Remember when people rooted for upsets in the NCAA tournament? Remember the days when, if you went into a bar where everyone was watching a game, the vast majority of those people were cheering for that 14 seed to knock off the No. 3?
It seems to me that those days are gone. Of course there are still people who just pull for the little guy, but the ubiquity of brackets has changed people’s perspective. Now when you go out to watch a game, you’re more likely to hear someone ardently rooting for Kansas, because he has them in the Final Four, than for Bradley, just because it would be cool to see Bradley beat Kansas.
This is not moralizing on my part — it’s not like I’ve never filled out a sheet. That’s not the point. It’s just that I think our relationship to this event, as a culture of sports fans, has changed dramatically in the last 10 years.
When I was in college, I watched the tournament religiously. Usually I had an entry in somebody’s five-dollar pool, but not every year. My interest was the same whether I did or not. I was a huge college basketball fan. And I always pulled for East Tennessee State and Weber State to beat Arizona and North Carolina, regardless of what my sheet looked like.
The last few years, though, I’ve become one of those people. I pull(ed) for the teams I picked to go far, even when I was cheering for Goliath against David. It’s somewhat related to the fantasy football/baseball phenomenon that turns so many people off — when you’re rooting for your fantasy guys as avidly as you root for the team you love, if not more so.
There’s another element, too, I think. The little guys aren’t nearly so obscure anymore. Ten, 15 years ago, who could have named the players from Valparaiso or Richmond before they took down giants? Now we have Bracket Buster Saturday. People study those teams all year round. When everybody spends a week talking about which upsets are most likely, it sort of makes it less exciting when it does happen.
Well, last night, I tried to do my own little part to turn all that around. I have picked Connecticut to win the national title. Not that I know much about college basketball, but I’ve been really impressed with them. Even so, when they were in trouble last night, I was excited. I wanted to see it happen. I wanted to see the kind of upset that would really grab people’s attention. It didn’t happen, but it was fun to think about. And it felt good to be pulling for the Albany Great Danes (what an awesome nickname, too, by the way).
Anyway. Just some thoughts. Not necessarily a better-or-worse thing. I’m not the old guy screeching that things were better in the old days. It’s just something that’s been going around in my head this week.
Currently playing on the iPod: Z, by My Morning Jacket.