Cornell's basketball team was in the process of beating Wisconsin and advancing to the Sweet 16 Sunday when athletic director Andy Noel overheard some comments from the team's fans.
"The crowd was abuzz with people talking about it being one of the most incredible weekends in the history of Cornell athletics,'' he said. "While we were sitting in the crowd, we were in triple overtime in women's ice hockey. We had a national champion in wrestling, a runner-up in women's ice hockey and the men's hockey team won the [NCAA] qualifier.''
Perspective, anyone? Cornell's arrival in the big time certainly has not gone unnoticed but - national attention notwithstanding - it is business as usual in the Ivy League, where a run to the round of 16 last happened with Penn in 1979. (The Quakers made the Final Four, losing to eventual champion Michigan State and Magic Johnson.)
The Ivy League offers no scholarships, which immediately sets Cornell far apart from most Division I schools and all of the remaining NCAA seeds. And those Ivy academic standards! "It might be one in 40 as you get through your top candidates,'' Noel said. "You have to weather the storm of losing some athletes you'd really love to have because of financial aid or the admission challenges.''
Presiding over the team is Steve Donahue, 47, who is in his 10th season. This is his third straight trip to the NCAAs. Even if the season ends for the 12th seed against top-seeded Kentucky, job offers will abound for Donahue, who began his college coaching career as an assistant at Division II Philadelphia University and later assisted at Penn.
"I know Jay well and I know that quote well,'' Donahue said. "Jay and I talked about it. I'm looking at this season as itself and these seniors. I honestly have not spoken to anybody about any other situation than Cornell, and it's not fair to my players to do anything else.''
" Like any coach, we all evaluate where we are at in our career after the season, and my season is not over. When my season is over, I'll tale a look at that. I know what I have here. This is a very special situation, and I understand that.''
Donahue's name could appear in connection with the openings at St. John's, Seton Hall and Fordham. "I'm flattered by it, I am,'' he said. "I will address those things when the time is right. I think it is a personal decision and based on what your family needs are. I'm always amazed at coaches who can just bounce around. Do they have kids and school districts? I have a son who has some disabilities. I have lot of other things besides 'Hey, I'd like to coach at that school.' ''
His name recognition has skyrocketed in the last few days, and he laughed at the idea of being an overnight sensation.
Donahue is amused at the usual designation given to underdogs but accepts it for his players, saying "I love it that these guys are getting recognition for what they worked for. If Cinderella is the title that captures the nation's fancy, then that's great.''