TIME OUT by Joe Flanagan

March madness … and more madness in store

The culmination of the girls and boys state tournaments puts a wrap and bow on another basketball season in Nebraska.
But, as exciting as those annual events are, basketball fans now get the pleasure of enjoying the biggest, gaudiest basketball present of the year – March Madness.
Many say, with perhaps the exception of the Super Bowl, the annual NCAA basketball tournament has become America’s premier sporting event.
What has made the tourney so popular is “bracket mania”. Not only do hoop junkies and serious basketball fans become immersed in the event, but casual fans – and some who don’t even watch games during the regular season – scratch out their brackets to enter pools and contests nationwide.
When the tourney tips off Thursday, we’ll again be treated to a giddy, almost non-stop extravaganza of basketball thrills, sure to include exhilirating moments that will become “instant memories” we draw on years from now.
March Madness has become so big, in fact, it doesn’t end until the first Monday of April!
Therein lies the problem, however. If you’re an NCAA tourney fan, finish your brackets and enjoy the fun while you can, because nothing is ever good enough or big enough these days.
All reports indicate the NCAA powers-that-be are seriously con-sidering expanding the tourney field from 65 teams to as many as 96, possibly for next year.
Great. Joe Average Fan might need to tape three sheets of paper together just to compile a bracket. The event will likely stretch nearly a month in length. And, as much as fans adore those darling tourney sleepers like Siena and Winthrop and the upset havoc they occasionally wreak, how many are going to want to take the time and make the effort to figure out who all those Quinnipiacs and Stony Brooks are among 32 more qualifiers?
Why would the NCAA bigwigs want to mess with a nearly perfect sporting event? Dollars, of course. Greed.
You can listen to any amount of rationalizations and excuses, but the bottom line is, the NCAA is in a window of renegotiating its television contract. More teams = more games. More games = more TV commercial time. More TV commercials = more dollars for the network, which in turn means the NCAA can barter a sweeter (bigger) deal.
Who cares about the integrity of the event when more than $6 billion dollars is involved? Yes, that’s illion with a b.
Sadly, more and more, money drives our games.
Professional sports long ago became a greedy, bloated battleground where billionaires pay millionaires only to see the millionaires complain of being underpaid and strike for a bigger slice of the pie. Of course, it’s Joe Fan who ultimately pays the freight.
Dollar mania has also invaded the lower levels of athletics. The NCAA basketball tourney, for example. College football’s  myriad bowl games with their own television mega-deals and, most recently, the BCS conglomeration. You wanna compete and be a winner in college athletics? Build shiny, expensive facilities and fork out multi-millions for a “big-time” coach. No problem. Thanks again, Joe Fan.
We’ve even seen this green wave slap ashore on the high school scene. The NSAA adding third-place games to the state basketball tournaments? It wasn’t because everyone was bored on tournament Saturday with nothing else to do. Can you say added revenue boys and girls?
In fact, in many high school sports – basketball, volleyball, soccer to name a few – dollars have begun to influence success. More and more, these sports and others have become year-round endeavors with clubs, camps and off-season leagues and tournament circuits. Athletes and teams can’t just show up the first day of practice each year and expect to compete anymore. And the trend will likely continue to escalate, if history is any indication.
Will there be a time in the future – perhaps the near future – when the most successful high school teams are simply those whose schools, clubs, boosters and parents can afford to shell out the highest dollar for their athletes to have the most extensive year-round training?
It wouldn’t surprise me. Seems to be the American way.