(Note: This one's personal, and not really about sports media issues ...)
"Every university in America — from Maine to Hawaii — has a proud alumni base. But if you have ever shared a cubicle or a lunch room with a St. Bonaventure graduate, there is a level of loyalty and partisanship toward the university that is rare." - Pete Thamel, NY Times, March 16, 2012.
In many of the stories about St. Bonaventure's surprise bid into the NCAA Tournament, there's always the line. Sometimes it's snarky (most of the time, in fact); sometimes it's padded to cushion the fall. But the line is almost always there. Words to the effect of: They love their Bonnies. Of course, there's nothing else to do there ...
It always makes me a little mad. Then I realized ... that's the whole point.
I went to St. Bonaventure for four years, then lived in Olean/Allegany for five more, covering the basketball team for The Times Herald. So that's more than a quarter of my life. You will never hear me say a bad word about that area. Some of my best friends still live there. But, let's be honest. It's a small town in a rural county 75 miles from Buffalo. If there's a nowhere, you pass the Olean exit en route. Nothing wrong with that. You can't change it.
Outsiders want to mock this. But they're missing the whole point.
That isolation is what makes St. Bonaventure. It's so small, and almost everyone lives on campus, so by senior year, you know pretty much everyone in your class. You can't disappear into the city on the weekend. You can't go home easily, because home's a couple of hours away. And out of that isolation comes the bond. All you have is each other. That doesn't go away after graduation.
This is where the love for the school comes from. This is where the love for basketball comes from. We're the little school that had Bob Lanier and Tom Stith and the 99-game win streak at The Armory and the 1977 NIT title and the double-overtime game against Kentucky. (Which I covered, 10 months after graduation. Welcome to the business, kid.) Basketball was, is, our thing.
That's why the 2003 scandal was so devastating, because it took the one thing we knew and loved, and sullied it. (Side note: My proudest journalistic moment was breaking several of those stories, which killed my alma mater. Yeah.)
That's why the redepmtion story is so great. That's why this month — with the men's team making its run and the women getting nationally ranked and earning a 5 seed in their tournament — is so sensational. The great thing about the NCAA Tournament isn't the upsets (the better seed wins 75 percent of the time); it's the fact that Bona's making it to the first round is just as big a deal as Syracuse making the Final Four.
That's why today is so great. For a couple of hours, St. Bonaventure isn't a tiny school in the middle of nowhere, NY. It's an NCAA Tournament team on network TV, with a coach doing things the right way and an NBA prospect who's a physics major. Nine years after being in the spotlight because of a welding certificate and a player boycott, Bona is on TV with a chance to be Cinderella.
Today is for the people of Olean, who lined State and Union streets the other day to watch the bus get a police and fire escort out of town. It's for the kids in Franklinville who got out of school that afternoon to line Route 16 and cheer the bus as it drove by. It's for the people from Olean, Portville and Allegany, from Duke Center, Bradford and Eldred who've watched the games for years. It's for the students who will be at the Skellar, at the OP and the Burton, or watching on third Dev.
Basketball isn't the only thing we've got.
But it is our thing.