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Tough Call

The griping continues. As the NCAA tips off its showcase Men’s Basketball tournament, complaints and questions abound as to how the sixty-four teams contending for March Madness became the sixty-four teams contending for March Madness. There were differing theories.

The strongest criticism of the placement of teams came from Al Featherston. The former basketball reporter for the Durham paper had a provocative piece on the Duke Basketball Report flat-out alleging corruption on the part of the NCAA Selection Committee. He follows the money trail, noting that a tournament ‘unit’ can be worth upwards of an extra-large to the conferences over its six-year shelf life. This sort of change means much to the cash-strapped bottom-feeding leagues that seemed to enjoy strong representation in this year’s tourney.

Featherston goes on to note that every single one of the questionable choices, from George Mason to Air Force, had an advocate on a committee that was top-heavy with people from what is cheerfully known as the ‘have-not’ or ‘mid-major’ conferences. These guys approached the selection as not attempting to determine the most deserving teams for the field, but to make sure they raked in a pile of CBS’ billion bucks for their schools and leagues. That their AD was on the committee is about the only logical reason that can be given for the inclusion of George Mason, certainly more so than claiming that fans of the Patriots would jam the Greensboro Coliseum in greater numbers than would those of, say, North Carolina, or that they deserved it.

While Featherston certainly made the best case for something being fishy in Indianapolis , others chimed in. There were claims that the mid-major leagues were punishing the BCS ones for hogging all of the BCS dough. The little guys were supposedly outraged that money paid by networks to televise college championships, or about as close as the BCS gets, was going to the schools and conferences that actually earned the cash and that networks determined that people wanted to see.

Known as the ‘East Carolina Argument,’ the schools that neither the networks nor the bowls had any interest in continue to stick their hands out and demand a piece of the action. With a committee stacked in their favor, they made darn well sure that the take from basketball was re-distributed downward. Who cares what the people signing the checks [CBS] wanted?

Sounding much like liberals railing on the Senate floor demanding the punishment of successful people, defenders of the ‘little guys’ claimed that it was only ‘right’ that leagues such as the ACC be penalized for having developed a popular and lucrative basketball conference or the SEC having done the same in football. Taxation through the confiscation of NCAA tournament credits will teach them to succeed.

There were other, goofier explanations for the oddball nature of this year’s Tournament. One cannot mention sports columnist silliness without noting good old Caulton ‘One-note’ Tudor of the N&O. Sure enough, once again Caulton does not fail to disappoint. In a column brimming with hilarity, Tudor begins, ‘Call me crazy. Call me a wild-eyed conspiracy junkie.’ The crazy, wild-eyed conspiracy junkie Tudor then blames everything on ACC expansion. This is not exactly new ground for the N&O’s resident goofball.

Tudor tends to blame everything on ACC expansion. So far, he has linked it to what he considered a less-than-stellar ACC Tournament opening round, the horror of not enough games between Duke and NC State, an ACC that now also emphasizes distasteful football as well as his beloved basketball, rising gasoline prices, Hurricane Katrina, the collapse of the textile industry, NOVA traffic gridlock, wildfires raging across Virginia and North Carolina, the Heeliban jihadist ramming Carolina students in the Pit, the cancellation of ‘Arrested Development,’ the Enron scandal, Mad Cow Disease, gang warfare, dinosaur extinction, bacterial bean blight and the heartbreak of psoriasis. Who knew, besides, of course, Tudor, that ACC expansion would lead to world-wide catastrophe?

Tudor’s rationale is that the college athletics landscape was so full of revulsion with the ACC turning the conference formerly known as the Big East into both the Li’l E and the Biggie East as well as evolving CUSA into Conference I-AA that they decided to take it out on Florida State and Maryland . Yep, there’s a plan. Poor little Mikey and his band of thieves were certainly worthy of sympathy for only placing eight teams in the NCAA’s. The Terps paying the price will certainly teach Little Johnny to mess with the natural order of basketball.

It would seem to me that there might be another cause for the ‘Loser take all’ mentality that pervaded this year’s selection process. That would be the Chairman of the Selection Committee for this year, Hoo Athletic Director Craig ‘I Don’t Hear Tubby Bitching About His Draw’ Littlepage. It would seem to explain a lot.

College AD’s don’t seem to be the brightest folks around. There is the general air of incomprehension that envelops Carolina ’s DickieB, the ‘Let me ask Coach K about that’ demeanor of Duke’s Lackey Joe and the inane ‘Herb’s my guy until somebody tells me otherwise’ statements coming from State’s Lee Fowler. Virginia Tech has jimmy, the one AD who couldn’t figure out how to sell tickets to his league’s toughest ticket. If they were coaches the ACC’s football champion would be lucky to make it to Boise .

Little Craig, however, continues to demonstrate that he is in a class by himself. This is the guy that once decided Petey Gillen was basketball’s next great coach and then played Costello to Tubby’s Abbott. He later determined that algroh was grossly underpaid. With a track record like this, is it any wonder that he would foul up the NCAA selection process?

The incompetent boob theory is advanced by those who point to everything else done by Little Craig. Having screwed up everything he touched, they reason, of course he would have botched the job of heading up the selection committee. It is a compelling argument.

Little Craig did not burnish his credentials or enhance his credibility with his bizarre explanations for some of the choices. When asked about a bias towards the mid-majors, he responded by claiming that six of the ten committee members came from BCS conferences. In the world not inhabited by Little Craig, there were only three. These outstanding math skills could explain algroh’s contract.

At other times, Little Craig has claimed that the committee weighed SOS unless they did not, gave great credence to RPI except for those times they ignored it and blamed CBS for televising the tournament and writing all of those big checks. He might as well have stood in front of the CBS cameras last Sunday and exclaimed, “Well, Billy, the reason for all of these strange seedings is that I was in over my head.” The committee members exiting the hotel room all wearing their ‘I’m with stupid’ t-shirts also provided a clue.

There would seem to be a way around the off-chance that the NCAA Selection Committee would in the future again be chaired by the likes of Little Craig. The NCAA took over the administration of the No Interest Tournament this year and promptly named a committee of ex-coaches to determine the participants and seedings. The group included the Great Dean, a guy who likely knows a thing or two about good basketball teams when he sees them. A similar make-up of the people seeding the real tournament would seem logical, but this is the NCAA we are talking about.

The games will begin shortly after I finish this piece, although I doubt they are holding them for me. For three weeks, the sports nation will focus on the actual basketball games rather than the odd way in which the field was chosen. There will remain the question of how that field was determined. Were there conspiracies afoot, brought by the agendas of committee members that included grabbing cash? How much does the reality in Tudor’s little world extrude into the real one? Or, was it simply incompetence on the part of Little Craig? It’s a tough call.

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