Thursday, March 31, 2011

This week's radio segments (The Sports Reporters, The Gas Man)

Wednesday I joined The Sports Reporters in my normal time slot (5:25 ET on Wednesday's). Click the permalink, then the link below, to listen to the segment from this week.  This week we focused the current NCAA messes that are going on including the Fiesta Bowl and the U-Conn situations, then moved on to why teams such as VCU and Butler are reaching the Final Four and what it means for college basketball, what the (too short) 3pt shot has done in the sport, and whether VCU's run will make calls for expansion of the tournament to get louder.

Click here to listen to the segment: The Sports Reporters

Also Wednesday I joined The Gas Man in my normal weekly spot. This week we spent the segment talking about NCAA athletics, ranging from the Fiesta Bowl fiasco including Bill Hancock's statements to VCU and their run through the tournament, to playoffs in football and expansion in the basketball tournament, ending with talk about Brad Stevens and Butler.

Click here to listen to the segment: The Gas Man

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

VCU proves experts wrong; Final Four: underdog/good guy divisions vs. not-so-good-guy/overdog division

I know it has been a while and I apologize to those who look for this blog on a regular basis. I went underground last week, retreating at the suggestion of my remarkably patient wife to Shelter Island to dig in and try to finish a book. The good news is I got a remarkable amount of work done in six days. The bad news is I still haven’t quite reached the finish line.

Choosing not to go to a regional site was a mixed blessing. Not having to try to file at ridiculous hours of the night thanks to the NCAA’s selling of its soul to TV was something I didn’t miss. Not dealing with the constant feeling that I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that you are in a police state when you are in the arena also wasn’t missed. And not having to deal with more internet problems—the NCAA is the only major organization that CHARGES for internet and then most of the time it doesn’t work—was also a very good thing.

So, I stretched out in front of the TV in the evenings and watched the games. Let me begin by patting myself on the back (something I’m pretty good at as most people know) for saying—and writing—on Selection Sunday that VCU belonged in the field. I advocated all season for the CAA getting three bids because I believed the quality of play in the league merited three bids. I can’t tell you how many stories I’ve read in recent days that include the phrase, “all the experts said VCU didn’t merit a bid.”

Okay, I’m happy not to be lumped in with the talking heads, especially those on ESPN. My friend Jay Bilas needs to swallow hard, drop the lawyer-line about, “just because they got a chance and played well doesn’t mean they deserved the chance.”

YES THEY DID. They have proven more than definitively that they deserved the chance and you Jay—and others—just had it wrong. How about saying this: “You know I probably didn’t see VCU play enough to fairly judge them. They’re better than I thought they were.”

Heck, they’re certainly better than I thought they were. Did I believe they should be in the field? Absolutely. Did I think they’d be in The Final Four? Of course not. Beating USC didn’t surprise me nor did beating Georgetown—because the Hoyas did their collapse act again. I’ve said before and I will say again, I think John Thompson III is a good coach and a good guy. But in the last four years—or since Jeff Green and Roy Hibbert, both recruited by Craig Esherick—left the program (actually Hibbert was still there in ’08) Georgetown has won ONE NCAA Tournament game, against a No. 15 seed UMBC back in ’08. Since then: NIT; first round blowout loss to Ohio University; first round blowout loss to VCU. (The round of 64 is still the first round no matter what the NCAA euphemists call it).

Something’s wrong inside that locker room. Georgetown is the most secret society this side of The CIA so we may never know exactly what went wrong but if you read body language you know those kids weren’t very excited about being together on the court against VCU.

I thought the Rams run would probably end against Purdue. They crushed the Boilermakers too. I thought the Florida State game was a tossup and it was: teams of destiny win those games. And Kansas? No way was Kansas going to lose to another mid-major after the Northern Iowa debacle a year ago, right? Wrong. The Jayhawks played as if they thought this was a pre-season game. Then when they realized how good VCU was they panicked and started firing bricks that could have rebuilt The Berlin Wall.

Wow. Good for Shaka Smart and good for those kids and for that school and, by the way, for the CAA. I might have been wrong: maybe the league deserved four bids: Hofstra was pretty damn good too.

The committee got it right with VCU. For the most part it got just about everything else wrong. I’m not going to go the Charles Barkley route and declare The Big East overrated. It wasn’t—it was very good with a lot of good to very good teams. But Villanova should have played its way out of the field with its monumental February-March collapse. The committee—as always—just looked at numbers. Hey, anyone WATCH the South Florida game? Talk about a team in disarray. Did we need seven Big Ten teams? No. UAB got in for one reason: Steve Orsini, committee member from SMU, got his conference an extra bid. The tournament would have been fine without USC. Oh, and one more nitpick: Clearly if you were seeding the last four No. 16 seeds based on records and RPI and perhaps even—God Forbid—watching them play, UNC-Asheville and Arkansas-Little Rock would have been 1-2 and clearly ahead of UT-San Antonio and Alabama State, by far the lowest ranked team in the field. And yet, the first two played one another while UT-San Antonio got to play Alabama State. Hmmm, how could that have happened? Does the name Lynn Hickey ring a bell? Committee member; AD at….you guessed it…UT-San Antonio.

You know what? I may be wrong when I say the committee isn’t transparent. In truth, it is VERY transparent. If you’re paying attention.

But, fine, whatever. As I’ve said before it doesn’t bother me that much that the committee gets it wrong because it is made up of people who don’t know much about basketball. (okay, it bothers me). But what REALLY bothers me is the sanctimony and the self-righteousness. They get everything wrong and sit there and claim they got everything right. My cats could seed the tournament better than these guys and do it for a lot less and with a lot less self-congratulations or discussions of ‘student-athletes.’

Anyway, The Final Four has two clear divisions: There is the underdog/good guy division: Butler-VCU. What Butler has done is completely amazing. Honestly, if I was starting a college basketball program tomorrow and could hire one coach it would be Brad Stevens. He is very much the real deal. He’s smart, he understands the game and he understands life. His kids trust him implicitly and he NEVER panics. So, they never panic. That’s why they keep winning close games. Back-to-back Final Fours at Butler? My God. Put that guy in the Hall of Fame NOW.

Then there is the not-so-good-guy/overdog division: U-Conn and Kentucky. As it happens, I like both Jim Calhoun and John Calipari. I think they’re both superb coaches. They get kids who have one eye on the doorway to the NBA—if not two—to play hard all the time. But the fact is Calhoun and Connecticut have just been convicted by the NCAA of major recruiting violations and got off with a wrist-slap because they’re a big-time TV program. That’s how it works and we all know it.

The other fact is this—although you will never hear it mentioned on CBS or ESPN— Calipari has overseen two programs that have had Final Four appearances vacated.

PLEASE don’t give me the morning pitchmen line from today: “Well, um, Calipari had two programs that, um, had some problems, HE didn’t have problems, the programs did…” Right, he was an innocent bystander. COME ON! And we all know Kentucky’s history. (Go ahead Kentucky fans, explain how your program has NEVER done anything wrong and this is all about me not liking Kentucky.).

So, the final will match a true Cinderella—and Butler is STILL Cinderella no matter how good it has become—against one school on probation and one that’s been there before coached by a guy who has twice been vacated. Talk about good vs. evil.

Anyway, regardless of the outcome you can be sure of two things: the game won’t be over until close to midnight and the committee blowhards will be patting themselves on the back for great job the minute that buzzer finally goes off.

Yeah, great job. Sort of like the Mets owners have done the past few years.

Friday, March 25, 2011

This week's radio segments (The Sports Reporters, The Gas Man)

Wednesday I joined The Sports Reporters in my normal time slot (5:25 ET on Wednesday's). Click the permalink, then the link below, to listen to the segment from this week.  This week we focused on the success of the 'little guys,' the struggles of the Big East and everything in between. It includes a great story about Brad Stevens that shows how unique he is.

Click here to listen to the segment: The Sports Reporters

Also Wednesday I joined The Gas Man in my normal weekly spot. This week we discussed last weekends Butler-Pitt game, the Washington-UNC game, my championing of the non-power conferences, previewing the round of 16 games.

Click here to listen to the segment: The Gas Man

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Washington Post columns: "Butler vs. Pittsburgh’s NCAA tournament finish is March Madness in 2.2 seconds" and "After 850 wins, U-Conn.’s Jim Calhoun is still worried about the next loss"

In case you missed them, here are two columns from the weekend on the NCAA Tournament for The Washington Post ------------

Sunday column:
This was the final sequence of Saturday night’s NCAA tournament game between Butler and Pittsburgh in Verizon Center:

A basket.

A foul.

A conversation between the fouler and the foulee while the officials were checking to see where to set the clock.

A made free throw.

A missed free throw.

A rebound.

A foul.

Another check of the clock.

A made free throw.

An intentionally missed free throw.

A desperation heave right that came close but would not have counted.

All of that took place in 2.2 seconds. Seriously. When the buzzer finally sounded and the dust cleared, Butler had — somehow — done it again, stunning top-seeded Pittsburgh, 71-70, to advance to the round of 16 in the Southeast Region next Thursday in New Orleans.

Click here for the rest of the column: Butler vs. Pittsburgh’s NCAA tournament finish is March Madness in 2.2 seconds


Friday column:
At times, Jim Calhoun looks exactly like what he is: the oldest coach in the NCAA tournament, a couple of months shy of 69; a two-time cancer survivor; and an oft-criticized coaching icon whom the NCAA has sanctioned in the past month.

That’s how Calhoun appeared Wednesday afternoon, as he slowly climbed the nine steps to the podium in the interview room at Verizon Center

Then he started to talk — about his team winning five games in the Big East tournament a week ago; about his star, Kemba Walker; about his NCAA tournament memories. The words, as always, came in a rush.

Afterward, as he descended those nine steps and left the room, there was spring in his step. He continued talking about what keeps him going after 39 years in the business.

“My friends tell me all the time, ‘Relax, what are you so worried about? Look at what you’ve done,’’’ he said. “I can’t possibly do that. We’re playing Bucknell tomorrow, and all I can think is, ‘We can’t lose to Bucknell; we just can’t.’ I think that before every game, especially this time of year.

Click here for the rest of the column: After 850 wins, U-Conn.’s Jim Calhoun is still worried about the next loss

Friday, March 18, 2011

The tournament is a beautiful thing (Note: answer to reader questions added about the Tony Kornheiser Show)

I wrote a sentence in today’s Washington Post that comes back to me every March: The NCAA basketball tournament is so good even the NCAA can’t ruin it. The line is actually a spinoff of something Tony LaRussa said to me back in 1992 when we were discussing the inevitably of another work stoppage in baseball because the owners had decided to declare war on the players union. When I asked LaRussa how badly the game would be damaged he smiled and said, “The game is better than all of us.”

He was right. The same is true of the tournament. Thursday afternoon, if you were at home with your TV remote, you got one remarkable finish after another and you no doubt came away thinking, “Now I remember what all the hype is about.” Sitting in Verizon Center watching Butler play Old Dominion I thought the same thing. Of course I also thought it was ridiculous for two teams this good to have to play one another in the first round. Clearly the committee didn’t want either of these teams taking on one of their cherished lower-seeded teams from a major conference because the result would have been similar to Richmond-Vanderbilt and Gonzaga-St. John’s. Seriously, who scouted The Atlantic-10 for the committee this year, Charlie Sheen?

A couple of fairly interesting notes did surface before yesterday’s game. Someone who once served on the committee pointed out to me that this is the first year in almost 40 years that Tom Jernstedt wasn’t in the committee room. Jernstedt was always the staff member, I’m told, who was the calming influence, who had the ability to get away from just looking at numbers to point out cracks in the bracket that needed to be fixed.

“Tom didn’t just stare at a computer the way the (staff) techno-geeks do now,” the ex-member said. (I’m not using his name because I don’t want to jeopardize his lifetime pass to The Final Four). “He’d go out for a drink when everything was done with a couple of guys and actually TALK basketball. Then he’d come back in the morning and say, ‘fellas, I think we need to look at this again.’ They didn’t have that this year.”

That’s a good point. A couple of other notes: If you wonder why Colorado didn’t make the field think about this: Dan Beebe is on the committee. He’s the commissioner of The Big 12—which happens to be the league Colorado is leaving next year. You think Beebe’s colleagues knew how he felt about that departure? Beebe was also, it turns out, this year’s tournament scout for the ACC. I’m sure Seth Greenberg will be sending him flowers—along with Ron Wellman—sometime in the near future.

Oh, one other thing: There were four No. 16 seeds sent to Dayton: UNC-Asheville; Arkansas-Little Rock; Texas-San Antonio and Alabama State. If you were to rank those four teams based on their resumes Asheville and UALR would be 1 and 2. And yet, they played one another while Texas-San Antonio somehow drew Alabama State, a .500 team that was clearly the weakest team in the field based on regular season results.

Hmmm. How did that happen? Couldn’t have anything to do with Lynn Hickey, the AD at Texas-San Antonio being on the committee could it? Her buddies decided they would do everything they could to hand her school an NCAA Tournament win—and succeeded.

Here’s the thing about being in an arena for this tournament. It is still great fun because the games are great fun. But you feel like you are living in a police state. NO ONE is allowed to take any kind of drink anyplace unless it is in the appropriate corporate cup. I have seen coaches practically tackled walking onto a podium because they haven’t poured their postgame drink into the right cup.

Even the TV guys, for all the money their networks have spent on the tournament, are on eggshells. In NCAA world there is no such thing as The NBA—seriously, that is one of the marching orders the announcers are given. You do NOT refer to a player’s pro potential or even ‘the next level.’ It doesn’t exist. A few years ago when George Washington was in the tournament Red Auerbach’s name came up. At no point did the words, ‘Boston Celtics,’ cross anyone’s lips. There is also, as we know, no such thing as gambling. I almost fell off my chair laughing Tuesday night when Seth Davis gave Asheville a chance to beat Pittsburgh and Charles Barkley immediately said he’d like to make a wager with Seth on that game. Before this is over, Barkley may let one of the dreaded ‘L’ words—Lebron, Lakers—slip out of his mouth.

The good news about being in the media is we still get great seats. The day is coming when we’re moved up to hockey press boxes and that will be the day when I DO stay home. As it is, The Final Four court is now raised so that everyone at courtside—except for the TV guys who sit on raised chairs—is looking up at the court. That’s so the corporate types right behind us have a better view. Okay, fine.

But can the NCAA at least come up with halfway decent internet? The NCAA is the ONLY event—major or minor—that charges for internet use. They claim it is because of ‘existing contracts.’ I think it is because they want to scoop up every dollar they can find on every street corner. Being charged wouldn’t make people so angry if the internet WORKED. It never does—and I mean never. This year we were told that each credential-holder had to pay a $20 fee to get a hard-wire line at your seat. (You had to pay the $20 regardless so you might as well pay for the hard-wire).

Okay fine, at least that should be reliable. Except it wasn’t. I was sitting between Liz Clarke from The Post and Dana O’Neil from both of whom had to file at the end of each game at the buzzer. There was ONE Ethernet line for four seats—not one for each seat as promised. The wireless didn’t work. Then the Ethernet didn’t work. Poor Mex Carey, the Georgetown SID who is in charge of this site, was getting yelled at from about 15 sides at once. It wasn’t his fault. It was the NCAA’s fault and the fault of the incompetent internet company it insists on using every year. Existing contracts my you-know-what. How about FIRING someone for cause.

Okay, enough boring sportswriter stuff.

Here are some other observations from day one:

--Morehead State over Louisville was the game of the day although Kentucky-Princeton would have topped it if the Tigers had pulled the game out. Would the state of Kentucky have simply shut down entirely if both teams had lost in the first round on the same day?

Connecticut is for real. That week in The Big East was no fluke. Bucknell is not a bad mid-major team and it had NO chance against the Huskies. They have a truly great player in Kemba Walker; they’re deep; they have great size and length and they have a coach who knows what to do this time of year. If they end up in the Final Four it will be no surprise to me.

--Butler is a great group of kids to talk to. They’re bright, they’re outgoing, they’re honest and they’re funny. I have nothing at all against Pittsburgh, in fact I like Jamie Dixon a lot, but if they could pull off the upset on Saturday it would be a lot of fun. By the way, how good would Butler be if Gordon Hayward had stuck around?

--I love college basketball but I’ve gotten too old to make it through four games in a day that average about 2:15 apiece. I missed Cincinnati-Missouri. Kemba Walker could feel his legs. I couldn’t feel mine. It’s also tough when you have 45 minutes to get something to eat between sessions—I had to write—and the NCAA has mandated you may have ONE chicken breast. Seriously, I’ve never believed food in the press room needs to be free. But when you have no choice but to eat there, you should be able to pay and not have someone tell you, ‘one per customer pal.’ I was in the building for 11 hours Thursday (and I missed the last game remember) I could have used one more piece of chicken. (Yes, I ate my veggies but come on, how much can a man take?).

Today, I get to sit home and watch on TV. I’m looking forward to it. I can drink out of any cup I want to drink out of and have more than one chicken breast. And I can use the remotes during the endless TV timeouts and the 20-minute halftime. Line of the day from CAA commissioner Tom Yeager: “You can recruit a transfer before the game starts and by the time halftime is over, he might be eligible.”

The tournament is a beautiful thing.


I’ve noticed a number of people have e-mailed or posted about my not being on Tony Kornheiser’s show the last couple of weeks.

Tony and I are just fine, in fact we talked at length on Wednesday. But his radio station made a budget decision to not pay regular guests on his show anymore and I felt, even though the money is minimal, that if the station didn’t value my time enough to continue paying me, then I shouldn’t continue to appear. I won’t put words in Tony’s mouth but I think it is fair to say that he understood my decision.

My basic policy on radio and TV has been pretty consistent through the years: If stations call me on occasion and ask me to come on to talk about a specific event or breaking news, I’m no different than the people I ask for interview time: I just do it. I expect them, in return, to have me on when I have a book out and with perhaps two exceptions through the years—a station in Phoenix I can’t remember and Mark Packer in Charlotte, who I do remember—they have understood the quid pro quo.

If a station asks me to appear regularly—as in at least once a week—they’re almost always getting the segment sponsored and, in any event, if I’m being asked to carve out time each week, I think I should be paid something. Tony, with his co-hosts and regular guests, has traditionally had a bigger budget than other shows at WTEM. He feels—and I agree— he should be able to do that since he’s got the station’s highest-rated show. Now, he’s been told he has to cut back. These things happen. I’ve got no hard feelings; I’m still on with Andy Pollin and Steve Czaban once a week and life moves on. I’ll miss doing the show—it’s fun—but I felt this was the right decision under the circumstances.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

This week's radio segments (The Sports Reporters)

Wednesday I joined The Sports Reporters a little later than the normal timeslot (5:25 ET on Wednesday's). Click the permalink, then the link below, to listen to the segment from this week.  This week we focused on the NCAA Tournament, the selection process, quips from the press conference of Jim Calhoun, and the overall downgrade of ACC basketball and the respect from around the country, including post-season tournaments.

Click here to listen to the segment: The Sports Reporters

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

More thoughts on the politics of, and lack of transparency in, the NCAA selection process

It is no secret that I am not a big fan of the NCAA basketball committee—and that’s putting it mildly.

There was a time, however, where there were always a couple of guys on the committee who understood that the whole veil of secrecy that exists around the selection process was ludicrous. Jack Kvancz, the Athletic Director at George Washington, used to joke about it all the time. He even went so far as to formally propose that the committee allow a member of the media to sit in on the proceedings.

“No chance,” he told me later. “They laughed me out of the room.”

Jack should have been the committee chairman in 2003. He was passed over for Bob Bowlsby, the classic pretentious, phony administrative type the NCAA so loves to promote. Jack was simply too much of a straight shooter to be chairman. He might have actually been caught in a truth.

So, it is hardly a shock Jack got shouted down quickly when he even suggested opening up the process to the public—which is what putting a media rep in the room would do. You see, when you are on the basketball committee, you are doing work that MUST be secret. Murder trials are on television; every vote in Congress is recorded so the public can pass judgment on it but the NCAA basketball committee does everything in secret.

Oh please.

The worst part of it though is they keep trying to tell the public that they aren’t being secretive. Nowadays, the committee chairman does conference calls with the media leading up to Selection Sunday and that night after the brackets are announced. Of course he NEVER says anything. Sunday night, Ohio State Athletic Director Gene Smith, who is the current chairman, simply wouldn’t answer any questions. At one point he told the CBS guys during their softball-fest that one of the criteria for getting in to the tournament was ‘style of play.’

Tracee Hamilton, one of The Washington Post’s columnists walked into the office where I was working and said to me, “did he really say style of play?”

Yup, he did. Next thing you know we’re going to have judges at courtside. The East German judge’s vote will no doubt be thrown out.

For years, I have pounded on the committee to let a member of the media sit in on their meetings. Not me—honestly, I’d rather watch a 0-0 soccer game for 120 minutes on a continuous loop than spend four days with those guys—but someone; perhaps the president of the U.S. Basketball Writer’s Association or someone designated by the USBWA if the president has another assignment that weekend.

There are two reasons I think this should happen: 1. The public has a right to know how the teams are selected and seeded and who votes for and against certain teams and 2. It would be better for the committee to PROVE to the public that all their claims that there aren’t any politics in the process are true. NO ONE believes it. My guess is the reason they won’t let a reporter in is because there are politics involved.

Several years ago, in response to the constant questioning of the system by me and by others, the NCAA—always willing to stonewall at any turn—came up with what it calls the ‘mock selection,’ process. Reporters were invited to participate in a mock selection of a field in February so we could ‘truly understand,’ how the teams are selected.

I’m pretty sure this was the brainstorm of Greg Shaheen, who was brought in to the NCAA by then-president Myles Brand to, among other things, improve the NCAA’s image. Shaheen’s a smart guy and, until last April, we communicated regularly—sometimes in a friendly way; sometimes exchanging arguments on issues. That changed when I called him out during The NCAA’s pat-itself-on-the-back Final Four press conference when he tried to claim that a 96-team tournament would somehow involved LESS missed class time for ‘student-athletes.’

Now, Shaheen doesn’t respond when I send him e-mails. I even sent him an e-mail asking when he was going to get over what had happened in Indianapolis last spring and he didn’t respond to THAT. Which is fine; he’s not the first and won’t be the last.

That said, the ‘mock bracket,’ was and is Shaheen’s baby. He did everything but beg me to participate, figuring if he could get me to but what he was selling he could probably get almost anyone to buy in. He and the committee have done a great job selling it to a lot my colleagues who love to go around telling people how they now ‘understand,’ the process. Oh please. You think because you sit in a room and look at RPI’s and take mock votes that you understand the process? Do you understand that Ron Wellman, the Wake Forest Athletic Director who is on the committee now, completely blew it by allowing only four ACC teams to be selected—one of them sent to Dayton? Do you understand that Steve Orsini, the SMU Athletic Director should be Conference-USA’s man-of-the-year for somehow convincing the committee to give UAB an at-large bid?

No, you don’t, because you buy into the notion that Wellman left the room when ACC teams were being voted on and Orsini did the same when Conference-USA teams were being voted on. Maybe so but how many hours during the day were they in the same room with the other members discussing teams? What did Wellman say when whomever had responsibility for scouting the ACC this year, said Virginia Tech wasn’t good enough? Or when someone suggested that Penn State—which lost to Virginia Tech—was a better pick than the Hokies because they beat Michigan State on Saturday while Virginia Tech was losing to Duke?

On Monday I sent a note to David Worlock, who is the NCAA’s basketball PR person. Worlock is a really good guy. He works very hard, is incredibly responsive to requests and questions and extremely patient—especially with people like me who he knows are not going to be receiving any good guy awards from the NCAA any day soon.

I asked Dave to ask Gene Smith two questions: Who voted for and against Virginia Tech and which committee member was assigned to the ACC this season? I knew the answer to both questions—none of your business—but I wanted that answer on the record. Dave patiently wrote back to say that and then added a lengthy—and I mean LENGTHY explanation of various criteria—which told me absolutely nothing. He then suggested—again, as Shaheen has done repeatedly the last few years—that I would understand the process better if I attended a mock bracket session.

I give Worlock credit for trying but it’s not going to happen. I told him if he and the committee really wanted me to understand the process, invite me to the real thing. (Again, I’d prefer someone else go, but at this point I’d have to go if invited since I’ve been running my mouth for so long about it. That said, I think I’m pretty safe making plans for selection weekend next year that do not include a trip to Indy.)

Here’s one other problem: the committee doesn’t have enough basketball people on it. With the exception of Stan Morrison—who goes off the committee after this season—there are no ex-coaches on the committee. Nothing but administrators, each a bit more sanctimonious than the rest. My favorite is Lynn Hickey, the AD at Texas-San Antonio. Last year during the USBWA’s annual Final Four meeting with the committee, when we had made a couple of requests to try to speed the postgame process after late night games, Hickey told us, “you know, everything we do is for the student-athletes.”

It took all my self control at that moment not to say, “PLEASE, I’M BEGGING YOU; SHUT-UP.” Student-athletes? Right. Meanwhile, they’re flying all over the country this week and next week and the week after that and the games are played later and later at night and, by the way, how much class do you think those kids from The Big East schools went to last week?

Any time you hear someone from the NCAA use the phrase, ‘student-athletes,’ check your wallet.

My friend and former student Seth Davis once referred to the great high school scout Tom Konchalski as, “the only honest man in the gym,” while walking into a summer basketball camp. The basketball committee could use Konchalski in the room. That way, there would be one honest man in there too.

Washington Post column: A Lack of Accountability

Here is my newest column for The Washington Post -------------

The problem with the NCAA tournament bracket that was unveiled Sunday night isn’t the product.
Debate over who got in and who didn’t is going to occur every year whether the field consists of 64 teams, 68 teams or the 96 teams the NCAA will someday shove down our throats.

And while only one member of this year’s tournament selection committee has actually coached Division I basketball — Stan Morrison, who last did so in 1998 — the process isn’t necessarily the issue either.

The problem is accountability — specifically, the committee’s utter lack of it. Without it, we have no way of knowing whether the process was fair or not.

Something is rotten in Indianapolis.

Click here for the rest of the column: A Lack of Accountability

Monday, March 14, 2011

Ballot for the final regular season AP poll

The following is my ballot for this week's AP college basketball poll, the 19th of the season:

1)      Ohio St.
2)      Kansas
3)      Duke
4)      San Diego St.
5)      Pittsburgh
6)      Connecticut
7)      Notre Dame
8)      North Carolina
9)      Louisville
10)  Kentucky
11)  BYU
12)  Texas
13)  Syracuse
14)  Purdue
15)  Florida
16)  Wisconsin
17)  Old Dominion
18)  Butler
19)  Washington
20)  Gonzaga
21)  Kansas St.
22)  Utah St.
23)  Richmond
24)  Xavier
25)  Long Island U.

Washington Post - Region by region analysis of the NCAA Tournament

This series of columns is for today's The Washington Post --------------

Southwest Region -- Kansas appears locked in as it sets sights on Houston

If ever a team looked like a Final Four lock, it was Kansas a year ago. If ever a team looks like a Final Four lock, it is Kansas this year.

Of course last year the Jayhawks lost in the second round to Northern Iowa, an upset only the folks in Cedar Rapids might have seen coming. Do not expect the same from UNLV or Illinois — Illinois, really? Over Virginia Tech? Was the ACC that bad this season?

The best first-round matchup in the entire tournament (other than Butler-ODU) might be Vanderbilt-Richmond. The committee clearly loves the SEC; not so much the Atlantic 10. The A-10 tournament champion got a No. 12 seed. It is seeded lower than Georgia, which belongs in the tournament less than Illinois but slightly more than UAB.

That said, the most dangerous team on the road to Houston for Kansas might be Purdue if only because Notre Dame is so dependent on three-point shooting. The Irish can beat anyone, but can they stay hot for four straight games? That’s the second-most asked question in South Bend these days, right after, “How do the quarterbacks look in spring practice?”

Click here for the rest of the column: Southwest Region


West Region: West Region could have a Hollywood ending, or a predictable coronation

It could happen. On the other hand, Texas could survive that game — and it almost assuredly will not be easy — and if it does, could easily find itself in the region final. This is a very wide open region. The hottest team entering the tournament is the No. 3 seed, Connecticut. The Huskies may also be the most tired. Duke is the No. 1 seed, but the committee did it no favors with a second-round game against either Michigan or Tennessee. The Vols may be the most schizophrenic team in the field — a reflection of their coach — and Michigan shoots threes a lot, which makes it dangerous when they go in. Don’t be stunned by an early Duke exit. It has happened before.

San Diego State is the mystery No. 2 seed. On the one hand, the Aztecs have two losses all season, both to Brigham Young when the Cougars were whole. On the other hand, they haven’t been tested in either conference play or nonconference play the way the other high seeds have been. A second-round game against Temple or Penn State will tell us a lot about them. If the committee had any sense of history, it would put Temple-Penn State in at the Palestra. But this is a group whose chairman now refers to “style of play,” as a criteria for getting into the field. If so, how can Penn State and Wisconsin be allowed anywhere near any tournament building?

One of the most popular first-round upset picks will come out of this region: Oakland over Texas. The Longhorns, who looked like a possible No. 1 seed a month ago, stumbled to the finish line to drop to No. 4, and Oakland is one of those veteran teams from a mid-major conference that played a very tough nonconference schedule that included a win at Tennessee.

Click here for the rest of the column: West Region


East Region: Virginia Tech left out of East bracket while George Mason faces tough draw

Let us begin with two local teams who the committee did wrong: Virginia Tech and George Mason.

If Mason wins that game, it gets to play Ohio State, the No. 1 seed in the entire tournament, on what will be virtually a home court for the Buckeyes in Cleveland. That’s the beauty of the pod system, which was a bad idea to begin with and remains that way. Mason would have been better off as a No. 10 seed than it is as a No. 8 seed. In fact, a 10th seed would have given them a potential second-round game against North Carolina — the same school it beat in the second round en route to the Final Four in 2006.

At least Jim Larranaga’s team is in the field. The same can’t be said for Virginia Tech. The ACC should seriously consider replacing Wake Forest Athletic Director Ron Wellman as its committee rep after he was clearly outmaneuvered by SMU Athletic Director Steve Orsini in the committee room. Somehow, UAB got a second bid for Orsini’s league (Conference USA) while the ACC got just four bids — with Clemson getting sent to Dayton for the play-in round. (Sorry, NCAA, I’m not buying into this “First Four” marketing brand.)

The good news for the Patriots is that they have a very winnable first-round game against a Villanova team that became the first in tournament history to get an at-large bid after losing its last five games. That’s where the good news ends.

Click here for the rest of the column: East Region


Southeast Region: Pitt had best beware of ODU-Butler winner

The NCAA tournament selection committee may have decided it likes CBS and Turner’s money more than ESPN’s, but it clearly buys into ESPN’s Big East hype. So if you take 11 teams from one conference, you better do everything you can to ensure at least one of them makes the Final Four.

The anointed Big East team is clearly Pittsburgh. The Panthers have what amounts to a dream draw. Jamie Dixon has been close to the Final Four, but has never quite gotten there. He will never have a better chance than right now.

Consider the next three seeds in his region: Florida, which won a remarkably weak SEC; BYU, which deserves the No. 3 seed but is without leading rebounder Brandon Davies; and Wisconsin, which is as well-coached as any team in the tournament but scored 33 points against Penn State on Friday. Pitt’s most dangerous game may be its second, against Old Dominion or Butler.

Putting ODU and Butler up against each other on the 8-9 line is pretty close to criminal. ODU is the best rebounding team in the country and won the most underrated conference in the country. Forget that Butler was two inches from being the defending champion in this event; the Bulldogs have won nine straight, and their conference was the toughest it has ever been.

Click here for the rest of the column: Southeast Region

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Another saga in 'Days of LeBron's Life' -- Peppermint Patty meet Eric Spoelstra

There’s an old ‘Peanuts,’ strip in which Peppermint Patty is being asked by her teacher why she doesn’t have her homework. She talks at length about TV shows she had to watch; something that caught her attention on the radio and a comic strip—or something like it—that she spent time reading. Finally she stands up, finger in the air and says: “I blame the media!”

Peppermint Patty meet Eric Spoelstra.

Look, I don’t come here this morning to bury Spoelstra but I certainly don’t come here to praise him either. I think the argument can be made he has the toughest coaching or managing job in professional sports right now. Not only is he going to be judged a failure as the coach of The Miami Heat if the team doesn’t win the NBA title, he has to share a locker room with LeBron James.

I’m not adding the names Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. If Spoelstra was just coaching the two of them he’d be living the good life in South Beach. Bosh is a very good player who never should have been in the same sentence or hype-fest with James and Wade. He’s a perfect third option on a very good team—which is what The Heat happen to be. Wade—unlike James—has proven he can lead a team to a championship and has also proven during this season that his ego, unlike one of his teammates, isn’t slightly larger than Gaul—no, I wasn’t around when it was divided into three parts, but I did read about it.

The problem for Spoelstra is James—and the fact that he’s about 14-years-old and clearly in over his head right now. The minute James made, “The Decision,” to take his talents to South Beach, Spoelstra’s job became impossible. He’d be better off right now applying for the open jobs at Texas Tech or at Towson. If The Heat had broken the Bulls NBA record of 72 wins—as many so-called experts predicted last summer; go back and check the tapes—and had swept to the title, Spoelstra would have been the guy in the suit who was along for the ride. The minute the team started 9-8 he became the coach who couldn’t tell an X from an O.

The Heat is 43-20. If you listen to people talk about them you would think they were 20-43. They’re not winning close games against good teams. That may change but at the moment they are offensively dysfunctional in the end game because they haven’t got a point guard and because James HAS to have the ball even when the defense KNOWS he has to have the ball.

Okay, fine. So they’ve lost a bunch of games they could have won but the fact remains it won’t matter until and unless they lose in May or June. Then Spoelstra will get fired and James won’t take responsibility for anything. Maybe he’ll start talking about his next Decision and remind people he can opt out of South Beach in another two years. (Remember his speech about all he’s done for Cleveland?)

Where Spoelstra got into trouble the last couple days wasn’t so much with his comment about players crying in the locker room after Sunday’s loss to the Bulls but with his ridiculous blame-the-media crack on Monday even though one can’t help but wonder why in the world anyone would be crying—or even glassy-eyed--after a loss in March. Maybe LeBron told Mike Bibby this was all his fault and he burst into tears, but I doubt it.

Spoelstra was trying to make the point that the close losses aren’t fueled by a lack of desire—which is fine, although lacking desire at this point in an NBA season is pretty commonplace. Have you watched a Washington Wizards road game anytime recently? So, he used a phrase he shouldn’t have used because, “guys crying in there,” gets your attention. It isn’t as if the Heat’s season ended on Sunday. There were kids playing college basketball on Sunday who saw their CAREERS end. That’s when you cry and no one begrudges you your tears. Pros crying after a regular season loss makes you want to put out a call for Tom Hanks.

Of course everything the Heat does is news. So, when Spoelstra blurted out that there was crying in his locker room, people wondered who was crying and why. Yes, it sounds like a soap opera because it is: “Days of LeBron’s Life.” He would insist that be the title as would the four-letter folks in Bristol who promote EVERY Heat game as, “LeBron James and The Miami Heat…” Maybe that was in the contract for ‘The Decision,’ (don’t you love the part where the ESPN dork says he’d do it again? That’s a little bit like the people who gave Magic Johnson a talk show saying THEY’D do it again). Wade, the guy with, you know, the actual championship ring, is just supporting cast when LeBron is in the room.

What Spoelstra should have done on Monday was laugh and say, ‘hey fellas, I was trying to make a point yesterday about how hard I think my guys are playing. I probably meant to say, ‘a lot of guys in there FEEL like crying.’ We took the loss hard but not THAT hard.’”

Instead he went Peppermint Patty and blamed the media. “A classic case of media sensationalism,” he called it. No Eric, ‘The Decision,’ was a classic case of media sensationalism and so is sticking Charlie Sheen on every single TV show that exists and promoting his appearances as if President Obama was about to announce a peace treaty had been signed in Afghanistan.

Reporting what you said in a press conference and finding it amusing, bemusing and kind of funny that you said your players were crying after losing in the 63d game of an 82-game regular season is hardly sensationalism.

Of course now those that apologize for anyone and everyone in sports are scrambling to say, ‘yeah, see, it’s those bad guys in the media.’ This morning on the way to the pool, I heard Dick Vitale doing his weekly bit with the morning pitchmen. (I couldn’t help but notice that they threw him overboard after six minutes. Was that because they HAD to get in a commercial or a sponsor-mention or was Dicky V. just out of breath?). Anyway, my position on Vitale has been made clear in the past: Love him, heart of gold. There’s nothing phony about his passion.

That said, Dicky V. somehow turned Spoelstra saying his players cried into a rant about how HE cried when he recently went to visit kids in a cancer ward at a hospital. “What’s wrong with crying! What’s wrong with a little emotion! Sometimes the media is just vicious—vicious!”

Okay Dick, calm yourself. Crying when you spend time with kids who have cancer isn’t just understandable, it’s to be expected. Honestly, I’ve done it myself and I don’t just cry, I get physically ill. Even writing it now conjures up visions that give me the shakes. You simply can’t—CAN NOT—compare that to basketball players crying after losing a game—even the justifiable tears of a career-ending loss. So please, let’s not ever go there or anywhere close to there again.

Meantime, “LeBron James and The Miami Heat,” have another game tonight. And then another and another and another. In about seven weeks they’ll play game that means something. Until then, Eric Spoelstra can cry all he wants about media sensationalism. My advice would be to get over it.

Monday, March 7, 2011

This week's AP basketball ballot

As I've done throughout the season, here is my ballot turned in for this week's vote:

1)      Ohio St.
2)      Kansas
3)      Pittsburgh
4)      Notre Dame
5)      North Carolina
6)      San Diego St.
7)      Duke
8)      Texas
9)      Florida
10)  Purdue
11)  Xavier
12)  BYU
13)  Louisville
14)  Wisconsin
15)  Temple
16)  Syracuse
17)  Kentucky
18)  Arizona
19)  Butler
20)  Gonzaga
21)  St. John's
22)  Kansas St.
23)  Utah St.
24)  George Mason
25)  Harvard

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Washington Post column: 'John Feinstein: The NCAA's version of justice is puzzling'

The following is this weekend's column for The Washington Post taking a look at the NCAA's  self-righteousness and secrecy in both their enforcement staff decisions and the tournament selection process.


To paraphrase Jerry Tarkanian's oft-repeated quote involving Kentucky and Cleveland State, the NCAA must be so mad at Connecticut Coach Jim Calhoun that Radford's Brad Greenberg is going to get suspended for four games.

In truth, the NCAA didn't punish Radford's coach (the brother of Virginia Tech Coach Seth Greenberg) because the school did it first, suspending Greenberg for the final four games of the season. According to the school's news release, Greenberg was suspended for breaking NCAA rules involving, "team travel and associated extra benefits."

Here is what Greenberg did: He took Masse Doumbe with him to road games Radford played during Thanksgiving break and Christmas break even though he was ineligible. The NCAA had barred Doumbe from playing in the first 21 games of the season because he had played on a French team the NCAA deemed professional because one player on the team (not Doumbe) was being paid. Greenberg didn't want to leave him alone on campus during the holidays, so he brought him with the team.
That was the impermissible travel.

The extra benefits? Meals, and a bed to sleep in.

Imagine what might have happened if he had bought the kid an ice cream cone after a team meal.

But this is justice in college sports, whether it is meted out by a school trying to show it can really crack down on itself or the NCAA suspending Calhoun for three games next season for violations involving illegal contact with recruits and, specifically, the actions of a former team manager who was involved in the recruitment of a player.

Calhoun, who was never one to duck a tough question, has been reduced to putting out garbled statements from some lawyer about how Calhoun takes full responsibility but really this is no big deal and let's move on because there's a tournament to be played.

There is no one better than the NCAA when it comes to self-righteousness and secrecy. The simplest question is often met with absolute astonishment that it would even be asked. Last month, during one of the NCAA basketball committee chairman's conference calls leading up to Selection Sunday, Ohio State Athletic Director Gene Smith was asked by the Kansas City Star's Blair Kerkhoff, "Gene, can you tell us how many teams would be on your 'absolutely in' list right now?"

Click here for the rest of the article: John Feinstein: The NCAA's version of justice is puzzling

Friday, March 4, 2011

Getting re-acquainted with the familiar, and meeting the new, on the PGA Tour

So I’m back in golf world this week—the world of golf, not the magazine.

I have to say, it’s always fun. I’ve made a habit the last five years of coming to The Honda Classic, which is the first east coast event of the year. I miss going to the west coast but the combination of basketball responsibilities, family responsibilities and my aversion to flying has kept me from places like Pebble Beach and San Diego tournaments I liked going to in the past.

The Honda, to be honest, is one of my favorite events. The logistics are about as easy as you could possibly hope for. The putting green, the driving range and both the front and back nine are all a few steps from the media room. Walking the golf course is usually enjoyable—it’s not hilly and there’s always a breeze, or this year, a high wind. It isn’t fun to play in but walking and watching is a lot of fun.

The nicest part for me though is being able to walk back in after months away and feel comfortable and, even better, be able to start getting work done right away. There are new faces every year and I always try to introduce myself to people so I can start to develop relationships with them. There is no doubt that being on Golf Channel the last three years helps me with the new guys. I’d prefer that they tell me they’ve read my books or my columns but if seeing me on Golf Channel is an icebreaker, well, that’s fine too.

And then there are the guys who have been around the tour as long (1993) as I have—or longer. On Wednesday I walked into the locker room and within two minutes ran into Davis Love, Justin Leonard, David Duval, Steve Flesch and—of course—Paul Goydos. Actually it was no coincidence I ran into Goydos: he owed me dinner since he had called me ‘an idiot,’ when I told him that Florida State would beat Duke back in January and then had bet me dinner when I suggested he might put his money where his know-it-all mouth was.

Paul knows a lot about basketball, especially Long Beach State basketball. He pays for Spike Lee seats at Long Beach home games and once got tossed from the arena years ago for arguing vehemently with a referee. Paul’s version of that story is wildly funny—as are most versions of any story he tells.

Davis’s son Dru (as in Davis Love IV—quadruple) and my son Danny were born six weeks apart and that’s usually our first topic of conversation. Danny’s now taller than I am and Dru is taller than Davis (who is 6-3) so we both roll our eyes and wonder how that has come to pass since the boys were only born about 15 minutes ago.

I’m really happy that Davis is going to be the Ryder Cup captain. I know how much it means to him, especially since his father was a member of the PGA of America for years until his death in a plane crash in 1988. In fact, the day that Davis was born in 1964 his dad was playing in The Masters. When Davis won The PGA in 1997, one of the most emotional finishes I’ve ever seen to a golf tournament, one of the first things he said to his younger brother Mark (who was caddying for him) was, “now I can be a Ryder Cup captain.”

Winning The PGA isn’t an absolute must for a Ryder Cup captain—neither Arnold Palmer nor Tom Watson (among others) ever won it, but it certainly helps. As it turned out, that PGA was Davis’s only win in a major. He came achingly close on several other occasions but never did win a second major.

Now though, he’s The Ryder Cup captain and I think he’ll do very well because the job will mean so much to him on an emotional level, not just a professional one and because the players like him so much. Davis is one of those guys who is constantly described as, “my best friend,” by other guys in the locker room. There aren’t that many guys you can say that about but Davis is one of them.

He was one of the first players I got to know well when I was working on, ‘A Good Walk Spoiled.’ In fact, it was while talking to Davis that it first occurred to me that covering golf was going to be a lot more fun than covering, say, tennis. We were in Williamsburg at the old Anheuser-Busch Tournament. Davis was staying in a condo right on the grounds and we went there to talk after he played his first round on Thursday.

About two hours into the conversation I began to wonder how much longer I could go. So I said to Davis, ‘how are you set on time?’

He shrugged and said, “you said you were writing a book so I figured you needed a lot of time. I just blocked off the whole afternoon.”

Hallelujah. This came after spending time with tennis players who thought 20 minutes was the absolute limit that anyone should ever spend talking to a reporter. Davis became one of the more compelling stories in ‘A Good Walk Spoiled,’ and has been a go-to guy for me ever since.

The most pleasant surprise was seeing Nick Price. When people ask me who are the nicest people I’ve ever met in sports, Nick is right at the top of the list. He’s just a genuinely warm, kind human being. He was also the No. 1 player in the world in 1993 and 1994. He won three major championships. A few weeks ago he called Ken Kennerly, the Honda’s Tournament director, wondering if he could get a sponsor’s exemption to play. The Champions Tour is off this week and Nick lives practically next door to PGA National. He’s been feeling good about his game and wanted to see how he could do against the kids since he hasn’t played the regular tour since turning 50.

Kennerly, who is a good guy, told him he really didn’t have any spots, that he had commitments to a number of younger players and international players. Remember we’re talking about someone who is already in The World Golf Hall of Fame. We’re not talking about some guy who won a couple times on tour, we’re talking about a three-time major champion. Nick just said, “I understand Ken, no worries.”

Then he decided to use his one-time exemption for being in the top 50 (29th entering this year) on the all-time money list and not only play Honda, but a few other events this year. As he walked up and down the range on Thursday morning, he introduced himself to younger players; said hello to old friends—players, caddies, media—just the most regular guy you’ve ever seen. That’s Nick.

The first time I met him was late in 1993 when he was No. 1 in the world. He had no idea who I was but told me he’d be glad to talk to me for the book. He said he really didn’t know his schedule for 1994 yet so could I call him in about two weeks because he’d know by then. He gave me a phone number.

A couple weeks later, I called, expecting to get his agent’s office or an assistant or some kind of tape. Nick answered. “Hang on one second John, I’ve got a guy at the front door.”

He’d given me his home number. The No. 1 player in the world—to a guy he had just met. That’s Nick Price.

That’s why it is always nice to come back to the tour.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

This week's radio segments (The Sports Reporters, The Gas Man)

Wednesday I joined The Sports Reporters in the normal timeslot (5:25 ET on Wednesday's). Click the permalink, then the link below, to listen to the segment from this week. We spent the majority of the show discussing what we don't know about the upcoming NFL lockout, comparisons to what the NHL did, contraction for the various sports and various different angles of all the labor dealings.

Click here to listen to the segment: The Sports Reporters

Also, Wednesday evening I joined The Gas Man in my weekly spot. This week's discussion came from the Honda Classic, so we discussed the PGA Tour and its strong start in terms of TV ratings, players changing mentalities as the Florida swing indicates The Masters is near, then moved onto NCAA basketball and how it uses technology with in-game officiating.

Click here to listen to the segment: The Gas Man