Culbreath: Mid-major brotherhoodWritten by Matt 'Shaggy' Culbreath | | firstname.lastname@example.org
It’s simultaneously the curse and the blessing of rooting for mid-major teams in college basketball.
Once the conference tournaments end and the postseason tournaments begin, you’re not very likely to see your team for the rest of the year. Unlike those in the big conferences that could end up seeing each other later down the line, there are simply not the numbers for it to happen with the mid-majors.
For the Mid-American Conference (MAC) this year, it was one team in the NCAA Tournament, one team in the National Invitation Tournament (NIT) and three in the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournamenr (CIT).
That means you’re able to — hell, encouraged to — root for these other MAC teams in an effort to bring honor to the conference. Just look at the Atlantic 10: six berths in the NCAA Tournament, because their teams keep showing up.
So while the University of Toledo men are already out of the postseason after their March 19 loss against Southern Miss, I’ll still pull for the other teams from the MAC to succeed. A stronger conference is a good conference.
That being said, we need to discuss what happened in Ypsilanti on March 18.
Eastern Michigan (yes, the team that handed Toledo the loss that likely kept them out of contention for an at-large tournament berth) broke open the piggy bank to host a first-round game of the CIT.
Pretty cool: The Eagles had a great season, put together a decent run to the semis of the MAC Tournament (losing to eventual champ Western Michigan) and finished the season with 21 wins. For EMU to go to any tournament is an accomplishment; Lord knows their athletic programs have struggled.
Norfolk State came into the Convocation Center — and walked out with a 58-54 loss wrapped around their neck. EMU netted its 22nd win — which ties its record for most in a season since the 1990s — and advances to the next round of the tourney.
The bad news was that barely anybody saw it. The announced attendance was 373. Ouch.
You know when you suspect there’s a bad situation happening somewhere (either at work or in someone’s home)and you don’t say anything — until there’s that one moment of clarity where something has to be said in order to address the issue? That moment of clarity was Tuesday night.
We all know Eastern Michigan is low in the pecking order up in the mitten. If the University of Michigan considers Michigan State its “little brother,” that makes Western and Central Michigan distant cousins that come in for Thanksgiving and EMU some horror story from an episode of “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit.” The stepchild kept under the stairs and fed used coffee grounds. Even Lake Superior State University gets more respect — like the cool uncle who comes around and gives you $300 to spend on clothes and tells you about the time he got stoned with Jefferson Starship at a county fair.
(Before you ask: No, this is not my uncle. My uncle was into woodworking. He made some bizarre, not-safe-for-work things every now and then, but he was a good guy.)
But even with all that laid out on the table, 373 fans at a postseason game is a slap across the face to the institution — and the team slapped back. Senior Glenn Bryant took to Twitter to call out the EMU student body: “We FORSURE got the top 5 worst support in the NCAA, it’s almost 30,000 students go to this school smh, y’all at ALL the parties tho”
(“Spelled in context,” I believe is what the newspaper editors call that.)
Grammar aside, he’s not wrong. The Convo holds 8,800 people, but averaged 900 this year. This for a team that had one of its most successful seasons of the decade! And yes, many of the kids at EMU are there because they couldn’t get into Michigan, but still wanted access to Ann Arbor. But they have got to show some pride in the institution they are paying money to attend. (Alumni, you’re not off the hook either. The name change happened in 1991. Get over it.)
I have a plan, though. Much like a child doesn’t want to play in a sprinkler until he sees other kids doing it, I think us fans of the other schools need to start coaxing the EMU students and alumni to the arena.
We’ll do it by engaging their fight mechanism. Start talking crap about the Eagles. Not in a mean-spirited way, but in a method designed to show that you’re inviting them to fight back. Get them to stand up for their school. Drag the pride out of them. I’m picturing a grand finale march down the streets of Ypsilanti comprised of fans of all of the other MAC schools, culminating in a moving speech where someone asks the Eagles faithful to come to games so they can argue about sports like real fans!
It’s a silly idea, sure. But I like having the Eagles around. I like their water tower. It looks like some of the things my uncle used to carve out of wood.
“Shaggy” Matt Culbreath is sports director at 1370 WSPD.
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