From its pay-for-play football past to its current, undesired status as a basketball school, Tuesday was not an easy day for SMU.
Ron Meyer, you will be missed.
The former SMU football coach died on Tuesday at the age of 76. Meyer is one of the more flamboyant characters in the history of the long gone Southwest Conference; a colorful man whose legacy is eternal as one of the main architects for the 1980s Pony Express, which is synonmous with the “Death Penalty.”
The man was long on BS, but even longer on charm. He was a brilliant car salesman whose product was football.
Also on Tuesday, SMU’s current head football coach, Chad Morris, reportedly has accepted the same job at Arkansas. Have fun with that.
Morris just completed his third season in Dallas, and it was no secret the former Clemson assistant was itching to move up to a Power Five conference the moment he arrived at SMU. He just led the Ponies to their third winning season of the century, and fourth since coming off said Death Penalty in 1989.
Morris’ departure creates another worrisome void for a school that is desperately trying to remain relevant in the overly-competitive, and insanely expensive, world of big-time college athletics.
Which is why what happened at the Schollmaier Arena on Tuesday evening so troublesome, and the last thing SMU needed on a hard day.
SMU has invested millions in its men’s basketball program, willingly took on coach Larry Brown knowing full well that his tenure would result in both an NCAA tournament berth and sanctions, and now is officially behind TCU in the other revenue sport.
No. 20 TCU’s 94-83 win over SMU on Tuesday night in Fort Worth was the type of game befitting what should be typical of a rivalry that, at least on the football field, is as dead as the Southwest Conference.
I thought TCU would catch SMU last season on the basketball court, but the Ponies punked TCU in Dallas. TCU has now caught SMU on the court, and the Ponies are now at a panic-button moment.
The arrival of Jamie Dixon officially has TCU in a position to bury the one difference between the two athletic departments.
SMU’s five-game winning streak against TCU is over, and everything suggests that under Dixon, in the Big 12, the balance is leaning towards Fort Worth. And it will be for a long time.
Tuesday night was the first time in recent memory, maybe decades, that SMU/TCU was fun, packed, and relevant beyond just the greater Fort Worth-Dallas radius. Hopefully it stays that way, but TCU has the power.
With a little more than six minutes remaining in the first half, the contigent of SMU fans chanted, “S-M-U! S-M-U! S-M-U!” loudly enough that the noise made a difference to create an actual atmosphere.
When SMU’s Ben Emelogu II tackled TCU forward Kenrich Williams on a breakaway with a little under 10 minutes remaining in the game, fans stood up, yelled, complained and were actually upset. Not football upset, but upset.
TCU/SMU now matters nationally.
Both teams should make the NCAA tournament in a state that will be loaded with qualifiers; Texas had no NCAA tourney teams in 2013, but could have as many as nine in 2018 (Texas A&M, SMU, TCU, Baylor, Texas, Texas Tech, UT-Arlington, Houston, Stephen F. Austin).
Both SMU and TCU have players that may well be selected in the 2018 NBA Draft — SMU’s Shake Milton and TCU’s Kenrich Williams. Milton has a nice permiter shot, and Williams is a guy who will generate interest because of his range and his ability to rebound from the wing.
Against SMU, Williams scored 27 of the most efficient points you will ever see; he missed one shot from the floor, and two shots from the foul line.
TCU is where SMU was when Brown led the Ponies to the NIT Finals in 2014, only the Frogs are in a better spot. The difference is that Brown’s tenure was never going to last too long, whereas Dixon is not going anywhere any time soon.
And Dixon has an NCAA tournament team, and is set up for repeated appearances there.
SMU’s Tim Jankovich has the impossible task of maintaining what Brown built, even if he was playing loose with the rules.
Jankovich and his team are going to have to get to work to make sure the widening gap between SMU and TCU doesn’t widen more than it already has.
Losing to TCU in the sport it previously owned was the final note to a perfectly long day for SMU.
Mac Engel: @macengelprof