Not even the NCAA (or FBI) can bring down March Madness

Let's see NCAA headquarters screw this up! (Wait, don’t give these guys a challenge).


The three-week tournament may be the last, purest, realist thing the organization has left in its arsenal. It would take ineptitude of the highest order to sabotage the best unscripted drama in sports.

Not even NCAA President Mark Emmert, who overreached on Penn State sanctions but allowed North Carolina to skate, can spike strip this.

Not even Rick Pitino, who thinks what he did at Louisville has maybe earned him a shot to coach at Georgia, can dampen our enthusiasm.

This has been the dirtiest, scummiest, slimiest, most hypocritical and dysfunctional year in the history of college athletics.

Yet, thankfully, I think the NCAA Tournament is scandal proof.

What has transpired in college athletics, and what may soon come down, can actually be put aside for a few days in March.

My guess is even FBI agents working to bring the NCAA down are happy to put their snitches on hold while everyone fills out their brackets.

I don’t think that’s going to change, even if another championship gets vacated or all the best high school players are allowed to go straight to the NBA.

There is something about the NCAA Tournament that allows it to remain isolated and inoculated from the sordid underbelly that otherwise envelops the sport.

As long as Iona has a chance to beat Duke, count me in.

If that changes, well, count me out.

What is it about the NCAA Tournament that continues to tug on our net strings?[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]

The beauty of it is multifaceted but undeniable. It’s not perfect, but it’s fair. It doesn’t include the “best” 68 schools because that’s not what this is about.


USC and Notre Dame were two of the better teams left out so that Radford and Lipscomb could be let in.

Everybody loves a contest, right? And everybody loves upsets and underdogs. Who doesn't enjoy gambling on pimple-faced freshmen, or seeing flop sweat form on Roy Williams' forehead? Or nicknames you rarely consider--Lumberjacks, Blackbirds, Bison, Bisons, Ramblers, Retrievers--getting their day in\on court.

The NCAA Tournament is a perfect water-cooler mechanism for involvement. The bracket is easy to understand and can be folded up to fit in your wallet. Most of us went to college or can identify with one.

Most of the players involved in the tournament will never be pros and we might forget their names in a month. Yet, for one day, one moment, one shot, they may get to star in their own reality show.

For many of us, it’s personal. It’s about a connection to a time and a place. For me, as a kid, it was thinking UCLA was supposed to win the championship every year? How would a 10-year-old, in 1968, think any different?

Later, in college, another indelible mark was left. I’ve told this story before, but the Cal State Fullerton I entered in the fall of 1976 was reeling after a mass shooting on campus that summer.

On July 12, 1976, a custodian named Edward Charles Alloway shot and killed seven employees in the school library. Fullerton was a fine, commuter state school, but we were collectively injured and lacking in reputation and self-esteem.

Two years later, we were electrified in a different way, when a wayward cast of basketball players led the Titans on an NCAA run to the regional finals. Never mind that two of the starters ended up in prison, one on a murder-for-hire charge.

I can’t overestimate what kind of lasting impact March of 1978 had on us. In 1986, for the L.A. Times, I wrote a massive look back on that merry band of misfits, led by Coach Bobby Dye, who forged that magnificent charge.

Cal State Who scored a first-round win over New Mexico, led by future Lakers star Michael Cooper, on the same day 10-time champion UCLA defeated Kansas.

In the next round, though, UCLA lost to Arkansas in Eugene on the same night Fullerton upended the University of San Francisco, led by Bill Cartwright, in Tempe.

For Titan fans it was an out-of-body experience captured by the screaming headline in the L.A. Times “Fullerton In, UCLA Out!”

The dream ended in the West Regional Finals with a nail-biter loss to Arkansas. The Titans missed a chance to advance to the Final Four when guard Keith Anderson missed a pull-up jumper with the clock winding down.

That final game-clock sequence is burned into my memory.

Forty years later, No. 15 seeded Cal State Fullerton is in the field again, looking to put the hurt on Purdue this Friday in Detroit.

It would be another monumental upset.

I got a big kick Monday seeing the graphic in Monday’s L.A. Times noting the two local teams in this year’s field: UCLA and Fullerton.

Hey, just like 1978, except this year’s Bruins have been relegated to a first-round “play-in” game.

Poor guys.

And look at us now. After UCLA's loss Tuesday, Cal State Fullerton is Southern California's only NCAA representative. And the Titans get to extend this brag all the way until Friday morning. Some former Titans are meeting for watch parties at various eateries around the OC.

The Titans' only other NCAA appearance was 2008. Note the significance of “8” in this cosmic sequence: 1978, 2008, 2018.

In other words: the Boilermakers don't stand a chance.

These are the kind of things that bind people to the tournament.

And no one--not at the NCAA, nor the FBI nor the NBA—can change that.

What therefore hath James Naismith and bracketology joined together, let not G-man put asunder. [/membership]