On the Road, Again and Again
Tuesday, February 5, 2008
CLINTON, S.C. Pat Kiscaden jogged toward the white Champion coach bus, his gray Presbyterian College hooded sweatshirt sagging off his shoulders. He had sprained his right ankle that morning and still practiced for two hours, but he felt great. For the first time since November, he had gone two weeks without sleeping in a hotel room.
Kiscaden hopped up three steps and a familiar face greeted him, someone he had seen about as often as his professors this season. He patted the bus driver on the shoulder and smiled. "Hey, Jeff, how you doing?" he asked. The two had eaten dinner together earlier this season on a trip to Coastal Carolina.
A school's decision to try to compete at a higher athletic level has many ramifications, from academics to finances. For Kiscaden and the Blue Hose, the most tangible result is this: They have spent more time on buses than any other team in the country this season, experimenting with a largely unprecedented schedule. In their first Division I season, they have played one road game after the next against elite teams in order to build a savings account for the future. They've already played 22 road games, and they have lost them all.
By the time the season ends, they will have played 25 road games and five at home, the most arduous slate in the country. A recent trip, five hours to Auburn, Ala., is like most of the others: A major conference opponent that pays Presbyterian gobs of money in exchange for an anticipated easy victory, called a "guarantee game." How else, Coach Gregg Nibert figured, could a 1,200-student liberal arts school make much headway in Division I?
"If we're going to get our heads beat in," Nibert said, "let's go for it."
The result has made Presbyterian a band of barnstormers, so accustomed to bus travel that its subtleties have turned routine. Kiscaden walked down the aisle and settled into seat 29A, his usual position, the kind of prime spot reserved for a senior. Younger players jostled for other prized seats.
"Why you sitting all the way up there?" Walt Allen shouted. "Why not come back here with the rest of us?"
"Man, the plan keeps changing," Odist Harmon said. "You want me to sit in the right-under-the-TV seat?"
As the bus traveled down I-385 south and players lobbied to watch "Good Luck Chuck" on DVD, they wondered if this trip would yield the win they'd been coveting.
The Blue Hose might have contended for the Division II championship this season, but the players say they don't regret moving to Division I. They savor walking into arenas where they've dreamed of playing, seeing "Presbyterian" flash on the ESPN scoreboard and thinking about what hasn't happened yet, but could.
"We're all stupid enough to think we can win," Kiscaden said.
A Man With a Plan
At 6 that morning, Nibert and two assistants sat in his office drinking coffee and orange juice, a McDonald's bag on the floor. They stared at the wide screen television, one of Auburn's previous games flickering in the darkness. Auburn's opponent made a turnover after a disjointed possession, and Nibert threw up his hands.