It’s interesting to me that the Big Ten Conference is expanding into the New York/New Jersey area. After having spent four days there last week, nothing about the region seemed to be crying out for the conference or its television network.
The most ripples college basketball got in the newspapers in the time I was there came from the broken leg of Louisville’s Kevin Ware and the ugly video footage of former Rutgers basketball coach Mike Rice throwing basketballs at players and using homophobic slurs at them during practices.
The National Invitation Tournament championship game, meanwhile, was played at the city’s and world’s most-famous arena, Madison Square Garden. The championship clash between Baylor and Iowa drew a crowd of just 5,301. Outside of two early-season games played in Cancun, it was the smallest gathering the Hawkeyes played before all season. It may have been the smallest gathering for any event in the main Garden arena within the last year.
The only mention of the game I saw in Friday’s New York Times was a box score in the agate section. In fact, I sat at a work station in the Garden’s media room that was normally reserved for the Times. Which is as close as I’ll ever come to working for that old gray lady.
I keep hearing that Ohio State-Rutgers and Michigan-Rutgers football games will get New York/New Jersey excited. Uh, only if Rutgers is a highly ranked team itself. And from what we’ve seen from its leadership, from its recently deposed basketball coach to its recently departed athletic director to its excuse-making university president, the school’s athletic operation isn’t one to be feared. Not from a competitive standpoint, anyway.
But the Big Ten never lacks for Big Ideas, and its expansion is supposed to make it bigger, better, and so forth. Its commissioner, Jim Delany, talks about its “brand” and its “footprint.” Are those words found in the mission statements of the Big Ten’s grand universities?
Besides trying to add potential viewers to the Big Ten Network, it looks like the league has gotten more than that in its annexation of Rutgers. It has added an athletic department that shabbily allowed a loon to run its men’s basketball operation and didn’t nip his nuttiness in the bud when it had the chance.
Speaking of New York/New Jersey, Omaha’s Creighton University is moving into the new, not-improved Big East. Wait till it gets to New York for the conference tournament and finds no one there gives a rip about the Bluejays, or Butler, or Xavier. Wait till the Jays go to New York/New Jersey year after year for games against St. John’s and Seton Hall and find a lot of buzz for a lot of things, but very little of it for their games.
Wichita State, meanwhile, will stay at home in the Missouri Valley Conference. That’s one of the few leagues that still makes sense geographically. Wichita State, by the way, is the school from the MVC that played in this season’s Final Four.
Anyway, it’s an old, tired refrain when it comes to writing about abuses and cash-grabs in college athletics. But as the phrase goes, no justice, no peace. Dan Le Batard has a column in today’s Miami Herald that sums things up pretty well. An excerpt:
Don’t ever get shoved around, kid, unless it is your abusive coach and your abusive system doing the shoving. That’s a lot of adults/authority figures — the system, the rules, the coach, the media, the public perception, the entire rigged game — conspiring to bully the powerless kid into submission.
But Rutgers is just a tiny side effect of the real disease, the nosebleed that finally reveals the cancer. The authorities have too much of the power, and the free labor has none, so you essentially have two multibillion-dollar cartels (the NFL and NBA) getting free minor-league systems while conspiring with another cartel (the NCAA) to mine the inner cities for product. Amateur sports are just pro sports in disguise, all the injustices rationalized away in the name of “teaching” and “education,” but all we really learned last week (with Rutgers, with the Pac-12, with Auburn, with UM and the NCAA) is that power is one hell of a drug, and it is easy for the authority figures governing the injustices to overdose on it.
Next Sunday, Iowa’s football team will go to West Des Moines for an open practice. The tickets are free, but you have to go to select central and western Iowa stores of a certain supermarket chain to get them. The supermarket chain is a friend of the program, so to speak.
The Iowa program is doing this for two main reasons: One is to sustain and perhaps increase customer loyalty from that part of the state. The other is to be more visible to high school recruits in the Des Moines area.
OK, fine. But the Iowa players themselves will spend four hours on a bus, and another three or four hours at Valley High School in West Des Moines. On a Sunday. What’s their cut from this promotional venture?
Well, that’s their problem, right? Let’s all settle in Monday night and watch the NCAA men’s basketball title game. Louisville against Michigan. And let’s wish Louisville Coach Rick Pitino luck, because he has a lot riding on this. Sure, he already has a base salary of $5.7 million per year. But he knocked down a bonus of $175,000 for reaching the Final Four, and will collect another $150,000 if his team wins Monday night. As this Bloomberg News story illustrates, Pitino is doing a lot better financially than his school’s president.
Pitino owns 5 percent of a racehorse named Goldencents that won Saturday’s Santa Anita Derby and is probably headed to next month’s Kentucky Derby. In the meantime, he has a sophomore basketball player with a broken leg. I’m sure you can come up with your own horse racing analogy.