Bobby Hurley gave local basketball fans a taste of what big time college basketball feels like. Unfortunately it was just a tease as Hurley’s departure for Arizona State leaves UB looking for another “name” coach. Should Danny White succeed and the coach picks up where Hurley left off, it will only be a matter of time before the process to find a replacement will begin again. Such is the curse of being a “mid-major” program.

The University at Buffalo wants to bring “big-time” college sports to Western New York, I have no doubt that is the plan. However, the reality of what that truly means can be daunting. To compete with the “majors” takes more of a financial commitment than UB can afford.

In an attempt to keep Bobby Hurley UB reportedly offered him $551,000. That would have made him the top paid basketball coach in his conference, but Arizona State just committed at least three times that amount so how could Buffalo compete?

Hurley’s second year as head coach brought a MAC title and serious hopes of advancing in the NCAA tournament. Heck, the President of the United States picked them to upset West Virginia and many had them even winning one more to make the sweet sixteen! Suddenly UB basketball was being discussed as if it was a major player in Division I hoops and all of that was because of Bobby Hurley.

Basketball is different than football in that one player can make a team much, much better. To go back to now ancient WNY basketball history, Bob Lanier’s decision to play at St. Bonaventure made that team a national power over night. To a lesser degree Calvin Murphy did the same for Niagara, but those days are gone. Having players of that caliber pick local programs hasn’t happened in forty years, but Hurley had players just below that level consider UB.

UB’s football program could only dream of being ranked in the top twenty, but had Hurley stayed it wasn’t an impossibility for the men’s basketball team. Hurley has a big-time basketball name and his presence gave UB a glimpse of big time.

Being a SUNY institution does not help UB’s desire to climb the ranks of Division I athletics. UB’s budget is tied to New York State in ways that are restrictive to spending money on par with the elite of NCAA sports.

You can also bet that neither Danny White nor Bobby Hurley appreciated the fact that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo brought politics into athletics by forbidding travel to the Final Four by State employees. White had to be embarrassed to miss the biggest networking event in his profession while all of his peers attended.Plus, White missed an opportunity to celebrate with his father Kevin, who is Duke’s Athletic Director and now National Champions.

Bobby Hurley was not going to be denied attending the Final Four and UB was hardly in a position to stop him.

I would expect Danny White to be the next “name” to leave UB for a bigger position elsewhere. White is bright, young and aggressive and destined to be a big time AD elsewhere. Unless UB hires someone with Western New York roots this is the cycle that will repeat itself over and over.

For local fans enjoy the rare trips to the big-dance and realize that this is the world WNY basketball lives in. To stretch Alfred Lord Tennyson’s quote a bit, “Tis better to have played in the NCAA’s and lost than never to have played at all.”

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