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.


Mr. X said...

With regard to UK-Princeton, when you factor in the double entendre of Pitino getting beat by Morehead, well, it's pretty hard to top that.

Gunnar said...

This was the worst committee performance in a long time. Colorado should have been in, and your comment about Dan Beebe is correct. Beebe sent Nebraska to the #5 Big-12 bowl game this year, out of spite, now he did the same thing to Colorado. Without proper leadership or revenue sharing, the Big-12 is going to go down, Texas owns the conference.

The first four games(play-in) were terrible, or at least three of the four were. Yesterday was fantastic. The NCAA tried to screw it up, but the game is just too good when the 1st round starts (and it is the 1st round, not the 2nd round as they mistakenly named it this year).

Mark Stryker said...

Re: Your paraphrase of LaRussa

First, it's a good line. Second, I think both of you are in fact echoing one of Bill Veeck's timeless quotes: "Baseball must be a great game, because the owners haven't been able to kill it."

Craig Spinks said...

What do you think of Education Sec'y. Duncan's suggestion that the NCAA limit participation in March Madness to those teams whose universities graduate over half of their basketball players?

Craig Spinks
Evans, GA

shad said...

Thirty six inches,
Burping and "Ask John" questions.
We miss you, Junior.

-Shad from DC

adam_blaney said...

Sorry to hear about the WTEM deal.
You will definately be missed John. We appreciated your time, even if they didn't.
Enjoy the blog.
Lewisburg, WV

pulmcrit1 said...

John, In a future post, please give your opinion on Larry Brown's possible return to the college ranks.

Anonymous said...

Also, sorry to hear about the T.K. show... perhaps though you should consider that your appearance also helps sell books, even if you are not actively promoting one. I'm sure you've sold many books from your weekly appearance.

MC25279 said...

I listen to the podcast of TK's show every day. Your segment was easily my favorite of the week.

Not only because I am a golfer and have read many of your books, but because of your interactions with TK, and how real it is on air.

I understand the principle of the thing, but if the money is minimal, why not entertain people for 10-15 minutes a week. It seems to me that you enjoy talking to Tony anyway.

Obviously I don't know the details, and I could understand if the show was still paying Bob Ryan, Ann Hornaday, etc and not you, how you could be ticked off and just say forget it.

But sometimes you can't worry about other people's business. If you enjoy talking to Tony on air, I would say do it, if you don't - Don't.

DrBear said...

I forget which baseball player said it, but it also fits the NCAAs: "Baseball is like religion: great game, lousy owners."

JN said...

Anywhere we can complain to ESPN 980? If you can only do one show I would much rather hear you on TK, not on the Sports Reporters....

Momus said...

Carving out time each week? What are we talking about, 20 minutes, once a week? It's not like you put in a lot of prep time for your weekly chat with Tony. Now if you believe Wilbon, you could probably use that time to write a chapter or two for your latest book. Still, is that worth giving something up with an old friend that you enjoy because of a few dollars (I'm assuming it's a trifle that you're talking about)?

Not to mention that Tony invariably had to ask what you were doing while you were on the air with him, since you always seemed be on a cell phone in the middle of something else. I particularly enjoyed that time you were trying to sound semi-coherent while simultaneously looking around your LI home for your daughter, as her tutor had just arrived. And then there were your various auto adventures while on the line (the less said about this, the better). I'm sure Tony got a kick out of your behavior, but one wonders if the 980 management might have reasonably asked you to actually "carve out some time" since they were paying you to be on the air in a professional capacity.

Anonymous said...

Its quite amazing that we haven't had a Tiger Woods shot from you in what feels like months?!? I think its time...Tiger may be on his way back now that he's dating a 22 yr old 'party girl.' I want to see Tiger regain his form and have to duke it out with the youngsters who have grown their game during his 16 month absence from the PGA Tour (no one can argue he's actually been playing). The real dude is in there somewhere...maybe he's now embracing it.

Anonymous said...

As a long time podcaster of the TK show, I can say without pause that You and TK have great chemistry! The witty banter always makes me laugh. I guess Dan has to save money for all the lawyers fees he is incurring. ;)

You are missed.

Colorado Springs, CO


Anonymous said...

I don't actually believe this explanation about the TK show.

1) Why wouldn't TK complain about his budget being cut????

2) Wild coincidence that this would occur immediately after a fairly public spat between TK and JF.

3) This would be a nice fake excuse to sweep exposure of the whole situation under the rug with no further public dispute between the two of them.

Regardless, its a bummer. JF's weekly appearances with TK were to be looked forward to...

Tom said...

Why do you place $0 value on John's time? Do you work for free? The Kornheiser show isn't some amateur podcast -- it's a highly-rated show in a major media market. John shouldn't have to donate his time to it.

ruffin said...

Carving out time, unless, of course, one accidentally forgets what day it is and is swimming instead. /burp

Normally I'd consider this question rude, but using a word like "minimal" opens the door a bit...

What range for the guest appearance are we talking about on TK's show? Wonder if enough Littles get together if we couldn't fund the appearance.

Anonymous said...

UGHHHH. Feinstein on TK is radio GOLD! I listen to Tony everyday, he's the best, but this weekly interview was by far the highlight of the week for me. It's like a favorite show that you wait for every week. Why would WTEM pay for John to be on with Andy and Steve, but not TONY. I don't get it at all. I am so saddened by this!

John, I understand that a weekly appearance for nothing is pretty lame. However, how about a free Monthly chat? Please?

There needs to be a suggestion box somewhere on where I can complain about this.

mark said...

I love that you remember that Packer screwed you on an interview. I think you already know, but he is long gone from the Charlotte airwaves.

But you really didn't fit his show anyway. There is a huge difference between TK and Packer. That's why I listened to TK over the years where ever i could find him and tuned out Packer. I'm assuming you felt the same way.

ruffin said...

@mark -- He's going to be back in Charlotte (I'd bet) in about two months. See this from the Observer.

The show's a good local sports show, and though it occasionally scrapes the bottom of the barrel, I am surprised he jerked Feinstein around.

David said...


I too miss you on Tony's show. I don't play golf so I don't watch you on the golf channel,(am I the only 49 year old lawyer who doesn't). I've read some of your books, as have my brother and father, and I was a big fan of your Post columns, when you were writing in the good old days.

You can judge a man by those he likes and those he dislikes. You and I seem to dislike the same people. As Alice Roosevelt Longworth is reported to have said, "If you don't have anything nice to say, come sit by me."

If I ever meet you I'll be sure not say 'Junior'. But I will say thank you, I appreciate your work.


Anonymous said...

As someone else has said, it seems strange that Junior appeared on with Andy and Steve, but no money to appear with his old buddy TK. I think that the fact that there was a tiff about Dan Snyder had something to do with the split.