Men’s basketball deserves better

Ryan Cortes

Basketball head coach Mike Jarvis led the Owls to a 21-11 record last season, winning the Sun Belt Conference regular season title. Photo Courtesy of FAU’s Athletic Department.

The differences between FAU’s men’s basketball program and  football program are jarring.

The football team just got a new $70 million stadium, replete with palm trees, sea shells and hope. Meanwhile, the basketball team plays in a half-empty, glorified high school arena.

The football team’s coach, Howard Schnellenberger, is 77 going on, well, 78. Three times this season, he’s had to coach a game from the press box because his right hip hurt too much. The punctuation of last season? A 44-7 loss to … Troy.

The basketball team’s coach, Mike Jarvis, is 66 going on 45. He laughs, smiles and calls everyone “Babe.” The punctuation of his team’s last season? Hanging up a banner that reads “2010 Sun Belt Conference regular season champions.”

And yet, the program that went 21-11 last year and won its division, faces an uphill battle with money.

“The challenge we run into right now is just, how we can get the little things that really make a big difference in a program,” said Jarvis. “Whether it’s more money for summer school classes, more money so our kids can be living in the new dorms, more money so that we could expand out travel. Most of our things come down to finances.”

It shouldn’t be that way.

“Do we have the same challenges that schools like Duke and North Carolina have?” Jarvis asked. “No. They spend more money on snacks on their chartered flights, than we do on recruiting for the year. I guarantee you Duke spends more money on food when they travel than we do for the recruiting budget for the whole year.”

Jarvis thinks they’ll get there someday. “Would I love to have more money in that budget? You bet your life. And the day will come when we do,” he said.

He doesn’t even necessarily need what the football program needs. A new basketball stadium wouldn’t cost $70 million and it inherently costs less to travel with a basketball team of 13 players than it does to travel with a football roster of 100.

He just needs more money. But he knows how that works.

“You’re in a part of the country where football is king,” Jarvis said. “And if you’re going to build this school and you’re going to build its athletic reputation, then, obviously, the best vehicle to try to build it in is football.”

So, while football is the gas-guzzling Hummer, the cheap Prius keeps winning. It doesn’t cost much to fill it up, but it doesn’t mean you should put the cheapest gas into it, either.

He’s not thinking about it though, because that’s not what the great ones do. One time he asked me, “Why do you do what you do?” and I told him it was because I wanted to be the best ever. He laughed and said, “Me too.” He doesn’t worry about himself — just the program.

“I’m not worried about anything because God’s in control. Seriously, from the day I committed my life to Jesus Christ, I don’t worry any more about things like food and shelter,” said Jarvis. “At times, though, I get … concerned, about the growth of the program.”

That’s a serious concern, one that shouldn’t be burdening a coach who’s built FAU basketball into a contender.

“My job isn’t to complain about the budget. My job isn’t to say the budget can’t get it done. My job is try and do well enough so we can grow the budget.”

The interesting part? He’s only scheduled to do that job until May 28, 2012.

“The contract is not going to have any effect on what we do this year,” said Jarvis. “The contract could have a lot of affect on what’s done in the future.”

He doesn’t have a contract extension yet, and it’s considered a slap in the face to enter the final year of a contract without an extension. Those who do are called “lame-duck coaches.”

“It’s very unusual for either your football program or your men’s basketball program to have a coach who’s been successful going into his last year without an extended contract,” said Jarvis. “But I’m not worried about that.”

It shouldn’t even be up for discussion. And so, as Howard Schnellenberger limps away, his right hand gripping a cane, there’s a real danger in losing Jarvis.

He’s done his job. And he’s done it well, unlike football has this year.

Where’s his money?