Some schools go dancing every season. Kansas hasn’t missed since 1989. Duke’s been in every tourney since 1996. Gonzaga, Michigan State, Texas? All are on 14 consecutive bids.
That’s not the case for some of the 68 teams in the NCAA tournament. Harvard here for the first since 1947. South Florida and Southern Miss haven’t been here since the early ‘90s.
Then there’s St. Bonaventure.
It’s not that the Bonnies haven’t been to the tourney in ages. It’s that their last appearance in 2000 was followed by a scandal that resulted in the ouster of the school president and its coach, program sanctions, stripping the school of wins and more. It was a mess.
That’s why the Atlantic 10 tournament title and the ensuing automatic bid to the NCAA tournament was so damn sweet. There’s a tremendous story about it by Mike Vaccaro in the Olean Times Herald.
For anyone who remotely cares about St. Bonaventure University, that is a timeframe — “nine years ago” — that resonates the way the memory of a phone call in the middle of the night does, sending chills across the skin and a dull ache through the stomach. So much of what the loud, partisan crowd of 6,101 celebrated yesterday was not only the dawning of a precious present but the death, at last, of a perilous past.
Nine years ago to the day — March 11, 2003 — Sister Margaret and Father Dominic Monti had faced a grilling in Buffalo from media members who wanted to know if a University that had lost its way could reverse itself before losing its soul, too. The men’s basketball season had dissolved in scandal. The players had walked out on the last two games of the season. It had taken a century and a half to build a pristine reputation, and less than a week for a misguided president and a misanthropic coach to light it all on fire.
Sister Margaret — then the interim senior vice president for Franciscan charism — and Father Dominic — the interim president — provided the first signals that day that, yes, Bona was bigger than the bums who’d tried to bury it.
That day, in fact, Sister Margaret had said, “We’re a college that has always stood for something in particular.”
Nine years to the day later, beaming, she said, “It almost makes you want to cry, doesn’t it?”
It also makes Bonnies fans want to celebrate. The team was enthusiastically greeted by fans upon their return in the middle of the night on Sunday.
That greeting was a delight to the Bonnies, their coach and the program.
“For those people to be out there at 2:30 in the morning in the cold waiting for us, it just shows how important basketball is to St. Bonaventure,” coach Mark Schmidt told The Dagger. “The win was for our team, but more importantly it was for the students and the university. For them to come out and show their appreciation, it meant a great deal.”
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