Through all the consternation surrounding this year’s GW men’s basketball schedule, one thing stood out as a bright spot to most fans. There is one night that settles the anger of the GW hoops community. There is one night during the regular season that will be sure to put the nationally ranked but yet-to-be- tested squad from Foggy Bottom on the map.
The BB&T Classic, which will be played Monday night at the MCI Center, has undergone significant changes in its 11-year history. In the first 10 years of the tournament, GW and Maryland hosted two prominent national teams in a two-day tournament. There was a clear-cut winner, an all-tournament team and a most valuable player. National powerhouses, among them Michigan State, the University of Connecticut, Texas and Kansas, routinely played in the Classic.
This season the tournament will feature George Mason, American, Navy, Howard, GW and Maryland in the first all-local tournament in recent memory. Each team will play only one game, in place of the two-round, four-year tournament of previous years. GW won the BB&T Classic last year, beating Maryland and Michigan State, which went on to play in the Final Four.
Bob Zurfluh, GW assistant athletic director in charge of marketing and promoting, and the tournament’s director, said the altered BB&T is partially a response to requests from the local sports community.
“It’s something the area has been requesting for a long time: a pure local tournament,” Zurfluh said. “Consequently, we’re giving the public what they’ve asked for. We’ve lined up three good local games leading up to the George Washington/Maryland game at 9 p.m. on Monday.”
But GW’s head men’s basketball coach Karl Hobbs does not see the new format in the same way. He credits the BB&T as one of the major steps on the road to establishing GW as a threat on the national basketball scene.
“It hurts no one but us,” Hobbs said of not drawing national teams to the event. “We have a very, very difficult time trying to schedule games. The BB&T aided us in a big, big way.”
Hobbs explained that Maryland does not reap any benefits from the game against GW, noting that the Terrapins would be better off selling out two games in the Comcast Center, their arena which holds 17,950 fans.
“But one thing I do like about Maryland and their administration is that helping children is important,” Hobbs said. “They put that above some revenues and I tip my hat to that.”
One school is noticeably missing from the local tournament. Georgetown, a former national champion, has never played in the Classic. GW fans often cite bad blood between the two schools, but Zurfluh did not mention this as a reason for the Hoyas’ conspicuous absence.
“Georgetown has had all sorts of scheduling issues over the years, they are constantly in the mix and all of that but it’s something that hasn’t worked out,” Zurfluh explained.
Georgetown’s absence has not stopped the tournament’s success. The BB&T Classic, along with the BasketBall Gala and the CCF Golf tournament, has raised $6 million over the past 10 years for the Children’s Charities Foundation. The foundation was started in 1994 by Washington-area business leaders.
Although the charity has been successful, the reaction from fans about the lack of national teams has been primarily negative.
“It is definitely disappointing and I don’t really like the one game format,” sophomore Dave Forman said. “But the change toward a more local tournament is a step in the right direction. Next year if it could involve Georgetown and revert to a tournament-style playoff in order to determine the best team in the area that would be great.”
GW Director of Athletics Jack Kvancz said that even though GW will not get the big-time schools in the tournament, he was not too concerned.
“You still play Maryland,” Kvancz said. “When we had a two-day event it was a nice event because we had a champion but the way I see it, get the Maryland game.”
From a logistical standpoint, it has been tough to draw nationally renowned teams this season. The tournament directors tried, Zurfluh said, but there are many obstacles in their way.
In recent years, teams have been hesitant to play in the event for financial reasons. Zurfluh said the schools are concerned about giving up two home games in arenas that seat anywhere from 12,000 to 23,000 fans. Instead of reaping the benefits of playing in venues where they would make money, they come to the BB&T and have to pay for lodging, food and airfare for the entire team.
In addition, the tournament is also not “exempt” by the NCAA. Major in-season tournaments, such as the Maui Invitational and the Great Alaska Shootout, do not count toward the number of games a team is permitted to play in a season. The NCAA will not exempt the BB&T because two local teams play in it. Zurfluh said the tournament’s board of directors is attempting to get the games exempt for the away teams for future years.
Another drawback to the tournament is the caliber of the hosts. The Colonials and Maryland are both top-25 teams, and traveling to Washington with the prospect of losing does not sit well with many teams.
“They could come out of here with two losses instead of one-and-one,” Zurfluh said. “That’s a concern I would think. Is that the dominant reason? No.”
This season, the tournament’s board tried to get nationally powerful teams, as they have in years past.
“We’re constantly going back to the people that have been good to us,” Zurfluh said. “(The teams) that have had interest in us. Such as the Notre Dames, the Texes’s, and people. Illinois, Kansas, people like that. We try to get them back after ‘X’ amount of years, one or two of those teams will be coming back in 2006.”
The tournament has benefited from sportswriter John Feinstein. Feinstein is a columnist for The Washington Post and has written several best-selling sports books. Through his relationships with coaches and the Washington basketball scene, Feinstein has been able to draw big names to the MCI Center.
“John (Feinstein) has been the focal point,” Zurfluh said. “Without John, this tournament would not exist. Because of his relationships with all of these coaches, that has really helped us. He has found it increasingly difficult to find the teams. He is basically been spearheading that attack.”
The players do not seem to be bothered with the logistical changes to the tournament. GW forward Pops Mensah-Bonsu, a senior, knows that the game is more than just another day on the court.