Thursday, May 27, 2010

Softball’s success is a reminder not to forget football’s lessons

Next year, let's not wait until the NCAA Tournament to applaud the Flying Dutchwomen softball team.

I’ve been beaten to the punch all over the place this week. On Tuesday, I surfed the CAA Zone, where poster Stuball888 started a thread lauding the Flying Dutchwomen softball team for a tremendous 2010 campaign. Well, drat, I guess I won’t be the first to do that.

Then I pondered trying to set up a couple interviews about the Dutchwomen’s NCAA Tournament run and, in particular, their epic and eventually noble defeat at the hands of perennial powerhouse Arizona. But I checked the official Hofstra athletics site, just to make sure Charles Jenkins hadn’t signed with a team in Denmark, and saw Jeremy Kniffin—the crack men’s basketball SID who certainly deserved last weekend’s excitement after all the headaches the coaching searches and player transfers gave him in the two months he was supposed to be focusing on his spring sport—had already penned an excellent and detailed appreciation of the season and the program.

Included in his story was a link to a tremendous column by Arizona Daily Star columnist Greg Hansen, who did a nice job of chronicling a classic game as well as explaining just how much of a scare the Dutchwomen put into an Arizona squad so successful at home that fans expect games to be called after five innings due to the mercy rule.

So I suggest you check out their work, and then ponder how appropriate it is that the last gasp of the 2009-10 athletic year at Hofstra was taken by the softball team, because its anonymous success is a reminder of the lessons we should have taken from Dec. 3.

That it took a scintillating NCAA Tournament run for most of us—myself most certainly included—to climb aboard the softball bandwagon is an indicator those lessons haven’t sunk in quite yet. The softball team averaged 307 fans for 22 games at Hofstra Softball Stadium, less than half the capacity of just under 1,000. Other average attendances for winter and spring sports:

Men’s basketball: 2,410 (17 games)
Men’s lacrosse: 1,693 (7 games)
Women’s basketball: 522 (14 games)
Women’s lacrosse: 206 (8 games)
Baseball: 181 (19 games)

Look, I understand no Hofstra team will ever play to capacity crowds. I also understand the demands of real life, as well as a simple matter of liking some sports more than others, makes it impossible to support every team equally.

Even following certain teams from a distance doesn’t diminish the—wait for it!!!—pride we can take in their success, in the way a citizen takes pride in a community landmark. There is security in knowing the softball team is churning along, winning conference championships and making the university look good. The program is so consistent, it almost lulls us into complacency. We don’t have to check up on it. It’s as much a part of Hofstra as tulips and tuition hikes. It’s always there and it’ll always be there, it doesn’t need our support.

Well, a lot of us thought that too, about football, which wasn’t as successful this decade, on the field, as it was during the ‘90s, but was still sending players and coaches to the pros with impressive regularity. Turns out football needed our support.

What was the common lament among Hofstra sports fans in the aftermath of Dec. 3? “We could have done more.” No, we couldn’t have barged into a super-secret Stonecutters meeting and influenced “their” decision, but if the football team was drawing more fans in a season than Delaware does to a single game—or if the student section didn’t number in the mid-triple digits—it would have been tougher to justify the nuking of the program.

Not impossible, given the determination of the decision-maker, but that “500 students” figure couldn’t have been bandied about as a reason for the execution and then relayed, 1984-style, by half-wits in the media who thought “500” referred to the actual average attendance. (Look at that, I’m blasting the mainstream media—guess I’m a real blogger now!!!)

That’s not to say softball is any danger whatsoever of suffering football’s fate. But, again, we have to salvage some kind of positive from the demise of football. And what better way to do so than by supporting the teams that are left by overcoming the biases that relegate most sports at Hofstra to afterthought status?

Every sport here except men’s basketball and perhaps men’s lacrosse is victimized by performing in almost complete anonymity. The games in other sports are not seen on the ESPN flagship, their championships do not receive a great deal of national attention, or any sort of national attention for that matter, or really, any sort of local attention. The softball postseason media guide featured exactly two stories from Long Island’s lone daily newspaper.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking these other sports somehow matter less than those whose news makes the back pages and whose championships land in prime time, especially once you realize talking about Hofstra’s success in softball or lacrosse or wrestling will not keep the attention of the average sports fan.

Don’t do it. Be better than that—and this advice goes for me as much as you. So you’ll never be the center of attention at the water cooler (does anybody actually gather at the water cooler?). Just enjoy it for what it is—which, when it comes to softball, is an outstanding program that, like football in the ‘90s, has overcome a variety of obstacles it could not control (geography in the case of softball, a lack of scholarships and conference affiliation in football) to compete with the top programs in the land.

Realize that, with rare exception (think the 2006 men’s lacrosse team) the m.o.—not the Mo—for a mid-major athletic program is an ultimately unhappy ending, but don’t let that diminish the enjoyment of watching Hofstra pursue and take on the best competition possible.

And don’t let it stop you from being part of the communal involvement you won’t get following sports at a BCS school. When I overslept the morning of May 14 and failed to follow my own advice about taking in a softball-baseball doubleheader, I was most disappointed not about missing Olivia Galati’s no-hitter (though I wasn’t thrilled with that) but with missing the sight of Hofstra athletes supporting the teams at both games.

Next season, don’t wait until mid-to-late May to jump on the softball bandwagon. Give to softball, and the rest of the sports, the type of support we wish we had given football, and would if we only had another chance—and understand, starting now, that our actions must speak louder than our words.

Email Jerry at or follow Defiantly Dutch at

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