ATHLETICS: Five things to watch for fall athletics

Consistent QB play, legal issues key parts of BSU sports this season

As students return to classes, Ball State athletic director Tom Collins may have the largest workload on campus.

It will be a juggling act for Collins this semester. He'll have to balance four new coaches, a lawsuit from a former coach, NCAA-induced probation and a football program that's lost its way.

With so many important matters on his agenda, this fall is crucial for Ball State sports. Here's a look at the top five questions that will be answered in the next five months.

1. Will Ball State quarterback Kelly Page ever match (or get close to) Nate Davis?
At times, Page looked like he wasn't as big as the moment. He had seven touchdown passes against nine interceptions with a paltry 96.5 quarterback efficiency rating as a redshirt freshman in 2009. He missed the season's last five weeks with a thumb injury. He never won a game.

Those struggles are typical for many first-time starting quarterbacks, but it can't happen again this season.

Season 2 of Kelly Page must be substantially better than Season 1. Ball State's football team won't have success if he doesn't, and Page could see the bench again.

Page was the cornerstone of the Cardinals' 2008 recruiting class. He immediately became the successor to Nate Davis, who led Ball State to two bowl games and was already the best quarterback in program history by his second season.

Page will never be Davis, who was a once-in-a-generation talent. But we need to see tangible success from him this fall.

2. Will Steve Shondell live up to his legend?
Shondell, the legendary former Burris Laboratory School coach, has an extraordinary résumé. He's largely responsible for turning East Central Indiana into a hotbed of volleyball talent. On paper, he looks like Collins' best coaching hire.

But Shondell must prove his coaching style transfers to a college court.

It's embarrassing for a volleyball team in this area to play as poorly as the Cardinals have the past four seasons. It's worse that Ball State's former coach, Dave Boos, left for an assistant coaching position.

We should be excited to see how quickly Shondell turns the program around.

3. How will the Kathy Bull lawsuit end?
We don't know much right now. Like a chess match in its early stages, pieces are still falling into place.

But considering how the Ronny Thompson lawsuit ended (Ball State paid Thompson a $200,000 settlement), the Kathy Bull situation is scary.

Bull is suing Ball State for wrongful termination after she was fired in March. She said the university fired her because she was an advocate for women's opportunities with Title IX and claimed damage to her reputation and career. The university said she was fired because it found six NCAA violations in her women's tennis program.

It's a high-stakes game of he-said, she-said. Who will win?

4. What will go wrong next for Ball State's athletics department?
As Collins finishes his fifth year as athletic director, it's hard to call his tenure anything but a failure so far.

There have been coaching controversies with Bull, Thompson, Randy Litchfield, Tracy Roller and Brady Hoke. There have been several self-reported violations, two probation stints, two lawsuits and allegations of racism. Inexplicably, all the momentum Ball State's football team had with its 12-0 run in 2008 abruptly vanished even before the season ended.

Fans could be forgiven for cringing with fear as the fall season begins.

5. Can Stan Parrish finish a season with a winning record?
As an assistant coach, they don't come much better than Stan Parrish. He won a Super Bowl as Tampa Bay's quarterbacks coach in 2002. He won a Rose Bowl and NCAA Championship as Michigan's quarterbacks coach in 1997.

Technically, Parrish has had success as a head coach. He had five winning seasons at Wabash College and minimal success with Marshall in the mid-1980s. But in his past four seasons as a Division I head coach, including two at Kansas State in the mid-1980s, Parrish is 4-41-1. That's not a misprint.

After last season's embarrassing 2-10 record, the pressure is on Parrish this fall. If the Cardinals don't show significant improvement, there may not be a reason to bring him back for 2011.