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SportsMonday: Money Train

Even if it wasn't March, it would probably be time to take a break from pro sports in this town this week. We will have all summer to bash the profits uber alles Cubs after all. The Bulls are in the midst of a sluggish stretch that most recently saw them barely eke out a couple wins over the awful Sixers sandwiched around a tough loss to the Pacers. The Patrick Kane-less Hawks had no answers for the going-nowhere Nashville Predators last night, losing 2-0.

And the portion of weekend morning sports radio I happened to hear featured a conversation about the Bears' back-up quarterback situation. I was proud of myself in that it only took a couple minutes before it occurred to me that maybe it was time to take a break from Bears talk for a little while (then again, only 45 days 'til the draft!).

Clearly it was a series of signs. I almost always focus on pro sports in our major leagues-obsessed town but today even I will have to take a look at the Tournament and note that the first three-and-a-half days (before a series of boring blowouts late Sunday) were about as good as it gets in terms of basic sports drama.

Other than that fact that it is all fundamentally corrupt, the NCAA Division I men's basketball tournament continues to be a remarkable sporting spectacle.

Gosh, if we could just continue to forget about the fact that everyone is getting rich in this multi-billion dollar enterprise except so many of the stars of the show, and that those stars are so frequently beset by parasites all the way through. That, yes, they get scholarships but so many of the "schools" set it up so the star athletes do the absolute minimum academically and thereby do not even begin to reap anything close to proportional benefits.

That, of course, is especially true when one compares the players' compensation to the stratospheric salaries given to coaches elevated to cult-leader status for all the wrong reasons.

"It didn't used to be this way," cries the world-weary, grizzled sportswriter who then embarks upon legitimate, if awfully convenient, reminiscences. That would be me of course, and way back when I spent a couple collegiate spring breaks at my grandparents' house in suburban Washington D.C. that ended with epic long weekends of college hoops (epic only to a 20-year-old sports obsessive but still).

That was back when ESPN was still a relatively novel concept and the first two rounds of the tournament were its time to shine. In the springs of 1986 and 1987, on the Thursdays and Fridays of both my breaks (talk about awesome coincidences!), I settled in for 48 hours of first-round madness on the television.

ESPN would play live games from noon until midnight and then show tape-delayed broadcasts of the games that didn't fit from midnight back around to noon. My grandparents must have thought I was certifiable but I was living it up. Did I mention that was a long, long time ago?

Since then my team, DePaul, has gone so far down the drain they are adrift out in the midst of good ol' Lake Michigan. And to stick with the metaphor, the money has poured into the NCAA like it is rushing over the biggest waterfall in the world. If I had to point to one thing that began to turn me away from this event, it was when CBS paid about a billion dollars for seven years of television rights to the Dance a few years after the turn of the century.

Then in 2010, CBS and Turner Broadcasting signed up for another 14 years for slightly more dollars.

This year I did head out to taverns for lunch and college basketball last Thursday and Friday. And I was rewarded with the opportunity to watch Dayton knock off Ohio State the first day and, even better, Mercer beat Duke the second. Dayton did the job on Saturday as well, knocking off Syracuse and making the Sweet 16. But that was it for Cinderella. San Diego State made it through, but they have been a basketball power the last few years and were seeded fourth in their regional.

The only other teams that remain that aren't members of power conferences (Big 10, Big 12, Pac 12, SEC, ACC) are Louisville and UConn. And they are obviously power programs. One might think tournament overlords would be disappointed there aren't more underdogs but then they might think about it a bit. Power conferences earn that moniker because because their teams bring in big revenues.

In other words, the NCAA money train just keeps on rolling.


Jim "Coach" Coffman is our man on Mondays. He welcomes your comments.

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