Harvard on the Border

» Wash. Monthly: Higher Education’s New Caste System

Over the years, I’ve grown to just ignore one of my favorite magazines as they put out their college ranking issue. But as dumb luck would have it, I’m apparently now in the business of following, tracking, and reading as much news as possible about education. So the start of the semester produced its usual bounty of new content and I still have to force myself to read through some articles that have otherwise outlived any purpose post-collegiate me.

Then this caught my eye …

Diana Natalicio, the President of the University of Texas at El Paso (which the Washington Monthly ranks #7, right ahead of Harvard) said that she and her colleagues had to change the culture at UTEP. She said that in the early ‘90s, her colleagues at UTEP looked at their minority and low-income student body as “a liability,” rather than an asset. Since then, Natalicio has worked closely with the K-12 system in El Paso, all but eliminating remedial education at the college level. “Data was essential in transforming our institution,” said Natalicio who asserts that facts, rather than biases and assumptions drive their new decisions.

First cavaet is to avoid the bait of determining whether UTEP is really a better school than Harvard. Lists are for starting arguments, nothing else. And since Don Haskins is no longer among us, I think we all know which of the two institutions we would rather send a kid to learn stuff real good.

No, what got my attention out of this was the idea that UTEP has “all but eliminated” remedial education at the college level. While I think it goes without saying that UTEP has done an impressive job in dealing with a challenging situation, the irony remains that there exists some easy data to show that UTEP has not “all but eliminated” remedial coursework. Here’s a 2012 report, covering the Fall 2011 cohort of incoming students. Page two of the report will highlight that of the 30% of the first-time student population that did not meet state standards in math, reading, or writing, just more than half of them opted to take developmental coursework. Similarly, there were 343 students who did meet the math standard, yet opted for the same (this tracks with data at other campuses, as well).

That’s not quite on par with the Tier One universities in the state and it’s still a peg or two below the “Near Ones,” as well. But it’s some impressive progress at UTEP, nonetheless (feel free to compare numbers against their Fall 2003 showings).

There are still several hurdles to clear, as a March NYT/TxTrib article covers. And what makes UTEP admirable is that they have leadership that emphasizes the importance of keeping the front door of college as open as possible at a time when the fine folks at the Lege want to tie more dollars to degree completion. UTEP’s approach contrasts a bit with the method that my alma mater has chosen to move up the ladder to bigger and better things.

Different strokes for different folks, I suppose. But it still strikes me as a shame if we end up with more of a caste system college structure as a result.

Cougar Aggre-blogging

A pretty busy weekend in extended Cougar sposts …

» Chron: Piland, defense suffer through season opener to forget
» Chron: UH changes offensive coordinators in reaction to Texas St. loss
Brutal day and a dizzying turn of events watching a coach hired after an extensive Google search by Coach Levine. Here’s hoping things turn around fast. For whatever team failings are going to reflect on Levine, the lack of returning starters is a bigger issue in my mind. I’m not sure how many of the kids we have lining up now are likely to be multi-year lettermen, but this isn’t the first time we’ve been at the start of a four-to-five year project with unproven talent in the first year. I’m waiting and I hope to be seeing. Soon.

» AZ Republic: Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kevin Kolb knows there is time to make amends
Also brutal. I’ll be shocked if Kolb doesn’t get some starting time for the Cards at some point in the season. The O-line is just too iffy for the team to see them going through only one QB. What Kolb shows off the bench will likely determine how much of a career he has from this point on.

» Chron: Case Keenum clears waivers; signed to practice squad
» Detroit Free Press: Lions reportedly sign CB Drayton Florence; add Patrick Edwards, Ross Weaver to practice squad
Elsewhere, RB Michael Hayes ended up getting cut by the Chargers (Jackie Battle is still in their backfield, however) and LB Sammy Brown was a late cut by the St. Louis Rams. Of the four, I’d have probably picked Edwards to take his talents to the UFL or CFL to prove what he can do. Nice to see Detroit being smart enough to hold onto him. There’s some good history there with short receivers.

» Chron: Legendary UH athletic trainer Wilson dies at 85
Even our training staff at UH was legendary.

Big Day In Houston Football …

» Chron: Experienced Piland Gets QB Nod
I admit, I like the move. I assume it wasn’t for nothing that Piland beat out the one-time star prospect Terrance Broadway two seasons ago. And given the head start he had during his redshirt season, it sounds like he had as good of a mentoring as one can get. And just to add one bit of re-assurance, Piland becomes (possibly) the third consecutive four-year starter (sorta) for the Cougars. Now to find a way to get over my loathing of Piland’s alma mater, Southlake Carroll, for three seasons.

» Chron: Timing was right for UH to refresh identity with new look
Not exactly on-the-field matters here, but worth noting. I do like the updated UH logo since it strikes a happy balance between the skinny UH that I grew up with and went to school with and the more modern, telegenic, fat UH that we’ve had for several years now. As for the Penn State ripoff idea for Shasta, that’s far less welcome than the remote, live Shasta that we’ve added.

» Chron: New coach Shealy eager to put HBU football on field in 2013
» Chron: HBU plans to build 10,000-seat on-campus football stadium

I can’t say that I’m well-versed in the history of Houston Baptist’s new coach, Vic Shealy. But I’m happy as a clam to see things moving forward since the school is within walking distance from home. The talk of a few “exhibition-type” games next season does nothing to quell that enthusiasm.

MoneyBunt

A note from the Coogs’ loss on the baseball field Tuesday night …

With the potential game-tying run standing on third base (Taylor White) and one out in the bottom of the ninth and the Cougars’ No. 3 hitter at the plate (Casey Grayson) and UH in need of a run, the Cougars twice attempted a safety squeeze. Grayson tried to bunt twice but was unsuccessful and eventually popped up to the shortstop. Jacob Lueneberg made solid contact with two outs on a ball to right field but it landed right in the glove of Kyle Danford for the final out.

When asked about the thought process of trying the squeeze with Grayson, Whitting said that’s his philosophy for that situation.

“Like I told the team after the game, I’ll bunt Albert Pujols. I don’t care,” Whitting said. “We work on that play a lot. The percentages are in our favor. The percentages on a safety squeeze are way in your favor as opposed to swinging the bat. We’re going to get that bunt down as a team 70-80 percent of the time and we’re going to get a hit a third of the time. You’ve got to be committed to the play and execute it. I’d rather walk out of the inning 3-3 than 3-2 and going home.”

Among the adjustments on my part from strictly watching MLB on the tube, but the difference in quality of play was a given. But now I’m curious to know if many other college teams are likely to bunt in these situations as well. My first Sunday game definitely saw a bit of this. As an above-average bunter back in my day, I’m suddenly intrigued.

Cougar Baseball Off to a Perfect Start

Pardon the indulgence, but the first effort at breaking in a new habit for the sports calendar has proven successful. Sunday’s day in the park with the UH Cougars and Delaware Blue Hens was perfect in every way. Weather – good. Coogs – won. Game – never dull.

While this year’s team isn’t necessarily the most stellar that we’ve had on paper at the beginning of a season, there were some definite highlights to take in on Sunday:

– Freshman Pitcher Aaron Garza, a Galveston Ball product, was pretty amazing to watch for 6 solid innings. That came after walking his first batter on four consecutive pitches. I wasn’t sure what I’d get to see considering Garza is the #3 pitcher on the staff. But if he handles batters anywhere near as well as he did on the lowly Blue Hens of Delaware, he could be a good one to watch in the years ahead.

– Price Jacobs, another Houston-area freshman, who hit his first home run on Sunday. He also had an incredible series, hitting .818 for the weekend. To be playing as a freshman in the first place, I assume there’s going to be more great games ahead for him.

– I also got to field-test a new way to keep a baseball scorecard with my Kindle. It’s still a bit of a learning curve for how to keep that sucker handy while still enjoying the game. I did find myself with my nose buried to the grindstone of figuring out some things for the first time with the app. Among the sort of things that I normally like to do, but couldn’t with play-by-play action to capture is noticing different ways that the middle infield responds to batters, batting stances, or how good the second basemen are in the field. Instead, I’m punching strikes and balls on my Kindle.

But it produced very useful charts, stats and scorecards. I’m going to try and go back to do the first two games with this app. There’s hope that I can follow along with it a full season, but I don’t know if I want to make that commitment just yet. But its definitely the most fun I’ve had since trying to keep track of some unique sabermetrics on the Astros back in the 90s (and without a subscription to stats.com). I’m hoping it gets easier to manage the device and soak in the rest of the game, but no complaints outta me when the weather’s beautiful.

For what it’s worth, here is Price Jacobs’ hitting chart for the full game on Sunday and half of the second game that I had logged the day before. It’s pretty suggestive that future outfields might want to overplay him to the left a bit …

Next week is some serious blogger-on-blogger rivalry as the Coogs take on Stace‘s evil Texas State Bobcats (currently ranked #40 in the nation). Last check of the RSVP list had Perry also joining us. Anyone else planning to make it, feel free to do so. To give credit where its due, Houston City Council Member James Rodriguez was spotted yesterday in full Cougar regalia and with family on tow.

The weekend after the War on Bobcats gets off to an early start with the Minute Maid Classic. I’m hoping to take in all three Cougar games for that series. Both weekends should be a bit more telling about what this team can do against better competition.

Pre-Weekend Cache Clearance

A minor gaggle of updates and recommended reading for things slipping past my ability to find time to blog about them …

» Cougar baseball season begins today. I’m not expecting great things from them this season, but I am committing myself to the occasional Sunday afternoon game just to find some excuse to get back around campus and enjoy a little school spirit. First up, the Blue Hens of Delaware. I really want to see mascots there. Next week, Stace and I fight it out via our alma maters: that’d be Texas State for Dos Centavos.
I believe we may be joined by other bloggers, as well.

» Slate: Obama’s White Whale
Good reading for dataheads.

» TechPresident: How Low Can You Go? Why the $3 E-mail Ask is Working
Good reading for techheads.

» Christianity Today: The Best Ways to Fight Poverty—Really
Good reading for do-gooders.

» Note to self: get me a hound dog sometime in the foreseeable future. Also note to self: ignore Westminster preferences for best of breed.

Play Ball

» Chron: Cougar baseball begins new journey

For the five people or so who might be interested in Cougar baseball …

A total of 14 Cougars return from that 27-32 squad that finished tied for fourth in C-USA (12-12) and they’re joined by a whopping 20 newcomers that look to add significant depth that wasn’t seen a season ago.

For starters, the Cougars will at least begin with a full deck of pitchers in tow. A year ago at this time, the Cougars were starting practice with just nine healthy pitchers that were expected to contribute. On Friday, they had 16 arms suited up for practice led by the pair of senior righthanders, Jared Ray and Mo Wiley and junior lefthander Jordan Lewis.

Ray, who missed most of last season while recovering from a third arm surgery but joined the rotation in time to contribute late in the regular season and the postseason, said he’s 100 percent and feels no ill effects from his multiple times under the knife. Wiley is coming off a productive season of his own in which he started 12 games, went 4-4 with a 4.63 ERA in 70 innings. Lewis threw a team-high 81 2/3 innings and was 5-3 with a 3.75 ERA (both team highs) and became a consistent Saturday starter for the Cougars last season.

I don’t know whether it qualifies as a New Years resolution or merely serves as the after-affect of a fairly successful football season pushing my Cougar Pride buttons. But I’m planning on taking in some Sunday afternoon games this season, in addition to the Minute Maid Classic. Hopefully, the new scorecard app for the Kindle works out and I’ll be able to test this hypothesis from Moneyball …

Baseball is theater. But it could not be artful unless its performances could be properly understood. The meaning of these performances depended on the clarity of the statistics that measure them; bad fielding statistics were like a fog hanging over the stage. That raised an obvious question: why would the people in charge allow professional baseball to be distorted so obviously? The answer was equally obvious: they believed they could judge a player’s performance simply by watching it. In this, James argued, they were deeply mistaken.

That was James’s most general point, buried beneath his outrage about fielding statistics: the naked eye was an inadequate tool for learning what you needed to know to evaluate baseball players and baseball games:

Think about it. One absolutely cannot tell, by watching, the difference between a .300 hitter and a .275 hitter. The difference is one hit every two weeks. It might be that a reporter, seeing every game that the team plays, could sense that difference over the course of the year if no records were kept, but I doubt it. Certainly the average fan, seeing perhaps a tenth of the team’s games, could never gauge two performances that accurately – in fact if you see both 15 games a year, there is a 40% change that the .275 hitter will have more hits than the .300 hitter in the games that you see. The difference between a good hitter and an average hitter is simply not visible – it is a matter of record.

But the hitter is the center of attention. We notice what he does, bend over the scorecard with his name in mind. If he hits a smash down the third base line and the third baseman makes a diving stop and throws the runner out, then we notice and applaud the third baseman. But until the smash is hit, who is watching the third baseman? If he anticipates, if he adjusts for the hitter and moves over just two steps, then the same smash is a routine backand stop – and nobody applauds ….

As an all-glove/sub-zero bat second baseman in little league, I tended to focus on second basemen for this very reason. Fans of my generation cooed over Ozzie Smith’s heroics at shortstop, but the point was made in certain circles that a truly great shortstop would be one that doesn’t require a high frequency of acrobatic plays. That spoke to me since I was more of a Joe Morgan/Lou Whitaker fan on the other side of the middle infield. Morgan was more of a routine view since the Astros were on TV more often. But Whitaker had better perks for his gig …

Compare and contrast, if you will, with Joe Morgan’s pop culture moment …

Coogs get going on Friday the 17th. I’ll be there for the Sunday game … trying to forget the memory of Pete Rose singing commercial jingles.

Life in the Post-Keenum World

It’s a big football weekend. Apparently, my church will be broadcasting the Texans game before and after our 1pm service. I’ve gotta be there to see that. Otherwise, Tebow-mania resumes tonight. In the interim, there’s this interesting profile of the guy who has the inside track on being the starting QB for the Houston Cougars next season …

» Chron: Heir apparent: Catching up with David Piland

In the comments, there’s discussion over whether Lamar HS QB Bram Kohlhausen might compete for the starting gig. Frankly, I’m not sure how much of that is a bit of Houston-centric homerism. I certainly do hope that he’s a strong enough competitor for the starting job, but I haven’t given up on hopes that Drew Hollingshead might have a little to show as well. Bottom line, though, is that if Piland isn’t the starter next season, then its news. The loss of senior receivers is more of a concern for the time being.

One point to tack on to all of this is the growing trend of high schools using multiple QB. What makes this particularly interesting is that this is exactly the format that Piland came out of in Southlake Carroll. So it’s not like it would be a new experience for him.

Coogs Get an Offensive Coordinator

» Chron: UH names Mike Nesbitt offensive coordinator

Next year is definitely going to be a big wait & see effort for Cougar football …

New Houston head coach Tony Levine has made two new hires to his football staff on Wednesday, naming Mike Nesbitt as the Cougars new offensive coordinator and Jamie Christian as UH’s new special teams coordinator and inside receivers coach, according to a person with knowledge of the situation.

Nesbitt comes from Stephen F. Austin where he led the Lumberjacks to top-15 rankings in passing offense, scoring offense and total offense in the Football Championship Subdivision.

Nesbitt’s offensive background is rooted in the same offense UH uses, the Air Raid. Prior to joining SFA in 2011, he spent four years at West Texas A&M coordinating its offense, averaging 529 yards per game in 2010.

Not a big, sexy hire like Holgerson was. But maybe one with potential. We’ll see. It’s definitely a different era at U of H, though. And things like this don’t help …

Also, former UH co-offensive coordinator and inside receivers coach Jason Phillips joined June Jones’ staff at SMU on Wednesday. Phillips, who played for UH in 1987-88 and was an All-American receiver, has spent the last four years on the UH staff and has spent nine total seasons as a UH assistant.

If we get off to a good start next year, Coach Levine will likely deserve a lot of credit. For now, though, there’s a lot of reason for crossing some fingers in the meantime.

Happy Football Gameday

Coogs kickoff at 11, so that’s where my attention will be.

Here’s ESPN’s preview. The Scranton paper notes that Penn State’s interim coach has had to contend with Ty Detmer and Tim Couch in previous bowl games. And looking beyond today’s bowl game, the Washington Times has a quick take on Case Keenum’s pro prospects:

But is this year’s resume enough to make Keenum a draft pick or at the very least get him on an NFL roster? Wes Bunting, the National Football Post’s director of college scouting, thinks so. He said that while Keenum doesn’t have the size and the arm strength to make all of the throws in the NFL, he has shown some improvement this year and as he gets older will get stronger and more precise. While it might not make him a starter, it should make him a quality backup.

“Is this a guy I’m going to trust to win football games for me in the NFL week in and week out? Absolutely not,” Bunting said. “But as a No. 2 or No. 3 guy early … When you watch around the NFL and Tyler Palko’s your backup, you can’t convince me that this guy doesn’t have a spot in the NFL. I think he could be that No. 3 guy early, he’ll develop into a No. 2. Kind of like what the Packers are trying to do with Graham Harrell. I think he can make a comfortable living in the NFL as a reserve-type quarterback.”

I think that’s about right. The two high-end comparisons that are out there for Case to take some confidence in are Drew Brees and Joe Montana (and yes, as a Montana-hater, it kills me to make this comparison). Both were undersized and lacked arm strength. Lacking some widespread acceptance of the bubble spread or Air Raid offenses in the NFL, Case will have to change his game a bit more to fit into most NFL schemes. He’s got a quick release and seems to be a decent reader of defenses, though. If those skills hold up at the next level, someone’s going to notice and give him a shot.

Coach Levine

Coach Levine goes from the interim head coach to the full-fledged real deal head coach for the Coogs. No complaints. It’s not a big, sexy hire like Briles or Sumlin were. But it makes a good deal of sense and Levine seems to have his fans in the football universe. A win on January 2nd sure would be a great start to it all.

UPDATE: Music to my ears via the press conference:

We’re going to continue to be the most exciting offense to watch in the country. … We’re going to be up-tempo. … We have a tremendous young nucleus coming back on offense next season and I don’t expect us to drop off offensively one bit.

The rationale for UH football all along has been that the best talent in the state generally has their choice of going to UT or A&M. Out of state schools can skim the highest-tier talent even more. For other schools in the state to have success, it usually involves running an offensive system outside of the mainstream. TCU, for what it’s worth, made their mark with an innovative defense under Gary Patterson. The pattern goes as far back as Bill Yeoman developing the Veer offense to UH in the 60s. Putting fans in the seats is all fine and well, but if it takes a retro move like going to the wishbone, I’d be fine with even that.

All in all, Coach Levine is certainly saying all the right things. It’d be incredible to see him have success and remain at UH significantly longer than the 3-year average he mentions. I’m just not convinced that anything approaching Yeoman-esque tenures are a reasonable expectation at mid-tier programs. So I’ll be happy if the program continues to progress during Levine’s time at UH.

First up after the bowl game is developing and/or deciding on a quarterback for 2012. Dave Piland didn’t strike me as half bad in his forced starting time last year. It probably says something that he beat out Terrance Broadway for the gig. Whether Crawford Jones, Bram Kohlhausen, Drew Hollingshead, or a new recruit (Austin Grammer of Tuscaloosa, AL is on the board) has what it takes to follow Kolb & Keenum is an insanely high expectation. Add in all of the senior receivers that will finish their college careers in the bowl game and things look a lot thinner at the skill positions. Obviously, I hope Levine is up to the challenge.