George Mason, the four-minute mile and the future

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Steve Scott has run 136 sub-four-minute miles, a record. Didn’t know that? Don’t worry. Me either (until I looked it up).

But I do know that Roger Bannister ran the first sub-four-minute mile, way back in 1954, breaking a mental sports barrier of sorts. Since then, running a mile in less than four minutes is “easy” for elite athletes. If reaching the Final Four ever does become commonplace for mid-major teams like Butler, they might be Steve Scott.

And George Mason? It’ll always be Roger Bannister.

The Patriots’ 2006 run to the Final Four remains one of the most impressive feats in sports. Not only for its rarity (it’s happened four times since 1980), but because it wasn’t something mid-majors really believed they could do until it happened.

As Mike DeCourcy writes in Sporting News, the Patriots succeeded where teams like Tulsa, Gonzaga and Kent State fell short. Former Butler coach (and current AD) Barry Collier recognized that when he called Pats coach Jim Larranaga in 2006.

“He thanked me,” Larranaga told Sporting News. “He said, ‘I think you did what Roger Bannister did. When he ran a sub-4-minute mile, it opened the eyes of all the track athletes about what they could accomplish. I think you’ve done that for all mid-major programs.’”

It’s a solid piece by DeCourcy, recapping how George Mason had to overcome nervousness and used opponents’ overconfidence in their favor back then. As more and more mid-majors join the likes of Butler, VCU and George Mason in the Final Four – it will happen – there will be a certain debt of gratitude extended toward the Patriots, at least until a mid-major teams wins the NCAA tournament.

And it will happen. If not this year, soon. The barrier’s been broken.

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