This week, Chris Jans pulled his name out of the East Tennessee State job candidacy. Given the potential for a raise as well as the chance to take over a program last coached by his good friend Steve Forbes, this was surprising to many outside Las Cruces.
ETSU has, as NM State athletic director Mario Moccia would phrase it, a president who is very interested in maximizing their potential as a basketball school and the ability to give Jans a raise. Forbes’ most recent annual pay at ETSU was $650,000 compared to the $506,000 Jans will make starting July 1.
While New Mexico State remains one of the most consistent programs in Division I, it is the WAC that makes the job less glamorous than it should be.
Currently, New Mexico State is to the Western Athletic Conference what Gonzaga is to the West Coast Conference, possibly more. To the WCC’s credit, they have two other programs, St. Mary’s and BYU, that are competitive and regularly get at-large bids.
The WAC, almost completely filled with newly-promoted schools from Division II, has no such parity. To make matters worse, with the departure of CSU-Bakersfield, this scary fact exists.
Simply put, neither parity or stability exists in the WAC. Numbers also back this fact up. For the past two years, the Southern Conference has ranked higher than the WAC in both the RPI and NET rankings.
Last year, the WAC ranked 16th in both, while the Southern ranked 12th in the RPI and 15th in the NET. This year, the chasm grew as the WAC fell to 25th in the NET and 27th in RPI and the Southern Conference was 13th in both rankings.
This speaks volumes about their relative depth and anyone that has followed the bubble the past couple of years knows how the Southern has emerged as a potential multi-bid conference.
Last year, UNC-Greensboro was on the cusp of an at-large bid, while Wofford and Furman both spent time in the AP Poll, and Wofford even beating Villanova on the road. This year, ETSU went 30-4, with Furman not too far behind going 25-7. The Southern Conference is emerging and is light years ahead of the WAC in terms of parity.
While ETSU cannot claim the year-in, year-out dominance of New Mexico State, that dominance creates a problem. With each year, they are one slip-up in the WAC tournament away from wasting a great regular season in the NIT.
ETSU can fall back on the possibility of an at-large bid if they slip in the tournament. Additionally, the Southern Conference is not in existential danger as the WAC has been since they lost football.
One benefit for New Mexico State is a 16-game conference slate that will shrink to 14 once Bakersfield and UMKC leave. The Aggies have been able to schedule good non-conference games, like their 2018 season that saw a win over #6 Miami (FL) and a narrow three-point loss to #2 Kansas.
East Tennessee State does not have the same reputation, as an emerging power in the Southern Conference, or as much room either, playing an 18-game conference slate.
Other than that, the rewards of the New Mexico State job are slim. Maybe Chris Jans is holding out for the long-term and a bigger opportunity. His two predecessors Paul Weir and Marvin Menzies both left Las Cruces for the more prominent locales of New Mexico and UNLV, respectively.
If Jans waited and continued the Aggie dominance of the WAC, bigger opportunities like these two will certainly call. Despite this potential, all signs point to Jans losing an opportunity for stability and an immediate increase in exposure and pay in ETSU. I’m glad that Jans made the decision that he did, but time will tell if it was the right decision.