I swear to God when I walked into the NCAA’s annual press conference yesterday I had no intention of asking any questions or, for that matter, staying very long. The only reason I even wandered in was that the NCAA sort of trapped us by putting an hour break into the schedule between the time the players and coaches from Butler were available to talk and the time the players and coaches from Duke showed up.
So, if anyone from the NCAA was unhappy with what took place, they should blame themselves. Schedule the teams one after another the way you should and you won’t have me hanging around while you publicly congratulate yourselves on all the great work you’re doing for ‘student-athletes.’
What happened was this: Greg Shaheen, who is the NCAA vice president in charge of—for all intents and purposes—this basketball tournament, began outlining how a 96 team field would work. We all know the tournament is going to 96 teams, the only question is if they’ll make the leap all at once next year—that’s my guess—or ease into it over a two or three year period.
Shaheen knows that cat is out of the bag. Back in January when I wrote that it was a done deal and said that ESPN was going to put so many Disney Dollars on the table that the NCAA wouldn’t be able to resist, he wrote me an angry e-mail, not denying the expansion, but that I had implied that CBS wasn’t being treated fairly in the negotiation process. Now that CBS has partnered with Turner, the NCAA is bound to be very nice to them since the worst they can do is get into a bidding war with ESPN and drive the price higher—regardless of who ends up with the rights.
As Shaheen was describing how a 96 team tournament would play out in terms of schedule he made one completely ridiculous statement: that ‘student-athletes,’ would not miss any more class time under the new format than they already do now. He carefully outlined how the first week would work, emphasizing the fact that while the 64 non-bye teams would arrive at sites at the same time as in the past, the 32 bye teams could arrive a day or two later.
Fine. Let’s not even get into the fact that the first week of the tournament is often spring break for a majority of schools. Let’s just give the NCAA that one.
Then, having made that point a couple times, Shaheen simply stopped. He said nothing about the second week, which is when the extra round of games will have to be played. Since the round of 64 will now be played on Saturday-Sunday, the round of 32 has to be played the first half of the next week to get to the Sweet 16. Shaheen acted as if that round didn’t exist.
I couldn’t resist. I asked for the microphone—at NCAA press conferences you have to ask for a mike and for reasons I’ve never understood, “identify,” yourself before asking a question. I once identified myself as Bob Woodward and no one batted an eye.
So, I asked Greg exactly when the round of 32 would be played. He said most likely on Tuesday-Wednesday. That would mean the winners would play regionals on Thursday-Friday, meaning that teams that played on the weekend and then played the round of 32 and then the 16s would miss an entire week of school.
When I made that point, Greg referred back to the first week. I told him I wasn’t asking about the first week. He AGAIN started talking about the first week. I finally said something like, “well you just aren’t going to answer the question about the second week are you?”
He then claimed something about not understanding the ‘nuance,’ of my question. I could have said, “Oh come on Greg, you’re a smart guy, you get the question you just don’t want to answer it in this forum; don’t want it on the record that OF COURSE everyone will miss a full week of class—in addition to whatever they miss the first week and the four days the two teams in the championship game miss this weekend (Thursday, Friday, Monday, Tuesday).”
Afterwards, no longer at the podium, Shaheen admitted they’d miss the entire week although he claimed, “some teams,” could go home between their weekend game and their round of 32 game. Quick quiz: How many coaches do you think will play a game on Saturday night, fly home, maybe have the kids go to class Monday and then fly back to play Tuesday? How about none.
What bothered me about it, what caused me to jump in, were two factors: One, Shaheen was simply trying to bulldoze past the fact that there will be MORE missed class during a press conference in which the NCAA had been bragging about improved graduation rates. (A story for another day). Second, here’s an organization that runs screaming from the room whenever a football playoff is brought up because it doesn’t want to take on the BCS Presidents or the bowl lobby and then claims it is worried about MISSED CLASS TIME for football players (who would miss almost zero class time with a football playoff) and it is shrugging off MORE missed class time for basketball players as no big deal.
“Wouldn’t be that many teams affected,” Shaheen said later.
So apparently it is okay as long as the ‘student-athletes,’ from 16 schools are affected but not okay if ‘student-athletes,’ from eight schools are affected—though almost not at all—in football.
My point in asking the questions I asked wasn’t to embarrass Shaheen. I like him. He’s very bright but he is also one of those administrators who thinks if he says it then it must be so. Maybe that comes from hanging around the basketball committee for so long. When someone asked Dan Guerrero, the UCLA AD who is the committee chairman this year if he was concerned about how a 96 team field would affect attendance at the Pac-10 Tournament which already doesn’t draw very well, Guerrero said, “That’s not something we’ve addressed as a conference yet.”
Honestly, I think if you asked Guerrero where the sun’s going to rise tomorrow he would tell you that the committee had studied a lot of options: east, west, north and south and all were very worthy of hosting sunrise.
I have to admit I was a little surprised at the reaction to my exchange with Shaheen. I sometimes forget how fast information goes out on the internet and on TV these days. It’s a sign of age. But the reaction was swift and I guess what it shows is that a lot of people are pretty fed up with the NCAA’s constant filibustering on any real question.
This morning I presented Jim Boeheim with the US Basketball Writers Coach-of-the-Year Award at a breakfast. I noticed that a lot of the committee members were in the room when I got up to the podium. I was tempted to say that the USBWA had decided to expand breakfast to include lunch next year but we believed it wouldn’t cost those who came any extra money because, well, because we said so.
I decided to pass on the line and make fun of Boeheim instead, knowing he was going to nail me when it was his turn. (He did—he said the only thing that could ruin being named coach-of-the-year was having me present the award. Then he said he hadn’t worn a tie because he didn’t think he needed one with a bunch of writers. I took my tie off and gave it to him. Without missing a beat he pretended to look at the label and said, “JC Penney.” He was very funny).
One thing I like about coaches like Boeheim is that they don’t take themselves too seriously most of the time. Then again, he was the first guy to suggest expanding the tournament. All of which just proves that no one's perfect.