I"m Glad George Mason Lost
Post supplemented. New material in red.
The feel good story of the NCAA Tournament came to an end yesterday as Florida beat George Mason, especially in the second half, like a rented mule. Good. I couldn't be happier.
My happiness has nothing to do with my affection for Florida. I admittedly have three reasons to root for Florida, but they are related only to the team I root for, Kentucky. Florida is in the SEC, and absent UK in the Final Four, I prefer to see SEC teams do well. Florida is coached by a former assistant coach at UK. Third, as UK is second in all time national titles to UCLA (11 to 7), I do not want to see UCLA win another one, and Florida has the best chance of stopping UCLA. So I will root for the Gators tomorrow night in the finals, their French center Noah notwithstanding.
My glee over George Mason losing has more to do with my discomfort with the whole "underdog" love fest in this country. Underdogs usually reach that status because they have failed to prove they can achieve compared to the opposition. In other words, we often root for the prior failure over the proven success. I often wonder if we are rooting "for" underdogs or "against" the successful opponent. In other words, this whole "root for the underdog" strikes me as little more than class envy.
My post is expectedly not winning me any praise this morning, so let me put it this way. Why do we have favorites and underdogs? For the most part, it is because the favorite has a track record of success or excellence. Isn't that a virtue? When you hire a lawyer, or a computer consultant or a secretary, don't you want to see a track record of excellence in her history (or his herstory)? Do you want the person with a spotty, inconsistent history to watch your back? Of course not.
But in sports, that is the accepted instinct. Why do we root against that high expectation of excellence? Is it the same thing that makes us want to tear down our political leaders?
I recognize that programs typically rise and fall over time. Sometimes an underdog makes a splash at the beginning of its rise to "favorite." Gonzaga a few years ago fit that bill. They made the Sweet Sixteen several times as "Cinderella" until people finally figured out that they were just that good playing in a smaller conference. Now they are ranked in the top ten all year and should have been in the Final Four. Most "Cinderellas," however, disappear at midnight and do not return. If George Mason makes a few return trips to win a few more tourney games, then they too can earn the right to be a favorite. That is the goal, after all, isn't it?
Most people often refer to the underdog as David in the David v. Goliath battle. That is a misnomer. First, David was not an underdog, though only he seemed to know it. He had God on his side and was told by God to engage in the battle. I don't care what or who you are playing, if God is on your side, you are not the underdog. The fact that the bookies in Judah did not know God was David's side is of little relevance.
I have it on good authority that God does not root for any teams in the NCAA tournament, though he does root against the Duke Blue Devils.
George Mason was the beneficiary of generosity to begin with. The NCAAA tourney has 65 teams now because of the social welfare mentality of giving every Division I conference a team in the tourney. They then add about 35 other teams from those that did not win their conference tournament and make millions playing the games. George Mason was the last team in the tournament this year. All other lower seeds were little conference touney winners. In other words, if the tornament had had fewer teams as it did for many years, they were out. But they made it and made the most of the opportunity. For that they are to be congratulated. For being underdogs, well, that just isn't a virture in my book.
Don't get me wrong. I enjoy some of the early upsets every year as much as anyone. I love the game of college basketball and its tournament. With NBA defections and growing popularity, it is a sport with a lot of parity. It is getting more and more difficult to predict who will win in any given year. Parity makes for excitement. Still, the teams we think are going to win still win more often than not. There is a reason. They earned that prediction by being better than their opponent more consistently in the past.
I am also not saying that I always root for the favorite. I have teams and people I like and dislike for various reasons, which colors who I root for. But I seldom just root for the significant "underdog" if I have no reason to root against the favorite. It doesn't seem right. What did the favorite do other than lead others to believe it is the more successful team?
Underdogs are usually underdogs for a reason. One may be that they haven't had a chance to prove themselves or their gifts are unknown (see, David above). In that case, they aren't really underdogs, and they prove themselves once given the chance. I don't dislike these underdogs. This does not describe George Mason though.
No, the underdogs I don't like are the George Masons. They were barely invited to a ridiculously large tournament and got hot for two weeks. They were clearly a decent team and shared the regular season title in the 10th hardest conference in the country. They showed only a few signs of what they did this March. It is easily established that they didn't even belong in the dance. In other words, they earned their underdog status. Then they made the final four with a little help from a choking UConn.
Great teams in history are made over a season and the torney, not just a bi-monthly period. I congratulate George Mason's team on its success, but I would have rather seen Florida play a number of better teams that lost in the one and gone tournament format.
Now, to the teams that deserved to be in the final four due to an entire season of consistent excellence, I look forward to the Florida v. UCLA final.
Note: This post is not whining about the one and done tournament format. Many great teams have been beaten over the years before winning the national championship that was theirs to lose. GMason won its way to the final four fair and square. I am just glad I won't have to hear about them any longer. FWIW, I didn't like the NC State championship team either, but I liked Villanova's surpise championship because I hated Georgetown.