This was going to be a snap column, one of those rare times when I would not be cursed by being able to see both sides of an issue. Lefty Driesell had blundered into a mental halfcourt trap -- again -- and it was going to be fun kicking him while he was up.
Driesell's urging teams to boycott the NCAA basketball tournament because his poor little turtles might not make it seemed the most self-serving, wrongheaded idea since... Well, since the last time the ol' Left-hander went off half-cocked.
Suddenly, however, came two realizations: beneath the bluster, Driesell was exactly right. The NCAA tournament does need to be changed. But the ground from which he speaks is not as lofty as he'd imagined.
Timing is important in these matters -- and the world certainly would pay attention to Driesell after what his giant killers did to Notre Dame. But maybe Maryland did not beat the Irish after all, Saturday. Maybe the 67-66 victory all of us in Cole Field House saw was a mirage.
It must have been. Or Driesell's fellow coaches treated it as such. When the top-ranked team loses to a talented also-ran, the ramifications seem obvious: either No. 1 drops or the winner leaps into the top 20 -- or
So what did the clear-minded UPI board of coaches do? It kept Notre Dame No. 1 and continued to leave Lefty and the Terrapins with their noses pressed outside the top-20 door.
Had the coaches also been thinking what must have been on Driesell's mind before he began that public harangue about more than two teams of the same conference being invited to the NCAA tournament?
Surely, Driesell must have sensed that Duke and North Carolina will capture Atlantic Coast Conference berths, even though his team is as gifted as the Tar Heels. The UPI coaches seemed in silent agreement.
Or perhaps they had become tired penciling the Terps into the top 20 after a victory over a highly regarded opponent, only to erase them the next week after a stinker against a Wake Forest.
But what do coaches know about logic and justice? In truth, one of them, Bob Hamilton of Navy, has a way to solve Driesell's post-season dilemma, a way to reform the NCAA tournament that is so clear and thoughtful nobody in power will listen.
Driesell was right, if for the wrong reasons. Not enough good teams are selected for the NCAA playoffs. Not enough bad teams are selected, either.
Any number of us were offended when Driesell seemed to want too many teams eligible for the tournament. Aren't 40 enough? Many more teams and semiamateur hoops will last longer than the NBA soap opera.
Hamilton mentally dribbles even farther. Why not let every Division I team into the tournament. Instead of 40, why not all 257? Sound too complex? Take too much time? Listen as he says:
"You divide the country into four regions, and those regions into 16 districts. Then on the Monday the tournament begins, you have 256 team (after a one-game preliminary, if necessar) play, within as tight a geographical area as possible.
"After Monday, you have 128 teams left. So Wednesday they play one another, once again within as convenient an area as possible. Now you have 64 left -- and they could play each other Friday or Saturday.
"What you have would be the NCAA tournament as it stands today (with 32 teams instead of 40) -- and you've done it in a week."
Zounds! The idea is so sound why hasn't anyone thought of it? Someone has -- at the high-school level. Several states, among them Indiana, conduct their state championships with that sort of format.
"And you'd get at least as representative a field as you do under the present selection process," said Hamilton, recalling that below-.500 Missouri managed to clutter the NCAA field last year.
More Missouris will have more of a chance to make the elite 40 under the present system, because more conferences are holding ACC-like tournaments and declaring the winner its champion.
So a Navy pulling a few upsets in an all-comers NCAA tournament would not be any more offensive than a Missouri foiling the present system. And the ACC tournament would be only slightly tarnished.
"The prestige, the recruiting advantages, the pressures -- all that's eliminated (under the proposed format)," Hamilton said. "Everybody has a chance to go on. You eliminate the politics, the pressure to run up the score to impress a selection committee. Everything is decided where it should be -- on the court."
Now there is an idea that merits a boycott. If thoe letters you've drafted to coaches and athletic directors of top-20 teams have not been mailed, Lefty, why not amend them? And increase the list. You can put it as well as anyone. Simply say: "Y'all come."