By Blair Kerkhoff, McClatchy Newspapers –
OMAHA, Neb. — It may be, no it will be, among the biggest mismatches in college basketball history.
Seed or talent doesn’t define the separation. The information available on the website ope.ed.gov /athletics/ does.
A few key strokes reveal that the University of Florida reported $123 million in athletic department revenue in 2010-11, the most recent figures were available.
Norfolk State University reported $12.1 million for the same period.
For a school that’s 10 times richer, it might seem patronizing to hear Florida coaches and players speak of the teams meeting on Sunday in the third round of the NCAA Tournament at CenturyLink Center on equal terms.
But they are, and that’s the riveting and devastating result of victories by Norfolk State and Lehigh over Missouri and Duke on Friday in the wildest day in NCAA Tournament history.
It took 27 tournaments for four No. 15 seeds to upend second seeds. Then it happened twice in about two hours on Friday .
By the end of the day, seven double-digit seeds had claimed victory, the most in one day in tournament history. The total of nine over two days also was a record.
Some of the upset winners, like North Carolina State and Colorado, are from power conferences. But the triumphs of Norfolk State and Lehigh electrified the tournament and destroyed every bracket under a refrigerator magnet.
Behind those broken brackets are uplifting stories, like Norfolk State’s. The college basketball world gets introduced to a program that funds 86 percent of its athletic budget from student fees attached to tuition, about $1,100 per student.
That’s more than most schools, and the percentage is much greater than school s in power conferences. But it’s necessary because the Spartans, unlike the Gators, aren’t plugged into massive revenue sources like conference television contracts.
“It’s an important part of our revenue stream,” said Norfolk State athletic director Marty Miller.
The game also gets to see players like Kyle O’Quinn on a wider stage. He’s well-known in the Mid-America Athletic Conference as the player of the year. But his fame exploded with a 26-point, 14-rebound performance against Missouri, and on Saturday, he might as well have been host of a late-night talk show.
Among other things, we learned that O’Quinn picked up 2,100 followers on Twitter between the end of the game and the time he sat down to supper, and that his teammates grew tired of him reporting updated totals.
We also know that O’Quinn, a New Yorker, draws strength from his address.
“You have to have the personality of ‘Don’t back down,’” O’Quinn said. “If you win, the city loves you. You’re either the hero or the goat, and you always want the city to love you.”
And although Norfolk State isn’t college basketball prime time, you get out it what you put into it.
“Norfolk State is my Duke University,” O’Quinn said.
In Greensboro, N.C., where Lehigh previewed its game Sunday against Xavier, coach Brett Reed revealed that he got his doctorate because he thought that would help him become a coach at a Division III program, where athletic scholarships aren’t awarded.
“I wanted to be in coaching for the right reasons,” Reed said.
Guard C.J. McCollum, who scored 30 against the Blue Devils, was an under-the-radar recruit who could have attended Mid-America Athletic Conference schools in his native Ohio but landed at Lehigh. He was the Patriot League player of the year in two of the last three seasons and is the nation’s fifth — leading scorer at 21.7 points.
Part of the problem: McCollum stood 5 foot 2 as a high school freshman and was 5-6 as a junior when college recruiting hits the critical stage.
“I was a little frustrated not being recruited, but I’m blessed to be here,” said McCollum.
When it comes to teams like Lehigh and Norfolk State, the tournament should feel the same way.