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March Mildness: How the NCAA Tournament Lost Its Swagger

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Posted on Apr 1, 2010
AP / Matt Sayles

Cornell coach Steve Donahue and the team’s unofficial mascot, Big Red Bear, assume the position.

By Mark Heisler

(Page 2)

Once, Kentucky would have had a young team on the brink of a dynasty. Now the next time half of its players may get together is the rookie-sophomore game during NBA All-Star Weekend.

Wall, the highest-rated prospect since LeBron, is expected to go No. 1 in the June draft (his entry is considered a given). Three teammates—junior Patrick Patterson, freshmen DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Bledsoe—could go in the lottery.

If freshman backup center Daniel Orton, who was limited coming off surgery, turns pro, he could go in or near the lottery, too.

So that was some devastating loss Kentucky suffered to West Virginia in the Sweet 16 last week!

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Wildcat fans were already joking wryly about enjoying their 2010 title before the NCAA took it away, as it did with Coach John Calipari’s 2008 title at Memphis, along with 38 wins and their $615,000 winners share, for using an ineligible player, point guard Derrick Rose, found to have let someone else take his SAT.

Not that that was a shocker, since Calipari’s previous 1996 Final Four appearance with UMass also no longer exists, officially.

Still, UK, which used to recruit just fine on the up and up, or at least without controversy over the favors shown by its famous boosters who owned thoroughbred stables, hired Cal, and we had to sit through all his Fed-Ex commercials.

Fed-Ex, the company with envelopes you can rely on to stay closed when you’re sending cash!

The problem, of course, is (aw, you guessed it) cold commercial reality.

NBA Commissioner David Stern would love a higher minimum age. Among other benefits, players who stay become stars before the NBA ever puts a penny in them, like Grant Hill, who appeared in three Final Fours with Duke.

The NBA Players Association opposes age rules as a freedom issue. If Stern cared enough, he could buy the union off with concessions in other areas, as he did to bump the age to 19.

Now, however, Stern has more pressing issues, like the 50-50 revenue split he vows to get or close shop in 2011.

There’s actually a way to do this:

Raise the minimum age to 20, so a player who starts college has to stay three years, as in baseball.

Any player who doesn’t want to go to college can play in the NBA Developmental League at 18. If he’s drafted, he can make the money mandated by the rookie salary cap. If not, the D-League can enhance its minimum salaries.

In any case, young players’ economic rights would be protected, and the D-League would get new attractions, a major improvement over the present none.

Meanwhile, back among the, uh, amateurs ...

The NCAA can opt out of its deal with CBS this summer, but no other network will pay that much—especially with $2 b-b-billion of the overall $6 b-b-billion due from 2009-2011 in the back-loaded deal.

If there’s any chance of heading off losing the tournament to ESPN, the new predator on the block with its cable subscription revenue, CBS may have to come up with a bigger tournament, literally—like 128 teams.

Then it would really be bloated, the pre-selection excitement would be gone and the brackets would be so big you’d have to lay the whole thing on the floor to see it.

The Big Dance: Enjoy it before it multiplies.


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By christian96, April 5, 2010 at 10:21 pm Link to this comment

Does anyone know how much money
Duke University received from the tobacco industry
over the last several years?

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By benewbury, April 4, 2010 at 5:55 pm Link to this comment

Kudos on correcting the Villanova/NC State bit, but could someone also correct the record on 2008? Memphis didn’t win a title to be stripped of… Kansas beat them and won the 2008 title game.

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By christian96, April 4, 2010 at 8:03 am Link to this comment

Today, April 4th, there is an article on Kentucky.com
about the controversy surrounding basketball players
who come to college for one year and then leave for
the NBA.  The article is titled: “UK Notebook: One-
And-Dones Pose Quandry For Todd(President of the
University of Kentucky).”  I wrote the following
comments following the article which are appropriate
for Easter Sunday:

Christian96 wrote on 04/04/2010 10:34:51 AM:
What do you expect from these youngsters? They are raised in a society
that places extremely high value on “Fame and Fortune.” I’m one of few
Counseling Psychologists who believe in the Bible. I’ve studied it for
32 years since my father’s heart attack on Good Friday, April 8, 1977.
I’m convinced the Bible was written by men who were inspired by the
Holy Spirit. I’m presently writing a book for young people to explain
how the Bible relates to their everyday lives. For those of you who
don’t know much about the Bible, one concept it strongly teaches is that
“you can’t worship God and money.” You have to make a choice. I was born in a coal mining town in Muhlenberg County Kentucky and raised in a
coal mining town in West Virginia. Because of the cruel way coal mine
owners treated the miners they had to fight to form a union. During that fight there was a popular song among the miners that ask the question, “Who’s side are you on brother? Who’s side are you on?” Well, it’s that way now in society with it’s worship of money. Since
you can’t worship God and money, “Who’s side are you on brother? Who’s
side are you on?” Appropriate questions for today, Easter Sunday!

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By samosamo, April 2, 2010 at 12:17 pm Link to this comment

Distraction worked to perfection.

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By Don, April 2, 2010 at 5:59 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Sports nuts are funny like in “wake up and smell the roses, dudes.” Basketball is a game—HELLO! In the case of the NCAA, it’s a collosal game, mainly intended to showcase tomorrow’s top professional picks. It’s part of the NBA proving ground that now starts with kids as early as 10 who are “prepared” and packaged to move through high school and maybe a couple of years of college to pro status regardless of whether they can read, write or compute as well as the average fifth grader. Good if they can, of course, but no one who is part of the process’s management cares for anything much more than their ability to dribble, pass, transition, shoot, jump, defend. But I love March Madness and the race to the Final Four because it’s the last time most of the players will ever perform in front of the cameras. I like to see them get a little public visibility for all they’ve forfeited in pursuit of what is, as the author begrudgingly suggests, just another over-blown, over-indulged entertainment, rigged in favor of big people (like in size), big schools (like in program budgets), big bucks (like in all the money it generates for a privileged few). As for the sports nuts in this mix, find a better fix—like writing about the world’s socio-political challenges and finding solutions for what ails the human race. FYI, Duke takes it all in the end and if they don’t I don’t care unless it means I hit the pool in my local bar.

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By Stephen, April 1, 2010 at 5:23 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Not to be too picky, but the following quote has a couple of factual mistakes:

“By the ’80s, the tournament was rocking with sensational finales, as in 1982 when Jim Valvano’s rag-tag North Carolina State shocked Houston’s Phi Slama Jamas, and 1983 when little Villanova shot 79 percent in its “perfect upset” of mighty Georgetown”.

North Carolina State defeated Houston in 1983.  Villanova defeated Georgetown in 1985.  Patrick Ewing and the Hoyas defeated Olajuwon and the Cougars in 1984.

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By Hulk2008, April 1, 2010 at 1:31 pm Link to this comment

Mr. Heisler gives away his lack of interest in basketball when he indicates he’d sell his tickets to buy a BMW.  Conversely, a true basketball purist might sell his Beamer to get NCAA tickets.

It’s true that bball now looks like a junior NBA league.  That’s because “college” is only remotely associated with these sports - long ago recruits were interested in swapping their talents to get an education .... er, you know, a SCHOLAR-ship.  Now a recruit often changes schools to get a better shot at going pro - sometimes more than once. 

Until colleges put the emphasis back on education, and the NBA leaves students alone until they graduate, bball fans might as well enjoy what is offered.  Too bad that the announcer on Sports Line the other night said he “hated” underdogs (e.g. Butler).  Unlike the NBA, the kids, the crowds, the excitement, and a certain level of unpredictability make the NCAA tournament entertaining even for the jaded media.  In fact, the media ruins coverage with their various big-school biases and all those goofy in-depth stories about athletes’ family histories etc.

P.S.  I never cared much for Billy Packer anyway.  Clark Kellog could slam dunk Billy any day of the week.

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By drew, April 1, 2010 at 12:31 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

this is the best tourney i can remember. this is what basketball is supposed to be. most people think there are a lot of ‘upsets’ but thats just the average person not knowing about basketball. these teams all have quality players now. hey, those kids who ‘upset’ the bigger name school? they are all on scholarship too, my friend.

this tourney is perfect. dont touch it. just get it off cbs. for some reason, they like to televise the 1/16, 2/15 and 3/14 games. those are the least interesting games i have ever seen, even the ones where the lower seeds won. show better games and youll get better ratings.

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By Chris, April 1, 2010 at 10:55 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

While I agree with many of your recommendations, I
think this year’s tournament is great! I love the
upsets and the “mid-majors” even if they do screw up my
brackets in the office pool.

A Butler/Duke final game would be the perfect set-up
for a Hoosiers moment.

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By christian96, April 1, 2010 at 10:22 am Link to this comment

The AP selected John Wall All-American.  If you have
any of the Kentucky games watch John Wall.  He
definitely gets an “A” for offense but barely a “C”
for defense.  That averages to a “B.”  If “B” is
good enough for All-American then I guess the AP
knows what they are talking about.  The article
didn’t mention the possible amount of money bet(tax
free) on the tournament.  Money has ruined sports
as it has just about everything else in society.
I, also, dislike the way CBS televises the games.
If I want to watch a game other than the one CBS
is televising I have to go to my computer to watch
it.  Somehow watching a game on a 17” computer screen
doesn’t compare to watching one one a 50” HD screen.
Couldn’t ESPN carry some of the games?

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By benewbury, April 1, 2010 at 9:04 am Link to this comment

Mr. Heisler has done well for a person who apparently pays little attention to NCAA basketball.

1. Memphis winning the 2008 title comes as quite a shock to people in Lawrence, Kan. What was all that partying about? They were pretty sure Kansas won that.

2. I’m not sure how Baylor (a 3 seed) was a ‘nobody’ from out of ‘nowhere.’ They just have LaceDarius Dunn and Ekpe Udoh and finished this year with 28 wins in a pretty tough conference.

Aside from those two (the first bordering on unforgivable, at least from the perspective of a Kansan and, yes, we all have religious feelings about the game of college basketball and are understandably sensitive given the three epic chokes around that 2008 title,) the tone of the article is pretty on. Especially the bit about the baseball rule. NCAA basketball should go to that: either straight to the pros or 3 years as an ‘amateur.’

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By daybedoe, April 1, 2010 at 6:53 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I thought all these upsets was what made March Madness so entertaining.  Lower
seeds beating higher ones, no-name schools taking down the established
programs, buzzer beaters, kids trying as hard as they can for 40 minutes or more. 
Everyone’s bracket took a beating this year.  Relax and enjoy!

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By C.Curtis.Dillon, April 1, 2010 at 5:02 am Link to this comment

Stopped watching NCAA men’s ball years ago as it just became junior version of NBA.  All the jams and NBA style play turned me off.  Not at all interested who wins the tournament this year or any other.  Was a big UCONN woman’s fan when I lived in Connecticut and my youngest went there.  That was real BBall ... the women didn’t feel the need to dominate under the basket and just slam the ball home.  They actually had to play a teem game ... what a concept!  Now that I live in Eastern Europe, I get to watch many NCAA second tier players (even a few UCONN players I watched in Storrs) do their thing over here.  Much better games because there isn’t the pressure to be a star.  NBA would be so much better if they actually put TEAMs on the floor instead of 5 individuals each trying to upstage their peers.  Of course, that violates the American ideal of the individual ... it’s more socialist to work together to accomplish something.  How boring!

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