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28 March 2011

March Madness II

On one hand, we deplore the rearing of all children to believe that each of them is a winner and the trophies for simply showing up.  We have laughed at the National Hockey League for leaving three teams out of the playoffs.  Yet, on the other, the madness continues.  The National College Athletic Association chose sixty-eight -- that's 68 -- men's college basketball teams to compete in this year's men's championship tournament.  Granted, that's only three -- yes, 3 -- more than in the last year's number which was 65.  Many of us thought it would stay sixty-four (which had been since 1985) until the NCAA tried a "play-in" game.  Now, there are four play-in games (cutely called the "First Four") to get to the sixty-four teams that fit in that familiar "bracket" for easy tracking. Are we done with being "fair" yet?  I mean, isn't the whole season supposed to be "play-in games" for the championship tournament?  Tell me, am I being too "tiger mom"?

Another large factor is the money.  That's the way it has been for a very long time, for advertising and viewers and tavern parties, yes, but mainly for the gambling.  There is a book that we have carried, probably since we have opened our doors, but sadly now out of print, Scandal of '51 by Charley Rosen, which tells of how players from powerhouse college basketball programs were caught shaving points.  I imagine these young men believed or were persuaded to believe it was a win-win-win situation.  Technically, their teams would win anyway, so why not only by five points, rather than ten.  However, it must be pointed out how difficult it is to win only by five points, especially if not everyone on the team was in on the deal.  It would be nerve-wracking, I'd imagine.

And then, there is the prestige and the exposure to a large group of people who would never have heard of the college/university.  NPR had a piece about that, featuring Butler.  This year, one of the teams which played into the 64, only to lose in the first round to Brigham Young University was Wofford College.  From what I can see on its website, Wofford looks like a desirable institution to claim as alma mater.  Yet, even I would admit that I would never have heard of it if not for the NCAA basketball tournament.  Vassar probably may not get enough ear- and eye-time from being mentioned by television cartoon star Lisa Simpson or in The Beverly Hillbillies (Miss Jane Hathaway was an alum) or in books by Lauren Weisberger and Jane Haddam or real human actors Meryl Streep or Lisa Kudrow (cross my heart, there really are men at Vassar -- quick, let me think of someone famous... yes!) or former New York Congressman Rick Lazio (R) or CBS Correspondent Chip Reid.  The trouble is I can't really think of a very famous athlete from Vassar, although we have had many good individuals and teams.  Our basketball team has not made the NCAA tournaments, not even the chance to "play in."

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