Nothing says 'March Madness' like a heaving buffet Print
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Tuesday, 13 January 2009 23:32
NCAAB Headline News

 Everyone has bills, but that only begins to explain why Bob Knight agreed to ride shotgun for Billy Packer on what figures to be a string of cheesy NCAA tournament specials being taped at a sports book on the Las Vegas Strip.
``Why Vegas,'' Packer explained during a stopover Monday in Sin City, ``is because Bob and I, and a lot of people, want to really experience what this is really like because we do think, next to being center court, this is the place to be.''
Sure. Because nothing says ``March Madness'' like scantily clad cocktail waitresses, a heaving buffet, a wall of wide-screen TVs and lots and lots of gambling.
Ooops. Forget that last part.
Sports Book wearing dazed expressions did not come just to soak up the ambiance.
ctimonious at this late date. College basketball has been rocked by point-shaving scandals at a handful of schools in the last half-century, but that's ancient news to kids who consume fantasy sports as ferociously as the real thing.
They've grown up with poker on TV, casinos on riverboats, racetracks or OTB parlors in most big cities, betting pools at the office, and scratch cards and lottery machines at every gas station and convenience store in the state. And like it or not, that just happens to be the demographic every sports network and advertiser would kill for.
The NCAA tournament makes for compelling watching because every one of the 63 games are contested like Game 7 of the World Series. Nearly every one ends with a handful of players punching the air and screaming with joy, while another handful, shirt tails pulled out and tears streaming down their faces, trudges off toward the exits.
But it's not drama, or even all the alumni with a dog in this fight or that one, that puts the NCAA tournament over the top. What gives it currency among even casual fans, as well as pride of place on the sports calendar for three weeks, is the bracket.
hat begs to be filled out, conveniently folds in half and slips easily into a pocket sure seems like a funny way to get that message across.
Asked for comment about the TV series dubbed ``Survive and Advance'' and scheduled for the Fox Sports Network, NCAA spokesman Bob Williams said, ``In terms of geographic location, the NCAA doesn't have a position one way or another. However, our position is clear and unchanged on college sports wagering ... we oppose it in all forms.''
Right. But the funniest thing about the shows - considering the target audience - might be the choice of the aging, fuddy-duddy hosts.
Packer and Knight each devoted a career to building painstaking reputations as principled, independent contributors to the game. Both are members of college basketball's Hall of Fame.
Knight, the winningest coach in Division I history, is already enshrined in the Naismith Hall of Fame; Packer, who broadcast every Final Four since 1975 before departing from CBS after last season, is on the latest nominating ballot. And neither man needs the money.
Packer long ago made a fortune by making deals on and off the court, a few of which involved accepting sponsorship from companies or working with a few of the coaches he covered.
omebody could show me where that conflict turned out to have a negative impact on the game, then I would be first of all embarrassed by it and certainly make sure it didn't happen again.''
Got that?
Knight's involvement is stranger still. After decades of railing against the media, he joined ESPN at the start of last season as an analyst and re-upped for another season - including NCAA tournament duties - just this past November for a handsome fee. But dismissing a few scruples about working for a rival was hardly the tough part about signing on with Packer.
Years ago, when Knight was at Indiana and always put the best interests of the game ahead of his own, he famously railed about betting lines published every day in the Bloomington paper. ``Why don't the newspapers run whores' phone numbers?'' he asked. ``Is betting on basketball, football or baseball less illegal than prostitution?''
The best reason to watch ``Survive and Advance'' is to see whether Packer is as good as his word, or whether Knight uses the new platform to settle a few old scores with the NCAA, since both often do their best work off the page.
We'll have to wait until March to find out whether Packer and Knight are still contrarians.
What we've learned beyond a doubt is that they're already hypocrites.
---
Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitkeap.org
 

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