HOUSTON — The Southern men’s and women’s basketball teams both came up one win short of a Southwestern Athletic Conference tournament championship.
After the smoke cleared from the penalties imposed by the SWAC in the wake of the women’s fight with Texas Southern a week earlier, the Jaguars ascended to the No. 1 seed because Texas Southern didn’t have enough eligible players to field a team to start the tournament.
The Southern women didn’t play like the No. 1 seed, or even the No. 2 seed they would have otherwise been, in the championship game; and Alabama State did in a decisive victory.
It was a disappointing and unexpected end to the women’s season, during which they won 19 games and narrowly missed out on regular-season and tournament titles.
They actually had a share of the regular-season title for about 48 hours, until the SWAC rescinded the victory Southern had been awarded for leading Texas Southern when a double forfeit was imposed after the fight.
The men felt a title slip through their fingers almost as dramatically Saturday night after squandering an eight-point second-half lead and watching Texas Southern take the lead with 27 seconds left and hold on.
So both teams headed home empty handed, and 10 seniors — five women and five men — saw their careers end without a final hurrah.
Women’s coach Sandy Pugh, men’s coach Roman Banks and their staffs will now turn their full attention to recruiting, trying to replace the departing seniors and add the necessary pieces to bring home hardware next season.
If the women had beaten Alabama State and the men had beaten Texas Southern, they would have had to sit and watch the teams they had vanquished accept the NCAA tournament bids that automatically go to the winners of the SWAC tournaments.
To the credit of the Alabama State women and the Texas Southern men, they went out and won the title games 24 hours after they had won the NCAA bids by advancing to the tournament final against Southern teams ineligible to play in the NCAA postseason.
The marquee events of the intercollegiate winter sports season are the NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments also known as March Madness.
Their arrival reminds us that every Jaguars student athlete — about 350 in 15 programs — is banned from participating in NCAA championship competition no matter how successfully they perform.
The university’s inability to adequately supply the NCAA with the necessary data to document that the student-athletes are meeting Academic Progress Rates standards leaves every student-athlete in athletic limbo.
The SWAC football champion doesn’t participate in the NCAA playoffs, so the postseason ban is most noticeable this time of year when we’re reminded that the women’s and the men’s basketball teams have zero chances of participating in March Madness.
Now two basketball seasons have come and gone since the NCAA ban was instituted.
Banks reflected on his team’s season, which was played without the team’s top two big men, who transferred last summer because of the NCAA ban.
“I told them all year long that I want them to leave here with dignity and pride,” Banks said. “Whatever our program is going through, we’re going to rebuild it. We’re keeping Southern alive.
“At the end of the day, off the court these guys are true champs to me because they’ve done some things that ordinary kids their age wouldn’t have done. They could have thrown in the towel, but they stayed with me, and they stayed with the university and did it in a classy way. And I appreciate it.”
Even though both Southern teams came up short in the Toyota Center over the weekend, at least both were on the cusp of accomplishing significant goals.
Now it’s time for Southern University to demonstrate that it’s similarly close to achieving its primary athletic goal at the moment: getting back in good standing with the NCAA.
Follow Les East on Twitter @EastAdvocate.