Tuesday, March 15, 2011


When I began writing this blog, I decided I would avoid politics,  figuring that, No. 1, nobody would really care what I thought about what was going on in Washington and elsewhere and, No. 2, there are plenty of other blogs out there on politics already.

So what I am about to write here shouldn’t be looked at in as a political statement because it’s not intended as such.

The news was out today (Tuesday) that President Obama is working on picking games for his NCAA basketball tournament bracket.

My comment is this:

Doesn’t he have more important things to do?

I know you can’t be in crisis mode 24/7, but I just think that with everything that is going on -- earthquakes, tsunamis, Iran, Afghanistan, the budget, gas prices, Egypt, Libya, etc., etc., -- he may have some more important things to tend to.

Picking out the winners of 67 basketball games takes time if you want to do it right, and if you don’t want to take the time, or can’t, then don’t bother me with your picks.

Come to think of it, I don’t even care about the picks of so-called experts on ESPN, ESPNU, CBS College Sports, newspapers, etc. I used to pick games for the newspapers both in football and basketball, but, really, they didn’t matter anything.
One time one of the members of our picking panel for college football games approached the subject with such disdain he would do things like pick all home teams one week, all visiting teams the next, against all the local teams the next, all underdogs, all favorites, and whatever other system he could come up with.

I did learn one thing though, and that was that many readers apparently were paying attention to our picks because every once in a while someone would ask me what in the world was going through his mind.

So, to get back to Obama, I really don’t care what his NCAA tourney picks are this year and didn’t care last year, when he failed to get any of the Final Four teams right. (Hey, who saw Butler coming?)

But apparently many people do. Obama’s NCAA picks are getting as much coverage as -- well, let me leave it at that. They’re getting coverage. Going beyond that is bordering on being political.

To me, what this shows is just how big the NCAA tournament and the “March Madness” it created have become. According to some folks, a lot of work doesn’t get done this month because of all the time people are spending working on their brackets for the office pools and then watching the games.

This week in particular is a busy schedule of games. The first ones are tonight, but these are play-in games created the when the field was bumped up to 68 teams from the more manageable 64 teams. (OK, 65 teams in recent years.) The pace really picks up on Thursday and Friday when games start at noon (Eastern time) and continue all day.

The regionals the following week are at night on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and the Final Four is on a Saturday and Monday.

No other championship sporting event I can think of -- and I can think of a lot of them -- maintains such an intense level of interest over such a long period of time.

Yes, the NBA playoffs go into the summer, but with teams having to win four games to win a series, there isn’t the drama of the one-loss-and-you’re-out scenario.

Super Bowl? One game, with the preliminaries leading up to it spaced neatly a week apart.

World Series? Over in ten days or less.

BCS Championship? Over in one night.

Stanley Cup? You can’t be serious.

I first became aware of the NCAA tourney back in the 1950s when I started watching Indiana University games on my grandparents’ snowy, black-and-white TV. I never saw the Hoosiers in any tournament games, but I knew they won the 1953 national championship.

It wasn’t until the 1960s, when I was in college myself, that I was able to watch an NCAA games on TV. Back then, though, TV fit its schedule to the schedule at the site of the game. Thus in 1965, after cover the Indiana high school basketball tournament finals for my newspaper, I went to a friend’s place to catch the UCLA-Michigan game on TV later that night. The game was being played in Portland, Oregon, so it didn’t start until late at night.

In later years, TV took to showing one of the national semifinal games, which then were played on Thursday nights, the emphasis being on one. The game would end, the announcers would make some commentary, and in the background you would see the UCLA team coming onto the floor for warmups for the second semifinal as the network signed off.

It would usually be the next day before you would learn who had won, which was usually UCLA at that time.

I’m not sure what year it was, but sometime in the early 1970s the NCAA switched the format so that semifinal games would be played on Saturday afternoon. TV could then show both, but not in prime time. The final game was on Monday night.

Interest has grown so much that now the semifinal games are played in prime time on Saturday night.

I’m not sure exactly when the big growth spurt came in the tournament, but it was sometime in the late 1970s.

I remember covering the 1975 Final Four in San Diego, and the NCAA provided a two-room hotel suite with an outdoor patio for a hospitality room. The NCAA folks pretty much knew who we all were, and we got our own beers out of a bathtub filled with ice.

After a two-year absence, I was back to the Final Four in 1978, and the hospitality suite was a big hotel ballroom complete with bartenders and a buffet for pre- and post-game meals. Some sort of ID was required for admittance.

I haven’t been back to the Final Four in quite a few years now, but I don’t think much as changed. Records show that more people started paying attention nationally in 1979, when Michigan State’s Magic Johnson and Indiana State’s Larry Bird drew a record TV audience for their matchup. The number of viewers for their duel remains a viewership record for a national championship game more than three decades later.

The potential for that record to be broken this year probably isn’t very good. For as high as the interest in the tournament is at the start of the event, the fervor begins to fade as more and more fans’ favorites are eliminated from the field. Especially if Duke doesn’t make it to the Final Four, there’s no team really for everyone to root against to draw in viewers. (Ohio State notwithstanding.)

But no matter.

Sometimes I think maybe the tournament has grown too big and it was more fun when you had to go through a TV scavenger hunt to find it at the right time and channel. OK, that’s stretching it a bit.

But in any case it doesn’t deserve presidential attention.

And that's not a political matter in my book.


  1. As Jonah Goldberg wrote so succinctly, Obama isn't a president who plays golf, but a golfer playing president. Making his tournament picks is just one more thing to do rather than doing the job we hired him for. At least he had to come out from under his desk for a minute or two.

  2. I couldn't agree more. One question: Why is your font size so small on this post? Brilliance like yours should be able to be seen for miles.

  3. I'll try to increase the type size. Every time I hit a command, it goes back to this size.