John E. Hoover: Blue morning, black day for TU
BY JOHN E. HOOVER World Sports Columnist
Wednesday, November 28, 2012
11/28/12 at 3:34 AM
Go to John E. Hoover's blog.Original Print Headline: Suspension stains blue day
TULSA'S MAYOR STOOD on a crane lift some 25 feet in the air on a chilly Tuesday morning, painting one of the city's downtown icons "TU Blue."
Mayor Dewey Bartlett wore a blue TU letterman's jacket, given to him by football coach Bill Blankenship, as he declared it a "blue letter day for Tulsa" and proclaimed it "True Blue for TU Week in the City of Tulsa."
But by the end of the afternoon, the ceremony intended to promote Saturday's Conference USA championship game between Tulsa and Central Florida had become a forgotten joke.
Ross Parmley, the TU athletic director, was suspended by the school after his name turned up in an FBI affidavit investigating an alleged bookie in Oklahoma City.
In the bright sunlight of morning, Parmley beamed with pride as Bartlett painted the first swatch of blue atop Tulsa's historic Blue Dome.
But before the day's sun had set, Parmley, 39, was placed on paid administrative leave by the school. It seems unlikely that an institution of TU's academic prestige would, under such conditions, retain the AD it hired just 10 months ago.
Sports, they say, is a university's front porch. If that's true, the athletic director is supposed to be the kindly old grandpa who sits in the swing - always there, warm and docile, but quietly in charge.
This was originally a column challenging Tulsans to get out to Saturday's game, to overfill Chapman Stadium so America wouldn't see thousands of empty seats during what should be a moment of glory for a pretty glorious city.
Instead, it became a lament.
Rather than celebrating the continuing excellence of a football program resurrected by Steve Kragthorpe, sustained by Todd Graham and fortified by Bill Blankenship, Tulsa's "blue letter day" is stained black.
Also Tuesday, there was the little matter of two of Tulsa's Conference USA brethren, Tulane and East Carolina, announcing plans to join the amorphous Big East Conference.
Dark days, indeed.
Blankenship, of course, remains outwardly optimistic. As Bartlett hovered over the Blue Dome, Blankenship, too, wore a big, proud grin.
It all seemed a bit silly, having to paint an eclectic cool rooftop to promote a championship football game that should be an automatic sellout.
"I think there will come a day when we don't have to do this," Blankenship said during the morning ceremony. "I think you have to embrace where you are and what you're doing. We just really believe there are a lot of folks out there that haven't discovered us yet. And I think when they do, we'll make fans out of them."
Blankenship already had a significant challenge ahead of him this week: repairing any lingering psychological damage left over from the Golden Hurricane's unsteady performance last week in Dallas, an uninspired 35-27 loss to a middling SMU team in which TU trailed 35-6.
Hey guys, he might say. We played like junk at SMU. We got embarrassed and we embarrassed ourselves. But every move you've made since January, every motivation you've had since we got home from the bowl loss to BYU last season, everything is right in front of you. You can be a champion today, and nobody can ever take that away from you.
Oh, and your athletic director is tied to an FBI investigation.
Now let's go out there and play like champions!
It's entirely likely that Parmley's suspension won't affect the football team's performance one bit. And the game still should be a sellout. TU football - 9-3 this season and in its fourth C-USA title game since 2005 - has earned that much from its city.
But there's another reality Blankenship faces.
Leaving the restaurant Monday after his radio show, Blankenship bumped into a sports fan, there to watch Monday Night Football, who seemed pleased to see him and perhaps was eager to offer well-wishes.
"Now," the man asked, "who are you playing next week?"
Blankenship was dumbfounded.
It's that fringe fan that TU needs if the Golden Hurricane is ever going to draw crowds better than the 19,725 that turned out for the game against UCF two Saturdays ago, won 23-21 by Tulsa. In a championship preview, Chapman Stadium was more than one-third empty.
Unfortunately, it's also that fringe fan who will roll his eyes at TU's unfathomable meltdown in Dallas. The same fan who snickers at the small, private school that couldn't hire a president earlier this year. The same fan who will see Parmley's demise and say he'd rather stay home and watch the other 11 a.m. games on TV - Oklahoma at TCU or Oklahoma State at Baylor - than give his time and money to TU.
"I think people that stay away always look for an excuse to stay away," Blankenship said. "From that standpoint, those aren't really the people we're looking to influence."
Maybe so. Maybe Tulsa's small faction of true blue fans will be enough to carry the school through yet another rough patch - or at least through Saturday.
Athletic director or no, this is a school that desperately needs something good to happen.
Winning a conference championship on an idyllic fall day in a worked-up, sold-out stadium on national television would be a nice start.