Sunday, March 13, 2005

NCAA TOURNAMENT DECISION DAY; PLUS A WORD ABOUT THE CONTENDER

Today is the day they announce the field for the NCAA Tournament, as the final conference tournaments wrap up.

It is a day of nail-biting for teams on the fence. You can take a look at this article which provides a chart listing who's definitely in and who might be out. (UPDATE: They just announced the bracket).

I have always found the interest in college basketball by American fans a little confusing. Why the heck don't these people follow the NBA instead? They're better athletes. I think the reason the NCAA is so big has a lot to do with scheduling and geography. The NCAA's mad scramble for tournament positions and the whole NCAA Tournament takes place during the February-to-April sports ghetto when football is over and baseball has yet to begin. It has to do with geography in this way: in much of the United States there is absolutely nothing to do, not even any NBA or NHL teams, so in places like Cincinnati or Kansas City or Buffalo, or in Oklahoma or Iowa or Indiana or New Mexico or the Carolinas and Virginia, fans flock to NCAA basketball games because, historically, they really had no choice. It was either the NCAA or nothing for years, and they all kept up the habit in spite of NHL or NBA expansion.

Moreover, this period is the peak of the NCAA schedule: every game in every conference is important. The NCAA basketball season is ridiculously short (about 30 games), and the conference schedule is even shorter ( 16 games, give or take a few). Then after the regular season is over, each conference holds its postseason tournament, and the winner of THAT gets an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. And in most of these conferences pretty much everyone gets in to the conference tournament. It's worse than the NHL.

For the last several days we had the mad scramble of teams trying to win their conference tournaments, and that has all affected the rankings of all the teams and their RPIs and SOS (don't ask me what this all means). And there's wall-to-wall basketball on the tubes, and when the NCAA tournament gets underway for real we'll have 65 teams scrambling for the title. And it's a mad scramble with no-name schools from the middle of nowhere beating these big-name teams who were on TV all year. So just like in the NFL, everyone feels they have a chance so everyone watches.

Compare that to the NBA, where the regular season is ridiculously too long (82 games), there is no mad scramble for playoff positions, where the playoffs are long and boring and the same predictable teams win in the end anyway. Occasionally a team like the Pistons will win it all, but usually it's in the bag already for the Lakers or Spurs, or throughout the 90s, da BULLS. Booooring.

We'll be seeing nothing but basketball on CBS for three full weeks. That's why they moved Survivor to Wednesday: to make room for basketball. It promises to be absolute overkill. In fact, we get overkill from start to finish from CBS. First they don't call it The NCAA Tournament- they call it "March Madness", because they all profess to be surprised when some good team from the middle of nowhere wins (ie. Gonzaga- that's a really good example). And they talk about Bubble Teams, and when they advance they don't advance to Round Three, they advance to the " Sweet Sixteen." It's not the quarterfinals, it's the "Elite Eight." Then they have the "Final Four". The only tag line they missed was the "Terrific Two."

Every game is filled with melodrama and hype. We hear about all the hardship stories about relatives beating cancer or dropping dead during the season, and they always point their cameras to the crowd to get shots of the coach's wives, all nervous. During the tournament they hype up all these mediocrities like Danny Manning and Christian Laettner, big heroes in the NCAAs who go on to do nothing in the NBA. Then, after the final game they always play "One Shining Moment" and try and make you all misty-eyed.

It's worse than the Bachelor/ette. It's also worse than the Contender. The Contender is all about the families and the melodrama about these boxers when all they need to do is show the boxing. Same with CBS Sports. We don't need any of CBS' melodrama and overdramatics. Just show us the basketball guys! Just give us the good entertainment to keep us happy until baseball season, when we can go back to watching these juiced-up sluggers hit home runs into the ocean again. We don't need the hype or the reality show antics. The game of hoops can sell itself.

THE CONTENDER MOVES TO SUNDAY NIGHT

Speaking of the Contender, all I gotta say is that it's pretty sad when a TV show is better than the sport. But that's what this show's trying to be.

For a reality TV show, The Contender is excellent. It is first-rate. Its production values are superb, and the fights at the end have been dramatic. And that's how it works in the sport: if you lose one fight your title shot is blown. That's the way it is. So that's the good news. Compared to the rest of the crap on NBC, and compared to all the other reality shows out there, this is a decent show.

The bad news is that it's a Reality TV show. Worse, it looks and feels like yet another typical Mark Burnett ripoff production. You can tell that they rip off all the best/worst elements from Survivor and The Apprentice. And it's ruining the fights. The boxing is the best part of the show and it's being ruined by all the cheap reality elements and typical Mark Burnett editing.

You notice they show us truncated fights in packed houses. It's great TV and very exciting to watch. And they're all edited for TV to music so that all the fights look better than they actually are. These guys could be bums for all we know. And for all we know these fights could be boring as hell. But we don't really know because we're not seeing the entire fight every week. So we don't know if the judges are out to lunch or not!

The big problem with the show is that all the reality elements are really old and tired, and look absolutely stupid. You have East and West going against one another in boring Survivor-type stunts, then they pick their opponents. Then they show them at home cooking food with their families and dealing with their rotten kids. There's nothing new about doing behind-the-scenes profiles of athletes with their wives at home, or reading to their kids and stuff. We see it on the weekends during real sporting events! What Mark Burnett ought to do is keep the boxers and keep the tournament, and keep holding these fights in these venues filled with cheering fans, and keep Sly Stallone and the profiles of the boxers with their rotten kids and stuff. But get rid of the reality show already! Do away with the stupid challenges and rewards these people get, and get rid of these stunts. And do these guys all have to train under the same roof, and get on each other's nerves? You think Sugar Ray had to live and train under the same roof as Marvelous Marvin Hagler?! Why does every show in reality TV have to have people living under the same roof? So we can see them yelling at each other? We don't need any of this nonsense. Just show us REAL BOXING for 15 weeks or however long this goes. And be honest, don't make every fight look like it's the greatest ever. If it's a lousy stinking fight with a couple of stiffs up there, say it already! Are we gonna see any KOs the next few weeks? I hope so, dammit!!!

That's what happens when you let reality TV get in the way of a real sport. And that is my frustration with The Contender. There's too much reality and not enough boxing. Word of advice to Mark Burnett: don't try and do a reality TV show about any other sports. One is enough.

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