McGuire on Media

Davidson was a thrilling underdog

On the Tuesday night before the regional finals in the NCAA basketball tournament an ESPN radio talker named Jason Smith told his audience, with every indication he was dead serious, that upsets were bad for the NCAA tournament. His theory was that ratings go down when the big teams don’t play. Horsefeathers and other strong expressions of dismay!

The most exciting thing in the NCAA tournament, all sports, and even life, is the legitimate Cinderella. The school or team which has a chance to upset everybody’s bracket and expectations delights most of us.  Davidson College served that role with brilliance over the last two weeks, and if it weren’t for a couple of bounces they would be celebrating their first Final Four appearance right now.  Their two-point loss to Kansas would have galvanized America. The country would have quickly learned that Davidson is an exciting, amazing college worthy of any accolades tossed its way.

My lack of objectivity on the matter is evidenced by the fact I did not take my Davidson cap off at any time Friday in anticipation of the game against Wisconsin, a game the Davidson team won handily. In the fall of 2003 I  was the James Batten professor at Davidson. It was a wonderful experience I will never forget.

Practically all the stories about the Davidson basketball team included a mention of the free laundry services at the school, but that does a tremendous disservice to the school and what the school really stands for in this cynical age.

I wrote this in my syndicated column in December of 2003. a few years ago:

“Rory Huntly rode his bike past me with a big smile and a friendly “Hi’ on a sunny September day on the Davidson College campus in North Carolina. I watched with amusement as Rory hopped off his bike and leaned it against the wall of the college union and walked inside for lunch. No lock, no fears, no theft.

Davidson College has an honor code, and it works. On the last night of freshman orientation all members of the class meet with the Honor council to discuss the code and its responsibilities. Then students convene in the college theater to sign the code in front of their classmates. It is a big deal and a big commitment.”

I remain enthralled by  the impact the honor code had on the campus, students and faculty. The pledge to live by the code radically changes the culture. I saw countless examples of how the honor code positively affected the campus. As I wrote in that 2003 column: “Young people were proud of doing the right thing. Students worried about whether the mildest form of consultation was approved conduct. Their conscience was honed to a fine edge. It was exciting for a stranger to see how much the honor code shaped student behavior. To my visiting eye, integrity practically oozed out of the place. “

As The Wildcats ran their disciplined offensive sets with complicated screens, and when they bottled up Wisconsin and Kansas with their well-schooled defense, I saluted Davidson’s talented coach Bob McKillop. I also knew the culture of Davidson College contributed to the team’s success in a very big way. McKillop does things the right way, and so does Davidson the school.

I am saddened that the country isn’t going to learn more about this precious school from the town of Davidson N.C. A Final Four trip by Cinderella would have convinced everyone that upsets and underdogs are the soul of sports at the same time it focused on one of the best institutions of higher learning in America.