WASHINGTON — Greg Gard, bless him, wouldn’t take the bait, wouldn’t play the victim card. And we tried. Shaft job, right, coach? Could you talk about that bogus seed? How does it feel to be so egregiously wronged?
The Wisconsin Badgers basketball coach declined comment on any number of NCAA Tournament sins, from getting stuck in the 8-9 game to landing in top-seeded Villanova’s neighborhood so early in the bracket. But he did stop in the bowels of the Verizon Center and made a point to mention this:
“It’ll be a quick turnaround,” Gard said of his Badgers (25-9), who’ll play Virginia Tech in Buffalo on Thursday in the first round of the Big Dance. “That one, I can never understand.
“Teams, regardless of conferences, if you’re playing Sunday, why are you getting a Thursday game? You obviously had a great weekend, regardless of (whether it’s) Big Ten, ACC, the leagues that play (over the weekend). I don’t know. Someone’s going to have to explain that logic to me.”
Exactly. Which is why someone, someone powerful, needs to make sure the Big Ten Tournament title game is never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever the direct lead-in to the CBS selection show again.
Money, you say. Tradition, you sniff. Contracts, you scoff.
All well and good. Also, garbage.
The committee closes the books earlier than you think
Consider what Gard was saying here. Consider the practical downside of being the last Division I champion crowned and then the potentially short turnaround for either a) a First Four game; b) a Thursday first-round contest to be played Lord-knows-where. This week, Gard is tasked with getting the Badgers home, propping them up, prepping them for the road to come, then getting everybody to upstate New York in time for Wednesday open practices, meetings and news conferences.
Consider that the selection committee — that paragon of logic — has shown, time and again, that it starts ratcheting down and locking things in after the first week of March, before most Power 5 conference tourneys get underway.
So if you’re the Big Ten, why hold your showcase event so late in the game? Why would you let the bracket get so boxed in that the only places left for two of your best and hottest teams — Michigan and Wisconsin, in this case — are to be uncomfortably shoved in as 7 seeds and 8 seeds, respectively, because those reportedly were the final two pieces of Bracketville real estate to be had?
Let the America East get stuck with the last pair of bowling shoes on the shelf.
‘Someone’s going to have to explain that logic to me.’
— Wisconsin basketball coach Greg Gard
Full disclosure: There are media reasons for this, too — namely, that the story of the day (the bracket reveal) rolls in so quickly after the Big Ten championship game ends that the 2 1/2 hours that preceded it wind up washed away like footprints in the sand. Also, CBS people run into the locker room and start pulling away players and coaches from the rest of us digital louts in order to get everybody in place for their cut-in, those 11 seconds of quasi-glory.
Congratulations, Badgers! You’re an 8 seed! Big smiles for Seth and Clark! And … cue the sarcastic applause.
Hey, Michigan got shafted, too
Imagine if the game itself — and the winning squad — had a little more time to breathe. More time to do a victory lap.
Michigan’s journey to the title — hell, the journey to D.C., period — was a narrative dropped straight from the desk of a Hollywood screenwriting hack. The Wolverines were scared witless during the traumatic aborted takeoff of their private charter jet; star players, still in shock, may or may not have voted on skipping this event entirely; they cowboyed up and turned up anyway; they were forced to play in practice jerseys while the NTSB bogarted their luggage; they knocked off the best team in the bracket, and never once looked back.
The Wolverines should and always will savor their trophy and the fireworks and shower of streamers raining from the roof. But the rest of the world outside Ann Arbor moved on so quickly that it was forgotten just about everywhere else. Because to 98 percent of the American viewing audience, the Big Ten championship is merely an appetizer, not the main course.
If you can’t tip the title game Saturday night, tip it at noon or 12:30 p.m. ET on Sunday. And no later. If CBS cries bloody murder, change networks.
What, Team Big Bang Theory doesn’t have a 60-minute special they could throw on to fill in the gap? Or a long pre-bracket tournament preview/interview show, the sort that pads the interminable hours until Super Bowl Sunday kickoff?
The selection show, one of the must-watch staples of the late-winter sports calendar for more than a generation, needs a live game as a lead-in? Please.
Fortunately for the Big Ten, Gard’s beef won’t be an issue next March. In order to secure the services of Madison Square Garden, the league is shifting the conference tourney to the first weekend of the month as opposed to the traditional second. So the 2018 champion and runner-up will have a week of rest before Selection Sunday, a week to recover, a week to plan, a week to recharge.
And maybe the Power 5 schools have this all wrong. Maybe they should look to get league tournaments out of the way sooner as a rule as opposed to an exception. Maybe they should let the smaller conferences take the stage after March 10 and sweat how they’re going to get to Dayton at the last minute without breaking the bank. Or their spirits.