F.D.-Who? A Commuter School Hopes To Be a March Madness Fairy Tale.
It was quiet at the Fairleigh Dickinson University campus in New Jersey the day after its basketball team pulled off a stunning upset in the men’s N.C.A.A. tournament. But it’s often quiet there.
TEANECK, N.J. — The jokes of “F.D.— who?” go back more than 30 years, to the last time Fairleigh Dickinson University played Purdue in the N.C.A.A. men’s tournament.
Purdue fans held up signs with the slogan when the two teams faced off in 1988.
F.D.U. faded back into obscurity.
So, for alumni of the New Jersey commuter school who remember the old jab, F.D.U.’s shocking victory against No. 1 Purdue on Friday was especially sweet.
On Friday evening, Marc A. Wolfe, who worked for the student newspaper in those days, reposted photos he took from the sidelines of the 1988 game, just before he watched his alma mater topple the Boilermakers, 63-58, in the first round of this year’s tournament.
“I’m excited that F.D.U. has done what was not only unexpected, but now people will know more about what’s possible,” Mr. Wolfe said.
F.D.U.’s basketball team has the shortest average height in Division I, while Purdue’s roster includes Zach Edey, who is 7 feet 4 inches. F.D.U.’s interim president, Michael J. Avaltroni, said that the David-and-Goliath win lined up with the legacy of the small university.
“We have always really been about giving students a chance,” Mr. Alvatroni said, “oftentimes when they didn’t even know whether college was a good fit for them. And kind of transforming them along the way and giving them the opportunity to, in some cases, perform these very miraculous feats.”
The university, which also has campuses in England and Canada, bills itself as a global institution. A few hundred international students are also enrolled at the two New Jersey campuses.
But a vast majority of students there are in-state students and attend part time. The university’s Metropolitan Campus sits on the border of Teaneck and Hackensack, middle-class towns across the Hudson River from Manhattan. Seventy percent of the students at Metropolitan Campus commute, Mr. Avaltroni said. The other campus is in Madison, a small suburb further west.
Metropolitan Campus’s utilitarian brick buildings include the Rothman Center, a building with a tent-like roof that is home to the school’s men’s basketball team, the Knights. But the morning after the big game, the revelry was muted, with students away on spring break and the campus nearly deserted.
A thin banner spanned Teaneck’s main street, Cedar Lane. “Congratulations F.D.U. Men’s Basketball Team. Welcome to the N.C.A.A. March Madness Tournament,” it read.
Student athletes who stuck around for practices over spring break watched the game together on campus on Friday. Liam Deep, who runs track for F.D.U., watched alongside softball players.
Mr. Deep is from Toronto, but “I wasn’t from Toronto last night,” he said.
Mr. Avaltroni, the interim president, said both the men’s and women’s basketball teams have done well this year. “There’s been an enthusiasm on campus that I have not seen,” he said, adding, “I’ve been at the university for 20 years.”
The women’s team finished its season as regular-season champions, but lost in the first round of the Women’s National Invitation Tournament on Friday night to Columbia University. Mia Andrews, a guard on the women’s team, said her team “had mixed emotions because obviously, we had just finished our season.”
But after the players found out that the men’s team had won, they broke into chants in the locker room. “It was a fun moment,” she said.
Anete Adul was making her way back to Teaneck from Florida with the university’s golf team during the game. “We were in Orlando in the airport, and everyone was watching it, and it was so cool," she said.
Locals hope it could be another good basketball year for New Jersey. Last year, the state became the focal point of March Madness when another obscure institution, St. Peter’s University in Jersey City, made it all the way to the round of 8 as a No. 15 seed.
Watch parties for F.D.U.’s next game are planned for the Rothman Center as well as Hackensack Brewing Company, a craft brewery near Metropolitan Campus. This week, Princeton University also scored an upset when the Tigers, a No. 15 seed, beat No. 2 Arizona, 59-55.
When Mr. Wolfe was a student, after F.D.U. won the N.E.C. championship and made it to the N.C.A.A. tournament, “we got on a bus, us and a bunch of other students and fans, and drove 15 hours to Indiana,” he said. (The game was held on the University of Notre Dame campus.)
Mr. Wolfe lived on campus. He said it led to opportunities like working at the student newspaper and cemented his bond to the school.
“I figured if you commute to a school, it’s not the same as if you live there,” he said.
This year, the F.D.U. fans who had traveled to see the team’s first-round game — which was played at an arena in Columbus, Ohio — were drowned out by the crowd that had turned out for Purdue. But Purdue’s team was gracious after the loss.
Matt Painter, Purdue’s coach, put it simply: “They were fabulous.”