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Money madness: Tournament really is a bracket racket

‘It’s all about the kids,’’ John Calipari said before his legion of former McDonald’s All-Americans took on Hampton.

You couldn’t be sure if that was a bottle of snake oil or laudanum the Kentucky coach was holding behind his back. Maybe antivenom serum.

All about the kids.

Medic!

The NCAA tournament has just enough to do with the ‘‘kids’’ that it somehow stays above and beyond the law — whichever rules might have to do with the abuse of the collegiate educational system.

But since everybody has a bracket and a favorite school, and all lawmakers are college grads rootin’ for the alma mater, there basically are no rules.

For instance, if you couldn’t stay eligible at North Carolina in the recent past, it meant you were too dumb to sign up for the courses with guaranteed A’s. Or you couldn’t sign your name.

Which means even good ol’ hoops coach Roy (‘‘No Problem Here’’) Williams probably couldn’t help. Williams, like just about every big-time coach anywhere with a dirty program, never knew nothin’. He thought all those A’s his players got were because they were smart enough to be Tar Heels in the first place.

Nor did pointy-nosed Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim know anything about his corrupt program, which the NCAA said, after an eight-year investigation, was dirtier than a floor mop.

Jim-B claims he didn’t have any “personal involvement” in the fraud involving grades, drug testing, recruiting. Translated that means he didn’t know nothin’.

So he’ll retire three years from now, a rich man, and let his athletic director, Daryl Gross, who resigned Wednesday, take the fall.

True, Boeheim, whose team won the 2003 national title, has to give up 108 wins. No big deal. The fun from being in the Big Dance for years has already been had. Try putting that genie back in the bottle.

Plus, Calipari, the face of the best of big-time American collegiate coaching, has already been forced to give back, what, 42 wins? Plus, two Final Four appearances?

And how much does this dude make?

Seven million a year. Plus $50,000 or more for inspirational speeches. Plus bonuses.

A number of his one-and-done or two-and-done players go to the NBA and make their own bundle. But a lot don’t. But they’ll still have those few semesters of ‘‘education’’ at UMass or Memphis (Hi, Derrick Rose!) or Kentucky to fall back on.

How important are the kids?

Well, not important enough that CBS could break from a commercial to show us the first of the two free throws made by Notre Dame’s Zach Auguste to seal the Irish’ 69-65 win over Northeastern on Thursday.

Not important enough that anybody complains about the fact these kids are supposed to be regular students, and yet they miss lots of school time, play as many as 40 games, and don’t get a dime, not from the coaches or networks or advertisers or gamblers or even the NCAA.

How’s the NCAA doing?

Not bad. Not bad.

Last year it grossed almost a billion dollars and ended up with an $80.5 million surplus. For the last four years it has finished with at least a $60 million surplus.

Wouldn’t you love to jump into the NCAA vault with pals and play basketball with silver dollars and Krugerrands?

To try to make it more equitable for the college kids a new crowd-funding site called FanAngel has popped up with the idea of taking donations from fans and giving them to star young players like, say, Duke’s Jahlil Okafor, so they will then stay in ‘‘school’’ a year or so longer and not hurry off to the NBA.

Great — and insane — idea.  The guy doing it only wants to keep 9 percent for his troubles. Some of the loot would go to the star’s teammates, some to charity, etc. But nobody covered by the fund, which could only be collected by the player once he’s out of school, could be in contact with the site or its money-gatherers. Tampering. Professionalism. Crimes against humanity.

Yep, there are hundreds of rules preventing one of the ‘‘kids’’ from accepting anything more than extra school meals or free books (what are those?), because it is so written in the Bible. Commandment 11. Backside of the tablet.

According to Time Magazine, from March 17 to April 6, approximately $2.5 billion will illegally change hands from regular folks betting on the tourney. People like you and, yep, me.

‘‘Putting down $10 on the home team should no longer be illegal,’’ said the article, arguing that sports gambling in the U.S. should be decriminalized, since no agency can control it.

But the kids. Think of the kids.

It would ruin them.

Email: rtelander@suntimes.com

Twitter: @ricktelander