Five minutes into last week's Bucknell-Syracuse game at the Carrier Dome, Bison freshman point guard Steven Kaspar dribbled the ball toward the hoop and was stoned by fifth-year 'Cuse senior Scoop Jardine. The move caused an orange-clad fan (Syracuse orange, not Bucknell orange) seated in the first couple rows to yell "Number three! You are not an athlete!"
I'm sure Kaspar, the aforementioned No. 3, didn't hear the fan. But I did, and to tell the truth I was totally offended. Not only is Kaspar plenty of athlete -- you don't play college sports at any level without being an athlete -- but he his perhaps more student-athlete than any player on Syracuse's entire roster, same as every other player on Bucknell's roster.
That's not to say there aren't student-athletes on the Orange roster, but, let's face it, if you are going to Syracuse to play basketball, you have hopes of moving on to the NBA, not a boardroom.
Anyway, the game, and the fan's comment, just verified how different athletics are handled at universities around the country. I always knew there was this gap between the big-timers like Syracuse and UConn and the Bucknells and George Masons of the world. Maybe it means something different to me now than when I wasn't covering Division I basketball on a regular basis, when I was just a fan watching. But it leaves a sour taste in your mouth. At least it did mine.
One thing is also does is reestablish just how great those Bucknell teams of 2004-05 and 2005-06 were, a group that won games against Syracuse, Pittsburgh, St. Joe's and more.
I was given some hope after the game, however, when Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim spoke glowingly of the Bison. I wasn't around for the teams' game in 2005, but I've been told by numerous guys who covered the game that the reason Bucknell won that night wasn't because of anything it did, in Boeheim's mind, but rather what Syracuse didn't do.
So when Boeheim came into the Carrier Dome press room last Wednesday I didn't expect him to say a single word about Bucknell. I wouldn't have blamed him if he didn't. He is coaching the No. 1 team in the country and his team cruised to a 19-point win where it was seemingly in control for the final 35 minutes.
It was more than refreshing to hear Boeheim, a Hall of Famer, toss some laurels to coach Dave Paulsen and his Bison.
"If they would have made a couple of shots in the first half, it would have been a different game," Boeheim said of the Bison, who shot 29 percent in the first half. "They are a good team. They are going to be in the NCAA tournament and they are a difficult team to play against. They are very sound, they are very well-coached and their big guy is good."
Perhaps most refreshing was Paulsen's response to a question about moral victories. The Bison never got within double figures in the second half, but had the ball down 13 with a chance to cut it to 10 with seven minutes left. But Paulsen is four years into following in Pat Flannery's sizeable footsteps and has done a great job, going from seven wins his first year to 25 last year. He had eight wins by Christmas this season against a schedule that has already featured seven opponents that played in the NCAA tourney last year.
Paulsen said he would like to think the Bison are beyond the point where they can go into the gym of the No. 1 team in the country and feel good about a 19-point loss.
Maybe the Bison are, but they are also starting a freshman point guard in the place of a kid that started nearly 100 games during his time on campus.
Bucknell is good and has a chance to be really good -- good enough to win those kinds of games again.
In the meantime, its players will be at class every day, preparing themselves for life after basketball.
n Sports editor Bill Bowman covers college sports for The Daily Item. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.