Chalk talk

New next week:
In time for Earth Day, the Chico News & Review will roll out a new section on sustainabililty. Look for Greenways in the April 19 issue and the Green Zone regional Web page.

By popular demand, this week I give you a sports column.

Last issue’s cover story about the Chico State women’s basketball program (“Fast break-up”) sparked a lot of discussion. A couple people mentioned the companion In My Eyes column about the university’s investigation (“Asking the hard questions”), but most just bandied about the athletics aspect—mainly: Has Chico State flushed a great team down the toilet?

Even the lone critic of the story, a former Division I athletic director and women’s coach, wanted me to draw conclusions (see Letters).

OK, you want chalk talk? I’m a sportswriter emeritus—I’ll give you chalk talk.

As I said last week, I didn’t cover this team. I know players were totally unprepared for Molly Goodenbour’s coaching style. Did she cuss them out? That I don’t know. Did she call them out? That I think she did.

I know Molly somewhat. My sister was the Stanford women’s basketball team manager for three years; Molly and Marla have matching championship rings and Final Four plaques. I didn’t see Molly for the next 14 years, and we’ve only spoken a few times in Chico, so I don’t have deep insight into her psyche—I’m more in tune with her past, which in this case is just as illuminating.

Stanford’s Tara Vanderveer is a demanding coach. She stresses discipline, fitness, preparation and excellence, both athletic and academic. Her players (and managers) earn their scholarships.

Check out why Chico State Athletic Director Anita Barker says she values Goodenbour. “She sets a very high standard academically.” “She is attempting to create an environment where students understand that hard work and dedication pay off.” “She coaches a unique and intelligent brand of basketball.” “What she wants for them is success.”

Sounds similar, doesn’t it?

The difference is that Chico State is Division II. The players don’t get “paid” to do a full-time job. Just look at the poster on the Athletic Department door: “I chose Division II”—and one of the reasons is “balance.”

None of this season’s players chose Goodenbour; she was thrust on them. She told me she never thought of “watering down” her regimen and doesn’t distinguish between Division I and Division II players. I think that’s a shortcoming, but how she handled the transition really doesn’t matter anymore. The university seems content to ride out the firestorm and let its coach implement what Barker called “a very defined and articulate vision for the program.”

As I see it, the university believes Goodenbour can attract players who want a D-I experience for D-II dollars. If she does, and they fit her mold, the Wildcats will have success across the board—athletic, academic, attendance. Think of it: a Division II Stanford!

Short-term sacrifice for long-term gain is a sound strategy … but only if the gain exceeds the sacrifice.