It’s been nearly 20 years since men’s team played in March Madness
THE SANTA CLARA
May 8, 2014
If that victory was the high point of Santa Clara basketball, the program may have hit rock bottom at the end of the 2011-2012 campaign. In the finale of their West Coast Conference schedule, the Broncos fell to Loyola Marymount University, capping the first winless conference record in program history.
The magic of Nash and the thrill of winning an NCAA Tournament game are a distant memory. It has now been nearly two decades since the Broncos have been able to punch a ticket to compete in the Big Dance.
So what’s been holding Santa Clara back?
Much of the responsibility for the recent state of the men’s basketball program rests with current Head Coach Kerry Keating, yet he remains content and focused on the goals at hand.
“I’m happy with where we’re at and where we’re going,” said Keating. “I know exactly where we can get to. It’s just a matter of everyone else around us in the school, the community and everyone in administration understanding that it’s going to take a lot of support and belief in that.”
The cloud of disappointment hanging over Santa Clara basketball has grown larger each year since the late 1990s, dating back to the end of former Bronco Head Coach Dick Davey’s career. Over 15 seasons, he compiled a .569 winning percentage and coached the squad to three NCAA Tournament appearances. In spite of his overall accomplishments, such as helping in the maturation process of Nash as well as taking Santa Clara to the NCAA Tournament, Davey’s teams sputtered during the early 2000s. Keating eventually replaced him following the 2006-2007 season.
During Keating’s seven years at the helm, the Broncos have posted a sub-.500 mark of 114-121 overall, including a 39-67 record against fellow WCC opponents. That winning percentage is the lowest among Santa Clara head coaches in almost 90 years of the program. Under Keating’s leadership, the team has clinched just two winning seasons, zero WCC titles and has never finished a season better than fourth place in the conference standings.
Keating’s contract was renewed last fall despite the team’s mediocre record over the previous six seasons. The terms of the deal were not disclosed. According to 990 IRS tax forms made available to the public in 2011, Keating’s base compensation was $359,597 and his total employment package was valued at over $400,000. Compared to the leader of the WCC powerhouse in the Pacific Northwest, Keating is outmatched. Gonzaga’s Mark Few collects over $1 million, according to USA Today.
Santa Clara did cut down the nets at the 2011 CollegeInsider.com Tournament and 2013 College Basketball Invitational Tournament. But the team played against less-than-stellar competition who, like the Broncos, were unable to make the more prestigious NCAA or National Invitation Tournament field.
This past season, Santa Clara’s mix of young, up-and-coming players took the court alongside a few four-year veterans and ended competition with a 14-19 record. The squad rounded out the season on a hot streak before exiting the WCC Tournament in the quarterfinals, falling to rival Gonzaga in the final seconds for the second time in the calendar year.
“It’s encouraging,” said Keating. “It’s also, in hindsight, somewhat disappointing because of what could have been.”
Despite nipping at the Bulldogs’ heels twice this season, Keating’s squads have come up short against Gonzaga on multiple occasions, prevailing over their rival to the north just once in 17 attempts.
Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of this issue lies in the idea that the more losses pile up for Santa Clara, the harder it will be for the program to become a consistent winner.
“Nothing succeeds like success,” said the San Francisco Chronicle sports reporter Steve Kroner, who has covered the WCC for the past six years. “Teams that have a tradition of being good, whether it’s Arizona or North Carolina or Duke or Kentucky, the traditional powers, it’s easier to sustain that success than I think that it is for teams that are kind of on the periphery.”
Basketball is a team sport and no coach is fully responsible for a program’s production. There are several other factors that may be working against the Broncos.
On the court, Keating believes high academic standards for prospective student-athletes and financial burdens are just some of the reasons that Santa Clara may be coming up short when it comes to attracting the talent necessary to take the program to the next level.
A relatively stringent academic acceptance rate of 51.2 percent at Santa Clara could very well inhibit potential recruits from wearing the red and white. Fellow Jesuit universities such as Gonzaga, Saint Joseph’s University and Creighton University have acceptance rates of 66.5, 78.3 and 78.1 percent, respectively, according to U.S. News and World Report. These schools all found their way into the field of 68 this year.
The university’s location could also be hindering the Broncos.
Playing in a big market such as the San Francisco Bay Area may hurt Santa Clara because the school is overshadowed by the University of California, Berkeley, Stanford University, Saint Mary’s College and the professional teams, according to Kroner. The Gonzaga Bulldogs, playing in a small market, have an advantage because they are more recognized in the local community and have earned the region’s attention.
A more significant reason the Broncos have found themselves on the outside looking in come Selection Sunday may lie in the financials. Money may not buy happiness, but it sure helps a school hoist championship hardware.
Gonzaga has maintained a stranglehold on the WCC, recently winning its 13th conference title and securing a spot in the NCAA Tournament for a 16th consecutive year. Gonzaga’s men’s basketball program brings in roughly $7.75 million in revenue annually compared to just $2.25 million for Santa Clara, according to a report filed last year by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Postsecondary Education.
In terms of expenses, the Bulldogs spend $5.95 million on men’s basketball while Santa Clara can only spend their earned revenue of $2.25 million. Programs such as Creighton and Saint Joseph’s bring in and dish out more money as well.
“There’s a lot of support that’s needed for our guys that’s given to a lot of other places that we need to assess and try to do here and that’s something that hopefully Father (Michael Engh, S.J.) and the board are going through now,” said Keating.
With extra funding, Santa Clara could expand its recruiting efforts. In the past eight years, not a single high school standout on ESPN’s Top 100 list has signed the dotted line to call the Mission Campus his new home.
“We’re developing relationships early with these guys that are based on trust, education and opportunity,” said Keating. “When that is matched by their talent, usually what happens is we have kids that come through that are pretty good. Now, the trick is to get three or four of them at a time together, and I think that we’re getting closer to that. Obviously, the no-brainer-type kid that everybody knows about is really hard to get at our level, but it’s not unattainable. We just have to find a connection and a hook to break through.”
Perhaps high school stars are deterred by the lack of NBA potential coming out of Santa Clara’s program. In the past 10 seasons, Nash has been the only Bronco to sport an NBA jersey. Compare that with Gonzaga, which has seen nine alumni suit up for an NBA franchise.
Santa Clara’s head coach has experience working with an elite program and finding progress, especially in the recruiting realm of the game.
Before taking over on the Santa Clara sideline in 2007, Keating was an assistant coach for the then Pac-10 powerhouse University of California, Los Angeles. He helped direct the Bruins to two straight Final Four appearances in addition to aiding in the development of current NBA players such as Russell Westbrook, Arron Afflalo, Darren Collison and Jordan Farmar.
In order to attract that level of promise to Santa Clara and build its team into a conference contender on a yearly basis, Keating says the program needs continual aid and support.
“If we get that commitment on the other end, a lot of good things can happen.”
“We are still going to keep looking for that one or two guy every year that maybe we can break through and get, given even the circumstances that we are working under now before anyone else figures it out,” he said. “It’s very hard to do now.”
Yet, Keating remains optimistic about the future of Bronco basketball.
“Even though we’ve had success (and we’ve had) our pitfalls, we’ve been able to grow from that and learn from that and that’s why I feel we’re better equipped now in the next three or four years to really establish ourselves as a really, really solid basketball program,” said Keating. “If we get that commitment on the other end, a lot of good things can happen.”
Contact Brendan Weber at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (408) 554-4852.