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For UB athletic director, actions speak louder than words

Bucky Gleason

Last week, University at Buffalo Athletic Director Allen Greene released a video via Twitter in which he shared the finer points about UB and its athletics department. He outlined the success the Bulls had on playing fields and reminded people about the quality education UB provided.

Both the men’s and women’s basketball teams reached the NCAA Tournament last season, marking the first time both won Mid-American Conference championships in the same year. UB’s spring sports teams collectively had a 3.096 grade-point average, confirming athletes were getting it done in the classroom.

It was the highest single-season GPA in the history of UB athletics. The Bulls have had nine straight semesters in which their athletes carried better than a 3.0. Sixty percent of its athletes reached or surpassed that mark. UB’s restored its emphasis on Buffalo and tapped into civic pride with its rebranding.

Greene’s message in the two-minute, 16-second video came with a direct challenge to the region that he reaffirmed Monday.

“We need UB alums and Buffalo people who take pride in their city,” Greene said Monday morning. “That’s darned near everybody here, and it’s specifically to those who had an issue with the New York-centric mark but never came to a game, never made a donation or never bought a single game ticket.”

Translation: Put your money where your mouth is.

Greene wasn’t scolding the region. He was stating a fact while inadvertently exposing a quirk about Western New York. Too many people here complain about problems from a distance while waiting for someone else to come up with solutions. UB needs less talk and more action from the community.

It was funny how many people from the area were quick to celebrate Khalil Mack, for example, after he became the fifth pick overall in the 2014 NFL Draft. He shined light on the university and its program. But how many of the same people actually watched him play right around the corner?

Oh, about 10,000.

You know how Buffalo works. Give the people a reason to climb aboard, and they’ll arrive with two oars. It has been that way for years in regards to everything from the Buffalo Bills to the Taste of Buffalo. Terry Pegula invested big money downtown, and others followed. Suddenly, we had a city on the rise.

Greene is looking to build the same momentum at UB, which has struggled to gain the traction it needed after leaping into Division I sports nearly 20 years ago. He has been a walking, talking sales pitch whether he’s coaching his son at Lou Gehrig Youth Baseball, meeting with potential sponsors or running errands.

He’s not telling people how to spend their money, and he’s certainly not holding a tin cup on the streets. He’s asking the same people who bashed the athletic department to become part of the solution. That’s all. People can’t have it both ways. If they want big-time college sports at UB, they need to provide big-time support for UB.

“We have something like 80,000 alums in Western New York,” Greene said. “We don’t need 80,000 people to come to our football games. It would be great, but we’re not looking for that. We need a fraction of them, their families and their friends. In my opinion, it’s not asking a lot.”

The whole idea behind the New York Bulls Initiative, which Greene supported, was expanding small-time thinking that has held the region back for years. Instead, it alienated proud Western New York natives and UB alumni who embraced the “Buffalo” aspect over the statewide “New York.”

The university listened to the community, and now it’s time for the community to get behind the university. Buffalo loves to boast about being a terrific sports town. It’s true to a degree, but really people here are passionate about the Bills and Sabres and largely indifferent about collegiate sports.

It needs to change starting with more people going to UB Stadium, where actual attendance often was about one-fifth of the figure announced on a given Saturday. The games are exciting, the prices reasonable. If every person who whined about NYBI purchased tickets, UB would play its home games in Orchard Park.

“People love their Bills and Sabres, and I get that,” Greene said. “If this is going to be a great sports town, and we know that it is, college sports should be a part of it. It doesn’t need to carry the day, but we’re better than we’ve ever been before. It’s the perfect time for people to recognize that it’s a cool place.”

Green is a good man with good intentions. Unlike his predecessor, Danny White, he didn’t have one foot out the door the moment he became AD. He disagrees with my opinion, which was based solely on the lack of support from the community, that UB should play FCS football (formerly Division I-AA) and redirect resources into upgrading basketball and other programs (hockey!).

OK, so we agree to disagree on that single issue. It matters little because, ultimately, we both want what’s best for the university. For the umpteenth time, I hope that he’s right about football, and I’m wrong. But none of it matters if the general public fails to accept the challenge he issued last week.

He was asking Buffalo to help Buffalo.

“From my vantage point, Buffalo is the greatest place in America,” Greene said. “We have a world-class university right in our own backyard that can add to it being the greatest place in America. I want people to recognize that and have a sense of pride about UB in addition to having a sense of pride about being a Buffalonian.”


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