Georgia Southern basketball has not been without its struggles.
Under Jeff Price, who currently resides as the head coach of the Sun Belt’s South Alabama Jaguars, the Eagles put together some pretty good seasons.
But they never got to the final destination — March Madness.
And the Price era unceremoniously came to an end when an academic fraud scandal put the program on probation by the NCAA and ushered in Charlton Young, who was fired on Monday after four years and a 43-84 overall record.
The Eagles have never won a Southern Conference title. In fact, they’ve never been to the SoCon championship game, and they’ve been in the league for 20 years.
They play in Hanner Fieldhouse, a facility that seems like it was probably outdated when it was completed in 1969. They’ve seen teams like East Tennessee State, Davidson, College of Charleston, Chattanooga and even Wofford have success in the Southern Conference.
The only real success the program has seen at the Division I level came in the late 1980s and early 90s, when the program made three trips to the NCAA tournament and was a power in the Trans America Athletic Conference.
That era came to an end when Georgia Southern basketball was found guilty of academic fraud for the first time, shortly after joining the SoCon.
What does that say about the program?
Obviously, it says that Georgia Southern has never taken its basketball seriously. Not completely seriously, anyway.
I’ve long argued that basketball should be given a higher level of priority. Sure, Georgia Southern is a football school, and Statesboro is a football town.
But even getting to the NCAA tourney is enough to put you on the map. Think about it. Everybody in America is holding a bracket with your name on it. You’re on national television, and everybody is wondering if you’ll be that year’s “Cinderella.”
And if you actually win a game? Ask Virginia Commonwealth, Western Kentucky, Vermont, Davidson — the list goes on — what that can do for your program. The answer is always the same. A lot.
I’m not arguing that Georgia Southern should, or can, be a basketball powerhouse. There are very few programs — Florida, Ohio State, and a few others — that can truly be national powers in football and basketball. And again, GSU is a football school.
But basketball’s important. It’s cheaper to play than football. It’s easier to recruit three or five kids a year than 30 or 50. It’s easier to make a run when one player — a lights-out shooter or dominant post player — can carry a team to the next level.
Basically a little bit of investment in basketball can pay off immeasurably.
And, it appears that GSU Athletic Director Tom Kleinlein knows it. That doesn’t mean that Young couldn’t make that happen. The team’s record the past four years speaks for itself, but so many factors — probation, academic problems, disciplinary problems and injuries — turned what could have been a pretty good team into what ended up being mediocre.
What it does mean, and what it says about Kleinlein, is that it’s time to take GSU basketball seriously.
Kleinlein has only been on the job for a few months. Firing Young was a bold move.
Record aside, nobody would argue that Young isn’t a good recruiter, a great personality and an incredible ambassador for GSU. He’s also in the GSU athletics Hall of Fame, thanks to his playing days as an
Keeping Young on at GSU would’ve been the safe move. Nobody would have been surprised, and nobody would have complained.
Now, Kleinlein is in an interesting spot. He’s made it clear that he expects success, and this is his first opportunity to bring in “his guy.”
Whether or not GSU is still in the Southern Conference in the near future — the speculation of an invitation to the Sun Belt keeps gaining momentum — Kleinlein made the decision that he wants GSU to be good at basketball. He wants to put it on the map.
He decided Young wasn’t the guy who was going to do that.
The next order of business is hiring somebody who can.
Matt Yogus may be reached at (912) 489-9408.