Continuing with our colleges of San Diego road tour. Moraga, California, is 20 miles, 20 years, and two climatic zones east of San Francisco. Moraga has a population of 16,000 rich white people and is home to St. Mary’s College of California, a small (2500 undergraduate students) Catholic university, member of the Western Athletic Conference, lately known for its successful basketball program.
Tonight, St Mary’s plays San Diego State University in the second game of ESPN’s experiment with national sleep deprivation, aka ESPN College Hoops Tip-Off Marathon. The network will televise live college basketball continuously for the next 24-plus hours. Our game starts at 11:00 p.m. PST.
At this moment I’m being held in the penalty box of the St. Mary’s athletic department media relations office. Said office is located in a double-wide trailer, out the back door of McKeon Pavilion.
I’ve asked athletic department media relations guy, Rich Davi, for a press pass. He looked up from his desk, insulted that I would make such a request two hours before game-time. He says it’s very difficult to get a pass under these circumstances.
Yes, indeed, it’s probably true that a midnight Monday-night game in Moraga usually calls forth a throng of reporters. Davi asks me to take a seat in the trailer lobby. I do, and begin writing notes. Twenty minutes go by (about what I’d figured), and Davi appears and hands over a red press pass.
Normally I’d pay the $15 for a ticket. I’ve never liked all the palaver that the sports industrial complex requires in return for a lousy comp. Since I spend my time walking around the arena/stadium/playing field looking at the crowd, looking for a face, for a story, watching the game from every angle I can find, I have no need of a seat. But tonight, for the weirdly compelling reasons that it’s been so long since I’ve used a press pass, coupled with this festive made-for-TV occasion, I decide to acquire the certificate need or no.
And now it’s time to take a constitutional around campus. I love small colleges. No moon. Black sky. I walk past and through graceful Spanish colonial-style classrooms, student center, and chapel. Impossibly quiet.
I read what’s posted on bulletin boards. Here’s one: “Beyond Back and White, the 2009 Diversity Dance.” At the Marriott, of course. And another: “St. Mary’s College Dance Company is performing Altered States, Fabulous Shoes.” And let’s give it up for the winner of the most-depressing-sign-taped-on-an-office-door prize: “Career Options for Liberal and Civic Studies majors: Banker. City Manager. City Planner. Volunteer. Writer. Sales. International Sales. Law Enforcement. Lobbyist. Grant Writer. Real Estate…”
I return to the gym at 10:30. St. Mary’s students are here along with the inevitable cluster of males with bare torsos and bare faces painted red. On my right I spy ten SDSU fans. Two wear red wigs, one has donned a Vikings helmet with horns attached, one is inside a green Kermit the Frog–looking costume, and two have on SDSU jerseys.
Meet Marty Presser, 19, business-finance major. There are only two questions to ask. Why? How?
Presser says, “After the great game last year in the semifinals of the NIT and the game at the John Wooden Classic, we felt we had to come up. It’s a rivalry now; the games are great. We’ve got a good team this year. We’re excited to see them play.
“We left yesterday at 5:30 p.m., drove into the Bay Area at 2:30 in the morning. [We’ve been] hanging out with some friends, getting some good food, and playing some football. We’ve been here since 9 o’clock waiting for the doors to open.”
I say, “The game will be over by 1:00, 1:30. What then?”
“We’re driving straight home. My buddy has a midterm at 11:00. I got a midterm at 2 o’clock.”
I look over to the press section. Apparently they did find one seat for me at the last moment. No doubt the other 40 empty seats are filled in spirit.
Now comes the Aztecs team led by eight men in suits. Dear Reader, you don’t want to read about the game. San Diego was beaten every way you can be beaten, save for lethal injection. The agony ended right at 1:00 a.m.
Head coach Steve Fisher was not hands-on tonight. Fisher got up and down from his courtside chair and looked annoyed when called upon. During time-outs, his assistants carried camp stools onto the floor for players and a folding chair for Fisher. Everybody sits down, takes a load off, and Fisher instructs. That’s about it. San Diego State 58, St Mary’s 80.