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The Score - Anthony Schoettle

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Sports Business

ESPN grinds ax against NCAA

March 21, 2011
KEYWORDS Sports Business

Is ESPN grinding an ax against the NCAA? It sure looks that way.

After losing out to on their bid last spring to steal the men’s basketball tournament from CBS (and its new partner Turner Broadcasting), the folks in Bristol appear to have a bitter taste in their mouth and don’t mind spewing it out at any and every opportunity.

For more than a week, ESPN has been lampooning the NCAA over the selection process for its 68-team men’s basketball tournament. Honestly, I think it has been painful to watch.

College basketball analyst Jay Bilas called the inclusion of Virginia Commonwealth University and the University of Alabama-Birmingham “indefensible.” But he didn’t just let it go at that. His disparaging remarks involving teams composed of 18- to 22-year-olds were way over the top.

Several other ESPN analysts, including Dick Vitale, piled on.

Bilas questioned if the NCAA selection committee knew “the ball is round,” and Jay Williams wrote, “It's official! My 6-year-old niece knows more about college basketball than the NCAA tournament selection committee.”

Even after VCU knocked off higher-seeded USC, Georgetown and Purdue during a five-day span to advance to the Sweet 16, the ESPN brigade would not relent.

“Two straight TKOs for VCU,” Bilas wrote on his Twitter account Sunday night. “How good are Georgia State, Northeastern, Drexel and James Madison?”

The reference was to the teams that VCU lost to during the regular season. If we’re going to go down that road, how many bad teams did Indiana lose to in 1981 or Villanova in 1985?

Bilas' ranting also serves as an unintentional jab at USC, Georgetown and Purdue. After all, how good are those teams if they were defeated by a team not even worthy to be in the tournament?

Then this morning on the “Mike and Mike” radio show, ESPN’s Doug Gottleib pointed out that VCU’s recent hot streak in the tournament doesn’t erase the fact that the team lost five of its last eight regular-season games.

Gottleib also blasted studio analysts like Charles Barkley and Greg Anthony, who normally cover the National Basketball Association, saying they couldn’t be expected to know college basketball like those who cover it every day.

The inference was clear: The NCAA decision that mystifies ESPN the most is how officials could have chosen another broadcaster to air tournament games.

Then Gottlieb went on to complain about some of the camera angles used in the live game broadcasts. He even said ESPN has better production assistance and behind-the-scenes people than those covering the games for CBS, TBS, TNT and TruTV.

Really? I didn’t know Gottlieb had experience as a producer or director.

The NCAA last April signed 14-year, nearly $11 billion agreement with CBS and Turner Sports for the TV rights to the tournament, essentially shutting ESPN out of the jewel of college basketball and one of the biggest properties in all of sports—March Madness.

ESPN executives are no doubt still seething about it, and it boils over on the air in the form of harsh criticism toward the NCAA.

Bilas, Vitale and others at ESPN howled shortly after the tournament draw was unveiled that the NCAA needed more basketball minds involved.

Like their own, of course.
 

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