Sunday, March 06, 2011

Who Wants a Study Hall Proctered by Jim Nantz and Digger Phelps?

After putting off the responsibility as long I as decently could, and then a little longer, I took the plunge yesterday and devoted most of my waking hours to college basketball.

As there is every Saturday between Thanksgiving and the NCAA tournament, there was more of to watch on TV than any one person could absorb. But I gave it the old bets-on-college try. Had to change the batteries in the remote this morning, but on the plus side, I feel I amortized the March bill this household will receive from Verizon.

I watched teams which expect to get number one seeds in the tournament and/or compete for the national title (Pitt, Kansas, Duke, North Carolina, Purdue, Syracuse). I got deep into the weeds of the lowest mid-major conference tournaments (Big South finals! Horizon League semi-finals!!!). I saw some excellent basketball games, and a few stinkers. I am as up to speed on the 2010-2011 season as I'll ever be. It was all pretty enjoyable, too, until that point when I found my brain actually considering whether Alabama, a team I have not seen and don't intend to, will get an NCAA berth.

That thought process was implanted in my frontal lobes by all the commentators I'd half-listened to during this festival of gyms named after big donors to the home school. They, as they do during every game of the season, hell, as they do when they blather about Midnight Madness preseason practices, spent most of their time opining on who's in or out of the tourney, and how they'll do if they get in.

Realizing I was a victim of immersion learning brought on insight, depressing insight. Over the years, my relationship with college basketball has become a horrible replay of my least favorite courses when I was IN college, with the tournament being the final exam/term paper. As a fan, I cut as many classes as I can before the Super Bowl, then pay a little more attention and the week before the final I cram. It's the same approach I had to my brief and loathed exposure to sociology as a sophomore.

What a stupid way to follow a sport! And for what? I'm not even in any more NCAA tournament pools. I don't need my half-formed opinions and false expertise on why Villanova suddenly sucks (right answer: You see who they're playing?). There's no reason I couldn't do what most sane fans do and just watch the tournament when it starts, and go with its flow as entertainment, rooting for teams and players who catch my fancy during games.

I can't be a sane fan, or even a normal insane one. I spent too many years as a sportswriter and picked up habits I can't break. College basketball used to be part of my professional duties. As a result, part of my psyche finds it imperative to know something or more accurately, to delude itself it knows something, before watching the only event in the sport anybody gives a damn about. I don't want to fail the course, even though there's no one grading me. I am told that many people have nightmares about school well into their golden years. I have one while wide awake, or sort of awake by the time TV gets to the Big Sky conference.

Dr. Freud and Dr. Naismith might find it significant that this winter I have found my interest in college hockey growing -- a healthy fan's interest, not my basketball jones. I even attended a game in person!!!

Most of this is due to the fact my children are a BU alum and student, so college hockey is hard to escape. But does that explain why on Friday night I watch Ohio State play Lake Superior State? I don't think so.

Both college hockey and basketball are beautiful and exciting sports to follow. But deep down, I believe I may finally have found an easier course to fill out my winter semester.


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