Backdoor Cuts: Vol. IIPosted by rtmsf on December 2nd, 2009
Backdoor Cuts is a college basketball discussion between correspondents Dave Zeitlin and Steve Moore that will appear every Wednesday in Rush the Court. This week they review the horror film Binghamton: 2009.
DAVE ZEITLIN: So I have this friend who’s about as optimistic a sports fan as they come. How do I know this? Because he watches nearly every single Kansas City Royals game, and is convinced each summer they have a good team. (They’ve had only one winning season since 1994.) It’s no different when he talks about the college basketball team at his alma mater. He’ll text me as soon as the schedule comes out, claiming the mid-major he roots for will surprise some big-name squads. He’ll predict big things from players I’ve never heard of. He’ll take moral victories out of 20-point losses. If you ask me, rooting for an underdog with that kind of attitude is admirable. But the last time I talked to him about his favorite college basketball team, he took a different tone. It was jarring but predictable. “They should just cancel the season,” he said with a sigh. His favorite team is Binghamton, and this is the point of the story where you should feel bad for my friend, who after these all years may finally need to look for the It’s-time-to-give-up switch.
By now, everyone knows the almost unfathomable plight of Binghamton basketball. From Division I newcomer to Division I upstart to Division I laughingstock, the Bearcats managed to follow the program’s first NCAA tournament berth last season with the kind of disaster that terrifies even John Cusack and the little girl on his back. After just about every impact player was dismissed from the program (RTC gives a nice recap here) for juicy stuff like stealing condoms, getting in bar fights, selling crack, the head coach responsible for bringing these guys in was put on paid leave for essentially giving high school players his business card a day after the NCAA contact period ended — which almost seems akin to Al Capone getting arrested for a speeding ticket. (Also, paid leave? Can I get paid to destroy a basketball program and then do nothing all day? Is there a listing for that on Monster?)
While the Binghamton implosion has faded somewhat from public view, there are still many things to discuss here. There’s the issue of the right and wrong ways to build a program (guess which way Binghamton did it) and there’s the issue of how Binghamton was even able to field a team this season (though these guys did pretty well with just a handful of players) just to name a couple. But first I’ll let Steve, a fan of a rival America East school, take his digs. Just try to remember my poor friend.
STEVE MOORE: Back in college at Boston University, I covered the men’s hoops team for the school paper during one of Binghamton’s first seasons in Division I. They struggled a little then, but they seemed to have everything in order, and were far ahead of their don’t-call-us-SUNY-school brethren — Albany and Stony Brook — who joined the America East at the same time. They had a beautiful on-campus facility being built, some solid recruits in the pipeline, and a seemingly bright future. They locked up the rights to host the conference tourney for a few years, and everything seemed on track.
But the stories in the last few seasons had gotten a little different, at least from what I read from afar. Friends I knew who covered the team recently told stories about the arrogance and insanely huge ego of head coach Kevin Broadus, and anyone who looked at their roster knew it had more than a few shaky names on it. There’s nothing wrong with scooping up transfers from other schools, but to do so with total disgregard for personal history is irresponsible. And it ended up setting this program back by five or 10 years.
There is nothing wrong with taking a few chances on the difficult road to building a successful program. But unfortunately, what is left for proud alums like Tony Kornheiser, Billy Baldwin (seriously, Billy Baldwin), and a whole list of other names that I don’t at all recognize, is a tattered program with no hope and no direction. I feel terrible for the kids who are left to play out the string, and I give them all the credit in the world for playing their hearts out for a team that is in such disarray. And maybe — just maybe — their heart and pride for their school can build the program up faster than it might seem possible.
As a BU fan (and please, Binghamton, stop with the BU, you’re still a SUNY school), I root against any of my conference foes — and I REALLY rooted against the Bearcats in recent years, as they seemed intent on bringing in mercenaries just to make the Big Dance. But now, I really feel for them, and hope to see this rebuilding process go faster than many expect.
And they’re off to a good start with interim coach Mark Macon, who seems to be doing and saying the right things. As a kid who grew up in Philly rooting for Macon, Eddie Jones, Aaron McKie and the Temple Owls, I wish him all the best.
DAVE ZEITLIN: Wow, Steve. I was all ready for you to kick them while they’re down, you know, pour some salt on their wounds … but you refrained. Did you even — and excuse me while I gag — wish them well in the rebuilding process? What gracious fans in the America East (read: what a bunch of pansies).
My perspective was a bit different than yours, but I also followed the Binghamton program closely, since my aforementioned friend bombarded me with (oft useless) information. And I agree with you that bringing in transfers who have checkered pasts may be the fastest way to get some wins but is definitely NOT the right way to build a program. I’ve seen too many instances of guys failing to make grades, dropping out of school, only being eligible for one semester, etc. Heck, even if these transfers do all the right things, isn’t it better for programs like Binghamton to try to win with four-year players? There’s your competitive advantage right there when going against big-conference schools: seniors.
Having said that (thanks to Jerry Seinfeld for the segue), I think there’s something to be said for giving second chances to players. Steve, you might remember, there was a Division III player in the Philadelphia area recently who was an All-American after serving a stint in jail — and he did all the right things. The problem with Binghamton is that Broadus brought in way too many of these guys.
One other thing: With everyone seemingly bashing the Binghamton program, has anyone bothered to ask what exactly some of these kids did to warrant getting kicked off the team? I mean, sure, Tiki Mayben sold crack (you’re not supposed to do that) and Malik Alvin ran into an old lady while stealing magnum condoms (you’re definitely not supposed to get caught doing that), but it seems most of the players were dismissed due to what the university called a history of academic and legal trouble. Kind of vague, isn’t it? In an interview with Binghamton’s student newspaper, the condom-stealer himself swears that school administration was simply trying to save itself any more embarrassment — and a few jobs — by cleaning house . Was that the right thing to do? It’s hard to say unless we find out for certain what the players exactly did wrong? But I certainly understand trying to shed a label, especially with the SUNY people breathing down their necks.
STEVE MOORE: We’re nice people here in the America East. Take a trip to Burlington, Vermont, or Orono, Maine, sometime. Once we got rid of those jerks from Northeastern, we corned the market on nice New England people (well except for UMBC, I’m not sure what they’re doing in this league). Not like you win-at-all-cost Ivy-Leaguers.
Anyway, I do agree with taking a second look at the school’s reasons behind the dismissals. Did they maybe jump the gun on one or two of them? Probably. Would they have been dismissable offenses if they had occurred in isolation from the other issues? Probably not. Everyone has blood on their hands in this mess, but it’s really hard to blame the school for wanting to wipe the slate clean and start over, even if it means a few years of impersonating a Division II school.
(Although, in order to not look like a total “pansie”, as you put it, I will take a shot at the Binghamton Student Newspaper. The “Pipe Dream“? Seriously?)
DAVE ZEITLIN: Hey, be careful. Tony Kornheiser was once sports editor of the Pipe Dream. And it seems like a pretty good school paper to me. But now I’m curious how it got that name. Help us out, Binghamton people.
Sadly, you’re right about Binghamton impersonating a Division II program. They beat Bloomsburg by five to start the season, which sounds OK until you factor in that Bloomsburg was picked to finish last in its (Division II) conference. But really what can you expect? About half of the players on the team is made up of walk-ons, including a Turkish exchange student who apparently played well against Rider recently because Rider didn’t have any tape to scout him. My friend really wasn’t kidding when he said they should cancel the season. It’s a mess.
So what’s next? It will almost certainly take a long time for Binghamton to get back to the NCAA Tournament, though they do now have a good recruiting slogan: “Come to Binghamton and you can play right away. Just don’t sell crack.” The real question is how stringent the administration will be in their future admission policy. Binghamton is probably the best New York state school academically, but they seemed well on their way to building a good athletic program, too. Can they do both? If they go overboard and decide to accept only 4.0 students who save puppies from wells, probably not.
Another factor to consider is whether any of the exiled Binghamton players can find new homes. D.J. Rivera, for one, has proven he can play at any level. But he’s already left St. Joes and Binghamton. Will a third school take a chance on him? My guess is yes, because there will always be a coach who puts winning ahead of everything else … even condom stealing.