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What we have here is a failure to excommunicate.
Since the start of the NCAA Tournament, for all the time and talk invested by both CBS and the Turner networks, neither has found the time or inclination to tell the story of coach Kelvin Sampson, whose Houston Cougars play Baylor on Saturday to reach Monday night’s championship.
It’s a significant story, but the kind TV avoids despite the billions TV pays for the privilege of televising NCAA games.
From 2002-08, Sampson was entrusted to three important positions. The past two were as Indiana’s head coach and the chairman of a National Association of Basketball Coaches ethics committee.
But while at IU he was found to have violated even the minimum standards of ethics, violations in the form of more than 100 illegal contacts with recruits followed by lying to NCAA investigators who’d picked up his scent.
That scent was familiar. At the time, Sampson was on probation for similar violations committed while the coach of Oklahoma, which made his selection as the head of the NABC’s ethics panel that much more curious.
Then again, those annual no-show courses — A’s for all! — to ensure academic eligibility for North Carolina sports recruits was the work of a woman who headed UNC’s department of ethical standards.
Anyway, in 2008, the NCAA could issue Sampson no more breaks. He was nailed with a five-year ban from having anything to do with an NCAA school. Sampson took a $750,000 buyout from Indiana — big time sports colleges are generous to those who leave their programs in disrepute — and headed off to be an NBA assistant coach.
And now, his NCAA sentence served, he’s the head coach of Houston. Receiving accolades, especially throughout the tournament, as a miracle worker, his career as a cheater ignored, left unspoken as per TV’s inability to note indisputable, ugly truths.
That was particularly disappointing Monday, as the reunited Nets’/YES duo of Ian Eagle and Jim Spanarkel, given TV’s college football and basketball standards, called an honest, alert Houston-Oregon State game.
Eagle candidly noted transfer players, foreign imports and JUCO recruits on the floor. Like most Division I games, the rosters were packed with transient “student-athletes.” Eagle even noted that Oregon State’s Canadian import, 6-foot-10 Maurice Calloo, was “dismissed from Oklahoma State.” Eagle didn’t say why, but Calloo was dumped for what was called vandalism — the damage of cars with a BB gun — then committed to Cleveland State before accepting Oregon State’s invite.
But again, Eagle left the do-the-math clear impression — clear impression is like “more transparent” as opposed to the truth — that winning at all and any costs is rewarded by the NCAA Tournament.
Spanarkel was what Spanarkel does. He’s a master of understated, applicable basketball sense, noting early that Houston is the kind of team that can shoot poorly but still win by doing the “other things,” specifically offensive rebounding.
Bingo. Houston would shoot 32 percent to Oregon State’s 47 percent, but won by six due to 19 offensive boards to OSU’s seven. And Spanarkel nailed the essence of this game long before halftime.
It figures that TV execs don’t realize that Spanarkel doesn’t have to shout or spit gimmicky idioms to be heard — and thoroughly appreciated. For crying out loud, YES dumped him!
Still, the Kelvin Sampson magical mystery tour resumes Saturday evening on CBS. The odds that there even a hint will be spoken that Sampson has traveled a long, crooked road to reach this Final Four are long. Promo code: Fat Chance.
No honorific replays for helping hands
At least twice during this NCAA Tournament, a player has reached down to help an opponent to his feet. Both times, a TV voice mentioned, as if pleasantly surprised, that we just witnessed “good sportsmanship.”
Yet, neither of these scenes made the cut in slow-motion replays en route to commercial or within brief taped “highlights.”
On the other hand, Gonzaga forward Drew Timme has regularly acted like an immodest, all-about-me fool. And because TV habitually and thoughtlessly rewards such conduct, Timme’s selfish, unsportsmanlike conduct was given the “We love it!” slo-mo replay treatment.
In a team game, what’s the message? What’s the upside? You tell me.
Watching some of these big-ticket college coaches’ crunch-time decisions is like watching MLB managers pull effective pitchers in search of one to blow the game.
Perhaps the most famous play in NCAA Tournament history — Christain Laettner’s overtime buzzer beater to top Rick Pitino’s Kentucky team in 1992 — became a highly instructive play as Pitino chose not to guard Duke’s Grant Hill as he threw a near length-of-the court inbounds pass to Laettner.
Such a pass would have been nearly impossible had Pitino defended it with a jumping, arms-waving tall defender. Instead, he gave Duke unimpeded, unobstructed sight lines. The rest is history, as yet unrevised. Surely it would never happen again.
Except it did.
Saturday night on TBS, when Arkansas coach Eric Musselman — with 3.1 seconds left, up two and given two consecutive timeouts to get it straight — left the in-bounder unguarded. A long pass was caught on the run by Oral Roberts’ Max Abmas, who quickly dribbled to a reasonable distance.
Abmas’s shot hit the rim, but it was only by a matter of an inch that Musselman escaped repeat infamy. Again, such an accurate inbounds pass would have been close to impossible against a jumping, arms-waving defender.
On TBS, “Hollerin’” Kevin Harlan — no surprise — and the usually sharp Dan Bonner — surprise — missed both Musselman’s decision and its historical significance. Stunning.
400M reasons Pete is tone deaf
The more Pete “LFGM” Alonso sounds off, the more I’m convinced he should say nothing — or at least think a little deeper before speaking.
With the nation in economic peril due to COVID layoffs and business closings, his spew that the Mets should pay Francisco Lindor at least $400 million was nauseating, a self-indictment of his own dearth of a wider awareness.
That such obscene salary numbers — $340 million and up — even became public at such a time was bad enough.
By the way, how many players of any pro sports would quit if they were only allowed to make, say, $2 million per year?
On the subject of public awareness, actor/loudmouth Michael Rapaport has long acted like an attention-starved boob, but the vulgar, misogynistic reply he drew from Kevin Durant, college man (Texas), were enough to have any person summarily fired from their place of employment.
Or are we not supposed to expect better from Durant.
Fox’s big-name, expensive Saturday MLB studio show — starring forced-laughter regulars Alex Rodriguez, Frank Thomas, David Ortiz and Dontrelle Willis — again promises to be both a waste of time and money.
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