By John Fanta
FOX Sports College Basketball Writer
When the calendar turned to March earlier this year, the majority of sports fans would have probably heard about it of Saint Peter and he thought of the basilica in Rome.
If you then specified that you were referring to the school, I’d venture to guess that most people wouldn’t be able to pinpoint its location on a US map or know you were talking about a university.
But on the third Thursday in March 2022, millions gathered around televisions to watch a day of NCAA tournament games. That night, the small university in Jersey City, New Jersey, was no longer an afterthought.
An institution that few knew before waking up that day became sports and news history with the historic upset of blue blood Kentucky in the Big Dance.
These Peacocks and their Elite Eight run that captivated the sports world are the ultimate case of NCAA Tournament beauty.
It’s a three-week event that’s unrivaled for its glitz, drama, underdog stories, sensational finishes, atmospheres, personalities and moments.
Sister Jean lives there.
It’s where Ron Hunter falls off his stool as his son, RJ, hits the biggest shot of his life can tug at your heartstrings.
There UMBC goes from no-name to the first and only No. 16 seed to beat a No. 1 seed.
It’s where Kris Jenkins can be a hero by taking a shot.
The NCAA Tournament is a tradition, one that forges and continues to deliver the goods. It reflects what’s fun about college sports, and for this three-week stretch, it seems like the rest of the stuff is on hold.
We’ll see if this continues to hold true when the calendar shifts to March in future years. Because right now these issues and the future of college sports hang in the balance.
The amateur model of college sports as we once knew it isn’t going away — it’s already gone, thanks to the NIL. But there are too many instances to count in college sports where it’s basically pay-to-play. Regulation? This is not possible, and how could it be? Congress said it could do nothing to formulate rules or uniformity in the NIL. All of these changes were going to come with customization, and there’s a lot to figure out.
The state of college sports is on the mind of anyone who works, participates or covers it. Someone told me recently that things seem to have calmed down since it was announced that UCLA and USC are joining the Big Ten in 2024. But how could things be calm after this news? (Which, by the way, had to be one of the best kept secrets in the history of college sports.)
After the Bruins and Trojans announced their move, there may not have been any real movement, but it’s only a matter of time until Notre Dame makes a move or Clemson switches conferences or we see some change from the Big 12, Pac -12 and ACC. All bets are off. Regionalization was and is out the window. Money trumps everything and football is obviously the driver of the bus.
This shift was inevitable and expected. The dollars football generates will always be in a league of its own and more than college basketball can generate. That said, if we have to debate the thrills of the college hoops postseason compared to the College Football Playoff, let’s face it: It’s no contest.
Amidst all these debates and changes, it is easy to suggest the solution is to let football be football. But a pigskin-only separation from every other sport seems easier said than done. Every athletic department in the country that has football relies on it to generate the revenue that allows the other sports the school operates. they all fall under one umbrella now.
A football break would make sense since the way the sport is governed is so different from others. But if that break happens, and let’s say the SEC and Big Ten make their own deal that could resemble the AFC and NFC, they’ll be in their own world. The NCAA — and the best event it has — could be scrutinized and put in jeopardy.
Just listen to what Jeff Goodman had to say on “The Field of 68” podcast earlier this month.
There’s no telling what will happen next in college sports, but the movement is just beginning. However, in order for the NCAA to survive, it needs to keep March Madness because revenue generation and television contracts with Turner and CBS are the lifeblood of this league.
Preserving the tournament is obviously a top priority, but the philosophy of someone like SEC commissioner Greg Sankey and the other big boys in college sports is so starkly different from the mentality of Saint Peter’s, Loyola Chicago, VCU and some of the other Cinderellas. that shine in the tournament. These schools are not on the same page as the big boys. In fact, the two parties are not even reading the same book.
When it comes to basketball, conference realignment creates some issues. But everything becomes clearer because a selection committee controls which 68 teams head to the tournament, and there is a window open for the “underdog” to have a chance.
My plea to the powers that be, even those who oversee the super football conferences that are taking shape and don’t need to acknowledge it because they’re swimming in a golden Scrooge McDuck lake: Whatever you do, don’t mess with the NCAA Tournament .
John Fanta is a national basketball broadcaster and writer for FOX Sports. He covers the sport in a variety of capacities, from calling games on FS1 to serving as lead host on the BIG EAST Digital Network to providing commentary for The Field of 68 Media Network. Follow him on Twitter @John_Fanta.
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