March Madness 2011: Top 5 Maddening Things About the Tourney
The only thing predictable about the 2011 NCAA Tournament is its unpredictability.
We already knew going in that underdogs weren't really underdogs, thereby putting the so-called top tier teams in jeopardy before opening weekend was even over. So with all this excitement, controversy, and compelling content once again capturing America's hearts, what could I possibly complain about?
Well, pass the cheese and get ready for five robust glasses of whine...because there's plenty wrong with the whole way this thing is being presented both on the tube and just beyond the hardwood.
If the Fab Five can be credited for reinventing college basketball as that recent ESPN documentary begs us to believe, Duke needs some credit for providing students with the best seats in the house, thereby providing an always-awesome atmosphere for folks to enjoy on TV for every game at Cameron Indoor. Now almost everybody is doing it (although Florida and Pitt need to put the student section on the other side of the court facing the main midcourt camera), including (drum roll) Michigan (Jalen Rose will be taking credit for the idea before you finish this column).
But at the NCAA tournament, the media is given the prime seats courtesy of two rows of tables complete with laptops and reporters who sully the entire viewing experience on television.
Guy hits a big shot?
Team is making a run after trailing most of the game?
It's as still as the audience during a question on "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?"
Note to the NCAA: Putting these folks in the mezzanine or above the upper bowl won't matter in a bit in terms of how stories on the games are reported. Besides, who even reads the newspaper anymore with smart phones providing not only the score and recap, but even allowing us to watch the game while at the beach or on the slopes?
Put students who were fervent enough to travel to the game in the best seats, or at least the ones behind the benches to put some energy back on the screen.
Your friends in the media will understand.
OK, this game is where, exactly?
Back in the good 'ol days before 2010, the courts themselves at each venue were basically kept the same as they were before the tournament got there. Some courts have more character than others, but all the different colors, fonts, logos, etc, gave the tournament a truly all-across-America feel when jumping from game to game.
Now, unfortunately, every court has that lifeless black outline with dark blue lettering indicating the city or arena where the game is being played. In other words, if you were watching Duke-Michigan, Pitt-Butler or Kansas-Illinois, they ALL looked like they were being played at the same site.
In the old days, I loved games that were schedule at Boise (the orange and blue court) or the Meadowlands (crazy buzzer-beaters from Tate George to Christian Laettner were the norm). Courts had character, distinction, quirks.
But in 2011, it's like a Ronnie-Sammi fight scene on the Jersey shore: They're all the same and therefore indistinguishable.
Lost in Translation: TNT's NBA Team Is Getting a Crash Course in College Hoops
To borrow a line the President likes to use, "Let me be clear." I like Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith and the rest of the TNT crew when it comes to covering the NBA. The tone, the candor and humor is all perfect. Most fans will agree and add ESPN/ABC's coverage is a very distant second, which is remarkable considering the resources available to the worldwide leader in sports.
But using Barkley and Smith as analysts for college basketball simply isn't working, and for good reason. These are two guys who don't know a lick about the college basketball landscape. It's painfully apparent Chuck and Kenny have been watching college hoops for about five minutes prior to the tournament.
One major reason the NBA on TNT works so well is the provocative humor and brutal honesty employed primarily by Barkley. But with the NCAAs being largely a family affair, he seems unsure where the line is, and without being definitive, Sir Charles simply isn't the same.
A tradition like no other isn't the Masters, but taking off two days from work on Thursday and Friday for the round-formerly-known-as-the-first-round to watch games at a normally empty bar with four to 14 of your most irresponsible friends. It's a place where the beer flows like wine, pools are complete with highlighters and crumbs, and everybody is giddy that their bosses were dumb enough to fall for the "I have SARS" excuse.
But by Sunday, we're all NCAAed out. Too many games, too much time and emotion spent, and most importantly, too many teams already eliminated. Back in the day, Sunday's games used to end when 60 Minutes began. This year, the matchups continued late into Sunday night, when fatigue sets in and wives/girlfriends argue successfully for control back on the remote control.
Having said that, I missed the Notre Dame and Syracuse upsets on Sunday night because I couldn't watch another minute, and I'm usually a fanatic about this stuff. It makes sense that spreading out the games on four different networks throughout the day ultimately means more eyeballs and therefore higher ratings.
Selfishly, I liked the time when multiple games were going at once. CBS jumping from game to game is part of the fun. Now, that sense of urgency is lost. It's too...what's the word (still thinking)...organized.
Bigger Ain't Better
This year marks the 15th anniversary of the last Final Four played in a good 'ol fashioned arena (Syracuse-Kentucky was the National Championship in 1996 at the Meadowlands). From a business perspective, it makes perfect sense to move the Final Four into dome stadiums since selling 60,000 tickets is always better than selling 18,000.
Still, the intimacy is something worth saving. The NCAA isn’t exactly poor these days thanks to an $11 billion rights deal with CBS and Turner. But fine…perhaps it’s too much to ask to change the Final Four venue, but do we really need to play the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight games in domes as well?
The empty seats are weird to absorb and the crowd largely muted since a firm majority of them are neutral in terms of rooting interest. The players sitting below the court, as was the case last year when Duke met Baylor in an Elite Eight game, looked more out of place than Chuck Sheen on BYU’s campus.
In the end, the NCAAs has become bigger than ever: More money, more fans, more games.
But many would agree: Bigger isn’t necessarily better.