The Collegian
Thursday, December 08, 2022

Students: From pong to basketball

Alright, so let's clear things up here: I'm no longer an employee of The Collegian. I loved my time on staff, but during my last four weeks of college, I'm excited to be able to spill my opinions and reflections without having any of the constraints of a Collegian staffer or editor. As such, I will be brutally honest, occasionally self-serving and probably controversial in my columns during the next few weeks, so I hope you read, relate to and respond to them.

Now that that's taken care of, I'd like to take this opportunity to admit that one of my past opinions, the first I ever wrote for The Collegian, missed the mark. Back in February of 2009, I took to the back page after a Richmond Times-Dispatch article criticized student attendance at home basketball games.

My column, boldly titled "Give me a good reason to come see this team," defended Richmond students and placed the blame for lack of attendance almost squarely on the shoulders of head coach Chris Mooney. Two years later, Mooney brought his team to the Sweet 16. Let's just say I'm glad Director of Athletics Jim Miller didn't jump to conclusions as quickly as I did.

Before I wrote that column, Mooney and the Spiders were 22-21 during my two years at Richmond. Hardly impressive and surely disappointing even to Mooney and his young team, but not exactly fire-me-now material. But since Feb. 5, 2009, Richmond has gone 60-23, reached two NCAA tournaments, one Sweet Sixteen and captured the school's first Atlantic 10 tournament title.

In the process, Mooney and the Spiders have reinvigorated a passion for Spider basketball. On Sunday, when Mooney signed a contract extension through the 2020-21 season, Richmond not only showed its dedication to its coach, but more importantly, he showed his dedication to us.

The financial terms of Mooney's contract will not be released, but one thing is for sure: he took less money in the short term to stay with the Spiders. Georgia Tech was knocking at his door. Other BCS programs would have surely followed. But Mooney had no interest in leaving. That takes a special type of coach. Richmond fans have always felt that our program deserved to be more than just a stepping stone to greener pastures, and now Mooney has shown that he agrees.

Though behind-the-scenes during March Madness, Miller and President Edward Ayers also need to be praised for retaining Mooney. The positive publicity associated with an NCAA tournament team, not only surrounding our team's play, but also its graduation rate, cannot be underrated.

By making a long-term commitment to Mooney, Ayers and Miller are also making a commitment to renewing that publicity year after year, and improving Richmond's national standing and competitiveness in the process (the fact that "economic hardships" caused other Richmond program cuts but has allowed Mooney to be extended three years in a row does seem a bit suspicious, but in this case, I think Richmond made a sound investment, regardless of what Mooney is actually making per year).

Looking back, I did get one thing right with my initial column when I wrote: "We want to embrace this team, we just don't have a good reason to right now. In the end, sports are entertainment, and until Mooney and his team develop an identity or make some kind of mark on this campus, students will still prefer beer pong and Boatwright to basketball."

Clearly I should have had more patience, but Mooney and his team have made their mark and developed their identity as a team that no one wants to play against and everyone wants to play on. Now that Mooney is here to stay, that identity can only grow stronger and I look forward to watching Spider basketball for years to come knowing that it is in classy, capable and loyal hands.

So, congratulations to Coach Mooney and his family on this much-deserved extension. And congratulations to all of my fellow Spider fans. We've had a lot of big wins this year, and this one ranks near the top.

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