Sports Beat “March Madness & NYC”

      New York City may be a lot of things but even our biggest boosters would have to concede that it is not a big college sports town. It has been nearly 30 years since the St. John’s men’s basketball team made it to the Final Four and 15 years since it reached the “Elite Eight” quarter-finals.

Long Island University and Manhattan College have had flashes of hoops success but have not been able to achieve any kind of consistency. The less said about Fordham and Columbia, the better. In fairness, the Columbia Lions finished third in the Ivy League this year which was a marked improvement over recent years and nearly all of their players will be returning.

The lack of a strong hometown college team may actually be a plus however for college conferences to stage their various March tournaments here. Madison Square Garden has been the post-season home for the Big East since 1979. Last year the Atlantic 10 moved its big year-end event from Atlantic City to Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. The A-10 doesn’t have the same number of big name schools as the Big East so it’s not surprising that the attendance for their playoff games at Barclays is less than half of what the Big East draws at MSG.

The Garden will be playing host to the NCAA East Regionals the last week of March. It is the first time since 1961 that any part of “The Big Dance” is taking place there. Of course that was at the now demolished 50th Street Garden which is a far cry from the just-renovated “World’s Most Famous Arena” on 33rd Street.

Word leaked out last week that officials from the Atlantic Coast Conference, arguably college basketball’s best, is negotiating to have its 2017 and 2018 tournaments take place at the Barclays Center.

A number of former powerhouse Big East colleges are now part of the ACC. The rumors of the ACC invading the Big Apple in the near future certainly did not go unnoticed by Big East Commissioner Val Ackerman.

Last Friday, the Big East held a media event in Manhattan that featured iconic WNBC sports anchor Bruce Beck interviewing new NBA Commissioner Adam Stern while Brooklyn Nets general manager Billy King was part of a roundtable discussion on the state of college basketball and its relationship with the NBA.

The purpose of the event was to remind the media that even the reconstituted Big East, sans its big name former schools, still has clout. You can be sure that Val Ackerman, who was the first commissioner of the WNBA, and did a great job there (certainly when compared with her successors), called in a few markers for this event.        

At the Big East event Billy King proposed that the three-point shot be eliminated in high school sports. “High school player should be practicing 12 to 15-foot jumpers and not try to emulate what they see on ESPN Sportscenter highlights,” King rightfully said.

Another panelist at the Big East event was Georgetown president John DeGioia who conceded that the NCAA will have no choice but to lift some of the draconian rules that hamper student-athletes economically. He stopped short of saying that athletes should get paid directly from the colleges they represent on the athletic field.

St. John’s University Athletics Director Chris Monasch was also in attendance for the Big East discussion the day after the Providence Friars, the eventual champion, eliminated the Red Storm. He did not feel very good about the Red Storm’s chances of being invited to the NCAA Tournament even after I pointed out that if everything else being equal, being New York City’s best known team should be a strong tie-breaker given television’s importance in college sports. “I would hope that you are right but I have a feeling that the selection committee doesn’t think that way,” he said with a wistful smile. His pessimism turned out to be justified.

This is the time of the year when football fans frequently have to say farewell to well-known players on their favorite teams as NFL clubs jockey for salary cap room by jettisoning a number of their star players. The Jets cut both cornerback Antonio Cromartie and wide receiver Santonio Holmes. Both players took their dismissals rather philosophically.

That was not the case with Giants defensive end Justin Tuck who signed a two-year, $11 million contract with the lowly Oakland Raiders after the Giants refused to come anywhere remotely close to matching it. Tuck has been hampered by injuries the last two years but he has been an unquestionable leader for Big Blue as well as being a go-to guy for the media after every Giants game much the same way that David Wright has been that for the Mets.

It has been awhile since Madison Square Garden has really been “the Mecca of boxing” but it will be hosting a good fight on June 7 when Miguel Cotto takes on Sergio Martinez in a middleweight title bout.

The fight is being promoted by Top Rank whose CEO is longtime boxing impresario Bob Arum. When I asked Arum at the press conference for the fight last Monday if it would be better for the sport if the fight were on regular HBO instead of its pay-per-view division since that could help grow interest in the sport that frankly has been in trouble for some time, he became quite agitated.

Ironically, boxing legend Bernard Hopkins who is just months away from his 50th birthday and is still a very competitive fighter in the light heavyweight division, was in town the following day to promote his upcoming bout in DC on April 19 with Kazakhstan fighter Beibut Shumenov. Hopkins agreed with my assessment that the boxing business has cannibalized itself by going to the same bunch of die-hard fans to shell out $49.95 at least once a month rather than doing the smart thing and increase its fan base by making more fights available on either premium cable or broadcast networks/basic cable channels. Bernard said that he was happy that his fights have been on Showtime so that more fans have had the chance to watch him.

The National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia, which is located a stone’s throw from both the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall, is hosting an exhibition titled “Chasing Dreams: Baseball & Becoming American” which looks at both the love affair that many immigrants have had with baseball when they get to our shores, and of course, the sons of some of those immigrants who became major leaguers. “Chasing Dreams” runs until October 26th. One of the people who financed the exhibition was Mets CEO Fred Wilpon.

Michael Strahan will be hosting the first ever Kids Choice Sports Awards on Nickelodeon on July 17. Expect LeBron James to get slimed in the time-honored Nick tradition.

April is a great time to get your golf game in shape by going down to North Carolina where it’s generally around ten degrees warmer than it is here and there are plenty of great courses. The Tar Heel State is also promoting April as “NC Beer Month” in honor of all of the craft beers that are made there. North Carolina also has a thriving wine industry with many of them located around the town of Mount Airy which the late Andy Griffith used as his model for the fictitious Mayberry for his classic eponymous 1960s CBS television series.

Nabisco has just introduced a line of Brown Rice Triscuits that come in five flavors and are made with baked wheat and obviously brown rice. It’s a healthier alternative to potato chips. Late July (I am not sure how the founders came up with that corporate name) Organic Multigrain Snack Chips, which come in three flavors, is another option for those looking to get away from the Wise and the Lays.

Of course you can’t enjoy snacks without something to wash them down. Honest Tea’s Honey Green Tea is full of anti-oxidants and a bottle has only 70 calories. Red Jacket Orchards bottled juices are also full of anti-oxidants and have no added sugars or water added to the natural juice.

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