Monday, March 13, 2006

Platitudes and Obfuscation: Inside the Vague Mind of Craig Littlepage

When CBS producers and tech staff weren't in synch with the wayward commentary of Billy Packer and Jim Nantz during yesterday's NCAA bracket wrap-up, we received an unplanned visual of an awkward Craig Littlepage, selection committee chair. While Littlepage smirked nervously on-screen, Nantz and Packer were beating up on his supposed logic in defense of the committee's work. We got a picture of Littlepage, with VO commentary, particularly from Nantz, which aimed to completely dispute what Littlepage had just said. So, Nantz and Packer were their usual overwrought selves, and it was uncomfortable, and the coverage looked like crap.

Why Nantz and Packer couldn't have had a productive but non-combative tete a tete with Littlepage, I don't know. Clearly, they were pressed for time. But whatever the failings of the network bozos, Littlepage is hugely lacking himself. From his on-air interviews to his quoted verbiage in online and wire service stories, the guy is nothing but hot air, laying out one platitude after the other about congratulating the fine teams that made the tourney, blah, blah, blah. He said things like, "In terms of selecting the teams that were best in terms of comparing their schedules against other teams in terms of non-conference games and in terms of their common opponents..." Then he let loose with another "In terms of the RPI, we don't use that as our only tool in terms of selecting teams..." When asked about the selection of Air Force—a team with a very good record but no quality wins to speak of, and also a general profile that basically defied their selection—Littlepage came up with a lame retort, something along the lines of, "Well, we just thought they were a very interesting selection in terms of the tournament..."

In my experience, never has a more inarticulate dude been in charge of this tourney. This guy is the athletic director of the University of Virginia, with an undergrad degree in economics from Penn. He was formerly head basketball coach at Penn and Rutgers (three years in each stint), but otherwise appears to be one of these career administrator types. Would it have been too much to ask for him to have given Packer/Nantz clear, fully reasoned answers to their questions? He seemed clueless. All he could do was spout the party platitudes about the process, without offering a single incisive specific insight. Even if the Air Force decision was made to bring another team into the fray from out west, he could have said so. As it was, one got the impression that Littlepage had nothing to do with any key decision-making, nor was he clued in to the reasonings behind the critical choices. It was a sad performance.

Why would the NCAA want a guy like that running such an important process? Beats me. Bottom line, it makes me totally suspicious about the choices and the seedings this time around. Oh, the system will seek its own level, and we'll have a tourney for sure. But if there's a system in place, then it's the selection chair's job to explain that, and when there are teams that get in that don't fit the mold, it's his job to explain that too. Then there's the issue of season-ending conference tourneys and their impact on the process. Littlepage was a mushmouth about that too. Hard to believe this man is a professional decision maker.

Anyway, here's the personal scoop on him:

BORN: August 5, 1951, in LaMott, Pa.

FAMILY: Married to the former Margaret Murray of Charlottesville, Va.; Erica (19), Murray Quentin (16) and Erin (14).

EDUCATION: B.A. in economics, University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, 1973.

COACHING EXPERIENCE: Assistant basketball coach at the University of Villanova, 1973-75, assistant basketball coach at Yale University, 1975-1976; assistant basketball coach at the University of Virginia, 1976 to 1982; head basketball coach, University of Pennsylvania, 1982-85; head basketball coach, Rutgers University, 1985-88; assistant basketball coach, University of Virginia, 1988-90.

ADMINISTRATIVE EXPERIENCE: Assistant athletic director, University of Virginia, 1990-91; associate athletic director for programs, University of Virginia, 1991-95; senior associate director of athletics, University of Virginia, 1995-01; named athletic director at the University of Virginia, August 21, 2001.

But Littlepage or no, March Madness has returned, and after a nice post-Super Bowl respite, so has Sports Media America.

Bruins versus Bruins
On a local note, we salute the Bruins of Belmont University, who are "dancin' " for the first time in school history. Belmont is a five-minute walk from the SMA offices. It's a small but growing liberal arts college populated by a lot of cool folks, and after paying their dues for a few years in Division I, they have finally made it to the tourney, on the strength of beating crosstown rival Lipscomb University in the Atlantic Sun Conference tournament championship game. They enter the NCAAs as a #15 seed, and guess who they get to play in their (probably only) first game? #2 seed UCLA. So Nashville's Bruins take off for San Diego to take on the basketball program that John Wooden made famous. It might be a brief trip, but it's a huge milestone for the school, and totally well-deserved. Godspeed Coach Rick Byrd and his worthy squad.

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