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Distorted Spectrum

Why take UB's The Spectrum editorial to task... well because it's the off season!

Adam Hunger

I want to start by saying the folks at The Spectrum, like the people at the Buffalo News, are far better writers than I could ever aspire to be. When I lean into the steaming pile laid on the pages of The Spectrum below I am not calling into question their right to an opinion or their qualifications to share it.

The editorial titled "Bulls, Fans Pay the Price for Athletic Director's Failure: Culmination of bad decisions came at MAC quarterfinals" tries to paint a picture of failure on this year's basketball team that was wholly unfair. It's unfair even though I agree UB should have taken the CIT bid, something I had the chance to tell Director White long before the season ended.

I believe the decision to sit out the post season was a mistake. Not a critical one given it was the CIT but a mistake nonetheless. Still one bad mistake does not erase the whole season.

A cohesive team, strong senior players and momentum from improving performance in past years were all squandered in Cleveland because of poor leadership. It was more due to the young, hubristic Athletic Director Danny White, however, than Bobby Hurley, the inexperienced rookie coach.

So starts the narrative that this year's team was light years better than any we have had since the dawn of time. They should have easily rolled through Cleveland and should be in the Sweet 16 by now right? Just like Ohio!

Pay attention also to the narrative of painting White as brash and arrogant. I can't respond to it in one spot because it's pervasive, but check in at the bottom for that.

UB’s men’s basketball team suffered an upset loss March 14 in the Mid-American Conference Tournament quarterfinals to Eastern Michigan, 69-64. Making accepting the situation even more difficult: that fans expected this to be ‘the year’ for the Bulls after a disappointing, though understandable, loss in the quarterfinals last year.

The pieces were in place.

And, I'll foreshadow something here... One of the biggest pieces in place came because of Bobby Hurley... No Hurley then no Freelove.

The team would have all but certainly performed better if not for a foolish decision by White to fire longtime coach Reggie Witherspoon last March.

I like 'Spoon as much as the next guy but how did UB do in the semi finals of 2012 when we had Javon McCrea, Mitchell Watt, Jarod Oldham, and Zach Filzen? Oh that's right, we were one and done at the Q.

Reggie Witherspoon is all kinds of amazing as a human being and a coach. He was exactly what UB Athletics needed for a decade. The one thing that 'Spoon is not good at is winning games in Cleveland. If he could not have done it in 2005, or 2009, or 2012 why do we think this season would have been different?

Following this year’s MAC Tournament loss, UB was invited to the College Invitational Tournament, a respected postseason tournament for quality teams mainly from mid-major conferences. The athletic department snubbed the offer. The New York Bulls apparently only attend larger tournaments, never mind that nothing was gained in cutting the season short after the disappointing quarterfinals loss.

I'll give the Spectrum this one.. Like I said upthread, I think UB should have participated. McCrea could have set some marks and the younger players we will need next season could have got more practice.

But let's not pretend UB is the only school to ever turn down the CIT or the CBI. It happens every year that a basketball team decided not to play in the two lower venues.

So what else can The Spectrum do? I know: Let's attack NYBI.

The initiative, and many of White’s actions, has effectively worked to remove UB’s association with the city of Buffalo, focusing on associating the school with New York at large.

Please demonstrate how this has happened. Has Ohio State detached itself from Columbus, Ohio? Is UConn not connected to Storrs? Is UMass not connected to Amherst (MA)?

Changing logos and shifting titles to make the University at Buffalo more about New York is certainly a slap in the face to the community that has given rise to this institution. It is other missteps, however, that are to blame for the department’s stagnating performance.

I've now been at this long enough to say the following to the individual who wrote this at the Spectrum without putting their name on it.... I have probably been covering UB Athletics longer than you have.

Current students, who make up the staff at the Spectrum and most college newspapers, have seen at most four basketball seasons. If that's your whole perspective on UB sports, plus whatever you were maybe plugged into while attending a WNY high school, then sure, it's reasonable to think that this was a very good team that had a good chance to win the MAC.

But we've seen more. More seasons, more players, more of the opposition. Year over year, the MAC is more of a crapshoot than most mid-major conferences. That's exactly the reason it changed the format of the tournament to protect its two strongest teams.

Even in the context of this individual season, I can't make the argument that UB was expected to win the MAC, and anything less is a shameful failure. Those two strongest teams, protected by the conference? Western Michigan and Toledo. Funny how none of those words look like Buffalo. Eighteen games of MAC play proved that UB was not a prohibitive favorite in the conference. It's foolish to say that they were after the fact.

What's going on at UB right now is not stagnation. It's progress and progress always feels like a slap in the face to some people while others embrace it.

The former men’s basketball coach for 14 years, Witherspoon, has been a mainstay of Buffalo basketball for decades. Beginning at Sweet Home High School, moving to coach at Erie Community College and finally UB in 1999, Witherspoon had unmatched community rapport and he made a shattered program riddled with NCAA penalties into a respectable one known for its character.

14 years and *0* conference titles is almost unheard of in NCAA basketball. I love Reggie and I could have gone either way on the move last season. I also did not like the Hurley hire last year but saw the benefits this season, because at Bull Run we follow recruiting.

White cited "need for new leadership" for the firing, promising to do a comprehensive national search for a new coach. He then hired Bobby Hurley, with whom White had connections through Duke University, just two weeks later.

How is White's relation to Hurley relevant here? It is *standard* practice for AD's to hire through connections. Hell, it's standard practice in all areas of enterprise to hire from connections. At the end of the day the Hurley hire was a PR win for Buffalo. White has gambled on a fresh coach who knows the game and has an impressive enough name to bring attention and recruits.

Will Hurley be the perfect guy to take UB to the dance? I don't know. We do know that Witherspoon had 14 years and 3 very good chances to get us there. I believe he should have had this season but I also can see where a person could reasonably disagree with me.

Surely poor performance is not White’s only prerequisite for dismissal, given the five-year contract extension White gave to football coach Jeff Quinn despite his dismal 9-26 (.257) record at the time.

If you're going to attack someone for stupid decisions please don't use an example of them extending a guy who took his team to only their 2nd bowl ever the year following the extension.

I still scratch my head over the Quinn extension but White and Quinn served me up a tiny dose of crow with a side of Potato Bowl this season. I've read the contract and analyzed the financials and on the whole the Quinn move looks like it was at worst a push for UB.

Danny White’s attempt to plug Hurley into the winning team Witherspoon assembled not only robbed Witherspoon of his team, it robbed fans and players.

Witherspoon's winning team?

The 2012-2013 Bulls went 14-20, had a losing record in conference (7-9) and was stomped out in the MAC Quarterfinals. They were not invited to a post season tournament. After the season the lost Zach Filzen, UB's best outside option.

The 2013-2014 Bulls went 19-10, won the MAC East, and were invited to a post season tournament. They did it with key contributions from two players in Justin Moss and Josh Freelove who were only in Buffalo because of Hurley.

I hate that The Spectrum is making it look like I want to trash Coach Witherspoon because that is not what I am trying to do. I do however feel an obligation to present them with some facts which spit in the face of this editorial.

White’s arrogance wasn’t enough to get the victory. It has succeeded, however – in taking this team from its city and a potential championship from the squad.

As a UB alumni my diploma says *STATE UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK* on it. When you graduate that is what yours will say. Of the students at UB a third are from down state, a tenth are from other states, another tenth from foreign nations, and about 15-20% are from parts of New York other than the Buffalo-Niagara or NYC regions.

More kids come to UB from downstate than Buffalo and by extension more of  your readers.

UB does not "belong to Buffalo". UB is an institution birthed by Buffalo which then made the decision to share itself with the state. It takes a special kind of small mindedness to think being a state school takes UB away from the Buffalo community.

But I am not having that fight right now. If The Spectrum wants to sell the idea that "New York State University" is a slap in the face to the people of Buffalo I'm content to sit back and watch. Eventually people will see that the tiny provincial mindset which claims that Buffalo's best hope for success is an "us against them" posture when what is needed at UB, and in the region is a bigger picture view.

You can love and take pride in Buffalo without fearing and hating the rest of the state.

And finally, checking back in on how this unnamed editorial writer paints Danny White: The following words are used in the piece to describe White or his actions; hubristic, young, foolish, young, idealistic, reprehensible, young, brash, and arrogant.

Now, I am no Danny White Stan, and I don't hand out gold stars for every little thing, but I think you, unnamed editorial writer, could have gotten your point across without creating a Homeric epithet for Danny White that you use at literally every opportunity. Achilles is ALWAYS "swift-footed" Achilles. White is not always, and in fact rarely, "young, brash" Danny White. In fact, I really question if the author has ever had a conversation with the man, because I think it would be harder to write all of that if he had.

The team lost. Teams lose. This team was a good team that improved significantly over last year. To expect nothing but a MAC Championship - with any coach - was and remains foolish.