OPINION: Examining the biggest “what-ifs” in recent Robert Morris sports history


Men’s basketball celebrates punching its ticket to March Madness. Photo credit: Thomas Ognibene

Tyler Gallo

Some of the best moments are mired with the “what if” question throughout sports history. The best conversations and debates are had about if a moment went a different way, like “what if Brett Hull’s Stanley Cup-winning goal didn’t count?” or “what if the Expos’ great season wasn’t cut short in 1994?“.

Shrinking it down to Robert Morris sports, during my time here, many events that have happened could have gone a different way, especially with the pandemic knocking a lot of things out.

I will examine some of those and predict how they could have gone if they happened in a different timeline, setting them up in chronological order.

What if men’s basketball beat Pitt at the first game at the Events Center?

There could not have been a better christening for men’s basketball at the UPMC Events Center than having Pitt come to town. While the game ended how the previous five matchups did at Pitt in a loss, not many remember that the teams were tied at 27 at halftime.

Dante Treacy sets up against Pitt. Photo Credit: David Auth

If RMU hangs on to win that game in front of a packed house of students and fans, that win is the signature one of what would become an impressive season for the Colonials.

Maybe that win compels more students to come back to games instead of skipping out in future seasons, remembering how fun the game was, and perhaps it is recognized as an instant classic instead of Pitt blemishing the team’s debut at their new arena.

What if volleyball didn’t lose to Central Connecticut in the NEC Tournament?

With how volleyball has played in their last two seasons, it’s hard to believe the utter dominance they ended their run in the NEC with.

The Colonials won all 15 games in conference play and were 25-3 overall, absolutely stunning opponents with NEC Player of the Year Emma Granger at the forefront.

However, against opponents in Long Island and Central Connecticut, the team shockingly sputtered to end their season, losing the last game of the regular season and falling at home in a five-set marathon to a 10-6 CCSU team in the opening round of the tournament as the top seed in the tournament.

If they win that game, there’s no doubt in my mind they go on to the NCAA Tournament, where they likely face (and lose to) no. 1 Baylor in the first round.

That team was ridiculous, but since they won their penultimate regular-season game to go 15-0, they have gone a combined 13-35 since joining the Horizon League.

What if football beat Central Connecticut in 2019?

In Bernard Clark’s second season at Robert Morris, he guided football to a surprise 7-5 overall record and a 6-1 record in NEC play. Postseason hopes were riding high as they traveled to CCSU in hopes of pulling off the upset, needing the win to stay alive as they hoped to head to the FCS playoffs for the first time since 2010.

Sadly, they were crushed 49-28 and so were their postseason hopes despite winning at Sacred Heart the following week.

If they win out, they play Albany, Clark’s former team, in the first round. While their run likely ends there, it would have been interesting to see Bernard Clark call plays against the team he left, and maybe the Colonials sneak away with an upset and move on to play Montana State.

What if men’s basketball got to play in the NCAA Tournament in 2020?

This what-if question perhaps hurts me and Robert Morris fans the most, as it was the last game we got to see before the pandemic hit, with the game occurring on Mar. 12, 2020.

You could not have written a better script as a packed house watched men’s basketball rush Saint Francis and capture the NEC crown (a court storm to boot) to head to the NCAA Tournament, which was wiped out due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Colonials likely play NC Central in Dayton in the First Four. I believe they beat NC Central that year en route to playing top-seeded Kansas in Omaha.

While the season most likely ends there, who knows what could have happened in that game with a good amount of the Robert Morris faithful in attendance? It is sad to think about since it hits so close to home.

What if women’s basketball finished the NEC Tournament?

This question holds the same sentiment as the previous one, as women’s basketball, like volleyball, was dominant in their final NEC season, losing against Mount St. Mary’s but winning their last three games to go 17-1 in conference play.

Women’s basketball celebrates their win over Wagner. Photo credit: Thomas Ognibene

They snatched a win from Wagner in the quarterfinals in overtime, only to see their next game against Sacred Heart taken away. Initially, they would go straight to March Madness, but then COVID-19 wiped it out altogether.

With their record being as good as it was, women’s basketball most certainly would have landed a 15 seed… where they would have played powerhouse UConn in the first round after playing Louisville the year prior, taking place in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

The Colonials’ run would probably end at the hands of the Huskies, but the experience still would have been unforgettable.

What if Irekpitan Ozzy-Momodu stuck around?

The loss of a chance to play in the NCAA Tournament is huge, but the team also lost a talented player in the offseason; forward Irekpitan Ozzy-Momodu, who was first off the bench for Nneka Ezeigbo.

In the offseason, the talented forward transferred to Eastern Michigan, leaving RMU with a significant lack of size after Ezeigbo graduated. Iré averaged 9.7 points and 8.5 rebounds off the bench, and with how talented Ezeigbo also was, this lack of production was huge.

If she sticks around, I think she thrives in the Horizon League, but that also sacrifices Sol Castro’s great season as a freshman. This “what-if” is a double-edged sword.

What if football played Hawaii as scheduled in 2020?

I came across this scheduling tweet last night, which gave me the idea for the story. Not many may remember this, but the Colonials were slated to go to Aloha Stadium before COVID-19 made that impossible.

Playing just three games in 2020, in a different timeline, football heads to Hawaii and takes on the Rainbow Warriors, which would be a fantastic experience for the players. Again, the score probably does not make it a great experience, but I don’t think anyone would pass up a trip to Hawaii, even if it means losing by 40.

Who wouldn’t want to see George Martin sling the rock on Oahu?

What if men’s lacrosse hung on to beat Duke?

Men’s lacrosse played as an independent last season before joining the new ASUN conference, so they had to become road warriors and take on some of the best teams in the country in hopes of securing a berth in the NCAA Tournament.

They took on no. 1 Duke, and led by Ryan Smith, fell 16-12, but led 5-2 after the first quarter and trailed 6-5 at halftime.

Imagine if they hung on to win this game? It bolsters their resume heading into tournament time and perhaps propels them to a berth as an independent. It would also be a banner win for the program, which not many would forget for a long time.

What if AJ Bramah didn’t transfer?

AJ Bramah at the free-throw line. Photo credit: Tyler Gallo

Ozzy-Momodu’s departure was big, but Bramah’s may have been bigger for men’s basketball, as it is impossible to replicate an average of a double-double, especially in Horizon League play.

Bramah entered the transfer portal on Feb. 12, 2021. If he stays the entire year, I think he challenges for Horizon League Player of the Year and winds up on the all-league first team.

In November, Bramah was dismissed from the Nevada program for conduct detrimental to the team. Maybe he is still playing basketball if he stays in Moon.

What if Robert Morris Hockey wasn’t discontinued?

Do you think I would go through this whole story without mentioning the hockey saga? This is perhaps the biggest of the past year. As the teams were wrongly discontinued (then resurrected), a lot can be said about what would have happened this season.

Robert Morris Hockey
The hockey team listens to the RMU band play the alma mater after their game. Photo Credit: David Auth

Men’s hockey was great in the western side of Atlantic Hockey last year, and looking at the standings, there are no real standouts except for AIC, with whom the Colonials often had legendary bouts. I think men’s hockey continues its solid stretch with a bolstered roster if they play this season.

As for the women’s side, Syracuse and Penn State are still the conference powerhouses, but a former Robert Morris player is helping Syracuse in goaltender Arielle DeSmet. DeSmet is turning in another outstanding season in net.

If RMU’s programs do not get discontinued, I think we see a consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance, and this time, they roll a different opponent and potentially win a game.

Like I said before, what-if conversations dominate sports debates, and it’s fun to speculate about what could have been for RMU athletics.