I got off the road to the Final Four a few years ago – frankly, just too much traffic. So while much of Sports Nation has slowed down, sat back and enjoyed Louisville, Michigan, Syracuse and Wichita State during the weekend, I simply took a walk toward Walden Pond, leaving my remote on the coffee table next to two half-crushed cans of PBR.
It’s not as if I ever had a love affair with college basketball – the hypocrisy, the lionization of coaches, the folly of the NCAA, the student-athlete sham, the one-and-done transformation all are overwhelming deterrents to making an emotional commitment – but who doesn’t enjoy spending all of March rooting against Duke?
Finally, I could take it no more, and I can identify three root causes:
• The announcers.
• The block/charge call.
• The end-of-game foul fest.
I don’t know if I have any more to say about college basketball announcers than I’ve already said the past 20 years. So I’ll be succinct: They stink.
(I exempt the incomparable Marv Albert, the lovable Verne Lundquist and the surprisingly sensible Steve Kerr from this assessment. And two of them are NBA guys.)
In the terrific Butler-Marquette tournament game, Roosevelt Jones went to the foul line with 15 seconds left and Butler trailing by three. This induced analyst Jim Spanarkel to soliloquize on how good Jones’ ball rotation is, and after Jones made the first free throw, Spanarkel explained how the backspin on the ball allowed it to crawl over the front of the rim.
At this point, I asked my wife, Toni, to hold my head in the toilet for 45 seconds, and she obliged.
Meanwhile, centuries from now future civilizations will look back at the American empire and condemn us for myriad crimes against nature:
Our dependence on gas-guzzling automobiles, our nicotine habit, our gun violence, our racist and homophobic tendencies, our war mongering, our neglect of the environment. But none of these societal ills compare to our near-apocalyptic adoption and acceptance of the block/charge call.
Nothing has changed any game more, nothing has ruined any game more. If we allow it to go unchecked, my children’s children’s children will prefer to watch bocce to basketball.
It is a perversion of defense – instead of guarding your opponent, you try to beat him to a spot on the floor.
(Best I can tell, this has been the Republicans’ strategy against President Obama for four years.)
Imagine if this tactic were used in football. Rather than defend a wide receiver, a cornerback simply would back-pedal, guess where the offensive player is going to run, plant his feet, then allow the receiver to barrel into to him and take a charge.
Jerry Rice would’ve ended his career with fewer than 100 receptions.
But nothing is worse than the foul-the-other-guy-and-see-if- he’ll-miss-his-free-throws ploy that now pollutes the end of most close games. In what other pursuit of life are you purposely supposed to do something wrong to gain an advantage – well, other than in Congress?
It’s another perversion; you’re committing a violation in order to improve your chances of succeeding. And even as sound strategy under the current rules, from a viewer standpoint it’s about as satisfying as watching a mortgage broker withdraw $40 from a Bank of America ATM.
Between the fouls, the timeouts and now the replay stoppages – sometimes stealing five minutes from the one life we’re all given to determine if we’re going to add two-tenths of a second to the game clock – there is no flow left. The game is no longer a game; rather, it’s a series of stoppages punctuated by play-by-play shouters and serial shtick artists.
No flow, no drama.
(You think “Casablanca” is half as good of a movie if, down the stretch, Rick and Ilsa have to check baggage, get their exit visas stamped and slog through airport security before boarding that flight?)
All of this leaves me on the highway to basketball hell and next year contemplating doing what was once unthinkable – getting on the road to the women’s Final Four.
Ask The Slouch
Q. If Mike Rice threw a basketball at Isaiah during practice, what would your favorite stepson do? (Jon Eisen; Indianapolis)
A. Isaiah is athletic enough to drop the Jamba Juice smoothie he’s drinking, stop the ball with the palm of his hand and walk out to the nearest Chipotle.
Q. You’re an L.A. guy – was it a good idea for Southern Cal to hire the millionaire businessman with the model wife as its men’s basketball coach? (Christopher Moore; Albany, N.Y.)
A. Andy Enfield lost twice last season to Lipscomb University – Lipscomb! I’m assuming USC doesn’t schedule Lipscomb.
Q. As he spends so much time out of the box and on the court while the game is in progress, will Rick Pitino be required to pay tuition? (David M. Siegler; Oakton, Va.)
A. Pay the man, Shirley.