March Madness: The Good and Bad
Basketball is my favorite sport. I played through High School and watched my kids fall in love with the sport through their High School years as well. My wife was dragged along and became a follower as well as keeping books for years as our kids participated in the sport.
I love March Madness and all the joy and heartache it produces throughout the tournament. I enjoy watching players play above their perceived potential as entire teams are lifted to fantastic performances. More often than not the basketball is actually well-played and officials stay out-of-the-way, controlling the game but not being the game. All in all the tournament brings people together and even teaches geography when a UMBC does the unthinkable and overcomes their #16 seed to beat the overall #1 seed Virginia.
The talent throughout the 68 teams in the men’s tournament has started to level off over the past 5 years. The top seeds were often victorious but many of the lower seeded winners no longer seem like upsets. (Note: The job of the selection committee must get harder and harder for those involved.) I assumed that a #16 seed would eventually break that barrier and now the NCAA men’s basketball talent pool seems even deeper regardless of the school size. Of course, the Dukes, Kansas and UNCs of the world will most often hold the highest of seedings but the “just made it” teams are coming and don’t feel like the underdog anymore.
I have enjoyed this process over the years and find a greater desire to watch as the outcomes are so unpredictable.
Unfortunately the same cannot, at this time, be said of the NCAA women’s basketball talent pool. There are really only a small handful of teams who are even capable of winning the National Championship. The disparity is still sharp and predictable. That is not to say that the women’s tournament is uninteresting as last year’s championship game proves.
However, the chance for a double-digit seed to beat a single digit seed still remains a remote possibility. The overall talent difference between the top seeds and lower seeds in the women’s tournament is still quite significant and because of that we see teams losing by huge margins in the early rounds of the tournament.
While I am not suggesting that the top teams have any responsibility to make their opponents feel better about themselves by keeping games close I do believe they have the responsibility to not embarrass their opponents so as to relieve them of their dignity. I write this on the heels of Connecticut’s 80+ point win over their first round opponent. The heartbreak is that the winning coach did not feel any remorse in how he asked his team to perform.
I have always felt that sport afforded coaches the opportunity to not only teach a game but to teach humility and humanity. I have been involved in these types of humiliating experiences both as a player and as a parent. I always seek out coaches who instruct their players, in these situations, to be aware of their opponents self-esteem and compliment them on their coaching. While the final outcome may still be very lopsided the losing players can tell the difference between humiliation and grace.
I am far from the everyone gets a trophy type of person. I believe our children need to learn lessons that both losing and winning affords. I often fall back on a statement I heard a coach tell his team (of which my son was a part): “When you lose say little and when you win say nothing.”