The NCAA Tournament

The Sadness of the Longhorns Fan
The stadium scene.
March 19 2007 3:05 PM

The NCAA Tournament

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Gentlemen:

I arrive today in a funk. I was all set to boast about the prospects of my alma mater, to casually mention that I would be sitting in the upper deck Friday night at the Meadowlands for the much-anticipated showdown against North Carolina. Alas, not so much. Instead, in the wee hours last night I found myself staring at the ceiling and wondering how long before U. of Texas football starts again. So forgive me if, to quote Alando Tucker, I underlook anything important.

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On the bright side, I have no idea who is going to win the tournament. After the first two rounds, you could make a convincing case for Florida (right on, Rob), Kansas, Georgetown, North Carolina, Texas A&M, UCLA, and Ohio State. If the opening rounds were a bit short on drama, let us hope that means the last few rounds will have a lot, because most of the big boys are still hanging around. And the weekend offered no shortage of mind-boggling visuals, my favorite being Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan prowling the sidelines in a bright-red sports jacket. Ryan, who has worked his way through the stations of the cross of the Wisconsin public-school system (Platteville to Milwaukee to Madison), looked like a guy who wants to know what it would take for you to drive off today in a brand new Ford Taurus. The name "Bo Ryan" is simple and magnificent, too—if he were a movie star rather than a basketball coach, I would accuse him of making it up.

On the gloomy side, maybe it's my advanced age, but every year I throw myself into the spectacle of the NCAA Tournament with a little less abandon. It's not that the clang of a last-second free throw isn't incredibly satisfying. (Josh, how much better is that than a wide-right field goal?) Nor is it that I view college sports with an incredible amount of narcissism, my world usually ending at the Austin city limits. No, it's that the NCAA media apparatus—which has always been gigantic, verging on ginormous—has grown a bit too self-aware for its own good.

Up until a few years ago, I was filling out brackets, cruising between buzzer-beaters with CBS, throwing up my arms in frustration as Billy Packer steered every conversation back to the ACC. But the one thing I can't tolerate in sports coverage is being reminded of what a good time I'm having or how incredibly important and historic the occasion is. And there's something about the coverage of the NCAA Tournament that feels a lot like the scrupulous emotion management of the Olympic Games.

This weekend had CBS's Gus Johnson screaming at every opportunity, "This is March Madness!" Uh, Gus, it's not "madness" if you've commodified it into a catchphrase. If you stand close enough to the TV, you can feel CBS producers praying for an "upset"—the money shot of the tournament, no matter who's upsetting whom. "One Shining Moment"—Q.E.D. I don't maintain any illusions about the "purity" of college athletics or the subtlety of sports journalists, I just don't like being told how to feel. Are either of you experiencing a similar sensation?

I'm probably just bitter about Texas. Pull me out of the darkness.

Bryan Curtis, Slate's "Middlebrow" columnist, writes for Grantland, Texas Monthly, and Newsweek. Follow him on Twitter.