University of Arizona President Robert Shelton says the Wildcats are going to a bowl game this football season. In a meeting with the Star's Editorial Board last week, Shelton delved into the sports world. He says it has been a tough year, competition-wise. He addressed the loss of basketball recruit Brandon Jennings, who decided to forgo college and play in Europe. He touched on Arizona basketball coach Lute Olson's state of mind and followed his bold bowl prediction by giving Arizona State some props on its football season last year.
Some excerpts from the conversation:
"I had a meeting with (athletics director) Jim Livengood on Monday, and he brought in a list of things he wanted to talk about, and I said, 'You don't have basketball on this list.' And he said, 'Well, there isn't anything to talk about right now; it's quiet.'
"And he continues to meet with Lute, and of course we lost Jennings, but, if he wants to play in Europe, he should play in Europe. I don't hold that against him.
" … Clearly, we wanted him at the university. I would love if he had come and played for four years and graduated in four years. And I have no reason to think he couldn't have done that. But it's increasingly rare. I don't know what his SAT scores were. I don't know what happened on the third (test). I guess he didn't do well on the first and did super-well on the second (test). And so he had to take it a third time. You know, the question you ask is a really important one, and that is, what accommodation does a great university make for people with special talent? The most obvious is athletic talent. For whatever reason, a lot of these athletes come from backgrounds and have a history of not paying attention to academics. They've been focusing on basketball since they were 7. If you spend 20 hours a week doing basketball, how much time are you going to spend in the classroom no matter how smart you are?
"I'm sorry he didn't come to the U of A. But am I heartbroken? No. I wish him well. If he really wants to play basketball so much more than go to college then he's going to the right place.
" … I have not met with Lute since (spring.) I think I've been so busy bringing the budget to closure, and I actually took six days off this month and took a vacation. Went to Kauai (Hawaii). But with Jim, Jim told me from his discussions that Lute is feeling pretty good. And of course this is a time when there is less stress. And it looks like, of course I don't know this personally, but it looks like he's putting the personal situation behind him. I wish both of them well. We'll have to see how the year goes. I know he's been spending a lot of time recruiting. That's his job. He's supposed to do that. That's good.
" … We're going to a bowl. You heard it here. Probably not on January 1 or after."
What happens if you don't go to a bowl?
"Well we'll cross that bridge when we come to it. But considering our schedule, which is not an easy schedule, it's Pac-10. Considering the maturity of the team, and I don't mean just the kinds of athletes, but the system that's been in place, barring catastrophic injuries to people, I mean look what happened to poor Oregon last year, right here in our stadium. If we don't go to a bowl, we have to really examine our program and what we're doing.
"(UA football coach) Mike (Stoops) and Jim will have very serious conversations I'm sure, throughout the season. Part of it is we're getting smarter too. We're not going to Baton Rouge and playing that pro team in LSU in their home stadium. I've been to that stadium, and you don't want to go and play there. Saw Alabama play LSU there.
What do you tell fans who spend their hard-earned money for tickets?
"We have to take the long-term perspective, and most of them do. I tell them it's still great entertainment. We're competitive. We can get spoiled — right, by winning so many Pac-10 basketball championships in a row? They are going to see some of the best performers in the nation at the college level. And that's partly us, and that's partly the conference that we're in. I think the quality of athleticism is still there. I also tell them that they ought to look at some of the other sports that we're engaged in as well. Look at our soccer team, look at volleyball, baseball, softball. So try and take a broad perspective and not minimizing the fact that we have gone through some hard times. … A lot of our teams that have typically gone to the tournament did not in the last year. So it's a make-or-break year in that way.
" … I think every year's a make-or-break year for football. I would be highly discouraged if we're not in a bowl game this year."
What about beating ASU?
" … ASU had a great year this last year. Credit where credit is due. We're not going to talk about academic standards or anything like that. Tip your hats to them. We've got to work harder."