Basketball on both sides of the border

Taking in a college basketball game in Syracuse, N.Y. makes OUA and NCAA cultural differences obvious

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — The city was orange.

Syracuse’s college basketball team, the Orangemen, were playing the Providence Friars on Saturday. There was no place to eat — every sports bar had a minimum half-hour wait. Parking was hard to find. Ticket scalpers were on every corner within a kilometre of the stadium.

The Orangemen’s home — the Carrier Dome — seated 23,311 people at Saturday’s game, but can fit more than 34,000 for playoff games. The Toronto Raptors’ home court at the Air Canada Centre seats 19,800

Forty-five minutes before the game, a crowd of about 50 people watched the Orangemen warm up. Every five minutes, a player would come to give autographs.

The whole stadium stood for the national anthem, and remained standing for two minutes until the Orangemen scored their first basket.

With his team up 25 points with 15 minutes left, Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim took his starters off. But that didn’t stop an elderly Syracuse fan from screaming about his team’s lacklustre defence until the end of the game.

The Orangemen eventually beat the Friars 78-55. It was no surprise — the Orangemen were 19-0 and ranked first in the NCAA, while the 12-7 Friars were missing their leading scorer.

Two hours after the game, I was listening to the local radio station in the car. Furious Syracusans were calling in because the game hadn’t been on ESPN.

You could compare Queen’s basketball to Syracuse basketball — all the players are University students. But it’s an unfair comparison.

The Syracuse team was on a totally different level from the Gaels. Six of the Orangemen are in ESPN’s list of the top 100 prospects for the 2012 NBA Draft. The rest have a good shot at playing professionally in Europe after graduation.

The school’s men’s basketball program is also a cash machine. Forbes magazine reported that the team’s annual revenue was $18 million for the 2009-10 season.

Most sports at Syracuse aren’t like the men’s basketball team — the women’s soccer team only brought in an average of 299 fans at home games during the 2010-11 season.

The basketball culture at Queen’s won’t ever be like Syracuse. The major growth in the sport happened decades ago. There’s an established order, where promising players are poached by NCAA teams. Queen’s fans know it.

Personally, one Syracuse game was probably enough for a year — having two a week would make me lose sleep. I don’t need the emotional volatility of a college basketball obsession to accelerate the standard pace of Queen’s life.

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