SBD/March 17, 2011/Colleges

Columnists Find Plenty Of Fault With NCAA's First Four Games

The NCAA's creation of the First Four games for this year's men's basketball tournament "caused a collective snore," according to SI.com's Stewart Mandel, who writes under the header, "First First Four Proves To Be A Flop." NCAA tournament organizers beginning this year "decided to devote two extra nights to 'showcasing' what was already the most riveting sporting event on the calendar," but by showcasing "some of the worst teams in the bracket, the event proved more of a buzzkill than an opening toast." Only die-hard fans "could have still been tuned to truTV by night's end Wednesday" for VCU's 59-46 win over USC. After a "promising start a night earlier, when UNC-Asheville rallied to beat Arkansas-Little Rock in overtime, the First Four deteriorated into what many expected: A series of forgettable games between largely irrelevant teams." This is despite crowds of more than 10,000 for each doubleheader at Univ. of Dayton Arena and school and city officials who "went out of their way to make the visitors welcome and give the arena a tourney feel"  (SI.com, 3/17). SPORTING NEWS' Greg Couch writes, "The NCAA needs to be careful. It is muddying up its own event. These first four games Tuesday and Wednesday are the ugly stepchild of the NCAA Tournament. They throw off our national rhythm" (SPORTING NEWS TODAY, 3/17).

DON'T PRESS YOUR LUCK: YAHOO SPORTS' Jason King writes under the header, "First Four Falls Flat." The opening four-game slate "can officially be deemed a failure." The format "isn't the problem," and there might not be a "better place to stage the event." The "problem was with the participants." Asked if the First Four felt like the "real" NCAA tournament after his team advanced to the next round, VCU coach Shaka Smart said, "That’s a silly question, to be honest with you. We’re sitting up here, and the NCAA logo is behind me. The game was on TV. I don’t know what else it would’ve been other than an NCAA tournament game. It’s not the NIT. The regular season is over and there’s a huge NCAA logo on the middle of the floor." But King writes, "How about First Bore? Perhaps we should just pretend as if this never happened and move on" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 3/17). ESPN's Doug Gottlieb said, "I thought they did a really good job on truTV. Two days ago they put out all the stops -- they got Nantz, they got the Final Four crew calling the games. But it felt like a game on truTV, it felt like a play-in game. You can call it the first round all you want, everyone in the real world thinks the tournament starts today" ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 3/17). L.A. Times columnist Bill Plaschke said, "NCAA, please give me my tournament back. Just start it on Thursday and wipe this other stuff out" ("Around The Horn," ESPN, 3/16). However, in Newark, Brendan Prunty noted the "consensus amongst the first four teams to play in the new format Tuesday night was that it felt just like a regular NCAA Tournament game." CBS and Turner Sports flew in their "top executives for the game, who all sat courtside," while NCAA President Mark Emmert and NCAA Tournament Selection Committee Chair Gene Smith also were in attendance (NJ.com, 3/16).

FULL-COURT PRESS: UAB lost in its first-round matchup against Clemson Tuesday night, and USA TODAY's Mike Lopresti notes as soon as UAB made the tournament, "the skeptics lined up to take their turns swinging." Lopresti: "In the best of times, getting sent to a play-in round in Dayton is an acquired taste, to be faced with stoic acceptance, reminding yourself the glass is half full. But what if you turn on the television and you're talked about like you were trespassers? You win 22 games and your conference regular season title, and you're interlopers?" UAB coach Mike Davis said, "I can't even explain to you the magnitude of how crushed they were to hear that." He added. "I just think what put a damper on everything was just the after-effect that people were saying we didn't deserve to be in. ... They live to see their name come across the screen. And they think so highly of opinions that people say about them on TV. For our guys to witness that was really, really heartbreaking for them" (USA TODAY, 3/17).

GOOD SEATS STILL AVAILABLE: In Charlotte, Jim Utter notes with both North Carolina and Duke playing their opening-weekend tournament games at Time Warner Cable Arena, a "sellout was seemingly virtually assured," but as of yesterday afternoon, "that's not happened." Nearly 2,600 tickets still remained for the Friday and Sunday games. Additional tickets "have been sold since Sunday night’s announcement of which teams would play in Charlotte, but some of the sales have been offset by tickets returned by the participating schools -- Duke, North Carolina, Long Island, Hampton, Michigan, Tennessee, Washington and Georgia." UNC-Charlotte AD Judy Rose, whose school is host for the games, said, "This is the first year every single NCAA game is televised, which may make watching from home more convenient for some fans" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 3/17).
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