Final Four and Benner/Sports and NCAA and Arts & Entertainment, etc. and Opinion and Sports Business

BENNER: Musings from the road to (and from) The Final Four

April 13, 2013
Wednesday, April 3—Driving south to Atlanta, I tune in to the Louisville sports talk station, expecting to hear nothing but Cards, Cards, Cards. After all, both the University of Louisville men’s and women’s teams have advanced to their respective Final Fours.

And while I discover plenty of talk about that, there also is considerable focus on the persistent issues facing the NCAA and its president, Mark Emmert, and the abusive behavior of Rutgers University coach Mike Rice, who has been fired after ESPN aired tapes from his practices.

That continues during the drive as stations fade in and out. To no surprise, Indiana University’s former coach, Bob Knight, is mentioned in every discussion regarding Rice. The prevailing conclusion is that Indiana allowed Knight to behave as he did because he won championships; Rice did not win, so he was canned.

Thursday, April 4—I retrieve the USA Today left outside my hotel room, which includes the newspaper’s annual review of NCAA tournament coaches’ pay, topped by Louisville coach Rick Pitino’s $5 million. Louisville Athletic Director Tom Zurich concludes Pitino “in a lot of ways … is underpaid.” By Monday night, many Louisville fans will no doubt agree.

Later that day, the media are salivating at the opportunity to confront Emmert at his annual Final Four press conference. Emmert takes the offensive by opening with a 2,500-word statement, and closes with a retort for a reporter who has called for his ouster: “Thanks for the career advice, but I’m still here.“

Friday, April 5—It’s Final Four Friday, time for the open practice sessions at the Georgia Dome. The dome is configured for a 74,000-plus seating capacity (and will set the championship-game attendance record Monday night), but I’m reminded, again, that Lucas Oil Stadium is in multiple ways superior for this configuration, thanks to the counsel of NCAA staff asked to participate in LOS’ design.

Atlanta taxpayers have approved a $1 billion multipurpose stadium for the NFL Falcons and because they hope to remain in the Final Four rotation. That underscores what a prized event this is.

Saturday, April 6—Finally, basketball replaces the issues of the day and we’re treated to two, down-to-the-wire games as Louisville and the University of Michigan play their way into the title game.

Sunday, April 7—There’s more basketball, but this time—for the first time ever in conjunction with the Final Four—it is the Division II and Division III championship games. Big crowds show in Phillips Arena and the teams and coaches are given the same big-time treatment as their Division I counterparts.

The inclusion of the D II and D III games is an unqualified success. I hope the NCAA will make this a permanent part of the weekend.

That evening, the Dave Matthews Band brings to an end three days of free Big Dance concerts in Olympic Centennial Park. Crowds are so large that officials twice have to close access. I wonder where Indy will host this event in 2015. Then again, we have a lot of smart and creative people, several of whom are in Atlanta observing and filling up notebooks. They’ll figure it out.

Monday, April 8—I understand why there is a 9:23 EST tip for the championship game (one word: television). Nonetheless, the wait is worth it as Louisville and Michigan author an instant classic, and the Cards cut down the nets. Oh, and everyone goes home aware of a new name, a kid from Crown Point named Spike Albrecht.

Tuesday, April 9—All weekend, Michigan coach Jim Beilein is being hailed for his coaching prowess. On the drive home, the sports talkers are assailing him for various shortcomings that contributed to the loss. My thought: It sure is a short distance from the horse’s mouth to the horse’s tail.

Finally, word comes over the radio that Kentucky is the preseason No. 1 and Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller are leaving IU.

A season ends. A season begins.•

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Benner is senior associate commissioner for external affairs for the Horizon League college athletic conference and a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at bbenner@ibj.com. He also has a blog, www.indyinsights.com.

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