Kalani Simpson


By Kalani Simpson

Vitale knows the
mid-major pain, baby!

DICK Vitale doesn't need a reason to be excited. His adren-aline is on permanent overload. He doesn't speak in sentences, but ecstatic declarations, filled with one comma after another and ending with four exclamation points. He pauses for breath only rarely.

It works for him, hoops fever does. He lives basketball. Loves basketball. Breathes basketball, and the only thing better is that he gets to shout about it on TV. RPI? He doesn't need it! He's got his "VBDI, the Vitale Bald Dome Index."

He says things like that. With great fervor.

So you can imagine ESPN's head cheerleader might be a little worked up about these Bracket Busters, the Feb. 22 mid-major showcase that includes UH at Kent State and a lineup of others. One day. Nine games. Eighteen teams. Madness. Madness!

This is something Dick Vitale might be a little fired up about. And of course, he is.

But this time there's more. This time, with these Bracket Busters, it's personal.

Before Vitale was an excitable icon he was a basketball coach. A mid-major basketball coach:

"As we all know, the big guys dodge them and dodge them. I know when I was in that category, at the University of Detroit, I sent out countless letters, begging and pleading to play the big guys. And they don't give you a chance!"

He still feels it. Passionately, the way Dick Vitale feels things.

"In terms of experience from that factor, I will never forget," he says. "We had won 21 games in a row when I was at the University of Detroit, and the late Larry Donald, who, really, one of the great minds in college basketball, lost his life so young, the former publisher of Basketball Times. He walked into my locker room when we won our 20th in a row, and said, 'Well, lots of luck, man,' he said, 'but you'd better beat Al McGuire and Marquette, in Milwaukee, coming up, or you can forget about the NCAA.' And I said, 'You're out of your mind! We've got 20 in a row? And you're telling me we've got to beat a team that looks like they can possibly be national championship quality with Butch Lee and that gang?' "

His team somehow won that game, beat the giant in the last seconds, got into the tournament. But Vitale remembers more than that. To this day he's still miffed that for a mid-major program, even 20 in a row wouldn't have been good enough.

He counts off the teams that were slated to have been picked instead. He laments that today the big boys have RPIs on their side, and history, and second chances and benefits of the doubt. And mid-majors aren't allowed to lose.

"And having served on the other side, I can tell you," Vitale says. "It really hurts when you know that you're as good as the big guys and all you want is an equal chance."

It's been since Larry Bird, he says, that a mid-major really knocked on the door. But he says that day could be coming again, with some of the teams in this lineup. He hopes so.

Before he became the basketball establishment, Vitale was another of these outsiders, looking in.

Reach Kalani Simpson at

Kalani Simpson can be reached at

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