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Mason. Indy. Whudathunkit?

As if the George Mason Patriots' improbable run weren't thrilling enough, the team today delivered two heartstopping endings, holding on in both regulation and overtime to put down a Connecticut squad that was the favorite to go all the way.

And then: The crowd at the Abe Pollin Center, louder than anything you've ever heard at a Wizards game, was all too polite. There weren't even enough actual Mason students and alumni to swarm the floor. But out in Fairfax, thousands of mid-career professionals and semi-permanent students and continuing ed addicts and part-time faculty are suddenly confronted with the fact that the school that gets all huffy when you call it a commuter college is now a serious contender, a Final Four university, the first such mid-major to make it to that exquisite status since 1979.

There's been a little bit of a tiff on the comment boards here on the big blog (see previous item) about Mason as a school, about whether it's a mere "13th grade" of extended high school for commuters or the high-status, high-achieving university that it has fought to become over the past generation.

One big basketball game won't change the winner of that debate. And much as the Mason university likes to boast that it has left its commuter school roots behind, the fact remains that 5 out of 6 Mason students still don't live on campus. But so what? The Patriots' incredible run has the potential to create community, to build something that hundreds of millions of dollars of construction in Fairfax has not quite done. The result could be a sense that all those buildings amount to a lasting identity, something that graduates will be proud of and stay close to far beyond commencement day, and for the larger community, a growing willingness to view Mason as not only the premier educational institution in northern Virginia, but a--gasp--the state's leading university.

And this is hardly Virginia's day exclusively. The remarkable team on the floor today was made up largely of products of Maryland schools, players who didn't quite elicit the entreaties of the top college recruiters. Lamar Butler hails from Fort Washington (Oxon Hill High) in Prince George's County and Folarin Campbell lived in Silver Spring, where he went to Springbrook High. Players from Aberdeen and Baltimore round out the Maryland contingent on Virginia's team.

Next year, of course, Mason will be able to compete for players who draw wider attention from the scouts. But the beauty of this achievement is that it shows there's still a way to win by finding the hidden gems and developing them through strong coaching.

And who knows? CAA hoops games might start to draw more than the 4,000 or so fans who til now have frequented the Patriot Center.

By Marc Fisher |  March 26, 2006; 5:14 PM ET
Previous: George Mason--Wasn't He President or Something? | Next: Thanks, John, and How Tiny Washington Feels from Afar


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All I have to say is "Final Four, baby!"

Posted by: Tundey | March 26, 2006 5:36 PM

Final Four! Go Pats!

Posted by: Tom | March 26, 2006 5:56 PM

I'm in awe. What a great run...may there be many more. Anyone not pulling for the Pats at this point is either a fan of their upcoming opponent or a Communist.

Posted by: SWB | March 26, 2006 5:58 PM

What a great way to end the weekend. Go Patriots! Losing a few bucks here in my office pool pales in comparison.

Posted by: TC | March 26, 2006 6:06 PM

Did I just have a seizure or something? Have I been transported to an alternate reality? Mason is going to the Final Four?

Posted by: huh? | March 26, 2006 6:09 PM's just so huge.

Posted by: Who Cares | March 26, 2006 6:26 PM

Amazing! I can't believe it.

Posted by: Justin | March 26, 2006 6:37 PM

I'm absolutely loving the George Mason run, but to imply that it makes the school "the state's leading university" seems like a bit of a stretch. I mean, the University of Virginia, William and Mary and Virginia Tech didn't all suddenly shut down simultaneously, did they?

Posted by: Nate | March 26, 2006 6:58 PM

I wonder if the invitation to the final 4 will come wrapped in an apology letter from the all knowing Billy Packer?!

Posted by: GMU90 | March 26, 2006 7:03 PM

No, Nate, the basketball team could win it all and it wouldn't make Mason the state's leading university. But it does give Mason a much better platform from which to make its case that it has the faculty, resources and standards to stake out that claim. Department for department, UVa is still likely to win that title, but Mason certainly has some very strong areas and some faculty recruited from the most acclaimed institutions in the nation.

Posted by: Fisher | March 26, 2006 7:40 PM

The return of team basketball! The all-everythings at Michigan State, Carolina, and UConn just couldn't hold off the undersized, recruited near Metro stations guys who played together and for each other.

Posted by: gmugrad73 | March 26, 2006 7:45 PM

As penance, Billy Packer should be made to perform the Ickey Shuffle on camera in front of the campus statue of George.

Posted by: Thor | March 26, 2006 7:46 PM

This is all so exciting, but Fisher needs to tone down the superlatives just a bit.

GMU's certainly on the up-swing (I'm a Master's student myself), but let's be's not suddenly Virginia's leading university. It's doing everything right to move up in the world, and it's exciting for me to be a part of it...but GMU still has a way to go match UVA (where I did my undergrad) or VT, JMU and W&M.

So, let's just enjoy this for what it is...a great moment in the spotlight for an emerging institution.

Posted by: I Commute to School | March 26, 2006 7:58 PM

Go Mason! In response to Nate, no Mason may not be the state's leading university but Mason's Law School (where I am a 1L) filed the ONLY winning brief in the recent Supreme Court case of Rumsfield v. FAIR over the likes of other more "prestious" universities. This is great for Mason, the Law School and the CAA!

Posted by: CAA | March 26, 2006 7:59 PM

Another Mason Law student here. GMU (all parts of the university) is indisputably ascendant. Ignore George Mason at your own risk. Go Patriots!

Posted by: GMUSL | March 26, 2006 8:38 PM

Marc, It's time you got your facts straight on "commuter school." The issue isn't what percentage of the student body lives on campus; many universities house only a small percentage of their student bodies. Look at what percentage of students note their present address as their permanent address. THOSE are the ones who are commuting; the rest are simply living off campus but are away from "home." GMU is in the latter category, as are many fine schools. GMU has come a long way in the last three decades, and it's about time those of you who write about the school make the mental transition yourself. How many Nobel Prize winners does your alma mater have? (Note, we have two.)

Posted by: I teach at GMU | March 26, 2006 9:40 PM

I thought it was telling to watch the guys on the sidelines locking arms as a team. A small thing, but very symbolic of how they played.

Posted by: Brent Parrish | March 26, 2006 10:30 PM

In regards to GMU becoming VA's leading school, please do not forget that there are MANY excellent public Universities in the Commonwealth. UVA and VT are not the only two viable schools. What's a Hokie anyway?

To the students, faculty and fans of GMU I applaud. Hearing the fans cherring G M U over the commentator was wonderful.

Posted by: JMU Duke | March 27, 2006 10:48 AM

I don't care about sports at all - my eyes glaze over when people around the office start talking NCAA - and even I am all excited for Mason! Yay underdog!

Posted by: h3 | March 27, 2006 12:06 PM

From: PhD student in Environmental Science
To: The GMU-will-never-be-as-good-as-UVa crowd

Give us the same per student state support that you give to UVa, W&M and Tech and then see where we go. I bet most Virginians don't even know that the per-student state funds for higher education are different from one school to another.

We get the crumbs, we get the cold shoulder in Richmond, but enrollment is still growing and our reputation will, too. Just watch what we do as we become a research university, despite pitifully little support for it. See where our new Life Sciences goes and see where our new College of Sciences takes us.

Posted by: Truth B Told | March 27, 2006 1:04 PM

You ask, "whodathunkit?" But, if the Post actually did a better job covering local sports, there may have been some subscribers who would have at least "thunkit" (though, admittedly, probably not many who'd have "spectedit"). The Post routinely ignores local sports. Ovechkin is one of the biggest stories in hockey this year, but he gets only a fraction of the mentions that, say, benchwarmer Lavar Arrington received during his season. George Mason was great all year, but got almost no attention. Even the Nationals fight for precious space with the Washington -- er, I mean Baltimore -- Orioles. Perhaps if the Sports section dedicated a little less space to Tony Kornheiser "stream of consciousness" columns, Norm Chad's inaccurate picks and the coming and goings of the 410-area-code's baseball team, we'd all be a little more enlightened about what's going on in the local sports scene.

Posted by: Sandy | March 27, 2006 2:43 PM

It was a commuter school when I went there, and it still is. A commuter school. A commuter school. Get over it. Did I mention COMMUTER SCHOOL. Feh.

Posted by: McLean VA | April 1, 2006 5:39 PM

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