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First Downs and Second Guesses

Blog #155- March 2018

It's March.  So it must be March Madness time around the country.  You know there is parity in college basketball when you had Arizona State and Syracuse participating in a PLAY-IN game for the NCAA tournament.  Two big-time programs playing just for the opportunity to get into the tournament.  You gotta love it.

   Bruce Rasmussen is the athletic director at Creighton University and also the chair of the NCAA Division I Selection Committee.  When Nebraska was not chosen to play in the tournament, the Creighton haters among Husker fans started talking conspiracy theories about Rasmussen keeping the home-state Huskers out of the tournament.  Balderdash.  Rasmussen spoke in length on local radio that the Huskers were in the conversation deep into the selection process, but that their resume just wasn't strong enough in the end to merit an invitation to the Big Dance.  He cited losses to Illinois and Central Florida, plus the bad seasons experienced by Minnesota and Iowa as factors that played into the decision.  "Frankly, the Huskers were unlucky this year," Rasmussen said.  The Huskers then lost their NIT game to Mississippi State, a team they had beaten in a pre-season scrimmage.

   If Nebraska wanted to quibble about not being selected, Louisville, Oklahoma State, and Southern Cal also had arguing points.  All three teams had decent seasons, certainly good enough to be selected.  I'm wondering if the FBI investigation into bribery and other charges against those three schools played into the decision of the Selection Committee?  Rasmussen said the FBI investigation played no role in the decision.  We'll take him at his word.

   Arizona is another team mentioned in the FBI investigation.  An assistant coach was fired after his name was mentioned in the report.  In more astounding news, the FBI stated that they had Sean Miller, the head men's basketball coach at Arizona, on a wire-tap offering a player $100,000 to attend Arizona.  Miller denies the accusation.  The player named is also currently playing for the Wildcats.  And the team was selected to play in the tournament.  Again, Rasmussen said that the FBI investigation played no role in the selection of Arizona, and it's hard to argue with him.

    Omaha is hosting a Sweet 16/Elite 8 weekend on March 23 and March 25.  The city was chosen back in 2014 for that honor.  I believe it was a tribute to Rasmussen for his five years on the Selection Committee and as a thank-you for being the chair of the committee this year.  But it's no surprise, since Omaha has hosted first and second-round games for many years.  

     The surprise is that Omaha is hosting despite only an 18,000 seat arena.  All of the other Regional Finals locations are being played in bigger arenas.  It's a tribute to Omaha because the NCAA feels very comfortable running major athletic events in the city.  The Men's College World Series has been in Omaha since 1951.  The city has hosted NCAA Division I Volleyball Final Fours in the past.  The NCAA loves the city because the citizens of Omaha attend  these events even though the local team may not be playing.  That kind of loyalty gets rewarded. 

     It wouldn't be a good post season of college basketball without a little controversy.  Expect to read about more controversy as the tournament moves along, especially if Arizona and Michigan State keep advancing each round.  Michigan State is still reeling from the embarrassment of having employed Larry Nassar, the dishonored physician convicted of molesting hundreds of female gymnasts as a member of the U.S. Olympic program and as a physician at Michigan State.  

    Tom Izzo, the Spartan's head men's basketball coach, has also been accused of allowing a member of his coaching staff to remain in his position despite a sexual assault charge.  Izzo will be asked about that frequently by the press during the tournament.  Michigan State's president and athletic director resigned in the aftermath of Nassar's conviction.  The university is also litigating hundreds of lawsuits related to Nassar.  Look for Michigan State to try to deflect as much attention as possible.

     For basketball junkies, this is the best time of the year.  It's also a time of the year when controversy and controversial people in sport make the headlines.  Enjoy the games, but prepare yourself for lots of off-the-court drama as well.


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