Whistle Blower: March Hameshuga

This isn't "March Madness" - it's March whackiness, craziness, lunacy, insanity.

todd warnick 88 (photo credit: )
todd warnick 88
(photo credit: )
This isn't "March Madness" - it's March whackiness, craziness, lunacy, insanity. George Mason? A commuter school in northern Virgina founded in 1972? Colonial Athletic Association? 11th seed? Final Four? Put them right there with Penn '79 (Final Four), Cleveland State '86 (Sweet 16 - beaten by David Robinson and Navy) and LSU '86 (the only other 11th seed to make the Final Four). Or, after beating heavily favored Michigan State, North Carolina and UConn (as well as a very good Wichita State team), maybe we need to start thinking in terms of the Shot Heard 'Round the World, Super Bowl III, Bobby Plump (he of the winning shot in 1954 for Indiana's little Milan High School, made famous in the movie Hoosiers), The Miracle on Ice, and Bangladesh beating Australia in a one-day international last summer. Given the rest of the teams in the Final Four - UCLA, LSU and Florida - there is no reason that the Patriots won't go all the way. Along with George Mason, though, there are still some good stories out there: UCLA and its storied history; LSU, led by Glen "Big Baby" Davis, a 2.06-meter, 148-kilogram Shaquille O'Neal look-alike (Shaq also went to LSU); and a 2.11m French-Cameroonian/Swede named Joakim Noah - son of 1983 French Open champion, now singer/musician, Yannick Noah. THE GREAT thing about the NCAA basketball tournaments, men's and women's - let us also pay homage to the women's Final Four and Maryland's Israeli guard Shay Doron - is that every stage is just one game - and in one game anything can happen. It's a perfect format for fans and players (the socalled "student-athletes") alike, who are, after all, supposed to also be attending classes at a university. And it's a format that is completely inappropriate for professional basketball, both in the Euroleague and now Israel BSL. It is a sign of perhaps immaturity more than anything else that ULEB, which runs the Euroleague, continues to insist on its own "Final Four" for crowning Europe's basketball champion. I have heard all the reasons - television, "this is Europe, not America", etc. - and I simply don't buy it. (The more cynical also claim that the main reason for Europe's Final Four format is to enable the heads of the league to get together for a long weekend of social activities, cocktail parties, dinners, etc. If the latter is true, there is also a place for that - because like it or not, that's where sometimes a lot of business gets done. The NBA does the same thing - but they do it in the middle of the season during All-Star Weekend and not during the playoffs at the end of the basketball year.) WHATEVER THE case, one game should not decide a championship in a professional basketball league, because as we said before, in one game anything can happen - a star player goes cold or an unheralded player suddenly comes through with a big game. In contrast, a series of best-of-five or best-of-seven also develops its own drama: rivalries, changes in coaching strategies, great comebacks, dramatic endings and memorable shots, and is usually won by the team that is most consistent throughout the series. It's what divides a champion from a runner-up. There has been only one European example of a bestof-five championship, and that was in the Euroleague's first season, 2000/1, when Virtus Bologna beat TAU Vittoria in the fifth and final game of the series, 82-74. It was a great series, full of drama, and was unfortunately discontinued the following year, when the Euroleague and FIBA merged their leagues and everyone returned to the Final Four format. Most countries in Europe have their own internal championship series, and they are almost all at least best-of-five. The Israeli league has followed the Euroleague's lead, and this year for the first time will hold a Final Four instead of a championship series. The reason? Anything can happen, of course, and perhaps perennial champion Maccabi Tel Aviv will have an off night and Hapoel Jerusalem -or whomever - will get hot, eke out a victory and steal a championship. That's fine for a bunch of college kids - but it doesn't work for professional athletes, or their fans. Todd Warnick was a professional basketball referee from 1973-2004, including 25 years in Israel's top league and 20 years at Europe's highest levels.