Two Losses They'll Never Forget
Tom Felice, one of the voices of the Rams on WFUV is chronicling the men's basketball holiday trip to
Georgia and California.
In Santa Clara it was no different. Finally settled in after all of the travel to get to the West Coast, I was able to take some time on Thursday to explore. Like with most of the runs sponsored by Fordham, my run today started out at a Marriott. As with most Marriott’s, the one in Santa Clara is located in a business district. Surrounded here by the survivors of Silicon Valley, I quickly felt like I knew where I was going. Familiar brands like McAfee, Yahoo! and Intel have offices in Santa Clara.
For some reason on this run I was singing “The Victors,” the fight song of the University of Michigan, to myself. The familiar chorus begins, “Hail! to the victors valiant/Hail! to the conqu'ring heroes.” I couldn't help but think about how pertinent that is in both life and basketball. As I reached Agnew Rd, the same name as the crooked vice president of a crooked president, I noticed an area filled with developers offices, but without development.
The run continued along San Tomas Aquino Creek Trail. On my left, a vacant theme park, closed for the season. As much joy as a theme park brings in the summer, in the winter it is rather sad. The motionless rides inside the locked gates, excluding no one in the barren parking lot. Eventually on my right I came upon the headquarters of the San Francisco 49ers. Even though people in Northern California may disagree, the 49ers are winners. Playing in the most lucrative sports league in the country, there were plenty of cars in the parking lot that would only fit in with professional athletes. It is not stock to have “STRUT” on the grill of your SUV. This is the league where the billionaires will most likely prevent the millionaires from playing next fall.
The realization struck me that college basketball is much the same. It is not the Duke’s and St. John’s of the world who are making headlines for travel trouble caused by weather, it is the smaller schools, your Fordham’s and your Fairfield’s. Teams trying to go south, play a better team, perhaps receiving a program infusing check, were the ones denied the opportunity.
I started thinking about how Fordham would go back out again tonight, playing in front of under 2000 fans for the 10th time this season. Most people don’t see this side of college basketball. The continually see the same teams from the same six conferences on the same cable network. They’ve become familiar with cities like Lawrence, Kansas and Storrs, Connecticut, but know little if anything about the same division of basketball played in New Rochelle, New York or Moraga, California.
Fordham coaches, after what they felt was a poor effort in the first game of the Cable Car Classic, found themselves telling the young players they couldn’t take nights off, everyone here is a scholarship level player. I found myself thinking that sure, every Division One conference save one gives athletic scholarships, but there’s no doubt there is a difference. Players at BCS conference schools are noted and ranked in middle school. They play for grassroots teams with questionable ties to big time shoe companies. There’s not much worry for them, they are expected to go pro.
At a lower level though, the dynamic is different. Some come to school still with the aspirations of professional basketball, while others concentrate on classes, knowing they’ll be much more successful in a suit like the coaches wear, than in a jersey and shorts. These teams are taking six hour bus rides, sometime with both the men’s and women’s teams on the same bus. The chartered jets are saved for those with the affluent boosters and the economic boost that comes from winning games in the NCAA Tournament.
I love College Basketball. I set out at the beginning of this season to watch all 345 Division One teams play at some point. It could be on television, in person, or in a pixelated online feed. Players at each of these 345 schools have the same dream. Win your conference tournament and a few more after that in late March, and become nationally known. To me the game is the star. At most of these schools the players are forgotten as soon as they are remembered, but their court is still 94 feet long, their rims 10 feet high. I have my work cut out for myself, to date I’ve only seen 83 teams play.
A road trip like the one Fordham has taken almost never happens in the wealthy conferences. When expectations aren’t of national championships, the little things take on more meaning. I may never get to sit courtside in a nondescript arena as Fordham plays in the NCAA Tournament, but I will always have the road trip, the snow trip.
As I’m sure you know by now, Fordham lost the consolation game of the Cable Car Classic to Santa Clara. In the books, this trip will appear as a total loss for the Rams. Two losses, more money spent than expected, and even a canceled game. But it will be remembered for the experience. For today, mark closed theme park and modified SUV on your trip BINGO card. Wakeup call at 6 tomorrow morning for the flight back to New York. Hopefully by the next update, we’ll be safely settled in the Bronx. Check back in tomorrow right here, at wfuv.org/sports.