I was having lunch yesterday with a work buddy who went to Cal Poly.
We were watching the first half of the Oregon/BYU first-rounder and enjoying tri-tip wraps. We’re eat wraps now, because we’re older.
He was transfixed — and not just because Oregon’s uniforms are colored the same as the pages of a used textbook, or because they’re now called the Fighting Ducks and “when did that happen?”
He was amazed by my ambivalence as an Oregon alum.
As I was digging through our shared basket of mini mozzarella sticks (so much for eschewing meaningless carbs completely) he asked me, “What’s it like?”
“What’s what like?”
“You know, getting to root for a school pretty much all the time, whether it’s football or basketball. Oregon is always part of the post-season conversation — like a professional team.”
I took a sip of Diet Sprite, because, you know, calories — and considered this for a moment. He and his buddies had been nervously texting steady for about the last 16 hours, or approximately once for every time #Callero showed up on Twitter since the 14-19 Cal Poly Mustangs played their way into the field of 64 for the first time in the school’s 113-year history by taking down Texas Southern.
One of his buddies pointed out that’s exactly 59,432,237 minutes the school existed without getting a taste of dancing in the national spotlight, which is a very long time to wait, even for Cal Poly nerds.
“Almost 60 million minutes to trade for 40,” he said. “It’s worth it.”
And I told him, that was the difference.
His was alma mater’s tournament berth is a once-in-a-lifetime event and should be treated as such.
University of Oregon meantime has become the Beaver state’s professional franchise of choice.
Apologies to Rip City faithful and Hipster Timbers fans, but look at the revenue totals: Oregon athletics made about $93 million in 2013 and is predicted to top the $100 million mark this year.
Paul Allen’s wildly popular Blazers (the fourth-highest attendance rate in the NBA) took in about a third of that at their turnstiles last year and the Timbers netted about a third of that in total revenue, not taking into account in-game PBR or Olympia tall boy sales, of course.
In this, the answer I usually give is when I went to Oregon, it was a school.
Now it’s a brand.
I prefer to cheer for a school.
The frugal I-AA Mustangs recently cut media guide production out of its athletics budget to save $25,000 annually or approximately $1.30 per student.
The school’s overall annual budget for endeavors on the turf or hard court is about $12 million, or along with your Cal Poly degree in Wine & Viticulture, about a three-quarters share in this nearby winery.
Along with being patient, Cal Poly students, like the institution, aren’t spendthrifts …without making too big a deal about it.
My buddy switched to a to-go cup so he could take his Arnold Palmer refill back to the office to undertake the afternoon task of finding an offshore sports book that would take the first-round Shocker/Mustang matchup wager at +16.5 — as close to a sure thing as you can give any number-cuddling Cal Poly alum: “Average 1/16 seed margins of victory in the 30 years since the current tournament format was created is 8.72 points and the odds of covering go up exponentially from there. In simple terms, that doesn’t even take into consideration Wichita, which numerically is 17 games past losing this season going from a possibility to probability.”
…If you don’t like these type of conversations with alumnus, move to Tempe or Gainsville.
He also assured there was more to life as a Mustang than profiting off his sub-.500 school’s hoop’s team’s good fortune.
Things like getting an actual skill with your degree. Like how to clone vines or addressing drainage issues that arise from building an office complex next to a riparian zone or how to code a web site …as a graphic design major. This is what his diploma represents. Not a Nike Swoosh. Not NCAA investigations with no sanctions. Not Friday-night mugshots and Saturday morning selfies with Corso in the backdrop.
Becoming part of any post-season conversation after more than a century of being known as a school whose students are really good at glue-gunning rose petals to chicken wire for parades on days when the national spotlight turns to collegiate athletics — was just simply a matter of staying faithful in a linear time invariant (something something something. I don’t know. Again, I went to Oregon).
Or, in layman’s terms:
“I will always love my school, but today I know what it’s like to be a college basketball fan for the first time,” my buddy said. “And it feels pretty good.”