Friday, April 23, 2010

Please Read The Bottom Line

Little Miss TigerBlog had an eye test at school awhile ago. Because she knew her eyes were bad, she attempted to avoid failing the test and getting glasses by memorizing the letters across the chart before being asked to recite them.

She confessed to this little trick as the blackboard became blurrier and blurrier, and so it was off to the eye doctor. Turns out she's nearsighted.

TigerBlog managed to make it to his late 30s before he needed glasses, and he remembers first getting them on a day Princeton played Cornell in basketball at Jadwin Gym. That night at the game, he was somewhat shocked that so few people noticed his glasses. When TB pointed out that they were new, most said they thought he'd had them for years.

TB is now a glasses veteran, though he's never gone down the contact lenses road. It's not for him; TB could never touch his own eyeball. Maybe LMTB will want the lenses at one point. For now, she's going to be stuck with her glasses, which are burgundy.

TigerBlog's eye doctor insists that glasses don't make your eyes get worse. In that case, it must be age, as TB is slightly past his late 30s now and his eyes have gotten steadily worse through the years.

Having said that, TB thought he might not be seeing accurately when he saw that the television rights to the NCAA men's basketball tournament went to CBS and Turner Broadcasting (which includes TBS and TNT) for $10.8 billion through 2024.

That's $10,800,000,000. That's a lot of money.

Also, it appears that the tournament will expand, at least at first, to 68 teams, though TB didn't see how that would work. Four play-in games? And will it eventually reach 96 teams?

So where to start? Well, TB checked out the reader comments under the ESPN version of the story, and many of those made reference to how the NCAA was able to do this so quickly with men's basketball but can't figure out how to get a football playoff done. This is a common misconception, but the NCAA is not in charge of big-time Division I football. The BCS is not run by the NCAA; the member schools have gone outside the NCAA for that.

But hey, that's not really what we're talking about here.

There was a time when the idea of including a cable network in such a major sporting event would have been unthinkable. Today? It's almost the opposite. CBS is channel 2 on TB's cable box; TBS is channel 64. Who cares that one is a traditional network and the other is a cable network? Especially when they can each have a different game on and that every game can be seen.

As for the expanded field, TB's okay with four play-in games, though he'd love to see them be for the last four at-large spots, not automatic bid spots. In other words, the play-in games wouldn't be for the No. 16 seeds to play the No. 1s; they'd be, say, Minnesota-Arkansas for the chance to the No. 11 seed.

The NCAA is in a tough spot when it comes to its men's basketball tournament. On the one hand, it has probably the most well-received event in American sports that isn't called "The Super Bowl" and so the inclination isn't to mess with it. The tournament fits perfectly into its three-week blocks, and the way the conference tournaments and selection show play into it are tremendous as well.

On the other hand, the NCAA does have a responsibility to see if it can be improved. But at what risk? Ruining the flow of the event? Further devaluation of the regular season?

Then there's the money. What's the NCAA supposed to do, turn it down? Of course not.

And NCAA tournament money pays for all kinds of things that fans never see, things that are vital to the operation of athletic departments throughout the country. In many ways, it's a noble use of the money, often to support non-profitable teams or initiatives far away from the spotlight.

And, of course, there is the obligatory "on the other hand," which in this case is the fact that NCAA can't help but look like a money-grubbing organization that is placing big dollars in front of education. An expanded tournament would equal more missed class time, and the NCAA will seem like that is an afterthought.

TigerBlog has said it many times, but intercollegiate athletics isn't about big-time football and men's basketball. It's not about athletes who are preparing to be professionals in their sport. That's why TB loves the "we're going pro in something other than sports" ads. They're perfect.

Here at Princeton, there are 38 sports and 1,000 athletes. How many are going to end up as pros? A few hockey players. Maybe a baseball player or two. Maybe a football player or two. Maybe, what, 10 per decade total?

And yes Ivy League athletes are all affected by the NCAA tournament basketball money that is brought in, largely in ways they don't even realize. But they're not beholden to it.

In other words, it's a great balance here - and to be honest in almost all of college athletics. Princeton has teams and athletes that compete on the highest intercollegiate level across a great variety of sports, and yet they continue to do so outside of the corrupting sphere that the money can bring. At the same time, they also benefit from it.

The story about the new basketball deal reaffirmed for TB that there is something different about athletics at Princeton and in the Ivy League, with the commitment to broadbased participation coupled with the desire to excel in all of those sports.

As for the NCAA, it's not in an easy public relations spot right now, but the $10.8 billion helps ease that pain.

As for Little Miss TigerBlog, she looks cute in her glasses.

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