Give Washington basketball its bragging rights back

BB&T Classic (15 of 82)I smell fresh blood.

For the first time in a long time — perhaps ever — the Washington region’s men’s basketball scene is full of new faces. And we’re not just talking about the freshmen. George Washington head coach Karl Hobbs is out. In is Vermont’s Mike Lonergan, a native of Bowie and former assistant at the University of Maryland. The revered Gary Williams is finally retiring after more than two decades as Maryland’s head coach — replacing him is Texas A&M’s Mike Turgeon.

And not to mention Debbie Yow’s exit from her post as Maryland athletic director; replaced last fall by Kevin Anderson, the first African-American to hold the position at Maryland. Her GW counterpart, Jack Kvancz, retired in February and America East Conference Commissioner Patrick Nero took his place last month.

With a plethora of newbies coming into the 2011 basketball season (Anderson’s still new enough), it’s time for longtime basketball fans in the regions to reclaim an event that once actually meant something around here: the BB&T Tournament.

Today the “tournament” features George Washington and Maryland as the two staples with four other teams invited to join in the “competition.” Schmucks who buy tickets (OK, it’s still for a good cause...but we all know that’s not really why most people buy sports tickets) get to watch three basketball games in a row. On a Sunday. Then they go home. Yay.

Long ago in a galaxy far, far away, there used to be a two-day event under the same name as this BB&T thing. GW and Maryland were there and so were schools like University of Connecticut, Gonzaga or University of Michigan. There was a bracket and the two winning teams from the first day of games would play each other in a championship game. The losing teams would even play in a consolation, third place game.

Miriam Webster’s Dictionary defines tournament as, “a series of games or contests that make up a single unit of competition (as on a professional golf tour), the championship play-offs of a league or conference, or an invitational event.” Funny ... that's what I remember the BB&T Tournament used to be.

One of my favorite BB&T memories was from my sophomore year of college when my alma mater GW beat Maryland in a hard-fought final game. It was the only time I got to see them win in person as they’d lost in the championship game the year before and would lose to Maryland again in 2000. But unless there was an NCAA tournament twist of fate, back then the BB&T Tournament was the only chance schools here (and there are a lot of them) would have a real chance to claim bragging rights for the region.

George Washington won again in 2004, beating Maryland in what was definitely a one-sided rivalry but a rivalry nonetheless. Sure Maryland, in its ACC powerhouse conference, has bigger fish to fry with Duke and North Carolina but you’d still never guess it during those championship games. Even so, that was the last year of the tournament.

At least it was in my mind. Please — don’t insult me with cramming three games together and calling it a tournament. You can’t fool me into thinking any of these games really matter except as a small mark on a season that is 20-plus games long.

As usual, the opportunity to make more money in college sports won out and beginning in 2005, the BB&T has included more teams who can theoretically bring more fans to the Verizon Center on a Sunday afternoon. (Why they insist on stacking this event up against Sunday football is beyond me...other than the fact that the alternative is competing with college football.)

But with new blood in Washington college sports, now is the time to plead for reason before it’s too late. Any sports business expert will tell you that nothing sells tickets like the opportunity to win. So if that’s what the BB&T were really about again, you wouldn’t need to worry about inviting more schools to fill seats. Maybe the old BB&T didn’t work because the bragging rights weren’t pronounced enough. I’d venture a guess that Georgetown’s inconceivably selfish refusal to participate in the tournament hurt the whole “Washington bragging rights” thing, as well as hurt the cachet the tournament could have had.

Well if Georgetown wants to play in the Verizon Center, they can grow up and commit to play every other year in the revived BB&T. The university needs the arena more than the arena needs it. Besides, after losing to a double-digit seed two years a row in the NCAA Tournament, let’s face it guys — you ain’t all that.

Next, bragging rights mean nothing without a trophy. Get one. This one’s a no brainer as organizers could easily hold a contest open to college students in the region to design the new tournament trophy. Student gets a nice resume booster and tournament gets a design for free.

Last, keep Maryland and GW as the host schools and rotate two other area universities as the guest teams for the tournament. Expand the tournament back to a two-day affair. Georgetown would be a key visiting school but George Mason University, Catholic University, Towson University, Navy, American University and Howard University would also be visitors to draw local crowds.

I’ll be honest — I don’t bother going to the tournament as it stands anymore. And I don’t even pay for my tickets, I get them for free. But going to a bragging rights tournament? Going to a BB&T where there’s more at stake than the low odds of me getting a decent soft pretzel? Yeah. I’d go to that. Gladly.

Would you?

Click here to email the BB&T Classic tournament contact.
Click here for George Washington Athletics Department contacts and mailing address (new AD’s contact information isn’t up yet but the assistant’s is.)
Click here for Maryland Athletics Department contacts and mailing address.