Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The story of ‘The Road to The Final Four’ and ‘Selection Sunday’; Tying up loose ends

For the past few weeks I’ve been saying and writing that those of us who love college basketball had better savor this coming Selection Sunday because it is likely to be the last one with the kind of suspense we have become accustomed to on the second weekend in March. When the NCAA expands the tournament—which I think is almost inevitable—teams like Illinois, Seton Hall, South Florida, Georgia Tech, Arizona State, Florida, Wichita State and Northeastern—all of whom are on the bubble this year, will already have locked up bids.

It’s worth nothing that none of those teams has done anything particularly special this season. They’re all just solid teams that may (or may not) get squeezed out by the numbers game. That’s part of what the process so much fun: who gets in and who gets left out and the fact that each of those teams has SOME claim to a spot in the field. That will be gone with a 96 team field we all know that. The NCAA knows that and doesn’t care as long as the money offered by ESPN or (less likely) CBS-Turner is so out-of-whack that they can roll around in it for years to come.

In writing about how much I have come to enjoy Selection Sunday I would be remiss if I didn’t remind people who don’t know how it came about. Most basketball fans—especially younger ones—just take the day for granted, sort of like Christmas. There’s always been Selection Sunday, right grandpa? Well no, there hasn’t been.

It started in 1982, the year that CBS took over the rights to the NCAA Tournament from NBC.

The role that NBC and the syndicate TVS (run by Eddie Einhorn) played in building the NCAA Tournament into a national event can’t be underplayed. Remember, as recently as the historic 1966 Texas Western-Kentucky championship game, The Final Four wasn’t on network TV. It was syndicated—and not picked up in many cities—by TVS. It wasn’t until 1969 when TVS entered into a deal with NBC that The Final Four—in Lew Alcindor’s senior season at UCLA—was televised nationally. Even then the semifinals were regionalized: The East-Mideast regional was shown in the eastern half of the country, the Midwest-West regional in the west. That was the first year the semifinals were moved from Friday to Thursday because the championship game was moved to Saturday afternoon since it clearly wasn’t worthy of prime time.

The progression from that point forward was rapid: NBC took the championship game to prime time in 1973, making The Final Four a Saturday-Monday night affair and Bill Walton made it work by shooting 21-of-22 for UCLA against Memphis State in the championship game. Two years later the tournament expanded from 25 teams to 32 and conference runners-up were allowed to participate. A year later Indiana and Michigan played in an all-Big Ten final as the post-John Wooden era began.

Then came Magic and Bird in 1979 and more expansion: first to 40 teams, then 48 and 53 and finally 64 in 1985. Note that the number moved up slowly, the committee wanting to be sure it wasn’t going too fast. The move to 64, pushed hard by Wayne Duke and Vic Bubas had as much to do with wanting to eliminate byes and have everyone play the same number of games as anything else. Obviously with a 96 team field that will go out the window.

Al McGuire won the national championship with Marquette in his final game as a coach in 1977. The next year, he joined Billy Packer and Dick Enberg to form basketball’s first three man booth and they became cult figures in college basketball. When CBS wrested the rights from NBC by offering $48 million for three years—triple what NBC had paid—there was a good deal of talk that an era had ended (which it had) and that college hoops would never be the same.

CBS needed to do something to establish itself as THE network of college basketball, especially since NBC still did regular season games with Enberg and McGuire and there were those who still thought IT was the network of college basketball.

After failing in an attempt to hire Bob Knight (yes, Bob Knight) as its No. 1 color commentator, CBS hired Packer, both for that job as a consultant on scheduling (it had no college hoops contacts at the time) and on the package in general. Packer and Len DeLuca, then a CBS producer who now works at ESPN, sat down to think of ways to connect CBS to college basketball.

They came up with two ideas: Tie together the entire season with some kind of theme: The Road to The Final Four. Every game would be part of that road and every week would lead to—in the case of 1982—New Orleans. Then, one of them said something like this: “Why don’t we announce the brackets on TV?”

There is still some dispute between the two of them as to who actually thought of the idea first but together they came up with it. Until then, coaches would sit in their offices on Selection Sunday—there were no games played that day, the ACC didn’t move its championship game to Sunday until 1982—and wait for a phone call from the NCAA office in Kansas City, which is where the selection committee would meet.

Packer and DeLuca changed that. No one got a phone call anymore. Instead, they were told to watch their TV on Sunday afternoon to find out if they were in and if so where they were going. From there, the whole thing just grew and grew until it reached the point where it has become a national holiday for college hoops fans.

So, as we get ready for what might be the last truly meaningful Selection Sunday of our lives, let’s pause for a moment and pay tribute to Packer and DeLuca. It probably seemed like a minor thing to them all those years ago but it turned out to be a truly big deal.


I had a nice talk with Scott Van Pelt yesterday. He called after reading yesterday’s blog, understandably a little upset, but very willing to discuss both his point of view and mine on the subject. He admitted that he had “wrestled,” with the issue for years. “I grew up a Maryland fan, I went to Maryland and I’m very passionate about my school,” he said.

All of which is absolutely fine as far as I’m concerned. In fact, I can honestly say I wish I felt a little more passion for my school. He also asked if I was wrong when I directed a profanity at the officials five years ago during a Navy-Duke football game. Of course I was wrong. That’s why I apologized on the air right away, offered to resign and, as I’ve said before, kind of grin and bear it when people bring it up now. I screwed up; I pay the price.

That said, he and I agreed that there’s a difference between one brief outburst and repeatedly getting up and screaming in public even if you aren’t on duty at the time. I would add in response to some of yesterday’s posts that I readily admit I have a bias towards Navy (and Army) but during broadcasts I probably defend the officials on calls that go against Navy about as often as I criticize them. Ask the Navy fans who listen regularly. That said, I withdraw nothing I’ve ever said about Perry Hudspeth.

One more point on bias: OF COURSE I’m biased. Everyone is for one reason or another. Do I like Mike Krzyzewski (or Gary Williams or Roy Williams or Paul Goydos or Ernie Els to name a few) more than Tiger Woods? Yes. I think they’re nicer people, having nothing to do with what they do away from their professions. That doesn’t mean I have an axe to grind with Woods, I just disagree with his behavior often—and did so long before November 27th—while always admiring his brilliance on the golf course.

Scott said he had talked to Jay Bilas, who I mentioned because I believed then (and believe now) that if he or I were to sit behind a Duke bench and yell at officials we’d be crucified. He said Bilas told him he thought what Scott did was okay—something about believing in the “duality of man,”—spoken like a true lawyer, which is fine. As I said, TV guys do commercials and the standards ARE different than for print guys.

In the end, I think we agreed to (sort of) disagree. I think Scott understands WHY I’d criticize him and I understand WHY he feels the way he feels. And we’re both proud members of FOG—Friends of Gary (me, unofficially of course). I give him credit for making the call and handling the situation, in my opinion, very maturely.


Finally to my friends from Hoya Paranoia Inc: Yes, you are RIGHT I was WRONG. Georgetown made The Big East Tournament in 2004. My memory is good but it isn’t perfect. I looked it up last night after I hosted the radio show on WFAN. Georgetown was 4-12 in the league and tied for 12th with Miami in a 14-team league and made the tournament (losing first round) on a tiebreaker. Craig Esherick was fired soon thereafter and replaced by John Thompson III.

Here’s the irony of the whole thing: I made the comment about the 2004 team on the air last night in the context of complimenting Thompson for coming in and rebuilding the program and going to The Final Four three years later. I wasn’t ripping Georgetown or, as one poster put it, “lying,” about the Hoyas. I was complimenting them and had a memory block. Like I said, my memory is good, but it isn’t perfect—especially these days.

So, I apologize for my mistake. I would also urge all of you to calm down for crying out loud. Will I continue to criticize Georgetown for not playing in the BB+T Classic? You bet. You want to say I’m wrong to do that, have at it. We’ll agree to disagree. I also will continue to say that John Thompson the elder killed local rivalries in DC in part because HE says he did it and in part because the evidence is right there for anyone to see.

For the record: I get along fine with JT the elder these days even if we disagree on the issue of local rivalries and the BB+T. Neither of us screams or yells or calls the other a “liar,” when we talk about those subjects. I’ve known JT III since he played at Princeton and think he is a terrific coach even though I wish he would just tell his dad, “I know you didn’t play in the BB+T but I think it is the right thing to do so I’m doing it.”

My guess is his dad would get over it. You Hoya fans need to do the same.


Anonymous said...


howard stern is interviewing several tiger ladies right now...

Tim said...

I never knew the Billy Packer piece of the NCAA traditions. I bet there are a LOT of people who would be disappointed to know he had such a hand in what they all love.

I, for one, loved hearing him on broadcasts. He certainly was divisive though.

case said...

"Tiger ladies "--wow

Anonymous said...

Fuel for your Georgetown fire. My single basketball memory from four years at the Naval Academy (79 grad) was the January 1977 win against a John Thompson ooached Georgetown team. It was on a weekday night in January (the "Dark Ages" in Academy speak) and typically in the pre-David Robinson era, underclassmen would not have been able to attend. Thompson was coming off an NCAA bid and there had been a flurry of ticket sales to Georgetown fans. Fearing that a home game was about to become an away game, the Superintendent decreed that for that day only Halsey Field House qualified as a "study hall." All 4400 of us went, making it SRO. (Unlike football, attendance at basketball was never required, even on weekends.)Navy won by 1, and the Hoyas had a buzzer beater circle the hoop before dropping out. Seems that Georgetown stopped scheduling Navy not long after. Imagine G-Town scheduling an away game in a 2500 seat gym today. Different times!

Anonymous said...

Regarding that 96 team field... can't wait to see those much anticipated #24 vs. #9 1st round games, those ought to be really exciting. And you just know that one of the #13 vs. #20 games will always produce an upset. Seriously though, does anyone think those first round games in an expanded field will be watched by anyone other than alumni? Those games will be the equivalent of the Poulan Weed Eater Bowl in college football.

Matt Dick said...

John (Can we call you 'John' on the blog?),

I have a sort of meta-question that comes to mind in this recent complaint about your Georgetown comments. I've been reading newspapers columns, listening to radio commentary and later reading blogs since I was a kid in the DC area in the 1970s. No other commentator I can recall draws the ire you do.

Obviously for writing or saying inflammatory comments anyone can draw an emotionally charged reaction, but you draw them for totally innocuous comments. This recent kerfuffle is typical of the phenomenon: you were making a comment that's very point was that JT3 had done a great job at G-Town. People went nuts about a supposed (and obviously unintended) slight of a different coach. They had to go out of their intellectual way to be annoyed with you.

Why do you think that is? I have always thought you were fair, but perhaps that fairness gets in the way of fans who are not objective about their schools.

Matt Dick said...


I'm a Northwestern grad and NU has never made the tournament. This year was *such* a good shot...

Anyway, NU through the years has certainly had teams that were in the top 64, but we never got the bid because in those years the Big Ten actually didn't stink (you younger people might not really believe those days existed). So this 96-team plan will certainly give NU a shot at winning a few games and showing that occasionally they are much better than several teams that make the 64-team field with regularity.

And I'm a *big* NU sports fan.

And the 96-team field is going to ruin the greatest spectacle in American sports. Absolutely ruin it.

Anonymous said...

Scott Van Pelt..class act, smart, intelligent and from Montgomery County. I don't think you should be picking on SVP.. no one in the business has every complained about this guy. He's easy going and must have a personal life.

Most of you print guys are sullen, dour, and bitter. SVP always positive and doe not bring you down.

I see a pattern of JF picking or having grudges with everyone. Dude did you not sit at the Senior tables in High School. Well I did and in my experience the people who did NOT, never forgot it... that's Feinstein

MikeB said...


Congratulations for continuing to strike a nerve with "journalists" about their credibility. The journalistic endeavor of ESPN -- I assume it's there somewhere -- would be much, much better served if the "talent" would spend even a second considering how their actions might affect their credibility.

I'm sure it's fun to roll around in the money that ESPN "talent" make (especially when compared to non-TV journalists, many of whom are leaving the business because jobs are being cut everywhere). I don't begrudge anyone their rewards, as long as they're doing their job. But if you, talent, want me, audience, to take you seriously as a "journalist," then earn my trust and stop acting like a jackass in public.

Anonymous said...

"...OF COURSE I’m biased. Everyone is for one reason or another. Do I like Mike Krzyzewski (or Gary Williams or Roy Williams or Paul Goydos or Ernie Els to name a few) more than Tiger Woods? Yes. I think they’re nicer people, having nothing to do with what they do away from their professions."....that's just the point John...just because YOU think they are nicer people than Tiger DOESN'T necessarily mean they are ACTUALLY nicer people than Tiger. Someone else could feel the exact opposite way regarding Tiger and Mike K. The important thing is to keep things in perspective when reporting things and making comments on the radio. Berating Tiger over and over again over a personal issue (his affiars) seems very suspicious especially when we all know Tiger is NOT the only person on tour having affairs. He's definitley the higest profile person who got caught but please John, spare me all this nonsense about how he lied to us. He never lied to us...he lied to his wife and kids. Question for you..if it comes out that Mike K has had an affair or multiple affairs, will you go on the same crusade to bash him on EVERY radio show you get on as well as your blog? I think we all know the answer to that question. That's my whole point.

Billy said...

Anonymous 2:15 - you are correct, Tiger never uttered words to us that were a lie (at least that I can remember), but he allowed Nike, Accenture, Gatorade and others lie for him. He controlled his image, and it was knowingly false.

Anyone who claims that the only thing that matters in sponsorships is between the lines, on the course, etc, is living on Mars. It most certainly involves the personality, and morality at times, that is cultured for these athletes. The combo therein is what is pedaled to the public for the check to the athlete, and the potential sales to the company. I don't begrudge anyone for taking the money, but they open themselves up to public ridicule if they don't live up to the standards to which they are shown as being.

If I was wrong, Nike and others, would pull stats of its athletes out to figure out paychecks year to year.

Anonymous said...


Georgetown actually schedule an away game in the smallest arena in D1 this year (Tulane). How many other teams would do that? Thanks.

Kevin said...

The problem is that you keep repeating this line about Georgetown missing the 2004 BET over and over again, including in print. The below link is just one example...

Anonymous said...

Never forget the the 'E' in ESPN stands for entertainment. There is a reason it comes first. They could just have easily named the channel SEPN when it started.

And there is no 'I' for integrity or 'J' for journalism. ESPN is STRICTLY about entertaining its viewers. Nothing more, nothing less. That's why I never watch Sportscenter anymore.

Dave said...


GU played a game at Navy just a few years ago. Further, in recent years, we've played road games at Tulane, James Madison, Old Dominion, Ball State, and Savannah State - all small arenas and mid-major teams that are not accustomed to Big East teams coming to play them. So, I guess it's very easy to imagine Georgetown playing on the road in a small venue since it happens virtually every year.

Anonymous said...

re Billy: You make a valid point about Tiger allowing Nike, Accenture and Gatorade to lie for him and create a "false" image. For that, Tiger deserves some heat. My issue is with people like John and their ilk ranting and raving about his affairs and how he lied to us. The reality is athletes generally play the field. If you don't think so, then you are naive. Before Tiger, Michael Jordan was the face of Nike and Gatorade...I'm quite sure you heard of his escapades. That's just the way it athletes have females throwing themselves at them so they generally play a different game than regular folks like us....and John knows this. It just seems to me that he's outrage is manufactured simply because he has had it in for Tiger. John has covered athletes for decades so he can't say with a straight face that he was shocked. I'm not buying it. The surprise to me would have been that Tiger was NOT having that he is the richest athlete on the planet and he travels around the world for his occupation. That's just the way it is. I'm just surprised it took this long for anything to come out in this day and age of TMZ and Radaronline.

Gordon said...

What I don't understand is why you Scott Van Pelt or anyone else can not go to a game that you are not "working" and be a fan. As a proud terp Scott SHOULD absolutely be able to root for Maryland and act as a fan. He ought to have the same god given right to be obnoxious as any other fan provided he keep it clean and tasteful. As long as he is not broadcasting or writing about the game which would include voice overs of the highlights the following day.

The three absolutes in life
and ESPN ruining "March Madness"

I was surprised you did not at least mention the death of Greg Rita. For those who do not know Greg was a caddy who recently died of cancer. It's the third death of a well known "looper". The others being Jeff "sqyeeky" Medelin and, obviously Bruce Edwards. What most people do not realize is that Steve Williams is the exception and not the rule. The caddies on the PGA and LPGA tour are some of the beat people you'll ever meet.

Rest in peace Greg.

Nick said...

The media gets it wrong AGAIN. Feinstein, the people you mention are nice to you because you're a famous media person. That doesn't mean the way they are to you is the way they are to everyone. For example.........

If you think that Gary Williams is a nice person, then I don't know what planet you've been on. And I'm a former player in the ACC who knows Maryland players, so I think I know of what I speak. Many MD players and assistants hate the man with a passion. He's not a nice person.

Sorry, but you're wrong on this. He's a d*ck and everyone who's ever been close to the program knows it.

Nick said...

Point being, a person doesn't KNOW anyone well, except your own family and best friends.

You don't know Gary as well as you think. You consider him a friend, but he considers you someone whom he uses to promote himself through. For him, you're just another media guy who he needs to put up with, so he can promote himself.

Some golf writers thought they knew Tiger. Do they? Same way. You don't know these people as well as you think you do.

Paul said...

Anonymous #4,

Did you really bring up sitting at the senior tables? Are you kidding me? What is funny about that is though you are criticizing John (or lamely trying to) you are exposing your own pathetic success-measurement scale. Do you really think about who sat at the senior tables when you were in high school? Still? Wow. That is about the most pathetic thing I have read in a while. Not to mention you used the word "dude" in referring to John. I'm thinking you are an Al Bundy clone, still trying to impress women with your tales of high school football (or basketball, baseball, insert whatever you want) heroics. Memo to you: Nobody cares that you were cool in high school and criticizing someone for supposedly not (actually John Feinstein may have been the coolest kid in school for all I know) is about the most sadly hilarious thing I have ever read. Even in a blog. WOW!

"Dude," stop criticizing the "dude" who writes this blog for not being cool in high school. Use your brain and find other reasons to criticize John. I'm sure he's pretty satisfied with his success. Feel free to resume your life as Uncle Rico from "Napoleon Dynamite." Later "dude."

Anonymous said...

To the G-Town fans I offended with my 77 Navy game memories-my apologies. My intent was merely to egg JF on a little, not to take a swipe a Georgetown. I will add that through the mists of my memory that both Thompson and the many Hoya fans that made the trek up to Annapolis were all very gracious even in defeat and all in all it was a great game and a great night.