In sports, fans often argue that they want the best to play for the championship. Take college football for example. Every year we partake in a debate as to whether the right two teams are playing for the national championship and the need for a playoff system.
However, in college basketball, while we love the playoff system, we could care less whether or not the best teams are in it.
This year’s NCAA Tournament has narrowed the field down from its original 65 participants to the final “Sweet 16.” Despite the usual parody involved in the tournament, this year’s final 16 teams contain the top 14 seeds of the tournament. When you add the number of the seeds up with best teams ranking #1 and so forth, this year’s crop of teams adds up to 49, which is the lowest number ever in the Sweet 16 since the tournament began seeding in 1985.
And fans don’t like it.
When you have the top 14 seeds in the tournament with only 16 teams to go, with the other two teams being a #5 seed and a #12 seed that is a perennial powerhouse, the tournament seems to have lost its charm. Afterall, March Madness isn’t really all that mad when the teams predicted to win actually win their games. The madness, or the charm, of college basketball’s most exciting 4 days is when the unheralded underdog knocks of the perpetual basketball power.
No one wants to see nothing but the powerful programs make the Sweet 16. Sure, we want the marquee matchups in the Final Four when the real “ish” is on the line. But during the “Road to the Final Four,” why not have a couple of underdogs spoil the big dance?
Last year gave us Davidson, where the entire nation fell in love with Stephen Curry. His defeat of several power conference teams, and his unbelievable scoring outputs against them, put him and his school on the map, and put viewers in front of their televisions.
Yet in 2009, there will be no Davidson, no Stephen Curry, and no charm. This tournament lacks a team that everyone can get behind and truly cheer for with out any predisposition, judgment, or scrutiny.
The thing about all of the power programs is that they have natural enemies, disliked traditions, and players whom some love but others hate. Power college sports programs divide us, make us pick sides against one another, and in the end, render us unsportsmanlike. While the Davidson’s of the world, they’re new; or at least new to most.
Most people did not know Stephen Curry before last March. Most of us wouldn’t know Davidson from “Davidsville” if we were smack-dab in the middle of its campus. So when Curry led his team to the Elite 8 last year, no one had any reason not to cheer for his team. In fact, the only people cheering against him were the fans of the other team, and even they would admit to understanding the fervor behind cheering for the underdog who has never done any wrong.
So as we enter this weekend with a powerhouse-packed Sweet 16 set to play for a trip to the Final Four in Detroit, it will be a shame that there is no Cinderella at this year’s ball. There will be no gigantic upset or surprise victory. We can only hope that next year, the charm of the Big Dance will return, and perhaps the absence and the return of it will be even more charming than its presence alone.