Centenary College Basketball: Saying Goodbye to the Gentlemen in Division I

Jeffrey BatheContributor IIIFebruary 14, 2011

February 6, 2010: Fort Wayne, Indiana

February 6 is not a date that rings out to many, and Fort Wayne may be more known for its annual Johnny Appleseed Festival, but the two combined for an important basketball event: the last time the Centenary College of Louisiana won a men's basketball game.

On that fateful day, the Gentlemen defeated the IPFW Mastodons 80-78 behind 18 points and 10 rebounds by Maxx Nakwaasah.

Since then, the Gentlemen have lost 32 in a row over the past two seasons, while standing at 0-27 this season—definitely not the way Centenary would want to end its time in Division I.

As the current team prepares to close out its Division I experience, it is time to take one last look.


The Gentlemen's Stroll in Division I

Currently, Centenary is the smallest D-I school in the country. It has been competing at the NCAA's highest level since 1960.

The Gentlemen started as an independent and then joined the Trans America Athletic Conference (now the Atlantic Sun Conference) as a founding member in 1978. Centenary had some success while playing in the TAAC, having eight winning seasons, one regular season title (in 1989-1990) and one tournament title (in 1979-1980) in 21 seasons.

In 1999 they left the conference and spent four years as an independent before joining the Mid-Continent Conference (now the Summit League) in 2003. This season will be their last season with the Summit League, as the Gentlemen will be joining the American Southwest Conference, a Division III conference, starting next season.

Centenary College president David Rowe said in a press release last spring, "Our transition to Division III is a move that will support and advance the mission and educational philosophy of the College."

As the college's endowment had decreased in recent years, with increasing travel costs, the move to Division III makes sense. The ASC will help cut down on costs, as six of the seven ASC East teams are within a three-hour drive of Shreveport, as compared to 347 miles to the nearest Summit League team, Oral Roberts.


Never Been Dancing

The Gentlemen have never made "The Dance." In fact, only five schools have gone longer than Centenary without a trip to basketball's title chase (Army, The Citadel, Northwestern, St. Francis-NY and William & Mary). As the season comes to a close, it is guaranteed that they will not make it this year, as their 0-15 conference record clinches that the Gentlemen will be home when the Summit Conference Tournament kicks off in Sioux Falls on March 5th. 

There have been times that Centenary has been close to making "The Dance." In 1980, they won the TAAC tournament, but the league did not have an automatic bid until the following season. Four times they fell one game short, losing the conference title game to Louisiana-Monroe in 1982 and falling to University of Arkansas-Little Rock three times (1986, 1989 and 1990).

In addition to those close calls, there's the saddest incident of all, where the Gentlemen went 87-21 over a four-year span that didn't exist in the NCAA's eyes.


The Robert Parish Years

Robert Parish, who ended up becoming a Hall of Famer with the Boston Celtics, was recruited by Centenary to play starting in the 1972-1973 season. However, his recruitment was among several that had problems.

The NCAA had the 1.6 Prediction Rule in place at the time, which provided a framework for student eligibility involving grades and standardized test scores (the Prop 48 of its day). Parish, among others, had taken a test that didn't fit the formula, and the college did a conversion to fit the accepted tests.

The NCAA called Centenary on this and gave them the chance to revoke the scholarship of Parish and four others, which the college refused. This was a factor in the NCAA placing the Gentlemen on six years' probation.

Parish stayed at the school and proved himself to be the best player to put on a uniform for Centenary, as he averaged 21.6 points and 16.9 rebounds per game over his career, though his statistics were not included in the NCAA record books. Not only did he lead his team to an 87-21 record during his playing career, the only times that the Gentlemen were ranked occurred during his tenure (finishing the 1975-1976 season ranked No. 19).

So the best teams of Centenary's history were denied a chance to go dancing because of a rule whose time was short-lived, as the NCAA revoked the 1.6 Prediction Rule the same week that Centenary was placed on probation for violating it.


The Final Struggles

Looking at recent years of Centenary basketball shows a team that has more than its share of struggles. In addition to never making the NCAA Tournament, the Gentlemen have not had a winning record since 2003-2004 (16-12). They have not had a 20-win season since 1989-1990 but have had seven straight 20-loss seasons, including this season.

With three games left in the season, the Gentlemen are sitting at 0-27. Three chances remain to avoid joining an exclusive club of teams that have gone through the season winless. Additionally, as the Gentlemen are playing 30 games this year, if they lose the last three games, they will have posted the worst season in Division I history.

A sad end to their run indeed. Best of luck Gentlemen as you move to D-III.