Wednesday, March 16, 2016

And so it goes

The mistake was thinking things would get better after last Monday night. In the interests an easier chronological narrative, let’s start there.

For 30-odd minutes of basketball, we thought we were going to seize our last chance, for at least three more years, to celebrate a conference championship in person with fellow Hofstra fans. They arrived by the car and busload all day, spanning the spectrum from teenagers to senior citizens, all there in hopes of sharing one of the greatest moments in the history of the school’s athletic program. 

The Flying Dutchmen were going to win and the tears, which threatened to spring forth all day long at the mere thought of the post-buzzer emotions, would flow. There would be hugging, there would be screaming, there would be championship T-shirts bought, there would FINALLY be The Payoff.

Except, of course, there were no tears, just detached resignation after Juan’ya Green had the worst game of his life at the worst possible time and Denton Koon lost his cool at the worst possible time (unlike 10 years ago, there was a referee there to see it #ThatsSoHofstra) and the Flying Dutchmen blew a 12-point second half lead and fell to UNC Wilmington, 80-73, in overtime of the CAA championship game.

It was over before we knew it’d begun. The overtime buzzer hadn’t even sounded yet when fans and friends began filing out. Goodbyes were hurried, hasty fist bumps replaced handshakes and there was a miserable procession of cars and busses traveling north on I-95.

They were the lucky ones. I stuck around for a bit and got to see what happened to the 2016 CAA CHAMPIONS HOFSTRA cardboard banner (the HOFSTRA was scraped off in a side room beneath Royal Farms Arena, which makes Nassau Coliseum—the current deconstructed Nassau Coliseum—look like a freaking palace). I wished I’d seen what happened to the Hofstra championship T-shirts, before they were shipped off to clothe some kids who have no idea what true misery—a 5,485-day NCAA Tournament drought—feels like.

I saw Jeff Hathaway, a veteran of more than a dozen national championships in basketball, walk around the bowels of Royal Farms Arena with a zombified expression. I saw Joe Mihalich apologizing to anyone he saw wearing a Hofstra button—seriously, apologizing, what does he have to apologize for—before he ducked into another side room to avoid the sight of celebrating UNC Wilmington players headed for the interview room. Oh, and then two players sporting UNC Wilmington championship T-shirts ducked into said room for some water, and Mihalich had to twist around to avoid eye contact.

I fielded a lot of sympathetic/frustrated texts and phone calls. The funniest one was from my friend Rob, who wrote “That was a worse ending than Lost.”

The most poignant one was from my Dad. “Man, I am just heartbroken for you,” said a man who was never prone to hyperbole (the apple fell a few miles from the tree) even before he suffered the loss of his wife seven years ago this month.

Then there was this series of texts from my wife:

How much more of this do I have to endure?

Get out here now. (angry emoji)

Kevin Keatts just stopped to tickle Molly, Get me out of here!

That really happened, by the way. The victorious coach was apparently greeting UNCW fans along the 100 level of the arena when he saw Molly, who was wearing a nondenominational lime green CAA T-shirt. Because she is breathtakingly cute (DAD BIAS), he reached down to tickle her—and then saw my forlorn looking wife, wearing a Hofstra T-shirt.

She apparently gave him what is known in the family as the “Leavitt look”—a mixture of incredulousness and disgust known to send me and anyone else who receives it (who am I kidding, I’m the only one that receives it) into begging-for-forgiveness mode.

Keatts stood up straight and nodded at my wife. “I hope you have a good night,” he said with a sincere tone. So he’s OK in my book, and my wife admitted she wished she could have mustered something other than silent fury at the NCAA-bound head coach.

I finally made my way to my wife and Molly. A security guard asked us if we wanted a court pass. Umm, how about no?

And then I got in the car, where I was greeted by the Billy Joel song you saw at the very top. And THEN I had to drive home, where we didn’t arrive until 3:30. But I at least saw Speedy Claxton at a rest stop on I-95.

So yeah. Even though reality didn’t really begin to settle in until Tuesday—we blew a 12-point lead and Juan’ya Green shot 2-for-16 and Denton Koon drew a technical foul with less than seven minutes left, are you kidding me?—I figured the worst was over. This would sting forever, like so many other wounds absorbed over the last 23 seasons, and then we’d move on, rediscover our optimism and get ready to get our spirits crushed again next year.

And that will still happen. After we stop being pissed off over the latest wound we’ve absorbed: What happened to the Dutchmen on Sunday.

This isn’t about being snubbed by the NCAA Tournament—not directly, anyway. The Dutchmen were never getting into the tournament. I just wrote that open letter to vent a little bit and to point out what a joke it was that they weren’t at least being discussed as a bubble team.

But I was never daydreaming about an NCAA game this week. I was daydreaming about what kind of draw the Dutchmen would get in the NIT, and if it would assure them a second home game as long as they won the first.

Except, of course, the selection committee screwed Hofstra, which opens up the NIT tonight as the fifth seed in the Monmouth region (I called that one) against fourth-seeded George Washington. Getting screwed by the NIT selection committee is not a new one, but it’s still as embarrassing as getting beat up by Martin Prince. (I already used a Milhouse analogy last year with the softball committee—should have known it would have been topped)

By any reasonable measure, Hofstra deserved no worse than a fourth seed and a first-round home game. Our friend John Templon, a very reasonable, numbers-oriented man, had Hofstra as a three seed. But he’s not a crook, so he was wrong. 

The Dutchmen were seeded fifth (which puts them on the 17 through 20 seed line) despite having the eighth-highest RPI in the field of 32. Amazingly, they were not the most screwed team in the field. That “honor,” such as it is, would go to Akron, which finished 34th in the RPI but drew a six seed and a game last nighit at Ohio State (the Zips got zip by losing in overtime), or Princeton, which finished 39th in the RPI and also drew a six seed and with it a visit tonight to Virginia Tech.

The Dutchmen also had the sixth-highest RPI among the 15 teams that advanced to the NIT via the automatic bid. The CAA was the highest-ranked conference to yield an NIT automatic bid this year, and the highest-rated mid-major conference to do so since 2006, when the NIT went to a seeding system, supposedly to make it more like a real tournament and less like a celebration of good ol’ boy cronyism.  

(Again, Akron got even more screwed. The Mid-American Conference was the 10th-ranked league this year)

The highest-ranked conference to yield an automatic bid since 2006 was the Missouri Valley, which ranked 11th when Missouri State drew a third seed in 2011.

The Dutchmen only drew a fifth seed despite beating a no. 1 seed. St. Bonaventure, on the road and a no. 4 seed, Florida State, at a neutral site. St. Bonaventure at least deserved a no. 1 seed. But Florida State finished TWENTY-SEVEN SPOTS LOWER than Hofstra in the RPI!

Look, I realize this is a fruitless endeavor, and that the war has already been lost when you are debating seeds in the NIT. The Dutchmen didn’t get where they wanted to go this year. A 1 seed wouldn’t have changed that reality.

But the niche nature of the argument doesn’t diminish the fact this was a massive failure at every level, from the top on down. We know the fat cats aren’t going to go out of their way to help the little guys, and will in fact go out of their way to knock us further down.

But isn’t that where the commissioner of the damn league, or our own athletic director, is supposed to step in and perform some advocacy? Isn’t it tougher to get away with this if Tom Yeager is pushing for #2Bids4CAA all season, instead of remaining inexplicably silent while his league produces its highest finish ever? (And maybe then his champion gets better than a 13 seed in the NCAA Tournament, the same seed given to leagues that finished the season 15th, 19th and 23rd in RPI, respectively)

And Jeff Hathaway has fought bigger fights than this. Why did Hofstra end up on the canvas here?

We’re demanding answers, even with the knowledge we’ll never get them. Because as bad as last Monday night was, it was easily explained away as sports being sports, the type of thing that happens in games played by human beings.

That this is just another example of sports being sports, an entirely different type of things that happens in entirely different types of games played by human beings, is far more infuriating, and far less excusable. 

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