We can usually count on College Basketball to mirror the times. Just look around. Want evidence of the end of the Cold War? Virginia Commonwealth expects to fill the pivot with 7'2" Konstantin Pepeliaev, who would become the first Russian citizen ever to play college ball in the U.S. Heard of the "nesting" trend? Check out Oklahoma, where husband-and-wife transfers Tommy French and Cecilia Harge join the Sooner men's and women's teams in an act that could be billed as twentysomethingagame. Wonder about the lot of public education? One out of four high school juniors at the 1990 Nike/ABCD All-American Camp tested at a sixth-grade reading level or below.
Yet in one crucial count, college basketball is sorely out of touch with the rest of society. While most of the nation stares at a recession, the caretakers of the sport suddenly have more cash than they know what to do with—$1 billion. That's how much CBS has agreed to pay for the right to televise the NCAA tournament over the next seven seasons.
Oh, some people think they know how to spend the dough. An ad hoc NCAA committee recently convened to determine just that. The first meeting came 10 months after four teams mourned their defeats in the final eight of the 1989 NCAA tournament because the losses cost their respective schools about $250,000 each, the difference that year between losing the regional finals and reaching the Final Four. "We want to go back to playing for the trophy," says NCAA executive director Dick Schultz, "not playing for dollars."
Alas, the committee didn't adopt the simple and equitable proposal made by Michigan State coach Jud Heathcote, which called for divvying up 80% of the loot into equal shares among the 293 Division I universities, regardless of their NCAA tournament record, their Nielsen ratings or the number of sequins gracing their cheerleaders' uniforms. The Heathcote plan also gives 10% each to schools in Divisions II and III, and 10% to such things as drug education programs. Instead, the $112 million the NCAA will get from CBS for the 1991 tournament and various other NCAA championships will be distributed among Division I schools according to a formula that takes into account the number of varsity teams fielded by a school, the performance of a school's conference in the tournament over the previous six seasons and the number of athletic scholarships provided by a school. Clearly, the haves still have an unfair advantage over the have-nots.
To its credit, the committee did adopt several proposals likely to have a salutary effect on the game. One is a plan to award $25,000 grants to every Division I school for "academic enhancements," including necessities like tutors and computers. Another provision will set up an emergency fund for impoverished athletes, to cover such exigencies as travel back home for a relative's funeral. Yet by tying, even indirectly, the amount of a school's share to its tournament performance, the NCAA has ensured that television dollars will continue to feed the vicious cycle of ills bedeviling college basketball. "What causes the problems?" asks Xavier coach Pete Gillen. "Money. Take away the source. The source is money."
This is how it goes: TV dangles the money. Athletic directors pencil an amount into their budgets. Then if a coach doesn't win often enough to deliver the expected cash, he walks. Hence, coaches rustle up players any which way. Now, with the dividends so dependent on the success of an entire league, a conference member can't afford to drop a dime on cheating brethren.
When the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band asked to play the national anthem at the Final Four in Denver last spring, it was turned down. The Duke band played because, as the gentleman from the NCAA said, "That's college basketball." If you're trying to reflect college basketball faithfully, fellas, hand the mike to 2 Live Crew.
In that spirit, here's one budget—by turns whimsical, serious and peevish—for the Basketball Billion. No rules. No fine print. As spendthrift as we wanna be.
•$3,500, to hire a persona timing crew for Heathcote. Four years ago a clock mal function gave Kansas an extra 0:15 with which to come back and beat the Spartans in the Midwest Regional semifinals. Last spring a referee's misjudgment let stand a Kenny Anderson after-the-buzzer shot that forced OT and helped push Georgia Tech past Michigan State in the semifinals of the Southeast Regional.
•$300, for shock treatment for Dr. Gordon Gee, Colorado's former president. "We don't expect to be in the Final Four in five years," said Gee when he announced last spring that former Long Beach State coach Joe Harrington would replace the fired Tom Miller. "We expect to be there sooner." The Buffaloes have finished in the Big Eight cellar five years in a row.