Monday, March 8, 2010

living the dream

The confluence of the end of the winter sports season and the beginning of the spring season means that the weekends start to get really, really interesting. Baseball with some big wins, lacrosse with a big, big win. (Coming soon to a Youtube near you.) Even the wrestling team made some big news by winning a surprise ACC championship. (Woo! ACC championship, woo! First-ever mention of wrestling on this blog too, which goes to show you what a front-runner I can be sometimes.) Then you top it off with a junior day held by the football coaches that resulted in one and a half commitments, and you'd think I'd be in a really good mood, and ready to celebrate with snazzy little recaps of the action in each sport.

Yeah, but that's not the way it works when the school's BMOC (or BMOG in our case) decides .... well, you know that dream you have where you have to go to class, maybe take the final, and suddenly you realize you haven't even been to this class all year and you aren't even sure you know where it is and if you go, you'll probably fail in front of everyone and if you don't you'll definitely fail, and the whole thing really sucks? Welcome to the world of dreams, Sylven Landesberg. Suspended because he can't be bothered to go to class - art class! - and if it was anyone else we'd shake our heads at the knuckleheads we have on our roster, maybe tsk-tsk a little bit about the academic standards left behind by Dave Leitao, and even then maybe it wouldn't be distracting us from celebrating our upset win over Maryland. Which failed to materialize largely because Landesberg wasn't in the arena.

Predictably, the internet went kaboom and promptly divided everyone into the usual two camps:

A) Hooray for Tony Bennett for sticking to his principled standards. He is building the foundation for the future. Bennett is a hero.
B) Once again the demands of playing at UVA bite us in the ass. We will never be good because no good players will want to play at a place like this. Bennett is a schmuck.

In order to be even the tiniest bit successful as a blogger, you have to stand apart from everyone else in some way. For lack of a better word, you need a schtick. 20 months in and I still have no idea what I do along those lines, but I know what I don't do: Joe Loudmouth the Internet Fan who wants it all and wants it all yesterday and thinks that was fine when it happened but what have you done for me lately? That is more or less from whom you'll hear Option B, so you'd think that would leave me, the supposedly level-headed one, in Camp A.

Y'know, it's not that easy. For one thing, yeah, we can all praise Tony Bennett for applying his standards consistently. But when you think about it, what is he supposed to do? Learn that his player completely blew off class and just ignore it? We're not Florida State. I have no respect for Bobby Bowden and I've ripped him in the past for actively not giving a shit whether his players go to school or not. And that's the attitude that leads to exactly the sort of problem FSU ran into in the end. If you're going to care even just a tiny bit about your players' academic obligations (and at Virginia you had better because a cheating scandal leads to expulsion, not just a suspension for the Western Carolina game) then you have no choice but to suspend a guy who's been blowing off his classes.

Besides, if you're surprised that Bennett would do this, you haven't been paying attention. Go ask Jamil Tucker if he's surprised.

So we know now, if you didn't figure it out when he suspended Assane Sene and suspended Calvin Baker and booted Tucker and kept Tristan Spurlock on the bench all year, that Tony Bennett has Standards and if you don't meet them you're not playing basketball. This is all part of building the foundation for long-term success. Bennett truly gets what it means to be at the University of Virginia and it will result in getting the type of recruits we need to finally build a long-lasting run of real success.

My brain tells me this is true, and one part of me is listening and believes it. Because it is true. You might have some success - or at least the illusion of it, which is basically the same thing from the viewpoint of the fan - but you're building a house of cards if you don't have standards or if you have two sets of them for different players on the team.

But that doesn't make it not hard, and it doesn't make it not risky. The hard part is having to grit your teeth and wait out the process, which is going to be excruciating. I know I'm already sick and goddam tired of listening to smug-ass Hokies trumpet their newfound basketball good times to go with their football good times, as if that shithole has ever accomplished even the slightest damn thing in basketball. It's no fucking fun losing 11 games in the ACC, especially nine in a row. And if you buy into the line about building a foundation, then you're just going to have to suck it up next year too. Because how's this for a worst-case scenario: Sylven Landesberg, Tristan Spurlock, and Mike Scott all leave next year (by the way, thanks for pissing Scott off, fair-weather fans - but that's a rant for another time) and what do we have left? A shortage of scholarship players, a bunch of guys who can't shoot (harsh but true), and a huge raft of freshmen ready to be thrown into the fire. That is not a recipe for success in 2011.

And then what? In the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately world of basketball, can Tony Bennett still recruit to a UVA team that may well be looking at four years in a row of double-digit conference losses? Or perhaps - and this is the risky part - the foundation of success we're laying here turns out to be capable of supporting little more than middling NCAA seeds at best and NIT berths at worst? That'd certainly be better than what we have now, but if you're not trying to win ACC championships, you're not trying. And eventually this principled stand wouldn't even matter, because we'd all - including the AD - eventually get tired of that kind of success and Bennett would be out the door and we'd start this whole thing over again.

So yeah, when you're going through this whole change-the-culture process with your two favorite football teams and your two favorite basketball teams all at once, it starts to get real easy to begin to see the Option B side of things, the one that is really, really worried that we just drove our star player out the door. As I've said - when you get down to it, Bennett had no choice but to suspend Landesberg. The rational and patient side of me knows that, and knows it was the right way to go. But it's never that simple, and the rational and patient side of me - and yours too, probably - is going to spend a very nervous offseason followed by (if the worst comes to pass) fending off the inner impatient douchebag (not to mention the ones wearing maroon) for the duration of the following year as well.

1 comment:

Pat said...

Very well-written and thoughtful article, and it speaks to the dilemma at the University of Michigan with John Beilein. Great man, solid coach, but is a low level NCAA seed combined with a miracle Elite 8 run the best we can hope for? Look at Bob Huggins at West Virginia and see the difference. It's a tough situation with no easy answers.