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Getting it right saves need for apologies

Remember when Oliver Barrett IV, who centered the checking line for the Harvard hockey team in the movies, said that love means never having to say you’re sorry?

Well, love and college sports apparently are two different things.

Jim Tressel, Jim Calhoun, Bruce Pearl. And it’s only Thursday. Sorry, Ollie. Coaching big-time college sports means having to say you are sorry again and again.

(In Pearl’s case, add two more agains and two more apologies.)

Then you have to sit in the stands for the Akron and Toledo games, and all is forgiven.

When did lying to the NCAA become a two-minute minor for high-sticking?

It’s getting to where you can’t trust what happens in college sports as far as you can throw Kelvin Sampson’s cell phone.

But Jim Livengood, UNLV’s athletic director, does not apologize for the five years he served on the NCAA men’s basketball tournament selection committee, including his year as chairman in 2003.

OK, so he messed up and put Brigham Young in a bracket that would have meant the Cougars playing on Sunday if they could win their first three tournament games.

BYU winning three tournament games? That hasn’t happened since 1981, when Daniel Ray Ainge of Eugene, Ore., dribbled his way past the entire Notre Dame team, Digger Phelps, Touchdown Jesus, a couple of monsignors and assorted nuns saying the rosary. No harm, no foul.

Yes, Livengood is a BYU grad. He should have known about the Sunday thing. But he also is familiar with BYU’s NCAA Tournament futility. He remembers Kresimir Cosic.

Plus, that was in the infancy of the pod system.

Because the NCAA insists on moving teams out of their geographic regions, there always are lots of empty seats at first- and second-round tournament games. That’s why, when you are planning to take over the world, you need pods. Like in "Invasion of the Body Snatchers."

But at least Livengood had integrity when putting brackets together. He had so much integrity that a fellow athletic director, a man he considered a close friend, one of his best friends, in fact, would not speak to him after Greg Gumbel announced the brackets one year.

Well, he spoke to him via voice mail, and there were a lot of multisyllable words with harsh-sounding consonants, as Livengood recalls.

He thought their friendship meant more than an 11 seed in the Midwest Regional. His pal thought it meant a seven seed in the Mideast.

With time healing wounds and all that, they are friends again. (Don’t get any ideas, Charlie Sheen. You are going to require a Plan B.)

As for the identity of this man, forget about it.

I worked Livengood like Gary Sinise works a murder suspect on "CSI." He wouldn’t budge. Well, he budged a little. He said his pal still was an athletic director, at a "pretty good school."

I told him if he wanted a Zagnut bar from the candy machine in the detective’s lounge, he would have to cough up more than that. He wouldn’t cough. As I said, the man has integrity.

In retrospect, Livengood was not prepared for the angst on Sunday morning, after the committee had put the final team in the final slot of the final bracket.

He knows now there always will be angst.

When it was a 64-team tournament, then 65 was upset. When it was a 65-team tournament, then 66 was upset. This Sunday, 69 will be upset.

When it becomes a 96-team tournament, 97 will be upset. When it becomes a 314-team tournament, then some junior high in Kansas will be upset that it isn’t headed to Dayton to play Gonzaga or the seventh-place team from the Horizon League.

"Regardless of where the cut line is," Livengood said, "there always will be somebody on the other side of it.

"You’ve got to get those 37 (at-large teams) right. You can play your way out of a bad bracket. You can’t play your way into the tournament" after the bracket is set.

Except for Syracuse, according to Dick Vitale.

The biggest myth about Selection Sunday is the public perception of the politicking that precedes it. That simply doesn’t exist, Livengood said.

When asked about the most important task of the committee or its chairman, there was no hesitation. There were only three words.

"Get it right."

Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.

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