What's more overhyped, the Super Bowl or the NCAA Tournament?
The easy answer is the NCAA Tournament, and here's why. It's because the Super Bowl doesn't mask what it is - a three-ring spectacle of celebrity and entertainment with a football game in the center ring. Hell, sometimes people even go to the Super Bowl to watch a football game, but if they don't there are still plenty of things to do.
Seriously, does Hugh Hefner show up at the Super Bowl every year because he's interested in football?
The NCAA Tournament, meanwhile, paints itself as the egalitarian of college sports championships, which is kind of true but not really. Sure, the selection committee lines up all the teams based on some sort of secret formula and allows them to settle it on the court. In that sense the NCAA Tournament is cool, and, of course, it generates those ubiquitous brackets that used to infiltrate every office copier this time of year before such things as copier machines and paper became anachronisms. Now, every so-called "bracket challenge" or whichever cliché gets tossed around like the equally cliché office hoops know-it-all with multiple brackets in all of the pools, is online.
The Internet, believe it or not, turned the NCAA Tournament bracket into cultural wallpaper.
Nevertheless, every year at this time the NCAA, CBS and its corporate sponsors trot out the notion of the mythical Cinderella turning up at the last minute to be the babe of the ball and steal the show. CBS touts upsets and defines its coverage with a dizzying array of highlights and cut-ins at venues around the country in order to capture the faux notion that something in line with Chaminade knocking off No. 1 ranked Virginia in a tiny gym near the beach in Oahu. Instead, these "upsets" come from teams that play in the so-called "mid-major" conferences.
Typically, these mid major teams run out of upsets by the second weekend of the tournament. That's when the big basketball factories reclaim the tournament and follow the proper path assigned them by the selection committee. After all, CBS wants ratings for its tournament and knows that the alums and fans from Duke, North Carolina and Kansas tune in at numbers than the handful of folks that follow the basketball program at George Mason or Butler.
But occasionally a team like George Mason breaks through to the Final Four, which isn't as surprising as it sounds. Sure, George Mason plays in the Colonial Athletic Association, which slips through the cracks of the coverage bestowed on the big programs of the ACC or Big East, but the CAA isn't anything to sneeze at.
For one thing, painting George Mason and teams of its ilk as mighty little underdogs fighting against the monoliths is wrong. Mason isn't a David in the battle against Goliath, nor is it a mom-and-pop shop slaying Wal-Mart before it gets crushed and the organic nature of a downtown is destroyed. Actually, the mid majors are just that - mid majors. They are like the regional chain with shops across the region that takes a chunk out of Wal-Mart's market share. Sure, more people shop at Wal-Mart or Target or Starbucks, but that isn't putting Giant or Acme out of business.
Still, there are true underdogs in the NCAA Tournament. Those teams are from the Ivy League and they have no shot. None.
There, I said it.
What's the point of having those teams in the "Big Dance" when all we get to read about come March is how no Ivy League school has won a tournament game since Princeton beat UNLV in 1998 or how Princeton upset UCLA in 1996 or almost beat No. 1 Georgetown and Patrick Ewing way back when.
Everyone seems to have forgotten that Penn made it to the Final Four, and I think I know the reason why. Ready? Get in really close so you can hear this...
BECAUSE IT WAS NEARLY 30 YEARS AGO!
Here are some handy dandy facts from an New York Times story published last year about Ivy League schools in the NCAA Tournament:
But in the eight seasons since Princeton beat the Rebels, Ivy teams have lost by an average of 14 points and haven't been seeded high than No. 11. That doesn't bode well for Penn.
Here are the results of the Ivy's [nine]-game N.C.A.A. losing streak:2007
No. 3 Texas A&M 68
No. 14 Penn 52 2006
No. 2 Texas 60
No. 15 Penn 522005
No.4 Boston College 85
No. 13 Penn 652004
No. 3 Texas 66
No. 14 Princeton 492003
No. 6 Oklahoma State 77
No. 11 Penn 632002
No. 6 California 82
No. 11 Penn 752001
No. 2 North Carolina 70
No. 15 Princeton 482000
No. 4 Illinois 68
No. 13 Penn 581999
No. 6 Florida 75
No. 11 Penn 61
Just once I'd like to see Penn - or Cornell this season (or any other Ivy League school ) - tell the NCAA Tournament, "thanks, but no thanks. We're not going to travel across the country to be a first-round hors d'oeuvres for a potential national title contender. We're going to take our chances in the NIT where we have a chance to win. We don't need to play the No. 3 seed and lose so everyone can call us 'scrappy or laud us for being student-athletes.'"
Yeah, I know this probably isn't a popular sentiment, but I can't understand the logic of a team going to a tournament that it has no chance of not just winning, but also being competitive. Sure, Cornell could get lucky and win a game this year, but the thing about the NCAA Tournament is that those No. 13, 14 and 15 seeds don't last too long after the first upset. In fact, I'd like my odds of winning the Powerball over Cornell's (or Princeton, Yale, Brown, Columbia, Penn or Dartmouth... not Harvard - they have it all figured out) chances to win two games in an NCAA Tournament.
So, yes, Cinderella exists in the Big Dance. It's just that come Friday night she's at home by herself again.
Anyway, I filled out a bracket on the CSN.com web site's "Bracket Challenge!" and just like last year I consulted a mathematician/statistician in order to crunch the numbers.
The picks: Memphis vs. Kansas in the championship with the Jayhawks winning it all.
Nope, I can't name a single player on either team. That's why it was so difficult for me to go against Georgetown since it's hard to bet against a team that has John Thompson and Patrick Ewing. If only the Hoyas could get David Wingate, Reggie Williams, Michael Jackson and Horace Broadnax... look out!
As for the Big 5 teams... let's just say the odds don't look good. I'm going 0-3, but then again, what do I know?