Mar 12, 2014 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
This Sunday night, just after 6 p.m., anyone who cares about college basketball will see the only bracket that matters.
Ron Wellman, athletic director at Wake Forest, and the rest of the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Committee will unveil the 68 teams for our annual Dance – who they are, where they are going, when they’ll be playing.
A big TV show is made out of it. “Experts” will dissect the tournament, sometimes seconds after the names are put together. Predictions will be made. Very wrong ones, too, as everyone knew that Syracuse was supposed to lose to Montana, right, Seth?
As that is going on, the work of another group will also end. Not the committee, mind you, but rather a self-appointed group of men whose sole task and purpose in life is to drain all the fun and suspense out of what used to be a fun, suspenseful day.
You remember that, right? Even 10 years ago, Selection Sunday was anticipated the way a certain holiday late in December is anticipated by kids. Maybe you had an idea of who was going to make the tournament, but seeing how they would get paired up, and in many cases whether they would make the field at all, created incredible tension and excitement.
But now that’s gone. Just the fact that Joe Lunardi’s name is mentioned more than March than all the teams, players and coaches combined is a sickness. March is about basketball, not whether some bracket-wielding egomaniac trumpeted by a narcissistic sports broadcast empire gets all of his picks right.
To them, it’s almost like the NCAA committee doesn’t exist – or if it does, its only purpose in life is to reinforce what people with no responsibility, but lots of undeserved air time, have already decided for themselves. In other words, why bother meeting? Why do we have a committee, if we’ve usurped the role for ourselves?
And one bad consequence leads to the other. Just as soon as the 68 are revealed, hours and days are spent debating the brackets. Some will say the committee did a good job, but plenty of others will not, and heaven forbid if a team makes the field and those pundits didn’t think they belonged.
We heard this lament three years ago. A mid-major team was put into one of the last four spots in the field, slotted to one of the “play-in” (whatever official term they use, it’s a play-in) games in Dayton.
The next 72 hours were spent pontificating about what a horror, an absolute disgrace, that this unworthy team was dancing, that the committee should feel disgust and shame for even considering them, mainly because, well, the pontificates didn’t have them there, and also – well, let’s face it, there was no other real reason.
That object of expert derision was Virginia Commonwealth. And they made it to the Final Four.
Beyond any other example, the Rams’ inspired run to Houston in 2011 proved that maybe, just maybe, the committee knows what it’s doing, and that perhaps they’re in that room in Indianapolis for a good reason.
You see, when this collection of (mostly) athletic directors and conference commissioners gather late this week to do the grunt work that no Bracketologist (just that word is silly) wants them to do, they know that no glory will come from their efforts.
Much like referees or umpires, they now work at a completely thankless task, with two packs of outside forces to contend with – those that proclaim their brackets to be foolproof, yet still can afford to be wrong, and those who are ready, torches and pitchforks handy, to ransack their efforts the moment it is finished.
The saddest part is that the tournament committee might understand, better than any of us, a simple, yet forgotten notion – that it is a privilege and an honor just to be part of this tournament, which I consider America’s best annual sporting event.
No matter what is done by all the outside forces, especially those who see it as nothing more than an excuse to gamble on brackets and cry to the high heavens once those brackets are ruined (as if that’s more important than the effect of the results on the participants themselves), the Dance remains magical, a stirring and unpredictable narrative, and it’s those unpredictable parts that bring us back, year after year.
So as you gather on Sunday night, empty bracket sheets on the table, pen in hand, ready to fill in the blanks and begin this latest 21-day odyssey toward the shining moment in Arlington, forget all the loud and prominent voices that will vie for your attention, and thank those who do the hard work to put it together without the need for claiming credit.