ST. BONAVENTURE — It’s become a subject of conversation, debate even, among the St. Bonaventure basketball faithful.
And that’s due primarily to the fact it centers around the topic about which Bona fans are most sensitive: the public perception of their program, school and community.
The source of this discourse? An oft-used five-word tweet from CBS analyst Jon Rothstein.
“Mark Schmidt. MORE with LESS.”
As fans have become accustomed to seeing, Rothstein, who pays particular attention to the Atlantic 10, has made it a point in recent years to post that tweet after every big Bona victory. He sent it after the Bonnies rallied from an early 15-point road deficit to beat George Mason in early January. He posted it after they knocked off a good Duquesne team in the outskirts of Pittsburgh over the weekend.
And he proclaimed it again on Tuesday after Bona won its fifth-straight with a 74-56 road decimation of Saint Joseph’s.
FOR MOST, the sentiment behind the tweet is well-intentioned.
To these fans, the message is complimentary, a commentary on the the high level of success that Schmidt continues to have in the A-10 despite the challenges he and the program face from a budget, facilities and location standpoint. It’s a reminder of just how good a coach Schmidt has been over the last decade, and how lucky its fanbase is that a bigger school with bigger dollars hasn’t yet plucked him away.
The most basic numbers support this position.
According to a June 2018 story posted to midmajormadness.com, which charted the expenditures and revenues of every Division I men’s program (using the most recent public data, from 2016), Bona ranked No. 11 of 14 A-10 teams in basketball budget at $3,449,008, nearly $2.7 million less than No. 1 VCU and about $2.2 million behind fellow conference big boys Dayton and Saint Louis.
On the court, the Bonnies have finished fifth-or-better in the league standings in each of the last four seasons and will almost certainly do so again this year. They’re the only team to have reached double-digit A-10 wins in each of the last five campaigns. Only Dayton and VCU have more total victories in that stretch.
That means Bona has been one of the best and most consistent teams in the conference despite a budget that, historically, has sat in the bottom third.
More bang for the buck.
More with less.
THERE ARE some, though, with whom Rothstein’s frequent tweet doesn’t sit well.
This is a faction that can’t help but feel his view is condescending in tone and his message too closely associated with the “little engine that could” mentality that Bona has been attempting to shake. And, in many ways, you can understand from where this group’s collective eye rolls are stemming.
With Bona, the portrayal has always been that Schmidt “somehow” continues to be successful despite having unheralded, or lesser, players than his counterparts, so much so that in January of 2016, after the Bonnies knocked off a highly regarded Rhode Island team in the Reilly Center, URI coach Dan Hurley stated, “our highly touted guys didn’t give us enough against their hard-working, self-made guys.”
And yes, one of Schmidt’s greatest qualities as a coach is his ability to identify and develop talent.
But this mentality shrouds the fact that Schmidt has undeniably been able to recruit at a higher level of late — with a current roster that consists of a pair of prep school national champions (Kyle Lofton and Osun Osunniyi), Western New York’s all-time leading scorer (Dominick Welch) and a four-star recruit (Justin Winston) — and that Bona has, indeed, become an attractive destination for high-caliber talent.
IN THIS way, its makeup is in no way “less than” the rest of the conference.
And if that’s even part of what Rothstein is insinuating with his sentiment, he’s mistaken.
Though the CBS insider surely means his message as a compliment, it’s one that, to these fans, is back-handed in nature, on the same side as the forever stigma that Bona — and, by extension, the school and community — is somehow inferior to its college basketball brethren.
And while Bona will always be a small school with limited resources, it’s a narrative that needs to go.
With an annual salary reportedly north of $900,000, Schmidt is now among the higher-compensated coaches in the conference.
Additionally, Bona has one of the best fan followings in the league, currently ranking No. 6 in home attendance (4,178), with a road backing topped only by VCU and Dayton. Its players continue to reach the next level, as 24 guys under Schmidt have signed pro contracts, two of whom have recently been on NBA rosters. Then too, Bona is among the most watched teams in the A-10 from a national television standpoint.
And through this prism, the Bonnies, under Schmidt’s guidance, have become more “big time” than “little consequence.”
Sure, the sentiment stands. Schmidt, despite some clear obstacles, has absolutely gotten more out of this program than perhaps previously thought imaginable in today’s college hoops climate.
But it’s time the national media views Bona for what it is, regardless of its background or budget: One of the Atlantic 10’s best.
(J.P. Butler, Bradford Publishing Company group sports editor, can be reached at email@example.com)