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Tramel's ScissorTales: March Madness reminds us that college football is not always king

The Oklahoman 3/21/2023 Berry Tramel, Oklahoman

Michigan State won the 2000 NCAA basketball championship. 

Here are the schools that have won the title since: Kansas, Baylor, Virginia, Villanova, North Carolina, Duke, Connecticut, Louisville, Kentucky, Florida, Syracuse and Maryland. 

Look at that list. A who’s-who of college basketball. 

Only one of those programs is in the Sweet 16. 

Connecticut remains alive. The others are out. Or, in the case of Villanova, North Carolina, Louisville, Florida and Syracuse, didn’t even make March Madness to begin with. 

Meanwhile, Princeton, Florida Atlantic and San Diego State will be playing in regional semifinals this week. 

The Tuesday ScissorTales rank the second seasons of OU football coaches, raise concern about Big 12 women’s basketball and look at the history of the National Invitation Tournament. But we start with March Madness. Princeton and Florida Atlantic in the Sweet 16. What a country. What a sport. 

That’s right. What a sport. We spend 11 months complaining about all that’s wrong with college basketball, and the criticism is completely legitimate. 

But NCAA basketball gets its playoffs right. The NCAA Tournament remains the best post-season in sport, and its egalitarian nature is something of which football can only dream. 

More:Carlson: OSU didn't need more magic. Jacie Hoyt & Cowgirls needed more tourney experience.

Eleven conferences are represented in the Sweet 16. Eleven. 

You could look it up. The Ivy League. Mountain West. Conference USA. West Coast Conference. American Conference. Big East. The Atlantic Coast. Big 12. Southeastern Conference. Pac-12. Big Ten. 

Princeton guard Ryan Langborg (3) and forward Caden Pierce (12) celebrate the team's win over Missouri in a second-round college basketball game in the men's NCAA Tournament in Sacramento, Calif., Saturday, March 18, 2023. Princeton won 78-63. © Randall Benton, AP Princeton guard Ryan Langborg (3) and forward Caden Pierce (12) celebrate the team's win over Missouri in a second-round college basketball game in the men's NCAA Tournament in Sacramento, Calif., Saturday, March 18, 2023. Princeton won 78-63.

That’s more conferences than even play major-college football. 

Heck, three Sweet 16 schools don’t even field football teams, on any level — Gonzaga, Creighton and Xavier. 

How charming is that? 

Princeton — Princeton! — is in the Sweet 16, with its ACT test scores of 35. At least the Tigers have some basketball tradition. Florida Atlantic has zero basketball pedigree. 

But that’s one of the charms of the hardwood. Find a good coach, find a couple of players, and you can dream big. And sometimes dreams come true. 

Fairleigh-Dickinson didn’t win its league or its conference tournament, sports the shortest average height among the 363 Division I teams and was forced to win a play-in game against Texas Southern just to make the 64-team bracket. The Knights promptly beat top-seeded Purdue. 

Furman, with an enrollment of 2,300, beat Virginia, the 2019 national champion. 

And proving that you don’t have to win to be winners, Kennesaw State took Xavier to the wire, Drake did the same with Miami and Louisiana-Lafayette scared the rocky top out of Tennessee. 

As much as we all love college football, it can’t match that storytelling. Not even when Texas Christian upsets Michigan.  

There are no Fairleigh-Dickinsons on the gridiron. No St. Peter’s, the little Jersey City school with broken windows that beat Kentucky and Purdue en route to the regional finals a year ago. 

In the College Football Playoff, Cincinnati passes for a Cinderella. The Bearcats got to play Alabama in the 2021 semifinals, but we all knew UC had no chance. There would be no dancing with the prince. 

But March Madness is all about the dance. Every team has a chance. Some combination of a hot shooter and good gameplan and arrogant favorite, and the next thing you know Princeton’s playing Creighton on the big stage, while bluebloods Kentucky and Kansas, Duke and Carolina, are sitting at home. 

Not much college football can do to replicate college basketball’s parity. It’s a different sport. Different system. One hot quarterback, one great coach, can’t overcome the advantages Alabama has over Mississippi State, much less Middle Tennessee. Can’t make up for Ohio State’s dominance of Maryland, much less Bowling Green. 

But on the hardwood, a school can dream. It can dream of an upset, then maybe two. 

One magic March rarely becomes two, but sometimes it does, and two becomes four, and the next thing you know some of America’s best basketball players want to go to Gonzaga, a little Jesuit school in Spokane, Washington. 

There are no Gonzagas on the gridiron. 

That’s football’s loss. 

So enjoy the rest of this NCAA Tournament. College basketball has a thousand problems. March is not one of them. 

More:Tramel's ScissorTales: Kelvin Sampson NCAA Tournament's biggest winner after two rounds

The List: OU football coaches in Year 2 

OU spring football practice opened Tuesday, and Brent Venables faces a challenging second season. The Sooners went 6-7 a year ago, but most of Sooner Nation granted him grace. There will be less grace in Year 2, and history doesn’t help Venables. 

OU coaches in in their second seasons have flourished. Here are the second seasons of Sooner coaches, ranked by success: 

1. Bob Stoops 2000: The Sooners went 13-0 and won the national championship

2. Barry Switzer 1974: The Sooners went 11-0 and won the national championship. 

3. Bud Wilkinson 1948: The Sooners went 10-1 and beat North Carolina 14-6 in the Sugar Bowl. 

4. Tom Stidham 1938: The Sooners went 10-1 and gave up only 12 points all regular season before losing 17-0 to Tennessee in the Orange Bowl. 

5. Lincoln Riley 2018: The Sooners went 12-2 and lost to Alabama 45-34 in the national semifinal Orange Bowl. 

6. Chuck Fairbanks 1968: The Sooners went 7-4, and though they tied Kansas atop the Big Eight standings, OU lost to Southern Methodist 28-27 in the Bluebonnet Bowl. 

7. Gary Gibbs 1990: The Sooners went 8-3 but were ineligible for a bowl. OU tied Nebraska for second place in the Big Eight, at 5-2. 

8. Adrian Lindsey 1928: The Sooners went 5-3 and finished tied for second in the Big Six, at 3-2. Lindsey was 19-19-6 in six years at OU. 

9. Bennie Owen 1906: The Sooners went 5-2-2, following Owen’s 7-2 maiden season. OU in 1906 lost to Kansas and Texas but won Bedlam. Everything worked out. Owen stayed 20 more seasons and is the longest-serving head coach in OU football history. 

10. Lewie Hardage 1933: The Sooners went 4-4-1 and finished third in the Big Six, at 3-2. Hardage resigned a year later with a record of 11-12-4 at OU. He never was a head football coach again, though he was the Florida baseball coach. 

11. Biff Jones 1936: The Sooners went 3-3-3 and finished fourth in the Big Six at 1-2-2. Jones then was hired away by Nebraska. 

12. Snorter Luster 1942: The Sooners went 3-5-1 in the first season affected by World War II, but OU finished second in the Big Six, at 3-1-1. Luster coached the Sooners through 1945. 

13. Gomer Jones 1965: The Sooners went 3-7, and Jones was replaced with a 9-11-1 record.  

14. John Blake 1997: The Sooners went 4-8 and showed few signs of progress. Blake was fired a year later. 

More:Tramel: Brent Venables needs portal people to come through for OU football defense

OSU seeks NIT semifinals 

The National Invitation Tournament is not where basketball teams want to be.  

But sort of like being stuck in traffic or vacationing in North Dakota, might as well make the best of it. 

So far, OSU has done just that. The Cowboys won at Youngstown State 69-64, then beat Eastern Washington 71-60 in Stillwater. Tuesday night, OSU hosts North Texas, with a trip to the NIT semifinals on the line. 

Of course, a trip to the NIT semifinals isn’t what it once was. The 2023 NIT semifinals and championship game will be staged in Las Vegas, which is not North Dakota but also is not Madison Square Garden. The iconic New York coliseum was synonymous with the NIT for almost a century, but no more. 

Our state teams offer a historic timeline of the NIT’s rise and decline in college basketball. 

Among Oklahoma teams, only Tulsa has won the NIT, and the Golden Hurricane did it twice, 1981 and 2001. 

The 2001 title barely is remembered. It came well after the expansion of the NCAA Tournament to 64 teams (1985), which finalized the NIT as a pure consolation tournament. 

But in 1981, the NIT still was prestigious. Sort of the difference between, say, the Gator Bowl of today and the Gator Bowl of 40 years ago. 

More:Tramel's ScissorTales: Is Jacie Hoyt turning Oklahoma State basketball into a Big 12 power?

Anyway, in 1981, the NCAA Tournament had expanded to 48 teams, but that still left a variety of quality squads for the 32-team NIT. 

The 1980-81 season was Nolan Richardson’s first season as the Tulsa coach. His Golden Hurricane, led by Paul Pressey, stormed to New York with victories over Pan American (now Texas-Rio Grande Valley), Texas-El Paso (coached by Richardson mentor and hoops legend Don Haskins) and South Alabama. 

At Madison Square Garden, TU beat a couple of notable basketball schools, West Virginia and Syracuse, and won the NIT championship. 

It was no small deal. Tulsa, the city and the school, was energized by the NIT title. That begat a glorious era of Tulsa basketball, with Richardson, Tubby Smith and Bill Self highlighting a run of successful coaches. Tulsa made the Sweet 16 in 1994, 1995 and 2000. 

But just a few years after 1981, the NIT’s prestige was gone. 

The NIT began in 1938, and Oklahoma A&M, which became OSU, was in the first tournament. Henry Iba’s squad was part of a six-team bracket in New York; the Aggies were given a bye into the semifinals, where they lost to Temple 56-55, then beat New York University 37-24 in the third-place game. 

Iba teams returned to the NIT in 1940 (again claiming third) and 1944 (losing to Kentucky and Adolph Rupp 45-29 in the third-place game). 

The NCAA Tournament began in 1939, but the NIT quickly established itself as the premier post-season tournament. College basketball was dominated by New York and the Eastern Seaboard in the 1940s, and the NIT was run by a collective of New York-area schools. 

DePaul and the great George Mikan won the 1945 NIT, the year Iba’s Cowboys won the NCAA. 

In a classic Red Cross Benefit Game in New York, those Cowboys beat DePaul 52-44 after the NIT and NCAA tournaments were staged. That verdict didn’t sting the NIT so much as it elevated the NCAA’s status. 

But not since 1944 has OSU made the NIT semifinals. 

The NIT’s status remained strong through the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. The NCAA limited conferences to just one team for its tournament until 1976, so the NIT was stocked with quality teams. 

In 1970, Marquette coach Al McGuire famously rejected an NCAA Tournament invitation, because his Warriors were being sent to the Midwest Regional in Fort Worth, Texas, instead of the Mideast Regional in Dayton, Ohio. Marquette, led by the great Dean Meminger, won the 1970 NIT. 

More:Women of the Year honoree says changing focus changed her life, and team, for the better

But the NIT began to crack. In the 1974 Atlantic Coast Conference championship game, Maryland lost to North Carolina State 103-100 in perhaps the greatest basketball game ever played. N.C. State went on to win the NCAA title, ending UCLA’s seven-year run as champion.  

Maryland viewed the NIT as a consolation prize and rejected a bid. A year later, N.C. State did the same, and the dye was cast. 

The NIT expanded over the years. To eight teams in 1941, to 12 in 1949, 14 in 1965, 16 in 1968, 24 in 1972, 32 in 1980, 40 from 2002-06 and back to 32 in 2007. 

In 1977, the NIT moved all its pre-semifinal games to campus sites. No more wall-to-wall basketball in Madison Square Garden. 

OU didn’t play in the NIT until 1970, when John MacLeod’s Sooners beat Louisville 74-73 but lost to Louisiana State 97-94, led by Pete Maravich’s 37 points. The next year, in the first round of the NIT, the Sooners lost to Hawaii 87-86 in two overtimes. 

Those Sooners would have been NCAA Tournament teams under today’s model. And in 1976, the NCAA began allowing multiple teams from a conference. 

The Sooners’ 1982 NIT run to the semifinals, a year after Tulsa’s NIT title, sparked huge momentum for Billy Tubbs’ program. OU lost to Bradley 84-68 in the NIT semifinals, but Tubbs’ Sooners then began a run of dominant basketball. 

But when OU returned to the NIT in 1991, it was a massive disappointment. The tournament was mere consolation for missing the NCAAs. 

And today, the NIT remains the same. Heck, it’s not even a building block for the future, since so many players use the transfer portal. 

Because of the pandemic, the NIT was not played in 2020, and in 2021 it was moved to Greater Dallas, to form a semi-bubble.  

The NIT semifinals and championship game were back in New York in 2022, but this year they’re in Las Vegas and next year move to Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. 

Not even the Madison Square Garden allure remains.  

No team wants to be in the NIT. But if you’re in it, you might as well win it. That’s the consolation mission for Mike Boynton’s Cowboys. 

More:Tramel: Does OU football need to spend $175 million on facilities in the NIL era?

Down year for Big 12 women’s basketball 

UCLA rebuffed OU’s vaunted comeback bid late Monday night, winning 82-73 at Pauley Pavilion in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, and the Big 12 women’s basketball season was complete. 

No teams in the Sweet 16. 

In the round of 32, fourth-seeded Texas was stunned at home by Louisville 73-51, seventh-seeded Baylor lost 77-58 at Connecticut and OU lost to UCLA. 

In the first round, eighth-seeded OSU lost 62-61 to Miami, Toledo upset fifth-seeded Iowa State 80-73 and Arizona beat 10th-seeded West Virginia 75-62. 

It’s the first time in the Big 12’s 27-year history that it failed to place a women’s team in the Sweet 16. 

Some teams played good basketball. The Cowgirls had a 17-point lead on obviously-talented Miami, and the Hurricanes followed that comeback with an upset of top-seeded Indiana on Monday night. Baylor roared back from an 18-point deficit to stun Alabama in the first round. The Sooners also trailed by 18 points, against UCLA, but rallied to take a fourth-quarter lead. 

Still, no Sweet 16 team is quite disappointing. The league clearly was down from the halcyon days when first OU and then Baylor were Final Four contenders. 

Soon enough, the league goes in a different direction. OU and Texas were co-champions in 2023. They leave for the Southeastern Conference in 15 months. 

Winning national championships is difficult. Making the Final Four is hard. But reaching the Sweet 16 should be the minimum standard for the Big 12. 

This was a down year. The Big 12 can’t let it become a downward trend. 

More:How Jacie Hoyt's lost opportunity 18 years ago set her on a path to be OSU's head coach

Mailbag: Kansas’ demise 

Arkansas’ victory over Kansas on Saturday was a blow to the Big 12’s hard-earned basketball prestige. But it wasn’t out of the blue. Some of us saw it coming. A Jayhawk fan explains why. 

Tom: “My comments a week or so ago about the Big 12 proved to be so true. At least I made them prior to the tournament. I never for a minute thought the Big 12 was a dominant conference. I am not sure there was a dominant conference this year. The most balanced yes, full of good teams, but no excellent team. I have not liked this Kansas team all year. I have absolutely nothing but respect for Bill Self and he can alone make a few points difference in a tight game. No one is better at getting a bucket off an inbounds play than Self. However, the coaching of Norm Roberts did not cost Kansas the game. That game or similar was determined months prior to the game. At a high level, you cannot recruit second-tier athletes in any position. There is absolutely no way a Kansas should be starting a 6-foot-7, 225-pound center. The athletes on the floor have to be able to rebound the blasted ball. The rebound difference when playing first-class teams is just unbelievable for a Kansas team. I do not profess to know the answer to this question, but was it recruiting or a lack of player development at the center position? Regardless, that bench was not developed. Just watching the game, I thought this is a tired team making tired mistakes not common with the team. I went to the box score and confirmed my suspicions. Four of five starters played 35 or more minutes (three played 36). Total contribution off the bench was five points. You have to have a bench to play at that pace against an athletic team like Arkansas. However, looking at the next opponent’s (UConn) front line, a loss was only a game away. Self is home and recuperating and everything might just be for the best. Better to be home than under the stress of returning to the court this week. I just hope he kicks every one of the assistants out of those palatial offices and on a plane, train or automobile to do some first class recruiting.” 

Tramel: I actually thought KU center K.J. Adams played well. But Tom’s points are solid. The Jayhawks historically under Self have not been deep and have not been overly-athletic. Sometimes that works out, sometimes not. This time, not. 

Drawing Arkansas was a Jayhawk nightmare. The Hogs are not terribly disciplined but they are athletic and deep, and they can run a team ragged. They did just that to the Jayhawks. 

Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. Support his work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today. 

This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: Tramel's ScissorTales: March Madness reminds us that college football is not always king

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