PORT ARTHUR —
The following column from the Best of West collection was originally published in the Port Arthur News on Aug. 11, 1983.
Lamar University’s moment of highest glory in the 1982-83 basketball season has turned into a curse of sorts, a curse that’s left Pat Foster baffled at what to do next. All the LU coach knows for sure is that his club’s convincing 73-50 NCAA tournament rout of Alabama compounded his usual scheduling problems.
Instead of being able to capitalize and build on its strong tournament showing, Lamar keeps getting rebuffed. Within a month of the Alabama blowout, New Mexico and Utah both canceled contracts calling for the Cardinals to play at their home next season. And the bad news just keeps coming.
In his frantic search to beef up next year’s schedule, Foster heard Hardin-Simmons wanted out of a game at Tennessee. Since LU had an opening on that date, he approached the Volunteers’ Don Devoe about going to Knoxville.
Devoe immediately wanted to know how many starters from the NCAA team were returning. The answer chilled whatever interest Devoe might have had.
“He wound up saying his athletic director wasn’t in favor of playing us,” says Foster, the new AD at Lamar. “But when I ran into the athletic director at our convention he didn’t even know anything about me talking with Devoe.”
Alabama also had an opening on its home schedule for next year. At the NCAA finals, Crimson Tide coach Wimp Sanderson courted a couple of LU’s Southland Conference brethren for the game. When Arkansas State’s Marvin Adams suggested an Alabama rematch with Lamar would be a natural, Sanderson nearly choked.
He finally landed McNeese State.
“It gets kind of depressing after a while,” says Foster. “The better you do, the tougher it gets to put together a quality schedule. I have to be pretty alarmed when schools with good programs reach the point where we can’t even to go their place and play.”
Left unsaid was a concern about the type opposition Lamar can hope to attract when its new building opens for the 1984-85 season. An early indication of what may be in store, however, surfaced this week in the form of turndowns from several teams Foster hoped to bring in for a holiday tournament.
“It’s too early to get negative about what we can do with the new facility, but I’m not exactly encouraged over our feelers on a tournament,” he said. “We talked to some schools in the Big Eight, the SEC and the WAC, and there was absolutely no interest.”
Foster’s good friend Abe Lemons, back in the coaching business in Oklahoma City, summed up the situation succinctly when he nixed an invitation to take part in the tournament. Lemons told Foster he was dreaming if he expected to bring good teams to Beaumont, and said to call back after the Cardinals have had a .500 season.
A complicating factor for Lamar’s scheduling is television’s wide open assault on college basketball. With the Cardinals on the verge of moving into a facility spacious enough to offer much larger guarantees, the abundance of television money games enables teams Lamar would like to play to be more selective than ever.
The television bonanza has already hurt Lamar in another way for next season. Foster was on the verge of finalizing a game at Maryland for next January when one of the networks offered the Terps a deal they couldn’t refuse. That’s how Lamar wound up with Wichita State as a season-opening foe.
“Louisville’s athletic director told me we’re in the toughest position from which to break loose,” Foster said. “We’re good enough to beat people in the next tier above us, so they don’t have anything to gain by playing us. And we can’t help ourselves by playing teams below us.”
Foster’s salvation, at least for the immediate future, is a conviction his program is not leveling off. He’s already on record as saying the Redbirds will field their best team ever this season, and a solid recruiting year bodes well beyond that.
“We’re in good shape competitively. We’re in a position where we could make a move up,” he said. “I’ve just got to figure a way to attack this scheduling thing from a different angle. There’s got to be a way out.”
Just so it isn’t Abe Lemons’ way.
Sports editor Bob West can be e-mailed at email@example.com.