By Tim Baffoe–
(CBS) Turds in punchbowls can be wonderful, flies in ointment grand, bloody fingers being bandaged before ballyhoo beautiful.
How can we even talk about sports without metaphors? Or similes? Or topical religious allusions?
By the way, Kevin Harlan’s Easter call at the end of Syracuse-Virginia can be criticized as try-too-hard, but get over yourself if you’re a pearl-clutching status quo Christian.
Harlan’s words are also important as an example of how sports’ poetics need to be organic — like North Carolina coach Roy Williams cutting his finger with scissors as he tried to do the traditional net removal upon heading to the Final Four.
Now that’s perfection. That’s the gash of schadenfreude bursting from every onlooker of NCAA basketball who refuses to buy the fairy tale “One Shining Moment” noise hook, line and sinker.
The North Carolina athletic department was found to have almost 1,900 student-athletes taking bogus classes with sham grading over the course of 18 years, a “shadow curriculum” as report findings call it. About half of those years were under the watch of Williams, who will be taking on Old Boys Club member and buddy Jim Boeheim of Syracuse, who himself presided over a basketball program rife with shadiness during the 21st century. As part of penalties against the Orange, Boeheim was suspended for nine games this season.
North Carolina still hasn’t been officially penalized, and the NCAA charged the school with “impermissible benefits” instead of academic fraud because the NCAA operates and penalizes like a labrador with ADHD.
Meanwhile, Boeheim and Williams continue to churn the money machines that are their programs and the ACC conference. Williams gets a $200,000 bonus for reaching the Final Four, and Boeheim probably gets some nice scratch as well (but his private school doesn’t have to divulge his incentives). The ACC will make almost $40 million on this year’s tournament. The supposed student-athletes — who do all the on-court work, make the heart-attack plays and get us to watch the NCAA’s marquee event — get nothing but an all-important education that arguably doesn’t involve all the classes they’re missing while traveling these weeks.
That’s the snipped finger in a net cutting celebration. That’s the improbable story — that of a plucky 10 seed that many thought shouldn’t have made the tournament period finding itself in the Final Four — with a very loud footnote all week about violations. That’s delicious.
“We do believe the cloud is beginning to lift,” Williams metaphored last fall regarding talk of improprieties trumping talk of basketball. “That old saying — we do see the light at the end of the tunnel and, yes, we honestly believe it’s not going to be the freight train. I believe it’s going to be lifted and try to portray that to the kids every day … Gosh, we’ve been investigated six times, so we know what’s going on. We know what went on and let’s go ahead and move forward and get it over with.”
There’s still another week of it very much not being over with, Roy, another week of you and the NCAA having to squirm through what’s supposed to be the time that college hoops gets people to forget about its icky underbelly.
“At Syracuse, this is about the players,” Boeheim lied after knocking off Virginia in the Elite Eight. “I’ve been in this 40 years. I’m 71 years old. This is for them. I feel good when we win for them and for our fans. We have great fans and for these guys. I’ve seen enough things. I’m happy for them.”
Nah, this is Boeheim raising a middle finger to everyone, as he is wont to do. And ironically, I’m all for it this time around because he’s not the villain now. How can he be going up against the embodiment of a fraudulent athletic department and student-athlete canard? Villain vs. villain equals the game itself being nefarious.
It’s the NCAA #brand with galling saccharine PSAs …
… vs. the NCAA dirty reality as chronicled by Taylor Branch. It’s the continuously crumbling facade of sports and education holding equal weight. It’s uncomfortable conversations. It’s Charles Barkley pretending to take an analyst job seriously. It’s a microcosm of chaos that the NCAA works so hard to suppress in order to present the perfect picture of March Madness.
And it’s our maniacal laughter, a stinging bloody finger in a celebration.
It’s a perfect metaphor.
Tim Baffoe is a columnist for CBSChicago.com. Follow Tim on Twitter @TimBaffoe. The views expressed on this page are those of the author, not CBS Local Chicago or our affiliated television and radio stations.