Temple Victory Over No. 3 Syracuse Demands National Recognition For A-10, Mid-Majors

   on December 23 2012 4:06 AM

OK, let’s run it down.

Temple topped No. 3 Syracuse on Saturday, a week after Butler bumped off No. 1 Indiana. Back around Thanksgiving, Virginia Commonwealth went on a Tour de Oh So Close against a trio of ranked teams in the Bahamas, taking out then-No. 19 Memphis before scaring the bejesus out of Duke and Missouri, ranked No. 5 and 13, respectively, at the time, before succumbing late.

Just what in the name of “national” programs is going on here?

It’s almost enough for the Big East’s Catholic 7 members to step away from preaching about their forever relevance in college basketball circles and take notice of what’s going on in that lowly Atlantic 10. You know, the conference Georgetown, Villanova, Marquette and their “our hoops are holier than thou” brothers about to break out on their own scoffed at for having the audacity to think its offer to join forces would be met with more than, well, some serious scoffing.

After all, that conference has no cachet, no substance. There is nothing “national” about it. That’s the general consensus, ain’t it?

Pardon me whilst I upchuck from the blinders-wearing BCS bigots out there …

OK, clear. Back to business – where were we?

Oh yeah … puh-leeeeeeze. Exactly what are the parameters to qualify for “national” status anyway? Final Four trips, NCAA tournament visits, total victories, a history of success?

Money, obviously, factors – which is why every BCS school in the country has the golden opportunity to be “national,” since it has the financial goods to do so. If it doesn’t, it is either choosing to spend its money elsewhere, or it’s not spending its money wisely on the basketball program representing the school.

Temple being labeled a mid-major, or “not a national” program is one of the most bizarre and misinformed things I’ve ever heard. Full disclosure, I’m a grad of the university. But the Owls’ record stands on its own. They rank sixth all-time in victories, can claim just as many Final Four appearances as Maryland, Georgia Tech and Purdue, one more than Notre Dame and Pittsburgh, and two more than Missouri – which has none.

All have bigger “profiles” if you go by the status quo from those not in the know, where Duke, North Carolina and Kentucky are about the only teams that exist and they do a revolving door with who gets a turn at winning the national championship.

A buddy of mine is a Syracuse alum and he loves his Orange. It’s actually cool to see someone so into their alma mater’s basketball program. Conversely, it’s also sad to see someone so closed off to anything beyond that program, or what he has been trained to believe – that only BCS programs can be national … and that all of them are.

Really? More than half of the Catholic 7 has been irrelevant for close to 25 years. Providence, at least, showed some life in the ’90s, but Seton Hall and St. John’s have been virtually non-existent since the ’80s and DePaul disappeared from the “it matters” category in the late ’70s.

Go through all the power conferences – call ’em BCS or “national” if you prefer – and you won’t find a single one in which half of its members could claim any significance beyond its campus limits, and yet we have Temple – which has beaten a top 10 team five seasons in a row now – and Butler and VCU struggling to get the respect of Joe Fan out there because he hasn’t been told by a studio host these teams are “national.” For the record, the last Catholic 7 team to reach the Final Four was Villanova in 2009. Since then, Butler has made it twice and VCU once.

Temple? Dogs that those Owls are, they haven’t cracked that code in a long time, not even during John Chaney’s tenure. They’ve just merely reached the Elite Eight five times in the last 25 years – which, coincidentally, would match the total Syracuse has posted over the same time frame.

Thing is, what team has been more “national” than Gonzaga the last 10 years? It’s technically a mid-major, is situated in no man’s land in the Northwest, can’t even buy a ticket to the Final Four, but it gets TV play, it makes the Big Dance every year, and it has tapped into the consciousness of analysts and viewers alike. The one built-in bonus that program has is airtime, when it plays most of its games. Being on the West Coast, its opportunities are most expansive than, say, Butler’s or Creighton’s are in the Midwest or VCU’s in the East.

There are fewer competitors for the TV dollar once you pass a couple time zones. The irony is that one of the teams from its own circuit, the West Coast Conference, has made a relatively successful play at stealing some ESPN programming. Saint Mary’s may be a decade behind the Bulldogs, but it has rapidly become an entertaining, newer option with a fan base that extends far beyond its home base in Moraga, Calif.

As for the A-10 and the reality check it’s delivered the big boys a few times thus far during the 2012-13, it would seem things have settled a bit, what with conference schedules about to kick into full gear. But circle the date Jan. 6 just in case. Temple is slated to visit No. 9 Kansas then. Perhaps it will make another “national” statement.