Where to begin?
Asheville lost a heartbreaker on Thursday night to Charleston Southern, snapping a 7 game win streak and dropping their conference record to 8-1. Asheville is still in 1st place in the conference, but both Campbell (7-2) and Coastal are lurking at 1 and 1.5 games behind apiece.
What happened on Thursday? Asheville didn’t play to win, plain and simple. Granted, there was an amazing run to come from behind 14 points and put the Bulldogs in a position to win. There was also a very questionable blocking call on Matt Dickey with time winding down that put CSU at the line to ice the game. However, you can never blame close losses on officiating. Asheville played like an NCAA team for less than half of Thursday’s game, something they can’t do if they want to dance again in March.
Today’s game at Presbyterian offers an opportunity to rebound (punny! hah) against a 2-6 team that, apart from a shocking upset against Cincinnati, has not put together a quality win against a good team this year. Nonetheless, Asheville has to play smart, efficient basketball on both sides of the court regardless of who the team is. Often, teams that play to their opponent’s level have a worse problem affecting them (see Tar Heels, North Carolina). Asheville doesn’t have this problem right now, but the guys can’t let Thursday’s loss get them down. Every team loses, and if you’re undefeated in conference you’re going to have that much bigger a target on your back.
In off-the-court news, Friday was a take-out-the-trash newsdump of information related to Kimmelgate. The Citizen-Times ran three articles on the scenario. The first, a profile of Matt Dickey’s father, conveyed the sentiment many alums, students, faculty, and fans feel: that the entire Kimmelgate saga has hurt the UNC Asheville basketball program. Regardless of culpability, the fallout from UNC Asheville’s decision to host the SoCon women’s opening round has far outweighed any benefit the tournament might bring the university (distinct from benefits accruing to the City and the community). It also hurts recruiting. A recruit looking at UNC Asheville sees this mess and thinks that either:
a) the athletics department doesn’t care about men’s basketball enough to make their conference tournament a priority (a false impression, but one that can be reasonably inferred from the past week); or
b) the athletics department is incompetent and doesn’t know how to manage a story.
The other two news stories that broke on Friday lend credence to the latter theory. One revealed that ESPN has not been contacted about rescheduling the game and would be open to rescheduling the game. This is great news and increases the possibility that the Bulldogs, should they earn the right, will be able to play on their homecourt. The other revealed that the Southern Conference was willing to acommodate the Bulldogs should the situation arise.
I’m very grateful for both ESPN’s and the SoCon’s understanding in this situation. I especially appreciate the sentiment of the Southern Conference Commissioner, who effectively applied the Golden Rule of “do unto others” by stating that he would not want one of his member institutions put into this position by another conference. It was a refreshing display of humanity and accommodation in a saga that has been, overall, very immature and childish.
So how does the scenario play out from here? It’s all up to the BSC. If the university’s appeal is approved, then the Bulldogs would either play in Justice or move the date of the championship game to Sunday/a different time on Saturday, depending on agreements between the two conferences and ESPN. Everyone saves a little face and basically gets what they should’ve gotten in the first place.
That, though, is the larger point: this situation should have never happened in the first place. A prominent UNCA alum emailed me and said something to the effect of: “What should we have told the SoCon – that you can use the arena, but there might be a small chance that the men’s team may have the opportunity to play the championship game the same day as the opening rounds and we need to plan for that?” Well, yes. Even if the format was up in the air, we should have made it clear that, if the tournament format stayed the same this year, that the University and the SoCon would have to make arrangements so that UNC Asheville could accommodate both parties. These negotiations should have wrapped up long before this season started when the format for this season’s tournament was finalized, and it should have been Asheville going to the SoCon and saying, essentially, “we want to honor our agreement, but we want to give our men’s team the opportunity to play on their home court.” The SoCon commissioners are human beings, not heartless monsters, and would probably empathize with the University’s situation (and the negative publicity that would arise should this scenario become public).
Unfortunately, that’s not what happened now the University and both conferences have this mess to juggle along with the regular troubles associated with planning conference tournaments. It’s a regrettable affair and while it looks like this will be resolved amicably it doesn’t change the fact that the University administration and the Big South badly bungled this entire situation. It calls for a reevaluation on the part of the University about how it manages unfavorable news and how it prioritizes athletic events. In both cases, the buck stops with Janet Cone, and she should formally apologize to the men’s basketball team and the University community for putting us through this process in the first place.