Three minutes and 30 seconds after Martin called his 30-second timeout, play resumed. Each team missed a shot. Kansas State’s Angel Rodriguez was fouled by Syracuse’s Brandon Triche. Forty-four seconds after Martin’s 30-second timeout had lasted 3:30, the P.A. announcer at Consol Energy Center told the crowd that there was a “media timeout.”
No one sitting on press row had asked for a timeout. The timeout, as everyone in the building knew, was for TV. So everyone sat for another 3:30 while the coaches tried to figure out what to say to their players about the 44 seconds of actual play that had interrupted seven minutes of nothing happening.
By the time the players came back onto the court, the cheerleaders from both teams looked winded. And why not? They had spent a lot more time on the court than the players.
The NCAA tournament is one of sport’s great events. The barrage of upsets that occurred Friday — highlighted by Lehigh’s victory over Duke and Norfolk State’s win over Missouri — reminded people why these three weeks dominate the public’s attention every spring. The sights and sounds of the tournament, whether they be the celebrations of a winning No. 15 seed or the shock on the faces of a beaten No. 2 seed, are unique.
The NCAA tournament is so good, in fact, it can overcome the fact that it is run by the NCAA.
The basketball committee sold its soul — at an increasingly hefty price — to television years ago. The latest contract, now in its second year, makes it almost impossible to play anything that resembles a normal basketball game. Most games have absolutely no flow to them because there are 10 artificial stoppages: the eight media timeouts and two team-called 30-second timeouts per half (one for each team) that become full timeouts. The committee and the TV networks will tell you those timeouts are 2:30 each. That may be technically true because a timeout “ends” when the second horn is sounded, but the actual time is consistently a full minute longer — sometimes because the network holds play for an extra 30 seconds to give its “talent” some face time.
If you are in the arena, you can sit and watch the 10 players who are back on court because the officials have waved them out of their huddles after the second horn, trying to stay loose while an official holds his hand in the air waiting for a signal that the face time is over.
In addition to the eight media timeouts and the two 30-second timeouts that become full timeouts, each team is afforded four other timeouts to use as they see fit. Six of them are supposed to be actual 30-second timeouts. They each take between one minute and 1:15, the better for the network to squeeze in a couple more commercials. And then there are the two actual full timeouts, one for each team.