- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 19, 2003

The juxtaposition of bombs and baskets is incompatible if the NCAA tournament begins in earnest just about the time Baghdad is under attack this week.
Myles Brand, the NCAA president, was correct to question the appropriateness of staging the games, as planned, if our sons and daughters are engaged in the war on terror in a faraway land.
Brand was stuck in a vise of dizzying logistical elements, safety concerns, financial interests and the nation's attention being pulled elsewhere.
A postponement, possibly a couple of days to a week, seemed reasonable, given the unknowns and anxieties.
With Brand's office receiving the go-ahead from the Bush administration, the tournament will open to caution in eight cities in the days ahead.
The venues double as inviting targets, especially in the context of Saddam Hussein's blusterous appeal to the nutcases already living among us.
Security measures have intruded on the American way of life since the atrocities of September11, 2001. The work is hardly complete because of the evil possibilities.
The Bush administration is bolstering this nation's doors this week, which is a sign to the masses to do the same. That includes the tournament. Those unaccustomed to being on the front lines are on notice to increase the security measures at the tournament sites.
That merely was one of the considerations before Brand.
In the coming days, the tournament could appeal to only the most myopic.
CBS, the network that holds the broadcast rights to the tournament, will have its cameras trained on Baghdad, if it comes to that. Even the lighthearted wisecrackers of ESPN will feel compelled to reflect the somber mood of the nation.
The financial toll on the tournament could be pronounced, depending on how well the war goes in the first few days.
One of the encouraging cries of the Bush administration since September11 has been for all Americans to go about their business: attend games, concerts and plays, eat out, travel and live life as we would have before the craziness came to our shores.
That urging also has come with the advice to be alert and ever aware of our surroundings. The latter is the qualifier to the former. A postponement would have been in the same vein, a recognition of the obvious.
The games are an essential part of who we are, no doubt. They are wonderful diversions. President George W. Bush, an old baseball man, reads these sports pages just like the rest of us.
In the days following September11, when America was processing the horror, Bud Selig put baseball on hold for the right reasons. After he reopened the ballparks, America embraced the game as a momentary tonic to its collective grief. The spirit was invigorating, the scenes indelible.
We must push forward, even as we await the inevitable. The push, however, is subject to the vagaries of the human condition and the duty to be respectful of those who defend our liberty.
If Saddam ignores the 48-hour deadline, the television set, at least initially, will be our national town hall. There will be no rush to know what's what in the basketball world, the NBA included.
By the way, this pause in the regularly scheduled programming comes from a committed NBA geek who tries not to study the remaining games on the Wizards' schedule more than once a day.
The Wizards are involved in an entertaining playoff race in Michael Jordan's last go-around as a player. Can he lead them there? That question, so delectable in recent weeks, is suddenly out of place. The only question before most Americans right now is: "How is it going to go in Iraq?"
A quick victory in Iraq is the wish of all hopeful Americans, another step in the "return to normalcy," the term bandied about in the weeks following September11.
The "return to normalcy" remains an elusive goal in Washington, where the attack on the Pentagon was followed by the anthrax strike, various terror alerts, the wickedness of the two snipers and a shaky economy.
Now there is a deadline and Saddam is down to his last few hours. We are counting the hours before the shooting begins, looking to use this time to assimilate and assess where we are going.
The tournament, fun as it usually is, does not fit into the process.
As Brand appeared to recognize only too well, the timing of the tournament stands to be incongruent if it coincides with the start of our military maneuvers in Iraq this week.
His was a difficult decision, imperfect either way.

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