The legendary Deep Throat told the Woodward-Bernstein Watergate bloodhounds to “follow the money” and they brought down the Dick Nixon presidency. Incredible, isn’t it, how tracing the treasure can explain so many things?
About this time every college basketball season I start re-regretting the loss of a onetime area holiday treat. Add the fact that hard-working youngsters are playing their tails off to win conference championships — knowing that a lucrative postseason tournament will knock a lot of luster off the notable feats they’ve been accomplishing for at least four months.
Let’s focus on the Big Eight-12 Conference about which we’re a little familiar. We currently have one of the most intriguing, entertaining league seasons you could imagine, with Kansas, Oklahoma and Missouri surefire NCAA tournament choices and everyone else fighting to get at least two more Big 12 clubs into the field of 65. Why should the top teams have to shadow-box through a postseason waltz, and why can’t final standings, tiebreakers, computers and such determine the fates of others?
Answer: The postseason tourneys produce buckets of bucks. The authorities contend that extra games are opportunity-makers for also-rans. Seems silly that Kansas and Oklahoma powerhouses which have done so well have to go out and try to prove again how good they are. Why the hell do they even play those 16 games just to open the door for exhaustion and prospects for injury with a national tournament lurking?
I love the attitude of Matt Kleinmann, the fifth-year Kansas senior whose goal is to be a part of five straight league title teams. Nobody has done that and he’s delighted. The incomparable Phog Allen always said he’d prefer league titles to a national crown because you live with the league people and gain notable stature from that.
First time I realized the impact of money in postseason tourneys was in 1953-54. The Atlantic Coast Conference set up its moneybags go-around; even a regular-season champion couldn’t go to the Big Dance unless it won the postseason tournament. North Carolina had to win three tourney games, an NCAA playoff with Yale and then two regional games to get to Kansas City to complete its 32-0 season in 1957, with Kansas the 54-53 triple-overtime victim.
The monetary writing was on the wall and before long other leagues started postseason cash-collectors. The old Big Seven-Eight Conference annually provided us with a Christmas holiday delight, a preseason tourney that people gobbled up with glee. Anyone who missed those Kansas City sessions, I feel awfully sorry for. Nothing now comes even close.
The local league tried to cut it both ways, preseason and postseason, in 1976-77, ’77-78 and ’78-79; after that it was all postseason. No matter how well any team plays in the regular season, it can be trashed by this extended caper. Why risk injuries?
Did I mention money? Just something else for which to resent the ACC and North Carolina.
The first NCAA meet (’39) sent finalist teams home with $100 each; Kansas and Indiana gained $750 apiece in 1940. Now every single NCAA game produces nearly $300,000 for each participant.
Add the loot the leagues lap up beforehand with those damned money-grubbing postseason tournaments. Is this really fair to the underpaid kids who generate all those greenbacks?