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Murphy: Wright’s comments about Tournament confound

They say that one of the late stages of bureaucracy begins when the bureaucracy's purpose becomes the perpetuation of its own existence, but I submit that an even later stage occurs when the members of that bureaucracy become so disconnected from reality that they aren't even aware of the ways in which they perpetuate said existence. As evidence, let us turn to the testimony of one Jerold T. Wright, who on Monday granted an interview to WIP in which he spent some time dancing around an elephant that is so big it no longer fits in the room.

"We all know why we play the conference tournament," Wright said, according to the station's website. "We play the conference tournament so the conference tournament can make money, and that's the thing about the NCAA that I think we really need to address. We need to say what it is. It is a big money-making venture that involves amateur athletics. That's what it is. It is amateur athletics."

Wright's comments came as a bit of a non sequitir in an interview with host Howard Eskin about John Calipari's post-SEC tourney fuming about his team's subsequent NCAA seed. As relayed by the station's website, they seem to emphathize with Calipari. Wright is a bit of an odd fit for a challenger to the status quo. From his impeccably tailored suits to his the $1.6 million manor house on five acres to his $2.5 million salary, the Villanova coach is in many ways a microcosm of why these tournaments are the way they are: his employer, like every other university that spent the earlier part of this decade scrambling to maximize the revenue it could earn through its conference affiliation, needs the money generated by programming like the Big East tournament so they can pay a coach like Wright.

After listening to the audio of the interview, I don't think Wright was commiserating with Calipari, or suggesting that anything concrete should change with regard to the tournaments or how the media/NCAA/public regard them. Frankly, I'm not sure what, exactly, he ended up saying, perhaps because the lack of logic in what he was trying to say is so obvious that there really isn't any coherent way to say it. It is simply impossible to acknowledge that these conference tournaments exist for the express purpose of making everybody but the players boatloads of money without also acknowledging that it is madness for universities to be engaging in such a system.

"These kids are amateurs, it's a beautiful thing, but a lot of people — the NCAA and the universities — are making a ton of money," Wright said. "I believe it's OK that these kids are amateurs, but you just gotta say what it is. We play the conference tournament for entertainment, it's exciting, it's fun for the kids, it's great TV, and because it's great TV the schools get a lot of money."

Let's set aside whatever personal viewpoint you hold regarding the propriety of universities shelling out millions of dollars to basketball coaches. After all, a school like Villanova would claim that their basketball program generates far more than the $2.4 million it pays Wright, and that the $1.2 million profit they say they claimed on the sport in 2014-15 justifies the expense. Forget that we must take them at their word on that unaudited $1.2 million figure, which they provided to the federal government in their annual Equity in Athletics filing. Regardless of the economic reality, Wright's view of it, whatever it may be, should be disconcerting to anybody who has some concerns over the beast of a higher education system that we have spawned in this country, because it has reached a point where a highly-paid coaches are feeling compelled to serve as ombudsmen for a system that exists in large part to perpetuate their existences as highly-paid coaches. In doing so, Wright seems to place the onus for "acknowledgment" on the NCAA, but Wright IS the NCAA. The NCAA is nothing more than a logo, an abstraction, a holding company, a piece of trickery on the double-ledger account book. It is plausible deniability, a make-believe menace on a screen that exists solely to divert blame from a constituency of university presidents who would rather jack up tuition rates and student debt loads while simultaneously paying millions of dollars to coaches who enable them to sit courtside at conference tournaments and see themselves on television screens and achieve a level of big shot vanity that, in most other instances, requires an individual to possess a level of capital that far exceeds their means.

The entire system is built upon the pathological insistence that it ISN'T about making money. To acknowledge otherwise entails but one conclusion: the system is corrupt, and should not exist in its current form, and institutions of higher learning who rely heavily on federally-subsidized tuition dollars to fund their hyperinflating revenue streams should not be paying people millions of dollars to coach basketball and win tournaments, Big East or otherwise.

Perhaps Wright's words were not come from a lack self-awareness, but from an abundance of cognitive dissonance regarding the way his breakfast sausage is made. Yes, the conference tournament is all about money, and yes, that money flows through the hands of the NCAA's member universities. But a huge chunk of it ends up in the pockets of coaches like Wright. So, consider it acknowledged.