Sports

Mark Story: Fixing March Madness and preparing for football

Fast-break points from Horse Mania:

21. The 68-team NCAA Tournament. According to the Web site RealTimeRPI.com, the top three-ranked teams that missed 2010's 65-team NCAA tourney were Rhode Island (No. 40), Wichita State (No. 43) and UAB (No. 45).

Isn't the inclusion of such teams going to make March Madness so much better? (sarcasm intended).

20. The "First Four." I'm not thrilled by the new NCAA Tournament format announced this week. Do like the name the marketers coined for what will essentially be four "play-in" games into the traditional 64-team bracket.

19. My problem with the new plan. Don't like splitting the new eight-team first round between the last four automatic qualifiers to the tourney (small conference champions) and the last four at-large teams (big conference mediocrities).

18. Just say no to bracket gimmickry. The best thing the NCAA could have done to preserve the integrity of its competition was seed the field 1-68 and have seeds 61-68 play in the First Four.

17. Basketball populism. One reason that didn't happen was because the smaller conferences staged an uprising against being "branded" as "play-in" leagues.

16. Television power. The other factor that prevented bracket integrity was the rights holders (CBS and Turner Sports) in the new NCAA tourney TV contract. The cable channel truTV (formerly Court TV) will carry the First Four. It wanted some "big schools" in the first round for the purpose of attracting better ratings.

15. Bottom line: The best thing you can say about the new format is that it could have been a whole lot worse.

14. Office pools. The at-large teams in the First Four will presumably be playing for spots as No. 12 seeds in the 64-team bracket. So tournament pools can no longer ignore the play-in game(s), right?

13. Tyler Summitt. The Knoxville News-Sentinel reports that the son of Lady Vols coaching icon Pat Summitt has received Bruce Pearl's approval to join the Tennessee men's basketball team as a walk-on. The younger Summitt is doing so in preparation for becoming a hoops coach himself.

12. George Steinbrenner the good. As a fan of any pro sports team, all you can ask of an owner is that they put the maximum resources possible into winning. In that sense, the late New York Yankees boss was truly a "fan's owner."

11. George Steinbrenner the bad. From 1979 through 1995, Steinbrenner's Yankees never won a World Series. For a franchise with the Yanks' resources and tradition, that was unfathomable. The reason for the futility was that the owner's bullying style created a toxic work environment and a focus on short-term results that undermined the team's financial advantages.

10. The Boss saved from himself. It was only after Steinbrenner was "suspended for life" in the early 1990s as a punishment for launching a scheme to dig up dirt on outfielder Dave Winfield that the Yankees baseball operation had room to breathe. The development of the home-grown stars — Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Mariano Rivera — who became the nucleus of the late '90s Yankees dynasty occurred with King George on the bench.

9. The Boss foiled in Kentucky. One of Steinbrenner's life ambitions was to become the second person in history to own both a Kentucky Derby winner and a World Series champion. He ended up with seven World Series crowns, but not one of the six horses he started in the Derby won the Roses.

8. Run for the Roses favorite. In 2005, Steinbrenner owned the favored Bellamy Road. The Nick Zito-trained horse went off at 5-2 but got caught up in a speed duel and finished seventh in a race won by the late-closing, 50-1 shot Giacomo.

7. The man who did the double. John W. Galbreath was the owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates when they won the World Series in 1961, '71 and '79. Galbreath's horses won the Kentucky Derby in 1963 (Chateaugay) and '67 (Proud Clarion).

6. Bobby Johnson. It sounds funny to say about a coach who went 29-66, but the now-former Vanderbilt football coach did good work in what might be the toughest job in a BCS league.

5. Say, happy anniversary. It is exactly eight years since Mitch Barnhart was hired as Kentucky athletics director on July 15, 2002.

4. Mike Hartline. Never wins any fan popularity polls, but I still think the fifth-year senior making the start at quarterback gives Kentucky its best chance to win the season opener at Louisville.

3. The Kentucky defense. What worries me from the UK perspective going into the Governor's Cup is the prospect of U of L controlling the game by running the ball at a largely unproven Wildcats defensive front.

2. Can UK finally stop the spread? The Cats don't have a very good history against the spread option and that is presumed to be the offense that former Urban Meyer assistants Charlie Strong and Mike Sanford will run at Louisville.

1. Countdown to the Cup. As you read this, 51 days until UK and U of L tee it up. If you're like me, you're ready for some football.

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