It Takes a Thief…
They call it March Madness. To most of the players, it’s March sadness. And for the coaches, it’s March badness. The NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament — an $11 billion showcase (that’s right, $11 billion) of athleticism, teamwork and chicanery of the highest order. That the tournament was ultimately won by a coach who, three weeks prior to the tournament, was cited by the NCAA for specific recruiting violations and “failing to promote an atmosphere of compliance” sends an ironic message to its membership and the general public whose interest fuels the whole shebang. The message is: if you break the rules well enough, you can succeed and be a champion. I mean, it also played out this way for the NCAA and the BCS. Auburn cheats. Cam Newton’s Dad takes the money. They win the championship. This is more than a trend, this is the new reality of college athletics.
I love the way the NCAA talks tough about enforcing its amateurism by denying the players dollar one (while they steal their names, images and likenesses for lavish profit) and yet barely slaps the hands of defiant renegade coaches. If the NCAA really wanted to send a message to Jim Calhoun and the University of Connecticut, it would have suspended him immediately for the Big East Tournament, and then from the NCAA Tournament. Then the nation would have seen George Blaney again leading the Huskies as interim coach. Rogue coaches would have received a shivering jolt. It would have been a deterrent. Instead, Calhoun was suspended “next year” for three games in the frozen meaninglessness of January (what if the 68-year-old decides to retire now?). And coaches everywhere are giggling. It’s one thing that Jim Calhoun is the highest paid state employee in Connecticut (that includes ALL state employees). It’s another to reward cheating instead of penalizing it.
The UConn v. Kentucky Regional Final was especially disgusting as it pitted a mouse (John Calipari) against a rat (The Uncompliant One). Headline should have been: “Mouse Studies to Become Rat”. It reminded me of the scene in The Sting when Doyle Lonnegan got out-cheated in the poker game by Henry Gondorff, “What was I gonna do, call him out for cheating better than me?”
I know everyone got all weepy eyed over “Cinderellas” Butler and VCU. The truth is, with most of the best college-aged players already in the NBA thanks to the unconstitutional “one and done” rule, there are no more Cinderellas. Everyone is fairly mediocre (or redundant). So there is hardly any difference between, say a 3 seed and a 14 seed. Heck, VCU nearly DIDN’T get invited to the tournament by the RPI monkeys. Cornell started the “trend” last year, and VCU carried the torch in 2011. There are no big upsets anymore, just mild ones. VCU didn’t just eek their way past four national powerhouses — they blew them out. Those weren’t upsets. Basically, all teams are created equal.
How about the level of play? I’m not sure I even recognize this sport they now refer to as basketball. How bad is it when a team inbounding the ball under its own basket has to throw it all the way across the half court line to get it in? I never saw that until recently. Is this some kind of joke? They can’t inbound the ball into their own frontcourt? How about the free throw shooting? Even white boy teams like Butler & BYU clang boinkas endlessly. Who needs the pep band? There’s more noise from missed shots than the band. I’ve read a lot of stats on the Final game, but the fact that blows my mind is that BOTH teams managed to score 19 points in an entire half of basketball. Too bad both teams couldn’t lose — they deserved it. This year, I must say, the NCAA Women’s Tournament features a better brand of basketball. Better shooters. Better passers. Better ballhandlers. Better players.
I played in three NCAA Tournaments (3-3 overall) — got to the Elite 8 in 1977 and lost to Al McGuire’s Seashells & Balloons Marquette team — we were up 5 at the half. It was different then. I actually played in the first tournament that climaxed with “One Shining Moment” (we thought it was the dumbest song we ever heard). There were no TV timeouts. No 3-point line. There were 32 teams in my first tournament, then 48 in my last two, It was not an $11 billion spectacle. I believe that had a lot to do with the no TV timeouts. It was basketball. I’m not sure what it was that I watched these past three weeks.