FAU, that’s Florida Atlantic University for those of you keeping track at home, has done the unthinkable.
In their first ever invite to the field of 68 college basketball teams vying for a national title, the Florida Atlantic Owls have reached the Final Four.
This is remarkable really, as no team in their first dance has ever even made the Elite Eight. The now 35-3 high-flying Owls are playing with house money and are inconceivably two wins away from making whoever bet on them to win it all very, very rich.
FAU was once coming back a ridiculous 300:1 to win a national championship, which is not something even the wealthiest alumni would consider taking a stab at. Regardless of what happens from here on out, FAU’s story is incomparable. Head coach Dusty May has already set his contract status to Never Get Fired, that is until some larger program makes him an offer he can’t refuse.
I asked some friends what real life situations they could even think about relating this to, making the Final Four in their first try. The brothers Radu felt Brendan Fraser winning an Academy Award his first time ever nominated was a good comparison, but we’d all heard of Brandon Fraser before. He was in the Mummy trilogy. We saw his ass in School Ties. He was in Bedazzled and Encino Man. No one had ever heard of the FAU basketball program, as least not on a Mummy-like scale. Even I had to look up the fact that they were in Boca Raton and I live in Florida!
The FAU basketball program has been around since 1994 and while they’ve had some successful seasons, they haven’t so much as registered a blip on the basketball landscape. In other words, not one of us has ever used the words “FAU” and “basketball” in the same sentence until this March.
They’ve been around for 30 years, have had one 20-win season (2013) and the school has never in their entire existence, not for a single week, been ranked in the polls. Not until now. The school has not had a single player play a single minute in the NBA. I have a feeling that’s about to change.
Another friend Jordi Scrubbings quipped that FAU’s splash-like success is like an author making the New York Times best seller list on his first try. Jordi himself is a successful author. But again, FAU has been playing basketball for thirty years so that comparison isn’t entirely appropriate either. Maybe a person who’d forever been writing short stories then striking gold with a best-selling underdog novel? Croshere, who’s girlfriend’s son attends FAU, compared this to the Beanie Baby craze, another potentially apt comparison to demonstrate just from out of nowhere this situation is. FAU winning a national title might be the greatest underdog story in sports history.
Between high school players going pro to the installation of the one-and-done rule to the latest loosening of transfer portal restrictions, we have seen parity increase exponentially between college basketball’s haves and have nots. UConn still reigns but when’s the last time you took Miami’s, Texas’, Creighton’s or San Diego State’s programs seriously? This was also the first year in tournament history that not a single number one seed reached the Elite Eight.
We’ll see whether this lineup draws television ratings next weekend. It’s the Final Four, we’re going to watch but dynasty/blue blood fans will tune out bitterly, finding something to complain about instead of appreciating how incredulous this FAU story is.
This isn’t Florida Gulf Coast nor is it any other Cinderella story in a tournament that’s known for them. FAU has done something no other program has done, essentially meaning it is now possible for any program to do so in the future, if only the coaches and kids believe.
So, you tell me. Now that I’ve shot down the Brendan Fraser/up-and-coming author comparisons, what is the real-life equivalent of an obscure athletic program making it to college basketball’s most hallowed ground? Is it a small-time local act finally cracking the charts with a bullet? Is it an unheard-of food or beverage company after multiple attempts coming up with a product that rolls off the tip of your tongue?
After much deliberation, I’ve come up with two comparisons.
FAU is the Tito’s of college basketball. Tito’s Handmade Vodka out of Austin, Texas was established in 1997, like FAU, nearly thirty years ago. As recently as a few years ago, no bar patron would think about ordering Tito’s. I’m here to tell you, as a bartender in a high-volume bar, Tito’s has crashed the party and is now the top-selling vodka in the United States.
Although this would imply FAU winning a national title then maintaining that dominance. They’re still two wins away.
How about a small-time musical act that went from playing local bars in Gainesville in the 1990s to hitting it huge. Sister Hazel played small time venues (including one I used to work at) and became an overnight sensation when their song “All For You” went as high as number 11 on the Billboard Top 100. It was by far their biggest hit. That’s not to say FAU will never reach the Final Four again but sports fans will forever talk about the year they did just as they still familiarly hum the notes to “All For You.”
Perhaps you’ve found a better analogy, but the point is they are few and far between. What we’re watching is as entertaining as it is rare, if not inexplicable. So sit down and get to know this team for the likelihood of it happening again any time soon is probably greater than 300 to 1.
Or is it?
Furthermore, according to Front Office Sports…
In the seeding era, not since 1970, the men’s Final Four will not include any of the top-three seeds.
San Diego State, FAU, and Miami will make their debuts at the Final Four in Houston.
San Diego State is the first Mountain West team to make it past the Sweet 16 in conference history.