Adams’ connection to East Tennessee State was announced earlier this year when coach Steve Forbes confirmed the Bucs had joined a new college basketball scheduling alliance for the 2019-20 season with plans to expand the program.
Adams, the head coach at Central Connecticut from 1991-96 and current ESPN analyst, said he came to ETSU on Tuesday because of the relationship with Forbes. Adams said no one coaches harder than Forbes and he likes the effort of ETSU’s team.
He didn’t mince words when it came to how he sees the Power 5 and Big East Conferences scheduling against mid-major programs.
“The biggest mistake the mid-majors make is they don’t band together,” Adams said. “The Power 5 and the Big East, they schedule together. It’s a cartel, it’s collusion although it’s legal. Those teams play 88 percent of their non-conference games at home or a neutral site. That stacks all the metrics in their favor.”
Wichita State, where Forbes served as an assistant before coming to ETSU, was used as an example of a mid-major program getting to the next level. Adams served as an analyst for the Missouri Valley Conference for 10 years on ESPN, getting an up-close look at the Shockers.
“They were at $2.5 million when (coach) Gregg Marshall first got there,” Adams said. “They had some success and after two years they invested in their program, got it up to $3 million. Today, they’re in the American (Athletic Conference) and they invest about $9 million in their program. That sounds like a lot, but programs like Louisville and Kentucky spend around $16-$20 million. What they do though was build on the success, reinvested in their coach and players — and they’ve been in the NCAA tournament seven consecutive years.”
He looked at other success stories like Butler, who made two NCAA finals, and moving it from the Atlantic 10 to the Big East, and Gonzaga, who has stayed put in the West Coast Conference, but played North Carolina for the 2017 national championship. Adams said both models work as long as the fans and schools are willing to make the investment to get there.
Adams sees progress ahead and he has been retained as a consultant to the Sun Belt Conference and Conference USA. He added he’s working with six other conferences to make sure the alliances work.
“Once upon a time, conferences tried to put together challenge games, but they always fell apart,” Adams said. “Think of it as health care. You have to have enough healthy bodies, along with some middling bodies and some that need some help. I’ve built these alliances where you have the great programs at the top, but you have the metrics you need.
“I’d love to have the teams come and play here, but the Power 5 teams have an average budget of $9 million and they will have nothing to do with East Tennessee State. But we can get a Wichita State, a Gonzaga or some of the higher mid-major programs to play on a regular basis.”
A mid-major team’s success can hurt as Adams used the example of how it’s been difficult for Loyola of Chicago to schedule games following the Ramblers’ run to the Final Four.
Asked about the teams he sees reaching the level of a Wichita State, Gonzaga or Butler over the next few years, Adams was quick to name a trio of them.
“Western Kentucky, in Conference USA with Rick Stansbury, is recruiting at a high level,” Adams said. “In the Atlantic 10, Dayton has been at that level and taken a step back. With Anthony Grant, I see them moving forward. VCU is another great example. When they were in the Colonial, their budget was under $5 million. Now that they’re in the Atlantic 10, they’re in the mix for the NCAA tournament bid. Those programs stand out to me right now.”
INSIGHT INTO THE BUCS
Tuesday’s event also included a 45-minute practice session and gave ETSU fans more insight into the program, including a tour of the locker room facilities and the ability for them to ask Forbes questions.
One question centered around how the coach is able to build chemistry with new players coming into the program every year.
“Practice started June 22 and we have a lot of time to practice,” Forbes said. “I create a lot of adverse situations for them where it’s almost a them versus me mentality. We spent a lot of time with each other away from the court. Where I coached 11 years at the junior college level with all the turnover, it doesn’t bother me as much as some coaches — although this is the youngest team I’ve had.”