What drives you to be a college basketball or football fan?
Think about it for a minute. There are thousands of ways people spend their free time, yet you, along with thousands of others, spend that time in uncomfortable seats buying overpriced popcorn cheering on people you may never meet. For many, it’s the sense of community — belonging with others over a shared cause. For others, it’s a means of escape — work’s hard, relationships are harder, but for two or three hours those things fade away.
At the heart of almost every reason is a sense of joy. Whether that be the joy of a last-second shot, or the joy of sharing an experience with your friends and family, we follow college athletics because they make us feel something good. In that way, they help improve our quality of life by giving something to experience, something to bring people together, and something to look forward to when times are tough.
Now, imagine your life without college sports. One without tailgates, without big foam fingers, or one without yelling at your TV for hours on end — which we do out of love.
Hardcore fans live and die by their teams, or so we say. Some truly feel a form of physical pain after a big loss. Their mood is directly influenced for days, only for their excitement to rise again just in time for the next one. It’s a cycle they put themselves through, and it’s one that, despite the downs, they would never choose to be without.
We’re all affected by the sports we follow.
But we’re not all affected like Bryan Black.
Unlike many of us, Bryan doesn’t follow just a single team, or even a single conference. In college, Bryan joined a fraternity and says he became obsessed with college basketball. He’d watch games from leagues we don’t hear much about, watch their tournaments, and learn about every team.
“I loved the game so much,” Bryan says, “I had a dream of starting my career and becoming successful, then taking a driving trip around the country to get a basketball jersey from all 350 or so schools.”
“I like to focus on every single team not just the big-money ones that you hear about,” Bryan added.
Bryan isn’t from Ohio Valley Conference territory. Originally from Fort Worth Texas, Bryan moved to Oregon in 1989 and has lived there ever since. He attended the University of Oregon and can often be seen on Twitter proudly sporting a Ducks cap.
But Bryan didn’t grow up as a super fan. “I became interested in college basketball back in 2006 primarily,” he said. “I had a friend, who was a Stanford fan, that taught me pretty much all the ins and outs of the game, and his knowledge of the game inspired me to want to learn more about it, so I did.” And it’s not just college basketball, he has a love for college football as well.
“I get almost as excited for it as college basketball,” he says.
After graduating from the University of Oregon in 2008, Bryan was ready to take his first step towards his goal of becoming successful, and traveling the country.
But then, Bryan’s life took an unexpected bounce.
“I started to have strange sensations that would make me lose the ability to understand language, math, and what emotions meant, as well as other odd detachment feelings,” Bryan said. At first, they happened here and there, lasting only for a few moments. But over the next few years, they would increase in intensity. By 2011, Bryan says he would have these ‘detachment sensations’ about once a week.
Those sensations would continue, until September of 2012, when something different happened. This wasn’t just a sensation, it wasn’t a momentary lapse.
Bryan had a seizure, in his sleep.
The type of seizure Bryan had was a “Tonic-Clonic” seizure, where the person loses consciousness, the muscles stiffen, and jerking movements are seen. These seizures can last for minutes on end, and can be dangerous.
“My wife had to save my life,” Bryan says.
Over the next year, Bryan didn’t have any more seizures, but he continued to have more and more sensations of detachment, and they began lasting for longer and longer. By the end of 2013, Bryan would have his second seizure.
After that, a neurologist determined that the strange detachment sensations and major seizures both had an underlying cause.
“My wife had to save my life”
The detachment sensations were ‘partial seizures’ of their own, and both seizures were caused by epilepsy.
The diagnosis didn’t provide much immediate relief. Bryan continues to have major seizures, and they began to increase in frequency, happening as often as once or twice a week by 2015. He went to to Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, Oregon, where he was officially diagnosed with “Medical Temporal Lobe Epilepsy of the left temporal lobe and likely the Hippocampus.”
After that diagnosis, it was suggested that Bryan keep a log of his seizures. So that’s what he did for the next two years.
And in that time, a pattern emerged.
“From November to early April in 2015-16, and again from November to April of ’16-17, the amount of both types of seizures I experienced drops dramatically,” he said. “The best hypothesis that the neurologists have come up with is that at least some level, my seizures are stress-related in some way.”
As any one reading this site likely knows — college basketball season runs from November…to early April.
“It might not make sense to some, but I get a sense of mental relaxation and comfort in being able to experience college hoops,” Bryan says, “even though I am jumping up and down in excitement when I probably shouldn’t be,”
So with this information in the back of his mind — that his seizures could be stress-related, and that his seizures dropped during college basketball season — Bryan says seeing a friend’s jersey collections sparked a wild idea.
“Since I wasn’t able to drive anymore, and my career couldn’t take off because I became disabled with this condition and have found it nearly impossible to hold a job, then I figured I should try and achieve my dream in some way, and what better way than to rep all the D1 schools and show to the world what they mean to me and to the understanding of the human brain.”
I figured I should try and achieve my dream in some way
“They are institutions that promote a higher understanding of the brain,” Bryan continues, “and how it is affected by the world around us, as well as celebrating what a unique type of unification basketball and sports brings in that people from vastly different socio-political backgrounds can come together as friends when they put on the same jersey.”
When I asked Bryan to share his story, his jersey collection sat at 76, with six Ohio Valley Conference jersey’s sit among them: Murray State, Morehead State, Southeast Missouri, SIUE, Tennessee State, and Tennessee Tech. Friday, Bryan received jersey No. 77. His alma mater, Oregon.
— Bryan Black (@350jerseys4hope) June 23, 2017
Some jerseys sent to Bryan fit better than others. Some, like from former Ohio State head coach Thad Matta, came with a handwritten note.
— Bryan Black (@350jerseys4hope) June 5, 2017
But Bryan says they all mean so much.
“When I feel helpless and like the world comes crashing down on me due to circumstances beyond my control, I just remember about the people that are wishing me well and the ones that I have around me, as well as these 350 or so schools that are also lending their support to me through this difficult time.”
“These jerseys help me stay positive by reminding me during the off-season that, when I am having a lot of seizures, I can always think about college basketball and that these schools are a huge part of what I love to focus on all the time.”
Bryan’s journey is far from over. He’s expected to have an extended stay in the hospital this week, and in December, Bryan is scheduled for brain surgery. He says he hopes to have all 350 or so jerseys by then, and he really wants jerseys from smaller schools first.
“I want to show the world that this game does not happen in a vacuum and all of these schools are part of the same net.”
Of the OVC jerseys he has, he says Tennessee Tech’s is his favorite so far, although he appreciated each and every jersey he’s received.
“I really want Belmont and Eastern Illinois,” Bryan added.
— Bryan Black (@350jerseys4hope) April 14, 2017
I’ve never met Bryan in person, and Bryan first reached out to me on Twitter only recently. But I couldn’t help but be inspired by his quest. Because despite his struggles, he’s driven to unite communities across college basketball. He’s driven by nothing more than his love for the game. Bryan may not have grown up as a fan from the Ohio Valley Conference, but his passion represents the best of fans from every community.
Bryan’s just six OVC jerseys away from completing the conference collection.
I think we all can help him, a fellow college basketball fan, get there.
So to the coaches, SID’s, or anyone else reading this that would like to help, please contact me or send me a message on Twitter @OVCBall. You can follow Bryan and his journey through this Twitter @350Jerseys4hope, and he’ll be glad to join in on any college basketball or football discussions you want to have.
Positive early reviews on scheduling changes
Earlier this spring, we found out that divisions were officially dead for Ohio Valley Conference men’s basketball and that the OVC conference slate was expanding from 16-games to 18 effective this season.
Jeff Bidwell has begun his annual summer tour of the OVC on his radio show this week with EKU head coach Dan McHale and Morehead State head coach Preston Spradlin, and they’re both for the additional two conference games.
I like it. I really do,” McHale told Bidwell. “Anytime you can add another home game — obviously two more conference games means another home game — is great.”
“I think it’s a good move,” Spradlin said. “I like the intrigue in conference games. I think from a fan standpoint, it gives your fan base, the traditional OVC fanbase, your teams — they really know each other. They know the other teams in the league. To provide two more games, one of which will be at home — it’s always nice to provide another home game every year — that’s two less games you have to go out and find.”
Spradlin also discussed how the change helps them with scheduling, referring to how hard it is to get teams to come to schools like Morehead and Murray State.
“I just think our league has such a great reputation and so much respect out there it’s difficult,” Spradlin said. “I think you ask any coach in our league, it’s hard to schedule. It’s hard to get home games, especially in a place like Morehead State, like Murray State, a place where no one really wants to come play there because you have such a great advantage with the tradition and the fan support you’re going to get, and the atmosphere and the arenas. So it’s not an easy place to play, so it’s difficult to get those games.”
Both also expressed general support in getting rid of divisions. McHale said divisions was a “flip of the coin,” and the change bring the OVC in line with other conferences, while Spradlin says it makes sense since you’re adding two more games from the other ‘division.’
You can listen to Bidwell’s full interview with McHale and Spradlin on Soundcloud. (And follow him @AKAjeffbidwell as he’ll tweet out his interviews with the rest of the OVC coaches throughout the next two weeks)
The Weekly List: The (other) hot seat
Last week, we looked at the football coaches on the hot seat — which is to say there aren’t really any football coaches on the hot seat. This week, we’re looking at the basketball side of things, where there’s going to be a number higher than 5 on my 10-point scale.
It’s worth pointing out two things here: this is just my opinion, and I’m sure not wishing an exit from any coach in the league. In fact, some of the coaches on the higher-end of this list are among those that have been the most supportive of what I do here.
As before, my hot-seat grade goes from 0-10, with a 0 being ‘it’s safe to redecorate the office’ to 10 being ‘Might want to start taking down the decorations in the office’
Rick Byrd, Belmont
Hot seat score: -13
Byrd would need to lose 366 games in a row, or about 13-seasons worth, to be a .500 career coach. So, I’d say that Byrd is no fewer than 13 seasons away. and likely more, from warranting a score above zero on this list.
Unless he ditches the sweater vest. That would be an immediately fireable offense.
Matt Figger, Austin Peay
Hot seat score: 0
When is following after a coaching great, whose name is on the court, not a pressure-filled powder keg? Well, this would probably be one of those rare cases. Austin Peay is coming off a season where they missed the OVC Tournament, and the last few year of Loos’ incredibly successful run as head coach had a few downs.
Ray Harper, Jacksonville State
Hot seat score: 0
In four full seasons as a head coach, a Ray Harper-led team has failed to reach 20-wins exactly once, and enters this season with a .772 career winning percentage. Jacksonville State could not have made a better hire to lead their program.
Preston Spradlin, Morehead State
Hot seat score: 0
Taking over mid-season as head coach is never an easy proposition, but the details surrounding the resignation of Sean Woods last year, and the team’s struggles in non-conference play put Spradlin in quite a tough position. But the former UK Director of Ops led the Eagles to a three-seed before being upset by the Racers in the OVC Tournament second round. One thing that changed almost instantly after Woods’ departure: the Eagles stopped sending teams to the free-throw line…as least not quite as often. The Eagles finished 310th in the nation in defensive free-throw rate, and while 310th isn’t great, it’s better than any of Woods’ teams finished in that category.
Anthony Stewart, UT Martin
Hot seat score: 0
After giving Stewart a confounding hot-seat score last summer, Stewart was officially named head-coach before the season began. He rewarded the school with another West Division ‘championship,’ and a postseason win over UNC Ashville. This has been quite an amazing three-year run now for the Skyhawks following a lot of struggling years. It’s great to see UTM now in the mix year-in and year-out.
Dana Ford, Tennessee State
Hot seat score: 0
Last year was a confusing one for the Tigers. They started the year 6-0, pushed NC State to overtime and played Duke to within 10 points before the turn of the calendar into 2017. Then conference play began and…everything seemed to change. Close games weren’t especially friendly to the Tigers in conference play, (TSU lost twice in overtime in the regular season, and a third in the opening round of the OVC Tournament) and struggled with fouls. One disappointing season isn’t a major cause for concern, and Ford is under contract through 2021.
Steve Payne, Tennessee Tech
Hot seat score: 1
Over six full seasons as head coach, Payne has brought the Golden Eagles to the postseason twice, including in 2015-16. But last year’s 12 wins ties the fewest TTU has had under Payne, and their 20 losses is the most in a single season. Best I can tell, Payne enters this season with two years left on his contract, but we shouldn’t ignore his tenure with the program as both a coach and assistant, nor his role during the Mike Sutton years; This will be Payne’s 15th year in Cookeville.
Rick Ray, Southeast Missouri
Hot seat score: 1
The Redhawks entered the final weekend of the season in the driver’s seat to win the West Division, but a loss to eliminated Austin Peay on the final day sent the Redhawks from the 2-seed back into the first round of the tournament. Ray’s Redhawks jumped from 5 wins in season 1 to 15 in season no. 2, so why does he even warrant a hot-seat score of 1? Simple: expectations are high in SEMO. Dickey Nutt was fired after an 18-14 season, after all.
Jay Spoonhour, Eastern Illinois
Hot seat score: 3
Spoonhour’s career with the Panthers in a lot of way mirrors Payne’s with the Golden Eagles: they have similar records, both overall (Payne has a .484 winning percentage, Spoonhour with a .435) and in conference play; (Payne: .479, Spoonhour: .463) both have postseason appearances under their belt; and neither have had either a single-digit win year, or a 20-win year. But EIU missed the OVC Tournament for the first time under Spoonhour’s tenure, and that’s something you definitely don’t want to become a trend.
As a small addition, I couldn’t find Spoonhour’s contract details in time for this article. (Last update I found him had him through contract through the ’16-17 season)
Dan McHale, Eastern Kentucky
Hot seat score: 6
McHale is entering the third season of a four-year deal, and he’s 0-for-2 in leading the Colonels to the OVC Tournament. Before this two-year span, Eastern Kentucky had made every OVC Tournament since 2002. Now yes, McHale did have a young team last year, and dealt with a key injury, but I say it fairly regularly: year no. 3 is when, fair-or-not, most coaches are deemed to have had enough time to put their stamp on the program. McHale needs to get the Colonels to the OVC Tournament this year, plain and simple.
Matt McMahon, Murray State
Hot seat score: 7
We all know how high the expectations when it comes to basketball at Murray State, and McMahon has…struggled to reach them. The “streak” of winning seasons is now gone, but McMahon knows it’s now his role to start a new one. McMahon had nearly universal support when he succeeded Steve Prohm as head coach, which makes this different from a “Tevester Anderson” situation — and Allen Ward wasn’t the school’s athletic director at that time. Even so, a conference title would do wonders for some fans psyches.
Jon Harris, SIUE
Hot seat score: 8
Two seasons: 12 wins, 4 conference wins. Total. The Cougars were nearly shut out in the conference category last season, saved by a final day win against also-eliminated Eastern Illinois. Former head coach Lennox Forrester was let go after an 8-8 conference campaign. Harris could be saved by a similar season.
Statistical Nonsense — Importance of offensive rebounding
The past few years have seen quite a few rule changes aimed at reducing the physicality of play, and as those rules continue to evolve you’ll sometimes hear people say that offensive rebounding is harder than ever, and less important as offenses improve.
I’m currently gathering information for our annual Ridiculously Early basketball previews (which will launch in two weeks) and I’m seeing that offensive rebounding is down over the past three seasons, especially — but I’m not yet convinced that it’s a major shift. Here’s the rates dating back the past 10 seasons for the league as a whole:
Over the last three seasons, OVC teams are averaging a 30% offensive rebounding rate — which means that 30% of all misses are being rebounded by the offense. From 2002-2012, that average was above 32% and never dipped below 31.1% in any given season.
The style of basketball in the OVC (cough Belmont cough) has changed over the years, and the Bruins were among a trio of teams under 26% last year on the offensive glass, joining Austin Peay and Eastern Kentucky, two teams that missed the OVC Tournament.
But here’s the thing: A two-percent drop over the course of a season is about 15-20 offensive rebounds per team, based on recent season averages, so we’re talking about less than one a game.
Another thing to consider: How much can the rules still be changed to affect physical play? If the recent drop over the past three years are indeed linked to the change in rules, then the current offensive rebounding rates should stay fairly even unless there are other significant rule changes made in the future. If they’re not linked to rules, but rather a change in offense — it’s worth noting that shooting percentages, at least in the OVC, haven’t really improved over the same span. Scoring is up — but it appears that’s more due to a drop in overall turnover rate (also rules-inflicted) and an increase in possessions per game with a shorter shot clock.
News and Notes from around the league
Heading to the summer league. No OVC players went in the draft, but a few OVC players will get a chance to show their skills in the summer league. Antonius Cleveland will play for the Trail Blazers Las Vegas summer league squad. Cleveland is the second Redhawk to make a summer league roster; Tyler Stone was the first in 2015. Former TSU Tiger Tahjere McCall will play for the Nets’ summer league squad.
Hitting bombs. Morehead State’s Niko Hulsizer will play in the 8th annual College Home Run Derby on July 1. Hulsizer ranked 2nd in the nation with 27 home runs, an OVC single-season record. He also hit a moving fire truck earlier this year.
BASE: Eagles 5, Murray 1 | BOT 2
Niko Hulsizer just hit perhaps the longest home run in the OVC Tournament. GRAND SLAM! His 25th homer! pic.twitter.com/21KCqy8Wlj
— MSU Eagles Live (@MSUEaglesLive) May 25, 2017
Rivalry Renewed: Tennessee State and Middle Tennessee will meet in 2019 on the football field for the first time in 21 years. TSU says they hope to ‘host’ MTSU at Nissan Stadium on a return game in the future.
7 things I learned this week
- This week is the 45th anniversary of Title IX, which has implications well beyond sports, but is probably best known for it’s role in pushing the rise of women’s college athletics. Even 45 years from this monumental law, we’re still far from true equality. A new report released by the NCAA this week found the low representation of minority women in NCAA leadership positions has remained mostly stagnant over the past five years, and that Division I athletics departments still spend about twice as much on men’s programs as women’s.
- On top of college and the grind of being a Division I athlete, UT Martin’s Joe Este also has custody of his two nephews, 7-and 8-years old. “I go throughout the whole day trying to show them boys that you’ve got to go hard for what you want,” Este told STATS.
- The FCS playoffs turn 40 this year. The FBS playoffs turn 4.
- EA sports is bringing back college football…just as a part of the new “Longshot” storyline in Madden, and not as it’s own game. Can the NCAA let this one go yet?
- Falcons fans will have a great view in-stadium the next time their team meltdowns in a big game as the team shows off a new video board on Instagram that Jerry Jones will surely be quite jealous of.
- Ohio State fans are the best, after one mows “Ohio” into his Michigan-fan-friend’s lawn while he’s out of town.
- The best stories from my ‘real’ job:
- Weirdest story of the week: An Ohio couple almost accidentally donated $97,004 dollars to Goodwill. Which begs two questions: why would you have $97,0004 in a duffel bag…and why would you bring it with you to Goodwill when you’re donating other things? You should at least know which bag you’ve put it in…
- Best story of the week: Zamboni drivers are the real MVPs. A zamboni driver saved the life of a man having an heart attack on the ice at at a Massachusetts ice rink.
Suggestion for the week ahead
It’s summer, so what better time to sit outside with a great book? I’ve got two suggestions for you: one sports-related, one non-sports related.
Barbarian Days: A Sufing Life is a fascinating memoir written by William Finnegan. Unlike a lot of sports-related subjects, Finnegan was never a professional surfer. This is a incredibly personal journey through a different era, where parents would let their 14-year-old kids go to the beach by themselves without blinking, and where school fights were not just the norm, but sometimes scheduled. At it’s core, it’s the story of Finnegan’s fascination and love of surfing, and how it impact his life out of the water as well. Surfing has always been something I’ve been fascinated with myself, but I would recommend this for those who never want to take on a wave a well.
My non-sports suggestion is Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis. J.D. Vance’s story of his family’s success and struggles of rising from the poor to the middle-class is incredibly raw and touching. In a lot of ways, the struggles of his family are mirrored through most families and small-town communities. A lot of people have linked the timing of this as well — it was released right before the Trump win last November, and in a lot of ways describes a community often forgotten about by mainstream media that play a massive part in the direction of our country. That being said, this isn’t a political book in the least, focused more on how his family’s rise in wealth didn’t always help them escape their own demons.
And if you haven’t done it yet, vote for my official OVC football preseason ballot. Your votes will determine what ballot I send in for the OVC media poll released ahead of OVC media day, which is four weeks away, by the way.
It’s also baseball season, I’m told, if that’s your thing.
This is the second week of this. If you missed last week’s inaugural ‘OVC Weekly’ (which, if I’m being honest, needs a better name) you can read it here.
I also want to thank Bryan for taking time to answer my questions. By the way, his first jersey he collected was from Eastern Washington, and his favorite, other than his alma mater Oregon of course, is St. Joseph’s.
If you’d like to support OVC Ball, you can through patreon. Even just a dollar a month would go a long way. I’m working on a few computer/mobile backgrounds that I hope to give out to patreons as well, and I’ll have a preview of those in the coming weeks. I’m also working on adding a video component to add to this weekly longform, and hope to have that up and running sometime in July.
If you have something you want to see, let me know in the comments or @OVCBall on twitter.