Results are not the driving factor in fan happiness. Results in relation to expectations are.
For example, many Sixers fans are incredibly optimistic about the future despite the team’s putrid results on the court for a second straight year because they understand the front office’s plan and see a light at the end of the tunnel. Oklahoma City Thunder fans expected their team to compete for a championship before the season, but everything changed once Kevin Durant suffered a Jones fracture in his right foot and Russell Westbrook broke his hand on opening night. At 29-25, the Thunder are finally healthy and have an opportunity to reach the lofty goal but will face an uphill battle come playoff time. As a fan of the team, it would be understandable if a full-strength Thunder team got knocked out by the Warriors in the first round of the playoffs. Had you told me this was the likely scenario in August, I would have been irate.
All of this brings me to the constantly shifting expectations and the ensuing questions raised by the 2014-15 Columbia Lions.
Alex Rosenberg is not Kevin Durant but his injury, like KD’s to Oklahoma City, drastically altered what Lions fans could expect from this season. Columbia went from potentially building off of last year’s promising Ivy and CIT run to seemingly being doomed to mediocrity. Going into this weekend, Columbia is sitting at fifth place in the Ivy League with a 3-5 conference record. Five months ago, this would have seemed completely reasonable.
So why does it feel like such a disappointment? For fans, it is natural that we get caught up the smaller-scale events which cause us to become overly optimistic or pessimistic. Specifically for Columbia fans, the outstanding flashes of brilliance by freshman Kyle Castlin and the continued improvement of Chairman Maodo Lo led fans to believe that Rosenberg’s contributions on the offensive end could easily be replaced. Throw in the 11-0 start and halftime lead at Rupp Arena and the strong first half showing against Connecticut and the expectations were no longer middle of the Ivy pack but a top-three Ivy finish as winter break came to a close. The Lions were still a step below Harvard and Yale but they were certainly better than the Cornells and Dartmouths of the league, right?
Fast forward to today. With just six games remaining, Columbia is poised to finish in the middle of the pack, and it’s time to readjust expectations again. A 4-2 finish over the next three weekends puts Columbia at 15 wins for the third time in the last four seasons and likely will provide the Lions an opportunity to buy a CIT bid again. One could say that a 7-7 finish would be a step back considering the optimism around the team over the summer. As recently as five weeks ago, a .500 Ivy record would have been a huge disappointment. Considering where Columbia was in the immediate aftermath of Rosenberg’s injury, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that this is where the team likely belongs, despite the individual positives that fans can take away from nonconference play. The only thing all Columbia supporters have agreed on for a while is that they can’t wait to see next year’s team: a refrain as old as sports fandom itself.