College Sports

Don’t Count Arkansas out against LSU

Arkansas vs. LSU 2014

(Photo Credit: Bleacher Report)

Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville, Arkansas is a mighty tough place to play—even more so at night. Although the Hogs have yet to win an SEC game this season, they have been a tough out against every team they’ve faced, nearly defeating Texas A&M, Alabama, and Mississippi State. Arkansas Head Coach Bret Bielema has his team ahead of schedule and the team is so close to being something special. An SEC win can be the catalyst to propel the Hogs into being a truly elite football team. The Razorbacks are actually slightly favored in this game, and what an excellent way to end its losing streak against SEC opponents by defeating LSU, the Hogs’ greatest rival. This rivalry game is known as the Battle for the Golden Boot. When Arkansas and LSU play one another, throw out all of the records and statistics—only this game matters for the two teams. They simply don’t like one another.

Arkansas plays LSU at the right time: after LSU’s deflating overtime loss to Alabama. The Razorbacks have more hanging in the balance than LSU does: the team is trying to become bowl eligible. The Hogs must win two of the last three games to become bowl eligible. As long as the team performs well in the fourth quarter of each of the remaining games and demonstrates that it has learned how to close out games, the Hogs can legitimately win the final three games (all SEC games) on its schedule.

Both teams have similar styles. On offense, they both like to run the football—and run it often. Arkansas has the edge on offense. On defense, they’re both aggressive, although LSU has the edge on defense.

This game will ultimately come down to which team can perform the best in the passing game. Both teams can certainly benefit from improvement in the passing game. The LSU passing game will struggle against the Hogs because Arkansas defensive end Trey Flowers will give LSU’s offensive line nightmares. When this game is over, the person who will have impacted the game the most will be Trey Flowers. He is a beast and will be playing in the NFL next season.

Arkansas will win 24-20.

Antonio Maurice Daniels

University of Arkansas

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Arkansas Must Fire Offensive Coordinator Jim Chaney

Arkansas Razorbacks Football

(Photo Credit: Whole Hogs Sports)

Although Arkansas offensive coordinator Jim Chaney had some positive play-calling moments against Texas A&M, he’s not the appropriate fit for the power running game Bret Bielema is establishing at Arkansas.  During the first half of the Auburn loss, Jim Chaney also had some positive play-calling moments. Unfortunately, in losses to both Auburn and Texas A&M, Chaney has demonstrated he cannot stay committed to the power running game.  He seems to be more interested in moving the Arkansas offensive into more of a passing team.  While no one is expecting him to never call a pass play, it’s vital for Chaney to understand when to employ the passing game.  Arkansas isn’t built to be a passing offense with the current players the team has and with the players it has recruited.  Bret Bielema has intentionally recruited players for a physical power running game.  For Chaney to continue to neglect the running game, especially at crucial points in games, is an affront to Bielema’s leadership.

Yes, Brandon Allen has demonstrated he can provide Arkansas with a much needed passing game, but Chaney shouldn’t get carried away with the passing game as he has.  His play-calling has been quite questionable in games against Auburn, Texas Tech, and Texas A&M.  In the Auburn game, his failure to make a commitment to the running game resulted in Auburn defeating Arkansas in the second half.  On the last play in overtime against Texas A&M, the Texas A&M defense dared him to throw the ball by loading the box with 8 to 9 men, and he foolishly ran the ball and Alex Collins was stuffed at the line of scrimmage.

Bielema simply needs to transition to an offensive coordinator who will give Arkansas the best chance to win, and this offensive coordinator must be someone who is comfortable making a significant commitment to the power running game.  Although it defies conventional wisdom to transition to a new offensive coordinator at this point in the season, it wouldn’t be a difficult job to find a offensive coordinator who could quickly adjust to the key principles of the current offensive schemes Arkansas employs.  Bielema could even get more active in the offensive play-calling until the new coordinator makes the full adjustment to what he desires for him to do.

Arkansas has proven that it can compete with any of the elite teams in the nation, but it’s unfair for the players to continue to suffer from the poor play-calling of Jim Chaney.  The Razorbacks have a credible chance to finish well in the SEC and make it to a bowl game this year.  Right now, however, Jim Chaney is the enemy within who can prevent the team from having the kind of year its capable of experiencing; he’s already proven it.

If Chaney does not ameliorate his play-calling against Alabama this Saturday, then Bielema shouldn’t give him another chance to hinder the progress of the team.  With Arkansas squaring off against Alabama in Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville, Arkansas, where it’s always a mighty tough place to play, one can only hope Chaney will not harm the team’s legitimate chance to defeat the Crimson Tide.

Antonio Maurice Daniels

University of Arkansas

Why Arkansas Lost to Auburn in the Second Half in Week One

Arkansas Razorback Football 2014

(Photo Credit: Bleacher Report)

Although several of the Arkansas coaches, including offensive coordinator Jim Chaney, got stuck in the elevator during the entire halftime period and didn’t have a chance to meet with the players, it was the failure of Jim Chaney to stay committed to the running game that resulted in Arkansas losing in the second half of the game.  Chaney had to send text messages with his instructions for players to the coaches who were present with them during halftime.  As a coach, I understand how important it is to be physically present with your team during halftime, considering you have a chance to make key adjustments.  Chaney foolishly decided to abandon the power running game, featuring Arkansas’ huge offensive line, and a power running game that Auburn couldn’t handle in the first half, for a greater focus on passing.  While Arkansas quarterback Brandon Allen had a good game, the strength of the team lies in its great stable of running backs, led by Jonathan Williams, Alex Collins and Korliss Marshall.

Arkansas has one of the biggest and most athletic offensive lines in the nation.  For Jim Chaney to fail to remain committed to the running game in the second half defies all logic.  Yes, Arkansas did run the ball in the second half, but passing the ball so much in the second half resulted in Arkansas not being able to wear down the Auburn defense as it did in the first half.  When Jim Chaney decides to neglect the power running game, which made Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema one of the winningest active coaches and such a success at Wisconsin, Bielema must step in and refocus Chaney on the running game.

Without question, Arkansas is a much improved team than last year, and the team is going to surprise some teams this year.  Arkansas’ coaches, however, must stay true to who the team is, a power running football team; a team designed to play physical on both sides of the ball.  The NCAA has determined that Arkansas has the toughest schedule in the country.  It will, therefore, be essential for the Arkansas coaching staff to make wise decisions throughout this season.  Arkansas has some really great coaches, including Bret Bielema and Randy Shannon, and those coaches will need to evince their great coaching prowess this season to maximize the team’s success and make it to a bowl game.

Dr. Antonio Maurice Daniels

University of Wisconsin-Madison

Bobby Portis: The Nation’s Most Underrated Freshman Basketball Player

Bobby Portis

(Photo Credit: SW Times)

ESPN listed Bobby Portis, Arkansas freshman sensation, as the 16th ranked recruit in the nation.  He leads Arkansas in scoring and rebounds with 13.1 points per game and 6.6 rebounds per game.  The 6’10 242 pound freshman has been named SEC Player of the Week 3 times.  Mike Anderson, Head Coach of the Arkansas Razorbacks, consistently plays 12 men every game.  Arkansas has a deep and balanced team.  Under Anderson, Arkansas has an aggressive defensive style of play.  The goal is to wear the opposing team down over the course of the game.  With this defense-first style of play, Portis has still been able to average 13.1 points a game and 6.6 rebounds.  Because the Razorbacks have so much talent and balance, they do not have a traditional “go-to” player.  Imagine the numbers Portis could achieve if Arkansas used him as its “go-to” player.

Arkansas has a 18-9 overall record and is 7-7 in SEC play and the team is winners of 5 of their last 6 games.  On Thursday, February 27, 2014 on ESPN, the Arkansas Razorbacks will face the #17 ranked Kentucky Wildcats in Rupp Arena.  In the first meeting this year against the Wildcats at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville, Arkansas, the Razorbacks defeated them in a thrilling game.  Another win against the Wildcats and a highly favorable remaining regular season schedule should land the Razorbacks in the NCAA Division I Tournament.  Without Bobby Portis, however, the team would not have achieved its current record and boasted high quality wins against Kentucky, Minnesota and Clemson.

With what Bobby Portis has been able to accomplish this year as a freshman, why has he not received as much national attention as other freshmen have?  Is Bobby Portis the nation’s most underrated freshman basketball player?

Antonio Maurice Daniels

University of Wisconsin-Madison

Examining Self-perceptions and Behaviors of Successful Black Male College Student-Athletes

Black Male College Student Athletes(Photo Credit: Black Entertainment Television)

In “Diamonds in the Rough: Examining a Case of Successful Black Male Student Athletes in College Sport,” Bimper, Jr., Harrison, Jr. and Clark (2012) investigated the self-perceptions and behaviors that enabled 7 Black male student-athletes to experience academic and athletic success.  A case study was used as the research method, and Critical Race Theory (CRT) was employed as the theoretical framework.  From the findings in the study, the researchers concluded that helping Black male college student-athletes to evolve positive identities as student-athletes and the ability to experience rewarding academic achievement are crucial to their academic success.  The findings of this study revolved around three core themes: complex identities, community, and liberation.

Bimper, Jr. et al. (2012) express that Black male student-athletes are being recruited to predominantly White institutions (PWIs) for their athletic abilities, but many of these student-athletes are experiencing tremendous difficulty with meeting their academic challenges.  They note that recent graduation reports promulgated by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) about 70 bowl-bound NCAA Division I football teams and NCAA Division I tournament-bound basketball teams reveal that the graduation rate of Black male student-athletes is significantly lower than their White counterparts.  In conducting this study, the authors explain that they want to improve knowledge about the distinctive experiences of Black male student-athletes who have been both academically and athletically successful in high-profile revenue-generations sports at PWIs of higher education.  The researchers also disclose that they concentrate their research on “the role in which race unfolds in the experiences and identity of Black male student athletes in this collegiate setting” (p. 108-109).  They assert that great differences in academic achievement between Black male student-athletes and their White counterparts indicate that issues associated with culture, identity, and social relationships could be important to the academic achievement of student-athletes.

Moreover, Bimper, Jr. et al. (2012) explain how pernicious racial stereotypes lead to decreases in Black male college student-athletes’ academic achievement.  Although all student-athletes have to combat “the dumb jock” stereotype, this stereotype becomes even more problematic for Black male student-athletes, considering they academically underperform all of their peers.  The researchers inform the reader that Black male student-athletes have to fight serious pressure to construct a strong athletic identity before they are given the proper space to develop a constructive academic identity.  The authors discussed how Black male student-athletes who participate in high-profile sports experience a level of alienation far greater than that of the general Black student population.

The lead researcher in this study is a Black male and former student-athlete who participated in multiple revenue-generating college sports.  The lead researcher also has experience working with diverse student-athletes.  To ensure trustworthiness, the lead researcher maintained “transparent memos and notes throughout the data collection and analysis, member checked data transcriptions, and collaborated in a peer review process to check biases and discern the accuracy of findings” (Bimper, Jr., et al., 2012, p. 112).

The participants in this study are 7 Black male student-athletes who attend a southwestern PWI on a full athletic scholarship.  The classification of these student-athletes range from sophomore to graduate student: 1 sophomore, 3 juniors, 2 seniors, and 1 graduate student.  The graduate student finished his undergraduate degree in 3 years and had completed work toward a master’s degree when the study was conducted.  Only one of the participants came from a two-parent home.  All of these Black male student-athletes came from low-income homes, and they all attended public K-12 schools prior to enrolling in college.  A purposeful sampling strategy was employed to recruit them for this study.  Specifically, criterion sampling was used to recruit them.  Bimper, Jr. and colleagues (2012) make clear that the reason why Black male college student-athletes at PWIs were sought after is these institutions have proved in the professional literature to be sites where Black male student-athletes experience the lowest academic achievement.  To be selected to participate in this study, the student-athlete would have to have made valuable athletic contributions to the team and be first or second on the depth chart.  Additionally, the student-athlete had to have at least a 3.0 GPA or received some academic award by the institution, NCAA or the athletic department.

The main method of data collection was semi-structured individual and focus group interviews.  The initial questions asked during the individual and focus group interviews are as follows: “(a) ‘Will you describe your experience as a student athlete at your university?’ (b) ‘How have your experiences as a student athlete influenced your perception of self?’ (c) ‘What do you think contributes to your success as a student athlete?’” (Bimper, Jr., 2012, p. 114).

As mentioned previously, three dominant themes emerged from the data collected: complex identities, community and liberation.  The dominant finding that pertains to the complex identities theme is the student-athletes contended that their identity as Black male student-athletes played an instrumental role in their lives, and they provided a counter-narrative to the prevalent thought of them being only athletes.  All participants were proud to identify themselves as being Black and were conscious of their peers and instructors’ perceptions of their racial identity.  Most of the student-athletes posited that toxic stereotypes about being Black and being an athlete are concatenated.  All participants articulated that Black male student-athletes have to confront challenges associated with their athletic and racial identity.

The community theme refers to the participants communicating their ability to “engage a supportive community” that is critical to their academic and athletic success.  One of the participants explained that too many of his teammates attempt to perform well academically on their own, but they struggle mightily.  For this participant, he did not find the language of the recruiters that he would be coming to a “family” environment to be true.  These student-athletes contend that it was their ability to find a supportive community within the institution and use the available resources offered by the institution and athletic department, especially the academic center in the athletic department, that greatly contributed to their academic success.  Some participants felt that the athletic department created a culture where they expected their student-athletes to graduate, but others believed that there was not a true commitment to their degree completion.  All, save one, participants were linked with tutors to work with outside of the athletic department.  The student-athletes found that networking was essential to their academic success, especially networking with Black professors on campus.  In their opinion, one of the fundamental reasons why many Black male student-athletes struggle academically is they fail to network with others on campus, especially Black professors.  These student-athletes communicated that they were able to overcome the pre-college expectations for them to come to college to simply try to become professional athletes.

Moreover, the theme of liberation that surfaced throughout the study refers to the participants becoming “self-empowered through education” (Bimper, Jr., 2012, p. 122).  The participants believe that it’s more important for them to be successful academically than athletically.  It is there hope that they can change perceptions about Black male student-athletes’ intellect by excelling academically.  They were deeply bothered about the negative perceptions on campus about their intellectual capabilities as student-athletes, especially as Black male student-athletes.

One disappointing aspect of this study is it does not offer any understanding of the academic preparation the student-athletes had prior to coming to college.  This study did not provide any understanding about where the participants’ strong self-determination emerged, and what helped them to not fall prey to simply coming to college to try to become professional athletes.  While this study has great potential for helping scholars to understand how to ameliorate the academic achievement of Black male student-athletes at PWIs, its failure to give insights into the pre-college academic and social preparation of the participants leaves many issues and questions unresolved.  Although it does explain that all of the student-athletes come from low-income homes, the reader is left without any understanding of how well the students performed academically in their K-12 experience.  It would have been helpful to learn more about their pre-college social lives and experiences.  Simply learning that the student-athletes come from low-income homes is not sufficient enough to provide essential background information about the pre-college factors that facilitate and militate against their college academic achievement.

The Black male student-athletes provided valuable insights about how important networking, especially with Black professors, was to their academic success.  It would have been helpful to learn specifically what those Black professors provided for them.  Future research should devote critical attention to how networking can aid in the academic success of Black male student-athletes and what can be done to mitigate barriers to Black male student-athletes being able to engage in networking.  Scholars need to investigate why many Black male student-athletes are not currently engaging in networking on-campus and off-campus.  The study offers promising insights about how academic support centers in athletic departments should adopt a culturally relevant pedagogical framework.  The study does not, however, give specific recommendations for accomplishing this.  Future research should provide specific recommendations for establishing a culturally relevant pedagogical framework in academic support centers in athletic departments, and examine the specific academic and social outcomes that result from implementing a culturally relevant pedagogical framework in these academic support centers in athletic departments.

Reference

Bimper, Jr. A.Y., Harrison, Jr., L., & Clark, L. (2012). Diamonds in the rough: Examining a case of successful Black male student athletes in college sport. Journal of Black Psychology, 39(2), 107-130.

Antonio Maurice Daniels

University of Wisconsin-Madison