If You’re Gonna Play the Game, Boy, You Gotta Learn to Play It Right

[from The Art of Sports / March 15, 2007

Here’s a little known fact: no one actually likes college basketball.

No one.

True, the sports-minded individuals in the world will talk about “March Madness” and Cinderella stories. Some may even wonder how awesome it might be if Central Connecticut State could finally bring home the title. What the NCAA tournament (and, if you’re really hardcore about it, the NIT) really serves is a greater purpose.

Brackets are not predictors but reminders. Statements, not guesses. Affirmations of one simple truth that is mostly scorned and admonished the other 50 weeks a year.

Gambling is awesome.

To anyone who argues otherwise I have four words for you: Brigham Young versus Xavier. Or these five: Southern Illinois versus Holy Cross. Real clashes of the titans there, let me tell you. The party line is that the tournament is great because every team has a chance. I like how Kenny Rogers phrased it better: every hand’s a winner, every hand’s a loser.

Life as we know it doesn’t grind to a halt because people love sports. ESPN does not turn into a 24-hour man-love channel fawning incessantly over 19-year-old boys because people love sports. Middle managers do not become small-time bookies because people love sports. Major publications are not printing off handy bracket sheets because people love sports. Casual spectators are not suddenly concerned about the shape of the Virginia Commonwealth University athletic program because people love sports. People don’t suddenly look at Gonzaga as more than just the school their pothead cousin attends (or a hilarious euphemism for mammary glands [“Check out the Gonzagas on that one!”]) because they love sports.

These things happen because gambling takes a lazy man’s pastime – watching the game – and adds vice and the promise of free money to it. Ask anyone who’s been to Vegas, or even a riverboat or drunken poker game; money won is twice is sweet as money earned. If college basketball is good for anything, it’s for telling us that over and over again. We can’t all hit the blackjack tables and no one wants to be the zombie chained to a slot machine.

College basketball, much in the same sneaky way that it does everything, has given us all a way around that. We can curse the likes of Winthrop University and talk tough about how some child plays a child’s game and pretend for a moment that we care, all the while hoping against hope that Louisville didn’t get seeded too low and buying into five, six, ten pools to help our chances. You know, for, like, the love of the game.

Oh, and Ohio State can go get fucked.