Yes, those were some fantastic finishes on the opening weekend of the NCAA tournament: UCLA-SMU, Purdue-Cincinnati, LSU-N.C. State, Wofford-Arkansas, Butler-Notre Dame, R.J. Hunter’s otherworldly 3-pointer in Georgia State-Baylor. But the road to the Final Four remains a highway to nowhere.
I hate to beat a dead horse – well, it’s more of a cash cow than a dead horse – but March Madness remains a signpost of insanity at the oversized import of big-time intercollegiate athletics in our daily lives.
It’s the same thing every year, except the lie grows larger.
The games can be a lot of fun, but they’re pretty much a deceptive storefront operation. Behind the window display is the business at hand – shoe contracts, AAU machinations, academic improprieties, booster malfeasance and countless coaches at taxpayer-backed institutions who command the largest public-sector salary in the state.
I understand that the likes of John Calipari, Roy Williams and Jim Boeheim are paid to win basketball games; they’re just driving the getaway car in this high-end heist. But they act as if they’re doing God’s work when all they’re doing is teaching 19-year-olds to box out.
Trust me, Williams doesn’t care if his players haven’t been to class in a month of Sundays, he just cares that they know their assignments on Big Mondays.
If Boeheim walked into my home, I believe my dog Sapphire – an excellent judge of human character – would bite him.
But these icons answer to no one and if they had their druthers – and they usually get a luxury carload of druthers – they literally wouldn’t answer a single question about their programs.
Calipari – coach of the 1996 UMass Final Four appearance vacated due to impropriety, coach of the 2008 Memphis Final Four appearance vacated due to impropriety, master of the much lauded one-and-done, come-to-campus-for-a-cup-of- coffee-and-a-class-or-two Kentucky empire – on detractors: “I want to tell you all, no one will steal my joy. If you want to attack what we’re doing, be nasty about it, have at it. You’re not stealing my joy.”
Williams, asked about nearly two decades of academic shenanigans at North Carolina: “You want to talk about basketball, we’ll talk basketball. But I’m not going to rehash all that other crap.”
Boeheim – head-in-the-sand about Fab Melo, academic misconduct, impermissible booster activity, extra benefits, et al – queried about public perception of his Syracuse program: “I’m not talking about the NCAA investigation. And another thing for your question: I don’t give a (bleep) what those people think.”
These behemoths are enabled by the culture we live in, by college presidents who bow to a bottom line rather than set a higher standard.
Actually, why do universities even have athletic departments? That’s like an auto body shop having a produce aisle.
Now, if a college has a physical education department, that’s a different ballgame.
Because, indeed, mind and body are important, but universities should prioritize those needs for the bulk of its students rather than a handful of illusionary student-athletes. What’s a greater achievement, having 15,000 undergraduates swimming three times a week or bringing in a couple of basketball recruits who can average 15 points a game?
If Maryland, say, established the nation’s most extensive intramurals program, that would be athletic excellence, in my view. I’d be a proud Terp.
Sure, schools can chase both brands of athletic distinction – intramurals and intercollegiate competition – but that doesn’t change the fact that when they’re chasing Division I success, they often are reckless, delinquent and Boeheim-friendly.
(P.S. Needless to say, I get invited to very few March Madness viewing parties. Then again – in my defense – I get invited to very few parties of any kind.)
(P.P.S. Wish I could swim.)
Ask The Slouch
Q. One friend shot another in Louisiana as they debated whether Budweiser or Busch was better. Isn’t that just too close of a call between two bad brews? (Ron Lipman; Indianapolis)
A. That’s another problem with Anheuser-Busch beers – nobody arguing the merits of Yuengling vs. Blue Moon would ever draw a weapon.
Q. How would you explain Stephen A. Smith to a foreign entity? (Greg Moore; Harrisburg, Pennsylvania)
A. Stephen A. Smith is a foreign entity.
Q. Would it be feasible and desirable for the government to seize Daniel Snyder enterprises through eminent domain for the purpose of establishing a professional football franchise in Washington, D.C.? (William Schultz; Arlington, Virginia)
A. Pay the man, Shirley.
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