Archive for the ‘dealing with adversity’ Category

Residual Effects of March Madness

Tuesday, March 25th, 2014

For a three week period, you can’t beat the excitement and drama of the NCAA tournament. Upsets, near upsets, buzzer beaters, heroes, goats (and scapegoats), second guesses (and second guessers). But there’s more than just the games that goes on during March Madness.

For coaches and players in the NIT (and the other post season tourneys), they’re so focused on winning that next game, you’d never know there was anything else happening. To them (and I speak from experience as teams I was associated with went to the NIT ten times), it’s simply an extension of the season, e.g. scouting reports, walk-throughs, pregame meals, etc. Maybe not as many individual workouts because you want players’ legs rested (even though a few will still come in - to get some extra shooting, if nothing else). Then, if there’s time, maybe you catch an NCAA game - especially if friends are involved.

Another interesting dynamic is the coaches on the hot seat who have unexpectedly won (Cuonzo Martin, Johnny Dawkins) - undoubtedly disappointing some of the fans - and maybe even administrators who are now pretty much obligated to extend, rather than terminate, their contracts. Anything less makes the coach a “dead man walking” and a target for rival coaches to inform recruits how the coach won but didn’t get an extension so, if you want to go to a school where there’s likely to be a coaching change . . .

On the flip side, there are the hot coaches (Greg Marshall, Shaka Smart) most likely being contacted (through their agents) by bigger institutions (schools with much, MUCH higher budgets and a salary that will elevate the coach and his family - extended, not just immediate - to another tax bracket). Since timing is everything, they do so shortly after they lose, hoping to catch them at a weak moment. Sometimes it works, most of the time it doesn’t but, hey, the schools figure, it’s worth a shot. Added to all that are the coaching jobs that are open and the maneuvering that takes place among the assistant coaches, those who’ve been recently fired and the guys who were out of the game but want to get back in.

Sometimes, nice things happen - like Dayton extending Archie Miller’s contract (through 2018-19 season, a move that can be used as a positive in recruiting) after the Flyers beat Ohio State (no wonder the Buckeyes wouldn’t schedule them), then topping that off (there are people in Dayton who felt nothing could top beating OSU) with a win over #3 seed Syracuse.

As luck would have it - because we all know the committee doesn’t intentionally set up games like Dayton-Ohio State or make an undefeated (but in the Missouri Valley conference) Wichita State have to go through Kentucky, Louisville and Michigan State to get to the Final Four (Barkley made me put that one in there) - in Indianapolis one of the Sweet Sixteen games will be Kentucky-Louisville. That it’s those two is a big enough story but the fact that the game is close enough for both sets of fans (although if that game were played on another continent, their respective supporters would find a way to get there) makes it even more compelling. Did I mention that scalping tickets is legal in Indy? Sometimes even the sleazy catch a break.

As if all that intrigue isn’t enough - beyond just the actual games on the men’s side - how about the second seeded Duke women losing to #7 DePaul? There’s no joy in Krzyzewski-ville. With all that’s going on, the best advice might just be:

“Live every day as though it was your last - and one day, you’ll be right.”

Bullyball: A Different Kind of One-and-Done

Monday, March 24th, 2014

That upsets occur during March Madness is a foregone conclusion, but nearly all of them happen in the first round. Each year, a “blue blood” school, or two, or three (or sometimes more), get rudely treated in their opener by - and I think this is the best description of the team that pulled off the upset - a school with a vastly inferior budget. Since I was a college coach for many years, I truly believe that the fault for the upsets lie not with the coaches but with the players in uniform. More specifically, with the human nature of the players. The “big-time” programs’ players weren’t recruited by the “poorer” school, nor would those kids have had any interest in speaking with, much less attending, that school. The one which was about to send them home. On their charter plane.These upsets occasionally take place in the next round as well, but the “little” guy has a much tougher time advancing, even if the following game’s opponent isn’t as talented. Why would that be? In Jim Croce’s song, You don’t mess around with Jim, two of the three stipulations about not messing around with the big guy are “you don’t tug on Superman’s cape” and “you don’t pull the mask of that old Lone Ranger.” To stretch the analogy, have “Jim” be synonymous with a one of the NCAA’s power schools - the kind with lots of money. In that scenario, a third “don’t” would be, if you’re not a member of the upper echelon, don’t embarrass one of them in the first round.

Going beyond the first round was like the tooth fairy - something you’d like to believe in but, you find out is just fiction. Since the turn of the century, George Mason was the first in that category to break that myth and make it to the Final Four. Butler, VCU and, of course, Wichita State followed but, in reality, there’s still another level of Division I school - the type that emerges from a one-bid league. They didn’t ever really think they were going to the Final Four, much less dream about winning the national championship. The first round upset was their national championship, their chance to celebrate - to “dance” and clown around - like the big guys do when they cut down the nets.

But . . . they tugged on Superman’s cape, they pulled the mask off that old Lone Ranger - and exposed them. In the subsequent game - a mere two days later - after hearing from all their peeps from back home, being subjected to all the unfamiliar press coverage, even taking in the adulation from the fans of the other schools at that site, they have to play . . . another “Jim.” It’s time to face another Goliath. But this time, he’s ready. And your stone supply has dwindled.

Take the case of Mercer. In the first round Mercer beat Duke - and beat is the right word, according to no less of an expert than Mike Krzyzewski. Next up for the Bears was Tennessee who might have entered the tournament as a “bubble” team but one who won its “first round” game with Iowa and then obliterated a good UMass club. While UT is by no means a year in-year out hoops power, make no mistake it is an NCAA blue blood. As one of my closest friends says when he sees teams whose players look and have the potential of teams like UT, “They got some boys.” Translation: they are really talented.

Mercer’s guys didn’t lack for effort, they just came up short - literally and figuratively. Tennessee had 16 offensive rebounds to 6 for Mercer, 41-19 overall rebound stats. To give the numbers meaning, think about this. Other than a made field goal or free throw, an offensive possession ends with either a turnover or a defensive rebound. Mercer missed 29 shots and Tennessee had 23 defensive rebounds. The Bears’ offense was a different version of “one-and-done.”

A similar story, offensively, was seen in the UCLA-Stephen F. Austin game. The Lumberjacks beat VCU in their first game and while the Rams aren’t considered an NCAA blue blood as a school, beating its basketball team gave SFA instant credibility. Result: UCLA shot 55% from the floor to 35% for Stephen F. Austin, had 22 assists on their 29 made baskets (to 11 on 20 buckets for SFA) and while the Lumberjacks turned the ball over only 8 times, they only forced 3 Bruin TOs.

Although Creighton was the higher seed (they’re in their inaugural year in the Big East conference, a basketball only group), they managed only 7 offensive rebounds of their 33 missed shots. The Blue Jays excel in spreading the floor, moving, screening and passing the ball to get great looks at the basket. Baylor (out of the Big 12, true power conference - meaning institutions that receive obscene amounts of money from football) has players who are so big that Creighton’s offense became “one-and-done,” i.e. maybe they got a good shot but they had to make it because their guys were so far from the offensive boards. With this type of situation, a team needs to hit an extraordinary number of threes - or offensive rebound - or its point total will be disastrous. On the other end, the big guys play their version of volleyball, shooting and shooting until they finally score, get fouled or both. In yesterday’s contest, the Bears shot 52.6% to CU’s 40%.

In the monumental upset contests, what happens is the later the game gets with the big underdog hanging around, the pressure mounts on the favorite. Conversely, when an underdog, especially one that “shocked the basketball world” a couple days prior, gets further and further behind, and just can’t find an answer, frustration sets in. Legal screens become illegal blocks as the screener leans into or hip-checks the defender. Missed shots are followed by attempts to steal the ball from the rebounder, usually leading to fouls or, in the case of a guard missing and going after an offensive rebound (he has no chance to get), a run out layup due to poor floor balance is the result. The maxim, “make one mistake at a time” goes out the window.

Dayton-Syracuse was an exception although I wonder if Syracuse had played like they did during the first two months of the season if the outcome would have been different. Another was the Kentucky-Wichita State match-up in which David was a few inches from slaying Goliath - while becoming Goliath themselves. At least in a basketball sense.

When it comes to the underdog pulling upsets and failing to advance, they need to take solace from the words of Colin Powell:

“You can’t slay the dragon everyday. Some days the dragon wins.”

Why a Senior Dominated Team Might Have the Edge Over One-and-Dones at Tourney Time

Friday, March 21st, 2014

Fans are fascinated with “one-and-done” college basketball players because they’re more like rock stars than traditional college student-athletes. It’s kind of like pros - or recording artists or actors - hanging out on campus. Yet at NCAA tourney time, you might want to go with teams composed mainly of veterans - the kind who find a way to advance. Really? At tourney time hasn’t talent been - and won’t it always be - the most sought after commodity?

“Yes,” in terms of needing someone to make a play, e.g. scoring at crunch time or erasing a potential bucket but “No” when the situation comes down to the popular “Who wants it more?” That this is true, isn’t so much an indictment on the one-and-done fellow but the feeling of team togetherness displayed by guys who’ve spent four, maybe five, years on campus, mingling and getting to know the “regular” student. Guys who are recognized by the “eggheads” - the ones who have no idea the player is an athlete, but knows him because he might have been a lab partner with the cat.

When the game is on the line, in a tight situation, e.g. down a deuce with seconds to go, some (but, naturally, not all) one-and-dones are fully engaged in doing what’s necessary to win. Players who’ve been around the program for three, four and sometimes five years consciously - or sub-consciously - reflect on what the school has meant to them, how they want to come through for their coaches, professors and fellow classmates (including the eggheads) and, for the seniors the thought that this might be the last time I ever put this uniform on.

I’m not discounting the one-and-done’s commitment to the program but the older guys just have more invested than the player who got to campus 7-8 months ago. There’s more of that feeling of, “I came here a boy; I’m leaving a man” and “These people are my family.” When that thought surfaces, these young men seem to be able to dig a little deeper. Their careers are ending - and they don’t want them to end just yet. Independent of how much fun, how connected the one-and-done feels toward the student body (really, how closely connected can a person get in less than a year?), there’s still that realization in his mind of “I wonder where I’ll be drafted?”

No matter how intense a desire there is for the one year star, knowing there’s a professional career in the near future. Not so for the true senior. While he may have been on scholarship for his entire time on campus, his future is usually unknown - leading him to lace ‘em up a little tighter so he can put that future on hold for another game or two. Or more.

Although talent usually wins out, a 100% commitment often rules in a team game. As Jean-Paul Sartre said:

“Commitment is an act, not a word.”  

Fixing the NCAA Selection Committee

Monday, March 17th, 2014

Heading to Southern California to talk about “what makes for a great basketball team” (more about that at a later date) and to get together with #1 son, Andy, to take him and a few of his co-workers to lunch, as well as drop off some items I’d just as soon not mail. This blog will return on Friday.

Since my college days - when my summer job was working unloading trucks, sorting and delivering mail, and whatever else I was asked to do at the New Brunswick, NJ section center - I have been an admirer of the post office. The (mostly) good people who work for the POs around the country have a thankless job. They literally handle millions of pieces of mail on a daily basis - and get over 99% of it to where it’s supposed to go. However, when somebody has mail that gets lost, they go ballistic. It even happened to me a month or so ago with a baby gift. It was tracked out of Fresno but, then . . . it disappeared. I explained it to the customer, had to have the artist do a replacement gift for her, filled out the necessary paperwork for a lost item and the world kept spinning on its axis.

The NCAA tournament selection committee which decides the teams that will be invited to the Big Dance (and, of course, which won’t), what “seed” each will get, as well as when and where they play, has just as thankless job as the postal workers. True, they don’t have to do it as long as their counterparts at the post office, i.e. daily until retirement. Also, they get paid considerably less for the committee work (but a whole lot more for their everyday jobs).

While I can’t begin to figure out the problems the mail system has to deal with, here’s a potential solution for those who take aim at the selection committee. First, take all the talking heads - because they’re the ones the nation sees first - the ones who complain about leaving teams out (occasionally without saying which teams that made the field ought to be eliminated), seeds too high/low, teams placed in too difficult/easy regions, the “wink-wink” match-ups that occur (that aren’t supposed to), etc.  Add to them the writers who’ve had the time to think about what bugs them and then write a story or column disparaging the committee for their shortsightedness, back room dealing or screwing their favorite squad (the last one usually is something that remains unwritten).

Take this group and appoint them as next year’s selection committee. Let them hear, “These people need to be held accountable.” Over the years I’ve known, often quite well, not only members of the committee, but the designated chairman. Each has told me that, although they were embarrassed to admit it, since there are so many people doing truly “important” work (the military, scientists working on cures for deadly diseases, hospice workers), that being on that committee was by far the greatest challenge they’d ever faced. Bring on the new “committee” and if they protest, saying they preface their remarks with, “Overall, I think the committee did a good job . . . ” let them hear that after they release next year’s field.

If that’s not feasible - and, believe me, I realize it’s not - have them correct  the committee’s mistakes, e.g. “C’mon, Louisville vs. Manhattan, Rick Pitino vs. Steve Masiello, teacher vs. student - you know the committee intentionally set that game up.” Have a TV group of 5-10 people decide where each or both of those teams should be moved. Immediately, it will be clear that other problems will be created - and if that’s not the case, it will be when other complaints (see below) are vocalized. As the famous saying goes, “Are you kidding me!?!”

That the selection committee is nitpicked - “if how a team plays at the end of the year is so important, how come St. Louis is a 5 seed and Louisville is a 4?” or “you can’t tell me that SMU shouldn’t be in the field” - has got to wear on the members, and their families, since they’ve been “sequestered” so long, trying to accomplish the impossible. (I wonder if SMU had the identical season it had but Larry Brown wasn’t its coach, if such a big deal would be made by its exclusion - although the case might be made that if Larry Brown wasn’t SMU’s coach, it wouldn’t have had the season it did. Really, isn’t that why everyone wants to see Brown, er SMU, in the field?)

After all, it can’t be denied that my new proposed group doesn’t watch enough college hoops or isn’t knowledgeable enough. The major problem with this idea isn’t that fans would reject it. It’s not even that the Division I institutions would object (although don’t think for a minute there would would be a consensus - or anything close to one). The biggest reason this would never happen is the guys who are paid to criticize the process would never go for it. Imagine them attempting, on camera, to explain the questions they salivate over asking? They know the idea of a perfect bracket is impossible and, with that being the case, which side of the microphone would they rather be on?

In all the years I’ve been watching Selection Sunday - be it as a coach of a participating school, one that hoped to be, or one who knew it wasn’t in, or simply as a college basketball fan - I could never imagine being in that room and having to deal with all the “what if’s.” What the committee members must use to keep them going is the quote from Aristotle:

To avoid criticism: say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.”

Being a Consistent Winner Over a Long Period of Time Doesn’t Necessarily Meet Fans’ Expectations

Sunday, March 16th, 2014

On 7/2/12 I expressed my strong feelings in a blog entitled “Is It Necessary to Place Shortcomings on the Great Ones?” It had to do with fans not being able to appreciate individual excellence in the field of sports unless the person or his team “won it all” (limiting, for now, fans’ comments to men - a word of caution to women: WATCH OUT, you’re next - it’s just that women’s sports haven’t been around as long). Nothing short of a championship is accepted to stave off criticism. What follows is a reprint of that post - as well as additional commentary (in italics and bold) in an effort to update it.

LeBron James finally (after all, he’s already 27 - he’s currently 29) put to rest that, although he was a great player, he couldn’t win a championship. Like they’re easy to come by. It’s always been that way. In fact, just last week I was at lunch with a few NBA fans when one of them (a guy I barely knew) actually said Wilt Chamberlain was a loser because, “sure he had stats, but he won ‘only’ two NBA titles.” Much to his dismay I asked him how many titles he had won, “I mean, counting all of them - Little League, summer hoop camps, even spelling bees.” He was somewhat taken aback. Hey, here’s somebody he’d met a time or two questioning his learned opinion. He kind of raised up, looked me straight in the eye and said, as only that kind of fan can, “More than Wilt!”

Now NBA followers are placing the “good stats/great player but can’t win a championship” mantle on Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudamire, Steve Nash and Dwight Howard just like they did to Charles Barkley, Pete Maravich, John Stockton & Karl Malone. Let’s examine the last two. They came in second in back-to-back years, yet are any of the people criticizing them - including sportswriters and talking heads on TV and radio (including satellite) - considered #2 in their respective (not to be confused with “respected”) fields? Forget back-to-back, even for just one ratings period.

Some of those guys got close but it just wasn’t to be. Maybe they played in the wrong era; maybe they didn’t quite have the right mix of teammates, e.g. not enough talent or chemistry. I’m showing my age when I say I remember a couple National League MVP awards going to Ernie Banks - even though his Chicago Cubs finished last!

For some reason we feel this moniker needs to be, if not presented formally, at least discussed - in every sport. From national television to local watering holes. I coached in the college basketball world for 30 years and when I started in 1970 a similar label was thrown around in our business. As a young guy in the field one of the veteran coaches I was in awe of was Dean Smith. It used to shock me when I would hear the “Greatest Coach Who Has Never Won a Title” attributed to him.  Freshman Michael Jordan’s jumper took care of that nonsense but shortly thereafter the crown was passed to Mike Krzyzewski.

It is almost a badge of honor for coaches. In order to qualify for the unenviable title, a coach needed to take a team to the Final Four - on more than one occasion and come up short. For most coaches reaching the Final Four is considered capturing the Holy Grail. After Mike won in 1991, he bequeathed the “honor” to Rick Pitino. The line on Rick was, “Sure, Rick can take a team the the mountaintop; he just can’t them to the Promised Land.” In 1996 his Kentucky Wildcats won it all. Still, the debate raged on.

It almost seemed mandatory for fans and media to have a coach whose feet they could hold to the fire. It must have made them feel good at that time because there were two contestants. And as fate would have it, their teams squared off in the 2003 championship game. In a show of empathy, while shaking hands after the game, the winner, Jim Boeheim said to the runner-up, Roy Williams, “Don’t worry;  you’ll get one” after Syracuse beat Kansas. It was similar to the exchange Bob Knight had with Boeheim after his Hoosiers beat the ‘Cuse in ‘87. And, of course, ‘ol Roy did just that. Twice.

I won’t tell you who had the wrath of the nation up until last year. You probably can figure it out. Hint: he no longer has to deal with the problem (John Calipari). My comment to these critics: There’s only ONE of these championships per year! Each season - at most - one coach who’s never won one before can win it that year.

Sports is definitely the most highly scrutinized business - possibly because there are fans and we love to argue. Now that cyberstat - or whatever they’re called -  guys have entered the world, it doesn’t seem like there will be any stone unturned. If only Wall Street could have such a fan base - although it might be a little too late for that.

Still, people revel in the misery of others even though it doesn’t make the critical person’s life any better. Or put another way:

“Although someone may come up short in their endeavors, it doesn’t make you better at any of yours.”

Conference Tournaments Are Great Drama

Friday, March 14th, 2014

In a certain way (especially for low- and the majority of mid-major leagues), a conference tournament is just as exciting as its NCAA counterpart for each of the squads’ seniors (you remember them, the kids who go to college for four, sometimes five, years). Until a team reaches the championship game, the players have no idea that this game - the contest in which they’re currently competing - could be the last time they don the old (fill in the school’s colors). As the game winds down, so does a player’s career. A blowout is often easier to accept because the player realizes from a certain point in the game that the end is near. However, when the game goes down to the final second, and the result is a loss, it’s like ice water to the face. To use an extreme analogy, the blowout is like a loved one who dies from a prolonged illness whereas the buzzer beater is like a sudden passing. In the former, there’s time for reflection and maybe even a little nostalgia, while the latter catches one totally off guard, like the completely out-of-nowhere phone call that is simply numbing.

In actuality, it is exactly like a death. All the years of toiling, of sweating and hurting, of cramming for a killer exam because, while the classmates were studying, you were at practice. Gone. While the relationships will continue, possibly forever, for that moment, it seems like . . . where did the time go? What just happened? And was it all worth it? The first couple answers are always unknown; the last is a resounding yes! Wasn’t life?

Even for the walk-on, the non-scholarship guy - because of the bonds created during the practices, meetings, community service and, even the games - many of which were comprised of pregame and halftime warm up drills, and then cheering for the others. Whatever the case, the post game is somewhat like a funeral - the kind of today. A celebration of life. Hey, the season’s over. No more yelling by the coach, only words of praise and appreciation - with the public viewing to occur at the end-of-the-season banquet.

And for the winners, it’s just another one-day reprieve, having to live it all over the following day. Putting it that way, the whole ordeal seems so maudlin. Yet, not one member of a team would ever dream of letting down the team by not giving it whatever he had.

The greatest lesson the player on a team can learn is what Andrew Carnegie said so many years ago:

“Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision. The ability to direct individual accomplishment toward organizational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results.”

Coaches’ Salaries - and Expections - Are Going Through the Roof

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014

Doctor’s appointment and a series of  tests - plus our “roommate” (Albert Van Troba) is having surgery so Jane and I become “caretakers.” For all he’s done for us, it’s the least we can do. Since I don’t know how much time I’ll have, this blog will be suspended until Friday.

For today, I return to a blog I posted 11/27/07 (with no changes even though coaches’ salaries are higher than reported in the blog). If anyone thinks this isn’t just as true today as it was so many years ago, all I can say is you’re either misinformed or you’re a coach’s agent.

Anyone who knows me or who’s read this blog is aware of my 30-year career (none of which as a head coach) in intercollegiate basketball. It started in 1972 as a graduate assistant at the University of Vermont and ended in 2002 as Director of Basketball Operations at Fresno State with seven other Division I stops along the way.

I witnessed many monumental changes - from allowing freshmen to play on the varsity to the introduction of the shot clock and three point line. In addition, when I started there were the unlimited number of scholarships that schools could offer and the rule (or lack of one) which made it legal for coaches to recruit off-campus (including grad assistants) every day of the year! This included how many times you were allowed to visit with a prospective student-athlete face-to-face, how many times you could watch him play or practice or call/see his parents or coach. There was a story about an assistant coach from the University of New Mexico renting an apartment in Petersburg, VA for the entire season to recruit Moses Malone (far and away the most dominant high school player I’ve ever personally seen - including MJ & LeBron). Prospects could take an unlimited number of trips to campuses - some kids were gone every weekend, e.g. we had Moses visit Washington State. Imagine a 7-footer traveling cross-country to Pullman, WA. We asked him where else he’d gone and he just exhaled, trying to recall. I think he’d said he’d gone to Maryland the week prior to our visit (where he eventually committed, before deciding to go pro out of high school and sign with the Utah Stars of the ABA). “How about the week before that?” He thought for a while and finally said, “I can’t remember.” There was money well-spent.

Speaking of money, well-spent or otherwise, brings me to the topic at hand. When I got to UVM in ‘72, our head coach, Peter Salzberg, was making $12,500. I was a graduate assistant getting $1,000, plus tuition. That was the extent of our coaching staff. $13, 500 in salaries for the entire coaching staff. Today, guys get twice that for clothing allowances! At the end of the year, Vermont felt Peter had done a good job and rewarded him with a raise - all the way to $12,800.

I left and went to the big-time - the Pac-8 (the Arizona schools had not yet joined the league) and Washington State (once again as a grad assistant) for $1,550, plus $2,000 for summer camp. As far as a percentage increase, I’ve never topped the UVM-WSU move. No exaggeration, there were weeks - and it was not unusual- where I worked 100 hours - and loved it! That’s what all of us got into coaching for in the first place - following a career choice that we were thoroughly immersed in. Even still, WSU got a pretty good return for their buck. George Raveling, the head coach at WSU, took the job there in 1972 for $32,000.

Even when I became a full-time assistant at the University of Tennessee in 1980, many head coaches were making around $75,000. If and when there were too many losses compared to wins, it wasn’t uncommon for an athletics director to bring in the head coach and say something to the effect, “Look, things aren’t working out. You know Mr. (Hot Shot Car Dealer), one of our big boosters. He told me he’ll give you a job as a manager of one of his dealerships and pay you the same as you’re making here. We can say you’ve decided to go into the business world and it will be best for all of us.”

Today, I don’t have the actual figures, but I can safely say there are dozens of coaches making more than $500,000 and some making upwards of $3 mil. I don’t care how moral a person you are, when you get used to that kind of lifestyle (not to mention your wife and kids feeling pretty comfortable with it), it’s impossible not to skew your beliefs on issues that prior to this windfall, you’d never consider dealing with in the manner you currently are (and feel compelled to). Not being in those shoes, it’s easy to be critical, but there are several people I’d like to think I have more than a casual acquaintance with, who have changed their philosophy from the days I first knew them. Some I’ve discussed this with, others I’ve observed. I’ve seen them take actions that I’m certain they would have never have (or not take actions they would have) had not the obscene amounts of money been involved, blurring their vision.

I’ve discussed my concern that the biggest problem in college basketball today is coaches being paid too much money with Jim Haney, executive director of the National Association of Basketball Coaches (Jim and I were on the staff at the University of Oregon in 1975-76, he as a full-time assistant, me as a grad assistant and he is one of the most Christian men, of unquestioned integrity, there is today). He agreed it’s a serious issue, one of great concern. But with the last contract between CBS and the NCAA for the rights to college basketball (including, naturally, March Madness) going for, I believe, $2.6 billion, it’s simply something that’s spiraled out of anyone’s control. It would be a foolish business decision (and don’t anyone try to tell me college basketball isn’t a business) to turn down that kind of money and what it does for the NCAA as an overall organization, but there are evils that are attached to the price tag.

The current situation being as it is, coaches have a tough time (and while I can’t empathize, I sure can sympathize) following the adage:

“It is more important to do what is right than what is personally beneficial.”

Why Not Start Bracketology at the Start of the Season?

Sunday, March 9th, 2014

When your livelihood revolves around college hoops - as mine did for the majority of my adult life - getting into the NCAA basketball tournament (at least when the NCAA began allowing more than one team per conference into its post season affair) is all-consuming. In today’s world, that certainly is the case for Joe Lunardi, ESPN’s resident bracketologist.

Each year the selection process is more exciting than the last. The toughest job is now Lunardi’s. It’s of his own doing since the little fella correctly predicted a perfect 68 out of 68 teams that were included in the tourney last post season. Others have also made this claim, but “Joey Brackets” accomplished the feat before the committee announced the field. Fans absolutely obsess as ESPN nightly posts his “Last 4 In/Last 4 Out” list. Arguments rage; names are called. Possibly the greatest strategy used to win an argument - putting down the other side - takes center stage at this time of year. Heck, politicians are constantly using it and if it works for them (I can’t think of too many who are in their current jobs who haven’t - or haven’t had their campaign people do it for them), why shouldn’t sports fans?

What people overlook, possibly because getting into the Big Dance is so exciting, is that it serves no purpose to discuss who’s going to be into the tournament now - much less what seed teams will be getting - because the regular season (including conference tournaments) isn’t over yet! What does it actually mean if a team is in Lunardi’s “Last 4 In?” Nothing!  One of the talking heads at the self-proclaimed world-wide sports leader, in an attempt to explain (justify?) Lunardi’s 4 in/4 out list, said, “If the NCAA tournament were to start tomorrow, . . . ”

Oh, now we get it - like in case of a nuclear attack, or a group like the Mayans predicting the world is going to come to an end in three weeks. Naturally, the NCAA would declare that in light of such news, it would be holding the championships beginning tomorrow. At least then we’d know which teams would make up the field. This is only fair because, then, the NIT could let those not invited know which schools would be hosting and which would be going on the road.

If so much time is going to be allotted for such tomfoolery as which teams are in now - and what seeds schools can expect to receive - why not give the shows some credibility? Let’s begin a push to, indeed, have the tournament field be selected by Joe Lunardi? Hey, he went 68-68 last year without having to resort to the luxury hotels and food (don’t think for a minute that the committee members are bunking at the Dew Drop Inn and eating off the dollar menu). That idea would leave a good deal of money to start the fund that would be necessary in case O’Bannon wins.

Seriously, since this nonsense began, there was a week or two of regular season match-ups remaining, plus conference tournaments. Has there ever been a year in which there haven’t been upsets? If a school that’s a “Last 4 In” loses in the first round of post season conference play, do you think they’d have any case to have their name heard on Selection Sunday? Assuming each of the other seven teams didn’t also lose? One unintended result might be to arm the AD of that school to declare they were “going in another direction” as far as the basketball coaching position. “I mean, we were one of the last four in before that first round exit,” the AD could justify.

Really, if we’re going to run this charade so early, why not do it at the beginning of the season? Kentucky would be “on that top line, possibly an overall #1 seed.” Then, fans could watch the ‘Cats free fall as loss after loss piled up. Wichita State would have started out as a dark horse, based on their run last season and teams like Villanova and Texas would be the talk of college hoops. Oh yeah, all of that is happening now anyway (excluding Texas’ loss last night in Lubbock).

What the NCAA basketball tournament has come down to is what we’ve known for a long time:

“Too much of a good thing is never enough.”

For Lower Rated Conferences, the Script Doesn’t Change

Saturday, March 8th, 2014

As we grow older, our memories worsen. If you’re not there yet, believe me - it happens. If you are at that age, you’ve probably forgotten what the original statement was so just shake your head. After seeing a couple conference tournament scores last night (from the lesser known conferences), I thought a good blog would be how NOW is March Madness for teams at this level - independent of how glossy their record is entering the conference tourney. I went back into the archives and found the following blog - on that exact topic. I wrote it five years ago, almost to the day (3/9/09). I’ve edited some here and there from the original but the overall idea is now, as it was then, identical.
Although what most of the viewing public thinks of as March Madness is a couple of weeks away, what’s going on right now is even more valuable to some other participants. Many of the conference tournaments for the “one-bid” leagues are being played this weekend and, as always, there will be upsets and nail-biting buzzer-beaters. There is no time to be playing the shoulda, woulda, coulda game. Pressure abounds. Every possession counts and laser focus is essential, just like it will soon enough for their counterparts elsewhere in Division I. The ones with the eye-popping budgets.

This is their Big Dance, the other version of “one and done,” the sudden death playoff that ends the season for one team and allows the other to “play another day,” until all have fallen but one. That one speaks with bravado, but knows, deep down (or doesn’t and is about to find out, often rather rudely in a couple weeks), this victory was their opportunity to showcase their squad to the nation and hold the trophy up high. The winners rejoice like One Shining Moment is being played, while the guys on the other end of the floor unashamedly cry on national television. In the case of a senior who’s worked extremely hard (for four, or occasionally five, years) for exactly this opportunity, often we find ourselves shedding a tear or two for him as well - whichever side of the final score his squad ends up.

I’ve (often) been accused of over-analyzing an incident, i.e. making more out of a situation than its impact deserves. While I plead guilty on many occasions, I don’t believe that is the case in this instance because what these young men take away from their conference tournaments are valuable life lessons. Undoubtedly in the future, during their working, social or family life, an event will take place where they’ll have an opportunity to obtain something, be it tangible or intangible. While they may have prepared long and hard for this - and feel they truly deserve it - there will be times they get it and times they don’t.

Their feelings at that moment will be greatly affected by what they’ve just gone through, e.g. they’ll be absolutely elated or completely shattered - momentarily - and it will be at that moment they will realize how invaluable their college basketball experience was, independent of how much (or little) they played.

The late president, Franklin D. Roosevelt made the following statement and those kids, as well as the rest of us, should always keep it in mind for occasions like these:

“Happiness lies in the joy of achievement and the thrill of creative effort.”

Five Years Later, the Heartache, Heartbreak and (Temporary) Jubilation Are Identical

Thursday, March 6th, 2014

What follows is a post from March of 2009, yet one which I feel is as apropos to this season as it is to any year - certainly those past and, barring anything unforeseen, future campaigns as well. Judge for yourself.

You see tears from coaches at press conferences following close losses or games that end a season.  After wins, there are also tears, but these are of joy.  Occasionally, you’ll witness identical behavior from the team’s supporters in the stands.  The major difference is seen a few hours later.  Fans get over it and get on with their lives.  Coaches can’t.

Please refer to my 3/7/08 blog regarding the life of an assistant when it comes to what I consider as close the ultimate work ethic as can be displayed by anyone in any walk of life.  When all a person does is work and then, after all that work, the result is a failure (which is, after all, what a loss is - no matter how well a team may have played), it can be a completely helpless and devastating feeling.  Somehow, the next day (sometimes even minutes after that “failure”), it’s time to get back up, dust yourself off and start producing again because if you don’t, the fear is the losing will continue until that dreaded, and ultimate, loss - the pink slip.

However, it’s been my experience observing coaches for the past five decades (and being one for three and a half of those), that the ones who work - really work - have their efforts recognized which will mean they will always resurface somewhere to continue working in the crazy profession they love (one which quite often doesn’t love them back).  But even then, the result is that although the coach may get to stay in the business, it’s at a pretty steep price, especially if he is married and has children.

So while the relief of continued employment exists (and in today’s economy, that’s a true blessing not to be taken for granted), there still remain the hassles (usually) of relocating, finding a job or getting a transfer for the spouse, packing and physically moving the family, selling and buying a house and finding a good school district (relatively close to work for both husband and wife, yet in an affordable - in the case of a USC, in an affordable and safe  - area).

The flip side is the wins and the highs they bring.  In this case, the fans may celebrate deep into the night, but eventually it’s back to whatever their daily grind is.  Sure there’s no rest for the weary coach, but the spring in his step and feeling he has about himself after a big win (sometimes after any win) make all of the time he puts in well worth all the effort and agony.

Even though there’s so much risk in the world of athletics - and the “ROI” or return on investment can be so unfair, i.e. the longer hours and harder work don’t guarantee anything (in terms of team or individual success), there are still so many people willing to take that risk.  There’s an invisible, but all too real, waiting list of hundreds, if not thousands, of coaches in and out of the profession (all of whom think they can do your job better than you’re doing it), biding their time, ready to pounce on a vacated position as soon as an opening occurs.

Yet, with all this pressure, combined with the insecurity the job brings, those in the profession show up every day, preparing for the worst, but hoping for the best.  And what’s incomprehensible - but true - is that, as tenuous as a college coach’s life is, nearly every one I’ve ever known will agree with the statement the greatest broadcaster ever (having spent my childhood in New Jersey in the 1950’s, I’ll admit to a great deal of prejudice on this one), Vin Scully, is said to have coined:

“Losing feels worse than winning feels good.”