Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Sports I Love: College Basketball Tournament Time

It's March, which means it's time for college basketball tournaments. I'm not nearly as invested in bracketology or "being right" about likely winners as I am in watching good games and finding someone to root for. Because of its single-elimination format and the difficulty of seeding 64 (or more) teams, every game has a potential for surprise and upset. Players appear in the limelight who have never graced the national stage before. Dynasties are toppled and legends made. Announcers throw stats around. Cameras zero in on people's parents in the crowd. In terms of thematic appeal, March Madness gets a bit closer to the fuzzy-focus backstories of the Olympics than NBA games typically do. Another appeal of the tournaments (both men's and women's) is their finite nature. They're not a season-long commitment. If you want to, you can tune in and out, and pretty soon it's baseball season.

Last week, my father and I watched NCAA tournament games in the same room for the first time since . . . 1995, probably, since that was the year I graduated from high school. We watched, we rooted, we stayed up too late, we said nearly identical things at the same time. He proved remarkably accurate when guessing the home town of various corn-fed-looking Indiana University players. For me, the real appeal of March Madness is the narrative, both the one being created each year and the one that we, as fans, bring to the table. As a family policy, we root for the University of Kansas because my mother went to undergrad there, and we root for Indiana University because my parents went to grad school there and first met there and after enough years of rooting for IU you start to feel like you've always rooted for IU, although now it's easier to root for IU without reservations, since Bobby Knight has nothing to do with the team. I remember the excitement of the 1987 championship, even though I was ten at the time. I remember (more bitterly) the fact that I was under anesthesia for surgery for my broken elbow the next year and missed the 1988 title game, which Kansas won.

After years of watching, I've developed a patchwork quilt of teams that I root for (I do my best to try not to root against teams, with the exception of BYU and Duke and North Carolina), both on the men's and women's sides:

Utah: I root for all University of Utah teams and have since I was a wee lass.
Tennessee: I love Pat Summitt. I hope that last night was not her last game as a coach, but if it was, she's created a fabulous legacy.
Connecticut: I don't love Geno Auriemma so much, but his teams play solid basketball, and where I live you can see them on regular TV.
Notre Dame: Their coach is named Muffet McGraw. Plus my relationship to Knute Rockne has somehow translated into rooting for all ND teams?
Rutgers: Coach C. Vivian Stringer is kick-ass.
Stanford: Coached by out lesbian Tara VanDerveer, consistently excellent team.

Utah: See above.
IU and KU: See farther above.
Gonzaga: John Stockton went to school there (and his son goes there now).
Wisconsin: I went to graduate school there, and somehow that translates to me rooting for the men's basketball team and the football team, but that's it.

Further Breakdown:
After these options are exhausted, I will root for:
  • Anyone from the Big 10 playing someone not from the Big 10
  • The underdog
  • Whoever has better uniforms
  • Someone playing BYU or Duke or UNC
  • Whoever has a better mascot
  • Both teams
As I look at this list, I realize that it's usually more about the coaches than the kids on the team; they're likely to be consistent year after year, even if they end up moving to a different school at some point. I enjoy seeing tournament standouts in the NBA or WNBA, but I think of the teams as belonging to their coaches rather than their players. In any case, I never have any trouble finding something to root for, because that's how I thread myself into the narrative. And if I can do it with my father groaning and cheering at my side, so much the better.

Other sports I love: badminton, football, baseball, figure skating, tennis, and soccer. Consider this post an addendum to my earlier post on basketball, since that one gives a better picture of my history with the sport.

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