AU still ordinary where it counts
Ever since the Eagles swooped down on the Patriot League, they've been a dominant force, right?
Well, that is the running narrative around Nebraska Avenue. And yeah, there's some merit to it.
AU has won a plurality of league championships since it entered the league when. Most impressive are the women's volleyball and women's field hockey programs. The former hasn't lost a PL game in four seasons. The latter won the last two PL championships despite not having a home venue for its games.
Other teams are successful too. Men's and women's soccer, cross country, women's lacrosse, and men's and women's tennis, for starters, are frequent PL winners.
In many places worldwide, passions for these sports are unmatched. But at AU, we play American college sports against American institutions. And is if you ask students around campus what college sports they care about most, they'd probably answer by naming the popular American ones: football and basketball.
For all the league championships that AU can boast, it has none in those sports. Granted, not having a football team doesn't help. But in three tries, during which both men's and women's hoops teams were contenders, neither brought home the goods. Right now, no one could convince me this year will be different.
Still, we pat ourselves on the back. As long as we keep dominating the more obscure sports, we'll keep patting ourselves. And if something doesn't change, we'll remain deluded enough to think we're special, when we're really just hiding behind an advantage in resources.
Back in our CAA days, we weren't so lucky. Our opponents were large public institutions with more scholarships and far cheaper tuitions for non-scholarship in-state athletes. Aside from volleyball and men's soccer, our disadvantages were obvious. So, we opted to be the bigger fish in a smaller pond.
How beautiful it is to trade George Mason for Colgate and James Madison for Bucknell. Now, we're the sexy choice, not the fall-back one.
We're in the capital of the free world, and can offer countless opportunities for work and play that other PL institutions can only dream about. We're also closer than other PL schools to high schools of many prospective athletes, easing our recruiting road. And while tuition is still outrageous, it's nothing uncommon for our league.
Imagine you're a tennis player from Silver Spring, Md. Would you rather play on a one-half scholarship 30 minutes away from your family in the temperate AU climate, or on a one-quarter scholarship seemingly thirty hours away in the frigid upstate New York cold at Colgate?
But major sports are, no pun intended, a different ballgame. Most PL basketball teams give out the maximum number of scholarships. Most play in facilities that are either brand-new or ooze character. And while AU is more cosmopolitan, it can't match most PL schools for spirit.
So now, imagine you're a shooting guard from Fairfax, Va. Do you go to a school where you get hit on and invited to parties endlessly, just because you play basketball? Or do you go to a school where, even after a stellar freshman season, your RA has no idea who you are or what you do?
We can credit ourselves all we want for our successes in less popular programs. And they do merit a lot of credit. But we're benefiting from a slanted playing surface.
When it's leveled, like it is in basketball, things don't go our way so easily. So we have two choices.
1: We shrug it off, realize you can't win everything, say we're still doing a hell of a job overall, and let our big-name teams flirt with mediocrity.
2: Hold ourselves accountable when we fall short of winning the only two titles our average student cares about.
Which are we doing?