The Democratic National Convention -- the second of our two scripted election-year political gatherings -- is currently taking place in Charlotte, N.C. You may have heard about this once or twice this week. Oregon State head men's basketball coach Craig Robinson is the brother of First Lady Michelle Obama. You may have heard about this once or twice in the past few years.
These two facts came together once more Tuesday night, when Michelle Obama gave a rousing and well-delivered speech* on behalf of her husband's bid for re-election. Robinson was in the building, but his presence wasn't limited to frequent crowd-reaction shots during his sister's speech. As he did at the 2008 DNC, Robinson took the stage -- this time with President Obama's sister, Maya Soetoro-ng -- to lobby on behalf of his sister's efforts to support military family initiatives and nutritional programs for American children. And he even snuck in a recruiting pitch:
"I’m Craig Robinson, Michelle Obama’s big brother, father of four and head coach of Oregon State University’s men’s basketball team. Any seven-footers out there, gimme a call! [...]
"[Michelle's] still the kind little sister she always was—now she’s just sticking up for those who stand up for us. And I’m proud of her work to give our children a healthier start in life. Let’s face it, Maya, I’m going to need the recruits!"
Obviously, those references to Robinson's profession were lighthearted and joking; he wasn't actually recruiting on the floor of the DNC. But four years ago, such nods didn't seem so trifling. There was a thought at the time -- back when candidate Obama was globally popular and untarnished by the rigors of the presidency -- that Robinson's family connections could genuinely serve as a recruiting tool. Come to Oregon State, be one phone call away from talking to President Obama. That may or may not be your personal cup of tea, but to 15-year-old recruits, it had to sound pretty cool.
Four years later, Robinson hasn't obviously leveraged that connection, and it's fair to wonder whether he'd even try. (Maybe he just doesn't want to go there. That would be admirable.) In any case, Robinson has won 18, 14, 10 and 21 games in each of his respective seasons at Oregon State, with nary an NCAA tournament bid to show for the marginal, if slow, improvement.
So, no, Robinson's national political visibility does not appear to be an asset to his basketball program. But recruiting is all about finding advantages at the margins, and lighthearted or no, every little bit helps.