A pithy banner hanging on the University of Maryland, Baltimore County’s campus sums it up well: “Number one seeds: 135-1. We’re the 1.”
Yesterday was a long day for the University of Maryland men’s basketball team, but when Selection Sunday was all said and done, the Terps had snagged a surprising no. 6 seed for their March Madness matchup against Xavier University.
Mark Turgeon’s strong run so far as head coach for the University of Maryland men’s basketball program has rewarded him with a four-year contract extension that includes a raise beginning with this season.
The NCAA is changing the way it chooses host cities for its championships. Instead of selecting sites year by year, it will determine locations for “almost every one of its championships from fall 2014 to spring 2018” in December. And that puts the pressure on Baltimore to make a bid to be the four-year home of the lacrosse championship, something that the head of Maryland’s sports office Terry Hasseltine thinks we deserve.
If you’re a college lacrosse fan who lives in Maryland, your odds of a hometown victory of one kind or another are pretty stellar this year. The 2012 NCAA men’s lacrosse tournament opens this weekend, and 3 of the 16 teams vying for the championship are from Baltimore schools. Not only that, but the top two ranked teams — Loyola and Johns Hopkins, in that order — are local. (The University of Maryland is in the tournament, but isn’t ranked in the top 8; this is “not necessarily a bad thing,” according to the Baltimore Sun’s lacrosse columnist.)
The one thing everyone seems to agree on this year is that there are no sure bets. Last year, the Loyola Greyhounds didn’t even make the tournament, and the team started this season unranked; now they’re in the top spot. But for the past five years, the tournament’s number one seed has lost — not even making it to the championship game four of those times. And while there are plenty of powerhouses out there, no one team seems primed to steamroll its competitors. “The lack of a dominant team gives everybody hope,” UVA coach Dom Starsia told the Washington Times. “I think you’d be hard-pressed [to pick a champion], though you may as well take a try at it. If you took 10 chances, you might get one right.”
After the thrill of success comes the agony of having to do it again. In Loyola of Maryland’s case, their foray into the 2012 NCAA tournament — their first in nearly two decades — won’t be easy. They’re slated to play Ohio State in Pittsburgh on Thursday. The Buckeyes are a 2 seed; Loyola is 15. According to the logic of seeding, they don’t stand a chance. But I can’t help but be hopeful, especially when I remember how people were talking in my hometown of Richmond, Virginia last year.
Back then, another small, obscure mid-Atlantic school with a charismatic coach and low expectations from the wider world made the tournament as a wild card pick. Then Virginia Commonwealth University went on to power through all the way to the Final Four. Their improbable success galvanized Richmond, and is still celebrated on billboards all over town. Here are a few lessons the Greyhounds could take from the Rams:
Seventeen years is a long time to wait. So it’s a good thing that last night, Loyola University (of Maryland, natch) won a basketball game that just happened to be kind of important. After beating Fairfield 48-44, Loyola clinched the Mid-Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) title, earing them a spot in the 2012 NCAA tournament for the first time since Bill Clinton was president.
This is fresh territory for the Greyhounds, who have only made it to the conference finals once before, back in 1994. Since then, times got tougher. In 2003-4, the team won one game (yes, one) and lost twenty-seven, giving it the worst record in all of college basketball. But this year has been different in a lot of ways, most of them very good. Consider that if the Greyhounds win just one more game, they’ll tie the school’s record for victories in a single season… which was set back in 1948-49!
Of course, those victories become harder-won in the NCAA tournament. But head coach Jimmy Patsos believes in his team. And recent years have seen surprising upsets by smaller, lesser-known teams. Why not put them all the way in your office bracket?
Watch a video of the team celebrating here.
Men’s lacrosse players were the biggest illicit drug users among athletes competing in the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s 23 sanctioned sports, according to a survey by the governing body.
They led all other sports in the use of amphetamines, anabolic steroids, cocaine, marijuana and narcotics, according to the NCAA’s quadrennial survey, which included 20,474 responses from athletes for the 2009 school year.
The athletes were asked to voluntarily fill out forms anonymously, then mail them in postage-paid envelopes to a company that scanned them and put the answers into a database. The report offered no comparison with drug use in either the general population or college population as a whole.
Since the last survey in 2005, college athletes have increased their use of drugs including alcohol (83.1 percent, up from 77.5 percent), cigarettes (15.5 percent from 14.6 percent), marijuana (22.6 percent from 21.2 percent) and spit tobacco (17.4 percent from 15.7 percent).
The use of amphetamines has fallen to 3.7 percent from 4.2 percent and steroid use has decreased to 0.4 percent from 1.1 percent, according to the survey.
Men’s lacrosse players led the way in drug use by a wide margin among specific teams.
The survey found 48.5 percent of lacrosse players used marijuana, ahead of soccer players at 29.4 percent and wrestlers at 27.7 percent. Football players were sixth, at 26.7 percent, and men’s basketball players were ninth at 22 percent.
Meanwhile, 9.7 percent of lacrosse players said they used cocaine compared to 3.8 percent of ice hockey players and 3.7 percent of wrestlers. Football players were sixth, at 2.3 percent, and men’s basketball players 10th at 1.2 percent.
Most of us bridle at the very thought — after all, college is a place that’s supposed to be safe from the rampant commercialism of pro sports. These kids are students as well as athletes, amateurs who compete in a system that’s more pure and noble than their counterparts in the pros. Right?
Not so, says Baltimore local Taylor Branch in a scathing new article in the Atlantic. “Two of the noble principles on which the NCAA justifies its existence — ‘amateurism’ and the ‘student-athlete’ — are cynical hoaxes, legalistic confections propagated by the universities so they can exploit the skills and fame of young athletes,” Branch asserts.
College athletics is big money these days, thanks to television licensing, merchandise sales, stadium ads, and shoe deals. Big football schools (Texas, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Penn) earn as much as $80 million a year from their teams. The NCAA is “a spectacularly profitable cartel,” according to Branch. But if any of the players are caught actually profiting from their work, they get suspended, fined, or banned outright. Meanwhile, universities and corporations reap millions of dollars. And no one pretends that student athletes are getting much of an education, either.
It seems hard to justify the disparity: players (or their likenesses) show up on video games, on ESPNU, on giant billboards… and college players both current and former don’t get any money from it at all. Students from poor families earn their schools millions, and can’t afford to fly home to see their parents. The NCAA even fights against injured student athletes who file workmen’s comp insurance claims.
The hypocrisy is rampant: “At the start of the 2010 football season, A. J. Green, a wide receiver at Georgia, confessed that he’d sold his own jersey from the Independence Bowl the year before, to raise cash for a spring-break vacation. The NCAA sentenced Green to a four-game suspension for violating his amateur status with the illicit profit generated by selling the shirt off his own back. While he served the suspension, the Georgia Bulldogs store continued legally selling replicas of Green’s No. 8 jersey for $39.95 and up,” Branch notes.
Domonique Foxworth, a Raven who used to play for the University of Maryland, put it bluntly: “Money surrounds college sports, and every player knows those millions are floating around only because of the 18-to-22-year-olds.” But only a small percentage of those players will end up as high-earning pro athletes.
Should these players have a right to some of the profits they’ve generated? Or would monetizing college sports just make them even more crassly commercial? It’s hard to think of a good solution here, but Branch makes a persuasive argument that the current system isn’t working.