EL BARRIO, DE BRONX – If you weren’t aware, yours truly, Deacon Blaber, hates the NCAA. I consider them the most corrupt and unconscionable organization in sports behind FIFA – but still worse than the Olympics (IOC) and the NFL. However, when March rolls around it becomes time for the NCAA Tournament. We can’t avoid it anymore than we can avoid the Super Bowl. So today’s piece will feature a couple of funny storylines, that run the gamut from the racket that the tourney is to what makes the tournament such a draw.
Underdogs: We claim to love an underdog in this country. I say claim because when the Yankees come to town, the host teams make those the most expensive games of the year – since the fans love to watch the big names. Anyway, this is the rare time in sports where the big dogs can’t avoid the little ones. You get drawn together and now you must show that despite being a team full of National All-Americans, you are better than this team full of 3 All-county players.
There is something called the FA Cup in English soccer which is essentially an open tournament to all the soccer teams in the country. It allows for a local bar team, like say the London Shaskys or the Cheesy Wards, to win enough preliminary round games that they get to play the lower level pro clubs and to the high profile clubs. I once saw a team full of part-time guys play the biggest team in the world. You have one of the highest paid players in world sport being defending by a guy that earlier in the week was delivering mail.
I think of the FA Cup when I think of the NCAA Tournament. For one shining moment, we witness a bunch of kids that will have to get real jobs after college, maybe play in Europe’s much lower levels (think Bosnian 2nd division) – if they’re lucky – go up against a team with 6 kids that are leaving early for the draft, and the rest going to play in the top leagues of Europe (think Spanish 1st division). Their expected future and rich or poor upbringings don’t matter. Just in this moment, in these next 40 minutes, the underdog will win, through sheer will and effort. Princeton over UCLA, Mercer over Duke and this year Georgia State over Baylor. You gotta love it, if you love sport. You must prove your worth every game as a top-seed, while a lower seed knows that they just have to be the better team that day, not the best in the world, just that day and that moment.
Corruption: The TV Rights sold for 10 Billion but don’t let a coach buy a kid a burger. Don’t let a coach send a former player money so he can fly home for his uncle’s wedding. They go after Jim Boehiem and Syracuse yet not John Calipari, whose two previous coaching jobs are soon followed by the University receiving suspensions and bans for corruption. Never while Calipari is there, just when he leaves. The kids don’t get paid, can’t afford to eat but must practice. It is slave labor of the highest order and it disgusts me every time. Not to mention that the highest paid state employee at over 40 states is often a college sports coach; Basketball or Football.
Brackets: I am crushed to see Da State University of New York at Buffalo has been eliminated. They are coached by college basketball legend and the son of Jersey City working class Irishman (like Short Matt) Bobby Hurley. Hurley is too good to stay there long but lets hope he can help turn UB into the team associated with New York State sports, like how Ohio State is for Ohio.
My buddy’s bracket is already busted, since he had Iowa State in his final four. Ma Blaber is rooting for OSU, because their acronym is the same as her hometown. Another buddy’s wife is crushing it using the Balki Bartokomous method of picking: which mascot would win in a real fight.
As for me? Instead of playing this year I am helping my fiancée win her office pool, as I did last year.
That’s it for now, come back tomorrow for Cheesy Bruin, who’s great with pools the inflatable ones you could pee in on a fire escape on a steamy Bronx summer day.