Monday, March 31, 2014

Examining Why Kevin Ollie is a Great Coach

Ten toes in. Take the stairs. Escalators are for cowards.

Those phrases, along with new gems delivered every press conference, explain why UConn fans fell in love with Kevin Ollie. But love doesn’t win basketball games.

kevin ollie msg
The greatness of Kevin Ollie was exemplified by one play Sunday against Michigan State. Following a dead ball timeout, UConn took the ball out of bounds under its hoop up 18-16. Michigan State had climbed back from an early 12-2 deficit and was threatening to take the lead.

Instead, a perfectly executed pick play left Shabazz Napier wide open in front of the Michigan State bench for a three-pointer he nailed. It was UConn’s last points on the first half. It led to a 16-2 Michigan State run that nearly ended the game for UConn. But it was important.

Shabazz Napier never got that open again. Michigan State’s desire to keep Napier from scoring – ultimately, Napier ended up with 25 – opened up room for Ryan Boatwright, DeAndre Daniels and Niles Giffey. No, the shots didn’t fall for UConn like they had against Iowa State. They still won.

Tactically, Kevin Ollie is an NBA coach. I am not exactly breaking news here that every NBA team with an opening will probably make a phone call to the Ollie household this summer. And for every summer thereafter, which hopefully is met with summer after summer of, “Thanks, but no thanks” responses.

You cannot overstate what Ollie’s passion and mentality brings to a team, especially one like this, that had been through so much hardship. But like love, passion doesn’t win basketball games.

The beauty of Ollie’s coaching is how you see what he’s taken from other coaches, what he’s learned from the NBA and what’s he has discovered from being a reserve over 13 years of NBA action. As Bill Raftery so astutely pointed out Sunday, Kevin Ollie has watched a lot of basketball in his life – he’s seen it all.

So while others can recount the heroics of Shabazz and Boatright and Daniels, let’s examine why Kevin Ollie’s performance in the 2014 NCAA Tournament has been one for the ages.

Perfect Substitution Patterns  
In four games, a grand total of zero UConn players have fouled out. In three of those games, that wasn’t an issue. Against St. Joseph’s, this was a gigantic, potentially season-ending issue.

For those that weren’t watching, St. Joe’s played an A+++ game in the first half against UConn. They didn’t miss. They abused UConn in the paint. They were the far superior team. UConn had righted the ship by halfway through the second half. In doing so, three of their big men – Philip Nolan, Niles Giffey and Amida Brimah all had four fouls with 6:45 left in the game.

Somehow, Ollie juggled the lineup on a thin front line to keep them all in the game through regulation and the five-minute overtime. It was only fitting that Brimah, a freshman, tied the game at 70 with an old-fashioned three-point play on an offensive rebound.

The Jim Calhoun 2-Foul Rule
This was a Calhoun staple – if you get two fouls in the first half, you sit until halftime. The most famous application came in the 2004 Final Four against Duke, when Emeka Okafor sat for about 17 minutes as UConn held on for dear life. At the end of a terribly officiated game, Duke players fouled out while Okafor led the improbable late UConn comeback.

Everyone has focused on Shabazz Napier sitting against Villanova as the defining 2-Foul Rule application of the tournament. UConn has other high-quality guards – depth there is not an issue. No, the best application of this happened almost unnoticed on Sunday.

Amida Brimah picked up two fouls by the 12-minute mark in the first half. He sat for the rest of the half. Unwilling to stretch Philip Nolan – who was playing great, but clearly getting fatigued – he put in rarely used Tyler Olander to kill three minutes. Olander contributed to two turnovers on the offensive end, but he did his job and UConn was only down 4 at the break.

It was an NBA-level move. It is far more important to have Brimah available and out of foul trouble in the second half than risk your big man getting a third foul. It may have cost UConn two or four points, but the tradeoff in a game of that magnitude and intensity is well worth it.

The Junk Defense
When Napier went out with the two fouls against Villanova, UConn switched to a three-quarter court zone/press that absolutely flummoxed Villanova. It changed the game. Once out of their early rhythm, the Wildcats could never get back into it and they were reduced to taking long three’s – some they made, some they didn’t – for the rest of the game.

Against Michigan State, they similar trotted out occasional pressure – sometimes in a zone, sometimes in aggressive half-court man-to-man – that confused the Spartans and led directly to two or three bad turnovers, which Tom Izzo lamented in the postgame.

UConn plays regular man-to-man 99 percent of the time. It’s that 1 percent, and when it happens, that creates problems for the opponents.

The Out of Bounds Plays
The Friday night game between Iowa State and UConn featured two NBA-ready coaches who are probably the two best I’ve seen in drawing up out-of-bounds plays, which separates good NBA coaches from great NBA coaches.

All year, UConn has benefitted from this. Iowa State, likewise, did so in its second round – ugh, third round – game against UNC, in which Fred Hoiberg coached circles around Roy Williams to win despite playing without their best player.

As a counter, what did Arizona do down 1 with the ball in overtime and a chance to win? They simply passed to their point guard, who dribbled too much and missed a shot after the buzzer. Sean Miller is not a potential NBA coach. Kevin Ollie is.

uconn coach kevin ollieRight Timeout at the Right Time
Down 32-23 against Michigan State, Kevin Ollie called timeout. As a UConn fan, I thought the game was about to be over. Instead, Napier hit a three-pointer and UConn would start its own run.

Throughout the year, Ollie has shown an incredible knack for calling the timeout just before things get out of hand. Too many college coaches wait a possession or two too long and they give up preventable extra points during a run.

Again, this speaks to the amount of basketball Ollie has watched in his life. Sometimes, like the regular season finale against Louisville, there are not enough timeouts to stem the tide. Sometimes it is the difference between a win and a loss.

Against Villanova, Ollie burned timeouts in the first half when Villanova couldn’t miss from the three to prevent their lead from getting too big. Against Iowa State, he did so in the second half to slow down a furious Iowa State comeback. In fact, the timeout up 67-63 versus Iowa State may have been the best and, exceling again in X’s and O’s, he set up a Niles Giffey three from the corner that made it 70-63 to end the game.

The Quick Hook, and the Not-So-Quick Hook
Another Jim Calhoun staple was the quick hook. You made one bad play, especially after halftime, and you got an express ticket to the bench. Ollie has continued this tradition, which is most noticeable after a big man doesn’t box out correctly on the first missed shot of the second half.

However, the hook is not always so quick. Against Villanova as the Wildcats were hitting threes, UConn was playing too fast. In particular, Niles Giffey was out of control. The TBS cameras showed Ollie screaming at Giffey to get his attention – it felt like the quick hook was coming.

Instead, Ollie gestured to the floor with both hands and said, “Calm down!” Giffey did calm down, and so did the rest of the team.

Exploiting Matchups
Iowa State couldn’t guard DeAndre Daniels. Daniels had heated up a bit in the first half and it was apparent Iowa State didn’t have a guy who could lock him down one-on-one. When the second half started, every possession went through Daniels and he had 13 points in 8 minutes.

It was NBA Coaching 101 – exploit the best matchup you have on the court until the other team adjusts. Iowa State, of course, was understandably shorthanded. Maybe Hoiberg believed Daniels would cool off. By the time Iowa State did adjust, they were down 14 and the game was just about of hand.

It shouldn’t be that hard to ride the hot hand, but you’d be amazed to realize how many coaches fail to realize this. I hate to pick on Sean Miller again, but Wisconsin won because Bo Ryan rode his hot hand and Sean Miller didn’t seem to figure out who his hot hand was.

Frustrate Opponents for 40 Minutes
After UConn’s victory Sunday, Bill Raftery interviewed Tom Izzo, who said that his team played poorly but to take nothing away from UConn. On the surface, it seemed like a backhanded compliment. It was not.

“We sucked because they made us suck,” is what Izzo was trying to say.

Michigan State scored 6 points in the paint – an absurdly low number for them and the lowest in any NCAA Tournament game in three years. What happened? UConn did everything in their power to prevent Adreian Payne from getting established in the block – at times this meant a triple team.

So UConn gave Michigan State all the open three-pointers they wanted. For a while, they fell and UConn looked to be in big trouble. But the game is 40 minutes long, they stopped falling, Michigan State started to panic and they were out of sorts. At one point, CBS sideline announcer Allie LaForce even shared that the Spartans were “bickering” in the huddle.

Have you ever heard of a Tom Izzo team suffering a breakdown like that? Michigan State went away from their strength and got frustrated.

Villanova was frustrated too, but it was because they stubbornly refused to take what UConn was giving them. While Michigan State took the bait and shot three’s, Villanova did not take the bait and kept shooting three’s. After a hot start, UConn essentially went to a “no threes” defense – the kind you’d play up nine with two minutes to go.

What happened? Villanova put up a ton of contested and long three’s. It contributed to Villanova’s 15 straight possessions without a field goal and it left them flustered and frustrated when the shots wouldn’t fall.

Understanding What Will Happen
The difference between a pro coach and a college coach is the understanding that things almost always even out. There’s a reason why “regression to the mean” is a thing. And when you’ve sat a bench watching basketball for 15 years, you’ve likely seen every possible scenario play out in a game.

It was note-worthy that Kevin Ollie predicted the second half outcomes of every game in the tournament.

Against St. Joe’s, he was happy the team was only down a few despite the A+++ performance of the opponent and implored his team to hang in there.

Against Villanova, he said, “We’re going to win.” They were a better team in the first half without their best player – he knew they weren’t going to lose.

Against Iowa State, he was far from overconfident despite the big lead. He said Iowa State was going to make a big run and UConn had to be prepared. Iowa State did make a big run – and UConn was prepared.

Against Michigan State, he pointed out how Niles Giffey missed three open looks and eventually the shots would fall. They continued to get open looks. They eventually fell. UConn is in the Final Four.

It’s remarkable to read in print – UConn is in the Final Four. The players have been tremendous. The coach has been even better.

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Friday, March 28, 2014

Rutgers is the Big Ten’s Biggest Mistake

College athletics is now a game of Risk. Instead of chasing game pieces, conferences are in pursuit of television viewers.

In this game, New York City is the biggest game piece out there. It is the unattainable piece, for Rutgers, for Syracuse, for UConn, or for any college by itself. The battle for New York City is on and it is unwinnable.

In the not too distant past, conferences stayed within their own region. Despite some overlap – think Iowa and Iowa State, or Clemson and South Carolina, in two different conferences – there were no blitzkriegs under the cover of darkness.

rutgers losing
Even when the ACC raided the Big East for the first time in 2004, it seemed like a one-off move designed to get the ACC to a football championship game, not television contract riches. For most of the next decade, Boston College – the lone outlier, geographically – was usually mocked for their decision to isolate themselves from the Big East.

Then Jim Delany got tired of scheduling around 11 teams and all hell broke loose. If you think the carousel has stopped forever, you haven’t been paying attention.

College football is a business now – heck, even the players may soon be considered employees. College football and conference commissioners are now no different than, say, the CEOs of AT&T and Sprint battling over subscribers or Pepsi and Coke fighting for soda drinkers. It’s all about the bottom line.

The Big Ten, in its never-ending quest to add zeroes to spreadsheets, swiped Maryland from the ACC and Rutgers from the Big East.

Maryland was a good move. Rutgers was not.

At the time, I mocked both moves. As I have been many times before, I was wrong. I believed Maryland would not command Washington, D.C., having fallen on hard times in sports. I discounted the fact that Maryland has a national championship in basketball and an Orange Bowl in football – two feats that immediately separates itself from Rutgers.

I discounted the relatively small sphere of sports here in D.C. What else is there to talk about? All the teams almost always suck, whether it’s crushing Capitals defeats in Game 7s, the Wizards eternally struggling with .500 or the endless Washington Football Team name debate.

On the day the Big Ten announced its basketball matchups for next year, the local news here – NBC Washington to be exact – did an entire segment on it. They were giddy at the thought of playing Michigan, Michigan State and Indiana, even after 50 years of playing Duke, Virginia and UNC. Maryland fans were pumped and thrilled to get out of the ACC’s Tobacco Road shadow. Maryland is a sleeping giant.

Why do I feel like WCBS did not devote 6 minutes of the 6 p.m. news to Rutgers’ 2014-15 basketball schedule?

Here are the facts: The Big Ten Network will not be on basic cable in New York City next year. Rutgers is not the most popular college football team in New York City – that would be Notre Dame. Rutgers is not the most popular college basketball team in New York City – that would be Syracuse or UConn.

The Big Ten is in for a long, protracted fight to get the Big Ten Network in New York City and that is the only reason why Rutgers was added. If it happens, the Big Ten will be printing money every day from every single one of the nearly 8 million folks in the NYC market. If that happens, every Big Ten school could add 8 figures to its bottom line instantly every year.

That’s the pipedream. The reality is that the Big Ten, already in a public relations battle over its football prowess, is saddled with another Minnesota. Rutgers is an average to good football program, capable of 6 to 8 wins and a decent bowl game. Its best season ever ended in the Texas Bowl. How will that move the needle in the playoff discussion?

The Big Ten foolishly believes by having Michigan and Ohio State show up every year, that it can magically turn New York City into a college football stronghold. And, well, that’s the rub. And yeah, I buried the lede again.

Rutgers is the Big Ten’s mistake for the same reason they were invited to join the conference – location, location, location.

The Yankees couldn’t get YES Network cleared at first. The Mets had a similar battle with SNY. It took the NFL – the big, bad NFL – nine years to get its network on Time Warner Cable in New York City. Reread that last sentence if necessary. Nine years!

As the tickets for UConn’s game on Friday proved, New York is a basketball city. It is also a baseball city. It is not really a football city. Much was made of the fact that when the Super Bowl came to town, most of New York City shrugged its shoulders and moved on.

Therein lies the biggest problem with Rutgers as a way into New York – Rutgers sucks at basketball. And it’s only one school.

The Big East controlled New York City for 30 years because it had every possible school, including Notre Dame, as part of its affiliation. There are too many people and too many allegiances to control a city as vast as New York with one team – unless that team is Notre Dame football.

There are two ways to look at Rutgers to the Big Ten. It could be a long-term ploy the establish a foothold in the city to convince Notre Dame if/when the day ever comes they have to give up independence that the Big Ten is the only place to go. That is probably the exact same reason the ACC Tournament will be in Brooklyn for two years.

It could also be a short-term ploy to make a quick $150 million every year from NYC cable subscribers. That’s not going to happen.

The Big Ten, and the ACC, have entered a NYC gun fight wielding a dull knife. Syracuse by itself doesn’t control New York City. The same goes for Rutgers, the same goes for UConn and the same goes for St. John’s.

The fight isn’t over. It’s just futile. And it’s going to lead to a summer and fall and potentially years of bad press for the Big Ten and Rutgers.

Have fun, Mr. Delany.

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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

How to Improve the Postseason NIT

The NIT is a joke.

That was the consensus when Clemson, the higher seed and playing at home, defeated Belmont and its students rushed the court. I am very, very pro-rushing the court but even that was a bit much for me to handle.

nit
So what is to be done about the tournament that once carried so much weight that Marquette turned down an NCAA Tournament bid to play in it.

As a UConn fan, the NIT holds relevance and a place in my heart. My first exposure to the burgeoning UConn dynasty came in 1988 when the Huskies stormed to an NIT title*, a run that would catapult the Huskies from regional basketball team to eventual three-time national champion.


In college football, people watch all the bowl games even if none of them matter. Next year, there will be an actual four-team playoff, rendering the other bowls – a number that is seemingly growing by the day – an exercise in the absurd. Why do we care about the Cotton Bowl when the playoffs start the next day?

In college football, those bowl games are the equivalent of the NIT. While some are mocked, others are lauded – who wasn’t watching Johnny Football on New Year’s Eve?

It is even more curious considering the venue for the NIT is New York City and Madison Square Garden. All this week, players such as Shabazz Napier have been talking about how much the building means to them and the sport as the NCAA East Regional prepares to take over the buildign. As Napier said in a New York Post interview:

“You’re playing on one of the all-time best places to play basketball. It feels like what basketball was meant to be for — performance. It’s like a big performance. Playing on that court, it’s only right that you play as hard as you can, ’cause it’s in the sense of being disrespectful of not playing your hardest ’cause that’s the court that many people dream of playing on. You can date back to the guys who played on that court that I looked up to — Michael Jordan, [Julius] Erving and all them guys played on that court, Magic [Johnson] … a lot of those guys that you see on clips of all-time greats.”

I believe the NIT has potential. In fact, if I had my way, I would make the NIT a big-time tournament that people paid attention to. How? Let’s count the ways…

1) Move the NCAA Tournament to 64 Teams
I can already hear the cries from VCU and Tennessee fans, teams that played so well in the NCAA Tournament after being invited to the First Four. That doesn’t change the fact that neither team earned their way into the tournament proper during the regular season.

I’ve already advocated for the move to 64 teams for health of the regular season, but it would help the NCAA Tournament and the NIT. Look, the First Four is stupid. You can argue otherwise. I simply won’t agree with you.

Look at the four teams that were in Dayton – Xavier, Tennessee, N.C. State and Iowa. These are good teams. They are not going to win the national championship. They never were. They could win the NIT. It would improve the quality of the NIT.

An added benefit of the First Four’s removal would be truer, more accurate seeding. By removing 4 16 seeds, the entire bottom part of the draw is completely out of whack. Mercer was a 14 seed that should have been a 13 seed. A team like Coastal Carolina – a true 15 seed – played Virginia tough for 30 minutes. Could they have beaten a 2 seed like Villanova?

2) InsaNITy
When are the NIT games played? Who knows, right? ESPN dots them throughout the week without rhyme or reason. There was an NIT game going on Sunday afternoon against Wichita State/Kentucky. I guarantee you that was not a good idea.

It shouldn’t be that hard – especially if we eliminated the dreadful, pointless First Four. The first round has 16 games, so let’s spread them out. ESPN has four channels that air live sports now – ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNews and ESPNU. Let’s use all of them!

Do doubleheaders on each network on the first Tuesday and Wednesday after Selection Sunday, first game starts at 7 p.m., second game starts at 9:30 p.m. Run the scores across the top like it’s the NCAA Tournament.

For the second round, which will be 8 games, you can again do doubleheaders on Tuesday and Wednesday, with only the need to use ESPN and ESPN2. It’s just like the NCAA’s Sweet 16.

As for the quarterfinals…

3) Invite 8 teams to MSG
What do we really like about March Madness? Copious amounts of basketball and daytime sports. During Championship Week, my Twitter feed is overflowing when I check it at work with people watching random basketball games. Throw in the availability of streaming devices, the increasing number of people who work remotely, college kids and you have an audience that is always ready to watch basketball.

My suggestion is to invite the 8 quarterfinalists to MSG and treat it like a conference tournament. Play 4 games on a Tuesday, starting at noon. Play 2 at night on Wednesday. Play the final on Thursday night.

The allure of the NIT is not half-empty campus gyms. It’s the Mecca of college basketball. Take last the Clemson/Belmont game – how much more would that have meant for Belmont if they were playing at Madison Square Garden?

The change to the NIT that allowed regular season conference champions into the field is great, and making a trip to NYC and MSG more manageable is worth it.

4) The Winner Wins More MSG
What do you get when you win the NIT? You get mockingly referred to as the 65th-best, or 66th-best or now the 69th-best team in the country. That’s not really good for your program.

nit winners
The winner deserves something tangible. I suggest the winner of the postseason NIT gets an automatic invite to the semifinals of the following season’s preseason NIT.

Why does this work? For one, it helps the preseason NIT solidify its field. As the last true preseason tournament left, the NIT needs to find 4 “headline” teams and 12 other teams to fill out a 16-team bracket. Unlike other preseason tournaments, those 4 headliners have to win 2 games just to make it to NYC. It can be a tricky proposition. And since there are now limits on preseason tournaments, the NIT has struggled in recent years to build a decent field.

With this suggestion, 25% of the MSG field is taken care of. And while Minnesota or Clemson may not be Kentucky or Indiana, it will give the preseason tournament a nice storyline – the postseason champs “defending” their title. For an up and coming program, like SMU, they could use the return trip to vault itself into the national discussion. And for a mid-major, like Belmont, an NIT title could turn the return trip into a chance to establish itself as a potential Butler or Gonzaga.

The NIT champion needs to win more than mocking.

5) Create a Perfect Bracket Game with a Great Prize
We all saw how well Warren Buffet’s Billion Dollar Bracket game went. The contest generated a massive amount of publicity for a prize that was never, ever, ever going to be won.

So why not create a contest that people could theoretically win?

It could be a million dollars. It could be a new car. It could be a new house. ESPN needs to partner with a company, like Quicken Loans, looking to get some publicity. There are 31 games in the NIT – picking all of them correctly, like in the NCAA Tournament bracket, is probably impossible. However, you have a much better shot. So use that slight possibility as a way to entice sports fans to fill out another bracket.

Simple question – who doesn’t like filling out brackets?

It leads us back to the first Tuesday after Selection Sunday, as four games are going on across ESPN and people are following their other bracket, hoping they have cracked the code and are on their way to winning $1 million or a new car.

The NIT is not a joke. It just needs some help. The combination of college basketball, brackets and Madison Square Garden means there’s hope. 

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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Requiem for the New Big East

It took three decades, the deregulation of televised college sports, the explosion of college football, the BCS, raids by the ACC and Big Ten and a devastating smear campaign by ESPN to kill the original Big East.

It took about five months kill the new version.

sad jay wright
When UConn prepared to play Villanova on Saturday in the second round – ugh, third round – of the NCAA Tournament, I was confident. I didn’t think Villanova was any good. But I am usually so very, very wrong in my predictions – examples here and here – that I had driven myself to madness before tip.

As someone who lives two blocks from the Verizon Center, I paid attention to Georgetown only out of curiosity this year. With UConn no longer in their conference, the zombie Big East barely registered to me. I had predicted doom for the conference in the preseason but top 10 rankings achieved by Villanova and Creighton appeared to be proving me wrong.

Then I tried to watch some Big East basketball. I was aghast. The league, well, it wasn’t any good. The elite players, past Doug McDermott, didn’t realize exist. When Memphis played UConn for the first time – a Thursday night affair in FedEx Forum – I was impressed by how athletic and how talented both teams were. When I watched Georgetown play St. John’s, I couldn’t believe either was even on the bubble.

Villanova had been propped up all year on the basis of a win against Kansas…in November…in a casino hall. Everyone pointed to that as validation for them, not their complete inability to compete with Syracuse in the Carrier Dome. Creighton? I saw Creighton lose to my alma mater, GW, over Thanksgiving. Creighton and Villanova were good. But they were mid-major good, not traditional Big East good.

Ah, that word, “mid-major,” we’ll revisit that.

So when Villanova and UConn tipped off, I was alternately confident and scared to death. When Villanova took a 10-point lead as Shabazz Napier hit the bench with two fouls, I feared the worst. I turned on the classic Wisconsin/Oregon game and tried to talk myself off from the ledge.

There would be no need to. Because once UConn defended the three-pointer, the game was over. Villanova had nothing. They were a plucky 11 seed, not a true 2 seed. They didn’t score a field goal on 15 (!!) straight possessions. They scored only three two-point field goals deep into the second half.

As the game wore on, it became readily apparent that UConn wasn’t just a better team – they were a far superior team. If Napier doesn’t face foul trouble and an injury, it’s likely that UConn wins by 20 or more.

The Villanova loss came as part of a truly awful few days for the conference, as its house of cards has been exposed.

Buzz Williams left Marquette for Virginia Tech, the worst team in the ACC. Chris Mack, Xavier head coach, is linked to the Wake Forest and Boston College jobs. Shaka Smart was rumored for the Marquette job, which was met with mock derision on Twitter and a subsequent denial from Shaka.

After Villanova’s painful loss, Creighton was wiped right off the floor by Baylor in a game that was a fitting end to the conference’s first season. You know, 3 seeds aren’t supposed to lose by 30 to anybody.

As if all of this wasn’t enough, Sports Media Watch compiled the ratings for every college basketball game this season and we finally had proof of how far the Big East had fallen. Hopping into bed with Fox Sports 1 had essentially erased the conference from the national consciousness. 9 of the 10 lowest rated games of the entire season featured the Big East. Big East games rated roughly the same as Atlantic 10 and Ivy League games on NBCSN.

What was the point of this conference again?

The new Big East formed to the delight of college basketball purists who loathed the fact football now ran college athletics. They had a valid gripe, but they backed the wrong horses.

Teams in the new Big East have combined to win zero national titles in the past three decades. If you remove Butler and its two Brad Stevens-led trips to the title game, the last title game appearance by a new Big East member was by Seton Hall – in 1989!

It’s hard to overstate just how little the Catholic 7, with the exception of Georgetown, means to college basketball. Even Georgetown has fallen into that “Notre Dame football in 2000s” zone where everyone wants them to be good, but every year they fail to be relevant.

As we look ahead to Year 2 of the conference, I pose a simple question – what’s the difference between the new Big East and the West Coast Conference, other than location? They are both 10-team leagues, made up mostly of religious institutions that do not play football, with the exception of BYU. They are solid to good basketball leagues that will get 2-4 teams in the NCAA Tournament ever year. The WCC has Gonzaga, the new Big East has Villanova.

There is nothing wrong with being the top mid-major in the country – the Atlantic 10 just got 6 teams in the tournament – but there is something wrong with not accepting this.

ryan boatright happy
The biggest problem with the new Big East is that it lacks a true standard bearer. The proverbial rising tide that lifts all boats. We saw in year one of the American Athletic Conference what that can mean to a conference. With UConn, Memphis and Cincinnati, the AAC has the surprising strength of three annual Top 20 programs and benefitted from the one-year stopover of Louisville.

So what happened? SMU, led by Larry Brown, turned its program around. Houston is apparently looking at Kelvin Sampson. USF is about to hire Manhattan’s coach, a Rick Pitino protégé and one of the hottest young names in the coaching profession.

The AAC and the Big East are two ships passing in the night. The AAC, shackled by zero expectations, is proven and poised to remain a basketball power. The Big East, weighed down by massive expectations, has zero teams in the Sweet 16 and coaches are fleeing. Is there any doubt recruits with follow?

It seems almost cruel that the ACC is coming to Brooklyn for its tournament. I joked that the Big East Tournament was the second best one in NYC this year, with the Atlantic 10 in the Barclays Center. In 2017 and 2018, no one will be joking.

In college athletics, perception is reality. The reality is that the Big East wasn’t very good this year. The perception is that they don’t matter anymore.

I’ll finish this post the same way I started one in November:

You have to wonder what Georgetown is thinking.

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Monday, March 24, 2014

Thank You Louisville, From a UConn Fan

On Sunday morning, the girlfriend had wrestled control of the remote and was flipping channels, in a quest to find reruns of RuPaul’s Drag Race or something, anything that did not involve a basketball.

louisville aac basketball
As for myself, I sat on the couch, visions of Shabazz Napier three-pointers and Kevin Ollie quotes dancing through my head. In a few short hours, basketball would return to quench my never-ending thirst for March Madness.

Unfortunately for the girlfriend, Logo is too close to Bloomberg on the guide and Bloomberg, for reasons that escape me, was running a 30-minute show on the business of March Madness.

A-ha!

She grudgingly agreed to let me watch the last 7 minutes of the show. I wasn’t expecting much. The curiosity factor had me tuned in. Instead, I got an unexpected interview with American Athletic Conference commissioner Mike Aresco.

The interview was fairly tame. Aresco lauded his conference, expressed disappointment with SMU’s exclusion from the tournament* and pumped up the incoming members, particularly Tulsa. He never mentioned Rutgers. He did mention Louisville

*Three teams beat UConn at home this year. Two, Stanford and Louisville, are in the Sweet 16. SMU is playing in the NIT. How Xavier got in over SMU still baffles me. But the Big East is dead so who cares?

What Aresco said about Louisville – especially in the context of an interview where he did not mention Rutgers – was extremely telling and, frankly, something I had never given too much thought. Aresco said that while the AAC will miss Louisville, he is very grateful for having the Cardinals in the league this year.

While many within the AAC circles were rooting against Louisville all year, Aresco took a different angle. He said, astutely, that Louisville had given the league validation.

Holy crap, I thought, he’s right. Louisville did a lot more good for the AAC than I ever realized.

When it came to football, Louisville was the standard-bearer all year. The preseason hype focused on how easy their schedule was and how they would waltz to an undefeated record. I disagreed. And I was wrong, underestimating how good Teddy Bridgewater was and how bad the bottom of the AAC would turn out to be.

But Louisville made a new star in UCF. In pro wrestling, a new star is made when they beat the old star. Think Hulk Hogan slamming Andre The Giant, then The Rock beating Hulk Hogan, which led to the Rock losing to John Cena. It’s called passing the torch. In pro wrestling, it’s scripted. In college football, it is not.

So when UCF strolled into Papa John’s Stadium and beat Louisville, that was the AAC’s passing the torch moment even if no one realized it. At the time, it was an indication that Louisville was overrated.

By the dawn of 2014, after Louisville had obliterated Miami into a billion pieces in Orlando, some were starting to believe that maybe, just maybe, UCF was really good. With their Fiesta Bowl domination complete, UCF finally got the recognition they deserved.

storm johnson
As we entered the 2014 college football season, UCF is now the league’s standard bearer in football. That doesn’t happen without Louisville.

The league fared better perception-wise on the college basketball side, with its surprising power based on having five ranked teams for most of the year – Louisville, Cincinnati, Memphis, UConn and SMU. As the defending national champs, having Louisville in that mix elevated the league. They played 8 games – home and home against the other four – that were must-watch television that greatly enhanced the league’s visibility.

Again, Louisville lent the league credibility for a year, which meant signature wins for Memphis and Cincinnati. Even the league’s first conference tournament final, though not that close, felt like a major happening with national powers Louisville and UConn duking it out. Did Providence and Creighton feel that way – or were they just making a mockery of the history of the Big East tournament?

Aresco was right in everything he said because Louisville gave the league validation. It gave every team in the league a big-time opponent to play in basketball and football. It raised the level of the league.

I can’t imagine too many UConn fans being angry at Louisville. Yeah, we wish we had gotten the golden ticket to the ACC but we understand what they were doing – UConn was doing the same thing. Louisville is not Pitt, leading the charge against the ESPN TV contract and then using that as motivation to leave. Louisville is not Boston College, flatly turning its back for more money. Louisville is not Rutgers, moving on to the Big Ten with disdain because it happens to be within an hour’s drive of New York City.

What did Rutgers do for the AAC? Nothing, which is about the same that it did for the Big East. The school officials acted like a spoiled brat, silver spoon in mouth, pouting that it had to hang out with poor kids for a year. At one point, they wouldn’t even lower itself to putting the American logo on its fields and courts.

Louisville made no such qualms. Louisville understood what happened and treated the league with respect.

Louisville, unlike Rutgers, deserves the leap to a Power Five conference. In 2009, the ACC would have picked UConn over Louisville. But while UConn frittered away its football prowess thanks to an incompetent former athletic director who hired an incompetent old fart, Louisville hired Charlie Strong and became a Top 10 power as it rose from the depths of Kragthorpe.

Louisville, unlike Rutgers, won games and championships. Louisville, unlike Rutgers, had UConn’s number.

I should be mad about Louisville leaving. But I can’t be. They didn’t do anything UConn wouldn’t have done, they just had the votes to join the ACC because UConn football had hit rock bottom. Timing is everything in life and UConn picked the wrong time to hire the wrong football coach.

The American Athletic Conference may still have a chance at success. There is potential. The TV contract with ESPN is far less lucrative, but provides massive exposure – again, ask the Catholic 7 how those test pattern ratings on Fox Sports 1 feel.

For the AAC, all that matters is winning. The media seems ingrained in their position that the conference is a joke. Only more wins like UCF’s in the Fiesta Bowl and UConn’s over Villanova will change that. It’s possible, though.

In a final bit of irony, every time Louisville wins an NCAA Tournament game, they earn roughly $1.6 million over 6 years for the AAC. They have already earned the league nearly $5 million in the past four days. Or, approximately $5 million more than Rutgers earned.

Fellow fans of American teams, it’s time to tip your cap and root for Louisville. Until they play UConn in the championship game.

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Wednesday, March 12, 2014

13 Things I’ve Grown to Hate in my Life

“My heart, it don't beat, it don't beat the way it used to/
And my eyes, they don't see you no more/
And my lips, they don't kiss, they don't kiss the way they used to/
And my eyes don't recognize you no more”
- The Killers,
For Reasons Unknown

I heard that song on the Metro and it devastated me. Because I remember hearing for the first time as a younger man and imagining myself in his shoes – and now here I am.

When you’re 31, you’re not old, right? Isn’t 30 the new 20 and 40 the new 30 or something? But when you start diving into your 30’s, you realize that there is a lot of life under your belt.

Things have changed. My tastes are different. My feelings are different. My emotions are different. And mostly, well, I’m a lot more cranky and perturbed by things. Is this normal? I mean, the cranky old man is a stereotype for a reason, right?

So in lieu of parsing together a string of 100 more rhetorical questions, I feel like going over the things in my life that I used to like – and now, actively annoy me. Let’s get explore my inner curmudgeon.

Facebook
I finally did it. Over the weekend, I deactivated by Facebook account. It’s so frustrating to know it’s there at a moment’s notice if I get bored or log in without thinking, but it’s been a few days and, shockingly, the world has not ended. I guess?

facebook sucks
Like many, I was initially thrilled to have Facebook. The process is exactly how I imagine heroin working, without the crippling side effects and death. The first time you log into Facebook and start seeing what’s out there, it’s like the greatest Internet high you can possibly imagine – a Google search turned up to 11. You see what high school friends are up, how your college buddies turned out, who got married, who had kids and if you exes have terrible lives. It’s intoxicating. And then every time you go to Facebook after that, it’s a little less exciting.

And then after a few years, it becomes a chore. Your relatives are all on there. Your friends send out party invites through it. People send you a Facebook message instead of an email, text or call. It becomes a burden. The pictures are no longer fun – it is a never-ending stream of baby photos.

Alas, the reason I finally left FacebookTown was due to the advertising. I mean, I knew it was coming, that Facebook with its enormous reach was going to become overrun with them. But the social network did so by stealing things that worked from other social networking sites like Twitter, so now you can use hashtags and see what’s trending. It’s turned into a Frankenstein of social media, all designed to get you to click on the websites of advertisers.

No thank you.

Bicycles
This is entirely due to living in Washington, D.C. because when I lived in Hartford – surprise, surprise – there weren’t a lot of people biking around. Now, I have to deal with them on a daily basis and they are, without fail, the most annoying people on the road.

The other week, I was walking to the Metro on the sidewalk when a bicycle rang their bell at me – yes, rang a fucking bell – so I would move out of the way. I guess that is better than the guy who simply yelled, “Move!” at me on the sidewalk. And let’s not even get into the bicyclists acting like they own the road, yelling at drivers and making lefts against red lights because they can.

If you ride a bike in Washington, D.C., I hate you.

Bracketology
When the notion of Bracketology became a thing; I was on-board with two feet. Even if UConn was rarely on the bubble, it was fun to see where they would be seeded and how matchups could happen. And then over the past couple of years, it has gone from cute niche to cottage industry. Every site has their own bracket. Every site has their own bubble watch.

Look, I love the NCAA Tournament as much as anybody and think my bracket will always win, but it’s out of control. I don’t need hourly updates. I don’t need endless debates on ESPN. I don’t need ESPN to treat Joe Lunardi – who I like and follow on Twitter – as the end-all, be-all, just as I don’t need ESPN pushing its BPI rating, which is completely and totally inconsequential to the tournament selection.

I beg you, ESPN, just let me watch the games until Selection Sunday, and then we can start dissecting resumes.

Superhero Movies
I’m not the biggest comic book/superhero guy but I could always get behind a good movie. Then Batman Begins came along and I watched it about 7,000 times. I could not get enough of it. Unfortunately, I wasn’t alone. And along with Batman, there was a Spiderman reboot and an Iron Man with Robert Downey that made too much money and now Hollywood studios go to superheroes like they’re an ATM machine.

guardians galaxy batista
Could these studios maybe spend their money on something else? The combined budgets for the two Thor movies were north of $300 million dollars. $300 million! How many good movies with original stories could you make for that much money? 20? 30? 40?

Bradley Cooper is in the new Guardians of the Galaxy movie, which will probably have a nice 9-figure budget. He was also in Silver Linings Playbook, a movie so good that it completely caught me off guard and made $236+ million on a budget of $21 million.

Hollywood – do more of that, less superhero junk. Or reboot Superman for the fourth time, I don’t care.

WrestleMania
So if you’ve read my blog, you know that I am a recovering wrestling addict. A Jerichoholic, if you will. I hopped on board for Daniel Bryan last summer, quit cold turkey in the fall and then fell off the wagon for the Royal Rumble, only to be horribly disappointed. It’s been a real fun few months.

No matter my interest level in pro wrestling during a particular year, I would always order and watch WrestleMania. It’s like the person who only watches the Super Bowl or only care about college basketball in March – it’s part of the ritual.

WrestleMania, though, has become a drag. It used to be the climax to big shows and the “blowoff” for many feuds. Think Hulk Hogan slamming Andre the Giant, the Mega Powers exploding or Stone Cold Steve Austin winning his first WWF title. These were iconic, legendary moments in the history of pro wrestling.

But since 2007, the event has been held exclusively in domes or stadium and that feeling has been replaced by bloated excess. The Rock and John Cena wrestled at WrestleMania 28, which was dubbed “Once in a Lifetime” and they proceeded to wrestle again at WrestleMania 29. The headline matches feature part-timers like The Rock, Brock Lesnar, Undertaker and Triple H who show up for one big match and then disappear for months.

It’s also a chore to sit through – much like my blog posts at time – as it lasts four hours, featuring annoying filler, commercials on a pay-per-view and long entrances that eat up more time than the wrestling.

I’d say pass on ordering the show but the WWE Network means most fans will watch like sheep anyway.

Family Guy
Was I high all the time? How did I like this show? I’m not talking about the dreck they trot out every week now, I mean back in the day when I really loved Family Guy and was excited for it to return.

What exactly made me think the show was funny? The South Park guys were so dead-on about the manatee jokes that it’s painful to watch an old episode and realize that I thought that was high comedy. A collection of meaningless jokes and no plots worth remembering? I think we were distracted by the talking dog and evil baby to focus on how brutal the show actually was.

When people try to defend American pop culture, just point at Family Guy and they’ve lost the argument.

Hangovers
This implies that I used to like hangovers. I didn’t. But, except in rarest and most tequila-est of situations, they didn’t bother me. When I was a daily newspaper reporter, it was almost a badge of honor. You cover a town meeting at night, drink a few beers, go to bed past midnight, wake up by 5am to get the paper out by 11am and cap it off will a well-earned afternoon nap. What a life.

Now? If I have four beers on a Wednesday night, I spend all of Thursday wanted to chop my head off and deposit it in a dumpster. What is wrong with me? Every hangover turns into a battle between good and evil as I do anything I can to subdue the horrible pounding in my brain. Am I old or do I need to drink more?

Jennifer Lawrence
Stop falling over. Stop acting overwhelmed when you win an award for the 14th time. And don’t badmouth Fashion Police when your looks attribute to 99.6% of your celebrity.

The NFL Draft
I used to love this as a kid. I used to love this ten years ago. I was okay with it about five years ago.

In 2014, I want the NFL Draft to be tossed into a vat of hot lava and go away forever. The event itself is okay, if hopelessly bloated and overproduced – kind of like WrestleMania.

But it is the leadup and previews on ESPN for months on end that have ruined the experience for me. I get it, the NFL is too big to fail and Roger Goodell does no wrong even if he’s a modern-day tyrant. I just don’t care about Johnny Football that much. It’s too much. Make it stop. Make it go away.

Bill Simmons
The first time I read Bill Simmons was a lot like finding Jesus – I guess – and it’s appropriate since it was about Roger Clemens being the anti-Christ. As a Mets fan in 2001, shortly after Clemens threw a bat at Mike Piazza in a steroid rage, I was on board with every word. I was a fan of Bill’s style, which eventually came to influence a generation of sports bloggers. Whether this is good or bad, you can decide for yourself. But at least I’ve cleansed myself of his annoying adherence to dropping one dated pop culture reference per 250 words.

Simmons has grown past being a blogger. He runs Grantland.com, which is successful if annoying in that “smelling your own farts” way. He came up with the ESPN 30 for 30 concept, even if that has lost steam. Generally, he’s been more good than bad. As long as we discount his penchant for nerdy, inside baseball NBA columns that are about 6,000 words too long.

Overall, he has just become repetitive. The same things, the same lines, the same jokes over and over. Much like the Rick Reilly he enjoys mocking, he’s become a parody of himself. The coup de grace came in the past week when he posted two email exchanges with fellow Grantland writers. Is that what passes for writing these days?

patrick ewing big east
The Big East
Holy shit, can we move on? I’m a UConn fan and I miss the Big East as much as anyone but I miss it because it meant UConn was in a major conference. The American is almost but not quite there despite its surprising success in year one.

But good lord, the tributes to the Big East over the past year are the epitome of looking through everything with rose-colored glasses. As the new Big East has discovered – no one gives a crap about the basketball schools. A Georgetown/Villanova game on Fox Sports 1 drew 74,000 viewers! That would have made it the lowest rated program on ESPN for the week, by about 100,000 viewers.

The notion that football killed the Big East is hysterical. Basketball killed the conference because they kept trying to appease schools like Providence and Seton Hall that don’t mean jack or shit in today’s sports world.

As for ESPN’s 30 for 30 on the conference? I’m boycotting it on principle. Why is the Big East gone? Because ESPN killed it! They set out to destroy the conference so they now have five major football conferences to pay for, instead of six. It was a shrewd business decision. It saves them a ton of money every year.

But please, spare me the constant flashbacks to 1985. If the Big East was so great, it’d still be around. You know, because of capitalism and stuff. But it’s not because it wasn’t that great. UConn beating the crap out of Houston in basketball feels a lot like UConn beating the crap out of Providence in basketball.

Jeans
In high school, I tried to be contrarian and not wear jeans. Since I was a nerdy kid, a year younger because I skipped a grade, who had failed to hit puberty while being the best golfer on the team – it was the opposite of good look.

Eventually, puberty hit, I matured and I started to wear jeans. I was a normal boy!

Today? I’m not a huge fan of jeans and, in fact, I never really have. I have exceptionally big thighs – some would say muscular. I like to say everything below the waist is huge. Regardless, jeans don’t work for me. No matter the fit, my thighs mean jeans are tight on me. When I was younger, this didn’t bother me. Now, it annoys me to no end.

It’s a sign of my advancing age that I’m more comfortable in my work clothes – khakis or a suit – than my jeans. But in reality, I would just like to walk around in my active wear for every second of every day. I should’ve been a mobster.

Ellen DeGeneres
Yeah, I used to like Ellen. My first newspaper job had me home most afternoons and Ellen was a nice diversion. Her talk show was different, and sort of still is, from the rest and stood out for its fun. She was quirky and funny. It was a cute vibe.

But after the Oscars, I never want to see Ellen DeGeneres again. Taking a selfie with celebrities and begging for retweets was pretty much rock bottom for our popular culture, considering it was basically just an ad for Samsung.

When your biggest comedy bit is giving pizza to movie stars – you need new material.

Sex
Just kidding, sex is still awesome. 

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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

College Football’s Attendance Problem is the Sport, not the Fans

College football has an attendance problem. And no one can figure out why.

It doesn’t make sense, right? College football is more popular than ever, neck and neck with the NBA as the second-most popular sport on television. The Big Ten Network revealed the power of the fan, as distribution battles were won so legends and leaders could pad their wallets. The Pac-12 jumped in, with less success. The SEC Network is about to launch as a future ATM machine for 14 universities.

college football playoff fans
The game is covered extensively online. The sport is dissected on Twitter every second of every day. A debate about the speed of offenses can dominate national headlines in the dead of winter. Signing day has become a national holiday.

In short, the college football fan is absolutely and hopelessly addicted to college football.

So why aren’t they all showing up to games? How in this era of unprecedented growth, an upcoming college football playoff and unmatched scoring are people staying away?

The problem manifests itself in how I phrased those two questions – and how college administrators and other writers are looking at the problem. It’s about they. What’s wrong with them?

The customer is always right, right? Not in college football.

The theories floated about the attendance decline all focus in on the fans and students. Some believe they are too into social media. Some have posited that college kids just don’t like college football as much as they used. Or they just want to get wasted. Others think the poor Wi-Fi at stadiums keeps younger fans away. Is pace of play a factor?

All of these factors play into the exalted “game day experience” that teams and franchises like to trot out as a way to entice people to come to the stadium. They promise better food, they promise better beverages, they promise better Wi-Fi, they promise a better experience – all in the hopes of you attending a sporting event.

No one has ever bought a ticket for a Georgia football because of better Wi-Fi access. No Maryland student was ever enticed to stay past halftime because the food selection improved.

In pro wrestling, they call it “being a draw” – why did you buy your ticket? If you’ve gone to a WWE show in the past 10-15 years, you’ll notice the pyro has expanded and the noises are louder and the screens are bigger. This all enhances the experience. But no one has ever bought a WWE ticket to watch fireworks. They buy a ticket because they love Daniel Bryan or hate John Cena.

What draws people – and students – to a college football game has changed. Just placing the pigskin on the tee no long ensures a sellout.

College football used to be able to sell an experience and the draw, as it were, was simply the sport and the notion that you were supporting your school. It was less a sporting event and more a matter of civic pride. In 1986, there was no BCS and no billion dollar contracts. Hell, there wasn’t even a true national champion. I remember as a six year-old, celebrating with my Domer Dad after Notre Dame won the 1988 national title. But as they celebrated on the Sun Devil Stadium turf, the announcers were quick to point out they won a “mythical” national title.

Fast forward a quarter-century and college football has changed. Mostly, the BCS came in and ruined everything, starting in year one. I will never forget the 1998 season-ending game between UCLA and Miami, both for its pure awesomeness and pure weirdness.

The Arizona football team, wanting to play in its first Rose Bowl ever, was rooting for their conference rival to win so they would play in the Fiesta Bowl, serving as the first BCS title game. Read that sentence again and you understand the bizarre world we entered.

Things only became stranger when UCLA lost to Miami and the Rose Bowl – the Granddaddy of Them All – was their consolation prize. UCLA did not want to play in the game that had been its ultimate goal for the previous 50 years.

The BCS continued to put so much focus on the top teams and the national championship that everything else lost meaning. Alabama has played twice in the Sugar Bowl when they would rather be anywhere else in the world. Florida – the fans and the team – didn’t show up to the 2013 Sugar Bowl. Oregon players openly revolted against the idea of playing in another Rose Bowl during the 2013 season, before karma nabbed them.

College football is no longer an athletic pursuit. College football is now a business. College football is a pro sport where the players don’t get paid.

The leaders can wax poetically about Ohio State/Michigan, the Iron Bowl and Notre Dame Stadium, but it is now about neutral-site games in JerryWorld, conference championship games and television inventory.

This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it completely changes the dynamic of how people root for their teams. Wins and losses matter more. Wins and losses mean everything.

And that is college football’s attendance problem – the sport is now being treated like its pro counterparts.

maryland fans suck
I live in Washington, D.C., about two blocks from the Verizon Center. People don’t blindly show up to support the Capitals and Wizards on a nightly basis. They have to win – and that’s all they have to do – to get people through the turnstiles. The halftime entertainment, the giveaways, the food – it doesn’t matter. More people watch the Wizards when they’re above .500 as opposed to when they’re under .500, unless the opposing team features LeBron or Kevin Durant.

That is the new reality that college football programs, and college presidents, need to accept. If you have an attendance problem, it’s because your team isn’t winning enough. As a Jets fan, I’ll accept 9-7 more than, say, a Patriots fan would. A Georgia fan is going to look at 8-4 a whole lot differently than a Minnesota fan would.

I’m a UConn season ticket holder. When Randy Edsall had the team competing for championships, the Rent’s student section was packed and loud almost every week, except for the I-AA creampuff on the schedule. When Coach Gramps was embarrassing himself on a weekly basis, the Rent was empty and sad.

Scheduling helps the attendance problem – you cannot expect people to pay up and show up for a glorified scrimmage and maybe a 13-game schedule would help that. But that is not the root cause of the problem.

The attendance problem is based now solely on wins and losses. It will only get worse when a 10-2 Oklahoma team is out of the running for a playoff spot, in the running for a Cotton Bowl spot and the students continue to show how much they care by not showing up. It’s playoffs or bust – just like in the NFL.

No one in college athletics wants to hear that because that’s the only thing they can’t control. But hey, here’s a hashtag and better Wi-Fi!

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Monday, March 10, 2014

Rushing the Court: If It Feels Good, Do It

Late Saturday night on the East Coast, San Diego State and New Mexico were locked in, well, let’s politely call it a defensive struggle. The two were battling – quite literally – for the regular season Mountain West Conference crown.

It was the type of game that without any stakes involved would necessitate a channel change. But it was a game for a championship. And there were real, genuine emotions involved between two NCAA Tournament-bound teams.

Alas, the favored Aztecs were down 41-25 with about 12 minutes to go and, like many others, I was ready to change the channel and move on with my life. But San Diego State wouldn’t go away. They kept clawing back. They threw in a 1-3-1 zone out of nowhere. They went on a 19-1 run. They won the game. They won the Mountain West regular season title. Their fans stormed the court.

Uh-oh. A court storming?

Sure enough, I read a tweet like this one the next morning: “Wait, they rushed the court at San Diego State? For a win by the No. 10 team over the No. 21 team? What am I missing there?”

rushing the court goodI am picking on him because I was following him and immediately unfollowed per my rule that I unfollow any sportswriter that complains about college kids rushing the floor. And what is he missing? The ability to enjoy sports.

This hit critical mass in late February, when North Carolina pulled off a huge win at home against Duke and the prevailing wisdom was, like this tweet, “You storm the court, that means you're putting your opponent -- in this case your hated rival -- on a pedestal. FAIL!”

When did this become a thing? When did sportswriters get to decide when college kids should or should not have fun?

It is sadly indicative of a larger problem within the context of reporters using social media where they believe they know more than anyone else and their opinion carries a greater weight. In particular, that they get to decide what is wrong and what is right with the sports world.

At the end of the day – who cares? Who cares that some 40-something sportswriter believes there are unwritten rules for when college kids should rush the floor?

This is not a problem unique to college basketball, as college football fans have come under fire at times for a field rush. As if you are only allowed to celebrate a huge victory in that way if you go to certain school or beat a certain opponent.

Who makes up these rules? Why can Nebraska fans rush the court after beating Wisconsin but San Diego State fans can’t? Why can Maryland fans – in the midst of a horribly disappointing season – get the rush the floor but North Carolina fans – in the midst of a remarkable season of overcoming adversity – cannot?

This is a long-winded saying that the rushing the court debate should go the way of the dodo bird and never be discussed again. Why should we discourage fans from having fun?

It’s remarkable that in an era when college administrators are struggling with attendance from students, that sportswriters go out of their way and appear to take such glee in boarding their high horse and looking down their nose at students.

There are some who believe the rushing the court could pose a safety problem. Remember, most field storms in college football used to involve tearing down the goal posts until injuries took that mostly off limits. No one seems to mind.

If we find that rushing the court results in injuries – safety is frequently cited as a concern without any evidence – than maybe it would be time to ban all court stormings. No one would like that but no one like to see people pointlessly getting hurt.

But as we stand in 2014, there is no reason to stop college kids and fans from rushing the court. They do not need to answer to old men who haven’t been a college student in a generation, nor should they listen to me, a mere decade out of a college.

No, college students should heed the advice of Sigmund Freud. When it comes to rushing the court, you’ll know when the moment is right. Your fellow fans and students will give you the cue. When the buzzer sounds and your team wins a big game in spectacular fashion – whether you’re rooting for Maryland, UNC or North Dakota State – you’ll begin the sprint to half-court.


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