The remainder of the 2007-08 college basketball season was canceled on Saturday after a committee of coaches, players, fans and NCAA officials deemed sportscaster Dick Vitale's absence due to recent throat surgery too much to overcome.
Coaches, in particular, saw no point in going on without the effervescent shill feeding them a constant stream of platitudes. Vitale's mindless rants of support through upsets, losing streaks or unfulfilled promise has kept coaches sane and, many times, out of the unemployment line.
"No one's stepped up to fill the void, although Erin Andrews sure takes your mind off the game," one coach said dreamily.
Illinois coach Bruce Weber said it's been virtually impossible to pump up his squad this year, knowing Vitale was never going to gloss over the Illini's multitude of shortcomings. UI is 9-11 and just 1-6 in the Big Ten, but a healthy Vitale would be quick to inflate Weber's long string of moderately successful years, adding that the transfer of headcase guard Alex Legion into the program as reason to be excited, and ignore this season's irrevocable downturn.
"Where is the unconditional flattery?" Weber moaned. "The booster club sure isn't doing enough to build my ego."
Northwestern coach Bill Carmody has lit scores of votive candles, praying for Vitale's quick return to health.
"Even when we'd get blown out, Dick would come to our aid and scream positives," the coach said. "My offense is built around not having to recruit any good players, and Dick always has good things to say about that.
"He's saved my job on a number of occasions when it became abundantly clear that I can't sign a blue-chipper, but nothing is ever as bad as it seems with Dick around to sling the bullshit."
NU is 6-10 and winless in the Big Ten after six games, and fans think if there's ever a time to dump Carmody, it would be while Vitale can't speak.
"I even miss his pizza commercials," the out-of-touch Carmody said. "I get tickled when he dunks."
Vitale is expected to be out of action at least until February, and college basketball insiders said it would be too late to re-focus teams and fans on winning a national championship at that point. Without Vitale to impress, players and coaches have been going through the motions for a couple of months now, and the magic is gone.
Vitale's love of college basketball is unsurpassed. And his appeal to fans, especially males 18 to 24 who matriculated to schools only because they were in power conferences and now waste their parents' money by drinking, hanging out and filling out tournament brackets rather than studying and getting on with their lives, is through the roof.
"I love wearing a basketball on my head and painting my body green and white," said Lonnie Simmons, a student at Michigan State. "I'm proud to be one of Dick's Dorks."
Vitale's energy is boundless, even for lousy matchups involving Syracuse and its crybaby coach Jim Boeheim, or the over-hyped ACC schools and their holier-than-thou fans.
"No one's made inane remarks this year or kissed Duke's ass the way only Dick can," Kentucky fan Toby Lyons said. "Maybe Jay Bilas could, but being aloof and insightful kinda works against him. He'd need to start using high-pitched squeals after 10-0 runs or no-look passes.
"On the other hand, I heard that Jay makes goo-goo eyes at Mike Krzyzewski all the time."
Bilas said he's never gotten to first base with Coach K, but recalled seeing Vitale smooching Tubby Smith after Smith "screwed up Kentucky's program."
Vitale emailed the media indicating that he was happy the season was canceled in his honor, and hoped the NCAA record book would reflect that with "at least 20 or 30 asterisks."
"The more the merrier, babeeee," he wrote.
Vitale also noted that he was heartsick at the dearth of announcers' clichés this season, and that no one has seen fit to "pay homage to lousy coaches and lousy coaching decisions with unfettered backslapping and drivel the way I do, but there's always next year."