Category Archives: NCAA

Crossing the Line

With only two teams left in the NCAA tournament, and a whole bunch o’ craziness behind us, I’m not really into it.   I acknowledge, at the outset, that part of this might just be sore-loser syndrome; Syracuse — my pick to win the whole thing — got bounced in the second round (and the pain was magnified by the fact that my budget for the next three months assumed that I would win my tournament pool — which, I have to admit, is nobody’s fault but my own).

Still, though, simply as a fan of the game, I’m not feeling this tournament.  I mean, I’m all for a good upset now and then to keep things exciting, but I think there’s a thin line between a good amount of upsets and complete chaos, and I think we’re now on the wrong side of that line.  Whether this is a one-time fluke, or a manifestation of a larger problem, is yet to be seen.

Unfortunately, there are some signs indicating that the college game is heading for trouble.  To get into a discussion about the state of the game, it probably makes sense to start at the foundation, and all big-time college sports are built on a shaky foundation.  The problem is that, in theory, the athletic teams are comprised of student-athletes, but, in reality, especially in men’s basketball, today’s athletes don’t seem so worried about being students.  I’m not one of those dudes who romanticizes previous eras; seasons played before the game was integrated are, in my opinion, illegitimate.  And I can find things to criticize about the game during each of the decades since.

That said, the game is not as good now as I remember it being in the past.  In my mind, the “golden era” of college hoops was the late ’70’s – mid ’80’s, when Magic, Larry, Isiah, Michael, Ewing, Mullin, and Derrick Coleman were doing their thing.  Even though a bunch of those guys left school before graduating, the sense was that they were student-athletes.  I don’t want to sound naive, and I’ll acknowledge that I have no idea whether Larry Bird, Derrick Coleman, or Chris Mullin actually went to class.  But at least they faked having a real connection to their schools.  It’s not like they showed up, played a season, and disappeared without even completing their second semesters.  Now that’s the norm at some of the big-time programs, like Kentucky.  Considering that all big-time college sports are built on a shaky foundation, consistently forcing fans to question the legitimacy of what’s being presented to them as “college basketball” is like playing with fire.

But that’s only part of the problem.  The number of guys who are capable of being “one-and-doners” is small enough that it wouldn’t have a broad impact on the game if there weren’t other issues.  But there are.  The main one, in my opinion, is that the game is so unpredictable that deep storylines don’t develop.  As I’ve blogged multiple times, the “experts” don’t have a clue what’s going on.  It’s now standard for a team that was hardly ever — if ever — ranked in the Top 25 to make the Final Four.  Some people look at this fact and see excitement, I look and see chaos.

See, I like a good storyline or two.  I like teams to emerge as powerhouses during the course of a season, and then clash in the tournament.  I like teams that get better as the season goes on, peaking around the time the tournament begins.  But when the teams who limp into the tournament wind up bullying around the teams that bullied their opponents around all season, it suggests that the season is close to meaningless.

Sure, there will always be good storylines, given the nature of the game.  When two traditional powerhouses play, it’s a story, even if they’re having sub-par seasons.  When a powerhouse plays an upstart, it’s the ol’ David v. Goliath storyline.  And when two upstarts meet in an important game, it also makes for compelling theater.

The problem is that those storylines exist by default; if that’s all the game has to offer, then it is in a damaged state.  In order to really grasp people, the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight need to include multiple teams with a few pro prospects on each, multiple traditional powerhouses, and multiple teams that have gotten fans’ attention over the course of the season.  If the teams people got familiar with while watching for months are not the teams still playing in the Elite Eight and Final Four, it fosters a sense of confusion that borders on complete chaos.

There’s plenty more venting to do, but I’ll stop. For now, I’m going to watch UCONN play Butler, and let the basketball fan inside of me enjoy a hard-fought game.  But, come next November, when the polls come out, and ESPN starts hyping the “big-time” teams it wants me to watch, I’ll be watching the NBA.  And when CBS starts broadcasting The Road To The Final Four, I’ll be in my car on The Road To Something Else To Do.  At the rate things are going, I see little reason to pay attention to the regular season.

Leave a Comment:

Jalen, Grant, Race, Etc.

Before I say anything that has anything to do with race relations in America, let me be clear:  I’m completely aware that nobody comes to this site to read my musings about history, politics, sociology, or any of the hot-button issues that tend to divide Americans.  So, I generally stay away from even touching on any of those issues here.  (In response to that, some might observe that nobody comes to this site to read what I have to say about basketball, either, and, yet, I continue undeterred.  Fair point.  Wiseass.)

For a few weeks, though, I have been compelled to dip my toe into that dangerous water, because of the brewhaha involving, Jalen, Grant, Duke, and Michigan, in the wake of the airing of “The Fab Five” on ESPN.

To even dip a toe in the water, it is necessary to first set the table for a discussion that touches on race:  In my experience, it is impossible to talk about race in America. Regardless of what position you take in a discussion about race, there are people who are ready to accuse you of racism.  Against affirmative action?  Plenty of people will call you racist.  In favor of it?  Same thing.

Because there are accusations of racism around every corner in a conversation about race, I appreciate people who are honest about their racial feelings.  Of course, that appreciation only goes so far — people who shamelessly espouse racist feelings get no appreciation from me.  But, in general, assuming people are expressing opinions that I consider to be on the spectrum of opinions that people of good faith can have, I’d rather have someone who is fully open about their feelings than someone who speaks in code, or hides their feelings.  So, when I hear that someone used controversial language about race, I try to put the comment in context before being too critical.

Which brings me to Jalen Rose’s comments.  I watched the film, and it sounded to me like Jalen was expressing jealousy at Grant Hill’s upbringing; Jalen pointed out that Grant’s father was a professional athlete who raised Grant in a loving, supportive household, while Jalen’s father was a professional athlete who wanted nothing to do with Jalen.  It was also clear to me that, when Jalen talked about hating Duke because the only black athletes it recruited were “Uncle Toms,” it was obvious to me that Jalen was expressing the feelings he felt as a 19-year-old, not the feelings he holds now.  I mean, the guy sits in a tv studio cracking jokes with Hannah Storm; it’s quite clear that he thinks black folks can work with white folks without giving up part of their identity.  Thus, while I generally find references to “Uncle Toms” offensive, I didn’t have much of a problem with Jalen’s comments, because I understood the context.

In light of that, I was a bit surprised at the emotion the comments stirred up in Grant Hill. I thought Grant’s response (here) was both thoughtful and thought-provoking.  It just seemed slightly over-the-top.

There’s much more to say about the comments from Jalen and Grant, and the various issues those comments bring up, but I don’t think I could add much to the statements above and to the insightful analysis of Michael Wilbon (here).

So, let’s switch the topic to some hoopservations about the film.  I have two:

1.  Mitch Albom’s comments about the money Chris Webber allegedly received as an amateur resonated with me.  Mitch said that he spent lots of time with Webber in Ann Arbor during his days at Michigan, and, if Webber was taking hundreds of thousands of dollars of money from a booster, he was doing a fantastic job of hiding it.  I wasn’t at Ann Arbor when C-Webb was (and, if I had been, I’m pretty sure that he would have been able to find people to hang out with who were more fun than I am), but I’ve been hearing stories for years about Webber having to go without things that he wanted even while his jersey sold for $70 in stores that he would walk by.  (Perhaps I just spend too much time listening to and reading Mitch Album.)  Something about the notion that he was taking hundreds of thousands of dollars while he was there doesn’t make sense to me.

2.  As a basketball fan, it was sad to look back on that footage and that era of college basketball.  None of the players in those videos, who seemed to have such promising careers at the time, wound up being an important player on a championship team in the NBA.  I’m not just talking about the Fab Five themselves, I’m also talking about Hill, Laettner and Hurley from Duke; Johnson, Augmon, and Anthony from UNLV, and all of the guys on the Carolina team that beat Michigan in the famous national championship game.  It just goes to show that, no matter how talented college athletes are, there are no guarantees about what the future has in store for them.  For all we know, the high-flying, trash-talking, trend-setting, rising young star might one day retire from the NBA with no championships, and move on to become an ESPN analyst alongside Hannah Storm.

Leave a Comment: