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A Matter of Fact: No Football, No Problem

by Matthew Stevens | December 15th, 2008

The saying goes that football money dictates support and success in other sports. By “other sports,” we at this site mean men’s college basketball.

As recently as 2007, Florida held both the basketball and football championships at one time. Fast forward to 2008 when the world on the gridiron doesn’t necessarily translate to the hardwood.

The current Associated Press Top 25 poll has six teams (No. 4 Gonzaga, No. 10 Xavier, No. 15 Villanova, No. 19 Georgetown, No. 23 Davidson, and No. 24 Marquette) that do not play Division I-A football or don’t play football at all beyond the flag football intramural championship. Three others (Dayton, Butler and Saint Mary’s (CA)) received votes in the current poll and Creighton along with Illinois State are in our current bracket projection.

“I don’t consider (Butler) a mid-major program,” Ohio State head coach Thad Matta told the Columbus Dispatch before his Saturday game with the Bulldogs. “I think they’re a high-major program. They do things the right way. As we set forth to do this, this was no different in my mind than going and playing an SEC school or something like that.”

Three of those schools–Marquette, Georgetown and Villanova–have NCAA title banners hanging in their rafters, but all of those came before the three-point line.

The only school to win the NCAA basketball championship in the modern era without participating in a Bowl Championship Series football conference was UNLV in 1990 and to this day the NCAA offices in Indianapolis haven’t figured out all of what the great Jerry Tarkanian was doing in sin city.

While most school’s fan bases are planning out warm weather New Year’s Day vacations to whatever bowl game, these alumni and student factions are battling below freezing temperatures and snow to create unique and raucous home-court advantages.

On a Saturday afternoon, the Bradley Center hosts a school with four initials and a city in its name (IUPU-Fort Wayne) and Marquette got 13,470 in attendance as it welcomed home in-state product and four-year letterman and NBA reserve guard Travis Diener.

For those of you scoring at home, Marquette ran off eight straight points, dominated points in the paint to the tune of 42-18, and led throughout during a 69-50 victory over the Mastodons (4-6). Junior Lazar Hayward led the Golden Eagles in scoring and rebounding with 19 and 18 for his third double-double this season. The forward from Buffalo will be a critical component to Marquette’s ability to prove it has more than just an outside game with guards Wesley Matthews, Jerel McNeal and Dominic James.

“He’s similar to Dennis Rodman in regards to the way he follows the flight of the ball as soon as they shoot it,” head coach Buzz Williams said of Hayward. “It is almost an innate talent. I don’t know that it is something you can teach.”

The Golden Eagles (8-1), with the self-proclaimed ‘World’s Greatest Student Section,’ aren’t worried about spending their Christmas break traveling to the ICouldn’tCareLess.com Bowl (I’m only 95% sure that’s not the name of a 2008-09 bowl game). Gold and Blue nation is averaging 14,286 for each of its home games. That nation is worried about games against Tennessee, N.C. State and Villanova in less than three weeks.

Gonzaga has already defeated Maryland and Tennessee and could be in line to battle UCLA for a No. 1 seed in the west at either the Rose Garden in Portland or the Taco Bell Arena in Boise if the Bruins falter throughout the season.

Georgetown simply needed a family reunion for revival as John Thompson III has the program getting 10,224 in its arena that has a 2007 Final Four banner lifted high above.

Without football, absence really does make the heart grow fonder. Basketball schools in major markets (Marquette, Xavier, Georgetown and Villanova) rely on filling arenas with students that have been waiting since classes started in early August for a major event.

Marquette can pack its arena with 18,895 for a 61-58 come-from-behind victory over its non-conference rival Wisconsin on a Saturday in December because that’s the premier event in the nation’s 23rd-largest city.

“It means a great deal to our institution. It means a great deal to our players, it probably means a little more to our fans and our alumni,” Williams said after the win over the Badgers. “It is about the people that have allowed this platform as it relates to Marquette basketball to be what it is.”

The first nationally televised college basketball game on the docket was a 79-70 home win for Georgetown against 2008 national runner-up Memphis.

Davidson used the charm and charisma of Stephen Curry to get on the cover of USA Today and score a thrilling come-from-behind 68-65 victory over West Virginia at Madison Square Garden that still has Mountaineers head coach Bob Huggins steaming.

“It’s cool to have that, but I don’t really notice during the game,” Curry said after the game. “It is special in a place of this magnitude. It’s something I’ll remember.”

So while most BCS schools are still concentrating on the culmination of the 2008 college football season, some major college basketball programs love life without the fall distraction.

Don’t be surprised if one of them hoists the championship trophy in April at Ford Field.

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  1. John Says:

    @ Matt. A very interesting article on a subject I have never seen discussed before. It is very interesting to see how schools operate successfully without football. Most of the schools you listed, however are from the Big East and that helps a lot. More TV games, a greater chance to play big-name opponents, etc. A better example is Butler. Here is a program that lives solely of off basketball to get national attention(by the way, I wonder if Thad Matta made those comments before or after Ohio State beat the Bulldogs), but yet they have thrived, getting to two Sweet 16′s and a Overtime win away from a 3rd. They remind me of the Minnesota Twins in the sense that they are the model franchise for teams that don’t have a lot of money. Butler is in a state that has Notre Dame, Purdue and Indiana, so the chances of Brad Stevens getting a top notch recruit is slim, yet the program is still very successful. That is a tribute to the athletic department, also considering Stevens is the 3rd coach to guide Butler to success after the aformentioned Matta and Todd Lickliter. All in all, great fans, great games and who needs football?(although my team fortunately is going to play for the National Championship against Oklahoma.)

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