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March 3, 2010, 11:43 AM ET
I applaud finding things out

by John Gasaway

At the risk of sending traffic to a different (gasp!) college basketball site, Seth Davis and Stewart Mandel have outstanding work posted at SI.com right now. And I know you’ll come running back here when you’re done there, so I approve straying. This once.

Davis just posted the second half of a two-part series (part one is here) where head coaches and assistants are quoted anonymously as they give their actual thoughts (what a concept!) on rival teams and players. I’ve already praised this series in particular, and I’ve long wondered why in the world we don’t see more blind quotes in sportswriting. All of the concerns that rightly attach to anonymous sourcing when you’re writing about something that’s actually important fall away in an instant when the blind quote is merely about a game. You can’t read Davis’ series and not wince at the thought of the thousands of wasted hours that have been lost to coaches uttering empty on-the-record coachspeak muzak and, worse, writers having to faithfully transcribe it all.

Not that coaches don’t say interesting and accurate things on the record from time to time, of course. It’s just that their on-the-record accuracy is going to be limited to a narrow safe zone of topics. No random sample of people is going to be anywhere near as boring as coaches seem to be when they’re on the record.

When you’ve had your fill of opponent scouting, move on to Mandel’s piece on tournament expansion. It’s been exactly a month now since “done deal” first hit the interwebs, and since then this topic, albeit rightly, has been chewed to within an inch of its discursive life. But Mandel apparently has spent at least part of that month doing his legwork, and the result is (what a concept!) things about this topic we didn’t know before, such as:

Yes, there’s the possibility that nothing will happen.

But [Greg Shaheen, NCAA senior VP], the tournament’s unofficial czar, has spent much of his time recently jetting around the country to brief university presidents, conference commissioners and athletic directors on the latest developments. At one point, he visited 13 cities in five days. The timing is such that the NCAA will have to make some definitive decision about the tournament’s future within the next five months–and there are numerous reasons some form of expansion seems increasingly likely.

And this:

To walk away from the existing CBS contract would require quite the sweetheart deal, since more than a third of its total value ($2.13 billion) is due over the next three years. The NCAA seems to be seeking both added revenue streams and long-term stability (according to the Sports Business Journal, the NCAA is seeking a 14-year deal). One reason it may choose to exercise the opt-out rather than wait another three years to renegotiate is that it currently has the market to itself. ESPN’s Monday Night Football contract and FOX and TBS’ major Major League Baseball deals also expire in 2013, and networks will soon begin bidding on rights for the 2014 and 2016 Olympics.

By the way, if you’re not convinced that Mandel has broken new ground here, contrast that last blockquote with this tired belch of “NCAA LOL” cut-and-paste:

Someone at the NCAA needs to take a business course or call Warren Buffett. Since when do you offer one-of-a-kind basketball oceanfront property on the cheap? Always sell high, not low. That’s what the NFL does. It understands the value of its product, waits until the economic timing is right and then opens the bidding. Meanwhile, the NCAA is considering an opt-out during the middle of a recession. How shrewd.

Ground-breaker in a topic that everyone was already talking about 24/7 Stewart Mandel, I salute you!     

For my part I’m on the record as being an anti-expansion purist who finds to his dismay that far and away the silliest arguments in this discussion are being made by people who nominally agree with me. For instance: Do you honestly believe that if the tournament were going to include 96 teams this season that 36,000 people in Syracuse, New York, would have stayed home last Saturday night and said mournfully to one another, “Too bad this regular season has been ruined by that darn watered-down tournament”? Me neither.

Well, I can’t help the silliness, I have my own reasons. Though a flaming liberal in all manner of hoops-related issues (the three-point shot was just about the most fundamental change that has been made to any sport since the forward pass in football, and it was a smashing success–change can be sublime), I find myself an adamant Burkean in this instance. If it is not necessary to change, it is necessary not to change.

Which is all well and good, but after reading Mandel’s piece I’m more certain than ever (and I already thought I was pretty certain) that change is indeed on the way.     

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