Friday, April 2, 2010

March Madness X 2

The blurry photo at the left shows the great Carolina point guard, Phil Ford, running the Four Corners. As a child growing up in Greensboro, North Carolina, I had the privilege (?) of watching Dean Smith's favorite offensive strategy in action. Which means I got to watch four Tarheels, standing around at the "corners" of their offensive half-court, pass the ball off to each other whenever a defensive player got close enough to possibly make it necessary to dribble the ball.

The Four Corners managed to make watching college basketball boring, even for me.

Cleveland State Coach, John McClendon, (pictured right, the first African American to coach at a predominantly white University) is credited with inventing the Four Corners, but Dean Smith certainly made good and frequent use of it. If any other University of Virginia basketball fans were active in 1982, I'm sure you remember the frustration of watching Carolina go into the Four Corners in order to protect a tiny lead over the 'Hoos in that year's ACC Tournament Championship game. Virginia lost 47-45.

The next year the ACC began to use a shot clock. And Dean Smith had to find another way to win. Which he did.

My point in talking about the Four Corners is that men's college basketball is always changing in response to what goes on on the court. And, in this blogger's opinion, a lot of these changes have been good for the game and good for the fans. The three-point line comes to mind.

Last night I watched a mystifying-ly turnover prone Carolina men's team lose to the Dayton Flyers in what will probably be the last NIT tournament final played in Madison Square Garden. The NIT, the National Invitational Tournament, the grandparent of all post season basketball play-athons, is probably going to be shut down by the expected expansion of the NCAA tournament from its current 65 teams to 96 teams.

Of course, the NIT has long been an afterthought; the tournament for all the teams who hoped to make the Big Dance, but didn't. The NIT is steeped in tradition and fun to watch, but if it goes, probably no one other than hardcore basketball sentimentalists will miss it.

It seems to be the consensus, however, that the reason for the NCAA's probable expansion of its men's tournament has little to do with what's good for the game, the players, or the fans, and a whole lot to do with money. This was made pretty clear at the NCAA's press conference held (ironically) on April Fool's Day. This is how ESPN's Dana O'Neil began her column,  Regrettably, expansion seems inevitable
INDIANAPOLIS -- Essentially, this is what we learned from NCAA head honchos here Thursday afternoon:
• They don't care about fans.
• They don't care about the regular season.
• They don't care about conference tournaments.
• And they sure don't care about student-athletes' being bothered by that pesky "student" portion of their hyphenated moniker by going to class.
What do they care about? Cash.
 A little later on in her piece, she goes on to say:
. . .Before making the official announcement to destroy what many consider to be the perfect postseason, the NCAA needs you to understand why 96 teams is good for you -- even if the folks in charge sound an awful lot like a mom trying to shove Brussels sprouts down a toddler's throat.

"In terms of context, it's important to point out that across the 88 championships that the association has, the majority of them have expanded in the last 10 years," [NCAA Senion Vice-President Greg] Shaheen said. "The topic of field size is an evergreen topic that is up to our membership."

The fact of the matter is, 96 teams is good only for the people cashing the checks, the ones who see an option out of the $6 billion deal with CBS as a greed grab for an even bigger financial windfall.
In other words, the idea of expanding the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament to 96 teams is about a bigger TV deal. Or as Vanna White would say, it's about Big Money! Big Money!

John Feinstein agrees. Here's an excerpt from his post-press conference column on the subject of tournament expansion
Look, this is about money and everyone knows it. Shaheen even made indirect reference to that when he talked about 88 other championships the NCAA conducts and the need to protect their financial futures. That protection comes from squeezing every possible dollar out of men's basketball. It was almost comical when someone asked if expansion was being contemplated for the women's tournament. The women's tournament costs money, so it isn't going to be expanded anytime soon. 
We Americans have watched Big Money take over almost every aspect of our lives. Now, it seems, we're going to have to let it severely damage one of our most eagerly anticipated annual sporting events, men's college basketball's March Madness.

As Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen) put it in Singin' in the Rain, "I cayn't stand it.

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