A year ago, there was a party in the streets of New Orleans, but it wasn't Mardi Gras.

That had taken place weeks earlier. It was the NCAA Final Four, a grand celebration of collegiate athletics capable of filling the Roman Coliseum a thousand times over.

Billions - not millions - of dollars change hands, from television deals to bracket pools. None of that money, however, finds its way to the student athletes, the gladiators of this spectacle. Unknown to most before March began, we all now intently watch, believing their fates are somehow tied to ours. We don't care about the ugly process that went on behind the scenes, as long as we are entertained.

So how did we arrive here - a place where during the week leading up to the Final Four, the talk around the NCAA water cooler was about anything but the actual games?

Monday: Did you see that kid's bone sticking out of his leg?

Tuesday: Did someone say Rutgers?

Wednesday: Auburn had to cheat their asses off to steal a title from Alabama, huh?

Thursday: Sure, Mark Emmert comes off as extremely likeable, in the same way Napoleon did.

Friday: Did you hear that the head of Pac-12 officiating resigned? RUTGERS!

It wasn't as if the NCAA was hurting for storylines.

Each game had it's own intrigue. In one, you had David vs. Goliath played out by Wichita State and Louisville. The other featured the national player of the year, Trey Burke, leading his Michigan squad full of names sure to sound familiar - Tim Hardaway Jr. and Glenn Robinson III - against one of the winningest coaches in NCAA history, Syracuse's Jim Boeheim.

Big programs, big names, and the biggest stage. That is what this weekend offers year in and year out. This year, however, much of it went unnoticed.

Why? Because scandal trumps all, especially when it crosses over from sports to news. Add behavior that borders on criminal, and the deck becomes stacked against the NCAA.

The games were great, but that didn't matter. In five years, which name are you more likely to remember: Gregg Marshall or Mike Rice?

One led his team on an improbable run to the Final Four. The other? Fired by Rutgers after video surfaced of him physically and verbally abusing players during practice.

Odds are, you'll remember Rice. That's just the way it works.

Perhaps the most memorable name from the 2013 Final Four, however, will belong to someone that didn't even play: Louisville's Kevin Ware.

Certainly, the lasting image we are left with - no matter who wins Monday night - is that of Ware, sprawled out on the court, his teammates unable to look, his coaches unable to ease his pain, and all of America watching helplessly from their couches, unable to intervene.

That moment alone isn't enough for the angry mob to raise their pitchforks and storm the gates, but if viewed through the frame of the events that followed - Ed Rush, Mike Rice, etc. - it becomes clear that there's a problem.

Those in power positions have, as many before them, become so full of hubris that they see themselves as invincible. These millionaires, working for a non-profit organization, don't bother looking in the mirror and instead spend far too much time judging others.

Meanwhile, Kevin Ware lies on the floor in agony, a prisoner of the system, all in the name of amateurism.

This week, this celebration of collegiate athletics, has been ruined from within. Not by the players, but by the corrupt and powerful NCAA.

If they are not careful, those who run the NCAA, including president Mark Emmert, will finally find themselves powerless against the masses. They will be left to idly stand by and count their remaining millions, while their empire crumbles around them.

After all, pride begets the fall.

Twitter: @matt_mullin  |  Email: mmullin@philly.com