A small tidbit of UB Men's Basketball's 2015-16 schedule was released yesterday with the news that the Bulls will partake in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament. As part of the mid-November schedule, hosted by the MAAC, UB will play Old Dominion, Saint Joseph's, and North Carolina A&T, with a fourth game guaranteed against either Vermont or Niagara.
The first two games are apparently just guaranteed nonconference games UB got for being in the tournament, while UB's tournament participation itself and bragging rights are limited to the game against NC A&T and the next matchup against the Catamounts or Niagara.
That possible game against Niagara intrigues me. Though the MAAC hosts the tournament, the Purple Eagles are the only team from the conference in the field. Of course, UB and Niagara have played every year for at least the last 22 seasons, and over 50 times before that.
If UB's traditional schedule practices hold, the Bulls and the Niagara could see each other twice next season. I don't want that. Strenuously I do not want that.
On the other hand, perhaps the folks determining the schedule adjust for the possibility of playing Niagara at Mohegan Sun and don't schedule a fixed date with them. In that scenario, as long as NU and Buffalo don't get the same result in their games against Vermont and NC A&T, respectively, they perhaps won't face each other at all next season.
Honestly? I wouldn't mind that.
Thinking about this over the last day, I realized I wouldn't really care if we missed Niagara for a season or two. I wouldn't care if we didn't play Canisius for a season or two. I don't ever want to see St. Bonaventure again. In any sport, ever.
There was a time when Niagara and Canisius matchups brought some of the biggest crowds of the season to Alumni. That's not at all the case anymore, and whether those crowds would return with successful basketball teams in Lewiston or on Main Street or not, I believe the benefit of those games has passed.
I'm of a different group of fans than lifelong, multigenerational Buffalonians, and though I know and appreciate the history in Western New York basketball, I appreciate more the growth of UB's team. I've been following UB basketball for 11 seasons now -- not a long time in the grand scheme of things, but 45% of my life -- and on the whole, Buffalo is leaps and bounds ahead of the WNY MAAC schools.
UB doesn't beat them every single year, but has more money, more publicity, and a greater market share. Across all sports, Buffalo has dominated local rivals this year. Back to basketball, every UB men's game this season had more people than can fit into the Koessler Athletic Center, and only one would not have been a sellout at the Gallagher Center.
It's nice to get those bragging rights from regular wins, but you don't need to beat a team every year to maintain the perception that you're superior. Look at Syracuse. And from my perspective, the Athletics Department's stated goals of "Big Time College Athletics" are belied by yearly games against small-time schools with tiny gyms right in our backyard. I wouldn't miss them. At least Robert Morris and Drexel increases our regional presence.
Somebody is going to respond to this and say; "Scheduling is a two-way street. You can't just get whoever you want." I know this, and if you bring it up, I will call you a schmuck for not reading before commenting. Ticks me off when people do that. Here's your rebuttal, which maybe I'll add verbatim when I call you a schmuck:
I know that's the case, but it's also one of the few, very broad, things I do know about scheduling. Perhaps it's 100% impossible for UB to build a schedule that doesn't include these games. Perhaps they're a necessary contingency to ensure full schedules in all the other, smaller-budget sports. That doesn't mean that contests every year against the same three schools are bringing any other benefit. That goes for Binghamton, Cornell, and any other ideas about regular rivalry games against Stony Brook or Albany, too.
I've brought up this point in discussions of other issues, but my time outside of Western New York has shown me just how far UB has to go. People in Boston, LA, and DC haven't heard of "SUNY," so they assume it's a term that demarcates a lower tier of the New York State system. Even if they have, they assume that. For the most part, they haven't heard or know much at all about Canisius and Niagara, and they care more to hear that UB's played South Dakota State. I'm not making that up.
For all the debate over the importance of the word "Buffalo" and regional pride, locals don't seem to care too much about these games either. The home game against Niagara this year was a Friday night matchup that only brought in 300 more people than the Drexel game the previous Tuesday. I don't think I've ever interacted with a Niagara or Canisius fan from the Bull Run account on Twitter. Seriously; Drexel fans have more interest than they. At least Bonaventure has antagonists.
I know this gets testy from here, but my point is only to say: What's the value in playing Niagara and Canisius every year? I'm not sure I can find any anymore.
If we miss the Purple Eagles this season, I won't mind a bit. If we play them twice, I'll consider it a waste.