I woke up one Mid-November morning and stared straight into my blank future, all 19 inches of it. I knew I could not escape my destiny, so I simply rolled over and with a gentle push of the remote, began my solitary, sedentary journey into the heart of darkness in televised sports: college basketball.
Swayed by the tide, swept away by the current, swallowed by the undertow, I have aimlessly drifted four months later into a no-man's-land of labyrinthine lunacy.
I speak, of course, of March Madness.
It is a swamp, and I do not own a swamp buggy.
Where, oh, where, have ESPN, ABC and CBS led me? (Et tu, Raycom?) With skies overcast and a brooding, mournful gloom in the air, it actually was a voyage begun with the best of intentions. The preseason Big Apple NIT, though, can deflate the best of intentions.
Soon enough, I was floating down the river like so much flotsam and jetsam.
Chained to my couch—yes, literally chained to the chesterfield as part of an unfavorable divorce-court ruling—I have witnessed a thousand points of blight perpetrated by a dim galaxy of sundry ex-players, ex-coaches and ex-people; it is a sport of excess—excess coaching, excess recruiting, excess cheating, excess exposure, excess hype, excess Vitale—so college basketball receives ESPN's nonstop buffet service featuring Gary Thorne and Larry Conley and Tim Brando and Len Elmore and Bob Carpenter and Dan Bonner and Barry Tompkins and Bill Raftery and Steve Physioc and Terry Holland and Mike Patrick and Dan Belluomini and myriad other broadcasting poodles to document and detail and dissect the back screens and poor spacing and dribble penetration and ball movement and transition games and up-tempo games and two-man games and good looks and great kickouts and touch passes and skip passes and entry passes, and all the while games are tumbling out madly; then there's CBS's Billy Packer—part statesman, part salesman, part analyst and all apologist for the game and its coaches—appearing on his weekly 30-minute syndicated advertorial, Billy Packer's College Basketball, wearing a hardware-chain sport coat and, after airing a recent report heavily slanted in favor of UNLV coach Jerry Tarkanian, saying, "Hey, enough already. Charges, charges, charges. The water has been muddied by so many charges; it's time to move on. Let's get on to another subject and let the boys play ball!" ...and indeed he did move on in those muddied waters, to the Oldsmobile Achieva Achiever of the Week and the Pizza Hut Coaches' Corner (by the way, Billy, if someone comes into my home wearing a True Value blazer, he'd better be carrying drill bits)—and, oh, boy, I'm so far down the river now, what else could possibly happen?—and sure enough, it happened as ABC, on back-to-back Sundays, did the environmentally unsound and ecologically unthinkable, taking Jim Valvano, better suited to a studio, and Dick Vitale, better suited to a straitjacket, and—no, no, no, don't do it, don't do it—putting them together on a telecast that sounded like A HERD OF CATTLE BARGING INTO GRAND CENTRAL STATION AT 5 P.M. ON A FRIDAY—The horror! The horror!—I mean, sticking Valvano and Vitale in a television booth is akin to staging an Aerosmith concert in a phone booth; and now, of course, after ESPN's Championship Week, it's time on CBS for The Big Show, The Big Dance, Your Show of Shows, The Reeeeeallly Big Show. The Big Easy, The Big Money, The Big Easy Money, yes, The Baskin-Robbins Rocky Road to the Final Four, for through the thick brush of jungle forest with ominous clouds above we soon shall behold why we've come this far, oh, how this has become an impenetrable darkness, as I suffer here in a swampy, wretched scrap heap at the bottom of the precipice where the sun never shines, just lying in the dark waiting for a slow death or a TV timeout, whichever comes first, and suddenly I see the truth as nobody else can, that the real March Madness is that if you watch this stuff long enough you wind up in an insane asylum.