Editor's note: This story first appeared Sunday as an exclusive for our print readers.
Early Thursday morning, a few ticks past midnight in the Alamodome, Mike Stoops completed his news conference remarks and walked 50 yards toward Arizona's locker room.
At that moment, in an awkward piece of happenstance, the Oklahoma State football team had completed its on-field celebration and was walking in Stoops' direction. Head coach Mike Gundy was at the front of the aggregation, accompanied by billionaire T. Boone Pickens, who was carrying a very large Alamo Bowl championship trophy.
Stoops lowered his head and moved to the side, obscured by the happy Cowboys and the man who donated $165 million to their athletic department in 2005.
College football is a game of money. Oklahoma State has lots of it. Arizona does not. By most measures, Arizona and Oklahoma State are middle-tier entries in college football, but because Pickens is to OSU as Phil Knight is to Oregon, the Cowboys play on a much bigger stage with much bigger expectations.
Arizona applies Band-Aids to its facilities issues. OSU builds a Taj Mahal. Gundy was paid $2.2 million this year; Stoops $1.1 million. OSU had football revenues of $32.7 million in 2009; Arizona's football revenues were $24.4 million.
That's part of the reason OSU can pay a high-profile offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen $360,000 per year, while Arizona's co-coordinators, relative beginners at that level, were capped at $240,000.
Pickens is essentially the owner of Oklahoma State athletics. No wonder it gave him the Alamo Bowl trophy. Those in the middle section of BCS college football, Arizona and ASU, for example, play at a significant disadvantage.
The Cowboys didn't hammer Arizona 36-10 because they have more money, but that's part of it. The Wildcats desperately need about $90 million to build a football plant commensurate with Pac-10 standards and attract a higher cut of recruits.
Alas, raising that $90 million, or even getting to about $30 million, at which time a bonding process can begin, is a colossal project that might not reach fruition for years. It's conceivable that Arizona's much-needed north end zone project might not be complete until 2014 or thereabouts.
Stoops pledged to re-evaluate his football program, saying "obviously, we're not there yet," but I think it's most likely Arizona is as good as it is going to get for a long time. Getting back to an upper-tier game like the Alamo Bowl, or even the Holiday Bowl, may be a time that has come and gone for the Wildcats.
Ex-Cats aide now oversees big-spending plan at TCU
TCU athletic director Chris Del Conte was the No. 2 man in Arizona's athletic department from 2000 to 2006, a charismatic figure who might've been the successor to Jim Livengood had not he gone from Rice to TCU two months before Livengood's contract was not renewed in 2009.
What were the chances Del Conte would get to the Rose Bowl before Arizona? Pretty crazy, huh?
Del Conte told the Los Angeles Times last week that TCU's athletic department has raised $130 million since last February. He is spending $105 million of it to re-do TCU's football stadium.
The difference between being AD at Arizona and TCU is mostly about money. TCU spent $7 million in 2003 to re-do its baseball stadium, which is superior to every Pac-10 baseball facility except the new one at Nike U, Oregon. And guess who is ranked No. 1 in the Collegiate Baseball preseason poll? Right, TCU.
In college sports, following the money is always the first rule.
Criner has nearly 2 weeks before pro decision is due
Upon leaving the UA locker room at the Alamo-dome, receiver Juron Criner stopped to consider the choice of sandwiches available to UA football players: ham and cheddar or smoked turkey and Swiss? That was much easier than Criner's most compelling choice: Does he go to the NFL after catching 82 passes in 2010, or does he return for his senior season? "The decision starts now," he said. "I've got to meet with my mother and my brother and some other people I trust." Criner has until Jan. 15 to make his decision. Prediction: Gone. Former UA receiver Kenny Zuckerman, an NFL-certified contract advisor and president of athletic representation at Priority Sports, was at the Alamo Bowl. Zuckerman represents such players as ex-Oregon All-Pro lineman Haloti Ngata of the Baltimore Ravens. Criner comes from a single-parent home in Las Vegas; his mother has since moved to Texas. When it comes to a choice between, say, something Zuckerman can propose or sitting in UA classrooms for two more semesters, it won't be a difficult choice. … I saw UA tailback Keola Antolin at the San Antonio airport early Thursday morning. He was lucid and chatting with UA defensive line coach Joe Salave'a. After the frightening helmet-to-helmet hit that knocked Antolin out of the Alamo Bowl early in the first quarter, it was comforting to see him in good spirits. "I'm fine," he said.
Pair of Wildcat standouts prepare for more football
Although they closed their college careers on an 0-5 slide, standout UA senior defensive ends Ricky Elmore and Brooks Reed are just getting started on some big plans. Elmore and Reed both were invited to the NFL Combine last week. Reed also accepted an invitation to play in the Senior Bowl. Elmore will play in the NFLPA Game, ironically, at the Alamodome on Feb. 5. He is likely to play in the East-West Shrine Game as well. UA senior left tackle Adam Grant has also been invited to the NFL Combine. … Coach Mike Stoops might have trouble hanging on to defensive coordinator Tim Kish, who is in demand on the job market. It was good to see Kish on the field for the first time in his seven UA seasons; he normally works the press box on game days. But at the Alamo Bowl, Kish was on the field and stood out because he is a positive, encouraging force who so often has been absent on the UA sidelines. … Among those who might be a good fit for Arizona's vacant secondary coaching job is ex-Wildcat safety David Fipp, who is probably working his last game as the San Francisco 49ers assistant special teams coach today. The entire 49ers staff is expected to be dismissed this week. Fipp has been co-defensive coordinator at Nevada and at San Jose State and was also a graduate assistant at Arizona in 2000. … Cleveland Indians outfielder Jordan Brown, a UA alumnus who spends his off-season living in Oro Valley, is coaching a boys 12-under baseball team at Sports Park this winter. It's nice to see him giving back, involved in the community.
MORE SHORT STUFF
Arzouman likely a key cog for Cats
Salpointe Catholic senior center Jacob Arzouman started in the NUC All-World Gridiron Classic on Friday night in Charleston, S.C. Arzouman is among those who figure prominently in the plans of Arizona's offensive line the next four seasons; all five starters of 2010 are out of eligibility. … Salpointe junior infielder Ryan Penaflor has accepted an invitation to play in the Under Armour Pre-Season All-America Tournament on Jan. 14-16 at Kino Sports Complex. About 300 of the nation's top high school baseball players, on 20 teams, will be involved in the tourney. … Among those I did not mention in the Top 100 Southern Arizona sports figures of 2010 were Ironwood Ridge state championship tennis (doubles) players Marissa Baca and Sara Brown, who were only freshmen while winning the 5A-II title. They were 19-1 for the year and I'm guessing we'll be hearing more from them later. … Ironwood Ridge boys basketball coach Brian Peabody won the 400th game of his career last week. His team went 6-0 after the return of football players Mitch Fischer, Tyler D'Amore and Tyler Williams to the lineup. The Nighthawks are 10-4. Peabody required 17 seasons to get to 400; his assistants, Mike Morgan and Matt Minder, have been with him all 17 years. … Good to hear that legendary former UA baseball coach Jerry Kindall is recovering nicely from a mild stroke in mid-December. Kindall, 75, who still looks as though he could play shortstop somewhere, did not suffer any permanent physical damage.
MY TWO CENTS
Feder, Byrne, PGA Tour gems in 2010
The goofs and gems of 2010, or, a final look back at the Tucson year in sports, 2010:
The three gems: 1, Former Toros and Sidewinders general manager Mike Feder was prepared to take on the challenge of returning Pacific Coast League baseball to Tucson, surrounding himself quickly with a group of 12 local investors to make the management group work; 2, UA president Robert Shelton was sharp enough to hire Greg Byrne as director of athletics at Arizona, recognizing that the game has changed and that Byrne's grasp of the new generation of sports administration/communications/finance is best suited to take the Wildcats forward; 3, The PGA Tour reduced from 36 to 18 holes the final round of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, making the Sunday finale at The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, Dove Mountain, a more workable 18 holes for Southern Arizona fans and television programmers.
The three goofs: Pima College chancellor Roy Flores waited almost four months to hire a men's basketball coach after his team finished No. 7 in the NJCAA tournament (the Aztecs are now in ninth place in the ACCAC); 2, Anthony Gimino, a local sports blogger, started a "Nick Foles For Heisman" campaign; 3, UA junior Alex Zendejas kicked a field goal just before halftime at Oregon's Autzen Stadium, then turned and mocked the Ducks' bench while running off the field in what would be a 48-29 setback.