Meddling With March Madness

Andrew Luck

Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck answers a question during the NFL combine in Indianapolis last Friday. AP/ Michael Conroy photo

After all we’ve witnessed with conference realignment and the money grab that drove the changes, it should come as no surprise that a number of voices are now pushing an overhaul of the men’s NCAA basketball tournament. Central to their cause is the elimination of automatic bids for conference champions.

“Let’s get rid of Robert Morris and Holy Cross and invite the 64 best teams in the country,” said one analyst.

Sure, let’s get rid of the most exciting tournament in sports, eliminate the little guys and keep all the money in the hand of the big conferences. Proponents of reform don’t actually want to eliminate the tournament, but they assume that we’d all rather watch the seventh-place ACC team instead of, say, Butler. Having the little guys in the field is a big part of the magic and madness that make the tournament so riveting. And the possibility of participation keeps the so-called lowmajors engaged all season.

We’ll all have to fight the big guys on this eventually. Their stance is simple. They spend on huge recruiting budgets and state-of-the-art facilities, which are expensive, therefore they want all the money. But it’s way more fun to watch Belmont or Vermont chase their dreams and push a Kansas or a Duke to the limit.

This is one event in sports that does not need to be new and improved.

The NFL Combine is winding down in Indianapolis, and one of the most observed measurables is the 40-yard dash. Very few prospective NFL players run as fast as their college times would indicate. And college players rarely live up to the times collected in high school or scholastic combines.

Does everyone get slower? Of course not. But ask NFL scouts and they’ll tell you that hand-held times are notoriously unreliable, even more so when conducted by people with a strong interest in the outcome.

The combine uses electric timing that is accurate and free of human error. Which explains why your 4.28 cover corner actually runs a 4.46. It has frequently been pointed out that track speed does not a football player make, but a poor 40 time can drop a skill player a couple of rounds and that translates to big dollars.

The only player from UH to make the combine is former defensive tackle Vaughn Meatoga, who has excellent feet and should fare well on speed and agility tests. Every other UH player will likely have to pin his hopes on signing as an undrafted free agent.

The odds go way down for the undrafted, but as James Fenderson, Mana Silva and Davone Bess have demonstrated, it’s not impossible.