This time of the year usually is devoted exclusively to the college basketball teams competing to wear the title “National Champions.”

Several television networks poured out billions of dollars to be able to feature these various “winner advances, loser goes home” matchups at various designated locations around the country. Regular primetime shows are pre-empted. It’s a really big deal.

However, during the last two weeks, huge sports stories have taken away much of the luster and excitement the men’s college basketball tournament normally generates.

First off, National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell issued the penalty from the league office about the bounty program of the New Orleans Saints.

Although the next meaningful football game is more than five months away, Saints’ head coach Sean Payton was suspended for the entire 2012 season and New Orleans’ general manager Mickey Loomis was suspended for eight games while Saints’ assistant Joe Vitt’s suspension was six games.

The Saints team was stripped of two second-round draft picks and slapped with a $500,000 fine by Goodell. Payton is currently being pursued by Fox Sports, perhaps to work the 2012 football season in the broadcasting booth.

Just about the time the shock of the bounty transgression subsided, four-time Super Bowl Most Valuable Player Peyton Manning agreed to resume his quarterbacking career with the Denver Broncos and signed a five-year contract worth $96 million after convincing vice-president John Elway that he has recovered from the neck injury that sidelined him the entire 2011 season.

The ink wasn’t even dry on the Manning story when the football world inquired, “What about Tim Tebow?” The Broncos are loaded with Denver Bronco football jerseys with Tebow’s name emblazoned on the back of each shirt.

Tebow got traded to the New York Jets, but was asked rather forcefully to find housing in New Jersey, away from the bright lights and crazed media of New York City.

About the same time there was plenty of NFL news coming from our Lone Star State as the Dallas Cowboys had $10 million of salary cap space stripped and the Houston Texans lost eight players that helped them get to their first ever NFL playoff game.

Four of the players–outside linebacker Mario Williams (Buffalo Bills), tight end Joel Dreessen (Denver Broncos), guard Mike Brisiel (Oakland Raiders) and cornerback Jason Allen (Cincinnati Bengals)—left for better deals via free agency. Linebacker DeMeco Ryans was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles for some draft picks.

The Texans had to waive offensive tackle Eric Winston, fullback Lawrence Vickers and backup quarterback Matt Leinart for salary cap purposes. Winston signed with the Kansas City Chiefs while Vickers was snapped up by the Dallas Cowboys. Leinart hasn’t signed with another team.

Over the last few seasons the Texans had been stockpiling depth, and those non-starters filled in very nicely when several of the regulars went down with injuries last season.

But with so many regulars now gone, these players are inheriting starting jobs, forcing the team to replenish their depth via the upcoming draft and free agency after the draft.

Last week’s March Madness was about to reveal which teams would be playing in the Final Four at New Orleans this weekend when the golf fans were distracted because it appeared that Tiger Woods regained his magic that had him as the world’s No. 1 golfer for so many years.

He was playing solid golf and went into Sunday’s final round leading the field by a single stroke. Probably as many golf enthusiasts turned their attention to the Arnold Palmer Invitational because it was one of Tiger’s favorite tournaments at Orlando’s Bay Hill golf course where he has done so well over the years.

The other half of those watching the final round was expecting another one of Tiger’s now-famous collapses. Regardless, there were more television sets tuned into the golf than the two games that would determine the Final Four survivors.

Tiger started Sunday’s final round strong by getting three birdies on the first five holes, while those closest to him after three rounds got off to bad bogey-infested starts. His lead swelled to three and then four strokes over his playing partner Graeme McDowell.

The 36-year-old Tiger Woods avoided the trouble that seemed to always crop up in previous tournaments where he got off to good starts. He had gone 923 days and 27 tour events since his last tourney win, but Tiger ended up beating McDowell by a whopping five strokes.

“It’s not like winning a major championship or anything,” Tiger told the Associated Press after finishing his final round at two-under-par 70. “But it certainly feels really good.”

Those sports fans that didn’t care to watch Tiger’s comeback and stuck with the two Elite Eight contests Sunday afternoon watched the Baylor Bears get overwhelmed by top-seeded Kentucky 82-70 in a game that wasn’t as close as the final score indicated and Kansas upset No. 1-seeded North Carolina 80-67.

Saturday’s Final Four semifinals pits the tourney’s only No. 1 seed Kentucky against No. 4 Louisville at 5:09 p.m. with No. 2 Ohio State against another No. 2-seeded team Kansas at 7:49 p.m. Kentucky is an early 8 1/2-point favorite while Ohio State is a slim 2 ½-point favorite over Kansas.

KWICKIES…Former Kansas City Royals star George Brett was recently discussing his golf game. “I was three over,” Brett said. “One over a house, one over a patio and one over a swimming pool.

The Shell Houston Open will be played this week beginning Thursday at the Redstone Golf Club Tournament Course. Defending champion Phil Mickelson will be there along with 2009 PGA Champion Y. E. Yang. Also in the field will be five of the world’s top 13 golfers—Lee Westwood (3), Steve Stricker (5), defending Masters champion Charl Schwartzel (6), Hunter Mahan (12) and Mickelson (13).

Ran into sweet Becky Grant last weekend. She was the personable switchboard operator at Orange Savings Bank for many years before she decided to move back to her hometown of Center. Becky picked the weekend of Art in the Park to come back to Orange so she could see many of her friends. She said that she sure misses Orange and all the great people living here.

JUST BETWEEN US…Senior men golfers 60 years and older are invited to join the SETX Senior Pro-Am for 2012. The organization took a one-year hiatus in 2011 after several successful years and is back on a limited basis this season with three spring events and three fall events scheduled. Membership dues are $10 per year and entry fees will be $35 per player per event. Events are scheduled at Idlywild April 24, Babe Zaharias May 22, Bayou Din June 19, Idylwild Sept. 11, Babe Zaharias Oct. 16 and Bayou Din Nov. 13. The entry fee includes green fees, cart fees and merchandise for the winners. All tournaments will begin with an 8:30 a.m. shotgun start on Tuesdays. Each event will be a blind draw ABCD points tournament. Four-man teams will be drawn after players tee off the day of the tournament. Under the points format bogeys are worth 1 point, pars are worth 2 points, birdies worth 3 points, eagles 4 points and scores of double-bogey and higher are worth 0 points. Winning teams will be determined by the highest total of points above their handicaps. Prizes will be awarded to 25 % of the field. Players can sign up in foursomes, threesomes, twosomes or singles. For more information contact Ronnie Pfleider, PGA Golf Professional at Idylwild Golf Club at (409)753-2521 or assistant Aaron Bonvillion or Ed Campbell.