Give me Liberty or give me an early tournament exit
Published: Saturday, March 16, 2013 at 5:28 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, March 16, 2013 at 5:28 p.m.
Here are the top 10 reasons to root for Liberty University in the upcoming 68-team NCAA men's basketball tournament.
Reason No. 10: Liberty is America's team. Well, its latest underdog team, anyway.
How does that figure? Easy. Americans love an underdog, and Liberty is nothing if not that, with its NCAA tournament record-tying 20 losses (who can forget Coppin State in 2008?) and its .429 winning percentage, second-lowest in NCAA tournament history (who can forget Oakland of Michigan with its .400 mark in 2005?).
Reason No. 9: Liberty has got one heck of a hot nickname — the Flames.
You've got to like how this nickname came about. If you look at the Lynchburg, Va., school's logo, it looks like a book burning, which would be an odd and embarrassing emblem for an institution of higher learning, don't you think? But then if you consider that the school was founded in 1971 by the late Rev. Jerry Falwell (his son, Jerry Falwell Jr., is the school's current chancellor), you might think: OK, well, they just think that a certain few godless books deserve burning and here's the place to do it. Their school, their business.
But that's not it at all. According to Liberty's website, “The seal depicts Thomas Road Baptist Church aflame with the fire of the Gospel, against the background of an open Bible. The flame within the seal depicts the motto 'Knowledge Aflame,' and evokes the University's guiding philosophy — that knowledge has validity only when viewed in the light of Biblical Truth.”
And that's why the Liberty hoops team is called the Flames. Any questions?
Reason No. 8: When you're hot, you're hot, and the Flames are en fuego, hotter than h-e-double-hockey-sticks.
When the Flames entered last week's 12-team Big South tournament with an 11-20 overall record and 2-10 in their conference, Liberty fans had to be praying for a miracle. Well, Liberty won all four of its Big South tourney games, including an 87-76 victory in the final over top-seeded Charleston Southern, whose win total of 19 was one fewer than the Flames' loss total. Liberty enters the Big Dance on a five-game winning streak.
Reason No. 7: Higher education.
In a dispiriting age when the level of American education in general isn't well-regarded, you've got to admire an institution that is willing to challenge the status quo. To that effect, Liberty offers courses in “Young Earth Creationism” and once claimed to have in its museum a dinosaur fossil 3,000 years old.
Reason No. 6: When you're cold, you're freezing.
The Flames began the season with eight consecutive losses. After 11 games, they had one win. Six of those first 10 defeats were by double digits. This team was not en fuego. The team was icy as heck. This team had no spark, not even from school mascot Sparky, a fiercely frowning eagle that might be the twin of the Postal Service's mascot. The Flames looked like burnouts. But the Flames rose like a phoenix. The only question: Which team will show up at the Big Dance, the 1-10 bunch or the 5-0 group?
Reason No. 5: The Moonie-Sunday connection.
Back in 1994, when Unification Church founder Sun Myung Moon bailed out Liberty from dire financial straits with loans through a broker, Falwell Sr. was unfazed, saying: “If the American Atheists Society or Saddam Hussein himself ever sent an unrestricted gift ... be assured I will operate on Billy Sunday's philosophy, 'the Devil has had it long enough,' and quickly cash the check.”
Billy Sunday, by the way, was a 19th century major league ballplayer who stole 84 bases in 1890 and later became an early 20th century celebrity evangelist who preached passionately for the passage of the booze-banning 18th Amendment.
Reason No. 4: Prophetic words of warning.
Charleston Southern coach Barclay Radebaugh, speaking about Liberty, after his Buccaneers beat the Flames back in January: “That's a scary team. They've got size. They've got depth. Their guards (Caleb Sanders, Davon Marshall, Tavares Speaks) are good. They're strong.”
Reason No. 3: Inspirational words to live by.
Liberty coach Dale Layer, after his team won the Big South tournament and earned an automatic berth in the NCAAs: “We've got the hats, right?”
Reason No. 2: Eternal vigilance.
In 2009, Liberty College banned a campus Democrats club because of its positions on abortion and gay rights, among other issues. Hey, the school's motto is “training champions for Christ,” not “training stooges for Satan.”
Reason No. 1 to root for Liberty in the upcoming NCAA men's basketball tournament: More words to live by.
Big South tournament MVP Sanders on Liberty's chances against any foe that actually has a winning record: “I feel like if we do us, we can give them a game.”
You can reach Robert Rubino at RobertoRubino@comcast.net.