We feel the need to apologize in advance for this, our second post on Fordham basketball in the span of three days. Particularly since this year’s team is so lousy — last night’s 84–56 pounding at Richmond dropped them to 2–22 overall, and 0–12 in the Atlantic 10 — we’re aware we’ve likely exceeded your interest in Fordham’s team at this point. No hard feelings if you stop reading right now. Honest. But the athletic department made an announcement yesterday, and we don’t quite know what to make of it.
First, a little background: Seven years ago, the university fired head coach Bob Hill after a 2–26 season, replacing him with Wagner coach Dereck Whittenburg. Whittenburg’s tenure peaked with an 18–12 campaign in 2007, before heading back downhill to 3–25 last year. After a 1–4 start this year, the school fired Whittenburg, hiring 29-year-old assistant Jared Grasso as the interim coach. They’ve won just one game since. They haven’t made the NCAA tournament since winning the Patriot League in 1992, and haven’t sniffed the postseason since joining the Atlantic 10 in 1995. All of which is a long-winded way of saying: This program is a mess. You are now up to speed.
Anyway, yesterday the university announced that its board of trustees has “unanimously approved significant increases” in men’s basketball spending that will elevate its budget from the bottom third in the Atlantic 10 to the top third. On the surface, this should be great news for us alums (and for the twelve of you out there who follow the Rams even though you didn’t go there). It’s a “commitment” to the program — that’s the university president speaking there — and it’s apparently not just empty words: Money will be actually be spent on this so-called commitment.
Much of this money, we assume, will be spent on a new coach. (The Post hilariously mentions Bob Knight as a long-shot candidate.) Maybe some will go toward recruiting, or upgrades to existing facilities. (If a state-of-the-art arena was imminent, we suspect they’d have mentioned that.) But unfortunately, you can’t just buy a new team of players. (Well, you probably can, but there’s a thing in the school’s statement about integrity.) What needs to change is the entire atmosphere of the program, not just in terms of wins and losses, but in terms of relevance. Buying relevance isn’t so easy. (Even Bob Knight would still be coaching in an outdated arena for a school with absolutely no track record of consistent winning. We’re not sure that’s a desirable situation for a high-school kid.) And since athletic director Frank McLaughlin is the same guy who oversaw their last attempt at buying relevance in the form of Bob Hill, forgive us if we’re skeptical this time, too.