Like any Liberty student in the early 2000’s, I often heard the mantra from our founder.  One day we would be to Evangelicals what Notre Dame is to Catholics, and BYU is to Mormons.  Meaning, of course, Liberty would become a top tier university, with big time athletics programs and facilities to match big time academics.  Included in the vision, was always beating Notre Dame in football.  So with the goal of national prominence in mind, the school has grown by leaps and bounds over the past decade and much of the vision appears to at least be on the horizon.

So much of Liberty’s growth athletically revolves around football, and for good reason.  Major college football is a huge business, and the top programs garner tons of exposure and dollars for their universities.  It only makes sense that Liberty would move towards FBS membership, in the hopes of one day making it onto the national scene.  However, lower tier FBS membership won’t put our school on the same level with the universities we all see on ESPN every Saturday.  That level of exposure and money is still a long ways away, if it is to happen at all in our lifetimes.  So with the goal of greater exposure and prominence in mind, is there an easier path to take in the meantime?

Mid-majors like VCU gain national attention in NCAA tournament

George Mason, Butler, VCU.  These schools are now household names thanks to improbable runs in the NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament over the past several seasons.  Unlike the Alabamas and Notre Dames of the world, these schools’ resources do not dwarf Liberty’s.  They didn’t need to move up an NCAA division and then build for another several decades to achieve national prominence.  They all play in mid-major level conferences with automatic bid’s to the NCAA tournament, just like Liberty currently does.  You likely already knew just about everything I’ve written so far.  So maybe it’s just a matter of putting it all together.  Are we missing the mid-major boat?

Consider the rather short Ritchie McKay era.  The 2008-09 season featured Freshman phenom Seth Curry, now a star in his Senior season at Duke.  Liberty received more national attention in that brief season than perhaps any other time in our athletic history.  McKay’s wide open style of play, coupled with a shooter in the spotlight brought tons of notoriety for a school in the Big South.  We all know what happened when the season ended.  However, had the good times kept rolling, and the Curry-McKay combo stayed in Lynchburg, the sky was the limit.  Who knows where our program would be in terms of notoriety today had that occurred?

The Curry “era” brought tons of exposure

The fact that the Flames compete in the Big South, and have only brought in 2 NCAA tournament appearances to date, has to be viewed as a massive failure.  In the Dale Layer era, we haven’t seen a Big South tournament win yet.  Again, this is unacceptable when one considers the resources our university possesses in comparison to our conference foes.  If our goal is national prominence and recognition, has the school made basketball enough of a priority?

If Liberty were to put a larger share of its resources into the Men’s Basketball program, the Flames could be competing for a bid to the NCAA tournament every season.  The school’s two tournament appearances, 1994 and 2004, put Liberty in a national spotlight that the football program has never been able to.  Imagine what a more robust program that could produce regular tournament appearances and an occasional Sweet 16 run would do to put Liberty in the spotlight.  Men’s Basketball is the one place where LU can go up against the big boys of NCAA sports in the national spotlight right now, and that will continue to be the case, even with FBS membership coming soon.

There is progress, with a new practice facility, and improvements to the Vines Center.  It is not as if the school doesn’t care about basketball, or isn’t trying to win.  However, it is obvious that at this point in time, Liberty is being driven as a football school.  There is nothing wrong with that at all.  I’m just saying, if we want our brand to be big time soon, maybe we should try being a basketball school for a while.  With the right leadership and resources, I like our chances there.