O'Donnell: “Flea market” Final Four is a result of fast reactions to new NCAA rules

LONG BEFORE NIKE STARTED exploiting all of that cheap Chinese labor, Chairman Mao said: “Revolution is not a dinner party.”

That's been no party, no lovey-dovey, the past 16 days as the NCAA has presented what's still known as its annual men's basketball tournament.

March Madness has quickly turned into Forced Evolution.

In truth, it is a grand event to witness, as revolutionary as Fidel Castro arriving triumphantly to sweep out Havana after his shrewd recharge in the Sierra Maestra.

HISTORIC HAVE-NOTS — except Connecticut — will be front and unchained Saturday when CBS presents the semifinals of the Final Four.

The opener will feature five-seed San Diego State vs. No. 9 Florida Atlantic (5:09 p.m.) The nightcap pits the No. 4 Huskies — with coach Dan Hurley and assistant Luke Murray, son of Wilmette's very own Bill Murray — against No. 5 Miami (Fla.).

The idea of no 1, 2 or 3 seeds in a contemporary Final Four is like a new installment of the John Wick movie franchise without any gratuitous violence.

The three-game festival of change is also all but guaranteed to be the lowest-rated in the history of modern sports TV. A lack of brand colors on the flagpole can do that.

MOST REPRESENTATIVE OF THE NEW WAVE is Jim Larrañaga and his Hurricanes. That Miami will be the toughest “out” of the weekend.

No program has more quickly seized the nets of change to blend the transfer portal and Name, Image & Likeness money (NIL) into a deep March sandblast.

Key benefactor has been John Ruiz, a Floridian who made his billion as the brains behind medical money chaser LifeWallet. Ruiz has reportedly spent more than $10M — in truth, seagull feed — to draw more than 110 athletes into sports both revenue and not in Coral Gables.

That explains the presence of Nijel Pack (transfer from Kansas State), Jordan Miller (George Mason) and Norchad Omier (Arkansas State) in the starting lineup. If Isaiah Wong finally decides to perform like the ACC Player of the Year this weekend, Miami wins a most opportunistic national championship.

THE BASKETBALL BLUEBLOODS — Duke, Kansas, North Carolina and all — will likely catch up. But all have been swept away this spring down in the flood of The New Green River.

It hasn't been a dinner party for the meek or the slow to revolt.

• • •

MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL REARS its sulking head in Chicago today with the Opening Day of the 2023 season.

The Cubs host the Brewers (Marquee Sports, AM-670, 1:20 p.m.). The White Sox are at sneaky Houston (6 p.m., ESPN, AM-1000). As must-see viewing, both check in right around an extended TV ad for the Chicago mayoral campaign of Paul Vallas.

Season openers were once exciting dates on the annual sports calendar. Young lads riffed through fresh Topps trading cards and dreamed of fields of green. Older men iced Falstaff and Old Style and dreamed of being younger lads.

Vegas has the win total line on the Cubs at 77½, Seiya Suzuki be damned. The White Sox — one team with Tim Anderson, a lesser team without — are holding at 85½.

MARQUEE SPORTS WILL CONTINUE as one of the most underperforming regional sports networks of the new millennium. (To tune in, press voice remote and say, “droning Chicago baseball channel.”)

On NBCSCH, Ozzie Guillen will try to improve on his 2022 DWS — Decipherable Words Spoken — of .837.

Jerry Reinsdorf will hopefully keep his dugout butt-inski to himself. The Ricketts family will probably continue to fine-tune plans to invade and capture Andersonville.

Play ball?

• • •


The most talked-about player of the NCAA postseason has been Iowa's Caitlin Clark. She's leading the nation in both points per-game (27.3) and assists (8.6). She is Larry Bird with better hair. Clark will be showcased Friday when the Hawkeyes face Dawn Staley and mighty South Carolina in a Final Four semifinal (ESPN, app. 8:30 p.m.). Among Clark's NIL clients is Hy-Vee, the charming Iowa-based grocery chain where there's still a smile in every aisle. …

Incoming Bears President Kevin Warren barely stopped short of nominating George Halas for sainthood during remarks to media at the NFL owners meeting. Some might call Warren's words “pandering.” Strip away the gloss and the man is first and foremost a salesman and his No. 1 product is Kevin Warren. He will milk his Halas Hall honeymoon until the 76 trombones are due to parade. …

Jeff Joniak is now being listed as an “on-air host” at WMVP-AM (1000). That's a terrible thing to say about a respected professional. …

Bill Hazen is in talks with a major Midwestern university about a teaching position in its communications department. From transmitters to talent trends, few as are well-versed in the broadcast genre as the one-time Bulls play-by-play ace. …

And Sir Walter Ruston, on news that Tiger Woods is designing a chi-chi golf course for Angels star Mike Trout in New Jersey: “Will the red tees come with rolling pins to chase down drifting husbands?”

• Jim O'Donnell's Sports and Media column appears Sunday and Thursday Reach him at All communications may be considered for publication.

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