Years ago, when Frank McLaughlin, then Fordham AD, attended one of those feckless NCAA reform conventions, he was stunned to see and hear Jerry Tarkanian, basketball coach of notoriously lawless UNLV, support the most stringent rules and punishment proposals.
He later asked Tarkanian how his reputation as a renegade was in such defiance of his law-and-order positions. Tarkanian, leading with his inscrutable facial expression, explained that he hoped his competitors would take the new rules seriously, because he wouldn’t.
McLaughlin never knew if Tarkanian was busting his chops. But he didn’t think so.
With the NCAA Tournament, a billion-dollar TV property, back in mass view, a look at the college basketball coaches enshrined in halls of fame finds many who ran far afoul of NCAA rules as a means to their NCAA Tournament ends, and reveals their schools’ willingness to play their kind of ball. The repetitive play of both parties was the wink and nod.
And early on in this tournament it seemed that significant, whatever-it-takes recruiting truths were evaded.
Utah State, losers to Texas Tech on TNT on Friday, had two players from Poland, one each from Canada, Portugal, Australia and Ukraine. Was that so irrelevant — or damning — that it was ignored by announcers Carter Blackburn and Debbie Antonelli?
It might’ve been fascinating to learn that the Ukrainian, Max Shulga, attended high school at the Basketball School of Excellence in Torrelodones, Spain, just a short bus ride to a state college in Logan, Utah, 5,200 miles away. Or did he ship from Kiev, 5,700 miles out?
Jim Valvano, now ESPN’s sanctified version of Our Lady of Guadalupe, was available to star on ESPN because his operation and operatives were caught cheating too many times while he coached North Carolina State. Its 1983 national championship aside, by 1990 the state school could no longer indulge the scandals on his watch.
Soon, big-name college coaches who were fired for running runaway programs found TV networks to be eager and enriching, no-questions-asked, easy-money employment havens.
Not that the schools found religion. NCAA investigators were hired, and for bigger dough than they were making, by big-time sports colleges to serve as specialists in recruiting and eligibility-loopholes.
Many athletic departments already were in the habit of assigning easily compromised rah-rahs as academic advisers to best ensure sustained eligibility while sacrificing academic integrity in “service” to players who soon returned from where they came, unable, despite their collegiate scholarships, to read, write, balance a checkbook or speak functional, discernible English.
Now the NCAA, via its basketball tournament, has been returned to the men and women of TV, those who know better but say the opposite.
Jim Nantz, Clark Kellogg, Grant Hill, Kevin Harlan, Tracy Wolfson and others will line up to tell us that the coaches are special humans, all great men, when the one thing they have in common is doing whatever it takes to win a basketball game for the colleges that serve as their teams’ fronts.
More than 40 years ago, Arizona State football coach Darryl Rogers spoke an unfortunate and lasting truth: “They’ll fire you for losing before they fire you for cheating.”
Networks strike out by employing A-Rod
So now what? Now that Alex Rodriguez’s credibility is so low, it seems his fiancée doesn’t trust him?
Well, he’ll remain MLB’s most visible and rewarded disreputable recidivist drug cheat and liar and the nation’s star prime-time Sunday MLB presence, speaking his all-knowing contradictory nonsense, as well as serving as the weekend star of Fox’s worthless MLB studio show.
Seems he’s still the team guy who scoured the stands during a Yankees playoff game in the hunt for “babes” then sent a ballboy to plot their rendezvous.
Seems he’s still the same guy who lent his fame, presence, visage, name and hard-learned drug lessons to an organization combatting lethal steroid use in high school kids — only to betray that organization and those kids by further juicing to further enrich his fame and fortune.
TV execs know what’s best for us. And in Rodriguez, two national MLB networks have determined that we’re smitten with him — and remain smitten with him — when we’re sickened by him.
Why? Is it because TV can’t do any better at half the cost? Or because TV thinks we don’t deserve any better? Or is it that TV hires dolts as its shot-callers?
So now what? Nothing, that’s what. We’ll be back to ESPN shooting heartthrob A-Rod in the booth — perhaps for a third time claiming that even-number leads are better than odd-number leads. After all, Rodriguez is among those TV’s shot-callers think we covet, we drool over, we deserve.
NBA is in 3 of a bind
WATCHING (or no longer watching) the NBA destroy itself:
At first glance one would think that Grizzlies 89, Heat 85 on Wednesday, was a good, old-values NBA game: strong defense, patient offense, determined play, well-coached at both ends.
But in such cases these days, such a low-scoring game is more indicative of a rotten-shooting 3-point game. And that’s what it was. There were 76 3-pointers thrown up — Miami was 8-for-34 (23.5 percent), Memphis was 10-for 42 (23.8 percent).
By the way, the Mavericks’ 7-foot-3 Kristaps Porzingis went into the weekend with 45 offensive rebounds, but had taken 149 3-pointers. Career: 450 offensive rebounds, 1,337 3-point attempts. Yet the No. 4-overall pick in the 2015 draft — by the Knicks — is still listed as a power forward/center.
Despite a nation in large part stuck at home and the relentless encouragement to maximize viewership by betting on the game, this year’s NBA All-Star Game TV ratings were miserable, a new low, off 1.32 million viewers from last season, and down a titanic 17 million viewers since 1993.
To hear Charles Barkley try to again fake his way through NCAA Tournament studio shows has made for the kind of put-down comedy Barkley flings at others.
Ex-NBAer Brendan Haywood, the analyst who worked Arkansas-Colgate on Turner/CBS on Friday, was good throughout, but especially early, noting Colgate’s shocking 14-point lead was in large part due to Arkansas’ unassertive defense. The defense tightened, the game flipped.
Good stat call by CBS’s Seth Davis on Friday: In its three-point loss to 15-seed Oral Roberts, Ohio State was a rotten 9-for-18 on free throws.
The radio call of the Drake-Wichita State NCAA Tournament play-in on Thursday, a Westwood One broadcast over WFAN, was Marv Albert-superb. Unless play-by-player John Sadek was making it all up, he quickly, succinctly described both logistics and play, down to a shot that hit the rim, then the backboard, before it was rebounded.
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