Sports

By Douglas Farmer — 

It is a March tradition. More than green beer on St. Patrick’s Day or green grass for Easter egg hunts, it is an annual rite. Society embraces mistakes, failure and imperfection.

It sounds absurd and certainly is not the American way, right? Wrong.

Less than two weeks after this issue of L.I.N.K. Magazine lands on flat surfaces around the Coulee Region, the newest field of the NCAA Tournament will be announced. A decade ago, here is where your trope-reliant sports columnist would insert a quip about trees sighing as brackets were printed across the country. Now, it is merely time to thank Al Gore for inventing the internet and Steve Jobs for putting it in our pocket. (Note: Al Gore did not invent the internet, and Steve Jobs did not put it in our pocket.)

Even before the convenience of smartphones, America annually fell in love with March Madness and brackets. I first remember filling out a bracket in fifth-grade English class. Sorry, Miss Grenisen, though maybe this explains why it took me until just last year to learn the correct usage of whom.

Is there a better feeling than finishing the bracket you are sure is “the one”?

For rationality’s sake, let’s ignore the fact that the NCAA Tournament has 147,573,952,589,676,412,928 possibilities. Yes, that is 147 million trillion options. At least, that is what I once read. That astronomical number seems as good as any, considering my advanced statistics teacher could not supply me with one at all when I asked her long ago.

Fortunately, none of us can genuinely grasp the concept of 147 million trillion. That blissful ignorance allows us to believe in the nearly impossible. There is tangible reason to ponder a monetary windfall. For three-plus days, each of us believes we—or at least our brackets—are special.

And then, our mistakes yield failure. A No. 9 seed beats a No. 8 in the first game of the day, or maybe a No. 10 tops a No. 7 while middle schoolers discreetly watch the games just before the final bell. The luckiest of us might even make it until Friday afternoon, but sooner or later, perfection will be dashed, immortality again reduced to myth, and reality returned to our daydreams.

Why are those three-plus days of buildup worth inevitable disappointment? Because even after brackets are imperfect, they are not ruined. Their memory, their idealism and their potential remain. You entered it into leagues, against your family, friends and likely even a few strangers. It was part of something.

It was part of a collective aspiration for excellence, success and perfection. The math may be against us, but it was also against Jimmy Valvano’s North Carolina State back in 1983. George Mason reaching the Final Four in 2006 certainly did not mesh with any version of algebra. The Badgers will not be a top seed in this tournament, but that does not mean Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes are paying any attention to the numbers.

Neither should you.

Douglas Farmer grew up in La Crosse, Wisconsin, before covering sports across the country with stops at The Los Angeles Times, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and The Dallas Morning News. He graduated from Aquinas High School in 2008 and from the University of Notre Dame in 2012, and now spends his professional time keeping an eye on the latter’s football team.