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Is Niagara Basketball Pushing the Hype ButtonToo Hard?

Thursday, January 10, 2008 , Posted by Christopher Byrne at 8:29 PM, under , ,

Athens, GA (Jan 10, 2008) - As a 1984 graduate of Niagara University, I was pleased as punch when the 2004-2005 team made it to the NCAA Tournament, something that had not happened since the playing days of Calvin Murphy. The team became a media darling, and fans gave the team a standing ovation after their loss to Oklahoma in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

Last year the team overcame off-season controversy and the suspension of Charron Fisher to return to the big dance. But being forced to win their play-on game ruffled some Purple Eagle feathers, and the media took notice. Yes, the won the game only to be crushed by Kansas a few nights later.

This year's team is off to a 10-3 start, including a win over St. John's. Charron Fisher leads the nation in scoring. This should be enough to make any mid-major alum proud. But the arrogance and brashness that seems to have taken over the program has tempered any enthusiasm I might have for this year's team. It also makes be wonder how much of this is related to the fact that the school does not have a full-time sports information director, and that the job is being "handled" by multiple staff members who may not have the needed background to work with the media effectively.

A Slap at the Media in Pre-Game Notes

The working media make heavy use of pre-game notes in covering and writing about teams. Besides the fact that it is extremely difficult to find the notes on the Purple Eagles' site, they are provided a formatted layout that makes on-line reading virtually impossible. Sure you can print it out and deal with that, but one piece of content in their notes just jumped out at me like a chive on someone's tooth. I am referring to the sidebar feature that most school's refer to as "By the Numbers", that includes a series of stats that are useful to the media. Niagara has chosen to label this sidebar "Numbers 4 Dummies":

When you are a small, mid-major program, this is not exactly the way to make members of the working media have a warm fuzzy. OK, maybe I am being over-sensitive, but I know the academic quality of the school, and I will leave it at that.

Breaking the Camel's Back

The above example is just one that I have been seeing and reading this season. I think the one that is the straw that broke the camel's back for me is the news release posted on the school's web site on January 7:

So what exactly is this national praise? The first is that Fisher was named MAAC player of the week. The last I heard, the MAAC is not exactly a conference that gets national attention. That would not be so bad if this was also not part of the news release:

In the Jan. 7 Associated Press poll, the Purple Eagles garnered one vote in the receiving votes category. Niagara is the only MAAC team on the chart, and is receiving the same number of votes as last year's national champion (Florida) and one less than the national runners-up (Ohio State).

One vote! And we have no idea who it was that cast the one vote. To emphasize that they received the same number of votes as Florida and Ohio State is not exactly national praise. It is a vote, and if push came to shove, both of these teams would wipe the floor with Niagara. Niagara is as mid-major as a team can get, and this type of release being put out by the university smacks of an over-inflated sense of their place in the college basketball world and the arrogance/brashness I referred to earlier. Their RPI placement is artificially high because of their opponent's strength of schedule, not their own. And the list goes on.

Niagara Needs to Deflate Some of the Hype

Niagara needs to ease off on the hype machine and remember how far they have come from the "dark days" of their program. Coach Joe Mihalich has done a great job in his ten years on Monteagle Ridge. But if Charron Fisher gets hurt, the season will be done. And if the team does not deliver after all this over the top hype, they will have accomplished nothing. They will just remember the games that could have been in the gymnasium they call the "Legendary" Gallagher center. In this case, they mean the gymnasium that is used because they are not successful enough to draw larger numbers of fans and/or the flagging economy of Niagara Falls and upstate New York make building a real facility impractical.

Yes, my New Year's resolution is to practice tough love and not give my alma mater a free pass and fawn over them just because I went to school there.

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