Week In Sports: March Madness There's no doubt March Madness has begun. In a game Thursday, the Syracuse University men's basketball team defeated the University of Connecticut in six overtimes to advance in the Big East Tournament. Sportswriter Stefan Fatsis talks about the NCAA excitement and the dark side of college basketball recruiting.
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Week In Sports: March Madness

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Week In Sports: March Madness

Week In Sports: March Madness

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It's March and the madness has definitely begun. Last night, the men's basketball teams from Syracuse University and the University of Connecticut played a game in the Big East Tournament that went well past midnight.

(Soundbite of basketball game)

Mr. MATT PARK (Sports Announcer, Syracuse ISP Sports Network): Robbins across court, Flynn touch pass inside. Can Harris finish? No, two seconds left. Harris got it back, and he gets knocked to the deck. The ball's down. It's no good. Five overtimes, and I did not stutter. It's 104 all.

NORRIS: That was Matt Park of the Syracuse ISP Sports Network calling a game that Syracuse would win in the sixth overtime, 127 to 117 to advance to the semifinals of the Big East Conference Tournament. Our own sports commentator, Stefan Fatsis, watched the game to its conclusion at 1:22 AM. You have circles under your eyes, Stefan. This game set some records.

STEFAN FATSIS: Yeah, it sure did. There was a longer game once, a seven-overtime game between Cincinnati and Bradley in 1981. I'm sure it was riveting, but this was ridiculous. This was two top 25 teams, a great rivalry, in Madison Square Garden. The game lasted three hours and 46 minutes. Eight players fouled out. A walk-on guard, who had played a total of 21 minutes all season, was on the floor for Syracuse at the end. And Syracuse never led in the first five overtimes. Crazy stuff.

NORRIS: Good stuff, too. Syracuse and Connecticut are sure to make the 65-team NCAA tournament field, a field that will be announced on Sunday, but there's a lot of basketball between now and then.

FATSIS: Yeah. There were 53 men's games played yesterday. There were 38 today. Most of them are conference tournament, quarter-finals or semi-finals. Meanwhile in Indianapolis, the NCAA selection committee already is crunching numbers, watching video. They have to pick the 34 teams that will join the NCAA tournament without having won their conference.

Once they do that, they'll group them into four regions, and because of the recession, there's a special sensitivity this year to try to keep teams as close to home as possible to reduce travel expenses for schools and fans.

NORRIS: Now, every school dreams of making the NCAA tournament. One school is on the cusp of making the field for the first time, Binghamton, which is part of the New York State University system, I guess, would be a Cinderella team.

FATSIS: Yeah, well, they're going to play for the America East Conference Championship tomorrow. And Binghamton moved up to the NCAA's Division I in 2001. The idea, get your name announced on Selection Sunday, maybe play a Duke or a Kentucky and in the process, get more attention, more applications, more alumni donations.

The question is what's the tradeoff? And The New York Times recently documented a series of arrests, suspensions, questionable recruiting and academic practices at Binghamton since the arrival of a coach named Kevin Broadus a couple of years ago.

NORRIS: But there is also an interesting twist to this story that's kept Binghamton in the news. Can you tell us about that?

FATSIS: Yeah, there's a Binghamton player named D.J. Rivera. He led the conference in scoring. He was clearly the best player, but he wasn't voted player of the year, and he wasn't even voted to the all-conference first team. And the snub came from the league's coaches, who appeared to be protesting what's been going on at Binghamton generally and with Rivera specifically.

He was academically ineligible at and transferred from St. Joseph's, but the NCAA didn't make him sit out a season, as is typical. Now, I understand the message here, but frankly, coaches in every conference in America live in glass houses. The only thing that varies is the thickness of the panes.

NORRIS: Now, over the next three weeks, millions of Americans will get sucked into the excitement of March Madness, including a few members of my own household, and when that happens, everyone forgets about the underside of college basketball. Stefan, does that bother you?

FATSIS: You know, it does. I think it's important not to forget that college basketball can be an unseemly business, a big money enterprise fueled by self-interest. If you want to be simultaneously disgusted and enlightened, I recommend a story on Yahoo Sports this week that was written by Dan Peter and Josh Wetzel.

It's about a sports agency that funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars to a travel team coach in California in an attempt to recruit future clients. Or you could read a recent Washington Post story about the tangled web involving Under Armour, the apparel company, the University of Maryland and the recruitment of a top New York player, Lance Stephenson.

And when you're done doing that, take a deep breath and just enjoy the games or watch the women's tournament. There's some great basketball there and less of a stench in the recruiting process.

NORRIS: Women's tournament is always a good choice. Thank you, Stefan.

FATSIS: Thanks, Michele.

NORRIS: Stefan Fatsis, he covers sports and speaks to us on Fridays.

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