By Alex Norman
We all know that college athletics can be a cesspool.
Shady recruiting, entitled players, fake classes, unfair transfer rules, blowhard coaches, the scam that is season tickets/donations… and we could spend weeks talking about how coaches and administrators make millions while the student-athletes are turned into largely unpaid labor.
But through it all, the NCAA Tournament remains America’s best sporting event.
Keep in mind I’m talking about the NCAA Men’s Tournament. The NCAA Women’s Tournament has turned into the annual Geno Auriemma coronation. UConn is simply not likeable, nor are they interesting, so that tournament is rarely “Must See TV” anymore.
But on the men’s side we have villains, and sports are always better with villains.
Case in point, LeBron James became a lot more boring when he went back to Cleveland, didn’t he? When he was in Miami of those games were something special, especially in the spring. Now? When’s the last time you watched a Cavaliers game?
In college basketball we have so many coaching villains it’s hard to remember all of them. At Kentucky there is John Calipari. His Final Four appearances at UMass and Memphis wiped away by scandal, yet he’s still getting the best players to stay in Lexington for a few months on the way to the NBA.
At North Carolina there is Roy Williams, who continues to dodge NCAA investigators after it was discovered that athletes got good grades in no-show classes for decades.
At Duke there is the sanctimonious Mike Krzyzewski, who denied criticizing an Oregon player following a garbage time bucket. TV cameras proved Coach K was lying.
At Syracuse there is Jim Boeheim, who whined and complained when his Orange nearly missed the tournament this season. Boeheim was suspended for 8 games this season due to NCAA numerous violations.
The hate can pass along to the players as well, but because the stars don’t stick around campuses very long we don’t grow the dislike, as we did back in the day with someone like Christian Laettner. But that’s why we have Duke, right? Grayson Allen spent the season tripping opponents (by accident of course).
The tournament is also such a great event because of enhancements to the event in recent years. Long gone are the days in which you couldn’t watch your game of choice. Today games are played on CBS, as well as cable favorites TBS and TNT. Something called TruTV televises some games too, but with a few seconds investigation on your cable guide you can watch that network too.
The first two days of the tournament are a sports fans dream, and perhaps the biggest reason for workplace futility this side of the Friday after Thanksgiving. Allergic reactions to paperwork knock people out of the office on Wednesday night and not until Monday morning are they ready to return.
Perhaps the biggest reason we like this event is because of the brackets, yes? Who doesn’t like laying down $5 against David from accounting and Debby from HR for the chance to come home with a cool $80 if your gut feeling of a Stony Brook run to the Final Four catapults you to the top score in your company.
It’s even fun when Dolores wins because she knew someone that went to Wisconsin and Wisconsin goes on a miracle run to the Final Four. OK, it isn’t fun, but it is fascinating.
Also, who doesn’t like watching 15 seed MTSU upset 2 seed Michigan State? Even if it kills your bracket it’s great to see the little guy make it happen. It’s Siena over Stanford. It’s Lehigh over Duke. It’s so much fun.
The only bad thing about the tournament? It’s over in three weeks.
One day, Tennessee will be back in this tournament, maybe as soon as next year, you never know. Regardless, it remains an eagerly anticipated sporting event, gone too soon from our television sets.