A sea of white in Fant-Ewing Coliseum solidified a stance taken long ago — Participation trophies are lame, but participating in postseason basketball tournaments is not.

Years ago that wasn’t so. Call it close-minded, but I believed if your team couldn’t make the NCAA tournament, you might as well turn out the lights and call it a season. Some of you feel the same way about 6-6 teams going to generic bowl games, by the way. At a certain point it feels like we’re rewarding mediocrity. But my heart softened. 

Over time smaller tournaments like the CollegeInsider.com Tournament won me over. 

Perhaps there is some value in continuing your season, and we’ve seen that over the years with coaches using these extra games to prepare themselves for the following season. 

And of course, if you’re a diehard fan of a team going to play in one of these tournaments, wouldn’t you like to see your team play more?

But there are still cases against not participating in smaller tournaments. Look at Alabama. The Crimson Tide accepted an invite to play in the NIT and lost to Norfolk State, the lowest seed in the tournament. 

Norfolk players said they knew they had the game during warm-ups. Alabama players weren’t interested in playing on that stage, and head coach Avery Johnson lost his job because of it.

But in the case of ULM, a team that was 13-2 at home before tournament play, why not accept the challenge?

In two home games, ULM filed in more than 11,000 people, created a festive atmosphere that was embraced by students and had an incredible sendoff for senior Travis Munnings, who has played more games in a ULM uniform than any other Warhawk player before him. 

In ULM’s 87-77 win against Kent State in the first round, Munnings knocked down 10-of-13 shots in a 28-point performance. He got to make the lap around Fant-Ewing after the games as fans showed their appreciation for a brilliant ULM career.

And though ULM’s journey ended in a 108-102 triple overtime loss to Texas Southern Thursday night, we’ll be talking about Michael Ertel’s second overtime buzzer beater for years. To see the social media posts of fans reacting to the shot after the game, it donned on me — this is really what we’ve wanted from college athletics in this area for the longest time. 

Getting a large group of people truly invested in the product on the floor or field at ULM is no small feat. 

Seeing the community rally around one team solidified that CIT, CBI or any other tournament you can name isn’t about getting a participation trophy.

 It’s about giving your team the opportunity to play more basketball, and better yet, make a larger impact in the community.

They’ve said for years, “If you build it they will come.” ULM placed an exciting product on the basketball court this year, and the community showed up for a good time.  

 

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