NCAA’s road of restriction gets longer

Exclusivity is an upsetting trend to everyone except perhaps Jim Nantz. It is everything college football has become and everything we once could count on the NCAA Tournament avoiding.

It is the venom that destroys the magic, the bias that suppresses the madness.

“I could go on and on and on about the inequities, but that does no good,” San Diego State basketball coach Steve Fisher said. “I do think we should all be concerned that only four non-BCS teams were given at-large berths.

“I know this: The NCAA Tournament is the greatest sporting event in the world … except this year.”

Numbers don’t lie. Twelve at-large berths were awarded to non-Bowl Championship Series schools in 2004. That total has shrunk each year since and became four on Sunday. One of those is Brigham Young, and the Cougars are about as midmajor as Provo is diverse. BYU is a nationally known athletics program that won a national title in football back when that sport wasn’t controlled by greedy, arrogant suits from six leagues that discriminate against all others when it comes to revenue sharing.

BYU is major enough to make that number of nonpower at-large berths this year be considered three instead of four.

Nantz, the leading CBS play-by-play voice of the tournament that begins again this week, predictably praised the selection committee for being proactive in explaining the process and said he didn’t think anyone was “kicking and screaming that San Diego State and Saint Mary’s didn’t get in.”

Which must make the entire state of California, all fans of the Mountain West and West Coast conferences and any others who favor either team feel good to know Nantz is speaking on their behalf. Maybe he’ll show up and do their taxes for them also.

But if it wasn’t Nantz spouting such elitist idiocy, it would be another. The message is what counts here, not the paid spokesman delivering it. Believe me, the latter group expands in membership each year, too.

What it does is reinforce the reality that college athletics continues to travel further and further down a road of restriction, that the haves get richer and the nots get cast aside more and more. It’s no longer perception. It’s fact.

It never has been easy to accept in football, but the BCS cartel that rules there always seemed to be offset a bit when Selection Sunday arrived.

But then comes a March like this, when Big Ten teams such as Wisconsin and Minnesota and a Pac-10 side in Arizona with warts throughout their resumes are chosen for at-large spots over those from nonpower conferences with as good or better arguments for a berth.

Something as subjective as the selection process always will lead to imperfect brackets. The committee can and for years has justified its decisions in numerous ways. This year, we heard about one’s entire body of work, which had to make Arizona feel good.

You know, because of those small points about losing five of its last six and managing two road victories all season, against those supernatural powers that are the Oregon schools.

“We were surprised” at receiving an at-large berth, Arizona interim head coach Russ Pennell said. “The reaction was both shocked and excitement.”

Shocked, mostly.

Which brings us to this: While it’s true upsets in several conference tournaments ultimately sent deserving nonmajors into the National Invitation Tournament, you wonder how much basketball knowledge those deciding the fate of at-large berths really own.

Consider: Of the current 10-person selection committee, only three have both playing and coaching experience at the college basketball level. One coached in high school. Others played baseball and hockey and football. A lawyer and a former Disney executive are at the table.

They work hard. They watch games. They collect data. But is it crazy to believe many lack the expertise needed to select the most deserving 34 at-large basketball teams?

Is it that hard to fathom in this BCS-controlled system that committee members not from power leagues aren’t heard as loudly as those from the Big Six? Being in the room is a start. Having the juice to make a difference is a different matter.

“The process is better than it was 20 years ago, when someone said the NCAA made the decision and you answered, ‘Who are they?’ ” Fisher said. “But it will continue being subjective. It’s like grading that English term paper. If you come every day and sit in the front row and the teacher likes you, that C might become a B-plus in his or her eyes. It’s the same thing here.”

It’s lucky, then, for players from nonmajor leagues, that Jim Nantz didn’t choose to become a professor.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at 702-383-4618 or egraney@reviewjournal.com.

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