Why I'll Pass on March Madness
No, it's not because basketball is the sworn rival/enemy of our sport. Forget all that. Forget the images of guys flopping on the court in hopes of manipulating the official into a foul call. I actually like basketball and spent Summer after Summer playing pickup games with my friends. I enjoy the game both as a participant and a spectator at times.
However, I can hardly stomach March Madness. Coming off an amazing D1 Wrestling tournament, it's even harder to watch. Here's why I'll take our tournament over March Madness every day of the week.
NCAA basketball makes a complete and total mockery of being a "student athlete." The elite players or "one and done's" couldn't have lower academic expectations. If you are an elite talent a la Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins, etc and you know you're gone after this year here's what you need to do to be eligible for your team. Fall Semester: 6 credits (2 classes), they could be anything, cupcakes no doubt. Just be eligible after that semester and you're home free. Why? You don't have to even go to class in the Spring. Eligibility is semester to semester. By the time their Spring Semester concludes, you're signed with your agent and picking out a suit for Draft Day.
As we know a huge number of our guys are graduating, with many earning graduate degree's. It's not uncommon to see some of our biggest hammers on the mat earning Academic All American status as well.
How many world class guys do you get to see during the NCAA basketball tournament? When Kemba Walker was the most unstoppable player in the NCAA tournament a few years ago, leading UConn to a title, how did he follow up that run at the next level? He couldn't start. For the Bobcats. His story is not uncommon. The top pick from last year, Anthony Bennett can scarcely get minutes for the laughing stock that is the Cleveland Cavaliers. Why can't these guys get the draft picks right? Because the skill level is hysterically low.
It is not uncommon for final scores of these games to be buried low in the 60's or 70's. Don't believe the lie that that is because "these guys play defense." No, these guys just can't shoot. They can't score. David Taylor in 7 minutes can score more than some of these guys can in 40!
We see Logan Stieber beat Opan Sat. Who regularly goes toe to toe with our nation's elite. Who was Junior World Silver as a Freshman. Zain Retherford and Adam Coon: Cadet World Champions. When we watched Jordan Burroughs run through 165 his Senior year, we watched him wrestle with similar dominance to a World Title just a few months later. By the same token we saw Kyle Dake and Andrew Howe push Burroughs to the brink. Not long after Dake made NCAA history, he knocked off Denis Tsargush. Jake Herbert was World Silver just months after graduating from Northwestern. Jake Varner makes a World Team not long after his storied career at ISU came to an end.
I could go on and on. We get to see transcendent talent on a regular basis at NCAA's. Our guys are world class during college. We get to see a skill level unseen or unheard of in NCAA Basketball.
A senior still playing college basketball has virtually no future at the next level. Anyone still hanging around their campus past their 20th birthday is going to grab a degree before they put on an NBA uniform of any kind. These guys are not celebrated. In fact, many coaches won't hesitate to drop these guys to the end of the bench for the "upside" Freshman that just graduated high school. There is rarely a breakthrough senior. Certainly no elite talents in their Junior or Senior year. If they were elite, (or even close to it) they'd be gone before they even had to declare a major.
In wrestling our Juniors and Seniors often carry the flag for our sport: David Taylor, Ed Ruth, Chris Perry, Logan Stieber, Tony Ramos and Andrew Howe. These guys are amazingly skilled and the best of the best. Imagine if Tony Ramos "went pro" after his Freshman, round of 12 season. Would we know the stare? Would we know his intensity? Would we see the double rainbows after knocking off Oliver or pinning Conaway? He would have been a blip on the radar and gone before we got to know him. We develop relationships with these guys, we feel like we know them, they give real answers to questions. We get to see them go from borderline qualifiers to All Americans. From sitting on the bench their entire career to placing as a 6th year senior.
Let me know when College Basketball produces such a narrative.
Our sport produces role models and heroes for our up and coming generations. Guys like Anthony Robles and Kyle Dake. Hard workers with a fully functional moral compass. Basketball suggests that the school's are merely tools for the athletes to use for their own promotion. Education takes a back seat (or maybe gets tossed in the trunk) to the sport itself. The team is only as important as the things they can bring you down the line. That's what young basketball players are looking up to? Not good.
Our athletes coming out of high school aren't pampered and flown around the country on someone else's dime. They're not coached by sleaze balls in sweatsuits who assemble weekend all star squads for an isolated AAU tournament without holding a single practice. They're not on a team where if mommy and daddy don't like their son's playing time, they'll go to another team where they're sure to be courted by another sleaze ball coach in another sweatsuit. Even current college coaches frequently cite the newfound entitlement with these guys coming out of high school is among the bigger challenges in coaching College Basketball. These guys believe their own hype.
Jumping around from AAU team to AAU team begets jumping around from college to college. Transfer rates in college basketball have skyrocketed as of late. If the athlete is not getting the playing time they want or if (God forbid) the Coach isn't running the type of offense they prefer, they're out the door and into the comforting arms of a coddling, enabling coach who will use them just how they're mommy and daddy told them they should be. They don't fight through adversity, they avoid it. They look for the path of least resistance. Sound like a wrestler to you? I don't think so either.
I know that I may be painting a slightly broad stroke for what NCAA basketball is. I know there are hard working athletes and coaches out there who don't fit this particular description. I'm also not naive enough to believe there aren't some enabled, coddled and pampered wrestlers out there. Those guys are the exceptions. In college basketball, it's becoming the rule.
Believe me, I get it. These guys want to be in the NBA. They have to wait a year. college basketball provides an opportunity for them to showcase their talents.
Just don't expect me to believe the narrative that the NCAA, CBS and ESPN spoon feeds you: That these guys are doing it for the pure motivation of winning for their school, for the love of the game, or that these are truly the best of the best. If that's what you're looking for, you missed out on the greatest few days in March: The NCAA Wrestling Tournament.