A Slow Descent From Madness to EnnuiThe NCAA men's basketball tournament starts today (yeah, yeah play-in games, my position is if they were real, they wouldn't be on TruTV). I will watch as much of it as I can and enjoy it. or at least large parts of it. The tourney is a sports event where my pleasure is oddly front-loaded. The closer the tournament is to determining a champion, the point of the exercise after all, the less I care.
While I participate in friendly bracket competition, that's never really my motive for following the tournament. As always, I loved my predictions when I filled out the bracket on Tuesday morning and as tipoff time this afternoon draws closer, I hate them more and more. Worse, I know changing them would probably only make them worse. I went to a Division III school, so I have no dog in the fight and never have.
No, for me the appeal of March Madness is the part that's actually insane, not gambling, but the brain-crunching work/play of following as many as four games at a time, most of them involving teams I have never seen before, half of which I'll never see again since half lose. Total immersion in a strange sports universe may not be healthy, but it's uniquely exhilarating. The tournament is the closest I have come to duplicating the altered reality high I experienced reporting on four Olympic Games.
It's a sickness, like all addictions, so the tournament uses arithmetic as a form of methadone for poor sods like me. Since half the teams must lose their games in each round, every round offers only half as many games to follow. It is striking how my interest in the tournament declines at roughly the same rate.
This weekend I'll be up all hours, eating meals in front of the TV and wearing the print off the buttons on the remote. I will have a brief but intense sports fan fling with a team from some school a 1000 miles away and its hypermaniacal coach (all the coaches are that). For the Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight, I'll cherry pick games, and it takes a damn good matchup to draw me into the second of two night games or an Elite Eight that might interfere with other weekend plans.
By the time the Final Four rolls around, I am watching more from a sense of duty and because there's nothing else on than for pleasure. Final Four Saturday is still called "one of the best days of the year" in sports. That is an anachronism. It might've been true when Bill Walton was out there, or even when Michael Jordan played. Now, it strikes me as a kind of foregone conclusion. Which of the eight usual suspect powerhouses will take it THIS year? This just doesn't appeal to me. I can no longer even summon up the energy to hate Duke.
Take last year for example. The big question of the tournament was whether Kentucky a/k/a the 2020 Western Conference All-Stars, could win the title with an undefeated season. As I am not an NBA scout nor a Kentucky fan (God forbid), my sports soul was unstirred. In the event, they couldn't, losing to Wisconsin, the mandatory Big Ten squad of big lugs Final Four entry. Duke, a/k/a the 2020 Eastern Conference All-Stars, were champions instead. There's an exciting story for you.
It's two hours until the first game today, a Duke game no less, and I can hardly wait. Come April 4 and the national title game with its 9:18 p.m. tipoff, I might not wait for the second half before I go to bed. Perverse as it may be, One Shining Moment strikes me as more than a trifle dull.