John Caliapari may win a title for Kentucky, a basketball behemoth enabled by the culture we live in, by college presidents who bow to a bottom line rather than set a higher standard, Norman Chad writes. (David Stephenson/Associated Press)

Yes, those were some fantastic finishes during the opening weekend of the NCAA tournament: UCLA-SMU, Purdue-Cincinnati, LSU-North Carolina State, Wofford-Arkansas, Butler-Notre Dame, R.J. Hunter’s otherworldly three-pointer in Georgia State-Baylor. But the road to the Final Four remains a highway to nowhere.

I hate to beat a dead horse — well, it’s more of a cash cow than a dead horse — but March Madness remains a signpost of insanity at the oversize import of big-time intercollegiate athletics in our daily lives.

It’s the same thing every year, except the lie grows larger.

The games can be a lot of fun, but they’re pretty much a deceptive storefront operation. Behind the window display is the business at hand — shoe contracts, AAU machinations, academic improprieties, booster malfeasance and countless coaches at taxpayer-backed institutions who command the largest public-sector salary in the state.

I understand that the likes of John Calipari, Roy Williams and Jim Boeheim are paid to win basketball games; they’re just driving the getaway car in this high-end heist. But they act as if they’re doing God’s work when all they’re doing is teaching 19-year-olds to box out.

Trust me, Williams doesn’t care whether his players haven’t been to class in a month of Sundays. He just cares that they know their assignments on Big Mondays.

Boeheim? If he walked into my home, I believe my dog, Sapphire, an excellent judge of human character, would bite him.

But these icons answer to no one, and if they had their druthers — usually, they get a luxury carload of druthers — they literally wouldn’t answer a single question about their programs.

Calipari — coach of the 1996 Massachusetts Final Four appearance vacated because of impropriety, coach of the 2008 Memphis Final Four appearance vacated because of impropriety, master of the much lauded one-and-done Kentucky empire — on detractors: “I want to tell you all, no one will steal my joy. If you want to attack what we’re doing, be nasty about it, have at it. You’re not stealing my joy.”

Williams, asked about nearly two decades of academic shenanigans at North Carolina: “You want to talk about basketball, we’ll talk basketball. But I’m not going to rehash all that other crap.”

Boeheim — head-in-the-sand about Fab Melo, academic misconduct, impermissible booster activity, et. al. — queried about public perception of Syracuse: “I’m not talking about the NCAA investigation. And another thing for your question: I don’t give a [expletive] what those people think.”

These basketball behemoths are enabled by the culture we live in, by college presidents who bow to a bottom line rather than set a higher standard.

Actually, why do universities even have athletic departments? That’s like an auto body shop having a produce aisle.

Now, if a college has a physical education department, that’s a different ballgame.

Because, indeed, mind and body are important, but universities should prioritize those needs for the bulk of its students rather than a handful of illusionary student-athletes. What’s a greater achievement, having 15,000 undergraduates swimming three times a week or bringing in a couple of basketball recruits who can average 15 points a game?

If Maryland, say, established the nation’s most extensive intramural program, that would be athletic excellence, in my view. I would be a proud Terp.

Sure, schools can chase both brands of athletic distinction — intramural and intercollegiate competition — but that doesn’t change the fact that when they’re chasing Division I success, they often are reckless, delinquent and Boeheim-friendly.

(P.S. Needless to say, I get invited to very few March Madness viewing parties. Then again, I get invited to very few parties of any kind.)

(P.P.S. Wish I could swim.)

Ask The Slouch

Q. One friend shot another in Louisiana as they debated whether Budweiser or Busch was better. Isn’t that just too close of a call between two bad brews? (Ron Lipman; Indianapolis)

A. That’s another problem with Anheuser-Busch beers; nobody arguing the merits of Yuengling vs. Blue Moon would draw a weapon.

Q. I live in Paris, Tex., pal — you want a piece of me? (James Alexander; Paris, Tex.)

A. Hey, I’m not schlepping all the way to Paris, Tex., to get into a fight. I doubt there are any nonstops from L.A., and it probably involves a lousy Delta connection.

Q. How would you explain Stephen A. Smith to a foreign entity? (Greg Moore; Harrisburg, Pa.)

A. Stephen A. Smith is a foreign entity.

Q. Would it be feasible and desirable for the government to seize Daniel Snyder enterprises through eminent domain for the purpose of establishing a professional football franchise in Washington, D.C.? (William Schultz; Arlington)

A. Pay the man, Shirley.

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