Early into March Madness, as Arkansans bathed in the afterglow of a 3 seed well-deserved and a program back on track, the simultaneous beauty and absurdity of the tournament hit home for me.
The NCAA men’s basketball championship, a.k.a. March Madness, has out super-bowled the Super Bowl as our nation’s preeminent sporting event. Granted, it’s many “events” rolled into one, but the Road to the Final Four not only attracts more money to sports books than does An Evening with Tom Brady (by about 3x, according to some estimates), but culturally, I’m not sure it’s even close anymore.
March Madness unifies the sporting and sports-averse; it levels playing fields. It’s sports and theater rolled into one. It’s Sister Jean, Cinderella and now, finally, Chuck. But it’s a beauty burrito chased with a churro of absurdity. (And I’m not talking another Clark Kellogg “Captain Obvious” analysis.)
In addition to all those things that make it so appealing, March Madness is, well, absurd.
The First Four? Are you serious? The First Four with an 11-seed play-in game? Even worse. If you must expand to 68, shouldn’t the last four schools selected to participate represent the four lowest seeds? As in, name eight 16 seeds and let them play it out for the right to be an actual 16 seed in the actual tournament. And play-in game winners getting credit for an NCAA tournament win… not just patently unfair but ABSURD.
NCAA Division 1 men’s basketball (and don’t get me started on the NCAA) entails roughly 350 schools and 32 conferences. Within the same classification for basketball (and all sports except football), you’ll find schools with total athletic-department revenues north of $200 million and those whose budgets struggle to reach $4 million.
Why are these schools competing for the same trophy? Because Americans love an underdog, and corporate dealers know we can’t live without their supply. And no one will ever convince me the committee doesn’t purposely over- and under-seed teams to enhance “upset” probability. I’m looking at you, 5-12 line.
But here’s the rub: It seems so wrong but feels so… right. Who will be next year’s ORU? Inquiring casual “fans” and annual bracket-fillers want to know. And, of course, 15 seeds knocking off 2s is not only good TV but fills the right pockets.
There are many more beautiful absurdities to consider, but I do have a point to make. In theory, anyway. All this frustration with tournament farce got me to thinking of the parable of the vineyard workers from the Gospel of Matthew.
For all you Bedside Baptists (what’s that? The mirror just bade me hello, for some reason) the parable of the workers tells the story of a vineyard owner who pays the same wages to all his day laborers, whether they showed up early and worked a full day or worked for just an hour late in the day. The gist — the early birds agreed to a day’s work for a certain wage, and if the vineyard owner decides to be generous and pay the same wage to those who showed up late, that’s his choice. Or her choice. (Definitely, or her choice.) Jesus is telling us that the rewards of salvation are there, just the same, for those who live a life of devotion and servitude to God and for those who accept Him even on their deathbed.
Just like March Madness can, it seems so unfair. But feels so very right.
Perhaps I should start applying the parable of the workers to the illogic of the tournament. Because it can indeed be a thing of beauty — the Hogs’ run, Sister Jean, Cinderella and all. But then here comes a bubble play-in team — not even a mid-major conference champ — advancing to the Final Four and adding one final round of absurdity. Did it really deserve to be in the field in the first place? A legit argument three weeks ago but now… how could one argue otherwise?
Oh well. I suppose a little absurdity is a good thing. Definitely makes life interesting.
The reference to Charles Barkley got me thinking about a certain sweet and savory delight reportedly favored by a specific demographic in San Antonio. Yes, the Word of the Month for April… churro.
Essentially an exotic funnel cake, the churro descends from Spanish and Portuguese cuisine. It often comes sprinkled in cinnamon but in many places is dipped in hot chocolate or coffee. And outside the United States, anyway, churros usually are eaten for breakfast; Americans reaching the conclusion early on that there’s never a bad time for fried dough topped with sugar.
Theories about the origins of the churro include its introduction to Europe by Portuguese merchants who brought it back from China, and its creation as a substitute for fresh baked goods by Spanish shepherds isolated in the mountains and on the lookout for buried Confederate treasure. (Wait, disregard that last part.) Of course, other theories suggest the churro simply evolved from recipes found in old Greek and Roman cookbooks and has probably existed around the Mediterranean pretty much forever.
Me? I’m a fan of all fried dough but am most partial to apple fritters. (To the good folks at Cinnamon Creme in WLR and Gibson’s in Memphis… my hat is tipped, and my round belly sends its regards.) And while I don’t do coffee, doing beignets at Café Du Monde in New Orleans is something everyone should experience at least once. An insider’s tip — if you want your coffee and donuts in a more chill setting, there’s a much cozier Café Du Monde location, highly recommended, inside City Park.
One last thing on March Madness. Not sure I’ve ever been as proud of a Razorback team. The FIGHTING Razorbacks. Seems as though we’re back to that across the board on the Hill. We’ve got several “must reads” in this issue including Katie Z’s latest Digs of the Deal, which visits the airport in Mena (yes, the airport in Mena), and her own Last Word. But Brent Holloway’s homage to Arkansas basketball is essential reading for all Arkansawyers. And you might want to keep a Kleenex handy, just sayin’.
As always, thanks for reading. We aspire to provide a worthwhile product and sure appreciate those who take the time to give us a shot. Let me know how we can be better. I’m always open at MCarter@ARMoneyandPolitics.com.