Most of yinz know that I am a Robert Morris grad, and damn proud of it. I pull for RMU in academics and athletics, and am proud when our students succeed in the classroom and on the playing field. I take a purist attitude in regards to supporting college athletics. With the exception of the service academies, my primary allegiance is to Robert Morris because I believe in supporting the school that gave me my degree. I don't support Pitt because they are the local big time collegiate athletic program. I don't hold a degree from that school, so therefore I don't support it. I hear people who didn't attend Pitt say that they support that school because it represents Pittsburgh. I don't agree. They represent the University of Pittsburgh, not Pittsburgh as a whole, and they do not represent me. If they do well, that's nice, but if given the choice of watching Pitt athletics or Robert Morris athletics, well, my heart belongs to the Colonials. And I'd do the same even if I graduated from a little known Division III school in the middle of nowhere. I value loyalty, and my loyalty goes with the school with whom I have a personal connection. It's a simplistic way of thinking, but I'm a simple guy. What else is new?
Today I'm making a pitch for Robert Morris basketball. I feel that RMU men's and women's hoops are Pittsburgh's best kept secret. They toil in obscurity while the majority of Pittsburgh media is more interested in covering the Big D1 University in Oakland. And I'm okay with that. But there is an alternative. And I think that with the recent history of success of Robert Morris in both men's and women's basketball in the past few years, I think it's my responsibility to 'pimp' my school.
The last five years have been incredible for RMU in both mens and women's hoops. This was the fourth straight year that the RMU men made it to the NEC final, and in 2010, they came so close to upsetting Villanova in the NCAA's. And they didn't lose a step when Mike Rice left, Andy Toole came in and picked up right where he left off. He's a young fiesty guy who preaches defense, and the players have bought into his style.
If RMU continues to have the seasons they've been having, look for Toole to be gone in a couple years. And that's a good thing. This program has always been known for being a good stepping stone for young coaches. The AD hires young coaches who have been assistants elsewhere, gives them a good platform to hone their head coaching skills with a program that the administration supports, and is free from a lot of the media scrutiny, and then turns them loose. And once they're snatched up by a bigger program, the AD finds another young guy. Mike Rice did a good job with Rutgers this season. And I'm sure that Toole will latch on to a nice gig when he leaves RMU. While we'd like to have a coach that will stay as long as a Mike Krzyzewski of a Jim Boeheim, RMU understands that they don't have the finances or the leverage to keep a young coach here forever. So we take what we can get and do the best we can with what we got. And judging by the last few year's success, I think we're onto something.
On the women's side, so much attention has been placed on Agnus Berenato at Pitt and Suzie McConnell at Duquesne that Sal Buscaglia gets little notice for what he did with RMU's women's team over the last nine years. He took over a program that at one time won three games in the last three years before he took over and has made that team into a perennial NEC contender. And he has a knack of finding players that other coaches overlook. He has no problem going the JuCo route and he is one of the few coaches that goes overseas. He had six players on his squad this season from Europe and England. He's a turnaround specialist, but it looks like he's perfectly willing to make RMU his last gig because he has over 30 yrs in the coaching ranks. And don't be surprised if once Sal hangs 'em up his son Charlie takes over.
The only thing is I wish the students would be more supportive of the hoops programs. They're starting to come together into a bona fide student section that's making its presence known, but there are still too many nights when the men are playing in front of less than a thousand fans at Sewall. It's a nice gym for basketball, the new paint job is awesome. And when they get a good crowd in there, the place jumps.
I remember hearing one time that the students at RMU would rather watch Pitt in their dorm rooms rather than walk a 1/4 mile over to the Sewall Center to watch their own school's team. I don't offend easily, but if I were on the RMU basketball teams and I heard that this was true, I'd be highly insulted. I don't begrudge them that choice, but support your local teams also. They're your classmates, your friends, your frat brothers and sorority sisters. They represent you.
What about the cost? What about it? RMU basketball is the best value in town. The students get in for free. The chairback seats are $10, general admission is $7. Parking is free and plentiful. Hell, for what it costs to watch a Pitt game,with tickets, concessions, and parking, you can buy chairback season tickets for Robert Morris. And you're seeing D1 basketball. It's not the Big East, but still pretty damn good basketball.
I understand that newspaper column space is precious, and Pitt sells more papers than RMU, but if only people could see the kind of basketball played by both the men and women at RMU, I think they'd appreciate it. Pittsburghers like to talk about being blue collar, roll-your-sleeves-up people, RMU is a team that plays that style of basketball. They aren't pretty, they play tough defense, they play physical and make their opponents work for every point. That style didn't work against LIU last night, but it works more often than not. These are up and coming programs that deserve much more ink that they get.