There was this moment of arresting reality that occurred Sunday afternoon at the Meadowlands, with less than 10 minutes to play in Seton Hall's intense 70-66 loss to North Carolina. Danny Hurley, sophomore point guard for the Pirates and little brother of Duke's famous Bobby, was inserted into the game for the third time and the harsh, unmistakable sound of booing descended from the theater-seated masses.
There were more than 20,000 people at the game. Not all of them booed. Seton Hall Coach P. J. Carlesimo properly pointed out after the game that he didn't want to "indict 20,000 people," and that "there are plenty of Seton Hall supporters out there, and Danny Hurley supporters."
But it wasn't four people, either. It was enough that, for a moment, you couldn't hear the Seton Hall band, but you could feel a distinct and unpleasant chill. This was not the chops-busting, million-dollar-crybaby crap that Bobby Bonilla gets at Shea or the occasional why-aren't-you-Willis-Reed? heckling always kept on ice for Patrick Ewing at Madison Square Garden.
This was mean-spirited, unfeeling grief given a 19-year-old college sophomore. And this is what we have created in the realm of megabucks, shoe-contract and sideline-shot college basketball. We (that's you, me, TV, the NCAA, Nike, Converse and Adidas . . . all of us) have created an environment in which a kid gets booed at home by spectators who buy season tickets and treat Seton Hall, Syracuse, Washington, whomever, like the local pro franchise.
And you know what? There's no solution, short of scrapping the whole mess.
Now, a certain amount of rationalization is necessary for the enjoyment of big-time college sport. You understand that there are deep flaws in any system that takes college students and turns them into tools for a billion-dollar entertainment industry and which has often failed miserably to deliver on the promise of education to the youths it recruits.
But then Christian Laettner creates a miracle in 2.1 seconds against Kentucky or another Florida State field goal fades wide to the right, and we all lie exhausted and fulfilled.
Many of the ills of college sport we can try to address. Clean up recruiting a little, give coaches tenure, concentrate on awarding degrees . . . blah, blah, blah. Booing college kids at home is wrong. Simple. But can you tell some yahoo -- who paid for his ticket, paid to park and paid for food, drink or whatever -- that he can't boo Danny Hurley? I think not.
And we can't be naive about this. Hurley took Seton Hall's scholarship money and agreed to play for the school's HTC basketball team, which aspires annually to the highest level of the sport. He is part of the system. He went to St. Anthony in Jersey City and played for his father. It's a program that sends kids into the Division I ranks by the handful. So Hurley is no innocent.
But he also is not a professional. "I don't need this abuse. I'm a college kid," he said after the game. What does he get from Seton Hall? A four-year (or five-year, if necessary) scholarship. Meal money. Shoes. A uniform, No. 15.
The chance to play on television and in large arenas in front of thousands of fans. But that's all. He doesn't get something-point-something a year for five years. Doesn't get endorsements and can't even work a lucrative job in the summer because the NCAA would come down on The Hall like the wrath of God.
And for this, he is expected to take getting booed, 10 miles from his house, in front of his family.
Hurley is a decent player. "A great player," Carlesimo said. Maybe. He stands in the shadow of his brother, who will likely be remembered as one of the best point guards in college basketball history and has a very good chance of having a long and successful career in the NBA. Very, very few players in the game are as good as Bobby Hurley.
"I get embarrassed because of the way I played," Hurley said after the North Carolina game. He grimaced. He sulked. It's tough to find an outlet. "In high school," Hurley said, "I'd just shut them up. Against North Carolina, I can't just say, 'I'm going to take my man.' It's not that easy."
8, No, it stinks. And there's no quick fix.