Take it to the hole! Tonight is the holiest of nights for the NCAA and its college basketball equivalent of WWE. On center stage in Atlanta are the Cardinals of Louisville and the Wolverines of hated Michigan in a tag-team match to the death.
“Now that the money’s in the bank, why not? Let’s watch our sharecroppers play basketball.” —David Jones, Patriot-News
Regardless of who wins and who loses, the NCAA comes out a winner. The annual self-affirmed lunacy known as March Madness now extends into April prime time and generates some 81% of the annual revenues of the promoting organization (hitherto known as the rule-making body) from the television deal alone.
How do the so-called student athletes fare? Well, they’re amateur athletes, so the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat constitute the only above-board recompense for their efforts. One could point to the promise of great NBA careers, but the NBA, with an entry age limit of nineteen, has already snarfed up the talent before they become pretend upperclassmen. So the winners get the glory and the girls, but the NCAA gets the money.
For this reason, March Madness should be called the March Charade, a tournament of left-over talent peppered by the occasional superstar with enough foresight to eschew a couple of years as a millionaire for some essence of education. Brackets and pools are cool, though, and I suspect that most of those who gamble on the tournament don’t really give a rat’s ass about who’s playing, other than as it affects their choices and their chances. Cinderella teams make great stories, too, and gee whiz, wasn’t Florida Gulf Coast’s run really way cool?
Yeah, well, who cares.
Follow the money. See Mark Emmert? Emperor Mark. Total revenue for his organization for the current fiscal year is projected at $797 million. You would think that being responsible for that size budget would make him a target for all kinds of questions and revelations. Well, not by watching the Teflon Don of Collegiate Athletics operate in public, but just by virtue of the situation.
So, last Thursday, in the wake of allegations by USA Today that, among other things, he mismanaged a construction project at the University of Connecticut to the tune of $100 million in slush while he was president there, Emmert showed up at the NCAA tournament press conference with a filibuster for an opening statement. His withering soliloquy was perhaps designed to bore the media representatives to tears or just outlast them, but it didn’t work. The media slung arrows and Emmert raised his shields. But the first chink in the heretofore impenetrable armor bearing the Emmert coat of arms has been realized.
I won’t be watching the NCAA tournament final match tonight, much the same as I haven’t watched a single tournament game along the way. It’s kind of the American Idol of college sports, and I gave up on American Idol many years ago, even before Simon Cowell left. The last NCAA tournament final I got excited about was 1979, when Magic Johnson’s Moo U. Spartans clobbered Larry Bird’s Indiana State Sycamores or perhaps 1982, when Michael Jordan’s Tar Heels (with James Worthy, Sam Perkins, and Matt Doherty) edged Patrick Ewing’s Hoyas. I can watch recordings of those games if I really want to see some basketball. I’m not going to generate a penny more revenue for the NCAA then they’re already getting.
I bet David Jones of the Patriot-News will be watching, because it’s his job, but maybe he actually cares. Who knows? Jones wrote about Emmert last week in none too flattering terms. It’s worth a read. He “breaks down” Emmert’s press conference soliloquy, and with his usual sarcasm, he coins a new term: studentathleteservants. I think he wanted to write studentathleteslaves, but his editors wouldn’t have allowed that. In any case, he hits the nail on the head. Underneath the charade of the student-athlete, the NCAA is putting a bunch of performers on stage to rake in megabucks and maintain its stranglehold on collegiate athletics.
Furthermore, as the USA Today article brings out, its leader is anything but a pristine example. This turkey gonna love to watch him squirm. Will he be able to squirm out of this dark, cold cavern of disdain? Damn, I hope not!
Lest you think I’m hitting Emmert while he’s down, I am.