John Klein: TU athletic program at the crossroads
BY JOHN KLEIN Senior Sports Columnist
Thursday, November 29, 2012
11/29/12 at 8:59 AM
Related story: NCAA investigator expected to visit TU campus within week for Parmley case.
Go to John Klein's Blog Original Print Headline: TU athletic program is at a major crossroads
TULSA finds itself with critical issues in need of immediate attention on two fronts.
TU must deal with allegations that athletic director Ross Parmley, an "admitted gambler" according to an FBI report, might have been promoted in the athletic department even after school officials were notified of an ongoing investigation.
However, of perhaps equal importance and certainly crucial for the long-term health of TU athletics, is the apparent collapse of Conference USA.
No, there is nothing good about any of these developments for Tulsa.
Yes, it is very serious.
Tulsa faces an NCAA investigation and possible sanctions, a crumbling conference around it and no one to make the calls to steer TU through the realignment mess.
It could also all go away. Nothing to see here. Move along.
Realistically, this is the most challenging era for TU athletics in 20 years. Not since Tulsa found a solution to save football in the early 1990s, when the Golden Hurricane landed in the Western Athletic Conference as the Missouri Valley Conference dropped football and dissolved around it, has TU faced such huge questions.
What happens when the NCAA starts looking into the gambling issues? Who knew what, and when?
Does Tulsa have a legitimate home for its rising football program?
Those are not minor hurdles to clear. And, this is not a sprint. The NCAA moves at a snail's pace.
With an interim athletic director, brought over to steer the department until a decision is made on Parmley's future, and a university president who is on board temporarily to fix a mess in the administration, who is going to have the time and expertise to guide Tulsa through realignment and perhaps a new conference home?
Just days before it hosts Central Florida in the C-USA championship game, TU was rocked with a devastating one-two punch Tuesday.
On the same day that many in the community were trying to rally support to put more fans in Chapman Stadium for Saturday's championship football game, the very future of Tulsa athletics was put in jeopardy by two unrelated issues.
Parmley's "leave of absence" was announced shortly after it became public that he was involved with an Oklahoma City gambler.
That came just hours after it was learned Tulane and East Carolina are leaving Conference USA to join the Big East. Six C-USA schools have now announced plans to leave for the Big East.
Tulsa is among six schools that will be left behind in the realignment along with Rice, Marshall, UAB, UTEP and Southern Miss.
C-USA has announced plans for an expansion to include North Texas, Louisiana Tech, UTSA, Old Dominion, Charlotte and Florida International.
A report on Wednesday said Middle Tennessee may also be on its way to C-USA.
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize Conference USA is taking a huge hit.
So, that leads directly to the question of where does Tulsa fit?
The "pie in the sky" theory would put Tulsa in the Big 12 with state rivals Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. Not happening. So, move on.
Tulsa would love to remain in a league with natural rivals like SMU, Houston and Memphis, schools that have some geographical and academic ties.
However, if the Big East wanted Tulsa, it could have invited the Golden Hurricane at any time in the last year as the Big East started picking off Conference USA teams. Obviously, the Big East has no interest in TU.
Tulsa's only option, other than staying where it is and hoping some schools come crawling back, is to look west. The Mountain West Conference has teams that left Tulsa behind when the 16-team WAC broke apart.
However, at this point, the Mountain West is it. There are continuing rumors that UTEP, a geographic and cultural fit in the Mountain West, has some interest in moving to the MWC.
If so, Tulsa could make its case as a so-called "travel partner" with UTEP if the Mountain West wants to expand by two. That would put the Golden Hurricane back in a league with attractive league members like New Mexico, Colorado State, Wyoming and UNLV.
Of course, to explore the possibility of any move needs action on the part of Tulsa.
But TU officials are swamped with explosive issues in urgent need of attention.
That's not to say Tulsa won't be able to stay on top of realignment. Kevan Buck, TU's executive vice president, will take on the added role of acting athletic director. Buck has proven over the last decade to be a capable administrator, and he's filled in as acting athletic director at TU in the past. He also served as the school's interim president this year.
When Tulsa was looking to find a home for its football program, during the realignment period in the early 1990s, it was Judy MacLeod, who was interim athletic director, who guided TU through its transition to the WAC from the Missouri Valley Conference. MacLeod was later named athletic director. She is now executive associate commissioner of Conference USA.
So, it can be done. Fans, and all in this community who support TU athletics in some manner, are trusting that all will eventually be solved.
Working through those issues, and keeping an upward trajectory, may be the biggest challenge TU athletics has faced.
Ross Parmley. MIKE SIMONS/Tulsa World