NCAA Final Four Porn: Coach K Calls It "Uplifting," but I'll Watch Anyway

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NCAA Final Four Porn: Coach K Calls It
Butler Bulldogs keep their eyes on the top prize.

I hate the Final Four.

It’s the porn of sports.

Not that I necessarily hate porn. Only when it pretends to be something else, like uplifting, educational or “genuine” (that’s the Duke of Duke, Mike Krzyzewski, declaring).

Of course, I’ll watch it.

And wash up carefully afterward.

Why? I’m glad you asked.

For starters, we have the wiliest governing body in sports, the NCAA, which was created to deflect the flak that should be aimed at individual schools and save them from bankrupting each other with recruitment excesses. They are skillful at punishing kids instead of coaches, at laying off the big money colleges and preparing gladiators for their ultimate clients, the NFL, which is a Soviet, and the NBA, a banana republic.

Then we have the schools, run by presidents looking for quick fixes to their mediocrity problems. If you’ve never actually been to a Final Four, you might be excused for thinking it’s all painted yobs and Vestal Virgins on one side of the white lines and the pure passion of adolescent school spirit on the other. 

It is also a corporate convention where out-of-work coaches hunt for athletic directors trolling for sportswriters looking for free drinks from glad-handing sponsors. What’s the difference, I wondered my first time, between a university that pours Pepsi and wears Nike and a NASCAR team that pumps Bud Light and wears Drakkar Noir? Answer: A dedication to finding a high truth, at speed.

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Mike Krzyzewski

Ah, the coaches, those failed Ponzi schemers, those televangelists in training. I no longer wax over the Caliparis, the Pitinos, the Pearls because I’m no longer sure they deserve particular attention. I reach back into the past for my models, John Wooden and Jerry Tarkanian.

The Wizard of Westwood has been sainted not only for turning UCLA into a win factory but doing it with white gloves (because he had uber-booster Sam Gilbert for the wet work). Tark the Shark was hired by one of those Mediocrity Presidents to turn UNLV into a national brand before it had a good library, and he did it with the foster kids of hoops. So who did the NCAA go after? Who do I like? Who is genuine, Duke?

When I started in this biz, deep in the last century, chatting in his school gym with the sweet, intelligent, teenage Lewie Alcindor, who was telling me he was off to Wooden World, I could believe that kids were the exploited flesh in this X-rated movie.

But now that it’s really high stakes and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is both quaint and iconic, the kids (and their moms and their AAU coaches and/or street agents) are moving up into position to game the system by closing their legs, one and done.

I’m cool with all that to a point; how do you keep not noticing there are nine black guys on the floor representing two overwhelming white universities? Um, affirmative action? Or what my pal Bill Rhoden calls “the conveyor belt” of exploitation that leads to “Forty Million Dollar Slaves.” 

Jamie Squire/Getty Images
VCU's Jamie Skeen

Did I mention I don’t necessarily hate porn? March Madness has its naked pleasures. That boxy spider web known as The Bracket was a great comfort for as long as it lasted. There should be that kind of rational progression in our lives. And mid-majors do get to the top; how else can you explain Don Imus, James Patterson and Justin Bieber?

The real Final Four players, the gamblers, according to the FBI, will exchange $2.5 billion, most of it illegally. I respect people who put their money where their opinions are.

All that cash floating around always brings up my longtime Final Four fantasy. Just before the title game, the opposing captains demand $100,000 per player from the TV producer. No pay, no play.

I once shared that with an old friend, Sonny Vaccaro, who as designated devil helped corrupt college basketball while at Nike, Adidas and Reebok. He is now redeeming himself as an avenging angel trying to bring down the NCAA. He chortled at my innocence.

''Happened already, more than 10 years ago,” he told me. “One of the Final Four teams had T-shirts and statements ready, the team leader was a terrific spokesman—he's playing pro now—but they were upset in the semifinals.”

There’s a book in that. Maybe a porn movie.

Longtime New York Times columnist Robert Lipsyte is the author of An Accidental Sportswriter: A memoir,” due in May from Ecco.

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