Time to ‘dance’

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 18, 2006

March madness is upon us.

The NCAA men’s basketball tournament started with a mad flourish of exciting games on Thursday and Friday and I sat like child hypnotized by cartoons watching the games.

The tournament transcends the level of most athletic events in the United States due to the popularity of tournament pools and has become something of a cultural phenomenon.

The single-elimination format of the NCAA tournament creates genuine opportunities for the lower-seeded teams to upset the favorites and generates wild finishes every year. The chance for greatness and basketball immortality is only a few three-pointers away for the least likely of suspects.

When it comes to filling out tournament brackets for “The Big Dance”, I’m a self-proclaimed expert.

The biggest mistakes people make when picking their brackets is their insistence on picking upsets. My number one rule is, don’t pick upsets. Are they going to happen, sure, but the chance of you actually picking an upset is remote.

However, when I’m actually watching the games, I pull desperately for the underdogs. With the exception of my beloved Tar Heels, I cheer like a madman for the low seeded teams with strange nicknames and unfamiliar players and find myself on the brink of tears when they lose at the buzzer.

I don’t know why I love to cheer so furiously for these teams, but maybe it’s because they seem more like regular guys who just happen to play a game than the freakishly athletic prima-donnas who dominate the rosters of the traditional powerhouses. As someone who’s played sports for as long as I can remember and continues to drag myself on the soccer field on the weekends, maybe I’m just bitter I’m not one of the super athletic prima-donnas.

This year’s tournament is shaping up to be extremely exciting. The teams appear more evenly matched than at any point in the tournament’s history and no win is a given.

One of the media favorites this year is George Washington University and their best player, Pops Mensah-Bonsu. The Colonials sounded like a cool story until I heard their coach often refers to himself in the third person.

The Connecticut Huskies are my favorite, and many others, to win it all. No team can match their talent and the Huskies have a roster full of potential NBA players.

As much as I love March Madness, I always feel a little guilty watching the games and thinking about the money involved.

CBS paid the NCAA six billion dollars for the rights to broadcast the tournament over something like a ten year period. So let me get this straight, CBS pays six billion dollars and college coaches get paid six and seven figure salaries, while the players don’t see a dime of the money. A lucky few coaches even get compensated to represent corporations like General Motors and American Express.

“But the players receive scholarships,” many people like to tell me. True, but that’s like a telling a Wall Street trader, “Hey you and your six co-workers generated five million for the hedge fund this year, here’s ten grand.”

The money involved also lends some credibility to any conspiracy theories involving high-profile match-ups and questionable calls from the referees (not that I need any credibility to embrace outlandish conspiracies). Does anyone really believe the refs didn’t see the Tennessee player take four steps without dribbling against Winthrop?

Oh well, everybody’s a hypocrite sometimes. Let’s dance!