Commentary

DeCock: It's not me, NCAA tournament, it's you

ldecock@newsobserver.comApril 6, 2013 

NCAA Michigan Florida Basketball

Florida and Michigan compete during the first half of a regional final game in the NCAA college basketball tournament, Sunday, March 31, 2013, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Tim Donnelly)

TIM DONNELLY — AP

We had some good times, there’s no doubt about it. Nassau Coliseum, 1994? I’ll never forget it. Dancing in the aisles after Penn beat Nebraska, one of the great nights of my college career.

I already was smitten in the spring of 1989, watching those Flying Illini, but that night on Long Island sealed the deal.

And for the two decades since, what a relationship we’ve had. The places we’ve gone. The moments we’ve shared. All the wrecked brackets we’ve left in our wake. It’s been a fun time.

But it’s over. You’ve changed.

You know what? I’m over you, NCAA tournament. I’m not in love anymore. I’m ready to move on.

It’s not me. It’s you.

It’s hard to pinpoint the moment when it all started to fall apart, but all the signs are there.

You were always a stickler for protocol – “Only NCAA cups allowed beyond this point” has always been the cute little inside joke of our Marches together – but now you’re that way about everything. All business, all the time.

You celebrate your “corporate partners” and pretend to care about “student-athletes” while making them play after midnight, get back to campus early Monday morning, and leave again Wednesday afternoon.

And now you’re running with a different crowd. All these new friends, Charles Barkley and all his Turner pals, they don’t know you like I do. You run around, trying to impress them, and they don’t care. It’s obvious from the way they treat you. All they’ve done is kept you out late on Sunday nights.

Remember when we used to spend Sunday afternoon together, getting home in time to watch “60 Minutes?” Remember your old friends, like Billy Packer and Gus Johnson? They knew what you were all about.

We used to go neat little places, gyms that had the spirit of college basketball inside them, places the game made famous and vice versa. Now it seems like we only go to the big-box stores and chain restaurants of sports – giant football stadiums where you can hardly tell a basketball game is taking place.

In Indianapolis, at least, it was in the end zone of Lucas Oil Stadium. The pictures from Arlington, Texas, were frightening, a vast enclosed space with a court hidden somewhere in the middle.

That’s no place to watch a basketball game. That’s no place to play a basketball game. It’s soulless, heartless, cynical and greedy – everything the NCAA tournament has become.

You even took away our media seats to sell a few more tickets. Oh, I know others don’t care about that, but that’s what brought us together, and now it’s driving us apart. It’s what made you so much fun to spend time with, and that’s gone now.

It’s all about the money. I guess it always was, but things were still rough enough around the edges to pretend that it wasn’t.

From a distance, I guess all the drama is still there, but it’s sanitized now. We once had something real, and now it feels as contrived and fake as “Real Housewives of the NCAA tournament.”

I know you’ll do fine. You’ve never been more popular, so I guess I’m happy for you. It’s what you’ve always wanted, to be more like your friends in the NFL and NBA, bigger than big, arm in arm with the Fortune 500. The ratings are through the roof.

But that’s not what I fell in love with, so our relationship from now on will be strictly business. I’ll still come around to see you in March, but there won’t be any romance. This is a financial arrangement, and let’s not pretend it isn’t.

We’ll always have Long Island.

DeCock: ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock, (919) 829-8947

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