Friday, May 11, 2018

Finding Joy

As published in The County Times (

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

It would be understandable if the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, spring’s March Madness, has lost its charm.  Viewing this year’s edition with a skeptical, irritated and even disappointed eye would be justified.  After all, the last few months have been rough: an FBI investigation implicated a who’s who list of schools – such ilk as Duke, North Carolina, Michigan State, Kentucky and Kansas - in a widespread recruiting scandal; Louisville coach Rick Pitino lost his job following a disgraceful trifecta of sins - infidelity, sex parties and a corrupt partnership with Adidas; and, finally, collateral damage from Pitino-mania forced Louisville to vacate its 2013 National Championship.

A brief aside…if you won a tournament pool because of Louisville’s championship, do those winnings have to be forfeited too?  Hypothetical.  Asking for a friend…

Pondering all of this produces a sad conclusion: Whatever claim NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball had left to pure, amateur athletics has now been severed.  The charade is over – big-time college basketball is an NBA affiliate.  The money to is too extensive, the bad actors too many, the pressure to win too high and the governing body – the NCAA itself – too disinterested (likely for financial reasons) to ensure compliance.    

And so, with this ominous storm spreading across the college basketball skyline, the sport cues up its crown jewel tournament and asks us to pretend nothing is wrong and that the brackets are filled with teams of the highest ethical standards.

Farewell to that fairy tale. 

The timing is perfect for an end of innocence.  In an age of interpreted reality, of leaders who deny all wrongdoing and responsibility, of intentionally divisive and fear-mongering propaganda, of impulsive international fights that strain time-tested fundamentals of the post-World War II world order and of reckless attacks on basic decency and the core tenants of our democracy, why not douse another bastion of goodness – the NCAA tournament – with gas and set it ablaze?  ‘Tis the era of cold, grumpy and humorless heads of state.  ‘Tis the era of deceit, disloyalty and impropriety.  So yes…let’s eviscerate one more thing that has annually generated genuine excitement.  Right.  Burn it to the ground and blame this group, that gender and those people.  Besides who has time for fun and togetherness?  Who has time for silly brackets and playful banter?  Who has…and who needs…joy? 

Rhetorical questions, obviously.  Everyone does, now and always, and in healthy supply.  The preciousness of joy is why the thin, fictional veneer of wholesomeness that college basketball once operated under is so frustrating.  This is why those who loved the sport are gnashing teeth and shaking fists at the perpetrators and the entire machine of snake oil salesmen.  This is why the temptation is to not watch and never embrace the game in the same way again.

But then the tournament happens.     

Whatever the story is behind the participants, the schools they are attending or the shoes they are wearing, when the ball goes up there is still something magical about March Madness.  Yes there are self-serving people – boosters, coaches, administrators and corporations – who are doing the game harm.  But like virtually every aspect of life, they are the loud minority; the majority of kids, coaches and schools are doing it the right way.  And frankly, considering the miniscule benefit elite players realize from the college experience when compared to the financial windfall for coaches, schools and networks, the time for revisiting and rewriting the definition of “doing it the right way” is long overdue. 

These are complicated times indeed.  Big changes are coming.  Yesterday’s business of college basketball won’t be tomorrow’s.  As the elephants dance, let not the grass suffer, for the games and tournaments will continue.  There will be amazing, logic-defying and bracket-busting feats – like Buffalo over Arizona, Loyola-Chicago reaching the Sweet-16 and 16-seed UMBC making history by beating top-seed Virginia.  Those are this year’s storylines; new ones will be written every year, each one injected with youthful exuberance.  No matter the atmosphere off the court, joy will be consistently created on it; that joy is, and will remain, available to anyone whose heart hasn’t been completely hardened by the storm.

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