General view of court in the NCAA Tournament

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Bernstein: NCAA Tournament Is The Fraud We Love

We recognize the corrupt system as we yearn for more of the action.

Dan Bernstein
April 02, 2019 - 10:09 am

(670 The Score) As long as they're going to keep trotting out this rough beast of a free-labor cartel, it might as well be as spectacularly entertaining as it is, doing all its old tricks proved to warm our cold hearts.

There's no arguing its awesomeness and awfulness, a perfect mockery of what it claims to be, playing out in absolute glory to the delight of our distracted masses.

That's all the NCAA Tournament is, the owned-and-operated flagship insult from the revenue-generating college sports, rubbing our noses in it as we beg for more. We're good with the fundamental injustice of the millions made on the backs of players working for nothing, all to supply the coaches and clothing companies with their very blood and treasure. It's in plainer sight than ever now too, with even the sports' emperors and their media mouthpieces decrying all the obvious wrongs before pivoting back to talking zone defense and inbounds plays.  

It's a tacit admission from all of us, a shared shrug and "Whaddaya gonna do?"

That we even have a sliding scale of coaching loathsomeness speaks to how far and how quickly this has careened into the ridiculous. Take your pick now between the one with multiple recruiting scandals and a show-cause penalty for lying to NCAA investigators, the one with both mealy-mouthed responses to sexual assault allegations regarding his players and a less than full-throated condemnation of the acts of a serial sex predator facilitated on his campus during his time of outsized power. Or there's the one who pointedly defended Joe Paterno and made a spectacle of berating the student newspaper for daring to have opinions about how well his players were performing. Then there's the fresh-faced new guy in the group, who left Arkansas-Little Rock for UNLV and merely coached there for a whole 19 days before jumping to his current position.

But none of them are Steve Alford or Dave Bliss, coming up well short of witness intimidation to influence a sexual assault victim in order to keep the assailant on his team only to see him strike again or scheming to frame a murdered player as a drug dealer. And none is Art Briles, overseeing the protection of his precious army of barbarians as they raped and pillaged the townsfolk with impunity.

So, yeah, let's tip this thing off.

We're all agreeing to keep two concurrent sets of cognitive books, even as we learn to dislike all the inherent conflict and lies the NCAA represents, its entire need for existence questionable at best.

And despite so much laid bare, we're back to setting new highs for viewership and interest, because the structure of the competition remains so perfect for our attention spans, our thirst for new stimuli and rampant gambling addiction. It still fills a need that's growing, not going away. And we get it, but we don't get it.

Jerry Tarkanian had it right all those years ago, and we were shamefully quick to cast him as a villain without really listening to what he was trying to say. He told us about what was being perpetrated on vulnerable young men by a system set up to use them for its own gain while never really providing anything of actual value in return, and we branded him wrongly for telling a difficult truth. He tried to use the court system to expose how twisted it was in ways that punished the less fortunate, and only now we see the same system accomplishing nothing by using howitzers to blow up the anthills we all have known were there the whole time and about which we don't care a whit. The current FBI stuff is comical yet has real consequences for those just doing the accepted daily business of exactly what's compelling our eyes right now.

There was a T-shirt being sold at Duke in 1991 before the national championship game in which Krzyzewski squared off against Tarkanian, hawked by opportunistic students making a cottage business on the elevated concrete walkway that connected the leftward transept of the Gothic-style west campus with the modern Bryan Center. The shirt was mostly plain white in the popular style of a logo and slogan on the left front breast with some design commemorating the game on the back, and the watchword was "Duke vs. UNLV, Scholars vs. Scumbags."

I owned one and wore it proudly at the time, and I'm glad I have no idea where it is. 

George Orwell couldn't have written it better.​

Dan Bernstein is a co-host of 670 The Score’s Bernstein & McKnight Show in middays. You can follow him on Twitter @dan_bernstein.​​​​