madness

I’ve lived through times when my situation was kinda precarious.  Maybe not Jack Bauer precarious, but certainly at least MacGyver precarious. Sometimes I felt like like one of those plate-spinners you would see on the Ed Sullivan Show–juggling job-hunting, payment arrangements on my bills, calls to the landlord, emailing potential leads, working on my resume, managing my anxiety and depression…what I’m saying is, that’s a lot of plates.

During one of my worst times, my escape was the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. First of all, the nickname is great: ‘March Madness. ‘ Sort of implies you might actually see something really insane, like a player belting out a show tune after a dunk, or an entire team putting on big floppy hats in the last two minutes of the game.

But from a marketing perspective, the name March Madness could be a lesson for other sports. People who wouldn’t normally watch the World Series as the ‘Fall Classic’ just might tune in if it were called, say, the ‘Fall Fandango.’ Or imagine if the NBA Finals were called Tall-a-palooza. Americans might even watch more soccer if the World Cup were called…nah, Americans will never watch more soccer.

That’s because we’re conditioned to expect that during a sporting event, something will…happen. Anything. For god’s sake, I watched a soccer match between–i don’t really remember–some European colonial power and one of the countries it used to subjugate, and the final score was 1 to 0. My leisure time is too valuable to spend three hours and watch only one thing happen.

There are sixty-five teams chosen each year, which means there are a lot of players wearing ridiculous-looking ‘but-they’re-not-really-short’ shorts to watch. But now I hear there’s support for the idea of expanding the tournament to…what, maybe…524 teams? I could be exaggerating, but my point is, sixty-four is probably plenty.

If the tournament expands, here are some suggestions:

  • allow the worst NBA team to go ‘back to school’ and compete in the tournament
  • have the final twelve American Idol contestants field a team–monster crossover marketing potential, plus Simon Cowell might be the next Bobby Knight
  • let trade schools enter–think of the excitement if the DeVry Institute could somehow beat Kentucky (Game times would have to be flexible, allowing for the DeVry players’ work schedules)
  • set the first round in the playgrounds of New York, and require lower-seeded teams to stand around the court and call ‘next’
  • first round–everybody plays ‘H-O-R-S-E’ to see who advances
  • include a public option in the health care system and stop propping up insurance companies who are only interested in profits–wait–sorry, that has nothing to do with basketball

Every year there are surprise teams that make you think, ” I didn’t know that place had a basketball program” or, “I didn’t know that place had…schools.” And you get to learn all the team mascots. Except for Marquette, which, according to a typo in the ESPN online bracket has a team but no nickname. Being a Marquette cheerleader must suck–”Go…..You Guys!”

There are usually at least three Tigers and three Aggies, which doesn’t seem right–you should have to choose your own name. Granted, it might be like signing up for a new email address today with all the good ones taken (“that name is already in use–try michaeldanecomedywriter3885653“).

There are Bulldogs and Gators and the less fearsome-sounding Miners (I think UTEP players should have to wear the miner hat with the flashlight on it), and of course, nobody could forget the Northern Iowa…uh…Northern Iowans?

This year the oddest team name I ever saw in the tournament was the St. Mary’s Gaels. ‘Gaels,’ it turns out, were Irish warriors. Good thing they didn’t play the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame, or it would have escalated to car bombs.Wake Forest must offer a degree in oxymorons, since they’re the Demon Deacons. Cornell, the rare Ivy League school to have success in sports, rallies behind the oddly blue-collar sounding Big Red.

Sam Houston College roots for the rarely-seen and incorrectly-spelled Bearkats, but the most obscure mascot might be the Catamounts of Vermont (sounds like a rich couple being introduced at dinner). Apparently, they chose ‘catamount’ because mountain lion, mountain cat, puma, panther, and cougar were taken, because they’re all the same freakin’ animal.

I’m sure this trivia has been compelling, but let’s get to the important stuff. Even though I only follow basketball for two weeks out of the year, I will now give you some insight into how I pick winners in the tournament with hypothetical examples:

  • Normally, I root against religious-affiliated schools–somehow seems unfair to bring God on the team bus with you to the game. Unfortunately if both of these teams have God connections,  as in Baylor vs. St. Mary’s, well, Baylor doesn’t tell you it’s religious (Baptist), whereas with St. Mary’s is up front about it (the ‘Saint’ part), so I would go with the St. Mary’s Gaels.

  • If a team from a well-respected liberal-arts university (say, Xavier) goes against a team from a state wone of the most backwards school boards in the country (for instance, Kansas), root for the smart team.

  • One year, Butler played Syracuse, and here’s how I broke down the matchup–Indianapolis, home of Butler University, and Syracuse, New York, are two of the dullest cities in the country, so they’re evenly matched. But Jim Jones of the People’s Temple went to Butler, and to my knowledge, no murderous deranged messianic cult leaders ever graduated from Syracuse, so I give the edge to Syracuse.

  • Duke vs. Purdue: Purdue Boilermakers–well, that’s a drink, and I like to drink. Also, I’ve always had an inexplicable hatred for Duke. So…Purdue.

  • Kentucky vs. Cornell: Let’s see. Cornell has produced forty-one Nobel laureates and 28 Rhodes Scholars. Kentucky produces moonshine. I realize I maybe oversimplifying here, but I like Cornell.

  • Washington vs. West Virginia: I’ve been to Washington, and I’ve never been to West Virginia. For this and so many other reasons, Iwould go with Washington.

  • Tennessee vs. Ohio State: Follow the logic here–Al Gore is from Tennessee, and voter fraud in Ohio may have cost John Kerry the White House. So, if you factor in the fact that Tennessee hosted the Tea Party convention and Ohio’s Democratic Blue Dogs (who might be in the tournament next year), look for Ohio State to win after a long recount.

So, there you have it–the complex algorithms you need to fill out your brackets and win that office pool.  Now, to be honest, the year the above matchups happened, I was wrong on every single game. Gotta love all those upsets.

MisterComedy