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Monday, March 15, 2010

NCAA Caves to Pressure, Goes Easy on Duke

Here's Jason Whitlock's take on the NCAA Selection Committee and the pairings they announced on Sunday. Great stuff.

The experts on CBS and ESPN were not at liberty Sunday night to explain to you why the NCAA Tournament selection committee treated Duke like the No. 1 overall seed rather than Kansas, the nation’s best basketball team.

The explanation is simple: Duke is television ratings gold, and the NCAA is in the process of negotiating a new TV contract for its prized tournament.

CBS, the current rights holder, and ESPN, America’s 24-hour national sports network — along with several other networks — are currently participating in the contract negotiations. It’s a high-stakes affair. CBS paid $6 billion to exclusively broadcast the event for the last 11 years.

In an effort to hoodwink a TV network into again overpaying for the Big Dance, the NCAA is considering expanding the tourney to 96 teams.

So it’s only logical that the selection committee provided the Blue Devils — tournament-chokers for most of the last decade — a relative cakewalk to the Final Four. Duke, the alleged third No. 1 seed, is in the bracket with the weakest No. 2 (Villanova) and No. 3 (Baylor) and No. 4 (Purdue).

Meanwhile, the Jayhawks draw No. 2 seed Ohio State, the team many believe deserved a No. 1, and No. 3 Georgetown and No. 4 Maryland. Every expert I heard Sunday stated the obvious: Kansas is in the toughest bracket in the tournament, and Duke is in the easiest.


“Duke and (North) Carolina bring big built-in audiences to TV sets,” CBS programmer Mike Aresco told a USA Today reporter last year in explaining CBS’s 2009 tournament ratings bump.

The NCAA needs another bump.

Over the last 15 years, the NBA has stripped the college game of name-brand, ratings-generating players to showcase. Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James skipped college ball altogether.

Kevin Durant, Greg Oden, Derrick Rose, Michael Beasley and Stephen Curry — to name just a few — could all conceivably still be looking for one last shining moment in front of Jim Nantz and Clark Kellogg. Instead, they’re NBA millionaires, leaving the NCAA to promote legendary coaches and tradition-rich programs.

No coach and no team move the needle better than Mike Krzyzewski and the Duke Blue Devils.

They’re the Tiger Woods of hoops, a squeaky-clean fantasy that sports fans love and love to hate.

Short of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, Coach K and his All-American Boys have been the NCAA’s best box-office draw. Duke’s 1992 victory over Michigan is the second-most-watched championship game after Magic-Bird. Duke’s loss to Arkansas in 1994 is fourth.

I know. Around here, we’re quite proud of Kansas’ rich tradition. The Jayhawks produced Dr. Naismith, Wilt Chamberlain and Danny Manning. Kansas owns three NCAA titles. And just about everyone agrees Bill Self is as good a coach as there is.

Kansas fails the squeaky-clean charade.

Larry Brown hired Danny Manning’s dad and left the program on probation. We still don’t know for sure how Darrell Arthur passed 10th-grade algebra. And then there’s that whole thing about Kansas being the favorite team of porn stars.

On a more serious note, Duke (and North Carolina to a lesser degree) score higher on the old “eyeball” test. Fewer tattoos and more white guys.

I just made many of you uncomfortable. Sorry. But it’s a fact.

It’s no different from Tiger Woods’ brown skin in a traditionally white-skin sport sending golf ratings (and sponsorship dollars) skyrocketing. Coach K and his band of Boys Next Door are the Great White Hopes of Hoops. Three of Duke’s five starters are white. Their top two scorers are white.

I’m not complaining. I’m not anti-Duke at all. I would love to have a son play for Coach K. It would mean that my son excelled athletically and academically. Plus, I respect Coach K.

But let’s deal with the reality of why Duke was given a favorable draw. The NCAA is desperate for television ratings. The $6 billion CBS paid over 11 years financed a lot of things the NCAA likes to do — stuff like propping up nonrevenue sports.

Honestly, it wouldn’t surprise me if the NCAA mandated that Christian Laettner, Grant Hill and Shane Battier referee all of the Blue Devils’ tournament games.

This is the price of television being in total control of the sports world. At contract time, the NCAA Tournament isn’t much different from “American Idol.”

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Man, that chick beside me is smokin'.

Imagine waking up and seeing this on ESPN. I look like I'm having a stroke back there. Good Lord.

Imagine waking up and seeing this on ESPN. I look like I'm having a stroke back there. Good Lord.

3:30 AM, after the Louisville game.

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