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Guest Commentary

A skeptical take on the sacred 67 of March Madness


Like any major cultural event, “March Madness” spans decades and lets us dip into many crosscurrents for added perspectives or to prove a point.

For example, there were 67 games in the NCAA mens basketball tournament — including the four first-round or play-in games — and there are 66 books in the Christian Bible. Those games and that scripture provide enough material for anyone to support any argument that comes to mind.

(Iowans are already saturated with well-documented scriptural support for pro-choice or right-to-life, feeding the poor or cutting food stamps for the needy, so let’s look at the 67 sacred games and not the sacred books — although how do you resist the temptation to liken a play-in game to Genesis and the championship to Revelation! But I digress.)

Want to document that the NCAA is rife with student athletes? Check out Harvard’s 68-62 win over New Mexico and the many bench players who are on a dean’s list someplace.

Want to document that the “student athlete” is an NCAA fairy tale? Check out the teams in the title game: UConn banned from post-season play last year for persistently low graduation rates; Kentucky, a one year finishing school for the pros.

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In the grander scheme of things, even President Gerald Ford might come to mind as one grew weary of interesting games being turned into ordeals by fatuous broadcasters, over-wrought coaches and NCAA money grubbing.

At his August 1974 inauguration after the resignation of President Nixon, Ford soothed fellow Americans by saying, “… our long national nightmare is over.” That line is how one might characterize relief felt at the end of the madness with UConn’s 60-54 win over Kentucky.

A bit much? Not considering bracket disasters and the insights provided by the sacred 67.

Hooray for the mute button: In a game called and called and called by the always enthusiastic Dick Vitale, I tried to keep track of the seconds of silence. How long could viewers just watch the action without the incessant jabbering by Vitale and his fellow broadcaster? Longest period of silence was 2 or 3 seconds. What was the length of unbroken commentary? Couldn’t tell; didn’t have an hourglass.

Hooray for Charles Barkley: One redeeming aspect of “Madness” is that more TV time is granted to Charles Barkley. He offers more wit and wisdom about basketball than some networks. For example, he pointed out that some college teams have players who try to leap over tall buildings, while other teams have athletes smart enough to walk through the front door.

The first round? Why are a few play-in games called the first round of the tournament? Maybe to guarantee bonuses to coaches whose contracts reward them for being in March Madness.

Pro and Con on Hoiberg:  The deification of Iowa State’s Fred Hoiberg continued, of course. But at least a few folks were troubled toward the end of the ISU win over North Carolina Central when Cyclone star Georges Niang signaled to the coaches that he needed to come out of the game because of a painful injury. Turned out he had broken his right foot. But the Cyclones kept him in the one-sided game; he hobbled up and down the court until a break in the action, not a coach, gave him relief. He then walked to the locker room without even a student manager to accompany him. Painful to watch.

Fate Merciful to Hawkeyes: The University of Iowa staggered into a play-in game against Tennessee, losing in overtime, 78-65. Happily, that meant it was too late for still another Hawkeye effort in the National Invitational Tournament, the College Basketball Invitational or the College Insider Tournament — other post-season opportunities to raise money and keep student athletes out of class.

Ahh, the sacred 67 — a dance or a delusion? CV

Herb Strentz is a retired administrator and professor in the Drake School of Journalism and Mass Communication and writes occasional columns for Cityview.               

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