For many of us who attended Cleveland State in the 1990s and early 2000s, there was always an air of mediocrity that seemed to surround the campus. The overriding goal for most who were there was to go to school and get out of Cleveland as soon as possible. Having that mindset resulted in a campus that wasn’t terribly accommodating to anyone who actually wanted to hang out after classes were over.
This, of course, bled into Athletics. Though there were a handful of sports that did thrive, it always seemed to be under the radar of John Q. Student. And for men’s basketball, the one sport you’d think would grab the attention of the average student, there was about a 15-year span where mediocrity would have been an improvement.
As a consequence, those students who were a part of that scene back then ignored CSU, and, after graduation, essentially acted like they went to college at Witness Protection Plan University. This was especially true when it came to athletics and, more to the point, basketball.
Perhaps the greatest insult was the adoption of this silly plan to put up a large green curtain to block off seats at the 13,600-seat Wolstein Center to reduce the capacity to 8,500 and create, well, I’ve never really been sure what they were trying to create. Whatever it was, it didn’t really work.
That was prior to the arrival of Gary Waters as head coach. Since that time, the basketball team has finally gotten past the point of mediocrity, consistently winning 20 or more games in all but three seasons during his tenure.
It’s a safe assumption that CSU has a good team.
But as we have clearly learned, having a good sports team essentially nets you nothing in this town. Just ask the Indians how that works. Despite being closer to a championship than the Browns or the Cavs, and being far less dysfunctional to boot, the Tribe’s attendance has ranked at or near the bottom of all baseball clubs.
The same is true at Cleveland State. The Vikings have, for the most part, remained in the upper half of the Horizon League standings during the Waters era and yet, attendance at the Wolstein Center has consistently been at or near last in the conference.
Attendance, though, has never seemed to be a factor in terms of keeping Waters around. The winning, coupled with the academic achievement of his players, has already netted him an extension that will keep him here until he is 69, which means that CSU will be, in all likelihood, his last coaching stop.
But when you get that kind of contract extension, where is that motivation to move from good to great? Viking fans had only seen that once in 2008-09, when they broke a 22-year drought by making it to the NCAA Tournament.
Ever since then, it’s always been close, but no cigar. Here’s the breakdown of that’s gone.
2010-11: Norris Cole’s senior year. Cleveland State loses to Butler in the Horizon League tournament finals. Loses to the College of Charleston in the second round of the NIT.
2011-12: Senior-laden team that included Jeremy Montgomery and Tre Harmon. Lost in the Horizon League tournament semi-finals to Detroit. Loses to Oregon in the first round of the NIT.
2013-14: Team with best backcourt in the conference and Sixth Man of the Year Jon Harris loses in the Horizon League tournament semi-finals to Wright State. Loses to Ohio in the first round of the CollegeInsiders.com Tournament.
In each of these years, you saw flashes of brilliance for these teams. But in the end, it’s the same result. And sure, making it to a post-season tournament is a good thing. But when do we get to see more?
And more is what it would take for Northeast Ohio to stand up and take notice, because clearly this isn’t really the case now. This is also true of the thousands of students and thousands more alumni who could be at the games, but aren’t.
This seems to be just fine, though. Waters will say over and over again that he’s not satisfied with the lack of attention or the fact that his teams can’t seem to get over the hump and get back into the NCAA Tournament. But, in reality, is there any real motivation for this to happen?
Complacency seems to be the driver here. From the outside, it looks as if this program has been deemed good enough that there doesn’t need to be anything else to change. So what if nobody shows up to the game or pays attention to what’s going on? Everything is just fine.
And it seems as if good enough should be some sort of selling point for those who were around during the low days in the 1990s and early 2000s when it comes to getting them to watch the games in person.
So far, that strategy hasn’t worked, either.
It’s ironic that Waters came to Cleveland State when the entire campus was undergoing a change I never thought would come when I was either and undergrad or a graduate student. There is already so much more on campus than anyone who attended could ever have dreamed.
And yet, it seems as if good enough will be sufficient, and good enough will be something that doesn’t spur any aspirations to greatness in the near future. They’ve gotten over being mediocre, to be sure, but where’s the spark to be better?
The answer appears to be that there is no reason to have a spark, and as long as the team is still good, those who want greatness should just sit down and shut up.
If that’s truly the case, I hope they aren’t surprised when more and more fans stop paying attention and pretend like they went to school at Witness Protection Program University, too.