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Perspective: by Jerry Pyle
Woody's Theory on St. John's
It was a pretty good week for Cobber sports. The football team stayed undefeated and the volleyball team won their MIAC matches. But Woody called.
Woody used to do a little work for this office before his surprising graduation last spring. He now fancies himself as a "freelance investigative journalist."
That's writer-talk for "being out of work."
Woody earned that nickname because he sounds and acts like the Woody on the "Cheers" TV show. Except our Woody isn't that sharp.
Woody sounded excited. "I got this NCAA polling picture figured out," he started. Woody isn't much for introductory chit-chat, like "hello" or "How have you been?" Woody thinks talk like that endangers the continuity of his thought process, such as it is.
I asked Woody what polling he was talking about, since there are about as many NCAA polls as there are NCAA committees.
"You know, the one that has the Cobber football team ranked second in the region and St. John's fifth, even though both teams are undefeated and tied each other when they played."
Oh, ya, that poll.
"And just the top four teams in the region get in the playoffs, right?" Woody was laughing.
That's true, I said, but it's a little early to be talking about the 16-team playoffs. A lot can happen.
"Wouldn't it be hilarious if those Catholics finished with an undefeated record and tied for the MIAC title but still missed getting in the playoffs?"
Woody's Protestant loyalties sometimes take on a certain repugnant quality. And no, I suggested, I don't think hilarious would be quite the right word to describe an undefeated team not making the NCAA playoffs.
"I know why the coaches who make up that poll are doing this to St. John's." Woody always liked to play coy with some insight he thought was a secret. And I wasn't going to bite.
The committee of coaches from the region who work on those rankings every Sunday afternoon try to be conscientious, I said. It's a very hard job, comparing teams from Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota and the West coast, all of which are in the NCAA's huge Division III West region.
"Ya, right, and those guys who Gagliardi has been beating for 40 years are really going to go out of their way to see that he gets a fair shake." Woody still thought this was funny.
John Gagliardi is the St. John's coach and athletic director, now in his 41st year, 37th at St. John's. He has 263 wins over that period. Among active coaches he is second in wins to only Eddie Robinson's 300-plus at Grambling. Let it suffice to say the guy has won a lot of titles.
I told Woody that the coaches on the committee would not try to squeeze a team out of a playoff spot just because they've gotten beat by that team. It sort of works the other way. Coaches like to think that anybody who beats them must be awfully good. Besides, having had some contact with these committees, they strike me as generally being pretty professional.
"Ya, like the way they treated Hamline last year?"
Sometimes even Woody has a point. Hamline was the co-MIAC champ in 1988 with an 8-1 record, same as the Cobbers. There is no MIAC tie-breaker system. But the Cobs got in the playoffs and Hamline didn't. Some Hamline folks were a little hot. The Cobs had beaten Hamline 41-38 in a shootout at Moorhead. That was probably the difference. I suggested that the difference this year might be that we have one more win than St.
John's, having beaten NIC leader Moorhead State.
"No, No, you still don't get it," Woody was trying to sound professorial now. "Listen, coaching is a profession right?"
I had to agree that we like to think of ourselves that way.
"And professionals like to take care of their own, right?"
C'mon Woody, what's the point?
"Gagliardi is a disgrace to the profession. That's the point. All the other coaches, including those on your hot-shot regional committee, are running around with a gaggle of assistant coaches, creating jobs, expanding the profession, stimulating the economy. But every time they go to their presidents to beg for more money for assistants all they hear is `Gagliardi wins without assistants, why can't you? Gagliardi doesn't use press box spotters and head phones and he's won 260-some games.' "These coaches get so sick of hearing Gagliardi this and Gagliardi that and `Gagliardi passes such-and-such a coaching great in wins,' they just get sick of the guy.
Know what I mean? Gagliardi's methods are seen as harmful to the expansion of the profession. So they are going to teach him a lesson about professional loyalty."
I admitted I had never quite thought of that as an explanation of these poll results. Gagliardi is sort of notorious for his lack of reliance on assistants and other modern coaching perks. But Woody's theory seemed a little far-fetched.
"That's the only thing that makes sense. He's got a great team. You watch. If St. John's doesn't get in the playoffs you just watch. Gagliardi will go out and hire ten assistants next year and he'll be right up where he should be in these polls."
He still won't use them, I suggested.
"Don't matter. The point is, he'll be seen as having gotten on board with his fellow professionals. You know, creating jobs and all that. Besides, assistant coaches don't expect to be listened to anyway."
Thanks for the call Woody.
"No problem. Glad I could help."
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