Sports do not build character. They reveal it. —Heywood Broun
I am nothing even close to being a sports fan. I appreciate sports. I enjoy watching sports on occasion. I understand the basic philosophy behind most sports. But do I have a team to which I’m loyal? No. Is there a sport about which I’m passionate? No. Do I keep stats in my head for anyone? You’ve got to be kidding. I try to be reasonably conversant in the big three: baseball, basketball, football. Those three sports help me prevent those awkward silences when in a social situation. Other than that, I’ve very little interest.
This time of year, however, this mid-March hair that gets stuck and gums up the whole works, I feel pressure. My television should be on. A basketball jersey should be hanging on my wall. I ought to be full of the madness that is the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. Why? Because it’s never ending sports and I’m male and that’s what we’re supposed to do because it has something or the other to do with being a great lover. Allegedly. Your results may vary.
The biggest pressure is to complete a tournament bracket. For those of you who are blissfully naive, please allow me to suck you into this sports vortex. The NCAA men’s basketball tournament is huge. They start with 64 teams, selected in part by who won specific conferences, but mostly based on the decisions of a committee based at the NCAA headquarters here in Indianapolis. This committee not only decides who gets to play, they also decide how those 64 teams are ranked. How a team is ranked is HUGE because that determines who plays whom in the first round. Officials want to ensure really good games as the tournament goes along, so top ranked teams play against the lowest ranked teams in the first round with the assumption that the lowest ranked teams will loose.
All these games are divided into four regions. Each region is seeded separately and the whole thing is revealed during a televised program on CBS. Except, this year, that’s not exactly what happened. While NBA legend Charles Barkley was standing there trying to figure out how to work a touch screen, someone leaked the full bracket online via Twitter. Understand, this leak had absolutely ZERO effect over any of the games; it merely spoiled the sense of surprise when television cameras dropped in on smaller schools such as Gonzaga (no, I don’t know what a Gonzaga is) or Northern Iowa (poor kids up there never get picked for anything, so this is really big for them).
Once the initial bracket is released, the challenge is to try and guess how the tournament is going to go down. This is such a stupid and ridiculous pastime. If anyone ever gets a bracket completely right, it’s more by luck, rather like picking the winning lotto numbers. Sure, people like to pretend they know what they’re doing, but there’s no way to overcome the fact that on any night, in any game, one team can have a better-than-usual night while their opponents are totally off their feed and play lousy. Every year there are upsets: lower ranked teams beating higher ranked teams. In the best years, there’s a Cinderella: a low-ranked team from a small school that beats several higher ranked teams and makes it to the Final Four, which is rather like basketball heaven. Indianapolis’ Butler University has been that Cinderella before, making it all the way to the final game before losing.
So, every year I fill out my bracket. Every year, it’s worthless after the first round. I don’t have a clue what I’m doing. My choices are made solely on emotion, hearsay, and blatant favoritism. This year, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (UTC) made it to the tournament. That’s exciting. I know people who teach there. Chattanooga is where two of my boys live. I would very much like for them to win at least the first round. Unfortunately, they’re up against Indiana, a fifth-seeded team that plays good ball but has a history, over the past several years at least, of choking in the really big games. Neither team is likely to make it past the second round when the winner from the first round is probably stuck getting whipped by Kentucky. As much as I like Chattanooga and think they might pull off an upset, I’m going with Indiana in the first round because an Indiana/Kentucky game would be hot.
A lot of people are picking Kentucky to win it all because they beat North Carolina earlier in the season. I say that’s hogwash. Coach Dean Smith doesn’t let anyone beat his team twice in the same season, especially not this season when his team is quite strong. Kentucky got lucky the first time around. Don’t expect that to happen again.
I ultimately have Kansas going up against Oklahoma and UNC taking on Purdue (a purely emotional choice) in the Final Four with UNC taking home the trophy. What do I know, though? Chances are actually very high that none of those four teams make it to the Final Four. There’s a lot of basketball to play between here and there and, because I’m a guy and don’t want to lose any more testosterone points, I’ll watch some if it. Just don’t expect me to get anything right.
I tried embedding my bracket here because it’s too large for a screenshot. That failed, though, which may be a good thing. This way I can conceal my embarrassment when I lose. Sports and I are the kind of friends who wave at each other from opposite sides of the street. Those of you who are true fans, good luck. We’ll see you when the tournament is done.