Written for your enjoyment by: Ray Curren
HAMDEN, Conn. - I have no real ties to Quinnipiac University, other than pure geography. They let us use their baseball fields, which was nice. I went to a basketball camp there once. Also nice.
But back in my youth, it was Quinnipiac College, a small Division II school that had no athletic aspirations, other than to beat Southern Connecticut State every once in a while in field hockey.
Of course, that all changed in 1998 when the Quinnipiac brass decided to go Division I. What? Division I? Quinnipiac? Little did we know that there was a huge marketing push complete with gobs of money (official term) coming from somewhere to make it big-time, even though I still needed directions to find it after living here for 20 years.
Then they announced plans for a $54 million arena (actually two arenas), and - like magic - it appeared, opening in 2007, replacing venerable old Kahn Court - which is smaller than my high school gym. This new arena will never be mistaken for a high school gym, and the adjoining hockey arena is even nicer.
How did they pay for it? I have no idea, but I'm guessing they're banking on rich mommies and daddies of incoming students from the area. All I know it looks nice.
About the same time, they opened the arena, they jettisoned nice guy (but recruiting-challenged) Joe Desantis and hired UConn assistant Tom Moore to bring their program "to the next level."
Fast forward to tonight, where I trucked up the hill to the beautiful TD North Center an hour before gametime to see traffic? Scalpers? As we walked in, they gave us yellow T-shirts to wear, and I was caught up in QU fever (Quinnipiac is too good to be a college anymore, remember).
Honestly, the atmosphere was tremendous, about 4,000 - or as many as they could fit without the fire marshal looking the other way for the NEC final against Robert Morris. This was to be the coronation, the ticket to the "big-time", the NCAA Tournament. Only the Colonials spoiled the party. In truth, the Bobcats (too good to be called the Braves now, remember) did little offensively, and star Justin Rutty got caught in the big moment and just wasn't visible enough in the second half. QU shot terribly, put up only 50 points, and had to watch Robert Morris celebrate on their home court.
It's a crushing blow for now for Quinnipiac, but there are only two institutions in Connecticut gobbling up more land than them and they are Yale and the local Native American casino. The garage (garage?) I parked in tonight was still under construction, and rumors swirl that QU could be ready to join a new conference like the MAAC (bring on Rider, baby). The people that run Quinnipiac athletics now we here in the New Haven area are quite starved for athletic entertainment (the mayor, while doing well, decries spending any money on a stadium for minor league baseball and knocked down the local hockey arena), and there may be a market for a team moving up the ladder like Quinnipiac.
Maybe. But as I take off my t-shirt I can feel my QU fever cool a little. Traditionally, I have supported long-struggling Yale in this area (playing in ancient, Gothic Payne Whitney Gym, built in 1932 where I went to see them get blown out Saturday by tournament-bound Cornell), but this time next year I may catch the fever again.
Of course, right about now, it's Syracuse fever, and hopefully that one will last at least a few more weeks.
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