Madness indeed

 In 2015-03

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They call it March Madness, but the craziness of North Carolina’s favorite sport starts much earlier. Running errands on a recent Saturday, I tuned my car radio to the UNC Charlotte men’s basketball game against conference rival UT-SA, the University of Texas at San Antonio. At a commercial break, I shifted to another channel, picking up Appalachian State University’s game against the Warhawks of UL-M, or the University of Louisiana at Monroe. Later that day, Davidson College traveled to north Philadelphia to defeat Atlantic 10 foe LaSalle University. Then there’s the ACC, the old Tobacco Road conference that now stretches from Boston to Louisville, Miami to South Bend, Ind. One doesn’t need to be a curmudgeon to wish our beloved teams could find worthy, more traditional competitors within the next state or two, if not inside the Old North State. Students, faculty, fans and probably even the student-athletes would agree. At UNC Charlotte, men’s basketball attendance has declined 40% in a decade as enrollment jumped by more than a third. In any case, it doesn’t matter who one plays this year, when the tournament winner will be the University of Kentucky, short of a snow-in-July freak occurrence.

Alas, college basketball is a profit-maximizing business driven by TV networks and athletic conferences and departments. Twenty-one of the 68 NCAA coaches whose teams made last year’s tournament earned at least $2 million, according to USA Today. That didn’t include UNC Chapel Hill’s Roy Williams, at $1.8 million. Robust pay relies on an ever-escalating grab for TV rights fees, including the $1 billion paid annually by CBS and other networks for tournament games. So the schools scramble to join bizarrely drawn conferences, hoping to collect when their own football or basketball teams, or conference rivals, play on national TV. More wins equals more TV time and bigger paydays. Surely such financial pressure is unrelated to the willingness of proud universities to accept talented athletes, who then enroll in bogus classes as adults look the other way? Oh well, here’s hoping for a thrilling March Madness and that improbable KentuckyWildcat upset.

This is the first Business North Carolina edition in almost 30 years without the handprint of former Editor in Chief David Kinney. We’re happy that David has more time for travel, writing a book and other pursuits, while knowing the magazine will never be the same without his passion for accuracy and excellence. He viewed each magazine as a work of art for discriminating readers who love North Carolina — though none could favor the state more than our Burlington-bred former boss. His intensity made the publication a rewarding and challenging place to work. Former BNC Senior Editor Frank Maley likened his view of David to NBA star Isaiah Thomas’ comment on his college coach, Bobby Knight: “There were times, when if I had had a gun, I think I would have shot him. And there were other times when I wanted to put my arms around him, hug him, and tell him that I loved him.”

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