Playing Division I Opponents A Positive Experience
BRIDGEWATER, Va. – Opening the season with an exhibition game against a Division I opponent has become a yearly ritual for the Bridgewater men’s basketball team under the direction of head coach Don Burgess.
During Burgess’ tenure, the Eagles have played Radford, Coastal Carolina and High Point twice. Tonight the Eagles will travel to Elon, N.C., to meet Southern Conference member Elon University.
It’s a scheduling practice followed by many coaches across the country and the results are usually predictable as the D-I teams generally win by a wide margin.
In the past, Randolph-Macon has played American University and this season the Yellow Jackets hosted a good University of Richmond team from the Atlantic 10, a game the Spiders won by 21 points.
The average margin of defeat in the past four D-I games for the Eagles is 33 points. BC’s best showing came against High Point to start the 2010-11 season when the Eagles lost 83-63.
Yet, there are several reasons, according to Burgess, to continue playing these games.
One of the most obvious reasons is money. When the Eagles travel to Elon tonight, the program will receive a monetary guarantee from the Phoenix.
“The money pays for our expenses down there and then we can use the balance for a variety of things,” said Burgess.
Secondly, Burgess believes the games offer a unique experience for the student-athletes.
“The main reason I like those games is the fact that it gives our players a chance to play in a great college basketball atmosphere,” Burgess said. “You usually play in bigger arenas with bigger crowds against quality competition. It’s a good experience for the guys.”
Burgess also sees the contests as motivation for his players. “It’s a good opportunity for our players to play against quality talent. They see the skill level of these players and hopefully it motivates our guys to work harder on their games. When our guys are juniors and seniors they should be closer to being a Division I talent than when they first arrived at Bridgewater.”
The Bridgewater mentor also hopes the trip to Carolina will pay dividends on the recruiting trail. “North Carolina is an area we would like to draw some players from,” Burgess said. “Playing Elon will get Bridgewater College in a few Carolina sports sections the next day and hopefully that name recognition will pay off down the road.”
And finally, there’s that chance you can catch lightning in a bottle and pull off an improbable victory.
Burgess remembers a time during his playing days when his Radford team traveled to the bayou to play a nationally-ranked LSU team. Radford not only cashed a check that trip but handed the Tigers an unexpected loss.
“You know, we’ll go down to Elon and lace ’em up and see what happens,” said Burgess. “Sometimes you can hang in there for a while, but their size and strength advantage over the duration of the entire game usually makes the difference.
“But there are still small victories you can take from each game,” he continued. “We outrebounded High Point in one of our games. High Point was bigger and stronger than teams we were going to face in the ODAC. That was something positive we could take from that game and build on.”
When the Eagles travel to Elon tonight they will meet a talented team that was picked to finish second in the North Division of the Southern Conference.
Elon is 0-1 this season with their loss coming in an opening round game of the EA Sports Maui Invitational where the Phoenix fell to the Butler Bulldogs, 74-59.
The Phoenix played a team from the ODAC a year ago and defeated Lynchburg, 109-67. Earlier this month Elon hosted Ferrum for an exhibition scrimmage and defeated the Panthers 103-49.
One last thing.
Maybe the best reason to play a game like this is the fact that it doesn’t count on your team’s win-loss record. If a Division III team plays a Division I prior to Nov. 15 it counts as an exhibition game for the D-III team. Tonight’s game will count on Elon’s win-loss record for the season.
Local fans will get their first opportunity to see the Eagles this weekend when the team tips it off for real in the Eastern Mennonite Tip-Off Classic. The Eagles open play Friday evening at 6:00 p.m. against Ferrum College. Saturday afternoon Bridgewater meets Elizabethtown at 2:00 p.m.