Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Deja Vu All Over Again

"I still have a prayer, but too few occasions to pray."
-Iron and Wine "The Rabbit Will Run"

It would be very easy to write an article about exactly how bad Butler was last night. They certainly gave writers enough fodder to do so. Butler shot under 19% from the field, and they made three two point baskets all game. THREE. They had exactly two bench points. Star forward Matt Howard was a dismal 1 for 13. Perhaps more inexplicable than any statistic is the fact that, down 10 points with over a minute left, Butler didn't immediately foul, but rather they allowed UConn to aimlessly toss the ball around until they were able to get off a shot before the shot clock ran out. Almost 40 seconds of lost time. It was as if the Bulldogs wanted no part of their offensive zone.

Like I said, this sort of critique could go on ad nauseum. But that's not really what last night was all about.

While it was a poorly played basketball game, it was a beautiful metaphor for the current state of Division I College sports.

Beyond the brackets and the office pools, there's a very human connection that fans have with the NCAA Basketball Tournament. It's openness allows for things like last night to happen. Some team embarks on a magical run, and perhaps ends up in a place in which they have no earthly business being in. That was Butler. Yes, they were in last year's national title game as well, the endgame of another incredible journey. But this year was different for Butler. Two months ago, they weren't even a "bubble" team. They were 14-9, playing in the Horizon League. Not exactly the greatest tournament resume.

But yet they were the 63rd team ousted from the Big Dance. Shows how much November-January means. I digress.

Most people that watch the tournament have little emotional attachment to any of the teams involved. What that measure brings out is our undying love for the underdog. The reason that last night's game was so indicative of college sports wasn't necessarily that it was David vs. Goliath, but it was the Haves and the Have Nots. The National Championship in football pitted two programs with numerous recruiting violations, and with both teams currently undergoing investigations. The UConn men's basketball program is no different, with coach Jim Calhoun being forced to sit out the first three Big East games in 2011-12 for complying with the use of a booster for recruiting (among other things).

We cheered for Butler, as we did for most underdogs during the tournament (VCU, Richmond, etc) because they are exactly who we fashion ourselves to be: everyday people who try valiantly to fight against the forces of things often beyond our control. UConn was the boss, Butler was the day laborer. While we were rooting for the Bulldogs, we were actually rooting for ourselves, looking to grasp on to the hope that we too could defeat all that stood in front of us.

UConn was the better team, considering the pedigree of the program, they were given the ability to be so. For most of the Butler players, they could only have dreamed to be recruited by a program like UConn. Instead they were cast-offs, forced into a second-tier Division I school. The human element probably lies somewhere in there. Somewhere in the fact that Butler was the reject school for a group of players who themselves were rejected by the hierarchical element of college sports.

UConn was the team that should have one. Unfortunately for most of us, they weren't the right one.

"I still have a prayer, and I've furthered the world in my wake."

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