Yesterday was a two hour delay in our school district. That’s mainly because we’ve already used up all our snow days, so cancelling the whole day would have cut into spring break, and no one wants that. So in our two hours of free time, my five year old son and I did what most families did, I’m sure. We filled out NCAA tournament brackets. I did mine, and Sloan did his. If Sloan wins, he doesn’t have to put his clothes away for a week. If I win, well, there’s nothing on the table, but I’ll probably feel less guilty when I eat half his Halloween candy next year.
My picks, barring any last minute crisis of conscience, are Louisville over Indiana in the final, with Gonzaga and Florida rounding out the Final Four. Sloan has Florida beating Michigan State for the title, and Kansas State and North Carolina State also winning their regions. His picks aren’t half bad, especially for someone who doesn’t know the Big East from the Big 10. He used fairly solid logic in making picks. First, take teams he’s watched win on television. We just watched Miami win the ACC tournament, so he took them a few rounds. Second, pick teams dad yells about all the time. That’s why he has Florida winning it all, since I spend half of every weekend asking Sloan to do a Gator chomp with his hands. And third, pick teams we’ve seen at a hotel. We went to Tampa over winter break, and the Michigan football team was staying at our hotel before their bowl game. And they painted a statue of a dolphin in Michigan blue with a football helmet. So Sloan picked the Wolverines all the way until they lose to the Gators.
Sloan even got scientific in prognosis. For example, he picked against teams with high seed numbers and liked teams with low numbers. Nate Silver would be very proud. He went with traditional powers, like Duke and Kansas, since everyone on ESPN seems to talk about them all the time. And when he’d never heard of a school, like say Belmont, he asked what I thought. This seems like a pretty sound exercise in math and logic, at least as much as those coloring sheets he brings home from school every day. So I’m pretty proud of my two hour lesson plan on a Tuesday morning, even if it is essentially predicated on teaching a five year old to bet on unpaid college labor.
Over the course of the next few weeks, you’re going to hear story after story about this phenomenon appropriately and vaguely called March Madness, like it could be anything from a block party to a disease. There will be David’s and Goliath’s, fantastic finishes, and critiques of an industrial complex gone awry. The tournament will be lauded as great, beautiful, and modern day slavery. And for some, like my wife for example, it’s the worst month of the year, the best example of what it would be like to a have three children in our house instead of two. All of these are true of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. It’s fantastic, magical, and largely built on an unsustainable form of free labor that undermines the mission statement of virtually every college and university in the country. It’s dissonance that millions of us live with every day, especially come the ideas of March.
But at least for one moment, or two hours on a school morning, the tournament was to me what sports are supposed to be. It was a place to bond, to talk, to think about what might happen. It was a chance to not get angry about the mess Sloan made in the living room or about why he took his younger brother’s remote control car, which by the way is driving me completely crazy and destroying our walls at the same time. I wish I could keep that suspended disbelief, where sport was a dreamy pastime instead of a sordid business venture. And perhaps I will, at least for the next few weeks when Sloan and I will pretend that this thing is just a game played by kids who are really just students. That’ll end of course, just like Sloan’s two hour delay, when the hard reality of kindergarten comes back to life. But when it does, I hope that Florida beats Michigan State in the final, just like Sloan predicted. Let’s face it, he barely puts his clothes away anyway.
Keith Strudler is chair of the communication department at Marist College and director for the Marist College Center for Sports Communication.
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