The cure for March sadness

The cure for March sadness
March 17, 2014, 7:45 am
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If Creighton's Grant Gibbs can't stifle a yawn during Selection Sunday, how is the rest of the viewing public supposed to get excited for a comedy of errors? (AP)

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After what may have been the singularly dullest NCAA Selection Sunday ever, one in which many schools on the bubble were almost tied to folding chairs and forced to pay attention to their miserable fates, it has become clear that the process and its presentation have died.

Then again, you should know this is going to a festival of tedium when 10 minutes of the 44 minutes allotted to the revelation of the 68 teams and slots involves the head of the NCAA Basketball Tournament Committee, this year a droid named Robotic T. Highgloss, explaining why the committee did whatever the hell it did in the days in which it was “sequestered” in a luxury hotel.

This would be better entertainment, even if presented in the original Norwegian.

Then again, the tournament has been groaning under its own self-important tonnage for years now, part of the NCAA’s squeeze-that-golden-goose-until-the-pate-runs-dry business plan. When it went to four play-in games to quadruple the unwatchability, the entire enterprise jumped the mathematical shark. After all, if one play-in game sucks, four times as much would only suck one-fourth as much, right?

Right? Isn’t that how the math works? No? Oh, well. We already booked the hall.

Our argument is that the tournament started to die when the committee chair was first introduced to the nation (“Oh my God, why is there a Welsh claims adjuster on my basketball show?”), but the when is less important than the what-to-do-about-it-now. The law that states that any enjoyable entertainment must be bloated and tarted up until its essential appeal is crushed has now been fully enforced and enacted.

Put another way, if Dick Vitale must be pitilessly wound up to scream incoherently about how Rick Pitino got jobbed by Louisville getting “only” a four-seed, your sport’s big day has morphed into the third hour of a kindergartner’s themed birthday party.

No, changes must be made, and there will be no points given for either dignity, fairness or competence. America demands pie fights, injustice and an element of detestability as its live entertainment, and those fights shall be provided. Ideas follow:

1. THE COMMITTEE

A room full of shirts stuffed with misplaced self-esteem is just death in soft chairs, and there are few stuffing ingredients less appetizing than college athletic directors. They are mostly bankers who have been placed on the selection committee solely for their abilities to generate money and sucking up earnestly to those more powerful than them, and as a group, they could not achieve ennui more quickly if you cryogenically froze them.

The answer to this, then, is a group of randomly selected entertainers, politicians and cranked-up reality game show contestants, locked in a room (not a series of suites and conference rooms) and forced to go without water or food until they start to become delirious, and then turn out brackets so spectacularly insane and drool-stained that you’d be lucky if Duke weren’t on nine different lines, including two in which it plays itself in the first round.

2. MORE TRANSPARENCY

The new committee would have to perform its deliberations live on television, with all the biases, stupidities and plain wrongheadedness shown for all to see. Indeed, no metrics should be allowed in the room, just to enrage those who like their basketball analysis delivered with provable science and mathematics. Nothing could be better than, say, Justin Bieber at his most repellently snotty yowling, “I WANT TO BE THE THIRD-SEED IN THE EAST AND I’M GOING TO BEHAVE LIKE ME IN PUBLIC UNTIL I GET IT.” Then the other members of the committee would jump on him, beat him senseless and tie him to the balcony railing until the weekend is done. If you don’t think that would get ratings from a grateful planet, you’re nuts.

3. BETTER (IN OTHER WORDS, WORSE) EXPLANATIONS

College basketball punditry has reached such a depressing level of sameness that Jay Bilas comes off as Neil DeGrasse Tyson. The problem is, there isn’t a lot to complain about any more because it is absolutely no fun at all to complain that the 69th, 70th and 71st best teams in the country somehow were victims of injustice. The bracket killed “snubs,” and without snubs, the universe collapses.

No, it is better to take someone from our new committee (I’d go with a particularly snark-enriched comedian here, maybe Jenny Johnson or Key and Peele) and just answer every question about why a certain team was placed in a certain region with answers like, “Why do you care?” “Just to piss you off,” “We got paid,” “The band doesn’t suck” or “Bite me, Donkey Boy.”

I assure you those responses would be better than anything any actual committee chair has ever said in any year, ever. In fact, our committee chair should close out the interview by taking one of the old-time committee members and shooting him or her in the leg with a harpoon, and then smiling and saying like John Belushi in the stairway guitar-smashing scene in Animal House, “Oops. Sorry.”

4. HIGHER QUALITY UNFAIRNESS

Again, nothing bores more than a bracket that produces no outrage, and we mean actual legitimate outrage rather than the standard backwoods-fan-base-yells-because-it-yells-about-everything-right-before-the-fight-in-the-tavern-turns-violent level of outrage.

Thus, we have decided to combine this with...

5. LEGITIMIZING THE NIT, CBI AND CIT

...by taking the other three tournaments, combining them in a three-day AAU jamboree format and playing them in a Las Vegas hotel ballroom with twenty courts at any time, WITH NO TELEVISION OR MEDIA ALLOWED BECAUSE NO TELEVISION OR MEDIA PAYS ATTENTION TO THOSE TOURNAMENTS NOW, FOR GOOD REASON. The team that wins, probably in a game played at 2:15 a.m. in front of drunks, hookers and insomniacs, is now inserted into the tournament, but not in some down-ticket play-in game. Right in the top part of the bracket, and at the expense of a popular brand name.

We suggest putting the 16 top-seeded teams on a giant carnival wheel, spinning it, and the team the indicator lands on is out of the tournament. As in, “Our Secret Tournament winner is Canisius, and of course they were selected because we know none of their players, and the big-time school Canisius will replace is . . . SYRACUSE! SYRACUSE IS OUT!” And then you’d have Key (or Peele) and explain it:

“Tough break for Jim Boeheim there, but screw him. The wheel has spoken.”

The added benefit to this particular bit of larceny is that teams would be desperate to be seeded fifth or lower to avoid premature elimination, and the opportunity for more entertaining and comprehensive conference tournament tanking would be even breathtaking. Big time coaches getting stiffed before the tournament even starts? Teams taking a dive for self-preservation? Vitale would love it.

6. ACKNOWLEDGE THE RECRUITING INDUSTRY

Take the 16 lowest seeds and give them each one of the top 16 highest-rated preps or their foreign equivalents. None of them would ever attend any of those schools, so it’s not really a recruiting visit (“I’m not going to Eastern Kentucky. Are you crazy?”), but at least we’d get to see them on an actual stage, and a 16-seed might actually have a chance not to be slaughtered one year. After all, they are all commodities with feet anyway, so let’s put them to work for the machine as quickly as possible, and give them that all-important educational experience they all need.

And finally . . .

7. ENNOBLE THE REAL REASON FOR THE SEASON

Gambling. Your team does not advance in the tournament by something as mundane as outscoring the opponent. Your team wins by covering the spread. The NCAA Tournament without gambling (including office pools) would be the NAIA spelling-and-archery championships, and we all know it. So cut the crap, get to the meat, and play the tourney they way God intended – with overs and unders for all.

And with that, we wish you a very joyous “I hope your bracket is in shards on Thursday, and your favorite team gets eliminated on Friday.” Cheers, suckers.