March 17, 2013

Time to blow the whistle on college basketball.

As the NCAA tournament nears, the physical and me-first play needs to be cleaned up.

March is for Madness. That’s what the office brackets say, at least.

But for real disarray and disillusion, all you had to do was watch college basketball over these past four months.

I’ve tried. Really I’ve tried.

But as one of NCAA hoops fans’ festal days — Selection Sunday — arrives, I find myself wondering what in the name of Phi Slama Jama is going on?

Who killed the 15-foot jump shot? When did a drive to the basket turn into an officially condoned mugging?

This is not just another old guy, aching for the good old days of Coach Iba and the motion offense, although that wouldn’t be bad. Instead, I’m an old guy that misses what college basketball was even 20 years ago.

Bobby Hurley. The Fab Five. Heck, I even miss Eric Montross.

What happened?

I realize that I’m not the first one to bark at the college basketball moon. The alleged culprits have been frequently identified, to wit, the One-and-Done rule, AAU summer ball and an epidemic of misguided officiating.

All that is fixable. But it’s not likely to happen because the merchants and barnacles have figured out how to monetize college basketball, from the overhead cameras to the shorts that the players are wearing.

(Note to adidas: What on earth were you thinking?)

March Madness websites. Shoe company-sponsored high schooler tournaments. AAU coaches who pimp for colleges. And let’s not forget the nuclear force driving it all, the NCAA’s 14-year, $11 billion TV basketball contract.

Let’s see. That’s four TV timeouts per game. Plus four full timeouts and two 30-second ones for each team. That’s 16 commercial interruptions in one 40-minute game.

Somebody has to pay for that $11 billion.

Follow the money. Once upon a time, alumni romantically embraced the notion that the star point guard was, in a sense, one of them. They watched him grow from a promising freshman to a senior captain and, more often than not, even walk the graduation stage.

Today’s One-and-Done college freshmen, with eyes on the NBA, probably don’t even have textbooks. They can’t sing the school fight song. They probably only vaguely know the mascot.

Their basketball mind-sets have been honed in summer kid tournaments, where the winning isn’t as important as the styling. You think they go to college to pass — either the basketball or freshman algebra?

I get it, though. It’s all about the career. College isn’t for everyone. Blah-blah-blah.

That still doesn’t fully explain the tedious exercise that regular-season college basketball has become.

Well-intentioned college coaches will tell you that the snorefests you’ve been seeing are the result of improved defense. But teams have been playing good defense since before even Hank Iba.

It’s the officiating. The “let-‘em-play” mentality has turned college basketball from a finesse sport to a full-contact sport.

You can either drive to the basket — at your own risk. Or you can park at the inviting 3-point arc and take your chances.

Somewhere along the way, college refs decided that hand-checking was good defense. Moving screens, it seems, are for the players to avoid, not the officials to monitor.

And if you thought the horse collar only used to be in college football, watch the free-throw lanes closely over the next three weeks.

Somebody at the NCAA needs to gather all the conference heads of officiating into one room and clean this mess up. Shorten the 35-second clock. Beseech the NBA to eliminate the One-and-Done rule.

March Madness is upon us. The best of college basketball.

It could be so much better.

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