The departure of the University of Connecticut and their athletics programs to the Big East, v. 2.0 creates a void of sorts among the remaining AAC schools. It’s not a void from losing an NCAA Tournament caliber men’s basketball team or a football team capable of a top 5 finish in the Southland conference.
No, what UConn represented was a uniting force for all of us geographically disparate schools in the conference was a common villain. They saw themselves as a ‘blue blood’ (at least on the basketball court) slumming it in a second-rate league and the rest of the league saw them as an arrogant has-been.
The truth is UConn made a sensible decision for the sports that really matter to their fan base and the AAC’s football product is much better for not having a program doomed to win 1-3 games a year in a 75% empty Pratt & Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field (PAWSARF).
Also, the uncomfortable truth is that there may not be a ready-made villain for the league to unite around without UConn.
So, for Cougar fans looking for a new in conference nemesis I’ve cast my eyes towards the rest of the AAC and assessed their hate-ability. In addition to putting on my roasting hat and doing my best Jeff Ross impression in the direction of each school, I’ll be debuting the Dan Hurley Index: a 0 to 10 point scale to put an extremely scientific, quantifiable number on the sheer difficulty to like of each AAC institution.
The Cool Zone: (0-3 on the DHI)
The South Florida Bulls were a blank slate to me when UH ended up in the remnants of the Big East in 2013. I remembered them being randomly #2 in the country for a week in 2007 and getting hammered in the Sun Bowl to close out that season (I certainly wouldn’t know anything about rooting for a flashy upstart who ended a season getting humiliated in a lower tier bowl).
I ended up randomly deciding to make a football road trip to Tampa see the Coogs play the Bulls in 2014. I desperately needed a break from working/going to school full time and air fare to Tampa was absurdly cheap that month. I got a 3-day taste of Tampa/St. Petes, including watching the Coogs sit on a dreadfully bad USF team in front of no more than 9,000 souls at an NFL stadium.
So, what’s there to hate about USF fans? I genuinely have no idea how to answer this question. Whatever is in the water in the Orlando to make UCF fans the unique way they are hasn’t really spread to Tampa. The Bulls fans I’ve encountered online and in reallife are funny and self-depreciating.
My only negative encounter was when the wife (?) of a USF baseball volunteer coach came completely unglued in my direction after some friendly heckling of her significant other at a Sunday rubber game at Schroeder Park a few years back. And I wouldn’t really categorize that as an encounter with a USF fan, per se.
I could make the usual snide comments about Florida being a glorified retirement peninsula and cultural wasteland that would have the population of Wyoming if not for the invention of the air conditioner. But, this could be thrown back in my face as a Houstonian and someone who's currently living in the middle of America’s most inhospitable desert.
If I could roast USF for anything, its somehow going 0-2 against Major Applewhite. Also, while I appreciated that 2017 Bulls football team ending Texas Tech’s season with a loss while Quinton Flowers ran wild against the Red Raiders, I must ask: HOW DID YOU GUYS GO 11-2 AND ONE OF THOSE 2 WAS A LOSS TO MAJOR FREAKING APPLEWHITE?!
Tampa also has the most credible claim to inventing nature’s most perfect sandwich: the Cuban. How can you work up even sports hatred for these guys?!
Dan Hurley Index Score: 0.4
Sorry Bulls fans, this is a verbal contract that we have to be friends now.
This is another school without much meat on the bones in terms of real, serious hate-ability.
There was a lot of intrigue when the AAC added the long-time mid-major power Shockers as non-football members to the league and in their first AAC season they looked more than ready to make the transition from the Missouri Valley.
In their 3 seasons as an AAC member I am struggling to think of any WSU athlete that annoyed me. I’ll derive limitless immature joy from making fun of Connor Frankamp’s early onset male pattern baldness and derivations of the same joke about a 45-year-old, father of 3 playing in a college basketball game. But Frankamp never annoyed me.
A lot of programs out there believe their home court atmosphere is better than it is and having witnessed it personally at Charles Koch (not touching that one) Arena, Wichita State’s homecourt is every bit of the hype. The place fills up to the gills, people get there early and hey, who doesn’t love a crowd of mostly white Kansans getting hyped to the rapper TI’s classic Bring Em Out? Other than Cincy, no program in this league can compete with WSU’s basketball game day experience.
I actually visited Wichita twice in early 2018: for UH’s first ever road game at Wichita (an absolute spanking and UH’s only loss to WSU to date) and for UH’s NCAA Tournament games. The people in Wichita are also unbelievably nice. The 50something couple sitting next to me at Koch Arena during the January game took it upon themselves to get me a large bottled water from the concession stand as I watched UH trail by 25 to 30 points for most of a game I drove 9 hours to see.
I won’t hold it against the city that its where I was about 70 feet from Jordan Poole as he sunk a deep, contested 3-pointer to end UH’s first multi-game NCAA Tournament appearance since Phi Slama Jama.
What I will hold against Wichita is that on the Saturday night after watching my team’s season end that I couldn’t even find a Taco Bell open later than 10:30 PM. Don’t get me wrong, there are good restaurants in Wichita and an incredibly deep selection of local breweries (special shouts out to Central Standard and Wichita Brewing Cos). But, it’s a real shocker (pun, intended) to someone from an actual large city to go to Wichita and realize that it’s the largest city in the entire state of Kansas.
Dan Hurley Index Score: 1.1
Jabs about the city of Wichita aside, their fans are the genuine article and even if the on court product hasn’t gotten back to the form of their 2017-18 team, I still think UH fans and AAC fans generally should be glad to have the Shockers in the league.
Like a lot of the more eastern schools on this list, UH’s history with TU is fairly recent and not filled with anything close to hostility. The two teams actually played the first official game in the new AAC in September 2013 and UH won the first 4 league match-ups with the Owls, including the 2015 AAC championship game.
The only visceral anger I remember even peripherally involving Temple was the January 2019 men’s basketball game in Philadelphia. That was the game when ridiculous man-baby John Gaffney called Kelvin Sampson for a tech for removing his necktie while standing at least 40 feet away from said official. But, that’s not really something you can pin on Temple.
No, it was the extremely borderline block/charge call at the end of the game where Corey Davis Jr was called for a charge on Ernest Aflakpui on what would have been a game-tying line up. I found Temple fans’ refusal to even admit the call was borderline kind of irksome in real time. But, if we’re being completely frank that’s what UH fans would have done if the shoe was on the other foot.
Other than changing planes and laying over for 45 minutes one time I have never visited the Philadelphia area, so I can’t really take aim at the Owls’ city. I love garbage food, so I can’t even pretend I have an issue with the Philly Cheese Steak.
I could take some jabs about being a college in a pro sports town with questionable fan support, but as a UH fan that’d be akin to throwing a bucket full of rocks in an enormous, all-glass mansion.
Maybe the worst thing Temple did to UH fans was that the Owls football program apparently considered hiring Mark D’Onofrio (TU assistant coach from 2006-10) as the successor to Al Golden, but chose not to. Certainly Temple fans don’t regret how things actually worked out, but there’s no shortage of UH and Miami fans who would’ve loved for D’Onofrio to have not intersected with their programs.
Dan Hurley Index Score: 1.8
I really don’t see how you can contort yourself into making Temple your new conference arch-nemesis.
Room Temperature (Sports) Hate: (3-6 on the DHI)
I think if I was writing this in the spring of 2018 Navy would have been in the previous section. As you can tell, this write-up is in ascending order of sports hate and the Midshipmen are deliberately at the beginning of this second section.
Wherever you fall on the scale of patriotic troop respecting, there’s something I admire about the several thousand young men and women who decided not to do the usual college experience, but instead enroll in a 24/7 officer training program. This holds true whether we’re talking about USNA student athletes or regular students.
But its especially noteworthy that Midshipmen football players live the constant grind of a service academy and have been a high level football program way more often than not this century. To have the ‘handicap’ of athletes knowing they have a post collegiate military commitment and the rigors of academy life and still be excellent is something you have to respect. Paul Johnson and current head coach Ken Niumatalolo are dang college football wizards.
Let’s get to why Navy is here and not in the ‘cool zone’ though. Niumatalolo is undeniably one of the best coaches in the sport and at least one P5 program (*coughArizonacough*) bombed their coaching search by not hiring Niu. But he is also without a doubt the biggest whiner in the league.
Go find his postgame comments from just about any league game and you won’t have to look far to find open complaining about league officials. The Mids are annually one of the least penalized teams in the sport, but if you listen to their head coach they’re a constant victim of blown calls. Nevermind Taylor Heflin concussing a UH offensive player with a headshot that resulted in his rightful ejection in 2017 or a Navy offensive lineman in 2018 effectively ending Ed Oliver’s UH career with a textbook chop block that *stunningly* wasn’t called in real time.
Also, I had the pleasure last fall of sitting a few rows behind a late 30s/early 40s guy with his Navy-branded t-shirt tucked into jeans at the 2019 football season finale. This gentleman, at least for the first several touchdowns took it upon himself to do push-ups for every point the Mids scored that night. Its cool when the Navy brass in their full regalia fire off form-perfect push ups after a score, it was a bit less cool when this gentleman did it.
Finally, while I am very happy the Flexbone/Triple Option/Option offense exists in college football still I would love to take a year off from facing it in, conference play. I get why the Mids run this unique offense that does an incredible job leveling the playing field and I actually enjoy watching that offense when UH isn’t involved. But for the sake of our defensive players’ knees and all of our psyches, can we get a break from playing Navy for just one year?
Dan Hurley Index Score: 3.4
All in all, I still can’t work myself in too much of a lather about the Midshipmen, even after this public airing of grievances.
If Navy is a team on this list that’s trending up on this list, Tulane is one going in the opposite direction. For the better part of the late 00s/early 10s I had a disdain for the Green Wave I can’t quite understand why I had now in retrospect.
Maybe it’s the fact in my advancing age I have an affection for New Orleans, as the city where nearly my entire maternal side of the family still lives and probably the city I’ve visited most times cumulatively in my life. Granted, even with its age and location in the heart of Uptown, Tulane sometimes feels more in New Orleans than of New Orleans.
This is a school that advertises that 85% of their students come from over 300 miles away. My numerous uncles are as likely to proudly sport Clinton 2016 bumper stickers as they are to have any clue how Tulane has done in sports since maybe their ’98 undefeated season.
When I conjure up a male Tulane alum in my mind, it’s a guy named Gabe or Todd who went to a private school that’s name begins with “The” who will end up working for a hedge fund and won't spend a second in NOLA after finishing up his education.
Weirdly enough, my increased respect for Tulane has corresponded with them delivering gut punch losses to UH on a near annual basis at this point. There was the 2014 homecoming loss where Greg Ward Jr had his worst game as a collegian, a 2016 AAC tournament men’s hoops loss after it was leaked Tulane was firing their coach Ed Conroy and frankly I’m still not ready yet to deal with the 2019 football game ending.
Perhaps the increased respect is because unlike fellow CUSA adds Tulsa and ECU, the Green Wave have actually become a competitive football program and are at least trying to do the same in men’s basketball. You are obliged to respect Angry Wave as the league’s best mascot, as well.
Before I go, let me state the undeniable fact that Ron Hunter would have swam in Lake Pontchartrain if not for the worst global pandemic in 100+ years, because his team was terrible. The only way Hunter is ever going to back up his press conference talk about seeing UH lose is if he buys tickets to a Cougar NCAA Tournament game once his season ends the week before.
Dan Hurley Index Score: 3.9
I have become soft towards the ‘Wave and their amazing nautical mascot. The above score is undeniable proof of that.
Like Tulane, this is a program that’s been on my radar dating back to sharing a conference since the salad days of CUSA, v.1.0 and towards which I’ve become a lot softer as I have drifted into my 30s. But unlike the Green Wave though, I think a healthy amount of my softening towards the Pirates just comes from pity.
If you’ve been a UH fan since at least the mid-00s, what are your memories of the Pirates? Its probably the heartbreaking last-minute loss in the 2009 CUSA Championship game, or the happier memory of the Coogs upsetting a top 25 ECU team the year before. Yeah, let’s go with the happier memory.
Under Skip Holtz and Ruffin McNeil this was a football program that was consistently tough to beat. Lately though the Pirates were lucky that the annual tire of UConn football distracted from their own waning football fortunes. I’ve done 2 different long distance moves since the Pirates had a winning season.
Unlike a good number of Cougar fans, I can speak personally to what ECU and the town of Greenville are like on the ground. When me and my co-host went out for the football team’s game there in 2018, we’d already seen Charlotte, Raleigh, and Greensboro. To varying degrees, I’d say we had positive impressions of all 3 cities and then that Saturday we drove almost 4 hours (it felt longer) to the hinterlands to see some football. We found nearly all of the ECU fans to be very pleasant and even did a guest spot with long-time friend of the pod Clip Brock of Pirate Radio 1250 AM in Greenville. I was also impressed with the Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium experience, even in a nadir for Pirate football.
By the end of the evening I came to the realization that while the game day experience was pleasant, I still had no idea of the appeal of the place. I had an impromptu, dating app-created late night date with an ECU grad student who I posed this question to and they spent much of the next 30 minutes talking about all the things they preferred about their undergrad school (James Madison). It’s a decent, replacement level college town located in one of the few parts of North Carolina without any discernible physical beauty.
Did I also mention ECU has been terrible at just about every sport but baseball, since joining the AAC? Every time I look at combined AAC men’s basketball metrics in KenPom I remember ECU basketball exists because the Pirates are nearly always a 50-pound weight around the neck of the league’s overall ratings. Its baffling to me that one of the larger Division 1 institutions in at-worst the 2nd most basketball crazy state in the union is an annual punch line… in basketball!
Finally, I have no natural segue for this, but Houston football plays in a stadium that's name has 'ECU' in it and the ECU football program is coached by a guy named 'Houston'. The Universe has a funny sense of humor.
Dan Hurley Index Score: 4.4
At least you have the '09 CUSA championship game memories, right Pirate fans?
If I could speak to a younger version of myself, but only about incredibly niche sports topics, I think my younger self would be floored by how soft I’ve become towards the Golden Hurricane and their fans. I think if you had asked me in 2008-09 for Cougar league opponents, I had the most animus towards, Tulsa football would be top of the list or top 2 at worst.
Despite the fact that we’ve ‘met’ a handful of really awesome Tulsa fans on social media since beginning our podcast, I think the sea change has mostly been a result of the Golden Hurricane being extremely underwhelming since joining the AAC. What can you hate from a football team with 10 total wins 2017 or a men's basketball program that had their best season in at least 5 years last season and still wasn’t even close to the NCAA Tournament bubble?
You might be expecting me at some point here to go in on the city of Tulsa itself. And I will say that Tulsa shouldn’t be anyone’s idea of a dream destination. But, I visited Tulsa for Cougar basketball’s first 2 games in the 2019 NCAA Tournament and tried to keep an open mind and left suitably impressed. It wasn’t just that I got to see the Coogs clinch their first Sweet 16 in my lifetime there, but I actually enjoyed the place. Nearly every meal was a winner, highlighted by the best non-Houston Banh Mi I’ve ever had at Lone Wolf Banh Mi.
But let’s not get too lovey-dovey, this is the school that gave the college football world Todd Graham, a man to whom the description ‘insincere asshole’ might be too kind. Let’s also not spend too much time thinking about where current football head man Phillip Montgomery was at for a good long while before he landed this job (it rhymes with: Schmaylor Schmuniversity).
I’d love to go on an extended riff about TU basketball’s stunningly consistent mediocrity under current hoops coach Frank Haith (unblock us on twitter, you coward). But the school was too cash-strapped to fire Haith before Covid-19 and anything else from me on the topic would feel like piling on what was historically one of the sport’s most consistent mid major powers.
This will probably put a smile on the face of the 2 to 3 Tulsa fans who actually read this, but TU football has been responsible for 3 of the most miserable games I’ve attended in person: the 2007, 2012 and 2017 UH/Tulsa football games. I still have bad dreams of Kyle Postma being asked to pass the ball 41 times in nearly 20 mph wins against a Tulsa team with 0 FBS wins and an atrocious run defense. Yes, Golden Hurricane fans your team may be having a rough 3-year stretch but at least you made me drive almost 10 hours, miss an Astros playoff game and watch a comically bad football game.
Broken Arrow and Jenks high school games get better crowds than you guys and your attendance situation has to be pretty dire for me as a UH fan to throw stones in my own extremely delicate, glass house.
Dan Hurley Index Score: 5.2
The stink of Graham may have finally cleared from Tulsa athletics, but I like knowing that I can still sometimes work myself into some Tulsa sports hate every now and then.
Stick around for the final part where I’ll save some ire for the 4 teams I did not get to today. Remember, if something in this made you angry please e-mail our new site editor: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you for reading this far and please wear a mask, friends.