In The Back Roads to March (Doubleday, Mar.) journalist Feinstein recounts a year covering the underdog teams of the NCAA basketball finals.
You write about the players at the lesser-known NCAA Division 1 programs. What is different about them from the better-known teams?
They play because they love to play. If somehow they end up making money, that’s fine, that’s good. But they play because they love to play. I don’t think the competition is any less intense than it is at the highest level, but there’s a different purpose. The kids at the level I wrote about aren’t concerned about the NBA—they want to get better as players, and want to win. They keep playing, and keep competing, because they love to do it, because they love the sport, they love being part of a team—all the right things about sports.
What inspired you to write this book?
Because I still love going to college basketball games at the mid-major level or below. I’ve always been a great believer that there are great stories to be told by those who aren’t rich and famous. I learned that from Bob Woodward when I was a night police reporter at the Post, as a kid. I’ve written books on the PGA qualifying school, and on the Army-Navy football rivalry. None of the people I wrote about were rich or famous. All the books sold well, got good reviews, and I enjoyed the process. I’m at the point of my life where I want to write books where I enjoy the process. If I spent the next 10 years of my life doing a book like this one, I would never run out of stories.
What’s one story from your travels that sticks out for you?
I love the Griff Aldrich story—the guy who was making close to a million dollars a year as a lawyer and as a CEO but still had never gotten over basketball, and kept his hand in just coaching kids who needed to be coached. He moved his family from Houston to Baltimore, and ended up as the coach at Longwood [the university in Farmville, Va., part of the Big South Conference]. I like stories like that because when you tell them to someone, they say, “That really happened?”
What is the biggest misconception that people have about college basketball?
That the guys who are on ESPN all the time, or who go to the Final Four, or the coaches at that level, the millionaire coaches, are the only ones who can play and coach. The coaching and playing at the Patriot League, Ivy League level is really good. If you like basketball, and you go to a game at that level, you’ll be entertained. That’s why there are players in the NBA each year who are signed as undrafted free agents.