By G. Napier Barnes III
I promised in my last piece to give you my insight on March Madness. Several years ago I wrote an opinion piece questioning why the NCAA Men and Women’s basketball tournament (known as March Madness) is the greatest sporting event in this country? In that article I wondered why said tournament was bigger (rating wise) than the NFL’s Super Bowl. March Madness consistently have higher rating then the NBA Finals, and more viewers that both the MLB World Series and the NHL Stanley Cup Championship. How could this be I asked myself? March Madness, at least in the United States had the numbers of viewers to challenge both the World Cup (soccer) and the Olympics.
After watching March Madness unfold each year for nearly five decades, I have come to the controversial conclusion that this event is big because it allows white Americans to watch their kids perform on the big stage for the last time. Each year there seems to be the “All-American” white boy leading his team toward the Final Four. Each year, that “All-American” white boy is a house hold name to NCAA basketball fans. Each year that kid is the next coming of Larry Bird. The talking heads claim that he is destined to win a title and dominate at the NBA level. Remember Christian Laettner, Adam Morrison, Jimmer Fredette, Tyler Hansbrough, Frank Kaminski, Luka Garza, Doug McDermott and now this year’s sensation Drew Timme? They were all consensus All-Americans. All of them were named to the first team All NCAA. Most of these young men also won the NCAA Basketball Player of Year Award. Bye the way all of these young men are white. I would challenge you to look up these men profiles and see how close they came to being the next Larry Bird at the NBA level. Matter of fact, I would challenge any of you to name twenty (20) white players from America playing in the NBA today. The key words in that challenge is being “from America.”
Cloves C. Campbell Sr the publisher of the Arizona Informant Newspaper (Phoenix AZ) shared with me his sentiments about March Madness. During the later years of his life Mr. Campbell lost his vision. Even though he could not see, he continued to listen to the major sporting events. He told me that he could tell the white players from the Black players simply on how the announcers described a play. They (the announcers) would use all types of superlatives when describing the action. He is so clever with the ball, a born leader, he plays the right way. They might mention how well he is doing in the classroom; he was coached by his dad. They may even have the camera man flash the parents on the screen and say a few words about them. All of these are typical human interest stuff that they seldom release about a Black player. And if you did hear something about a Black student/athlete it’s about how he is dealing with adversity to better his plight in life. Don’t believe me? During the Final Four this weekend, turn up the volume and close your eyes and you can hear for yourself what I am talking about.
I also said that the NCAA Tournament is about show casing not only the white players but also the white teams or PWIs. To date Division I HBCUs have only won 14 games in the men’s version of March Madness. Alcorn State and Texas Southern have three victories. Norfolk State and Hampton have won twice. Coppin State, FAMU, NC A&T, Southern University each have one win during the madness. Each one of these schools entered the tournament as a conference tournament champion. The key words here are conference tournament champion. It an HBCU doesn’t win the conference tournament, they will not be invited to March Madness. Some PWI conferences have five or six teams making the field of 68. Most of the time one of the HBCU champions has to play a play in game just to face the top seed in a region in the first round. Only twice has a number one seed lost to a 16th seed in the first round. What are the odds that on average there are 66 teams better than an HBCU champion especially if a team is just above .500 in their conference? Our teams are set up for losses.
Case in point, the 2023 SIAC Men Basketball Champions Miles College Bears faced Number 1 and undefeated Nova Southeastern University on NSU’s home court in the first round of the D2 Tournament. NSU finished the season a perfect 36-0. Norfolk State’s women’s basketball team won the MEAC tournament. The Lady Spartans were sent to South Carolina to face the defending national champions Lady Gamecocks (36-0). You know what happened. On the flip side Florida Atlantic reached the final four for the men’s tournament. The Owls came in as a 9th seed in the region, meaning they played the region’s 8th seed in the first round. That was a tossup game. I mention FAU because they remind me of an MEAC school with six or seven guys under 6’7” and all can play. They didn’t run into a big team with three or four “bigs”, which are trademarks of the higher ranked teams.
I personally think we should forgo the NCAA Championship tournaments. As our least favorite POTUS would say “it’s rigged.” I would like to see the top four teams from the SWAC and the top four teams from the MEAC meet for a Division 1 HBCU National Championship Tournament. (Both men and women) We could use the same format for the Division 2 Conferences with the CIAA and SIAC going against each other. After all, our kids at our schools deserve at lease a chance of winning a national title. And that is not madness.
Story by: George Napier Barnes, III. George is a proud alumni of historically black college or university (HBCU) Fayetteville State University, Kappa Alpha Psi, and currently lives in Phoenix, Arizona.