Sunday, April 02, 2006

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.

38 Comments:

At 4:35 PM, Anonymous UnderDog said...

There's no need to fear! UnderDog is here!

Speed of lightning, roar of thunder
Fighting all who rob or plunder
Underdog. Underdog!

 
At 4:36 PM, Anonymous UnderDog said...

Don't diss me, LawBoy.

 
At 7:34 PM, Blogger spd rdr said...

Um...'k, Underdog. Thanks.

Listen, KJ, GMU put it all on the floor there and left it, and nothin' but absolutely nothing, NOTHING you can say will ever diminish the complete vacuity of such statements.

BTW- Where are the KY Wildcats playing this April?

 
At 6:53 AM, Blogger Pile On® said...

Spoken like a true Braves fan.

Why even have a tournament, let's just crown a regular season champ.

 
At 10:09 AM, Blogger KJ said...

Pile, did you read the note at the end? BTW, what makes baseball great (use to anyway) is that you had to earn your way all season to the right to try and win a championship. Baseball is still better than any other sport in this regard. There is a happy medium somewhere between letting everyone in and earning the right to play in the big games.

spd, I agree with you. They played hard and earned their wins. Besides, you have other reasons, like geographic proximity and maybe others, to root for GMU. I'm just dissing the whole underdog thing - not them. I didn't make them an 11 seed. A bunch of experts expected them to be one and gone.

And yes, Kentucky is at home. So is GMU and 160 other teams.

See my update to the post.

 
At 10:28 AM, Blogger spd rdr said...

I've just been cranky lately, KJ. I meant no slight to the Wildcats. G*d*mned Florida killed my chances at winning the office pool.

It was fun to see the Old Dominion get all riled up about the Patriots. We don't send many teams to the Big Dance, much less get one to the Final Four. But now that it's over with, I'll be watching Jack Bauer tonight.

 
At 10:42 AM, Blogger KJ said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At 10:53 AM, Blogger KJ said...

spd, it isn't about dissing George Mason. It is about "underdogs" and GMU was just the team in the headlines. I've given this same speech in the context of other teams while at sports bars and makes for great sports debate b/c dissing the underdog pisses people off.

My high school basketball team (I was on the freshman team not the varsity) almost did a Hoosiers when I was in school. We were good but we beat teams we had no business beating with 6 short kids 5-9, 5-9, 6-0, 6-1, 6-1 and 6-2)who pressed 32 minutes and played their butts off. That team made the championship game playing 4 games in 3 days in Kentucky's brutal Sweet 16 state tourney (still the only state with no class divisions based on school size). That fourth game, the championship, they had nothing left against a huge school with 2 Div-I bound 6-7 forwards. My HS team is still written about every year at state tourney time in the papers -- one 5-9 guard made 4 last second shots (thanks to sending one game to overtime, he had 2 heroic shots in one game) to get us there. I know the joy of being a student/friend/fan of the underdogs.

But for those that just root for underdogs b/c of that status alone, I just think it is worth asking why.

 
At 10:53 AM, Blogger KJ said...

Oh, yeah,

The Yankess still suck!

 
At 11:00 AM, Blogger Cassandra said...

...and the Yankees too? Or is dey a separate team?

(go get him, Portia)

 
At 11:38 AM, Blogger KJ said...

The Yankees can't diss me. As a UK fan, I need only remind the Yankees fan that the last 6 years the Kentucky Wildcats have won a national championship, the Yankees have won the World Series (48-Indians, but Yankees in 49, 51, 58, 78, 96 and 98).

I'm not proud of it, but it is a side effect I am willing to live with to get more national championships.

 
At 12:41 PM, Blogger portia said...

KJ, are you forgetting who won the 1999 and 2000 World Series? How convenient:)

Cass, I'm not troubled by rabid Yankees Suck fans. I certainly understand why fans of less-titled teams--OK, underdogs--may feel the need again and again to lash out at a dynasty that has won so many Divisions (14) and Pennants (39) and Series (26). It's gotta hurt....

*making a mad dash for the bleachers*

 
At 12:57 PM, Blogger KJ said...

Portia, I didn't say the Yankees only win when Ky does. But it is a good omen for you. Of course, UK only has the same number of scholarships and can't pay its players more than Duke pays its players.

The Yankees OTOH only double to quadruple all but about 8 teams' payroll in baseball, and you are 0 fer 5. How does that happen?

 
At 12:58 PM, Blogger portia said...

that the last 6 years the Kentucky Wildcats have won a national championship, the Yankees have won the World Series

Sorry, KJ, I misread your comment. So does that mean you're rooting for the Yankees? Cool!

But it still must hurt....

*leaving the stadium altogether*

 
At 1:00 PM, Blogger Cassandra said...

Bwa ha ha ha....

[snarking away from the sidelines]

I love watching a woman wipe the floor with y'all. You go, girl :)

 
At 1:04 PM, Blogger portia said...

How does that happen?

I blame it on the Wildcats:)

 
At 1:07 PM, Blogger Cassandra said...

Sports rivalries (seriously here) are such a funny but harmless vehicle for displaced aggression. Interservice rivalry serves the same function - it totally cracks me up.

I damn near died the other day on one of my favorite sites to see one guy just beside himself with malevolent glee when the Nats beat the Orioles - he'd posted a photo of a dead Oriole, feet-up at the top of his post.

If you hate Peter Angelos as much as I do (hell, as much as anyone does here in Maryland) you had to laugh. I almost spit my coffee all over the screen. Pure bile.

No one in their right mind takes it seriously. And I understood every luscious minute of it... heh.

 
At 1:07 PM, Blogger portia said...

Thanks Cass, but I still stand in your shadow when it comes to dishing out delicious snark:)

 
At 1:09 PM, Blogger Cassandra said...

KJ, I suspect you have (more than) met your match.

 
At 1:12 PM, Blogger spd rdr said...

It isn't so much as the Yankees suck, usually they don't ... on the field. It's that I'm almost as sick of hearing about them as the rest of the world is about the Red Sox. They have even played game one yet, and the idiots in the press box are already blabbing about their 9th straight AL East title. We'll see. Neither the Sox nor the Yankees have a solid rotation, but I think the Sox line up has the stronger bats. Like I said, we'll see.

Any Brewers fans out there?
*crickets*

 
At 1:15 PM, Blogger Cassandra said...

Oh, I don't know about that Portia - you've seen how these guys spin me up when it suits them.

The only reason I don't get soundly thrashed most of the time is that I suspect chivalry is not entirely dead and most of them pull their punches.

 
At 1:19 PM, Blogger Rob Castro said...

In response to this post, I feel that George Mason is one of the better teams in the nation. Many college coaches have said that the regular season is a tune-up to the tournament because it provides the necessary ingredients to succeed. I do not agree with this post because it is only American to root for the underdog. For him to say that he doesn’t like the underdog, did he not root for the United States over the USSR in the 1980 “Miracle on Ice.” He also says that George Mason was generous in getting into the tournament. Look at the facts about them, they had an RPI of 29, and they were even ranked in the top 25 towards the end of the year. Another thing, Mason not only defeated three of the past six NCAA champions, but they were disrespected in every sense of the word. During the selection show on CBS, many of the commentators were flat out surprised that Mason just got in. Not only did they belong in the tournament, but they made a great name for the school in Virginia that will always be talked about.

 
At 2:40 PM, Blogger KJ said...

"For him to say that he doesn’t like the underdog, did he not root for the United States over the USSR in the 1980 “Miracle on Ice.”

Yeah, I did. Know why?

BECAUSE I AM AN AMERICAN!!!! And, even if I weren't an American, I HATE COMMIES!!! I rooted for the USA Dream Team in the 1992 and 1996 Olympics too. I didn't give a rat's ass that every team they played were the underdog. We beat Angola by 100 points (slight exageration) and Barkley laid an elbow on some guy weighing 115 pounds. OK, that was unnecessary, but I loved putting a hurting on everyone.

Sheesh.

As for GMU being deserving, they proved they were. But they were an 11 seed. Why?

As for Portia, I was trying to be nice, but let's try it again. I know how hard math can be for girls.

I don't root for the Yankees. The Yankees should root for UK. The national championship is in March/April. The World Series is in October. You see - UK winning means the Yankees win. Not the other way around. The causal connection only goes one way.

The Yankees are the perrinial favorite. Why? In the old days, because they had a great farm system. That was to be applauded.

In the recent era, b/c baseball is stupid and can't get its players' union to back a salary structure similar to the NBA and NFL. As long as Steinbrenner is playing with NY money, giving him an unearned huge edge in spending capability, they will just buy their free agents guarnteeing at least the playoffs. I like a lot of the players on the Yankees -- many of them are good and classy players. How that team is built is a product of the messed up leadership in baseball. And their owner is a jerk. Also, I have always rooted for the Reds or the Braves. The Yankees are evil for personal reasons as well.

I root for one of the best basketball programs in history. Hating the Yankees is not about jealosy any more than hating Duke is about jealosy. It sounds like the Cynthia McKinney defense. No need to address the merits if you can scream racism/jealosy. :-P

Your turn Portia.

 
At 3:01 PM, Anonymous UnderDog said...

The Yankees are the pereneal favorite??? Really?

Hmmmmm... The pain of holding back the snark on this one is almost as great as the joy (a little LaMaze snark for ya) of natural childbirth.

 
At 3:18 PM, Blogger KJ said...

Oh hell, I freely admit that I can't spell when I'm taking my time much less flying by the seat of my keyboard.

Maybe there is a reason for such unintended references. But I'm not saying.

 
At 6:51 PM, Blogger portia said...

Cass writes: The only reason I don't get soundly thrashed most of the time is that I suspect chivalry is not entirely dead and most of them pull their punches.

What was that you were saying, Cass?

KJ, I understood your point. I was pulling your leg in good fun...at least I intended it as such.

I ain't fond of the Yankees' bloated payroll, its lack of a farm team, nor, by any means, the bombastic 'Brenner. But it is my hometown team, and there is a pride in that as well as in its history...besides I can't get to Atlanta often enough to root for the Braves:)

Blame it on my father, and his love of NY baseball. I've been rooting for the Pinstripes ever since he took me to my first Yankee game--against the Red Sox no less-- when I was 8. Yes, the die was cast early on.

Since then I've endured the lean years when we finished last, a wacko manager in Billy Martin who faced more firings, hirings and suspensions than Trump has Apprentices, the bad luck, nay bad judgment, of the 80s and early 90s, the sheer "bust a gut" joy of a three-peat topped off by history-making, goose bump Canyon of Heroes parades, the heartbreak of a Game 7 loss to the Diamondbacks in 2001, the "I want to die now" moments of 2004, and more... all of which is equalled only by the unending "love and respect" offered up by the many Evil Empire believers I meet wherever I roam:)

We may be the team people love to hate but that's OK--in fact, it's more than OK--because at the end of the day I do think the Yankees make baseball more fun...whether it's because we're fun to watch or fun to hate. At the very least, I hope we can agree on that.

As you correctly pointed out, KJ, the Team's spending spree over the past 5 years has yet to bring home a World Series win. Perhaps there's a lesson there beyond economics. I agree salary caps may offer the parity that baseball needs and allow smaller franchises to compete more easily but until that day owners who want to spend gazillions on talent should not be "penalized" for doing so in a free market. What say you, Mr. Libertarian?

It's a long season and, much like the long ball, it's a mix of talent and luck. Here's to both flourishing. Here's to you pouncing the Mets:)

P.S. You're correct, KJ I've never been very good at math...must have been all these years I was told 6 inches was foot.
Ba da bing.

*being escorted out of the parking lot*

 
At 6:52 PM, Blogger Cassandra said...

Heh... :) That was mean of me, I know. I have a joke for you later.

Mucho.

 
At 7:07 PM, Blogger Cassandra said...

Portia, I'd take that as a mark of respect. They humor me because I'm such a cream puff.

You, they figure they have to get out the tactical nukes and launch a pre-emptive strike :)

[sniff!]

 
At 7:08 PM, Blogger Cassandra said...

Damn, woman... you mean there are more than 6 inches in a foot?

ARE YOU SURE????

 
At 7:56 PM, Blogger portia said...

Damn, woman...you mean there are more than 6 inches in a foot?

ROTHFLMAO:)

Beats me, Cass. I'll let you know as soon as I figure out how to open the padlock on that Stanley tape measure. By then, the Wildcats will be leading the Yankees to its next World Series...or vice versa:)

Anybody got a yardstick I can borrow?

 
At 10:49 PM, Blogger spd rdr said...

Oh fercryingoutloud.
I go out of town for a few hours and the lunatics take over the assylum?

 
At 12:23 PM, Blogger Cassandra said...

You didn't seriously expect us to behave while you were gone, did you?

What realistic basis would you have had for such a bizarre belief?

 
At 2:49 PM, Blogger portia said...

How 'bout that Cass. We exchange a few words about linear measurement, and we're lunatics taking over the asylum!

We'll, now that we're in charge, I say the first thing we must do is kill all the lawyers:)

 
At 6:37 PM, Blogger spd rdr said...

You're welcome.

 
At 5:27 AM, Blogger Cassandra said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At 5:30 AM, Blogger Cassandra said...

It does rather seem like projection, doesn't it Portia?

Don't worry mr rdr, you will always be the man of our dreams.

*running away*

 
At 1:15 PM, Blogger portia said...

Oh my, Cass. Who knew?
I take it back. Let's not kill all the lawyers....

*moving closer for a better look*

 
At 2:38 PM, Blogger Cassandra said...

Thank you Portia. That was an *awfully* long time to wait for a reaction - I figured I wouldn't get one from anyone else :)

I apologize KJ. I will be more than happy to delete the comment if you want me to.

[hanging head in shame]

 

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