Friday's Big East Day, the first official beginning of the University of Cincinnati's athletic partnership with the Big East Conferences, was seen by many as one of the landmark days in the history of the University. What was described by most University officials as one of the brightest and most exciting days in UC history, Friday, July 1st. certainly lived up to the exciting part, as it was clear that Bearcat fans, faculty and students filled Fountain Square for the midday festivities commemorating this historic day. However, while Mother Nature did not allow the rainstorms from Thursday night to damper the mood, some embittered UC fans brought with them a dark cloud controversy of their own to rain on the Bearcats parade. What started as a celebration of UC's potential future, quickly developed into a political protest over the school's recent course of events.
After arriving at UC baseball stadium, one of the new gems of the Bearcat Athletic Department that helped land their partnership with the Big East, you could see the passion and excitement in the eyes of all those in attendance for the dawn of a new era in Queen City sports. Maybe it was the sugar in the doughnuts and the coffee they were serving as part of the continental breakfast, or more likely it was the fact it was UC faculty, students and athletes who made up the overwhelming majority of the crowd, but the overall sentiment of those involved in the early morning carousing were thrilled and on their feet applauding when each of the three big names in UC athletics spoke. Bob Goin (Athletic Director), Mike Tranghese (Big East Commissioner) and controversial Nancy Zimpher (University President) all got the crowd going right.
However, as time wore on, the crude eroding from onlooker's eyes and a more fan-based crowd in attendance, the UC celebration of the Big East's arrival in Cincinnati took an awkward twist when it hit downtown and Fountain Square. The crowd, still lined with rabid UC supporters on and off the staff. Students, athletes, and faculty were all there looking to promote the University. With games and prizes, giveaways and contests, there was something for everyone down on the Square, just what the school was looking for.
Talking with many of those involved, whether they are the distinguished faculty of the Business and Applied Science colleges, or the current students interacting with the UC Alumni Association, they all seemed to feel that this day and these events were a great way to honor and promote the University of Cincinnati on multiple levels.
Talking to some of the professors who were in attendance, they believed the transition to the Big East is one of the best opportunities in the schools history. While they recognized the brilliant opportunity for athletics, they recognize their affiliation with the likes of Georgetown, Notre Dame, Villanova, Syracuse, Rutgers, Providence and the likes offers a unique opportunity to showcase many of the positive assets of UC that generally get overlooked, namely academics. Dealing with several athletic departments that have been entangled in character and scholastic issues in recent years, some deserved and some not, the University can now showcase an affiliation with one of the top athletic and academic conferences in the country.
Echoing the position of the members of the faculty, students and members of the Alumni Association each recognized that participating in such a prestigious conference, one that receives strong television coverage nationally, as well as locally, will afford Cincinnati the opportunity to reach out to entirely new markets for prospective students, students who may never have given UC a first look prior to this agreement. The entire Northeast, a relatively untapped resource in student recruiting for the Midwestern school who has been largely overshadowed by many of its regional brethren, will become far more aware of the University of Cincinnati, one of the jewels in the crown of the Queen City.
In addition, with the national television deals the Big East has orchestrated, people across the entire county will now have a chance to see and hear the name of the Bearcats and Cincinnati on a regular basis, something that will help strengthen the name of the University across the country, but also the name of Cincinnati, a city that has been much maligned by ill-received national coverage. Coverage our fair city has had to endure over the course of recent years always on the negative side of things.
However, despite the glorious future that this deal could potentially have on the city and university, many in attendance cannot let go of what they see are the shady dealings that have led to the potential backstabbing of what they see as the principle cog in this newly constructed agreement.
When Bob Huggins, who is probably the most recognized name in the schools illustrious athletic history outside of Oscar Robertson, did not have his contract renewed by University President Zimpher earlier this spring, many of the UC faithful went up in arms about the preposterous notion that the Cincinnati basketball program could possibly benefit from allowing Coach Huggins to walk when the final year of his contract expires. Since then, many of the most passionate UC supporters across the country have taken on a personal crusade to have their feelings known that Zimpher is not exactly their "favorite" person right now.
Since the Huggins controversy began all those weeks ago you've seen a sporadic outpouring of love for Huggins across the city. From the t-shirts clamoring to keep him to the message boards on Bearcatinsider.com calling for the renewal of his contract, the passionate Bearcat army of fans has been on his side from the start, ready to fight for him whenever the time to do so presents itself.
Unfortunately for Zimpher, Goin, and Tranghese the devout Huggins supporters decided to pick one of their largest fights at Friday's festivities. Making up a large portion of those in attendance, Huggins' backers stood along Fountain Square with signs in support of him. However, it was not necessarily the support for Huggins that stood out most of all, it was the outright hatred for UC's new President.
"It is hard to enjoy a day that will not support its biggest asset and the reason the Big East wants us. Huggins should be here more than President Zimpher." Stated one Coach Huggins supporter.
While Commissioner Tranghese made it quite clear that UC football‘s bright future, the school's academic achievements and the new facilities were all crucial in helping UC become one of the five new members of the Big East, it is certain that the impact of the program Huggins has built and directed during his tenure as the Bearcat headman was crucial in the development of the Big East's interest in UC, and the Huggins fans know that.
"Coach Huggins is the reason the Big East wants us in the first place, without him where would we be," said a protestor who wished to remain anonymous. "Zimpher talks about how she wants to improve the school and the academics, you know to improve the school's image, but that is all she said. She never put a plan on the table to do so. She is just blaming it on Huggins, when, if you look at it, the supposed problems with the program aren't that big when compared to other big time programs. If you want to be Holy Cross or Princeton then join the Patriot or Ivy League."
Echoing the sentiments of many of those in attendance, these "true UC fans", as they call themselves, really made their voices heard (literally and figuratively) to all those in attendance, including Cincinnati's mayor.
After booing the President during the announcement of her name, the entirety of her speech, and whenever it seemed her name was mentioned, Mayor Charlie Luken, a UC graduate and fan, attempted to defend Zimpher, but became a new target of the wrath of the angry mob of fans. Booing Mayor Luken after he commented on their treatment towards Zimpher, calling the fans rude, the crowd regained their composure.
"We are here in support of Coach Huggins. We want to make President Zimpher know that we think this is the wrong course of action for the program and the University. We are not just some fans off the street, we are UCAT supporters, and we give a lot of money to the school. We really love the school and the athletic department and we want to have done what is in its best interest."
No matter what side of the debate you choose to adopt, it is clear that Friday's Big East Day displayed quite prominently the potential direction the "new" University of Cincinnati has decided to take. For the better or worse is yet to be decided, but it is certain that Cincinnati and the Bearcat Athletic Department will be headed for a period of great transformation in the upcoming months. However, whether or not Coach Huggins will be part of that metamorphosis could determine the direction at least one sect of Bearcat fans will travel in (and hopefully that won't be towards the exit).