Just in time for March Madness, this week's Sports Illustrated contains a scathing feature about the state UCLA men's basketball program, which made it to the Final Four in 2006, 2007, and 2008, but is about to miss the NCAA Tournament for the second time in four seasons. Even the game's blue bloods have dry spells, but the Bruins alarmingly seem to have gone to pieces off-the-court as well as on. Sports Illustrated investigative reporter George Dohrmann, a winner of the Pulitzer Prize, puts most of the blame on coach Ben Howland, whom the school hired away from the University of Pittsburgh in 2003. Even when the team was on its Final Four tear, players considered their coach "socially awkward and disapproved of the verbal abuse they say he directed at his staff." 

In a January interview with ESPN.com, UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero backed Howland going forward, proclaiming "I need Ben Howland. Why would I even think about looking at someone else?... I'm not going to crucify him for those mistakes." Fair enough, but it's a heck of a black eye for a school that used own the month of March on the hardwood.  [Sports Illustrated]



ESPN has hired Bill Polian, the recently deposed Indianapolis Colts front office czar, as a NFL analyst starting in March. It's a good hire, because while ESPN does have several dozen analysts under contract. Who knows, what with this recent wet weather on the east coast, how many of them will be back and in prime not-looking-at-the-right-camera form by the time free agency begins on March 12  [ESPN.com]

Never let it be said the NFL league office is not a friend to this White House: to avoid an overlap with President Obama's acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention, the league has rescheduled its annual Thursday night opener to Wednesday September 5th. The same thing happened in 2008, when the opener was threatening to bump up against John McCain's acceptance speech. In that case, the league just moved kickoff up 90 minutes. [Charlotte Observer]

In addition to a broken nose, it now turns out Kobe Bryant suffered a concussion during the NBA All-Star game Sunday when Dwayne Wade attempted a brief, disastrous experiment with contesting an open layup in a meaningless exhibition game. People are taking concussions pretty seriously of late, but Chris Paul -- who it should be noted does not play on Bryant's team and is not known as a confidante of the Laker guard -- assures the Los Angeles media he'll be "all right." [The Los Angeles Times]