Hopefully, the men from the NCAA Basketball Committee, those thick-skinned souls charged with the responsibility of saying what teams will play in The Tournament, were listening to the foot soldiers.
CBS, the network that underwrites “March Madness” to the tune of $65 million annually, tossed together an impressive head table to discuss the tourney beginning March 16. And after the usual who’s good and who’s bad stuff was out of the way, a crew of the top coaches in the country attacked more weighty issues.
The host with the most (money and style), Brent Musburger, asked Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski about the demands of travel and missed classes on the Road to the Final Four, and Coach K was right there.
“It’s a lot more than just the last month of the season,” he started. “There’s a lot of pressure from late November, when the season starts, right through to April. I think it’s about time we took a look at the athlete and its effect on him.”
The coach talked of a fifth scholarship year, allowing a player to complete work on a degree after his eligibility has been used up. He talked about stipends, insurance and money for tutors accompanying the team as it traipses from coast to coast in search of the golden fleece.
“Bobby Bender is an assistant coach and former player at Duke and he tells of what a great thrill it was for the team to get a nationally-televised game 10 years ago. I’m not sure about this, but I think we’ve been seen nationally 18 or 19 times this season,” said the coach.
“This wears on the players, naturally. I think it’s time we take a look at how the players are withstanding the pressures. Are they?”
Pat Kennedy, coach at Florida State, took up the dribble with regard to the pressures inherent in college hoops, and backed his thoughts with a thought-provoking suggestion: “I’d like to see us start practice on November 15, a month later than now, and not begin play until December 15.
“Most schools finish up their first semester the first or second week of December and this would give the kids a chance to have a full semester under their belts. The way it is now, we’re having a big effect on two semesters. And cut the schedule to 22 games or so.”
Gary Williams (Ohio State), Speedy Morris (LaSalle) and Gale Catlett (West Virginia) added other commendable suggestions not only designed to keep the riches flowing from TV but to improve the lot of all Division I schools and players.
Sed Dempsey, an NCAA Selection Committee member from the University of Arizona, said he and several of his cohorts were for revenue sharing, but that progress was slow in this area. “We have programs where money is allocated to conferences to be split among its members,” he said. Such allocations are pocket change compared to the payoffs handed out to schools blessed with selection into the tournament.
This year, for instance, simply making it into the 64-team field assures a school nearly $250,000. Imagine what such a windfall could do for a school whose athletic program is not underwritten by booster clubs, massive fund-raising campaigns and lucrative ties to powerful conferences.
The team selection process also came in for some shelling and here is where Dempsey held sway. “The idea is to select the 34 best teams (to go along with the conference representatives), no matter where they come from,” he assured.
Dempsey explained what the criteria is for teams not normally found on the tube in big intersectional battles each weekend and chief among them are “good wins and good losses.”
Bill Packer, chief analyst for the network, summed up the thinking heading into the conference championship tournaments by pointing out, “Nobody’s sure which are the top teams. All the intersectional games we’ve been seeing have been inconclusive. In the past we’ve said 20 or so teams could do it, but we’re probably up to 40 teams that can win a certain game and send itself on the way to the Final Four.”