Feinstein’s Thursday Lunch: Shaheen-Kebabs

Posted by jstevrtc on April 2nd, 2010

Now that spring is here and the weather has improved over much of the country, we’d like to announce that grilling season officially kicked off today in Indianapolis, but probably not in the way you’re thinking.

The president of the NCAA and/or some other high-ups has always made it a point to take some time on the Thursday or Friday preceding the Final Four to have a press conference to talk about the NCAA Tournament in general and the tournament specific to that year.  This little get-together happened today in Indy.  The media got the chance to hear from Dan Guerrero, chair of the Division I Men’s Basketball Committee; Kevin Lennon, VP for academic and membership affairs; and one Greg Shaheen, the NCAA’s senior VP for basketball and business strategies.

Shaheen Isn't Speechless Here

RIGHT HERE is the transcript of this press conference.

IMPORTANT:  Listen, we post a lot of links on this site.  We want you to click every one of them.  We wouldn’t put them up there if we didn’t think it would enhance your enjoyment or understanding of a story or article.  But YOU MUST CLICK ON THAT LINK if you want to get a glimpse into the minds of the people who are trying to change the greatest sporting event in the world, the people who want to increase the number of teams in the NCAA Tournament from 65 to 96.

Before you do that, we need to make sure you understand something — this thing is happening.  The 96-team tournament isn’t something that’s just being discussed, anymore.  This press conference wasn’t an official announcement, but it was everything but that.  We don’t like it any more than you do, but we might as well get used to it. We know why they’re doing it.  Like Joe Pesci said in Casino:

“Always the dollars.  Always the f***in’ dollars…”

You see, the NCAA has to make a decision this summer.  Their current college basketball contract with CBS runs through 2013, but states that the NCAA can opt out of the deal by the end of this July to go searching for a better deal, meaning more money.  The current contract with CBS was finalized in 1999 and is worth about $6 billion.  It also applies to a 65-team tournament.  If they opt out, the NCAA can do whatever it wants to the tournament and market the new version (like, say, one with 96 teams) as their new product as they negotiate for even bigger bucks.  They could even renegotiate with CBS (we wonder if CBS also sees possible bigger profits and actually wants the NCAA to opt out of this thing).

Back to this press conference.  Here’s a little rundown of what happened.  First, Mr. Guerrero took the mic, and to be honest you really don’t have to read his short introduction.  He said very little and then introduced Mr. Lennon.  Lennon’s portion is quite interesting, because he used his time to tell everyone about the improved graduation and retention rates among student-athletes, specifically men’s basketball players.  He noted that student-athletes in ALL sports, and “certainly men’s basketball, are continuing to outperform the student body” as a whole.  Sounds good.

Then came Mr. Shaheen’s turn.  That’s when it got interesting.

We don’t know if he was just nervous because he was talking to a room full of people — including journalists who have one question on their minds, that of tournament expansion — or if he often uses what almost amounts to word-salad to confuse listeners and muddle the understanding of what he’s saying.  Whatever the reason, Shaheen’s contribution to the press conference was supposed to be a rundown of what’s being talked about in terms of the decision as to whether to alter the NCAA Tournament somehow or keep it as-is.  He did so, but the verbosity is ridiculous.  We’ll not speculate as to whether it was just bad public speaking habits, nervousness, or a ploy to bury his points in a slew of extra words in order to conceal what he was saying.  Just read it for yourself.

The best part came during question time.

You may know the name John Feinstein for many reasons — his columns in The Washington Post, The Sporting News, or Golf Digest; his many books about various sports; his acerbic-witted guest appearances on various sports TV and radio shows — but most likely it’s due to his authorship of A Season On the Brink, the beyond-famous book in which he chronicled the 1985-86 season of the Indiana basketball program after being given previously unheard-of access by coach Bobby Knight.

To that incomplete list, you may now say you know him for the lunch he had on Thursday afternoon.  Specifically, the grilling and devouring of Mr. Shaheen.  We told you grilling season was officially underway.

Role Reversal: Feinstein as Voice of the People

Before you check out that part of the transcript, you need to know what the NCAA is thinking of doing in a 96-team format:  the play-in game as we know it would be gone.  The tournament would start on Thursday, as it did before 2001.  The opening round would be played on Thursday and Friday.  That would leave 64 teams.  The Round of 64 would be played on Saturday and Sunday, leaving 32 teams.  The second week would start with Monday as an off-day, then resume on Tuesday and Wednesday with the Round of 32.  The Sweet 16 would be played on Thursday and Friday, putting us back on the schedule we have now.  In other words, even though they’re adding 31 teams to the tournament, they’re only adding one net day of games, and they’re packing that second week, starting it on Tuesday instead of Thursday.  It makes intuitive sense that if you’re going to add teams to the dance, you’d add them at the beginning of the first week, not force-feed them into the second — but that’s what they’re going to do.

Noticing this, Feinstein asked Shaheen about how the teams that win would be out of school the entire second week of the tournament.  Not wanting to answer this, Shaheen fenced with Feinstein and avoided the question.  Feinstein pressed, but Shaheen danced and skated in his responses in an attempt to further avoid the matter.  You can see from the transcript how bad it got for Shaheen:

FEINSTEIN: Basically they’ll be out of school an entire week the second week?

SHAHEEN: Actually, if you were to look at the window for each individual team, you have to take each team and contemplate the fact right now you have half the field leaving campus on Tuesday, returning on Sunday or Monday.

JF: If they lose. I’m talking about the teams that win in advance. You’re going to advance 16 teams.

GS: No, actually in the current model you have teams that depart on Tuesday, and even if they win, return on Sunday.

JF: We’re misunderstanding each other. Under the new model that you laid out, you play 64 teams Thursday/Friday. 32 advance to games Saturday/Sunday. Then you are down after those games to 32 teams.

GS: Right.

JF: You’re saying you play games in the round of 32 Tuesday/Wednesday. They would then advance to regionals when?

GS: They would continue into the regional as it’s normally scheduled now.

JF: So they would go Tuesday to Thursday, Wednesday to Friday?

GS: Right.

JF: So they miss an entire week of school. That’s what I’m trying to get.

GS: If you listened to my original answer, they leave now on Tuesday.

JF: I’m talking about the second week, not the first week. They play a game Saturday/Sunday, play a game Tuesday or Wednesday, then go directly to the regional. Tell me when in that second week they’re going to be in class.

GS: The entire first week, the majority of the teams would be in class.

Painful.  But it’s an utter rout by Feinstein.  We haven’t seen a guy get shredded like that since Steve Buscemi got put into the wood chipper in Fargo.  The next section is by far the best:

JF: You’re just not going to answer the question about the second week. You’re going to keep referring back to the first week, right? They’re going to miss the entire second week under this model.

GS: So they’re going to go to school the first week, and then they’re —

JF: They’re going to be under the same schedule you said basically the first week, and then they’ll miss the entire second week.

GS: I’m clearly missing the nuance of your point.

JF: You and I miss nuances a lot. Thank you.

BOB WILLIAMS [the moderator]: Next question, please.

Cutting.  Just cutting.  That’s the best word to describe it.  Shaheen had to literally be bleeding from somewhere.  He wasn’t missing the nuance of anyone’s point, of course.  The only thing he was missing by the time the moderator stepped in was his manhood.

So there it is, people.  If you thought there was a chance that this idea of a 96-team tournament was going to go away, think again.  This served as the all-but-official announcement that it’s going to happen.  You don’t talk about how you’re looking at options involving 88, 96, or the current 65 teams and then spend all the time discussing the ways a 96-team tournament would operate.  Forget the fact that they actually put a guy up on the stage to tell us how great things are going academically with things as they are now.  Forget the fact that Mr. Shaheen felt the need to bring up the name of Dr. Myles Brand, the former president of the NCAA, as someone who was at the forefront of many changes in the works in so many facets of the NCAA, including what could happen to the basketball contract as the opt-out deadline approached.  There’s one problem with that — HE’S DEAD.  Dr. Brand unfortunately died of pancreatic cancer last year and therefore can’t answer any questions about this or any other policies being considered at the NCAA.  It’s Shaheen, interim president Jim Isch — who was oddly absent from the press conference, you’ll note — and others like them who are doing this, and should be answering questions.  But they don’t want to own up to the fact that money is their motivation, so instead we just get this finessing and doublespeak.

No, with all these great statistics about how graduation rates are getting better and retention rates are on the rise and African-American student-athlete graduation rates are improving, we’re supposed to believe that taking college basketball players out of school for the entire second week of the tournament, assuming they win, is the best way to keep those rates on the upswing (isn’t this the reasoning they use NOT to implement a football playoff?).  With this new tournament format, the NCAA is telling people, “Keep winning, and you get to miss even MORE school than you did before.”  Nice message, guys.  And who will be attending those games in the second week, do you think?  Students from the participating schools?  No way.  Somebody’s got to pay for this new contract, so those tickets will go to people who can afford them, who can pay to travel, and who have the disposable income to buy more 35-dollar t-shirts and $12 cokes.

Our NCAA tournament is forever changed, and with it, so is college basketball in general.  You can’t change the tournament in a vacuum.  By changing it, you also change the regular season and the conference tournaments and what they mean.  In that transcript, you saw that even though they were asked about those things, the NCAA folks didn’t really answer those questions, because they don’t know and don’t care what happens to them.  We know the only thing they care about.

Always the f***in’ dollars.

jstevrtc (547 Posts)

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2 responses to “Feinstein’s Thursday Lunch: Shaheen-Kebabs”

  1. bevo says:

    It was a stunning display. You should read Feinstein’s column in the WaPo that is based on this media conference.

    Besides the elimination of costs that occur from running two tourneys, the NCAA also generates millions more to subsidize the remaining tournaments. Except for baseball and men’s hockey at the Division 1 level, the remaining tourneys lose money.

    At some point, the NCAA will have to force all sports that do not currently have a postseason tourney, to have a postseason tourney because they will need the money.

  2. Tom Hager says:

    I hate these people so much…they are ruining the best thing in all of sports. Is there any way they can overrule a decision if they realize it is a terrible idea?

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