March Madness is my favorite sports season. It’s quick, exciting, and provides good conversation with friends near and far, because one doesn’t have to follow the teams all season long to have an opinion. It’s an easy on-ramp to accessible sports to end the winter and bring on spring. Plus, there appears to be a genuine “love of the game” displayed out there on the court. Of course, the genius of March Madness is the filthy amounts of money in it. TV ads sell at a premium for all the broadcasts of the field of 64 (or now, 68). There’s a different love of the game at play for those wearing suits instead of jerseys.
For the last two weeks you’ve probably heard about the big business of college sports. Bloggers calling for accountability with the NCAA, the governing body lining its pockets with gold and sweat from the players’ brows. Beat writers giving the behind-the-scenes interviews with disaffected student-athletes dishing on being special recipients of cash, pleasure or good grades. Even a new awareness of why the term “student-athlete” is the preferred lingo across the land. (If they are students and athletes, and not employees, there’s no responsibility to provide workers compensation—both in insurance, and renumeration). Kevin Ware’s horrific broken-leg injury on Easter Sunday brought more of these issues to the limelight. Will he ever play again? Will a scholarship be waiting for him next year? Will he resurrect his playing career? (I won’t link to a photo of the injury; almost threw up when I saw it happen live in front of the Louisville Cardinal bench.)
These are calls for justice, even in the arena of sport.
(Maybe you’ve heard it. I listen to a bit of what I jokingly call “conservative sports talk radio.” It’s the only radio programming I can stand, because the personalities on political talk radio seem to dumb it down too much and talk at us like we’re all idiots. Well, maybe we are, but that’s a topic for another day.)
Back to justice in sports …
People get really amped up when their beloved past-time (read: way of checking out and coping) suddenly feels rigged. We like things to be “pure,” and somehow act surprised when things aren’t as they should or appear to be. From the public outrage over Beyonce lip-syncing at the Presidential Inauguration, to wardrobe malfunctions during the Super Bowl halftime show, to the time you suggested an old favorite movie to watch with friends or your kids and realized, “Oh no, this isn’t as ‘clean’ as I remember it was!” (News flash: the storyline and innuendo in the nice feel-good romantic movie “Dirty Dancing” is appropriately disclosed in the title. It’s not so much a movie about “dancing.”) I’m the same way. It takes stepping back and recognizing the good-and-bad mixed together, especially when it comes to entertainment.
Tonight I will probably watch the National Championship basketball game, the climactic end of this run of March Madness. (My bracket is in shambles, as I somehow thought Gonzaga would shine brightly in their moment of recognition and make it through the gauntlet as a #1 seed.) I say “probably” watch because I first need to check with the boss on that.
If we watch, our kids and I will sit in the home office on the big chair and snuggle and spill popcorn. During the commercials we’ll do some pretty important things together: go feed their new goldfish, get ready for bed, pick up the loft, brush our teeth, and so forth. Not without protest.
Bedtime means the end of the day of fun. Yet the protest could have other special reasons tonight. The timing of our breaks may lead to some disagreement. There’s something subconscious that happens during the breaks in the game action. See, my son’s favorite part of television is the commercials. If we had it on much he would wish to only see the commercials, not the shows, and would spend the rest of his days reciting the mantras of his favorite ads. One time at bedtime he remarked that Disneyland is the happiest place on earth because … well … “it’s where magic happens!” (I’m sure he learned that at his grandparents.
When bedtime comes around—likely before the game is over and the nets are cut down—we’ll snuggle and laugh and talk about the highlights and lowlights of our day. It’s a drawn-out process, as much as the kids have a say. The stories of adventure, questions of what fun things happened today (and tonight, probably about the television ads) fill the dimly lit room.
It’s during those times I long to be a good father. Of course, part of telling these stories is to buy more time before having to fall asleep. And part of it, the cute part, the part I will never miss as a father, is the way in which their curiosity and learning is seeping out of them. It’s always my favorite time of the day, the least “productive” yet most rewarding. Even when tired, it’s the most wonderful time of the day.
As for the game: apparently there is a method to all this madness. The NCAA recognizes the money to be made in advertising, and while they
sell the product promote the student-athletes on the court, many suitors have shown up on their porch (at the door of CBS, TBS, TruTV, and the online streaming broadcasts of the games) to promote their wares in ad space. They are buying time. A basketball game is actually a pretty short contest. There’s a reason for all the stoppage of play, timeouts, and long breaks. Ben Cohen reveals the numbers on the sports blog for the Wall Street Journal:
“In fact, basketball accounts for just 29.4% of a basketball broadcast. The rest is devoted to stoppages like media timeouts, which are extended in the NCAA tournament and take up 20.5%, and halftime, which is more than 22 minutes on average. The stoppages starting with the last media timeout, at the first whistle after the four-minute mark of the second half, averaged over 17 minutes. The total time of rest after whistles is more than 12 minutes. And the wait during free throws accounts for 13.2% of NCAA tournament broadcasts, or almost 18 minutes. In fact, the median break for free throws in these three games lasted 50 seconds—enough time to think of everything else you could be doing with your time.”
My question for you: what will you do with all that extra time? If the game lasts three hours, and about 30% (54 minutes) of it was actual game action, how will you fill the remaining two hours and six minutes?
I’ll be there, remote it hand, to mute or turn off the TV, asking our kids questions about their thoughts and feelings. The real action will be thousands of miles from the game in Atlanta. It will be right in the room, with plenty of time to make sense of the madness.
Who’s playing again?