They will emerge sometime Sunday from the New York Marriott Marquis, a committee of 10, having concluded more than 96 hours of deliberations to fill the 68-team bracket for the N.C.A.A. men’s basketball tournament. They will have tallied each team’s Quadrant 1 victories, parsed their R.P.I. rankings and agonized over their “body of work.”
What will not have been discussed is which programs bought their players, and for how much, or the federal investigation underway to determine who, exactly, the bad guys are in college basketball. The selection committee’s chairman, Bruce Rasmussen, promised.
“Our committee is intensely focused on selecting and seeding and bracketing the right 68 teams,” Rasmussen, the athletic director at Creighton, said on Wednesday before going into seclusion with his colleagues. “We’re not going to pay any attention to that because it’s not in the purview of our committee.”
What about the cloud hanging over this tournament? What about — dare I ask — the integrity of the game?
“There are issues with men’s basketball at this time,” Rasmussen conceded. “It’s not perfect. It never has been perfect. It never will be perfect. But there are a lot of great things that are happening with Division I men’s basketball.”
But what if Louisville, or Southern California, or Oklahoma State — all implicated by the feds in their investigation — goes from an N.C.A.A. bubble team to the National Invitation Tournament? Will its fans believe the committee really did keep its blinders on?
We’ll know by the end of Sunday, but what we know now (and always) is that the N.C.A.A. has a billion reasons to look the other way. The organization clocked $1.06 billion in revenue and a $105 million in profit for its 2017 fiscal year, according to a financial statement released recently.
Television rights packages with CBS and Turner accounted for more than $800 million of its revenue, so do not expect Jim Nantz, Charles Barkley or their broadcast colleagues dispatched to the tournament sites over the next three weeks to harp on how college basketball isn’t perfect. The networks have agreed to pay $8.8 billion to be the mouthpiece of the Division I men’s basketball tournament through 2032.
Money like that buys an awful lot of silence.
“Unless your coach and program are dealing with it, nobody cares,” said Jay Bilas, an ESPN analyst and frequent critic of the N.C.A.A. “They want the games. They want to fill out their brackets. It’s like steroids in baseball. We’ve been paying players in basketball and football, and the N.C.A.A. continues to fiddle.”
As evidence, Bilas cited the herculean effort the organization put in to clear players in record time when the pay-to-play investigation indicated that some of them were from the country’s most prominent programs, including Duke, North Carolina, Kentucky and Michigan State. According to documents uncovered by investigators, dozens of top players received financial and other benefits that could violate N.C.A.A. rules.
“They got it done in a day because the tournament was coming,” Bilas said of sorting the players’ eligibility. “They’ve never done anything in a day but sign contracts.”
So if broadcasters are not going to talk about the ills of the college game, can they at least refrain from the big wet kisses they shower on the coaches?
Often, those coaches are the highest-paid people on the court, sometimes the highest on their state’s payroll. They are crowned as geniuses, talked up as role models, about how they do things “the right way.”
If you drank a shot of whiskey every time you heard a broadcaster or analyst extol the virtues of a coach, you wouldn’t make it to the night session of Thursday’s first-round games.
What is never said, however, is that the “right way” increasingly means runners and shoe representatives and envelopes stuffed with cash. It means no-show classes for the one-and-dones, who quit going to class in January anyway, knowing that they will leave campus shortly after their final tournament game.
Maybe Bilas is right. Maybe no one cares about anything but the games and picking brackets. Maybe the N.C.A.A. tournament is nothing more than a basketball version of “The Bachelor” — a few weeks of outrage and heartbreak, with a sappy theme song.
The tournament certainly never lacks for drama. But what if this year’s edition gives the recent finale of “The Bachelor” a run for its money? What if the programs at the center of the federal investigation — Louisville, Arizona, Auburn and Oklahoma State — all make it to the Final Four in San Antonio?
That would be the “One Shining Moment” that college basketball deserves.
Published at Sun, 11 Mar 2018 19:18:19 +0000