By Saturday afternoon it was over. Gonzaga lost to Ohio State and there was not a single West Coast team left in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.
Before we go on, I should tell you I have a thing about East Coast college sports. I’m sick of them, sick of the SEC, sick of the ACC, of UCONN, of Kentucky, of Duke, sick of ESPN/CBS/ABC/NBC and their East-Coast-centric coverage.
So, it pains me to say that Pac-12 basketball lived up to its reputation; the East Coast Sports Industrial Complex had it right, Pac-12 basketball sucks. The once-dominant conference sent 1½ teams to the NCAA tournament this year. The 1 in that 1½ is Colorado, not a West Coast team, and their entry almost doesn’t count since they had to go after winning the Pac-12 conference tournament. The ½ is Cal, which was invited to play in the parking lot outside March Madness Arena. The Golden Bears were pitted against the University of South Florida, which, as real sports fans understand, can be found in west-central Florida; specifically, in the old people’s hive known as Tampa. The idea was to have the two play a game in the parking lot and the winner would be dubbed worthy enough to come inside and participate in the adult tournament.
Cal collapsed, the Old People’s Hive thumped the hell out of our West Coast representative, 65-54. The score was that close only because South Florida didn’t play hard toward the end, most likely due to the exertion of running up and down the court, rebounding, blocking shots, all the while using a little known technique called (I believe this is correct) defense. I would suggest that Cal belongs in the West Coast Conference (WCC), but they’re not that good.
Cal never got past the parking lot. Long Beach bounced out after the round of 64, ditto San Diego State, ditto St. Mary’s, ditto almost-a-West-Coast-team UNLV.
In fact, if you count Gonzaga as a West Coast team, and we’re still waiting for the judge’s decision on that (the Spokane-based school sits 20 miles from the Idaho line), but if we count the Zags, and counting the abovementioned pathetic Cal, the West Coast sent a grand total of 4½ teams to the NCAA tournament.
The 2010 U.S. census reports that 47.8 million people live in California, Oregon, and Washington. Those 47.8 millions managed to dispatch 4½ teams to the Big Dance. After a performance like the one we’ve just witnessed, I don’t need to tell you that no one is guaranteed a spot on our roster. In fact, we have many, many off-season trades to consider — Pasadena for Syracuse, Fresno for Louisville, and Long Beach for Raleigh, to start.
Once again, the school on the other side of the arroyo from SDSU, the University of San Diego (their athletic conference, the WCC) sent three teams to the NCAA tournament. The conference has nine schools playing basketball, one-third of them got invitations, and of the 4½ West Coast teams in the Big Dance, two were from the WCC.
The Mountain West Conference, soon to be absorbed into the East Coast Sports Industrial Complex, delivered four teams to the tournament. Only one was from the West Coast.
Granted, we are at End of Days when it comes to college sports and its increasingly quaint East Coast–West Coast categories. With SDSU football joining the Big East next year, geography and tradition are relics, there is only a race for the most remunerative TV package, and as TCU can tell you, TV packages, like athletic conferences, come and go; there is always a better deal down the road.
College athletic conferences remind me of junior high school kids who play basketball year-round, join travel teams for out-of-state, out-of-season tournaments, lift weights, and go to summer camps. Anything to sharpen their game and get a university scholarship. Providing free athletic services to universities is normally required in order to qualify for a job in the major leagues.
The stampede to form more profitable athletic conferences has no end. To show you how far this has sunk, regard college hockey, not usually considered a cash cow among American sports consumers. There are 59 Division I hockey programs, 20 of them will join a new conference before the 2013–2014 season begins. Exciting news for Colorado College, Nebraska-Omaha, St. Cloud State, Michigan Tech, and Minnesota State University, Mankato. Not so thrilling for the 40-year-old Central Collegiate Hockey Association, the 60-year-old Western Collegiate Hockey Association, or all the hometown rivalries nurtured over decades.
As for fans, they’ll take what they’re given and damn well like it.