RICHMOND, Va. - Virginia Commonwealth basketball players Bradford Burgess and Brandon Rozzell look out from a billboard on I-95 South with a message for passers-by: "Our City, Your Team."
These days, though, that slogan is the subject of some debate.
Virginia’s state capital is home to two of the 16 teams still standing in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, a fact that bewilders VCU and University of Richmond supporters alike, let alone the nation’s bracket prognosticators.
Richmond and VCU are separated by six miles and a few rungs on the socioeconomic ladder. Richmond is a small, secluded, private school, while VCU is a bustling, urban, state institution. Fans of each will be able to unite under the banner of civic pride Friday in San Antonio for the Southwest Region semifinals. If Richmond can upset Kansas and VCU can beat Florida State, the two teams will play each other Sunday for a spot in the Final Four.
Since the NCAA tournament field expanded to 64 in 1985, just two other cities - Los Angeles and Philadelphia – have boasted two teams in the round of 16 in the same year.
VCU is a state school with a diverse and rapidly growing student population and an in-state tuition under $9,000. Many of those who attend VCU – now more than 32,000 students – are from the region and stay in the area after they’re done with classes. Located near the city’s center, VCU has no football program, which has funneled alumni focus toward a men’s basketball program that has been moderately successful for much of the past two decades.
Richmond resides on a small suburban campus surrounded by a lake and homes fortressed by barriers of brick and wrought iron. A vast majority of Richmond’s 4,400 students come from outside the state, many from the Northeast. Tuition is north of $41,000 per year.
The last time Richmond advanced to the round of 16, in 1998, Matt Smith was a senior in high school.
“When I was in school, the Richmond student section used to chant, ‘That’s all right. That’s OK. You’ll all work for us one day,’” said Smith, a 1992 Richmond graduate who works as a marketing director at Farm Bureau Insurance. “VCU fans had their own cheers, as well.”