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Published: Thursday, 2/26/2004

Rockets' Joplin will get more time

BOWLING GREEN - The University of Toledo's basketball team last night lost a second straight road game that was decided at the buzzer. The final was Bowling Green 79-76 in overtime. The game was marvelously played and masterfully coached on both sides.

BG's Dan Dakich, speaking for all coaches, says that winning is an incredible relief and losing is like death.

That being the case, it's probably not a good time to pile on Toledo's Stan Joplin. But four straight losses by UT, and five in the last six games, brings this question to mind as we approach the end of another season: What is Toledo athletic director Mike O'Brien going to do with, or about, his coach?

Remember, Tom Amstutz and Mark Ehlen, who coach football and women's basketball, respectively, were awarded contract extensions last September. A number of UT followers read much into the fact that Joplin was not.

O'Brien countered by saying one had nothing to do with the other. Amstutz and Ehlen were being rewarded for winning championships and guiding their teams to postseason play. If you care to think that comment somehow reflects on Joplin, that's your business.

“I don't worry about it,” Joplin said last night. “My record kind of speaks for itself. The program is pretty stable. I think it's better than when I took over. We've got a good team. We're close. Everyone has seen what kind of players our young kids are. We'll be fine. I just do the best job I possibly can and I don't worry about it.

“Should I?”

Good question.

Joplin is nearing the end of his eighth season at UT and owns a 133-97 record, including a 78-64 mark in Mid-American Conference games. In eight years prior to his arrival, two predecessors combined to go 115-118 overall and 66-70 in league play.

So, certainly, there has been improvement in that regard. But wins and losses aren't the sole issue.

There have been no league championships, no NCAA Tournament berths. The academic performance of Joplin's players has been barely acceptable and is a contentious issue among many on UT's campus. Then there is the barometer of interest.

UT will tell you it is leading all MAC teams in home attendance this season with an average of 5,349 per game. We'll give athletic department officials the benefit of the doubt and say that those are tickets sold as opposed to a number drawn from a hat, because the number surely does not reflect rear ends in seats.

On any given night, the Rockets might draw about 4,500 fans, half of capacity at Savage Hall. That's with a team that won 15 of its first 19 games while sporting a MAC player of the year candidate.

The past two seasons found UT admitting to attendance averages under 5,000 for the first time since the building opened in 1976.

There used to be a buzz in Toledo over UT basketball. It is more of a hush now.

Here is one man's opinion on what is about to happen to Joplin - nothing.

He will not be fired, nor should he be at this point. UT's athletic department has statisticians to count paper clips as well as assists and rebounds. Translation: There is no money available to pay a contract settlement even if the administration desired such a move.

He also will not get an extension, meaning he has one more season, realistically, either to prove to O'Brien and UT's Board of Trustees that he is deserving of a new deal or to become the lamest of ducks.

The UT athletic department has problems above and beyond who it is paying to coach men's basketball.

Savage Hall is getting long in tooth and occasional cosmetic surgery is no longer fooling anyone. Equally pressing is the need for an indoor practice facility for football. Several MAC schools already have one and Akron is building one. Akron, for goodness sake.

A new arena for basketball with Savage Hall being refurbished to accommodate football's needs is something being bounced around behind closed doors. Maybe it's a pipe dream. If it is ever more than that, you can imagine the dollar signs that would be attached to such a project.

It is not a good time for apathy in the UT basketball program to grow unchecked.

Joplin is very much under the gun to sell himself as still being part of the solution, not part of the problem.



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