I’ve reached the point of tweeting so much about this topic that my dad asked if I’m focusing on law school enough, so that means it’s time to write a whole article to articulate all my thoughts instead of repeated bursts of tweets! Here goes!
We currently seem to be in the midst of some kind of weird PR/media campaign to protect Travis Ford’s job at SLU. The primary themes of this campaign, stated clearly by Frank Cusumano in his TV spot on KSDK two nights ago are that boosters should take any money earmarked for a potential Travis Ford buyout and use it to build a NIL super team, and that fans’ expectations are too high for Saint Louis University and fans need to be happy with consistent 20 win seasons.
SLU thoughts pic.twitter.com/QF4QCHogip
— Frank Cusumano (@Frank_Cusumano) March 21, 2023
Since then, over a few radio spots, Cusumano has continued to absolve Travis Ford from most of the blame, placing mostly on the players, arguing that 21 wins was a good outcome for this season. Today on Cusumano’s show, legendary SLU play-by-play announcer Bob Ramsey jokingly said that for SLU to reach fans’ expectations, SLU would need “a couple of NBA players.” In short, media figures close around SLU are chastising fans for expecting too much in attempt to buy Travis Ford’s job security.
There’s a couple of issues here. One, there’s plenty of ways to defend SLU’s decision to retain Ford and try to head off whatever movement there is to buy him out this offseason without talking down to fans who just want to see the Billikens compete at the top of the A10 and make a NCAA Tournament every few years. Ford has done a lot to build up the Billiken program, he’s a good recruiter, he’s a charismatic guy and he clearly enjoys being at SLU. That counts for a lot and it would be understandable if Cusumano, Ramsey and the SLU administration were arguing that they believe Travis Ford is still the guy to take SLU to the next level. They aren’t doing that though. They’re arguing that Travis Ford is meeting expectations. That takes some serious goalpost moving. Not only that, Cusumano are moving the goalposts while scoffing at Billikens fans for having high expectations in the first place. It’s not a good look at all.
Travis Ford has led SLU to one NCAA Tournament, when they won the A10 Tournament in 2019 as a six seed. He has never been higher than a three seed in the A10 Tournament. His highest conference finish is a tie for second this year, but SLU went a combined 1-5 against the first place team and the other two teams that tied for second (I hope this address this season’s finish in a manner acceptable to all on Billikens.com). He has never won against a Top 25 team while at SLU. He is 5-10 against Dayton and 2-5 against VCU.
Travis Ford is the highest paid coach in the A10. In 2020, SLU spent the second-most on basketball out of any A10 school, and 72nd overall, trailing Dayton only by a few thousand dollars. There’s no indication that spending has diminished at SLU. That is a serious commitment to basketball and expectations with that kind of spending should be that SLU is consistently a top-75 team at worst, consistently one of the best teams in the A10 and making a NCAA Tournament every four years or so. Travis Ford has one NCAA tournament in 8 years and losing records against the other two top A10 teams. While he’s certainly had his share of bad luck, he hasn’t met expectations. As Cusumano and Ramsey have shown the past few days, the only way to argue around it is raised voices and snide comments about fans’ expectations. (numbers courtesy of @WestPineBills)
One thought we’ve seen echoed with the news of Archie Miller to Rhode Island is that his hiring likely came with promises of increased financial commitment to the program. We decided to revisit the 2020 analysis done by @3MW_CBB to look at A-10 MBB spending. pic.twitter.com/729QXG32cT
— West Pine Bills (@WestPineBills) March 18, 2022
Further, the idea that the boosters who want to buy out Ford should take that money and use it to buy a team with NIL makes no sense. NIL is a yearly thing. Buyouts are not. Taking “buyout money” and using it to build a super team helps Travis Ford more than it does SLU. It gives him a disproportionate amount of talent to try to save his job, and if he does save his job, boosters wouldn’t be able to repeat that level of spending that Ford apparently needs to win. There’s no sense in that! Besides, it’s not like lack of talent has been a problem at SLU during Ford’s tenure. Yuri Collins, Jordan Goodwin, Hasahn French, Javonte Perkins are some of the greatest Billikens ever. Ford has fielded some of the most talented teams in SLU history. If Travis Ford can’t field a top A10 team and get an at-large bid without “a couple of NBA players” as Ramsey jokingly suggested, then he’s the problem, not SLU fans and boosters.
I don’t think it makes a ton of sense to buy Ford out this late in the coaching cycle, but taking any money that would go towards a buyout and using it to try to save Ford’s job going forward helps Travis Ford far more than it does SLU long-term. The Billiken Victory Fund is a competitive NIL fund. I’m excited to see how Travis Ford recruits in the transfer portal with that resource. That’s far more indicative of whether Ford is the long-term answer as SLU’s head coach. Cusumano’s suggestion to funnel buyout money into NIL and Ramsey’s NBA comments give the impression of people whose biggest consideration is Travis Ford being at SLU for a long time, as opposed to SLU competing for A10 titles and NCAAT bids.
I would love for Ford to be the answer at SLU! I hope he has a great year in 2023-24 and gets SLU to the NCAA tournament. He’s been a great ambassador for SLU, he’s done a lot for the program and for the city in his time here and he is genuinely a likable guy. I get why Cusumano, Ramsey and the administration are going to bat for him. It’s just if I had to pick between one thing, I want to see SLU competing for A10 titles and NCAA at-large bids more than I want Travis Ford to be the coach at SLU for years to come. The best of both worlds would be ideal, but when push comes to shove, I know what I’m choosing.
I’d really love for Cusumano and Ramsey to spend their airtime talking about why they believe in Travis Ford as the long-term option at SLU and why he’s the guy to achieve big things at SLU, instead of moving the goalposts to justify his past performance and acting like competing for A10 titles and at-large bids every few years isn’t realistic at SLU. Or if they truly believe that SLU’s ceiling is 20+ wins and an occasional conference tournament run, I’d love for them to explain why SLU, with its top-75 spending, state of the art facilities, competitive NIL fund and location in a talent hotbed, needs to spend at such a high level just to be a top-100, above average A10 team.
I’ve been pretty consistent this year in my criticism of Travis Ford and I hope I’m not bragging when I say I’ve probably been one of the more prominent voices in saying he has struggled to meet expectations. I also have been equally consistent in saying that I am rooting hard for him and I still am. Pretty much every SLU fan is. If there is some behind-the-scenes coup working to buy Travis Ford out, I promise you I’m not behind it and nor is the average fan watching and listening to Cusumano and Ramsey, so I just don’t get the derision directed at the average SLU fans. SLU fans don’t have outlandish expectations. Travis Ford just hasn’t met them during his time at SLU. Talking down to SLU fans and making derisive comments about their expectations isn’t helping anyone, most of all Travis Ford.