This is part one of my interview with James Wolfe, author of How to Rig the NCAA Basketball Championship For Fun and Profit. The book is currently available on Amazon for only $11.65. It is a work of fiction with very real aspects focused around the current state of college basketball. Part two of the interview will be released tomorrow. Enjoy!
BustingBrackets.com: Let’s start from the very beginning. Why did you decide to write How to Rig the NCAA Basketball Championship for Fun and Profit?
James Wolfe: Basketball is potentially the best of all spectator sports. The athleticism, spirit, unpredictability, and just plain sit-on the edge-of-your-seat excitement sets it apart from other sports. The game is not dominated by physical freaks of nature or of conditioning. It’s not played as a career, although many use it as a steppingstone toward that end. At its best, it’s played for the pure joy of amateur competition in harmony with higher education’s basic purpose of educating students and preparing them for the future. But the game has become a victim of its own success. The prosperity from its many commercial ties has lead to illicit recruiting incentives, unfair admissions, fraudulent academic assistance, bad behavior by and exploitation of athletes. While these problems have been generally acknowledged by those associated with the game, including the fans, most have not been seriously addressed much less resolved.
I wrote the story in 2006/7, passed it around to people whose opinion about officiating and basketball I respect and concluded it was a story worth telling. Then the Tim Donaghy Story broke. He did pretty much what Stanley, the main character in How to Rig the NCAA Basketball Championship for Fun and Profit, planned to do. The only difference was Donaghy made calls affecting the point spread on games he officiated in the NBA while betting on those games and Stanley intended to do this while reffing college basketball. I put the story on a shelf since I didn’t want people to think the Donaghy incident was the source of my story line. I decided to publish the book when the problems continued and weren’t adequately addressed.
BB: I’m always fascinated with the writing process itself. Describe your writing habits as you worked on this book.
JW: I’m not a nine-to-five kind of writer. I’m least productive when I set aside time to write or I have a deadline. I often suffer from writer’s block when I’m sitting in front of my computer. My best ideas often pop into my head when I least expect it like when I’m mowing the lawn, riding a bike, running errands, or shooting hoops in the driveway. The ideas just come, I’m not sure from where. While I love the creative part of writing, the real work of converting ideas into a coherent sequence of words, not so much.
BB: A lot of the blame that you hand out is focused on the NCAA. Could you in explain in more detail why you think the NCAA is at the heart of the problems facing college basketball?
JW: The stated purpose of the NCAA is “… to govern competition in a fair, safe, equitable and sportsmanlike manner, and to integrate intercollegiate athletics into higher education so that the educational experience of the student-athlete is paramount.” There’s no mention of funding the non-revenue sports, financing a new stadium, paying a new coach millions of dollars to win more games and bring in even more revenue. Myles Brand, past NCAA president said, “College sports is not a business. It’s about educating young men and women on the field and in the classroom.” Really?
Basketball and football as well look like very lucrative businesses to me. The mandate of the NCAA since its creation back in 1906 has been reining in rogue athletic programs. In 1926 Carnegie Foundation study concluded the NCAA failed to effectively control college athletics, specifically stating high coach’s salaries and low academic standards as major problems. If the NCAA is to be taken seriously, it needs to resolve these and the game’s other issues in less than another 86 years.
BB: What about the research for a book like this one? How deep did you go in terms of finding facts and information on this topic?
JW: I played, coached and officiated basketball until my knees gave out and I developed an understanding of just how subjective on-the-floor control of a game can be. I read books, guides, journals, blogs, anything I could find related to college officiating and basketball in general. I talked to players, coaches, fans and boosters, gamblers and legal and illegal bookies, even a couple of trustees at Division One schools. And I talked to dozens of officials of both basketball and football at all levels. I talked to anyone and everyone I could find that had a stake and could provide insight into the game of college basketball. I personally compiled a number of statistical series to learn the odds on a number of situations and outcomes such as the probability of the home team winning. I also reviewed the research performed by others. It’s amazing how much information is accessible, sometimes as easy as performing a quick Google search.I found nothing in my research that conflicted with the events described in How to Rig the NCAA Basketball Championship for Fun and Profit.
BB: Talk a little about very intriguing section at the end of the book titled “Notes On What I Did, Why, And How I Did It.” What was the motivation for including that in the book?
JW: First, I wanted to present a clear and concise description of what I consider to be the major problems of college basketball. And second, I wanted to illustrate the methods and rules that make it almost easy for a ref to influence the final score of a game. Originally, I incorporated all this information within the body of the story, but I felt this interrupted the flow. The “Notes” chapter of the book seemed like a good way to outline all the information in an organized and unambiguous manner. Although the chapter is presented as the thoughts and opinions of the main character and, therefore fiction, the info represents the collective opinions of all the folks I’ve interviewed and all the research I’ve done.
BB: I think the book presents a pretty accurate picture of the problems that you mention, which one do you think is the worst of all at the moment?
JW: In my opinion the exploitation of the student-athlete the biggest problem facing college basketball. We are talking about big, rich and in most cases government supported institutions, profiting from the talents of legal minors, literally children during the recruiting romance without anything remotely resembling fair compensation.
NOTE: A huge thanks to James for taking the time to discuss his book and his thoughts on the current state of the NCAA and college basketball. Again, part two of our interview will be available tomorrow. To check out more books by him, head on over to his website JamesWolfeBooks.com for more information.
Needless to say, this is a pretty big topic and I’m sure a lot of people will have varying opinions. Let us know what your thoughts are on the state of the NCAA!