The madness of March is welcomed

Posted March 20, 2009, at 10:01 p.m.

With the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s annual men’s and women’s national basketball tournaments upon us — the so-called “March Madness” that likely will result in a marked decline in worker productivity across the republic for the next couple of weeks — I think I may have discovered a way to reduce the national debt.

My plan simply calls for issuing a $1 fine to every cliche-challenged sports announcer, basketball coach, player and fan who refers to either 64-team tournament as “the Big Dance” before the spectacles are over and new national champions have been determined. That should take a big chunk out of the deficit, right there.

Impose additional fines each time a sporstscaster reports that a player has “knocked down” or “drained” a three-point shot or has fallen to the “ground” rather than to the floor, and you’d come close to balancing the national checkbook. Not that the situation would last all that long in these spendthrift times, mind you.

If there are any phrases in sports more aggravating than the hackeyned expressions of basketball, I cannot imagine what they might be. Granted, jock talk in general, permeated with “ya know” and “I mean” until the listener is forced to lurch for the radio or television kill button, can drive a sane person nuts in a relatively short time. But somehow not as efficiently as can hearing an allegedly functioning human being call a basketball tournament a “big dance” over and over again.

All that aside, a popular worker-bee activity earlier this week at probably more job sites than the productivity police would care to know about was predictable. It involved clipping from the morning newspaper the charts listing team match-ups for the men’s tournament that began Thursday and the women’s version that begins today and predicting winners and losers, all the way through the national championship games.

It’s called “filling out your brackets” and it is such a welcome diversion at this point on the calendar that participants include even the president of the United States, a man knowledgeable about the sport and one who, in the vernacular, “has game” on the court, as well.

When President Obama made his picks before a television audience in midweek, the smart money said that he, like many college basketball fans, may well have correctly predicted the Final Four teams (Louisville, Pittsburgh, Memphis, North Carolina) that will be in the semifinals of the men’s tournament two weeks from now.

The jury is out, though, as to whether the presidential pick of North Carolina to emerge as the men’s national champion will hold up. I see by the newspaper that Mike Krzyzewski, coach of North Carolina’s archrival, Duke University, doesn’t believe it will and has suggested as much to the president.

The consensus in my living room is that Pittsburgh will be the only team left standing when the clock in the final game winds down in Detroit on the evening of April 6. Although that consensus is the result of extensive scientific research conducted over the past several months it does come with a small caveat: In these desperate economic times it might not be prudent to bet what’s left of your 401(k) retirement fund on it.

Filling out the brackets for the basketball tournaments is a rite of spring, an antidote to winter that often overstays its welcome by half and a chance to beat the so-called experts at their own game.

Aggressive prognosticators understand that unless they boldly pick an upset or two — a Number 12 seed to upend a Number 5 seed, say — they will likely finish among the also-ran bracketologists.

Like the golf pro who pars the course but doesn’t make any money in doing so, the timid soul who makes the safe pick may never experience the agony of crushing defeat. But neither will he know the sweet thrill of victory that comes as a result of operating on the edge.

Although the result may sometimes be no better than what a blindfolded chimpanzee flinging darts at the brackets might achieve, no-guts, no-glory should always be the operating principle when one is filling out his brackets.

It’s the American Way.

BDN columnist Kent Ward lives in Limestone. Readers may reach him by e-mail at olddawg@bangordailynews.net.

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