Selection Sunday marked one of the sadder days in Penn State sports history.
The Nittany Lions, dressed and ready to dance, were left out of the NCAA Tournament as their bubble exploded with the announcement of the 65-team field.
In their three previous semi-recent appearances, there was no such suspense. They had clinched the 1991 Atlantic 10 title. In 1996, they were in The Dance all season following a 9-0 start in Jerry Dunn's first year, and they played their way in by decking No. 2 Michigan State in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals in 2001.
Sunday, though, was different.
Sunday, after bubble busters like Mississippi State and Temple crashed the party, the Lions had to watch in resigned disappointment after their loss to Purdue in the Big Ten quarters confirmed fears they'd be one victory shy of an at-large berth.
Though Penn State won 22 games, including an admirable 10-8 record in the Big Ten, their non-conference schedule was understandably deemed too weak by the selection committee.
It was soft enough, apparently, to negate road victories at Michigan State and Illinois.
Despite being the Big Ten coach of the year, Ed DeChellis was not the scheduler of the year, and he'll be blamed for this. And he should be.
It's one thing to reach into lower-level leagues for automatic wins. But DeChellis reached too deep and found New Jersey Tech, New Hampshire, Lafayette, Sacred Heart and Army and wound up with Towson in a tourney consolation game.
The Nits did beat Georgia Tech in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge and lost a chance to play Villanova in the finals of the Philly Hoops Classic by losing to Rhode Island in an earlier round.
Typically, the toughest non-conference game the Lions have played under DeChellis has been in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge, and that game is arranged for them.
This has been going on at Penn State for years as the Lions' non-conference schedule has been designed to get them into the NIT.
Unfortunately, had the Lions gotten 'Nova or kept up a series with Pitt that DeChellis inherited from Jerry Dunn, or just added a couple better mid-level teams, they may have had what they needed to beat Wisconsin at home or Iowa on the road, and this conversation would be moot.
Dunn, who scheduled Pitt and Georgetown home and home and went to Kentucky on a one-shot deal - and won - and played Tennessee, 'Nova and Boston College, did a better job with non-con opportunities, and it paid off.
This year, with clearly a team good enough to make the NCAAs, DeChellis sold his players short. During their recruitment, he wanted them to believe in him and Penn State, and yet, he and Penn State didn't believe enough in them.
But DeChellis isn't the only one at fault.
He entered the season with a 57-92 record at Penn State, easily the lowest winning percentage (38.3) in school history. Now he's 79-103. But after his third year brought an NIT trip in 2006, the university extended his contract through 2011, so it's not like Eddie D. was fighting for his job.
He concocted a schedule to help improve his record, and athletic director Tim Curley allowed it. Just as he's allowed these bogus non-conference schedules during most of his tenure.
And that surely goes for football as well.
Next year the football team will stuff Temple, Akron, Syracuse and Eastern Illinois down its fans' throats.
But the loyalists will still pack Beaver Stadium, and the bowl people, which value TV ratings and travel bases more than the NCAA Basketball Tournament does, won't care.
Penn State football and basketball are two different things playing by two different sets of rules. But their common denominator is the non-conference schedule.
And that was painfully reinforced on Selection Sunday.
It will be interesting, and telling, if Penn State admits that, addresses it and finally starts to unveil a grander vision for its basketball program.
When that happens, the next time they're worthy of being an NCAA Tournament team, the Nittany Lions won't have to sneak in the back door.
Like their Big Ten brethren, they'll already be in.
Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or firstname.lastname@example.org.