Sam Donnellon | Some don't get to step out at this dance

Posted: March 21, 2007

I WOULD LIKE TO apologize to Ohio State seniors Ivan Harris and Ron Lewis for running out on them last Wednesday.

It wasn't personal. Speaking for all those others who left the interview room when you accompanied your coach to the podium, it wasn't personal for them,

either.

You see, we're hired by our individual newspapers and news organizations - not the NCAA, and not Ohio State University. Our organizations paid for the flights to Lexington, Ky., paid for the hotel rooms, paid for the taxis and rental cars and the nice meals at the nice restaurants.

Our companies did this in no small part because Greg Oden is a member of your team, and Greg Oden, although he is much younger than you, is a big, national story. He is expected to declare for the NBA draft when he is through with this tournament, and he is expected to make tens of millions of dollars before his

20th birthday, and he is expected to turn around the fortunes of a downtrodden franchise, perhaps even the one in this town.

Had we remained in that room and filed compelling stories about either one of you, we would have had some explaining to do afterward. We thought your administrators, and those of the NCAA, understood this. We also thought they would

understand that, try as they often do, they can not - and really should not - control or dictate what stories the media presents.

Influence, yes. Control, no.

That is why everyone left the room. To find Oden, which they did. Oden was

available only during the time you and your coach were up there, as mandated by the NCAA. We would have loved to ask questions of you at another time, or even after Oden spoke.

But they're not our rules.

If you felt embarrassed, even humiliated, I understand and am truly sorry. I

also hope that you conveyed such feelings to whichever misguided administrator it was who brought you up there.

If it's any comfort, I was mad at them, too. And Oden didn't get off too easy,

either. Instead of answering questions just once during the media conference,

he sat at his locker for a good 30 minutes and patiently satisfied the needs of wave after media wave.

If the intent was to shield him and get you guys some pub - well, it sure backfired on both fronts.

I would like to tell you that such occurrences are a rarity. They are not. It's called "The Dance," this NCAA Tournament, and that is an apt description

beyond the games themselves.

The NCAA and big-time programs like those at Ohio State are in a constant

ballet between what they wish they were, and what they are.

March Madness has become one of this country's premier sporting events, if not its premier event. It garners billions in television rights, its tickets are sold and resold as if it is a professional event. Programs like yours operate with the budget of a small nation. There are merchandising rights. It is a professional event.

That players receive scholarships as compensation does not dilute this. It

simply creates an even larger margin

between costs and revenue.

It's a simple uneasy fact of life for these players that getting to the dance far

supersedes getting an "A" in class.

Take Oden, for instance. A year ago at this time, he was a high school honors

student interested in majoring in finance. That was before he hurt his right hand, and before someone got a hold of him and

explained that he will be on the road as many as 3 days of every week.

Oden, I am told, has two courses this

semester: Sociology and the History of Rock and Roll. His recent exam, he

explained, included two essays, some

multiple choice, and listening to and

labeling 15 tunes.

"You had to name the artists, year, genre and title of the song," Oden said.

Ah, to be young, 7-foot and 280 pounds, with millions and millions of dollars in your future.

The way I figure, he is majoring in

finance.

And more power to him. He is not, nor should he be, embarrassed or humiliated by any of this. He didn't make the rules, he's not the one constantly referring to

all of you as "student-athletes."

The institutions do that, as does the NCAA.

You guys have your dance.

And they have theirs. *

Send e-mail to donnels@phillynews.com.

For recent columns, go to

http://go.philly.com/donnellon.

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