Baseball is America’s Pastime, with an emphasis on the past tense. We’re infatuated with football now, but as much as we enjoy the Super Bowl and the spectacle it’s become, it’s still not America’s greatest sporting weekend. That right is reserved for the NCAA Tournament, or, more specifically, the Final Four.
There aren’t any frills – the central focus is and always will be the action – and for that emphasis on “sport”, it has earned the aforementioned distinction. The Super Bowl is still more meaningful, but its transcendence into the realm of pop culture dilutes the appeal of the actual game.
If you can name anyone who has performed a halftime show at any Final Four event in the past five years, sans Google, then I’d have to offer you a hearty congratulations. Knowledge of this fact makes you a prime candidate for possessor of the most trivial – if not completely inane – B.S. on the planet. In the Internet age, which seems to reward useless information regularly, that’s saying something.
The point is, the Final Four has a purity to it that the Super Bowl doesn’t have. That is, if you can ignore the fact that the NCAA has been likened to slave drivers, who have exploited the idea of amateurism to great benefit without any such benefit trickling down to the players themselves. But, that is an argument for a separate column.
For all intents and purposes, the NCAA Tournament is pure (in the sense that it serves my argument). And with tonight having served as a prelude to New Orleans, there are plenty of things to interest even the most casual fan in watching next week’s festivities, and none of them have anything to do with commercials or insufferable pop stars.
For starters, the Big Easy will play host to an all Kentucky battle that will have writers stumbling over themselves to make ill-advised Hatfield and McCoy references. Never mind that the Hatfield’s were actually from West Virginia because any reference that can sap the civility out of a rivalry that already severely lacked any to begin with will be wholeheartedly welcomed.
Keeping with the theme of a Final Four/Super Bowl comparison, several men much smarter than I – and a few who probably aren’t – have estimated that 70% of households in the state of Kentucky will be tuned into Saturday night’s Louisville-Kentucky matchup. That dwarfs the Super Bowl’s numbers, even when you narrow the demographic down to local markets of teams participating in the game.
So, if you have something you’d like to sell in Kentucky, like Seasons One and Two of “Justified” on DVD or perhaps indoor plumbing (sorry, I’ll never be able to avoid an unimaginative Kentucky barb), then the Final Four is your best bet.
Obviously, in general, the Super Bowl draws far superior ratings, but once again we’re talking about the Super Bowl’s transcendence of sports.
On the other side of the bracket, there is an intriguing matchup of two-seeds, Kansas and Ohio State. It’s a game where individual matchups are incredibly fascinating. Thomas Robinson vs. Jared Sullinger; Aaron Craft vs. Tyshawn Taylor; and Bill Self vs. Thad Motta are all low-hanging fruit for an army of starved analysts across the country.
Can Kansas use their perimeter quickness to shake the on-ball pressure of Ohio State? Who will win the interior battle between Sullinger and Robinson (arguably the nation’s two top power forwards)?
These are the kinds of questions that should spark endless debate and make for entertaining and informative discussion of basketball, specifically in regards to scheme.
Notice that in breaking down the storylines of the two contests, at no point did I mention anybody’s brother or speculate on the accessories of the pre, post, or mid-game entertainment. That’s because the nonsense is stripped away in the Final Four. It’s about the game – it’s about the sport.
And THAT is why it’s America’s greatest sporting weekend.