Walcoff: March Madness tarnished by conference tourneys 

Nobody stops at a fast-food joint before dining at a four-star restaurant. You would never go on a blind date hours before taking your girlfriend to the prom. Then why does college basketball insist on serving up conference tournaments just days before its crown jewel event, the NCAA Tournament?

Student-athletes are cash cows, that’s why. Two weeks ago, when Cal fans stormed the court at Haas Pavilion after the Bears ended a 50-year conference championship drought, did they realize that a regular-season Pac-10 title doesn’t guarantee an automatic invite to the tourney?

Sure, Mike Montgomery’s team (21-9), heading into this afternoon’s Pac-10 tourney quarterfinal in Los Angeles, is a lock to make the field of 65. But every year a handful of bad teams ride one hot weekend into the NCAAs at the expense of more deserving schools whose strong regular-season play is rendered meaningless.

Stanford (13-17) could actually get into the Big Dance with a losing record. If the Cardinal beats Arizona State tonight and wins its next two games this weekend, they would be Pac-10 tournament champs. Make sense? No, but it makes a lot of dollars for the schools in the conference.

Meanwhile, perennial West Coast Conference powerhouse Gonzaga (26-6), winner of 10 straight regular-season conference championships, has to sweat out selection Sunday because it lost the WCC tournament title game to St. Mary’s. Of course, the Gaels know all too well about being unfairly left out after missing last year’s NCAA Tourney despite winning 28 games.

In 2009, Morehead State (19-15) got into the NCAA field because the Eagles won the Ohio Valley Conference tournament championship. March Madness, indeed.


Giants president Larry Baer joked with me earlier this week, saying all the weight Pablo Sandoval lost in the offseason went to Tim Lincecum.

The only way Lincecum would look heavier is if he put all the cash he made in that new contract in his money belt. Sandoval, hovering around 250 pounds after ballooning to 270 last fall, is now the world’s only bespectacled Panda.

Wearing glasses in the field and at the plate for the first time, he hit .395 in the winter league back home in Venezuela. Hopefully, Pablo’s improved vision will enable him to lay off pitches at his toes and nose.


A’s union rep Brad Ziegler says the players want to get human growth hormone out of baseball, but claims testing remains problematic because HGH can’t be detected after 24 hours. The players association also wants legal assurances that blood tests would be limited to just checking for banned substances. Ziegler told me he thinks HGH is not very prevalent because, “so many guys are scared to have their names associated with performance enhancing drugs.”

Ziegler also says the A’s “will be competitive in every single game. Ben Sheets adds much needed veteran leadership on the mound. Center fielder Coco Crisp and third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff will make a huge impact.”

So when will the A’s take the tarp off the upper deck at the Oakland Coliseum?

KGO (810 AM) Sports Director Rich Walcoff can be heard weekdays from 5 to 9 a.m. on the KGO morning news and is also the co-host of “Raiders Gameday” and “Recap” talk shows on KSFO (560 AM). He can be reached at RichWalcoff@gmail.com.

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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