Ahh … it’s that time of year again.
The clouds are clearing, the mercury is rising, and of course, March Madness has arrived. I feel better already.
The annual NCAA basketball tournament, composed of 64 teams from across the nation, is the epitome of all that’s great about sports. Forget the Olympics with its doping scandals, the World Cup with its 0-0 ties, and yes, even forget the Super Bowl where the commercials often outshine the game. This is what it’s all about.
Here are a few reasons why:
• It’s nostalgic. At my young age, it is difficult for me to get nostalgic about too many things, but the “Big Dance” as it’s been coined, is one of those things. I can still hear my screams of jubilation after watching Christian Laettner sink a jumper with no time on the clock to beat powerful Kentucky and help the 1992 Duke Blue Devils reach the championship. Just as I can remember writhing in agony and refusing to go to school after watching Chris Webber call the infamous “time out” that Michigan
didn’t have, giving my beloved Wolverines a technical foul and North Carolina the national title. Discussion about the current tournament undoubtedly leads to memories of tournaments past, of buzzer beaters and incredible plays. It’s a wonderful way to reminisce.
• It’s pure and simple. No French judges to mess this one up. Sixty-four teams, single elimination; you win, you go on, you lose, and its time to pack your bags. And when you lose you don’t get to wallow your sorrows in your $5 million mansion on the beach — it’s back to the dorms.
• It’s relatable. Many of the young men and women who fill our memories of March Madness greatness never went on to play professional sports. They graduated, just as we hope to, and went on with their lives. And this element of identification, the fact that we can see ourselves in the faces of those athletes and remember our glory days (whenever those might have been) or dream of future greatness. These are what make it so special. The game still seems like the game you played on the courts at recess.
• It’s unpredictable. Even the greatest of sports bookies can only pray to come close on this one. Last year, in the men’s first round there were 13 upsets (a lower seed beating a higher seed) out of 32 games, nearly percent. There’s no pleasure like seeing big shots such as UCLA or Indiana getting bumped out of the tournament by the likes of Valparaiso or Princeton. For those who love the underdog, it doesn’t get any better than the NCAA tournament.
• It’s downright addictive. Never is there a time of year so agonizing to be pulled away from the TV set. With so many games going down to the wire, it’s difficult to get them all in, but it won’t stop people from trying. I vividly remember living in the Middle East and waking up with my father at two in the morning for two weeks straight to catch games on the Armed Forces Network.
We went through our days dead tired, but that was the price we payed.
The reasons gone on and on, and this year there’s even been a new one added to the mix. Both Pepperdine teams are playing in it. Now we no longer cheer just for our favorite teams, but for our classmates and friends. It’s our opportunity to flick on a major network, see a basket made, and say, “Hey, I know that guy.”
Class or no class, I’m sure students across the campus will be cheering them on, forming new memories of their own.
And while the road looks difficult for both, like everyone else in the field, they’ve got a chance.
That’s what this tournament is all about. Dreams, hope and miracles. I’ll be watching … will you?
March 14, 2002