Monday, April 06, 2009

Easing into a Carolina Blue Monday (or, Roy, that was boring)

Never try to out-contrary a contrarian. Charles Pierce, though, might be missing something essential about sports fan in a piece of punchy snark about a kind of humdrum NCAA tournament.

Sports fans, at the end of the day, don't really mind if a "charmless oligarchy" such as North Carolina or Kansas in 2008 is cutting down the nets on a Monday night in April, although an exciting game is nice too. Carolina, with Tyler Hansbrough, Ty Lawson, et al., just had way too much for Michigan State.

"Charmless oligarchy," though, sounds like one of those jaded-journo phrases. For the rest of us, you have make your peace with the big-ticket teams, Carolina, Kansas, Florida twice, Carolina again and UConn winning championships.

It was an anticlimactic NCAAs, although one might be loath to say that out loud (gotta justify the time outlay). You could argue that aside from 2008, the Kansas overtime win over Memphis (and it's as much remembered for how Memphis spit the bit), this decade has fallen short of delivering a great championship game that wasn't forgotten by everyone except the fans of the two teams playings. Forget the 1980s (Michael Jordan's jumper to beat Georgetown in '82, Lorenzo Charles' dunk at the buzzer to put N.C. State over Houston, Villanova shooting 78.6% to upset G-town in '85, Indiana's Keith Smart hitting the jumper to beat Syracuse in '87). The 1990s had about four classic finals (UConn over Duke in '99, Miles Simon and Mike Bibby leading Arizona's overtime upset of defending champion Kentucky in '97, the Chris Webber game in 1993, and the lost classic, Arkansas over Duke in '94). This decade topped out at one, maybe two.

That said, Pierce has a point about the malaise of modernity tinging March Madness, while the fact people can ignore the NCAA's sieve-like approach to making sure every program is on the level.
"Its grandiosity has rendered it impossible to contain, and that same grandiosity brings with it a demand for consistency, for an easily defined cast of characters, a rack of brand names consonant with the corporate class that's come to run the thing. We are now back in the tedious dynastic years, except that we now have Tudors, Stuarts, and Plantagenets, and not year after year of the House of Windsor. There are no usurpers any more. Four times the predictability and, yes, four times the boredom."
Maybe so, maybe not. Sports journalists sometimes lose sight of the weird conundrum that fans tend to be creatures of habits. Sports provides the illusion of permanency. The NCAA Tournament is like seeing friends and relatives you don't visit too often; the coaches are like a bunch of great-uncles.

The point is the boredom Pierce is talking about almost filters up from the audience. No one is demanding change or really expecting a Final Four between Gonzaga, North Dakota State, Western Kentucky and Utah. It's almost like it confirms that everyone knows their place; you expect to see Roy Williams, hair a little whiter than it was back in 2005, winning another championship. And that's the end of that chapter.

The Final Snore; A charmless oligarchy of schools has sucked the excitement out of the NCAA Tournament (Charles Pierce, Slate)
Recruiting Violations and the Integrity of March Madness (


Jeff Dertinger said...

One of the big things that always saddens me is the predictability of sports columnists.

If any sport is going through a period where the favourites are always winning, sports columnists will start pining for upsets and underdogs to rule the day. They'll complain about the imbalance of the whole organization, league, association, etc. They'll cry for change and fairness and equality for all.

Then, if any sport is going through a period of rotating champions and parity throughout, boy does that tune change in a hurry! Columnists start pining for the "good old days" of "dynasties" and "greatness." They call parity boring, mediocre and watered down. THey complain about small market teams dragging down ratings, and no-name players wasting our time with their 15 minutes of fame.

It's all bullshit and laziness.

It's one thing to complain about the actual game, because that WAS boring. But analyzing overall trends and arguing for change is the biggest waste of time, ink, bandwidth, and brain cells I can think of.

sager said...

I hope that was what I was going for, Dert. Yeah, the columnists who have privileged access get sick of seeing the same teams win. Meantime, the fans really are cool with it, whatever happens.

I hate Duke, for instance, but I look forward to seeing Coach K squirm when they're about to go out.