Tulane Athletic Director Rick Dickson said his men’s basketball program is moving forward by maintaining its current path.
In doing so, coach Ed Conroy will remain atop the Green Wave’s program for at least the 2015-16 season, earning a sixth campaign with the school.
“For the first time in a decade, I’m sitting here evaluating programs the way any AD in the country would evaluate them,” Dickson said. “There are no asterisks. There are no more significant institutional issues, whether related to Katrina or not, that keep us from competing on an even plane anymore. All of the things that were in turmoil and flux for so long are not there anymore.
“Now, I think for the first time in a while, we aren’t trying to evaluate moving pieces. We are evaluating based on where this program is headed and we feel the direction in men’s basketball is one we are confident in.”
The move falls in line with Dickson’s plan from last offseason, when he and Conroy agreed to a contract extension, adding three years to his deal, rather than allowing it to expire after the 2014-15 season.
Conroy recently completed his fifth season at Tulane, finishing 15-16 overall and 6-12 in the Green Wave’s first foray as a member of the American Athletic Conference, including a 66-60 first-round loss to Houston in the league tournament last week.
That loss ended any hopes of Tulane reaching the postseason for the third consecutive year, after appearances in the CBI and CIT capped the previous two. It was also a long fall from the Green Wave’s 13-5 start, highlighted by Tulane’s first win at Memphis in more than 20 years — which provided hope to a team projected to finish in last place by the league’s coaches before the season.
But outside of a thrilling road win at Cincinnati (an NCAA tournament participant) on Feb. 14, Tulane failed to win a league game for nearly two months until taking its regular-season finale at South Florida on March 7. The Wave dropped 10 of 11 contests and clinched its first losing record since 2011-12.
“There were probably a couple of games that we left of the table,” Dickson said. “Conversely, we probably went in and won in a couple of places that we wouldn’t have thought before the season we could pull off. I guess I look at it as, we knew we moved into a new group that would be a step up for us and we were projected not to be capable of getting into that mix, and we got ourselves into the mix.
“Did we reach, on a 1-to-10 basis, a 10 of where we can go? No. But we sure weren’t a 1 by any means either. So that’s where we are, but more importantly is, where are we going? And if you look at the nucleus of what’s coming back and where our facilities and league have gotten us, it appears to be moving in the right direction.”
The most alarming defeats came inside Devlin Fieldhouse, which recently completed its latest renovation. The Green Wave’s 1-8 home record in conference play was detrimental to not only its postseason opportunities but its ability to generate a fan base. Tulane finished a distant last place in the American, averaging just 1,852 people in its 18 home games.
Despite seeing a 60-percent increase in season tickets sold and an overall ticket revenue jump of 80 percent from the previous year (which Dickson credited partly to a massive boost in Tulane Athletics Fund donors for Yulman Stadium), it didn’t help create a better atmosphere or add a homecourt advantage.
“We have to be smarter and more strategic about how and when and who we schedule because of the competition (in New Orleans),” Dickson said. “And then we have to do a better job of capitalizing on the fact that we have some attractive home games in the conference and we have to build up a crowd to meet it.
“Is that an area that needs improvement? Absolutely. And that’s something Ed and I talked a lot about. Not only is it on their end as a team but we have to do more things to help them as a department and get ourselves out there and noticed.”
Despite the small turnout, Dickson said he expects conference commissioner Mike Aresco to lift the interim status given to Devlin Fieldhouse and allow Tulane to play all of its games there next year, rather than forcing it to play a percentage of its home dates at the Smoothie King Center.
“I think Devlin can be a great advantage,” Conroy said. “With the investment that we’ve made in it and continue to make in it, I think it can be a great gameday venue.”
In five years, Conroy has compiled an 80-81 record but is 26-56 against conference opponents, combining four years in Conference USA and one in the American. The struggles are nothing new for the Green Wave, which has not reached the NCAA tournament since 1995 and the NIT since 2000 under former coach Perry Clark.
Yet Conroy sees a road to success, and Dickson is putting his faith in him to continue upon it.
“We were on an upward path in Conference USA but we were picked 11th in this league for a reason, and that’s because making this transition is hard,” Conroy said. “There are serious investments in the programs in this league. Still, we finish in seventh and we get five road wins and I think many on the outside saw it as progress — but those of us here saw how close we were in many other games and what could have been.
“There’s a lot of hunger and a lot of desire to do better. I see the possibilities. I think the future is really bright and I think we can certainly be one of those teams that can be talking every year about playing in the NCAA tournament. I think this year helped show that we are on the right path.”