Monday, March 23, 2015

Monday's Musings on Sports - the NCAA Edition

Every year, the NCAA tournament brings out people's love for the underdog. It manifests itself in the way that people fill out their brackets, as people will irrationally pick against the "chalk", even though the double digit seed usually does not get far beyond the first weekend. It also can be heard in the voice of the play by play broadcaster as he anticipates the brewing upset when calling the first and second round games.

But even more than the public brackets and the media attention paid to the "little guy" you can see and hear America's love for the small school when watching the crowd at the arena. 

During the first two rounds of the tourney, the games are played in pairs with two games played during the day and two at night. The fans who attend the games buy a package of tickets so that they wind up getting two games for each entrance fee. Most of the fans at the games are split into two categories. There are the monied fans of the large collegiate programs who "travel well" - meaning that the team's alumni generally pack up and go on road trips to follow their team (one of my bosses, included). The other major group of fans are the local basketball junkies who live to attend the regional games which are played in their city. These fans don't care who is playing, they just want to see good basketball.

It is the latter group of fans who are usually most vocal and numerous and who can help a small school team achieve the improbable victory over a major college program.

Much like every other year's NCAA Tournament, this year's tourney had its share of drama and small schools which gave people the chance to dream. The first day of action saw two games in which a number 13 defeated a 4 seed, as well as a number 11 which beat a 6 seed. (The victory by the number 11 does not truly fall within my storyline as it was UCLA, one of the most storied NCAA programs ever, but they were an underdog).

A story which caught my (and the world's) attention involved Georgia State beating Baylor. I was driving back to my office from Court on Thursday afternoon and listening to ESPN Radio when I heard an interview with Ron Hunter, who is the coach of Georgia State. The radio jock asked him what it was like to see his son (who plays for the team) hit the game winning three pointer "from the parking lot." The coach responded that it was great, but his son is only the second best basketball player in the house. There were some other great lines, but that stuck with me. Then I went on line later and saw how Coach Hunter fell off his chair when he saw the shot. Its worth seeing his reaction if you are one of the five people who has not seen it yet.

Another great story was a second round upset in which number seven seed Wichita State beat major power (and favorite) Kansas, a number two seed. For many years, Wichita State had been trying to get a regular season game against Kansas, but they refused to schedule a game because there was no upside for them. I guess with that kind of motivation, it should not be "Shocking" that Wichita State won, but I can tell you that I did not predict that in any of my brackets.

The need and desire to root for the underdog is endemic to Judaism and Jewish thought. Many of our holidays are premised on the concept of the little guy or underdog being helped by Hashem to defeat the larger enemy. From Chanukah to Purim to Pesach, we see that the greater, larger, more powerful nation was unable to withstand Hashem's might in helping the Jews survive and thrive. I would not say that it is bashert that the NCAA Tournament falls every year between Purim and Pesach, but you can't miss the fact that these great underdog stories which dominate the media, all seem to happen around this time of year. 

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