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Saturday, June 16, 2018

The Part is Greater

Last month, the NFL chose to reignite the National Anthem controversy that dominated headlines last season. The owners decided on a policy: Players on the field must stand and "show respect" to the flag, but they also had the option to remain in the locker room, as they did prior to 2009. It's an example of a compromise that leaves no one happy: Proponents of the Anthem protests see the move as silencing, while those who feel the flag (and by erroneous extension, our military) is being disrespected - including the president - find it abhorrent that remaining in the locker room is even a choice. Amidst it all, I could see myself returning to my 2017 season state, and not messing with the NFL anymore.

But then there's the Philadelphia Eagles. Lauded last year as the wokest team in the league, the World Champions doubled down by all but refusing the obligatory White House invite. To hear the White House tell it, they were disinvited, but it seems fewer than a dozen would have been in attendance anyway. The spin was that the team disagreed with "their president" and his stance on the Anthem protests, but regardless of how the president tried to couch it, not a single Eagle took a knee all season. In the days that followed, quite a few Eagles were outspoken - or in the case of Malcolm Jenkins, quite the opposite - on the cause for the protests and the change that those who partook sought to effect. In doing such, the Eagles garnered widespread support, even from backers of rival teams.

So where does that leave me? Frankly, I'm ready to throw the whole league out. But the thing is, their one redeeming quality - the Philadelphia Eagles - is the reason I tune in in the first place. Is there a way to be an Eagles fan without supporting the NFL? If not and Super Bowl LII is the last game I ever watch, there are far worse ways to go out.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

What More Can I Say

In the interest of full disclosure, I've sat down on a few occasions with the intent of writing something about the allegations of sexual assault and misconduct that led to numerous changes on DCI; among them, a change in the leadership of the Cadets, including George Hopkins, the alleged perpetrator, and the Board of Directors; clarifying statements and positive action from other corps; and sweeping updates from the DCI Board of Directors regarding ethics and participant safety.

There's not much I have to say that's not already covered in the original piece, its followup, or the most poignant response. The several allegations against Hopkins were first reported by Tricia L. Nadolny of the Philadelphia Inquirer. Links to the aftermath are included within. On the heels of the initial report, The guys at Drunk Corps International delivered a podcast that was appropriate parts information and seething rage.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Moderate Use of Caps

Just kidding, this is a Georgetown game.
I'm not going to front like I'm a Washington Capitals fan, but they're close enough to my circles that I'm keeping a bit of an eye on their Stanley Cup run. Devoid a team of their own, my Baltimore folks tend to root for the Caps (to the annoyance of others who don't mess with DC like that). I'm also two generations deep in DC-ness, and tend to swing pan-mid-Atlantic, so despite it probably being ill advised as a Philly sports fan rooting elsewhere in the Metro division, I'm pulling for the Caps. There are a few more reasons to side with the team from the District:

-My overwhelming East Coast bias
-My soft spot for long suffering cities/franchises
-The other team's called the Golden Knights. As a USF alumnus, I simply cannot root for a team with that moniker.
-A successful Stanley Cup campaign would mean that Vegas won a championship in their very first season of competition. Call me a hater, but I've suffered far too many seasons to go for that.

While I'm not #ALLCAPS like some of my friends are, I'm in for a Moderate Use of Caps.

On The Bench

To provide too much information as a matter of context: Two days ago, I went to the doctor to ensure there's no need for an expansion draft in this household. The common stereotype/reality is that men schedule vasectomies for the start of March Madness - if you're going to be confined to the couch for a couple of days, there are far worse times than one where you can watch college hoops around the clock. I'm learning first hand that Memorial Day weekend is a strong choice as well.

As a lacrosse fan, Memorial Day weekend immediately registers as championship weekend for me; I caught both semifinals yesterday and will watch Yale and Duke compete for the championship tomorrow. We're also at a time of year where three of the four major sports are in session, including a Game 7s in the NBA tonight and tomorrow, and the start of the Stanley Cup Finals. And today features three major auto races - Monaco Grand Prix, Indianapolis 500, and the Coca Cola 600. All in all, it's not a bad time to be sidelined.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Eye Off The Ball

Sometimes, greatness can be right before you, and you don't even know it.

For many years, I've attended the ACC Women's Basketball Tournament here in Greensboro. While I get the opportunity to enjoy some of the best basketball in the country, I'll acknowledge that my attendance is, at its root, a band trip. I watch the games, certainly, but may sometimes miss some of the individual stars.

This year I got to see eventual tournament runner up (and eventual national champion) Notre Dame in the quarterfinals. While I made plenty of note of their pep band, I failed to take note of Arike Ogunbowale. She didn't have a particularly standout game - 27 minutes and 16 points in an 83-47 drubbing of UVA - but she would become a household name weeks later as the fired off buzzer beaters to take Notre Dame both to and through the national championship game.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Ride or Die

I'm no one's bandwagon fan.

The concept has never sat right with me. Sure, I'll find myself a rooting interest if I have no dog in the fight, but I can't see claiming a team that's not otherwise my own. I can sympathize with some reasons - UMBC, for example, has gained a healthy bandwagon over the past month and change because of the spotlight shone on a program that is lovable in every way - bit it's never been my style.

"Fairweather" is similarly pejorative among sports fans. That's me all day every day. My teams are my teams are my teams, but if I have a finite amount of time, attention, and resources, chances are the bottom of the order isn't getting the lion's share.

The 76ers have long been my fairweather bellwether. Their recent and long lasting struggles have kept them largely from my limelight, but I'm aboard as the Process starts turning profit in this year's playoffs. So don't be surprised if I crow a little when you've heard me be pretty quiet on the Sixers to this point, especially during this year I'm having.

Down the road and down the org chart sits the Sixers' Delaware-based G-League team. Dubbed the 87ers five years ago, they recently rebranded as the Blue Coats (not to be mistaken for the Bluecoats Drum and Bugle Corps of North Canton, Ohio). Though I was critical at inception, I had made my peace with the Sevens, but the change is a marked improvement. The colonial era connection with the parent franchise remains, but instead of connecting through important years, the Blue Coats imagery leans on Caesar Rodney's famous ride. The new brand is positively Delaware, and I'm entirely here for it.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Cause And Effect

As the 2018 iteration of One Shining Moment approaches - one that will certainly feature UMBC - I look to a few possible outcomes of the first round's historic upset.

First, personally: I've always rocked UMBC gear regularly, though I'd be lying if I didn't acknowledge I might do it a little more now. And people know what the hell it is.

In addition to the One Shining Moment feature, I hadn't considered until Brandon Horvath mentioned it in a quote in an ESPN article: The team is almost certainly going to be up for an ESPY this summer.

While this won't be a one-year proposition, a bit more success - and I'll note, coach Ryan Odom has already agreed in principle to a contract extension - could lead to a shift the next time realignment rolls around.

As a USF alumnus, I know a thing or two about conference realignment. UMBC has been a member of America East for the past decade and a half. In general I have few complaints about our conference membership, save for one big one: being a geographic outlier. UMBC's closest conference foe lies two states and 250 miles away, despite the contiguous state cluster of all other member institutions. UMBC is the second newest member, and in its most recent expansion - then Division II UMass Lowell - there seemed no speedy interest in bridging that gap. Might hardwood success make us an attractive target for another league?

It's tough to say. After all, being competitive is all but an after thought when it comes to television markets when realignment is concerned. There are a handful of conferences that are geographically and competitively reasonable:

-The Colonial Athletic Association. It's a perceived step up, perhaps the class of the one-bid leagues. From a media standpoint, it's a tough sell with conference member Towson just a few exits around the Beltway. From a personal standpoint, Elon's right down the road from me.
-The Metro Atlantic Athletic Association. We'd still be geographically disconnected from the rest of the MAAC, though the trip to the closest opponent cuts nearly in half from the America East. We'd be the only public school, but reunite with old NEC conference foes Quinnipiac and Monmouth
-The Big South. We fit the Mason-Dixon Line definition, at least, and we've been members before. Selfishly for me, member High Point is a short drive away, with several others a reasonable distance.

No one knows what the future holds, but here's hoping it's bright for the Dawgs.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Dawg Days of March: Media Guide

This is part of a three part series:

A corollary of the added attention is that in relatively short order, quite a few articles were written extolling the virtues of dear old alma mater, both on and off the court.

-SB Nation had to figure out who the hell we even are.
-After they did, though, they gave a pretty robust oral history..
-ESPN, too, felt the need to tell folks who we are.
-They also provided a 72 hours in the life of UMBC piece.
-The New York Times said our Cinderella story was true in academics too.
-Sports Illustrated gave us a (digital) cover.
-Among the biggest bump in our fanbase? Actual Retrievers.
-Our mascot got some podcast love.
-Our director of multimedia communications (read: Twitter guy) balled out as well. Here's the account in his own words.
-The rest of Twitter enjoyed it as well.
-Our players compare the victory to a Fortnite win, because we nerd hard.
-They also shouted out the chess team. You thought I was playing?
-The spotlight also turned to President Hrabowski, the engine who makes this whole thing go.
-In fact, the world-renowned academic saw fit to pen a piece himself.
-Elsewhere in academia, the Chronicle of Higher Education sung the praises of universities like us.
-Back on campus, we kinda didn't know how to behave with this sort of thing.
-Some of our alumni sounded off on seeing everyone get a taste of a school that meant everything to us.
-One such alum? The Surgeon General.
-But apart from those of us who learned to love directly form 1000 Hilltop Circle, UMBC captured the hearts of a nation, and while the run was brief, it can never be forgotten.

Dawg Days of March: Color Commentary

This is part of a three part series:
Play-By-Play - Color Commentary - Media Guide

It was a go from the minute I knew we'd be in Charlotte.

I'm sure you've gathered by now: I'm a UMBC alumnus. But as a matter of context, not credentialing, I'm going to do something I don't often do: Lay all of my bona fides on the line. I attended UMBC from 1999-2003. I played four years in the pep band, attending virtually every basketball game, including those over break I had to drive back down from home in Delaware for. I'm married to a UMBC alumna. The processional at our wedding was Our UMBC, the alma mater, despite it having come into being after we both had graduated. I serve on the pep band alumni board of directors, and continue to give back to my alma mater. If I'm not mistaken, I've attended every postseason trip of any of our programs to North Carolina: men's lacrosse at Carolina, baseball at Wake Forest, men's soccer at Wake and again in the College Cup, and our previous NCAA men's basketball tournament trip in 2008. You could say I'm bought in.

UMBC has no Wal-Mart t-shirt fans. No one - until perhaps last weekend - picks up UMBC apparel because it's the cool thing to do. We're "An Honors University in Maryland" - a nerd school outside of Baltimore that objectively sits next-tier-down from the flagship in a state system in terms of resources and notoriety. So if I see someone in a UMBC shirt or hat, I know, whether you're an alumnus, current student, family member, or employee, we share some piece of a common experience. 

Last weekend's experience is undoubtedly the best live sporting event of my life, and shy a championship, it may very well go unmatched. But one of the things that I saw bring so many people I know together had nothing to do with basketball. It wasn't a shared love of UMBC basketball, but in it the crystallization of a shared love of UMBC.

I'd be lying in your face if I told you I expected this to happen. A tweet (that full disclosure, I briefly considered deleting) shortly after the selection read, 
Some have asked when I knew a victory was assured, and it's tough to say. I specifically recall noting the start of the "fourth quarter" - the 10 minute mark in the second half - and feeling confident in our 16 point lead. At that point, a loss would have been a choke job on our part, which seems counterintuitive of a 16 seed playing a 1. But I've also spent a lifetime as a Philly sports fan, so I'm not willing to acknowledge a sure thing until it is indeed that. 

The overwhelming feeling of that weekend, particularly that night, is one of pride. Pride in my university, pride in the men who took the court, pride in my pep band, who held their own against a pair of Power 5 programs with marching bands to pull from, pride in the UMBC faithful who were there in Charlotte and the many more who experienced it in a variety of other ways. I'm also humbled by the fact that for so many folks, I was the one who you thought of when you thought of UMBC, and the one who got the call, the text, or the wall post. 

My voice still has not fully recovered from last weekend. I shouted chanted, and barked more than was healthy. A friend commented that she could hear me on her TV and was legitimately unsure if she meant figuratively or literally. I sang the fight song and alma mater more than I ever did as a student - the former because  I was typically playing it, and the latter because it didn't yet exist. While a trip to the second weekend would have been sweet (pun fully intended), no one can take Friday night away from us.

I can fully acknowledge that in a lot of ways, sports are frivolous, but they have a power to galvanize like no other. While the basketball team was an inextricable part of my college career, there were many others for whom it was not who were still brought together by this experience. Make no mistake - we're proud of our talented alumni, our brief but important history, our exceptional president, but this experience was unlike any other. Sure, the visibility provides a certain external validation that doesn't always come from the mainstream with other accomplishments, and I think having everyone else see the amazing university we already knew is part of it. But there's a way that one's alma mater - that our alma mater - is tied into our sense of self that makes this victory on the court all of ours.

The four letters on my shirt have always meant a lot to me, but only in the past week have others began to take note. I've always rocked UMBC gear, but now it's getting comments. Visitors to my office take note of the degree that hangs over my left shoulder and mention the game. The cynic in me mentally notes that I've been wearing this same gear for nearly two decades and the institution didn't get exponentially better because of the singular accomplishment of our team, but I can't sit here and act as though it meant nothing when I experienced firsthand how it made me feel.

Dawg Days of March: Play-By-Play

This is part of a three part series:
Play-By-Play - Color Commentary - Media Guide

"Shock and awe in college basketball! UMBC makes history in Charlotte!"

Those words, spoken by Bill Raftery on the TNT broadcast of UMBC's historic victory over #1 overall seed Virginia, may go down in NCAA Tournament lore. 

UMBC's journey to the highest of highs began two weeks ago with a victory over Vermont in the America East conference championship. In case you've forgotten: 


I watched on an otherwise unremarkable Saturday afternoon with admittedly few expectations. A friend messaged me after Jairus Lyles' game winning not-quite-buzzer-beater fell and our dance card was punched. A decade prior, I watched UMBC win at home in the conference final to secure the first trip; this victory came on the road as the #2 seed against a team that has bested us the 23 previous outs. 

Because I already had another reason to familiarize myself with first round tournament sites, I knew that there was a site that would be most advantageous for me: Charlotte. UMBC's postseason history in North Carolina has been strong across sports, and sure enough, Charlotte it was. My attendance from the moment they announced it on Selection Sunday was never in question.

I made the trip down to Charlotte on Friday afternoon, and headed to a pregame social at the team hotel. I made a mutually beneficial agreement with a then-stranger, now-friend fellow alumnus: He was in from Atlanta; his hotel was adjacent to the arena and came with parking. I'd give him a ride back uptown after the social, and park in his designated spot. Works for me. I met Jeremy at the social, and got to catch a few more familiar faces: Nancy, my Director of Residential Life from my undergraduate days who is now the Vice President for Student Affairs; Cara, our mascot emerita who worked this game who I had the pleasure of meeting a few years back at Spirit Groups Alumni Day; Talmesha, a dance team contemporary of mine who now coaches her former squad; and of course our esteemed president, Dr. Hrabowski. I also got to see quite a few other alumni, employees, family members, and fans, and the current iteration of the Down and Dirty Dawg Band.



My usual predilection towards seeing games and bands gave way to the intent to be all in for my team. The pregame social and team sendoff lasted into the first game of the session (Kansas State vs. Creighton) but I didn't mind. After we saw the team and spirit groups off, we headed uptown to the arena, where I caught some of the second half of that game (and gave y'all a little #bracketbands) before the good guys took the court. Thanks to a bit of wheeling and dealing by our Director of Alumni Relations, I got to sit with Jeremy rather than in the solo seat I had purchased from StubHub, so I had someone with whom to share history.

The first half was a low scoring back-and-forth; by the under-12 timeout, both teams were still in single digits, and the first half ended tied at 21. While there was still a half of basketball still to be played, this didn't feel bad, as a fan of the team who by all intents and purposes should have been getting their teeth kicked in.

UMBC's defense stayed tight as the offense heated up in the second half. By the under-16 timeout, UMBC led by 11, and would never hold a smaller lead the remainder of the game. It was at about that point that the win probability flipped in UMBC's favor as well, though I've spent enough years rooting for losing programs that I wouldn't have believed it if you told me. It started to feel real around the "fourth quarter" - 10 minutes remaining in the game. By that point, UMBC led 47-31 with no signs of letting up. Everyone not clad in orange and blue was rooting for history by then, and the Carolina fans who had moved down to enjoy the game with us pointed out, accurately, that UVA wasn't built to come back from a deficit. UVA's deficit would never again fall within a dozen, and UMBC would go on to win by 20.

At some point late in the second, the students, who like us were in the arena's upper deck, saw a victory at hand and made their way down to the lower level to prepare to celebrate. After the game went final, the pep band pivoted deftly from the fight song and alma mater into All I Do Is Win and an all out party. An unnavigable crowd at the escalators led us to enjoy the celebration mostly from the upper deck, eventually making it down below before being politely but firmly ushered out by arena staff. 

I should mention that from the point of inevitability on, my text and social media blew the hell up. My affinity for UMBC is pretty well documented, and everything from congratulations to wellness checks came my way. I assured folks I was, indeed, still alive, and went live on Facebook from outside the arena. A crowd stuck around for some live video from the local news. 

I'll remind you that this was the session's late game, so it was pushing midnight at this point, but I was nowhere near sleep. Several of us kept the party going at World of Beer in the Epicentre, reflecting on the day and cheering at the SportsCenter highlights on the bar TVs before calling it a night, and my departure back up to Greensboro. I wasn't the only one who had to make a change in plans - after all, 135 previous attempts would have told us not to plan for a repeat performance as a 16 seed.

I actually had a work obligation on the Saturday that followed, and despite finally getting into bed around 4:30am, I was still plenty energetic by the next day, though I crashed hard Saturday night. Sunday's game was at 7:45, so I had a good deal of family time, including a hike, prior to heading back south to Charlotte. I ended up paying more than face value for Sunday's ticket, due largely to UNC playing but certainly at least in part to interest in lightning striking twice for UMBC. I made my way down to Charlotte just in time to see disappointed Carolina fans streaming out of the Spectrum Center, having just witnessed a drubbing at the hands of Texas A&M. 

From a fan perspective, we were playing with house money by the game against K-State. A win here and a Sweet 16 berth would have been icing on the cake, but at the same time, we just knocked off #1; who should we fear? After nearly 48 hours of press, one thing was for sure: We wouldn't have the element of surprise on our side. 

UMBC once again got after it defensively, though shots didn't fall as they did on Friday night. To our players' credit, they shot with no memory, but despite being in it all game long, the clock ultimately struck midnight on our Cinderella run as the Retrievers fell, 50-43. The pep band got out the fight song and alma mater before yielding to the victors, and the team got nothing but congratulations from the whole arena, As it had two nights prior, the night once again ended at World of Beer before hopping on I-85 northbound with nothing but pride in the alma mater.
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