One Shining Moment?

The Politics of Dancing

This is the time of year where if you want me to come and hang out with you, it had better be at a sports bar and you might want to plan to be there all day.

As the picture above would indicate, it is March Madness time, or for those of you who don’t follow college basketball, it is time for the NCAA Men’s (and Women’s) Basketball Championships. The group pictured above are the champions of the Atlantic 10 Conference, the Owls of Temple University.

(Did I sound like CBS commentator Greg Gumbel when I said that or what?)

Like millions of folks, I’ll be seated in front of my television set for most of this weekend looking at the bountiful cornucopia of basketball that will be dancing in front of me during the men’s and women’s tournaments. I love college basketball because it’s something that even if you aren’t a real rah-rah kind of person when it comes to your alma mater, you can really get into.

Now I know that some of you are looking at this and saying “While I can understand that she’s happy that her alma mater, Temple, got into the tournament, there’s nothing political about NCAA Basketball, so why is she writing about it?”

Because, surprise, there are politics involved.

For one thing, there are going to be millions and millions of dollars made on the concessions, tickets, television rights, and everything else connected to this tournament.

The colleges involved, in fact the entire NCAA, will be getting the kinds of cash that most non-profits would kill for. I’m pretty sure that Temple will get the kind of ducats that will help them build the new library, or at least keep tuition costs from flying even further through the roof. Coaches Fran Dunphy and Tanya Cardoza may even get raises for their hard work.

But what will the men and women who will actually be playing these games get from the hard work they put in to make March Madness the tournament it is?

If you said not a damned thing, you’re absolutely right. Sure they get a basketball scholarship to their various colleges, but when you compare it to the millions and millions of dollars made on the tournament, it’s less than a drop in the bucket.

But you know what really, really makes me scratch my head when it comes to this stuff? No one thinks that these athletes should be paid, yet because of NCAA rules, they can’t get summer jobs (or any jobs) either.

So what do they do for money? Leave college early, in most cases without a degree. All this does is put these kids one blown knee away from oblivion.

Someone in the NCAA needs to ask themselves what they’d want done if they were in this situation. Either let them work or give them a few bucks of the tournament money so they can actually utilize that college scholarship you gave them to get a degree. You shouldn’t be able to have it both ways.

But now that we’ve talked about money, let’s talk about who actually gets into the round of 65 that is the NCAA Tournament. According to the folks at CBS Sports, the so-called “power” conferences took up the bulk of the 65 slots, while the so-called “mid-majors” got a few crumbs.

And those mid-majors had to win their conference tournaments to get in, while schools like Syracuse, Villanova, Maryland and Minnesota were able to get in based on their membership in the Big East, Atlantic Coast, and Big Ten Conferences. To make it so bad, Temple, who had a really good year and won their conference in both the regular season and the tournament, ended up a five-seed, when they had a better record and strength of schedule than some of the folks who got two or three seeds.

If that ain’t political, you tell me what is.

While I’d love to see the NCAA treat folks like Temple, who plays one of the most brutal out of conference schedules I’ve ever seen because it regularly includes folks like Kansas, Duke and Villanova, a little better, I know it’s not going to happen. The big conferences rule the day.

But while the Temple men, and other mid-major basketball conference men’s teams get absolutely no love, it could be worse.

They could be women’s collegiate basketball players.

I love watching women’s basketball. It’s a better game than the men’s game because it’s not all about showy dunks, flashy passes and other stuff that doesn’t really add to the game.

Yet unless you’re looking for it, you won’t see the women’s game. It’s as if the NCAA views it as an afterthought, which it probably does because the only reason it exists is because Title IX, the rule that makes colleges provide equitable collegiate sporting experiences for both men and women, still exists.

Not that folks aren’t trying every day to get rid of it. Because colleges have decided to implement Title IX by getting rid of things like wrestling, men’s gymnastics and men’s swimming, men’s advocacy groups have invested loads of money and time in getting Title IX repealed.

(Granted, they could get enough money for everyone’s sporting programs if they would just make college football programs remember where they’re located, but no one wants to talk about that. Could you imagine how many women’s sports programs a few million from the Penn State football program could fund? The football program probably wouldn’t even miss it!)

So while I intend on fully enjoying Temple, Ohio State (another place where I went to college) and Kentucky (the alma mater of most of my cousins)as they make their way through the tournament, I’m going to do so with the knowledge that these kids deserve more than they’re getting.

My hope is that one of these years they actually get it.