The Casual Fan's Guide to 7 Tournament-Bound Schools

The Morehead State Eagles and Alabama State Hornets battle for a rebound.
The Morehead State Eagles and Alabama State Hornets battle for a rebound.
Jamie Sabau, Getty Images

Every year, the NCAA men's basketball tournament field features at least a handful of teams that leaves casual fans puzzled as they start to fill out their brackets. The question usually isn't how far one of these teams will advance, but rather, "Where the heck is that?" This year is no exception. Here's a primer "“ only part of which is basketball-related "“ on seven of the lesser-known schools in the field.

1. Morehead State

Location: Morehead, Kentucky

How They Got Here: Freshman Steve Peterson made a baseline jumper in the second overtime of the Ohio Valley Conference tournament championship "“ his first points of the game "“ to lift the Eagles to a win over Austin Peay. Morehead State plays Alabama State in today's Opening Round game; the winner moves on to play top-seeded Louisville.

Tournament History: Morehead State is making its sixth appearance in the NCAA tournament and its first since 1984. Coincidentally, the Eagles defeated North Carolina A&T in a preliminary round game that year before losing to Louisville, 72-59.

Notable: Morehead State's players and coaches were recognized by both houses of the Kentucky General Assembly last week. Seven MSU alumni serve in the Kentucky House, including Rep. Rocky Adkins, the majority floor leader. Adkins was the starting point guard on the 1982-83 Eagles squad that won the OVC championship.

Famous Alum: Former New York Giants quarterback and current broadcaster Phil Simms, legendary game show host Chuck Woolery, and country singer Billy Ray Cyrus all attended Morehead State, as did one of the most recognizable voices on the radio today. Steve Inskeep, host of NPR's Morning Edition, worked as a radio sportscaster while attending MSU. He graduated in 1990.

Reason to Cheer: You'll be in good company. The Eagles' coed cheerleading team has won 19 national titles, including eight in a row.

2. Binghamton

Location: Binghamton, New York

binghamtom.jpgHow They Got Here: The top-seeded Bearcats won 11 straight games to end the season, defeating defending champion UMBC to win the America East Conference tournament.

Tournament History: Binghamton, which joined the Division I ranks eight years ago, is making its first appearance in the NCAA tournament. The No. 15 seed Bearcats play No. 2 seed Duke on Thursday.

Notable: In a recent New York Times article, Pete Thamel wonders whether Binghamton's first trip to the NCAA tournament has come at a cost. Thamel calls head coach Kevin Broadus' recruiting of certain players into question and cites a litany of arrests and suspensions that have plagued the coach's tenure. On a lighter note, Binghamton boasts a 182-acre on-campus Nature Preserve, which includes 20 acres of wetlands.

Famous Alum: Former Washington Post columnist and current PTI co-host Tony Kornheiser graduated from what was then called Harpur College in 1970. Kornheiser, who also provides color-commentary for Monday Night Football, sported a Bearcats jersey during an episode of PTI last week.

Reason to Cheer: Everyone loves a Cinderella story and D.J. Rivera could wear the glass slipper well. Rivera led the America East in scoring but didn't receive a single vote for Player of the Year because the conference's coaches dislike Broadus. He'll have to play the game of his life if the Bearcats have any chance of getting past Duke.

3. Siena

Location: Loudonville, New York

siena.jpgHow They Got Here: Siena won 26 games and the automatic bid from the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, defeating Niagara in the championship game of the MAAC tournament. The No. 9 seed Saints play No. 8 seed Ohio State on Thursday.

Tournament History: If Siena sounds familiar, it's because the Saints pulled off one of the bigger upsets in last year's first round when they downed No. 4 seed Vanderbilt. Siena is making its fifth NCAA tournament appearance.

Notable: Siena, which is located two miles north of Albany, was founded by seven Franciscan friars in 1937.

Famous Alum: Ron Vawter, a founding member of the theater ensemble The Wooster Group. Vawter, who appeared in Silence of the Lambs and Philadelphia, died of a heart attack in 1994.

Reason to Cheer: Traditionally, the Siena men's basketball program has produced legitimate student-athletes. Eighty-six percent of Siena men's basketball players who entered the school between 1998 and 2001 earned their degrees in six years or less, according to the NCAA's latest Graduation Success Rate report. The national average is 62 percent.

4. Robert Morris

Location: Moon Township, Pennsylvania

robert-morris.jpgHow They Got Here: Robert Morris defeated Mount St. Mary's to win the automatic bid from the Northeast Conference. The No. 15 seed Colonials play No. 2 seed Michigan State in a first round game on Friday.

Tournament History: Robert Morris is making its sixth NCAA tournament appearance and its first since 1992.

Notable: Named after the self-made millionaire and signer of the Declaration of Independence who helped finance the American side during the Revolutionary War, RMU was originally founded in 1921 as the Pittsburgh School of Accountancy. The school became Robert Morris College in 1969 and Robert Morris University in 2002.

Famous Alum: It's been a pretty good year for Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert. One month after watching the football team he helped build win its second Super Bowl in the last four years, Colbert gets to watch his alma mater in the NCAA tournament.

Reason to Cheer: Robert Morris head coach Mike Rice. If his comments on the school's Web site after the brackets were unveiled are any indication, Rice could deliver a pregame speech for the ages Friday. "We'll try to focus the lads and put bravery in their hearts and purpose in their minds and go," he said.

5. Radford

Location: Radford, Virginia

radford.jpgHow They Got Here: Radford outlasted VMI, 108-94, in the Big South Conference tournament championship to win the league's automatic bid. The No. 16 seed Highlanders play No. 1 seed UNC on Thursday.

Tournament History: Radford is making its second NCAA tournament appearance. As a No. 16 seed in 1998, the Highlanders lost to Duke, 99-63, in the first round.

Notable: Radford was founded in 1910 as the State Normal and Industrial School for Women. Men were first admitted to the school in 1972. Penelope Kyle, who was named the school's first female president in 2005, launched the "7-17 Strategic Plan" in 2007. The plan outlines the school's 10-year effort to make Radford one of the top 50 master's universities in the U.S.

Famous Alum: Actress Jayma Mays, who starred alongside Kevin James in Paul Blart: Mall Cop.

Reason to Cheer: The Highlanders' center, 6-foot-11, 260-pound Artsiom Parakhouski (art-SEE-um pair-uh-COW-ski), is almost as fun to watch as his name is to say. The Belarusian, who was the Big South Conference Player of the Year, averages a double-double.

6. Morgan State

Location: Baltimore, Maryland

morgan-st.jpgHow They Got Here: Morgan State routed Norfolk State, 83-69, in the championship game of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament to capture the league's automatic bid. The No. 15 seed Bears play No. 2 seed Oklahoma on Thursday.

Tournament History: Morgan State is making its first NCAA tournament appearance.

Notable: The Morgan State University choir, which was led by renowned teacher Dr. Nathan Carter for 34 years until his death in 2004, is one of the most prestigious collegiate choral ensembles in the nation. The choir performed at the White House, at an outdoor Mass celebrated by Pope John Paul II, and took a trip Russia during Carter's tenure at MSU. Last year, the group performed twice at Carnegie Hall.

Famous Alum: William C. Rhoden, who worked as an associate editor at Ebony after graduating from Morgan State, has provided sports commentary as a columnist for The New York Times since 1983.

Reason to Cheer: Jermaine "Itchy" Bolden, the Bears' 5-foot-9 senior point guard, who earned the nickname from his mother because he was fidgety as a baby.

7. Stephen F. Austin

Location: Nacogdoches, Texas

sfa.jpgHow They Got Here: Stephen F. Austin defeated UT-San Antonio in the Southland Conference tournament championship to win the league's automatic bid. The No. 14 seed Lumberjacks will play No. 3 seed Syracuse on Friday.

Tournament History: Stephen F. Austin is making its first NCAA tournament appearance.

Notable: Stephen F. Austin was founded in 1923 as a teacher's college and is named after Stephen Fuller Austin, one of Texas' founding fathers.

Famous Alum: Though he didn't graduate, singer/songwriter Don Henley studied English and philosophy as a student at SFA.

Reason to Cheer: Stephen F. Austin has a cool nickname and an even cooler rally cry: Axe 'em Jacks!

Who Was Heisman and Why Does He Have a Trophy?

Lonnie Major, ALLSPORT
Lonnie Major, ALLSPORT

Before anyone brings home the hardware, let's answer a few questions about John Heisman and his famous award.

Who Exactly Was John Heisman?

His name is mostly associated with the trophy now, but Heisman was a player, coach, and hugely successful innovator in the early days of football. After playing for Brown and then Penn as a collegian from 1887 to 1891, Heisman became a coach at a series of schools that included Oberlin, Buchtel, Auburn, Clemson, Penn, Washington & Jefferson, Rice, and, most notably, Georgia Tech.

For What Football Innovations Does Heisman Get Credit?

Just some little trivial stuff like snapping the ball. Centers originally placed the ball on the ground and rolled it back to their quarterbacks, who would scoop it up and make plays. When Heisman was coaching at Buchtel (which later became the University of Akron), though, he had a 6’4” QB named Harry Clark. Clark was so tall that picking the ball up off the ground was wildly inefficient, so Heisman invented the center snap as an easy way to get the ball in Clark’s hands. Heisman also innovated the use of pulling guards for running plays and the infamous hidden-ball trick.

Any Other Shenanigans on Heisman's Resume?

You bet. When Heisman found a way to gain an edge, he jumped on it no matter how ridiculous it seemed. When Heisman was coaching at Clemson in 1902, his team traveled to Atlanta for a game against Georgia Tech. Although Heisman was known for being a rather gruff disciplinarian, the Clemson team immediately started partying upon their arrival.

When Georgia Tech’s players and fans heard that the entire Clemson squad had spent the night before the game carousing, they prepared to coast to an easy win. When the game started, though, Clemson roared out of the gate en route to a 44-5 stomping.

How did Clemson crush Tech when by all rights they should have been ridiculously hungover? The “team” that everyone had seen partying the night before wasn't really Heisman's Clemson squad at all. He had sent his junior varsity players to Atlanta the night before to serve as drunken decoys, then quietly slipped his varsity team in on a morning train right before the game.

What Kind of Coach Was He?

Heisman worked as an actor in community stock theater during the summer—he consistently received rotten reviews—and allegedly spoke in a brusque, yet bizarrely ostentatious manner. Georgia Tech’s website relates a story of one of Heisman’s speeches he would break out on the first day of practice while describing a football: "What is this? It is a prolate spheroid, an elongated sphere—in which the outer leather casing is drawn tightly over a somewhat smaller rubber tubing. Better to have died as a small boy than to fumble this football."

How Did His Name Get on the Trophy?

After leaving his head-coaching job at Rice in 1927, Heisman became the athletic director at New York’s Downtown Athletic Club. In 1935 the club began awarding the Downtown Athletic Club Trophy to the nation’s top college football star. (Chicago's Jay Berwanger won the first trophy.) Heisman died of pneumonia the following fall before the second trophy could be awarded, and the club voted to rename the prize the Heisman Memorial Trophy Award.

Did He Ever Really Throw that Iconic Stiff Arm?

Possibly, but Heisman didn't have the ball in his hands all that much. Even though he was a fairly small guy at just 5’8” and 158 pounds, he played as a lineman throughout his college career.

The famous “Heisman pose” is actually based on Ed Smith, a former NYU running back who modeled for the trophy’s sculptor in 1934. Interestingly, Smith went years without knowing that he’d modeled for the famous trophy. His sculptor buddy Frank Eliscu had just needed a football player to model for a project, and Smith volunteered.

Smith figured Eliscu was just doing some little personal sculpture and remained totally oblivious to his spot in football history for the next 48 years until a documentary filmmaker called Smith to interview him about the Heisman in 1982. Smith initially had no idea what the guy was talking about, but he eventually remembered his modeling days. In 1985, the Downtown Athletic Club gave Smith his own copy of the Heisman, and in 1986 he even received recognition on the televised ceremony. He looked at the four finalists—Vinny Testaverde won that year—and quipped, "Whoever wins the award, I feel sorry for you, because you're going to be looking at my ugly face for a long time."

What's a Heisman Trophy Worth on the Open Market?

Quite a bit. A number of Heisman winners have eventually sold their hardware, and the trophies fetch quite a bit of loot. O.J. Simpson got $230,000 for his, and several others have gone for six-figure prices. The most expensive trophy that’s changed hands was Minnesota back Bruce Smith’s 1941 award; it fetched $395,240.

How Did Steve Spurrier Change the Process?

Steve Spurrier playing quarterback in 1966, the year he won the Heisman Trophy.
Steve Spurrier playing quarterback for the University of Florida in 1966, the year he won the Heisman Trophy.
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

SEC fans are going to be floored by this one, but the Ol' Ball Coach did something really classy when he won the Heisman in 1966. Instead of taking the trophy for himself, Spurrier gave it to the University of Florida so the school could display it and let the student body enjoy it. Florida's student government thought Spurrier's generosity was so classy that they paid for a replica for Spurrier so he'd get to have his own trophy, too. Since then both the school and the player have received copies of the trophy.

So Heisman Must Have Been the World's Greatest Sportsman, Right?

Well, not really. Heisman was on the victorious side of possibly the most gratuitously run-up score in sports history. In 1916 tiny Cumberland College canceled its football program and disbanded its squad, but it had previously signed a contract to travel to Atlanta to play Heisman's Georgia Tech team. If Cumberland didn't show up, they had to pay Georgia Tech a $3000 penalty, which was quite a bit of cash in 1916.

Rather than forfeiting the money, Cumberland scraped together a team of 16 scrubs and went to take their walloping from Heisman’s boys. For reasons that still aren't totally clear—some say it was to avenge an earlier baseball loss to Cumberland, while others claim Heisman wanted to make a statement about the absurdity of the old system of using total points scored to determine the national champion—the legendary coach showed Cumberland’s ragtag band no mercy. Tech went up 63-0 in the first quarter, but Heisman kept attacking until the final score was 222-0. There are tons of hilarious stats from the game, but the funniest is Georgia Tech rushing for 1620 yards while Cumberland only squeaked out negative-96 yards on 27 carries.

This article originally appeared in 2010.

Attention Football Fans: The Buffalo Bills Are Paying People $12 an Hour to Clear the Stadium of Snow

Rick Stewart/Getty Images
Rick Stewart/Getty Images

The Buffalo Bills are asking fans to prove just how dedicated they are following a snowstorm in western New York this week. As Buffalo News reports, New Era Field is hiring snow shovelers to clear out the stands and the field in time for Sunday's game—and it's offering free tickets as an incentive.

This Friday, workers will be paid $12 an hour to remove snow from the stadium—a $1 pay increase from last season. Shovelers who complete at least a four-hour shift will receive a free ticket to the game against the New York Jets on Sunday, December 9. They're encouraged to bring their own shovel, but tools will be provided to whomever shows up without one.

According to Weather.com, Buffalo has the worst weather of any NFL city, with intense cold, wind, and snowfall throughout the season. In November 2014, a storm buried Buffalo under nearly 7 feet of snow, with 220,000 tons of it ending up in New Era Field. Locals were also called upon to lend a hand and a shovel that time around, but as no one could leave their homes, the game had to be relocated. The Bills ended up beating the Jets 38-3 in the Detroit Lions’s indoor arena.

With a few home games still scheduled for this season, it's possible that local snow shovel owners may be asked to help out again if they miss this opportunity.

[h/t Buffalo News]

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