holds a straight face when he says, "I'll be disappointed if we can't win half our games this year."
He also says, "I've never had a challenge like this."
Nobody has, not since Napoleon.
The NCAA made the Thunderbirds do this. One of the requirements to become Div. I-A is to play Div. I-A schools.
Of course, most established Div. I-A schools would rather play you at their place if they're going to play you at all.
Fiscally, it's not a bad deal. Whereas SUSC was used to $3,000 road guarantees in its humbler past, now the guarantees are anywhere from $10,000 to $15,000. On one 8-day road trip, for instance, just before Christmas - to Texas, Oklahoma and Baylor - they'll make $30,000, just like that. For the season, they figure to make $100,000 more than last year - not counting any additional medical expenditures.
And they'll fly virtually everywhere - well, they'll fly after they bus to the airport in Las Vegas, 160 miles away.
How this will all be received in Cedar City - where the T-Birds have had 14 winning basketball seasons in the past 16 years - is yet to be determined. Most of the action will be heard (on KSUB and KSSD radio) and not seen. During one stretch from Jan. 16 through Feb. 11, the T-Birds won't be home at all.
That may be just as well. For all concerned. Particularly the college president. The Sherratt grand plan may indeed one day be hailed near and far, from Parawon to Tabiona. But this season, SUSC's basketball players may merely be looking for somebody they can beat.