How the 2006 Final Four run has positively and negatively impacted Mason
BY DOMENIC ALLEGRA SPORTS EDITOR
Before you start blasting me in the comments and on Twitter, let’s get one thing straight: I love the 2006 Final Four run. I love watching it, I love writing about it, I love talking about it with others. It’s the greatest Cinderella story in NCAA Tournament history.
That being said…
I think the 2006 Final Four run had its benefits for the university, but also some negative ramifications.
Let’s start with how the Final Four run has hurt the men’s basketball program.
THE FINAL FOUR RUN HAS BECOME A COMMON JOKE ON THE FAIRFAX CAMPUS
If you’ve been on the Fairfax campus in the last 10 years and asked most students, you’ll find that they make fun of the fact that the school squeezes every drop from that run.
“Did you know we went to the Final Four back in 2006?” students sometimes ask mockingly.
Look no further than Urban Dictionary to see how the internet views George Mason University. “Basketball is the only sport worth anything here, still riding that ever depleting glory of being in the Final Four that one time that one year, sparking the first time anyone had ever even heard of George Mason University.”
Now listen, I understand why the university references it a lot. It’s great for advertising, gaining interest in admissions, etc. It just gets annoying to the point where it’s talked about in a sarcastic sense rather than a sacred one.
To make an analogy, the administration talking about the Final Four run is like your parents talking to other parents about you getting into the school for gifted children – but 15 years later. Your admission to that school is something that the smartest kids get but should be left in the past after they graduate college.
2. THE 2006 FINAL FOUR RUN IS REFERENCED (ALMOST) EVERY BROADCAST
Have you watched a nationally televised men’s basketball game recently? The broadcasters always bring up the Final Four run as if they’re required to put it in their game notes.
If you know anything about this program and are anything like me, you give an audible groan every time they bring it up — not because I don’t love it, but because it’s used almost every time.
Many Mason fans just expect the segment whenever their team is nationally televised. My question is — how long will broadcasters continue to talk about it? Five years? Ten? Fifteen?
Continuing to bring up the Final Four like every Mason or Atlantic-10 fan doesn’t already know hurts the quality of the broadcast. We know, broadcasters; please come up with something different to talk about.
3. EVERY MASON TEAM IS COMPARED TO THE SUCCESS OF THAT 2006 TEAM
Whether it’s broadcasters or fans, there’s always someone every season that asks why the current team can’t win like the one from 2006 or the coach Larrañaga era in general.
I have no problem with reminiscing on the past, but how does comparing what we have now to what we had over 10 years ago move this team forward?
We all want this team to win conference tournaments and make NCAA Tournaments. Focusing on the future of this team is what will lead the team to these accomplishments, not thinking about how if we had a Will Thomas-esque player on the roster we would be contending with the top teams in the A-10.
4. THE 2006 TEAM RAISED THE BAR TOO HIGH FOR THE CASUAL FAN
Based on the Simple Rating System of FiveThirtyEight, Mason had a “1.42 percent chance of reaching the Final Four heading into the tournament,” which converts to 70-to-1 odds against the Patriots.
Furthermore, utilizing the NCAA’s Andy Wittry’s overperformance scale, Mason was expected to win a total of only 1.82 games in the 2006, 2008 and 2011 tournament appearances. In reality, those three tournament appearances yielded five tournament wins, resulting in a win differential of +3.18.
Singling out just the 2006 appearance, the Patriots were expected to not even win one game, with an expected win total of 0.61 as an 11 seed. However, as everyone knows, that appearance yielded four wins, resulting in a win differential of +3.39. A differential of +3.39 ranks ninth in highest win differential of all NCAA tournament teams since 1985.
This shows that the back half of coach Larrañaga’s time at Mason was full of overperformance, and ultimately set up the casual fan of Mason basketball for disappointment after Larrañaga left for Miami.
Mason has a history of overperformance, something the last 10 years do not show. This leaves many fans hungry for NCAA Tournament wins, when in actuality, now that the Patriots are in the A-10, it’s incredibly difficult to do.
With all that negativity out of the way, here are some ways that the 2006 Final Four appearance has positively affected the men’s basketball tournament.
GREAT RECOGNITION FOR THE PROGRAM AND THE UNIVERSITY
Prior to the 2006 NCAA Tournament, the underdogs were referred to as the Cinderellas. Post-2006, the main question people asked was “Who’s going to be the next George Mason?” In one season, George Mason University became a household name.
The 2006 Final Four run also generated a whopping $677 million worth of free publicity during the tournament. Funding for the Patriot Club from alumni and other donors increased by over 50 percent after the tournament.
Mason admissions also saw significant increases as a result of tournament play. Most notably, admission inquiries from prospective students went up by 350 percent, out-of-state applications increased by 40 percent and total freshmen applications increased by 22 percent.
2. MASON JOINED THE A-10
Even though some fans say that Mason should have stayed in the CAA, they couldn’t be any more wrong. The 2006 Final Four run kicked off Mason’s journey to the A-10.
With the transition, it opened the door to more TV contracts, more national TV appearances, multiple bids to the NCAA tournament, a higher level of competition and much more.
The A-10 carries a better reputation than the CAA in college basketball circles. Despite not performing up to high expectations the first eight years since joining the conference, the Patriots will look to compete with the top opponents with a new coach at the helm.
I honestly don’t believe Mason would have ever made it to the A-10 without their run in 2006.
3. THE BIRTH OF THE GREEN MACHINE
After the Final Four run, Mason started a search for a new director of athletic bands. Come August, Mason would have a new director, Dr. Michael Nickens — or Doc Nix as everyone calls him.
The Green Machine would grow from just a couple dozen students into almost 300. From a book of a dozen songs to more than 100. From a band with regular instruments to a band with a string section, singers, rappers and dancers.
This band has amassed over 100 million views on YouTube and Facebook and has become extremely popular among students, alumni and even people not affiliated with Mason.
Thanks to the Final Four run, Mason basketball has great entertainment for every home basketball game for all to enjoy.
4. A MEMORY MASON FANS WILL NEVER FORGET
The 2006 Final Four is a memory that any Mason fan can look back on.
The run is something to be proud of as Mason fans. Playing the role as the giant killer, defeating Wichita State, Michigan State, UNC and UConn, is something many basketball fans will never forget. If you want a refresher, go check out the game against UConn on YouTube — it’s always a thriller.
Hearing those final words — “By George, the dream is alive!” — always sends shivers down my spine.