Fairleigh Dickinson hopes to be the next March Madness fairy tale
TEANECK, NJ – The jokes of “FD—who?” date back more than 30 years to the last time Fairleigh Dickinson University faced Purdue in the NCAA Men’s Tournament.
Purdue fans held up signs with the slogan when the two teams played each other in 1988.
The UDFs fell back into darkness.
So, for suburban New Jersey school alumni who remember the old jab, FDU’s shock win over No. 1 Purdue on Friday was particularly sweet.
On Friday night, Marc A. Wolfe, who worked for the student newspaper at the time, reposted photos he had taken on the sidelines of the 1988 game, just before watching his alma mater upset the Boilermakers, 63-58, in the first round. of this year’s tournament.
“I’m thrilled that FDU did what was not only unexpected, but now people will know more about what’s possible,” Mr. Wolfe said.
FDU’s basketball team has the shortest average height in Division I, while Purdue’s roster includes Zach Edey, who is 7-foot-4. FDU Acting President Michael J. Avaltroni said the David and Goliath victory aligns with the legacy of the small university.
“We’ve always wanted to give students a chance,” Mr. Alvatroni said, “often when they didn’t even know if college was right for them. And kind of transforming them along the way and giving them the ability, in some cases, to perform these very miraculous feats.
The university, which also has campuses in England and Canada, markets itself as a global institution. A few hundred international students are also enrolled at the two New Jersey campuses.
But a large majority of students there are in-state students and attend part-time. The university’s metropolitan campus sits on the border of Teaneck and Hackensack, middle-class towns across the Hudson River from Manhattan. Seventy percent of students on the metropolitan campus commute, Avaltroni said. The other campus is in Madison, a small suburb further west.
The Metropolitan Campus’ utilitarian brick buildings include the Rothman Center, a building with a tent-like roof that is home to the school’s men’s basketball team, the Knights. But the morning after the big game, the celebrations were muted, with the students gone on spring break and the campus almost deserted.
A thin banner covered Teaneck’s main street, Cedar Lane. “Congratulations FDU Men’s Basketball Team. Welcome to the NCAA March Madness Tournament,” it read.
The student-athletes who stayed for spring break practices watched the game together on campus on Friday. Liam Deep, who runs the track for FDU, watched alongside softball players.
Mr. Deep is from Toronto, but “I wasn’t from Toronto last night,” he said.
Mr. Avaltroni, the acting president, said the men’s and women’s basketball teams have done well this year. “There’s been an excitement on campus that I haven’t seen,” he said, adding, “I’ve been in college for 20 years.”
The women’s team finished their season as regular-season champions, but lost in the first round of the Women’s National Invitation Tournament on Friday night to Columbia University. Mia Andrews, a guard for the women’s team, said her team “had mixed emotions because obviously we had just finished our season”.
But after the players found out the men’s team had won, they stormed into the locker room. “It was a fun time,” she said.
Anete Adul was returning from Florida to Teaneck with the college golf team during the game. “We were in Orlando at the airport, and everyone was watching it, and it was so cool,” she said.
Locals are hoping it could be another good basketball year for New Jersey. Last year, the state became the focal point of March Madness when another obscure institution, St. Peter’s University in Jersey City, made it all the way to the eighth round as the No. 15.
Watch parties for FDU’s next game are scheduled at the Rothman Center as well as the Hackensack Brewing Company, a craft brewery near the metro campus. This week, Princeton University also scored an upset when the No. 15-seeded Tigers beat No. 2 Arizona, 59-55.
When Mr. Wolfe was a student, after FDU won the NEC championship and went to the NCAA tournament, “we got on a bus, us and a bunch of other students and fans, and drove 15 hours to Indiana,” he said. (The game took place on the campus of the University of Notre Dame.)
Mr. Wolfe lived on campus. He said it led to opportunities like working at the student newspaper and cemented his bond with the school.
“I thought if you went to a school it was not the same as if you lived there,” he said.
This year, FDU fans who had traveled to see the team’s first-round game — which was played at a stadium in Columbus, Ohio — were drowned out by crowds heading to Purdue. But the Purdue team was kind after the loss.
Matt Painter, the Purdue coach, said simply, “They were fabulous.”