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It is Bonus Time 2020

Today we start CUSA Bonus play, the controversial system originally designed to boost the resumes for the league’s better teams. It is controversial mostly online among the vocal fans who — timelines suggest — dislike any attempt by the league to do much of anything. The reality is that this is slightly more useful than moving the chairs on the deck of a sinking ship but it is something.

Money, of course, is the lifeblood of any program. Investment into a program will bring about better play which brings about more attention which brings more donors, more paying fans, and eventually more viewers and higher advertising fees. This is how it has always worked.

Somewhere, investment has to be made into this league. Fans and media can complain about the decisions made with the limited budget but sometimes the best thing to do is get more revenue. That this shuffling at the end of the season is not bringing about more interest from television partners — or fans — mildly ridiculous as a criticism given that they are still simply regular season games.

The true drama happens in the conference tournament. The reason it is dramatic is ironically the reason that the league had thought up Bonus Play in the first place: MTSU losing to Southern Miss in the league tournament. That blew up the chances for Middle in the Big Dance and started more weeping and gnashing of teeth.

The truest sign that CUSA and Middle were so far off of the dream destination is that Kermit Davis left a great program and it immediately tanked. This happens, of course, but it means the greater infrastructure for continuing to run the program was not deep enough to sustain even a good. The rebuild has been total and complete and Middle has not recovered.

That suggests that each of the league’s better teams is really at the mercy of its ability to hire a good coach, and the very existence is threatened by being outbid by bigger programs. This is, of course, one of the criticisms that the die-hards make when they decry the lack of investment. If a coach is turning out bad results, the axe needs to come out quickly lest there be some complacency. North Texas is one such example.

When Johnny Jones left the program he built — from a loser to a perennial Sun Belt contender — he left a cupboard full of talent. The next hire wasted that talent and NT has not been in league contention until these last couple years of Grant McCasland’s tenure. There was even a scandal in those intervening years.

The point is not that basketball programs do not need talented coaches to win — that is of course false — but that attracting and retaining talented coaches consistently takes money and investment. A program will need more than one good coach in a given 50-year span, of course. Building programs takes time and if these talented guys do not think they can achieve their goals at a CUSA school, that needs to change.

Is Bonus Play going to help North Texas or WKU get an at-large bid if they lose in Frisco? No. Is it worth complaining about when there are more pressing matters (revenue levels, attendance, scheduling, non-conference performance, recruiting levels, coaching salaries)? No.

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