Jackson State working -- and traveling -- hard for the money
Nov. 15, 2006
By Gary Parrish CBS SportsLine.com Senior Writer
Tell Gary your opinion!
Tevester Anderson received the message, returned the call, and when I told him what I wanted to write about, the Jackson State coach joked, "You must think we're some stupid SOBs."
Stupid is such a harsh word.
How about some foolish SOBs?
"OK," Anderson said with a laugh. "You can call us foolish SOBs."
Here goes: Jackson State is some foolish SOBs.
Or crazy SOBs.
Or suicidal SOBs.
Either way, the JSU Tigers are some well-traveled SOBs, bouncing around the nation the past few days while opening the college basketball season with a schedule that is unmatched in difficulty, not to mention boxed lunches. It started last Thursday, when they bused from Jackson, Miss., to Tuscaloosa, Ala., to open Friday against the 10th-ranked Crimson Tide. Next morning, Jackson State bused to Atlanta, practiced for two days and played No. 23 Georgia Tech on Monday before Tuesday flying to Chicago, which is when I caught up with those foolish SOBs.
"We're in one of the longest layovers in history," said Marcus Jones, a freshman center from Houston. "We're going to be here in the airport like five hours."
To pass the time, the Tigers ate, slept and even held a study session right there in the terminal. Finally, they caught their connection to Champaign, Ill., where Jackson State was, on Wednesday night, to play Illinois, then shower, sleep for roughly two hours and catch a Thursday morning flight back to Chicago. There, it's another layover -- this one will be short, however -- followed by a connection to Memphis, where these presumably jet-lagged and worn-down Tigers will, on Thursday night, play John Calipari's 13th-ranked Tigers.
Memphis typically runs and presses to tire its opponent. In this instance, it will be completely unnecessary, if not plain cruel, considering JSU will be playing its fourth road game -- third against a ranked team -- in a matter of seven days.
"You should try coordinating all this travel sometime," joked JSU assistant Eric Strothers. "It's like we're an NBA team."
Yeah, except NBA teams don't have layovers, coach seats or study sessions. And they play back-to-backs because the NBA office requires it, not because of their own doing, which is a necessity for Jackson State, but not for RPI and strength-of-schedule purposes. Truth is, JSU is going through this nightmare for the same reason Florida Atlantic opened its football season with games at Clemson, Kansas State, Oklahoma State and South Carolina, for the same reason a single mother might work two jobs, for the same reason it appears O.J. Simpson is about to sorta-kinda admit he killed his ex-wife.
It's the root of all evil.
It's the cause of all scheduling woes.
"We're always going to have to play money games," Anderson acknowledged. "As long as we're at Jackson State, we're going to have to play a schedule like this."
According to Anderson, JSU is getting anywhere between $50,000 and 60,000 for each of these first four games, and because much of the travel was by bus, the net profit is significant. So though the Tigers took a 31-point beating at Alabama and 30-point loss at Georgia Tech, they were happy for the opportunity, and it's that opportunity -- that once-in-a-life-time/four-times-in-a-week opportunity -- that Anderson has turned into a motivator to help keep moral high despite the defeats and a road schedule that will, after Memphis, also take Jackson State to Rutgers (Nov. 21), Savannah State (Nov. 24), Southeast Louisiana (Nov. 28), UC Davis (Dec. 2) and Tulsa (Dec. 4) before the initial home game against Tougaloo (Dec. 18).
"I asked the players, 'Would you like to play a Georgia Tech? An Illinois? An Alabama? A Memphis? You want to play a good schedule. So let's go play them. Let's go compete against the big boys,'" Anderson said. "It can be a great experience for our guys, and as long as they don't get beat down -- and I don't think they will -- then it's only going to make us better. It's like they say, what doesn't kill you will make you stronger."
Which is true, of course.
But direct flights and first-class upgrades are also nice.
Even for a bunch of SOBs.