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Fallout

Posted by Charles P. Pierce  September 15, 2011 04:18 PM

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An earlier post touted Taylor Branch's landmark piece in The Atlantic that fairly well dismantles the entire raison d'etre for how college sports are organized in this country. By far, this is the most interesting passage in it:

William Friday, the former North Carolina president, recalls being yanked from one Knight Commission meeting and sworn to secrecy about what might happen if a certain team made the NCAA championship basketball game. “They were going to dress and go out on the floor,” Friday told me, “but refuse to play,” in a wildcat student strike. Skeptics doubted such a diabolical plot. These were college kids—unlikely to second-guess their coaches, let alone forfeit the dream of a championship. Still, it was unnerving to contemplate what hung on the consent of a few young volunteers: several hundred million dollars in television revenue, countless livelihoods, the NCAA budget, and subsidies for sports at more than 1,000 schools. Friday’s informants exhaled when the suspect team lost before the finals.

This Blog spent a lot of years hanging around college basketball, and it can say with complete assurance that the events that Friday recounts for Branch here almost certainly happened the way he says they did. In fact, the events in question have been an open secret at the Final Four for over 20 years. (Not only that, but the rumor that one or both of the teams is going to refuse to jump for the ball on championship night is now as reliable a staple of the Final Four as sweatsuits and buffet lines.) Let us speculate for a moment on when it might have occurred.

In 1991, the UNLV Running Rebels were in a preposterous position. They were the defending NCAA champions, and they came into the tournament undefeated. They also came into the tournament knowing that a thousand-pound dunghammer was being held over their heads by the NCAA, which nonetheless allowed the Rebels to play out the season and that year's tournament. (Which, in itself, pretty much proves a lot of what Branch says about the legitimacy of the NCAA as a governing body.) Among their players was Greg Anthony, an extremely popular and outspoken point guard who'd already been knuckled by the NCAA when it cracked down on him for a T-shirt venture  Anthony had launched. (Anthony is now an college-basketball analyst for CBS, where it is very unlikely he ever will be asked about this.) If ever a team was likely to feel fed up enough with the NCAA to do something like this, it was that UNLV team.

In addition, Branch says that Friday learned of the possible job action while a member of the Knight Commission, which issued its first report in 1991. In addition, UNLV indeed did "lose before the final," being eliminated by Duke in the semifinals in a game featuring a whole bunch of curiosities in its final few minutes.

Just sayin'
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