NCAA makes it easy to be cynical of Final Four
Posted April 7, 2013
By all accounts, the NCAA Tournament is as popular as ever.
Television ratings for the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight were up 13 percent from last year, while an estimated 16 million people watched the Final Four. Thanks to gorgeous spring weather, downtown Atlanta was buzzing with fans. Bracket Town was jammed, the "Big Dance" concert series staged in Centennial Park brought a sea of people and every bar seemed to be shoulder-to-shoulder with fans who couldn't get into the Georgia Dome.
All great for the NCAA and all of their corporate partners. Great for the players and coaches, too. The long road ends with the ultimate competitive fulfillment at the collegiate level for either Louisville or Michigan on Monday night.
So why is it so easy to be cynical about the whole thing? Blame the soulless staging inside giant football stadiums, the bloated field and the untrustworthy nature of the NCAA itself.
The buck stops with folks who aren't presidents.
It hasn't been a good week for institutional leadership, especially for NCAA president Mark Emmert. Oh sure, he's still been able to rub elbows with his collegiate Illuminati. But Emmert's Final Four experience got a little rough when he had to deal with a cabal of media ready to point out various hypocrisies on Thursday.
"I guess anyone would describe this as a challenging, dynamic, occasionally difficult time in intercollegiate athletics," said Emmert.
Well, yes. It's a challenging time to keep up the facade that the NCAA has the best interests of the student-athletes at heart.
The Rutgers situation? "I haven’t spent any time looking at it," according to Emmert. He checked the video like everyone else, but it's not like Emmert really needs to concern himself with a member institution stumbling over themselves to fire a coach who was chucking basketballs at his players.
The NCAA's enforcement scandal with Miami? "We’ve dealt with it directly," said Emmert. Except he's still not responsible for things that happen on the shop floor.
Syracuse's NCAA investigation? "I can’t comment on investigations," stated Emmert. Except for those times he commented on Penn State and Miami.
New allegations at Auburn? "I think it’s very important to recognize in that case at Auburn, what there is is a newspaper story. That’s it," said Emmert. If only a convicted Ponzi schemer with an ax to grind spilled the beans to Yahoo! Sports.
And to all those Emmert haters? "I'm still here. I know you're disappointed, but here I am."
Throw in the president at Rutgers who didn't have time to see video of Mike Rice berating his player and the PAC-12 insisting the credibility of Ed Rush was perfectly fine because he was just joking about that $5,000, one has to wonder if anyone at the top of the command chain will take responsibility. Well, outside patting each other on the back for talking big about changing cultures. Whatever that means.
All of it could easily drain the life out of any event, even one as big as the Final Four.
Broken leg, broken sentiments.
Kevin Ware has become a fascinating study of symbolism. Since suffering a broken leg in Louisville's win over Duke, Ware has become everything to everyone and all of it is just as gross as the injury itself.
Adidas immediately started selling shirts with "Ri5e To The Occasion," a play on his jersey number. It was equal parts an inspirational gesture for the Cardinals and cash grab under the guise of contributions to the university's scholarship fund.
Slight problem. Legally, Adidas needed Ware's permission to sell the shirt. However, it would have been an NCAA violation had he said yes. Shirt sales suddenly stopped over a "logo issue." Fans can still find the unofficially licensed "Win It For Kevin" shirt on the streets of Atlanta.
Then there are those who instantly used Ware's injury as a blunt object to hammer their preexisting argument that the NCAA should pay players. It's one thing to show support, it's another to turn Ware into a dehumanized meme.
King Karl and rewarding bad defense.
Officials at the Final Four earned their assignments based on how they graded out during the regular season. Which means Karl Hess, bane of the ACC, is considered one of the best refs in the nation.
So it was delicious irony that Hess was at the center of a controversial held ball at the end of Louisville's win over Wichita State.
The NCAA backed Hess, stating "a held ball occurred because two players held the ball and control could not be obtained without undue roughness."
Louisville was up 71-68 with 6.8 left to play and who knows if Wichita State would have been able to tie the game before the buzzer, but that's not really the point. Nobody wants to see questionable calls like that at the end of high profile games.
Same goes for the charge call on Syracuse's Brandon Triche, who was in the air while Michigan's Jordan Morgan was still moving. If the NCAA wants to solve their scoring problem, it would behoove them to stop rewarding bad defense.
See you in Greensboro next year, Jim.
Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim is one of the great curmudgeons of basketball. His press conference interactions are stuff of legend.
Behold the latest example, where he mixed it up with Gregg Doyel of CBS Sports. When asked if he'd be back, Boeheim snapped back.
"Why would you ask that question? I expect it from you. I know you. Why ask that question? Are you going to ask [Michigan coach] John Beilein that question?"
Rumors of Boeheim's retirement have persisted due in large part to the demise of the Big East and Syracuse's exodus to the ACC. He insists he'll be there, Greensboro and all. And why not?
Boeheim will be able to welcome Duke and North Carolina to the Carrier Dome. He'll be on the sideline inside Cameron Indoor Stadium and the Smith Center. Boeheim wants to be the guy who guides the program he's synonymous with to it's new era.
A round on me at Ham's next March, Jimmy.