Red All Over: Mel Tucker’s move from Colorado to Michigan State speaks to Power Five haves vs. have-nots

Mel Tucker, Michigan State's new football coach, speaks duirng a news conference Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2020, in East Lansing, Mich. (AP Photo/Al Goldis)

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Let’s pretend for a moment that you have a position making, for argument’s sake, $50,000. In the first year of said position, things went well. Your boss thinks you’re doing a good job, his bosses think you’re doing a good job. There is optimism for the future with you in that spot.

Then, one day, a company in the same field comes along and offers you $100,000 to do the same job. However, in addition to doubling your salary, the new company is offering more resources to do your work, and gets you closer to the area of the United States in which you grew up.

We all have extenuating circumstances in our lives, but be honest, with yourself. What are you going to do?

Mel Tucker took the latter, and who could blame him? The Colorado head coach agreed on Wednesday morning to become the new head coach at Michigan State. Tucker, a 48-year-old native of Cleveland, will reportedly have his roughly $2.6 million annual salary in Boulder more than doubled in East Lansing. His assistant pool is also expected to double at Michigan State, while Sparty is expected to pay $3 million to help take care of his Colorado buyout.

No-brainer. Michigan State is a better job, albeit a harder one given it resides in the Big Ten East, in a better conference with better resources. The fact Tucker gets closer to his roots is merely an added bonus.

The big-picture takeaway from Wednesday morning’s semi-shocking news, though, is simple. This was about money, and not just at the institutional level, but at the conference level.

For Fiscal 2018, the Big Ten handed out approximately $54 million to each of its 12-longest standing members. For Fiscal 2018, the Pac-12 handed out just over $30 million in revenue payments to its members. Sparty’s athletics budget is roughly $40-45 million more than the Buffaloes.

That is not a competitive and resource gap, that is a gulf, and it’s only going to get worse with each passing year. That is, at least in part, how Michigan State can swoop in and poach a coach from another Power Five school, and remember, Tucker wasn’t the first this offseason. Mississippi State came to this side of the country and stole Washington State’s Mike Leach, thanks in part to a $1.25 million raise.

Think about that. Two Power Five programs poaching coaches from other Power Five programs from the same conference in the same offseason. Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott should be embarrassed for a lot of reasons, but in this case, mostly because Washington State and Colorado were treated like Mountain West programs by Mississippi State and Michigan State.

Oregon swing presents another prime opportunity for the Runnin’ Utes

Utah drops a pair of games away from the Huntsman Center, then comes home, wins two, and renews optimism. Rinse, repeat.

That is where we are right now with the Utes, who swept the Bay Area schools last weekend to move to 10-1 at the Huntsman Center, which came after it got swept on the road by USC and UCLA.

Utah is 14-9 overall, 5-6 in the Pac-12. The Utes woke up Wednesday with a NET of 71 and a KenPom rating of 103. They are not an NCAA Tournament team, nor are they on the bubble right now. We could have talked bubble had they gotten both games in Southern California, but alas.

Now, if the Utes want to go to the Pacific Northwest this weekend, and get a pair of Quadrant 1 wins at Oregon State and Oregon, maybe we can do some bubble talk. There would still be a lot of work to do, but an Oregon sweep would give them five Quadrant 1 wins, and a combined nine between Quads 1 and 2.

Any sort of run at the postseason absolutely needs to include making hay on the road, where Utah is 0-5 in the Pac-12. Can’t have that. Can’t keep holding serve at home, then getting whacked on the road. Thursday is a prime opportunity for a road win that would count for something.

I have something lined up for the weekend on the Utes and a potential NIT berth. Just know, as it stands currently, that is the easier path to the postseason compared to the NCAA Tournament.

Your questions

Q: “Have you ever been to Vegas during championship weekend before? Will you only be doing the PAC 12 tournament or will you sneak over to the other tournaments?” — @coreyc04

A: I have never been to Vegas for conference-tournament time. I would selfishly like to stick around closer to the weekend for the Pac-12 Tournament, but that’s more up to the team I cover than it is me.

As far as I know, my only concern in Vegas is the Pac-12 Tournament, but the WCC Tournament final is on March 10, which is when I would potentially fly in to Vegas for a first-round Pac-12 Tournament game the next day. If BYU is playing in the WCC final, my hand would be up to help with our coverage.

On a personal note, some day, I would like to spend the first or second day of the NCAA Tournament in a Vegas sportsbook. That would be awesome.

Q: “With Jason Shelley transferring, what does our secondary look like going into spring?” -- @uteowski

A: The secondary, with or without Shelley was going to be muddled. Safety is one of the more-intriguing position battles as spring practice looms.

RJ Hubert and Vonte Davis come to mind immediately as potential starters, but four-star freshman Nate Ritchie will challenge. Three-star commit Ben Renfro could also be a factor. He will participate in spring practice after enrolling in January.

Q: “Is it true you will be drinking beers with Ute fans in Vegas?” — @rkdavidson13

A: I will not be raging with Utah fans in Vegas, but not so long ago, I was thinking about trying to organize some sort of meetup during the Pac-12 Tournament if enough folks are up for it.

I’m up for any ideas on this front, so utilize jnewman@sltrib.com if you have thoughts. I’m always up for a soda and talking some basketball. Just know, I am not opposed to this meetup happening at a $5 craps table.

More Utah hoops thoughts

• If and when Both Gach returns from his knee injury, I would keep starting Jaxon Brenchley, at least early in an effort to ease Gach back in. Utah’s defense has looked stout in three of the four games Gach has missed, and Brenchley has played hard, if not pretty well, in his extended opportunity.

• Don’t be surprised to see Gach at some point this weekend in Oregon. I say that for two reasons. One, Rylan Jones said on ESPN 700 on Monday that Gach has started doing basketball stuff in practice. Two, Larry Krystkowiak offered a small, unsolicited update after the Cal game, saying the sophomore guard was doing treatment, and was due for a follow-up doctor visit at some point this week. Things appear to be trending positively.

• How Krystkowiak opts to use Gach will be very interesting. The Utes have looked pretty cohesive lately, especially on defense. If Utah wants to make a run at the postseason, messing around with defensive chemistry is probably not a sound plan.

Timmy Allen is a gamer. He hadn’t shot well in probably seven weeks, then went for 21 points on 8-for-16 shooting vs. Cal to help Utah complete the Bay Area sweep. Allen has produced an All-Pac-12 season, but we’ll see if he lands All-Pac-12 first-team honors. If the season ended today, I think it would be very close.

Branden Carlson’s 15-point, 10-rebound, 8-block night against Stanford was a revelation. Of the eight blocks, Carlson absolutely punched at least half of them. He hasn’t figured everything out yet, but his trajectory is clearly upwards. For now, his ability as a rim protector cannot be overstated.

• Opposing Pac-12 players Utah has defended well against lately: Tres Tinkle, Isaiah Stewart, Onyeka Okongwu, Oscar da Silva, Matt Bradley. That’s a strong list of guys, comprised of several million dollars in NBA rookie, two-way, G-League, or overseas contracts down the road.

Random musings

• My well-documented quest for serviceable pizza out here brought me to Pizza Nono on Thursday night, mostly because ESPN 700’s Spence Checketts browbeat me into it the last couple of times he had me on his show. Credit to Spence, because he nailed it. Best pizza I’ve had since I’ve been in Salt Lake City, no question.

• Whenever I talk to Spence, I can't help but think of his father, Dave, former president of the New York Knicks from 1991-94. Those Patrick Ewing-led late 80s/early 90s Knicks teams were my first basketball love. Dave Checketts was the architect, and that was a time when the fan base didn’t want to vomit every time the team played, but I digress.

• We have this conversation seemingly every February, but this NCAA Tournament bubble is soft. On topic, the Pac-12 smells like a three-bid league, not five or six as some pundits are suggesting. Arizona State has entered the Last-four-in conversation this week. See what I mean?

• I have yet to be blown away by a Pac-12 arena, but I suspect that changes Sunday night in Eugene at Matthew Knight Arena, which has been described to me as a scaled-down NBA building.

• Conversely, I have heard nothing but horror stories pertaining to Oregon State’s Gill Coliseum, which opened in 1949. Its claim to fame, as far as I can tell, is hosting a 1983 NCAA Tournament sub-regional, which included Jim Valvano-coached North Carolina State, which went on to win the national championship. I was told by one Utah athletics official to bring a hot spot if I have one, because the Wi-Fi can be spotty. Oh, good.

• While we’re here, Pac-12 arenas I have seen, ranked.

  1. Arizona: Few frills, but has history and brought the noise for a Thursday game against Utah.

  2. UCLA: It’s Pauley Pavilion, enough said. Probably No. 1 if there were any sort of crowd on Super Bowl Sunday.

  3. Utah: My first assignment at the Salt Lake Tribune was Utah-BYU on Dec. 4. That left an impression.

  4. Colorado: Another no-frills deal in a big cement box, but the place got loud with about 9,000 there for a 4 p.m. Sunday tip.

  5. USC: Nice place, but felt more like a concert hall than a basketball arena.

  6. Arizona State: Will turn 46-years old on April 29, and looks its age.

• Anyone have an in for me at the Nike Employee Store in Beaverton this weekend? I am……71 percent serious.

Other voices

Yahoo! Sports Dan Wetzel on the Mel Tucker situation helping prove that the Pac-12 is the little(st) brother of the Power Five.

Oregonian columnist John Canzano, one of the foremost authorities on the Pac-12, weighs in on Tucker and the Pac-12.

The Athletic’s Chris Kamrani on the legacy being left by Jason Shelley, who announced his transfer from Utah last Friday.

The Pac-12 is home to one of the biggest games in the country on Thursday night when Colorado visits Oregon. The Pac-12 regular-season title and NCAA Tournament resumes/seeding will all be in play.

Non-Utes, non-college hoops, but I thought this was really good by Trib columnist Gordon Monson on the Jazz and Jordan Clarkson.