On the NCAA’s Color Green

First of all, congratulations North Carolina – the 2009 NCAA champions of the hardwood. Unlike your counterparts on the college gridiron, at least you’ve earned the title that is recognized and seen as legit by all.

Very seldom do I cut and paste an article, but this case is an exception. Paul Daugherty, sports columnist – Cincinnati Enquirer, wrote this column about the NCAA that the paper published on April 3, 2009. I think his column is right on the mark.
Two national quasi-amateur basketball semifinals happen Saturday night, in a football stadium the size of an aircraft carrier. About 70,000 people will attend, some 30,000 more than ever before for a Final Four. Ford Field in Detroit will have all the hoop ambience of an abandoned General Motors plant.

A gym it ain’t, but that’s OK with the NCAA: It will make an additional $7 million in gate receipts this year, compared with last.

“The goal is to find a balance between … crass commercialism and idealistic purity,” NCAA president Myles Brand told reporters this week in Detroit. Do tell. And where would that balance be, coach, somewhere between the Nosebleed Suites and the Mt. Everest Section up near heaven?

Remember when the NCAA used to scold newspapers for printing betting lines on college games? According to USA Today, five Pac-10 Conference schools now take casino ads, either on stadium and arena signage or in game programs.

New Mexico is getting $2.5 million from Route 66 Casino Hotel, so the gambling den and sleepover stop can call itself the school’s “exclusive gaming sponsor.”

And yet: “We continue to be stridently opposed to any type of sports wagering” an NCAA spokesman told USA Today. Right. And Arnold Schwarzenegger got big pounding Flintstones Chewables.

Look, the NCAA needs money like every other major corporation. And it can’t ban its member schools from taking cash from gambling houses. All the NCAA can do is frown and appear concerned.

It’s not the billions of dollars or the appearance of rampant, naked greed that marks the NCAA. It’s the astounding hypocrisy. Myles Brand must think we’re all stupid.

The NCAA runs its tournament with an iron fist, and puts a steel clamp on what gets marketed. In Boston for the East Region last week, any evidence of the Celtics’ championships was blatantly missing from TD Banknorth Garden, lest some forlorn fan believe he was watching the NBA Finals and not March Madness.

The Cup Drill has become a staple of the Tournament. At every site, security guys – sometimes honest-to-god cops – are stationed at the floor-level entrances. They have lots of duties, no doubt. The only one that directly affects the media is Cup Patrol.

If you are in the press room and you would like to take a beverage to your courtside seat, you must pour said beverage into an NCAA-approved cup.

If you don’t, Security Guy will stop you in your tracks. Wouldn’t want a Pepsi logo appearing in some random camera shot when Coke or Dasani or whoever is an official “partner’’ of the NCAA Tournament.

Players’ likenesses are used to sell video games. Replays of their heroics are seen in “Pontiac Game Changing Performances.” Players see T-shirts and jerseys bearing their names. And of course, CBS is paying $6 billion-with-a-B to televise the tournament.

If you don’t have a naming-rights deal for your gym, you better fire your marketing department. The NCAA, of course, is strongly opposed to exploiting its “student athletes.”

“I think you have to ask some very hard questions,” said Myles Brand. Maybe he’s asking a few while counting tall piles of cash. “Whether this is really in tune with the academic values, whether we’re at a point already (where) these high salaries (have) extended beyond what’s expected within the academic community.”

What academic community? This weekend, the focus isn’t on academia. It’s strictly dunkademia. And that’s fine. I don’t even think players should be paid. A free education is priceless. But at what point do we drop the academic pretense and act like grown-ups?

Brand was referencing John Calipari’s almost-$32 million deal to coach basketball at Kentucky. Is that “in tune with academic values?” It has nothing to do with academic values. Since when did big-time college sports in general concern itself with academics or values?

You can’t have it both ways. You can’t unleash your marketing on an unsuspecting media guy holding the wrong cup and expect anyone to believe this enterprise has anything to do with “the academic community.” That would be, you know, Madness.

Pay the players, don’t pay them. Continue to refer to them in the post-game news conference as “student-athletes.” Tell the world that every one of them will go on to eliminate the common cold. Just try to hold the screaming hypocrisy to a dull roar. We’re really not that stupid.

Paul Daugherty, Cincinnati Enquirer; April 3, 2009