TJ contributes to Arkansas Sports 360 on a regular basis and has done so for the past three and a half years. He also writes for College Football News and Mr SEC. Some samples of his work can be found below. A full catalog of his work can be found here: TJ Carpenter on Arkansas Sports 360.
TJ Carpenter: Who Will Be the Next Coach of the Arkansas Razorbacks?
by TJ Carpenter
March Madness officially begins this week with the first round of newly added play-in games to kick off the “second” college basketball season. But, for Arkansas fans it is a different kind of March Madness that drives the frenzy and excitement.
There is nothing more intense and makes fans more anxious than watching their team make a run through the mother of all postseason tournaments, except perhaps for a coaching hire that will determine the future of your program.
John Pelphrey was fired by Athletic Director Jeff Long from the University of Arkansas after four years as its basketball coach. Many people would describe his tenure as a roller coaster ride of high highs and low lows. When in reality it was early peaks and two and a half years of steady surreptitious decline that ultimately led to his dismissal. (People thought the madness would end, but it’s is only just beginning.)
The 69-59 overall record. The unacceptable 39 percent winning percentage in the SEC. The mere five wins on the road in conference during a four year stay at Arkansas: take your pick, there were plenty of reasons to fire Pelphrey without going into serious off-the-court issues that nearly all of the players he recruited at Arkansas had to this point. (That was frustrating but not maddening.)
So often, fans sought to justify Pelphrey’s issues because they knew he was dealt a bad hand. However, as any poker player will tell you, it’s not one hand, but several hands that will get you into a serious hole. John Pelphrey’s task at Arkansas wasn’t easy, but failure is failure just the same. Arkansas fans got caught up in the wrong issue – they focused on whether or not he was to blame for the problems instead of whether or not he actually had the ability to fix them.
Arkansas basketball is not what it once was. It can be great again. It will be great again. It must be great again. Or else, Jeff Long will be converting Bud Walton Arena into a rather luxurious storage facility for Bobby Petrino’s tackle dummies and golf clubs. (That might just be the least maddening thing I’ve written so far.)
The madness Arkansas fans are likely experiencing right now is not new to most. This has happened before. They’ve been burned before. Dana Altman has called the Hogs before. They’d rather not see a repeat of that particular episode. Some episodes seem like repeats even though they aren’t. Others, seem familiar, but nevertheless draw you in because you know it’s new; it intrigues you.
When Razorback fans see the athletic director announce what will most likely be an anticlimactic pep rally announcing a name that the media and the most passionate of social media savvy hog fans already know (and have formulated an opinion of), they want to have confidence he can change what is seemingly unchangeable.
Before Bobby Petrino, many Arkansas fans couldn’t fathom what it would be like to be consistently thought of by the rest of the nation as one of the best. Now, it’s a matter of waiting until Tyler Wilson and Knile Davis are named to preseason award lists, along with a slew of other Razorbacks. It is expected.
What is expected of Razorback basketball now is what has been expected of Razorback basketball for twenty years, and it’s simple; win.
Long has already stated he has a short list of candidates he believes can meet that expectation.
But hope, not winning, is what will fill the seats. Arkansas has seen attendance numbers plummet from the highest in the nation to the bottom half of a very average SEC. Hope is spelled with with an “M” and an “A” for a lot of fans.
Hope will help fill Bud Walton Arena, but winning will keep it full. There is only one candidate who can unequivocally do both: Mike Anderson.
The madness fans have been subjected to for a decade must stop. The ebb and flow of basketball is fine for most. Arkansas has and I imagine always will hold itself to a higher standard. Fans are tired of screaming at the top of their lungs for the program to realize the potential they know it has. The banners in the top of Bud Walton Arena should be something for players to aspire to, not something which reminds them of what they haven’t done. Anderson is the one man on Long’s short list knows exactly what that means.
Long had better not botch a golden opportunity if it presents itself. If he does, he may find himself in the same unemployment line Pelphrey is in. Expectations of the basketball program may be lower than in previous years, but the expectation for those who make the decisions that decide the future couldn’t be any higher. Fans don’t want to wait – they don’t want an up-and-comer, a diamond in the rough or even a hot new name – they want Mike Anderson.
Anderson, even if Arkansas were to grossly overpay him, might be able to pay for his contract in a single non-conference season. Anderson hasn’t been incredibly successful at Missouri, but he represents the brand of basketball fans were sold by every coach who has attempted to replace Nolan Richardson. Ten years ago, the University made a huge mistake in not hiring Anderson when they had the chance. Now, Long needs to make the simple decision. Do whatever it takes to get Anderson back; to call the hogs in that meaningless anticlimactic press conference. Arkansas fans have spent a decade pulling their hair out while going mad.
You’ll hear a lot of names over the next 14 or so days. Frank Martin; Buzz Williams; Scott Drew; Bill Self. Don’t out-think the room. This is simple. Stop the Madness. Hire Mike Anderson.
TJ Carpenter: Knile Davis is Arkansas’ Secret Weapon
by TJ Carpenter
As soon as the college football season ends the immediate thing every fan does is look at the roster coming back for spring practice and think about what might be next season. The national media knows this and subsequently comes out with rendition after rendition of the “way too early” preseason 25 ranking.
Conspicuously absent from the majority of these assessments of Arkansas football, which is ranked in every single one somewhere between fifth and 20th, is any mention of running back Knile Davis.
Davis is arguably Arkansas best returning player next season. Yet, not only is there no chatter of Heisman hype, no talk of how he would fit in on an NFL roster, or how he compares to many of the nation’s other great running backs, he isn’t even mentioned as an integral piece of Arkansas offense coming back.
Most people still think South Carolina’s Marcus Lattimore was the SEC’s best running back last season. And when speculating on next season, most dismiss Knile Davis as still a significant downgrade from Michael Dyer, Trent Richardson and Stevan Ridley, not to mention Lattimore.
Davis, who had the fourth best single season rushing yards total in Arkansas football history led all SEC running backs with 1322 yards and 13 touchdowns. Usually when you lead all players at your position in the nation’s toughest conference it gets noticed. After reading most national expert’s assessment of how good Arkansas will be next season I’m starting to wonder if they even know Davis exists.
There aren’t really many argument’s to be made to support any other running back but Lattimore in the conversation. That’s how much better Davis was last season than his counterparts around the conference. Don’t believe me? Even when you include Davis’ first four games of the season only carrying the ball 20 times, he is still 18th nationally with a 101.69 yards per game average, which is better than every running back in the SEC. The closest running back is Lattimore who is 31st nationally and a full 10 yards behind Davis.
The only player in the SEC who had a higher yards per game average was Cam Newton with 105.21, who started all 14 of Auburn’s games this season.
When you compare games started and not games played, at 133.44 Davis averages a full 29 yards more than Newton did per game and nearly 41 yards more than Lattimore. In nine games as a starter this past season, Davis accumulated 1,201 yards. In fact, when comparing yards per game average in games started Knile Davis was not only the best running back in the SEC, he was the fourth best running back in the nation. The best back was Oregon’s LaMichael James, who averaged 144.25 yards per game started.
Not only was Davis superior in terms of efficiency on a game by game basis, he was also the most efficient back on a carry by carry basis as well. Davis ranked second nationally in yards per carry average among players with at least 20 carries. Only Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson was better, and only by one tenth of one yard.
Pound for pound, yard for yard, carry for carry, Knile Davis is the best back in the nation next season not named LaMichael James.
The only reason I can reasonably speculate as to why he hasn’t been given due credit for his accomplishments and ability is his lack of starts through the first four games of the season. Not a lot of face time in big moments early killed the Davis’ momentum and recognition early. Not to mention being in the large shadow quarterback Ryan Mallett cast over the backfield. It’s either that or people just have a vendetta against Arkansas and it’s football program.
Either way, Arkansas fans might like it this way. Now they have their own secret weapon. Next season, when Knile Davis and Arkansas run the ball down the throats of SEC defenses, they’ll never see it coming.
TJ Carpenter: Latest Eligibility Rulings Prove NCAA just doesn’t Get It
by TJ Carpenter
Over the course of this football season the NCAA has made all of us scratch our heads in confusion at its odd rulings when dealing with athletes who have violated rules.
What is even stranger is the NCAA’s response to overwhelming disagreement and criticism of those rulings. The response proves one thing for certain: The NCAA has a hard time distinguishing between what its intentions may be and the consequences of its actions.
I want to explain something to the NCAA for a moment. It’s a simple concept called “deterrence theory.” Deterrence theory is very fundamental – if you want someone to do less of something, you add a penalty or a fine to discourage them from doing it. Solid concept, but largely untested.
Almost 11 years ago to the day Uri Gneezy and Aldo Rustichini published an article entitled, “A Fine Is a Price,” which sought to test how deterrence theory actually works. In a field study, they decided to use daycare centers who had a problem with late pickups by parents, forcing teachers to stay late. After breaking down the daycare centers into a test group and a control group, they introduced a monetary fine. Before introducing the fine, the number of late pickups between the test group and control group were essentially the same. After introducing the fine the number of late pickups in the test group tripled. Meaning more parents broke the rules AFTER the fine was imposed. After removing the fine, the number of late pickups remained at the same high level. No reduction occurred.
So why bring this up?
The NCAA, like nearly every governing body of any size or power, institutes deterrence theory as a means to keep its members from breaking the rules. At least, that is its intention. But what we’ve seen is that very often the manor in which the discipline is implied doesn’t deter any wrongdoing at all, – in fact, it encourages it.
Do you think because the NCAA suspended five Ohio State players for games they will likely not be around for, but will allow them to play in a BCS bowl is going to deter other players in college football from doing the exact same thing? Do you think Cam Newton’s being ruled ignorant but eligible is going to deter or encourage other parent’s from shopping their kids around. After all, it’s only wrong if you get caught, and even then the penalty is so menial it doesn’t make a difference.
For argument’s sake let’s assume the NCAA is not a corrupt and incompetent body of useless Jim Delany/BCS/Corporate Network “yes” men playing favorites out of greed … for argument’s sake.
Even if their motives are pure, the resulting consequence is a broken culture. Looking back at the daycares, when the test group’s fine was lifted, what happened? The number of late pickups stayed the same. The culture that was broken, stayed broken. The only thing worse than deterrence that doesn’t work is inconsistent deterrence that doesn’t work. The NCAA is not only inconsistent, but by imposing suspensions and finger-waggings to rogue parents as deterrence, they broke the culture of behavior of how the rules are obeyed in college football.
Even if you give the NCAA the benefit of the doubt and stipulate their motives were pure, it doesn’t change the end result: Parents WILL shop their kids around for money more; players who are going to be draft eligible WILL sell their memorabilia and talk to agents MORE, all because the penalties imposed are not nearly enough of a deterrence and are not pointed in the right direction.
The fact the NCAA doesn’t understand the consequences of its actions is sad, but not surprising. What’s new? The NCAA just doesn’t get it.