The improbable Sweet 16 run by Florida Gulf Coast University means a lot of things to a lot of people.
For some, it means the NCAA Tournament has a true Cinderella to rally around. For the press, it means a story that can be used to build on the myth that March Madness masks all the ills facing Mark Emmert’s multimillion-dollar operation.
For the common man engaged in an office pool, it more than likely means his bracket is worth just as much as the money Ole Miss star Marshall Henderson attempted to use to purchase illegal drugs with on one occasion.
For historically black college basketball observers, it means lamenting why their alma mater can’t win two games in the NCAA Tournament like a school no one even knew existed or thought was one of those Internet-based colleges prior to last week.
Well, being one of those alums, I don’t know. The FCGU story is a unique one to say the least. This is a basketball program in only its second year of postseason eligibility. Most of the players were either not highly touted or greatly sought after.
Many of them were transfers, who were not very skilled with all due respect to their dunking display through the first two rounds. The head coach once was a successful businessman who thought it would be pretty cool to coach at a school near the beach.
How did this rag-tag bunch get here? If you examine their resume, it really isn’t that impressive. Sure, the Eagles upended Miami. But that was before Miami transformed into Miami.
FGCU lost to six teams outside of the top 200 this year, including getting swept by Lipscomb and dropping a game to 22-loss East Tennessee State. During non-conference play, FCGU had to hang on to beat Alcorn State by a bucket. They didn’t even win the Atlantic Sun regular season championship. FGCU had to run the table in the conference tourney just to get into the field of 68.
So, what can HBCUs do to place themselves in the position that FGCU finds itself in? Some would say the suits needs to find ways to funnel dollars into the basketball program. There have been cries that alums need to open up their checkbooks and donate, donate and donate. Others wonder if a change in coaches, schemes or redirecting cash from football to basketball would put schools on the road to the Final Four.
Investing less in football sounds radical. Dropping football altogether is extreme. However, it might be the right move if schools want to chase basketball national championships.
Schools like FGCU, Gonzaga and Butler don’t have to worry about funding the albatross that is college football. Finding money each year for upwards of 63 scholarships for universities that can barely make ends meet is a monumental chore. While that one program brings home the bacon, it eats its fair share, too.
Sacrificing the football team in money games hasn’t aided in getting the program any closer to a championship, especially when there has been little return on investment in terms of national championships or even postseason wins.
There have been nearly double the postseason wins in Division 1 basketball for men than FCS football in recent memory.
Yeah, Saturdays in the fall are intoxicating with the pageantry that is the bands, halftime show, tailgating and actual football played on the field. But would you trade all that for where FGCU is right now?
I bet you would if given the option. Besides, who really embraces the FCS outside of those who follow the FCS? Right. Nobody.
Everybody is talking about the FGCU. Heck, everyone, including President Barack Obama, are praising Southern for losing a close game to Gonzaga in the first-round. Imagine the reception and publicity the squad would have received if the Jaguars pulled off the upset.
That kind of attention is rarely heaped upon an FCS school unless it knocks off a Big Ten power. The elite black athlete is not coming back to perform on HBCU gridirons. Integration all but ended that over time. HBCUs might get lucky and acquire a couple of diamond in the rough transfers or skilled development projects to join the hoop squad, though.
Excising football frees up dollars that could be used for recruiting, player development and building a basketball program that is competitive each season. At the end of the day, there are no magic players, coaches or styles of play that wins games. There are, however, ways to get closer to the ultimate goal through creativity and risk-taking. Maybe tearing down the goal posts to cut down the nets is a start.