Breaking down the Bracket

WRITTEN BY: RODNEY SCEARCE

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I’ve taken my time, I’ve analyzed my picks, and I’d like to assure you that I’m confident with my selections.

But, I’m not.

This is by far one of the toughest brackets I’ve ever had to deal with.  There are so many wild cards in play this tournament season.  Here’s a few to keep in mind:

1.)    More mid-majors (and dangerous ones, too) – I’m counting eight (nine, if you want to include the Bonnies) that are all easily capable of winning one game.  A couple of them will surely make the Sweet 16.  Unfortunately, there are so many this year that we see last year’s Cinderella (VCU) set to take on one of the mid-majors most likely to make some noise, Wichita St.  That’s disappointing because both of them could have made a run.  The other six to be careful of when filling out your bracket: St. Louis, Long Beach State, Murray State, Creighton, Ohio, and Belmont.

2.)    UCONN – Which team are we going to see out there?  They’re extremely talented.  The have all the athleticism and size to take on anyone, but they so often this year have played like goofs and made their team look like a joke.  Calhoun is back and they seem to have a chip on their shoulder.  Watch out for them in the second round against Kentucky, they may just break everyone’s bracket.

3.)    Henson’s wrist – I’m a Tar Heel fan and I’d like to say they are going all the way, but if Henson’s wrist limits him, my guys won’t make it out of the Sweet 16.  If something amazing happens and they do, Kansas will destroy them in the Elite 8.  Yes, Henson’s wrist on his non-shooting hand is that big of a deal.

4.)    Fab Melo – This guy just doesn’t get it.  He can’t keep his grades up (“up” is a deceiving word here) and has now effectively ruined his team’s chances of a run.  With Melo now ineligible, when does Syracuse lose?  I think they still cruise in to the Sweet 16, but Vandy takes them easily.  The first team with an effective inside game will beat them.  Hell, we may even have our first 16-seed take down a #1.  I highly doubt it, but I’ve seen Asheville play and they are no joke.  Still, at the same time, I feel bad for Melo.  Syracuse is a really good school and it’s probably much more difficult for him to keep up his grades there than it would be at most other schools.  I bet he now wishes he had taken that signing bonus at Kentucky.  If Calipari can get DeMarcus Cousins through eligibility, he can do it for anyone.

I’ll run through each of my brackets.  With the wild cards in-play and all of the uncertainty, I folded and went with my gut opinions.

South

As much as I’d love to write down UCONN for my Sweet 16, I can’t convince myself to gamble against Kentucky so early.  Unfortunately for Indiana, they aren’t playing in the state of Indiana and quite frankly, they stink anywhere else – I’ve got Wichita State matching up against UK in the Sweet 16.  This one is no problem for Kentucky and they cruise to the Elite Eight.  The bottom half of the bracket is much less competitive.  Baylor and Duke, no doubt about it.  I’ve got Baylor taking Duke because no one on Duke will be able to defend Perry Jones III.  Unfortunately for Baylor, Kentucky can defend Jones and Kentucky will subsequently represent the South in New Orleans.

West

I don’t care who wins between Memphis and St. Louis because at the end of the day, neither beat Sparty.  I keep hearing about New Mexico making a run.  I just can’t convince myself that they will beat both Long Beach and Louisville.  I’ve got Louisville making the Sweet 16.  Murray State is good, but one win against St. Mary’s didn’t do it for me – Marquette tramples them.  Florida wants to welcome Missouri in to the SEC in a potential Round of 32 matchup.  Not happening – Missouri works them and Bradley Beal chucks up the deuces to Gainesville because he’s headed to the NBA.  Missouri over Marquette and Michigan State easily beats Louisville.  The Missouri and Michigan State matchup will be a tough one to call.  In one bracket I’ve got Missouri and another I’ve got Michigan State.  If I had to bet, I’d go with Draymond Green and Coach Izzo.

East

Syracuse makes it to the Sweet 16 because Kansas State isn’t big enough to take advantage of no Fab Melo.  Wisconsin will try to slow down Vandy and turn it in to another drawn-out boring game, but it won’t happen.  Vandy wins this one, no problem.  Unfortunately for Florida State, they don’t get to play UNC and Duke each game so even if you have them making it to the Sweet 16, they won’t beat Ohio State.  Ohio State will take on Vandy in the Elite Eight because a Melo-less Syracuse can’t compete with them.  Ohio State wins this game.  It’ll be tough, and Vanderbilt could pull it out, but I still like the Buckeyes.

Midwest

I like UNC to beat Creighton and take on the Wolverines in the Sweet 16.  NC State will roll over the Aztecs, but hit a wall against the Hoyas as Georgetown moves on.  Kansas will not have a problem against St. Mary’s or Purdue and I’ll still take the Jayhawks over the Hoyas as they move on to the Elite Eight.  UNC will beat Michigan because Michigan can’t run with them, end of story.  The UNC/Kansas winner will rest solely on Henson’s wrist.  If he’s healthy, the Heels will match up just fine against the Jayhawks in this rematch from the Final Four in 2008.  Roy Williams will get his vengeance and the Heels will march on down to New Orleans.

My predictions for the Sweet 16, Elite 8, Final 4, & National Championship

Final Four

Kentucky, Michigan State, Ohio State, and North Carolina will make up my Final Four.  From these 4, I believe we’ll see a rematch from the December 3rd game in Lexington – the Kentucky Wildcats vs. the North Carolina Tar Heels.  Kentucky is more talented and by all accounts, they should win.  However, I will NEVER pick Kentucky over the Tar Heels.  EVER.  I say the Heels get their revenge from the one-point loss at Rupp and cut down the nets for their 3rd time in 8 seasons.  You can discount this as me being a homer, but let’s be honest, the Heels have a real shot and I’m not making any drastic predictions.  However, I’ll go back to my wild cards – if Henson’s wrist is not 100%, UNC will be lucky to even make the Final Four and you may see the Wildcats get Calipari his first championship (only to be taken away a few years later following another NCAA investigation).  – Sorry, had to say it.

Enjoy the tournament.

Comment below with your Final 4 picks and remember to click here and  join Can of Corn’s FREE NCAA Bracket Challenge There will be a prize for the winner!

Rodney Scearce is the Public Relations Coordinator for a major professional sports team.  He earned his bachelor’s from the University of North Carolina and received a Master’s in Business Administration and Master’s in Sport Business Management from the DeVos Sport Business Management Program at the University of Central Florida.  Having grown up in the Research Triangle, Rodney was born into a basketball culture.  He grew up a fan of the Charlotte Hornets but his passion is college basketball.  He was in the heart of North Carolina for the golden years of Dean Smith and Coach K.  He understands the Tobacco Road rivalry and considers his own involvement a badge of honor.  Though he strongly dislikes Duke, his respect for the program and the rivalry is second to none.  Rodney is a diehard fan of the Chicago Cubs and the Carolina Panthers, but will tell you that his expertise lie within college basketball and everything involved with it.   You can follow Rodney on Twitter @rscearce.

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Rock Chalk or M-I-Z?!?

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KU/Mizzou Trash Talk is highly encouraged.

Phogged Over: The Tale of the Lawrence Promoters

In honor of Black History Month, we will be releasing a story every week about a black athlete or team whose story has rarely been told.  In order to appreciate the array of sports we have today, I feel that it’s important to understand where they have come from and to sing the praises of those contributors whose stories have mostly been forgotten. 

1930 Lawrence Promoters Team (courtesy of Lawrence Journal, February 2000)

Basketball may have been born right here in Springfield, Massachusetts but Lawrence, Kansas is where the game grew up.   Considered by many to be a “mecca” of men’s basketball, the city of Lawrence is home to the University of Kansas; a program that was started by basketball’s inventor, James Naismith, and became dominant under legendary coach Dr. Forrest C. “Phog” Allen.  The Jayhawks boast one of the winningest college programs of all time boasting an impressive 13 Final Four appearances and 5 National Championships.  With a basketball heritage that was built by great black players like Wilt Chamberlain, JoJo White, Danny Manning, and Mario Chalmers, it is hard to believe there was ever a time that basketball was segregated in Lawrence.  Yet before 1950, sport, much like the city itself, was segregated.  For the first half of the 20th century, “Rock Chalk” was not merely a chant in Lawrence, but also the only color of player allowed on a basketball court.  In Lawrence, blacks and whites were prohibited from playing basketball with or against one another.  This was the era of segregated basketball; this was the age of the Promoters.

By 1926, maybe earlier, an all-black high school team known as the Promoters existed in Lawrence as the only opportunity for black high school boys to play organized, competitive basketball.  The Promoters primarily hailed from Liberty Memorial High School (now Lawrence High School) and played their home games at what is now Central Junior High.1   While it remains unclear who initially organized the team or gave them their name, one former player, Jesse Newman Sr., recalled that it was the “White Shadow” that prevented the team from disbanding at the onset of the 1930s.  Newman was a center and a large inside presence for the Promoters from 1930 to 1932.  The “White Shadow” was the nickname given to Forrest Noll, a white junior high mathematics teacher who served as the coach of the Promoters beginning in 1928.  Prior to Noll, black college students (including future Naismith Memorial Hall of Famer John McClendon) had coached the Promoters, but each had quickly left Lawrence upon graduation from the University of Kansas.  Noll gave his own time and resources to ensure that all boys in Lawrence, not just those who were white, had an opportunity to play organized basketball.  In 2000, for an article in the Lawrence Journal-World, Jesse Newman Sr. remarked that Noll “took it upon himself to buy eight suits for eight boys.  He paid the $50 fee [to enter the league]”.2  Former Promoter Jesse Newman Sr. has constantly said that, “If it hadn’t been for the ‘White Shadow’, Lawrence’s black Liberty Memorial High School students would not have been able to play basketball in the early 1930s.”3

The Promoters wore secondhand jerseys that read Oilers throughout the 1930's that led to some calling them the Oilers

Liberty Memorial High School was an integrated high school but that did not keep the school from having two separate teams: one white and one black.    The teams were kept separate, but were far from equal.   The Promoters had difficulty fielding an all-black team and it was not rare for the Promoters to extend into the junior high to find players to fill out their roster. The Promoters were not allowed to use Liberty Memorial’s basketballs and could only use the court when the white team did not want it.  Oftentimes it was seven o’clock at night or later before the Promoters were able to begin their practices.  Many times, because the team was so small, the Promoters scrimmaged against fraternity guys from the University of Kansas who would come out to practice with them.2 When the high school gymnasium was not available, the team would practice at Woodlawn Elementary whose gym, one player remarked, was “about the size of my living room.”1 The school’s all-black team had a cheerleading squad made up of three girls.  This squad was separate from the white team’s cheerleaders.  They also had their own pep club called The Red Peppers.  In the team’s infancy, the Promoters had worn an “L” or the word “Lawrence” on their jerseys but eventually that right was taken from the Promoters as well.  While they represented Liberty Memorial, they were not allowed to have the same name, mascot, or colors as the white basketball team. 4 Noll was able to find new uniforms for the team – most  likely donated and second hand – that were white and gold and read “Oilers” across the front.William Moore, who played for the Promoters from 1934 to 1937,  recalled that the fans, “started calling us Oilers.  We were still the Promoters but we had the Oilers on our uniforms.”3

The Promoters played games all over Kansas, but unlike the white team, they were allowed to travel outside of the state to play in games and tournaments (due to the small number of all-black high school teams that did exist in the Midwest) and played several games in Missouri as well.  The Promoters played against high schools in Topeka, Leavenworth, Kansas City, and even as far away as St. Joseph, Missouri (a two and a half hour drive at the time).  The Promoters not only played against high school teams but sometimes played teams formed by YMCAs and college teams like Northeast Junior College in Kansas City, Kansas.4 The long travel proved incredibly difficult for the team because the school did not provide any buses or other accommodations to assist with transportation.  The Promoters often traveled anywhere between 60 and 200 miles to play in games.  Family members and other adults in the community often personally provided the transportation necessary for the Promoters to play organized basketball.  On occasion, when there were no other options, the team would utilize public transit to get to their games.   While white teams got to go out and eat when they played, the Promoters found themselves eating at the houses of the home team’s parents, many times in the basement, because most restaurants refused service to the black athletes.  In Lawrence, there were not any restaurants where the Promoters could get a meal. 2

The environment and accommodations provided to black high school basketball in Kansas was not close to equal to the opportunities provided to white players.  The teams were not equal on the court either.  By and large, the Promoters were more talented and a better team than their white counterparts.   They won the Missouri Valley Athletic Association conference tournament in 1930.2 The Promoters were the league co-champions in 1936, Noll’s final year, and repeated this feat in 1938.  In 1940 the Promoters won the league championship outright.4  Promoters player James O. Barnes always remember Jesse Newman Sr. talking about how, “they won the league, and they had a trophy.  It was the only trophy the Promoters ever won, and [Newman] said they used to show it [at] old Liberty Memorial High School.  I never saw it.”3

PHOTO: Courtesy of Jason Dailey, from "Red & Black" Yearbooks

In the 40s the Promoters were led by G.O. “Doc” Watson.  Watson was a white social studies teacher at Liberty Memorial and the school’s football coach.4  Throughout much of the 1940s; the Promoters were a good team but did not exhibit the same dominance they had throughout the previous decade.  In the late 1940s, the landscape of segregation in high school sports began to change.  The school’s track team was integrated early in the 1940s.  In 1947, Verner Newman III (Jesse Newman’s nephew) and two other members of the Promoters basketball team became the first black players on Liberty Memorial’s football team due to the efforts of Doc Watson.  Basketball stayed segregated at Liberty Memorial High School until 1949.  In their final year, the Promoters were the co-champions for the Missouri Valley Conference and the league runner-up after losing to Atchison in the championship.  The integration of local high school sports was the beginning of the end of segregation in Lawrence but for some black youths, it was also perceived as the end of an opportunity to play for the Promoters.  With only one team at Liberty Memorial, there were several black students left without the chance to play organized basketball.1

From the 1920s to 1950, a few miles from where James Naismith and Phog Allen were building a basketball powerhouse, Lawrence had another team of champions, the Promoters.  They were a team that was created out of a systemic social injustice; by a desire of black youth to play organized basketball, the goodwill of college students and white teachers who chose to coach and finance the team, and the sacrifice of the families and community members who chose to support them.  Today, a few pictures of young basketball players in Oilers jerseys, memories of a championship trophy that has gone missing, and a small display in a local church in Lawrence, Kansas are all that remain to recognize a high school team that was a dynasty in their own time; a dynasty that the school they represented refused to claim.  Lawrence, a city whose identity and legacy is found in the game of basketball, has forgotten some of its greatest champions.

Disparity, segregation, and institutional racism forced the Promoters to stand alone, unequal.  Their resilience, talent, and supremacy on the court had the Promoters standing alone; unequaled.

Courtesy of Devan Dignan+

_______________________________________________

1 Doug Vance, “Champions”, Sunflower Publishing, 2005, Accessed May 12, 2010, http://www.lawrence.lib.ks.us/oralhistory/LMw08Promoters.pdf.

2  Tom Meagher, “Basketball team offered outlet for black players”, Lawrence Journal-World, Volume 142, No. 51, February, 2000.

3 Alice Fowler and Amber Reagan-Kendrick, “The Promoters – Lawrence’s All-Black Basketball Team, 1920s – 1950s”, Lawrence/Douglas County Library, Interview, April 8, 2005, http://www.lawrence.lib.ks.us/oralhistory/3team.html.

4 Jill Sherman, “Racism in School and Sports”, National Museum of African American History and Culture, November 13, 2007, http://nmaahc.si.edu/memory/view/36.

5 Barbara Watkins, “The Promoters All-Black Basketball Team”, National Museum of African American History and Culture, November 23, 2007.  http://nmaahc.si.edu/memory/view/41.

Winner of SEC Field Goal Kicking Contest?

Biggest Heisman Snub?

 

 

Questions? Comments? Snide Remarks?  Let me hear ’em!

Quick Thoughts – What if other sports employed the BCS?

While Alabama watched football all day, Oklahoma State went out and won a conference championship. And will still likely be left sitting at home when the BCS Championship rolls around...

I have always been very careful in my usage of the word hate.  When I use the word (and mean it) what I am saying is that I think something is so awful, egregious, horrible, etc. that society has a whole would be better off without it.   With that understanding let me whisper to you four little words:

I HATE THE BCS.

Those who know me, know that I have long been in opposition of the Bowl Championship Series rankings.  While every other level of NCAA successfully implements a postseason playoff (ranging from 20-32 teams), Division I FBS schools have not been able to manage a 4-8 team playoff that would satisfy most fans.   Instead of having a playoff, the NCAA and BCS have decided to use systematic demarcation to determine it’s national champion.  Why in the country where democracy and meritocracy were born would our nation’s most beloved sport defer to institutionalized discrimination to determine a champion?  For the same reason our country has ever allowed any form of systematic discrimination to be put in place – to make a profit.

The BCS is all about commercialism and money.  It cares nothing for the sport or who the best team in the country is but instead it cares about the bottom line and what teams will give them the best television ratings.  In a country where all are supposed to be equal, the BCS mercilessly stomps on the dogma of Horatio Alger and reminds young athletes that the “American dream” and “rags to riches” are nothing more than a pipe dream that can never be realized if you don’t belong to the right class (in this case, the six AQ conferences – specifically the SEC).

The BCS not only encourages the Floridas, LSUs, Alabamas, Ohio States, USCs, Oklahomas, and UTs to push the Houstons, Boise States, and TCUs to the back of the bus – it enforces it.

It has created system of computerized expectation that takes away the magic and unpredictability of sport.  When teams from football’s lower class do make a strong case that cannot be ignored (such as TCU and Boise State back in 2009) the BCS puts them in their own “separate but equal” bowl so that they too can be a winner, just not THE winner.  These computers have taken away the excitement of the postseason.

If NCAA Basketball used the BCS System we would’ve never heard of  Butler, VCU, George Mason, Gonzaga, or UNI.

If the NFL employed this system –  Cowher would steal be searching for his title, Eli would’ve never had a shot to prevent Brady’s perfection,  Warner would’ve never gotten a 3rd shot at a ring, and Vince Lombardi  Trophy Winner would not be listed on Aaron Rodger’s resume.

If the NBA used the BCS teams like Orlando and Dallas would’ve never made the NBA Finals.

If Major League Baseball employed the BCS, Texas would be without any World Series appearances and San Francisco and St. Louis would not have been celebrating these past two years.

Sports history would be dramatically different (and rather uninspired) if computerized expectations were used to determine championship match-ups.  Yet the NCAA insists on forcing this system upon the fans.

It’s a story as old as time itself, the haves versus the have-nots.  Tonight the BCS will decide that Alabama, a team that spent yesterday sitting on the couch watching college football (Hey! I did that too! Can I have a BCS title shot?) is worthy of a national championship appearance.  Not because they played better teams or won their conference (Oklahoma State beat the same number of ranked teams as Alabama and 1 more bowl-eligible team than Alabama in route to winning the Big 12 Championship outright) but because they belong to a certain class that is worthy of an appearance in this game.   It’s about elitism and pedigree over results and resume.  It won’t make sense to us that the #1 team in the country had to win a game yesterday to qualify and the #2 team did not but the BCS does not care about fairness or what makes sense.  The BCS is not as much concerned with who they crown champion, they are more concerned about making sure certain schools do not have a chance to be crowned.  For these reasons,  the BCS will most likely select Alabama over Oklahoma State.

And when this happens, we will be reminded that in this country we have a system of institutionalized discrimination driven by the search for larger profit margins of which the Southeastern United States is the primary beneficiary.  Sound familiar?

Now to be fair and make myself perfectly clear – when it is announced that the title game will be Alabama vs. LSU, the athletic governing body of our institutions of higher learning will not be asking the birthplace of democracy to accept systematic discrimination.

They will be asking us to embrace it.

Who’s Number 2? The Argument for Virginia Tech

When it comes to #2, why is nobody talking about Virginia Tech?

There is not a doubt in my mind that LSU is the best team in the country.  Not only have they gone undefeated (thus far) in the nation’s toughest conference (make that division) but they did it in style.  They went on the road and won an ugly game against the #2 team in the nation at the time in Alabama.  They destroyed #3 Arkansas.  And let’s not forget they had an impressive opening week win against Pac-12 Champion Oregon.   There is no doubt that should LSU beat Georgia tonight (which I expect they will do by at least 17 points) they will be going to the BCS National Championship.

The question is clearly not – who is #1, but instead it’s who is #2?

Just a month ago there were so many questions as to who would play the SEC Champion in the BCS National Championship game – would it be undefeated Oklahoma State?  How about golden boy Andrew Luck and his Stanford Cardinal?  Maybe the resurgent Russell Wilson and the Wisconsin Badgers?  Surprise team Clemson?  Or maybe, just maybe, Boise State would get their shot.

But now as we head in to championship weekend, the case for #2 is unclear.  While FCS, Division II, and Division III use a playoff to determine who should be the national champion, the BCS has failed us once again due to a plethora of one-loss teams.   The BCS focuses on what should happen and what will happen as opposed to what does happen and takes all the magic out of sport.  Can you imagine if NCAA Basketball used a BCS-type system?   Would we have ever heard of the Butler Bulldogs, VCU Rams, or George Mason?

But the BCS system is what we have and the question remains – who should be #2?

A lot of people believe that Alabama should play LSU for the national title – I STRONGLY disagree.   Alabama already had their crack at LSU.  They had them at home and lost a game which ultimately proved nothing except that LSU’s kicker is marginally better than Alabama’s kicker-by-committee.   If we had a playoff system I would have no problem with two teams from the same conference playing for a national championship.  But we don’t – the whole season is a playoff.   Alabama did not win their division, did not win their conference, and will be sitting at home this weekend.  The nation’s best country had to beat the Pac-12 champion, the #2 team in the country on the road, and these last two weeks had to face the #3 team in the nation, and now goes to face the SEC East Champion.  LSU has to win to make the national title game.  It seems that Alabama doesn’t have to do anything at all.  It makes no sense.  If the whole season is a playoff, Alabama has already been eliminated.

I would love to see Stanford play for a national title and watch what Andrew Luck can do against an SEC defense.  I would love to see Boise State finally get their shot.   My argument for them is the same as Alabama – they had their chance and they blew it.  They did not win their conference and they did not win their division.  And in a system where the season is the playoff, I just cannot justify sending someone to a national championship game that does not win their conference.   The Big Ten has eliminated themselves on a strange series of last-minute heroics that leaves Wisconsin with two more losses than they should have.   If Oklahoma defeats Oklahoma State like I believe they will, that will also leave 2-loss teams in the Big 12.  Kellen Moore and Boise State once again lost a conference match-up they could not afford to lose on a last second field goal.  If not for a loss to TCU, the Broncos would probably be getting the title shot they have been clamoring for all these years.  Houston provides intrigue and has a great QB in Case Keenum but unfortunately their undefeated season will not get them to the BCS title game.  Conference USA took a big step backwards this year which in the computer’s eyes makes a very impressive Houston team look rather lackluster.  Don’t even get me started on the Big East –  the Mountain West and Conference USA are more deserving of being an AQ conference than the Big East.

That leaves the ACC – wait a second what about the ACC?

Do they boast a team that should be considered #2?

Clemson started off the season fast beating #21 Auburn, #11 Florida State, and #11 Virginia Tech but quickly showed their colors with a string of three losses in four weeks – two of which were unranked teams.  Today they will be playing against the Virginia Tech Hokies for the ACC title.  The Hokies are a program that has really blossomed over the past decade and made a number of BCS bowl game berths.

This season Virginia Tech has only one loss on their resume.  But since they won their division they will have the opportunity to avenge that loss against Clemson tonight.  They have won 7 straight games since that early season loss.

They have the seventh ranked defense in the country and additionally, Virginia Tech has played the same number of opponents that Alabama has with 8 wins or more.  Overall, Virginia Tech has played more bowl-eligible teams than Alabama.   And a win tonight would have them sitting with only one loss (that they avenged) and as division champions and conference champions of an AQ conference.

But the media meanwhile is not even talking about the Hokies but instead expects us to believe that the Crimson Tide can beat the Bayou Bengals in Louisiana in January when they could not beat them in Tuscaloosa in November.

Of the top 5 teams in the BCS Rankings at this moment, only 3 of them are playing for a conference title.  Two teams ranked ahead of Virginia Tech didn’t even win their division.  If tonight goes the way I believe it should then there is no reason why a one-loss team in Virginia Tech who has a conference championship in an AQ conference and avenged their sole season’s loss should be ranked behind a 2-loss Oklahoma State or a Stanford and Alabama team that could not win their division and did nothing this weekend to boost their resume.

If the #1 team in the country has to win this weekend to play for the national title, shouldn’t the same be expected of #2?

Why aren’t we talking about Virginia Tech?