It occurred to me today why I've been feeling so weird about the state of Syracuse Orange athletics.
Despite beating the hated Virginia Cavaliers over the weekend, the men's lacrosse team is mortal, capable of losing to an unranked school just as much as they are capable of beating a top-ten program.
The men's basketball team is spiraling downward late in the season, which in and of itself isn't unheard-of, but given the success of recent seasons, it's jarring to see our return to the pack happening.
The women's basketball team and women's lacrosse teams brought a lot of promise into March with them. The basketball squad seemed destined to an easy road into the NCAA Tournament. Now, they're beginning to run out of gas. While the NCAAs still seem doable, doubts about anything beyond that have crept in. Meanwhile, the women's lax team came into the season No. 1 and now they're 1-2. Sure they've played a murderer's row of a schedule, but you still want to win the games against the programs you're supposed to be competing with.
Here's what I know as a Syracuse fan when March rolls around. Our basketball team is among the top fifteen in the nation. Our men's lacrosse program is a Final Four program every single season. Our women's lacrosse team has joined them there. Our women's basketball team is about to become one of the best in the nation.
Those are the sacred truths as I know them. And all four of them are apparently false.
Whether you've been a Syracuse fan for three years or thirty, these are strange days. We're supposed to feel a certain way by the time March rolls around and I can't say that any of us do. The sky isn't falling but there's a sense of mediocrity that's seeping into our collective experience that just shouldn't be there.
So what can we do? Well, nothing, I guess. It's up to the players and teams. Due to the success these programs have had, they've created a monster in us, their loyal legion. We accept football season as a time when a winning percentage that begins with a five is good enough. But come spring, we've become accustom to rankings, tournaments and national titles. And our expectations are measured thusly.
Fair? Nope. Every team is different. Every sport is different. Hell, every sport itself is different than it was even ten years ago.
But when I dare to look at the comments following a men's basketball loss or see the pained enthusiasm during lacrosse games, I know where it's coming from. It's not that we don't care. It's that we've been spoiled by success and now care a little too much.
Those of us who have been through a few Syracuse Marches know that there's still a lot of basketball/lacrosse to be played. And you can have all the regular-season success you want, but we'll take regular-season mediocrity and post-season success any year. Still, it's hard to shake the sense that something's foul in the county of Onondaga.
And we all know there's only one way to fix it.