As I wrote last week, I don’t spend much time listening to sports talk on the radio. Only when my team is winning and I want to revel in it do I tune into the inane blather that passes for analysis. Most of the chatter is beyond stupid. Some some of it stands out as being extra-specially silly. Here are four gems from recent days:
“The tournament is a ridiculous way to pick a national champion.” This was Mike Greenberg’s contention this morning, and his big buddy Mike Golic agreed. “Are we really getting the best team in the country, or just the team that’s on the best six-game run?” Greenberg asked. It’s a question that’s both impossible to answer and completely irrelevant. What would they prefer? Perhaps an NBA-style playoff? An eight-team tournament? There’s no tournament in the world more exciting than the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament–precisely because everybody has a shot and becoming national champion. Does the “best team” always come out on top? Do they in football, or baseball? Who cares?
“VCU doesn’t belong in the tournament.” This was a popular one the minute the brackets were drawn, and continued even after the Rams beat Georgetown and Purdue–and winning what was essentially a play-in game against USC to even get to the main bracket. In fact, Dick Vitale was still claiming, with one of the seven sides of his mouth he was talking out of this morning, that VCU didn’t deserve to be in the tournament. The selection committee took all kinds of crap from the basketball “experts” for leaving out “better” teams from bigger conferences. Now that VCU’s in the Final Four, the experts look as stupid as they’ve sounded for weeks.
“Having VCU (and Butler) in the Final Four is bad for basketball.” What a crazy load of horse manure this one is. I heard this one yesterday, before the game–a couple of yahoos on ESPN talking about how the Final Four should be reserved for basketball royalty, that it’s better if the premier programs take center stage at the end of the year. One of them suggested that both Butler and VCU made the tournament’s final weekend less exciting; another disagreed because Butler was obviously a respected basketball program with tournament experience. Three teams from the power conferences and Butler would apparently have been okay. But VCU? Bad for the game. Fewer people will watch. “That’s certainly not the Final Four CBS had in mind at the start of the tournament,” said Yahoo No. Two. I say, too bad for CBS. Some of us like watching underdogs beat the tar out of the elite teams who dominate the tournament most years, in fact, last year’s Butler-Duke game had the tournament’s biggest audience since 1999, up 34% from the 2009 championship game.
“Butler better hope VCU beats Kansas.” Why? So far in the tournament, VCU has beaten USC, Georgetown, Purdue, Florida State, and Kansas. They’re a buzz saw that’s torn through some of the best teams in the country. They’re a talented bunch who’ve been disrespected by practically everyone since the tournament brackets were announced. They’re playing with a chip on their collective shoulder. They’ve assumed the role of the underdog–a role in which Butler has thrived. Why in the world would Butler want to play VCU instead of Kansas? Should we imagine that, now that the Rams have arrived on college basketball’s biggest stage, they’re going to fold up and die?
Stupid boys: the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament is amazing precisely because it’s just about the only sport in which stuff like this can happen. Sometimes, David not only punches Goliath in the nose, but knocks him out. Which sometimes–once in a blue moon or a coon’s age or whatever cliche the sports chatterers are hauling out today–means that two Davids are going to face off in a big game.
Even if the NCAA implements a playoff system for college football, it’ll include only a handful of teams. But in basketball, you can double the size of the field by adding just one more game. And why not? Why not give an additional 60 teams a shot at the title? How much crazier and less predictable would the tournament be if everybody had a shot?
Remember, it was the story of the Milan Indians beating big, bad Muncie Central in the 1954 Indiana boys’ high school basketball tournament that was the stuff of Hoosiers legend. We remember the Colonial’s other upstart, George Mason, making the Final Four in 2006 as an underdog 11 seed. We remember Butler’s improbable appearance in the championship game last year. We all remember, in 1991, when little Duke beat UNLV–a team on a 45-game winning streak–in the national semifinals. Heck, the graphics package CBS created to open its tournament coverage still shows North Carolina State’s Jim Valvano rushing the court after the Wolfpack won the tournament in 1983.
But unless you’re a fan of the programs, you probably don’t remember all those times Kansas and Kentucky and Florida and Duke won the championship. Rooting for those programs is like rooting for the Yankees, or Darth Vader.
So I’m rooting for Butler. But my hat’s off to VCU. Over the past couple of weeks, they’ve made a few storied basketball teams from the power conferences look silly. Even better, they’ve made a bunch of brain-dead sports chatterers look stupid.