The NCAA looks really, really foolish.
For us, last night was a fun matchup between two entertaining teams. With an abundance of storylines and stars, it was a more than satisfying conclusion to the month-long college basketball season (that was a joke, btw).
The National Collegiate Athletic Association did not have such luck. They could not enjoy the thunderous dunks of James Young (!!!!) or Alex Poythress. They could not appreciate the accomplishment of Shabazz Napier. They couldn’t sit back and relax and enjoy the show.
Instead, they watched two college sports vampires duke it out for supremacy.
On one side, there was UConn. Last year, they were banned from postseason play because of poor academic performance by student-athletes. The NCAA’s half-cooked commitment to encouraging, endorsing, and executing education in their sports cartel apparently did little to punish the program. Anyone would trade in a year of sitting March out for a trophy the next. UConn’s best player, Shabazz Napier, also recently revealed that he goes to bed starving sometimes because he can’t afford food. Just after NCAA president Mark Emmert derided the idea of student-athlete unionization, Napier revealed that, because student athletes don’t have time for jobs and can’t accept gifts of basically any kind, that those who come from poor families face very real financial issues.
On the other side loomed the big bad blue monster of Kentucky. Coach with a history of recruiting violations? Check. Training ground for “student” athletes headed for the pros? Yep. Super-talented group of freshmen taking teams built the “right” way to school? You bet. In a time when the one-and-done rule has taken center stage in sports debate, John Calipari’s methods of recruiting super classes of freshmen and getting them to maximize their talents worked again. On their way to the championship they beat five schools that do things the “right” way, including some school with real “student”-athletes. People can say all they want about the method, but it works. And it works because John Calipari, a man who has incurred the wrath of the NCAA more than once, continues to do his thing.
What a matchup. Not exactly the Florida vs. Wisconsin option that would have had the NCAA cheering with glee.
This game really goes on to troll more than just the NCAA. College sports in general, as well as the way we cover them and watch them just got made a fool.
First off, it writes a fitting first chapter in the scattering of the Big East. The deserters, like Syracuse and Pittsburgh, had forgettable tournament runs. The Catholic 7 came up empty in a big way. Adopted teams, like Creighton, failed to impress. In the end, UConn, a true Big East team who got lost in the shuffle and ended up in the whacky American Athletic Conference, won it all.
Second, this result is further proof of how futile our efforts to rank and assess teams are. The Top 25 polls during the season turn out to not mean as much as they might suggest, particularly because they can’t fairly compare teams from other conferences. As it turns out, maybe the AAC wasn’t really all that much weaker than the ACC. This also is condemning of the attention we pay to the regular season. The Top 25 is a crutch more than anything, as it indicates when two “good” team are playing each other. Granted, some teams are late bloomers and very few people can watch as much basketball as Jay Bilas, but we really don’t have an effective strategy for fairly judging teams from other conferences. And, this is further condemnation of the tournament’s decision to leave SMU out. They beat UConn twice during the regular season.
Third, we have how difficult it is to rate freshmen basketball players. This season was supposed to be about Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker. Joel Embiid entered the conversation. In the end, Julius Randle set himself apart as the most accomplished freshman this season. In fact, James Young did exponentially more than either Wiggins of Parker did this tournament. Was anyone talking about James Young before this tournament?
The last thing I want to say is this: 2014 is the year of Shabazz. In Kemba-style, Shabazz made himself the player of the year, and when we look back at 2013-2014 he’s the player we will remember. Initially, the freshmen were the big story. As they became jaded, Doug McDermott rightfully gained most of the attention as he climbed the all-time scoring list. But after McDermott’s disappointing exit from the tournament, this became the Shabazz show. Remarkable, really.
Well, that’s done. Time for the NBA Playoffs.