There once was a time when St. John’s basketball owned New York City. For most of its 100-year history, and especially in the 1980’s and 1990’s, the Johnnies were in the national spotlight.
Legendary names like Walter Berry, Chris Mullin, Felipe Lopez, Ron Artest and Lou Carnesecca left their mark in Queens.Then the 2003-04 season came.
We all know what happened from there. National embarrassment and self-imposed disciplinary sanctions sent players running and kept recruits even farther away.
But today is a new day. The University has made great strides in cleaning up its reputation with an upstanding coach and gritty play on the court. While the University is responsible for some admirable things in promoting the program, there have been actions that leave fans scratching their heads. One major complaint from fans is the new season ticket program that the University is implementing for this season. The program, which has reallocated seating for previous season ticket holders based on a point system (which takes into account donations), has enraged long-time season ticket holders that cannot afford hefty donations.
Although other universities have similar programs for their season ticket holders, it’s interesting that St. John’s has chosen to implement such a plan when its basketball program is entrenched in what may be the darkest years in its history.
Perhaps the University believed it would be able to get by without anyone noticing, or that a seven-man recruiting class that shows potential would be enough to make it seem feasible. But fans did notice, and without a surefire stud player (lets try not to dwell on Syl) locked in for the future, the University has successfully upset the same people that gave its primary athletic program support when crisis struck.
As a result of all this, St. John’s seems to be losing its grip as the ‘city’s school’. Universities with prominent football programs have the financial backing to upgrade athletic facilities, which in turn leads to easier recruiting. While Taffner Field House is a step in the right direction, Carnesecca Arena is in a dismal state compared to other Division I basketball programs and badly needs to be renovated. The University has a plan in place to upgrade the facility, but that plan needs to be made a reality very quickly.
Even local universities are becoming a hindrance for St. John’s. It was once thought impossible for the likes of Fordham or Columbia to encroach upon the Johnnies’ grip on New York City basketball. Hofstra, which is located on Long Island, has begun to creep in on St. John’s in recruiting players to the region and become a thorn in the University’s side, both on and off the court.
Things aren’t made easier with Rutgers and Seton Hall continually in the Big East recruiting mix. Although Rutgers can now definitively be classified as perennial losers on the men’s basketball court, a recent surge in its football program is bringing it more visibility across the country. Meanwhile, Seton Hall was in the NCAA Tournament just two years ago and is looking to manufacture a solid year after rebuilding last season.
Regardless of local competition, St. John’s has an advantage. There’s a certain allure with playing for a Big East school in New York City, and there’s a pride that goes along with playing in Queens.
After five years of sub-par outcomes, it’s time for St. John’s to turn things around and get back to prominence. After all, what better time to do so than during the program’s 100th anniversary.