William and Mary men's basketball coach Tony Shaver just finished up his ninth season with the Tribe and has a 103-172 record.

William & Mary head coach Tony Shaver shows his frustration in the second half of Wednesday's game against Old Dominion. (Kaitlin McKeown, Daily Press / February 8, 2012)

As March Madness unfolds and dozens of schools savor accomplishments and build upon existing basketball traditions, one school again shelved its uniforms for the season as the principals tackle the hard work of overcoming decades of futility.

The men's and women's programs at William and Mary concluded disappointing seasons in similar fashion. Both teams lost in the first round of their respective Colonial Athletic Association tournaments, frustrating ends to seasons that began with great promise.

The Tribe men (6-26) recorded their fewest wins since 1993-94 in a season disrupted by injuries from the start. William and Mary's women (10-20) lost 15 of their final 17 games after an encouraging first six weeks.

The results speak to programs with scant tradition and little margin for error, competing in the middle-to-upper reaches of Division I basketball, at a school with limited resources and uncompromising academic standards.

"We're trying to balance the academic mission and the athletic mission at the same time and be as competitive as we can," W&M athletic director Terry Driscoll said, "understanding that we have certain assets and liabilities that we have to manage that don't make us like everyone else. It just makes us who we are."

William and Mary's men have posted just four winning records since 1985 and have finished among the CAA upper tier just twice. The Tribe remains one of just five programs with at least 50 years of Division I membership never to have made the NCAA tournament.

The women's program, once targeted for termination in the early 1990s after years of bottom-feeding finishes and debatable return on the expense, has had just five winning records since joining Division I. The women haven't finished higher than fifth in the conference in a dozen years, before the current 12-team alignment.

"One of the difficult things," men's coach Tony Shaver said, "is when you're trying to build something and there's no tradition for it, I think every setback will re-energize those who believe it can't be done. That's why our staff, me, others, have to be so determined, so persistent in trying to reach our goals."

The Tribe's identity is also reflected in its approach to its basketball coaches. William and Mary is one of just 15 of 338 Division I schools nationally in which the men's and women's basketball programs, heading into this season, had coaches with at least five years tenure and sub-.500 records.

Shaver, who just completed his ninth season, is 103-172. Women's coach Debbie Taylor, who just concluded the 13th season at her alma mater, is 105 games under .500, with a 138-243 record.

"It's a job where you can't judge the coach strictly on winning and losing and fortunately, I think our administration understands that," Shaver said. "I think it's an administration that's been supportive of what we're trying to do. I think they're realistic about some of the challenges we face. There's recognition that we've made this program relevant. We've made this program competitive. I think we've got respect around our league right now. We're capable of competing."

Taylor had what she said was far and away her deepest and most versatile team. She and her players looked for a radical turnaround from last season's injury-decimated 3-26 season into the upper half of the conference.

"I was hopeful that this year definitely would have gotten us there, because I thought we had the team to do it," Taylor said. "If there's a finger to point, it's obviously got to be at me, because I think we had enough talent to do it."

Driscoll is in the midst of evaluating the programs, a deliberate process that includes discussions with the coaches and feedback from administrators and players. He is well aware that plenty of athletic departments and A.D.'s would have fired coaches and started fresh by now.

"I would tend to come down on the more patient side," he said. "Inevitably, there's a point where change could come. I have to say that winning is important. But when we sit down to evaluate our coaches, Ws and Ls have never been the primary component.

"There are aspects of the program, how things are going, what are we achieving, are we getting the kids we need? All of those things are evaluated and then we'll go forward."

Driscoll understands basketball better than most people in his position. He was an All-American at Boston College and a professional player and coach. But he balances his opinions about the game with an understanding of where he works and the challenges his coaches face.

"Because I know basketball, I don't have any problem talking to Tony or Debbie about the basketball side," he said. "But I don't try to do their jobs. ... First and foremost, I need to try to make sure to do all I can, within the resources that we have, to help them be successful.

"But yes, the success of the program is important, in terms of wins and losses at a certain point. We can't be satisfied with just being here. We have to emphasize success within the framework of the school and the overall mission. At the same time, coaches have to understand that one of the components of success is Ws and Ls. It's incumbent on me to decide when that is."