|Majerus started as an assistant at Marquette before coaching there, Ball State, Utah and Saint Louis. (AP)|
We've already seen plenty of tributes, by pen and by program, for the late Rick Majerus. The Falstaffian figure, who was complicated, disliked by some but ultimately respected and envied for his hoops acumen by most others in his profession, has received more praise and widespread positive recollections in his memory from more people in the past few days than anyone could count.
It's inarguable: Majerus' impact on the game was known when he was alive, but we've seen just how far his personality reached into the lives of people inside basketball in the wake of his death. More tributes are set to come in the form of patches on uniforms and a push to get him into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.
But there's one doable tribute that's not yet been tossed out there, or fleshed out, and I think it could use some discussion. There's a way Majerus' life can take on a tribute in the form of what he gave his existence to. There could be basketball games organized and held and played in his honor and memory. Hanging sweaters and sewed-on emblems and even big letters bolted to facades are one way to do it, but you'd have to think Majerus would believe there's no more meaningful way to say thank you than to see 10 kids, three refs and two coaches come together for tip-off. A "game of ball," as he would've delivered in that burred Wisconsin tone.
I was spurred to this idea by a tweet yesterday, and I wanted to take it a step further.
.@mattnorlander Nice piece on the Majerus sweater.Would be cool to have SLU-UofU do a home-home, like WF-Xavier do for Skip Prosser.— Matt Sarzyniak (@mattsarz) December 4, 2012
It's an absolutely great idea, Matt, and might I add you've got a beautiful name there. Prosser, who died suddenly -- also due to a bad heart, in 2007 -- had really strong ties to his two schools, who will again play each other this season, on Jan. 2.
But why not broaden the concept? Majerus coached at four schools. That's an even number. And while Utah is where he found the most success, and Saint Louis was his final gig, he had ties as deep to Marquette as anywhere else. Get Ball State, the lovable little guy, in on the action and we could have a great day of remembrance, something that would draw a bit of attention for college basketball in a really good way.
I wondered how each school would feel about trying to do this.
"Nobody has brought it to my attention until now, but I am all for anything that's feasible from the scheduling perspective and would want to honor coach Majerus in any way possible," Marquette's Buzz Williams said by phone Wednesday afternoon. "What he's meant to Marquette and this community speaks for itself and anything we can do to honor him I would be completely for."
There's myriad options to accomplish this. The problem lies in stubborn college basketball scheduling philosophy. Naturally, schools don't want to give up home games. Here are some suggestions:
- You could do a four-year plan and have each school take turns hosting it. In this mold, it'd be cool for the progression of host schools to take on the pattern of Majerus' career path, so from Marquette to Ball State to Utah to Saint Louis.
- You could simply trade off on home-and-homes for two years, then decide if the series should keep going. To start, the Jesuits -- Saint Louis and Marquette -- could play each other, while Utah and Ball State would complete the other half of the series. Ideally it'd be best to play both of these games on the same day, one afternoon and one night tilt.
- If it was only a one-year situation, there would need to be compromise. Perhaps Majerus' hometown Milwaukee could host at the pro arena, the Harris Bradley Center, where the Bucks play and where Majerus was an assistant in the '80s.
Ball State coach Billy Taylor agreed with Williams. Let's do it and hope scheduling pride can be tossed aside.
"Coach Majerus is such a well-respected man in coaching circles and had a huge impact on our campus, even today," he said. "I know it's always tricky with everyone's schedules with exempt tournaments and what they have, but we'd always be open to it."
Those pesky slates, I know. College basketball has a bigger annual quandary in this department than any other major American sport. Big schools don't want to play small schools unless it's on the big schools' terms. But can't we show some humility -- and why not take a cue from Majerus, who won no matter where he went? Who didn't take or pass on jobs purely based on endowment, booster support or tradition?
Nevertheless, we see two coaches tied to the proposal who are in clear-cut support of this. That's good. That's a start. But you know who else has power, and even more of it? Athletic directors. What about the two guys who've done so much good and said such glowing things about Majerus?
Utah's Chris Hill is one of them. He's the one who put into action the best tribute to Majerus thus far, the linked-above story on hanging a replicated, massive sweater of Majerus' in the Huntsman Center's rafters.
"It's been a hectic week in regard to Rick's passing," Hill said. "To be honest, I've gotten a lot of suggestions this week, but we haven't had that one come across our desk. It may have some merit. It has intrigue, but at the same time to say it's something we're going to do or it makes sense for everybody else, now's not the time for those of us who worked with Rick to worry about right now."
Pragmatism. I get it. But in our conversation he was definitely open to the idea the more we talked about it.
Saint Louis AD Chris May was even more excited over the proposition.
"Big picture, I think it's a great idea if you could get all four schools," he said, then offering to hold it in St. Louis, to boot. Then came the "S" word again.
"Heck, we'd host everybody if it could work. Scheduling, as Rick would've told you, is a major, inexact science. We would encourage such an opportunity and we'll talk to the people that would be involved soon and see if there's any way we could potentially schedule it. I think it'd be a great way to honor Rick and his basketball life."
And what if there was some tug and pull over who gets the home games, where sacrifice had to be made?
"In almost any scenario, we'd support it," May said. That's the attitude each school should approach this with. Nice aside: Before taking the team up to Milwaukee over the weekend for Majerus' funeral, St. Louis is hosting Majerus' memorial service Friday afternoon in what May said was the perfect place: the Billikens' practice gym.
"That's where he'd want it to be, because it was in his classroom," May said.
You think I'm out of pitches? How about this for a resolution? Everyone gets home games and everyone has to travel. Taylor, who sits in the most unforgivable position, as Ball State is the only school not in a major basketball conference, said if home-and-homes and/or a one site/one day arrangement wasn't doable, why not try to get every one of Majerus' teams to play everyone else in a season? That seems like a pipe dream, but it'd be fair and something Majerus possibly wouldn't have shied from.
No matter the conclusion, let's hope this can be arranged. College basketball's non-conference season has gotten better and better in recent years. Why not give it more story lines, more positive pub and reasons to watch? Why not do this and give Majerus the one thing he died for, something he was robbed of: being part of just a few more basketball games.