Madison Square Garden: should we stay or go? No

Forget the recent history. Try to ignore this season’s Syracuse beat down at the Garden, last season’s Georgetown embarrassment and Duke’s biannual trip to New York, which effectively and dismally reminds St. John’s fans that the Red Storm can no longer compete at the Top-10 NCAA level.

As hard as it might be, attempt to overlook the makeup of the crowd last Tuesday at MSG. Yes, it was practically painted orange – just as it is painted blue when Villanova or Duke visits.

The St. John’s cheerleaders and dance team completed their ritual of tossing “Seein’ Red” t-shirts into the crowd during a break in the game, only to see many of them tossed back onto the floor.

Whether the shirt tossers were Orange fans or dejected Johnnie fans is the question that sums up Red Storm basketball over the past few years: there is a problem.

But there would be a much bigger problem if St. John’s would abandon Madison Square Garden as their home away from Queens.

Since the Mike Jarvis era and the subsequent fall from prominence, the program has been on a mission. The image of St. John’s basketball was hurt and needed to be improved. They needed to honor their prestigious history, their Hall of Fame former coach and their dedicated fans.

This is not a question of attendance or competitiveness within one of the nation’s toughest leagues. This is a matter of pride and progress. Leaving the Garden would be St. John’s waving the white flag, throwing in the towel and taking that last step backward before saying, “We give up!”

This simply cannot happen. Take a look at the Big East blogosphere when you get a chance. For instance, last Tuesday, a particularly humorous Syracuse blog headlined an entry, “Contrary to Popular Belief, St. John’s Still an Active Basketball Program.”

This type of attitude is widespread. Could you imagine the ridicule and pity rained on this school if they continue to digress, namely, leaving the Garden?

The effects of a Garden departure will be far more damaging than hurtful public perception. It can possibly turn away recruits, who are traditionally sold on the prospect of playing in the “World’s Most Famous Arena.”

It is true that all 16 Big East teams get to play there during the conference tournament, but this would be your home court. It would be your responsibility to defend this place and not let opposing teams take over and control the chants. The potential this place has when it’s packed and cheering on the Johnnies during a potential upset is astounding.

Yet, guess who was in the crowd for last week’s Syracuse drubbing? It was only the marquee member of St. John’s recruit wish list, Lance Stephenson. Still, it was better for Suitor Number One to witness this loss at the Garden, a real stage for Big East hoops.

The other option is Stephenson witnessing a 29-point loss in Carnesecca Arena, in front of hundreds – in contrast to the 19,000 per game at Syracuse’s Carrier Dome – of disinterested, jaded St. John’s students.

This is not to say the Redzone student section is to blame, because they are certainly the most passionate fans the city has to offer.

But the point is Syracuse has the same amount of passionate fans in a concession stand line during a game at the Dome. It all comes back to image. At this stage in the school’s struggle to rebuild, the image of the Garden goes much further than staying
on campus.

A few things would need to fall into place, but many believe St. John’s is just around the corner from a comeback season. If Stephenson commits, if Omari Lawrence pans out, if the will-be junior core of the team begins to click and provide leadership, the resurgence of the Red Storm might not be far away.

So forget the recent past and try to imagine your team on the biggest stage possible, with the big city lights announcing, “Ladies and Gentlemen, here tonight at The World’s Most Famous Arena, St. John’s is back!”