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Published: Wednesday, 3/22/2006

Mid-majors get their due, as do experts

Jim Larranaga, the former BGSU coach who has George Mason in the Sweet 16, says Billy Packer is living in the ACC past.

This year s NCAA tournament is about what we see on television. And, more importantly, what we don t see.

It s about two teams from the mid-major Missouri Valley Conference reaching the Sweet 16 two more than the prestigious Big Ten.

It s about providing an equal-opportunity tournament, over the objections of naysayers who want things to remain separate and unequal.

It s about changing perceptions and old habits.

It s about time.

I think the selection committee showed its wisdom and knowledge about the college game, George Mason coach Jim Larranaga said.

The committee, led by chairman Craig Littlepage of the University of Virginia, did its job, inviting Sweet 16 participants Bradley and Wichita State of the Missouri Valley and George Mason of the Colonial Athletic Association as at-large teams.

Television, led by CBS announcers Billy Packer and Jim Nantz, did its job, too.

Packer and Nantz took turns piling on and criticizingLittlepage for inviting teams they weren t familiar with, instead of including teams from BCS conferences who have contract obligations with CBS and ESPN.

Turns out Littlepage was right, Packer and Nantz were wrong. Let s not expect an apology from Mr. Packer any time soon.

Jim Larranaga, the former BGSU coach who has George Mason in the Sweet 16, says Billy Packer is living in the ACC past.
Jim Larranaga, the former BGSU coach who has George Mason in the Sweet 16, says Billy Packer is living in the ACC past.

Common sense trumps nonsense.

The experience that Jim Nantz and Billy Packer have works against them, Larranaga, the former Bowling Green coach, said with all the diplomacy he could muster, knowing full well that Packer suggested George Mason didn t deserve its bid the first at-large bid for a Colonial Athletic school in two decades.

Twenty years ago the [Atlantic Coast Conference] was dominated by players who became top-50 players in the NBA. The college game has changed. They think it s the same, and it s not.

Ask them how many times they saw George Mason play this year. Definitely not in person.

This is no idle chatter.

Talking heads like Packer and Nantz are the best thing going about television.

They bring the important elements of college basketball right into our entertainment rooms, and explain them so that everyone can understand.

Influential power brokers like Packer and Nantz also represent the worst that TV sports has to offer.

Their personal biases can shape and influence the opinions and perceptions of viewers.

The shills on TV have never figured out that college sports are not professional sports, an e-mailer told me.

I couldn t have said it better.

More inclusion, less exclusion.

In explaining why the Missouri Valley didn t deserve four teams in the tournament, ESPN analyst Digger Phelps said he wasn t impressed when he watched Southern Illinois 59-46 victory over Bradley in the league s tournament championship game. He said it was too low-scoring.

Low-scoring or not, with the Big Ten getting six schools and the Missouri Valley and Colonial Athletic five, guess which two leagues have a total of three teams remaining in the tournament?

Hint: The Big Ten isn t one of them.

We had a group at my house to watch the Selection [Sunday] show, said Larranaga, whose No. 11-seeded Patriots defeated No. 6 Michigan State and No. 3 North Carolina to advance to face No. 7 Wichita State in the Sweet 16.

Before the show ever began, I told the team you ve won more regular-season games than any team in George Mason history. Your RPI overall is 26. You played the 50th-toughest non-conference schedule in the country. Whether we make this tournament or not is not how we will determine how good we are. And if we are selected to the tournament, we ll be given the opportunity to prove ourselves in front of the entire nation.

Too bad George Mason had to go way beyond the call of duty just to prove it belongs.

Contact Blade columnist John Harris at: jharris@theblade.com or 419-724-6354.

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