Here are the highlights of our weekly chat with Post-Dispatch readers.
Q: Dave, you made a comment worth the attention of Tiger fans when on your program with Ben Frederickson you said the Tigers were closer to 2-8 last year than they were to 8-2. That brings up the point that expectations this year particularly at the beginning of the season need to be tempered. The second game of the season at Kentucky will be interesting, perhaps pivotal.
A: Thanks for watching the video. To build on that point, here are the point margins in Mizzou's five wins last year:
South Carolina: 7
Here's the point margin in MU’s five losses:
Mississippi State: 19
At no point in the fourth quarter of the five losses did Mizzou have a reasonable chance to win the game. The LSU and Arkansas games came down to the very last play. MU controlled the Kentucky game more than the score indicated, but that game was two plays away from swinging the other way. MU needed a last-minute interception to stop South Carolina on what could have been a game-tying TD drive.
I give Drinkwitz and last year's team a lot of credit for finding ways to win those close games. Sometimes you make your own luck. But the margins were slim: What if Josh Bledsoe doesn't make an incredible play in the end zone against LSU or Harrison Mevis pushes a field goal wide against Arkansas?
I'll pick Mizzou third in the SEC East for 2021, but I think it would be naive to believe the program has completely passed the likes of South Carolina, Arkansas and Kentucky in terms of SEC pecking order. I expect those games to be competitive again this fall.
And you and Ben are right: That Week 2 trip to Lexington is huge. Kentucky will want to avenge last year's loss in Columbia. Should be a great crowd at Kroger Field.
Q: Dave, thanks as always for the chat. Now that the worst of Covid is hopefully behind us, what’s been the biggest challenges you’ve had professionally over the last year or so? Thanks, and I’ll hang up and take your answer off air.
A: Good question. I'd say having to do group interviews on Zoom has been my least favorite part of the last year in terms of doing the job. You can't develop rapport/trust/relationships with coaches and athletes over a computer screen. The questions and answers are very transactional with no room for follow-ups or just getting to know someone. And you can't ask certain questions you want to ask because that answer then becomes community property for everyone else to use for their content. I understand why teams have used Zoom - although I think it's past time to start allowing vaccinated media to conduct in-person interviews - so I don't begrudge or blame schools for going that route.
I'm fortunate that I have a good rapport with a lot of the coaches I cover and I keep in touch with them outside of the Zoom boundaries. But I look forward to talking to coaches and athletes in person again. Hopefully it happens soon. It's so much easier to engage in person. You can have actual conversations instead of formal press conference Q&As that can be uncomfortable for both sides.
On a related note, I'm very pleased to say both Ben Frederickson and I will be on the ground in Hoover, Alabama next month for all four days of SEC football media days. We'll have wall-to-wall coverage in print and online from the season's kickoff event.
Q: When and how will Missouri handle dispersing money to players from NIL money since the state has just approved it?
A: This is a good opportunity for everyone to read my column in today's Post-Dispatch, which was intended to dispel the myths of the NIL bill and its impact. First off, Mizzou WILL NOT BE PAYING ATHLETES under this new arrangement. The athletes will be allowed to sign endorsement deals with private companies and profit off their name/image/likeness. They can sign deals with social media companies to earn money for their tweets and posts on TikTok and Instagram. This new law, once it's signed by Gov. Parson, does not allow Mizzou or any state school to pay its athletes. Mizzou will have folks in charge of overseeing and regulating the transactions but won’t have any say in dispersing that income.
If Parson signs the bill - and his camp has given the lawmakers who wrote the bill every indication that he'll sign the bill - MU athletes can start signing endorsement deals on Aug. 28.
Q: SEC does both baseball & softball right. They’re both highly competitive & entertaining spring sports. Mizzou softball was able to turn the program around in fairly short order with a new HC & new attitude. They’ve positioned themselves to be a top tier team for the next several years in an uber competitive league. Is Steve Bieser the right person to do the same for baseball? Does SEC baseball present any unique challenges greater than SEC softball that would prevent such a similar turn around?
A: A couple stark differences between MU's baseball and softball programs:
Larissa Anderson has done a phenomenal job, but she inherited some talented players that came here under Earleywine. She's also gone out and added great talent. Bieser inherited some talented players (Kam Misner, TJ Sikkema, both first-round MLB picks), and you saw an uptick in performance for that team his first few years when they were on the cusp of making an NCAA regional. Still, I’d say the softball program was set up to succeed more than the baseball program when the current coaches took over.
Then facilities. The softball has a beautiful new stadium. It didn't come with all the bells and whistles that the former staff hoped to have due to some funding issues, but you can definitely use that stadium and game-day environments for recruiting purposes. Bieser doesn't have that luxury.
Then when you look at the league, yes, there are some really strong softball programs in the SEC, but baseball is the No. 2 sport at some SEC schools. That's not the case with softball. It's a major priority at LSU, Arkansas, Vandy, the Mississippi schools, South Carolina and Florida. I think I said this in the chat last week, but Mizzou administrators are continually baffled that their peers in the SEC talk about baseball much more than men's basketball during league meetings.
As for Bieser, I'll say this much: I think he just made a heck of a hire in pitching coach Brian DeLunas. He's had a really interesting career at the high school, college and MLB ranks, but most important might be his experiences with the private academies in St. Louis. This guy has strong connections to the baseball community around the state. And he knows pitching. I'll have a full story on Brian in Friday’s P-D. I interviewed him earlier this week. Here's something I found especially interesting: When he was a volunteer assistant at Mizzou more than a decade ago, Tony Vitello, then the team's pitching coach, essentially handed over a lot of the pitching coach duties to DeLunas. That's when MU produced the likes of Aaron Crow and Kyle Gibson.
Q: Last week you said Mizzou would put in a new turf field and not a grass field.
Do most or all SEC teams have turf fields or grass fields? I know grass fields are harder to maintain but I would think grass fields would be the better option for players. I was there at the infamous Fifth Down Game vs Colorado in the early 90s. The Colorado coach tried to deflect the 5th down issue by saying his players were slipping frequently on Mizzou’s turf at the time(they were).
A: Mizzou's artificial turf is nothing like the old OmniTurf from the Fifth Down game. If you remember, when Mizzou did have grass turf in the Larry Smith years and the beginning of the Gary Pinkel years, the field was a mess by the end of the season and drew a lot of criticism for how poorly it held up.
Some quick research tells me in the SEC, Arkansas, Kentucky, Mizzou and Vanderbilt have artificial turf. The rest have natural grass.
As of last season, 58 of the FBS teams had FieldTurf, which is what Mizzou has used at Faurot Field since the early Pinkel years. That's by far the most popular turf in college football. Exactly half as many FBS teams (29) still have natural grass.
Q: How would have Chase Daniel done in the NIL market? I recall seeing quite a few #10 jerseys in my time in COMO.
A: He would have done quite well. He would have to enter into a contract with the company that sold those jerseys in order to get a cut, but Daniel and a lot of his teammates from those years could have benefited from this rule. Think about all the companies around the state - restaurants, bars, shops, car dealers, etc. - that would have loved to showcase Chase Daniel, Jeremy Maclin, Danario Alexander, Tony Temple, Martin Rucker, Sean Weatherspoon, Chase Coffman. Great players, great personalities, great interest in the program statewide.