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  • Ednold

Gone Girls 4/10/24

Updated: Apr 11

As I write this there are a lot of people, including myself, who are waiting to find out who, if anyone, will be the next Oregon State Women’s Basketball player to announce they aren’t interested in playing for the Beavers anymore.  Waiting for the next Nike to drop.  By the time I’m done with this we may already know the answer.  Two starters have already announced they’ll be helping some other team attempt to win a national championship next season, and now one of our sharpshooting subs is gone too.  It’s hard to anticipate how it will all play out, but at this point it’s also hard not to expect the worst.

I realize I’m not only old, but old-fashioned.  If you’re younger, maybe this all makes sense to you.  It doesn’t to me.  What didn’t this team have?  An elite-level coach with experience getting his team deep into the national tournament and preparing his players for the next level?  Check.  An adoring fan base bending themselves over backward to show their appreciation?  Check.  The opportunity of a lifetime to be the soul-saving centerpiece of a university whose athletic department is lying face down on the canvas with the referee halfway through his ten-count?  Check. 

The one thing missing, apparently, was having everyone across the country talking about you and putting your face on television and Facebook while you’re busy digging yourself out from the pile of money people have been throwing at you.  I can’t believe I’m about to do this, but – here I go – to quote Thompson Twins from 1985: “Some people hunger for fame and fortune all their lives, but they’re just fools in paradise.”  Surely, Oregon State has been paradise for any women’s basketball player this season, and it could have continued for at least a few more years. 

In the final rankings for this season OSU came in 8th.  The voters believed that not only were we worse than all of the final four teams (we weren’t), but we were also the worst of the other four teams that made the elite 8.  None of them could possibly have watched the games and come to that conclusion, which is discouraging.  In the first ranking to come out for next season, ESPN has the Beavers ranked # 12. Think about that. A team that was arguably the second-best team in the country this season and who, at the time of the ranking had only lost one player, had slipped completely out of the top ten. So, yes, if you’re looking for national respect for anything but a championship season, you’re probably not going to find it here.

Of course, the dismantling of our conference couldn’t have been foreseen when these girls were being recruited, and some people are able to use that to justify players leaving. But if the attention, and the money that comes with it, is an important part of your personal version of paradise then what in the world were you doing in Corvallis to begin with? You knew things would be different here, even as part of the PAC 12. That’s the whole point of this place. And that situation has only been enhanced by the fact that we’d have been one of a very few teams with a legitimate shot at a national championship - without even being in a power conference! What kind of person turns their back on that opportunity?

Young ones, I guess. I have to keep reminding myself that these are 20-year-olds making the biggest decisions they’re ever likely to make. Their brains are literally not fully formed. They don’t have the perspective of old age, and they’re probably getting a lot of conflicting advice from family, friends, and some self-interested others. It’s just hard to watch them make choices that go against their own long-term best interests, knowing that it will be too late by the time they regret it.

Times have definitely changed, though, and it’s hard to understand the thought process. These players, grad-transfers included, have chosen to leave their coaches and teammates to help some other team be successful. It’s like climbing out of your foxhole, walking across no-man’s-land, hopping down into the enemy’s foxhole and shooting back at the buddies you were fighting next to just a minute ago. How do you make that decision? These people were, according to you, your “family”. You “love” them. There was nobody in the world you’d rather have been down in that foxhole with. At least until the moment you let them know you believe more in the other side, then go over the top to fight for them. Maybe that analogy is extreme, but hopefully it illustrates my point. To me, that conversation would be a fate worse than death: I’d have to admit that everything I’d said and done had been a complete lie. They weren’t family; they were pawns I used to help me get where I really wanted to go. And I’d be mortified knowing the entire world was privy to that conversation; knowing that everyone was suddenly realizing that the only thing I valued was myself. The fact that none of them are bothered by that is the most disturbing thing of all.

I know this isn’t just an OSU problem. All over the country there are young people who see a portal transfer as just another event on their annual academic calendar. Everyone’s jockeying to find a place on their dream team, or at least move up a couple of rungs on the competitive ladder. And I’m not against student-athletes making some money for their efforts. It’s just that this situation is different.

This team wasn’t just good, it was great. It showed it could compete with anyone, even a year or two away from what could have been their prime. And the storyline, to all of us non-athletes, was Hollywood-caliber stuff. If it wasn’t Good vs. Evil it was at least Good vs. Bad, or Good vs. The Crap we’ve all come to expect from modern college athletics. These players were amazing athletes who were also smart and thoughtful. We have all witnessed athletes from other schools come to town or play on television and embarrass their schools with unsportsmanlike behavior, incessant whining and complaining, and unnecessary drama. Our girls have always carried themselves well and been great representatives of Beaver Nation. This program stands out in that regard.

So, they had the chance to change the entire narrative of big-time college sports. The good guys could have won, for a change. In exchange for that, Beaver Nation would have been grateful almost beyond imagination. The legacies of even our baseball championship teams would pale in comparison to what these women could have achieved. Their likenesses would have been drawn on the walls of Gill Coliseum. Statues would have been built. Street names would have been changed. There are things money can’t buy, and wherever these transfers end up, those things won’t be within reach the way they are in Corvallis.

Some have guessed that this will all end with the departure of Coach Rueck, or maybe word of his impending exit is what started the exodus in the first place. I won’t believe that until it happens, and maybe not even then. I prefer to think he’s been around long enough to see what his athletes are unable to see, and that he’s ready to rebuild and come back stronger, but nothing would shock me anymore.

I thought it might help to write all this down. I thought by the time I was done I might be ready to wish these players well in Los Angeles, or Baton Rouge, Columbus, or Austin, or whatever non-Corvallis place they end up in, but I’m just not feeling it. There is no other place like this. Even 40 miles down the road is another world, and if they can’t see that and feel it then I think I’m just glad they won’t be around anymore. Maybe when all the dust settles I’ll feel different, but that’s how I feel right now.

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1 commentaire

Jim Huddleston
Jim Huddleston
11 avr.

So we'll said Mark. Captured my feelings and emotions to a tee.

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