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NBA barges in on NCAA tourney

This week we learned another side effect of the lockout: the NBA is stomping all over the NCAA tournament.

March is supposed to belong to the college kids. The NBA usually recedes to the background during the tournament and goes completely dark on the first Monday in April to let the NCAA championship game have the stage to itself.

Not this year. With the trade deadline pushed back because of the delayed start to the season, the Dwight Howard news dominated basketball discussion on Thursday. Yes, that Thursday, the hoop holiday, the one that features wall-to-wall ball and the first full slate of games.

It doesn’t get better on the other end. This year there will be six NBA games played on the same Monday night as the NCAA championship. The pros just couldn’t afford to take a night off while trying to cram a 66-game schedule into 18 weeks.

I feel bad for the NCAA tournament. Not the NCAA part. I’ll never pity the NCAA as long as it sticks with its outdated, exploitive notion of amateurism and denies fair compensation to the players generating the lucrative TV and sponsorship deals. It’s the tournament itself that gets my sympathy. It’s such a great event, the most fun part of the sports calendar.The tournament sucks in everyone who fills out a bracket.

But once your picks are eliminated what compels you to stick around and watch? It could be that college basketball no longer fits the way we follow sports. We’ve become a transaction-based media and fanbase. We don’t obsess over discovering the next big names, we obsess over what the big names will do next. Keep in mind, more people watched LeBron James’ Decision than watch a typical NBA playoff game.

College basketball doesn’t give us trades to stir things up during the season. It only has players leaving to go to the pros after their final buzzer sounds.

The problem with the tournament is it doesn’t feature the element that sets college basketball apart: the atmosphere. Come March there aren’t games in Cameron Indoor Stadium or Allen Fieldhouse. Instead we’ll see regional finals played in NBA arenas and a final in the Louisiana Superdome. The crowds feel muted, the students aren’t right on the court….and the shooting backgrounds get worse the bigger the building.

But if the two championship teams can’t fare any better than that Connecticut-Butler brickfest last year, you’ll have options this time. How does Grizzlies-Thunders or Clippers-Mavericks sound?