Monday, May 28, 2018

New York Is No Longer a Basketball Town: Fordham Should Leave the Atlantic Ten in that Sport

 
Over 20 years ago, Fordham made the fateful decision to leave the Patriot League for the Atlantic 10 in all sports but football. The decision was motivated largely by a desire to have Fordham seek national recognition in basketball, something it had when I arrived at Fordham in the early 70's. This decision has been an unmitigated disaster, in terms of finances, coaches, players recruited and actual record. I tried to tell the administration they were making a huge mistake when they made the move, but they didn't listen. They were so desperate to build up Fordham's national profile through sports that they ignored the lessons of history and sociology, failing to see changes in the demography of New York City that are making it difficult if not impossible to for New York area colleges to be centers of basketball excellence the they way they were in the 1960's and 1970's when St. John''s, NYU, Columbia, and NYU all had nationally ranked teams
The major reason for this has been a huge shift in population, due to immigration, in those outer borough neighborhoods in Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens, as well as neighborhoods in Upper Manhattan, which once produced the bulk of the city's great players. When I was growing up, basketball was king in working class New York, the sport played dawn to dusk in Jewish, Irish, and African American neighborhoods, and picked up by a significant number of arrivals from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic who, like Italian Americans, played the game even though their main sport was baseball. However, in the last 40 years, all of those communities have been transformed by immigration, much of it coming from places- the Anglophone Carribean, West Africa, Mexico, and South Asia- where the major sport is soccer ( and in some cases cricket!). As a result of this, when you walk around working class New York on a weekend, you will see full soccer, cricket and baseball fields, but empty basketball courts. New York is no longer the place churning out the nation's top basketball players in fierce schoolyard competition.
What does this mean for Fordham? It means that there are no longer thousands of smart, eager kids with high levels of skill looking for basketball to take them to college and help them achieve success in life even if they don't have an NBA career. Those players still exist- witness Desi Rodriguez of Seton Hall- but they are too few in number to have New York schools rise to national excellence by recruiting them,
And this isn;t changing any time soon. If anything, recent immigrants are LESS interested in basketball than the groups that came before, So, it is time that Fordham, which has been attracting better and better students without national recognition in sports, take valuable money away from its basketball program and use it to fund living wages for its adjunct and contingent faculty along with more scholarships for academically gifted young people from immigrant families.
We have had a great experience in the Patriot League in football. That is where we belong in basketball.
Making this move will put Fordham more in line with Jesuit traditions of academic excellence and social justice while affirming its understanding of demographic trends that have transformed immigrant, working class New York

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