March 28, 1997
JIM LEHRER: Now the hype and hoopla about the college basketball playoffs. We begin with this report by Kwame Holman.
KWAME HOLMAN: Every March college basketball embarks on an annual feast now known as March Madness--the National Collegiate Athletic Association's championships tournaments for men and women. In the men's division 64 teams are chosen from a field of more than 300. The 64 then are whittled to a single champion over three weeks of what arguably has become the biggest sporting event in the country.
The tournament began in 1939 when the University of Oregon beat Ohio State for the first NCAA championship. Over the years upsets and heroics have characterized the tournament. In 1957, the University of North Carolina, a prohibitive underdog, beat Wilt Chamberlain and the Kansas Jayhawks in three overtime to win the championship. In the 1960s and early 70s college basketball had its version of a dynasty. John Wooden and UCLA won 10 championships in 12 years with players like Lew Alcindor and Bill Walton. The 1979 championship matched superstars "Magic" and Larry Bird.
It was in 1985 that the tournament expanded to the current 64 teams, offering a chance for smaller, less well-known schools to enter the elite field. That in turn brought interest from a more diverse group of fans nationwide, and the national TV networks saw the opportunity to capture those fans as viewers. In 1991, CBS paid $1 billion for the exclusive rights to broadcast the tournament for five years. Last year the network signed a new deal, paying more than $1.7 billion to air the basketball extravaganza until the year 2002. This year advertisers on CBS will pay an average of $600,000 for a 30-second spot on championship night. The women's version of March Madness draws less money and fewer viewers, but also has grown in popularity. Meanwhile, both tournaments have become fixtures in workplaces nationwide as employees join pools betting on which team will make it to tournament's end. And this year more than 50,000 fans went to cyberspace to enter the CBS Sports Line Pool, vying for prizes for picking winning teams.
SPOKESMAN: People get a little crazy about it. There's games going on all over the country. I love the Superbowl, but I think March Madness is more fun and exciting.
KWAME HOLMAN: This year the end of the rainbow is in Indianapolis, where the champion will be crowned.
ANCHOR: Arizona starts the celebration. They're heading to Indianapolis and the Final Four.
JIM LEHRER: And now for more and to Elizabeth Farnsworth.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: For further diagnosis of this March Madness we turn to Perry Clark, head basketball coach at Tulane University in New Orleans. He took over in 1988 and had the Green Wave in the NCAA Tournament within three years. And John Feinstein, who's followed the Atlantic Coast Basketball Conference closely this season for a new book; he's also the author of, among other works, "A Season on the Brink," about Indiana's Bobby Knight and the 1986 team. John, how do you explain the phenomenon that this tournament has become?
JOHN FEINSTEIN, Author: Well, I think to give you a brief history lesson, there were three seminal events. One was the UCLA dynasty, especially Lew Alcindor, who became Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. That's when network television first got involved in the 1960s. Then the first prime time game on Monday night, Bill Walton, 21 for 22, extraordinary performance, brought it to national attention. And, of course, the Larry Bird/"Magic" Johnson match-up in 1979. From that point on the Final Four became an event that was on a level close to the World Series and the Superbowl. And as television incorporations have poured more money into it throughout the 80s and 90s it's continued to build.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And, Coach, it's incredibly important for colleges, isn't it?
PERRY CLARK, Tulane University Men's Basketball Coach: (Indianapolis) Very much so. And like John said, I really believe the media, the television coverage that it's gotten not just on selection day but all the way through the Final Four has made everybody in the nation aware of March Madness.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What's it like? You took over a team that was basically non-existent. You took it to the NCAA. What was it like to be there?
PERRY CLARK: I tell you, first of all, when your name is selected, it is a tremendous thrill, and then participating in it and being so visible to the whole nation and everybody can kind of see you work, is a very, very special feeling. And as you advance, the pressure of it really builds. When I was an assistant at Georgia Tech and we got to the Final Eight, I can't really explain all the emotions that run through you as you walk through the tunnel to go out on the court. It's just a tremendous emotional feeling.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And Louisiana State beat you in that game, right, and then you went on to the Final Four?
PERRY CLARK: No. In that game Georgetown beat us with Pat Ewing, and, you know, and the thing that happens is I think that you're entitled to be there, and well, next year we'll be back, and we never got back. And I think with age--and John will tell you--you really understand how precious the moments are.
JOHN FEINSTEIN: That's a really interesting point, Elizabeth, because in 1985, Georgia Tech came. Perry and I used to joke that they were still a year away from being the best they could be. And, in fact, the next year they were picked number one in the country pre-season because of what they had done in ‘85. And the stakes did get higher, and when they lost the game you're referring to, to Louisiana State in a round of 16, all of a sudden Bobby Cremins, who had been a rising star, people started to question him because so much pressure is put on coaches in March to win, and if you look at Roy Williams, this year, at Kansas, as great as his record is, when they lost in the round of 16, people began to question him, why can't he win the "big games," because only in March are they considered big games.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Is it putting too much pressure on the kids, Coach, do you think?
PERRY CLARK: I don't know. I think kids have a very unique way of moving on with their lives. I know it puts a lot of pressure on the coaches because, you know, it's a pride thing. It's something that you work a long time to build for.
JOHN FEINSTEIN: I think, though, the difference is that Roy Williams will have another chance. Bobby Cremins had another chance and did go to the Final Four in 1990. The kids don't get another chance. The seniors on this Kansas team will never play in the Final Four. That's something that they've worked for all their lives. They've seen it on television. They dreamed about it. They practiced alone in the backyard. This is to get to the Final Four, win a national championship, and they'll never get there. I think that's a different kind of pressure. It goes beyond financial because you know those memories, Rick Barnes, the Clemson coach, told his players before they played Minnesota last week, "We're going to remember this game the rest of our lives. Let's go out and give it everything we have." And that's true of all these games. These kids are going to remember it the rest of their lives. The coaches do get another chance.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Coach, do you think the golden age of this tournament has passed because of the fact that the NBA is taking so many of the good players when they're sophomores now?
PERRY CLARK: I really don't. I believe that college basketball has a life of its own, and one of the things that--I think each game becomes bigger than the game before it, and I just think you'll see this weekend in Indianapolis all the excitement, all the attention, and I really think that the kids jumping may hurt the pro game more than it hurts the college game because, you know, the college game is going to continue. We're always going to have fine coaches and good teams.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Why do you think it hurts the pro game?
PERRY CLARK: Because they're taking some kids that really aren't ready, and so, therefore, at some point when Michael steps aside and Ewing steps aside and Barkley and Hakeem and a lot of those guys are close to the end of their careers, you know, who's going to be there? And I think you're going to have a lot of kids that are not ready, nor may they really have the appreciation of the game. Michael Jordan has the appreciation of the game. "Magic" Johnson had an appreciation of the game. I think a lot of these kids see the money, and that's what stimulates them, not the appreciation of the game.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And they're not ready because they weren't in college four years to really kind of get seasoned, is that--
JOHN FEINSTEIN: Well, they didn't learn the game. And we now have high school kids going straight to the NBA without even going to college at all. There's at least two more who are going this year. There were two last year. There was another one the year before, but I think the game gets hurt at all levels because the high school kids aren't thinking in terms of fundamentals. They're thinking in terms of learning how to dunk and make spectacular plays so they'll get a shoe commercial. Allen Iverson, the first pick in the NBA draft last year, said that his lifelong dream had been a shoe commercial, not the Final Four, not being a champion, but to have a shoe commercial. I think that hurts the game at the grassroots level.
The college game is hurt because we don't have the continuity that we used to have when players would stay at least three and in many cases four years, and as Perry said, I agree with him, the pro game is certainly hurt by this. I think the reason the golden age may have passed to some degree is because I think the Final Four has lost its innocence. It's become about corporate dollars. It's become about TV dollars. The fans at the Final Four aren't the purist basketball fans. They're the bigwig corporate execs who fly out in private jets like the Superbowl and like the World Series, and I think in many ways it was a lot more fun to be at the Final Four in the old days when it wasn't as big an event as it is now. I think Perry has been going to it long enough that he would understand what I'm talking about.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What do you think?
PERRY CLARK: Yes. I tell you I understand what you're saying, but you can't tell me that the Minnesota kids right now and the Kentucky kids right now are affected by any of that. I mean, they right now are in their rooms; they're nervous; they're excited; and that innocence is with those kids, you know, during this week. So what I'm talking about from a social standpoint, from a player's standpoint, I just think the golden age hasn't passed, and that this stage is becoming even more paramount, more important. And when you start October 15th, believe me, every coach in his opening statement to his team talks about getting to the Final Four, whether or not you have a realistic shot or not, that is--that is the goal. And I think that's the kids sacrifice and work so hard for. So I agree with you as far as the people may be sitting in the stands, but when you--when you look at Minnesota and the pep rallies and the excitement, and their being in the Final Four has done to the state and what a great job Slim Haskins has done, I mean, it's a very, very special thing.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And very briefly, before we go, Coach, who do you think is going to win this weekend?
PERRY CLARK: I really like Minnesota. I think that they've had a magical year, and they've gotten a lot of bounces, and Bobby Jackson just doesn't seem to allow them to lose.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: How about you? What do you--who do you think?
JOHN FEINSTEIN: I think it's Dean Smith's year. He became the all-time winningest coast two weeks ago, and I think he wins the championship in what will be a very competitive weekend of basketball because there aren't any great teams. These are all good teams.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Okay. Thank you both.