The Sports pages

Why the Elite Eight Looks Like the BCS

Sixteen teams remain in the NCAA Tournament, though only two qualify as mid-major Cinderellas: the Kent State Golden Flashes and the Southern Illinois Salukis. What’s hurting the mid-majors more than RPI rankings? Not having big-time college football. The Chicago Tribune’s Andrew Bagnato points out that since 1999—the year college football inaugurated the Bowl Championship Series, consolidating power with six major conferences—only one Elite Eight team has come from a non-BCS conference. This year, BCS schools grabbed 26 of the tourney’s 34 at-large bids.

How does football bolster basketball? Football drips money for better training facilities, which benefit all athletes. It also creates more all-around TV exposure for the schools, which helps draw recruits. Here’s how far we’ve come: In 1977, the last time the Final Four was held in Atlanta, the field included UNLV, Charlotte, and Marquette, and just one football power, North Carolina.

Not that college football is panacea for every school. The New York Times’ Robert Lipsyte argues that Army, Navy, and Air Force should consider dumping it. “Why should the academies, with their emphasis on honor, integrity, community and duty, risk sullying themselves in this increasingly commercialized, professionalized, selfish and narcissistic quagmire? … Division I-A football is about entertainment, profit-taking and preparing student-athletes for the pros. None of those should be service academy priorities, not on my tax dollar.” The academies counter that football is one of their best recruiting tools.

Why Cincinnati’s red: For every Cinderella, there’s a highly touted squad that meets an early demise. Southern Cal, picked by many to challenge Duke, fell to lowly North Carolina-Wilmington in the first round. “It was a loss to an extension campus in an anonymous conference with a record that included defeats to Drexel and Radford,” the Los Angeles Times’ Bill Plaschke writes. “It was a loss to a school so anonymous, two years ago the charter plane scheduled to pick it up and take it to this tournament instead landed at Wilmington, Delaware.” Gonzaga, a giant-killer two years running, finally nailed down a higher seed—and then gagged in the first round to Wyoming. The Spokane Spokesman Review’s John Blanchette mourns, “So this is how it feels.”

No. 1 Cincinnati, a 105-101 loser to UCLA, knows how it feels. They’ve been bounced in the second round five times in the last six years. After the game, coach Bob Huggins called UCLA “as talented an eighth seed ever in the history of the NCAA Tournament.” The New York Daily News’ Rich Cimini responds, “Just like Tulsa was the greatest No. 7 seed in 2000 … Temple a sensational 6 in 1999 … West Virginia a terrific 10 in 1998 … Iowa State a super 6 in 1997. Detect a trend?”

The Cuban coaching crisis: For his latest act, Dallas Mavericks owner/carnival attraction Mark Cuban exchanged fire with Dallas Morning News columnist Tim Cowlishaw. Last week, Cowlishaw reported that Cuban stood behind the Mavericks bench during a game and shrieked for his players to foul someone. A Mavericks assistant turned to Cuban and said, “Go out there and foul him yourself.” In his own News column, Cuban writes, “As far as criticizing players, I have yelled at every player on our roster, past, present and, I can assure you, future, to work harder and play more defense. I even do it in practice. That happens in basketball.”

Glove story: Finally, the New York Yankees released outfielder Ruben Rivera after he allegedly stole one of Derek Jeter’s gloves and sold it to a memorabilia dealer for $2,500. The New York Post’s Phil Mushnick quips, “Perhaps Rivera has learned his lesson: Ripping off a teammate’s gear is one of those unpardonable sports sins, as opposed to, say, carrying an unlicensed firearm, or beating the daylights out of one’s girlfriend or wife.”

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