Well Company, it is Selection Sunday, and I could not be more excited. The NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament is my favorite spectacle in the world of sport, more even than the Super Bowl or Opening Day (a close second) or the Tim Horton's Brier. I would probably like the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament just as much if I were to watch it so I am going to give it the benefit of the doubt. Today is the day that every one of the sixty-eight teams which are in the tournament learn a.) if they are in the tournament or not and b.) where they have to play and whom they have to play and when they have to play. Okay, so maybe that was more than two, but the "b" option can be described as their seeding in the parlance of people who know and care.
Now, Company, you know that I do not generally like to do sports articles on here because most of you just don't care, and that's okay. So I am not going to talk about stuff in this post like why I feel conference champions should never be in the First Four because they have already played their way into the Tournament and the First Four should be the last four teams in, so that this year's First Four should be like UCLA, Indiana, LSU, and Texas. I am going to steer this more towards the human aspect of Selection Sunday. Because that is what makes Selection Sunday so unbelievably great.
One of the unique aspects of Selection Sunday is that CBS - who holds the right to reveal the seedings to the world - takes its cameras into locker rooms and hotel conference rooms and arenas of all these teams to see how they react to what is going on. There are three main groups: The teams that know they are in and are usually in and are just waiting to see their seeding; the teams that know they are in and are maybe a small school that doesn't always get into the Tournament who are waiting to see who will be their Goliath; and those school that desperately hope they are going to be invited to the Tournament but aren't quite sure. Those are called "bubble teams" and they are said to be "on the bubble."
The first group - the ins - are the most boring. They are sitting in an amazing film room in their giant high-dollar athletic facility or maybe a conference room at the nearest Hyatt, and they look like they couldn't care less. The feign excitement, their coach talks about how they can't overlook the tiny liberal arts college from New Hampshire that has been chosen to play them, and the studio hosts have erections when they talk about them. LAME. No one cares because you obviously don't and there is no mystery or joy in anything you do. You are the IRS of basketball teams because they are monolithic, and nobody really likes them until the refund check arrives in the mail. And you are mad when they screw you over.
The second group is pretty fun. These guys usually go to a smaller school that is either a.) not known for basketball or b.) just generally not known. They have most likely won their conference tournament - a conference that you never knew existed - and in all likelihood they are not going to win many games in this Tournament. They may not win at all. But they are excited at the chance. Simply the hope of being able to do something fantastic. So when it gets announced that they have the opportunity to fly across the country in three days to play a team that in all likelihood will beat them by eleventy billion points, they are JACKED UP! They are sitting in a lecture room or maybe the coach's basement rec room, wearing their warmups, and they could not be more ecstatic. Enjoy guys. Have a fun time with that. But I love that you are excited. And you are excited because you are living your dream.
Watching people live their dreams is one of the most American things in the world. That is why Extreme Makeover Home Edition was on TV for all those years. And it is why I love those second group guys. But the third group is where all the action is, because these are the guys who DON'T KNOW what is going to happen. This is where all the drama is.
You can further break down the third group are the teams that don't know if they are in but are not big name schools, and the teams that don't know if they are in but ARE big name schools. These big name schools are usually hoping that they can skate by on their big name and history and the fact that a lot of the other schools they played were pretty good and are in that first group. They are in their super high end film rooms and they are terrified. Because the expectation was that they would be in the Tournament. And they might not be. And the NIT is looming. You can see the fear in their eyes. So when their name appears on the ten line and they find out they are playing Wichita State they are relieved more than anything. Despite the fact that they wouldn't play Wichita State during the regular season because they were afraid they would lose to them and it would keep them out of the Tournament. Ironic, huh?
The small schools are the best drama though, because they have VERY LITTLE going for them. Those big name schools can often skate in just because they are themselves and people want to see them in the Tournament. But those small schools really sweat on Selection Sunday. When the team sees their name it is unbridled passion and joy and relief. The highest form of it. Nothing matters. They are in. They are living their dream. You could come in and tell them that they were all losing their scholarships next year and it would not phase them. They jump and scream and act like kids because, you know, they are all between eighteen and twenty.
But then there is always that one school that does not make it in. And you just can't but help feeling for those guys. They are heartbroken. Their rug has been yanked out from under them and their hope was on it. Later on, when they look back at their run to the third round of the NIT, they will see the season as a success. And most likely it was because they had twenty wins, less than ten losses, and made a postseason tournament of some sort. They represented themselves well. But in this moment, on Selection Sunday, they are doing everything they can to not cry on national television. And it breaks my heart a little bit.
That is why I love Selection Sunday. All of that human drama. Teams of guys working tirelessly towards a goal that they may or may not achieve. And it all hangs in the balance in that one golden moment, on a weekend in March. In their coach's basement. On Selection Sunday.