Thursday, March 18, 2004
The NCAA is everybody's business
By Mike Greenberg ESPN Radio
Nothing gives me less pleasure than picking on the NCAA.
If you listen to my radio show you may be inclined to think otherwise. You may think nothing pleases me MORE than excoriating the grand collection of phoniness that oversees the indentured servitude that is major college basketball. But you would be wrong.
NCAA president Myles Brand represents the Madness in a different light.
Pointing out the hypocrisy of the NCAA is neither exciting nor challenging. As an intellectual foe, the NCAA offers less resistance than your average 16th seed does in its basketball tournament. It merely falls back on the same, tired clichés it was founded upon, the ones that are only observed to counter critics. And observed in theory alone.
The NCAA likes to tell you about its core values. Like upholding the principle of institutional control of intercollegiate sports, and encouraging its members to comply with satisfactory standards of sportsmanship and amateurism. Have you read a newspaper lately? Have you heard about Colorado? Or Georgia? Or Auburn? Let me check the news wires, I may have missed a scandal in the last ten minutes.
Tell me, how do you think the institutional control and standards of sportsmanship are doing?
The president of the association, Myles Brand, was recently the source of ridicule when he made the infamous statement that college athletics is not a business, but did not specify that the only programs to which he was referring were women's fencing and chess. To Mr. Brand I can only say, give me a break. If this basketball tournament you have going on is not a business, then why do billions of dollars change hands because of it? If it is not a business, why does it have corporate partners? If the tournament is not a business, why does it have an official soft drink? And an official performance vehicle? And why does it allow a television network to dictate the seeding of the brackets?
That's what happened Sunday, in case you missed it. In case you missed Bob Bowlsby, chairman of the selection committee, admitting that because of time constraints the results of the Big Ten and Big 12 Title games were not considered in the seeding process. That would explain Illinois being seeded ahead of Wisconsin, less than an hour after the Badgers beat the Illini for the second time in three meetings. Bowlsby explained that the network insists on airing the selection program at a certain time, and the conferences insist on taking the money and running, and thus both are complicit in rendering MEANINGLESS the game the student-athletes were playing. Those are the same student athletes the NCAA claims to be dedicated to protecting.
Play hard guys. The NCAA does.
Bowlsby, an athletic director at Iowa -- a Big Ten school -- said it bluntly, "We accept the money for those games late in the afternoon and have to take the downside that goes along with it."
I suppose we shouldn't expect them to leave any money on the table. What business would?
Oh, wait, I almost forgot. This isn't a business.
I take no pleasure in pointing out any of these contradictions. But someone has to. Someone has to NOT sit idly by and watch guys in suits exploiting kids in shorts. Someone has to do something. And someday, I hope someone with more than a pen or a microphone does.
Meanwhile, lest there should be any confusion on the subject, as a sports fan I consider March Madness to be the best event of the year. It matches the pageantry of the Super Bowl with the tradition of the World Series and, unlike either of those, it rarely disappoints.
The memories are endless and indelible. Christian Laettner, from Grant Hill. Lorenzo Charles, from Derek Whittenburg. James Worthy, from Fred Brown.
Close your eyes and you can see Patrick Ewing goaltending. Or Darrell Griffith dunking. Or Danny Ainge making a mad dash through the Irish.
These are the moments no other sporting event can bring us. These are the heroes no other sport can claim. These are the young men who play basketball in the National Collegiate Athletic Association. And they are the only ones who remember that all of this is supposed to be about playing games.
Enjoy the dance.
Mike Greenberg co-hosts ESPN Radio's Morning Show with Mike Golic and frequently anchors SportsCenter.