While it's still winter

Men's Basketball

This marks roughly the 40th consecutive year that the NCAA basketball tourney has come and gone without any acknowledgment in this space aside from the sort of disparaging remarks I'm about to spew.

The basketball may be terrific but the pretext is rotten. Because as a festival of genuine amateur sport the annual NCAA men's extravaganza is a sham -- cynically celebrating everything that's wrong with college sport. It is profoundly corrupt rewarding most only those who cheat best.

Why distinguished colleges and universities that at least try to play by the rules continue to play the role of suckers in this charade -- according it undeserved legitimacy by participating when they know their role is pathetic -- is beyond me. Does a crummy occasional invitation to serve as cannon fodder in this thing justify bowing to the buzzards who stage and dominate it? Hard to believe an enlightened college president would actually believe that.

If the honorable schools took a stand this entire farce would quickly crumble and its nefarious orchestrator -- the National Collegiate Athletic Association -- would be out of business overnight. You want terrific basketball? Watch the NBA where the rules of the game are at least above board and abided equally by all.

The fawning of the mainstream media over this outrage is yet another scandal. It's a classic cop-out. Have we no shame? But this year, USA Today at least put a little dent in the idiotic pretenses of the nonsense by publishing the coaches' salaries at the 68 schools invited to this macabre "dance," much to the embarrassment no doubt of at least 40 said academic-groves.

You'll surely not be surprised to hear two eminent scholars with strong New England roots lead this dubious parade. At Kentucky, Rick Pitino -- ex of Providence and the Celtics -- makes $7,789,200 a year. At Louisville, John Calipari, ex of U-Mass, makes $7,435,576. In third place, dripping with his customary piety, is Duke's Mike Krzyzewski at $5,550,475. Might you wonder how the English Departments of these schools tolerate such true-madness.

On the other hand both Pitino and Calipari have flopped again, booted early and ingloriously. So there is some justice left, I guess!


It's too early to get carried away and not even official as this is written. But the stunning and impassioned surge lifting the Bruins from the brink of humiliation to a bit of redemption in a mere week leaves one a tad breathless. It's a hard team to figure, but then the game itself having lately changed so much is harder than ever to handicap.

Having pretty much counted them out a half dozen times this season I'll not mess with guessing how long they can swim with the Big Boys in the postseason. At the moment -- the playoffs within grasp with only three games left -- it's enough to greet with pleasure the possibilities of a first-round joust and if it's to be with Claude Julien's Canadiens wouldn't that be dandy, whatever the result.

In the meantime, the Bruins desperate and rather gallant surge to the wire wins them at least some relief from the carping of us critics while restoring some dignity to this proud outfit, which had been lagging. And that, for the moment, may be enough.

Women's Basketball

Lastly, we have history of a sort being made with the U-Conn women's basketball dynasty being shockingly shuttered by little old Mississippi State in the semi-finals of the more genuine women's national championship tourney. Had it been a lightning bolt that finally toppled them it couldn't have been more dramatic. Nor has what they've done ever been quite surpassed in the turgid annals of college sport.

Being undefeated in anything for 111 straight contests over 865 days covering three seasons at your art-form's highest level is sublime on its face. But with eminence in amateur sport cheapened by the cheating that's rampant and the cheap behavior equally endemic what makes the achievements of the U-Conn ladies so special is the fact they've stayed above all that.

Much of the credit goes to Coach Geno Auriemma. He can be something of a puzzle and his tendency to allow his kids to run up the score against pathetically outmatched opponents can be infuriating. But on the issues that really count Auriemma has done a superb job. He's been at it now a full generation and there have been no scandals, violations, ethical lapses of note.

His players know how to behave -- on and off the court -- and there's little doubt about where the inspiration and absolute insistence on all that comes from. His players attend classes, function as students, and GRADUATE! He's had 100 percent graduation rates on teams that have ruled the land in the game they play. Remarkable!

But if none of that can be taken away from U-Conn, there remains painful irony for them to now ponder as well. When they met Mississippi State in the same tournament just a year ago they won by an astonishing 60 points. It was an insult the lady Bulldogs now declare festered with them the entire year, driving them in the end to their historic moment.

So much for running up the score!

- Clark Booth is a renowned Boston sports writer and broadcast journalist. He spent much of his long career at Boston’s WCVB-TV Chanel 5 as a correspondent specializing in sports, religion, politics and international affairs.