For the first time in ages, this pro snob has been keeping up with March Madness. Maybe it’s been joining the TSFJ team, catching the tail-ends of the upsets of Missouri and Duke, seeing Georgetown predictably fold, finally getting caught up in the legend of #Draymond Green, or a combination of it all.
Despite not filling out a bracket in a decade, the collection of remaining teams in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament is a curious one. Kentucky/Indiana has history written all over it. The battle of Ohio between Ohio State and Cincinnati. The chance that the Tar Heels and the Wolfpack may play each other for a Final Four berth. Plenty of intrigue, sure, but the one that stood out to me…
Baylor versus Xavier.
This isn’t the same Baylor program that brought shame to college sports long before we’ve became immune to shame in college sports. Coach Scott Drew and future pro Perry Jones III are leaders of this team, but it’s the school’s resolve that have made us stand up and take notice.
Not long after we witnessed some fantastic games during the 2003 edition of Madness – Syracuse’s Carmelo Anthony and Marquette’s Dwayne Wade scintillated the masses before entering a historic NBA Draft – did the worst scandal imaginable (at that time) become the lasting image of college basketball that year.
The Patrick Dennehey tragedy and the Dave Bliss scandal underscored so much of what ailed college sports, and then some. While harrowing reports of broken programs have become commonplace, especially in the last two years, what happened here was so shocking, so disgusting, and so maddening that it was virtually impossible to see this as a strictly sports offense.
Fast forward almost a decade, and we are witnessing an almost unheralded rebirth of an athletic program. Robert Griffin III won the Heisman, and will likely be the number two overall pick by Washington in the upcoming NFL Draft. With offensive growth to match her defensive prowess, Brittney Griner is not only the leader of the overwhelming favorites in the ladies’ bracket, but she is also the future of women’s basketball. Other teams, such as its baseball squad, have made significant postseason runs in their sports.
Yet, these young men are on a slightly different plane compared to their fellow student-athletes, knowing that it was their team that was at the epicenter nine years ago. We don’t know how much the Dennehey tragedy is on the minds of the players. As any grave situation with such wide public scale, it’s hard to not be reminded of what happened day-by-day, and likely during this run, practice-after-practice. However, compared to their higher-profile counterparts like Kentucky, Syracuse or UNC – programs with several pro prospects that are using March to prepare for June – these kids know that playing for their school takes on quite a different meaning.
Playing for Baylor this weekend is about telling the world that a tragic past may no longer shape their bright future.