Gil Pound: Pound for Mythologically speaking

Mar. 26—Hubris is defined as "excessive pride or self-confidence." It's the subject of many a Greek myth as humans tested and stretched the gods' patience (or lack thereof) to the point of devastating punishment.

One example was Prometheus' theft of fire from Mount Olympus. For that he was chained to a rock and forced to live through an eagle pecking out his ever-regenerating liver day after day after day.

I start there because there have been a couple of instances of hubris surrounding the NCAA basketball tournament in recent weeks.

SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey made headlines for the wrong reasons at the wrong time when he spoke to ESPN's Pete Thamel for a story on possible NCAA Tournament expansion. Sankey, one of the most influential voices in college athletics due to his conference's football dominance, pointed to recent deep runs made by UCLA and Syracuse in years when they were low seeds before saying: "That just tells you that the bandwidth inside the top 50 is highly competitive. We are giving away highly competitive opportunities for automatic qualifiers [from smaller leagues], and I think that pressure is going to rise as we have more competitive basketball leagues at the top end because of expansion."

My translation: "Why are winners of small-school conference tournaments receiving automatic bids when there are plenty of good teams already at the big table?"

Sure, Commissioner. Let's blow up one of the best annual sporting events. It's only pumpkins and shattered glass slippers for you, Cinderella. Forget about Fairleigh Dickinson, the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, Oakland University, and others who shock the world year in and year out.

Whoops. Might have touched a nerve with that Oakland mention after the 14th-seeded Golden Grizzlies knocked off No. 3 Kentucky in the first round last week. That was only one instance of the instant karma that kicked in following Sankey's statement. The conference he oversees sent eight teams, which is an impressive number, to the tourney, but five were gone in a flash. Four of them — Auburn, South Carolina, Florida, and the aforementioned blue-blooded Kentucky — were respectively upset by double-digit seeds Yale, Oregon, Colorado and Oakland in the opening round. Where there were eight, now two remain as only Tennessee and Alabama are left toting Sankey's beloved blue and yellow SEC banner.

I have yet to see Sankey go on the record since his conference's inauspicious performance in the wake of his comments. I'm willing to bet that the requests for a statement might number over 100 as media outlets jostle to get the commissioner's reaction. My guess is that if he speaks, he does so right as Sweet 16 play begins Thursday so anything written gets lost in game coverage.

Either way, his punishment has already come. He had to watch his member schools get bitten by a Yale Bulldog, drowned by an Oregon Duck, stampeded by a Colorado Buffalo, and ravaged by a Golden Grizzly.

Hubris isn't just present in the SEC's big office, but also out west at Long Beach State where athletic director Bobby Smitheran put his own excessive self-confidence on display last week. Smitheran a few weeks ago fired Long Beach State head men's coach Dan Monson, although Monson was given the opportunity to finish out the year. The season went on further than either of them would have thought after Long Beach surprisingly won the Big West tournament to earn one of those automatic bids Sankey wants to eradicate.

Smitheran was asked about the timing of his decision to fire Monson, to which the athletic director said: "My belief and hope is that by doing what I did and the timing of it, [the team] would play inspired, and that's what they did. I'm not trying to pat myself on the back, but it worked."

Are you kidding me? Given time to think of a response to that very question, that's what you come up with? Smitheran's perspective-less comments have received far more coverage than Long Beach State's first-round loss to No. 2 Arizona, and rightfully so.

Smitheran probably won't be disciplined for what he said, but I've come up with a punishment fit for Greek mythology or Dante's "Inferno" anyway. Since firing someone is a great way to "inspire" them, how about he loses his job once a week as motivation.

A little tough, sure. But it's got to be better than an eagle pecking out your liver.