I know that many of you who frequent these pages probably aren’t the biggest sports fans. And that’s okay. After all, nobody’s perfect.
Seeing as this blog appears in a spot on the website and in the “A Section” in print, areas that aren’t solely dedicated to sports, I try to mix it up. While this is the ‘Sports Hack,’ I try to keep some variety in the topics I blog about to (hopefully) write stuff that everyone can enjoy.
In that respect, I guess you could say the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament has been the ‘Sports Hack’ of major sporting events.
The tournament, March Madness, whatever you prefer to call it, really is one of those rare sporting events that I feel like fans and non-fans alike can truly get into.
Of course, from the fan’s side the connection is simple. It starts with 68 of the best college basketball teams in the country and, over the course of three weeks, gets whittled down to just one national champion. Each year it produces perhaps the highest-quality basketball in the world that never falls short of drama with buzzer-beaters, big upsets and close contests.
Even if basketball (or sports in general) isn’t your thing, I think it’s something that would be easy to get excited about.
First of all, who doesn’t fill out a bracket? Right there you have a rooting interest in each game. (At least for every game in the Round of 64, anyway). The beauty of bracket contests is that anybody can win. It might seem like someone who closely follows college basketball would have a leg up, but that’s not really the case at all. With all of the upsets that happen throughout the tournament, even someone who has never watched a game in their life truly has a chance to do well in a bracket pool.
Secondly, each year a few story lines emerge that I think even non-fans can appreciate. This year, I particularly enjoyed watching No. 14-seed Georgia State, who pulled a huge upset in the first round by defeating No. 3 Baylor.
The Panthers play in the tiny Sun Belt Conference and received an automatic bid to the tournament by winning their conference. Their head coach, Ron Hunter, tore his Achilles tendon during the on-court celebration following the Sun Belt title game. He spent the duration of the NCAA Tournament run getting around with one leg up on a rolling chair. Adding to that is the fact that the team’s best player is his son, R.J. Watching the proud papa pour out his emotions after GSU was beaten out of the tournament made for a pretty great human moment to which I think anyone could relate.
One last story I enjoyed over the weekend was the Wisconsin players’ fascination with the NCAA stenographer, who is tasked at transcribing all of the press conferences related to the tournament.
Following their win on Friday night, a few of the Badgers noticed the stenographer and, after their press conference, asked her to demonstrate how it worked. A video on Vine showed three players huddled around her and reacting like gleeful little kids when she allows them to touch the machine and it enters one of their names. The next day, when sophomore guard Nigel Hayes returned for another press conference leading up to Wisconsin’s game against Oregon, he was asked a typical question to get the presser started.
He opened his response by saying, “Before I answer that question, I would like to say a few words: cattywampus, onomatopoeia and antidisestablishmentarianism.” That opening line was accompanied by a playful grin directed at the stenographer. (He later congratulated her on a job well-done in a tweet.)
Obviously this story doesn’t have anything to do with the games themselves and will probably never even qualify as a footnote when this year’s tournament is recalled in the future. But I think it shows that these players, while being cheered on in packed arenas and watched by millions more on television, are still basically just kids. Though I don’t know if I could bring myself to root for the Badgers, seeing this playful, human side of them is a breath of fresh air.
Heck, if I was a non-fan who hadn’t been conditioned to dislike the Badgers, I might even have a new team to cheer for.