We have been over all this. The way NBA snobs look down on college basketball for being an objectively less-good form of basketball favored by grumpy uncles/white guys who dress in coaching-casual gear. The way college basketball is actually and perplexingly made better for being a flubfest staged by terrified teenagers with hilariously ill-advised tattoos and stomach butterflies the size and strength of agitated pterodactyls. We know what March Madness is, in short, and why people care about it. We know, too, both why it is great and why some people think it is not great, and why everyone is a little bit right in those assessments, even if the former group is slightly more right and notably more fun to be around. Now comes the hard part. Now, for the next few weeks, we actually deal with it.
Which makes the coming weeks of basketball coverage sound bad, the "deal with it" bit. It's not bad. We will deal with it the way we deal with wince-inducing but ultimately kind of funny drunken memories, not the way we deal with a roommate who keeps snakes as pets and watches Sean Hannity. No, that the NCAA Tournament will take over the sports discourse for the next few weeks is not at all bad, although it will be sort of exhausting, for the viewers but especially for the exuberantly adolescent players who deliver all this prototypically college basketball-ian drama. The tournament will be every bit as exhausting as anything else that’s simultaneously so hugely awesome and so hugely ridiculous.
Hugely awesome because the basketball—even and especially when it is a facepalm-y explosion of teenage miscalculation, overconfidence, and blank terror—is often just that, but also because it delivers its absurdity on a scope and scale that no other sporting event anywhere can match. This is also the ridiculous part, and the people powering the whole wild thing are, by and large, wildly unprepared for all this attention. Because of this, there's a certain generosity of spirit both required and inherent in the NCAA Tournament, if not necessarily for the players who bear the public heartbreak and weight of desperate over-expectations, then at least some tacit generosity from us watching at home. The NCAA Tournament is the greatest and most big-hearted embrace of glaring human flaws in our sports culture, and a tournament that is without folly and ridiculousness would not be the NCAA Tournament. It would be something less than the alternately thrilling and comic thing that it is. We would love it less.
The television networks putting the games on—and the marketers catching remora-rides on this goofball Leviathan—will pump up the pomp and montages and try to sell the drama. But if you watch a lot of the tournament, you will have a fuller and sillier experience than that—the thrills will be there, because they are always there, but there's also the happy giddiness of a baddish team on a brief tear of great basketball and the awful slack shittiness of a lousy game and the punchy announcers and the manifest overstatement of the players and coaches and fans. If you don't laugh a lot while watching the NCAA Tournament, you're doing it wrong.
Bear in mind, for instance, that it was big pre-tournament news that Syracuse center Fab Melo—a 22-year-old sophomore who, besides having an early-80s rap name, looks and plays like Jar Jar Binks—was suspended from the team for repeatedly failing to do any-to-all of his own school work. Bear in mind that the next few days will feature adults talking in tones of great seriousness and concern about a chinless 7-foot Brazilian named Fab, a basketball player who can no more catch a bounce pass than a pug can knit you a cardigan. Bear all this in mind, and then forget it, or laugh and embrace it.
It’s the only thing to do. The NCAA Tournament is both greater and smaller than you'd think, given the massive marketing efforts and office pool try-hards and those dead-serious pundits with their fervid speculation as to how the second-best team in the nation will be impacted by the loss of a Binks-ian stiff who plays offense like he's wearing both oven mitts and roller skates. March Madness is not the sort of thing that can be reasoned with, or through. You fall into it, like a David Lynch movie, or a conversation, or a bad habit. So by all means and for fuck's sake, fall into it.
Previously - The Old College Try